Friday, May 30, 2014


We circumnavigate a globe of curiosities,
existing mostly caught up in our heads,
distracted by myriad miniature euphorias. 
Preoccupied by hangnails, too intent 
on finding sand dollars.
Beach-combing through the pounding surf, 
we forget to see the sea.

we resort to binaries,
Categorizing the world in
platitudes of gray and dun.
Sir Left Brain, kept in the dark
regarding Herr Right Lobe's affairs,
grows wanton with organization.
We dub phenomena spiritual,
to separate them from the physical;
a last-ditch attempt of fallen titans
to delineate specific spheres,
where we can navigate without
fear of sea monsters.
A game of chance
where we control the outcome.

But physical accidents, wavering, weak
bear the brunt of spiritual substances.
As lightly as pollen rests upon
our Easter lily's stamen,
the supernatural caresses earth's lusty clay,
with eyelash soft embraces.
The great mass of the unchanging
hides inside old splinters,
relics stained in blood,
and stairs carpeted by pilgrim's knees.

We board our ships,
never expecting to encounter
a reality that burns inside us.
Scorching, chlamydial flames
feeding off the rot
that festers underneath our hearts.
How could one expect
to find a fire in a barren place?

And here,
A spiritual althelete of superior mien
beached on urban shoals.
Deserted in the midst of city streets--
Anthony's wilderness could never
compete with all this color--
Decadence surges from the market's tents.
Surrounded by the scent of turmeric,
air perfumed by camel dung and
sweet incense from the Temple,
her soul cracks with emptiness.
And here,

A heartbeat inside a cask of wood.
She follows the sound,
licking her lips.
They taste of the salt air of her voyage,
They are wet with temptation and fig juice,
They cry out with stuttered anticipation.
Just past the gate of lips,
her heart beats faster and faster still,
until it almost flies out of her throat.
She runs to the door,
drawn to the warmth of its wood
as a firefly follows the tail of a comet.

Here, the crux of the matter, the heart of the tale:
She stumbles.
She stops.
Our little soul, so eager, is halted.
No visible hand restrains her;
No mortal shape prevents her.
Inexplicable inertia arrests her movement.
She recoils, a willowy battering-ram,
then, forward she surges, once more
attempting to win a victory
of entrance through the cedar doors.

Commence with your tears, sweet soul.
The way is shut against you.
As she weeps, she is invisible.
Pilgrims pass by, and not one stoops
to give her their hand or dry her tears.
Only one woman holds her in her arms.
And there, the little spirit finds
a sort of love she never knew existed.
A sort of tenderness lost in the
rough sea winds that
calloused her maidenhood.

Inside of her, something is shaken loose.
the tears have carved an opening,
a hole in the wall.
An insignificant crack
in mortar between the bricks.
But a beginning.
Water flows,
no longer from her eyes but through her soul,
irrigating deserts within that she had never weighed.
Ominously, the scales swing in front of her;
she shivers in her mother's arms.
With leaden feet, she begins to tread
the twelve heavy steps,
 back to the doors of cedar.
Her feet burn each time they met
the dusty ground,
as though she walked across
a carpet of thorns.

paralyzed by hope--
could it be?
This pavement.
Kneel and kiss it.
Warmed by afternoon sun,
watered by pilgrim's tears,
baptized by your embrace.
This pavement is your
a gate so narrow,
few would elect to enter it.

Creaking on its hinges, the door of cedar
gives way to your gentle nudge.
One push, and you are in.
There, the wooden relic splinters
justice's scales.
And something in you scatters,
no longer wound together,
caught tightly in the cacophony
of the whorehouse within you.
Loosed from bondage,
the pages of your story scatter in
the spring breeze which rustles through you,
Clearing out the dust,
leaving sweet freshness in its wake.

Go cross the Jordan, child,
and rest.
Your tears have bought you
perpetual serenity.
Not a Facebook sort of Sabbath,
but the ameliorating peace of self-examination,
which soothes your cracked and
calloused soul with calm.
So long as the self in question has
been lost on the warm pavement
in front of cedar doors.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

a blessed duty

God has not died for the white heron.
--Calvary, Yeats

I stared at the organ, that grand instrument, a mammoth imitation of the work of God.
I wondered at the sounds that poured out of that giant beast of sound. It was a mystery. I could not comprehend how the sound was formed, as it came pouring out of the instrument, filling the chapel-like recital hall. The noise was like a powerful wind--it rumbled underneath my feet.
 The music emerging from that huge mass of pipes and wood sounded like the Creator of the Universe was playing with at thunderstorm.
We are used to music being safe and understandable.
In that concert hall, the organ owned us all.
It was in control, not we.
There was nothing tame about this music.
It was a wild force of nature, harnessed by the organs pipes, pumps and keys.
I have never heard music that has left me so completely awed.
Music as delicate as a hummingbird and as redoubtable as a redwood.

Outside the sunporch window, the skinny tabby cat and the mother deer are frolicking by the pond. The cat stops and stares at the doe sometimes. But doesn't do anything.
Above them, the family of goldfinches flutters by.
The blue jays chase the couples of cardinals away from the bird feeder, and the red-bellied woodpeckers chase them off. The woodpeckers leave when the crows show up.
The animals, I guess have their own sense of hierarchy. 
The mama deer and the tabby cat walk side by side back to the house.
It's comical, watching this wild creature and this semi-domesticated cat walk side by side. 
They come from the same kingdom, and yet live in two different worlds.
The cat saunters calmly back to the back door. He looks at the deer sort of sideways from the corner of his eyes, as the deer keeps pace with him.
He knows that this creature has not domesticated the owners of the house. 
But the skinny tabby comes from a breed of animals who has learned to live in harmony with the funny, oafish humans who live in strange wood huts.
The deer start with attention when they see me in the window. The cat yawns.
Oh that old thing, he mutters conspiratorially to the unheeding doe, she's harmless enough. Even scratches your ears when she's in a docile mood.
The birds flutter overhead, and the cat toys with the idea of stalking them.

