Tuesday, March 31, 2015

for the weight of humble glory

Bravest of all humans, 
                                     consent illumined her. 

The room filled with its light, 
the lily glowed in it, 
                                and the iridescent wings. 
                courage unparalleled, 
opened her utterly.  
--"Annunciation",  by Denise Levertovs

I watched a woman walk through the train station the other day, and I was surprised to see how light she looked. She walked with such quaintness, such softness, I expected the harsh wind of the bustling people around her would blow her away.

She walked with this serene grace I can only imagine you would walk if you realized that you are so much more than what you appear to be on the outside.

I think all of us know that we are more than just what we appear to be on the outside:
a ginger
five foot five
a banker
a New Yorker

We know that we are more than just a sum of our collective parts. That there is something we are that we can't quite touch. In his theatrical poem, Our Town, Thornton Wilder writes that human beings seem to know that there's something eternal in the world, something that endures. And we seem to know that that something has to do with us. It's not just a something in the air or the ever-expanding universe.

There's something inside of us that is deeper than just our outside. Something about us that will remain. Something that is made to last past death.

I think people often forget this part of them. Because I think this part of us is rather painful. Our circumstances often deny it, smother it, or hinder it from shining. It is easier to let this part of us be buried or grow dull rather than face the ache of being something greater than we imagine.

But it is our duty not only to remember this about ourselves: to remember our fundamental beauty and incandescent greatness, but also to remind others of theirs. The day-to-day cruelties of living in a broken world: of two women swearing at each other on the subway, despite their perfectly coiffed hair and fur coats; the squalor of a city sidewalk; the dull, constant worry of distrust and lies; the demeaning inhumanity of crude words or angry actions, can often cause whatever that something eternal inside of us is to curl up, shrink, and hide itself.

Through our own actions-- our daily Joy, the living in harmony with others, our insensible, illogical goodness--we remind ourselves that we were made for more than the shoddy comforts of the world: that we were made for some great goodness. It is easy to forget what beauty looks like, when we never see an image of it. But when I see someone whose inner goodness shines from her whole being, I am reminded of what and who I should be being. Without the goodness of others to pattern ourselves after, how would we ever come to find it on our own?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

passover chocolates

All around us I hear the
familiar, pounding thud
of train wheels thundering over
their underground tracks--
instead of underneath my feet,
the sound was around me,
behind the walls,
and shaking the stucco ceiling.

Crowded, fraternally,
in the basement room,
we peer excitedly at one another,
around the lighted candles.

Deep under the pavement,
where the thunder of trains
reverberates through the
concrete foundation's walls.

How strange--
just past these thin walls
there is another world:
a dark mysterious world
that seethes with roaring trains
and scampering creatures.

In this small basement room--
surrounded by light.
Shyly we look at one another,
awkwardly, I meet your eyes,
painfully, she looks for God in
your face.
Gauche and forward,
voyeuristic and uncouth,
I stare into your eyes
to see your soul illuminated here.

Hushed embarrassment falls:
we blush--
stilted teenagers,
our glances meeting briefly,
shyly, with a new understanding of what
two human eyes truly mean.
To our surprise:
we find God there.

Friday, March 27, 2015

you search me

The other day, I was wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt on the train (which never happens. Ever. I am Not That Girl). Then, someone spoke to me, as we were getting off: "You went to Notre Dame?"
I was taken aback: how did he know? How did he discover this truth about myself? Then, I realized I was wearing the sweatshirt. Duh. I was wearing this truth about myself essentially on my shirt sleeves. We struck up a conversation, and I was surprised at how at ease I felt. Someone had named a truth about me (albeit not an essential, deep, and secret one), and I responded not with my usual cold shoulder, but with a human encounter.

A man appears on the shore of the sea, and calls out: "Come, follow me." And, at least some of them do. That is mind-boggling.

If someone walked up to me and called out: "Come, follow me." I'd be like: aaaaannndd I'm going into the next subway car now. I'd say: BYE, and walk/run in the exact opposite direction. No. Thank. You.

Even when someone I love and trust says: "come, follow me." I'm usually like: just a minute! Be right there! Let me finish this thing, then yes, I'm coming! One more thing. Let me finish what I want to do before I decide to to what you want me to do.

So what was it about this man that led these fishermen to decide to go and follow him?
The immediacy of their response astounds me, and shames me, as I think of all the men and women and student (always the students) who walk up to me and demand my attention, and usually I respond with: one moment. Give me a second. Just a minute. I am always holding onto my nets, and thinking: okay, but I'm just going to try one more time before I abandon them.

Imagine what courage and strength it would take to cast off your net without a second thought. To simply leap up in response to a call. One would only do that, though, if one felt a genuine call. What was it in those words that spoke to them so keenly that they abandoned everything they had ever known for this man.

He speaks, and we hear the deepest desires of our soul resonating in Hi voice. The Gospel accounts vary, but I remain convinced of one deep truth: they heard, in His voice, the call they had been longing for all their lives, without ever understanding what it was. It would be as if a stranger on the street reached out to you and said to you the very word you had long held deep within your heart to describe yourself, yet had never spoken of to anyone. It would be as if someone appeared out of the crowd on the sea of Galilee to tell you that all the dreams of greatness you have ever held in your heart were fulfilled right now.

And how could you not go? If someone appeared and spoke the words you had been waiting to hear your entire life? And even if, right now, you do not know what they would be, you would know them when you heard them. We know--we just know--when someone knows us and sees us.

If a stranger can know inessential, surface facts about us, imagine how deeply and truly the Logos would know each of us. Imagine encountering Him: speaking to Him would be like learning the truth about yourself for the first time. Imagine hearing His words: words you had hungered to hear your whole entire life, and you didn't even know you had.

Maybe, then, even I would cast down my nets without hesitation, row to shore, and follow Him at once.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ancient roads and portals

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks.

What ISIS Really Wants, Graeme Wood for The Atlantic

The news is full of many foreign and sinister names in recent months--recent years, rather-- ISIS, Boko Haram, etc. Just over a month ago now, ISIS decapitated twenty-one prisoners on the shores of the Mediterranean. Remember? Just one month ago. And yet, how often do we think of such events?

What I loathe and love the most about the world is that we must necessarily move on: yes it's awful, we cry. We pray. We are scared witless. But life must continue. After two weeks, more or less, our media channels move on to other topics. Not because they want to distract us with other stories, but more because the human heart cannot suffer abstracts for so long. The reality of our daily lives presses upon us, and demands our attention. There may be evil inundating Libya, but there are children to feed and tuition to pay, and there is the man panhandling in the subway. There is too much life surrounding us to be too weighed down by death across an ocean. Also, Libya is a place of the Other. It is all, you know, over there somewhere, we say, with a vague wave of our hands, betraying our utter ignorance of Middle Eastern and North African geography. We have never been to these places. They are all desert, right? Like Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus of Nazareth and Homeland? They are places that speak strange tongues. They are decidedly Other.

Two facts, however, can break down this barrier of Otherness, and bring the evil closer to home. Firstly, these people who have died share a common faith with many of us. Naturally, we think: what if I were there in their shoes? What would have happened to me? Our blood turns to ice for a second in our veins as we imagine ourselves, through nothing more than chance and the accident of birth, born in a land where we might have been among the twenty-one to die. It seems unfair. That we have only been spared through fate. Guilt mingles with the ice in our blood, and we can hardly swallow for a few moments. The moment passes, and we are eager to forget these thoughts and return to the safe home of our familiar world here.

