Today, I kept with my personal tradition of singing all the patriotic songs I know to celebrate our nation’s independence from the tyranny of the British crown. I felt a bit heavy hearted as my lips uttered words so familiar to me in a time of such unadulterated division in our country as this. We recite a pledge of allegiance as one nation “indivisible” and yet we are so divided both by our own actions and in response to foreign actors who aim to undermine our democracy. It pains me to see this nation upon whose soil I have lived the entirety of my life and which I love be so divided and have such a tenuous future. For the second year in a row, a group of Native Americans have gathered in the park a block from my house to play drums and sing songs. I find it so oddly apropos of the holiday. Likely their ancestors found the colonialism that swept their free lands and murdered and violated their people and civilization nothing to celebrate. Not to mention our declaration of the self evidence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with unalienable rights”. When we didn’t extend those rights to native peoples nor to African people we held as slaves, we deemed them less than human. And that seems nothing to celebrate from their perspective. Yet celebrate they do. And I find their songs hauntingly comforting and a symbol of true patriotic freedom. For in this country, we’ve grown beyond that initial declaration and we’ve acknowledged that those unalienable rights belong to all people both slave and native and women alike. We’ve progressed. It’s something to acknowledge and celebrate. We may not live in a society that has morally found it’s right footing quite yet, but we’ve definitely made progress. We must unite to thwart and control our basest tendencies as humans to control and oppress other humans and truly unite around the central thesis of our fateful declaration and make this a nation where life, liberty, and the right to the pursuit of happiness are available to all its people.
My feet slip mid-step
And I stumble head first
Into your heart
I didn’t aim, I didn’t aim
Your face falls with determination
I am reeling and walls
Appear out of nowhere
To make me stumble
I am firm without and reluctant within
I want to soothe
But your trajectory will not allow
Our collision confounds me.
My aim was sure but I hated it.
Remember that teenaged feeling that everyone noticed you (negatively or positively)? Outfit choices were such an important buffer from outside gazes. You could portray ‘cool’ without a word….or total dork, as the case may be. In public, you felt so conspicuous.
Then, you learn that no one is paying attention to you. They are all too busy worrying about their own lives.
Today, I found myself closely observing the mannerisms of a teenage boy. He was all awkward expressions, uncertain steps and tentative hair flips. He wore a black tshirt with black cowboy boots and jeans. He seemed to be making an effort to appear cool and indifferent.
And then I realized that those ordinary teenaged anxieties of people staring at you were a reality in that moment. I believe I was inconspicuous in my sunglasses, behind the veil of the window I sit behind. But staring I was, noticed or not.
He joined his dad and little brother, a regular tourist family, and ambled up Couch Street.
All these faces
When I was a very young girl, I remember being frustrated by not being able to have some popular item of clothing. Maybe it was Guess jeans or Tretorns…I don’t recall the exact item. I do recall being intensely jealous of other girls who always had the newest things. For some reason, I remember a singular moment of this jealousy. I was at school, in the hallway with red lockers on either side. I was thinking to myself how unfair it all was and how I wished I could have her things. Why couldn’t I have them instead of her? I don’t remember who “she” was. I just remember thinking that I wanted to have the things instead of her.
After pining and pitying myself a bit, I became aware how selfish and unfair I was. Why did I deserve the things more than she did? What made me think that I was somehow more worthy or more valuable than someone else? Why was I such a wretched and selfish girl?
This moment in my internal life resonated with me so deeply, that I’ve carried it with me ever since. It comes back to me occasionally, when something reminds me of selfish longing. I’m not even sure why my heart considers this moment, of all my many wretched moments, as one of such great import to imprint it so clearly on my memory.
Today, as I gazed out of the window of the train, I saw an ordinary man standing next to his old and badly faded car in a parking lot. I imagined him driving his car home. I imagined his car might be noisy or smoke a little and that his home was a modest and plain place, perhaps near the highway and surrounded by other modest and plain houses. I imagined his neighbors. Generally nice folks, though money is perpetually tight. The children clad in hand-me-downs, the dinner, always a trick of spreading the contents of the cupboard to make do for the family.
