Saturday, July 18, 2015

Costa Chica, Oaxaca: Bound


A flight into Tijuana late yesterday evening and street tacos with good friends concluded nearly a month spent in Oaxaca. My wisps of memories and fragmented thoughts were not the only remnants that followed from Mexico, but Tropical Storm Dolores as well. I woke up to a cacophony of chirping birds, booming thunder and blessed rain as I tried to orient myself once again. It didn’t seem to take long as I easily fell into the habit of endless cups of green tea and a second breakfast of Acai at Better Buzz, running into friends and family from USD.  Pieces of the familiar weaving together once again a life of little luxuries: privileges that without consciousness of participation in a larger system render one indifferent, numb; introverting perspective.
Thankfully, I’m reminded. Conversations and images that force me to remember; to feel deeply what the suffocating humidity may have subdued in the present moment. The wonderings, aches, and fascinations are the sand that could not be contained in my hands as it fell through my fingers on the beach in Chacahua, but instead stubbornly found its way back in my bag; clinging to dirty socks and settled into the hem of my pants.
A small, blue leather book with gold embossed writing passed from Border Patrol’s hands back into mine last night, allowing me return to San Diego. Plastic chairs under a mango tree with smoke from an outdoor fire that warmed tortillas and Antonio across from me immediately came to mind. A man in his thirties, recently deported, lamented separation from his six children in Kansas City. I crossed over with ease in the backseat of an air-conditioned car, he vowed to risk all once more, through the desert at night.
A boy in a tank top and flip flops the same age as Julio and Consuelo’s son takes me back. All of us gathered on the porch of their home, my hands sticky from the icy, sweet juice of a Boli, holding the family’s new puppy in my lap. My legs itchy from several new bug bites that surely came from following Julio through his cattle pastures. “You don’t go the US because you want to.” he’d said with a chuckle meant less for entertainment purposes than for emphasis of a well known truth. As we’d wandered through the deep green of his land, crawling through barbed-wire from one section to the other, Julio’s pride for his animals and way of life in La Pastoria was apparent. Paloma, his dog who in ecstasy rolled in the small streams we crossed, seemed to reflect the joy that radiated from Julio's smile as a patted his humongous, cream white bull. This was what was good: raising three kind-hearted kids and laughing with his warm soul of a wife. Three trips to the United States and a world of experience couldn’t compete with this corner of earth. Yet, would it be the same without those trips north building houses in Miami and Chicago? Could he drive his children two towns over for school in their used car or own the land his cows grazed on without it? Would Consuelo have the time and energy to invest into the local development cooperative that looked to employ the next generation of youth from the small town? Certainly not.
Lives and livelihoods intertwined in so complex a network it is difficult to see how one frayed end is bound to the other. Must it be untangled, or can we instead trace the lines that connect us? Remembering, that the meals shared, hugs given, and moments of silence observed between us for realities we’d rather not exist, belong to us all. They are sweaty clothes, the mud on my backpack, and sand dumped out on my carpet that return; I cannot forget.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Resurrection in La Luna Llena


Over a phone call I told my mom about the moon. Not an unusual topic of conversation as we often ask did you catch it? Did you see it? The full moon through the clouds or the orb rising over the desert mountains, the answer most likely being yes, as it is hard miss. Yet last weekend’s moon was different. Sitting on my couch reading the pages for grad school that never seem to end, I looked up out my window to the indigo sky and the rising full moon, soft white with shaded veins that remind me of a rabbit. Its light was breathtaking, refracting in four directions in the shape of cross. Resurrection Moon.

Most popular images and traditions associate Easter with the rising sun; sunrise services, and morning lilies. At the end of what was a Holy Week, I witnessed Resurrection not in sunlight, but in moonlight. The Risen Lord rises and shines soft, white light into darkness that is not blanketed evil, rather shadowed existence, beautiful in its own right. Subtle refractions into the course of our everyday humming reality tend to be God, more so than intense moments of blinding light.

