Tuesday, April 26, 2016

half-remembrances

Last night, I lay awake in bed, laying old memories to rest.

Being awake by yourself at 3am is actually a really lovely experience-- sometimes. If the night is cozy, and not filled with strange noises of hypothetical home intruders, or police sirens blaring by your window, or cold winter winds, then it is a very nice time to lie in bed awake. For a few minutes, at least.

If your room is the right temperature, if you know that this is just an awakening that results not from insomnia, but from the thunderstorm outside, if you are content, then 3am in the comfort of your own pillows can be a lovely time indeed.
If you feel yourself settle back into the sheets, and listen to the rain fall on your air conditioning unit, and watch the water droplets coalesce on your window pane, you feel like you are part of some quiet moment in the middle of the earth's journey. There is life happening outside, and nature keeps rolling on outside your window, but subdued by night. Nature draped in quiet.

I lie awake, and I count the seconds of dead air between the flash of light above the trees and the slow roll of thunder. There are a lot of seconds of dead air.

I imagine this lightening is touching down somewhere down the Jersey shoreline. My mind wanders down the shoreline as well, and slowly back to sleep.

--

As I was running through the park, the trees all lit up with spring sunlight and tender new leaves, a robin mother flew low across the ground, chattering. I followed her flight path with my eyes, and realized she was chasing away a chipmunk from her nest.

It is startling to witness such a dramatic moment of life and death.

--

My nose, I discover, is bloody this morning. Probably from the barometric fluctuations outside. 
It feels dry and desiccated, and the air is tinged with the faint iron smell of blood. Generally, I am not prone to nose-bleeds, so this is a curious novelty. I examine the white tissues stained with red. I wonder if nose bleeds are a symptom of anything more serious than a cold front coming through.

--

I dreamt one night about my groom-less wedding feast.
I was dressed in white, but not a wedding dress. And my mother and I were setting out dishes in a church basement. We were preparing lots of food for my wedding, which was imminent. The hall was filling up with all the sorts of people I would never invite to my wedding: my students, the witch doctor who lives down the block, the homeless man without legs with the kindest face I've ever seen, co-workers, loose acquaintances, and the patchwork quilt of faces I pass on the subway.

All these people started to eat the food that we had set out. And of course, I didn't stop them. Because the friends I was waiting for, all the invited guests, hadn't shown up yet, to my annoyance. But you don't turn people away from a feast. Whoever is here is entitled, I suppose, to what is provided.

I was about to put out a small sign, a little placard, asking the guests to save some of the feast for the loved ones who hadn't arrived yet. I turned, to find that all the food was gone.

I remember being sort of ticked off that we had run out of food, and annoyed that my people were running late, but not unhappy with the motley crew of attendees that had arrived. My father held me close and planted a kiss on my forehead. And I said (with gladness), This isn't the wedding I expected to have, but it's a good one, nonetheless.

--

There are small moments, grand particularities in a day, that bring my breath to a halt. The other day, at mass, the priest bent down during the sign of peace to kiss the chalice.
Perhaps all priests do that, and I have just been particularly poor at noticing the gesture.
But it was that simple kiss of peace, delivered to the receptacle holding the body of Christ that attuned me to the beauty of the mass that I had been letting wash over me, without attending to it.
But that kiss was a kiss of pure tenderness and reverence. It was a kiss of sheer belief and devotion. It was a gentle, humble act of oblation. And I hope that all my acts of worship are that sincere, that self-giving, and arresting in their unaffected love. Although I am surrounded by trees full of lush fuchsia blooms and decadent white petals, I have not seen a more beautiful sight yet this spring than the elderly Dominican bending down to kiss the golden cup.

--

When we wake up at 3am, all the dreams that we have just created in our heads are so real. They swim around us in the dark, mixing with old memories, and blurred images of the past.

I lay awake in my bed, thinking of my unexpected wedding feast.
I imagined how many times a day that I withhold my best self from the people in my immediate vicinity. I think that I will save it for my people. That I will save my best love and best self for the people who love and understand me best. That I fall short of giving all my love and kindness, all my attention and presence to each person that I encounter, to whomever is sent into my path to meet and love. I can be so choosy about who I will love and when.

