Be Bold and Mighty Forces Will Come to Your Aid

How was your weekend, dear readers? My weekend was a flurry of travel and visits with family in my small Michigan hometown. I’m thankful that I live in Chicagoland where I can work and visit the wide-open arms of its sweeping skyline whenever I want, and that my rural roots are just across the lake. In 4.5 hours [I’m not speeding, I promise, Dad!] I’m able to make the trek home to say hello and spend time with my parents and two younger brothers.
250 miles seems so short when I compare it to being halfway across the world or when I think about how far-flung some of my other family has become. Yet, I sometimes wonder at how far one can get in less than a day’s time. We left on a sunny Friday morning, and before I knew it, it was Sunday afternoon and my grandmother and I were driving the curve back around Lake Michigan to Chicago where I found myself sitting at a friend’s bonfire eating brats and burgers as the sun slipped behind the trees. As with many Sunday nights after a weekend visit, How did I get here? was the singular thought floating around in my head as I crawl into bed.
I’ll be headed back this weekend just to spend time with my mom for Mother’s Day. As you go about your week, I encourage you to take a moment to give thanks for your mom, or any woman in your life that has nurtured you and encouraged your dreams. If she’s here with you, healthy or fighting for her life, be sure to give thanks for the time you have together. If she’s gone, my prayers are with you as you reflect on her legacy and wish that you could tell her thank you one more time. Write her a love letter, because you and I both know that the task of raising you, helping you grow, wasn’t always a picnic, but she put her brave face on and taught you how to live life in this world anyway…

On Finding Things.

The impossible has happened. My brother called me today: O’Hare Airport Security found his stack of vinyls that we thought were lost forever, safe and sound, right where he left them on a lobby table at the Hilton. What are the odds?
I can’t deny it. After my downer of a post yesterday, it would be wrong of me not to write in response to my own pessimism with the truth that sometimes miracles, even small ones, do happen.
Remember that list of things lost in yesterday’s post?
The grapes, the postcards, the pants, the cell phone, the camera, the laptop charger? What I didn’t tell you is that I actually did get some of those things back.
The camera I left in a cafe in Vienna was waiting for me when I dashed across the city to grab it before I missed my train home.
The pair of pants were neatly folded along with some clean sheets in the laundry room of the hostel in Florence where I left them.
The time when I got lost on a crowded street in Amsterdam it just so happened that I was in possession of our group’s cell phone, and I was able to call the one other person in our group who also had a cell phone. She found me within minutes and I was soon safe in the arms of my companions.
Why was this an unimportant piece of the story yesterday?
Sometimes, having faith makes it hard to reconcile my fear and doubt and disappointment. If we can convince ourselves that miracles don’t happen, then the pain of losing out on the things we want most might somehow be easier to deal with.
So then, what do I do with the found things in my life? The miracle moments when all of my pessimism and cynicism are met with the impossible? Against all odds, I’m standing in the moment I feared would never come, holding in my hands the thing I never thought I’d see again. And how do I reconcile that with the moments when I don’t get what I’m hoping for?
It should be obvious by now that I’m not just talking about finding records and cameras and pants. It’s not even about losing and finding myself on a street corner in Amsterdam.
Maybe what I need is not the thing I want itself. Maybe I just need to find the faith to accept life as it is, lost or found.

On Losing Things.

I woke out of a sound sleep this morning to the ring of my cell phone. Disoriented, I answered to hear my brother’s frantic voice. After spending 5 days in Boston for the Harvard Model Congress, he was boarding his early morning flight home when it hit him: he’d left his bag of newly-purchased vinyls somewhere in Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
“I don’t know what to do! I retraced my steps, I ran all the way back to the concierge desk in the Hilton and asked around to see if they’d found anything, I talked with airport security. They can’t help me find them and I can’t remember where I left them,” he said, his voice frustrated and strained.
I listened and tried to comfort him, but we both knew that his souvenirs were lost forever. Sadly, a $75 stack of vinyls won’t wait around for the one who leaves them behind. If he’s anything like me, he’ll probably lose more than that.
I remember the feeling well. When I traveled abroad in the fall of 2008, it seemed like I left pieces of myself all over Europe. In the midst of doing something as simple as fumbling for my passport, I’d forget the item I set down next to me.
It started with a bag of fresh-market grapes I left in a train station in Slovenia, and then it was a stack of postcards (written and stamped), a pair of jeans, my cell phone, my camera, my laptop charger, and sometimes, I think, my heart. Minutes, hours and many miles later I would realize that I was empty-handed and there was nothing I could do about it.
Mementos, possessions, they’re replaceable, maybe even forgettable. Nevertheless, the moment you realize you’ve left them behind, a deep ache, an inconsolable sense of failure sets in.
Sometimes, life feels that way. Memories, bittersweet and vivid as they are, won’t replace the tangible feeling of a weathered album between your fingers or the weight of a friend in your arms.
You’re on a train, a plane, in the car, and every second is taking you further and further away from reaching back in time to that moment when you held everything in your hands.