Moon beams led me through the searching of an empty tomb, Tijuana. It is just grey silted dust, air hazed with pollutants, burning trash, haphazard, crisscrossed electrical wires, and a chaos of frenzied people and dogs. Yet this tomb is the site of something greater, not seen, but felt. Six days of returning to what I’ve deemed as the ugliest, most joyful place that has allowed me to call it home, helped me to know beyond the emptiness. I felt the carpeted green of the colimas, the unobstructable fence with still visible slats, open windows of a minivan trailing Latin music in the night through unmarked streets, a vibrant archway of bougainvilleas outside a shanty by the railroad tracks, and los Tijuanenses who time and time again shine soft light into the marvelous obscurity of their city.

Conchita, la ama de Francisco Real, wrapped me in a warm embrace as I thanked her unnecessarily for her graciousness our first night across the border. A few days later in preparation for a fiesta for the community, Conchita, with her arms around us all, directed a group of girls in the making of guacamole with her very own recipe, laughed and chided me to apurate mija as I flipped tortillas on a stove to warm them, and ended the evening dancing la meringue on a concrete slab with Padre Jesse. This woman is selfless love, joy to music, manifestation of la Madre.

Cristobal, a father from Zamora, graced me with presence and vulnerability from across the table as we shared a meal of beans, tortillas, and beef stew. I heard of his three young adult daughters as he joked with pride that they don’t know how to do anything but study. He spoke of his wife of twenty-six years, not quite sure how he got lucky enough to marry her. I nodded, knowing exactly why. Cristobal shared with me how he had planned to cross with a visa and participate in cyclical migration, working a few months in construction and returning to Michoacan by late summer. Tricked into fraudulent papers, he was apprehended soon after he handed them over for examination to Border Patrol. So much time, so much money, for nothing. No opportunity. I shared my hurt and frustration with the brokenness of our immigration system and how I had cried out Est├ímos en la lucha on the lawn of the Capitol building; waiting, wishing, and fighting for legislation to give dignity to those such as him. We’d both been turned around. Tears filled Cristobal’s eyes. My heart sobbed. It’s not our people, it’s our system.

Maria, called me over to a table where she sat in her wheelchair folding toilet paper to be used as tissue by the women who are no longer forgotten and invisible at Casa de las Madres. ¿Eres Mexicana? No, yo no soy Mexicana. Apparently my lighter eyes and skin were not enough of a giveaway. But did it really matter anyway? No. I knelt beside Maria, offering to help her fold the toilet paper. No hija, me lo mantiene joven. Claro, it keeps her young a little while longer. But the end wasn’t far away she said, not her choice as to when, the will of Dios. Was she ready I asked? Yes. We chatted about the freedom, joy, and awe of the afterlife. How exciting to be with the creator somewhere beyond our imagine. Let us not wish death, but celebrate it when it comes. For a short period of time Maria was my grandmother, recently gone from this life. I felt her peace in the soft, wrinkled hands that held mine. Vaya con dios abuelita.

My Easter Moon, Tijuana. La Luna Llena, that rose to reveal a tomb of visible emptiness and despair, but so full of deeply felt hope in our shared humanity. I raised my hands, in a chapel filled with students from San Diego and families from the colonia.  Together, dancing until we sweated; celebrating existence under same roof while the carne asada grilled outside awaiting our fiesta. As the speakers played, abre tus ojos, mira hacia arriba, disfruta las cosas buenas, I opened my eyes and looked heavenward, enjoying the good things.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Home


The past few months have found me living the statement of HOME. Yes, there’s a period at the end, no question mark as to where it is or ought to be. The word conjures up so many sights, sounds, and smells- different for all of us. But whether a physical location or moment in time, HOME is where we belong, where we are meant to be, where we live our truest self. Yet sometimes, home is more than a place we find ourselves, rather it is a place that finds us.

For me it began like this, HOME…??...!!!...??? Picking up all over again thousands of miles away left me questioning and searching for a physical location that was home. My question for God was where do you want me? Stubbornly, I kept asking the same question, even probing further with Why?? Yet there was no answer. I wasn’t asking the right question.

