This Beautiful Moment Brought To You By Sir Mix A Lot (Or, What I Learned From Dancing On A Street Corner With a Homeless Woman)

Nietzsche

When I first saw her walking down the street, I confess I wanted to ignore her. She was wailing, flailing her hands, and muttering jumbled words I couldn’t make out. On a cloudless 65 degree day, she was walking down the street in a long wool coat, baggy pants, and worn sneakers. The wailing grew louder, and I put on my helmet, fiddling with my bike lock, ready to leave the cafe I just got done dining in. My friends had all left, and my bike lock was stuck. Annoyed at the lock, then annoyed at myself for thinking my dad’s high school U-lock would still work in 2014, I finally got the lock undone and pulled my bike away from the street sign. The woman was walking down the street toward me, and I was coming toward her direction to go down the road that would take me home. I planned on smiling at her and looking her in the eye to say, “Hello,” expecting I might get asked for money. It’s happened plenty of times before, so my thought was not unfounded. But instead something else happened.

Our eyes stopped glancing toward each other, because our ears heard something. We both turned our eyes toward music we noticed coming from the cafe’s outdoor speakers.

Jump On It, Sir Mix A Lot’s 1996 hit, was coming from the speakers for all passers-by to hear. She began to laugh. I began to laugh. She started dancing, moving her hips then pausing them at the precise time when the “dun-na-na-na-nah-nah-nahs” came on, laughing with her whole mouth. I couldn’t help myself. I slid right next to her just in time for the part where you turn around, swinging your arm over your head as though you’re waving around a lasso. Her infectious joy caught onto me, and the two of us—she in her long winter coat, and me wearing a neon shirt and bike helmet— danced like two fools intoxicated by the music and the warm sunshine that sang of spring’s soon-to-be debut.

We kept dancing, and I was grateful they played the extended remix version instead of the regular, as to get every minute in with my new dancing partner. Alas the song drew to a close, and we finished facing the sun, arms extended, our smiles and laughs communicating to one another, as if to say, “Gee, that was fun!”

I asked her for her name. “Terryn,” she replied. “I’m Melissa,” I replied back. She began to walk the other way, and started laughing at a car driving in reverse. I guess she expected it to go forward in drive, and the sight of it going the other direction was enough to set her off laughing. As I turned the corner to head home, she went back to talking to herself. But I was so grateful we got to dance together, if only for those few moments, in lucid clarity.

A colleague I work with was recently telling me about a training she went to in which attendees were required to go out in the community wearing headphones that played a recording of voices talking in various tones to mimic what people with schizophrenia go through. Instructed not to take the headphones off and not to adjust the volume, she and her friends in the training had to complete tasks around the community— find the nearest bathroom, ask someone on the street for directions, etc. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she shared. “For the life of me, I couldn’t concentrate, and I felt crazy inside not being able to shut off the noises we were hearing. It gave me compassion. We really have no idea what it’s like,” she reflected.

I thought back to my colleague’s comment as this woman was walking down the street, back to talking to herself, and tried to put myself in her shoes. While I don’t know for sure that she had schizophrenia, I thought about what it would be like if it happened to me. How powerless or misunderstood I might feel. Maybe, I’d just want to love everybody I’d meet so fervently, but for the life of me, my words, thoughts, and behaviors wouldn’t be able to follow through. The woman I danced with, though, had a beautiful lucid moment, as though she was trying to love like that.

It reminds me of my favorite poem by Mark Nepo called “Life in the Tank.” In it, he describes an experience in which a child filled a bathtub for his fish to swim in while he cleaned their fish tank. Though the fish had the entire tub in which to play, they stayed huddled together in a corner, as though they never left the tank, when all surrounding them in every direction was fresh water to explore. Muses Nepo,

“Life in the tank made me think of how we are raised at home and in school. It made me think of being told that certain jobs were unacceptable and that certain jobs were out of reach, of being schooled to live a certain way, of being trained to think that only practical things are possible, of being warned over and over that life outside the tank of our values is risky and dangerous.”

I wonder if the same can be said for our interactions with people. How many of us were told what people were “safe,” what people to avoid, who to talk to, and who to not even make eye contact with? Many of us were cautiously told “don’t talk to strangers” by someone who loved us with the best of intentions.

But is that the best we can do out there, in the real world? What soul-to-soul conversations have we missed because we were following the “don’t-talk-to-strangers” framework? What divine spark have we missed out on; what song did we miss dancing to, what high five did we not exchange because of the “life in the tank” mentality?

Caution has its merit, and so does instinct and prudence. Our hearts can’t be given away to everyone and anyone. But I wonder if our hearts are more malleable than we think. I wonder if we are meant to escape from the constricting layers that tell us to “just keep walking,” as if to keep every part of ourselves intact, not risking the opportunity for community and connectedness?

All of these things I ponder as I bike home after my interaction with my dancing stranger friend. The news in most cities- Baltimore, no exception- often shout of violence and try to covertly scare citizens into never coming outside, or to go outside- if you must- but don’t you dare come out of your shell of self-protection. My heart breaks over stories of innocent people victimized by violence for no apparent reason, other than the cliche “they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” But maybe it’s time we start daring ourselves just a little bit more to believe in the possibility that we might be “at a great place at a great time.” That now is the perfect time to start dancing to the music- the music that may or may not even be audible. To be a little foolish. To invite someone new into conversation with dignity and sincerity. Yes. I’ll bike through these streets with both circumspect acuity and a posture of openness- open and ready to sing, dance, or high-five when laughter is our gain and excessive guardedness our loss. 

Copyright: O'Doherty Photography

One of my favorite events that brings community members together is Baltimore Bike Party, as pictured above. 
Photo credit: O’Doherty Photography

For the Moments I Disappointment Myself (We Begin Again in Love)

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Copyright MO 2014

Recently, I’ve been catching myself reflecting on my actions, attitudes, and behavior with disappointment and disgust. I’m the one who, at 18 years old, vowed never to live my life out of step with my values, who vowed to always live with passion and bring life into the world. Because I knew what it was like to almost lose it after falling asleep at the wheel, totaling my car one July evening shortly after graduating high school. I glanced heavenward in prayer that dark night, my soul in chaotic communion with God, claiming with ardor that I would live it right. Not take a breath for granted. I took my heart by the hand in firm grip. “You’re going to be passionate. Keep your complaints to a minimum. And above all, you’re going to take this life, and love it, and love others,” I declared, releasing my flexed, pointed finger and gritted teeth. I then proceed to cry, turning my fuming fingers into open palms, and slowly rested my tear-drenched face into them, learning a lesson on self-compassion and how absolutely compulsory it is.