Secondly, if, spurred by our utter ignorance of Mediterranean geography, we Google a map of Libya's location, we notice that hanging above the large landmass is the small boot of Italy. Accustomed to our comfortable buffer of the Atlantic, we are shocked and petrified to see the small sliver of blue that separates the blood-stained beaches of Libya with the verdant landscape of Southern Italy. And we are terrified, because Italy is not the Other. Italy is Us. We have Italian last names; we grew up admiring Italian art; we are descendants of Italians; we have studied abroad in Italy, or made pilgrimages there with our youth groups in high school; we have Italian grandmothers and watch Italian films. We may be thousands of miles from Italy, but it is connected to us in a deep way. Our bones freeze at the thought of black flags waving over Rome.

Thus, these facts make ISIS impossible to forget, and just shove into the compartment of our memories where we have shoved all facts about The Middle East and Terrorism since the Arab Spring. This is not just a continuation of the perpetual unrest that has plagued the beautiful heart of the globe we call the Middle East for millennia without end. This is something different.

There are too many good, ordinary people in the United States who are unaware of the global forces that are rapidly moving our world. I am torn, because there is nothing more powerful in the face of evil than to continue to seek good. Perhaps, for us ordinary folk, there is nothing we can do, beyond pursuing justice in our cities, seeking reform in our education systems, working for beauty in the stories we tell and art we share. But, at some point, there must be a concentrated effort towards an active stopping of the evil.

My sister and I visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which is one of the most moving, reflective experiences one can find in the hectic Manhattan. As I walk through the painstakingly detailed, beautifully curated exhibits, I feel an overwhelming and urgent movement in my heart: this must not happen again. How could this have happened in the first place? What response does it demand from me? How can our country become more of the good place that we wish it to be, and less of the power-hungry monster we could too easily become?

As I walk out of the museum, I feel that I must tell stories. I must tell as many stories as I can possibly fit into my head and spill out onto the page. I must tell stories about this day, about the days that followed, about the days that lead to them. I must tell stories that can grab people's hearts, that can shape someone's imagination, that can provide them with a new way of seeing the world, that can help them find the hero inside of themselves, that can show them where the light shines when all seems dark. Stories that stare evil straight in the face. Stories that know that Truth, while complicated, is more powerful than the most elegant lies. Stories that embrace the disaster of the world, and insist on the goodness of the human heart, despite all the crookedness that corrupts it.

The Cross is the most radical expression of God's unconditional love, as he offers himself despite all rejection on the part of men, taking men's "no" upon himself and drawing it into his "yes"
--Benedict XVI

Sunday, March 22, 2015

time goes by

Her Apartment is the same. There are so many other things that have changed:
our bodies
our faces
our hearts
our minds
our paths
our friendships
our lives
our stories

but there is still the skylight in the kitchen with the cheerful fake sky, interminably blue, despite the cloudy grey Chicago weather outside.

There is still the familiar couches and chairs, where we have watched movies. The kitchen table where we have broken bread, and put our heads together for early morning tete-a-tetes. There is still the same movie posters decorating the walls.

In the whirling movement and upset of our lives; lives that are constantly transforming, it is a sweet relief to have continuity. Continuity is doubly blessed when it is found in a beloved place, and this apartment is one of those places. It is a safe haven, a small little island, that--when we visit--we taste some of the changelessness of paradise.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

everything tastes like monsoon

Your fingers stained with
Dark and henna-like masala
red and orange erupting
underneath your fingernails.
Your breath as soft as sari silk
Against my cheek
Your tongue tastes like sweet syrup
dripping off gulab jamun.
Your skin as smooth, silky as
A dish of kheer,
dotted with moles and marks
like spots of shining saffron.
Your eyelids, slivers of almonds,
shimmer like the raindrops
congregating into puddles.
Your neck is sloped like a gazelle,
and runs on like waterfalls
down into your breast.
Your hair blossoms like
a raincloud over the maiden,
and I disappear inside of it,
as I breathe in the glorious whole of
inhaling your scent,
which is spiced starlight and
mishti in a monsoon.
Your lips taste like kulfi,
melting, dribbling down my chin.
I lap it up greedily
I turn you, over and over again
In my mouth, whispering over my tongue,
like the mango lassi
that I soak my taste buds in
for a hot afternoon
in monsoon season.
You are sweeter than summer,
and all the vibrance of autumn
is in your eyes,
pouring out of your richly colored soul.

Friday, March 20, 2015

the beavers of Astor place

Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness. What fell to her lot was not the burden but the unbearable lightness of being.
--Milan Kundera

I settled snugly into the corner of the bench and the railing. Like an old Gothic choir stall, the subway seat wrapped around my shoulder, like the warmth of a father's arm. I pulled open my book, curled into the corner, and prepared for a long ride with no transfers, bumps, or deadlines. All I had to do was glide home on this midnight, underground traveler.

Next to me was a man, whose dark eyebrows and smooth face looked like something out of a dream. A familiar face that I had always seen before, and whose gentle presence was a comfortable given. Together, we sped through the city, wrapped in the stillness of the night train. We were lost in the blur of motion: of the wheels racing over the tracks, of the world of the tunnel whirring indiscriminately by in the uniform darkness. The words of the book blended with the spinning night, and I was lost in the magic of words flying off the page and filling all the empty air.

The train paused as it reached the station. Just like every stop on the six train: Stop. Pause. Wait. Suspense. Doors open. Pause. Count. Breathe. Run, Leap onto the Train. Doors Close. Doors Open Again. Doors Close. Doors Open Again (some pariah who can't wait for the "train just two minutes behind this one"). Repeat? Doors Close. Finally. Pause. Tepid Gurgle. Lurch. Rumble. Lurch. Go.

This time, we stopped. There was a pause. The doors open, and there is a suspended lull, and no one moves, and the words from the book keep spilling off of the pages into buzzing train, and the musty underground of the subway station.

Suddenly, the man runs. Out of the door, with a jolt, a start, and he dashes out of the doors. He leaves behind him a question lingering: what stopped him from walking off as soon as the doors open? Why did he wait for the suspended lull? Was he, perhaps, enchanted by the words swirling into the night air and the warmth of the subway car, like a mother's rocking chair. The space where he had been was empty. The emptiness was cold, clashing against the warmth of the cozy corner.

And then the doors closed. And didn't open again. And there was a pause. A tepid gurgle. A lurch. A rumble. Then the train pulled out of the station, the words trailing behind us, like twisting ribbons of steam from smokeless engines.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cassiopeia over the foothill

but not the spider in its complex web, fallen
from grace but walking on air, vigilant in ways

that harden the heart, getting its appetite back.

--Eamon Grennan, "Windowgrave"

Sometimes, we are surprised by our own ability to speak the truth, even when we think that we are telling a lie. We think we have formulated our own story, that we have built something for ourselves, something we have formed without bothering to think of the way it relates to the rest of the outside world.