About once a year, I get a craving for a Cinnabon.
Last year, it happened to be at an inconvenient time: in the Newark airport. Which, you'd think, would have Cinnabon shops aplenty. 
But actually, it doesn't. Not one. Not one Cinnabon.
I started craving one on the train on Tuesday.
Until I finally realized that craving a Cinnabon is usually better than actually eating one.
They're not that great, once you sink your teeth into them. In the abstract, on the other hand, they are divine. 
Luscious curls of thick, rich dough, filled with cinnamon, sugar, and butter, topped with drizzles of glaze. They are the paragon of comfort food.
Two months later, I arrived back in Newark, my Cinnabon craving was nowhere to be seen.
I shivered in the cold of the air-conditioned airport. My body felt naked and dry without the coat of sweat it was accustomed to wearing.
My ears were overwhelmed by all the conversations all around them that they could understand, and all the colloquial expressions that make American English--that oft-maligned and bastardized tongue--such a balm for homesick hearts:
You wouldn't even believe it!, It was so hot, it was crazzzzy!!
I think I bought a bagel or a muffin, as I ensconced myself into a corner of an orderly and friendly airport.
I know I called my mom.
Hi, Mom. I made it home alive
Those are the kind of phone calls that Moms like to get, I think.
I mentally prepared to tell her the events of the past two months that had made up the contents of the: Don't Tell Mom This Until We Get Home list.
I still didn't get a Cinnabon then, either. I didn't get a Cinnabon until Thanksgiving.
I ate it on a seat in the middle of a rotunda in the chaos of Mall of America.
I split it with my sisters--both blood sisters and the spiritual kind--and I reminisced of how much I craved a Cinnabon that sunny day in Newark, a day for starting friendships.
We laughed as we scarfed down every drop of icing and every last crumb of pecans and sweet, sugary dough.
If that is the last Cinnabon I ever taste, I will be content.
Every time I crave one, I will think of that moment, and be satisfied.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

with heart-cramping tenderness

I am thinking it's a sign 
That the freckles in our eyes 
Are mirror images and when we kiss 
They're perfectly aligned
--Such Great Heights, The Postal Service

Just finished reading A Severe Mercy. It is a story of the sweetest sort of sternness. But I think I loved it mostly because it contains such a distinct world with a unique and particular flavor. It reminded me so keenly of those summer days at the Rancho reading C.S. Lewis. That summer I was thirteen and read every book of his I could get my hands on.

Everyone has their Idlewilds, their Green Gables, their Hundred Acre Woods, their Bridesheads. In A Severe Mercy, Davy and Van find their Grey Goose, their Ladywood, their Glenmerle, their Oxford. Places of distinct beauty and distinct us-ness. The sort of place where there is room for people to just be people. These are the sorts of places where so many of our precious memories are kept: most of them happy, some of them very, very sad. All of them poignant and sharp, running to meet you the moment you walk into the door. 

This is The Rancho. When I was six, my mother’s parents moved from 724 Catawba Street, located in the modest northern edge of the Raleigh metropolis to The Rancho, on the outskirts of the city. 
At first, I was far from pleased. Catawba Street had everything a grandchild could ask for: pink bunk beds (bunk beds being at this point highly exotic, and perpetually begged for), a back porch where all the grown-ups would congregate (i.e., stay out of our way), and mountains of books to read on the front step with the cats (my favorite being the fairy tales that had holographic covers and panoramic illustrations). 
 But The Rancho. If Catawba Street met all the eager desires of a granddaughter, The Rancho showed you how paltry your desires had been in the first place. Catawba Street was C.S. Lewis’ mudpies we are too content to dabble in, and The Rancho was the ocean that overwhelms and encompasses all our desires. Tucked back from the road, down a winding gravel drive, The Rancho was tucked into acres of Carolina pine forest. 
The backyard that my grandparents cleared was home to several different gardens, a tadpole pond, and a deer feeding stump, where daily, a huge family of deer would come to eat the peanut butter and corn my grandmother put out for them. Venturing beyond the backyard, you could follow any of the color-coded paths my grandfather had marked. If you used the map he created, you could find all the important landmarks: the creek with rope swing, the old dirt path, the woodshed, the alligator tree. Once, my sister and I, wandering in the woods sans map, got dreadfully lost somewhere between the yellow path and the green path as a thunderstorm was rolling in. I distinctly remember my heart rising to my throat as the first flash of lightning burst through the thick Carolina atmosphere. We rushed through the woods, trying to find an exit, until we ran into the stoic guardian of the old path, the alligator tree. Never had I been so glad to see the eerie alligator tree as when we stumbled upon it then. 

 If it is possible, the inside of The Rancho is just as magical as the outside. 
The basement still has bunk beds, the old pool table, the strange old dolls and other toys, and the old plinko arcade game. The upstairs level is just a half-floor, and it looks over the main floor so charmingly. There are two beds: one pink, on one side of the loft, and one blue. At one time or another I have shared these beds with my sister, my brother, a cat or two, or that one trip I was in the throes of young love and slept with my boyfriend's sweat-shirt every night. I felt the separation of a week very keenly. 
Years and years of memories: and the Rancho holds them all. 
 Not to mention that all over this rambling house: from the basement bookshelves to the large sunroom to scattered all over the kitchen table: there are books. Books on books on books. This place is a bibliophile’s dream. As soon as I arrive, my grandmother always pushes several New Yorker or Atlantic articles she’s marked to show me, and recommends a book or five for me to read while I’m staying. Often, I’ll sit out on the Rancho’s gigantic sunporch and read, while watching the hummingbirds dart about the hummingbird feeder right outside the window.
I sat with my grandfather this afternoon out on the screened in porch after lunch, and we watched the birds dance in the sprinkler and peck away at the bird food my grandmother left them.
We laughed as the goldfinches congregated above the feeder, unsure of how to harvest food from this strange object.
A skink got caught inside the porch, throwing itself against the screens, desperate to get out, so I ushered it out the door with a napkin.