So when I have days like today, days where I’m so aware of my slights, my transgressions, missed opportunities for sincerely listening to and loving those around me… when I’m acutely attuned to the cloudy mind I’m allowing myself to get sucked into, instead of opening it to the beautiful mess and joy around me, I celebrate one of the greatest strengths that life has to offer: its elasticity. The supple forgiveness it offers to simply begin again. And again. And again and again until the time clock of our individual lifespan wears thin. That whole “it’s never too late to be the person you wish to become” thing. Yes. I celebrate that people forgive. And I also celebrate that in order to truly drink in the forgiveness of others, I must also forgive myself. I must learn— though it’s ok to forget and re-learn over and over again— to return the next day with eyes opened wide, glance looking forward or upward, not down in crestfallen shame. And sure as winter, I will repeat this cycle countless times, but the observing, learning, and practicing piece of forgiveness makes it possible to begin again.

It’s moments like these when I’m reminded of a closing prayer we once read when I visited a Unitarian Universalist Church:

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For losing sight of our unity,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of separateness,
we forgive ourselves and each other;

we begin again in love.

-Robert Eller-Isaacs

I look out the window at the moon singing to the night sky and snowy hills and valleys below. Tomorrow, every color known to humankind will show up again, somewhere. People who cried yesterday will laugh today. A lonely wander will find solace in the smile of another stranger. And I, too, will rise anew to begin again in love.

My Best Five Minutes

Inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I recently set out on a project of my own.

Only it doesn’t feel like a project.

It feels like love. And life. And delight.

A week ago, I began “joy activities.” These are five minute tasks I give myself for the sole purpose of experiencing joy. The week before, I wrote about having a “smash-my-head-into-the-keyboard” kind of week. I had a stressful day, but what got me through it was the fact that I started the day by spending a few minutes in nature. I intentionally stopped what I was doing to initiate the experience of peace and joy. I realized that unless we intentionally plant joy into our lives each day, happiness and joy may not come. We can’t sit back and hope someone says something funny to make us laugh. We can’t sit back and hope something good will come our way. We can’t breathe easy when schedules are jam-packed with meetings and activities. Or when our work is overflowing.

Perhaps if we don’t have joy in our lives, it’s simply because we are not creating it.

So five minutes. It’s not too much time to detract from the things I really need to do each day. But it is enough to set a tone of positivity and gratitude for the rest of my day. It’s enabled me to experience beautiful memories that I now treasure like a worn photo album from yesteryear.

Through my “joy activities,” I’ve experienced the joy of watching backyard chickens cock their head to the side, inquisitively, and lean their head back, then forward to smash their beak into the corn cob I’m holding in my hand. They’re hilarious, with just the right precision to pick one kernel off the cob at a time. After all, food is meant to be enjoyed, one little smackerel at a time, the chickens remind me.

Because of “scheduling joy”, I’ve hopped off my bike, parked it against a railing on the side of the road, and walked down to river’s edge to gaze at weirs, cascades of cold, flowing rivulets greeting the surprisingly emerald green waters below them. I am fortune enough to pass by such beauty on my morning commute each day, but rarely have I stopped to take it in, to immerse my being with the halcyon sound of bird chatter and waterfall, before biking downtown, where the ambiance of cars and sirens await me.

But even my five minute joy activity turns sirens into symphonies, yes. Today’s joy task was to sing on my bike. Being that I work at a hospital, it’s not uncommon for me to have to pull over for sirens zooming eastward to the ER. But since I was singing, I took a moment to sing “every siren in a symphony.” Suddenly, it made the noise and chaos not just bearable, but beautiful.

I’m reading books that I’ve been trying to get through for months by candlelight- my favorite lavender Yankee candles, lighting all three of them, not just one, aromas tickling my chemoreceptors with pure delight. I flip my fingers through manila pages, not once feeling guilty for pleasure reading instead of getting through my assigned readings for class. And not feeling even a twinge of guilt is a victory for this recovering people-pleaser perfectionist.

Yes. Tomorrow, I’ll experience five joy-filled minutes of yoga.

And the next day, broomball.

And the day after that, a five minute soak in the whirlpool at the gym.

Come springtime, I will lay down in the backyard grass (that’s probably too long from not mowing) and do nothing but survey the contours of clouds in the sky for five minutes.

Because this life is exquisite.

There are chocolates in thin, crinkly foil wrappers waiting to be opened and savored in your mouth for minutes on end.

There are bubbles waiting to be blown into the air, sun meeting frothy blobs, transcending shades of purple and pink off bubble’s edge.

And yes, there’s even a few pairs of fancy underwear I haven’t worn in months waiting for me to stop thinking I need a reason to wear them.

La vie est belle. 

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Copright MO 2014
Baltimore, MD

For inspiration on joy activities you can create in your life, check out: http://zenhabits.net/75-simple-pleasures-to-brighten-your-day/

60 Seconds of Beauty Before Smashing Your Head Into The Keyboard

smash headToday is one of those “smash face into keyboard to continue” days. Smartphoneless, I discovered I missed several important emails, including a few deadlines. I began a grad class this week. Work, often feast-or-famine with the patient population I work with, who experience several barriers to medical care, was definitely a feast this week. A large one. Thanksgiving with all your extended relatives, kind of feast. Add triathlon training, a conviction to be a better friend/family member, and a few other commitments, I noticed the all-too-familiar trap of spreading myself thin in a flurry of perfectionism.

But before I could drag myself into work for one final day this week, I marveled at an urban creek that I pass on my commute to work each day. Sun kissing ice blocks in emerald green water, a gem amongst graffiti and the click-clack of trains off in the distance. “Lord of Lords,” an old hymn, comes to my mind, and I suddenly find my soul in a pining connection to the lyrics, “Keep my eyes fixed upon Jesus’ face. Let not the things of this world ever sway me.” As much as I refuse to go back to my former version of Christianity, there is so much that I want to make sure I don’t let go of. And one of those things is to keep steady resolve on Jesus’ ways, because that way of living feels more fulfilling, more rich. A teacher who catches us in the midst of snowballing worry, and looks us in the eye to say, “Hey! Snap out of it. Can worry add a single minute to your life?” (aka what I hear from Matthew 6:7).

