Wednesday, November 28, 2012

i seem to be overtaken by responsibiility

Or: 50 Shades of Illness

I've always envied literary characters who die of consumption.
They always waste away in the most beautiful fashion, with style and grace. Also, consumption sounds so much more poetic than tuberculosis. Tuberculosis sounds like an uncomfortable vegetable. I lack all form of grace or style when I get sick. My nose turns Rudolph-red, and I start perspiring like a horse. I look like how I feel inside: which is poorly.

Last night, I was sweating and fanning myself like a Southern Belle on a July afternoon in Georgia. After listening to the women-folk discuss hot flashes on Thanksgiving, I was convinced that it was an early onset of menopause (which, if you think about it, at the age of 21, is one of the worst fates imaginable). Also, my inner hypochondriac tends to manifest itself in moments of even the least discomfort, and I automatically assume the worst. Like the time I was at dinner with a friend and his parents, and I was stricken by acute stomach pain. I ended the evening on a gurney, receiving a CT scan for my imaginary appendicitis. But a girl can never be too careful.

I have a case of the sniffles. But not delicate, I'm a nineteenth-century-literary-heroine-and-I'm-sniffing-daintily-into-my-lace-handkerchief kind of sniffles, I have the oh-my-gosh-there-is-a-veritable-Amazon-River-of-snot-coming-out-of-my-nose-and-I-am-absolutely-incapable-of-stopping-it kind. I also don't sneeze delicately. Some girls do. Their sneezes are little mice-like chirrups. The gale force winds generated by my sneezes rival Hurricane Sandy. (too soon?)

There is nothing more disheartening than a steady stream of mucus coming out of your nose. 
I take that back: there is one thing more disheartening: having a stuffed up nose.
So spirit, breath, and soul are all from the same word: spiritus. I think the ancients were onto something. There is nothing more dispiriting than not being able to breathe right.
It makes my whole body starts to feel like a wilted little leaf.

Wilt: Oxford English Dictionary definition: to become limp through heat or drought.
Wilting is what happens when a plant is denied its source of life. The body needs breath, its life, or it falls sick. The soul needs the Spirit, its life, otherwise it will get all soul-sick.
Before I found myself falling into a state of sickness yesterday morning, I found myself falling into a state of crabbiness. I was feeling heartsick.
And as much as I'm sure my neighbors in class would rather I remain heartsick or soul-sick and stop sniffling, I'm rather relieved that the sickness has moved out of my heart and into my runny nose and over-zealous sweat glands.

Pardon me while I go scrounge up some chicken noodle soup.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

birdsong in grey skies

Small is the worth
 Of beauty from the light retired:
 Bid her come forth,
 Suffer herself to be desired,
 And not blush so to be admired.
--Edmund Waller, Go Lovely Rose

This morning, I ran around the lakes. They are like two pools of melancholy. They reflect the sadness of the clouds.
I stopped at the Grotto as I walked home. And I knelt down, surrendering myself into silence. But the sound of silence was broken by a very shocking noise: the trilling little songs of birds. I hadn't heard a bird sing in so long. It seemed very strange on a day that was on the cusp of winter. The springtime joy that was inherent in the voices of the little birds was shockingly bold to hear on a dull November day. Bold young things, singing with all their little avian hearts, full of unmeasurable joy, without any regard for the season.

Animals have an uncanny self-awareness that is often invisible, but sometimes flares up out of nowhere. If you look a squirrel in the eye, you can just see it's little rodent brain calculating how much it trusts you vs. how much it wants the food in your hand vs. how much of a sucker it thinks you are. It's goal: achieve the stale bagel bit dangling in front of it; and sometimes a little playful gleam will sparkle in it's eye, like it knows how much joy you get from feeding it, and how silly he thinks this whole operation is, but how much fun he's having anyway. Squirrels are little flirts, and if they could talk, I don't think they would deny it. 

It takes a lot of courage for a bird to sing in November. In the height of summer, the outdoors are alive and bursting with life, a little bird can barely help but sing. It's a natural response to the incarnate Joy that's bursting through the world. It raises its little voice to add it's own beauty to the harmonious cacophony that envelops the world. In high autumn, its little bird voice is a musical version of the colorful symphony of leaves raining down from the trees. Joyful movement is the theme of the season. But November is silence and stillness. And in the midst of the silence, a single bird singing stands out like candle in the dark. It can't be easy to muster up the courage to sing when the cold is setting in. But once one little sparrow starts singing, if you listen, you'll hear two or three more join in--encouraging him, and adding their music to his own. Their love for each other creates an oasis of warmth, in the desert of cold. And safe in that little summer they've created together, they find their voices.

Zelda Fitzgerald says that nobody has ever measured how much a human heart can hold. I think if you could write down a birdsong, you might be able to.

Monday, November 26, 2012

thirsting harts

A wounded deer leaps the highest.
--Emily Dickinson

One of the most beautiful sights that no one sees is a girl running to meet a beloved.
There's something absolutely magical about the feeling that starts in your heart and shoots through your legs, and renders walking irrelevant and incompetent. It's one of those very few times that Joy renders our body simply too slow. Excitement builds, and your heart responds by beating twice as fast. Desire takes over your heart, takes over your feet, and there you go--careening like a wild thing towards your home.

As a deer longs for flowing streams/so longs my soul for you, O God.

You sit in a boring meeting, you half-heartedly linger in a conversation, you idle aimlessly in a silence that feels like a prison. Feels like a wasteland. Feels like a desert.
You thirst to reach the fountain.
Thirst to find the oasis.
And once you sight it, you leap.
You run.
You can no longer contain yourself.
You fly out of a meeting, dart out of a room, burst out of a door. You take off running down the stairs, down the sidewalk, down the grassy quad.
Your heart feels like it's ten steps ahead of you, and you have to run to catch up with it.
You're caught up in an exhilarating race to the finish line, but the only one running is yourself.
You are overwhelmed by the sweet surety that there is nothing, nothing in the world that will keep you from reaching your goal.
Which makes you run faster towards the beloved spring that is patiently waiting to quench your thirst.

