Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Looking at You, 2017

What would it look like to settle into my life? To put aside striving and trying and reaching and just live the life I have? To hope for but not wait for more or other?

I’m not very good at resolutions but I do enjoy choosing a topic or theme or even a word to think about and study for a year. For 2017, it is: to dwell. 

“Dwell” is a word I hear and use frequently but I’m not sure I totally understand. It’s a verb that has physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual uses. For me it carries connotations of being in one place and being content in that place. Is that what the word really means? 

What about “dwelling on things of the past”? That seems bad.

What does King David mean when he saws he will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever”? 

And what about Moses’ blessing over the descendants of Benjamin when he says, “The beloved of the Lord dwells in safety. The High God surrounds him all day long, and dwells between his shoulders.”?

2016 was a big year of building for me. Building plans and goals, new interests, community, career, etc. I am proud of all I accomplished and I don’t want to rest on my laurels but I also want to settle into the life I have. Maybe I’m just getting old or tired but I don’t think a life of constant striving will bring much peace. I believe there are seasons for it but also seasons for being. For dwelling contentedly?

I expect more changes to come. (And will welcome most of them.) But I am ready to live the life I already have. I am curious what that looks like, feels like, means for me. 

Why I Am Religious (Even Though Religions Do Bad Things)

I ease my back into the old wooden pews. Tall candles flicker just above my head. The cedar garlands draped above the altar and the small fir trees decorating the foyer release a spicy-sweet smell. Deep old sounds emanate from the organ. Ancient words are intoned by a man in a deep voice and a woman invites us to meditate on peace in a time of division. The voices of the choir join together to meld harmonies that have been sung in churches for 350 years.

I exhale deeply and close my eyes. Grateful to find a moment of peace and reflection in a busy season. I feel comfortable in religious spaces. I think I always have. But it’s not very popular to be millennial and be a practicing religious. Only 27% of millennials report attending a weekly religious service.

I get it. Religion has let us down over and over again. Religion has promised things that have never been fulfilled. Religions have used their political and emotional power to force people to do things against their wills. Religions have promoted unspeakable actions. I can only speak for my own religious tradition but Christians have done (and still do) truly horrific things in the name of the Church. The Crusades, the Inquisition, sale of indulgences, supporting ant-semitism, burnings at the stake, segregation and racism, the KKK, forcing Native Americans to abandon their culture, misogyny, hateful acts against the LGBTQ community – the list goes on and on. It is a list I grieve and mourn. The history of my religious community is not one that I am always proud of. It is one that I intentionally study and recognize in the hopes of not repeating some of my forefathers and mothers mistakes.

But I must also recognize that religions have promoted really beautiful meaningful acts – care for the poor and lonely, abolishment of slavery, elevating the rights of women, challenging dictators, giving homes to the homeless and food to the hungry, encouraging selflessness and community, and promoting peaceful actions – just to name a few. Yes, not even all of these good acts have been done in a “pure and genuine” way. Some of these acts have been done in self-serving ways – for self-promotion, for power, for a false sense of goodness. Yet even with all these human failures in attempting good, St. James reminds us “pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”

In effort to reckon with and also side-step the complicated history of Christianity, it is currently popular in my sub-set of the Church to say that following Jesus is about a “relationship and not a religion”. Meaning that our highest goal is to know God and not to just practice meaningless forms or promote harmful and dangerous ideologies. I understand this and in many ways affirm it too. It comes from a desire to strip away the unnecessary in order to focus on the most important aspect of our faith. But here’s the thing: I think I need religion to help me know and experience God – to cultivate that relationship.

It may not be true for everyone, but for myself, I am not sure that my personal imagination is grand enough or consistent enough to direct me to practices to connect with God on my own. I need the consistency that religion offers through weekly practices. I need the liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter to guide my reflections on different aspects of the Divine and my own humanity. I need the ancient texts, readings, and songs to help me express the words and feelings and devotions that I know deeply but do not know how to express on my own. I need the confessions to help me search my heart for the inclinations that would lead me to any of the awful things humans are capable of. I need the comfort that comes with belonging to an ancient faith and history. I need the wise words of those who have gone before me when I am overwhelmed trying to confront injustice, hatred, and division. And honestly, sometimes I just need the kick in the pants to focus on something or someone other than myself.

