Friday, June 24, 2016

for all that has been

Today, I walked through Cristo Rey's halls, and said good bye to all the places I have spent so many days, and even nights.

My throat clogged with two years' worth of tears as I said good-bye to old classrooms and hallways. Sometimes it was even just a corner of a wall that I pass each day which suddenly becomes blessed and beloved because of memories that make her hallowed.

I walked into the third floor girls' bathroom, where I feel I spent an entire summer and a lifetime. Making art with friends, making something beautiful among the cockroaches, broken air-conditioning and hearts. I sat on the counter and felt the walls of the bathroom expand and contract. Entire other worlds and stories contained inside her tiles, elastic with memory.

I walked into the library, which Joe was arranging so beautifully. Joe has a gift for cleaning all the dirt that people let gather in their complacency. There is nothing about Joe that is complacency. He possesses the energy of grace: the ability to reach into all the unnoticed corners and shed light there.

Under his gentle care, the fly-infested library, which had been, for so long, in disordered shambles, has become a thing of ordered beauty.

And he has brought warmth to it, so it is now the sort of circle of quiet care in a loud and unfeeling world. The place you can retreat to; it is a sanctuary. And every sanctuary needs a priest to curate it.

Joe is that warm and holy presence that can bring a joyful, vibrant life to even a disordered hoard of books. Joe has the sort of thoughtful care that I imagine Galway Kinnell ascribes to St. Francis, the ability to reteach a thing his loveliness, to remind the sow and flower of her blessedness.

He is the sort of person who will always listen to your feelings, but never indulge in your sentiment.
And when you flop onto a chair and mourn the loss of a home, of being phased out of a place you love, he is one to smile at tears that are worth having and say: Go say good-bye to Cristo Rey. And let that be enough for now.
Let that be enough for today: to say good-bye to one place and all the people inside the place.

So I walked to the stage, where I have discovered that I was a teacher, and where I was taught by many students. And I said a simple prayer on the polished wood floor, scuffed from many shoes of many students. For all that will be: yes.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

found, unfound, they breathe their light

I found them here at first without hunting,
by grace, as all beauties are first found.
 The Lillies, by Wendell Berry

Last night, roaming the West Village, we stopped to look at the clouds that were painted onto the clear, cerulean sky. The NYC sky takes a lot of shit-talk from me, but it can be--particularly on warm summer evenings--as beautiful as watercolors.

The clouds were gilded with a warm and cozy amber from the rays of the sun setting over Jersey and the Hudson. The clouds seemed to be still, but if you fixed your gaze on them intently, you could see the feather outcroppings of the cirrus clouds undulating gracefully. Weaving in and out of each other, like the stained glass of a kaleidoscope, the brilliant clouds traveled motionlessly across the azure sky.

Falling towards our feet, like a cloud detached from the firmament, a small white balloon bounced towards us down the street.  We followed it, because one of the rules of a roam is that you take turns leading, no one ever leading too much on their own, but always giving way to one another, listening, following, taking turns. Another important rule of a roam is that you follow every impulse to dart down a side street or change directions, or follow something beautiful you catch out of the corner of your eye. You are supposed to wander willy-nilly into corner shops containing curios, into skateboard shops, and under open sidewalk grates with ladders waiting for your footfall. If a balloon falls from above, and starts drifting with almost conscious animation down the street, you simply have to follow it. The wind, and a helpful kick from one of the girls passing by, sent the ball around the corner, back from where we had walked. And the balloon drifted around the corner, cheekily, ricocheting off of buildings and bumping against cars.
Outlandish as it may sound, that balloon led us to our destination.

Our destination was a sushi restaurant. And we had been wandering in circles all around it, but the balloon, which we followed around the corner, floated off as we were wrapped in conversation. The conversation led us up the street and to the door of an unassuming brick building, which held the end of our searching.

It seemed too on the nose to be coincidence, too obvious for reality, which is usually much more subtle in its elegance. Balloons don't just fall out of sunset skies and tell you where to go.
Or perhaps they do, sometimes.