I saw a girl last night who was running in a way that my heart recognized instantly. She was running towards someone she loved: hair flying, feet seeming to barely touch the ground, and that smile of anxious desire--smiling at a reunion just over the horizon. 
Who could see such a sight and not smile?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

turkey dramz

There are few things I love more than Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is always the same-old, same-old but in the best ever-ancient-ever-new way possible. 
My family has been self-described by my mother as chaos incarnate (her words, friends, not mine).
And this weekend has definitely lived up to that description.

As my brother knelt down to offer Mass, and the rest of the family gathered around our own table of thanksgiving. As the morning sun bathed the warm gold dining room with comfy light, I looked at each family member as we shared a meal of Dad's chocolate chip pancakes, and we laughed over stupid inside jokes and made fun of each family member in turn, and listened to stories from the past weeks and months, and were just a whirlwind of our own particular brand of chaos.

Christmas Morning Chaos

I was trying to explain to my Dad my own particular brand of sloppiness. How my desk is covered with books: there are books here, books there, books spilling over into piles on the floor. I just have a lot of books. Will I read them all? Probably not. But it's comforting to know they're there.
But they're not dusty. I hate dust. Hate it. I hate crumbs on the floor and hair in the sink, or dust on a mirror. I like things clean. But cluttered. "You're a cluttered neat freak," suggested my dad.
Precisely! I chirped.

I like a lot of clutter and chaos. I feed off of it.
Maybe that's why I thrive in a family of eight squished comfortably into a four bedroom house. 
It's a house full of cascades of chaos and clutter--and of all the things I'm thankful for, this is up at the very top.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

the presentation of something

All the ways of the Lord are kindness and constancy
 That’s Psalm 25 (in case you were wondering).
I read that this morning and then just looked at God and I laughed.
I laughed.

Is that a joke? I said. ‘Cause if it is, that’s actually a really funny one. No, no, seriously, hold onto that one. It’ll be good for dinner parties.
But it wasn’t a joke, as I was quickly reminded. It’s not.
It’s just the truth.
Like, it’s a fact.
As in, you can’t change it.
As in, you can beat and pound and scream and kick and cry and shout, but the path anointed for you is one that is loving, kind, and constant.

I talked with my little sister today about our different paths of the past months that did not always seem surrounded in love. They sometimes seemed lonely and confusing, full of hurt and tears. But as we shared our stories today, we gasped in astonishment and sighed in compassion and chirped in agreement. We were the two friends that C.S. Lewis writes of who saw each other and cried out: "You too!? I thought I was the only one."

I often think that if the words I love you could be distilled into an action, it might be a defiant shrug. The kind of shrug that accompanies the words: “I don’t know” when actually you do know, but refuse to say. The kind of shrug that says: This is the truth. Sorry if you don’t agree: you’re going to just have to deal with it. That’s the sort of no-nonsense love that I delight in. Love that just cuts right through all the inessential exteriors right to the essential heart of the matter. Love that cuts through the pain, and finds the joy inside.

I read:
All the ways of the Lord are kindness and constancy

And I think I saw God defiantly shrug.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

another story must begin

  The past couple of days and nights I have found myself reminiscing hardcore.
This is mostly because I'm heading home for Thanksgiving break, and heading home for breaks usually overwhelms me in a sea of nostalgia (and last-minute packing panic).

There is no other comparable feeling to the feeling of something ending.
 Endings and I have a love/hate relationship.

For all of high school, I marked my life with a series of openings and endings. The opening of one show usually followed closely on the heels of one show's closing.
The phases of my life --for as long as I remember--have been marked by one show after the other.
I rarely begin stories with: "In my freshman year of highschool..." instead, I say: "Between A Christmas Carol and The Wizard of Oz..."

Theatre, like all art, is temporal. It ends eventually, which is part of its sadness and its beauty.
You give your heart and soul to a story, you spend weeks and months on end with a cast, you form a community, build a set, create a world, only to dismantle it all in the ignominy of strike. The magic you created is taken apart by those who created it. Although sometimes your entire self wants to scream or cry as you watch the world you inhabited for several months turn into a pile of scrapwood and sawdust, what you eventually learn is that this is all part of the process.
A world is built, then destroyed so that something else just as big and bold and beautiful can take its place.

As I depart for Thanksgiving break, I can't help but look back at my departure from home at the beginning of the school year. And, of course, the song that wound its way around my heart and was constantly playing on the radio and in my head, and being sung in the car, on the dance floor, and in the shower.

I look back and I think of all the nights I wished my lips would fall off, or build a castle, or the nights that I didn't know what I stood for or where I stood or whether the sky was falling in. And I still wonder at the amazing things that can come from some terrible lies.

And I can't wait to turn the page and see what adventures the new chapter holds.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

turn them into something good

I've been beaten down, I've been kicked around//she takes it all for me.

He approached the meal of thanksgiving with nothing to be thankful for.
The heavy graces of the year had caught up with him, and he came devoid of thought or prayer.
So instead, he silently watched his younger brother.
As he watched him, he felt all the grief and hurt and pain that was dwelling in the heart of the younger man.

Unmanly tears threatened to spill out of his own eyes.
He wished his younger sister was there to calm him with her deep blue eyes. Little blue lights she carried with her always. Lights that dispelled darkness; little oases of joy.
As the tears came anyway, he silently cursed, and wished his older brother was there to show him strength. To look at him with his sad brown eyes, and say: life is pain, and that is our hope.
His heart was doubly pained as he thought of his older brother while looking at the younger.
His heart was almost rent in two, holding two hurts that pulled him diametrically apart.
Brother and brother, divided by the sword.
His heart yearned to embrace his little brother. Tell him all would be well and all would be well and all manner of things would be well. But the words were choked back by sorrow. All he could do was look at him and stand by his side, feeling every inch of hurt. 
He struggled to hold his heart intact as the overwhelming cloud of pain descended upon the world.

He looked at the man on the cross, but the Man remained as silent as a lamb. No words came from Him
He felt words forming on his own lips.
He repeated them over and over without thought.
A strange sort of litany to saints he did not love rolled off his tongue.
Only then he stopped to listen to his own words.
Our Lady of Sorrows, his own voice said.
Pray for us, he responded reflexively. 