That’s not say I am by any means a slave to religion. I have not been an official member of a church since I was a young child. Most of my life I have attended non-denominational churches and as an adult I have felt the freedom to borrow practices from other Christian traditions that I do not belong to. When I am asked my religious affiliation, I am mostly unsure what to say beyond “Christian”. (And even then I am not confident that term fully expresses my faith and practice.) I have prayed and thought long and hard about making a more formal commitment to a certain branch of the Church but so far have never felt comfortable enough with any one tradition to make that leap. But deep down I still know that I would be lost in my feeble attempts to deeply connect with the Divine and with my fellow humans without the helpful guide that religion offers.

So under those beautiful garlands in the warm glow of candlelight, I stand with the congregation at the Advent Evensong and with one voice affirm the tenants of the Apostles Creed and tears come to my eyes. I am grateful for the early bishops who affirmed the central beliefs of our faith in 390 AD. I am grateful that I can walk into a church of which I am not a member and speak the affirmation truthfully with them. I am grateful for the history of attempting to love God and to love others and the community that my religious tradition offers. I am grateful for the practices offered that have help me find my way to God over and over again. And I keep wrestling with the dark parts of my religious tradition just as I wrestle with the dark parts on my own self.

A Liturgy for Advent in Difficult Times

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For family, friends, neighbors, strangers, and ourselves for whom it is hard to find Hope, Peace, Joy, or Love this Advent season, Lord we pray: Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who have lost loved ones – whether a grandparent, parent, child, sibling, spouse, or friend – and are facing the holidays with grief,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who are far from or estranged from their loved ones and for whom pictures of happy families bring more pain than nostalgia,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who are chronically ill and face continual physical pain and weakness no matter how many medicines they try or doctors they visit,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those living with anxiety, depression, addiction, and other mental illnesses that make daily life difficult and wellness seem impossible,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For families currently risking their lives to flee war-stricken cities in fear and leaving behind their homes, possessions, and all they know,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who have no safe place to gather and worship this holiday season,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who have recently arrived in a new city or country and feel lonely and uncertain about the future,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who are struggling to obtain even basic necessities – clean water, a home, food, clothing, warmth,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who have experienced trauma and are still processing the experience,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who are worn down and deeply discouraged by injustice, prejudice, hatred, and malice,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who are tired, weary, overworked, and worn out,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who carry long-held hopes and dreams deep in their hearts but have not yet seen them fulfilled,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For those who feel fearful looking ahead at the new year and what it may bring,
Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

For the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only of the Father, full of grace and truth. Lord, we both remember and look ahead praying: Come, Emmanuel, be with us.

Arrival

I tumble into bed after a long day (week? year?). I reach for the book even though I am more ready for sleep than for inspiration but I am in the middle of an experiment and I would hate to mess up the consistent streak and have to start all over again. So will (determination? stubbornness?) wins out over desire (healthy emotional boundaries? self-care?) and through squinting, tired eyes I read:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(St. John)

Even through my exhausted haze, the symmetry of this passage quietly thrills me as it does every time I read it. The writer’s allusions to nature, ancient literature and symbols, Greek and Hebrew philosophy, cosmic forces, and the cyclical nature of time (among other things) are all so unpretentiously condensed into one poetic paragraph explaining the mystery of incarnation. I sigh contentedly in my sleepy contemplation and find a moment for pure wonder before nodding off.

***

I can feel my soul struggling like a runner in the last miles of a marathon. I am tired and I admit to being tired. I am not entirely sure where the finish line is for this leg of the race. But I am also aware that I need to do all I can to just keep going. And I hope with the deepest hope I can muster that some triumph is just a few miles away.

***

I leave work and drive to my favorite independent cinema through slow evening traffic. I am being unusually spontaneous but after two weekends and most of a week of being sick in bed with a seasonal cold, I can’t just go home and go straight to bed again. I feel my soul starting to give in to the cold as well and I need a remedy stat! I’m afraid I’m still too contagious to be social so I bargain with myself that if I buy a hot tea and sit far from anyone else in the theater (which shouldn’t be difficult on a Tuesday night) then I can see a movie without further harm to myself or others.

I make it to the cinema just in time to get a hot peppermint tea and find a seat two rows from anyone else. I am expecting a visually beautiful and mildly philosophical exploration of how we view “the Other”. And the film definitely delivers that but also explores language and time and symbols and moral obligation in ways I have rarely seen film do so poetically.

