Friday, October 30, 2015

How to Survive the GRE

I am currently watching students take a standardized test, giving me flashbacks to several weeks ago when I, too, had to take a standardized test--hopefully, my last. Unless I have a midlife crisis and decide to pursue law school and/or med school.

Here are your tips for surviving the GRE with grace and panache.

No. 1 The night before your test, all the boys in your phone book will text you. Every last one of them. Yes, even the cute Jewish Kenyon graduate from the bar. Do not fall for it. Do. Not. Fall. For. It. Stick to the plan! The plan was mass, halal food, then bed. If you want to switch it up with mass, bed, and halal food in bed go for it. But do not waver. Ignore the boys. Ignore. Them.
God is testing you, that should be fairly clear. Pass the test. Go to bed.

No. 2 The internet at your testing center will not work. Do not panic. Stop it. Stop panicking. You've got your St. Joseph novena, so just stop panicking. Stop it. Remember that your friend Meredith had several crises surrounding her GRE, and you can't remember the exact reasons, but it had to do with some situation with internet being down at the testing center. Panic a little bit.

No. 3 Wear leggings. Even you, gentlemen. This will streamline the metal-detector airport-security process you have to go through. Remember how this is literally just a glorified SAT, but it matters even less. Wonder at the security-screening process.

No.4 Talk to the people around you in the testing center. They've taken away your books and journal, so that's pretty much your only option. Make up stories for the ones that you don't get to talk to. Imagine all the different reasons they could be taking the GRE: revenge upon their domineering parents; attempting to win back a lost fortune; a career-changing attempt to get into a gender studies masters program.

No. 5 After it is done, go on a long, long, long run. And an even longer walk. Go to the Park, look at waterfalls, look at the sky, smell the fall leaves, get lost in the woods. Don't think about anything but moving your body and resting your mind, and soaking in all the knowledge of the world that can't be split into quantitative and qualitative reasoning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

marian hair care

Forgiveness works hand-in-hand with justice.
I can be hurt by you and decide that I don't want to be hurt by you again. I can do that with hatred in my heart, or I can do that with forgiveness.
--Fred Luskin

I watch the little flakes of dandruff float onto the dark wood of the desk.
Skin is so bizarre once it is attached from the body. It is all dry and flaky and inconvenient.
I spent the entire summer washing my hair with vinegar, and scrubbing dandruff out of my hair by hand.
It was an interesting summer, because my hair never felt quite like mine. I missed being able to
run my fingers through my hair; I missed the cloud of brown waves that would float over my shoulders as I sped-walked down the sidewalk. I missed a lot of my physical appearance, and my vanity suffered. But I forged ahead, in the name of sulfate-free shampoo and twenty-something foolhardiness.

I became more attentive. I noticed how sweat from a morning run effected my hair. I noticed how the water in Minnesota treated my hair better than the water in New York. I noticed that the water in South Bend, Indiana nearly destroyed my hair. I noticed the way rain made it sticky and heat made it lighter.

I also spent the summer trying to build a relationship with Mary. (Mother of God Mary, not the other Mary's in my life with whom I am blessed with relationships.) And I often wondered how Mary did her hair. And I wondered if it was heavy or stringy or smelly. It seems like a very silly, inconsequential aspect of my life, my hair. And an unlikely candidate for finding a a new facet of friendship with Mary. But, oddly enough, I felt connected to Mary through my stringy, sometimes-greasy "au naturale" hair.

It is the particularities of life that bind us to someone, that teach us how to grow with that person, that inspire us with love towards them.
It is sometimes the very insignificant moments that remind us how to let each part of our lives become a symphony.
The nuances of a person and their human idiosyncrasies inspire our compassion and our love.

I work my fingers through my hair (now softened by castille soap and conditioner), and puzzled out why it is the small things that matter so much. And pray
I twist my curls into tight strands and pray.
I scratch my scalp and pray.
I scrunch the loose waves into tighter curls.
I feel the loose threads slip through my hand and pray.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

rebuild me

Tenderness is the ability to feel with and for the whole person, to feel even the most deeply hidden spiritual tremors, and always to have in mind the true good of that person.
(Love & Responsibility, 207)

My vision of love is very soft and squishy. It is hand-holding in dusty summer streets and warm bodies on cold winter nights lit by candles.
It is dirty dancing in dark bars and laughing softly late at night.
It is sudden sweetness you never expected, and someone who was a stranger saying your name.

