Category Archives: For a Better World

We are called to be Salt. Shakers in this World.

Back in college, I was the girl with plans to change the world.

I shoved up my peace sign and pummeled my friends with bits and pieces of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child before trotting off to some 180-page report on sustainability in Malaysia that needed my reading eyes before bed.

And so, it only seemed appropriate when a girl like me, on fire and ready to rattle the cages of Injustice, trotted off to start my new job at the United Nations.

I basked in that first day, the flashing of my bright blue, holographic pass, and marveled at the building where Change Happened and Things Got Done.

No turning back.

The United Nations was my cake. And I was so darn hungry. So I gobbled, gobbled, gobbled: trafficking for breakfast & girls’ edu for lunch & microfinance for dinner. And then got sick. To my stomach. From eating too much. And not knowing. Just. How. To. Digest…. that change was a slow thing and not always an overnight slumber party buddy.

“This place only works for the ones who can be o.k. with baby steps,” a woman told me one morning. And she left to be angry, wringing my fists over orphans who needed me and an Unchangeable World.

And so, slowly & so sneakily, Doubt pulled out a stool and ordered a coffee in the cafe of my soul. And then another. And another.

But let’s be truthful. It was really Mark Zuckerberg who kissed me on the forehead and sealed my silence.

Yes, six girls. And my own Facebook status that shut me up for good:

“If I have only one quality for the rest of my life I hope that it is foolish… Foolish enough to think that I can make a difference in this world and then go out and do the things that others say cannot be done..”

They mocked it one by one. Skittering from page to page to laugh & “like” & make fun of me before defriending me. One. By One. By One.

And I decided then that Silence was better. Indifference was easier. And if you said nothing at all then no one would expect anything of you. And if you just shut up then the world would never know that your skin once thought it was made for World Changing.

I’d forgotten all of this until tonight. Until the preacher on the stage. Until his message on Salt. Of all things, salt. Leaving my mouth watered with a severe ache for french fries, he spoke of the Bible Days when Salt was more valued than petroleum. Where salt was so very good and people never took it for granted. To have salt in one’s home was a Very Big Deal.

His hands rose up as he spoke of how we, as Little Pencils in a Far Grander Love Letter, are called to be salt. Shakers in this world. Hungry for justice. Hungry for a difference. Hungry to Change the World.

And I licked my lips and thought: Yes, I am hungry. For girls with arms full of textbooks. For boys who put down their guns and run back to the schoolyard. For college students who emerge out into the world with an ache to change it and then get ambushed by the Doubt in the cafe. And the Doubt in the cubicle. And the Doubt in the media. And so they listen to statistics and they do a job they never grew a passion for, and ten years or twenty years later, they’re still thinking, “I would have really liked to change the world.”

And sincerely, I’ve grown tired:  of not talking about it enough. Of not filling more notebooks with the hope of it all. Of not wanting to call it “World-Changing” because the very word has felt narcissistic & self-absorbed & impossible since the day I placed it into a Facebook status and then ached to wash it away with a swift backspace.

But no more, cause we’re talking. No more, cause we’re seeing and we’re saying that this world is very broken. Her legs are mangled. Her mind is messed. And Once Upon a Time, we wanted to be doctors so let’s just pull out the plastic stethoscope, get real close to hear Beating, Bleeding Heart, and listen for a while.

And no more, cause we’re meeting. Gathering in tea shops & brunch on Amsterdam Avenue. In pools of social networking sites where we’ve all convinced once another that the Waters of World Shaking feel just fine so you better dive in. Doggy paddle if you got to, but Just. Jump. In.

And no more, cause I’m ready. To be a girl who doesn’t look back. And a girl who leaves her salt all over this whole place. And her breadcrumbs. And her Whole Entire Being if it means that someone Gonna Find the Light. Gonna Go to School. Gonna Break the Chains. Gonna Do their Part.

Baby, baby, I’ll pull up a stool. I’ll sit right beside you and I’ll ask you out loud, “Do you want to change the world?” And if you answer yes, I’ll finally find the words to say it.

“Yes… Me Too.”

That last line was inspired by my BOMB.com, space cadet of a friend who isn’t really a space cadet but rather a poet who has stood by side in learning the art of butt kicking. Her name is Azure Antoinette. #Cupcake. She was just signed into a contract with ABC Family yesterday. I am more proud than a mother watching her triplets graduate from Law School. And Azure, this post is for you. I’m not tired anymore.

 

 

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Filed under For a Better World

Kaleidoscope Lifetimes: 9/11. We Remember.

I spent precisely 73 minutes, curled up on the tile floor of the New York Library-Bronx Branch, crying yesterday. Book Propped In Front Of Me. Knees Folded. Pages Playing Tear Catchers.

I half expected a librarian to approach me, befuddled by my sinking the library with Titanic-like tears. Ok, maybe not Titanical Tears. But certainly rowboat tears.

Excuse me, are you alright?” She would’ve asked. Clearly feeling awkward upon the sight of me.

