November 25, 2015 § 4 Comments
Some days, you just need to go.
You need to call up your friend who lives far away. You need to pack a red duffle bag with a random assortment of clothes. You need to buy a plane ticket and get on that plane and fly to Colorado.
Some days, when you feel twisted inside, when you feel a little like a deflated balloon, when you see a hundred looming question marks ahead, when it seems like you’re stuck in a maze and keep coming upon the same horrid corner, on those days, you need to take a deep breath of cold mountain air.
You need to remember what you forgot.
You need to remember who you are.
Some days, you need to spend time with a friend who knows you as well as you know yourself (and sometimes even better).
Some days, you need to drive a few hundred miles until you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s nothing but you and the silence and the sky.
Some days, you need to sleep outside in a tent to remember what it’s like to be vulnerable and afraid.
And some days, you need to stop for bread and soup to remember all that’s nourishing and kind.
You need to get up and go so you can return.
So you can face those giant question marks again.
And so you go.
And so you remember.
And you are filled with courage.
And you are filled with strength.
And you return.
And when you return, nothing has changed, not really. Nothing except you.
But that makes all the difference, you see, because you, you, are ready.
October 30, 2015 § 1 Comment
I look up, drop the front flap of the newspaper, quite startled to hear the small voice so close to my ear. I am deep in a story about justice in America, settled comfortably in a squishy armchair in a crowded Starbucks in Dallas.
It is Sunday morning, and I have come from church to read the paper and pass the time before meeting up with a friend who’s visiting from out of town. I am wound in my own thoughts, thoughts of the story and thoughts of the day and thoughts of my friend, when I’m jolted by the sound of the voice. “Excuse me.”
I look up to find myself staring into the eyes of a young boy. He is around eight, skinny, with messy brown hair and dark eyes. All this I see in a flash because my eyes are drawn to the white notecard he holds in his hands. It is a note, directed to me or anyone else in that coffee shop, a plea for food, something about cancer, the mention of a little brother — I do not read it, really, the words simply blur on the page. But I get the gist.
He is asking for help.
“Where’s your mother?” I say instinctively. Then I wonder if that’s the right thing to say. What if he doesn’t have a mother? What if he can’t understand me at all?
But the boy does understand and he does have a mother, or at least it would seem, because he gestures at a woman, frail and hunched, lumbering between the shoulders of the people waiting in line for coffee. She holds an identical white notecard, and pauses in front of a middle-aged man who says he has no cash to give.
As I see the boy motioning to her, I freeze. Fear and an automatic response kick in.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I can’t help you. I’m so sorry.”
And as quick as he appeared, he is gone, swept out of the glass doors onto the rain-streaked streets of Dallas.
I sit there, numb, aware of the crinkled dollar bills in my wallet and my church down the street and the story I’d been reading about justice in America. I want to rise and follow them, but I do not. I know, even as I want to, that I will not.
Because the thing is, I am suspicious of the boy and his mother. I remember the story a tour guide once told me about a little gypsy girl in Spain. She pick-pocketed him and the tour guide, aware of the probability of such a thing, grabbed her by the arm before she could escape. In a flash, the little girl took off all of her clothes and stood there screaming. What could he do but let her go, wallet and all, lest he himself be accused of a crime much worse than stealing.
This story and others make me wary, make me afraid of being taken advantage of, make me want to protect myself before helping another.
But I do not want to be suspicious when the face of someone in need appears before me. For even if the little boy and his mother were scheming to get my money, that in itself puts them in a place of trouble, of spiritual and moral despair.
Faced with these kinds of situations, I would rather be like a person I know who jumps into action when someone is distressed, without regard for himself but only for the other. This person stops to help when a stranger’s car breaks down and automatically buys dinner for homeless men, no questions asked. I know there is a body of literature out there providing economic reasons not to help the poor and needy, literature that references things like incentives and personal responsibility and empowerment, and I do think such literature offers a modicum of truth.
But the face of that small child and the sound of his quiet voice remain in my head, and a thing inside me — call it God, call it my conscious, call it a well-off woman’s guilt — never wants someone vulnerable to disappear unreceived into an overcast city again.
September 30, 2015 § 5 Comments
After taking the summer off and volunteering in South Sudan last August, I resolved to write a new blog post every week, a resolution I hoped would renew my love for writing and ingrain the discipline in me. A friend encouraged me to do it, and so far, it’s worked out pretty well.
I have loved writing a new post every week, finding myself overflowing with thoughts I want to share, overjoyed when I receive a kind note from someone who connected with something I wrote.