What is HOME? To be fair, I didn’t really ask this. Instead, I sighed, I moved on, and prayed just to be. And in that I was shown HOME. A perfect 46 degree night in January led my feet out to the lit monuments on the National Mall. Starting at the Washington and making my way down towards Lincoln, across to MLK and FDR, and around to Jefferson, I run thankful for ear warmers and gloves. Hard breathing and sweat against the cool night air calm me and I wander; knowing I belong just as the geese lying on the ice sheets that cover the Tidal Basin do. Slats in a fence barely wide enough to peer through with one eye give view to a white sandy beach, the ocean haze, and in the distance the downtown buildings of San Diego. A step back affords perspective of the U.S. Mexico Border; a construction meant to separate, yet in its resistance can unite the most unlikely of hearts. This is home, in the Borderlands of ambiguity, among those who intimately experience God in hardship and suffering as well as in celebration and joy and invite me to enter into this as well. With feet wet from tide-pooling, growing cold from the loss of the sun as it slowly sinks into the grey-blue of the water, I gaze towards the painted sky over the ocean and give praise for the adventure of it all- known and unknown. It is home. Wine and chocolate chip cookies that raise hard, belly snorting giggles around the table and the waving hands and smiles of strangers on morning runs bring me home to a church whose walls happen to be hands and feet, and laughter too.

HOME is not a place outside of one’s self, it dwells within. “I do not know much about grace, but I do know this: Grace meets us where we are at and never leaves us quite how she found us.” Let Grace come.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Our Shared World




It is obvious. We are hurting. I sit each morning sipping a mug of tea in front my laptop scrolling through the news and realize anew the world is wounded. From my place of privilege, I observe the current situation of civil unrest unfold in images and words. Brown skin, red stains, black paint, white banners, and the words, “I can’t breathe.” Acts of solidarity and calls for justice resound across several continents as we realize that no matter how far we’ve come we still have so much further to go. I mourn the absence of steadfast commitment to human dignity and loss of regard for the beauty of a beating heart and the individual soul that emanates from within. Where do we begin to heal the wounds of elitism become manifest in racial, social, and economic prejudice?  Perhaps the answers to our utterances of desperation to a higher power can be found in shared places such as a third grade classroom.

It’s 8:10 on a Wednesday morning. I’ve already been up for three hours, arrived to work, prepped the boards in my classroom, and listened to my seventeen students recite their prayers in the straightest of a line they could manage. I stand in the doorway and usher in a string of eight and nine year old's bundled in winter jackets ready to begin the day. Towards the end of group comes Maya, eyes downcast. I sigh. I’m already ready for Friday and it looks like it going to be a rough one for her today. Pulling the hood off her head, I put my arm around her and wish her good morning. She shrugs me off. Lord please get me through.

What will it be today? A scene of instances previously played out come to mind. Maya sitting unresponsive at her desk for the first fifteen minutes of class with a blank journal open in front of her. As her classmates write one to two pages in improving cursive, Maya remains with her head on the table, expressionless, my kneeling beside her desk offering prompts and words of encouragement, not doing an ounce of good. Maya, alone at her seat with the hood of her winter coat covering her face despite the almost uncomfortable heat in the building. The rest of the rest of the class sits on the floor for guided reading and discussion of chapter eleven of Pippi Longstocking. Maya, working in her math group suddenly lashing out at another student for saying the answer before she does. I’m filled with a sort of dread.

Same line, same students, same door, another day.  The hood of that awful leopard trim coat is up. I gently pluck it off and pat Maya’s back. This time, instead of cringing, she looks at me, her eyes pooling with tears and I see it: the bruise on her cheekbone and puffy, lacerated lip. My blood pressure rises as I say, “Tell me about it.” And she does. Maya’s older half brother had been expelled from school where he was living with his father and was now back with her and her mom. His struggles sought release in a blow to Maya’s face. What words of mine would suffice in such a moment?  Six came to mind. “I love you and you matter.” My arms, wrapped tightly around my body in the futile attempt to keep myself warm that winter unraveled to hold the girl inside the ugly coat. Maya’s world had just become mine.

