Tag Archives: Possibility

Fireworks and Sparking Community

In light of today being the 4th of July – for non-American readers, this is the day the 13 colonies (which eventually became the United States of America) declared their independence from Great Britain – here are my thoughts on fireworks and the questions they raise about trauma and community.

Last week I sat across my craigslist kitchen table from one of my nearest and dearests eating a late dinner – side note: there is something about summer’s glorious sunlight extending late into the evening that messes with my internal clock and I rarely get hungry until it is dark, so dinner tends to hit the table closer to nine more often than I care to admit. July 4th came up in conversation and I “casually” mentioned how I did not think I would be watching any fireworks this year because fireworks are still a bit too much for me.

And then came the unexpected response, “You know they’re just fireworks.”

“Um, yeah. But that’s not the point”

“Why?”

“Think about it for a moment.”

He pauses for a few seconds, and then speaks, “They sound like gunshots.”

I nod.

“But you know they’re not. You know they’re fireworks. So what’s the issue?”

This was the moment I realized the width of the gulf separating me from him, and, if I’m honest, from everyone at home.

The person with whom I was speaking, grew up with guns in an area of the U.S. where guns are a normal part of life, and has been shot at (oh, the perils of hiking in places with fervent, gun toting and touting landowners). But, more importantly, a few months after my return stateside, he declared his desire to process my time in South Sudan with me. He is the ONLY person from home who expressed any willingness to walk into the beauty and shadows two years in South Sudan cast on my life. And yet, in that moment, in that statement, “You know they’re fireworks,” he declared his limit: he would go no further with me.

Just like that I found myself without an ally. Once again, I was am alone. Ah, welcome back aloneness, my old “friend.”

Whether it is time, distance, lack of imagination, or inability to envision something beyond one’s reality, the returning expat who has experienced insecurity inevitably finds herself alone whilst surrounded by her home-based friends/family who communicate a need for her to get over it, no matter what it is.

I do not why fireworks are so prevalent in Oakland, CA, but they are, occurring multiple times a week. A few nights ago a neighbor set off a large firework and the offending “BANG!” was loud and close. My body tensed up immediately. And so began the internal standoff of mind v. body. I knew it was only a firework but my body would not relax.

Experience shapes us. And my time in South Sudan did just that. A year and a half surrounded by guns, violence, war and the resulting human tragedy and trauma, is not something a person forgets just because she leaves a specific geographic region. I am still on guard, ever aware, connecting certain sounds to certain actions and results even when those sounds are imposters wrapped up in gunpowder to delight and dazzle.

How do you explain to the person from home who knows you best what a sound does and means to you? Even if the person understands, is he able to understand there is not a time limit on the effects of some experiences?

In the U.S. we like progress, moving forward, ever morphing into a new and, arguably, better self. In light of notions of American exceptionalism and hyper-individualism, we self-help. We self-medicate. We set five years plans and create 30 before 30 lists. We are constantly in flux, rarely stopping or reflecting. And in this, and, likely, in part due to it, we lack a structure, a culturally acceptable means of dealing with traumatic experiences. Time passes and people are expected to “move along”/“come to terms with” with whatever happened and return to normal, or, at the very least (and for the sake of everyone else), “fake it ‘til you make it.” This expectation is for the good of others, not for the person processing or suffering. Other people do not want to be reminded of life’s complications, difficulties and incongruences. People do not want to think about how injustice for one is injustice for all. Mourning, sadness, uncertainty, it and anything that happened in past should be dealt with quickly, quietly, neatly, and left in the past. However, this is at odds with how we process, heal and grow. We do not simply forget and move forward. Healing may come but the process of healing involves dealing with the messiness of life, and sometimes scars do not fade.

In light of this, what are you to do when people who were once (and may still be) your people (unintentionally?) communicate that you should know better, that you should be better?

Right now, I seek out my people. The people who have experienced something similar and are able relate to the experience, or the tiny fraction of the population who are honest, humble and healthy enough to be truly compassionate and empathetic without pushing one towards a solution/resolution. The people who will not rush processing or set an arbitrary deadline after which their interest and willingness to be present expires.