Copyright: MO Baltimore, MD

Copyright: MO
Baltimore, MD

This winter, I’ve been blown away by the beauty of the Falls. Each morning, I give myself permission to temporarily fix my gaze from the road to this scene of peace. Usually frantically running late to work, I often glance only long enough to smile at it. But today I decided to stop long enough to hop off my bike, take a picture, and remember the words of Anna Quindlen: “And realize that life is glorious, and you have no business taking it for granted…” (From “Life’s Little Instruction Book.”)

Biking along the Falls, I feel as though I’m being taken away to Canada. One to share my voice only to the shower vapors, I softly sing aloud, “on the lakes of Canada…” Instead of aimlessly passing up the opportunity to be transported, I intentionally decide to stop whooshing by it and stop for just 60 seconds to soak it all in. 60 seconds to let my eyes dilate, absorb light and movement, to not think about anything in particular, to just be. 60 seconds to create experiences of beauty.

It was the best 60 seconds I’ve spent today. I’m so tired of rushing through life, not pausing to create moments of peace, order, beauty, serenity. Because unless we stop, unless we do something to forge scenes of beauty, unless we sew them together with beautiful seams of peaceful patchwork, we can easily forget. At least, I do. We forget the peace that can be found in this world. Forget how beautiful it is, because in the celerity, in the achievement-oriented rat race, it can seem like peace, beauty and order have left the building.

It’s no coincidence to me that as I hop back on my bike, the next piece of graffiti I find is the wall that over the summer read in big letters,

Go placidly amongst the noise and haste…
                             and know the peace there is in the silence.

go placidly amongst the noise and haste

I’m going to stop more. Because it’s up to us to create scenes of beauty in our lives. It’s up to us; it’s our responsibility because if we can’t find peace and order and beauty, then maybe we aren’t stopping long enough to actually exhale and find it.

Yes, I will take ownership for having peaceful moments in my life. And be gracious to myself when I forget to stop—When I’m at my desk, smashing my head into the keyboard for one more day, kicking myself for not stopping.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin again. The Falls will be there. Birds on Trees will be there.

“Flowers in the garden.
Laughter in the hall.
Children in the park.
I will not take these things for granted…
…Anymore.”

-Toad the Wet Sprocket 

The Stories Our Pictures Tell Us, Or, What I Learned from Sitting Alone for Two Hours in a Closet

                                                                                                 
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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot — “Little Gidding”

I just got back from a wonderful weekend in Philadelphia with my family. I always tell people from out of town that though I grieve summer’s end, the best time to visit PA is in the fall, where the gold, crimson red, and yellow trees will call you into attention, causing you to notice every little thing around you that you’d normally overlook. This weekend was no different. The sun shone all weekend, tall trees telling tales in goldenrod and setting sun orange.

It was a good weekend. One of those weekends that make you look deep inside of yourself and feel absolute gratitude for getting to experience it, all of it. I spent the majority of the weekend at Villanova University where hundreds of students put on the world’s largest student-run event for Special Olympics.  Cheering loudly, I’ll never forget the way they lined the walkway back to our cars, and high fived each athlete, as though we were married couples walking out to a procession line. When I told them thank you for their abounding energy, they just smiled, and replied, “We love this. It’s our favorite weekend all school year.”

I woke up the next morning and got to run with Special Olympics athletes in a 5k, delighting in the sun meeting my bare legs. November 2nd is far too into fall to be able to wear shorts, but today is different. The sweet 70 degree sun smiled at our legs. We danced the night away in the gym at the annual dance the students run, there we did the Cha Cha Slide, the Cotton Eye Joe, and The Wobble, whose choreography and lyrics I still don’t understand.

I watched my sister play soccer Sunday. For far too long in our relationship, she was the one watching me, and now I was thrilled to give back that time and attention to her. It was, perhaps, a moment of reconciliation, as if to make up for lost time.

As Sunday evening approached, the sun sunk at 4:58 PM thanks to daylight savings time. An extra hour of sleep? No thank you, I’d take an extra hour of daylight over extra sleep anyday. After sunset, I went upstairs and noticed a journal peeking out from my closet. Curious, I decided to take a look. Inside lie four boxes filled with letters, greeting cards, old swimming times, old swimming workouts, high school and graduation pictures, and friends’ wedding programs. There were printouts of old AIM conversations with boys I had crushes on. My polka dot scrunchie I wore way after scrunchies stopped being cool. I’m always a good 3-5 years behind the latest fashions.

A strange, but wonderful sense of nostalgia warmed me up like chamomile tea on a snowy day. I’m re-reading a wrinkled letter from one of my good guy friends from high school. One of my best friends created a senior project where students were asked to anonymously submit essays describing their experiences of love in order to “purge their feelings and maybe come to some resolution.” I don’t think it was until my binge in the closet that I fully appreciated the magnitude of her endeavor. Guys and girls alike anonymously poured out the most vulnerable parts of themselves on paper. I can’t believe he even gave me his letter, so personal. So visceral. I felt like I was reading a journal entry from a 35 year old who’s looking back on the thing or two that he’s learned from the journey he’s been on since he said “I Do” at an altar.

Their were greeting cards marking birthdays, apologies, thank you-s, and just-because’s. There was that note that my neighbors wrote me right before we all thought I’d be leaving for Peace Corps. Though I’ve made peace with my decision, it still stings a little bit each time I come across that name, or see a piece of paper of something I signed in the copious amounts of paperwork that the process entails. It hurts a little when dreams die. It hurts a little when you remember a part of yourself that was so filled with life, pulsating, passionate life. If I’m honest, there’s a part of myself that I never fully regained when I said no to my dream. Even though I’m most grateful for the ways in which I’ve healed since that time, looking back on ourselves and our lives can be hard, can’t it?

There’s my grandfather’s passport. I never got to meet the man, but from what I hear of him, he was the most amazing person. I’ve only ever seen pictures of him with the family or alone in solitude in his church robes. He was a pastor, a thinker, and I’d love nothing more than to pick his brain. He died at all-too-soon age of 53 from a heart attack in the middle of his kitchen. It hurts, doesn’t it, when you don’t get to meet the people that you want to meet? When lives are interrupted without your permission? Now, all that’s left in my hands are a picture of him at this last church service in Illinois before he and the family moved to PA and his old passport. I began prodding my dad for passport explanations. Why did he go to Russia, and South America, and who did he go with, and how long was he there for? Half of the stamps we couldn’t decipher, after all it was an expired passport from 1971.