We're always hunting for a course and a direction, but sometimes those directions are just handed to us. They fall into our laps, or in front of our feet, and if we are open to the roam, we can meet them like friends meet on city street corners, smile a heyyyy!, exclaim: I had no idea you lived around here!? And go with them for a drink (or not).

I thought of Mr. Berry's poem about lilies.

How often all the things we're hunting for elude us, but when we simply follow the obvious, obtuse, or incandescent filaments of grace that run through our wanderings, we are led to beauties.

This city, that is so full of grasping, reminds me, again, that all we have to do is open our hands to receive.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

the education of jada hernandez

Sean*, an actor--who is around thirty-something or other--came in to coach a scene of the play, and I watched him interact with Jada*, a student, who was understudying for the lead actress. This was just a rehearsal, but nevertheless, the thrill of understudying flushed Jada's cheeks.

There is nothing more desirable or glamorous than understudying. Understudying is the ultimate Cinderella story. Particularly when you are a young woman who is competent and responsible, and therefore always ending up on the tech or backstage crew instead of onstage.

For young hearts that thirst for the limelight, the thrill of being put up onstage with little warning, and then dazzling the crowd, understudying is the ultimate catnip. It is the embodiment of the idea that anyone can be given a shot, and even if you are just one of the props crew, you, too, have a shot at stardom.

It was a joy to see how much delight she got in simply sitting in for the lead in a rehearsal. But the pathos of her girlish enthusiasm and her hope tugged at the heartstrings. How I remember being Jada's age, and wishing that I would be seen as more than just a responsible young woman. How I wanted to be a Performer, Captial P, with a flourish at the end.

As I watched this scene unfold, I was struck by another memory. The actor playing opposite Jada is a young teenage boy, Brandon*, who has plenty of city swagger about him, and confidence in his ability to woo any young lady. Whenever Brandon gets on stage, however, he loses his flirtatious façade, and becomes a gentle and generous scene partner. When they get are on stage, children reveal to you mostly what they are. If they are good, kind, shy, insecure, they usually show that to you in one way or the other. Particularly class clowns, who are raucous braggadocios in class, freeze so often on the stage. Their pretense dropped, they stand before you, vulnerable and unsure.

This is partially what is afflicting Brandon. But, also, we have cast Brandon as a British baron, and he is not a British baron. Brandon may be a lot of things, but he is not a world-weary, brandy-guzzling, extremely wealthy, entitled SWM. And there is a particular way that world-weary, brandy-guzzling, entitled SWMs approach the world, particularly how they approach women. Brandon hasn't really yet captured that essence the way that Colin Firth or Christopher Plummer do.

In an effort to help this young actor flirt like entitled SWMs flirt, the older actor, Sean, takes over the scene for several moments, acting opposite of Jada. Sean has, of course, watched at least one adaptation of an Austen novel, and has read Trollope, so he is aware of how British barons flirt, and he is damn good at it. He sweeps across the stage, and hovers above Jada's chair. He touches her arm. I see her blush. The scene progresses. He stands behind her. I can see her cheeks grow red, as she feels the warmth from his closeness radiating around her.
He touches her hair. Her blush and smile are one.

I watch Jada, and I wonder if I should do anything. Say anything. As I watch Sean demonstrate to Brandon how to kiss Jada's hand, I am half torn between the pain of old memories, and a sense of betrayal, as I watch emotions flicker across her face which I remember so vividly occurring inside of me.

One reality is true: there is an inequality here. Sean is a thirty-something father of young girls, and Jada is a young, impressionable teenage girl. Impressionable, which is defined as "easily influenced because of a lack of critical ability." In the context of teenagers, impressionable means: "absorbing the world around them so intensely, it affects them in ways it does not affect others."

The way that young people touch each other is different than the way this older man touches this young girl without her permission. This is not the insecure flirting of novice teenagers, it is an interaction with a clear imbalance: a man who knows exactly what he's doing, and a girl who has much, much less experience.