Oh, yes… Don’t worry,” I would’ve replied. “I do this all the time, no need to be alarmed. I always plant myself in the nonfiction section when I am having a bad day.

I wish I were kidding but we all have quirky ways to remedy our bad days. I am just more open to admitting mine. Something about the nonfiction section of a library holds me at hard times. The Shelves Quake as I envelope myself in stories that are not my own. Stories that remind me the word “Alone” can disintegrate with two steps in nearly any direction. We are not alone. We are not the only ones having tough days. We are striving so hard to be Individuals that we lose track of Sameness. Sameness Matters. Oh yes, it does.

I cried for a silent waltz between Individuality and Sameness bound up together in a hardcover. 1,901 portraits.1,901 Individuals Who Lost their Lives in September 11, 2001.

Mothers. Husbands. Teachers. Students. Fathers. Brokers. Aunts. Business Men. Fiances. Waiters.

All Different Lives. One Common Ending.

A day when Two planes Took To the air. Took down Two Towers. Took Too many.

If our lives look more like a waiting room than a kaleidoscope today then we are doing something wrong. If we are hoping life will begin someday soon then we are wasting time. If we are allowing words inflated with Doubt, Negativity, Hatred and Defeat take the reins in our vocabulary then we need a new dictionary.

Because 2,996 lives never found tomorrow after September 11, 2001. Over 200,000 lives lost the chance for a better life when the Earth Quaked in Haiti this past year. More than 4,000 soldiers gave up any form of a future to fight a war in Iraq. Why? So that we could have the future. Planted in our Hands.

We need only stare at a cover of the New York Times to slap our own wrists with reality: We have been given a gift. Gifts are never required. Nor guaranteed.

A volume full of single stories, each one begging to burst from beneath their byline, reminds me of the great nobility of everyday existence. In riding the 4 Train to work daily, where Doug Jason Irgang met his future bride-to-be after seeing her daily on the commute to work, reading her paper. They were set to be married in December 2001. In the pots of rice and beans cooked by Jorge Velazquez every Saturday for the homeless and hungry of Manhattan. In the spaces between the breaths of Janet Alonso as she called her husband to tell him That The Office Was Filling With Smoke. That She Could Not Breathe. That She Loved Him.

And then the Buildings Broke.

I am reminded on an every day basis that it will never matter which titles we held or the amount of money that our bank accounts digested. The fibers of our existence are counted then accounted for in the hands that we hold. The well intentions we wish. The prayers we send Upward. The compassion we sent Outward. The love we welcome Inward.

I hold a thousand secrets and I cannot share them all. But here’s one. Lean in closer. Open your ears: The only promising promise exists in this very moment and what we make of it. Ready. Set. Go.

 

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Filed under For a Better World, Life Lessons, Love Yourself, The Tough Stuff, Tragedy

There will be them days

There will be them days when all that will seem reliable is a sapphire blue dress hanging in your closet that, to your knowledge, has never let you down before.

On them days, pull the blue over your head, tie the sash on the side and invest faith in stitching and cool cotton on a summer day.

There will be them days when you wish you could pull sentences from the sky, make words out of treasures you’ve found while sifting through the Lost & Found bin, to tell a person how you really feel. But all that will come out are fragments.

Incomplete.

Sentences.

You.

Don’t.

Know.

How.

To.

Complete.

On them days, find a sweet rhythm in the stuttering and the stammering. Delight in the person who makes the simplest syllables–I miss you, I love you, I need you– the hardest to recite. Maybe even say this: You Make All the Letters In My Alphabet Shake. The Q’s Quiver. The R’s Rattle.

There will be them days when the only adoration you get is from a John Mayer song that he recorded seven years ago about daughters. And you’ll think to yourself, Wouldn’t it be lovely to be the girl who puts the colors inside of the world? On them days, keep your earphones plugged in until the end of the song, until Mr. Mayer tells you straight, “boys would be gone without warmth from a woman’s good, good heart.”

There will be them days where the Missing gets thick.

Thicker than molasses. Thicker than the chocolate current that took Augustus Gloop down. You’ll curse songs on the radio that bring him back. Your bones will ache for conversations where his name sits beside more than just some past tensed verbs.

On them days, let the Missing keep you.  People will tell you not to look at old photographs or cry over love letters;  I say, get your salty groove on but promise to let it go at the end of the night. For your own good. For the doors that need to close before God props open that window people always talk about. We are human beings… looking back is laced somewhere in our DNA, even if sometimes it holds the nutritional value of chewing gum.

There will be them days when all you will wish for is someone who knows your name.

You’ll grow tired of being The Girl on the Train. The Young Woman in the Cafe. On them days, give people a good mystery. Find that man with the notepad and glasses. Sit down right on his lap, swipe a hand across his cheek and put a pencil between your teeth. And then get up. And walk off the train.