But the wedding feast is not invitation-only. It is always open, if only I will show up. it is always there, waiting for me. And if I live my life like that wedding feast, I will find that it is never the feast that I have expected, with none of the participants I had anticipated. But it will be very good, nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Iterations of the Future


But it's useless to try to turn to somebody you're just fond of, when what you really need is something more.
--The Small Rain, page 46. Chapter Three

Carolyn woke up with a jolt in the middle of the night.
It hit her, full force in the stomach.
She went to the bathroom to wash her face, and wash the dream visions out of from under her eyelashes.
She realized what a dangerous thing it is to let an affection grow and develop unheeded and unweeded. There is a version of my life in which I marry Luke Scott, she said to her sort of horrified reflection in the mirror.
Why yes, thought Carolyn. In fact, I very well may marry Luke Scott, if I like. Carolyn thought about all reasons why she found herself attracted to Luke Scott.
One: when he had wrapped his long arms (they were really inordinately long) around her in a quick embrace, she had noticed that his body felt very pleasant to be close to. It felt like a slender young elm tree. That sounds weird. But it was intoxicating.
Two: when he smiled--not just a regular smile, but a smile at her: a special smile that said: oh, I see you. I definitely am seeing just you right now, and it's enough to make me smile--she felt her insides melting inside of her, and burning a hole in the carpet. She would do anything for a smile like that.
Three: he was incredibly strange. So incredibly strange. She had never quite met someone like him before. She doesn't see the usefulness in explaining what makes him strange to you, but...how to describe him? Imagine Scar from The Lion King were playing Heath Ledger's character in A Knight's Tale. That's kind of what he is like.

Against her better judgment, for some reason. Carolyn found that particular mixture of reasons intoxicating. Yes, Luke Scott was certainly someone with whom she was compatabile-ish. Compatible-ish is a dangerous ground to walk.

It's just close enough to compatible to be mistaken for compatible.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I'll miss these evenings

Darling I'll keep that apartment
In some loud and reckless recess of my heart
--"Between 1st and A", The Punch Brothers

I sat in the courtyard while John was building the walls for the set.
It was night time in East Harlem. The first of the nights of spring that feels like summer.
And it felt so much like last summer: staying late at Cristo Rey, finishing up work on a theatre production, smelling the warmth of the neighborhood permeate into the night dotted with lacy clouds.

I sat on the corner of the sidewalk, holding the flashlight of John's iPhone, pretending to control the music, but just watching the sawdust pile gather underneath the buzzing saw.
I was very content.
Lulled into contentedness by the warmth of the night (even though I was shivering in my premature t-shirt and shorts), by the comforting buzz of the saw, and John's rant about the importance of crafts in education curricula. And his thoughts on how carpentry and woodworking can be important for students. And I think of how pleased Sr. Jude will be when she hears that I'm volunteering him to run shop classes for the students.

And he asked: how are things with Nathan?
And I smiled, thinking how this is one of those moments that I will always think of when I think of New York.
When I am old, and tell my daughters what it was like to live in New York as a twenty-something-or-other, I will tell them about this friend. And this moment. And all the summer nights that led to this warm April night that feels like May.

I will tell them about sticky July nights sitting on CitiBike ports, eating Hallal food.
I will tell them about late nights at Cristo Rey, broken air conditioners, the joy and fun of bathroom theatre.
Climbing the tree in my backyard on opening night.
I will tell them about the comfort of friends like John, a beautiful companionship borne of deep respect for one another, and a deep appreciation for one another's work.
And these sorts of companionships don't arrive without a few bumps along the way.
But I sit and watch John saw away at the luann, and screw it into the 2 by 4 frame, and think of how right this moment is. It is full of peace.

And I am thankful for friends who do things you don't know how to do. And you can just watch them turn lumber into a door, or you hear about how they cut open a human body and saw her heart, or they describe how they do whatever consultants do. It's all fascinating and foreign, and you know that you could do it, too-- sure you could-- if you tried. But there's a certain joy in not joining in on the project, but just watching your friend do what they do best. And getting to be the person who watches.
--

We walk out of the gyro shop, his meal earned, mine not so much. And the trees are blooming on Lexington Avenue, their white blossoms look like little moons dangling in the night sky.
I love New York! I cry. Because tonight is one of those nights where New York feels like your own little small town, your own tiny community tucked into this larger adventure of millions of people milling together.
--

walked up ran to Cristo Rey, and John was sitting on the brownstone steps, the way we did all the time last summer, and he was reading the same book I am.
Hey, I'm reading that, I said.
Yeah? he grinned.

