A Semi-Charmed Kind of Snow

“I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower,
Makes you talk a little lower.
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell my myself to
hold on to these moments as they pass…” -Counting Crows

       

Baltimore is a place I hold tight to my heart anytime of year, and this winter is no different. Popularized as “Charm City,” it lives up to this famed moniker if you stick around long enough. Long enough to understand what the “Smalltimore effect” is. Long enough to know the names of each neighborhood (or, that is, most of them; Baltimore has over 225!) and what makes each one unique. Long enough to know what all the cool people do the last Friday night of the month.

I haven’t had a winter with this much happiness in a long time, mostly because I’m usually SAD. (To all my relatives in Florida, it’s not made up; I swear.) I caught a quick reprieve in 2012, (The Winter It Didn’t (Really) Snow) but sure enough, it came back with a vengeance in 2013, though a bit more bearable than I could ever remember before. And fastforward to this year, I’m on my 5th snow day off from work, and perhaps counting. But there’s a neighborly aura this winter that’s intoxicating.

So when I walked in the door to my house Wednesday evening, lighthearted in anticipation of another snow day, I declared to my roommate, “I’m treating tonight like it’s Friday.”

“Me too!” She called out, as we whooped and hollered jovially over the snowy forecast. Weather.com was a hoot this week, claiming everything from “BEWARE: CRIPPLING ICE STORM LIKELY THIS WEEK” —– an alarming adjective that wasn’t even PC twenty years ago—– to “Winter Storm Quintus to Undergo ‘Bombogenesis.'” [Bombogenesis: a mid-latitude cyclone that drops in surface barometric pressure by 24 or more millibars in a 24-hour period. Source: Nerdy meteorological websites]

Eagerly awaiting the snow, I leisurely biked to the gym, greeted by small pecks of icy snow falling from the sky. I stretched out in yoga class undistracted, child’s pose-ing and downward dog-ing to my heart’s content. Then I lifted weights wondering how many of my friends were in walking distance to Wyman Park to be able to go sledding tomorrow night. And finally, when I’d had enough exercise, I sank into the hot tub inside of the women’s locker room with no intent on hurrying home to make my lunch or lay out work clothes. As I biked home, I knew that even if we didn’t have a snow day tomorrow, there was one thing the snow already taught me: to be happy and present, no matter what day of the week it is. Because even if I had to slave away at my desk for a long work day tomorrow, my night was better because of my lack of fixation over it.

And sure enough, before I hit the sack Wednesday night, I celebrated the text message I received stating that work would be closed tomorrow. The 12+ inches that ensued afforded many beautiful moments that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.

chicken eyes closedI was able to spend a leisurely hour and a half up the street at Baltimore Free Farm feeding and snuggling with chickens.

I packed inside of friends’ living rooms watching the Olympics, then, re-created them at a local park where friends and I sledded, saucer-ed and snowtubed down a staircase-turned-snow ramp. The antics continued as we set out for steeper and steeper slopes, until a few of our crew decided to brave the steepest hill of them all. We chanted friends’ names as they braved a steep incline, a very bumpy bump halfway down the hill, and then finally, a three foot high wall before hitting the snow below with a loud “thud.” And sure enough, a couple not only were courageous enough to go down, but managed to stay affixed to their sled, and we fans gave them an enthusiastic perfect “10”.

I listened to the ambiance of light falling snow from inside an abandoned igloo our group stumbled upon, able to understand why Inuit populations would be satisfied with calling this a home.

I watched people come together when two MTA buses got stuck going uphill. Armed with shovels in hand, the spirited citizens took a pause from their rescue effort long enough to fill in my boyfriend and me, who were passers-by, on the scope. “You see the first bus over there?” one of the women pointed. “It’s inches away from that parked car to the right. But we called a tow truck; I’m hopeful they’ll be able to make it out here.” Snow. Bringing together bus drivers and neighbors, one fishtail collision at a time.

Time away from my usual 9-5 routine gave me time to listen to a podcast in which a friend was interviewed on a local radio station discussing social activism and racism after a flurry of Baltimore blog posts depicting frustrations about the city’s crime were published. The clip was invigorating, reminding me that we are a city of activists, and there’s beautiful people all around who are eagerly moving in their spheres of influence to spread love and kindness all over this diverse city.

The snowstorm allowed me to meet neighbors I wouldn’t have otherwise met, since I never seem to be home anymore. Two of them offered to help push Brian’s car up the hill when his tires were spinning over ice and snow. They cheered along with us when he finally got out of his parking spot. The other neighbor I just met this morning, as she was shoveling out her car. After some brief cordials, I found out she moved here from Illinois.

“So when did you move here to the block?” I asked.
“Oh just a few weeks ago,” she shared.
You’ll love it,” I shared, remembering my move-in day a year and a half ago.