The only thing more foolish than praying to a God who would not save was praying to His Mother, who did not care.
But at least the Lady could understand. 
Sorrow understands sorrow.

Instead of Eucharist bells, a baby's cry.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

here goes everything

May you enkindle the wills of all,
so that we may overcome the barriers that divide, 
cherish the bonds of mutual charity, understand others, 
and pardon those who have done us wrong.
-Pope John XXIII

The Acholi people of Northern Uganda have a ritual of reconciliation called mato oput.
Mato oput occurs when two clans bring together the perpetrator and the victim of a crime, and through a day-long series of rituals they restore harmony between the individuals and the community affected by the hurt and seek to replace the injustice with peace.

During my research work on Friday, I encountered this ritual for the first time, and I was struck by the simple but compelling way in which is was described.
It made me reflect on how short I sell apologies, and the importance of the actual ritual of apologizing as part of the reconciliation and healing process.

If there's one thing we can learn from the sacrament of reconciliation is that there is a huge grace in being able to physically apologize: even to a God we cannot see. Through that sacrament, we are able to enact our own mato oput (if you will) with God. There is such a great mercy in that.
But the greatest mercy in confession is this: we encounter a Someone who is gracious enough to hear our apology.
More than that.
He is good enough that He needs to hear our apology; is longing, thirsting for our apology.
He will not allow the harmony between ourselves and Him to be marred by a throbbing, lingering hurt.
He will not allow us to get-away with being only half-healed.

The moments of greatest healing in my life have come from listening to an apology. An apology humbly offered, and sincerely meant.

I remember crying on the floor in the basement of South Dining Hall (I mean: doesn't everyone?) with my best friend: accepting an apology for an offense that took me only a second to forgive.

I remember telling a boy who hurt me that I wanted to forgive him, but it would take some time. But I remember feeling that knot of fragile hurt and throbbing vulnerability and bitterness loosen a bit even as I said the words.

As I listened to those apologies, I took the first step beyond my broken defenselessness and began to wrap myself in the healing arms of love.

Granting forgiveness is an important step in healing the divisions between us. When listening to their apology, we cannot avoid encountering the grace and beauty present in each human being. When someone who has hurt us asks for our forgiveness, we see that despite all their flaws and imperfections, they also have the seeds of goodness planted in them.
We can begin to see the image of the Son in them.

The Christian life could be adequately and succinctly summed up in the words of Francis of Assisi:

Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love. 
Where there is injury, pardon. 
Where there is doubt, faith. 
Where there is despair, hope. 
Where there is darkness, light.// 
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; 
to be understood, as to understand; 
to be loved, as to love. 
For it is in giving that we receive. 
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

Francis so beautifully illuminates the truth that the purpose of all our lives is to help water the seeds of goodness planted in our brothers and sisters. We are called to not let the weeds of hurt or hatred choke out the eternal love that we are all made for and that we all long for, thirst for, run for.

In pardoning those who have injured us, we are mirroring the pardon that we seek every time we kneel down in a confessional. What an inescapably terrifying beauty; what a marvelously heavy grace. 
Who knows but that we have been given that heavy grace for such a time as this?

The greatest act of self-sacrifice we can offer to another human is an apology.
And the greatest act of love and service we can perform is to listen to it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

you were there to remind me

The universe rings true whenever you fairly test it.
--C.S. Lewis

If self-giving love is the logic of the universe, then if you step outside the self-giving love, everything falls to chaos. 
If you step outside self-giving love,  then the universe stops to ring true.
Your universe turns into something raw and red and throbbing.
It turns into a big old knot of pain, mixed with a little anger and bitternes, with a generous helping of hurt.
You've stepped outside the bounds of logic, and you've become caught in a spiral that leads nowhere except inward on itself. 
People talk about going "crazy with grief." It happens--you've lost your foothold on logic, and are tumbling down the rabbit hole.

The only way to reorient yourself--to recalibrate--is to enter into the logical universe once again:
to turn back to self-giving love.

Friday, November 16, 2012

i've got forever on the tip of my tongue


Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake. 

--Wallace Stevens

I have never taken the time to walk around a lake with someone and not bothered to have a very truthful conversation. Small talk doesn't belong to wandering outdoors. When you accompany someone on a walk your conversations are immediately radically different than a conversation you would have with them at a dinner party. Human beings. We're so effected by our environment. How delightful and bizarre and perfectly natural of us.


Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!
--Confessions of Augustine


I love watching people flirt. Generally, there is not a more beautiful sight in the world than watching two people encounter the mystery of one another, and be utterly charmed by the litte hints and glimmers of what they see. I feel my heart grow very warm indeed, and can't help but wish them well.
And the matchmaker in me gets all excited and happy, and begins plotting overtime.



I am such a klutz. I am such a klutz, that back in my junior year of high school, it took me only a month to damage our new car. (It was the rearview mirror. That poor thing had a painful encounter with the garage wall.) I am such a klutz, I once broke five dishes in a week. I am such a klutz, I once fell off my ladder trying to climb into my loft.

Given all this, I am surprised it took me a whole four and a half semesters to get burned by a Grotto candle.

Last night, as I leaned over to light a candle, I started to smell something burning.
I looked down and saw that my dress had caught on fire.
Because I tend to over-react in general (slightly. just slightly.), a terrifying vision popped into my head briefly of an Observer headline: "Girl Catches on Fire Trying to Light Candle: Sustains Fatal Burns." With that terrifying image racing through my head, and absolutely sure I was going to turn into a tiny little inferno, I calmly sat down on the ground and beat my dress with my mittens until it stopped smoking. (If there's one thing I remember from Girl Scouts, it's STOP. DROP. and ROLL. (I made the executive decision to nix the rolling.)

As I sat there on the ground, with a slit of still smoking charcoal decorating my dress, I just laughed.
And then the only words running through my head were my faves (from the Song of Songs, natch):

For stern as death is love,
Relentless as nether world is devotion;
Its flames are a blazing fire. 

If love is like a blazing fire, then maybe it's like the couples flirting: it's so enamored with what it sees, it loses its mind a little bit; it is so enamored, it burns with a wanton abandon. And then maybe it just might burn things we would rather it would just leave intact. But the flames of love are relentless, which is annoying. Especially when they're burning a hole in your turquoise dress.

