Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: September, 2016

Ugly

I can feel the insides of me recoil and try to pull away. But I don’t know where my insides think they can go since my body is still holding them. And my body stays where I am because I don’t know where I could retreat to anyway. The ugliness feels all around.

It has been a week of re-confronting really ugly things – about myself, about loved ones, about society, about my country. And I’m not just talking about politics. It’s also really intimate things like who you love and trust and where you put your hope and how you can look away from destructive words and actions and hope they don’t harm you if you don’t see them. As if the snake in the grass won’t bite you if you just give it its space.

It has been too many instances of seeing things that make me say “Yuck!” and “Really?!” and “That’s terrible!”. Things that make me want to both yell and raise a ruckus and also just silently slink away so I don’t have to do the hard stuff like confrontation or self-evaluation.

It has been too many nights of staying up late with my mind moving too fast and my stomach all tangled up in knots. Googling articles and think-pieces trying to make sense of it all until I fall into the restless sleep of exhaustion. Why do politics inspire fear and anger? Why is misogyny still so strong in 2016? Why do cheaters cheat? How do you know if someone is trustworthy? How do people justify racism? I wake up in the morning already tired because I know I will still be searching today. Trying to find reason that will put me at ease.

I have all kinds of questions about the bad things that good people can put up with. Are they actually bad things? Maybe my definitions are wrong. Are they really good people? Maybe I misunderstand their motivations. The questions swirl round and round like different flavors of ice cream in a bowl until everything looks brownish-gray and I have no more clarity but I have definitely lost my appetite.

I hear other people asking these questions but for some reason they feel far away. I love the way beauty brings people closer together. The way that recognizing beauty together can make us feel like longtime friends recently reunited. Ugliness brings us together too but more like sick people in the same hospital ward. We are all in this together. Until we can get out and go back to our own homes.

We compare symptoms and wounds and all shake our heads in concern and each secretly hopes that her illness is not as bad as that other person’s because that sounds truly unbearable. Of course we would never say that aloud. We just think it as we limp away nursing a gangrened leg.

Ugliness makes me feel alone and confused. I will try not to dwell on it much longer. I want to return to a hopeful, optimistic view of myself, my loved ones, society, and our country. I want to go back to finding beauty and redemption in the mundane and hidden places. Instead of mostly seeing ugliness that makes me skittish and nervous about exploring any further.

I also think it is good from time to time to acknowledge the things that make your stomach turn and your skin feel hot and itchy. To acknowledge that in this grand world somehow beauty and ugliness stand side by side. And somehow we live it all.

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Dust In My Pocket

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I find my way back to the desert often. Over and over again it has become a comfortable place. The openness and wildness appeal to me. It reaches some place in my soul that I cannot reach on my own. I can cry or scream or sing or shout and the space can take it. It rolls my burdens away like tumbleweed.

I let the sun darken my skin and bleach my hair until I am monotone. Anything rough or harsh smoothed over by the grit and sand. I think I know who I am here. In civilization I don’t know if I do. Among people. But there is no comparison here. In the desert, I am only me.

In the expanse, my soul can wander free. Like a child set free in an open field. My time here in the vast is a privilege as much as a necessity. The desert provides a recess from the pressure to study, work, talk, perform.

I lay down in the cool clear night air to sleep. To rest. To let my mind flit and float wherever it will. To make the connections I cannot see when I am awake. Comfort and quietness roll over and cover me like a thick blanket.

When my eyes open, with the dawn light streaming through, I feel newborn. Naked and too-new, a little raw, and very alone. Do I feel aching loneliness or the deepest of peace? I can’t tell. But the day seems fresh and the space seems wide so I unfurl my limbs and stand and walk into the new day.

Back in the city, I hear the voices and see the smiles and the tears. I hug and hold and listen and smile and talk and frown. In my pocket, I carry back the dust of the desert. When things start moving too fast and the clamor gets too loud, I reach down and feel the grittiness in my fingers. I remember the desert peace.

Sometimes I see others. With dust on their wrists and sand under their fingernails and I know they are kin. I see they have also been to the wilderness and clawed their way through dunes. I see the hard-won hope sparkle in their eyes like the bright desert stars and my soul leaps. I reach for their hand and beg,

Tell me of the beauty of you have found in the unlikely places.

Sympathy From Strangers

Like everyone else in my generation, I remember exactly where and how I found out about the tragedy on September 11, 2001. But September 11, 2002 has also remained a clear memory for me.

“Where are you from?” He pronounced each word slowly and deliberately but without any threat and his large friendly eyebrows rose higher with each syllable.

He did not know how complicated this question is for me to answer. That I was born in one country but had spent most of my life in other countries and that this was my new unknown home but also another country I would never be from. That this was one of my first ventures outside of our bare new apartment to try to get to know my new city of residence.

