You do not complete me

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You do not complete me.

We are not two halves that make a whole. We are two whole beings which have moved independently, and then, toward each other. And you and I, two wholes, have merged, become enmeshed until something greater has formed. We are not simply a puzzle with the last piece satisfyingly clicked into a place. We have now become a force, moving together.

Life has come into, and out of, this simple coupling of two beings who had agreed to love and continue together. Pieces of us have been taken apart, rearranged, and put back together into miniature faces that look vaguely familiar but unlike our own. But the strands of DNA which have been pulled out of our bodies and given to a new life are only a small piece of what has now been created. Overused words such as love and family are not adequate descriptors because we use them blithely without regard for the power implicit in their meaning.

We have created an us.

There is, of course, still a me, and a you, but now there is an us. An invisible thread has painfully, lovingly sewn us, all of us, together into one.

Threads break. They catch and snare; they wear thin when no one is looking. One person holds tight to the end of the line while another slips away, to another life, to another world. But we remain in formation, even as the mold cracks away, choosing to hold tight even when nothing binds us together.

You do not complete me. Together, we complete something more.

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On Finding Beauty

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They say that when you write,
You should not use the world beautiful
Because they will not know what you mean.

I hope you know that when I call you beautiful,
I do not mean the curvature of your brow, the color of your eyes or the fall of your hair.
I mean that I do not know you.

It has also been said that love at first sight does not exist,
Because its basis is in appearance
Rather than acquaintance.

But I have fallen in love with you,
A brand new soul that no one has yet to understand.
I am in love with your mystery.

And so my wish for you is thus:
May you never grow accustomed to beauty,
But always marvel when you come upon it.

The Problem with Peace


From where I am sitting today, on a hillside above the coast, the ocean appears to be a beacon of peace. Wide, calming, and deep. I could stare at it for hours, marveling at its vast steadfastness, letting its peace wash over my soul. 

But as anyone who has spent time sailing the seas can tell you, this would be a false metaphor, an incomplete characterization. The ocean’s waves can wail and batter, churning with discontent and power. Its sandy shores are the pummeled remains of rocks that have not survived its strength. The reality, viewed up close, is a complex force rather than a peaceful vista. 

I suspect it is the same for the lucky few astronauts who have viewed our home from a seat in the sky. Our discontents, wars, anger, poverty, fears and boundaries appear invisible under the blue planet’s swirling clouds. The cries of the men and women who were murdered in Orlando on Sunday would not have escaped the atmosphere. 

In times such as these, the weight of a churning world can feel too much to bear. The atrocities that surround us are numerous – people are hated and killed for simply loving, weapons of war are held by citizens who aim to kill, and refugees are forced to wait helplessly on foreign shores because they call their God by a different name. Poverty concentrates in communities of color, women can’t walk streets alone, and children live under the reign of terror. These realities tempt my soul to anger, fear, and occasionally hate. 

I subscribe to an faith which, I must often remind myself, commands me otherwise, preferring that I align with love and peace, words that seem wholy inadequate at times such as these. Love and peace are weak, an anemic response compared to hate and anger. Love is the Beatles and a brass band playing along during a movie’s opening credits. It is a red heart emoji, a word we use to describe our feelings about pizza and Starbucks frappuccinos. We have watered it down in to meaninglessness. 

Peace has met a similar fate, its symbol becoming a piece of preteen jewelry, a t-shirt slogan. It is synonymous with inaction; it is a command from the haves to the have nots whenever they dare to lift their voices. It is not a response suitable enough to stand up to the waves of evil which rock our homes. 

If I am forced to chose between hate and anger, and meaningless inaction, I am not sure which is the worse path. 

Unless, of course, my initial assessment of the ocean was correct. What if peace was a force, powerful enough to shatter injustice and oppression? It would then require action, rather than a hollow repetition of words and displaying of symbols that have grown meaningless with use that has not been followed by deeds. 

I am a writer, and my course of action is to write. I do not doubt that this is little more meaningful than inaction. I am at best a voice shouting into silence, at worse another noise in the clamoring chorus. 

I am, however, but one small ripple in the water, one part of an ocean that finds it strength in the multitudes moving together. It is important to be realistic, to understand that it only takes one person to perpetrate an act of hate that destroys scores of lives. If acts of love wish to outweigh evil, they then must be many times more numerous, many times more frequent, many times stronger. 