There’s cards from my grandmother that all looked pretty standard: Hallmark cards signed in small, shaky cursive- “with love, Grandma.” I loved her; I know I did. It’s just that she had an aneurysm in 1985, just a few years before I was born. My only memories of her are of when she was in a walker. She and my aunt would come over for every birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas you name it. We would blow up whoopie cushions, put them under her seat, and after we heard the fart sound, we’d erupt in laughter while she proceeded to ask us to stop it. We would just keep laughing. And we never stopped it. I loved her presence; it felt like home whenever she was in our house. I just doubt that as a kid, I fully appreciated her. And she’s gone now. I still remember that dreaded phone call at my friend’s graduation party in June 2003. When the phone rang on my friend’s house line- I didn’t own a cell phone at the time- it was my mom on the other line. “I need you to come home now. It’s about Grandma.” And so, as soon as I got home, we went to Artman Nursing Home, where I saw a dead body for the first time. It was weird. And I didn’t like it. So I cried. We left, not talking much, and a week later I went to my first funeral. Our neighbors were there, as they have always been for every major life event. I still remember Mrs. Beerley giving me a big hug, as she looked me in eye and said, “It’s ok.” I hope Grandma knew how much I loved her, even when I didn’t express full interest in her life. I know she’s chock full of stories, like her husband (my grandfather), whom I also didn’t get to meet because life was cut short.

There were newspaper clippings from our local newspaper. I grew up in a neighborhood in which teachers came to school early to provide homework help. It felt safe. One time, the crime section read: “Three flags stolen from Flourtown Country Club golf course.” Really, I’m not making this stuff up. There’s also that time, because our town was so small, that I got in this same crime section for careless driving. It was an early morning, a long day and even longer night on July 2nd, 2005, as friends and I spent the day at Philadelphia’s Live 8 concert advocating for global action to end poverty, especially in Africa before the G8 summit. At 12 AM on July 3rd, I crashed into a telephone pole, wrecking public property (along with my car) and was even told I had to pay for it. A week later, I re-lived it all over again as I read “Melissa Otterbein, 18, cited for reckless driving….” Fortunately, I’d built enough rapport with the parents whose kids I coached and babysat. As I received cards from these families, all I could think was, “Hopefully they didn’t read the newspaper.”

I found some old CDs in the memory boxes, including a couple Christian cds. I stopped listening to Christian radio about two years ago when I grew tired of hearing infomercials about how there’s new aged speakers on Oprah who are leading people astray and if we really love people, we shouldn’t let them listen to these people. I grew tired of their cheesy slogans that they would repeat multiple times per hour. “Family friendly, kid safe.” What about those of us who don’t have kids? Does that mean public radio is evil? I hardly think so. Anyway, as I drove home later on, after I had left the closet, a strange familiar came over me as I found myself nervously singing the words again for the first time in a long time. I thought about the times when those songs carried me though difficult nights, when things weren’t so good at home. Or when I’d have those occasional teenage relationships dilemmas, experiencing life’s stress, but oh, I was happy. It didn’t even feel weird anymore to sing these songs. The attachment felt peaceful, like I could enjoy it while keeping it a safe arms-length away. I guess that’s where I am with Church now. I love God, but seem to keep Church that arms-length away. It wasn’t God who scared me, it was Church, well, just some Churches, that often minimized how I could find the love of God in my sister’s smile instead of ancient text that angered me most of the time.

It’s funny, I spent almost two hours in that closet and left the room a lot messier than I found it. I figured it would give me a good reason to go back in there the next time I’m home.  It’s amazing where photos and cds, or letters and decorations and old newspaper clippings can take us. It’s amazing how words on crinkly paper from a decade ago can help you make sense of today. It’s amazing how a box of photos that we can no longer reprint because we stopped using 35 mm film about the same time we stopped playing with pogs can spark up warm fuzzies and fear all in the same memory. TS Eliot once said,

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

I sense that in my boxes of nostalgia. I sense that we’re on this journey and the good, the difficult, the crushed, the joyful all carry us into our future in untied fragments. Someday, some great-grandchild might finger through our letters and CDs— what the hell were those, never the less tapes?–and smile. Perhaps they’ll ask their parents about us or put us back in a box. Or perhaps if you lived a life bold enough, they’ll proudly place your picture on a nightstand and smile at it when they wake up in the morning on their way to work.

It’s a strange life. We live it once. That’s it. And all that’s left are the memories. Half of them, we forget about, until an old photo jogs our memory as though we need basic instructions on how to look back on very own lives that we created. We do things everyday that we won’t even remember doing tomorrow, let alone 40 years from now. That’s weird.
But I hope when you go to bed tonight, you feel the love of those people.
I hope you keep taking those photographs, even if you’re scared to document this time of your life because you don’t want to re-live the pain you’re going through right now by finding it buried in the pixels of an old photograph. I hope you keep writing those journals, even if you don’t want to read the sad tale you documented on paper ten years from now.
Or maybe you’re having the time of your life, too busy to sit down and even capture it. But one day, though, someone’s going to look back in order to find themselves because they got lost too. We all get lost. I’m trying to keep up with these memories in order to make sense of my life and maybe you are too. It’s amazing how five people can experience the same event, but none will recall it the same exact way with the same exact details. We each bring forth our little vignettes and keep our lives sustained into another year, another decade, another century, or even millennium. It’s ok to look back on your pain. It was a part of your struggle. I only hope that the painful parts of your story will find some healing. I hope there’s days you can’t pen down because you were so overwhelmed by the privilege of being alive that even if you tried to write it down, no one would get it. Perhaps you too, just like TS Eliot will live along some day and be able to put back the pieces. We’ll find ourselves and lose ourselves until we glance up to the endless sky in these cracks and crevices of darkness and of light.

“It’s a victory to remember the forgotten picnic basket and your striped beach blanket. It’s a victory to remember how the jellyfish stung you and you ran screaming from the water. It’s a victory to remember dressing the wound with meat tenderizer and you saying I made it better…” -Jenny Hallowell, A History of Everything, Including You

Like Contrails in the Sky

Source: CORE Aviation

Source: CORE Aviation

“It’s like those streams in the sky that airplanes leave when they fly,” I told him.

“What do you mean?” He asked.