Give people a reason to write you into story lines and poems that gets recited in the underground coffee shops of Chicago. Make him wonder if your  name is Clare. Rita. Siobhan. Rachel. Anything but the letters your mother stacked alongside one another to call you home when the street lights came on.

There will be them days when all you have the strength to do is sit–square in the middle of the kitchen table that still holds your initials from childhood– and pair spoonfuls of peanut butter with a carton of vanilla bean ice cream. One more bite, that’s it. Just one more bite.

On them days, go for creamy until the gentle reminder pushes inward: Food won’t heal you. Food won’t fix you. Put the Big Spoon down, Little One. I love you too much to watch this pain.

There will be them days when you’ll scrape the polish right off of your fingers. Freckles of Gold and Blue falling to the floor of the car. And you’ll look down at your hands in discouragement. What do you want of me? The question will sit in your throat. What am I here for?

On them days, take out a piece of paper and write it down. All The Places Your Hands Have Been. The letters they’ve written. The wrists they’ve touched. The wounds they’ve bandaged. The children they’ve held. The stories they’ve grasped in their Tiny Palms.

And marvel… just marvel at the good Two Hands can bring to a world in need.

Then place those Hands of Yours upon your hips. Straighten out the creases in your sapphire blue dress. Go outside. And face the world.

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Filed under Disconnect, For a Better World, Uncategorized

Wronging Wolves with Weighted Words

I toted a serious Little Girl Crush for the Big Bad Wolf.

Something about all that huffing and puffing as a seven-year-old must have riled me up to the point where I slid Elvis Presley and Arthur the Aardvark over to make ample heart space for my “bad boy crush,” or should I say wolf?

The day I learned to love the Wolf was the day my fellow second graders and I sat down on our magical carpet and opened our ears up to our librarian as she told us the Other Side of the Story.

The side of the story where those three wretched swine were really the nasty ones, not allowing their neighbor wolf to borrow any cups of sugar. And poor, poor Wolfy had an awful case of allergies; the guy couldn’t help knocking down all those houses with such uncontrollable sneezing.

Sweet Mother of Holy Cows, I cannot tell you the guilt that sickened my stomach the day I realized I had gotten the Big Bad Wolf all wrong. Guilt that glopped up in my stomach like cheap icing from dollar store cookies.

I don’t think I knew the word “repent” at the time, but goodness, if I were Catholic I would have spent a couple days cooped up in a confessional feeling sorry for the ways in which I wronged the Wolf.

And that’s the point I want to go with today. So we really don’t need to delve further into the countless number of times I checked that storybook out of the library just to take Mr. Wolf away from the mean, mean dictators of Storybook Land who sneaked and slithered among the bookshelves and plastered him with unkind stereotypes, from his sharp teeth down to his hairy toes.

It’s how we wrong one another, no matter if that Other is a wolf or a classmate. A friend or a coworker. It’s how we get careless with Words (Words are quite powerful, don’t you think they should just make them a proper noun and get on with it?) and we use them in a way that forces others around us into teeny, tiny boxes. (And I want to talk about those miniscule boxes one day soon!)

I am firm believer that it took a brave, brave man to pile up all the Words of the world and slop them into a dictionary. So that, forever and ever, people could Use Them and Know Them and Learn from Them. But, on the adverse, Use Them Against One Another. Use Them to Cut and Kill and Cripple.

Yikes, we just got far deeper than my love affair for the Darling Wolf.

Alcoholic. Predator. Homo. Spinster. Anorexic. Homeless. Deadbeat. Dyke. Freak. Cracker. Addict. Pervert.

Jeepers, these were NOT the Words I wanted to plaster all over this post but we use these Words, and other crude combinations, to break a person’s back. To Make Them Less with Our Own Few Syllables.

I can admit it now: I’ve used the words all bunched up in my cheeks to staple someone to the ground before. Someone that I love very deeply even though I’ve often dropped the word “Addict” to force him below me. Under me. Put him right beside Dirt & Scum & gave him a Lower Life than he ever, ever deserved.

I called him an Addict out loud. And proclaimed it to people over and over again, as if to hand them the rope and ask them to help me tie the awful title to his back.

And you know what? It never propelled me any higher. It never made me any kind of Better than him. And it certainly didn’t deliver Goodness. It just built a wall higher, as these Words often do, that hindered me from loving him beyond the label.

When what I really should have done is used the time & space to tell others about my love for him. My prayers for him. The ways in which I know he can dribble and shoot better than the crowd. His passion for crime shows. The immense capacity I think he holds to get it all together and kick some ass one day soon.

Those are the kind of Words we need today. Not more hate. Not more discrimination. Not another Stupid Sentence Said to Ruin Someone Else’s Day or Week or Confidence or Ambition. Who am I to think I got planted on this earth to add more Ugliness to that pile that grows higher and higher. Over the internet. Twitter. Classrooms. Chat rooms. Lunch Tables. Highways.

I’d rather have Good Words for Ammo. Kind Words that Strike. Strong Words that lift & push & pull a person higher.