And that's pretty much all that needed to be said there.

John is one of those people you don't have to talk about so much about. Conversations with John can be very simple, and a lot can be said in a little. Or sometimes just a little is said in a little. And that's alright, too.

--

I ask him: and how are things with Marie?
John says a few words, I smile at them, and we lapse into silence.
Right now, I am content to watch the shavings of wood spill into the blue spring night. And smell the city and the sawdust mingle.
And I sit watching John work, and think that it is our friends who really teach us how good it is to stick around.

Monday, April 18, 2016

maundy thursday

I want to turn and look at you
for I look at Christ and see
that this long-distance
relationship,
from Manhattan to Galilee,
this fragile thread of prayer
that unites we two,
will finally end in
heaven, and it will be
as surprising,
intoxicating,
and utterly natural
to behold a Beatific Vision,
as turning to look at
you in the middle of a long homily
and seeing your face--
a face I have not seen in the flesh--
but seen hidden in the signs of sacraments,
and in my brothers and sisters,
in photograph and figure,
but not in person,
That Vision,
one day,
will be as stunning, radiant,
obvious,
miraculous,
exciting,
and glorious,
as seeing you,
beside me in Holy Thursday Mass.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

At Sea Bright, last spring

Thoughts from a girl on May 12, 2015
---
The moon over the water: the moonlight hitting the water
the clouds, like these sheets of sky stuck out, held apart from the rest of the sky

It is hard to remember that we are living in the Resurrection, except by the shores of the sea.
The sea, so loved by God, yet less loved than the littlest person.

Dip my toes in the cappucino surf,
the coffee-colored foam that laces the damp, dark sand.

My feet dip into the hard, smooth surface, the grains of sand running up and down my feet. I feel a blister forming on the toe that digs into the rough surface of the shoreline.

The sea breeze licks my face, and I feel the wrinkles of weeks of city stress being eroded away. The sunlight dances on the water, and I am running, in that way you run not to exercise, not out of compulsion, but out of Joy. Running, because, if I never tired, I would never stop. Running, because that feeling of flying only comes in the middle of a long run. Running because what is running but a miniature version of my entire life.

We forget that we spend our entire lives speeding through each moment, as runners' legs speed through sun-specked woods or bright summer beaches. If we are runners, what are we running toward? Usually, on my Runs For Exercise, I am running to rack up running mileage. I'm running for the run itself, which is an empty sort of exercise. There are indirect goals that my running wants to achieve: perhaps muffin top management, or adding some muscle tone to the tree-trunks known as my legs, or seeking stress relief, or a desperate grab for inspiration in the midst of writer's block.

But this is not running toward something. This is self-serving running. Running without a cause; running with no end in sight. I will simply run until I tire of it, until I wear my muscles out; but I will never reach the point where I will say: Ah, I am here now. I have arrived at the goal and I may now finally rest.

This is the way I think the boring, barren narrative of life of the "adult world" is presented. We go. We go, go, go and go. Hoping, along the way, to improve ourselves, to perfect our running posture, to tone our bodies, to improve our miles per hour and PRs. But we do not have a goal, other than endless striving for perfection and balance in the midst of constant activity.

But running with a goal: what an entirely different activity that is. Running towards a goal is exhilarating. Running towards a goal feels like flying. And as you grow nearer and nearer, the limit of your Joy spinning out into infinity, you want that moment of infinite desire, and movement towards the object of the desire to continue forever.

It is so easy, now that we have been unleashed from the playground of education, and the relative freedom of a student's schedule, and the luxury of time set aside to cultivate clarity in our thoughts and hears, to forget about running towards a goal. It is very easy, in our attempts to scrape together an independent existence, to forget about Joy. It is very easy to get caught up in running for the sake of self-improvement. Our vision narrows until we forget to look towards the horizon, and instead find ourselves caught up in the inward-focused gaze of self-examination. We can become preoccupied with minutiae.

But here, on the shores of the sea, darting through title pools and bounding over these sharp, slippery rocks, with the surf roiling around them, I find that runner's joy.

