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.”

Moonlight Shadows

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I heard the full moon sing last night; songs of ancient paths, songs of distant dreams; and the wild spirit that remains in my heart unfolded to hear it.

Like a ghost you came, and whispered: Play once more with me. Play another game.

How did Wendy answer Peter, that last time? “Peter, you old fool. I have no time. I am dying.”

Of laughter?

Yes, my love. Of laughter. Of the absurdity of this wild heart, in this frail body.

Then what else have you time for, if not one more game?

I was surely a highwayman, in a different life. I love my black fedora and vintage velvet coat, and the sound my boots make on the walkways by the beach. I enjoy the vague notoriety my unusual appearance grants me, and the smiles and nods of recognition from faces I don’t know and people I will never actually meet. I sit on the pier and every now and then a police officer walks by to make sure I am not drinking alcohol – once caught, forever guilty. The trickster’s lot, indeed.

At Thanksgiving I saw a couple playing chess and went to watch. “Pat always wins,” I hear the others say, and those who walk by ask Beth if she’s lost yet. I am four drinks into the evening, with two fingers of bourbon still in my glass; I’m feeling charitable, and I decide to help poor Beth. “If I were you, I’d call his bluff,” I say.

She does so, and she goes on to win. It’s unprecedented. Before I know it, the footman is pouring me another glass of bourbon and I am kicking off my boots to settle in for a game against this legendary player, Pat the chess player; Pat, who’s very identity is caught up in his ability to beat people mercilessly in this game every time he plays it.

Is there any point finishing this story? We all know that I won. The bottom line, is if a stranger turns up to Thanksgiving in a black fedora and velvet coat, it might be Loki, and it might be me, and neither of us should be trusted with your money (or your life).

When you die, we will be two silver foxes, running in the moonlight.

Down here, in the darkness by the sea, where land and water meet, I can see you. Your red hair caught up in the wind, dancing like the wildfire flame that you are. If I pay attention, I can feel your knuckles brush mine where our hands hang loosely, side by side.

I have all of eternity to be a fox, I tell you.

Time for one more game, indeed. Perhaps we should play for higher stakes; the highest stakes, even. There are dice in the pocket of my black velvet coat and I turn them absently as I consider this.

Would you really play that game? You will be playing against me, not with me.

Oh, Prince of Travelers – when will you learn? I am always with you. If I lose I will become a fox. And if I win…

I know what you want, if you win.

I smile wryly into the wind. “Give me but your voice, and I will lay all of Paris at your feet…”

Silence answers me. The wind alone is left to brush my cheek. The game, I suppose, is afoot.

Restless

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The winds were wild today. They got inside me, whispering songs of darkness and undergrowth, thorny branches scraping starry skies.

Like a fool, I thought of you, and wondered if you remembered me too.

We were young together; wild within ourselves. We ran through the night like silent shadows and sought out the dark places where only the spirits lived. We ran to the tops of hills and sat on stony peaks and stared out at the city stretched out beneath us.

You always had something silly to say. Something about the trees, talking. I loved it when you were silly.

I don’t remember anymore what made you stop. If it was me; if it was the spirits; if something got into your body and scared you. But one day you sat down and you told me, “I’m too tired to run tonight.”

I said, “Okay,” and sat down with you. I thought, tiredness passes. And instead of running in the moonlight, we talked. You spoke a lot about your father. Your old boyfriend. Your current girlfriend. Our friendship, and our love. You told me your pain, and I told you mine, and above us the skies stretched from dusk into dawn, and back to dusk again. Something cold was coiling its way around my stomach; the groping fear that wild things feel when they sit in plain sight for too long.

“You should get up,” I said. Then: “Please. Get up.”

You didn’t move. “I’m tired,” you said, again.

I jumped up then. I did not like this creeping tiredness, that had made you more tired while you rested. “You have to get up,” I said, and started pacing in circles around you. I got angry. I got scared. The skies turned again. The dawn brought dew. You didn’t even move to shake it off.

I said, “We have to go,” and I bit you. Ah – that made you move! You hit me right back, and then you said, “If going is so important to you, you should go! But I am tired, and I am going to stay here.”

And I didn’t understand. But I still did not like this creeping tired. I did not want to stay close to it. So you curled up and went to sleep, and I walked through the undergrowth and mud, and found my way to the top of the hills and sat on the stony peaks and listened to the trees sing by myself.

They could not explain it either. So I still didn’t understand.

Someone found you; I suppose that was for the best. They put you in a box, next to all the vampire bats and crocodiles, and made you warm and dry. That is what you looked like when I found you. Warm, and dry, and safe. Of the two of us I thought I’d look the worst for wear, with all my scars and my new limp; but I was wrong. Your hair was too short; your claws were gone. And even though your eyes were open, on the inside, they looked fast asleep.