About the same time I learned about the Big Bad Wolf I must have learned the phrase: If you haven’t anything nice to say, then say nothing at all. That’s a lesson we all could learn over and over again. Don’t bring those Words around here. You take those Words outside and leave them there, leave them like a houses made poorly by Little Pigs… Walk Away and Let that Wolf Blow Them Down.

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Filed under For a Better World, Life Lessons, The Tough Stuff

“Look,” she told my mother. “It’s me and Fred dancing.”

I wonder how we’ll dance. All of the time. I wonder if we’ll fox trot or side step. Shimmy or Waltz. If the music will come endlessly. If the record player will turn.

I picture a pearly floored ballroom. Mozart revived and stunning on the piano. God showing off his hidden talents with the strings of a cello. Mr. Blue Eyes Sinatra himself, captivating all of heaven’s dance floor with his debonair swagger and the alto roar of his voice.

But, if I want to talk about Heaven and the epic chance to finally toast my glass with Billie Holiday, I need to rest my fingers on this keyboard and tap out what comes first, the very thing that we may never come to understand for as long as we sink our feet into earthy ground.

Death.

I’ve thought a great deal about death lately, as he seems to be coming up in conversation more than I would like. Linking arms selfishly with people I believe still needed more time.  I don’t even like typing the word “death” because it seems to come weighted down with all sorts of tragic connotations. As if Sadness & Stuffiness & Discomfort are all sitting down on my keyboard, refusing to get up.

It is always when I see someone pass away, someone who seems too young or too needed in this world,  that I find myself attempting to slip into God’s shoes. Try as I might, my feet don’t even take up an inch of space in his massive Converse sneakers. I cannot even pretend to clunk around for a mile in his shoes as if I were back to the days of being Little and Girlish, playing dress up with Grandma’s night gowns and chalky, burlesque lipstick.

But, ironically, it is also always when a beautiful soul takes her leave on this earth to swoop across clouds up to Those Gates that I feel God coming up behind me– clomp, clomp, clomp–in his converse sneakers, to whisper in my ear. “I made you for many things, child. Understanding the way my world operates was never one of them.

And once again I fall back under His Unmistakable Power. Knowing little. Understanding less. But still wishing I could explain why several Grandmas get pulled back up to the clouds before lunchtime.

I’ll never know why God plants the best grilled cheese makers and advice givers all over the planet. I don’t know why he sews us into daughters and sisters, lovers and friends. Why he pulls us off this earth when our work is done. It’s a glorious thing, but it leaves holes in the human hearts, of those who loved us all the days of our lives; the ones who seem to need us here on earth, sitting beside them, holding our hands. Seeking our shoulders.

A dear member of our church passed away this week. Sitting in pews on Sunday morning, a thick layer of sadness rose up to the rafters and rolled down the aisles. Suddenly there was no denying that the world gets heavier with one less mother, one less grandma, one less distinct laugh to fill the space that calls us all to worship.

My mother visited her in the hospital a few days before her passing . She showed off her favorite photograph.  A picture of she and her husband diving and dipping across a dance floor. “Look,” she told my mother. “It’s me and Fred dancing.”

She passed two days later. Some believe she was a victim to a broken heart, her husband passing away ten months prior, but everyone knew for certain that she was ready to dance with Fred again.

Ready to dance. Beyond this world. Because standing here in heels that hurt my feet by the end of the day,  I have no choice but to believe that we were made for something more beautiful, beyond this. That, up there, somewhere over those Rainbows and all that Judy Garland once sang about, exists a place for us to dance. And jig. And wear the best red shoes. And take the hands of ones we loved and lost to finally be found over & over again. For all of eternity.

And perhaps this is the reason, poking up like sunlight from the cracks of tragedy, for being here. Maybe God shuffled us down here so we could do our best, and learn the etching of our own footprints in the sand. So we could stumble and fall and lean on him when we lose all stability. And search this life all over like blind men on the boardwalk, looking for dance partners to know our steps. Know our shuffle. Our hop. Our skip.

To practice dancing on the ground. To learn the hands and eyes that we’ll go searching for long after we’ve parted on this earth when we get to that pearly dance floor. The piano cuts. The crowd clears. And finally, the word “forever” will exist like we have never known it before, as we are reunited with those familiar hands. They’ll clasp our cheeks and pull our faces close to theirs and dip us down to touch the ground, whispering softly, “I told you darling, we’d be dancing again.”

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Filed under For a Better World, Girl meets Boy, God, Shoes, The Tough Stuff, Tragedy, Uncategorized

One hour before the world is destined to end, a girl will find the courage to call a boy after six years.

Some fiction to flesh out the stories that are often true.

“Hey… it’s me. I hope you still know who ‘me’ is. I think you do, but its been a while. Almost six years.”

Five Years. Nine Months. Fourteen Days. But who’s counting, really?

“And normally I wouldn’t call you, because we haven’t talked… and you’ll think I am crazy for even trying. But the world just might end in an hour and I thought this might be the best time, or the only time, to catch up. You know… Before it all ends.