Each day, I find that weak vision of love challenged by something stronger.
Something sterner, grander, and more mysterious than I invent on my own.
It's a vision of love that permeates John Paul II's writings. It is challenging and startling.
It is much more other-centered than I can even begin to imagine, and ultimately more Joyful than anything we could create on our own.
It reminds me of how full of my self my vision of love is.

I was walking up to communion today, and I was smote by the realization of how generous Christ was: to not only die for me, but to make Himself available to me over and over and over again. That is an extreme sort of generosity.
The stark contrast between His love and my own selfish heart was almost too much for me to bear.
Turn around, I thought. You can't receive Him. Not like you are. You are too different than He is. You are staring Love Itself in the face. But there you are: dirty, selfish, dishonest, greedy, about to receive pure gift. You are so far from His goodness, the Sun and the moon are closer than His heart and your poor, stony heart. You are not worthy.
But what else am I to do but receive?
A broken person, struggling towards completion; a bent person, attempting to straighten myself.
The entire hope of the Eucharist is that its love is medicine. That we can be transformed into Him. That the food I consume does not become me; but I become the food that I consume. I become Him. I am transformed into an image of Christ, radiating His life wherever I go.

As I pray the prayer of John Cardinal Newman:
Lord, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go;
penetrate and possess my whole being that my life may be only a radiance of yours,
I am comforted by the knowledge that this dispersion of fragrance can occur even when I act like a total screw-up.
My prayer is that the fact of the Eucharist will continue, even if I cannot feel it, even if I do shoddy work of radiating that love.
Even if I do not always act in a way that manifests Christ, may Christ still make Himself known through me, imperfectly though I cooperate with that grace.
The fact of the Eucharistic transformation still takes place, and I must seek to cooperate with it, so that I may be transformed into that generous, constant, perfectly un-selfish love.

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.
---Love (III), George Herbert

Saturday, October 24, 2015

the Sackler wing at twilight

Some thoughts on ancient Egypt, by one who knows comparatively little about it, and whose last formal study of the society was back in middle school. Perhaps high school, but most likely middle school.

First things first: one of my current favorite mental exercises is examining how other cultures perceived things of value. This was sparked by my friend remarking how the florid language of nineteenth century France was a product, perhaps, of things that were sweetened were so rare, therefore sweetness--particularly in language--was prize. Whereas, now, we value what is rich and raw. Things that are savory and flavorful, because we live in such a pre-packaged, manufactured world. Our environments dictate such an enormity.

When I look at a row of offering-bearers in Egyptian tombs, I see a manufactured line of figures. I am not impressed, because I see manufactured facsimiles every single day. My eyes are tired at the endless lines of plastic packaging, and identical bland pre-packaged muffins in every bodega corner. I do not quiver with pleasure at seeing the same corporate logos repeated ad nauseum. I am more impressed by the quieter ingenuity of individual human effort. I find the lumps and knots of hand-crafted things more soothing to my eye. I am not impressed by similarity and uniformity, because the monotony of our factory age is not a similarity stamped with human effort, but mechanical. But imagine the craft to paint by hand the rows upon rows of figures, marching endlessly on the walls of a tomb. That is artistry indeed.

As I'm staring at these kilted figures, perpetually shuffling towards the throne, I notice all the dogs and crocodiles; the jackals, ibises, and cranes that dance between their legs. Of course, I know, thist is just an artist's representation. But, I wonder what the world was like before big game hunting. I wonder what the statistics were for death by crocodile and hippopotami. I wonder if animals had more free reign over the natural world. I wonder if wild creatures were always not such a rare sight. Of course, cities have always been cities: the domain of man and not of wild creature.

But I wonder. I look at the vibrant mural--pulsing with life, and dancing with the chaos of the living, breathing, wild cosmos. My life looks a bit more grey in comparison to this plenitude of wilderness.

Another note on Egyptian art: I have an extremely difficult time telling men and women apart. Especially for the few women pharaohs who are depicted with the ceremonial beard, and you're like: well now this is just absurd. They had a different set of signifiers, I suppose, to demarcate the difference between female and male. And perhaps there were other distinctions: like class--certainly class--that mattered more to them than gender.

