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.

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.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Getting Starting

It started much like accidental seeds strewn by a wayward breeze, popping up hesitantly unsure of their own existence. The idea to blog came from seeds that perhaps had no intention of planting themselves, but did so anyway. Over the past several months, I've been moved by the willingness of others to share their own intimate perspectives of the human experience, via other blogs, memoirs, stories, or genuine conversation ,and I too wanted to share in this expression of simply living life, and doing so together.

A few of my aunts have been catalysts to the words that will show up much like it is they who send hula hoops spinning or get us to spend time pouring over poetry every day in April.  Any complaints may be addressed to them. This summer, sitting in a beach chair with my toes making trails in the sand, I listened to Mary recount stories of growing up with my dad, aunts, and uncles. Nothing was left out, the triumphs, the sorrows, and those odd things that really don't need to be shared. I sat in revelry, enjoying the fact that I was a part of family that had so much to share. It was real. I wanted that. Mary and I talked about the idea of writing and sharing it with other people. Maybe Grandma would like it? Julie let me flip through one of her magazines that just so happened to be themed "Sharing our Stories". There it was, the wayward breeze.

I'm thinking I'll write not because I am doing anything rather spectacular with my life, or have infinite wisdom to share, but because I want you to know how much you all mean to me. I can't see each of you everyday or pick up a phone whenever I think of you, but I can leave a door open and the porch light on. While in Jamaica, a couple of years ago I lived this true sense welcome and kinship. Doors were left open, lights on until late hours of the night, big speakers blasting Michael Jackson while who knows whose kids sat in my lap braiding my hair after I braided theirs chanting, "Why, Why, Why?" "Tell them that it's human nature." It's human nature to sing together and have hands grimy from Patties slide through your hair. We're meant to do life together however strange, joyful, or tough it may be.

I'm so grateful for those who do life with me who have taught and continue to teach me that it is okay to share. This is for you. Those who'll sit in my bedroom with the candles burning and talk about boys and everything under the sun. My student who opens my arms at 7:30 in the morning to wrap a hug around her to make the inside hurt of a puffy lip bestowed by an older brother go away. A boss who calls me into her office to talk about preparations for a meeting and ends up discussing her journey as a mother; helping me to question what I really want out of life. A struggling reader from a broken family who writes a card to tell me that the time when we read one on one at the back table is the best part of her day.  Ladies who share wine on the porch on a Friday night and have that say anything kind of conversation. Dave, the Vietnam Veteran, handing out the Express at the Metro, each morning setting my day right telling me I have a beautiful smile. Two men south of the border in a home living with HIV and AIDS who help me forget all that separates us, but rather remind me of how bound we are in the present moment. An immigrant father who'll stand outside my door to chat about his daughter's performance in class and his dreams of her receiving a scholarship to attend a university, even after a long day driving taxis and a night shift stocking shelves. A grandmother on the train who gifted me her story of overcoming abuse and how she found God on the streets. And those who've seen me cry, watched the weirdness that often ensues, and made me laugh with my head thrown back.

I love the way you make me feel.