Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Little Things

For the last 18 months I've kept a running list on my phone of things I'm thankful for.  Sometimes I'm very dedicated to this list, adding a couple items a day.  But life gets busy and I'll forget the list for a couple weeks. What strikes me is that the moments of thankfulness that bring me back to the list are never big. They're almost always small. Very, very small.

I fell in love a few months ago.  Not really sure of the timing, honestly. All of the sudden it was just there, this person I'd been spending a lot of time with started feeling more important than expected. And I say "expected" because I'm 36 years old and it's impossible to reach your mid-30s as a single person and not have built an expectation around who might make you happy. It's a conglomerate of past hurts and past loves, a tallying of traits both beneficial and harmful, and question marks, things I assumed I needed in order to be Happy. I won't call it a checklist, because it never felt that way.  It felt like everything I've learned about love rolled into a vague idea as to what a greater Love might mean.

The man I fell in love with is not a vague idea. He's flesh and nerves and commitment, a bundle of curiosities and passions and preferences, some of which mirror my own and some of which feel completely foreign. We grew up in completely different environments, we share no common career arc or goal, but when I'm with him, he feels like a great big "of course." Of course it's you.

And it's those "of course" moments that spring up in tiny, heart-seizing ways. Moments so small they're almost unmemorable, they fleet in and grab and then float away, in favor of finding directions to the restaurant or getting the potatoes out of the oven. They're looks, and hands on shoulders, and unloading the silverware (because he knows I hate unloading silverware), they're using "we" when referencing the future, they're the questions born of figuring out someone else's family, all the worry generated by wanting to make someone else smile, the promises of prayer before big meetings, the comfort of knowing the person next to you plans to be next to you forever.

They're moments too big and too small to perfectly articulate on a list. But I will continue to try because it seems important to give the tiny moments their due. The grand gestures, first "I love you"s, and adventures get all the glory.  They're easier to document, proof that you laughed at this restaurant or explored a city, posted on any number of social media platforms. But it's the uncaptured moments that write the story, that give color and definition to the "of course" beside me.

Admitting love is a scary thing. Lovely, but unsettling, risky. I've written this post in my head a few times and have avoided publishing it because it feels very much like a tattoo of a lover's name on your arm. Like you're tempting the gods if you express love too vehemently, too sure, you're invariably going to have to cover up that tattoo eventually with a pretty flower. But "of course" has made me brave and thankfulness has helped me rest in the moment. Being courageous in the moment gets easier with practice, easier with company. And I've always loved tattoos.

:)








Sunday, April 09, 2017

Mamaw



 When I was in elementary school we did not have a digital thermometer.  Glass thermometers full of mercury are a relic these days but they provided those of us in our mid-30s and above with the perfect tool for skipping school.  I'd feign some vague pains, mom would bring me the thermometer, and when she left the room I'd press the tip against the light bulb for a few seconds and then shake the scary 105 temp down to a reasonable 100 or so.

At the time, mom and dad both worked.  So being sick meant a trip to Mamaw and Papaw, which was really 90% of the reason for my sick day effort. Being sick in their home meant a cozy snuggle on the basement couch with cinnamon toast on command and an orange juice far superior in quality to whatever my mom bought. Being a doctor, Papaw was a bit wiser to my game than Mamaw, I think.  But he never gave me away. I was the first grandchild and I'm sure as a general rule I got away with a few ploys that the later generations did not. I'll get wrinkles first, so I feel like this is a fair trade. 

Sometimes I wasn't faking.  I spent a week at Mamaw and Papaw's when I had the chicken pox. I was an itchy, ornery mess but there was something magical about that cinnamon toast, something medicinal in the bright yellow of that smiley face cup. The wet washcloths on my forehead were cooler in that basement, the pillows softer. And a sick nerd loves nothing better than a pile of National Geographic and Encyclopedia Brittanica. 

My years of sick days with my grandparents were limited, something I can't blame on digital thermometers but must blame on distance when we moved away. While I spent less time convalescing on that basement couch, the years of Mamaw's cool, loving touch and soft kiss on my cheek continued for a total of 36 lucky years, through Papaw's death, the birth of additional grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a dear second grandfather in Onis, multiple moves and adventures, and an impressive number of hurricane evacuations on my part. 

I am the eldest of thirteen grandchildren and the span of years and distance between us has meant that while we've always prayed for and loved one another, we haven't always known each other incredibly well. But we all loved and were loved by Mamaw. We've all felt her hands on our back, we've all shared a Dove chocolate with her, felt her softest of kisses as we said goodbye. We've laughed with her, prayed with her, and heard her "I love you," complimented her lipstick or her scarf, drawn her a million pictures and sent her postcards from faraway lands, and in loving and knowing her, we've loved and known each other a little better. 