But the giant sunporch is home to the happiest of memories. 
It is perfect in all kinds of weather. 
I remember sitting cozily in one of the wicker chairs during an evening thunderstorm, and talking with my aunt about heaven. 
The vents in the floor go directly down to the basement, so you could spy on your younger siblings, and call out to them as they were playing beneath your feet.
The sunporch is one of those places you know you feel at home. 
It is Idlewild and Oxford all in one. 

At the beginning of their story, Davy and Van create a Shining Barrier around themselves: a fortress to protect their love. A way to cherish and preserve their intimacy in the midst of a selfish and distant world.
One feels that perhaps such a thing could exist between Creator and Created. That there are places on earth where the Shining Barrier remains intact. Where one can retreat to to find a bit of sweet quiet in the midst of a loud and distant world.
The Rancho, I think, has its own Shining Barrier. No matter the pain and sorrow that might enter into the memories of that place, there is a particular love that surrounds that homely house, that coats the pine forests with mystery, and sings with the summer tanager by the wildflower garden.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

fountains of eternal light

All about us was the extraordinary beauty of the sea-fire and the glittering stars overhead ... The moment was utterly timeless.
--A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken

One night at Seabrook, we went out late to the beach. It was probably around eleven o'clock. The sun was well-past its setting, and the stars had overtaken the sky.
We made our way down the dunes to the sand.
There, far from the lights and the noise of our daily world, we found a large expanse of darkness.
The soft and springy sand under our feet was only disturbed by the gentle lapping of the sand and the night wind cutting across the shoreline.
All of a sudden:
I walked into a star-field.
My mouth dropped in an unceremonious gaping.
I know that light pollution blocks out so many stars from our view, but it's one of those things you just Learn To Deal With. As I looked out into the night sky above the beach, I didn't want to learn to deal with light-polluted skies anymore.
For there, covering the entire dome of the sky, was a vast, endless, mind-boggling expanse of constellations. And between the constellations, stars that flickered peacefully in the silky sky.
It was as though outer-space, usually civilly hidden by the comforting veil of the atmosphere and pleasant cerulean of the daytime, had invaded earth's boundaries. I am here, the night sky seemed to say. Undeniably, uncomfortably here. You cannot forget me.
It is so sad, I thought, that this night sky, which humans have seen for ages and eons is now cut off from us by all our own lights.
When the ancients, the medievals, and even perhaps, the hearty Victorians talked of the night sky, they all meant the same thing: that heart-stopping expanse of wonder that hangs above our heads each evening.
How differently we might live if every night we were confronted with such a daunting image of mystery and awe.
As we walked along the beach, our eyes adjusting to the thick night of the sand, and the bright lights in the sky, we turned our eyes to the waves of water hitting the shore.
The waves were glowing.
The phosphorescent algae that lives inside the sea was riding the foamy waves to shore.
As they landed, they left constellations on the sea-shore that mirrored the galaxies of stars overhead.
I walked along the banks of the eternal ocean, dancing on the constellations underfoot, mimicking the great dance of stars overhead.
I sat on the welcoming sand, with my feet close enough to the starry surf to catch a few constellations on my toes.
In front of me was the dark ocean, whose cold expanses spread out to the horizon, until there they met the dark night sky, and bled upwards into the dome of ancient lights.
It was a seamless garment of eternity.
In that moment, there was really nothing but ocean and sky--I had reached the limits of the human world, of human understanding.
I felt so small, just one girl standing on the banks of the cold May ocean, confronted by the piercing vastness of space.
Confronted by a chilling picture of our own microscopic nature.
But I had never felt less lonely.
I was warmed by all the eternity that shrouded the scene before me.
Perhaps it is good, I thought, that I do not see the ocean kiss the galaxies every night.
Perhaps then, I would not, like Bonaventure, faint so keenly for your courts.
For, surely, I would half-believe that I was already there.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

better things fall together

I watched the lonely little ducks swim in the reflecting pond, shivering in the cold rain as I returned an armful of books to the institution who needs my interlibrary loans back.
They seemed very upset by the unexpected and highly unwelcome rain.
They looked so forlorn, I felt they had been wounded, taken in by Mother Nature.
They had been expecting sunshine, and ended up with storm-clouds.
They looked as tense as the push and pull between past and future.

I think the major problem with right now (right now is senior week, the eve of commencement, commencement weekend, the last hurrah--it goes by many names) is that this is a time of great transition, but also it's an Event.
It's your Commencement, they say, the very word dressed up in academic garb. Treasure it, savor it, this is your weekend.

But this is also a transition time of a magnitude and bizarre severity previously unseen and never before experienced.
Not only am I brain-storming with my parents, figuring out where to store what and discussing the ins-and-outs of New York City, I am also looking up flights to come back to this very place in one month. I am thinking of when I get to move back into a bright little dorm room with a window overlooking the lake. But I am also rolling up my carpet, and moving out of the little nest that has become a home. And once you start to pack, your home becomes a little bit sadder, because you are slowly distancing yourself from the four walls that you have made yours, and putting the pieces of your home into myriad boxes and bags and suitcases.
Packing means rolling up all the odds and ends that have made your house into a home. It means rolling up the Elephant tapestries, and remembering how you were in India a summer ago, and how you forget that fact all too often.
It means slowly dismantling your wall of pictures and thinking: in Real Person World, I will have to put these all in frames and/or scrapbook them.
It means scheming up a system to preserve all the dried roses that have been biding their time in their wine bottle vases.
It means agonizing over how to pack (it may be an impossible task, but I'll go down trying) the sprays of flowers that have been in your room since February.
These resilient creatures are hearty beyond conception. If it is possible, they look even more beautiful than they did in winter. Now that it is May, their little dots of buds, lined up on their willowy stalks, have bloomed open into little star-shaped flowers.
They are perhaps proof that many beautiful and old things, when kept instead of discarded, end up growing more into their loveliness as they grow more into their aged-ness.
It is hard to know when to throw something away, when to discard a past treasured pieces of bric-a-brac. It is hard to know what to let go of and what to keep.
Packing is the art of learning to let go of a lot of things you thought you would miss keenly.
And it's also realized that the little things you took for granted: like the elephant on your bedside table mean a lot more than you thought they did.
They have woven themselves into the fabric of all your memories, by their constant, quiet presence.
Their familiar visages have steadily won your affection, by the very token of their familiarity.
And so you pack them away in boxes, to be taken out again only God knows when.
But for now, it is time to think of the Commencement in front of us, and the immediate adventures that await us just beyond it.