One last thought on Egypt; is it just me, or the focus of our archeological studies on Egypt, but it seems to me that this whole society was very focused on preparing for death, or more accurately, for the after-life. These elaborate tombs they built took essentially their entire lives (we are speaking, of course, of kings and queens. Wonder what happened to the peasants. That would make a great Howard Zinn-type history text book: "Wonder What Happened to the Peasants: History from the Illiterates' Perspective"). Their life's work seemed to be preparing for a good death, and making sure they were taken care of in the next life. Perhaps it is just the tombs which have survived, and preserved the best relics of their culture, thus, we unfairly associate Egyptians with the accoutrements of the after-life. But the Egyptians preoccupation with the after-life seems to be a common thread in many ancient cultures: the terra cotta army in the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the Taj Mahal, and the mausoleums of Mesopotamia.

In the end, the Egyptians have survived, in a way. Their preoccupation with the after-life has preserved their lives for us to glimpse into, if even through the fuzzy lens of death. Their memories, their legacies and lives, preserved on the walls of their tombs, have persevered their culture for us.

I can't help but wonder what it would be like to be a woman in ancient Egypt, who didn't have money or land--maybe a maid in the palace of the Pharaoh--and all the big-wigs around you are bugging out about how construction on their pyramid is going, and if they've amassed enough gold and jewels in their tomb to stock up for the after life. I wonder if my gorge would rise at the thought of all the riches that were being buried with the dead, while there were so many living in poverty. Or I wonder if I wouldn't have been able to know that I had a feeling called "being upset" or "being outraged", but just have wondered why my black bile was acting up, or if I'd been under the sway of Apep for the afternoon, or if someone had cast the evil eye upon me.
I wonder if I even had interesting thoughts, given my lack of education, and probably inability to read. Or maybe I did, and I didn't even bother trying to think about sharing them, because I was not someone who was supposed to have interesting thoughts.

The past is a wilderness, and the creatures that inhabited it--our ancestors--are creatures that feel, sometimes, so far beyond my ken. I also wonder what the world was like before it was touched by Resurrection. I remember how different it was before it was touched by the iPhone. So surely, Resurrection must have made a greater impact. Perhaps Resurrection is largely responsible for we--as a human race, in general-- ceasing to be so concerned about the new life waiting for us beyond the grave and became more preoccupied with the new life waiting for us here and now.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

tangible manifestations

A friend wrote me a week or two ago and reminded me of this reflection I wrote some time ago.
And, today at school, a student reminded me that these stories are still all too common, and still painful realities for so many young women.

I have learned to be attentive to moments—little everyday occurrences—that I like to call moments of grace. We all experience them: those moments when you run into a friend and get an awesome hug just when you need it. When you read a book, and a quote leaps out of the page and grabs your attention like it was written just for you. When someone asks you a question that really sticks in your brain and you think about it all week. A smile. A word. Just little signs of God’s grace acting in our lives—little gifts God gives, to remind us of His love for us, and that He’s taking care of us. These signs are what I call moments of grace.

Here is a story about one of those moments:

Read the rest here.


Friday, October 16, 2015

early will I seek thee

Jesus looked at him and loved him.
--Mark 10:17

I don't think we are--collectively--naturally talented at being loved.
We seem to mess up loving a good deal.
That is undeniable.
Human beings are pretty bad at loving someone truly, completely, without a hint of self thrown in.
We see this truth all around us: in the mothers yelling at their sons on the sidewalk, in the trash bags full of designer clothes on the sidewalk, in the cold stare we assume when walking past a person asking for a handout.
Yes, we are pretty poor lovers.

But, even more tragically, I think we mess up being loved.

Once someone loves us, we tend to get all panicky and grasp-y, because we don't trust in the gift of that love. We don't really believe that someone loves us because they are simply giving us the gift of their love. Again, we are too self-oriented. We see their love as an affirmation of some aspect of our character: oh I am lovable, because I am _________. Because I am good at ________, this person loves me. We must be lovable, we think, because we are virtuous, beautiful, generous, good, strong, caring, happy, joyful, fun, smart, witty, intelligent, understanding. It is that thing that makes us lovable, and if we stop being That, or if the person finds someone more That, then they will stop loving us so much.