But at its heart, love's always a little wild, I suppose.
That's just how Love works. He's not a tame lion.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

i ain't here to do anything half-way

November 2011
I fail to comprehend how anyone could make their way through life without coming face-to-face with the inevitable and not entirely welcome truth that we are broken. Completely crippled. How can we fail to register the fact that we are totally and utterly helpless before the all-ness of the world? We lack the strength. We’re not strong enough. I’m not strong enough at all. 

All we have to do is keep our wits about us and never forget our senses of humor. 

I peer up into the starry night. The stars are hidden by a veil of rain and a blockade of clouds. That blockade challenges my own façade. I whisper to the invisible stars: I can’t do this. As my heart beats, it echoes again and again: I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I’m weak. I’m weak. I’m weak. Sometimes twenty years feels like a thousand. But sometimes it weighs on her shoulders like the passing of a sunset. Being twenty is no different than being two. Being human isn’t relegated to a specific age. 

She’s so busy being free. 
The world opens up at my door in a bright blue haze of wonder and excitement and glamorous mysteries to be uncovered. There is a world of everything out there. And I want to see it all. Taste it all. Hug everything. Soak it all in and make it mine. Name it, see it, love it, be a part of it. 
What we lack is passion.
We are too content with the milquetoast, and ignore our souls’ desire for the epic and the beautiful. 
We lack Appetite. Insatiable and sensuous appetite for beauty. Beauty that adorns every corner of the world, including ourselves. 
Human beings—works of art—masterpieces crafted with inestimable and inexplicable love by the Master Artist.
--900 Ways to Kill a Canary

November 2012
God and I had a little tête-à-tête.
When life is getting the best of you, it's best to just go to the Author of life and have a mini editorial meeting.
I looked right at Him and said: 'kay, dude, this had better be good
I continued: I think I could've thought up a few alternate plot lines. So thanks for consulting me on that...oh wait. Just kidding. You didn't. (hashtag hubris. I'm only human, peeps.)

Once I released my little fit of teenage angst. I snuggled down into some fall leaves and looked at the blue sky peeking through the foggy clouds. Such a perfect image.
Darn it.
You know how to melt my heart so well, I said, ugh, so annoying. All it takes is well-timed sunset, or a squirrel running up to me and putting its little paws so trustingly on my hand, or dazzling constellations floating in the sky on a clear night.
 I groaned the groans of a child who knows they've lost an argument: Stop that. Stop it right now. Too much beauty.
Serves me right for trying to argue with a master artist.
An artist who has created a masterpiece know that the most important part is the large scope of the art--the overall arc must be brilliant and beautiful: full of life and passion, and the grandest of emotions. 
But the other most important part is the smallest detail: making sure that each leaf is perfectly fashioned and painted just right. Timing entrances and exits down to the smallest precision, watching all the little small puzzle pieces--so uniquely and intricately shaped-- fall into place.

This adventure is not the one I signed up for. But it's the one I've been given. I could never have thought of it; I would never have imagined it. But that's beautiful. That's why it's so beautiful: I only realize as I live the unfolding adventure that of course it's the right one. It couldn't happen any other way.
Because how else would I be able to shed my jealousy, or grow in wisdom, lose my naïveté, learn how to give from my vulnerabilities, from my nothingness, to love someone without words, but just with the Word, learn what it feels like to be so tangibly held in the arms of prayer, to learn how to rely on those brothers and sisters who disappoint us, to give of oneself even when misunderstood, to learn the wisdom of silence, and the importance of being honest, even when it stings like hydrogen peroxide. 

How else could I have discovered what it's like to uncover a little bit of Joy, opening up a breathing space in pain, a Joy whose happiness is richer, deepened, transfigured into something more precious and tender because of sorrow.

How could I have discovered how to have patience, how to love despite hurt and disappointment and fear, how else could I learn to slowly uncurl my fists and let the water fill them--fill them to the point of overflowing.

Chalk this up to a success for the Master Artist. I guess He sort of maybe kind of knows what He's doing. He reminds me of that each day with each perfectly arranged detail. 
Because it's in the details that I see so clearly the love.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

how old is your soul?

So I saw this tree.

All the other trees right now are so bare.
And brown. They look so very brown.
I went for a run and the color palette of the world had become dulled.
It's as if a mischievous sprite had mixed in grey with all the paints used to color nature.

But anyway: I saw this tree.

(Except for evergreens, of course. But they're always the exception.
They never move. Never change. Stand unaltered.
When everything else is brown, they definitely pop out of the barren landscape.
Oasis of color in a desert of barrenness.
Steadfast. They're a reminder that some things don't change.
todo se pasa; Dios no se muda)

Like I said: I saw this tree.
And it was red. It was still clinging to its deep, ruby red leaves.
And it shook them off slowly--most of them fell to ground in a thick blanket all around the tree.
A carpet of blood-red snowflakes.
It was a sight to see: a brave red tree, holding onto an autumn long-gone.



I smiled at a little elderly lady who walked past me after Mass.
She smiled back at me, with a twinkle in her eye.
Her twinkle matched my own.
Our eyes were laughing together.
Her twinkle was because she remembered what it was like being 20.
And because I do not know what it is like to be 70.
But one day I will.
Being old just means that you're in on the joke.
Her eyes laughed at me, because I hadn't yet discovered it.
And mine laughed, because the answer to many questions is:
"You'll understand when you are older."
Because to be young means to be incapable of understanding so many things.
Like what it's like to hold your child in your arms.
Or to feel your bones age inside your skin.
Or to discover with a certain sadness just how short life is.

Our eyes laughed together, because we are both growing older.
Her smile was for her memories.
My smile was for the day that I turn 70.
And all the moments that will make me smile between now and then.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

roll away your stone

This song makes me want Easter.

I do not understand the mystery of grace. Only that it meets us where we are and doesn't leave us where she found us.
-Anne Lamott

We are what we love.
And we are what we chose.

In Mere Christianity, my dear C.S. says something that has always stuck with me:
"Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before."