“I am from America,” I said very softly hoping none of the brightly-scarved shoppers nearby would overhear. I quickly picked up another pair of jeans to inspect so I would not look even more out of place on the busy pedestrian-only shopping street.

“Oh. America.” His large mournful eyes stayed fixed on mine as he slowly and deliberately shook his head back and forth three times. “I am very, very sorry for what happen your country. It. Is. Terr-i-ble. Worst thing.”

I looked up at him surprised as I set the jeans back down. This response was so unexpected that it took me a moment to even register what he was referring to. Apparently in my jet-lagged-mind-fuzziness I had forgotten that today was September 11, 2002.

“Thank you. It is very sad,” I said not sure how else to answer in very simple English and shook my head in rhythm with his. I hoped he knew how much I appreciated his sentiment. Of course he could not know that my family had also been personally affected by the tragedy – that my mother had lost a cousin that fateful morning.

“How long you here Türkiye?” he asked.

Was he asking how long I had been here? Or how long I would be here? I was still trying to program my brain to quickly interpret English from a Turkish accent and grammar. I hoped he knew that I was answering slowly not because I did not appreciate his kindness but because it takes me time to acclimate to new accents just like it takes me time to acclimate to the new sounds and smells of a place. The salty, crisp air of Istanbul usually mixed with smells of tea and bread and sometimes sugar had been immediately appealing and welcoming to me. The sounds of honking buses, yelling mothers, barking foodcart men, and early morning calls to prayer – less so. It was going to take me time to learn to appreciate those sounds as well – sounds that I would eventually miss and be homesick for. But neither the kind jeans seller nor I knew that yet.

“I arrived seven days ago,” I finally answered wondering if he knew the word “arrive”.

“Ooooh. Seven days!” His scruffy handsome face opened up into a huge smile and he reached for my right hand with both of his large hands and shook it vigorously. “Hoşgeldiniz! Welcome!”

“Thank you!” I said much more warmly this time and smiled back. The noisy background already seemed a little less threatening.

Then his face fell again and he paused obviously searching for words. I wished I knew enough Turkish so that he would not have to struggle in a second language to find the words that were obviously so important to him. But he found the tricky English words on his own anyway.

Türkiye is good. Türkiye people is good. We good Muslim. They is BAD people.” He waved his hand somehow both emphatically and dismissively. I knew he was trying to explain that he did not condone the actions of those young men on that day exactly one year before. Still at a loss for words, I just nodded and matched mournful eyes with his.

He did not know that I was unafraid of Islam. That I had already lived in a Muslim country where I had been treated like a cousin, daughter, friend. That my Muslim friends had fed me warm rice pilafs, and taught me how to roll out flat bread, and invited me to their weddings and bridal showers where we danced until our feet hurt. He also did not know that even with my warm and amiable experiences in the past, I was a little worried how that history-shaping day was already changing my world and my friendships. I was aware that all over the globe, subtle shifts and fractures were already forming. I was afraid these divisions might mean that I would lose some of those relationships and invitations. I wondered if they would even want an American girl dancing on their wedding floors anymore. I must have still looked unsure because he reiterated,

Türkiye is good. Türkiye people is good.” Then his smile and arms spread even wider as he said a little too loudly, “I LOOOVE America people.”

It was the kind of kindness that makes you smile through teary eyes.

“Thank you,” I said and meant it even more than the first two times. Neither of us knew what foreign policies were being written up in both of our governments’ capitols. Neither of us knew what public statements our presidents might make. But right here and right now, we knew that we would not let the bad guys win. We knew that we could be kind and receptive and welcoming to someone who does not speak the same language or practice the same religion.

He closed his eyes and nodded knowingly. Then opened them wide, clapped both hands together, and pointed to the pile of denim in front of him and asked, “What size? Medium? Large? X-large?”

And I laughed. Grateful for the moment of connection and grateful that ordinary life continues even while the world changes.

I Got My Name Back Today

I got my name back today. 

The family name I inherited from some Medieval Anglo-Saxon ancestor. The first name my parents very intentionally chose before I was born hoping I would grow into one day. The middle name that is also my mother’s middle name and my first-generation-American Italian great-grandmother’s first name. 

It feels more momentous and more hopeful than I expected it to. I feel like I got back a little piece of my identity that has been out wandering somewhere. I feel like I am coming home to a family and legacy that wants me and claims and values me. I am no longer tied by name to a family that has rejected, forgotten, and shamed me. 

It’s really all just words on a legal document (that took nine months post-divorce to finalize) but for some reason it matters. And for some reason, today I feel like celebrating. In all the recent legal documents I have had filed and stamped and notarized and returned to me, this is the first one that feels worth celebrating. So I am. I have another little piece of who I am returned to me.