Thursday, September 19, 2013

of nestorian hot-dogs

So come on let me in, I will be the sun

A portrait of a Thursday in a thunderstorm.

One of my favorite things in the entire world is an inter-department delivery envelope.
The little mailing-paper-orange envelope holds an entire story so obviously on its cover.
You see that it went from the science building to the business school, then found its way into the high courts of the administration building, and it fell into the quiet lap of the mathematics library's administrative assistant before it arrives in the workspace's pigeon-holes.
You wonder what missives this envelope held; what stories this little paper Mercury flew from person to person.
And how interesting that there is such a palpable, tangible link between people who would otherwise be completely unrelated.
If I could wish one inanimate object into sentience, it would be an inter-department delivery envelope.
I would ask him to tell me of his travels, and he would gladly acquiesce.

The rain is pounding on the skylight. 
I am very thankful for my skylight.
Instead of nasty florescent lights, I work under a canopy of sky.
Usually it's sheer blue.
Very blue, a color that late summer September sky tends towards regularly.
And occasionally, if I look up from homework or emails or articles about how the world is falling apart, or satire about the latest health food, or depressing news bulletins, or the latest blogging quibble about the degeneracy of Popular Music These Days, I'll see little fluffs or streams or puffs or regiments of clouds float across the cerulean canopy.
Today, the skylight is the morose color of a thunderstorm.
It is a dusky blue-grey.
A very stormy color--the color of Westley's eyes.
Surges of rain rise with the hollow swooping of the wind, and they pound on the skylight, creating a satisfying soundtrack of nature beating down upon you.
I felt so safe in my artificial palace.
I was so close to the storm.
I saw the rain fall above me, I could see it streaming down the glass, there was so much rain in the atmosphere, the smell of rain pervaded my fortress of stable climate.
But I didn't feel a drop.
The dull crack of thunder and the scattered flashes of lightening did not set my heart a-quaking.
Under my skylight roof, I wasn't a part of the glorious storm outside. I was safely removed from the wild outbursts of Nature.
My office-appropriate high heels and demented little laptop thanked me for that.
Their obsequious gratitude rankled the crazy little wanderlusting nomad in my heart.

I took off my office-appropriate high heels, and my bare toes tingled as they felt fresh, slick stage paint slide under them.
They started sweating, they got so nervous they wouldn't find a foothold on this smooth surface, stretching like an ice rink over the safe, rough luan floor of the black box.
And I danced on the kaleidoscope globe.

Then, we went out to stand in the street and watch the violescent sky filled with the giant orange lunar orb, shining with its mystical light, floating above the dark jungle tree tops.
We stood there until the cars chased us away.
But we never stopped looking at the moon.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

inebriari marzenia

  Time held me green and dying
       Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
--Dylan Thomas

I remember sitting on the floor of that snug little garret bed room. 
Although, I think a garret is supposed to be a little inglenook-ish room at the top of the house, an attic dwelling for attic dwellers. 
But our room was in the basement.
Or, lower-level, as they say in London.
There was a basement proper, beneath the lower ground floor, which I discovered one evening after we returned home from the pub, and I set my mind incontrovertibly to explore the mysterious staircase behind the elevator. 
And the basement was perfectly charming, in a Morlockian sort of way.
But anyhow. 
Our room could not technically be called a garret.

Our room was an inverse-garret. 

Our little inverse-garret was actually quite spacious, with a cavernously high ceiling, full of light. Full of warm sun streaming through our tall window during the day, and the mystic radiance of streetlight shining through during the night. 
It was evening, so the streetlights shone in on me as I sat like a small little lump, floating on the sea of shiny-new, squeaky-clean hardware floor. 
It was so fresh, and untouched by all the stories old floors have absorbed into their creaky planks.
I sat, swaddled in leggings and sweatshirts, trembling a little like the nascent green leaves on the tree outside the window. 
The mystic streetlamp light wasn't as warm as the sunlight, and the faux maple-wood floor lacked the warm glow that its color seemed to project.
Thus, the sweatshirts, even though it was almost May.

My hands reached up to hide my face, as sobs filled my lungs, and tears darted out of the leaks my eyes had sprung.
My roommate, with her Irish complexion, and silky brown curls, wrapped my in her arms and said i love you.
And I found there the warmth the floor had lacked.