I am always so struck by how fast one can grow. How at the end of the week, the beginning of the week seems like it was longer ago than freshman year. How I can learn so much in a day, even if I don't go to class. How all the little choices of one month can lead me to a place I never could have predicted one month before. I do not understand the mystery of life; only that we are never left in the same place very long at all. For the gypsy princess inside of me, the constant movement is where I thrive.

Life--and grace--both work in the same way: as you move across each bridge you burn it behind you. And that is truly a blessing. Freedom is too often equated with choice. But if freedom, as I've so often been told, is being who you truly are, then there really is no choice. There is only being who you truly are, or existing in some sort of hazy mirage of half-truth.

I cannot choose who I truly am: I can only discover who I am. C.S. Lewis goes on to say:

"Taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself."
There is hardly a choice between choosing between becoming a hellish creature or a heavenly creature. There is no choice in allowing yourself to continued to be enslaved. The choice is really whether or not you will allow yourself to relinquish your choice and become free. To become free by submitting to love. As Mumford sings, "Love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free."
Although some nights, I'm not quite sure who that is, if I know where I stand, if I know who I love, then I'm one step closer to understanding who I am.

That's why we are what we love. As my mother so often tells me: loving someone is daily choice. Who we love determines the choices we make, which in turn determine what we become (c.f. the C.S. Lewis quote above). When you say: "Not my will, but yours be done" you are submitting to the other that essential part of yourself. True love, as Mama T insists, is surrender. You are allowing the other to shape the person you are becoming. It's silly in a very serious way to trust someone that much. To give yourself over to them so completely.
To hand them the match and say: burn this bridge. I've crossed it, and I'm not going back.

Monday, November 12, 2012

if I wander til I die

may I know whose hands I'm in

Oh, November.
You are such a strange little month.
I'm never quite sure what to make of you.
Like any good Miss Marple-In-Training, I thought back to my last experience of November, and tried to solve the mystery by remembering what I'd previously seen of this month. I tried to sketch out of a portrait of November's character.

But, as Darcy is to Lizzie, so you are to me, November: an aloof mystery.
But I think I love you all the more for that.
I'll be candid: I love October more than words. I breathe in the air rich with that distinct fall-leaf aroma, I find myself come alive again in the crisp, bright blue sky. I embrace October with enthusiastic joy each time it comes to visit.
December sends little trills of happiness through my soul. Smell of pine and candles burning. Advent. Gingerbread. Fireplaces. Sledding and skating. Wrapping presents. December makes me dance like snowflakes swirling around Christmas lights.

But, you, November.
I don't dislike you as much as I once did. Although I resent you for turning the leaves brown and soggy with your cold, cold rain.
And I have yet to forgive you for covering up the blue sky with dull grey clouds.
Despite the erratic little patches of sun and warmth you send as a piteous little offering of goodwill, you are still far from my favorite.
But I can't deny that there's a peace in you I didn't expect to find. That those grey clouds can create a sanctuary of warmth and coziness. Even the rain can become a dreary sort of baptism, washing the earth clean.
There's a peaceful sort of silence in the desert of November trees.
And I'm just beginning to understand.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

harmonize and shine

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.// There's nothing enlightened about shrinking So that other people won't feel insecure around you. // We are all meant to shine.
--Marianne Williamson

Delight and shine.
Delight and shine.
Two words that harmonize so well together.
To delight in the light all around us, and to delight in our own light that shines--that shines to add to the beauty of the light that sustains us.

Among whom you shine like lights in the world, says Paul. 

Friday night we revisited a retreat center that I had spent a night at right at the beginning of the year. It prompted what became an extended fit of melancholy. Revisiting a location and awakening all the memories that exist not only in that location, but awaken memories of what you were thinking or feeling or loving or hating or worrying or praying or hoping when you visited there. It was so beautiful to reflect on the adventure that the year has been.

But, when I arrived back on campus on Saturday, I found myself feeling numb. And dry. Uncreative, unresponsive. Despite being told to shine and to be my effusive, joyful self, I found myself retreating inwards back into Melancholy-ville. And I tried to sit down multiple times and reflect on the weekend, and write. But the words weren't coming.

Our greatest lights can also be our greatest darknesses: the gifts that we use to bring so much beauty into the world are our greatest weapon to bring the most hurt. So when I have been the most hurt, I find myself numb and devoid of all words. And when I want to work the most hurt, I hold back. I don't say anything. There is a silence that lives within us, that fuels expressions of love and beauty. When melancholy turns me inward, I let the silence turn into something that chokes any words of love or beauty before they can escape.
I love silence: the joyful silence of peace; but not the dry, barren silence of selfishness.


There were at least five babies babbling in Mass today. As I waited in line for communion, I began to smile as I listened to their little voices tearing through the air. I watched the morning sun shine through the stained glass windows, and sparkle and dance on the glossy floor by the altar.
In that warm silence, I found that I could speak again.
The first words I said were

still I search for shelter from your light.//There is no where on earth I can escape you,//Even the darkness is radiant in your sight.

Friday, November 9, 2012

my blood runs warm with the mulled red wine

its killing you// don't you know that its killing me too

I've discovered over the past few weeks that one of the most beautiful privileges of a friendship (one of the most sorrowful, but the most beautiful) is walking with a friend through their pain, grief, or heartbreak. For as long as they run to keep pace with them the longer they run.

Sometimes all you can do is give them a few fragile words through Skype, or offer them a hug and a warm smile after class, or stop in your tracks, decide to sit down and join them for dinner and a find a beautiful conversation blossom between you.

Sometimes all you can do is hold them as they cry, because those are moments when there's no point to words. One of the human experiences that words often completely fail at describing is grief.
Sometimes all you can do is entrust them to the hand of God, and share the weight of the world with them.

There is an Indonesian/Malay word:


that my friend and I adopted.

It means mutual co-operation;
sharing a burden together;
bearing the weight of the world with a trusted friend.

Sometimes there are no words you can give to a friend. You just know that you are both in
gotong-royong together.