Or we think that this person's only has a limited amount of love to go around. And we want all of it. We want every moment of their time, we want to have every moment of their day, we want to have every moment of their selves. Jealously, we guard their time, their friends, their heart. Do they love only us? Do they love us more than anyone else?

We don't seem to understand that love is the free gift offered to us. That love is the reaction of a soul to a soul. That love is a gift that can't be bought or owed; love is grace, perhaps.
It falls where it will, on the just and unjust; on the hopeful and the hopeless; on the mean and the generous; and on the undeserving (there are no deserving).
We can only open ourselves to receive it. The only action we are capable of is capacitating ourselves for grace, of opening ourselves to love, allowing our hearts to be loved.
Then, of course, return it to others, a reaction born of the joy of receiving.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

pumpkin latte fueled resolutions

1. I promise myself that I will never be an aging artist living in New York, making my only son wear braces when he is too young to be wearing braces. I will not let him be the laughing-stock of his class, nor let his intelligence prevent him from expressing himself like a normal child. I will finally obey my mother's instructions to cut my hair, and keep it a dignified grey bob, instead of insisting on still wearing it long with my red glasses on a lanyard.
2. I promise myself that I will never eat Fage yogurt on the G train. I just won't. I may never tan a day in my life, but I refuse to be that white.
3. I promise myself that I will learn to be a gracious human being and honor each sidewalk evangelist with a real conversation not a lot of hemming and hawing and trying to cover up the fact that I'm laughing from sheer embarrassment, and trying to get away as soon as possible.
4. I promise myself that I will not laugh at sidewalk evangelists. Because they are probably more honest souls than I will ever be.
5. I promise myself that I will not flinch as I walk into the group of cookouts circling the banks of Prospect Park's lake that smell like weed, and sound like loud rap music. I will walk through them, unfazed, and I will not pull out my phone and pretend to call my sister. Yea, though I walk through the weed-soaked cookouts, I will feel no trepidation.
6. I promise that I will not be mean or angry with children ever, but remember that they are children, which means being a human being struggling towards completion in an even more intense and angst-fueled way than I am. To be a child means to be at the mercy of everyone around you, thus I ought to cultivate a spirit of extreme patience, and maintain appropriate perspective in the face of ill behavior, given that this human being has very little agency. This also, however, means not letting them stomp all over you, as angst-ridden human beings often tend to do.
7. I will stop saying "v. amazing" instead of "very amazing", because I am too old for those sorts of undignified abbreviations, and the English language is a dying art in the United States and on the internet. I will stop saying "amaze" instead of amazing, because as much as I try, I will never be as funny as Amy Schumer, and appropriating her habits will not make me a more endearing version of the train-wreck that I am. I will stop saying "amazing" when I mean: "that's the most appalling thing I've ever heard." (This resolution is all a joke. I could never stop doing any of that.)
8. I will learn the appropriate balance between dignity and self-deprecating humor (there might not be one).
9. I will never watch American Psycho or The Wolf of Wall Street ever again in my entire life.
10. I will never stop being astonished or awed by when the train goes above ground. It cuts above the surface, and the starry city is shining all around you. It feels like coming to life again, and I want to drink in every sight that is now shining through the formerly quiet windows, that reflected back nothing but my singular face in the dark of the subway tunnel.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

for the lamb who was slain

Sometimes, I feel an acute sense of guilt for wanting to be an artist (for being an artist? Am I an artist? What allows you to call yourself an artist? Am I just a lazy could-be teacher that selfishly wants to be an artist? Welcome to my brain on an existential crisis/guilt trip/waiting for the GRE)

But, then, at Mass on Sunday, the choir sang Hillert's Festival Canticle for the Alleluia instead of a predictable Hallelujah mass part. I didn't know that was even allowed. The rules of liturgical music seem so rigid, until you find them suddenly malleable. Instead of the familiar tones of a Gospel Acclamation, the organ took up the triumphant chords of Hillert's magnificent canticle.

The music reminded me of an image of Christ I hadn't seen in a while.

--

As I was sitting in a dim, dully-lit office lobby, waiting for the GRE-proctors to tell me that the internet in the room where I was to take the GRE was working, and I could take the test, I stared out at all the people walking down 3rd avenue, underneath the windows. I didn't have a book or a journal, or anything besides the key to my locker and my driver's license, so I was presented with the dilemma of what to do with myself while waiting with nothing to occupy me. I am not good at this. I am not good at doing nothing.