I told him about a quiet summer day back when I was 17, lifeguarding at a mostly empty pool, deeming it safe enough to take a few moments to stare up at the sunny, blue sky instead of the one adult floating steadily on his back in a shallow pool. Growing up not too far from the Philadelphia International Airport, it was always easy to find a couple airplanes in the sky at any given moment. I counted all that I could see from my two little eyes- from the innermost tear duct, to the outermost corner of my eye just before sclera meets skin fold. There’s three; There’s four, I noted, continuing to count, only halfway through my inventory of the azure sky. But rather than counting, I found something else that caught my attention: the evaporation of those white, jagged, cloud-like lines that the planes leave behind. Turns out they’re called “contrails,” short for condensation trails. Contrails are formed when the water in jet exhaust meets the wet, cold air of the atmosphere at 30-some-thousand feet. Upon this collision of jet exhaust and moist air, the contrail condenses and freezes into ice crystals, making a thin cirrus cloud. How long these vapor trails remain in the sky depends on the temperature and humidity at the altitude of the contrail’s formation.* Regardless, whether seconds or minutes, slowly, the end tail will dissipate, showing no evidence that the plane was once hundreds of feet behind, in another position of the sky. Gone. Nothing you can do can bring those jet lines back.

It’s a lot like life, I realized that summer day on the lifeguard stand.  

Now, I walk around each day with this strange, sickening sense that whatever I’m doing right now with my fingers, or whatever conversation I’m having with the person next to me, is just like those contrails, never able to be repeated in that specific place, time, and date. I go to bed each night, thinking about what happened since I left it this morning. I can’t remember half of it. What did I eat for breakfast, anyway? Did I tell my parents I loved them today? Yikes, did I really gripe in my head over who was the last one to discard the free newspaper full of ads that unwantedly finds itself on our sidewalk each week?

I feel like I walk around, and each moment is slowly evaporating, never to be tasted, touched, patted, embraced, changed, re-shapened, molded, or experienced, ever again, at least not in real time. There’s nothing I can do to bring back what happened 15 seconds ago. Whatever you’re doing, and I’m doing, right now, will change, in just a few short inhales, exhales, and blinks, almost imperceptibly, perhaps. But change it will. This hour will not last. This day will not last. This year will not last. And you too, no matter your age, will become old one day, perhaps if we’re lucky enough to see the rising sun on our one hundredth birthday.

We live life forward.
We look back on old pictures.
We try to remember.
Often, we forget.

That is, until Aunt Lou, or your college roommate, or your dear parents remind you of something. The still frame that they remember in their head.

Some story.
Some funny thing you said.
Some detail you couldn’t recall.

Some bit of the scene that you didn’t quite remember, but now, upon provocation, comes forth, memory jogged by this person’s memories. This causes your heart to quicken and a smile to slide up your face, as though you were wearing lose suspenders, and now tightened them for a satisfying fit. You then chime in your memories of the new scene you now remember, your contribution to this mutual, shared memory.

But that’s it; that’s all they are now. These still photos.

We look at the past, and no matter what shade of awful we went through, we can now talk about the hard practice we survived as a high school varsity football player, singing about our glory days. Or that immensely intense triathlon race, that in the present moment, leaves you half miserable, in fervent longing for it all to be over, and yet, you keep running, half flooded with a bizarre energy that sustains your movement until a finish line tells you to stop, tells your endorphins to surge, and your heart rate to decelerate. Now that it’s over, and you’re re-visiting the experience as a memory, we’re glad these kinds of experiences were so hard. It makes us look like champions, looking at these still photos of our hard work in the comfort of our own home, heart rate relaxed.

We smile at the graduation pictures. Smile at the pictures of our parents, before they were our parents. We laugh at how silly we looked in our teddy bear vest on 5th grade picture day.

All of this leads me to wonder, awe, and melancholy over the mystery that is the passage of time.

I mourn it.

For all intents and purposes, that time is gone.
How is it that our minutes evaporate?
How is it that we can’t go back?

It’s like a locked door, with no key to open it.
We scratch our head, looking up for answers. Did it even happen? Did all of this even happen? 

I yearn for yesterday’s moments all over again, from my morning bike ride commute, to the belly laugh that my roommate and I shared, as if to have one extra day of life. I want to re-experience the morning of April 4th, as I was about to embark on my flight to Portland for four days, a sojourner excited to interact with west coast folk. I want today, and I want the future, to enter in and out of each of these scenes with ease and possibility. No locked doors, just tall, open bay view windows, and a warm breeze to lull you in and out of the past and present, forward and back, back and forward. Any direction you chose, any moment you wish to re-experience again.

This lament over the passage of time is the same reason why I both weep a little each New Year’s Eve, recounting all of the events, new people and travel that took place over the course of these past 365 days; and in the same breath, the very same reason why just moments later, I beam my face into the moonlight of the dark January 1st sky at 12 AM, bright, optimistic, satisfied, hopeful. The people of the 1800s are dead now. They don’t get to have this moment, not here on Earth at least. The people who will one day be born in 2100 are just future zygotes, not here on Earth right now either. But you and me, we’re here right now. On the verge of something great, unprecedented and un-experienced. I stand hilltop, watching New Year’s early morning fireworks, just for one moment, wanting to cup the year securely and lovingly in my two hands, gently whispering to it: “It’s ok. Let go. You’re in a new year. You take with you all you learned last year, and years’ past. You’re lucky enough to see the aurora of a new year, a fresh calendar. It’s all there, right in front of you, untouched, like early dawn snow free of any human footprints. Yes, something wonderful is going to happen this year. Something hard will happen. Something unexpected will happen. But, perhaps, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll be here again in 365 days wondering where all this time has gone, each turning of the monthly calendar a mere contrail into the vast, bottomless vat known as the passage of time. So enjoy this moment of newness.” I un-cup my hands and spread them high over my head, a “namaste” to the night sky on the first of the year. Free, outstretched, fingers loose, winter air flowing in between each finger, I clamor for the power to hold onto every ephemeral moment.

It reminds me of family vacations at Rehoboth Beach as a kid. When I needed some solitude, perhaps after too much teasing from my older brother, or after I had enough of my sister’s wails as seagull after seagull snatched her Cheetos from her beach towel, I would plop myself on the shoreline, digging my feet into the cool, mushy sand. As waves pushed and pulled around me, my feet sunk deeper into the wet sand. Eventually, once satisfied with the proper dosage of introverted loneness, I’d step out of my footprint and watch the next wave take away a bit of it, footprint still mostly visible. And then another wave would come forth and retreat, taking away a pinky toe imprint along with it. And another wave followed, erasing another toe, and another, and so on, until that footprint was no more, washed away. Dissolved. Recycled by the ever constant flow of ocean wave. I’d then walk back to my sister’s towel, seagulls having moved on to some other child’s unattended snack, my brother now gone, having left the ocean for the pool, sick of the sand. Most of this afternoon was now gone. Soon, we’d seeing the last hours of our vacation, and head northbound up 95 back to PA, codifying each day’s activities, the highs and lows, so that one day we can look back on Family Vacation 1995 and actually have something to say.