I watch a woman struggle to love herself while loving her work so devotedly that she will risk her life to accomplish her assigned task. I watch her come to know herself and her people in deeper ways as she comes to know “the Other”. I watch her passion for language and communication drive her to keep working on the most difficult job she has ever been given. I watch her receive the gift of seeing her whole life with all of its joys and pains and disappointments and choose it anyway – again and again.

And in the last 5 minutes, as her story comes full circle, I cannot stop the tears flowing down my face. I sit stunned in the dark theater until the last note of the score has faded and lights come up. I walk stunned out of the theater to my car and sit in weeping silence until I feel like I can drive home. I walk silently into my room and close the door and sit in the wonder.

I am deeply grateful for the gifts that Story has given me over and over again – new perspective and understanding. Watching someone else do the deep wrestling and make the journey gives me hope and inspiration for my own journey. Watching the pieces fall into place for someone else helps me understand how the pieces are falling into place for me. I settle into a deep peace before I fall asleep.

***

On the first day of my vacation week, I have to complete a list of errands that are important but I never have time for during regular weeks. One of the tasks I am dreading the most should be straightforward – name change on my social security card – but it involves going to a government office. I know most people don’t like government offices but after a childhood spent in immigration offices in various countries, I have a near-phobia of them. I push myself through the line. I steel myself through the waiting time. I will myself to slide the papers across the desk and answer the bureaucracy as politely but succinctly as possible. I am so caught up in just making it through the ordeal that I almost miss the parting words of the administrator. They are words I have been desperately hoping to hear for almost three years. But never in my wildest imaginings did I ever expect them to come from a government employee behind a cubicle divider.

“You are restored.”

I blink twice and my jaw drops. I stammer a “thank you” when I understand that he means my legal name has been restored. But I walk out of the government office with my heart beating a little faster and my step a little faster.

***

Advent. (n. Old English, from Latin adventus ‘arrival,’ from advenire, from ad- ‘to’ + venire ‘come.’)

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year. Like all things new, it marks a renewed hope for what is to come. Every year we remind ourselves of the Word that was here from the beginning but that we are also waiting for. That which we hope for but have also already received. That which we know is within our grasp but we are also running toward.

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
(Adolphe Adam)

Do Hard Things

I don’t like to admit it but this time of year is hard for me. There are layers and layers of memories stacked on top of each other like pancakes. Some are crisp and clear. Some are indistinct and mushy. Some are so sweet and lovely and some leave a bad taste in my mouth. Some of the dearest and some of the most painful memories of my life are all crammed into about 8 weeks on the calendar.

This time of year,

8 years ago I was falling love with the man I would eventually marry. It was lovely and magical and unexpected and everything I could have dreamed and more. It felt like the best gift I had ever been given.

7 years ago we got engaged on the weekend between Thanksgiving and my birthday. We were both so happy and excited for the future that we couldn’t stop glowing for days.

6 years ago we celebrated our first married Thanksgiving by inviting a bunch of people over and cooking our first turkey. We planned to make it a tradition and host Thanksgiving as often as possible for as many as our home could hold.

3 years ago my then-husband began the process of leaving me though I was unaware until several months later and even now I don’t really know all that transpired in those months. I was not part of the decisions being made about my life. All I knew at the time was that everything felt strange and confusing and out-of-place.

2 years ago I had the hardest conversation of my life and agreed to my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s terms of divorce. I cried and prayed for days before we met not knowing how else to prepare for a conversation like that. But then when we finally spoke, I felt the deepest peace.

1 year ago our divorce was finalized on the day of our engagement anniversary. I felt immense relief and freedom but also so much loss and grief. I felt drained of everything that had come before but hopeful and expectant for whatever would come next.

It is overwhelming to process all of these memories that fall within the same couple of months. Our first date was the night of the first presidential debate in 2008 and the air feels familiar. The time the sun goes down each day is the same as the year our life began to unravel. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and my birthday is a week later. I look forward to the celebrations but also dread the residual grief.

This time of year rolls around and my heart and spirit feel weak and kind of fragile. I look for opportunities to create new, happy memories. I try to be gentler with myself. I lower my expectations for what I can accomplish because I know my soul is working hard to keep processing and healing.