And nothing that I am saying right now is making much sense at all but I just called to ask how you are doing. It’s funny, I’ve been waiting to ask you that for nearly six years and it takes an 89-year-old preacher predicting that the world is going to end in an hour for me to actually find some kind of spine to call you up and just ask you.”
I play over what I will say in my head.

I am getting ready.

I am going to call you at 5p.m. today. 

May 21, 2011. 5:00p.m.

One hour before the world is destined to end a girl will find the courage to call a boy after six years. Before earthquakes tumble through hometowns and destroy playgrounds from childhood and take  down old oak trees that still play home to abandoned tree houses crooked up in their branches.

And I am going to ask, “How are you?”

How. Are. You.
Three anvils coming off the tongue.

“I feel kind of silly, just blubbering to your voicemail. But I have been telling myself for the last three months that the world would end today because, well, if I didn’t then I would probably never call. I wouldn’t search for a reason. And I think one of us has really needed to call the other. I could be wrong. But…but…”

For the first time in 22 years, my mouth will fail me when I finally call. Completely fail me. For I know I’ll want to say Ten Thousand Things all at once but I am already stuck with the task of saying them One by One.

“I don’t listen to the Beatles on Sunday anymore; that was kind of your thing. And my hair color has changed three times since I last saw you but maybe you saw it on Facebook. Most people still keep in touch on Facebook. That’s how I find out about all our friends’ engagements and baby showers at least. Crazy; thought that might be us.

And I haven’t forgotten your birthday. I know I haven’t called or said anything but I never forgot it. To be honest, I still get these nervous rashes sometimes when someone even brings up your name…. I finally learned how to kayak.”

I watch the numbers on the clock skip forward. Past five. Half Hour until the World Ends.

“I hope you are doing well. Really. I have only ever want the best for you but I think that wish got lost somewhere in the last few years. I hope you’ll know it now. I saw your Aunt Marge last month. She might have told you that though. I really should have called years ago; that fact is not lost on me.”

But a boy can cast a crazy spell on a girl’s fingers when it comes time to gather up bravery by the arm load and make those fingers crawl toward the keypad and tap out his number. An area code is suddenly heavy. The number itself is nearly impossible to dial.

“I haven’t decided if I want you to call me back when you get this. There will probably only be a few minutes left. So don’t bother. Or maybe bother. If you feel like it. But promise me, promise me, that you won’t say you miss me. Don’t find a way to plop that sentence into one of my seven inboxes either. Because suddenly you’ll be filling all my spaces again. And it won’t last ten seconds before you pull away and begin apologizing for the mess.”

This Muddy Mess called You & Me. Sometimes Us. Rarely We. Lately, these days, They & Them. Two People wandering far, far away from You & Me.

The minutes sprint towards 6:00p.m. I close my eyes. I wait.

“And please don’t call me back asking to know what happened to Us ten minutes before the world goes ending.”

6:00, 6:01, 6:02,

“I can tell you how it all began: We were young. We knew nothing at the time but everything in the moment. We tried. We fought. We stumbled. We didn’t know better. We wanted it to work. We wanted it so bad.

6:03, 6:04, 6:05,

“Life got harder. Time taught us lessons. Pain. Jealousy. Foolishness. Resentment. Don’t you remember? They all showed up to throw a Bon Voyage party for the two of us.

You chose south. I needed north. You were moving. I was shaking.”

6:06, 6:07, 6:08,

“We really shouldn’t spend the last ten minutes before the world ends tying all the reasons behind our own ending to red balloons. Letting them go. Watching them float up to the Solar System. We’d be left with only one reason.”

6:09, 6:10.

“We both needed exits. And they needed to be graceful. I would not cry this time. You would not call. We’d grow bigger someday. But we had to learn to do it on our own.”

Silence. Nothing. No ground shaking. No world crumbling.
I was going to call you at 5p.m. today.
An hour before the world ended and I was going to call you. 

I was going to ask, “How are you?”

I am sorry I never called. I am still wondering how you are.

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Filed under Creative Fiction, For a Better World, Uncategorized

This will give us enough of a good feeling, a right feeling, to go on knowing nothing at all.

My best friend smells of leather ballet slippers and lavender hand soap. 

The scent mingles with the highlights in her hair as I hug her, taking me back to the nights spent sharing secrets on hardwood dance floors while nursing the blisters that came from uptight tap shoes.

And though I file away people I have met, placing their name beside a concordance of eye colors within my head, smelling my best friend became a new addition to daily routines only after I met Maggie.

Maggie was the queen bee of the nursing home I was forced to visit during a day of service in college. Truth told, I didn’t want to be spending my Saturday morning playing gin with old folks sharing stacks of Aces and Spades with the dentures sitting on both sides of me.

I made the Macho Mistake of checking my phone beneath the table while waiting for Maggie to make her move.