I run past the men throwing their lines into the dirty Jersey surf. They cast their lines in, standing tall on their little fishing pole stands. The lines, taught, tense, disappear into the pounding Jersey surf. They call out to one another, and compare notes on tides and currents, waves and ebbs.
I wonder, if someone ran by and called out: "Follow Me!", if they would let the lines dangle limp and impotent, and follow after him. These fishermen have a noble calling, it seems to me. There's something very noble about abandoning your nets into the sea.

I watch my footprints sink into the sand, knowing they will soon be washed away. Some of them, as I look behind me, are already fading. And as I cross a particularly firm portion of the beach

The tide waves in and out, in and out, just like friendship, which ebbs and flows like the tide: a friend is lost to you in the murkiness of anger, or the bitterness born of the wounds of compounded misunderstandings.

There is nothing you can do, but let the tide ebb and flow and love them like the boundless Thou they are: as boundless and as intangibly beautiful as the sea.

I would rather someone engage with me than give me a vapid compliment, I would.

And the sea someone whispers to me that I am eternal, that I can live my whole life in the sunlight and the waves, between the surf and the sand dunes. That somehow, the world is not as stuck in the muddle of mundane taxes and forms, all the human construction that makes up most of our world is not the end nor even the beginning of the story. The world is much more mysterious: the world is more ocean than land: we are too land-bound, forgetting that there exists whole other aspects of the world that we cannot even account for, that are truly the stuff of human existence, if we would chose to see it.

I stand on the shores of the sea, the sunset glistening on the water, making the surf sparkle, and enveloping the entire air with golden sunshine.

This moment. Here.

I am young, twenty-three, and beautiful. And I feel so young, and I wish I could grab this moment and hold onto it forever. But I can't. All moments have to slip through our fingers like the sand back into the sea.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

into whom all my longing will not go

Faith is a discipline of memory and hope
--Christian Wiman

It is so easy to lose the sense of God's desperateness for us.

Sam speaks of monotony.
It sounds like he is afraid of it.
I am not afraid of monotony.
Because I don't know if I've ever seen it.

I look out my window, and I see an entire changing world.
It spins so fast, I can barely take it all in as it rushes by.
This world of spinning planets, speeding trains, and small families walking past my window will never offer me monotony.
Eternity might offer me monotony.
But not this world.

I look out my window, and sunlight streams in with a blinding white light,
lighting up the entire room.
Some days, though, the light slants through the blinds with a golden haze, and it gilds all the dust specks.
The sun drops low in the sky, behind the old buildings. It is a dusty gold today.
Other afternoons, it shines beautifully and hits a low-hanging cloud with a dark mauve and a peach glow.
It falls behind the Manhattan skyline, and it lights up the sky with a serene blue.
The lights of the apartment buildings shine like warm fires against the cool night sky.
 Like Monet's Water lilies, the Harlem sunrise constantly surprises me with its new shades of gold and new gilded horizons.

I see all of this from my window.
Even from two stories up, I can feel the rumble of the trains in the foundations of the city. I can hear the rattle of the train on the tracks, I hear the metallic whir of sirens and the honking of taxis.
A dog is walking his owner below. I see the fluffy dog trying to look ferocious and intimidating. That walking shag carpet is the descendant of wolves. He still thinks he is a wolf. He looks like a stuffed teddy bear. But he acts like a predator of small dogs, not realizing that he is a comparatively small one himself.

There is always something different. And I can never capture the colors in words quickly enough to remember every single moment.
All these precious breaths leave our lungs each day, and we could spend all of our lives trying to track them and never be able to hold onto them all.

No.
No, I have certainly not yet found monotony in human activity.
Not even in the routine of running, eating, working, and sleeping to which each day could perhaps be reduced. This skeleton semblance of routine is just a thin thread in the crazy quilt I'm lost it.

Each day seems to be bursting with this vibrant variety.
And to think that for millions of years the earth has turned, and the sky has spun, each day has been filled with such a multitude of activity, far beyond my capability to imagine. I am desperate to witness it all, to see all of history spinning out in a vast expanse of designed chaos. Can you just imagine how breath-taking that would be? To witness all the pieces of story that are puzzling together right now, at this moment, all across the globe?

It is so easy to lose the sense of God's desperateness for us.


