Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Life of Çay in Turkey


People sitting around a wood stove drinking tea
It took a brief introduction to the pleasant truth of "çay" (or "chai" or tea). As in other countries, tea drinking is not only customary, but fuel for life.

I have not been much of a tea drinker, although I do enjoy a cup from time to time, especially in the company of my mother. She even offers to provide coffee at her house, but I enjoy exploring her collection of various teas.

Volunteering in Turkey, and you may say the same about Nepal or elsewhere, drinking tea is as normal as a coffee break in the United States. However, it is less an opportunity to escape one's duties and more a communal ritual part of life. It would be quite common to be offered tea several times a day - by fellow workers, neighbors, partnering organizations, and even the displaced people living in tents whom we were there ostensibly to serve. If I didn't know better, I would have been a bit embarrassed by taking so many breaks to receive charity while we were meant to be working... and offering our own charity.

But international disaster response - as in life, you see - is a two-way street. We can also experience a unique cultural exchange. Part of the humanity of coming to help is also in receiving acts of kindness and showing gratitude. One of my first days volunteering in Turkey was bitterly cold, and we labored much of the morning outside. Within about a half hour on the job, Burhan, my Turkish workmate stopped, looked at me after only a brief hesitation and said,"çay?"

"Sure, why not?"

We sauntered over to the unofficial break area that had the wood-fired tea stove by the lockers. Burhan's several compatriots were there breaking as well, and they offered me bread, Nutella, olives, and cheese! Not a bad little tea break! They were simple things - items I would normally scan past on any given day at the grocery store - but it was an exquisite little treat, and I was promptly hooked on the favorite Turkish beverage... and all that came along with it.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Honoring Thy Father and Mother

The Decision to Care for a Parent with Terminal Illness

 It was a somber flight arriving in Los Angeles from DC, memorably the beginning of a Lakers' 2013-14 season with a win against the Clippers. There would not be a lot of winning to follow that year - for the Lakers or for my dad who had been diagnosed with cancer.

I have wanted to write about this and make it somehow worthwhile to any adult son or daughter thinking of making the caregiving of their elderly parent a full-time endeavor - something I wish were more a consideration in America, yet a solemn and arduous commitment with plenty of its own drawbacks and heartbreaks. Ten years has granted some perspective, but I'm not sure there has been much added clarity, except it was the right thing to do.

Can I Even Help?

First of all, erase the notion that you are stepping in to help your parent die. We all unavoidably die, and we usually do not need much help getting to that point. He probably accepted the end before I did, though he refused to show it. People do not need your help to die; they need you to help them live. There is nothing for you to achieve or attain, except perhaps a greater appreciation for the preciousness of life and the inevitability of death. Your job is to be there and help with the living part.

It will be hard. Most pursuits in life of any importance are, of course. But caring for a dying parent is really hard. Do not let that dissuade you, however; in trials of this magnitude, one discovers he can do more than he had predicted when he perseveres. Just remember to ask for help. You may be of the mindset that you chose this challenging time for yourself, so it is up to you to carry the load. Ask for help. People often will, they just don't know how to help or if they should intrude. I knew my friend Josh had cared for his mother and would jump in if I needed him. It turns out, when I was out making a delivery, my dad had a fall in his room. I called Josh, and he bolted there to help Dad back into bed. You should not have to do it alone.

It Won't be Picture-Perfect

It's not a movie. It is certainly a story, but you can forget about any grand storybook plots that involve skydiving and traveling the world, drinking Champagne at mountain chalets, reuniting and making peace with all prior loose ends, and arriving at some grand revelation and pretty ending. Some of that is possible, but it probably will not go as you envision. Be open to the possibilities, but running with the bulls in Pamplona in your eighties with the pains and limitations of terminal illness is usually something that could be left undone.

Yes to Life

That brings me to another point - which has its limitations, but try to give your parent what she wants. Maybe she wants to see Paris. Or maybe she just wants to spend time down the street at her favorite park. Maybe she wants a margarita every once in a while. Several times, my dad wanted to go out and make purchases that I thought were unnecessary, especially since the two of us were living on his modest pension - a wallet, a watch, pancakes at IHOP multiple times per week... You may often have to tell your parent "no," but remember these things don't mean a lot to you, but they are little things that feel like living to them. And by repeatedly telling a formerly independent person "no," you chip away at what makes life worth living. While denying a child has its merits (and seems like something that similarly must be done), denying your parent does not build character, but rather reinforces the lack of control she has over her life - what's left of it.

Take Care

They always tell you to "take care of yourself." which seems like a no-brainer. Heck, people say that all the time under normal circumstances. Caring for a dying parent full-time is a stressful event unlike any you have likely experienced. You will see and do things you never thought you should have to. It is tempting to neglect your own well-being as part of your sacrifice and even indulge yourself in activities that you know are bad for you, but perhaps you deserve a pass to deal with the stress. Your parent would never consent to you caring for her if she knew it was leading to your demise.

Quality of Life

Lastly, appreciate that dying is a natural part of life, and being there for your parent is a special, humane and profound way of both fulfilling your duty as a son or daughter and living your own journey. You may very well contribute to your parent's quality of life in the time when they need you the most. In return, you will gain perspective, wisdom, and a unique durability - perhaps even a better closeness to God and purpose. I cannot say for certain, but it may help you and your approach to the reality of death and possibilities of life. It takes you to the brink, and may haunt you for some time, but eventually you will be a better person for your experience, and your gift to your parent will have given comfort while he prepared himself for that final journey.