Friday, May 16, 2014

reçois les chants qu'il offre

"You have made me understand that good taste is not the birthright of snobs, but a gift from God sometimes found in the most unlikely of places and in the unlikeliest of people."

--The Hundred Foot Journey, Richard C. Morais

"Love one another as I have loved you" is actually the most terrifying command in the world.
Because it's literally impossible to live up to by our own efforts. We are broken, imperfect creatures trying to imitate the work of an almighty God. Definitely a recipe for failure, if I ever heard one. But that sort of comes with the territory, because in the words of Cyril O'Regan, part of being human is that you're damaged before you can even get off the ground.
We are handicapped from the start. So how do we live up to a command. On the outside, it seems so simple, so full of warm and fuzzy good feelings.
But at the core, it is very difficult. It is the opposite of comfortable.
How do you be a lightbearer when you have inherited darkness?

Last night, I visited the Grotto with the senior class for definitely the opposite of last time.
That little cave of lights became my home the first time I went there at 2am, as a poor little lonely freshman. And I stopped at the prayer rail, but did not kneel. Too tired to form words to a prayer and too overwhelmed to know what to say.
But I joined my classmates in song and prayer.
In the midst of transition and change, both of which are frightening to human creatures, we look for comfort. When all the variables are shifting, we look for the constants. When we are letting go, we have to find something to hold onto.
Each word of each hymn was begging all the candle-bearers at that grotto to let go of what is temporal and hold on to what is eternal.  To hold on to the peace that the world cannot give, which often means clinging, like the Magdalene, to the foot of whatever cross we find ourselves at the foot of. It means, like Simon, to carry whatever person's cross that we find ourselves thrown in with. It means, like Peter, to ask the question: quo vadis? And to let the answer change at least our direction, if not our hearts.

Holding onto our candles, we listened to the voices of the men singing a bold and strange Salve Regina. It was not a sweet salve. It seemed like a gift that a young man would offer his mother: awkward, clumsy, very boyish. Something that he would like to receive, perhaps.
The piece was very Musically Interesting but not very Interested in Mary.
As I silently sat bemoaning the harsh chords, it struck me that:
a) just as mothers accept the stupidest little macaroni art creations or scribbled drawings or poorly-knit scarves from their children, Mary accepted this gift with just as much love and just as much grace. Mothers love the gifts their children offer them. Mary must be no exception.
b) my prayer is often like this discordant Salve. Very interested in being Good Prayer, but not so much in truly encountering The Source of All Good. It is more inexpert than adept, and clumsily composed. I'd like to think that my prayer has the art of Palestrina and Mozart, but this pray-er is not so skilled. I'm pretty sure that it is more full of grace than gracefulness. And I'm fairly certain that if an audience of other people listened to it sung by the Notre Dame Glee Club, they would not find it very edifying. But, in the end, it is somewhat immaterial, because it is still heard.
And that is what I find so incredible.
That no matter how inexpertly we compose our thanks, no matter how clumsily we write our love-notes, we are still heard. Our words, no matter how artlessly they fall out of our lips, are listened to.

Love one another as I have loved you never ceases to become a more and more exhilarating and daunting command.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

we walk with constellations

The happiest people are those who think the most interesting thoughts. Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good company, good conversation, are the happiest people in the world. And they are not only happy in themselves, they are the cause of happiness in others.
 ― William Lyon Phelps

There is something about exploration.
 We might all be a little bit better off if we all did a little more exploring.
Something about exploration that pulls us out of our dull world of daily minor altercations with others. Human's minds seem to need constant fodder on which to mull over, always new something to think upon. I wonder what would happen to us if we just sat and thought about Psalm Forty-Two forever. That doesn't seem like it would be such a poor existence.
Anyway, be that as it may, there's something about exploration.
The thrill of exploration can be found biking down a hill, feet lifted off the pedals and out to the side like two oars, but there is no need to row. Accelerating at an exhilarating speed, you slide effortlessly down the sidewalk as the wind pushes your bike down the slope, under the beautiful and aromatic canopy of the pancake pussy trees.
Those ubiquitous trees that indicate the entire world's sap is on the rise.
The thrill of exploration is found in racing a thunderstorm home. As you bike, you look up at the sky, the ominous and dark clouds threatening rain at any second. The lightening comes first: brilliant sheets of icy pink slicing through the dark and heavy sky. Then, the rain follows. That first rain drop falls so gently, tentatively, barely leaving any moisture on your face. The wind from your bike sends the rain flying into your face in a very nearly diagonal direction.
For the final blocks before you reach the safe haven of the indoors, you are truly biking in a rainstorm
The rain is lush, warm, full of vitality.
It is the sort of rain that comes from a world full of life.

Earlier that day, we had walked across the bridge to the little tree-lined island, and watched geese fight one another. There's something exciting about exploring a place you have always wandered past, but never wandered into.
The thrill of exploration is found in beignets on a sunny sidewalk with iced coffee, and it's found in sunning on the side of the sparkling river, as the martens dive into the foam from the running water.
It's in the familiar chocolate smell of men smoking pipes, reminiscent of Saturday mornings and my dad's suburban in the driveway, which smelled like car oil, gasoline, and pipe tobacco.
It's in that bizarre phenomenon where time gets all warped and events of a year ago blend into the present, and events of a week ago seem like a lifetime ago, where events of October seem closer than events of Easter. How does this happen? I have yet to find out. Maybe if I keep exploring, the answer is somewhere out there.
The thrill of exploration somewhere inside the words that I read in my small book. The words were like love letters: I offer you my memory that it may call to mind your blessings.
I re-read them, remembering all the adventures of many years ago, the adventures of today, and the adventures of tomorrow.
I biked down the tree-lined sidewalk, not feeling very adventurous. I had just finished finals, and I already missed finals, because I remembered that distinctly sort of finals-week feeling. It has all the fun of "something is over and something new will begin" but it has all the comfort of knowing exactly what the new thing will be like. Not this finals week. I don't know what the new thing will be like, exactly. But I do know it doesn't include that lovely time of year called finals week, when your mind feels so full of information: of all the books you read in your classes, of all the discussions in our classes, all the knowledge of a semester is right there, in your brain, ready for you to access as you sit down in front of your blue book.
But then I walked into the stained glass chapel, and the world, a dazzling mess of colors and light, beckoned me.
So much adventure was on the horizon: in the years to come, but even just in a simple Saturday spent biking into the small wonders within the boundaries of our city limits.