The other day, if you recall, I was delighted by the unique magic of Old Testament Professor.
It was that same afternoon, another professor--Professor Monsignor--gave a beautiful little eloquent tangent (he is so prone to tangents, some profound, some hilarious, and all of them beautiful.) on the grief and pain experienced by Augustine in the Confessions. He said:

"If you've done something wrong or stupid, you go through a period of grief and pain and hating yourself. The only thing that heals that is time and distance from the event."

All the heartbreak we go through, although it breaks us, is so necessary for healing.
It's all a process of breathing in love and light;
breathing out hate, despair and fear

In the midst of one particularly difficult week, I went to one of my favorite chapels on campus, and sang.

Just took a few moments and sang.
The chapel has four ginormous stained glass windows, which means that 90% of the day, there is sunlight streaming through the colored glass, filling that bright, cavernous room with the glow of warm light. (Also, each floor-to-ceiling window represents one of the seasons. I glowed like an Advent candle when I made this happy discovery)
As I stood in front of the small gold tabernacle, singing, the sunlight poured through the autumn window, and I felt besieged by the cozy light like a giant hug.
I've never been that happy singing.
It was a moment I like to call an Ubi Caritas moment: when everything is doused in honey-colored light and the music is all that could possibly matter. You just breathe in the love and light, and you breathe out everything else and watch it disappear.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

god's little dishrag

There are certain days each year I stop and marvel at how one whole year has passed.
And some moments seem very far away and very long ago, and some moments seem closer than yesterday.

I remembered that one year ago today, I wrote this.

I never thought that one year later that simple little act of kindness would send such ripples through my life.

Today I am marveling at the angels that God has brought into my life. Whether wearing North Face jackets, or Autumn sweaters; J. Crew raincoats or hipster cardigans, I have been so blessed by so many who have made such ripples in my life.

So last year, I came in from the rain and watched Love Actually for the first time that Season with my friend while my heart overflowed with gratefulness, and poured out the thankfulness into a blog post.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

death of the flex point

This is That Time of year.

That time of year when everything is sort of fading into grey:
the autumn leaves have faded from brilliant jewel tones to brown,
the sky has melted into a constant drizzle,
and the crisp fall air is wet and cold, putting a damper on the warmth of the sunlight and any sort of possible good mood.

Old Testament Professor says this is the time of year he senses the eschaton is upon us.
Old Testament Professor says a lot of things that I find equally as charming.
Today, he asked if I would write a play about anything in this course.
As fascinating as the Old Testament is, I know that if I was to write a play about anything in this course, it would be about Old Testament Professor himself. He is the most charming person I have ever had the privilege of meeting.

He's one of those people that makes you believe fairies must exist, because he positively exudes mischievous magic.  
His eyes twinkle and sparkle as he pokes fun at himself, Biblical characters, and various students in the class. His sense of fun and wit is so broad and so sharp; but he is so gentle and so wise.

He has this mysterious charisma. And if there's one thing I know about writing a play, you start with characters who have mysterious charisma. If you fully understand a person, don't write a play about them, write an essay. Someone like Old Testament Professor could only be captured in a piece of art. A play, a portrait, a sculpture: all these attempt to portray a human's spirit. 

You can't explain the mystery of an individual human, you can only hope to fall in love with it.

So I sit in the warm haven of a classroom and listen to a lecture about Purgatory and Second Samuel, blissfully ignoring November outside. But what I truly learned this class was a little more about the particular beauty and magic of Old Testament Professor.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

do. you. (fearlessly)

"Then I asked mom how old I have to be to start dating (just out of curiosity) and she said that it's a matter of maturity, so maturity here I come!"
--Incorrigible Teen Sister 
(She's a solution-finder, that one.)

"What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world."--GKC

One of the marvelous things about growing up in a large family is having little siblings who always remind you of an age you used to be.

Do you remember what it was like being 10? I do. I distinctly remember having cakes in the shape of kissing fish for my 10th birthday.
I was a truly remarkable child.

The baby of the family just turned ten. Ten, my friends. He's seen a whole decade of the world pass by. That boggles my mind. We forget how long a decade is. Especially to those of us who have only completed two of them. When I think of how much growing and learning I do over the course of a week, the idea of ten years of growth eludes my imagination.

I watch my willowy young twelve-year-old sister and marvel at how different we are. We are so incredibly opposite in so many ways, and yet sometimes I look at her and I see myself reflected back at me. I remember the feeling of being twelve and knowing everything, and wondering how much more growing one could possibly do? I knew everything when I was twelve, and I was fairly certain that at age fifteen I would be a complete adult and probably would reach the dizzying, Mount-Everest-scale heights of maturity. The confidence of a twelve-year-old is unparalleled.

It's incredible to be able to look at my sister and be reminded of the untempered romanticism and the surety I had in the way I saw the world at the age of twelve.

My fourteen-year-old sister (a freshman. in highschool. Seriously. How is this happening?) is constantly surprising me with her depth, beauty, and her utter uinqueness. Her irresistable charm is due to the fact that no one else in the world is quite like her.
She's a sensitive little goofball: a complete package of wonderful.

And I don't see myself in her at all.
But we both have dreams that are miles high, we both long for sophistication and glamour but all we really want is to be cherished with words of love from the people we love.

There comes that magic moment when you come back from a semester, or you call home and end up having a thirty minute conversation with a younger brother, or you have a heart-to-heart with a younger sister where you're both sharing your souls, and in that moment, you realize that that little sibling of yours has grown up.
Those rare, beautiful moments in which you find that a younger sibling has become an equal are moments to live for.
Those are moments when your siblings become friends.

It's highly miraculous.
And it leaves me in a continual state of awe.

Monday, November 5, 2012

colour-blind signalmen

"We belong to a generation whose perception of symbols is blurred except in familiar social contexts."

A few weeks ago, we read Brideshead Revisted, and our professor pointed out to us how odd the sacraments are.
They are absurd.
They go against everything we young postmoderns have been raised to believe.
We are taught to look inward at someone's real intentions, their interior disposition, "it's the thought that counts."
But the Sacraments assert boldly:
"Symbols are the only means of communication."
That in order to understand the spiritual we must embrace the physical. Heaven and earth must truly kiss.