Photina does not even know that she is speaking the truth. Her fumbling, awkward lie: I have no husband is treated with such tender mercy.
You are right in saying this, He says. He takes what was meant as a lie, and finds, deep within it, certain truth. Christ looks with such mercy on us, he sees us in our grasping, half-truth darkness, and reaches down into the mess, to shine some light, and help us make truth out of our messy lives.

I wonder what I have said--what lies I have uttered--that have been transformed into truth. There are so many tangled threads of stories that wander through our lives. They sometimes get bunched up in the most unattractive snarl. As I fret away at the threads, trying to force them out of their hard knot, back into a seemly, untangled flow of the narrative, they only knit together more tightly.

It is only when we simply state what we have seen: whether it is unseemly, shoddy, or snarled, that we will ever be able to untangle what it means.
We are so masterful at evading what we loathe in ourselves and in our lives. But until we name it, we cannot begin to untangle it.

And, even if it seems that we can never undo the intricate webs we've weaved, we have the example of Photina, who, even deep within her lie, discovered truth.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

the flyway of dreams

You want a big piece of this world. 
You would love to have the whole thing. 
"Consuming Desire" by Katrina Vandenberg

March arrived, and I wanted to escape in a hundred different directions. After three subsequent weekends boarding airplanes in LaGuardia, I thought I had slaked my thirst for traveling. For the time being, at least.

Rather, my feet itched to kick up dust once again.

So, instead of flying off on my own adventure, I facilitate an adventure for someone else.
Instead of taking off on another flight, I remembered what butterflies leap up in your stomach the first time you take off alone.
I remembered how overwhelming an airport is when you first land, with no guiding hand by your side; a veritable labyrinth of sounds and wandering through slick, soul-less hallways.

You follow vague arrows and bold, stylized signs, trying to find your way to the baggage claim before the public bus arrives at the ground transport station.

How often you long to see a familiar face waiting for you, in the sea of drivers waiting for bankers and small children with balloons greeting family members. So I waited there: someone's familiar face in the midst of the foreign. I was the little colony of home in the strange country.

Through my sister's eyes, I began to see the city all over again.
And I found it more beautiful than I had thought; and I fell in love with the crush of people, and the dizzying heights of buildings, and the exquisite, winding streets of SoHo and the Village, where each building looks delicately molded and thoughtfully crafted. Each column is shaved to a certain dimension, and each arch of each window perfectly frames the hum of life pulsing within its walls.

Travel is the art of learning to see new things. And there are so many new things hiding right underneath my nose, and all it took was a fresh pair of eyes to remind me to see the way she was seeing; to look at the world as if I were seeing through her eyes.

My sister's eyes reminded me that traveling--taking an adventure to find something new and beautiful--can take place just down the sidewalk, or just an A train-ride away. It's in the whisper of the trees in the spring wind, and the sunset peeking through the elegant, old building. There is a wild world of always-new things to see within the borders of my own city limits.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

turn the shadows into light

We were in the car on the way to the grocery store, the home depot store, or some store we weren't really sure about. Dad knew where we were going, and all we knew is that eventually we would run whatever necessary errand he had in mind, and then drive home. We were shopping for new mosquito lamps for our rooftop. I remembered seeing them running out earlier, someone commenting on how their stubby little wicks were now drowning in oil.

In the car, someone mentioned how helpless we ought to feel: clueless little citizens, living our daily, hum-drum lives, out of the public eye, seemingly powerless in the face of the world powers that be.

And she piped up: no, we're not.

I've been watching Homeland recently. [I've been watching too much Homeland recently, leading me to re-examine my Lenten practices.] Besides Clare Danes' marvelous performance, which is essentially a master class in acting, the story is captivating--in the somewhat the same way Zero Dark Thirty is. It is chilling and thrilling to see the people who are "in power." We are all fascinated by Inner Rings, and CIA Covert Operations is the inner ring of all inner rings. Nor does it stop there, as stories unfold, we learn there are even inner rings inside that (!). Knowledge is power; thus the easiest , most fool-proof power move is to hold your cards close to your chest, and not reveal your knowledge to others. Excluding others from knowledge is also power.

But, our Homeland protagonist Carrie is not our hero because she has the most access to power. Although, certainly, she is a bona fide, die-hard inner ring-er, most of her power comes from her insistence on doing good. She, and our other supporting protagonists, derive their special brand of fearless power from their continued efforts to do the right thing.

Perhaps, the pursuit of goodness is a power unto itself. A power that those who truck in the trade of knowledge cannot really ever match.

In his lyrical novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera writes that it is the ordinary lives of men and women who have lived, borne children into the world, and died that is responsible for the world being as good as it is.

Perhaps he did not write it. I thought I read it on those pages, but as I flipped back through them, the ink seems to have evaporated right off the page. Perhaps I only dreamed them. But if you scan through the first book of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, perhaps you will find them, too.

Wherever they are written, these words contain the secret power of the good. That The Good--or just maybe The Ordinary--are the ones who shape the world, for better or for worse. That they make up the iron heart of the world that beats independent of those in power. There may be the few forgers, who play at molding the metal into what they can make of it. But it is truly the women and men who seek each day to put bread in their mouths and the mouths of their children who are the foundation of the world. And there is power in that, simply because it's true.

Monday, March 16, 2015

this is your brain on Augustine

As she walked in, she could already see him fidgeting in the uncomfortable waiting room chair.
She sighed, frustrated with his paranoia. If only he could just calm down, maybe we could get somewhere.
She smiled and welcomed him into the office.
How are you this morning, father? she asked.
He shrugged, smiled a smile so forced it was definitely more like a grimace than a grin:
Okay, he said.
Great, she said, through barely clenched teeth. How did you sleep?
Not much, he responded, with what she thought was supposed to be cheerful endurance, but was definitely more like rueful wallowing.
Oh my word, she thought, just start talking already. This is like pulling teeth.
Okay, she said out loud, with extreme patience. Not much as in...? Seven? Six?
Oh. That's not much at all!
Did you remember any dreams?
She stopped. Usually he didn't share any of his dreams with her. Perhaps today...
Oh. You do? What did you dream about?
He looked out of the window for a long time, then down at his hands, which were fidgeting with a ring, running it through his fingers, rolling it around in his hands over and over again. She was hopeful. She could feel something suspended in the air: a human being collecting their thoughts. Blank silence sounds much different than a silence filled with unspoken words being collected all together, pieced into a readable puzzle. Part of her job was being able to tell the difference.

Finally, with a sigh, he stared up at the light fixture on the ceiling. His glance darted over to the statue of Minerva in the corner, then focused down on his hands again.
He stopped fidgeting, finally. In a very still voice, he began:

"I was in the backyard, when the men appeared on the other side of the woodpile. I can't remember when my mother told me to run, but I heard her loud and clear. Usually, I can't run in dreams. Usually, at that crucial moment, my brain remembers that my body is paralyzed in REM sleep, and I am frozen like a hunted rabbit. But, I willed myself slowly, with each step, up the stairs, my legs barely moving. 

It was more as if my mind was moving my body. I remember shouting as I ran, as if I was enthusiastically running and cheering, celebrating the dominance of this new social order that was falling into step. But I didn't know what words to say exactly, so a blubbered out expression of patriotism was all my panicked mind could muster. I clamored up the steps, wearing my ridiculous disguise. But, really, was it to any avail? There, in the garage, a car pulled up to me (another trope of nightmares), with a man and woman inside, and they entered the house with me.