She senses the dangerous impossible contained in it. He senses it, too, but he can hide behind his superiority. Older men can hide behind the narratives of avuncular affection or elder-brotherly love. They can affect an emotional reaction in a young girl that they have no accountability for. They can dodge responsibility for the feelings their actions arouse.

Perhaps this is an experience unique to young women in theatre, or the arts, where people are freer with their bodies and their feelings, at least in stereotype, and most likely in fact. But there was a clear imbalance I never noticed when I was in Jada's shoes, but is quite clear from mine.

Through the lens of Jada's blush, I saw touches, casual brushes, hair-ruffling all anew. And I blushed with Jada, and was sad.

Perhaps it is just the collateral damage of being a Sensitive Young Woman, but it seems to me that there is a theme that I have found--in my own and others' stories--of older men representing to younger women a critical moment: a moment of discovery.

Perhaps, sometimes, that's no one's fault. Just a natural chemical reaction of one youngster full of lots of blood and growth, in a body that they still are scared of, susceptible to the smallest touch, and one older person, more jaded and cavalier with their body they know much better.

But perhaps, what I saw from my seat in the audience, was my own naïve blood burn my cheeks and my irrevocable teenage ignorance of power, because I had none.

*names changed

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

don't take her from me yet

"And what showed it to me, that glimmer of holiness beyond the bones, was your presence there. At the time it took the form of a dare: 
'I'll stay if you stay. If you can believe despite all this, then so can I.' 
We stood there, amid the skulls, in awe of our shared desire to still believe, the desire our unspoken dare seemed to reveal."

--Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters
by Amy Alznauer and Jessica Mesman Griffith

One night, so many years ago (it was only three), three girls walked into a bar. And there they met all their friends and classmates. It was the third Saturday night of August, and the first of senior year.

These three friends were very good friends, although I don't know if they knew how truly, very good of friends they were yet.

They talked together over large summer shandys. It was the kind of night that makes you like summer shandys, which are a drink beloved less by flavor than by pleasant associations.

They laughed together, and they spoke of all the things happening in their hearts that good friends listen to, enraptured. They talked of summer and of impending autumns. Little did they know how soon winter would arrive, with their shandys, shorts, and sunny eyes.

Often, they were whisked away to talk to other groups of friends, or make the acquaintance of strange acquaintances, or meet strangers that their friends were barely acquainted with.

The movement of the bar that night was a constant swirl and eddy of bodies moving into conversation, then drifting away, moving close together, like galaxies whirling into collision, then pulling back, planets drawn by gravity of different suns.

Always, the friends would return to their own solar system trio, its gravitational pull their Polaris.

Growing up, for me, has meant being pulled into different galaxies. It has meant to talk to different constellations, and learn the flavors of different nebulae. It has meant being stretched out of my gravitational field of contentment, and making friends with foreigners. It has meant being challenged by the local atmosphere, and confronted by an image of the world that is not homogenous and neat.

Growing up means allowing doubt a seat at the table. It means playing with thoughts I had never given airtime. It means extending beliefs to their logical conclusions, and watching with horror and delight as your world sinks and is refashioned. It means welcoming into your heart people you kept at arm's length. It means facing the world around you, diving into all the broken, uncomfortable spots, letting what is chaff be shaken off, and what is fruitful remain.

For me, growing up has meant growing away, growing apart, a splintering and a fracturing. It has meant exploration and discovery, and being more liberal than afraid.

It has meant a lot of change, a lot of anger, and a lot of dismay at what you find when you lift up the rock and examine its underside. The world is not cosmetic from that angle: it is full of creepy, crawly spider-like things, and not a lot of sunshine.

And I love that. I would rather see things as they are, then have them be as they are, happening underneath my feet, and me never knowing any better.

I would rather lift up all the rocks, and expose their dark, unhappy underbellies, than live only in the sunshine. I would rather feed doubt sometimes than lock her howling outside the door.

Because, in all the moments of discomfort, dismay, fear, and tectonic collisions, I find myself always drawn back, like the three stars to their shandys, to those who love me, feed me, and make me whole.