I took a seat while the vampire bats were snoring, and I told you what the moon had been doing, and where the seasons were. It seemed like it was hard to know, from inside your box. And then I said, “I’m sorry I bit you. I knew they would find you, though. If you lay down long enough. I was scared for you.”

And you said to me, “We’re just different, you and me. My pain was too heavy. I needed their help to carry it.”

I was hurt at first. Was that not what I had been doing, all those years ago? But I remembered what you looked like in the grass, running fearless in the hillocks; and I knew then too that there was no way to make you remember that all things get lighter, with momentum. You didn’t even remember what momentum felt like.

“I’ll come back another night,” I said. “I’ll tell you again what the moon is doing, and where the seasons are, and what the winds are whispering.”

I thought I saw your body shiver, as though it wanted to move again and come with me. But then there was only silence and stillness, so I left.

The wind is stirring, and like a fool, I think of you, but not enough to keep my promise. Not yet, not now, maybe never. I don’t think you notice the time that passes. It’s not as though you can see the sky change, from inside your box; but I always have a sunrise to chase, and long nights to run through.

Please enjoy your box. Please be happy inside it. This is the best thing I know how to wish for you. And don’t worry about me – you don’t have to wish anything for me. Everything I wanted, I have: Thorn-scraped skies and stony peaks; running, tumbling, headlong through the mossy undergrowth, and all the dark places, where only the spirits go.

On Keeping a Soft Heart

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It is morning, the sun unfolding upon me as I push back the heavy drapes. I explain my plans to replace them to my lover, half-drowsing; I don’t know if he hears, both of us tangled together, lovingly sleepy. It doesn’t matter. Serenity, as our spirits slowly un-entwine; serenity, as we regain our Selves beneath the laughing dance of a single, trickling sunbeam. I push back the drapes all the way to luxuriate fully in the light of the new day. Sacred, my mind whispers to me, and I shiver for the truth of it.

The hardened heart does not know the the love of the sun, the caress of a summer wind, the ache in the heart to dance with the verdant grasses on the highest mountain; it is only a soft heart that can yield and be entirely without defenses that can open and receive the gifts the world has to give.

Hardened hearts are born of pain, and fear of pain. They are born of hardships, and subsequent fear of hardship. This is a dark world, where the sun can be seen, but only as a burning mass millions of years away of little consequence to us, and no longer as hope, as god. Dim, the sun sun seems then – dim, and unimportant. It is fleeting, temporary, because the hardened heart knows that rain will soon come anyway. Far more important to build walls to keep the rain out, than it is to enjoy the sun.

Are all people this sad? They forget easily the joys of the sun, and call those that dwell in it “foolish”, or “naive”.

Soft hearts are born of pain, and love of pain. They are born of a thousand tears wept, and each tear honest and pure. The person with the soft heart weeps and cries and wails, and – oh gods – the wailing is terrible! “It hurts,” weeps the person with the soft heart. “Oh, how it hurts.”

There are no walls that keep the soft heart from the pain. This is a garden that knows sun and rain, and is at the mercy of the weather’s whims. And so it knows every drop of rain. But the sun, the hope – this is not kept out. This god wanders freely, and can teach the heart to say, ”I love myself, my poor, injured self.” And, “I love you as well,” the soft heart can say, “You poor, injured soul that saw no other recourse than to lash out and bite me, when I extended my hand.” And here the sun will shine and rain will fall – the land is green and flowers will grow in shades of compassion, forgiveness, truth and a thousand other things.

I call those that dwell in this “bold”, and “courageous”. “Beautiful.”

Not all flowers are beautiful. My own garden contains seeds of pride, spite, a thousand vicious barbed thorns. But the seeds are there! They have been with me since I was born, and to hack these bushes back too closely will make them angry and all the more fierce. The soft heart allows room in their garden for all to be present. The soft heart can handle the thorns, will wince when it cuts, and knowing the thorn and knowing how best to treat the wound, will tend to it. The soft heart can let the rose and the lily live side by side, the mandrake with the valerian. And let each have their place, their turn, their permission to be.

When we give ourselves permission to “be” ourselves, that is when we can give permission to others to be themselves as well.

And I do look upon hardened hearts trapped within their walls, and I do pray for them. They’re cubes of stone and brick to me that pass through life without windows. They will pass their hours counting the reasons why rain is bad, reminding themselves why they locked themselves away. For the most part I will leave them alone. I give them permission to be themselves in their square, stone boxes.

Myself; I hope I will remain free to run with the wolves and with the sheep; I love the teeth that hurt me and the touch that caresses me. I love the warming sun and the drowning rain; and the burning sun and the quenching rain! I love the heart that is wounded and yet unfolds to embrace as a flower unfolds always to the promise of new light. She does not know whether the sun brings warmth today or if it will burn her; still, she unfolds, and does not let fear of pain prevent her.