There, in our living room, they took my mother away. I begged them not to.
I pleaded with them. They weren't even harsh, just unfeeling. A little bit confused, embarrassed and unsure. But certain in their one task.
My younger siblings looked through our medicine cabinet for things that could be weapons.
Nail clippers, scissors. I felt sick to my stomach.
I begged my mother to let my brother come away with my sister and me.
And then..."

His voice choked up, and petered out.
She cleared her throat and looked down at the blank notepad in her lap. She hadn't written anything, she had just been listening, enraptured by his story.
She looked up again, and he wasn't fidgeting anymore, and she almost wished he was again. In retrospect, his fidgeting was not the annoying evasions of a difficult patient, but the welcome and natural nervousness of a frightened man.
She rubbed her chapped lips together, cleared her throat and nearly whispered: And then what?
He looked up at her; looked right into her eyes. His eyes were so grey and clear and full of such intense, focused light, her breath caught in her throat. She felt like his eyes were from another world.
Then I woke up, he said.
And Whatdoyouthinkyourdreammeanstoyou? she asked automatically.
He smiled woefully. Aren't you the one who's supposed to be telling that to me.
She started to say something rote, but then realized that his man deserved a lot more than formulaic responses from her.
Persecution, she said.
I wonder if those dreams will ever stop, he said.
They were both silent, and he glued his eyes to the ring in his hands and she knew that she didn't need to say anything, because the unspoken answer to his question was hanging in the air all around his head.

Friday, March 13, 2015

just like an old melody

Just you, just you, just you, just you

The familiar beat of an old song floated through the wooden walls of the coffee shop.
Oh you, I thought, I haven't heard you in a very long time.
And I smiled as the verse bled into the chorus, and all the beats thumped along the plaster crowning, like the ticks of a clock.

Dimmed by smog and clouds, the sunlight streaming through the window made me yearn for clearer European sunlight. I thought of the windy beaches of Normandy, and the sunny villages, and the clear night air in Montmartre. I thought of the taste of gnocchi and wine, and the scent of Piazza Navona on a rainy spring evening. I remembered the taste of nutella and gelato on my tongue, the feel of the hostel sheets, the first sip of cappuccino in the morning, the flour in the air of Dar Poeta, the winding streets of Trastevere in the fresh air of morning.

I thought of Lisieux and Chartres, of LeMans, and places I never knew that I had to fall in love with that won my heart and captured a distinct part of my soul. I especially thought of LeMans, of how each turn of each corner brought beauty, surprises, something that would break your heart and put it back together again. Trickling from that city, a sense of purpose ever since then has been firmly grounded in my heart.

My feet are getting itchy once again. It is spring, snow is melting, and I am feeling airborne.
I am longing for the streets of the Old City in LeMans, these winding, magic passageways, of old houses with ancient, antique door-knockers, and musty, gothic corridors; for the smell of the cold March wind that rushes through and old arch-way, and rustles your spring coat. I miss the stars above the crumbling staircases, and I miss the banks of the Seine in twilight.

I thought of all the adventures that March has always brought me, and for the first time in a long time, I am feeling very confined. Nostalgia keeps whisking me back to Roma, to Paris, to places that have brought me adventures, laughter, and broken Lenten diets. Places that have brought me hope and sorrow, heart-break, happiness, and sights of beauties I had only read about in books. Places that have stained my fingers with curry and have stained my heart with wanderlust.

I closed my eyes and remembered the rain in St. Peter's square, and the arms of the church all around me as the white smoke poured out of the chimney. I felt all of the magic that I have seen bubble up inside me and pour out, forcing me to stand up, leave the coffee-shop, and journey out into the blue sky, threaded with the smell of spring.

Traveling is when all the books you've ever read come to life: when all the lessons we have learned through ink and paper come to vivid life; when we learn how to navigate airports and crises, make friends of locals and new pieces of ourselves.

How would we ever learn these things about ourselves if we did not go to find it?

Thursday, March 12, 2015


"She had that curious mixture of the social and the artistic temperaments found often in two classes, society women and actresses. Her education, or, rather, her sophistication, had been absorbed from the boys who had dangled on her favor, her tact was instinctive, and her capacity for love-affairs was limited only by the number of the susceptible within telephone distance. Flirt smiled from her large black-brown eyes and shone through her intense physical magnetism."
---This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald

The bar was one of those overly-chic bars that is located in basements. Nothing is more chic than having to descend rickety metal stairs, to find yourself in a dingy little lounge with poor lighting and peeling plaster walls. This one's walls distinguished themselves with a skinned crocodile hanging on the wall.
Not a tapestry made out of shimmering crocodile skin, but a skinned crocodile, with head still attached. Think like: a bear rug in an old New England aristocrat's hunting lodge, except a crocodile, and hanging across the wall. The wide-open jaws are perfectly erected to make for a millennial's dream photo-op. Truly a selfie to die for.
The bar was a disaster, in terms of interior design. There was a velvet-curtained stage, a DJ's booth, several chic little tables with upholstered cubes to sit on, and no coherency whatsoever. The DJ was very into one thing: loud music himself. Therefore, we were doomed to no hope of intelligent conversation of any kind, while our ears were being bombarded by the cacophony of his ego. Anyways, the dance floor space was minimal, and was completely dominated by this adorable couple whose twin inabilities to dance, and charmingly awkward dance moves, were a perfect imaging of true love.
The bar was populated by annoying young yuppies who spent their evening striking different poses, and wearing those ridiculous knit hats and Canada Goose Arctic Program coats; and, of course, your token Swedish Harvard graduates who were "photograph and film artists."
Give. Me. A. Break.

In the midst of all the mind-numbing unoriginality, was the bartender.
He looked like any other Lower East Side Bartender, with fashionably disastrous facial hair, gauges/gages and sleeves of color inked onto his skin.
But he drew faces on the eggs.
In addition to making the most excellent whisky sour I have ever experienced-- he drew faces on the eggs.
They were certainly not Da Vinci's, these faces, but I could call them Picasso-like, in a pinch.
He was one of those people that winks when they take your order, and takes just a second too long between making eye contact and asking you the question, and calls you "love" and gets away with it, not by virtue of his disastrous facial hair, nor by the way he droops his eyelids in the bar's low light, but because he draws faces on the eggs.
It's the incredible magnetism of someone who has nailed the art of flirting down to a science; a master of mixology, one could call him.

This is such a strange world; this world of incense-laden bars and candlelight tequila, and women and men striking various poses, hoping someone will see just how strong and important and So Very Interesting they are (and where did you go to school again? Oh, Just Outside of Boston. [aka Harvard. We get it already. The only person you're fooling by this "just outside of Boston" talk is yourself.]). But in the midst of all the inane self-promotion and simpering there are the adorable few who draw faces on the eggs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

windows of ste. chapelle

The glassy rainstorm of the large rose window
shines like all of heaven is inside it,
the slender gothic pillars arch like willows,
hidden in the cryptic sunlight prism.

Suffused with the grace of home,
I wonder why I wandered so far from here,
and dallied in larger, coarser churches,
when, the lamps of the sanctuary
sparkling in the sweet stone sunshine
were as familiar to me as the
hall-light of the prairie
lit late at night.