I don’t understand all you young people,” Maggie spoke, directing her comment right at me without a tinge of hesitation. “You are always talking to one another on a screen. My grand-daughter talks to all her best friends on a screen. That is not a best friend! You need to be able to see your best friend, touch your best friend, smellllll your best friend.

Maggie will forever be the reason why, when my first child asks me for a cell phone, I will retreat to a cedar chest settled beside my bed and pull out a chalkboard like the ones the pilgrims used to practice their ABCs upon.

Here,” I will say, stringing the small board up with a bright red cord and saddling that little sucker right around my child’s neck. “This is even better than text messaging. You just write that message down and pass it your friend.”

Presto, handwriting practice and social interaction all in one swift swipe.

And then I will pull six more chalkboards from that cedar chest and plop them onto the table beside my child. “Here’s more, in case you need to send out mass messages.”

Yup, this conversation will take place right after I buy my girl her first petty coat and teach my son all the Right Ways to walk along the Yellow Brick Roads that Pave the Hearts of Young Girls: Tell her she is beautiful. Always.  Never tell her she looks big in those jeans. Buy her flowers even if there is no occasion. Admire her and do not fear being in awe of her; there is nothing more radiant to watch than a young woman who knows her way. 

But, in all seriousness, I am already fearfully watching from the car window as my children scurry onto the school bus; already pleading endlessly with the gods of socializing that they will sit beside Someone. And that they will like the bus ride adventure beside that Someone so much that they decide to share lunch with that Someone.

Their feet will grow bigger. Their hands will grow bigger.

But still, they will itch to sit with people and find Someones. And call before texting. And just show up even before calling. And know how to use those ten fingers of theirs.

Lesson Number One, my little kiddies: Your hands will never feel so full and so well used as when they find themselves enveloped and interlocked with those of another soul in need. 

Another Restless, Itchy Soul who needs Love. Well, don’t we all need love? We might not know much of what we want in this life, nevermind what we actually need, but we know enough to distinguish how it feels to rest our heads on Certain Shoulders or to be wrapped up tight into Certain Arms. And let’s face it, no one told us we had to know everything so I think that sticking to knowing Shoulders & Arms & Ten Fingers and the power behind them is plenty.

Because that will give us enough of a good feeling, a right feeling, to go on knowing nothing at all.

No, I don’t want my children to miss out on that. To miss out on Certain Shoulders and Life Changing Conversations because their noses are super glued to Kindles or their minds are surfing the Internet ten thousand miles away from the dinner table they are sitting at. Their Faces Illuminated by the Glow of the Screen from Beneath Them. 

I want them to know certain things that will never be unearthed from a pile of mobile devices, certain things that I believe will define their lives and leave them without worry as to what this life is actually for: the way it feels to say sorry in person instead of cowering behind an email address. The way it feels to gush over another human being without fear of being cut off after 140-characters. The way it feels to sit beside someone with Palms Sweating and Heart Racing; feeling so awkward, so uncomfortable, so anxious but so incredibly alive. 

Lord knows one day I will be sitting in the same spot as Maggie, preaching to a restless youngin’ of the days when we still received letters in the mail and we trotted over to the neighbors to borrow a cupcake tin.

Cupcake tins, neighbors, and handwritten letters may all be extinct by the time I play gin with young college students.

But perhaps they will learn from me what Maggie so graciously taught in her preaching of smelling best friends: we have precious time upon us; spend it with friends. There is laughing to be heard, names to be learned, manners to be used and friends to be pulled in after a long spell of “Missing,” transporting you right back to the days of lavender soap and sitting on dance room floors.

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Filed under Best Friends, Disconnect, For a Better World, Humanity, Simply Living, Uncategorized

I’d string the trees in Central Park with Yellow Bows for you.

She was fidgeting with the elevator buttons

when the tears for you rolled through.

I knew upon the first slow trickle, down blush-applied pink cheeks,

that the herds of salty soldiers marching from my eyelids

were all for you today.

Untamable tears. Terribly Untamable, Mysterious Tears.

They might be my only offering to this world.

They might be just the start.

I let the tears scamper for a moment,

like restless children tumbling to see the first gleam of spring.

Propelling down over humps that were once

the bane of a chubby cheek existence.

Searching in my mind for ways to turn

Each Drop of Salt into Characters that sit Metallic in Blank Word Documents.

Because crying doesn’t solve anything,

(my mother taught me that one)

but words can do some good.

You held up a piece of cardboard two days ago and I knew it then.

Homeless. Veteran. Iraq.

These three words would call me to my knees one day soon.

Black Tights on Tile Flooring Praying for Men with Foreign Soil Beneath Their Boots.

My mind left stirring over a cup of coffee we never had.

Envisioning you taking me from start to finish.

Tell me the story of how a young man,

waking only to lie down for his country,

encounters that same sleepy-eyed country when its time to cradle him home.

When he fights well. Does Good.

Shouldn’t “thank you” be a phrase that

Drops Endlessly Off Our Tongues?