But my people are not here. My people are far from here. Some are in Southern California, some on the East Coast, others in London, the field, pretty much anywhere but here.

Last month I met with my spiritual director. While discussing my transition back to living in the Bay Area, I mentioned I have met a lot of people but have not found “my people.” And without missing a beat, she responded, “You won’t. There are too few of you.”

And there you have it. Aloneness.

For past me being alone and loneliness were interchangeable. I embraced loneliness, stewed in it, hated it. However, I have learned we are not designed to be isolated from one another; we are designed for community. And community is messy, restorative, costly, and sustaining.

What are we to do when community escapes us in our current location? What do you do when your community is not tied to place?

This is my reality. Yet I am hopeful a community will find me and I will find it, even here, even among the fireworks. And as I seek it out, I will remain open,  rebuff loneliness and not cut myself off. I not allow the gulf or the people on the other side to dictate the when and how and why of my experience (and processing). I will continue to speak of what was and what is. I will keep speaking until my words reach someone who understands. And then, we will stand together in community.

Even now, in broad daylight, fireworks are going off. Tonight I either force myself to watch the fireworks and with each boom tell myself to relax, or I will put on headphones, crawl into bed and watch something on Netflix that will make be laugh, a lot. Either way, I will focus on the beauty in hopes it and I are strong enough to hold the shadows at bay.

Happy 4th, y’all.

2.5 Months

Two and a half months. It has been two and a half months since I was last here. Two and a half months since I took a hot shower. Two and a half months since I ate a proper green salad. Two and a half months since I smelled air sweetened by fresh produce and the ripeness of earth. Two and a half months since I last slept on a mattress on which my body does not contour itself around pointed metal springs.

Two and a half months. It has been two and a half months since I was last here. Two and a half months of daily hugs and warm smiles. Two and a half months of John Steinbeck novels. Two and a half months of learning from scratch and from mistakes. Two and a half months of sweat (with “hot season” still to come) and a few tears. Two and a half months of fashioning a new family from a group of strangers. Two and a half months of wrestling with decades old demons and, while bruised and battered, standing firm. Two and a half months of living out of who I am – scars, beauty, questions and all. Two and a half months of doubting and rejecting certain fiction-based beliefs long held and culturally accepted. Two and a half months of grace upon grace. Two and a half months of releasing, relinquishing and removing false bindings, so hope-filled contentment and patience may take root.

Two and a half months; and a lifetime to go…

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Skype (14.09.2013)

In lapses
and
delays
words spoken over one another
share     time
oceans and continents                                   separate.

Hearts
filled    from                                                           afar.
Kisses blown from eight hours in the future      l   i   n   g   e   r.

Twice Today

There are moments when heart aches, knot rises in throat, eyes cloud over — when desire and uncertainty meet. There is no ceremony here. There is simply honesty, honest longing for ones and things that may not arrive.

They are hoped for(s). Formed in truth, love and beauty, they are in breath, sunlight and starlight. Arising from depths greater than I, they well, overwhelm, and recede in silence and cacophony. They are and are not all at once.

Waiting in movement. Patient in journey. Holding fast hope.

My New Normal

The other night, while I lay in bed waiting for sleep to weave together thoughts and concerns in the ephemeral landscape of dreams, it struck. The depth of the truth of my reality crashed up me. This time instead of struggling against its power I let it drag me under, allowing its weight to demolish any semblance of control (i.e. pride) I daily attempt to exert over my comings and my goings, my relationships, my financial resources, my vocation.

In the darkness and isolation of a week spent sick and alone, I realized after years of fighting I was in a quiet place of acceptance of the now. I accepted that:

  • I have no career. I am underemployed in both the amount of hours I work and the amount of my talent, ability, and knowledge utilized in the work available to me;
  • I have no love life of which to speak;
  • I have an absurdly large amount of student loans that cause me significant anxiety, which in turn makes me feel trapped in places and positions I abhor;
  • I am ten months away from losing my health insurance because I cannot afford the monthly premiums.