But this week, I find myself staring at a blank page with no idea what to say.
Oh, I have lots of thoughts, that’s for sure. A dear friend told me lately, “I say this from the deepest part of my heart, Lizzie, but sometimes, you’re your own worst enemy. You tend to overthink things and drive yourself crazy.” This is absolutely true. I fixate on some thing and cannot let it go until I’ve wound myself into a ball of nerves.
I have done this lately. I find myself feeling like a rubber band stretched taught, about to snap. I find myself feeling like a cactus — get too close, and you might get pricked.
But these thoughts and emotions hardly boil down into a coherent blog post.
Which is why this week’s post feels like a bit of a copout, and maybe it is.
Or maybe it isn’t.
Maybe you feel this way at times, too. Maybe you know what it’s like to need to stick to a resolution even when the resolution feels hard and empty. Maybe you know what it’s like to feel as though you’re made of sharp silver needles sticking your insides. Maybe you do. Or maybe I’m just going through a neurotic phase.
Either way, I’ll post a few pictures to make up for this rambling post. From my recent trip to Southern California:
Looking for home
September 23, 2015 § 2 Comments
For the last two months, I’ve lived, more or less, out of a suitcase.
I spent several weeks working with a nonprofit in South Sudan. I vacationed in North Carolina with a friend. Now I’m in Los Angeles, visiting my brother who’s on fall break from film school.
Living out of a suitcase is not a bad way to live. In fact, most of the time, I rather like it. I feel inspired and energized when I travel; I feel restless when I don’t.
But all of this packing and unpacking, taking off and landing, driving and stopping to fill the tank with gas, all of this leaving and returning and leaving again, all of it makes me rather desirous of home.
I grew up in a military family, with a father in the Navy and a mother in the Air Force, so moving is second nature to me and home is a relative term. Growing up, I moved every year or two of my life until I turned 13. Even after living in Fort Worth all through high school, I attended college in Michigan, traveled during the summers, and have lived in three states in the two years since graduation.
My mom likes to tell this anecdote that explains how integral moving was (and still is) to my life:
When we settled in Fort Worth, I began attending a new school. At the start of the semester, the teachers gathered all of the eighth graders into the gymnasium to play a game that was supposed to help everyone get to know each other.
They passed out several rolls of toilet paper and instructed each student to tear off as many sheets as he or she liked. Some of us took one or two squares, several took half a dozen, a couple unrolled great swaths of white paper. When it came my turn, I unrolled a long strip, probably ten sheets long, and handed the roll to my neighbor.
Then, the teachers explained the game: we were to go around the room sharing one fact about ourselves per square of toilet paper. There I was with this long strip of paper, wracking my mind for interesting but not too weird facts about myself, wishing I’d been less ambitious and only taken one sheet like the girl sitting beside me.
I tend to freeze up in moments like this, and I was freezing up then when it hit me: there was something I had done at least ten times. Move.
After the girl beside me stated her single fact, I began tearing off square after square, listing place after place where I’d lived: Virginia, Washington, Germany, California, Boston, Washington, D.C., Virginia again…
The teachers thought it was funny. Several of the students’ eyes grew big. I felt slightly embarrassed for marking myself as different from my Texan peers, peers I was supposed to befriend, and was relieved when my last square of toilet paper somersaulted gracefully to the floor.
After attending that high school for two years, making some friends, going to the Valentine’s dance, acting in a Jane Austen play, I began to feel restless. I loved Fort Worth. I loved the sprawling grassland with its scraggly mesquite trees, I loved the pool in the hot Texas summer, I loved our neighbor’s horses, I loved skipping Friday night football games to hang out with my friends instead, but we’d been there for so long.
Since graduating from college, every place I’ve moved I’ve wanted to make my home.
When I moved to Washington, D.C. for a journalism internship, I wondered: could this be my home? I loved the history, the ornate buildings, the excitement of the metro, the museums on the National Mall, the tree-filled parks, my little room in the house with the dark green trim.
Yes, I thought, this could be my home.
When I moved to Santa Barbara to write for the city newspaper, I wondered: could this be my home? I loved the adobe red-roof buildings, the sparkling blue ocean, the palm trees, the craggy mountains, the dolphins swimming offshore.
Yes, I thought, this could be my home.
Now I live in Dallas, and sometimes I wonder: is this city my home?
When I first moved to Dallas, I did not think it could ever be my home. Everywhere I looked I did not see Dallas. Instead, I saw what Dallas was not.
Dallas was not palm trees or ocean waves or coffee shops near the beach. Dallas was not hiking trails or wild bluffs or purple-tinged mountains. Dallas was not sunsets or seagulls or wineries in the hills.