I’ve had a year and a half of beautiful Baltimore memories, and an additional year prior of not-so-good B-more memories, mostly consisting of moving and growing pains before I found friends and freedom, two components, I’d soon learn, that are entirely quintessential to the journey. We learn from the past as pain recycles itself into unspeakable beauty, sewing together memories like powerlines and clothing lines, connecting neighbor to neighbor, neighborhood to neighborhood.

To let you in on a little secret, (since I feel like I’m cheating on my Baltimore love for doing this), I recently applied for a dream job in DC that includes free housing. If I were to get it, I’ll be moving to DC in July. And much like Counting Crows, I’m finding myself in awe of the myriad of treasured memories that I, too, long fervently to hold on to as they pass…

And if I’m lucky, this winter just might churn out one more snowstorm, and I’ll see you at the park, together laughing all the way into the night…

Photo credit: Dave Reichley

Photo credit: Dave Reichley

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!)

Look at the Birds.

I went to bed Sunday night knowing I made a memory I won’t forget for a long time.

It was an unseasonably warm November day- the kind of day that begs you to stop everything and make enjoying the moments before you your most important priority. To stop tinkering around with to-do lists and errands, leaving this beauty unnoticed; but rather, to let your eyes become sponges, absorbing beauty, light and Sabbath.

So I drove up Route 1 to meet a dear friend at a Northern Baltimore State Park to study for the GREs in the late autumn fields. I parked my car as the afternoon sun began to cascade into its hues of dusk; its finest colors coming alive. I walked around the parking lot, noticing families in matching outfits huddled together on the hilly field, trying to get the dog and the baby and each of the kids to smile at precisely the same moment, posing for holiday picture greeting cards that will adorn fireplaces in cozy homes all winter long.

Shortly after, my friend pulled into the parking lot. She’s a real gem, an old soul, one of those people with such a sincere, special spirit who seemed to have entered my life right when I needed a friend like that the most. Time spent with these kinds of people is treasured. You know before you even arrive that their soul will touch yours and that no matter where life takes you, this person painted a stroke of love over a piece of your heart to help you enjoy the journey.

One of her favorite places, she ushered me by the park’s wooded trails off to the left, then up a winding uphill path hugged by tall trees in the distance as grasses blew gently in the evening zephyrs. We walked, leisurely, musing on life and love and choices. We soon found our way beside some hay bales, inviting us up for a climb like a small child to a grandmother’s lap. I hopped on top of one, struck with halcyon breaths of serenity replacing the tension I bury in my eyebrows and chest with something heavenly, refreshing, whisking away the toxins of this world with the infusion of something higher, more lovely.

My friend pointed upward, toward the resplendent pink and orange sky. A band of birds migrating southbound flip-flapped their wings in unison. We stopped talking. I stopped thinking. Stopped worrying. Completely transfixed by these birds, I imagined how hard they must be working. Are they tired yet? Where will they stop to sleep tonight? How do they even know when to call it a night? Do they sing when they got bored, like the Seven Dwarfs, whistling while they worked (or flew)? Does one of them start humming as they play “name that tune” until a whole choir of them compose an acapella rendition of “Rockin’ Robin?” When do they stop for water breaks? With this many of them, where do they all go when it rains? I sat there below, watching these birds in awe of the journey they make each waning fall. No Googlemaps. No GPS. Just them, together, collectively united for their annual pilgrimage to some place warm. I wondered where they’d drop off. “So, Bob,” I imagine one saying to the other, “will it be Tampa this year, or Pensacola?” Will they gather again for New Year’s Eve in Northern Florida, or perhaps Miami, where ‘the heat is on, all night on the beach ’til the break of dawn?’ I don’t know. It’s amazing to watch something go so far, do something so significant without a stroke of human aid or handling. They were created to be able to fly miles and miles, above homes and seaports and land.

What else can I do but marvel? I’m at peace with the world, with my uncertainties about where I’m going and how I’ll get there. I’m still. I can’t stop watching. They keep coming, like scenes stitched together in a movie, entering from the right of the screen to the left side, over and over again, thousands of them, not one left behind, not one left to fly alone. Perhaps this is why Jesus encourages us to “look at the birds” (Matthew 6:26). Because whatever it is we’re trying to fix or change or figure out will all be just fine. That you’ll actually get more studying done if you stop once in a while and gain perspective on how big this world is and how much goes on, day in day out, without the touch of a human hand. And so maybe Saturday, I’ll go back to this field and we can marvel all over again at those birds. Just hope they won’t poop on my textbooks.

Photo: MO 2012

On Unspoken Goodbyes and New Hellos

I often find myself thinking about this twenty something stage of life and how, from a billion different angles, people, places, and things are changing rapidly, like the wind, and I feel like a little wishie dandelion in a big field wondering why I’m no longer yellow, hoping I don’t get mistaken for a weed, and also hoping my seeds won’t blow away all at once. But I am not a dandelion; I am a human being, capable of eating, sleeping, and breathing and reflecting on what’s going on inside these skin and bones.

