Sunday, June 10, 2018

Next

There is no bravery in a love that knows what's next
How easy it would be to love
to linger
if we knew the bend and flex
of life's course

The prettiest of loves would crumble beside a hospital bed
had it not the courage of leaping
tear-stained and hopeful
from cozy field of flowers into the dark red
bloom of each delicate human pulse

The guts are never wrung for mere affection
No God-blessed desire checks its watch
counts the minutes
anticipates the reaction
with the comfort of a fortune teller

Love never knows how love will deepen
how easy it would be to love
to linger
if the depth of it did not so often cause the weeping
of tired eyes

Before we walked, love walked before us
wept in our footsteps
and promised us nothing but itself,
no plan, no fortune, but victorious
what is next

Dedicated to a dear friend who is spending time nursing her sister in the hospital. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

All the Things You Were Born to Be


My best friend, Megan, got engaged a week before my wedding. We've walked (trudged on occasion) the road of singleness together so to be able to share the joy of this season with her has been one of life's perfect gifts. As she plans and stresses and daydreams about her wedding, I'm happily on the other side of that Great Big Day, happily cheering her on with the hindsight of someone who is still waiting for her wedding photos to be edited.

On a recent phone call we were talking about houses.  She owns a small home about the same size as mine. It's not an absurdly small home, we've both been lucky in finding homes that fit our lives and budgets.  But they are each a wee bit on the tiny side for incorporating another human.  Another grown human.  With clothes. There are things to be thrown away. Things to be boxed and stored. Things to be stared at and then shoved under a bed.

For me, there was a terror and a joy in all that sorting and boxing and shuffling. Joy in knowing what I was making room for, a life together, my love. And terror in that it felt like the story I'd thus far written of myself had to be redrafted. It wasn't just the physical stuff I needed to get rid of, not just the books (so many books) and clothes and nobody-needs-this-many-pairs-of-shoes. It felt like I needed to discard some portions of myself, too, or if not discard, at least tuck them somewhere else so they wouldn't get in the way.  This love, this promise, this idea that for so long felt like it wasn't for me was suddenly (it seemed) holding my hand and vowing to love me forever.  And my concern was that I didn't quite have my shit together for that kind of thing. Still a bit of tidying up to do, babe, give me a second while I shove a few things under the bed...

When we got home after the wedding and began unwrapping presents, sorting clothes, digging up stones in the backyard, the home that felt impossibly small suddenly felt right-sized. All the shuffling and sorting and worrying about shuffling and sorting felt silly. Tidying up, literally and figuratively, had been lost in the hubbub of wedding planning, and that is as it should be. The little house, very clearly, was the perfect place to begin. Likewise, we were at the perfect place to begin. 37. 42. It's the perfect place, tidy or not.

I only know a month's worth of marriage. But a month's worth has provided one particular insight I wish I'd recognized as a singleton. You will never know all the things you were born to be. We're not promised loving parents, siblings, romantic love, adventure, travel, marriage, parenthood, career fulfillment, friendship. If we're lucky, we find ourselves as the recipient of some or all of those gifts in bits and pieces, an accumulation of heartaches and surprises and boredom and exuberant joys. And it is so easy to feel like Life only has enough room for so much Life. We try our best to shift and store and box away all of the things we feel need to be managed in order to ready ourselves for what comes next, but What Comes Next is so often perfectly sized for the life we already have. Because the heart stretches. Life expands. There is no "getting ready" for this kind of love.

We were born ready. And we will learn what else we were born to be, together.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

My Name


I'm ten days away from changing my last name.  I've jokingly stated for years (decades) that I couldn't wait to get rid of the "Welch" moniker, not because of any distaste for my family, but due solely to the incessant reference to a certain movie star.  Raquel Welch has followed me around for as long as I can remember, though I don't recall it being a recurring joke until I had a driver's license.  When folks meet you as Rachel, without knowing the last name, they think less of the last name upon hearing it. They recognize the difference in the names, and only note the similarity to that gorgeous, auburn-haired bombshell in passing. It's different when strangers see the name on an ID, they immediately leap to the star, give me a wink and remind me that there are worse ladies with whom to share a name. 