Thank. You. You. You.

I’m no politician. No picketer. No rebel.

My combat boots are all for show. Fashion, really.

No agenda. No protests. No Crude Words for Magazines.

I cannot talk Libya or Japan when I just want to talk humanity.

I cannot banter over military industrial complexes

when I simply want to know, adding sugar as you speak:

How did the air feel in your hair over there?

Whose arms folded you inward during tented dreams at night?

Whose laughter are you longing for? I know it’s not mine.

When did you start missing it?

Tell me the pitch.

Verbalize the tone.

You’d speak and I’d categorize your eye color into the

running concordance in my mind. Maybe the Blue Files.

Perhaps the Ambiguous Hazels.

Scripting you deep into the front line in the notepad memory

of a Syllable Seamstress with Untamable Tears.

It’s not much but sometimes we need that:

for someone else to remember our eye color.

Remember something about us.

And let their minds return back to it after longer days.

I’m going back today.

If I see you, I will ask you out to coffee.

Knees sunk into the floor of a 43rd street office space.

Turning tears into syllables for you. Asking words to be

brave enough to speak for a hero like you.

Wishing those Words Would Unravel into

Miles Upon Miles of Yellow Ribbon.

I’d string the trees in Central Park with Yellow Bows for you.

Fresh Yellow Bows. To remind the World that a Foot Soldier Came Home.

That a Foot Soldier with Blue Eyes Came Home.

And so who will fetch the water to clean the mud from his tired boots?

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Filed under For a Better World, God, Passion, Poetry, Poverty, Simply Living, Thank You

Relearning Loveliness: Not ten pounds lighter. Not two weeks later.

You would think a girl who spent childhood making collages with pass out literature from UNICEF and annual global poverty reports, wouldn’t find her most disturbing discovery at the United Nations in the bathroom of the main headquarters.

I am trying not to stare over as I pump a thick layer of neon soap in the palms of my hands and dip them under the soapy water.

One by one, the women stop and pause in front of the full-length mirror.

Tug at their shirts.

Suck in their stomachs.

Turn at a few different angles.

Leaving a disdained look upon the mirror as they turn away,  disapproval plastered on the mirror like a lipstick kiss.

 

I click clack my heels daily around a monumental place where genocide, malaria, peace, war, girls’ rights and primary education are all the basic words you need  in order to have a substantial conversation over coffee. And yet, I wonder the most about the women who walk around here and all over New York City, and All Over Every City, not satisfied when they greet a full-length mirror.

The women who cringe over fitting rooms and racks of skinny jeans.

Some days I want to study it. Pull up a chair into the center of any fitting room and take field notes. Or hear the story from start to finish as if it were bound and scripted for bedtime purposes. I could curl up on blue carpeting and find some librarian to read the picture book out loud to me.

Once upon a time, there lived a young girl. And as she grew older the world grew harder. Her thighs were always too big. Her nose to long. Her ankles too fat. Her skin too blemished….

I don’t know what the pictures might look like.

Maybe watercolor paintings of sad girls in princess dresses. With pocket-sized mirrors. Maybe Eric Carle would do the illustrations.

If I had two extra hours to my every day, I would surely dedicate the 120 minutes to tracking down a scholar who could point out to me just where women started missing parts and cutting themselves off at the knees. Where it began… Where he believes it might end…

Where we learned verbs like “comparing,” “despising,” and “sizing.”  And started using our adjectives to belittle our bodies and devalue our worth.

Then perhaps that same scholar could take me on a walking tour, as if we were catching a new exhibit at the MOMA on a Friday night. Here is the woman who turns to peanut butter and wine, he would show me. And down the line you will find the young girl who rummages through clothes racks to look for self worth, only in even numbers, less than 6. Size 0. Size 2. Size 4.

I really wouldn’t need a pamphlet or a tour guide.

I wouldn’t need to plug a set of headphones into a wall to hear a young woman’s story to know “why.”

The thing about most of us is that we understand why she isn’t eating and she is eating so much. Because we all grew up together in a space that taught us every aspect of being Thin, Pretty, & Desirable for any and every occasion.

We never grew up reading beauty magazines with glossy spreads teaching us the goodness of our birthmarks and the sweetness to our gap teeth. From time to time we would find the declaration of love, but really we were just reading up on how to fix this part of ourselves, or lessen that part.

How to be smaller in the world. Take up less space. Be quiet and play pretty.

And though we grew up with a rare right to preserve and protect our bodies, we struggle to find much value in them. Little time to value the Birthmarks, the Curves. The Freckled Elbows. The Grey Hairs on Heads.

I always wondered, while flipping through the pages of different monthly issues with all the same issues on the front cover, how will I ever learn to love something that constantly needs changing? How I could ever learn to adore a body when it needed altering always. Hemming always. Trimming always.

Where there was always an end goal that a scale would define.

Where I would always be a traveller, a nomad, looking for that point of peace in the mirror.