I would never be fully able to comprehend her experience; Maya’s girlhood so different from my own. But I could notice and compliment her fresh braids, oiled with coconut, every Monday. I could give her extra time in the line of students that crowded my desk each morning while I took roll to share their exciting updates since I’d last seen them fourteen hours ago. I could share enthusiasm about the new dress Maya’s mom was going to buy her that weekend and the Jamaican patty that was stowed in her lunch pail. I could tell Maya, the nine year old who stood almost eye to eye with me, how proud I was of her for mastering a new karate move in her after-school program. This was the world we shared.

One girl taught me what love does. Love is hard, it’s uncomfortable, it hurts, and love also heals.




Thursday, October 30, 2014

More than Enough

     October. Fitting that this month falls within the changing of seasons, where vibrant life turns bright orange and fiery red before beginning its descent to the ground. This is where I have been; learning lessons about life, the golden end days, the eventual fall to death, and the afterwards in which passing brings new life and yes, celebration.
     My grandmother passed away in the middle of her favorite season. The prayers in my head manifested themselves in the words I uttered over and over. "Take her." "In peace." Of course it is not easy, but it's what you do for people you love the most. You let them go. We let her go. But first she had to be alright with letting us go too.
     Before she left, I was blessed with a few days of my grandma's company surrounded by incredible individuals I am fortunate enough to to share my features with-my family.There were moments of silence holding her hand and plenty of kisses on the forehead. There were also words. Not many, but never wasted. Our conversations where mostly brief, as not to be tiresome, but sometimes they were longer filled with memories conjured from the past. Yet a common element was threaded through my grandmother's words. The question of am  I enough? How often do we ask ourselves this very same question multiple times a day? I often do. Yet as the leaf is golden in preparation for its descent this question becomes even more poignant. My grandmother was more than enough.
     At under five feet hovering around ninety pounds this woman did not really take up much physical space on earth. But she did so in so many other ways. Growing up on a farm in Iowa and then supporting herself working for a family in Minnesota left her with no more than an eighth grade education. Yet she is one of the most articulate poets and writers I know and played a strategic Scrabble game. It was not long after her marriage to my grandfather that she started a family, always providing oatmeal carmelitas, brownies, and special k bars cut up into sixty-four pieces to satisfy what has become the genetic sweet tooth. Ten children later she was left to raise her family on her own. This is what has been her greatest feat. I wonder how is it that one person can give so much to the world. There are times when I have looked around a room filled with people, even though only half my aunts, uncles, and cousins were present and been amazed by the love. No, it's not the kind where we pretend to get along at holidays, it's the real thing. It's sharing our lives, it's hula hooping together, it's savoring wine, it's trying to squeeze too many activities into the day, it's complaining about our bad feet, it's gazing up at the full moon. All because of one woman.
     One woman who always knew what to say. One woman whose small hands that sometimes braided my hair and wrote the kindest notes were the gentlest I've ever known. One woman whose competitive spirit could put anyone to shame over cards or boardgames.One woman who cared deeply about the world and the least fortunate in it. One woman who always reminded me to gaze to the sky and revel in what I saw. One woman who blew kisses that carried her love to wherever I ended up and made me feel like I was doing something right. One woman whose last wishes were that we continue to celebrate.
    And we will. We'll celebrate you. Because Grandma, you are more than enough. You have mattered.

P.S.
While this has been one of the toughest months, I can also say it's been one of my favorites. When people have asked, "how are you doing?" I've honestly answered, " I'm doing just fine." I was able to do so because so many of you prayed with me, listened to me on the phone for hours, and were vulnerable in journeying through loss together. I've been reminded of how love gives life. Thank you. You too, have mattered.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fall in Love

Lying in bed the other night, the words of one of my favorite prayers came to me out of the blue:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.

Why they showed up past my bedtime, I do not know, but so they did. Perhaps needing more than to be uttered, but to be realized. 