But if I’m honest with myself, I just want to have it all resolved. I want to have all the whys answered and all the details clear so I do not have to keep processing complicated grief. I want good and bad memories in separate tidy baskets when most of life does not actually sort that way. I want things to be black and white but they are often truer in gray. I am learning to be comfortable with uncertain but it is hard to do.

When I am ready to just throw up my hands and give up, I remember the words a dear friend repeats often, “You are doing hard things. It is so important to do hard things. Hard things can sometimes take a lifetime but they are still worth doing.”

I know we are all doing hard things – processing complicated feelings, loving those who are difficult to love, taking good care of ourselves and our people, reaching out with empathy and understanding to those we don’t agree with, grieving, hoping, and trying to continue moving into greater wholeness. It’s difficult. The road is often hazy and unclear.

But keep going – doing hard things is worth it. And it’s so important.

Complicated Gratefulness

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I am standing on top of 2,500-year-old temple ruins in southern Mexico and my breath catches in my throat. I look out over the green grass and the rocks and the perfectly blue sky with a smattering of clouds and as happens so often when I see something unspeakably beautiful, I can feel tears welling up in my eyes. The moment is so brief but holy and lyrics of a Gungor song come to mind:

I see it all like a hymn
The constant refrain of the echo and change
And all is beautiful

There is no giving without any taking
There’s no love without any loss
Everything everyone building and breaking
Oh I see the grace of it all
All is beautiful

I did not travel here on some spiritual pilgrimage or even a vacation. I am actually here for work and we took an hour break from panels and screenings and receptions (not to mention the mountain of emails that need attention) to see a bit of the city we are visiting. And it is in that seemingly mundane situation that I remember again how incredibly fortunate I am to do what I do for a living.

You see, my job (like every job) has monotonous tasks and lots of hours in front of a computer screen and sometimes working through weekends and tedious things that just have to be done however unexciting it is to do them. But it has also taken me all over the world and allowed me to meet artists in cities whose names I had never even heard before. It is rewarding and fulfilling and I know how rare that is and I do not take that privilege lightly.

At the same time, I am keenly aware that the only reason I can do this job is because I don’t have young children. And because I don’t have a spouse or even a serious partner, picking up and jetting off to another country or city for a week is something I can do easily. When I started this job, I had a spouse and we were talking about children in a couple years once we felt more settled in our careers.

Sometimes I think about those plans and how differently my life has turned out. I think about how many places I would not have gone, how many amazing experiences I would not have had, how many fascinating people I would not have met. And I feel this complicated gratefulness. Grateful for the the really unique experiences. Grateful for the openness and freedom that permeates my life but also sometimes grieving the seeming stability and clearer future of the life I had planned.

I look at my friends who have laid aside or taken less demanding jobs so they can spend time with their babies and honestly, sometimes I feel a little jealous. They are watching a little person learn to walk or teaching her new words or hearing him giggle when he discovers sand for the first time. From talking with them, I know they keenly feel the privilege of what they get to do as well. I also know there is a complicated gratefulness for them as well. Grateful for their children. Grateful for the time to spend raising them but also sometimes missing the personal fulfillment that comes with more free time and a more results-oriented job.

Complicated gratefulness–it almost feels inherently ungrateful to even mention the difficult parts of what we are grateful for. To mention the sacrifices that come with the blessings. To sit in the tension of having something really wonderful but also aware that it is still not what you truly desire. I wonder if those things we are grateful for that are complicated are where we actually learn what gratefulness is.

We are thankful for our warm houses but also aware how much work it takes to pay the rent or mortgage. We are thankful for our families but also aware of the brokenness that even the best families experience. We are thankful for our friends but also aware that our friends have gossiped or been petty or forgotten to invite us to a birthday party.

That we can still be grateful for these gifts even while acknowledging the difficulties or hardships that come with them is incredibly beautiful to me. It feels richer and deeper than only being grateful for the simple or easy things. It feels both more honest and more gracious to look at the world as it really is and be thankful for the gifts while also acknowledging the hardship or pain that can accompany them.

I Carry Memories in My Body

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I carry memories in my body.

The scar on my right shin is from my attempt to waterski at age 9 that ended in a trip to the emergency room and 17 stitches. I remember it as the day I learned boats have sharp motor blades and pain is not always felt immediately.

I have silver in my left middle finger leftover from a high school art class where I learned solder, melt and pour medal, and make jewelry. It’s also the class where I was first introduced to The Beatles and I will always associate them with young love.