After 37 years I'm pretty used to the joke, pretty used to throwing out the smile, pretty used to the irony of being compared to a movie star when I'm showing my ID at Walgreens so I can buy Sudafed for the head cold from hell. Sure, lady, movie star. That's me.  Please hand over the drugs.

Perhaps for this reason, I've never felt enormously attached to my name.  And as an English major and avid reader, I found myself frequently daydreaming of other names.  In my head I was frequently Anne, Charlotte, Eleanor. I would not go so far as to say I hated my name, but I never felt Rachel was a particularly beautiful name.  It sounded harsh in the ears, a bit like a sneeze, especially coupled with the double "ch" provided by my last name. So I enjoyed nicknames, loved acquiring the "Rae" nickname in Peace Corps, reveled in the brevity of that, the beauty of a being a ray of something. Sunshine maybe. Laser beams.

As is likely typical in any relationship with a foreign-born mate, Chester receives a lot of questions from me about how to say certain words.  My Portuguese is non-existent except for some terms of endearment, niceties. But one of the first words he said to me in Portuguese was my name.  Ha'kiel. The "R" is an "H" sound in Portuguese, so the roll of my name was replaced with something softer, breathier. It's the pronunciation I've loved most.

It did not dawn on me until we were in Brazil that "Ha'kiel" was not the pronunciation of Rachel but of Raquel. The story of Rachel and Jacob in the Bible is the story of Raquel and Jaco in Portuguese. The name I'd been avoiding for 37 years was, in a matter of months and with the pronunciation of one man, the name I loved best.

I don't fault my parents for the jokes.  In their minds, they named me Rachel. Named me for a story in the Bible. Named me something familiar and strong. And I'll always be a Welch, even if I file some papers stating I prefer a move up the alphabet. But it's not the change to my last name that feels monumental, in these days before we say our vows.

Beauty is an ephemeral thing, hard to grasp, slippery, but powerful in its sparkle. Love makes beauty feel a bit more dense, something you can hold in your arms, and for me Love made my name beautiful.  It made it a name I love.  It's a simple, small thing, maybe, to hear your name in a new way.  But it seems precious, too.  It will take time to get used to a new last name.  I'll scribble the wrong signature for months, I'm sure. But Raquel already feels mine, the name I was born to share with a movie star.

Image result for Raquel Welch





Monday, February 12, 2018

A Day Like Sunday

Sometimes a day feels impossibly heavy, like the heft of it might crush your next inhale. I woke up to a call on Sunday that my grandmother, my last grandparent to share the Earth with, had passed away. I cried for as long as time allowed as friends were hosting a sweet bridal brunch and puffy eyes are not how I choose to present myself to the world.

As my fiance drove me to the party, I looked at my eyes again in the side view mirror, checking for errant mascara smears, and remembered my 13 year old self, armed with my triplet of green eyeshadows, painting Grandmother's eyelids some summer. She liked the way I put the darker color in the crease, she said, and how the green looked with my eyes. They're her eyes, really, and I think that was the first moment I wondered if I'd look like her someday. Over the last decades I've seen hints of lines on my face that whisper at the depth of the ones she carried. And that deep left crease between the nose and mouth when we smile always reminded me that she is rooted in me, as powerful a marker as the mountain she drew us all to every summer.

The day passed slowly, with laughter and joy sipping mimosas among loving friends (not lost on me that Grandmother would not approve of that form of self-soothing) and with tenderness as Dad and I practiced our father-daughter dance, debated the merits of my song options. It struck me throughout the day, sometimes like a feather grazing against my arm, sometimes like a knife below my ear, that she wasn't here anymore. I wouldn't get to tell her the song we chose. I wouldn't get to tell her about the delicious cake at my shower, the sweet friends who made bacon and biscuits to celebrate with me. I wouldn't get to tell her that I wore a new dress that day, that there were stars on it, and the snow was finally packed down enough to make heeled boots less treacherous. These were all the things I'd share with her on our next call, all the things I'd mention as I shared my life with her from 800 miles away.