In Brideshead Revisited, this adherence so completely to ritual--even down to it's seemingly absurd, nit-picky details--is a major plot point. This is a point where the Universe rings true, but reads as absolutely nonsensical to post-modern sensibilities. And that is the delightful foolishness of holiness that is wiser than all the combined wisdom of man.

"Yet his contempt both for magic and rules of impurity is based on ignorance. The drawing of symbolic lines and boundaries is a way of bringing order into experience. Such non-verbal symbols are capable of creating a structure of meanings in which individuals can relate to one another and realize their own ultimate purposes."
--Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols.

For example, communication. We assume (sometimes wrongly, sometimes rightly) that spontaneous speech flows straight from the heart. It may be incoherent and imperfect communication, but it's raw and honest, and says "exactly what the person wants to say."
It is actually ritual and ritualized speech that gives us the instant communication we long for. We all envy twins who can communicate, it seems, via telepathy or some unique and coveted twin-extra-sensory-perception. 
We yearn for a kindred spirit or bosom friend (as Anne Shirley would name it) who knows our minds and our hearts so well that words are weighted with the collection of stories behind the words. A friend who can read and participate in the ritual expressions that we ourselves have inherent in our own bodies. We idealize this non-verbal communication, we long to have someone who knows us so well they can "finish our sentences," we are in awe when we both say the same phrase or words at the exact same time (on cue, as it were), and we love inside jokes and other verbal communications that hold non-verbal communication. 
Our words are the most real, communicate the most meaning when they become sacraments that "harmonize with The Word," to borrow a friend's phrase.

Those who reject ritual and ritualized speech are rejecting a whole world of non-verbal communication full of life. As much as we value spontaneity, we are beings that innately long for ritual.

seasons of love/life/gchat

"It was the discipline of his life to break ties; to say farewell and move on into the unknown."
--Death Comes for the Archbishop

My friends.  There are many sad/unfortunate/pathetic facts of life. One my sad/unfortunate facts is that throughout the seasonal ups-and-downs and ins-and-outs of my college experience, there has been one thread of continuity-- an undeniable comfort in the grand expanse of constant change--that beautiful, unifying factor would be gchat.
Oh my friends. I should be ashamed, truly ashamed of how large a role gchat has played in my life.
Am I?
Not even a smidgen ashamed. Out of infinity possible regrets, I have zero.

I also have zero regrets about the retreat we that I led all day today, even though this week is up there in the "Most Stressful Weeks of the Semester." (Right on the heels of "Most Roller-Coaster-y Week of the Semester". [You know: roller-coaster-y.])

But, instead of studying, I spent a good portion of the day with 27 high schoolers, who taught me more than I taught them. A large theme of the retreat was seasons of our lives. Sidebar: many of them associate autumn with death. But one girl believed autumn was a time of new beginnings, my heart went out to her at once, and I literally responded: "HOLLA," further confirming their belief that I was a irretrievably bizarre specimen of humanity. (In an endearing kind of way? I hope? That's what I'll tell myself.)

So, back to gchat: there are seasons in our lives we behave certain ways (see, it's all tying together). And we usually reflect which season we are in through social behavior. And my favorite social behavior is gchat.

I believe strongly that most people in your chat bar are in fact on gchat, they're just invisible. Being invisible on gchat is not a thing that is widely discussed. But we need to be honest that we all do it. What you set your gchat status as is usually highly indicative of your self-awareness of your own individual inclination to get sucked into conversations and the amount of time you have to spare for conversation.

Like the busy signal. That glaring red busy icon is just silly. I've never really understood why the busy signal exists. One of the few times I've used it was when I was in the busy signal for a good solid week or two, as a passive-aggressive response to another friend's busy signal (well, if YOU'RE busy. I'm busy).

I felt that I was far too busy to be leading this retreat. I woke up today feeling as though I should have said no--that would have been the smart choice, the responsible and practical choice.
But this retreat re-awoke a certain little part of me that was so alive and vibrant during the summer.

And it reminded me that some of the greatest lessons I've encountered have come from high schoolers.

One girl not even realizing how much her words applied to me as well as herself, talked about patience being an essential part of hope. About allowing yourself to be patient in your hopelessness, and trust that there will one day be a light at the end of the tunnel. She talked about the importance of friends to lift you out of yourself when you were incapable of it. I just listened and soaked in her wisdom and smiled and nodded and nodded some more.
 That yellow-orange idle/away icon is just ambiguous, like a yellow light: does it means hurry and speed up? Or slow down? Have they been gone forever and if you chat them will your message die in the stratosphere of the internet ether? Or are they just one tab over staring at Thought Catalog articles, dying for you to distract them from themselves? Indecision on indecision on indecision.

But the green gchat icon is where I've decided to live my life. It's the natural state of gchat. It says: Available. Open.


Sometimes, there's not much to say to five highschoolers sitting in a circle, not much wisdom you can give them, but to look them in the eye and say in the most matter-of-fact way that you can:

And you are worthy of being loved.
And you are loved.

And look them straight in the eye and say: you may not believe it, and you may doubt it (as we all often do), but that doesn't change the fact. I want you to believe it, but whether you do or not is up to you. Your belief in it's true-ness doesn't make it any less true.
Can we just be adults about this, I'll say, and accept that there are some things that are facts and can't be changed.
One of them is that you are loved.

And you can't argue with that, just like you can't argue that my mother is not my mother or that I woke up this morning. 
I popped out of her womb. I woke up this morning. These things happened. Sorry not sorry.
Let's just get a reality check and accept the facts. Whether or not I choose to believe them isn't a reflection of how true the facts are: my belief is just a reflection of how in touch with reality I actually am.
Since love is the ultimate reality, we are the most grounded and the most realistic in Love. 

If we are too caught up in the golden yesterdays, we'll never love the present.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

i wish my lips could build a castle

"Dear Ramaine [?]
To one of the nicest sisters in the world on her birthday
From her brother,
Nov 26 1927"

I found the above inscription in my used copy of Willa Cather's Death for the Archbishop. And I was so touched by those simple words. Because to someone, they meant a lot. This book I'm holing was a gift from a brother to a sister, and now, eighty-five years later, I'm holding his gift to her in my hands. It's a very happy-fying thought. 
Just those simple little words sent from a brother to a sister made me value this book so much more. 