And this has been one of the sweetest gifts: to find that, through life's changes, there are the constants. There are the friends who, although miles away, always remind you of your authentic self, the self they know beyond and above the changing present. These are the people you never actually leave.

And, as attracted as I am to adventure, inconvenience, and discomfort; as interested as I am in the parts of myself that are still just throbbing potential, waiting to be awoken into life by different cities, countries, and communities, it is even more important to cling to the people who know you at your core.

They are the people who you walk with, who say: where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. And as important as it is to stretch yourself, to seek what is true, to seek what is joy, in all the uncomfortable places of the world, it is just as important to return to the font of joy.

If we do not return to the place where we are from, where our self is cohesive, and rooted in the love that has made us, then our growth becomes just drifting. We become chameleons, conforming ourselves to our environments, and changing our hues to suit the social scene. Growth, I have been told is more like a spiral than a straight line. It is a constant flow of going forth and returning. Of being sent away and coming home.

We are always being sent forth, but there is always a table for us to return to. It is in that return we discover ourselves, newly ornamented with new opinions, and shaped slightly differently by the force of experience, contrasted with our old outline. It is often pleasant to see the differences in the outlines and the shapes.

The returning is not optional. We must return there, to be fed on friendship, wine, good conversation, or God Himself.

But returning implies, by necessity, a leaving. If we never leave the comfort of our own contented world and seek to understand what is strange and foreign, and to love in a place where we are not at home, we will never discover the joy of the return.

We will never discover, to our delight, that there are those who walk with us, always. The circle whose dependability is undeniable, even as you dart off to talk to all the faces, blurry in the twinkle-lights, at the bar. The circle whose people are our people, and whose God is ours as well.

Monday, June 20, 2016

turn south from that place

Huddled around my desk, the first years make plans and plots for next year.
I listen; but I am not a member of the conversation.

I offer opinions, but they are those of an outsider, an adviser, someone not in the inner ring anymore.
They listen; but the way you listen to a parent, a teacher, a someone who isn't quite in your shoes and doesn't quite Get It.

Scurrying around the living room, the first years (well now they're really second years), scrub out the cabinets like we never did, and scour surfaces covered in several years of ill will and rodent droppings.

I help, a little, but feel--again--like an observer of a scene happening in front of me that I am not quite present to. My body may be here, in this physical location; but I am not really a member of this moment.

In chronos, I may be present, but the kairos of this moment, the activity of my roommates' all around me is something I am not a part of.

I have more in common with the four future roommates, who are not here. We are both outsiders to this event, while both woven into the circumstances.

But the ghost roommates who are not here have more in common with the four present roommates, who feel their present absence, and work to prepare for their presence.

I am like the old comforters piled up in the linen cabinet; something that will be cleaned out, and be replaced with something new.

I feel useless, like my cleaning hands would be intruders on their preparations for moments I will not be a part of. I feel inessential and unnecessary.

I wonder if this is how mothers feel when their babies learn to walk, or when their child makes their first friend--when another human makes Your Human Project happy in a way only you could before.

Once you were their world, and now they are finding their own world.

I am not a mother.

But I love to nurture, to guide, to create, to write---sometimes so much so I become a controlling, paranoid monster.

And so the endings and the leave-takings, the moments when I am inconsequential are a gift.

A gift to remind us that we are only part of something beautiful.

We contribute our small part, to make something beautiful where once there was a lot of dust and mouse shit.

But it is not ours--we cannot stay--we are only here a short while.

The beauty itself will spiral on, the good that we have added to it compiling and compounding into turrets of great goodness, the work of future generations making up for our sins of omission.

And we will have the peace and joy of knowing that what we lacked was part of the story, and what we gave is still good.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

i am the emperor of sidewalk

The sunrise is on the Randall's Island footbridge,
which is green and shining, like liberty's torch,
and they have put scaffolding over a stretch of sidewalk where no buildings are.
It is an awning of an invisible bodega, covering my pathway home with shade.
The flies are buzzing over dog shit,
and the air begins to buzz with sirens,
whistles and a taxi cab sitting on his horn.

