Monthly Archives: October 2014

Traffic Lights

It started happening again. I started crying at stoplights. On off-ramps. When my car slows and you’re standing there with a sign about work or being a veteran or needing to get home. And, it takes everything in me not to get out of my car and do something. And, it takes everything in me not to shrink away, look everywhere but your eyes. And, sometimes I don’t. I focus on the light, changing. It always changes. The seconds are so slow.

I went through a period of time where I always had a granola bar tucked under the seat. I kept spare change cradled in the cup-holder, just to have something to give. I wanted to help. I went through a season after where I stood in self-righteousness that it would only feed the problem, not give any solutions. The system is the problem, I raged. When I was working in nonprofit sector, I felt like I could connect you to a resource. I felt like I had an option. We need relationship more than anything else and these days I am strung thin and wish I could give you more than this smile. 

Why does it always come back to what I can give? My entitlement squirms out even when I’m hoping to shake out the injustice in this world.

I’m a counseling grad student and trying to make it through the day hearing heart ache and lost dreams morning after morning. I’m not a saint. And, most days the only thing I have to hold onto is the hope that this great big God of ours is telling a long story. And, some days I do just want to sit at this red light, waiting for the change, and cry.

We all need to get home. I’m still wondering where mine is. As the leaves begin to break into reds and oranges, nostalgia  stirs this part of me that holds onto fall hikes, boots crunching on paths, flannel and laughter. I’ve begun to know the lines of this city, the ways the roads fall into each other, anticipate the traffic. It’s like this ongoing relationship where I both love and easily compare it to a past love, a one that has probably become a beautiful distortion of reality. Idealism has a way of doing that.

I get on twitter during my breaks. They’re talking about Ferguson again. In 140 characters, rage and injustice and hope. I hold my tongue and my heart. I write out sentences. Delete them. Write them out again. Sometimes I push “send.” I am easily consumed by the urge to blame, and I blame myself. I’m activated and once that happens it’s hard for me to make the next right decision, a decision that could actually do some good in my neighborhood. A decision that could call out the injustice and move towards peace. I want to invite others in rather than push them out. I’m still unsure what that looks like going forward. I’m still asking the questions. 

I’m putting those granola bars back in my car. Maybe I’ll buy an extra cup of coffee this morning. I may be small and unable to change the system today, but your dignity is worth more than that. It’s above any inadequacy I feel. You’re strong. I want to tell you that. Let’s both keep fighting. A red light’s not a lot for a conversation, and it’s enough for a smile.

Go On, Girl

I don’t know.

How often have I said those words, spilling them just to fill the silence. I say them in finality and to end the long lines of questioning.

There are two ways of hiding: Saying you know when you don’t. Saying you don’t know when you do. The first is much easier to spot. I put on a show. I play the part of great and amazing and, dare I say, perfect. And, all I feel is emptiness. Perhaps if I smile long enough, you won’t see the fear that fills my lungs, threatening to strangle me. Perhaps if I keep you entranced, you’ll never catch me, and I’ll never have to see myself.

The second is more difficult. The second is proclaiming defeat and playing small. It is a seeming inability to cope. I say I don’t know where to turn, who to trust, what to say, what to feel. I refuse to know because knowing could bring action. Action could bring failure. And, failure could leave me broken. It’s easier to sink in to my fragility and pain because they are familiar. It’s easier to let you decide for me what to say or do or be. I won’t be hurt if I never let you see me, so I just won’t show up. 

I saw Gone Girl last night.

The last few weeks of life have been so full of transition. My body typically has a way of telling me something is changing. Sometimes my body tells the truth when my mind refuses to accept it. Every morning my eyes have opened at 5 am. Not by conscious choice. I look at the clock. I close my eyes again. I turn over. And over. Till 7 am pulls the sun through the window and I start the day.

Last night I left the theater, head foggy, words caught in twisted thoughts, knotted from life and a plot that felt detached from any human emotion. I tried to find words that spoke of the disturbing truths of the movie and couldn’t. In it, a girl, that both pretends to be more than her insecurity and feels like she’s losing, essentially “kills” herself to get it back. I walked out with crushed compassion and fear. That was what it was about, wasn’t it? Fear and control, and ultimately hiding. There was no vulnerability and hope in the struggle. It was all self-preservation. And, self-preservation leaves us disconnected.

We are so afraid to be known and so terrified to be lost. And, in the end, it ends up being all about a shell of something we’re so afraid will crack. Can I make you want me? Can I push you away so you never will? Both leave us never truly seeing the other in our realness. In our humanness. We’re gone. We were never there. 

Acceptance.

This word rings and stings. It feels like giving up and giving in. Maybe it’s an end to hiding. Maybe it’s the choice sit down for a minute and realize we’re cracked and we’re beautiful. We can see the world as it is. We can see ourselves. And, the words will come. It’s an every day sort of thing. I have to choose to keep my hands open. 

Go on, girl.

When It Falls

That afternoon I sat in your office seemed like so many other hot afternoons there. In the light filtered through blinds, I gazed around at all the worn books and weathered photos. They stared back at me, offering memories and deep nostalgia of times that held no less confusion in other ways, but definite familiarity.

“What’s up?” you asked. The place smelled exactly like it always had, cigars and day old coffee. You leaned back in your chair, casually as if you had no agenda.

I started to tell you about the kids I worked with, just a mile down the road. I told you about how tired I was. This was nothing new to you. You’d probably seen it a hundred times or more. All the things you had tried to teach us about the world and fighting for it, well I was holding onto those, and still I was drowning. I had left you the year before, thinking I knew it all, wanting to get my hands and feet dirty in injustice. You used to talk about this “splagma” of the soul. Jesus had it, you said, this movement in the bowels towards compassion.

I didn’t realize I was an activist till I had already become one.  But, that day, I sat, both full of this “splagma” and my own pain and I looked at you not knowing what to say. All those dreams you had told me to chase and the fight to win, well they seemed so far off now. Everything I was doing felt like just a drop in the bucket of tragedy. 

The summer before, I had begun working on a four foot painting of a quote that had hung in Mother Theresa’s Shushu Bhavan Children’s Home in Calcutta, India. Every day after leaving children’s voices, I traced the letters over and over, as if to imprint them into my own skin for both our sakes. Love them anyway. Build anyway. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. 

I took a lot of baths that July, sought out places of water as if it were my mission in life. When I submerged each time, it was as if the stillness drowned out the chaos of the world. When I was younger, my sister and I used to practice speaking underwater. She would yell and I would try to interpret whatever it was she had so eloquently bellowed. I found some sort of laughter in the ridiculousness of it all then. That summer, those underwater screams became prayerful wails; the water, a sanctuary. And, I hoped that God would understand those cries in ways I had never been able to do for my sister, in ways I could never do for the world. Maybe in ways I had never been able to do for myself.

I stepped into this work, and it felt like falling down a deep hole. I can only compare it to love, and then heartache. People call that “falling in love.” Is it really falling? Or, is it simply discovering those deepest places of connection that feel so natural they don’t feel chosen at all? You feel as as if you have been chosen. Then you realize your choice in the matter. You get to say, despite the pain and heartache, I will still choose you. Out of all the rest, you are the one I choose. I want to have the kind of commitment that it takes to stay and hold hands here, in all of our imperfections, yours and mine.

Five years later, I sit with tea in my hand, this symbol of grief as I slowly sip and remember. These same questions turning over and over. You have just sent me an email about continuing the work, imperfectly and wherever it might be. We fight every day with small acts of great love. One drop will eventually tip the bucket. And, the water will rain down. And, when it does, I want to be beneath it.