And so the continuum of time proceeds, right off the reel.
Back to remembering and forgetting, lamenting, and praising our time on this planet.

I guess the good thing about getting older is you get to keep experiencing time, making new memories, printing out more pictures for your frames and refrigerator magnets. And maybe, just maybe, if all I’ve been taught about what happens when you die is true, I’ll realize that we never even had the proverbial hourglass of time. Or perhaps we did, but once all the grains reached the bottom, the hourglass automatically flipped itself to begin the release of sand grains all over again. It will keep on going infinitely, whether stored in my cognition, or flat out in front of me like a red carpet.

Time’s gone by. 26.5 years for me, in fact. The passage of time will never stop. But like contrails in the sky, I’ll keep on flying this girl high on an airplane into the unknown freedom of a blue sky, gripping every minute in gratitude, lament, joy, life transcendent, documenting my flight, and yours too, for some other kid to look up into the sky and trace the contrails with her or his fingers. Together, we’ll dizzy up the sky with our vapor trails until we’ve lost track of time. Until we learned to live outside of it, freed of the obsession of time. Out of time, in one sense, and in another, having all the time we’ll ever need.

                                                             

                                                                             

The saddest thing about life is you don’t remember half of it.
You don’t even remember half of half of it.
Capture memories, because if you forget them, it’s as though they didn’t happen;
it’s as though you hadn’t lived the parts you don’t remember.

~ Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Donald Miller- A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

*http://contrailscience.com/why-do-some-planes-leave-long-trails-but-others-dont/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrail

I’m Taking Off My Rose-Colored Glasses.

roses

CC MO Apr. 2013 Portland, OR

I’m taking off my rose-colored glasses.

They never fit quite right.
Things begin to look a little blurry when you put them on, a little naive, over and under inflating the challenges and joys of life.

Sometimes, when I look out, I see nothing but beauty, ecstasy, the thrill of future dreams coming into life, one soft rose petal at a time.
And that’s great for a little while,
But then I’ll miss all the beauty straight in front of me. Too farsighted. Drats.

Other times, I put them on, consumed by the thrill of the moment right here, the dance, the romance, the pleasure in the here and now, that I forget about long term consequences of decisions and how to create a future of hope of joy. Nearsighted. Drats.

But I don’t want to live that way anymore.

I want to see in plain vision, in living colour. 

To see things as they are, not as I idealize them to be.

To stare down the hard, cold realities of life, like death, and aging, and growing up, and leaving friends, or having friends leave you, as you move on and move forward. To meet with courage each of these realities in a way that melts away fear, turning it instead into a soft-glowing candle of acceptance.
Accepting that my twenties will come to end, and my 30s and 40s too, for that matter, and I will not live in a pseudo-forever young state that’s stuck in the past and evades responsibility for the future.

I want to accept that my parents will die one day, and find abundant ways to thank them for specific fond memories I have of them. Perhaps they won’t understand, and consider me an a maudlin sentimentalist. But when they die, and die they will, I know they will have heard every bit of my appreciation, words having been spoken, words having been heard and digested into the heart.

I want to accept that much of life is finding joy in the daily-s, not mountain highs of bucklist completions, but that doesn’t make life itself any less exciting or beautiful. After all, there is much opportunity to be had in menial tasks, like grocery shopping, for example. When we were kids, my dad used to run down the aisle, cart in tote, and then hop on the cart about halfway down the aisle. “Weeeeeeee!” This only worked when the nursing home bus filled with seasoned seniors had left the store, and the clueless four year trying to help Mom has gone to bed… he’d usually do this with, say, the 8 PM grocery shopping crowd. I still catch myself hopping on the grocery cart for a ride, too, sometimes. What can I say, it is fun.

Creating joy like that in the daily-s allows me to see the reality that life can still be beautiful even in despair. Because perhaps the worst thing about white-knuckling life in rose-colored glasses is robbing ourselves of the opportunity to feel the most raw and real parts of life. It makes way for someone to hold your hand when you’re truly at your lowest, proving that you will not be left alone in your sorrow, sweet child. It enables you to fully enjoy life’s most pleasurable experiences without the background of worry, nothing robbing you of intense joy, nothing tainting something so beautiful with cobwebs of anxiety. Instead of seeing life skewed the way I want it, I’ll look up when I can’t get out of my head. The cathartic stars will remind me to see the night sky daily, not just walk around aimlessly underneath it, but instead, to really soak it in, each sparkle singing of illimitable mysteries that cannot be easily solved. Hindsight may be 20/20, but there’s clarity to be found when we decide not to sugar coat our lenses of the world.

Un-squint your eyes.

Un-scrunch your face.

Open up your hands.

Look toward the sun.

Let the light in.

It’s time to be brave.

Hurry Up and Don’t Die (Re-learning lessons from life/death experiences)

I fell asleep at the wheel when I was 18 years old, summer after graduating high school. I woke up at 12:15 AM with the caustic blast of an airbag flying into my face,2005 corolla crash phone pole quickly discovering that my car was halfway on the sidewalk, the other half still on the road. I ran into a telephone pole, splitting it in half, the upper portion now dangling from the telephone wire. I immediately called 911. Police came and asked if I had been drinking. “No. You can breathalyze me!” I called out, “I fell asleep!” 2005 corolla crash“It’s just that this is a lot of damage for just having fallen asleep,” the officer retorted. The arrival of the ambulance ended our back and forth. I was brought to our nearest hospital with tears in my eyes, shocked but relieved that I felt ok, and quite scared of what my parents would say. Someone had already notified them and my dad met me bedside in an exam room. “I am soo. soooo. sorry,” I tell him, leaning in for a hug. He reached back immediately. “I’m just glad you’re ok; I’m glad you’re ok.” After the x-rays came back showing no broken bones, I was handed some gauze and a prescription for pain and then sent on my way. “I’m sorry to wake you up, Dad. I’m really sorry for doing something so stupid.” “It’s ok; I’m glad you’re ok,” he persisted. I fell asleep (in my bed this time) and woke up to a raw, scraped chin, fresh tender skin scattered amongst hardened scab. In the days to follow, I had loving support from friends and family. Two ten-year old girls that I coached came to my house with handmade, colorful cards. I remember telling them that I was afraid parents wouldn’t trust me driving their kids anymore as a babysitter. “Don’t worry, they’ll still trust you,” their little selves promised me. They gave me some hugs and went back to play at the pool for the rest of the day. One of the moms on the swim team I coached gave me a hat. “You’ve got to keep that chin exposed to as little sunlight as possible,” she said, patting my shoulder. A few days later, I found my name in the police report section of our local newspaper, ashamed and embarrassed that the whole community could see my recklessness. All of that was countered, though, by the love I received. Family emailed me and gingerly encouraged me to slow down. To stop doing so much and to try just being me, doing what I’m doing, confident that it’s more than enough. I listened. For a little while at least. But I often think of that memory now and feel an impulse to “hurry up” and “do more” because I learned that we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, tonight, or the next hour. And I’ve been driving myself crazy ever since.