This is when I recalled my moment of realizing how wicked and selfish my heart is. Expectations. I had expected that I should have what my classmate had. What does this man expect of his own life? Had he given up hoping and dreaming for a new car because it simply wasn’t worth thinking on? I feel certain he’d started life out expecting more, but where did his expectations lie now that he had experienced how difficult and unyielding life can be? The haves and the have-nots. He’s a have-not. How does that impact his life-experience?
I think we adjust our expectations to fit our reality. I think this adjustment might impact what our reality turns out to be. Then, we are caught in a circle of failing after failing or success after success, as the case may be. Maybe it is important to cast high your hopes. You just have to be wiling to accept disappointment. But you’re probably bound to get more than if you aim lower so as to avoid feeling cheated.
As I sit in my comfortable home, with my best friend and husband in the other room, I consider that I feel quite fortunate. And I consider that I don’t deserve any of this more than the man with the crappy car. Or more than a poor kid living on a trash heap in India. I wonder if that man feels so fortunate. I wonder how hard-scrabble life can be and still be met with a sense of acceptance and joy.
Some Christians get caught up in praying for God to bless them with wealth and believing that they can be wealthy if they pray right or hard enough. But what about those Christians born into a rougher environ? I believe that God does not turn a blind eye to the pleas of people in third world countries. I just think that Americans have a skewed view of Christianity in this regard. I don’t think God’s best for us is wealth or power. These things corrupt us. I think His best for us is spiritual depth and wholeness, healing to the extent that we learn to love all people as He does. More than ourselves. True blessing is getting to the place that you think “she needs this more than me” and gladly give away the thing you treasure. It’s a journey I’m still making.
An unexpectedly sunny and perfect day in Portland. With no plans made, we meandered through the day. Took a seven mile bike ride, pruned the rhododendrons and other wayward plants, grilled, and enjoyed the freedom of our democracy. Thank you to all those who have fought for our right to enjoy such glorious and simple pleasures, unhindered.
no towers here to climb
only our corner of flat earth
And my flowers
And your fountain
Under the applause of the tree,
Tossed by wind
Cool wind on a carefree day
Spent beneath the gentle sun
Riding our bikes on the streets
And wayside paths
Riding an unwritten route
We cruise through the burning legs
For the rapture of speed
On the hill toward our house.
Being silent in a sea of a thousand conversations feels like being invisible. Hands fly in animation and voices pitch up and down in expression, but my lips do not move. My eyes graze slowly on the scene, lingering nowhere. I lock no gaze. I am an island, remote and inaccessible. I am present and tangible and completely disengaged.
I am waiting to learn something new. I watch the learning around me, in starts and stops, hesitant understanding taking shape. I enjoy the limbo of observation. I’ve a schedule to keep and minutes to spare, yet I relish the way the voices, discordant and uncoordinated, unite to form a sort of chaotic chorus, a symphony that mimics the rage of a storm on a rocky beach. Waves crashing on stones and howling winds. Receding and advancing like the tide.
Love is not a matter of degrees
Love cannot be measured
Love is present
We may falter in knowing how
To express love,
To overcome selfishness,
To defeat our childhood demons,
To be victorious in loving.
But when we fail,
We still love.
If we are wise,
We accept our frailty and submit to Love;
For only Love draws
The best parts
From those we love,
Helps them overcome selfishness
And defeat their childhood demons.
Can set us free to love.
For My Friend
Hours whiled in the afternoon,
On a porch beneath
The persistent rain,
On a holiday
Or an ordinary any-day.
Moments spent as legal tender,
Exchanged for the joy of
Years of knowing
And growing alongside.
Our friendship is a twine
Winding through our fibers
Until our lives are
Unrecognizable without them.
A day is never better lived
Than in the the company
Of my friend.