I know that I will always have water enough, sun enough, love enough to take care of myself. I know that no pain can shatter me because I feel my pain, fully, terribly, weeping and wracked with it. I am not afraid of dying of it. That I could invite the people in boxes to feel the terrible thunder of their pains! To feel it, to be immersed in it, soaking, drowning, desperate. Because their own logic – that the sun will not last – is true as well of the storm! And if they would only permit themselves to survive one, blinking, staring upward at the beauty of the warm sun and fluffy clouds, they would know they can survive them all. And that the world goes on, relentless & beautiful. Sacred, my mind whispers to me. To Live, to Love, is something sacred.

Rain

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It rained last week.

The promise of fresh grass and damp soil opened the window of my small dorm with expectant zeal. But the only scent that met me was wet, stained tarmac, and the city’s heavy, waterlogged smoke.

It is hard to move the body when it is depressed. Limbs that are usually eager to dance feel heavy with the weight of past disappointments, and the grief that has burrowed inside my bones reminds me it is still there, my skeleton riddled with its holes and so fragile today that one real feeling will crumble it to dust.

I move, anyway.

I resist the urge to reach for my slacks; those safe garments that enable the body to curl up into its catatonic, clenched little fist. I choose instead the hip-hugging pencil skirt, and bright colors of the rainbow that will shine in defiance of the gloomy, rainy day; colors that invite the attention of people around me, an outfit that invites compliments and forces me to smile, even if only to be polite. I whisper promises to myself of “later”; “later” we will let the darkness in, and curl up in our soft pajamas like the injured animal we are, and we will cry and we won’t move; we’ll be still as a dead thing beneath the stars in the winter of our grief…

But we are not dead yet, and our days are for living; and to be alive is to be painful. It’s the stretched muscle of a good run; it’s the freshly made bed rumpled with the laughter of friends who flung themselves on it like a couch. If my heart is heavy today it is only because it still loves; and if it still loves then it still beats, and I am still here, and here is still a good place to be. With enough rain the smoke will pass, and the soil here will become good and dark and fertile. The spring will stir the flower buds of the many trees and cause them to flower under the weight of the unnatural clouds. And I will spend the winter listening to the stories that others tell me of how their strange, unique lives have changed them, and warm my hands by their fire until my skin too is ready to split and blossom into whatever creature I will be after this experience.

And I will look forward to the rain, when it comes; the rains that make all things clean and fresh, and soothe the tired throat of the thirsty child within me; the rains that make all things good and dark and fertile again.

 

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.

Devotion

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Writing Prompts: Jeremiah 23:9-15 – Psalm 33 – Romans 9:1-18 – Gospel of John 6:60-7

For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. – Romans 9:17-18

On hearing this, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” – John 6:60

Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. – Psalm 33


 

Here I am, Lord; I have woken to a new day of hard lessons. I have pushed back the curtain of the night and let in the sleepy dawn; and here I am, with You. I learned to pray this way by listening for You in the hour before the Light. I learned to pray this way by listening for the quiet voice that could bring peace to my own hurting heart.

This is how we pray: first, for the people I love. I pray for my family, far across the sea.

Second, I pray for the people I don’t know, but who can surely use more love.

And then third, dear Lord, I pray for all the people that I wish to hate. I call them first, “Your children – Your children! – who have wronged me.” Then I stay with You until I can say, “My brothers and sisters, who are hurting, and have hurt others in their pain.”

Hard lessons indeed, O Lord. It is hard to look for the driver behind the glass façade in the furious traffic, and to hope their day gets better as they swing angrily from lane to lane. It is hard to remember every person I meet knows what it is to love and lose that love; to watch a dream get dashed; to be too kind, one time too many; to be flattened by the relentless churn of the day. To understand that their lives, their strife, their frustrations, so often have nothing to do with me. I am like a pebble that the tide of their emotion swept elsewhere, without noticing – but I shall be a pebble that loves the sea, dear God. A pebble that rests on whatever shore it has been cast, and looks up at the sun and sings for the beauty of the strange new land it’s in.

Let me always sing for You, O God. You taught me how to pray and how to sing, and ever since I have known You, they have been one and the same. I have songs for You that no one else shall ever hear; songs I will always rise with the birds and the tide at dawn to sing. Songs that are uncertain and faltering, for they are new; songs not yet polished with practice and precision.

For I am not perfect, God. I am both a slow and an impatient student. And I believe that You place hard lessons and hard people in my path to teach me, time and again, that You are here. You have called me by my name; You have said, “Come, and follow me.” The memory of Your quiet voice tugs at my spirit, and every hard lesson is an opportunity to return to You, and become so close to You that I no longer remember whose was the voice that called, and whose was the voice that answered.