The stones creak and heave deep moans,
like widows remembering a sweeter past,
and the air is doused in blinding incense,
even the curve of the wooden bench
caresses the small of my back.

I have wandered, I am sure,
into an enchanted world,
where time has stopped,
and beauties multiply,
Where all the truths spoken here
consume and transform all my lies.

Shimmering from the panes of glass,
the mysterious blue light shines
just like your eyes did in a winter storm.
Your eyes are utterly bewitching,
but now I feel caught in a trance,
enchanted by the expanse of sky
delivered to me in soldered glass.
I think that heaven's hidden there--
in the ragged trapezoid of sky
peeking from behind the stormy clouds,
there, in my old rose window--
just as it is hidden in your eyes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

a man who told me everything I have done

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4:13-14

This blog post is the first in a series. The series being "In which I dispense unwanted advice to groups who never asked my opinion in the first place." It will prove to be highly entertaining, no doubt.

Without any formal education in homiletics, I have nonetheless taken it upon myself to break down the myriad species of homilies (from the Greek, homilia, meaning companionship and communion) into five different species or types. Someone should really send me back to school, otherwise I will keep writing things like this for public consumption, and that will just end poorly for everyone.

The Narrative Homily: This is the classic MidWester daily mass homily. Usually good for a short Mass and short homily, this sermon tells a story that unites the theme of the story to the Gospel. This story illuminates a lesson hidden in the Gospel, or gets the gist of the Gospel through another story, leaving a brief time at the end for connecting the two stories, explaining the link between them and highlighting an aspect of the narrative.

The Moral Homily: This method uses the Gospel of the week to speak on a virtue, on cultivating virtue, on how to take moral action, seeing how the Gospel can be enacted in our day-to-day lives. A moral homily on the Gospel of the Parable of the Prodigal Son can explore the questions: How do we forgive? A homily on Christ's cleansing of the Temple can explore: What does it mean to be angry? Can we be angry in a "righteous way?"

The Pseudo Historical-Critical Method Homily: This homily, at its best, is an illuminating look into Jesus' world/world of the Gospels. It can explain obscure passages of the Gospel, it can bring historical realities veiled from our modern perspective to light. This homily can bring home the point that these are stories from a specific time and dateable place. At its best, it's a reminder of the historical significance of the Gospels, at its worst, it's a dry, boring history lesson that leaves the stories covered in 1st century Mediterranean dust.

The Salvation History Homily: This homily capitalizes on the first two readings, particularly the Old Testament reading, to highlight the story of Salvation. It seeks to connect the Old testament to the New, explaining how the history of salvation has transpired, it details God's work; opening up the wonder of the Salvation narrative for the congregation.

The Theological Homily:
This homily breaks down the story in terms of the theology inside of it: what does this story say about who God is? For example, a moral homily on Jesus' washing of the feet would talk about the service that Christ displays in that moment, how he humbles himself to care for his brothers, and so should we. But, a theological homily on Christ's radical action will describe the service God is doing for his apostles: I will make you clean. His washing of our feet must be enough for us. We cannot make ourselves clean on our own, we must humble ourselves to accept His cleansing. This tender love of God will clean our weary feet and hearts.
The theological homily sees the scriptures as describing how God is acting in the present. Christ did at one point in time wash His Apostle's feet, and He continues to wash ours.

I have divided them into five different parts, because are the five different kinds of homilies that I have heard in my short life. With the exception of the Theological Homily, no one kind of homily is particularly better than the other. All five are necessary for exploring all the different aspects of Scripture, and illuminating different aspects of the Christian life. The problem, I think, is in emphasis on one particular type of homily, at the expense or exclusion of the others. If a pastor only gives Salvation History homilies, then the stories fail to break into the congregation's daily lives. On the other hand, if a pastor only gives Moral homilies, then the narrative of the Gospels is lost, and they devolve into moral lessons strung together. All five generate enough variety that can hopefully appeal to different intellects and appetites in the diverse audience of a parish.

Thus, it is necessary for all five homilies to be practiced and preached in a parish, with special attention given, I would argue, to the Theological homily. Perhaps it is because we hear them too infrequently, but they are those words of living water that Christ promises to Phoenicia. There is something in each of us that thirsts, like the Samaritan woman, for a water that will not only quench our thirst, but create inside of a spring of water. We pant for this water, the Psalmist says. It is an antiquated image, and therefore, slightly castrated. But the image of a deer panting for the water from the creek is not elegant, it is urgent. It is instinctual and desperate. We have this longing for the living water, and the homily is often a vital conduit that can channel the grace of the words we have just heard directly into our hearts.

What the theological homily provides to each listener is a new set of eyes and ears. It presents a new way to listen to scripture, a new way to see Christ. Once given a different perspective on the readings, we are able to return to this new vision over and over again. Accordingly, these words become an eternal spring of water within us that can quench our thirst for the truth.

Annotated Bibliography (MLA til I die):
Sacramentum Caritatis. "The day of creation has now become the day of the "new creation," the day of our liberation, when we commemorate Christ who died and rose again." (37)
Preaching the Mystery Of Faith Our encounter with Jesus inevitably leads to mission; our love for Jesus translates into our love for others. This is why the homily, which participates in the power of Christ’s word, ought to inspire a sense of mission for those who hear it, making them doers and proclaimers of that same word in the world. A homily that does not lead to mission is, therefore, incomplete. (19)
Dei Verbum: And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together. (25)

Monday, March 9, 2015

consumed by mystery

She loves him inexplicably. There are some questions that are more than impertinent, they're rather an insult to the order of operations that govern the universe. And often you're tempted to ask questions like: how do you love him?
And if you asked Elizabeth Barrett Browning, she could respond with: freely, as men strive for right. and purely, as they turn from praise and then she could continue on and write an entire sonnet about the nature of her love.
But this is a rare privilege, one not afforded to most of us.
For most of us, the question of how do you love her? is a baffling one. Because it seeks to dissect what most of us can only take as a given.
Sometimes, I wish all of us could express ourselves like Ms. Barrett Browning, because I wonder how many of us are writing sonnets with our lives and don't even know it.

How do you love her?

I love her not for what she does, or who she thinks she is--the part of her that she displays for all the world to see--not for that part. I love her for who she is deep inside of herself. The part that only God can see of her.

How do you love him?

I love him not for the parts of him that think or feel or will or do, not for those parts. I love him for the part of him that just is--his Being, I suppose you would call that. I love solely his existence. Apart from his actions or his deeds, or whatever he thinks or says, I love him just for breathing air. I love that there is a soul in this world that is stamped forever with his name.
Perhaps you can hate someone for something they have done; for the person that their actions are turning themselves into, and yet love them deeply, truly, because they are.
And there is no other condition needed to make someone lovable.
From the moment they begin to be, they will be loved.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

trylon and perisphere

Trylon and Perisphere: it sounds like a pair of lovers from a Greek myth you learned in high school, and now you pretend to remember when it's casually referenced at a cocktail party.

In fact, Trylon and Perisphere was the name of a modernist artistic sculpture/architecture displayed at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. Trylon was a triangular pylon tower that shot up into the air alongside Perisphere, a steel globe. They represented the "World of Tomorrow" which was the fair's theme. I am not usually inspired by large geometric shapes, so I am, from the outset, cynical.