Geneen Roth, one of my favorite authors, first planted the words of poet Galway Kinnell into her book and I read them, suddenly wishing this single verse could have been my lullaby growing up.

Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.

Loveliness… It could be a new favorite word. A great new leather jacket of Loveliness to wear around. And zip our hearts inward tightly.

Roth goes on to write about wings. And how we have all been given wings. And how we learn to fly, from wings.

And it’s a pretty thought.

A better ending to the picture book story with a very grim beginning, with watercolor girls fading as if they and their pages were left out in the rain. The thought of us all flying. Soaring. Above it all.

The thought of us all running into a conference room breathless, clutching lined paper and digital cameras. Throwing a pile of colored crumpled sketches and black and white photographs into the center of a table that I decided would be round.

And the thought of sifting and sorting for the very best stories of love. The very best images of self worth.  The most wonderful ballads of acceptance and pacts with our bodies.

And we would send that collection off to the printing press. Binding some new magazine. Some new spread. Some better way to relearn our loveliness right where we are. Not ten pounds lighter. Not two weeks later.

Relearning loveliness. Just as we are.

 

 

24 Comments

Filed under Beauty, For a Better World, Happiness, Healthy Lifestyle

A guru at equipping souls with a Simultaneous Sense of Eating, Praying & Loving, once wrote that we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t first buy the ticket.

I spent two years stealing love notes from my brother’s bedroom just to admire the handwriting styles of his girlfriend.

I may or may not have contemplated stapling the letters to my trendy Unicorn sweaters of the time and wearing them around with my jacket unzipped. Not to expose any juicy secrets, of course, but  to show people what eloquent handwriting looked like. The kind of stuff Hallmark Illustrators gnaw on for breakfast.

Instead, being the slightly neurotic ten-year-old that I was, I took out my Lisa Frank planner and scheduled a time slot from 4-5p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Handwriting Practice.

Yes, yes. While other girls read Tiger Beat Magazine and gushed over the Backstreet Boys, I holed myself up in my bedroom, unfolding love letters from their paper football form, to master the technique behind a round & full lowercase “a” and the precise swoop of an uppercase “Y”.  The anticipation of one day seeing these same delicate letters parade on my very own book reports and love notes was enough to keep me diligent for two entire years. Close to 300 hours or so of handwriting practice.

I’ve grown up keeping this notion closer to me than I would my purse on a packed subway car: If we want something then we need to work hard for it. Every Single Day. Every Single Day we carve out time for that Dream of ours. We don’t merely coo at it or coddle it, we bring it into this world. Loud & Rapturous.

I also grew up cursing the God who put a great deal of distance between Point A & Point B.

Why not connect them closer, God? Why not give me what I want right this very moment? It would probably make His Sky High To-Do List much shorter. More manageable.

It would be much easier this way, if we could pick up our deepest desires from the racks of the department store & plop them into a cart.

Chances are, a lot more dreams would live to see their realization if we were able to skip right from Point A to Point B. If Time, Energy, Hard Work, Rejection, Struggle & Discernment were not so adamant in demanding a seat in our Ambition-Covered Wagons.  

I’ve written it before but I still believe that our dreams are very much like infants. We conjure them up in diaries and during long commutes but we have to then step up to be teachers to them. Teach them to Walk, Talk, Sing, Dance, Shake, Shimmy, Move, Be. Understand their weak beginnings. Understand their wobbly legs. Covet the progress. Smile at the Baby Steps.

But the one thing we cannot do if we ever hope to find them as a reality, sitting across from us like a familiar stranger who knows how we take our coffee, is belittle them. Degrade them. Find small boxes to shove them in. Let them collect dust on a shelf within our memory.

You see, one day our dreams being labeled as “unreachable” won’t cut it anymore. They will grow stale. They might fall apart. They will tire from us putting “Cannot” and “Should” in front of them in line. And they will slink into a slot just as forgotten as the lone sock, abandoned under the bed and left praying for some sort of companion who understands their wool & texture.

Elizabeth Gilbert, a guru at equipping souls with a Simultaneous Sense of Eating, Praying & Loving, one wrote that we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t first buy the ticket. I don’t know about you, but I have some tickets to buy… some dreams stored up inside of me that need to start sending their resumes out to reality.

So here’s to taking some coins, sunk deep from our pockets, and listening to the sounds they make as they clink on the counter.

 “One ticket please,” I say. “Matter of fact, make it ten.”

Here’s to finding Point A together, no matter how opposite our directions are from one another.

Here’s to kicking Struggle & Rejection, Doubt & Animosity, out from the cradle that our dreams slumber in at night.

Here’s to picking back up that piece of chunky purple chalk and writing our dreams out to the world. Fine Handwriting Practice or None.

Here’s to placing Point A down on the map and finding one way today to make a sudden movement.

A Baby Step.

A Crawl.

Even just a shoulder shrug.

On our way.

To Point B.

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Filed under Big Dreams, For a Better World, Love Yourself, Reality, Uncategorized