My mind reacted to the stress and the inertia by racing ahead at a million miles a minute: what does it say about you that you paid an exorbitant fee to go take a test that is fairly pointless, that will allow you to pursue a degree that is, in essence, a luxury?

I hate sitting in a glass box, above the street, observing all the restless activity and struggle of humans. Being there feels like removing myself; it feels like running away; or escaping. It feels like being a coward. Am I being a coward? Am I simply refusing to do the work of struggling?

My mind is racing, from nervousness and inertia.

Is something wrong, I wonder. Is something unhinged in there--inside my mind--is something rattling around that should be bolted down. The thoughts come so fast, I can barely register them. And I wonder what it feels like to be mentally unstable. I wonder if I am mentally unstable. I wonder if once that idea enters your head, once you entertain the idea of being mentally unwell (an idea fueled by one too many listens to the Next to Normal soundtrack, you can never recross the threshold back to being mentally well.

My mind is racing. You think too much, I think to myself. I wonder what it is like to not think at all, to never be thinking about what you are seeing. It sounds foreign.

Our minds are so strange--and so weak. So susceptible to nervousness and inertia.

The woman announced I could take the GRE now. So I stood up out of my chair, away from the window, away from the street where people were running, trying to survive, and I took my key and my driver's license, and I moved again, forward. I broke the nervousness.

--
And then it was Hillert's Festival Canticle that broke the inertia. As I listened to the organ burst with sounds that hum and shake, I was reminded of a simpler faith of simpler times, of singing in blue robes, surrounded by flames and friends. I was reminded of the clear, gladdening light of Easter morning, that fills the nave like a baptism of sunbeams. I was reminded of a vision of Christ that is very simple and clear, lamb-like in His simplicity. His love pellucid and tender, effervescent and everywhere.

It was the notes that brought that vision to me; it was the simple words, ornately arranged in music that brought back images of beauty to me, that lifted a veil from the world. Something that had been shrouded was made clear to me once again, a Joy that had been stifled bloomed like my tomato plants. They are so hopeful for an Indian Summer, they don't seem to realize it is October. November is not far away. It is not time for tomato plants to be blooming, but rather time for bearing fruit.

And it was the music that brought that to me. And perhaps that alone makes it worthy of the struggle. There are people who latch on to Justice or Truth or Peace, and they fight for these causes. All of these, of course, are simply one primal cause, one center of the rose that is slowly unfolding, eternally. But they are such different lenses of stained glass through which to filter the light. Together, they fracture the beam into a swath of many colors, and they piece it back together into one strong beam of light. 

Perhaps that music--that beauty--is quite enough. Perhaps in the midst of all the desperate calamities of the world, beauty is still enough. Perhaps, because it lifts the veil, it is not only worthy of the struggle, it is a deep and worthy struggle for a human to undertake.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

autumn cotton candy

We floated there along with clouds, 
clouds our ceiling, clouds our ground. 
 The Sunday Swim, Comanche Trace,  by Noel Crook


Today East Harlem is beautiful in a Thomas Kinkade kind of way.
Layers of pinkish light, and fluffy clouds detailed above the antique molding, and a thin film of pretty is layered on top of the dusty beauty.

It feel like a Thomas Kinkade painting, dreamy, sleepy.
There are mothers dragging their children home from school,
pulling them past fruit stands, Italian ices, and the Churro lady on the corner of 110 and 3rd. The sisters are working outside Our Lady Queen of Angels, with the banners from the papal visit still decorating the neighborhood. There are students in their uniforms lining the streets, flirting, laughing, walking arm-in-arm to the bodega to grab a bagel and a Snapple.

I love this place right now; with the fluffy clouds in the cold sky surrounded in a haze of absurd rose. I love this place, with the ripples of curls and columns on the brownstones rolling across the horizon like plaster waves. I love this place, with the women hanging out on front porches with boom boxes and the men hanging out of windows, expectorating onto the sidewalk below. I love this place with all the hushed chaos of after school activity in the golden hour.

The neighbors are the doctor and his wife, walking past the projects on Tito Puente Way. The neighbors are the sisters at the convents over by 1st avenue, and the pretty young teacher in the Anne Taylor Loft dress walking into Esperanza Preparatory Academy. The neighbors are my students hanging out on renovated front stoops that line Lexington: old Harlem mansions in their obsolete glory.