We'd spoken last a few days before, chatting about my wedding, discussing my plan to shorten her bridal gloves so that I could wear them with my dress. We talked a bit about the milk glass she'd sent for Christmas, how pretty it would be as a candy dish. I've never in life had a candy dish but she's right, it's perfect for a pile of sweets. We laughed about her getting straight As in physical therapy. We were kindred achievers, straight As were important.

I knew my brother headed to church with his family on Sunday, knew my sister had to teach yoga at noon that day.  I wondered how Katie, my cousin, would fill her day, how the hours would pass for her, the fourth of our small but mighty pack of grandchildren. And I wondered if they each felt the loss as I did, in jolts of memory, or if they settled into it better, felt the loss unfold like a blanket.

She was the eldest of her siblings and I am the first born of her first born. I always felt a certain kinship (and friction) there, the shared independence providing an easy bond and an easy cause for heated discussion. She was not meek, but she was generous and joyful even when life was harsh.  She was a doer, an achiever, an accomplisher of tasks great and small. I think we recognized that trait in one another often, both able to rattle off what we’d done and what we planned to do, a momentum couched in faith as much as birth order. And as the litany of things I'd never share with her piled up, it was that mixture of strength and DOING and joy that underscored the loss. Everyone needs a pair of blue eyes like hers, looking into you, reminding you of what you're capable of doing and the joys you're capable of experiencing. I needed those reminders often, whispers of that toughness, fortitude when life felt exhausting. She was so sure of herself, her place in the world, her place before God, and I envied that assurance. I will always envy it. And I will always be thankful that for 37 years I had her blue eyes looking into mine, her left smile crease mirroring my own, her strength providing all the guidance a girl could need for the burdens and joys of a day like Sunday.


Saturday, January 06, 2018

Brazil

Whenever I'm in the midst of an intense experience, I always wonder what it is that I'll need to write about.  Most of my writing is reflective, a way to process the world and the people around me, my method to life's large and small madness. This year I've also gotten into the habit of writing more with pen and paper, started in January with the purchase of a perfectly pocket-sized notebook during a rainy day in New Orleans, and more recently due to a beautiful leather journal given to me by my fiance.  Paper is a bit more private and a bit more precious.

But sometimes my thoughts are broader than the poems and missives I jot in notebooks. Paragraphs are usually better suited for a keyboard.  The trouble with that is that I sit, well over 24 hours now back in the US after my latest adventure, and the moments of "I must write about this" blur in my mind. But I must give a few their due, so I'll begin...

Only a Year?
I sat on a plane to Brazil with my fiance five days after the one year anniversary of our first date. I've never been one to support the idea of proper romantic chronology (date for X amount before you're exclusive, be exclusive for X amount before you get serious, be together X amount before you get engaged, etc.).  I credit that flippancy with my mom's early marriage.  She married at 19 and I think it's natural for girls to imagine their lives as a kind of mirror or vague approximation of the timeline of their mothers.  Hitting 22, 27 (not to mention higher numbers) with no marriage on the horizon, it became clear to me that the timing that shaped my mother's life would not be the same for me.  There's a freedom in that, and a terror.  But it's the freedom I felt most strongly.

All that flippancy as to proper dating timelines aside, sitting next to a fiance on a trip out of the country with members of his family was not what I would have anticipated of my life a year ago. Surely that's a speedy leap. Not only do I feel overwhelmed by the love that has come to me, I'm overwhelmed at how easy it is to be taken care of, how natural it feels to want to take care of someone else. I always imagined it to be impossibly difficult, that level of care, but it seems to have bubbled up naturally alongside the love. To not only feel and want to give that care but to receive it, feels genuinely holy.