In a few short weeks, we will forget this tragedy just as we have forgotten all others. It is unfortunate but necessary – it would be impossible to hold all suffering at the forefront of our minds at all times. The weight would be too much to bear. It is not too much, however, to let ourselves be changed by it, to let the waves of pain wash over us and leave something behind, which if we allow it, may become even stronger. 

Talking about weaning on Mamalode

I’m excited to have a story about how I ended up nursing my almost two-year old, and its unexpected benefits up on Mamalode. Check it out!

They say they’re too old once they can walk up to you and ask for it.
They say you should stop if they’ve got all their teeth.

They say it’s definitely time once he’s hitting your chest and yelling, “MILK!” in public.

I know they say all these things, because I used to say them. 

Read it here

The Thursday Night Potluck Club

“I can’t,” I said. “I just can’t do it anymore.” We drove down the highway, his hands clutching the steering wheel of my car. The reality, which I had hoped to put off until after the graduation festivities, had exploded during an emotional conversation. And with those words, a four-year relationship ended as we drove towards campus.

Then it was summer.

I was reeling in a way that seemed impossibly difficult to a 21 year old. I told my parents that I couldn’t move home that summer, saying I would be better able to find a job in the tourist town where I went to school than back in the countryside. The truth was, I was unable to move. The thought of leaving for the lonely Appalachian hills where my ill-fated romance had begun seemed impossible, and so I chose inaction instead. I sat alone in my apartment, staring at rows of books I had read and a diploma that bared my name.

Thus I began the Thursday Night Potluck Club. I invited everyone I knew whom had remained in town for the summer, and many I did not. This was not the sort of school where students stayed around once classes had ended, preferring instead to flee the southern heat and let the tourists take over the local sandwich shops until fall began. We were a rag tag bunch – there was my roommate and a few close friends. We were joined by the friend from high school I hadn’t seen much over the last few years, the fellow who sat next to me in a public speaking class whom I had barely said ten words to, the friend of a friend, the friend of a friend of a friend. I grabbed everyone I could find and told them to come to my place, Thursday, 6pm. Bring food and beer. I’ll bake a pie.

That summer was particularly hot, and the heat felt good. It came right up to my skin, filling the spaces between my fingers and behind my ears, suffocating me in a way that let me forget about my newfound freedom. During the day I worked odd hours babysitting and selling bath lotions at a store I hated, and counted down the hours until Thursday night again.

We fired up the ancient grill outside my apartment complex that no one had actually ever used and cooked hot dogs. I served my mother’s broccoli salad and we ate whatever other dishes we had managed to learn how to slop together during our college years. The rag tag bunch grew as people invited the roommate campus housing had assigned to them, or the friend they ran into at the library that week. Most had stayed behind necessarily, either to finish up a course requirement or work at an internship, and perhaps I projected my own loneliness and desperation on to them. But nevertheless, they returned, week after week.

The seniors shuffled slowly through the summer, awaiting an unknown future, and the underclassmen remained blissfully unaware of what was coming. The days grew hotter, and Thursday nights expanded in to cold pints on Tuesday, trips to the beach on Saturday. We went to the water well after the sun had set, the only time that was cool enough to enjoy the outdoors. The boys debated the best bait to use when fishing in the dark and the girls waded into the black water, rolling our eyes at the fervor of the discussion.

Eventually, the summer wound down. Internships ended, final papers for summer classes were turned in, trips home before fall were scheduled. It would be noble, as well as cliché, to say here that the Thursday Night Potluck Club gave me back more than I gave them, but that would imply that I had an altruistic intention of bringing people together. No, I needed to surround myself with others, to forget the loneliness I had brought upon myself. Eating potato chips on a picnic table while we stared up at the summer sky wondering if a thunderstorm would soon come to break the heat, I was home.

There is a feeling, one that is rare as it is wonderful, that comes at graduations and at five o’clock on Friday evenings. It comes when you move homes, quit jobs, finish long books you loved reading, and watch shadows stretch out on summer evenings. It is a sense of completion mixed with anticipation, of satisfaction and adventure, of loss and relief. It is a feeling I rarely have now that I am a stay at home mother, and my days churn into nights without end.

That summer, I lived in that feeling, and surrounded by a community of friends and strangers, I felt my pain slowly give way. That summer I was free.

 

 

 

The Sweet Collapse

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There is a taste I associate with Sunday more than any other.