The Hard Conversations.

I’ve written before about good conversations with close friends, but today I got to thinking about the hard conversations, the ones we seem to spend a lot of time and energy trying not to have.
As I scrounged late last night in frustration for one good thing to cling to on what turned out to be a rather horrid Monday, I remembered a conversation I had with one of my best friends earlier.
rachie and me
She had a wake to go to yesterday for a friend’s mother who passed away suddenly this week.
“Ugh. Funerals make me sad,” she said. “When I die, promise me you’ll celebrate my life and wear lots of bright colors, okay?”
“Will do! Please do the same for me… Is it weird that I sometimes hear songs and think ‘I want that played at my funeral?’” I asked, glad to finally confess this to someone.
“I totally do that all the time! And don’t worry, I’ve got you covered,” she replied.
“When I die, there should be karaoke, guitar hero, super bright colors and cake. Celebrate lives lived, not just the lives lost. Life is way too short, so go out and live it!” She soon posted on her Facebook status. Within minutes, several people responded with a ‘Like’ or comment in agreement.
“When I die, I want people to have a feast of scrumptious food and I want them to dance all night,” I told her.
We made a pact to write each other into our wills, to make sure that the other would be the “party planner” in the event of our death. Our initial brainstorms included a bachelorette party redux, but we thought the erotic cake might be a little over the top for our grieving relatives. We settled for posting pictures of good times we’ve had over the years.
As much as I hate to think of the death of someone who means so much to me, our conversation was the brightest part of my day. We always think that these are the things not to bring up, the things that don’t need to be discussed. [After all, we’re only in our twenties – who needs to think about dying yet…] But when you’ve had a crappy day at work, and you’re worried about money and bills and what your future holds, and you’re feeling the squelching pains of writer’s block, and you’re missing family so bad it hurts, do you really want to chat about the weather?
Sometimes, it’s the biggest sigh of relief, the deepest breath of fresh air to tell your best friend,
Yes. I will be there for you. Even then.
Suddenly, the thing you’ve been trying not to say or acknowledge, the really hard, awkward conversation you don’t want to discuss, turns out to be the only thing worth saying.
Don’t be afraid to say that one thing that might open the floodgate to admitting that life is hard and scary and short, and beautiful and joyous and worth celebrating, even as we say goodbye to it.
(Picture courtesy of the lovely Erin Lee, taken about a bizzilion years ago… or maybe only 5. I can’t believe it’s been that long! I love you, Rachie. <3)

Leave the Light On.

I’ve sat down several times in the last several days. My fingers poise ready at the keys, my thoughts and feelings wait breathlessly on the edge of spilling over. In my head, I’m telling you things that I’m thinking and feeling in a way that will benefit you, help you articulate and examine your own life and share that with others, make you feel better about the ample amount of things you deal with everyday.
And then this is what comes out:
This sucks. Life is hard. The End.
Don’t like that one? Me either.
Turns out it’s not easy to write when you’re sitting in the dark.
I’ve had some hard days lately, friends. They’re good, in a see-the-big-picture kind of way, in a you-know-Who-loves-you kind of way, but they’re still hard. Details spared, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that make our fragile, sensitive human spirits rise up out of the hard, frustrating, frightening mire of everyday life. What inspires us when we’re in the dark, desolate places of our lives? And why?
I don’t have those answers yet, but I’ll leave you with a few of these, which have a brighter, clearer perspective than I do at the moment. Sometimes, when you can’t say it, feel it, see it, you just have to surround yourself with people who can in hopes that some of their light seeps into the dark spaces in your soul.
A few lights for you:
A life-affirming quote from Anais Nin.
good thought from Jon Acuff: We don’t have to finish what we don’t start.
Remember, friends: time is of the essence, so don’t waste it.
daily dose of encouragement for those who write, freelance, or can appreciate a blog that is both well written AND well designed.
The sweet, soothing lullaby of a new album from one of my all time favorites.
Song lyrics you can cling to and sing to yourself in the dark:
“I was walking far from home
But I carried your letters all the while
I saw lovers in a window
Whisper, ‘Want me like time, want me like time’
I saw sickness, bloom in fruit trees
I saw blood and a bit of it was mine…
I was walking far from home
Where the names were not burned along the wall
Saw a wet road form a circle
And it came like a call, came like a call
From the Lord.”
And a special love link to all the people in my life that make it worth it – the everyday. Dark or light, I know I’m not sitting alone. [Galatians 6:2]