Ready to journal some of these feelings, I climbed into bed one night recently for a little quiet time. And, as I do like so many nights, I quickly checked facebook and noticed an old friend’s status change from “in a relationship” to “engaged.” I laughed, thinking back on pages in prayer journals from a few years ago, acutely aware now of the answer to that prayer. And that’s when a twinge of melancholy flooded in. I realized that now that this friend was getting married, reality was I would never see him and his family again, and we never got to say “goodbye.”

In that moment, I saw the faces of other friends, mostly from college, swirl around in my mind. Friends I no longer see or spend time with, pining to experience that amity all over again in the present. I’m sure you have those people in your life. Those people who are simply unforgettable, perhaps because of the way imago dei emanates from their soul, overflowing with rivulets of life, life, life, incandescent and uninhibited life.

I thought about the last time I spent with each of these life-giving people and what I would have said or done differently had I known we were going to lose touch and this would be the last time we would see each other face to face.

These changes of lost relationships stung, a hurt not easily pacified, and for the first time, I allowed myself in that moment to grieve their end.

I didn’t know that my twenties would have many times of unspoken goodbyes, unintentional “see ya laters,” only the “laters” never came.

I didn’t know just how absolutely painful it can be to let go of people who have influenced your life in some way, shape or form, knowing that they left an everlasting impression, having influenced your journey into who you are today.

I didn’t know just how often some people will just slowly fade out, like a setting sun sinking beneath the covers of the horizon. You can watch that sun retract behind the silhouette of the city, moving almost imperceptibly, and then sure enough that ruby red ball of fire is visible no more, leaving you with the beckoning of night, the closing of a day, the sunset just a memory stored away in the cells of your brain. And much like those sunsets, those memories with old friends slowly dissipate; your only connection left to such people being their status updates on Facebook or their phone number that you used to text, now dormant in your cell phone contacts list.

I’m not really looking for people to leave my life. Baz Luhrmann* once said, “Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few, you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”

Feeling imbued to move beyond grief, I promised myself that from that night on forward, I would start treasuring and hugging those precious few. And to the rest, I would tell them how much I appreciate their influence in my life, or share with them something they taught me, or say thank you for something they did. Though you may end up being friends forever, you also can’t guarantee that you too won’t have an unspoken goodbye and the people around you now may one day in the future, however near or far away that may be, a page you click on Facebook and smile at from a distance.

Looking back on the past and ahead to the future, we’re left with a choice for today. May we speak words of gratitude with the people right around us. To lift someone up. To say thank you. To say something you’ve always wanted to tell someone, but were too shy or scared to do so. This is the time. This is it. There are no second chances. This is the present. This is all we ever have. So may you make the most of it. May you risk feeling awkward or that the other person may think you’re emotional, because you just might touch their life, like they touched yours. May you love well. May you let go of whatever it is that needs to be let go of with peace and courage, a departing coda to a particular journey of seasons and reasons. May we bind up past regret and celebrate brave, unfettered surrenders as we are tied closer to new unforgettables: of friends, of love, of laughter, of glimpses of Heaven on Earth and the face of your Maker in the most unexpected of places. May we accept life’s fragility and the passing of time, treasuring past memories, and then, in turn, may we make many, many more, because life doesn’t stop when the picture is hung in the frame, but rather, needs to constantly be explored, trampled upon, danced upon, cart-wheeled upon, and “whooped up!” because the story is being written and I don’t want to read the same jejune pages, scratching my head, wondering, “gee, where was I all of those years?”

Surely we can learn to make peace with change.
We can trade in rote conversation for beatific communion.
We can be grateful for every single person God has brought into our lives. Even if you no longer talk anymore, you can deep down appreciate how they have shaped some part of who are.
We can learn to say the words we’ve always wanted to say, ask the questions we’ve always wanted to ask, because we haven’t been offered unlimited chances and opportunities.

We can greet the cashier behind the counter by name, converse with the couple who just moved in, new to town, and we can actually listen to someone’s response when we ask, “how are you?” Much like Jesus with the woman at the well, we can take these seemingly ordinary tasks and interactions and recycle them for something better, something beautiful, something more compelling then the status quo.
And together, we can celebrate, that the God who brought such treasured people into our lives in the past can surely bring new community and deep relationships into our lives today.

So with unspoken goodbyes must also come new hellos. Today may you say, “hello” to the stranger who sits next to you on your morning commute and try to learn just one thing about them. May you say “hello” to new opportunities, to new friends, faces, fellow wanderers and travelers, to new risks, to new dreams, to something undiscovered, to something on your bucket list, to the deep end, to dares, to rolling down hills barefoot and unafraid…

Yes, get those hands waving hello, palms wide open, prepare those handshakes, click “register” for that race you’ve always wanted to do, get your camera out and take insanely beautiful pictures and as you do, may you smile with the morning dawn, grateful to be alive in no matter what season of life in which you find yourself.

*If you’ve never heard Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen,” I highly recommend it. I listen to it every couple months for wisdom and inspiration.