These Rocks Remind Me of Those Rocks
Walking on the rocks at one of the beaches we visited in Buzios, I was reminded by the rocks I piled on top of each other when I hiked the glacier trail in Zermatt, Switzerland.  In one location I was slathered in sunscreen and walking barefoot in a swimsuit on a crowded beach, and in the other I was bundled up and felt like I could hear my own heartbeat in the silence and solitude around me. But my brain still connected the two, saw the rocks, their shape and color, the tumble of little stones along the coast, and recalled the similar shapes on that hike and the peace I felt in laying on the cold ground in those mountains, stacking stones while I muttered prayers.

But it wasn't that connection that made the real impression.  What halted my step for a moment was the fact that I connected them at all.  To be walking in Brazil and be reminded of Switzerland, what kind of glorious existence have I been blessed with? To have both images alive in my experience, to hold both close enough to want to fit them into the puzzle of rocky landscapes of my life, it just makes me so overwhelmed with gratitude.

Home is Everything
In the middle of our trip we made our way to Campo Mourao, the small city where my fiance was born and raised. Specifically, he grew up on a small campus for training seminarians and providing orphanage care. We spent time at his childhood home and I could picture him running from one building to the next, picture the red dirt caked on his knees.  I saw him hug and laugh and tell stories with men and women who'd known him since childhood, people who'd known and loved his family, people who recognized the ring on my finger was worn by his mother. It was a home clearly steeped in love and devotion and he relaxed there in a way you can only relax in surroundings you fully understand and embrace.  And it struck me that that's one of the things any marriage would want to construct, a home that allows two people of vastly different backgrounds and experiences to relax, enjoy, embrace, and be comforted. A tiny portion of the world within which you can each be seen and heard and cherished, even if the heater is making noise or the laundry has piled up. Seems like a tricky thing, home-making. Tricky and exciting.

And finally...

No Wondering This Time
On every adventure since my first trip abroad to Russia at 14, I've wondered the same thing.  Is this the first and last time I ever see this place? Will I ever return? Is this moment once in a lifetime?  When I studied in England in college, my dad said something on the phone that always stuck with me.  I was (very dramatically) begging for money to travel to Ireland with classmates over a weekend and I used the phrase "once in a lifetime" probably a bit too heavily to the parents that were generously paying for me to study abroad in the first place.  My dad responded to my "once in a lifetime" plea with a short, "that's your choice." He went on to say something along the lines of it being my decision whether or not something would be a once in a lifetime experience, at least when it comes to travel.  If I wanted to go to Ireland someday, I would go (on my own dime). I know I must have been upset with that answer but it was actually very sound advice and a good reminder that while there are some experiences that may truly be of the once in a lifetime variety, many are not.  They are only "once" because we choose to make them so. We have the power to determine whether we want to experience something, whether it's worth our effort and investment. Life doesn't just happen to you.  You build it yourself. [Side note: I did go to Ireland, this year! On my own dime and with my own dear friend, Sandy, beside me. So Dad was clearly right.]

But that's a bit of a burden, too.  To know that I will choose to not return to places I've loved in favor of new adventures is a bit sad.  So that's what made the wondering so much more fun this time around.  Brazil (Brasil, for Chester) will be a part of my life for all my life, because it is home to my future husband.  We won't be able to go back every year but we have every hope of going back every few years to see friends and do more exploring.  We'll see places Chester has never seen, we'll fly to Argentina and Chile to get more stamps in our passport and finally spend time in Patagonia.  We'll likely stand in the same place at Iguacu Falls and take pictures again someday (see picture), soaked again by that massive storm of water. And that shifting of wonder, to a when, as opposed to an if, feels like a great gift.

And that's the sum of every thought about this trip, really.  It all feels like too great an experience to boil down into paragraphs here and into poems scratched in journals at the beach. It all feels like a gift, laden with farofa and sweat and bug spray and bad plumbing and grilled meat and mud and laughter and new freckles and love.


Thursday, November 09, 2017

Counting Down

Over the weekend we celebrated our engagement with family and friends, successfully introducing the bridal party for the first time. My uncle surprised me in his characteristic Uncle Buck way, flying in for 24 hours to raise a glass to the pending nuptials.  It was a weekend full of family, hugs, love, surprises, bridesmaid dresses, and daydreams about how I should wear my hair with my mother's veil.