And somehow, consecrated by receiving such a sweet thing as love, as I look back on those tears, I cannot count them as anything but Joy.
Which is strange, because at the time, they were sorrow.
And there it is.
I keep trying to keep tallies of a Sorrows and Joys column, but I find that the dichotomy I wish I could impose just doesn't fit. 
Like a reckless new wine, Life bursts all the old molds into which I wish I could form it.
And when I thought of the tears of the Pietà, on Sunday, the day of the Pietà, I thought of those tears that burst out of me on an April night in my inverse-garret room.
And I wondered if one day Mary looked back and her Sorrow had deepened into Joy.
You have to use the word deepened.
It couldn't have been erased, and it couldn't have been countered.
There is no answer with Sorrow. 
Maybe you just have to treat it like a June peach, and keep it in a paper bag until July.
In the silence of the brown bag and through the magic gift called: "passage of time," the peach, which was as first as hard and unappetizing as its pit, as sweetened into the most glorious of all fruits. [Besides just-ripe enough mangoes. Mangoes are luscious. voluptuous. tantalizing. If I had been in Eve's shoes, and offered a just-ripe enough mango, I don't know that I could have chosen any differently.]
The point being, mangoes and peaches, with time, ripens.
And when you bite into it, it doesn't warp your tongue, as bitter as wormwood, but explodes into an ecstasy of sweetness.

And then, there's that moment when something that is a joy has sat in the silence of your heart for so long it has over-ripened. It doesn't diminish the Joy. But notes of sorrow and aching and longing have somehow crept in, immeasurably deepening the Joy, but giving it such a sad aftertaste.
Joy, I suppose, is never static. Because the longer it remains with you, the more incomplete it grows. There's a missing piece whose very absence is a sweetness, but one that makes tears rush into your eyes.
It is such a sweet and sorrowful joy to miss someone and some place and some time.
It is a joyful sorrow to ache for completion, and still be incomplete.
Sorrow and Joy; Joy and Sorrow.

Life keeps defying the dichotomies I would impose on it.

there is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it’s sent away.
--Sarah Kay

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

the bones of your thoughts

"And you, dear young people, do you really feel, deeply, that you are the hope and the joyful promise of tomorrow?
To be young means living within oneself an incessant newness of spirit, nourishing a continual quest for good, releasing an impulse to change always for the better, realizing a persevering determination of dedication."

--John Paul II

Children are easy to block from your hearing.
It is astonishing how easy it is not to listen to a child.
In the middle of my patient adult brain condescending to listen patiently to the babble streaming from childlike lips, a revelation suddenly popped up in the midst of the babble.
Something I'd never heard before and never thought of, but was exactly what I needed to hear.
And I gaped at the girl who could say things that I never would be able to.
And I grew ashamed, as I remembered all those who had listened to my childlike babble, and deemed it worthy of response.
Children are too easy to block from your hearing.

 Our earth is divided by language.
(Thanks for that, Tower of Babel.)
This sad fact greatly hampers our ability to communicate with our brothers and sisters, to create a harmonious, perfect communion of saints here on earth.
The division in our language is perhaps only a symptom of the divisions that constantly arise between all of us.
One of our next-door neighbors in Kolkata was a man who was deaf and mute.
One of the dearest women we met, with the most beautiful spirit, was from Malta, and spoke little English, but was able to share her story with us anyway.
As you sit around the breakfast room, clutching your bananas and watery chai, or as you sit around the tea table, dipping those ubiquitous Super-Buscuits into the chai, you are somehow able to forge bonds  with all these people from all these little corners of the globe.
People you have nothing in common with, other than the fact that you are both children of God can somehow become friends.

Sister Margaret, from Korea, and I talked often together, despite her nascent English and my non-existent Korean. Usually I just listened and nodded and shook my head sadly at the appropriate moments and laughed at the right spots and smiled and soaked up the joy that radiated from her kind heart, tender smile, and adorable persona.
But sometimes, if you simply don’t have the words, you just can’t express yourself correctly, and communication breaks down into helpless hand gestures and inarticulate sighs.
Baby Priest from Slovenia gave the homily at Mass one day, and his desperate sputtering and his peeved huffs wrung my heart.
 He was trying to tell us something incredible. But he simply didn't have the words he needed to describe it.
After a particularly frustrating and confusing conversation with a volunteer, Sister Margaret tsked woefully and then turned to me and chuckled: “In heaven, all will speak the same language.”
I laughed with her.
And nodded my agreement.
In heaven, all will speak the same language.
At least, they do in Dante's heaven, so I think Sister Margaret's onto something.