Dallas was not California. Dallas could never be home.
But I’ve lived in Dallas for over a year now and in many ways, it is my home.
It is my home because it is the address I use when buying books from Amazon or signing up for a library card. It is my home because my grandmother lives there and (when I’m not living out of a suitcase) I live in her house. It is my home because I have friends in Dallas whom I love.
Despite all of this, I am still restless, I am still unsettled, I am still desirous of a more permanent home.
When I feel this way, I sometimes think of Parmenides, the Greek philosopher who was so disturbed by the constant flux in this world that he conjured the idea that while everything appears to be changing what exists is actually one unchangeable entity, what his successors have dubbed the Parmenidean One.
I think about the Parmenidean One because I think I get why that’s so appealing. How nice to think that all of this flux, this moving, this change, this restlessness is just an illusion, that what actually exists is something firm, something solid, something to rest upon. I think it’s that solidity, that firmness that we so desire when we think about home. That’s what home is. It’s the place that’s comfortable and safe, where one is provided for and loved and knows who he or she is.
Through all of this moving and living out of suitcases, I think I’ve learned a few things about home.
One is that age-old cliché: home is where your heart is. This is true. Dallas is not my home because most of the things I own happen to be there. It is my home because so many people I love live there. Another city could easily be my home. Any place I go can feel like home for a week or a day, if there are people I love with me there.
Some places feel more like home than others, no matter how many people you love live or don’t live there. I am in California this week, visiting my brother, and I am remembering how much I love this place. The sun shining here makes it easier for me to stave off my proclivity toward moodiness. The easy, laid-back culture makes it easier for me to keep myself from spiraling into my usual self-perfecting anxiety. I always feel more at ease in Southern California, more comfortable, more myself, more at home.
Nevertheless, I am still restless, and I know this is a restlessness that cannot be cured. It is the deep desire, the insatiable hunger, the needy neediness of the soul for the real home, the true place where we are fulfilled. It’s a restlessness I will always feel, and so will you, no matter where you call your home. It’s a good restlessness because it moves us not to feel satisfied with what is here, but points us onward toward a more perfect and permanent place beyond.
*Photos from my recent trip to Los Angeles.
September 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
Labor Day weekend is just around the corner, marking the last time it’s acceptable to wear white, the last holiday until Halloween, and the beginning of crisp fall days (or mildly warm days, as they are in Texas). As the season closes, I find myself reflecting on the past few months.
Back in June, a friendly acquaintance stopped to ask, “What are you up to these days?”
I remember fumbling for an answer, something that sounded more impressive than the truth. I wanted to lie. I wanted to tell her that I was up to great things, saving the world and all that. Instead, I decided to be honest (mostly because I didn’t have the energy to come up with a creative-yet-believable lie).
“I’m taking the summer off,” I said. “Resting. Relaxing.”
She stared at me, and I was sure she thought I was your typical-lazy-millennial-bum.
“It’s kind of hard,” I admitted, partly because it was true and partly because I felt self-conscious. “I’m not sure I’m allowed to take time off.”
After all, shouldn’t I be like the rest of my peers, getting jump-started on a career or heading to graduate school or, at the very least, trying to find something to do. I waited for her to call me a bum.
Instead, she nodded knowingly.
“If that’s how you feel, taking time off sounds exactly like what you should do.”
I stared at her, mouth slightly agape, letting the wisdom of her words soak into my skin.
I’d never thought of rest like that. In reality, I was taking time off out of necessity: there was no way I could keep up the demanding schedule I’d maintained since college, working and writing and networking and moving every year and, sometimes, every few months.
All of a sudden, I felt another reason to rest: if you can’t relax, if you can’t let yourself simply be, if you have to be busy all the time, working toward something all the time, then you need to stop. You need to let yourself be okay with who you are, a worthwhile individual, even when you have nothing to show for it, even when you can’t answer the simple question, “What do you do?”
I’m on the other side of summer now. I’ve gone through the agonizing first few weeks of questioning: what am I doing with my life?! I can’t sleep in or go to the arboretum or buy myself a latte! I don’t even have a steady paycheck!!!
Now, I’m on the other side of weeks of rest, of days filled with doing whatever, of long summer hours at the beach, of afternoons in the park, of mornings lazily reading the newspaper in cozy coffee shops. Now, I feel ready to begin working again, not out of an anxious need to answer that pestering question, “What are you up to these days?” but out of a place of equanimity, a place I wouldn’t be in without the long summer of rest, a healthy, firm rock from which to leap.