The Smallest Things Inspire Me

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I once visited an Iranian grandmother in her home. She made Turkish coffee in delicate cups, and fed me pumpkin pie and chocolates.

“It is always like this, back home,” the man with me said, who was from Palestine. “There is always hospitality.”

“I am very religious,” the Iranian said in response, and quoted the Bible; “That which you do unto others, you do unto me.”

“I don’t believe in the God of Americans,” the Palestinian man confided in us. “They are too afraid of one another. They have no trust and they have no warmth. There is no God teaching them.”

“It is the same God,” the woman argued in a soft, good-natured tone. “Same God, different language.”

They disagreed, but the sun still shone, and the coffee was still good. The lady from Iran showed me photos of all her grandchildren and told me to visit again.

“Any day,” she said. “There is always more.”

My Hands

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We never talked much towards the end. We never talked about the things that mattered, the things that hurt, or the things that were killing us, slowly. We especially didn’t talk about the thing we killed. We parted like leaves being drawn by separate winds, and I later learned you had no idea why; and it shook me violently to realize you had lived alongside my pain and never seen it. Then I remembered that you had lain alongside me in the nights when I  cried, and rather than reach out to comfort me, you had always turned away. It wasn’t that you had never seen me. You had outright chosen not to.

The death of “us;” the death of the life we had created; these things landed like tears in the cup full of sorrow I carried in my heart. The ripples from their fall reached out and connected with the memories of so many tears. I had always wanted to be a gentle person, but my hands had made decisions that gentle hands could not. These hands had signed papers and wielded knives and written a history of my life in ink and blood. These hands. The same hands that somehow knew to offer the backs of themselves first to small children and scared animals; because the backs of the hands can’t pull or poke, or snatch or grasp – and animals and small children, in their wisdom, know this too.

Once, I sat in the bathroom, cradling these hands. I traced their lines and saw their roughness. I remembered the night my mother coughed up blood in the bathroom. These hands, I used to clean it, so that my siblings would not see. I remembered the night that I sat in the bathroom, and clots of blood larger than my fist were falling out of me. These hands, wiping the red stains from my thighs. Bathrooms are the places where women go to bleed in private; their tears and hearts and bodies alike. They are the true temples of the home, where we clean our bodies, let go our minds, and even sing in the echoing tiled chambers that remind us, somehow, of when we lifted our voices in the stone temples of our ancestors. And in this moment, in this temple, I saw my hands were shaking, and I whispered to God, “Why?”

“Why? I know my hands are not gentle. But I would have been a good mother, Lord. I could have been a good mother.”

In the stillness that accompanies the deep acceptance of these darkest nights in our spirit, I heard with such perfect clarity, “Good mothers don’t have gentle hands. They have hands that lift and carry; hands that bear the burdens of those who rest within them. Strong hands, that know how to be gentle; this is what I have given you. For the world is full of My children, and all of them are hurting.”

In the Bible, after God speaks, the chapter always ends with something simple, such as: “And after that, she went on her way and did as she was told.” The truth is never quite as easy; at the same time, there is no better way to sum up this story. After I heard this, I went on my way, and did my best to follow the Word as it had been revealed. And there are stories there too that I am still living, filled with heartbreak and hope, and sadness and joy.