But even if you are a very geometric-minded person, the whole situation is filled with tragic irony.
First of all: the 1939 world's fair had no way of knowing that World War II was upon them, a war that violently ushered in a very bloody tomorrow. Secondly, Trylon and Perisphere were dismantled at the end of the 1940 season of the world's fair, as their steel could be melted down to use for the war effort. These symbols of a new tomorrow were dismantled to destroy the world of today.

Progress is a fickle virtue, and those who pursue it for its own sake, will find that it turns on them, pulls out the rug from underneath them, and undermines whatever cause they originally had in mind in the first place. We--human beings--have a drive inside of us to be great, to become better, to be constantly improving. Perhaps this is us fighting against the natural entropy of the universe. As we are dragged further into chaos, we fight this by constantly ordering the parts that are dissolving into disorder. But this fight to make things better is not in itself the point.

Without an underlying telos, the drive to "be better" is a meaningless exercise. So many social movements are in danger of forgetting their telos: democracy, technology, feminism. I see this particularly in feminism, and I think today is a fitting moment to discuss, since it is International Women's Day (a fact I forgot, until a friend and I were, very appropriately, getting a girls-only brunch, and our waiter wished us a happy women's day. It's a rare delight when you visit a brunch spot where your waiter is more feminist than you are).

I have been listening to an enlightening and informative and fascinating podcast. (I just said the word "podcast" which means I have become the worst version of myself. I hate that word. Anyone who is listening to a podcast must also be drinking kale shakes and wearing bougie, faux-hipster non-prescription horn-rimmed glasses. Next thing you know I'll start wearing those hats that everyone wears that are just like regular knit winter hats, but you wear it so it only covers the top of your head, and there's a Cathedral steeple of knit hat towering over the rest of your head. Stupidity, thy name is those hats.) Anyhow, the podcast is called Stuff Mom Never Told You, which is a clever and sassy title, and for that reason alone, I enjoy it. The two hosts are hilarious, delightful, and have lots of interesting facts that you can intellectually masticate over to your heart's content.

However, what I find grating about the podcast, is that any sort of limit that is ever put on women is decried as anti-feminist. Which is just unrealistic. Limits come from being a specific human, living a specific life, in a specific time. It is not unfair that my spending budget is significantly lower than Taylor Swift's, it is just reality. We have different jobs, different lifestyles, different net values. It would be unjust if one of my colleagues at the school made more money than I did, simply because he was a man, or she had blonde hair and I had brown. That would not be a limit, that would be an injustice, an inequality. Not to drink the Patriarchal Kool-Aid or anything, but it seems to me that there are certain limitations to being a woman, and that's okay, because I am a human being, not Superman, and I'm okay if having a vagina means that I am biologically incapable of achieving the same muscle mass in my biceps as my male counterparts. In my book, I have the better deal anyway.

Perhaps this is just because I am a kind of person who believes that there are things that are right and wrong; not because I have arbitrarily decided them to be so in my happy little moral system, but because they are just facts. Just as, when you breathe, oxygen enters your bloodstream, and nitrogen leaves, when you give to another person, without thought of yourself, your ability to see the world, and to love the world becomes bigger, it grows, your heart becomes softer and less self-interested. And if you act selfishly, your heart grows smaller, because that is the scientific definition of acting selfishly: to make yourself smaller, to cut yourself off and turn yourself inward. These are not optional, they are, by necessity, what happens when you perform the action. We have all experienced this clarity at moments, but usually, these facts are not apparent to the naked eye, therefore, we often forget they are facts.

The telos of feminism is not to cast off all limitations on women; that is pointless and unrealistic. It is to give a voice to the experience of half of the world's population whose voice, for many centuries in mainstream culture, has been marginalized.

I was reminded of the importance of telos in a meeting on social justice, in which I felt so keenly the absence of the Eucharist. The Eucharist: as in; Christ's intimate encounter with us, His drawing us into His divine life, His pulling us into the Triune life of God. This powerful physical encounter: of God entering our hearts, and transforming us into likenesses of God, is what compels us to then go re-enact this transformation in the world.

 Without the Eucharist: without the particularity of the Eucharist, then the "God is in my neighbor" "God is in everything" language falls impotent. The Real Presence is the why to our "love thy neighbor" and "work for justice" language.The Eucharist is at the root of this new world we live in, where God is so immanently present.

The Eucharist proves to us that God does not just want to be a spiritual, imaginary reality to us; but an actual, physical, undeniably real presence. A presence who enters into time, and takes up with that entrance into time the limitation of time. The limitation of mass, weight, taste, touch, and smell. Without this encounter of the Eucharist, this unity with God, then our work for justice in the world will suffer. It will lose its telos and grow tired. We will forget that we are not working to change the world into images and likenesses of ourselves, but into an image of Love Himself.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

lie braided together

And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain 
For unremembered lads that not again 
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. 
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree, 
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, 
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
--Edna St. Vincent Millay

"Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree," Christine read.

Outside, the winter had overtaken the entire world. The snow plummeted toward the earth, reaching the ground with quiet inevitability. The snow, she thought, would make the tree feel less lonely. Or, otherwise, it certainly ought to. It always made her feel secure. The wintry blanket on the ground always left a trail of quiet lingering in the air behind it. That quiet made her feel that nothing truly bad could happen in that quiet. It seemed like the world was given respite, for a few hours, from all the evil that must occur in it. The cold and the quiet conspired together to give this city a sense of peace. Christine liked that.

She bit into a hamantaschen. She had made them herself last night, because she had already polished off the large tin that had been delivered to work. (oops). She rolled the thick dough around in her mouth, the rough texture combining well with the sweet relief of the jam. It was good. Not as good as the ones Ms. Waltz had sent her. But hers tasted like home, whereas the ones Ms. Waltz had sent her tasted like a very fancy bakery. Not that anything was wrong with very fancy bakery cookies. But they are sort of sterile. Fancy bakery cookies are like cats that have no will of their own and do everything you tell them. No self-respecting cat, she thought, should do everything that you tell it to. A cat ought to have a certain amount of mystique. Will she do what I ask? Won't she? A cat's social currency is the unknown, that margin of uncertainty. Without it, she has lost the power in the relationship, and has become a dog.

Her mother always said you put your heart into your cooking; so you better not have a bitter heart, otherwise everyone will taste it. Her father always claimed he could taste in the pasta sauce if her mother was mad at him. She always rolled her eyes, and her mother always glowered darkly. But, perhaps there was something to that. If Christine could name the feelings that flavored her small hamantaschen, she would say: nostalgia. Yes. Undoubtedly.

She took another bite of another cookie (yikes. there were only three left. She would turn into a hamantaschen herself if she didn't stop this gorging.) and she felt the nostalgia pierce her tongue like lemon juice. Yes, certainly nostalgia.

She wonder how anyone could have baked this much longing for the past into a cookie. As she took another bite, she was overwhelmed by thinking of all the days that had passed that could have been so different, all of the memories that had solidified and crystallized like sugar molecules into cookie dough. Just as she was unable to unravel the bonds that had formed between these disparate parts, she could not unravel the story that had woven itself out of her life. But how she wished she could.