I’ve cut corners trying to breeze through seasons of pain, doubt, confusion, and suffering because hey, we could all die tomorrow, right? And if I might die tomorrow, I certainly don’t want to waste today in pain and sadness. So rather than allowing myself to fully experience pain or difficult “wilderness” seasons, I’ve tried to skip that step altogether. But that’s not how growth works, turns out, and no one is exempt from sadness, anger, and pain just because they might die tomorrow. I wish I would let myself go through painful processes without white-knuckling my way through, trying to control my emotions, my circumstances, rather than let God do God’s thing God’s way. In the process, I end up seeing my dirty fingerprints all over my life when I could have seen even more of God’s tender fingerprints implanted on every scrapbook story page day of life.

I’ve rushed through conversations so that I can go talk to that person, only to rush through that conversation to talk to this person, in hopes of developing rich, meaningful relationships as quickly as possible, forgetting that people aren’t penciled in items on a to-do list; we’re chock full of emotions, stories, things to learn from others, things to teach others, and these deep connections, the ones that mean the most and are savored the deepest, take time. And time never seems to be on your side when you’re living like you might die tomorrow. Life never seems long enough when you act like it stops the same minute as your heart, forgetting about all I’ve been taught about life after death, the hope of Heaven, etc. I guess I’m a little scared of it turning out to be fallacy, but I know in my darkest moments that I need this hope of heaven; my soul would die without it. I can live as if life ends at the grave or I can dare to dream that there is something bigger, something larger, something longer, something that will never, truly ever end.

The “do more, quicker” mentality has caused me to be erratic rather than learning something about patience, about seasons, about the beauty that comes from living with the questions, the uncertainties. It’s caused me to search for the answers now, which has some perks to it, but often has downfalls of arriving at wrong conclusions in a harried attempt to maximize time. We can’t know how things will turn out. We don’t need to, either. As Rainer Maria Rilke once said,

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I guess that’s it- that’s where I want to be right now. I want to live the questions, live the uncertainties, live the risks and searchings and yearnings. Live that now. The answers will come in their own timing. We have 24 hours a day and I can loathe that they aren’t enough or I can assert the fact that this is all we have, so enjoy them and be present for them.

And I’m also learning that although we’re not guaranteed tomorrow, there is such a thing as adulthood, and older adulthood, and retirement… so if my things aren’t crossed off my bucketlist by the time on 30, that’s ok, in fact that’s great-each of us just might have a lifetime of adventures to look forward to, maybe, just maybe…

So may we live today like it could be our last and may we remember that we have a God who has a home for us even when that last day comes.

May we savor sweet conversation, taking our time through each word, hug, tender kiss.

May we realize that we will always want more time in the day, but even on our death bed, our time really hasn’t run out.

“I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to  celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation.” -Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross

One of the girls I coached, who gave me the angel figurine featured in this picture shortly after the accident.

One of the girls I coached, who gave me the angel figurine featured in this picture shortly after the accident. July 2005

Thoughts on Solitude.

There was a bird outside my window this morning
Happily chirping its song; its story.
Another one joined in.

I’m not sure what they were saying
But I felt like their language spoke to my soul
Reminding me to go outside today
And spend some time in solitude.

So that’s what I did.
I zipped up my snow boots
And hit the trails
Climbing up powdered white paths
Sparkling like sugar cookies
In the mid-afternoon sun.

I glanced down at footprints of deer
And footprints of other hikers
Wondering what their journeys are like
And how they experience the world around them.

Sometimes I feel guilty going places alone.
Life is short
And people are beautiful, after all.

A couple years ago
I moved back to Baltimore
And within a few months, realized most of my friends had moved home or moved away
And I had a night
Where the few friends I had left
Were all busy
And I felt an immense loneliness come over me.

It was a cold, dark January evening and Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder
can be more than SAD; it can be depressing.
I was so lonely inside; I scared myself.

Have you ever had a moment like that?
Where you’re so caught off guard by what’s going on inside?

I did the one thing that I thought might help.
I called an old friend in New York just to make sure I was alive and breathing.
Luckily she answered.
She was out with friends
And I think she thought I was acting a little melodramatic

But never the less
A few words
From an old friend
On a lonely night
Melted away tears of despondency
And I vowed to never get that lonely ever again.

That was two years ago.
I’m thankful for new friends who’ve touched my heart
and for old ones who’ve stuck it out.

Although as a recovering people-pleaser and conflict avoider,
There are times when it would be much easier to keep inside my shell;
I’ve come to realize that people, community, are absolutely essential to personal growth,
apart from which my soul would deaden bit by bit.

But sometimes I don’t want to talk
And sometimes I need to be alone in my thoughts,
With God
Staring at vast skies like open pages.

I need to lie on my back
Let the grass be my pillow
And take pictures of the sun sinking behind open fields.

And sometimes,
In my calmest of moments,
I need only to be outside and sit there;
Doing nothing particular at all.

So I’ll sit on my front porch
While crickets sing to evening stars
And I’ll stare at the moon
Wondering what the moon sees when it stares at us.

All of this connects me back to the world around me
To God, to people, to the shifting Earth upon which we stand.
And all of this makes me realize
That solitude is an indispensable part of life
For wallflowers and social butterflies alike.

That solitude isn’t selfish
But creates room enough to embrace resonate beauty.
It disrupts the rush, the driving back and forth, the cacophony of sirens blaring through city streets.
It forces me to address the thoughts that keep resurfacing my mind
When it would be easier to keep ignoring them.

It lets me find myself under willow trees
Beside gurgling streams
That sound like the warm water
That will fill up my bathtub tonight.

It helps me find my center
Whether basking in sunshine
Or crunching in leaves,
Whistling along with the birds.