This is my road, and the sunshine and the
terrible smell of Spanish Harlem summer sidewalk
and the dirt and train tracks spinning towards the Bronx
and the buses rolling slowly into their depot garage to be washed,
these are all mine.

They are mine, because I have cried here,
on this stretch of sidewalk,
and I have talked here--to my mother,
my sisters, my friends, my brother,
my enemies, inconsequential acquaintances,
and my imaginary conversation partners who will never
hear the arguments I constructed in the clouds above the
Metro North tracks and the trees that grow beside them.

This sidewalk is mine because I have walked here,
mostly every day,
for months,
and my feet are shaped differently because they have met this concrete,
and the concrete has the impressions of my running shoes etched into his surface.

And I have walked here in winter, when I was counting down the steps towards home,
I have walked here in autumn, enjoying the breezes rolling off the river,
I have walked here in spring, soaking up the warm outdoors, and in summer,
counting the beads of sweat that roll down and pool in the small of my back and bra.

It seems impossible that this walk,
this stretch of sidewalk will ever stop being a part of me.
It is mine, I belong to it.
I have glared at taxis speeding around the corner here,
I have watched with wonder at the man with his boombox,
marching up and down with his girlfriend,
as they shout with pagan gusto on Sunday mornings.
The window there, with its mirrored surface is my mirror,
I flip my hair and watch my reflection flip hers,
some days I note how serious and jowly I look,
sometimes the window tells me I look nice,
(and then I flip my hair, for the benefit of no one but the neighborhood cat
and the abuela with her pit bull)
I belong to the surprise view of the glittering river,
and the back door entrance to the bus depot,
and the projects across the tracks,
and the hospital residency dorm room windows with their lights on late at night.

I belong to each and every one of them,
and please don't take them from me yet.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

silent stutterings

I woke up from my dream with tears in my eyes.
I can't remember if I was crying, or if I had been crying in the dream, but I certainly woke up with a silver sadness lining the bright morning sunlight.

I felt watery and adrift.
I quickly forgot, as one tends to forget dreams.

But then, someone asked me: where do you want to go?
Everywhere, I thought.
Sometimes, we think we are talking to just another person, when we are actually talking to a prophet. This person tells us what we often thought we had already heard, but never really listened to.

This person spoke of his longing for the sky. I had just seen the sky, I foolishly thought, back home in Minnesota. I saw the sky there, and I had even appreciated it. I appreciate it for being vast and Midwestern and very blue, unlike the sky here in New York, pock-marked as it is by skyscrapers, and muted by smog.
But no. He spoke of the stars: when was the last time you saw stars? he asked, which is maybe the second  most important question I have been asked in the past nine months. It is an important question, because it leads us to the truly most important question: when will you see them again? Once you have seen the stars, how will you see them again?

He hadn't seen the stars for something like eleven years. Right then and there, I vowed never to let eleven years pass between my star-gazings. Eleven years is too long. You can forget the stars in eleven years.

That was when I remembered that I'd woken up that morning with tears in my eyes, and the taste of crying in my mouth.

--

Someone asked me: Have you gotten to say good-bye to all these different places that you love here in the city? It had not yet occurred to me to press pause on the quest forward to see always more and more of everything, and to take the time to bid good-bye to all the places that have been more than muses for me.

The first good-bye hit me in the face when I walked towards Starry Night. It was crowded by the MOMA Friday night tourist crowd.
And I remembered when I first ever walked towards it; and that I was saying good-bye to it now. Starry Night was my first friend in the city--a comforting touchstone, when I felt like there were no stars to be seen, before I'd seen Orion hanging above the Reservoir on a clear winter morning, when nothing was familiar, and nothing seemed to speak to that deep well of beauty inside of me that was longing for starry nights.

Van Gogh's infinite swirls of light and darkness reminded me of the past--of fond, comfortable memories of late-night couches and soft voices, of beaches and endless expanse of oceans--and it held a promise for the future.

Good-byes are really thank yous. They are acknowledging that someone has given you a part of themselves, or a part of yourself back to you. Good-byes are mostly thank yous for that.