There are so many moments I found over the summer that communication broke down.
 But communion, somehow, remained intact.
A communion beyond language.
A communion unbroken by the incessant babble of our Babels.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


glistening and shimmering liquid hues 
of amber, green, and a translucence
that we mistakenly call blue, but is something else entirely.
the acidulous liquid bites the barren tongue, dry as sand.
It stings the fingernail-thin paper-cut on the desert tongue's tip.
The shining nectar quenches and tantalizes. 
A coquette whose teasing only whets desire.

flowing thickly through veins of 37 degrees celsius,
slows and chills,
a prisoner in a refrigerator of air-conditioning.
Outside, the atmosphere is close and tropic, sultry and oppressive.
Inside, the blood tingles in the icy freeze-dried air.
Trapped between the clay oven of the elements
and the frigid engineering marvel of man.

covered by a thin layer of ice in the bottle.
the nose and her warm breath erode the miniature arctic seascape
the ice sheet melts into the pure, cold ocean
the smallest of the polar seas,
1.5 liters of relief
icebergs float, rapidly shrinking in the tropic heat.

growing in the sub-equatorial dark
inspires a dance, as flowers sway in the velvet heat of night,
shaking their misty petals
attempting to rid themselves of the rude intruder.
a surge of quicksilver runs down the trunk of the tree
from flowery canopy to earth-encrusted root, she quakes.
she burns with restlessness.

a breeze 
flies through the alley way and rustles the laundry,
it takes with it several small beads of congealed sweat, 
before others rise to take their place.
it rustles through the grass of the football--
not American, but FIFA football-- field,
and lifts a bit of coolness from the thousandth blade of grass,
it slices through the dense oven air 
like a paper edge through epidermis.

the limits of my body come as a surprise.
a shock.
As my heart stops beating loudly, I am able to listen.
to the sound of my lungs inhaling and expelling air.
but how small a mass they are!
And how insignificant a cubic meter of air they expel.
I feel the pressure of my diaphragm pushing down on my stomach.
my abdominal cavity feels over-populated and claustrophobic for a moment.
the muscles in my calves tense, and I feel the skin move with them.
tight. restricted.
I feel my feet on the carpet.
There is so much more carpet than foot.
I want to laugh at the infinitesimally minuscule portion of the universe my body claims.
my imagination jolts, as it did not previously notice how defined his owner's limits are.
how disappointing.


fresh and clean, for now--before the next dive into the Nutella jar,
until the next splash of bike grease on my knuckles,
until the next time I feed Moni,
until the next time I find an inevitable crust of dirt underneath my nails.
until I learn to stop picking my hangnails.
until the next time I find them clasped in someone else's.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

the cost of a tower

Portrait of a Pining Woman
There was a girl in class who was clearly not focusing on the assignment at hand.
It wasn't a very difficult assignment--it was to make music in unison with her classmates.
She shook the wooden shakers with limp hands.
Her eyes stared off into a corner where nothing was.
She smiled mysteriously, and I watched her, trying to find out what her secret was.
She sighed.
She sighed again.
And then she listlessly turned her eyes back to the instructor, who was dramatically re-creating the neolithic man's ritual reenactment of The Hunt--the Root of All Performance.
The girl smiled at nothing.
And then sighed again.
Her ears perked up as she heard the door behind her open.
With a studied, calculated nonchalance, she turned around to see who entered. If you were watching, you could see every muscle in her body tense, as it eagerly hoped that the next person who entered would be The One.
For a long time, she was disappointed.
Then, He entered.
Her eyes were diligently glued to the professor for the rest of the class.
From the radiance of her smile, you would have thought nothing brought her a more incandescent and luminous joy than The Hunt--the Root of All Performance.

I ran towards the chapel.
"Ran" being a relative term. My overstuffed bag impedes graceful, gazelle-like running.
My overstuffed bag is one of those book-bags decorated by a zen-like quote:
"Life is not measured by the number of breathes we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away."
According to my book bag, that quote was said by "anonymous" which is code for: no poor fool wants to own up to the fact that they said this quote.
There are a lot of moments that take your breath away.