Counting down is equal parts intimidating and exciting. As a planner, I can feel the to-dos whispering with every day discarded. But I also have an overwhelming sense of "oh, hurry up, already" at times. Let's get crackin' on the rest of our lives! I don't care about flatware!

Counting down felt a bit holier when surrounded by family and the dearest of friends. It wasn't just a list of boxes to check, it was a taste of what that day will be, how it will feel.  Ches was largely in the kitchen, laughing and making sure our guests were well-hydrated. I floated in the living room and kitchen, catching up with friends I hadn't seen in awhile, introducing Little Debbie to her future in-laws. Occasionally Ches and I would stand still long enough to make introductions, tell a story, tease each other a bit, and then we'd each float back to our people.  I laughed a lot, and I heard Ches laughing, too.

These are some of the people that made him the man I love. And vice versa.

It's a count down to a life that involves them all. Some will be at the wedding, some will not. Some will come over for dinner often, others we'll see sporadically. We'll celebrate birthdays together, other weddings. We'll hold each others hands at funerals, loan each other sunglasses on vacation. We'll set some up on blind dates, we'll ask others for a lift when the car is in the shop. We're counting down to each being more than an introduction.  They'll belong to each of us, in some way.  And all of those little connections amaze me.  Those ties can feel tenuous, but in other moments they feel like some kind of cosmic glue, binding us to the people who teach us how to love and be loved.

Love feels a bit like gravity, a bit like standing on a cliff and hoping for flight, like a soap bubble and a rainbow and a bowl of soup, like a hammer, like a nail, like a law and a theory all rolled into one. I learned love from my people, those in the room on Saturday and those in my heart. I learned love in the reach of their arms and the depth of their laughter, in the fervency of their prayer. And I feel every definition of that love, counting down.


Friday, October 06, 2017

Couches

When I bought my house three years ago I was immediately overwhelmed by the space.  After six years in a 500 square foot apartment, my home's indulgent 890 square feet felt palatial.  I needed furniture and I acquired it in bits and pieces.  Some I ordered off various low cost websites (the twin bed I built from such a delivery has an unfortunate habit of falling apart if you're too violent a sleeper) and other pieces I grabbed at Target.

But I wanted a "grown up" couch. I wanted it to be new and perfect. I'm also fairly frugal so I opted for the Room and Board Outlet and left after my first trip with a receipt for a small grey canvas couch and a pale blue velvet swivel chair.  I was proud, happy, and impressed with the enthusiasm I could muster for decorating and getting things in order.

The couch has served me well.  It's the perfect snuggling size with my pup and it has been my landing spot after breakups, long runs, long days, and marathon viewings of Parks and Rec. It is not, perhaps, the perfect size for me, my pup, and my 6' hubby-to-be.  And so last weekend we went furniture shopping together.

Wedding planning is a weird thing.  In many ways it just feels like I'm planning the biggest party of my life. It's amorphous and fuzzy when I visualize it and only over time does it start to take shape. I waffle on colors and dress styles and hair options and whether or not I want the groom in a tux. And because my fiance is the Type B to my Type A, a lot of that waffling is met with a smile and a hug.  As long as he gets to marry me, Chester seems content with all options. The marriage is more important to me than the wedding, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't care about the details.

House planning makes marriage feel more real to me.  Perhaps it's because we both know the wedding is one day and that it will come and go quickly.  Discussing how we'll update my home to make it our home feels heavier, more laden with understanding that there will come a time when he doesn't leave. Someday he'll live here and this space will be his.  And we need a couch that makes room for him, for us.

And this is the part of planning I truly love.  Wedding planning is an exercise in addressing multiple inputs. You want your guests to feel welcome, you want to stay within a reasonable budget, you want your parents to be proud, you want your family to feel included, you want travelers to be happy they bought that plane ticket.  You review every detail with those desires in mind.

The wedding day belongs to many people. The couch only belongs to us. The house will be only ours. And because the "ours" is new to me, it feels precious. The decisions on leather vs canvas, grey vs. camel, are portentous. Holy.