On the corner of 112 and 1st, if you look all the way down the street, you will see St. John the Divine rising out of the trees of Morningside.
You are just a block from the East River, and towering above the houses on the skyline is St. John the Divine.
It makes the world smaller: it connects the two worlds of the West Side and the East.

But it makes the world bigger.
There's no longer just this world: this world of the Herb Garden on 111th; and the car shops lining first avenue and E 117th; and the Old Navy on top of the Target on top of the Costco on top of the Petsmart on Pleasant Avenue.

There's a world out there of St. John the Divine, and the Hudson, and the Jersey cliffs, and Scranton, PA, and Lake Eerie, and Chicago, and the Mississippi headwaters, and the Deadlands, and Grand Teton, and Cheyanne Wyoming, and the Columbia River, the Redwood forests and the rocks that line State Route 1, and the limitless waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

perfect patience of mountains

i do not worry if longer nights grow longest; 
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing 
 winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to 
merciful Him Whose only now is forever: 
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence 
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)
 ― E.E. Cummings, "I am a Little Church"

Recently, I have been contemplating a fruit of the spirit I never fully appreciated until now.
That would be peace.

I have--I'll admit--never been overly fond of peace.

Naturally, I am much more attracted to the Romantics; to the sweeps of emotion in roaring waves of the ocean; to the magnificent trembling in your heart as you stare at the stormy sky; to the crests and troughs of emotion that pepper love affairs.

Historically, I am attracted to the restless; and not to the peaceful.

I love airports: with their excitement of comings and goings. I love trains, and watching the countryside roll by your window. I love driving through mountain roads, winding, turning, rolling over hills. I love movement, and seeing all there is to be seen. The world is so enormous; how can you not want to see every single bit of it?

Appetite. I have always had an overweening appetite. For sweets. For books. For sunsets. For people. For kisses. For conversation. For the world.

But appetite is a vicious cycle: demanding more and more and more and more, and never fully satisfying. And there is a difference--a very clear difference, I would say--between appetite and desire. Desire is different than appetite. Desire seems more focused; it has a clearer telos. Appetite just wants everything. Desire is an arrow, aiming for its mark. Appetite is a yawning pit, that just swallows up everything. Desire is a joy in and of itself, for desire seems to almost be a sacrament of the entity desired. What a joy it is to desire someone; you feel their presence already in your heart.

Desire does not seem to be the antithesis of peace, as appetite often is. In fact, it seems to me that peace is necessary to experience that desire. The roaring appetite must cease to gorge and come to rest before you find the clarity to actually desire anything.

I prize clarity so much more now than I ever did before. The world seems murky and muddy, and the truth which was once pellucid, luminous, and ever-obvious now seems hidden in the layer of city smog that Papa Francesco spoke of. My own self seems warped in many layers of identities, masks, personas, new roles I have obtained and doffed as quickly. My own self is no longer laid out before me with the clarity it once was.

In my search for clarity, I have found peace. In order for me to see anything, I must have peace. The surges of Romantic appetite must still, if just for a moment or two--perhaps I will always be riding those waves--and I must find peace in order to see anything clearly.
Peace is, I think, requisite to clarity. If there is no stillness in your heart, the world becomes just a blur of color. And everything that you desired to see in the first place passes by you too quickly for you to even catch a glimpse.

My world was once very still. It was trees waving in the Minnesota wind, and peaceful lakes with long grasses. It was quiet Indiana college campuses, and small country lanes in Norfolk. It was quiet pavements with stars overhead and quiet along the Thames. It was the Prince Albert Bridge at night, and just a few river barges floating by. It was Jasna Gora in the moonlight. It was midnight by the Grotto. Perhaps all the stillness of the world goaded my appetite to be always yawning, gaping, roaring, surging, rolling, moving. I longed for motion, and so my heart was always pounding, running (late), from one thing to the next.

New York is not still. New York is always in motion. Subways shake church basements. Someone is always shoving you aside. The buses and the ambulances are the background to your phone calls. Even my bed at night is moved by the motion of the train on the tracks. New York is always in motion. It is not peaceful.