Monday, May 12, 2014

see what this new world will do for me

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
--Phillip Phillips, Home

From my familiar tree branch, the world is very easy to see clearly.
I could see clear across the sparkling lake to the opposite shore.
The familiar shore with its familiar tulips blooming their vibrant colors.
From my tree branch, the sky is always painted just out of my reach.
It smiles down at me, and I know that here is one corner of the world that is mine. I belong. I fit into the cradle of the tree branch effortlessly, as if it was carved for me.

I sat on my tree, and I speculated on the habits of the geese family that was boating happily through the water by my feet.
I gasped with delight as one of them craned their neck to reach a dandelion growing on the bank. His beak grasped the yellow bloom, and ushered it into his mouth. It was a stunning sight. I'd always thought geese ate very dull and tame diets: you know, grass, weeds, green things we would never notice the absence of. But the bank looked less cheerful without its little yellow flower.
I watched the papa goose snap at a third-party goose that kept floating near the nuclear group, encroaching on their sacred family circle.
Or maybe it was the mother goose. I couldn't tell. No matter. They were certainly not about to let that other goose get anywhere near them.
Ostensibly, it seemed that the snappish behavior was on behalf of the fluffy little gosling that was floating between them.
When they reached the bank, however, the little gosling was the last up the steep slope of the lake's shore.
He kept struggling up the incline, to no avail. Lacking friction on the muddy bank, he would always fall just short of making it to the grassy top of the shore. Finally, after working up a great deal of steam, the little ball of fluff managed to make his way to the top. Without any help from his parents, I may add. His mother (or father. I really can't tell them apart) rewarded his efforts to join them on top of the bank with biting the poor little chap's neck feathers.
I snorted in shock and disbelief from my tree branch.
The goose parent turned to look at me.
It was probably unwise of me to draw their attention to my presence.
Out on my tree branch, dipping my toes into the lake from my smooth wood perch, I was a sitting duck. If either goose parent decided I was a threat and ventured out onto the tree branch to get rid of me, my only escape would be the lake.
Ignoring my wordless commentary on their parenting techniques, the goose parents turned away from the water, an made their way up the hill towards the Moreau cross.
A seminarian ran past them, unaware of their beady eyes that followed his legs, ready to strike. Underestimating geese is probably the greatest occupational hazard of seminarians.

From my tree branch, the world looks much like it does as I sit in the windowsill of my stained glass window. I read these familiar words like love letters. Sweet words that caused Peter to say: to whom else should we go?
And I know that there will always be places like this windowsill painted with colored light from the stained glass where I will fit in as if they are carved for me.
That there is one particular cavity that I was molded to fill.
That there is a strange empty part of me that is constantly learning to change loneliness into lovingness.

Remembrance is a form of meeting

--Sand and Foam, Kahlil Gibran

We sat in a cozy conference room, telling memories. Memories are delicate things that, with much retelling sometimes fade or their flavor changes or their texture alters.
It is a scary business sometimes sharing memories.
After we told stories on stories of our summers in Kolkata, we said goodbye to the young man who is going to Kolkata this summer.
We bid him godspeed. I asked him to do something I remember someone asking me.
Put an intention in Mother's tomb for me, I asked, just as she had requested of me.
Okayyyy? I had responded when the request had been made of me. (In my head, obviously, not out loud. My mother didn't leave me to be raised by wolves, after all. No offense, of course, to wolves. Lovely creatures, really. [see how charming and diplomatic my manners are?])
And then I'd gone to Kolkata, to Mother's tomb, and realized that there is a little wooden box on top of the large white marble slab that marks the spot where Mother Teresa's body now rests in peace.
Each day, there is a new person on one's heart or problem on one's mind, and there is great comfort in writing on a slip of paper, and hoping that someone who is much better at praying than you are will take up your petition.
We watched the young man walk down the stairs.
All the stories that I had just told about my past were in his near future. He was walking down the stairs and into those stories. My heart did this weird little ache-tug as I walked through the journey to India in my head in a split second.
And then we walked up the stairs, going up to retrieve my friend's copy of A Severe Mercy.
There was a lump in my throat, and I think all the tears got stuck there.
I wanted to walk down the stairs with the young man and go with him on his adventure, one that was going to be so sweetly similar and yet so joyously different than ours.
I could feel my heart clinging to one memory at a time and then letting it go, letting the boy walking down the stairs beneath go on his own journey.
So I kept walking up the stairs one at a time, keeping pace with my friend, as we moved slowly but surely farther along on our own adventure.

Distance only increases affection, if it is real and sincere. Should I go to the end of the world, my imagination would bring my friends likewise as daily companions of my every step.
--Edward Sorin

Sunday, May 11, 2014

my earth is somebody's ceiling

But O, what art can teach,
 What human voice can reach,
 The sacred organ's praise?
 Notes inspiring holy love, 
Notes that wing their heavenly ways
 To mend the choirs above. 
--John Dryden, a Song for St. Cecilia's Day