So may it be.

May we find solitude
That fills our souls
So that we are alone, but never really alone.

May we be filled with wonder
That prevents us from ever daring to think we can fully understand
This world, this beauty, the footprints and fingerprints of another.

May the birds’ song serenade you
Open paths guide you
God’s smile shine upon you
And give you peace.

IMG_1442

How do you find solitude? What do you, not do? Where do you go? Where don’t you go? How often do you experience solitude in your life?

The ‘Stay Away, Come Close’ Paradox and How it Looks Something Like Letting Love In.

I was in the front seat of my friend’s car earlier today, wrapped up in one of those conversations where you don’t realize that you’ve been sitting there, in the dark, car in park, for an hour, together contemplating all of the idiosyncrasies of life. We mused about our relationships and the “come close, stay faraway” phenomenon that some people find themselves regrettably emulating at some point in their lives. Maybe you know that I’m talking about. That dynamic where you’re close with someone, and long to be even closer. So you let them in. And it’s beautiful. But there’s a part of you that’s scared, so scared, so you send “step back” signals.
I think there’s this component of our humanness that desperately craves closeness, intimacy, to be known, loved, and accepted, and for everything to be alright— even amazing, like waving your hands in the air, screaming, hair blown back by velocity on amusement park rides— that crashes into the part of ourselves that fights pain, fights changes, fights hurt and loss and namely, wants to protect ourselves from everything and anything scary, unknown, and potentially pain-inducing.
Have you ever witnessed that “come close, stay faraway” factor?

Bruce Springsteen ponders it in “Secret Garden.”

She’ll lead you down a path
There’ll be tenderness in the air
She’ll let you come just far enough
So you know she’s really there
She’ll look at you and smile
And her eyes will say
She’s got a secret garden
Where everything you want
Where everything you need
Will always stay
A million miles away.

Similarly, Goo Goo Dolls begs for the soul of another to open the door of their heart with love in “Let Love In:”
You’re the only one I ever believed in
The answer that could never be found
The moment you decided to let love in
Now I’m banging on the door of an angel
The end of fear is where we begin
The moment we decided to let love in.

U2 seemed to have similar sentiments in their 1993 hit “Stay (Faraway, So Close).” Bono created the song for the movie “Faraway, So Close,” sharing that “the film was about angels who want to be human and who want to be on Earth. But to do so they have to become mortal. That was a great image to play with – the impossibility of wanting something like this, and then the cost of having it.”1 I mirror that with the “stay close, don’t get too close” theme of love costing something: crossing into the unknown and in doing so, facing your own vulnerability. And that’s a scary thing.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

I think we’re all a little bit scared of letting one another in. Into all those little cracks and crevices of our soul that are properly seated in the classroom, hands clasped, praying not be called upon. Don’t get me wrong, boundaries have merit. We can’t let everything, or everyone, into our souls. Some influences aren’t the ones we need to grow. Some things in this world will defile and break down our souls. Like a peephole on a door, it’s healthy to choose your influences and who you will surround yourself with.
I just wonder about the times in which we pushed something or someone out when we should have brought them in.
I wonder how many times we missed out on love- any love- agape, romantic, friendship- because we were too scared of having our heart opened, exposed, fully letting in the light of another.
I wonder how many conversations we’ve accumulated in which we settled for safe by responding to “how are you?” with trite replies of “good” when every part of us knows we’re not good. So we quickly progress to stale topics, like the weather, all the while depriving our souls of deepness and wonder and intimacy.
I wonder how many of us will reach some ripe old age with questions about our families left unanswered because we were too afraid to ask about the skeletons in our closets or the dirty laundry or the elephants in the room or the mess that feels too knotty until, in our bravest moments, we gather the courage to unknot the tangles to realize that when we put the pieces back together again, it can be even more beautiful than when we first started.

So our souls fight to trust Him/Her and we take a chance here, go for a risk there, holding God’s hand, perhaps, I wonder, content with splashing around in the baby pool because even with swimmies, we’re too scared to try the big pool and so we’re splashing and getting our toes wet, all the while hearing the joyful, playful shouts of friends or strangers dunking each other in the big pool, diving and doing handstands and checking out the ocean… and while every thing in our soul shouts, “you’re big enough,” “you’re brave enough,” “go play,” “go try,” “there’s room out there for you too,” we resist it and lament in our kiddie pools, smiling when the jets pour in just a little more water for our ankles to become wet.

What are we so afraid of? Of getting hurt? Of getting let down? Sometimes, for me at least, yes. But what makes me think my feeble “stop sign” hand is what will protect me from the precarious position of human life and emotion? I’m beginning, more and more, to think that every time I hold out my hand to guard, to protect, to control the outcome or not get hurt or not experience pain or change, or actively contribute to my growth moving from the known into the unknown, I have to start to wonder if I’m doing more harm than good. Do we want to look back on life and realize that all of our guarded moments never actually protected us at all? Can we accept that living with your heart on your sleeve may get you hurt, but it’s the only way to truly live, to truly feel, to truly heal, to truly “be real” with another human being?

I know we’ve tasted the opposite, too. You know that soul-to-soul connection with that friend, with that lover, with that mentor? Where it’s you and them and the two of you realize there’s so much more going on here than we can fathom. And that by opening ourselves up to the truth, our questions, the things we’ve been wondering, we are greeted not in word or whisper but by a taste of the soul,  as if our hearts are whispering to each other, “See, isn’t this beautiful?”

I had one of those connections the other day with my dad. We were biking and I was talking to him about stuff from childhood, asking questions I never thought to ask, and learning things I never knew about our family. This is the beautiful connection that happens when we cross over and enter into each other’s stories, but not the finished part, rather the unexpurgated story that’s raw and real and human.

I don’t know what all this letting love in and being vulnerable stuff looks like, and I’m tempted to cast this whole thing off as being overly emotional as I once again stay up too late, writing this, pondering life and spirituality and the rings upon rings of circled skin that compose my fingerprint. But I think we’re onto something. Onto something with the whole letting-love-in-thing… starting with letting God’s love in and as that takes a hold of our heart over and over again, like the daily tide washing over the shore, we’ll discover the beauty and the holy ground that’s only possible when we, too, recognize that
the only way to see again
                            is to let love in.

Have you ever found yourself in the “Stay Away, Come Close” phenomenon? What was that experience like? How do these experiences intertwine spiritually, emotionally, in our relationships, in our friendships?

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stay_(Faraway,_So_Close!)