Families are full of so many different dreams and personalities and hills and valleys, it's easy to see how the connections of childhood can fade with the addition of years and new families, a new generation. But that's what makes that communal experience of a grandmother's love that much more precious and powerful. Because as the years go on, remembering what it felt like to set the table for Thanksgiving, to go to church together, to smell the cinnamon toast in the toaster oven, to pretend and climb mountains, to dig through drawers for old love letters, to marvel at faded pictures of our parents as children, to tell Mamaw what you wanted to be when you grew up, and listen as your cousin answered the same question, those are memories imprinted on our bones. They're the guts of what it means to be loved, to be a family that loves well, a family that looks heavenward and gives thanks when Mamaw goes Home.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

We Drew a Map of the World


I cannot read maps. I get lost in malls. I suffer almost-panic when I'm called upon in the passenger seat to be the navigator. There is a disconnect in my brain between the world I see in front of me and the flat, impersonal scratches one sees in an atlas or by way of dear, helpful Google Maps. I've always preferred directions in written form.  Turn left at the stop sign. Turn right when you take the exit. If you feel the need to draw a picture, you can assume I'll be late.

A common first project for Peace Corps volunteers, especially for those tasked with teaching, is the world map. You have a grid to work from and together with your students, their parents, any number of curious on-lookers, you slowly begin to sketch the world. In training, I was skeptical of my ability to spearhead anything resembling a map. And while I had a shiny new bachelor's degree, I worried I'd confuse the country names in some disastrous, offensive way. But I needed a project.  I needed a way to get messy with my students, connect with the boys in a silly way, and carve out time with my shyest girls, as we wondered how cold Antarctica must be.

This experience strikes me now with a rib-crunching blow. These were students whose families loved me when I was all alone in a country very different from my own. They always knew I was a Christian.  They knew I covered my hair out of respect, not out of any deep understanding of their religion. They knew I fasted for Ramadan out of curiosity, not devotion. They took care of me because of their innate goodness, the joy that permeated their homes, the warmth that made them quick to give and quick to smile, and their faith, which taught them to love and show kindness to strangers. This is what I know of Islam. This is what I know to be true.

When I think of Islam, I think of paint.  I think of a wall in a rundown youth center that slowly resembled the world. I think of tea and laughter. I think of friends who walked me home after a long day. I think of warm bread, mint, cumin, and heaps of golden couscous on Fridays. I think of cool hands on my hot forehead, when I was too sick to get out of bed. I think of babies held and kisses on cheeks and the gut-deep chuckle of old men. And I think of goodbyes.

The recent executive action against refugees, against Muslims, against immigrants in total, has me thinking of that map. How arbitrary those lines seemed once we sketched them on the wall. Some I knew to trace the line of a river, of a mountain range, some soft demarcation made by God. But most I knew to be the creation of men. As if the line built a home, built a place worth living, built space with some superior context. The lines felt unnecessarily powerful, and so unfair.

To see my country, my combination of lines, deepen those divides, draw them with such hatred, wrap them in religious and cultural superiority and call them "security," only strengthens the feeling I had 15 years ago that the lines must be among the darkest of God's heartbreaks. The God I believe in loves without any care of the lines we're born between. God drew the world, drew the color, drew the mountains and rivers full of life, drew the perfection of Eden and the wood of the cross, drew the people that would wander every inch of creation, drew faces of every shade, voices of every pitch, bodies of every strength, minds of every depth, drew love. We drew the map.













Monday, November 14, 2016

America

A little over a week ago I ran the New York City Marathon.  That's me in the blue shirt and strawberry blonde ponytail. The day was gorgeous, the experience perfect. In the week since I've had my share of exasperated conversations, texted with many bewildered loved ones, and bitten my tongue frequently. I know every election is difficult and polarizing.  I know that my beliefs differ from many people that I care for and admire. And I know that I care for and admire many people whose political views would offend my more conservative/liberal friends. The disdain and misinformation would go both ways, cut equally deep.

I count myself lucky.  Because the vast majority of folks feeling exhausted or scared or exasperated by this election did not have the opportunity to run or witness the NYC Marathon. It's probably a privileged and naive perspective, but I do not believe you can feel hopeless after witnessing or being a part of such a thing. Before the race I chatted with a dozen different folks, over half of which did not share my uber-Irish skin tone. As I waited at the start line, I got turned around and couldn't figure out where the water station was located. I asked the nearest volunteer and she replied, with a big smile and an accent that could have been Mexican (or any other accent that a non-Spanish speaking American would assume was a Mexican accent), "oh here, just take my water bottle, good luck" and she thrust it into my hand before jogging off to help another runner. As we waited for our wave to be called, I chatted on the grass with a young, black woman who was running NYC as her first marathon. I never caught her name. But I know that she is as emotionally attached to her Sauconys as I am to my Asics. I gave her one of my packs of gummy chews because I accidentally bought a lemon-lime flavor that she liked and I loathed. I hope she finished happy.