I biked through the green, green world with the grey squirrels scampering through the tombstones in the cemetery.
I sang quietly, so as not to disturb the sleep of those under the ground as I biked back to the mausoleum at the center of the cemetery. Although at first I thought the sunlight was sort of intrusive, as if mist and dark and fog were more native atmospheres for the cemetery, I realized by the time that I stopped my bike and stared at the smooth, warm stones of the mausoleum that the sunlight and my song were both welcome intruders.
The sheer walls of sandstone were etched with names of many people who had gone before me. I stared at the stern metal statue of the sorrowful lady looking into at her dead son, draped over the globe that he had given his life to save.
I examined each wall, seeing all the names. Some familiar, some not. I walked across the warm, rich bricks to see the sea of green grass beyond, only a few shiny stones marking the newest graves.
I turned, and I saw a man and his father alight from a car to visit a grave.  
I looked at them and prayed the only words that we know how to say at such times: 
rest in peace.
I biked past them. Suddenly, very suddenly, I stopped.
There, on the side of the path was the spot for which I had been searching.
I left my bike right in the middle of the path, as I approached the tombstone with the hopeful words.
what art can teach/ what human voice can reach/the sacred organ's praise?
I knelt down on the soft earth in front of the grave.
That's the awkward thing about graves. I'm never sure where I ought to put my feet. So I just knelt slightly off to the left. I felt that was a respectful spot to kneel.
I said the words over and over, my mind to full of adrenaline to read them properly at first. You know when you're first so excited to see a certain passage or a familiar verse that you greedily read the words, without really reading them. You're gobbling up the words, but you have to go back and re-read them more delicately. Speed-reading poetry is like scarfing down wine. Pointless.
So I slowed down my excitement and attempted to decipher the puzzle of words that was mixed up in the birdsong and the sunshine and the noise of cars driving by and the eternal, peaceful silence of the graveyard.

I righted the pot of lilies that the ferocious wind had knocked over. I noted the daffodils. Took a moment to observe their significant, wilting trumpets.
And I tried to think of something to say.
Thank you.
 The familiar words turned to poppies in my mouth.
Just the day before, I had stared at a man who had written to Mother Teresa, back in 1986, and asked her to come speak at his university's commencement. Understandably, she had to decline, because the Missionaries of Charity's final vows were that weekend. But she wrote back to him and his entire class, and the letter was read at his commencement ceremony.
People who have such a deep connection to Mother often long to see Kolkata for themselves, to see this place that is so deeply stamped with her person.
But this man had given his money not to fund his own way to Kolkata, but to fund mine.
I was rendered speechless and utterly inarticulate as the immense weight of my deep debt of gratitude to this man settled on my shoulders.
It is so easy to forget about all the people who touch your life and impact it indisputably. 
Without them, moments you take for granted would never have taken place.
I don't know how to describe that feeling you get while looking at another human being who has done everything for you and asked for nothing in return.
The feeling you get when you truly see your mother for the first time, and the weight of what it means to be a mother strikes you.
The feeling I got when that man just asked to hear a simple story about Kolkata, and all I had to offer was a half-pieced together story about Shakina.
The feeling I found when I knelt at that beautiful tombstone where there were lilies and daffodils blooming.
I trembled as I think these stirrings in my soul are just an inkling of what it must be like to look at the Lord of the Universe. The human heart will not be able to stand that.

As I sat at that grave, I felt tears, unlooked for and unexpected arrive.
The immense impact this woman and the work she had done had on my life struck me as I knelt on the soft spring ground, watered by the tears of April, giving way to the blooms of May.
We shared a smile as I whispered the words of Sarah Ruhl to the woman underneath the polished granite: This is what it is to love an artist: the moon is always rising above your house. The good that this woman had done was certainly not interred with her bones. I thought of through her work how I had learned to love an entire world of music that I had never given much thought or notice to before; I would never have understood the grandeur or mystery of the organ's music, notes that mend the choirs above; I had learned how generations of men and women had sung their praise; how there was a whole new language of prayer I had not known before; through her I had met sweeter and dearer friends than I could have ever hoped.
 I don't know if many years from now if some young girl I never met will kneel at my tombstone, blubbering like a sentimental moron, but I did think in that moment that I think that is what the communion of saints might be all about. I thought of Oscar Romero's famous quote that goes something to the effect of "we are prophets of a future not our own." Which, I suppose, means that the good work we keep trying to do each and every day will maybe one day touch someone who has never touched us.
 It gives a frightfully eternal aspect to all our actions.
I was interrupted from my sunlit vigil by the two men, now back in their car, puttering down the path. 
My bicycle, which I had impulsively abandoned right dab smack in the middle of the path (considerate of me) was blocking his way.
So I dashed up to move the offending obstruction out of his way. When you know someone has suffered real pain, you feel that they oughtn't to have to deal with trivial daily annoyances like bicycles blocking their paths. 
Apologetically, I waved to the car.
The elderly gentleman was driving, and he looked right into my eyes and protested: "oh I could go around"
As I started to protest with a generic: "oh that's alright," "no worries," "not a problem," I looked back into his eyes.
He looked at me with a look of kinship.
Of someone who knows what pain is, looking at another human being who he knows can feel what he has felt. He knew then that he was not alone. There I was, a little intruder in the graveyard, and there he was, a man who knew what loss truly meant. But somehow, in that moment we understood one another.
There, in that graveyard under the bright sky, with sunlight dancing off the slender blades of grass between the tombstones, I knew what the communion of saints was.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

wa-lakin shubbiha la-hum

"God loves us, he is here close to us, and when we're in trouble, he's there.”
--Fr. Patrick Dowling, the Angel Priest

All of a sudden, I was confronted with a couple dozen images of God, all dressed in white.
Their faces were all etched with sorrow, and I knew exactly why.
I felt inside myself the dull emptiness that comes when you try to fill yourself.
Love cannot be forced.
Love waits for her to receive him. He waits so patiently and sadly.
As the muscle's palpitations and the heart's stirrings fill with blood, the lonely little creature yearns for company.
A yearning to be filled with someone besides themselves.
A loneliness which is an invitation to joy.
He welcomes her into his arms with nothing more than a murmur of rebuke.
Such a gentle comeuppance in the face of such a slight.
The tender mercy of his face catches her off-guard, and she wishes that he would frown at her.
We are much more adept at defending ourselves than letting down our guard.
We forget what's at the center, and hold on to the expendable.