The second good-bye was to Monet's water lily murals. The water lily room is a haven. A haven where your eyes can go when they are tired of being punished by city wind carrying city dirt, or straining for the next train around the dark subway corner, or avoiding eye contact with sidewalk passers-by.

The water lily room is where you can go to think and see clearly, and write down what you behold. It is one of those places you can sink into and stay forever. Time stops there. And I wish I could always be in the water lily room.

In the water lily room, I haven't made any missteps, or said all the unkind things I say, or been impatient, or lazy, or wasted precious time. I have not fallen short in here, or fallen in love. I have never broken anyone's heart or my dignity, I have not wounded what I love, or wounded by my love. In this room, I am not hurt or injured, or mistaken. In the water lily room, the past hasn't happened yet, and the future is the present.

--

There is one place I will not say good-bye to until I am seventy-five and living in my hobby farm in the West Village, and that is the Impressionist wing of the Met, where I fell in love over a Degas statue, an endless successions of painted points on canvas, and the drum-roll-thrill of seeing stars awakening the sleepy dog days of late July.

Friday, June 17, 2016

the geography of yearning

Living on the edge of leaving is too painful an activity.
Even ordinary, stupid activities of daily living are time-stamped.
My showers are numbered, I realize, with a shock.

I cut some of the Irish seed bread that JPP puts out in the kitchen, and I thought of how too much of my time has been spent in that kitchen, and how many mornings I have greeted the world looking out the window. The maple tree that marks the seasons for me is dancing lightly in the June breeze, and swaying as it catches the light. The train rushes by as always. I have looked out that window into the darkness of a winter morning, into the light dusk of a March morning, into the twilight before sunset, and into the cloudy Manhattan midnight. I have marked the seasons in that kitchen. The seasons of the world outside, and the seasons of my body.

There are a preponderance of dead baby birds on the sidewalk on my walk to work. It's a puzzling mystery; where are they coming from? Are the vibrations of the train knocking all the baby birds out of their nests? Perhaps the neighborhood cat is particularly active this year. She's a sleek little feline, dodging between parked cars and into open garages. I call to her, frequently, hoping to scratch behind her little ears. Perhaps I am attempting to befriend a murderer.

There is a moon over Manhattan that the tree in our backyard obfuscates. Leaving, like tattooing, is a painful art. I am distressed about the part of me that has decided to leave what seems so incredibly good: friends gathered around a backyard table with beers, or gathered together on gchat, in various workspaces, knowing that we are just a quick subway ride away. This whole city--our backyard--which we can roam it at our pleasure.

Leaving New York for bumfuck Indiana might seem like leaving the glamorous, complicated, sophisticated life of the Big City for the simple pleasures of a small town. Leaving New York, however, is leaving something simple and sweet, it's leaving what has the comfort and warmth of a small town. It is choosing complication, and something more complex than the sweet small town comfort.

Flying between trees, the starlings are super quarrelsome this morning. Several, perched on the fence by the projects, cackle at one another, their feathers raised from perturbation. Underneath them, several bars of fence down, there is a little sparrow hiding underneath the iron grate. She is an exquisite creature. Her eyes are bright and intelligent, without the avian glaze of the starlings. She has a nearly violet-colored little triangle of a beak. Her body is shaped like the curve of my thumb. The detailing of her feathering is glorious and infinitely fascinating. I want to pick her up.

I squat down on my calves, and I say (out loud); hello. She responds with silence, and an interested stare. There is no animal fear in her eyes. She seems calm, safely tucked under the iron fence. She is so much smaller than I am, yet I feel the gap between us closing, as I bend down to greet her.

So very rarely do we open up the shutters in our eyes and let them be the windows to our souls. But when we do, it is powerfully palpable. I am not an expert in the souls of animals. But, looking into that sparrow's eyes, I felt a trill of recognition run through me. The eyes of the sparrow reminded me of when I look into a friend's eyes, really listening to them, when I look into the eyes of a child, when I look into the eyes of someone who is caught off guard and smiling.