My name was written on my shirt and as I ran I heard my name yelled in multiple accents, some I could place and some I could not. Hearing shouts of encouragement from strangers is always helpful. But hearing my name shouted by folks who placed the emphasis in a quirky place or used a short "a" instead of a long struck me as infinitely more powerful. If Heaven is an actual, physical place, I believe it to be full of strangers who warmly welcome you in hundreds of accents.

I do not discount the distress many feel due to the election. I do not discount the distress that lead many to vote for someone I believe does not have their interests at heart. Fear is a mighty, often irrational thing and it has the ability to steer us both away from and towards violence, destruction, apathy. So I do not want my optimism to come across as ignorant or flippant. I only know that my experience two days before the election made me hopeful, and I have tried to remind myself of that feeling in the days that have followed.

Sometimes we are runners, and sometimes we are on the sidelines.  Sometimes we speak in a language that is immediately understood, and sometimes our perspective is accented, easily confused for threat or ignorance. Sometimes we experience danger, and sometimes we struggle to believe danger exists. I am as much at fault for my personal bubble and bias as those who voted differently from me. But I have heard my name spoken with joy and encouragement in accents far flung from my Southern and Midwestern roots and I am hopeful America will continue to be a place where we can fling encouragement as emphatically as insults. I have hope that the words we choose and the actions they underscore will strengthen our bonds more frequently than break them.  And I have hope that we are early in this race.  Early and pacing strong.









Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Godmother

I became godmother to Ava Ruth, my newest niece, a little over a week ago.  Baptists don't know much about godmothers so I will admit that my picture of such things was colored as much by Cinderella as it was by any understanding of the religious significance.

I am low on fairy dust, Ava Ru. I never had a godmother, so forgive me if I'm clumsy.

The night before I flew down to see you, I read the following in a book I'm reading (The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything): "Seek grace in the smallest things, and you will also find grace to accomplish, to believe in, and to hope for the greatest things." It's a quote attributed to one of the first Jesuits. But it reminded me of a scratchy poem I wrote the first time I held you a few months ago.  We met on the family mountain, you'll grow up there, in pieces, and now seems as good a time as any to write it down.

Someday, when she is young but feeling old, I will tell her
I came to this mountain, our family mountain, laid her on my lap to look deep into her eyes, asked her for advice.
And I felt every itch and sway of my life in the pool of time,
wrapped in arms that carried me as a child.
I will tell her that I can wish no greater wish for her,
that when she lives in the curve of a question mark, she be steadied and windblown by
this blood,
that her fear be lessened by the gut deep din of these trees, these rocking chairs,
and that in her confusion
she find the flicker of a grill's hot coal, the warm weight of a baby,
a wink from God.
My blood is her blood
and these mountains know both of us.
We are mountains, both of us.

You're a gift, Ava Ru.  You are too young to express love, to provide encouragement, to lend a hand with the cooking. But you were everything I needed that day on the mountain. In a small, happy moment when you squirmed against my chest, threw up on my shoulder, your face was how God communicated grace to me. God is good, little love, and enormous. He is the mountain beneath us and the familiar creak of stairs and the blanket we reach for when the wind picks up. You can find him everywhere and you are loved, everywhere. As your godmother, I will do my best to show you how very big and very present he is, and I have no doubt you'll do the same for me.

"Seek grace in the smallest things, and you will also find grace to accomplish, to believe in, and to hope for the greatest things."








Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I Am A Woman Who Has Not Been Raped

I am a woman who has not been raped.

I am a woman who:

  • walks to her car at night with her keys in the ready position (go for the eyes, they say) 
  • checks beneath the car from a distance to make sure nobody is hiding underneath (they stab your ankles and throw you in the backseat)
  • takes a look in the backseat before getting into the car
  • runs a different route every damn day, not because she wants to, but because potential attackers could learn a habitual route
  • had her bra unhooked by a jerk (still don't know who) in the crowded hall of her junior high
  • has her ass slapped or grabbed by strangers at concert venues often enough to have lost count
  • had a man grab her between her legs on a crowded street, and when she turned around, saw him wink at her, laughing and high fiving friends
  • has accepted that some colleagues in her career will always look at her chest before her eyes, thems the breaks
  • has been followed by a man on a dark, empty street long enough to cause her to start running
  • texts friends before first dates with the location and fella's name, not because she's excited, but because someone should be aware "just in case"
  • walks with confidence until the catcall comes, then her heart folds inwards
  • was assaulted more than a decade ago and still she worries that it was her fault
  • loves five dear women who have been raped 
I am a woman who has not been raped.  But sexual assault is a wound. Even on the days when living in the world as a woman feels like a gift, even on those days I walk to my car aware and ready for the pounce. It is a life lived on alert, and I am not special.  I am not unique in my anxiety on these points. These are the cuts, large and small, that bleed and scab over and leave a scar. 