I walked toward the portraits of divinity in front of me.
He talked of faith lived through incarnation.
He didn't know, though. How could he ever understand the sort of cannibalism where a rose feeds on a violet.
There are so many violets. Weeds, they call them.
But the centifolia rose, resting on her age-old laurels, is embarrassed by their abundance.
The small little violets blossomed in the shade of the rose's sunny leaves.
Hardy and wild, they managed to forge a life in the middle of a mud-puddle or on the slopes of a mountain.
The rose was puzzled by their surfeit of ability.
They bloomed in the shade of an ash tree, their little roots criss-crossing underneath the blades of grass.
Their petals were like velvet, the coloring so real it looked as if your fingers would stain purple if they brushed against the delicate, vibrant limbs.
The rose bent down to more closely examine the violets, and she was bemused by their proliferation of existence.
She blushed a deep shade of crimson, her sweet soil, her richly fertilized plot of earth, an embarrassment of riches.
The violets crept up towards the rose but never quite approached.
There is a lonely majesty in being the only centifolia rosebush in the garden.
The violets would never understand; their very existence was togetherness.
That union was the center; the rest is all expendable.

I looked out into the waterlogged morning.
My bathrobe wrapped around my body, its warmth welcome for once, as the humidity vanished with the rain.
The air had been cleared. I felt a weight lifted off the atmosphere.
I could not see the angel that had been sent.
But he was there.
Unseen, waiting in quiet like the twelfth imam. Invisible and silent, waiting for his moment to arrive.
And there he was, so unlike us, and yet one of us.

But I looked again, and I saw him. He was one of us.
There is the ka'ba, where one goes to see one like us but not one of us.
Then there is the temple, where one goes to see him who became one of us.
Not like or sort of or vaguely related to, but actually the same flesh and blood and DNA and hormones and synapses firing in his adolescent brain.

Whenever I dream about the past, I see him there.
Whenever I look forward to the horizon, he was there before I could even conceive of what will come.
Whenever I look out into the waterlogged morning, and see the violets growing all together in the shade of a telephone pole, I see a very distant shimmer.
The shimmer that sounds like the tattoo of drums inside my heart.
The shimmer that smells as sweet as the candles burning on the Easter vigil.
There is a whisper inside my soul that maybe I am not alone as I would so often think.
Perhaps if I could learn to do nothing, I would be filled.

Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.
--The Habit of Being, Letters of Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

water will flow through wool

There was laughing in the night, sugar in the shade 
there were backstab handshakes made on faith 
we were never out of time and we never entertained 
anybody said out of habit that the wind was going to change
--Grace for Saints and Ramblers, Iron and Wine

I turned in my last final yesterday.
My essay on Gaudium et Spes very dramatically (and appropriately) ended with a small excerpt of this stanza from G.K. Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse:

 The gates of heaven are lightly locked, 
We do not guard our gold, 
Men may uproot where worlds begin, 
Or read the name of the nameless sin; 
But if he fail or if he win 
To no good man is told.
The men of the East may spell the stars, 
And times and triumphs mark, 
But the men signed of the cross of Christ 
Go gaily in the dark.

Embarrassingly, my eyes welled with tears as I finished the last letters on the pages of that Blue Book, and I stabbed the paper with one final period. I shook out my cramped hand and I turned in the papers to my professor.
I picked up my frantically composed essay on Newman, and read the beautifully legato and indecipherable calligraphy on the back page. My eyes welled up with even more tears, as I read the words: "this is the last [essay] I shall receive from you," and I felt very sad, which was unexpected.

I walked out into the fresh sunlight of the warmest and sunniest Tuesday of the semester, and I thought of Dorothy Day's words about her senior year of college: "the last year at University was idyllic." And as I thought of all the adventures of not even the past year, but simply the past semester, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed that so much life can be fit into just a few short months.
Grouping the year into semesters is a strange and altogether unnatural practice. I feel as though that sunny Tuesday when I ended my finals had very little in common with the cold February Tuesdays I usually spent running between the glistening golden dome of Main Building, its occupants in their polished casual business-wear, to the performing arts center, its occupants usually in a frantic tizzy, wearing something between yesterday's clothes and their new outfit for the big audition.
These Tuesdays had nothing in common with the sweet sadness of finishing the last final, and then the hazy lethargic glow of sunshine and wine that set in afterwards.
Lunch in the sunlit Mark, wine on God quad, under the sweet gaze of the newly restored Sacred Heart statue. I think the fact that it's restored has a placebo effect of sorts. Because, after it disappeared and then made its triumphant return one Tuesday in February, I noticed, more often than I did before, how beautiful it was. I will catch myself looking up at the chiseled face, sure for a moment that I saw something new, something different in the stone statue.
When I stare in His face, however, I notice that nothing is different. It all looks the same. But I suppose I just never took the time to notice it before. If He had not left, maybe I would never have noticed the shape of His forehead, or truly noticed how His robes fall right into the crown of thorns.
Isn't that funny?

Frequently, I am tempted to look down upon people who feel sad about endings. Endings are a part of life, I think, and I can think of countless endings that I have made it through with my heart and my tear ducts intact. Endings are bittersweet. I know it's a raw deal, but that's just life, highness, so deal with it.
As this semester began, I certainly did not think that the bitterness of bittersweet would be quite so bitter. And I felt dreadfully sentimental tearing up as I turned in my last (hopefully my last. Let's be honest here) Blue Book, filled with several pages of chicken scratch that strives towards profundity, but is usually inhibited in its striving by the lack of coffee, the lack of academic discipline on the part of its author, and the clock ticking in the back of the classroom.
When I handed in my test to the professor, I wondered how he could possibly bear to read these tests. I wondered if it would be as if I was forced to read Dick and Jane for hours, and then offer them a grade.
I wondered how we could dare pray to someone who invented thought itself.
The hubris of human beings is pretty unfathomable.
In moderation, I think, it is what makes us quite lovable.