She wanted to reverse whatever chemical process had occurred in the oven, and transform these cookies back into a soggy heap of flour, sugar, and eggs. But that was impossible.
She took another bite of hamantaschen and stared out into the snow.

Friday, March 6, 2015

extreme marketing

Look At Those Ducks! Or: A Brief History of Canada Goose Arctic Program Coats and I
 (With apologies to Charlie O'Leary.)

So, probably about a month ago, I was sitting on the Six train, on the way to work, and I saw this woman standing across from me. I was sitting down, reading my book, minding my own business, and then I look up.

And I was like:
oh my gosh.
that woman.
look at that woman.
She has a badge on her coat.
A f***ing badge.
That is serious.
A serious badge.
That is real.
That is
so. cool.
And there she is, right across from me.
On the six train.

Her badge says--
it says---
(tries to read it from across the train)
Oh my gosh.
Canada Goose Arctic Program.
That has got to be--
What is that even? She is a
Real Arctic Explorer.
I mean, she's in an arctic program!
What does that even mean??
How do I process this?
There. Right there.
On the Six Train.

I left the train, basking in the glory of this woman's monumental presence. How on earth could she be just standing on the six train, as if she was not the pinnacle of all adventure and daring-do? How did she live with herself, knowing herself to be a Canada Goose Arctic Program Explorer??

Was that another Canada Goose Arctic Program badge?
Wait. What.
(turns to look at the slight young man on the sidewalk, who just sauntered past, smothered in a puffy down parka, sporting the same badge)
No way. There are not two arctic explorers in the same two miles of Manhattan. I must be missing something.

Well, as it turns out, I was missing something: Canada Goose Arctic Program is not, was not, and never will be an arctic exploring program, in which fearless and attractive young men and women frolic in the arctic desert and go where no sub-zero explorer has gone before.
No. Canada Goose Arctic Program is a Canadian coat maker (albeit a Canadian coat maker with a sterling reputation). Which is undeniably less exciting than arctic exploration.
Canada Goose Arctic Program, I realized sadly, is not the frozen wilderness incarnate; it's simply an LL Bean competitor.

Ever after that, I grew disheartened whenever I saw one of those badges. They taunted me, mocking me with what they could have been, and yet are absolutely not. They are not adventure and frozen tundra. They are just Well Made Coats. Well made coats that are apparently capitalizing on the polar vortexes and panoply of winter storms (we've had enough storms to fill Valhalla. Also. Those names. Naming the frozen rain that's stinging your face "Juno" or "Thor" doesn't make it any more glamorous, dear Meteorologists of the Realm), and the number of Canada Goose Arctic Program badges that I have seen on the six train have multiplied exponentially.

While visiting my friend in Boston, I shared this sorrow with her, and we began to notice the coats all around us as we passed. As we stopped by the frozen Charles river, and watched the flocks of Canada Geese paddling around in the small patch of running water, someone made a joke (one of those stupid "Friends hanging out together for long stretches of time, thus all their jokes devolve from wit into just enjoyable self-referencing of previous conversations" jokes) about The Program.
Don't worry.
We have our people working on the Canada Goose program.
(jovial laughter)
Oh my gosh, announced someone to the group, did you know those Canada Goose Arctic Program parkas cost nine hundred dollars?
Nine. Hundred. Dollars.

I don't care who you are, spending nine hundred dollars on a winter coat, when you are not, in fact, in the sub-zero desert of the arctic circle, but rather, spending a winter in the slush of midtown Manhattan, is, in a word, ludicrous.
Furthermore, I can't tell the difference between a Canada Goose Arctic Program Parka and another say, three hundred dollar parka, except for the badge on the sleeve. And I object fundamentally to the idea that that badge is worth several hundred dollars. I can buy a plane ticket to Anchorage for that price. I could literally go to the Arctic for the price of a parka. I just.

Upon this breaking news from our friend, our group had a collective, passionate (but not unseemly) explosion of outrage.
Nine Hundred Dollars!?
Instantly, one member of our group shushed us all by pointing behind us, a look of unadulterated surprise painted on his face.
Collectively, we turned around to see a couple right behind us, snapping pictures of the ducks. But all we could see was the all-too familiar small red badge emblazoned on the sleeve of the woman's parka.
Knowing that this faux-Arctic Explorer had certainly heard us, and all hope of regaining our social dignity lost, we beat a hasty retreat.
And, accordingly, burst into convulsive fits of laughter.

Thank you, Canada Goose Arctic Program for introducing such dramatic action to the bleak winter fashion scene. Clearly, I've had a really exciting February, folks.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

we act very boldly

For if what was going to fade was glorious, how much more will what endures be glorious.--2 Corinthians 3:11

Today was an unexpectedly hot day in the middle of a rainy season, and the sun was sparkling across the bay. The houses of Thessaloniki were packed in tightly next to one another, and the city hummed with the constant drumbeat of thousands of heartbeats.

In a little room with a small window looking out over onto the pure blue water, a man was writing. His face was set in that almost-frown of a person concentrating very hard. But, occasionally, his face would brighten, as if the words he was producing radiated some sort of new life as they poured out of him. Once, every hour or so, he stopped, sat back on his small stool, and laughed.

Or, he would pause, stare out at the water, rippling peacefully, untouched by winter storms, and just watch the waves roll against the rocks. He would watch the sun sparkle on the blue ridges of the bay, and waited. Waited for the words to come while the smells of the street wafted up through his window. Stuck in a reverie, he listened to the shouts of the children playing underneath his window sill, and the chatter of fruit-sellers and housewives bartering with one another over an overripe pomegranate or two.

Sometimes, tears would well up into his eyes. He would listen to the sounds of people walking outside in the light of the warm afternoon, and he just wanted to burst. How could anything he wrote: flimsy little strokes of black and white on a useless scroll ever reach them? How could anything he say; simple words, just sounds strung together into thoughts ever penetrate their hearing? How could he, stowed away in this dark little room, ever generate the light that could reach these men and women.

The man selling rotten fruit at the stand on the corner: would Paul ever be able to assure him that he was an inheritor of an eternal weight of glory? The boys playing on the street: how would they ever come to understand that they were living in a new world? He wanted to leap up onto his windowsill and shout down to them that the sun was different today; that the air they were breathing was full of Resurrection; that their lives could attain a new freedom never before dreamed of; that they were asleep, and now they could wake up. He wished that he could write something that would shake their hearts to the core, knock them off their horse and shake the scales from their eyes.

How do you capture a journey so dramatic as metanoia in speech? How do you transform the movements of hearts and wills into words? How would he capture the transformation of the world in just a few short letters? How could he manage to preserve the fresh feeling of new life inundating the world? All he had to memorialize this moment, this essential point in history, were his words. Words that, Paul knew, would grow stale with repetition; words that would become hackneyed; words which would grow cliched. What words could he use that would be eternally fresh? Words that would, for centuries to come, reach out the window, and smote the heart of the reader, reminding her: this is a new world. You are living something new: a new story, a new life. You are new. He didn't know if he could succeed, but he had never felt more alive than these moments: moments in which the very impossibility of his task made his heart race.