I've never considered myself to be a particularly vocal feminist. Equal? Of course. But let them figure that out in their own time. I'll study hard, be a good lawyer, ignore the sexist slights along the way. But "locker room talk" isn't just sexist machismo. It trivializes every unwanted touch, every terrified moment, every rushed start of the engine because that man kept following you. It lessens the import of those slices of my life that I lost to fear, harassment, embarrassment. 

Women don't bring these things up often to the men in their lives.  We don't tell fathers or friends or brothers or husbands or boyfriends about the catcalls or the leers.  In part, it's because those occurrences aren't uncommon. But mostly, I think we often don't bring it up because we fear it makes us appear weak. We worry that a reckoning of the wounds will cause others to think of us as broken, overly sensitive, damaged. But the men we love should know, because the men we love know men who may have grabbed a woman in a bar, on a street, told her to "shake it" as she walked to work. 

The men I love should know that I am a woman that has not been raped.  And it was luck. 







Monday, May 30, 2016

Enjoying the Passage of Time

I spent the Memorial Day weekend on a road trip with my dog, a trip I'd had planned for a good while but wavered on committing to.  I made the first reservation late last fall, inspired in part by my 35th birthday.  It was an age I expected to feel momentous, maybe depressing, and instead it felt like wings. "I want to see the Badlands," I thought to myself. And thought almost immediately became action.  My little buddy of a dog just lucked out in being along for the ride.

I wavered on committing to this trip because for a period of time I thought perhaps I'd go with someone else, a boyfriend who is no longer a boyfriend. 35 year olds shouldn't have boyfriends, such a juvenile descriptor.  But guy-I'm-seeing-and-making-dinner-for-and-talking-about-important-forever-things-with is pretty clunky. It was an important relationship and for a little while, I hoped maybe I'd have someone (with two legs) beside me when I looked up at Mount Rushmore for the first time. So when that relationship ended several weeks ago, my feelings about the trip were muddled, confused. Would it feel sad? Would I be lonely? Would it feel like a trip he was supposed to be on?

The trip wasn't a life-changing, emotionally cataclysmic experience.  I always expect explosions when reality is so much quieter, more Roman candle-esque. The drive from Minneapolis to Rapid City, where I stayed, is dull as dirt for the first 6 hours.  No rolling hills, just flat, unending grassland and farm country. My dog largely slept, her head resting on my thigh from time to time. I listened to music, to podcasts, to nothing.  I talked to myself, to my dog, to everyone who'd ever wronged me, to everyone I felt the urge to apologize to.  But those conversations were short-lived and easily dismissed by a stop at a gas station, a new bag of beef jerky. I smiled at memories, cracked the window when my dog farted, and thanked God for cruise control.

I had two full days to explore and I wandered the Badlands (pictured), Black Hills, and many of their famous sites in a busy 48 hours. I was never unhappy to be alone, never embarrassed to say, "table for one," when I stopped at a restaurant. Cell reception was spotty and while occasional wi-fi allowed for photo uploads, texting with friends was largely impossible. My connection to home felt loosely tied.

I keep a list on my phone of things I'm thankful for, my running tally of gratitude. I added several things/moments over the course of the trip, little blessings and larger Roman candle bursts of emotion. I was thankful for sunshine on my shoulders, shade, the squish of mud, cheap wine, the opportunity to climb high enough to be just a little bit scared. I won't say that I never thought of being there with someone. We're relational creatures, bonds and shared experiences are gifts.  But I never wished for a shared experience instead of my solo adventure. If given the option for this trip, I'd choose solitude every time.

On the drive home I listened to a podcast, You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes, and for this episode the comedian was joined by Jimmy Kimmel. It was largely silly, a good way to pass a couple hours, listening to each of them talk about their early years, the difficulty of late night television, the pleasure and guilt associated with fortune. Near the end of the podcast Pete asked Jimmy about the meaning of life, and Jimmy referenced the James Taylor song as being the closest approximation of an answer. In the song James Taylor says that the meaning of life is "enjoying the passage of time," and in that moment I felt that was 100% accurate. Yes, there are greater, deeper meanings, love, connection, finding peace, embracing faith, seeking God.  But in all those things is also a recognition that time, for us, is finite. The minor mountain scrambles, the cool poke of a dog's nose on your hand, the juice of a peach you have to eat over the sink, the silence you find only in wilderness, enjoying those moments and the passing of them can be meaning, too. And that enjoyment is so personal, so intimately gifted by our Creator, that's what struck me on the drive home. Standing in the Badlands, sunshine beating on my shoulders, scraping my knee on one more tiny climb, I'd never be able to communicate what that felt like for me to anyone else. And for this weekend, I didn't need to try. Just feeling it was enough. Being me in that moment was enough.