Friday, April 15, 2016

the world is nothing

To the Organ Master of St. Jude's:

I am reading a memoir of a plucky young British midwife in the 1950s. It is obviously delightful, but it was very honest and thorough in its descriptions of a midwife's duties during delivery.

As I was reading, I began to feel woozy. I have never fainted before in my life, but I felt that I was about to, which was a very interesting physiological state to experience. It was like feeling F. Scott Fitzgerald's prose inside your body.

The liquid warmth, the wooziness, the supple nature of reality and love were all happening inside my knees and stomach, the world felt warm and hazy and nothing mattered all that much, and I was about to collapse from hysteria, obsession with a eccentric millionaire in a double-breasted suit, or drinking too much absinthe before brunch.

And since I am currently the only adult proctoring a study hall of twenty-or-so high school sophomores, I felt that fainting was a poor choice, so I distracted myself by writing the Organ Master of St. Jude's a note about it.

It actually felt somewhat similar to the enchanted (enchanted, not as in captivated by the beauty of the moment, but enchanted by a charm or incantation or spell--in the way that removes you from the waking world and makes your stomach feel a little ill from too much magic) feeling that I felt while lost in St. John the Divine. I think that church cast a spell on me. I haven't forgotten it since my feet crossed the lintel. I think I passed into another world when I passed through its doors. And its memory leaves me with a sickly sweet feeling, and a cool breeze from another cosmos.

So please, Organ Master, send me Glenn Shea on Keats. I hunger for Keats. Keats is in a close tie with handcrafted doughnuts for my second religion (if I ever abandoned Christianity).

Endymion. I actually can't think about it now without tearing up. I will and shall and resolve to write you a better response later. Because Endymion deserves better. It deserves words falling onto paper like soft, sweet rain..

But, for now, let us be cautious in our correspondence, because the US Postal Service also hungers for Keats and Glenn Shea on Keats. And they will stop at nothing to intercept our letters that speak of them.

May you be safe from poor childhoods, distant illnesses, and blood-coughing deaths. May none of your romances be abandoned. May, in the eyes of the world, you seem to never win; may the critics mock your masterpiece. May your life add up to nothing more than sorrows, leave-takings and failures, nothing more than a collection of crosses, to the eyes of the world. And may you always be a stumbling block. And may you sing of beauty in the midst of it, as John did.

Signed,
With, faith and hope and love and courage, (this is what Fr. J inserts after the Our Father during Mass: "look not on our sins, but on the faith and hope and love and courage of all your people." [con molto molto mosso, in his thick NYC accent]  I don't know why he does it. It frets at my liturgical propriety, but I find it so endearing.)

Yours truly,
Constellation Cassiopeia

Thursday, April 14, 2016

perfect gift

I walked into the classroom with a bunch of small children, and I was greeted by a miniature young boy with glasses and boundless energy. He pulled me over to the table where he was doing his homework.

What's your name? I asked him
Nathan! he squeaked excitedly, between his rushed recitation of the days of the week.

Nathan, a priest informed me several months ago, is a name that means Gift from God.

My face broke out in a large smile of wonder at this small little nugget of joy, who was running around the classroom, quizzing me on the alphabet, the names of the month, and shapes; and giggling with delight when I mixed up all the numbers counting up to twenty. He corrected me when I botched all the pronunciations of his classmates name. We exchanged favorite colors, and as I slowly spelled out W-E-D-N-E-S-D-A-Y for him, I thought of how easy it is to know one's vocation. It is simply to pay attention to whatever other human shares this moment with you, and to love them with all the attentiveness and charity you can muster.

The table was decorated with images of Wall-E and Eva floating together in space.
Have you seen Wall-E? I asked some of the small students.
They cock their heads to one side and say nothing, stumped.
Have you seen this movie? It's about these robots here. They're in love, I say.
EWWW! They shriek, in a disgusted chorus.
No they're not, insists one boy, They're just friends.
Perhaps you're right, I say, deciding to forego the lesson that falling in love and friendship are two sides of the same coin.

Nathan--my little tour guide-- took me over to a corner of the classroom with a chart detailing several different emotions: surprised, excited, sad, and proud. We went through the chart, stopping to define such complicated emotions as embarrassed and jealous. Finally, we ended at the last square: hopeful.

