The past ten days or so have been a total blur. I’m exhausted, elated, haven’t showered in three days, and for the life of me, can’t seem to remember what day it is and I’d have it no other way.
Something beautiful happened these holidays. Some of it, out of the ordinary. The rest of it, just simple moments treasured a little bit tighter and with a little more gratitude.
There was eating large handfuls of cookie dough, not worrying at all about the possibility of salmonella or the fact that we hadn’t eaten one vegetable that day.
There was a visit to The Peace House,where I was once again reminded that peace truly does exist in this world and all we need to do is create it.
There was the pilgrimage to my parents house via Route 1 in which I sang along with Cat Stevens to “Peace Train” at the top of my lungs while simultaneously taking pictures of open fields and farms with one hand while driving with the other.
I watched Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” Graceland documentary with my dad as we mused in gratitude at music’s ability to bring together two disparate cultures, calling attention to peace, friendship, and unity in the midst of apartheid’s evil. We sang along to the fast high-pitched choirs of The Gaza Sisters chanting, “I know what I know; I’ll sing what I said…”
I took long walks with old friends.
I talked on the phone for an hour with a dear friend about our goals for 2013 and dreamed something bigger.
I taught my 28 year old sister with Down Syndrome how to use a plunger after someone in the family—-no one will fess up as to who— clogged the toilet. “Smells like poop!” my sister observed. “Yes, but not for long!” I reminded, shoving the plunger deeper into the toilet.
I got yelled at by my dad and sister for still being asleep at 9:30 AM Christmas morning. When I didn’t then promptly rise out of bed one minute after the yelling ended, my sister came in my room, turned on all the lights and jumped on my bed. And I deserved it.
I signed up for my first half Ironman in Boulder, Colorado, August 4, 2013 and went on my first training run: a cold, slow, 2.5 miles spent envisioning months of grit-your-teeth workouts with surges of endorphins, reminding me I am alive and have breath and a body.
I asked my parents “inappropriate” questions during Christmas dinner. “What was sex ed like for you when you were in high school?” After some confused looks from my aunt and mom’s faces, I realize the more appropriate question would have been, “Did you have sex ed?” to which I would learn, “No.” My brother blurted out that the only thing he remembers from high school health class was that his health teacher showed “a 70 year old man’s dong” and was told that, “at this man’s age, his thing will still work. But hers— her’s won’t.” I haven’t heard my mom laugh that hard in years.
My family and I watched The Christmas Story on Broadway the next day, thanks to my dad. My sister ate a foot-long hot dog, to which a 10 year old girl wandering around the restaurant pointed, and exclaimed, “That’s a big hot dog!!”
I spoke out about my feelings of seeing skimpy Aerie model’s plastered on illuminated billboards in Times Square, posing in nothing but a bra and underwear and indignantly stated that this contributes to the continued portrayal of women in hyper-sexualized, objectified, imagery. I vowed to call it out when I see it and to not look the other way when the world represents my gender with stereotypes that do nothing but perpetuate the association of women as sexual objects instead of strong, competent people, imbued to make part of my life mission be to encourage women to celebrate the alternatives of these messages to discover the unlimited possibilities of who they can be with their lives, minds, and souls. (For more on this topic, see “Why it Matters Whether A Toy is Thin and Sexy or Not.”)
I sipped peppermint mocha with a mentor and walked away inspired, grateful, ready to make changes, and considered myself lucky to have such an influence in my life.
I biked down 34th St., Baltimore’s premier street for the best Christmas lights in town, with 500 people on bicycles during December’s Baltimore Bike Party. Stuck behind cars full of kids sticking their heads out windows, oooh-ing and aaaah-ing over Christmas lights, I sang along with some bikers who played “Tiny Dancer” from the back of their pimped-out bicycle. “Blue jean baby, LA lady…” we sang, gazing upward at white Christmas lights strung across the street, connecting neighbor to neighbor (and apparently biker to biker).
I went to the BBP’s dance party afterwards at the Pratt St. Ale House and made new friends. I celebrated a recent friend’s invitation to a “small group for people who are sick of small groups,” as she described a group of friends who are reading a Quaker book right now and finding ways to grow in their faith outside of organized religion. I almost got teary eyed. These are some of the very people I’ve been waiting to meet. I just didn’t know how to find them.
I ate lots of chocolate, especially at unusual times, like breakfast, without feeling one hint of guilt.
I had multiple sleepovers with soul-to-soul conversations, staying up entirely way too late every single night and I didn’t care.
I came up with three book ideas and glanced heaven-ward, asking God for just one to come out of my mind and onto matte paper.
I went on a New Year’s Eve late afternoon hike with my boyfriend and chiseled out pieces of ice encrusted on the water bank’s edges. We smashed them against the frozen stream, each time shouting out a regret of the past year or a promise to ourselves for the new year. “I’ll find a new job I love!” I exclaimed, smashing ice against ice. “This is for every time I people-pleased this year!” Smash. “This is for having a sense of humor next year!” It was free therapy, like whack-a-mole at the board walk, or popping mailing bubblewrap, only slightly more aggressive and freeing.