Was it I, God? Did I call You first, once upon a time, in prayer and desperation, saying, “Please, my God; please have mercy, and love me…”

Or was it You who called to me, saying, “Here: these are My children; and you must have mercy, and love them for Me.”?

Where the West Wind Moves

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It was cloudless last night. The moon was new and sharp, shining so brightly that the rest of the world was shrouded in perfect velvet black. The wind was wild, and the trees that lined the streets were being whipped into demonic frenzy. The air was alive, and just stepping out into it made the blood come alive too; made me restless, prowling, hungry.

I thought of everything; and yet I didn’t. I thought of all of us, the children of this world and – too often unknowing – this wilderness. My shadow blurred in the shade of the possessed trees, my ears awake and listening to the song of the night – the blend of the savage sea in the distance and the cars roaring, far nearer -and my own heart alive and beating with the same certainty of every footstep that led me deeper into this tryst. From across the urban landscape, the fragrant sea salt rose above the grime and toil of the ghosts of the traffic, laying over the roads and refreshing them with a dream of nature – the memory of who we were, before we crammed our lives into boxes and glowing screens.

I followed the road.

I dreamed that walking this road would be akin to touching a memory. I dreamed that it could re-awaken every part of me that has long lain sleeping ‘neath the weight of my own ghost – that decaying spirit of everyone I am supposed to be. I dreamed of a “God” who knows I was born to run wild and free beneath this grinning crescent moon. I dreamed of my body as something earthy and spiritual; something fearless.

I am in love with the earth, and in love with the moon. I am in love with my own heart, and the parts of me that yearn for the simple freedom of being myself; the part of me that knows the skin I wear is chafing and too small; the part of me that leaps wildly when the wind crashes through the branches, and remains true; even as the shades of other things shred my outline and alter my external shape. The part of the shadow that does not move. I love it.

The road became a grassy knoll. I lay down beneath a tree and stretched to the sound of the waves, the grass pricking like a warning at the back of neck. The branches caressed the face of the white moon and blocked it out.

A stray breeze plucked two leaves free and they flew away, beyond my sight. Such would be death, I think; one stray wind – then freedom. Such are we – no more, or less, than leaves.

Originally published on Anima Monday, April 2019

How To Approach Unchartered Heart Territory

 

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“Though your destination is not yet clear

You can trust the promise of this opening;

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning

That is at one with your life’s desire.” ~ John O’Donohue

I made a blog in university and called it What Do You Call a Rabbit That Hasn’t after a piece of writing I came across in English 101. It was written exactly like that — an un-ended question — and the majority of the students in my class were annoyed by it.

They wanted to know how the question ended, in order to begin formulating answers for it.

I loved the question exactly as it is. Open-ended, the question itself became the focus — not the answer. The experience of reading it was like being Dorothy and following the yellow brick road — only to have it crumble and disappear off the edge of a long, wind-swept cliff where a bridge used to be.

There is no response other than “Oh.” There is no response other than to feel the wind carry on past you, into the yawning abyss where your thoughts can’t follow.

There is no response other than to accept that you will never know what the end of that question is — and you will never have answer.

At that moment, my life felt a little like an unended question. What do you call a college student that?

During my first weekend, a campus of opportunity stretched out before me, and I was bombarded with the question, “What will your college experience look like?” Would I be a leader in my student resident halls? (Probably not). Would I find the honor society on campus, or an apprenticeship program, or join the choir, or win a scholarship, or write for the newspaper, or…

Like the abyss below the bridge, there were places yet that my thoughts couldn’t get to — cannot comprehend. Opportunities I didn’t even know existed awaited me.

For the first time, I understood why that question bothered my classmates. What do you call a rabbit that hasn’t?

“Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming.” ~ John O’Donohue

Now I am three years out of university, working at a start-up, and the only answer now, as it was then, is surrender. Surrender to the truth that I don’t know the answer. I don’t even know the question. Surrender to the experience — the everyday motion of putting one foot in front of the other and wandering where they take me.

Be open to all possible answers and endings to the question, and likewise, don’t be in too much of a hurry to choose only one, even though there is comfort in consistency. Look around. Smile at people. Go back to my home, wherever it is tonight, and do the things that bring comfort, like making tea and writing.

Beginnings that I have worked hard for are only beginnings. They are desires that grew within me and longed to be made manifest. Every day is an unended question. It is as new as the first sentence on a rough draft that is going nowhere — just a tumble of thoughts longing to find shape and form.

Like every other essay and story I have ever written, it will require a thousand re-writes and discarded opening statements before the story my life longs to tell will unfold.

Originally published on Rebelle Society, Nov. 2014.