So, now, in the movement and the motion, and the rush of people fueled by yawning appetites, I have been taught peace. It lives inside the movement. It is deeper than the movement, and its depth sustains the motion. Peace makes the world larger, because the world has finally escaped the bounds of you. Peace is when the world is quiet candlelight in a red restaurant on a rainy night. Peace is when rumblings in my head and heart subside so I can see the world around me. Peace is learning to form the appetites inside me into one strong arrow of desire.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Mrs. Turpin's Friend

Amid strangers friends, great trees and big seas breaking, 
let love move me. Let me hear the whole music, 
see clear, reach deep.

--Hope, Phillip Booth


She started up the hill and right towards me. The sun was beating down, oppressively hot, upon my head. My dark hair soaked up every bit of warmth. My scalp began to burn. The sun had burned up any possibility of a cloud in the gaping sky. My sweat had soaked the back of my white dress; and stained the seams with salty yellow.

She approached me so peacefully, a messenger of grace. She sounded like freshly cut tulips and stainless steel kitchen appliances. She smelled like springtime in South Bend.

I've seen you here before, she said.
I'm not from around here, I countered, much too quickly.
She stared at me, but didn't answer.
I've actually never been here before, I protested, in earnest.

She kept looking at me, but didn't answer. Why have I seen you before? she asked, puzzled, addressing her question more to herself than me. I didn't answer, but kept twisting the daisy chain in my hand over and over through my fingers.

I think I know you, she said that day upon the hill. I think that you and I have met before. We've met in quiet white houses, decorated with peonies and chant. We've met on sunny slopes with children, dogs, and daffodils. We've met here, in sacred circles lined with sycamores.

We've met three times, and I know you now. But why?

I don't know, I responded miserably.

I am tired of searching for meaning in mundane moments.
I'm sick of sifting through the banal encounters for
a grain of something grand.

Perhaps we have met for no purpose larger than the coincidences that set your steps in motion the moment your feet leave your bed. And no larger reason than that your path happened to intersect with mine, and we shared a table and a story for a few brief moments. And that is it now. We are severed from one another, both cut apart and adrift in the flotsam and jetsam of occurrence.

Why do you insist on finding narrative, when there is none? Why do you find symbols where there are only signs? And why do you hope to puzzle out the meaning of the cipher, when it is clear there is only nonsense, broken algorithms, and harsh master probability?



Thursday, October 1, 2015

surrender the dress

To dedicate oneself as a Victim of Love is not to be dedicated to sweetness and consolations; it is to offer oneself to all that is painful and bitter, because Love lives only by sacrifice and the more we would surrender ourselves to Love, the more we must surrender ourselves to suffering
 ― Thérèse de Lisieux, Story of a Soul

It's the strange little things we hold onto that are hardest to let go of.

It seems easy to make large and grand sacrifices. They give one a sense of importance and magnificence that is appeasing to the ego, which is wounded from being snubbed so easily.
But the small sacrifices, insignificant though they may be to the world at large, are where so much joy is gained.
If there is no reason that you have to offer up that one small annoyance other than love, then you find your love grows. Not love for yourself, but love for Love Himself. If there is no pressing reason to endure the small slight other than for the sake of Him who had to endure great sorrow for you, then what joy is yours.

I am not good at bearing these small annoyances joyfully. I am very good at complaining about them loudly.

As I do, I see them passing by me, like drops of fresh, pure water dripping past the throat of a parched man. I can sense that I am turning my nose up at precisely the thing that will slake my thirst. I am letting the cure flow by me, and, by my stubbornness, perpetuating my own illness.

It is the small, meaningless, humble sacrifices, the curable, absurd injustices, and the ridiculous, insignificant slights that we bear that are, as Mother Teresa (another great Therese, on this feast of a great Thérèse,) would say, the kiss of the Cross. Perhaps we would wish to not be so loved. We would rather be loved in a way much more comfortable and less challenging. But if there is a love that allows us to drift on, without challenging our self all replete with self, then it is not love.

Letting go: of self, of a dress you liked to wear, of a job you were good at, of a title that you earned, of a reputation you cultivated, of an unfairness being done against you, of a friendship you had longed for, of the grudge against your neighbor, of your excuse for why you were late, of a home that is comfortable, is not easy. And no one will often see the sacrifice or reward you for it. Except for One Person: who sees you before you see yourself, who knows you more deeply than you ever will, and is closer to you than your own heartbeat.