We said, “Why not?” to stopping by a small group of people gathered in front of the War Memorial on our way home. We dashed to the steps, where about 25 people gathered for an inter-faith prayer vigil to honor the lives of the city’s 216 homicide victims this year. Muslim and Christian pastors offered prayers and together, reading aloud the names and ages of each victim. The names of several one-month-olds were called and each time this happened, the woman next to me and I both gasped. We put our arms around each other tightly for the remainder of the vigil while tears rolled down my cheeks and snot dripped onto my scarf from my frozen nose. When the names were finished being read, tealight candles forming the number “216” were lit and Brian and I thanked the people who spoke, especially Michael, the Muslim man who used his words to express the need for people of differing faiths to come together in the name of peace and our God of Love to work together to end violence. He gave me his email address. Looking Brian and I in the eye, he sincerely invited us to sit down over coffee. I can’t wait to email him and get to know someone who worships Allah, the same God, I believe, that I worship, just with a different name. We walked back to the car, moved, calmed, and in awe of the beauty that still exists in the midst of darkness.
Moving into the latter part of the night, we gathered together eating meatballs and cookies and lots of guacamole around a table of six friends. My friend Rajni and I brought up the topic of our 2013 bucklist. “Bucketlist?” our friend Sam asked. “Yeah. It’s like a list of things that we want to do with our life, only we’re going to do them by December 31, 2013.” “But bucketlist implies you’re going to die at the end of the next year. Is that what you really want to call it?” “Ok, so not a bucketlist.” “An…. action list?” Yes. An action list. So we went around the table, each sharing tokens of our newly-created 2013 Action Lists. “Visit an Indian reservation,” Rajni shared. “Develop my sense of humor and stop taking life so seriously,” I offered. “Run a 3 hour marathon,” Sam declared. “Grow an urban vegetable garden,” Brian stated. We toasted to each of these dreams, played “2012” one last time while still in the same year, and left the house for New Year’s Eve fireworks at the harbor.
We ooh-ed and aaahh-ed over each burst and slow fizzle of dissipating firework in the cold nighttime sky, celebrating each and every one until the last firework of the grand finale. “Encore, encore!” We pleaded. Shrugging it off, we decided our night had only just begun. The six of us rolled, somersaulted, and crab-walked down Federal Hill Park until we were so dizzy that we fell down when we stood up. We walked along the harbor promenade and finished off a bottle of wine on the dock, deciding to send a message in the bottle off into the cold harbor waters. So we each wrote a token of kindness, like “live love,” and “This is your sign! Follow your dreams!” while singing The Police’s “Message in Bottle” and signed it: January 1st, 2013 Baltimore, MD and video-recorded the ceremonious toss of the bottle into the harbor. We walked away from the pier while one member of our group (I’ll protect their anonymity) peed on The Ritz Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton residences at the inner harbor are lavish condominium homes to the rich. Very rich. I applauded this person for his work, deeming it a big, “f*ck you” you to the rich. I realize we should love all people. I swear I try. But I just wonder where these people, with their Ferraris in the garage and high rise condo overlooking the harbor, were, when those 216 homicides took place this year and if they ever bothered to listen to the story of someone who knows the reality of life on the streets.
Proceeding onward, we walked right into the send-off a wedding. People in dresses and tuxes lined in a row with sparklers pointed in the air cheered on a bride and groom hopping into an old-school black carriage-like car. We stood near the line in our jeans and winter coats cheering on the bride and groom, as if we fit right in and had been at the wedding the whole time, whooping and hollering and celebrating along with a bunch of strangers at the dawn of a new year.
We meandered closer toward our destination, as if to hope that walking slower would make time slow down too, and stopped at the sand volleyball courts, where we made sand castles and wrote “love” in the sand with fingers in mittens. Sean, arguably the most social of the group, asked a guy dosing off in a parked truck to come out and take our picture. So we jumped in the air and the camera flashed and we said a big “thank you” and “happy new year” to a kind, tired stranger, desperately trying to prevent the final grains of sand from slipping to the bottom of this night’s hourglass.
As we headed back home, Brian hopped on my shoulders unexpectedly for a piggy back ride, and a group of young women cheered us on saying, “You go woman. I know, that’s right.” I couldn’t help but smile (and pray my knees would hold up just another block longer) and wish for the night to slow down. We spent the rest of our stroll linked arm-in-arm as a group, protesting adulthood, swearing it off entirely, proudly proclaiming we’ll live forever young. We wished every single passer-by on the street a “Happy New Year!” and it’s as though for one night, the entire world was civil and kind, like amiable old friends.
Rajni slept over and we stayed up chatting until sometime after 3:30 AM, excited about life, pondering adulthood, and how to live out our dreams and nullify normalcy and regularity, trading it in instead for life and vibrancy and contraire adventures. I climbed into bed and whispered into the atmosphere a “thank you” to God, bidding him/her goodnight, grateful for every stupid, beautiful, outrageously alive memory newly stamped in my mind and fell fast asleep.
I share these memories because I don’t want to forget them—the constant laughter, the friendship. I share them to etch every detail into a place I can come back to so that I can remind myself one day of what 25 felt like. I’m sure you have those memories too. Those times in life where you didn’t have a camera to capture every laugh, or a piece of paper to jot down every funny quote someone said that night, but still, you remember these moments. And I wonder what it would look like if we shared these memories to each other, to the world. And how much more beautiful this place would be. And how you would inspire me. And perhaps I would inspire you. And together, each human would inspire every other human. I wonder what would happen if instead of feeling pressure to adhere to societal definitions of “success,” we created our own anti-conformity and raised our hands in the air or sang or danced or cartwheeled or rolled down hills and rejected all that we’ve been taught for instead, what we feel, what makes us truly come alive, what makes us experience the beauty and wonder of life in all of its fullness. Because it’s possible. It’s happening already. We’ve only just begun.
Let’s see each other 12/31/13 and share deep belly laughs or shed a few bittersweet tears together as we talk about where this year has taken us and how we traded in fear for fearlessness.
I can’t wait to see what we do with the year.
Because there’s 364 days left. And it’s all uncharted…