What...what is that? asked Nathan.
Hope is--
Hopeful, he corrected me.
Right. Well hopeful is when you're full of hope. Do you know what hope is?
He looked at me expectantly.
Ah. So. "Hope" is like. It's like. You know how it's dark at night when you're in your bed? Hope is like when someone turns on a light for you when it's dark. Hope is like when things aren't going really good, but you remember that they're going to get better. That's what hope is.

It is perhaps impossible to know whether or not moments like these will be remembered in the larger stories of our lives. These will one day, perhaps, become the many moments of grace that are lost in our memories. But they are, like my little friend's name says, gifts from God.

We broke bread together, splitting a Doritos in half at the toddler-sized table, decorated with images of Wall-E. And certainly, there, in the splitting of the Dorito, in the breaking of the bread, I saw Christ.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

who can accept it?

Where was grace on Park Avenue today?

Things that disturb, grotesque things we cannot forget, the sight of things we cannot account for, and we would rather not have to: we would be more comfortable, not having these things in our world.

Today, I saw an unkempt, disheveled man photographing a miniature Nazi flag stuck into a small pile of dog shit. I felt a retch roil at the roof of my throat; it still does, thinking about it. Something about the juxtaposition of all those elements made the entire scene too grotesque for broad daylight. It sickened the sweet spring day, stained it with disgust. And, then, the most graceless sight I have ever seen--a man yelling threateningly at a small boy--so small, just a head taller than the man's pitbull. The child's fresh, smooth face lined with tension, stoic anger hiding his fear, a coat of toughness protecting his fragile child soul.

It is unfair. It is cruelly unjust and terribly, awfully wrong that we live in a world where a small child has to be so on his own that he has to face the world with a fighting stance and a tough face. It is unfair, I keep thinking over and over to myself. It is not right that this could ever happen. It should never be that a child is treated like that. What I saw was wrong. It should not, ought not to be true. And yet it was.

Such ugly truths should not exist. And yet they do. All these ugly moments happened today. I witnessed them.
And--

I know there is an answer to this question--
I suppose, I trust, I believe, there is an answer to this question--
but for today, I think, I will allow it to remain just that, just a question--
acknowledging the great gash of pain that is this child's face--
acknowledging the gorge that rose and choked me--
acknowledging that grace is more mysterious and powerful, more wild and painful than I can truly comprehend--
I will not bring grace down to my level today, but let the question linger, beckoning my mind into the mystery:

where is grace in all that?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

bleeding water from stones

Discovery: If you allow a little seed of loathing towards another person to take root and fester in your heart, gnawing away at your thoughts, and staining your soul, then a malicious ripple effect of uncharity begins to leak from your heart into the surrounding world.

First, your vision becomes clouded. The person you have directed your ill will at seems to be nothing more than a sum of very dismal parts, and your high dudgeon prevents you from seeing your brother as anything beyond that. Their poor qualities pulse brightly in your mind's-eye, like a broken stoplight, until their litany of perceived faults overwhelm all objective truth. Any sort of hatred or loathing fosters a delusion. You begin to lose a grip on reality, and your clarity is muddled.

Secondly--and this is where things get really thorny--you begin to see everyone else in this dim, dismissive light.
Your malice cannot stay directed at just one target, it begins to take over, like a weed. All of a sudden, everyone you encounter has become annoying, everyone is frustrating, everyone is stupid, ignorant, grating, weak, and helpless. You cannot be selective in your uncharity. Once welcomed in the door, it preys upon its host.

Uncharity is not a laser, where it can be directed sharply, with intense focus, on just one object. Hate is like a wet blanket, that beats the fire out of life, that quashes the vibrancy of love, across the board. It is not just a tool we can use to nicely categorize the world into "People We Like" and "People We Don't." When we enter into uncharity, we have turned the world upside down. We've entered into an entirely bent cosmos. We tie everything into knots.

This is the sort of tangled field of wheat and tares in which grace must operate.
She ploughs through the rocky soul, leaving trails to irrigate the parched land.
She uproots the tangled weeds, and nourishes the broken vines.
She tugs at the knots that we have formed, gently loosening the cords, wrapped tight around each other like little stony pits.
She helps the bent and wounded stalks stand upright once again.