So I indulged in drinking excellent Bordeaux (thank you, papa), and indulging my melancholy while sophomorically sighing: It's so sad to be human.
But it is sad to be human.
Endings are those times when we come very much face-to-face with the reality that we are not eternal. They are the most earthy times of our humanity.
But if there were no endings I very much doubt that we would ever experience joy.
Because joy is the happiness deeper than contentment. Joy is the happiness past loss, the sort of gladness you find beyond sadness.
Joy is the delight that catches you by surprise, when you were so comfortable and settled in your melancholy.
It grabs your attention, as you think: well, this is something new.
But you find it is not new; it is quite old.
You just never saw it there before.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

discordant cloud-banks

He watches her like some grade-school boy,
watching a foreign creature, an outsider.
He follows her movements with his eyes, 
an impartial observer, staring.
He seeks an opportunity to strike.
He yawns, stretches his arm and tugs her hair.

She shakes him off, 
as she shook off all the recess boys in grade three,
without another glance.
he comfortingly pats her back.
And thus they carry on, over and over
ages without end.
Aggression then caressing, 
a separation, then a brutal unity.
He has overstayed his welcome-
he has forgotten how to be a guest.
He has become a boorish
Mr. Bennet, trapped inside
a colony of females that he thinks beneath him.
His wit has ceased to be biting,
it has soured into loveless vitriol
his charm devolved into discourtesy.

She clings to him,
holding on,
refusing to let him go.
She endures his slights,
 ignores the vinegar tongue,
if she opens up her mouth in protest,
her weak defenses amount solely
to a castrated cry of:
Oh Mr. Bennet
She tends to her nest, knowing he cannot fly away,
so she makes his imprisonment more pleasant.
Rendering it more unendurable.
He holds her hand,
but with reluctance
a man about to shake himself free,
so he lets the manacles hang from his wrists
for just a moment more.

She pulls her fingers out
from the spaces between his,
she will not look at him.
She looks instead at the gathering storm
the grass blown horizontal by the angry wind
the tree branches shaking in the thunderclaps
She makes a joke about Kathy and Heathcliff.
He laughs, with an awkward sort of hope.
He reaches for her coat pockets,
hungry to taste her lips,
reaching, grasping, hidden by soft words.
His intention shrouded by a volley of witty jokes.
His hands seek to meet hers,
stuffed into her coat pockets.
His cold fingers intertwine with the wool of her coat and the heat of her hand.

She laughs,
his blandishments flowing through
her veins like cabernet.
Her eyelashes are dusted with snow.
She laughs like a woman aware,
for that moment, for that instant,
She is Desire. She is Beauty. She is.
She laughs like a woman unaware that the fire
with which she plays
will burn her.

We have the unique position to see not only the sins of all the world, but to look past the pain and suffering and into the empty tomb. For we all know what happened three days later.
--Walter E. Jenkins, CSC

Saturday, May 3, 2014

grow to greet the morning

When a think is wick, it has a light around it. 
Maybe not a light that you can see. 
But hiding down below a spark's asleep inside it, 
Waiting for the right time to be seen.
--"Wick," The Secret Garden

I love getting a piece of music stuck in my head.
By a "piece" of music, I usually mean one phrase. Which I sing ad nauseum, without being bothered to try to learn any of the other words or verses.
This is usually annoying if I sing them around other people.
I forget that other people do not usually want to hear the phrase: "spring, I sayyyyyy" belted out at top-of-my-lungs volume on repeat one.
So usually, I either resort to humming, or I go on a bike ride.
But I enjoy having these phrases stuck in my head, because they become connected to all sorts of peoples, places, and specific memories.
There is a corner of campus that will always sound like Regina Spektor's Ne Me Quitte Pas, and I mean, at the end of the day, that's sort of wonderful, isn't it? That music can become so embedded in a particular physical location.
Fun's Stars will always remind me of adoration in Motherhouse in Kolkata, because I would sing the first few lines of that song over and over inside my head. A rather avant-garde mode of lectio divina, but I think by now God has learned to sort of make do with whatever He gets from me; usually some sort of botched jumble of inexpressible mumblings that I try to pass off as prayer.
And Ingrid Michaelson's The Chain will always and forever remind me of Boston and Newport, and a beautiful Supreme gold minivan that once was our faithful bark as we traversed New England.

I rediscovered the musical The Secret Garden, and as I puttered around my kitchen, singing "when a thing is wick, and someone cares about ittttttt" and I had a startling shock of déjà vu, as I realized that I had been in my kitchen at home hundreds of times singing this exact phrase.
It is exciting to rediscover old habits, old ways of being that you had shed, but now you take up again.
It is surprising, nostalgic and exhilarating.

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
--Phillip Phillips, Home

From the first swell of the familiar overture, I teared up as the curtain rose up to reveal the first moments of Les Miserables, that story that every musical theatre nerd has been inculcated with from their very first moments in the theatre.
My jaw dropped as I listened to Valjean singing
"take and eye for an eye
turn your heart into stone
this is all I have lived for
this is all I have known"
I felt my heart drop inside of me, and the raw power of those words tore at the vibrant air of the theatre.
Despite the hundreds of times I had listened to that prologue, I felt as though I was watching the story take place for the very first time.
Les Miserables, I realized when watching all these familiar characters sing their familiar ballads, but with a brand-new veneer of novelty and discovery, has something unabashedly grand about it. It is telling a story about war and sin and grace and redemption and the sort of love that we are usually very diffident about.
The sort of love that if you love another person with it, you will see the face of God.
I felt tears fall from my eyes as I watched Valjean (as he has done ever since he first started singing on the West End 25 plus years ago, and will do until musical theatre as we know it is no more) wrestle with the darkness inside of him, in the world all around him, and yet hold onto this one small saving strand of grace in the ocean of despair all around him. And I watched with an amazed awe that we usually associate with novelty, and Seeing Things for the First Time.
I don't know why we're obsessed with novelty and originality, when all the best stories have to be seen or read many times before you can truly see them with that appropriate awe that comes with Really Truly Seeing something.

And once you Really Truly See something, it's worth repeating over and over again. Because now that the novelty has worn off, there is no fear of your beloved story or your favorite piece of music, or that one masterful line of poetry ever growing old.

And every child should know the lonely 
distant sound of late night travel
when bad dreams have kept them awake
wondering where they come from, what 
they bring or take, and where when it's all 
done they might return and call home.
 --Rails, Scott Owens