I have learnt so much how the simplest words, sincerely meant, can carry more sweetness and tenderness than the most elaborate poetry.


One of my friends is very particular about how his words are used. He puts so much thought into his words. I laugh at him, because he will send texts explaining previous texts, or clarifying points, or retracting words that he thought could be misunderstood. After a conversation, he will usually have thought up a list of amendments to statements, ensuring that nothing is misunderstood. And that always makes me smile, because one of the most beautiful things in the world is when people are so very much themselves even in their small, quirky, seemingly insignificant-but-very-significant ways. 

I have learned the importance of precision in language. Words are so nuanced, and so small--so small, and we expect them to effortlessly carry such large ideas and thoughts and emotions--and so one can never be too careful with what you say.


When bitter and angry words are filling your mouth, you have to say them so they don't tie themselves up in a knot in your throat and keep their bitterness locked up inside. And once you say them, once you feel them roll off the tip of your tongue and out into the air, it's incredible how they no longer have quite the same hold on you. 

I learned that you have to sometimes say I hate you before you can say I love you once again.

Friday, November 2, 2012

even nearer than the angels

Your best is good enough.

My friends often tease me for calling everything the greatest or all people my favorites, or each sunrise the most beautiful. And I just laugh along, because I fail to understand how each sunset can't be the best sunset. I can't imagine living in a world where each thing can't be the most beautiful.
[Maybe I just learned superlatives wrong. hashtag homeschooled.]

In that spirit, the absolutely most beautiful sight I have ever seen was yesterday during All Saints Mass. A bunch of the ol' Vision gang attended Mass to celebrate the 21st birthday of one of our members. (Hit up the bars at midnight, hit up the Paschal Mystery the next evening. It's a great thing to be a Catholic when turning the big 2-1.)

Now, the birthday girl's roommate has left the school for the semester, but, unbeknownst to the birthday girl, her roommate was plotting to fly in this weekend to surprise our friend on her birthday. (Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Shmandy. No Frankenstorm was getting in this girl's way back to ND.)

She contacted several of us earlier to let us know what was afoot, and that she would be flying into ND on Thursday evening/afternoon. And then she would show up at the All Saints/birthday Mass and surprise the birthday girl.

With less than an hour to go til Mass, I received a text from her saying: "stuck in traffic :(".
We arranged, however, for her to sneak into Mass as soon as she arrived, and then, in the joyful hubbub of the sign of peace, surprise her unsuspecting roommate.

I missed the actual moment of greeting, but as I turned away from hugging sign-of-peace-ing my neighbors, I looked over at the birthday girl and saw her utterly shocked and surprised face burst into tears as she hugged her roommate. Her large brown eyes welled up with tears: a beautiful mixture of the pain of separation, and the overwhelming joy of reunion mingeld together. She didn't stop crying throughout the whole sign of peace, throughout communion, and the tears continued at least several minutes after Mass.
Her roommate had a grin of sheer delight on her face the entire time. The joy of the reunion shone through every pore on her face. As they hugged, clasped hands, and whispered to each other, their joy was palpable. It enveloped them in a warm glow. I couldn't stop smiling at them the whole rest of the Mass. They were enchanting, as they existed withint this happy little haven of joy that was all their own, that no one else could touch.

I was jealous to experience that joy of reunion as well. But the sight of those two friends just basking in the delight of each other's presence warmed my heart so much, I forgot jealousy. I just smiled and basked in the glow of their joy that permeated the room. As I walked out into the cold November night, and felt sadness and bitterness creep their way into my heart, and felt words of hurt forming on my tongue, I remembered their joy and their love.
And the bitterness was staved off by the image of two friends clasping hands during All Saint's Mass.

Let forgiveness be on my mind instead of anger.
Let peace be in my heart instead of pain.
Let love rule over hatred and apathy.
--from the Notre Dame Book of Prayers

Thursday, November 1, 2012

see you from my point of view

The lightbearer was often lost in darkness.
She found sanctuary in the little warm cave of lights. 
There was one light shining just for her. 
She trusted little pieces of herself to that light--
little red, broken, hurting pieces. Fragile and brittle.
In the morning, when sunrise came, she returned to the cave and found that the little red pieces had been replaced with a radiant new piece. 
Soft and new, full of gentle light.
Her face shone like the sun shining off a pale gold leaf.

There are few things I love more than language. One of them may possibly be friendship.

There are many beautiful benchmarks of a friendship. One of the most beautiful creations of a friendship is the creation of a new language, a new vocabulary. There are words you learn from one another, words you share together.
One of the most delightful gifts of forming a friendship is the common vocabulary that you create together.

A vocabulary is a verbal portrait of two friends. Because the words that you share in a specific moment become saturated with all the colors of that moment. Forevermore, when you use that word together, it brings to mind that conversation, or that burst of shared Joy, or that shared struggle. When you use that word, you not only mean the dictionary definition of the word, but you are asking your companion to recall that moment with you. 

 An example:
When my sister or I say pizzazz, it instantly makes us smirk, remembering the fits of laughter the word threw us into at 2am one morning. For us, nothing that is supposed to be taken seriously can be described with the word pizzazz. Pizzazz will forever have a touch of the ridiculous.
A few snapshots:

The phrase: social construct brings up a whole host of remembered inside jokes and millions of inside jokes that grew on top of those inside jokes. (Jokes on jokes on jokes, you might say).

enlightening, cosmic, look up, blessings, oh hon, etc. 

Words have so much power.
A well-placed inside joke can diffuse a tense situation amongst friends. With just one word, you can remind everyone of a moment of joy. By twisting one little word, you can hurt someone more than they deserve.
Words can provide comfort in a very intangible, but real way. There is a certain syntax and vocabulary that makes up a friendship, born of the words created together, and the phrases and words that are unique to each particular person. There are words that our particularly ours--that we favor above other words and use with more frequency. These are distinct from the words that we use together, but sometimes, we will adopt the words of our friends. Our language begins to mirror theirs.

Our friendships deepen our words in the most marvelous and joyful of ways.
And our words deepen and tighten our friendships in a most enlightening way.