In short, I have nothing, no thing. But if I have no thing then I have nothing to lose. And if I have nothing to lose then I can do anything, any thing. If I can do any thing, I must be obedient and respect this time and place and the longing that is being drawn up here.

That night washed away the weight of years of anxiety (about what to do next), fear (of looking foolish in the eyes of those I know and those I want to know me), and isolation (from those who appear to have somehow managed to scrape together a life that is accepted as normal and good by society at large).

I see, name, and know the blessings that daily garnish my life. I humbly receive them as the abundant grace and blessing of a God who loves me with the greatest urgency.

My prayers have become simpler in the last few years. The life-stripping process of 2008-present has laid me bare, and my words reflect that: “Lord, all is unreservedly Yours; Thy will be done. Use me as You see fit; Thy will be done. Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

May I embrace this freedom, in which I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. May I risk in ways previously unimaginable, for what have I to fear? And in all of this, may:

I arise today

In the name of Silence
Womb of the Word,
In the name of Stillness
Home of Belonging,
In the name of the Solitude
Of the Soul and the Earth

I arise today

Blessed by all things,
Wings of breath,
Delight of eyes,
Wonder of whisper,
Intimacy of touch,
Eternity of soul,
Urgency of thought,
Miracle of health,
Embrace of God.

May I live this day

Compassionate of heart,
Clear in word,
Gracious in thought,
Generous in love.

John O’ Donohue, “Matins 2” from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

Grace and peace.

Writing v. Typing

There is something so precious about the act of writing. Not typing. Writing. The feel of the pen between fingers. The bleed of the ink through the paper’s fibrous veins. The onslaught of thoughts seeking to structure and align themselves in the moments as the pen hangs in limbo above the paper. The words spilling from the tip of the mind, tongue and pen onto the page erasing its stark whiteness as the hand invokes the page’s limitlessness and its refusal to criticize.

So the writing continues . . .

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . During my break from posting I created two 8track mixes: Waiting for a Call, and So Long Sweet Summer. Enjoy!

Today. Today I will write.

Most mornings I awake and think, “Today. Today I will write.” But the day gets away from me: work and concern about not having enough work; exercise; phone tag with friends who, at times, seem so very distant; reading; fretting about what the future holds when the present often  feels so barren. At some point the sun slinks away and exhaustion sets in. My bed beckons my heavy head and heart to seek shelter within its sheets and duvet. With windows wide open, letting in the night’s coolness, I whisper prayers dripping with thanks, questions and pleas.

It begins again the next morning. Words fail to be written down. Out of fear I refuse to open my journal, to let loose these words upon the page. Fear that once I sit down there will be nothing to write, thereby exposing myself as a fraud and the people who encourage(d) me to write as liars. Fear that if I pick up the pen my life will change in ways I can neither imagine nor control. So I settle for silence, for sabotaging that which my heart most desires.

Today. Today I woke up and declared, “Today. Today I will write.” No longer able to keep the words securely stowed in their proper place, I write. Whatever the outcome, fraud, liars, loss of all control, the words must breathe, must exist outside of me where fear no longer constricts and suffocates.

Here you are my friends. Here you are my words. Welcome.

 

 

Embracing the Silence

Life keeps me busy and my thoughts keep me busier. In this silence I am discovering some beautiful and live-giving things. Someday I hope to put words and flesh to these discoveries.

In the meantime I put together a little musical mix, “Feel Good Lost,” which is available HERE. The mix’s title comes from the following photo-graphic by Julian Bialowas:

“Feel Good Lost” includes:
– Lord Huron, “The Stranger”
– Generationals, “Greenleaf”
– Princeton, “To the Alps”
– Benoît Pioulard, “Tack & Tower”
– Agnes Obel, “Brother Sparrow”
– The Head and the Heart, “Lost in My Mind”
– NewVillager, “Lighthouse”
– Love Inks, “Skeleton Key”
– Young Galaxy, “Cover Your Tracks (Teen Daze remix)”
– Ivan & Alyosha, “Easy to Love”