She hopped away, with a small chirp.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

true story of this sweet tragic

But the best imaginers are the old and wounded,
who swim through ever narrowing choices,
dedicating their hearts to peace, a stray cat,
a bowl of homemade vegetable soup,
or red Mountain Ash berries in the snow.
--Freya Manfred, "Imagine This"

I was thinking to myself one day, as I sat in the subway car: will I stop attacking life with all the emotional force of a hurricane when I am older? Life seems to be happening to me, sometimes, more than I am happening to it. Is this always going to be the case? 

Does life ever settle down into what Ms. Austen calls a quick succession of busy nothings. It does not feel that way at all right now. Right now it feels like being swept away by one giant wave after another, crashing into the beach again and again.

Will one day, I simply approach life without imagination or desire, but simply the contentedness of what is? Will, one day, the intensity of emotion and feelings that life is so rife with, subside?

But it doesn't seem like it ought to. Freya Manfred's lovely poem suggests otherwise. 

That the older we get, perhaps there is a certain whirlwind element of life that ceases--perhaps not. Perhaps life will always feel like it is some piecemeal whirlwind spinning under our thumbs. 

There is a certain focus that will emerge, maybe, as we swim through narrowing choices. But we can still live in Nepal and New York, no reason not to. And if we marry a millionaire or a clown, we can still be falling in love with the reality that presents itself to our vision.

I see no reason to believe that I must one day cease to fall in love with each day as it attacks me with its unexpected and surprising stories.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

but you have not failed me

I prayed: God, save me.
I don't know that I have ever prayed that prayer before.
I'm sure I have. I must have. I must have, right?

How could I have lived so long, and never once asked Him to save me?

But I'm not sure I have.
I have often said:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Oh Lord, hear my plea.

But it was always My Plea
and My Voice
and Me me me me me

I would ask for help,
and guidance,
and petition for grace,
or understanding,
or assistance.

I would seek mercy
or comfort,
I would seek correction,
or love.

But never did I ask once, not once
for salvation.

Finally, I gave up.
My own efforts bringing me to
nowhere but dead ends
and cul-de-sacs of ego.
I said: this little stony heart
cannot change,
will not stop beating her willful way

You must save it.
For I cannot.

And He did.
For the Almighty has done great things for us,
and Holy is His name.
And even when we are too fleshy and embarrassed
to Do the Right Thing,
we are saved.

We have not merited it,
I have not even earned it.
I certainly do not deserve it.
I simply asked for it.

I feel foolish for not saving myself.
and silly for lacking the strength to
forge myself into goodness.
And yet how sweet it is
to be saved in spite of self.

When life and death are set before us,
and we cannot bring ourselves to choose,
life can be given to us.

How sweet grace is,
to reach into the narrative
and change what we think is done,
To break what we think is set,
to crack what we think is
impenetrable stone.

That miracle of grace is timshel,
to show us that
the story can go another way.

Friday, June 3, 2016

in either wondrous token

Blood is poured and flesh is broken, 
Yet in either wondrous token 
Christ entire we know to be.

We are not good, and yet we seek to become so.

As I eat your flesh, I pray that you eat mine;
devour my pitiful heart,
bore into it, chip away at it,
until the stone inside it crumbles.

I see you just beyond the grate:
I do not see you, per se,
as far as seeing is done with our eyes,
but I can sense your presence
with my heart that is becoming yours
already.

I feel the suffusion of your presence in my present.
Such sweet suffusion; why would I deny it?
I approach you with
light feet and heavy heart,
and
a prayer
that my steps may tune themselves to yours.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

things we are not doing today

"For many of us, moreover, these words recall the memory of our first encounter with God’s holy book, the Bible, which was opened for us at this spot. It at once brought us out of our small child’s world, captivated us with its poetry, and gave us a feeling for the immeasurability of creation and its Creator.”--Pope Benedict XVI, In the Beginning

On the subway the other day, a small boy sat across from me, his blonde twenty-something nanny floating nearby on her phone. It looked like an all-too-typical interaction, with the young boy babbling on about his day, and the nanny responding absently, absorbed in her phone.