It is not the dry bread on my tongue, or the burn of red wine on an empty stomach. Those bits of sustenance I reserve for a different category, one of feeling rather than taste. No, to me the taste of Sunday must be soft, round, and sugar glazed.

As kids, we traipsed through the aisles of the local Food Lion after Sunday morning mass, waving at the other parishioners we had seen only minutes before and ignoring our mother’s warning to not ask for anything. We would stop and stare at the display of donuts, eyeing the garish sprinkles and the drips of chocolate glaze landing on the parchment paper below.

On road trips, my mother always had one eye out for a bakery. It had to be the right type, of course, a quaint place boasting artisanal delicacies and old men who sit at their designated tables to read the paper and sip black coffee day after day. Here we found sticky delights filled with homemade raspberry jelly.

In the summer, my sisters and I would retreat to my grandparent’s house for a week at a time, where we would find a pantry filled with cartoon covered boxes of cereal and Little Debbie donut sticks. The sugar stuck to the roof of my mouth for the entire week as we played dress up in my grandmother’s clothes and rode roller coasters at amusement parks that have long since shut their doors.

When I was 22 I moved across the country in search of the same things every young wanderer is looking for. I lived with other twenty somethings in a house named after a saint called Oscar who died serving the poor. During the week we worked at homeless shelters and schools, and ate our dinner served in chipped casserole pans off of mismatched plates. On Saturdays we drove our bikes into the night to drink cheap beer at local bars, and on Sunday mornings we took our hangovers to church.

It was a church the way churches should be. Outside the building, the flowers were immaculate, inside the carpet was green and badly outdated. Families filled the pews, those who had driven there in American made minivans, and those who had arrived in the middle of the night decades ago, illegally as refugees. Members of a L’Arche community sang the songs proudly, and homeless men loitered outside. A sign above the doors that lead out of the church read, “Servant’s Entrance.”

Afterwards we headed over to the parish hall to eat donuts. A Guatemalan woman sold pupusas and tamales while children ran rampant, sneaking extra donuts when their parents turned to socialize.

I poured myself a cup of coffee, and sat on a folding chair at the long table surrounded by friends, some I knew and some I did not. I bit into the donut, relishing the bun’s sweet collapse. It was the end of one week, and the beginning of another.

Teaching Children How to Pray

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First, teach them the words.

The ones your grandmother taught you she tucked you into her quilt, the ones you would forget until you visited her again on your next school break. Teach them these words, the ones they will say over and over again, sometimes with meaning and many times without. They will then join the unbroken hum of humanity, saying words that have been spoken since before they joined this world and will continue to be long after their feet have left it. Should they choose to listen a bit deeper, under this hum of words that has been resonating for millennia they will hear what has been resonating since before words became words. Help. Please.

Do not teach them to bow their heads. This can be dangerous, because at a certain age the only time they will pray is when a beat up Subaru they promised to fill with gas on the way home is skidding over ice toward a four way stop. Head bowing is not advisable in this situation.

Instead, teach them humility. Help them to find their place in the universe, and to realize it is a very small place. A very small space that is theirs, and theirs alone. They must know about their smallness, because only then will they be able to see how many people sit beside them. And from that very small space, they will realize how beautiful it is to be heard.

Tell them it is absolutely necessary that they use their hands to pray. They may hold them together if they wish or interlace their fingers. They can hold the hands of the person sitting beside them should they choose to. That is all well and good. But it is not what I am talking about.

Tell them to use their hands. To roll together a loaf of bread and lift a ladle full of tomato soup. Tell them to use their hands to drive a nail deep into a plank of wood, or to wipe the runny nose of someone much smaller than them. They need to know they are praying as they wash the dishes of someone they will go to bed angry with, and change the tire of someone they don’t know. When their mouths and their minds lose their words, their hands will continue the prayers.

Teach them to stop talking so much. Instead, tell them to start listening to the spaces between the words of their prayers. Here they will hear what the monks who have kneeled before the flicker of a candle feel. Here they will hear what mountain top lovers sitting on the hood of their car think as they watch the setting of a sun. Tell them to listen to themselves when they struggle to find the right words to pray, for it is in these searching moments they have said all they need to.

Teach them to listen. Don’t teach them to listen to you, that hasn’t worked yet and it probably won’t anytime soon. They can’t hear you over the noise of the world. They can’t hear anything. Invite them, instead, to listen to the sheer silence.