What is love and how do we feel it? I think this word is thrown around too often and not often enough. I try not to say the word when I don't mean it, as not to confuse understanding. But I am more guilty of not saying Love enough. I often forget, am too caught up, or perhaps lack the courage to form the word. Regardless, of whether it is exercised or not, Love exists and is very real. It is manifest more often than not all around us, pulling us to and fro by its invisible, forceful strings. How do we know it's Love? It's coming home, or so a good friend said to me. It is the feeling of security; deep knowledge of goodness fueled by a sense of freedom to be with abandon. 

It happens everyday. Maybe just once, but usually more. Falling in Love isn't foreign or rare.  Yet, do we recognize it? Sometimes not. Sometimes so. Perhaps the words above showed up to disturb my sleep in order remind me of what I forget to acknowledge. To remind me to take note of Falling in Love. 

I fall in Love in the morning, when the clouds from the ocean are slow in their departure and my tea kettle squeals as I run my fingers over clean counter tops. Solitude, possibility, Love.

I fall in Love after my judgment condemns the mother picking up take-out at nine o'clock at night with her young son in tow. Shouldn't he be in bed? I notice that I am in the same line. On my way out, I see them, mother and son, tossing a ball back and forth in the blackness of the parking lot. Love.

I fall in Love as I open my fridge. The pictures on its front that catch my eye are of familiar faces that have taught me what this thing is all about, Love.

Fall in Love, stay in Love, and it will decide everything.
NotWhatNothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way. - See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/prayers-by-st-ignatius-and-others/fall-in-love/#sthash.IFPJsCt6.dpuf
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way. - See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/prayers-by-st-ignatius-and-others/fall-in-love/#sthash.IFPJsCt6.dpuf

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Passing on the Sun

How are you? So simple a question, yet is it ever asked seeking the real answer? Of course one is told it's socially acceptable to answer, "I'm Fine", "Okay", or "Great". Anything more than one or two words is seemingly excessive. What if someone broke the mold and replied they're not okay? We are told to be "okay" or make it seem so. Yet who in this world actually has it all figured out? Perhaps we need to carve space for authenticity; to allow the unokayness of ourselves to permeate, to become real, and eventually  to make us whole.

Getting ready to roast marshmallows with a group of students the other evening, I took a moment to sneak off and catch the sun become one with the blueish gray of the Pacific. Sunset is often the time I feel the most joy, the harsh light leaves to make way for purple, orange shadows that subdue colors and cast a softening hue. I love this time of day. When the sun sinks below the horizon, I imagine the next set of people who get to watch the sunset. It is as if we pass the sun on; sending it miles away to allow others their revelry, yet always with the faith it will come around the next day and we'll get to do the whole thing over again.

As subdued tones fade to deep indigo the orange glow on the horizon completely disappears to a black sky. Recently, I had the opportunity to stand, freezing cold, in a field with my head tilted back and gaze upon innumerable stars. I was also able to view star clusters light years away through a telescope. The lens offered me a chance to look back in time thousands of years to light that had long ago flickered and yet was only now reaching our eyes. What did it look like now I wondered? Was it even more spectacular?

Yet the light from the stars is invisible to the human eye when the sun shines. We have to let it go. We have to pass it along to others in order to have the stars, much like the stars must one by one fade away into a lightening sky so they may fill another dark night.  It's change you see. It is relinquishing the incredible that makes your heart pound for the spectacular that takes your breath away. This is the unokayness.

The sun for the stars and vice versa. However, with that comes frustration of knowing, of being, of doing like there is nothing else in the moment. It's loving the dipping orange ball, the green flash, the darkening of the sky, the blanket of stars, the light on the Eastern horizon; every bit of it. I want to know, to be, to do with certainty-faith that it's good right now and will continue to be so, much like I do on my evening runs. I know how many times I have to wrap my elastic around my ponytail to keep it from falling. I know the tingling in my right big toe and have come to expect it. I know how to micro-adjust my shoulders in order to allow my lungs more air. I know my body senses the last half mile and my feet rotate faster on their own accord. I want nothing else but all that is that hour. This sureness and presence is what I crave.

To desire nothing else but what's given. To delight in whatever light there is. To breathe hard and have that breath taken away.

 But first I must pass on the sun.