In the middle of that depressing sight, a singer appeared in our midst (as they always do on subway cars) and began the usual spiel of pardonmeladiesandgentlemen, but I'm a struggling a capella artist, needing money for studio time. Anything you have to spare...etc., etc. But it was a sunny Thursday afternoon, and we were all in good spirits, so instead of rolling our eyes and turning back to our conversations, books, or phones, we listened to him.

Perhaps it was the sun, perhaps the warm weather, perhaps my restless hankering for margaritas and bare shoulders--whatever it was, I was in the mood for an a-capella rendition of All of Me on this subway ride. I was grinning with the giddy pleasure of a teenage girl at a Justin Beiber concert circa 2010. To my surprise, other members of the subway care were listening with the same grins on their faces.

The bored nanny, without turning her eyes away from the phone screen, hands the small boy a dollar. There has never been someone more excited about handing a starving subway artist a dollar than this small boy. Anxiously, he waited for the subway artist to prowl down our way on the subway car, and was rewarded for his patience with a high five.

I smiled as I watched the interaction, as I saw this moment and this memory imprint itself in this boy's mind. As humans, our selves are made up of these glorious patchwork quilts of memories. Using these small data points as evidence, our imagination formulates an image of the world. From these small moments, we piece together an image of the cosmos.

Through small moments of grace, of joy, of beauty, we learn to hear the symphony and read the poetry of creation.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

spinning under our thumbs

Rise up, blinking in the sun
Wrapped in invisible wire
Something beautiful's gonna come
--Punch Brothers, My Oh My

One of my favorite feelings is the Reading a Steinbeck novel feeling. Reading a Steinbeck novel feeling is the stirrings that are shaken up inside of me; the way that the words sweep me up in their magic and wash over me, dazzling me in the Salinas sunshine and the Oklahoma dust. Reading a Steinbeck novel feeling is when I sink into his world slowly, like walking from the shallow to the deep end of the pool.

Steinbeck is a patient story-teller, and he takes his time to weave an image of a land that I have never visited, but I can begin to see.

“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.”

The story spills out of the book, the dusty land of promise and desolation enchants my waking world. It is full of glory and beauty that touches all daily activity. As the powerful prose seeps into my head, even ordinary subway cars become gilded and full of simple grandeur.

I begin to imagine life on a far broader scale than my small-minded self generally tends towards. I think of Benedict's opening lines of his opening homily on creation. Reflecting on the opening words of scripture "In the beginning," Benedict writes:

"These words, with which Holy Scripture begins, always have the effect on me of the solemn tolling of a great old bell, which stirs the heart from afar with its beauty and dignity and gives it an inkling of the mystery of eternity."

I do not generally think of the heart being stirred by dignity. But the heart is often stirred by what is solemn. The solemnity, which suggests a contact with deep reality, is striking. Solemnity signals to us: this is real. This is not a joke, a construct, or an act, which so much of our man-made world is. This is reality. It is something sacred and permanent, beyond the limits and control of humans. This reality is something we are a part of, not masters of. It is something interior, fundamental to our being.

To come in contact with such deep and solid truth certainly stirs hearts attuned to it. Steinbeck stirs my heart in such a way. He cuts right through to the eternal beating in the veins of the temporal moment.

"Human persons are not closed in upon themselves; they must always be aware that they are situated in the context of the body of history, which will ultimately become the body of Christ. Past, present, and future must encounter one another in every human life."

It is very easy to love people only just for the moment. To encounter people only in the limited view of the present, and take from them what I want now. Steinbeck reminds me of the vast expanse of glory: of sin and struggle, and goodness, and virtue, and loving and dying that belongs to every human life. As I scan my fellow inhabitants of the subway car, the world begins to glow with that weight of glory. My vision shifts: they are not obstacles between me and the corner seat; they are not simply bodies taking up space; they are not dangers or curiosities, they are human. And to be human, Steinbeck reminds me, is an awful, glorious, terrible, and solemn thing indeed.