Choking on a piece of birthday cake in a sunny courtyard.
Seeing scars on your sister's arm.
Almost missing your flight.
Being lost in the dark.

If these are the types of moments that Anonymous has decided make up the measure of a life, I'm going to opt out for the "full life" option, and instead go for the: Sit in A Blessedly Silent, Peaceful Cave and Be Fed By God's Ravens, and Never Once Have a Breath-taking moment not-full-life option.
There are also the days where you barely have a moment to breathe, and I'd like to know how Anonymous would fit that truth of life into his or her little breathing-moments-living equation.

In the chapel, I ran into Luke.
Hi, we said.
And chuckled a bit.

And it's those little moments that I think make life very beautiful.
They are not gigantic, breath-taking moments--they are quite small.
They are very tangible little experiences of the present.
It is so easy to get pulled into the future--to follow your desires where they lead--which is further up and further in. I long for the next moment, which I know is just beyond this one, I want to crest the ridge of the horizon, and start living the life that's on the other side.

But a collision like running into familiar face in a familiar spot will bring you back to the present.
It will remind you that life is lived here.
Your desires may pull you up into the clouds, but life is lived on the ground.
They tell you to keep your eyes always 5 seconds ahead of you on the road to avoid collisions. But life is more tangibly lived in handling the small collisions that inevitably occurred, than always looking off in the distance.


Two little voices rose up together, singing the alto part to Aaron Copeland's Zion's Walls, in imperfect unison.
But it was perfect, nonetheless.

Patience attains all that is strived for.
-Teresa of Avila

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

namascar from India

While in India, my fearless traveling companions took it upon themselves to write actual letters.
I wrote long email-letters instead.
International post made sending snail mail prohibitive.
The postcards I sent to my siblings arrived home several days after I did.
So, the internet became my pony express.
And it seems that expressing yourself is easier in the organized, formatted style of letter-writing.
You can't stumble for words, or have your mouth move faster than your brain.
Writing a letter means your thoughts have to be somewhat organized.
This is the basic format that eventually developed:

Begin with an appropriate introduction:
I hope you have been well. [classic. reliable. fool-proof. cannot fail.]
How is your summer going? [good. sets a conversational tone]
You have been in my prayers. Or: I have placed an intention at Mother's tomb for you.
[only say if truthful]
I miss you. [use this one sparingly. Missing people is a very tender thing to do, and shouldn't be done flippantly.]

Good. Well done. An efficient introduction to the heart of what you want to say.
So now for the real deal:
Okay, well maybe talk about your recent trip to Darjeeling:

"We took an overnight sleeper train from Kolkata to New Jalipurigi, which was quite the adventure!" 
[this is sort of lame. Traveling within traveling is an aberration within an aberration. It doesn't describe the larger exotic adventure of your summer.]

Describe the scenery:
We saw little gompas tucked on the sides of the mountains, and little mountain streams rushing down the hillsides, with prayer flags criss-crossing across the openings between trees.
As we approached, we saw the Himalayan peaks in the distance--it was beautiful!
[this is good. It says nothing about goats pooping.]

Okay. Right.
Kolkata itself?
Maybe describe a lesson learned:

 I've grown to appreciate what a useful and marvelous invention a fan is! Since it's so hot here, the AC is a nice relief for a bit in a store or a restaurant, but if I was constantly going in and out between heat and air conditioning, I don't think I would ever be able to get my body to adjust to the heat.
[aka if you had AC you would be in bed sick for several days, like 76% of the volunteers you know who have AC in their rooms. This is a much more pleasant way to say that. Kudos to you.]

Describe your emotions:
Being here at Mother Teresa's headquarters, in Kolkata has been such a blessing. It's been a huge summer of growth so far, and I'm so excited that I have another month here--I'm looking forward to all the challenges and adventures that will bring.
[challenges: not getting hit by a bus and not getting malaria from a mosquito; adventures: crossing the street, trying to communicate in Bengali, haggling with the fruit vendor, helping Sister with registration, playing catch with Shakina.]