My right thumb will never bend all the way since I broke two bones while snow skiing. I took two more runs before it swelled to the point that my glove would no longer fit and I figured I should probably go to the medical center to get it X-rayed. I was 18 by then but I guess I still hadn’t learned that shock can delay pain.

When I lived in seasonal climates, my hair had sections of blonde like rings in a tree that marked the summer months when the sun bleached it light. I now live with permanent tan lines and can remember exactly which blouse or swimsuit I was wearing on a particularly sunny day just from the lines on my skin.

I carry memories in my body. Some are lodged deep somewhere between my muscle and bone. The memories that my body remembers maybe better than my mind.

I have friends who as soon as I see them, my face beams and I feel laughter welling up in my belly. So many days and years of laughing together until we could not speak and tears streamed down our faces that now my body remembers how I feel when I am with them without even being prompted.

One day last week, my arms felt almost too heavy to lift and the weight on my shoulders made it difficult to stand straight. I had slept well. I wasn’t sick. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me until I looked at the calendar and realized it was a formerly special anniversary. My body carried my grief even though my mind had not remembered.

I carry memories in my body. Most of them I did not choose to store there.

I have been contemplating a tattoo for several years now. A small line of text on the inside of my left wrist. The word and the script have changed over time but the desire to have a permanent symbol intentionally marked on my body has not. At one point I wanted the word “beautiful” (jamila) in Arabic script. When I told the guy I was dating at the time, he smiled and asked me, “Why would you want that when it’s already written all over your body?”

It is one of the sweetest compliments I have ever received, but it also made me stop and wonder for a minute: what else does my body say? What can you read just by looking at me?

I carry memories in my body. We all do. What do yours tell you?

Bless

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“Find someone to bless today,” my mom would whisper in my ear each morning as she hugged and kissed me when she dropped me off at school.

“The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” I have heard this benediction most Sunday mornings of my life spoken from pulpits of a myriad of Christian denominations all over the world.

“Be a blessing!” My parents would cheerfully call out when we left the house the same way some parents call out, “Be safe!” or “Make wise choices!”

When I was 9 or 10 years old, I listened to a sermon preached on Genesis 12:2-3 nearly every week for several months and never ceased to get chills whenever I heard the promise to Abraham, “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

I love blessing – both giving and receiving. I love seeing blessing in the world. Sometimes when I am having a bad day, I even look up #blessed on Twitter just to see what people are feeling blessed about. (Confession: I am alternately inspired and amused and both make me feel better.) Blessing is a word that has surrounded and sustained me.

So why did I cry in church this Sunday when the pastor challenged us to find three people to bless somehow this week?

A) I am feeling really drained right now and I don’t know what I have to give.
B) I am overwhelmed and grateful for the blessing I have received in my own life.
C) I am still recovering from having some of the most costly blessings I have ever given devalued and discarded.
D) I recognize how much need there is for blessing in the world and I don’t know what I can possibly do to even begin to address that need.
E) There are people I would rather curse than bless right now and I am feeling convicted to bless them anyway.
F) Blessing is sacred and beautiful and mysterious and I always get a little teary-eyed thinking about it.
G) I feel unworthy to bless others.
H) I have had blessings spoken over me by people who have since rejected me and that is confusing.
I) All of the above.

Answer: I) All of the above.

You may have noticed as I did, that many of my responses are related to fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of not being enough. Fear of being rejected. Fear of not getting what I “deserve”. Fear of failure.

When I look at those fears, I realize they are all about me. But blessing is not about me. In fact, what makes it so mysterious and beautiful and life-changing is the fact that even when I find a way to bless others, it is still not about me at all. Barbara Brown Taylor puts it like this:

All I am saying is that anyone can do this. Anyone can ask and anyone can bless, whether anyone has authorized you to do it or not. All I am saying is that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and recognize the holiness holding its sometimes bony, often tender, always life-giving hand above their heads. That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember when or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.

All I have to be is willing. And I am. I do not have to be special or skilled or chosen or even ready. So I am setting aside my fears and looking for ways to bless. And just hoping that good comes from it. That in some small way I can participate in what God is doing in the world. Once again, I am asked to approach life with open hands instead of clenched fists. To show up and do what I can but not feel like I have to make it all better. To recognize the miracle that it is that “we are able bless one another at all”.

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.

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.