So that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
--2 Corinthians 5:5

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

the rain is full of ghosts tonight

I cannot say what loves have come and gone, 
I only know that summer sang in me 
A little while, that in me sings no more
--What My Lips Have Kissed, by Edna St. Vincent-Millay

He stepped out of the harsh light of the embassy's porch lights, and into the slushy Manhattan February.
There was an ugly and uncertain precipitation pouring out of the sky, it seemed to be wavering between snow and hail, vacillating between each option, choosing to exhibit the worst of either weather. It stung as it hit your cheek; and it clung to your coat and bones with shrill fingers of cold. Whatever it was, it was utterly miserable and disgusting.

He had left his umbrella under his desk. Should he return to get it...? Ugh, it is such a process getting back up to the fortieth floor. Such a struggle. It took altogether too much effort. It really seemed to be a disproportionate amount of effort for such a small thing as an umbrella.

He was just going to have to rough it.

So he forged out into the muddy and moist twilight. The sidewalks were less like sidewalks and more like large, salty seas of slushy brine, beginning to solidify, in the cold night air, into frozen trenches of ice.

He slipped on a crunchy slide of ice, but caught himself, before he hit the pavement and disaster struck. Surreptitiously, he glanced around to see if anyone had seem him almost bite the dust. Thankfully, a casual glance assured him that no one had.

He hit a glazing of ice off the iron fence, and as he wandered, the sleet pouring down from the sky distracted him from properly enjoying his retreat into himself. His reverie was interrupted by the sharp little frozen raindrops pelted down from the sky. Too sharp and coarse to be snowflakes, these little pieces of hail were like sharp spitballs from the sky.

This was not good thinking weather. It was definitely not good thinking weather. This was the sort of weather in which you stop all thoughts in your hurry to get out of the ugly outdoors and into somewhere warm. Whether a bagel shop, warm subway car, or the safe lights of home, the goal of everyone walking along the streets was to get off of the streets as fast as possible.

He wished he could remember the exact sequence of events as she had said good-bye to him in her choked and sorry voice. It was so long ago now. He wished he could remember what she looked like when she had smiled at him; that smile that could wash out a multitude of faults. That smile that made him forget to be angry at her, when she had absolutely, definitively merited anger. But he still wished he could remember what it looked like. Just because, to have forgotten those moments had barred him from their reality.

Escaping from his grasp, these events now existed in a world apart from himself; outside his memory, in the collective realm of the past, which was inaccessible to him. He no longer had such a strong claim on the story, because its memory had somehow faded in his mind. It had escaped from him, he felt.

And that's why he was out here, in the frozen, salty drizzle, because he had to find the events again. He had to turn the memory over and over in his mind, and see if, turning up each moment, if he could find again that vivid picture he knew those memories had once contained. Inevitably, he knew, the more he kept up this exercise, the less he could actually preserve his memories. The pictures in his mind would grow worn with each examination, like the pages of a well-loved book. The impressions they left upon his thoughts would be confused with the feelings of that day of the week, and the thoughts that had been rumbling around in his head that hour. That the memories would no longer be the pure impressions he had as a young man, but would become mixed in with the memories he had of the year after that, and the memories he was forging right now.

He knew, deep within his heart of hearts, that he had to let go of trying to remember the story. He stepped into a hidden puddle of salt water, cursed, and reminded himself to keep his eyes on the sidewalk. What is the use, he wondered, of trying to make sense of the past? A senseless exercise. If he kept looking back, he argued to himself, he would just grow blind. He would become obsessed with trying to interpret the story, to find it illuminated in the light of the present. But the more he tried this, the more his vision would fail--blocked by walls of rain and pillars of salt.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

because she was certain

I would laugh too, but partly at him, afraid
Of becoming him. He could scowl anywhere,
Be solemn or blank in church or going to work,
Turn grim with a cold chisel, or he could smile
At babies or football games, but he only laughed
There in that theater. 
--My Father Laughing in the Chicago Theater, by David Wagoner

This little woman changed my world with her arrival seventeen years ago.

It is amazing how your world can change overnight, as a child enters the world--even if you're just a six-year-old girl in Daisy Scouts. But a baby, no matter where they enter the world, changes up the routine of the everyday, she changes the rhythm of whoever's life she happens to careen into.
This particular child ushered in a new era, which was, in a certain way the end of my childhood, as I became a Big Sister.
A child, still, certainly--just as much a child now as I was then--but also, not so much. I watched my mother be a mother and mimicked her every move.
I learned how to fret about making sure the baby gates were in place at the top of the stairs.
I learned how to flip through baby care books and read all the latest childcare literature.
I grew accustomed to the constant presence of baby toys, high chairs, and laundry loads of all cloth diapers.

There's something quite beautiful about younger siblings: siblings younger enough that you remember changing their diaper. It gives you a little taste, I suppose, of what parents might feel. It is nothing like what parents feel, but at least it gives you the consolation that you know how young children act, and understand the basics of how to care for them. It's like baby-care-bootcamp; very handy practices to have sitting around in your life skills tool box.

This particular baby, however, was unique in her own way.
She brought with her a breath of fresh air.
She was a child who proved to us all that there is more than one way for the story to go; that it is never too late to choose a different path.
She is a curveball, a plot thickener, a little signpost of grace.
She is, to put it in the most cliché manner possible, a miracle.
And her blue eyes still sparkle with the unquenchable Joy with which she was born.

Monday, March 2, 2015

we have high hopes

It will be the past 
and we'll live there together. 
 Not as it was to live 
but as it is remembered. 

--Heaven, Patrick Phillips

 Cruising down the interstate, listening to music from old memories and new roads, I looked at the snow frosting the naked trunks of trees and the plump branches of fat little troupes of evergreen. I wondered what these woods looked like before the interstate cut through their midst. I wondered what this snowy world looked like when it was first encountered by the European explorers that landed on these shores.

As we speed across the country, I'm always fascinated by the image of what traveling looked like before interstates and Rand McNally atlases, and GPS satellite imaging. The world must have looked so much larger and scarier without clearly marked exits and passing lanes. What would the trees around me have looked like when the only path that winded its way through their branches was the trail you were blazing yourself? What would have leapt up in your heart when you approached the coastline: a steep wall of rock and endless forest beyond it. How would you even understand what you were seeing, as you wandered aimlessly in Appalachia, up into Vermont's pine forests, down into the Florida Everglades, without any context in which to place this world? How would your feet have felt as you stepped onto Plymouth Rock, if you had no idea that Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado, and California were all out there, waiting for you.

The past has a romance of its own; the stories from the past are hidden in the present, and I am eternally enchanted by them.

 But part of being here, now, is letting go of the past. Being present must also mean letting memories be memories, and not wishing that the present was anything but what it is. We shared so many stories this weekend, sitting on couches with beer and laughter, and it struck me that these stories are now the story. We don't have a chance to go back and erase moments or, an even scarier thought, add to them. What I didn't do is left undone, and its omission will forever be a part of the story.

It is so tempting to snatch moments of the past and try to change them; to latch on to moments whose ends are still unraveled and whose chapters are still unfinished. It is so tempting to go back and pretend that the past is still the present. But it's not. We are speeding away from the past as quickly as we two are speeding down the interstate, and what we leave behind us is a map of where we've been, a guidebook for future explorers, a chart that details the roads less traveled.
A cartograph that carves, out of this brave new world of the future, a familiar country for us to adventure in.