Describe your work:
I'm working this summer at Shanti Dan which is one of the MC's homes for mentally and physically challenged women and girls. I work closely with a group of nine young ladies (ranging in age from 15 to 37) who are all pretty physically active, but range from pretty high functioning to low functioning. They are incredible souls, and have taught me so much about how to love others.

[If only those words could immediately conjure up in your readers' imaginations the inevitable dance party that each class time morphs into, or the look on Supporna's face when she's excited about climbing into bed, or how Lilly's smiles break through her big, shiny tears like sunbeams, or how you have to make sure each lunchtime that Rina is not sitting on the bench next to the easily-destroyed mural, or how your breath gets caught in your throat when Moni looks right into your blue eyes with her great big brown ones, and you feel like you're looking into the eyes of a saint.]

My words, I found more often than not, were so flat and colorless.
And failed to describe what I wanted them to describe.

And so, I was talking with one of my traveling companions, under the blue sky of the first autumnal-feeling September day, and she said: you can't really share Kolkata through words, as much as in your actions, the way you live your life.
And I agreed.
For the most part.
But I also thought I'd been doing a pretty shoddy job of doing just that.

Every time I lost my patience, or was less-than-kind, or complained about something that really wasn't worth complaining about, I shot a look of askance at myself.
I wasn't acting the way I expected I would act if I'd just returned from a summer working with Missionaries of Charity in India.
I expected that Kolkata was going to work a dramatic paradigm shift.
I imagined Kolkata was going to be Insta-Saint®.

1. Take one (1) package of Insta-Saint®.
2. Add 3-5 liters of purified water per day!
3. Bake in temperatures of 40+ degrees Celsius!
4. Instant Holiness! Results Guaranteed!

But then, a professor put the problem to us in class yesterday: why is it easier to represent evil in a piece of art than good?
Why is Dante's Inferno so much more celebrated than his Paradiso?
Why do we seem to have a better imaginative picture of evil than of good?

I don't know if there's a definitive answer. (The older I grow, I find that definitive answers become scarcer and scarcer. This is an unsettling-- but sometimes wonderful-- phenomenon.)
But I think the thing about goodness is that it's not a one-time decision.
Goodness seems in some way to be a function of consistency and time.
Goodness, perhaps, is the decision to rise and get up and go on your way after a fall; and it can only become apparent really as you march through the world, always falling, but always rising.

Monday, September 2, 2013

the world is my seedbed

Brother, the power of love, which is our bliss,
calms all our will. What we desire, we have.
There is in us no other thirst than this.
-Paradisio, Canto III

I can barely keep the earth underneath me. I feel my feet slipping away in fits and starts.
They truculently refuse to cease from fidgeting until they have sated their ravenous wanderlust by alighting in new embarcaderos of nascent worlds. They seek unsullied horizons and terra incognitas.

salt of the earth; light of the world

These are the lights of the world.
You can't chose to whom your light shines. You don't get to force peoples' eyes to open, or insist that they close.
All you get to do is practice the passionately indiscreet practice of self-immolation.
The fuel for this searing fire of love is your self. Your ego. You, you, and nothing but you. The heaps and mounds of you--of ego and self--that you collect as you travel through each year of your life.

The glorious artifacts called memories and experiences and ideas and emotions that shape your gradually accumulating self all become the wick that feeds the flame.
You are the fuel.

The graced result of this combustion is what we call light.
You burn, because love impels you to, what other choice is there?
As love burns away the excess of your self, you find you fit right into the little empty spot in the heart of your father that was fashioned solely for the sake of housing you.
When we are in love, we often do strange, odd things, we do crazy things, we do stupid things, because when someone else becomes the center of your world, you adjust the logic of your universe to center around them, and not yourself.
It is not evolutionarily correct.
It is insanely incorrect.

The light will come.
Let the light shine as brightly or as dimly as it may, just concern yourself with burning.
This is how you discover these most beautiful occupants of this world.
We call them: Other People.

Mystical luminaries like yourself, but outside yourself.
The funny thing is, if you are on fire with LoveWithACaptialL, you cannot help but fall in love with these other beings you find all around you.
If you seek God, you will find that it's not a very lonely world.
There's a busy communion of saints hovering all around Him, filled with the people you are closest to, the people you don't get along well with, and the people you may possibly hate.
They are all there; found right in the heart of God.

I do not cease to give thanks for you,

remembering you always in my prayers.