Filling up

 

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Dear Girl with the big, wide eyes,

Once upon a time I thought I had so much to give. The way my heart used to swell up, so round and full had me convinced of that. There was always so much in there, pressing against the edges desperate for release. It became essential, the pouring out of myself, like breathing.

What do people need? I asked myself. People need love, and so love is what I gave. I stopped time and emptied pockets in order to lay hold of the last shreds of love in any given instance so it could be packaged and given away to a soul that needed it. Read More

Humans and love

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I want to write about love. The urge sits in my chest like the ground presses into the earth. Heavy, strong and pulling down as though it was meant to be. I get saturated with words that catch pieces of love, grabbing them from the air, here a little there a little as if greedy for something more concrete and shaped. But the picture of love emerges only as the pieces come together, only as experience arrives at my door. Love makes sense the more the pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

But how can we talk about love without talking about pain? Read More

Friday shots: the thing about strangers

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The thing about strangers is that they are strange. In the way strangeness can only be – uncomfortable. The way of crinkled fabric on tender skin  or sawdust on the tongue.

These people we meet and sit together in rooms to do things together we have never done together before. We bump into them on street corners and in alleyways, in coffee shops and hallways of office buildings. We stand next to them in elevators and on escalators, feeling their breath. Smelling them. Every movement they make intensified in our own body.

We grow taut at the intimacy of various coloured bodies that are all around us. We imagine exactly what is not about these bodies precisely because they are separate from us, not our own. It is easy to do that.

I saw a stranger today. As I do every other day.

He crossed the road at just the same time I did. Our feet hitting the white and black lines in the same single moment. The synchronicity of our steps sounded louder than their separateness.

He smiled. I smiled. It was a moment of recognition. I see you. I see you too.

As I walked away I thought only of his smile. The way it tore into my world and made me warm from the inside. I forgot that he was someone I had never met before. A stranger. Instead I fell into his humanness as he and I pulled away from each other.  He was me even as I was him. And there was nothing strange about that. It was familiar. Like coming home.

Because the thing about strangers is that they are us.

Kaleidoscope

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Melbourne is steeped in winter at the moment. Her usual elegant lightness is weighed down with cold, her toes wet from the rain and dew. The mist that covers her is refreshing even as it is depressing. You can feel her heartbeat slowing down when you get up in the morning. You want to stay longer snuggled up with your duvets and pillows. She doesn’t seem to mind.

There is something about Melbourne winters. They remind me of the first time I moved here – the strangeness of the days I spent trying to woo her heart, trying so hard to make her fall in love with me. But there is a mysterious magic to falling in love, isn’t there? A mystery because we never quite know when, where or how it will happen. I like when it happens with someone I know. Someone whose heart I have learned and memorised as my own and then one day as I’m sipping hot chocolate with my fingers delicately curled around the mug, I feel everything in me pulling towards the person. It is quiet and strong. The realisation of a love that has been building from day one.

I’m cold every day in winter. My fingers are desperate for autumn and so is my heart. Both always seem so dazed by the cold. As though it doesn’t come every year. I smile watching them because it amuses me and endears them to me. My own being becomes something to encounter, as though discovering it for the very first time. And I swear the nostalgia that fills my heart is like a ball of fire. It should keep me warm all through winter.

And you. I have been thinking of you.

Often when I write I want to say something meaningful to you. I always want to leave words that you can wrap around yourself and know you are loved. And important, and special. I always want to pour my whole being onto the page so when you cradle it between your fingers feeling for its texture you can feel me too. That is the only way I know how to write. I am becoming comfortable in this skin. And I want you to be comfortable with this too. With me. I haven’t said thank you in a long time. The other day I sat down and thought about each one of you behind the names and numbers I see on the computer screen. Real people. And I was grateful that you are here. That you read me.

I remember when I started and I had 3 readers, 2 were my relatives. So know that I am gushing over you. That I pray for you. And that I need you. It is a scary thing to need people you have never met before but if you have been reading me for a while you know I am not afraid of scary things so I will say it as it is: I need you.

Being properly human is a big deal to me. The words and their intent grace the preamble of this blog. I live by those words. They hold together such a simple concept yet it is the hardest thing to put into practice. We can’t hide our humanity. It is something we carry with us no matter where we go. And so all I’m saying is why do we go all out to be the best at everything else but this?

“You don’t find a person being lauded for just being a human. There is no pat on the back for just trying your best to be one”said my best friend the other day. And she is right. But here, in this space, this is what we do. We laud each other for just being human. We pat each other on the back.

I struggle too. Like you, I do.

Right now I am re-drafting my PhD dissertation and it is painful. The stretching of the work is like being pulled to the limits. PhDs are like that. They pull taut every part of you that has feeling. I stand facing my fears about finishing, about writing a good dissertation, about the future after I close all my academic books and this journey ends. I am terrified.

Yet there is something breathtakingly beautiful about seasons where you are on the floor huddling yourself, these seasons of winter…they pass. And we grow from what they leave behind. We rise again. And the next time that season comes around we do it better. This is what it means to be properly human – the always reaching for the stars without forgetting the ones we already hold in our hands. This is a phenomenal skill. But it is crafted quietly and slowly through the way we live our life every day.

This winter is brewing things in me. I feel like a kaleidoscope. Sometimes I have moments of sheer awe with splashes of colour and other moments are filled with absolute terror. But when you undress this whole thing it really is very simple for me: I just want to love human beings. I am a big softie and I am at my best when I am loving someone or something. It is the core of me. And so when I grow up I want to give a love that is amazing.

And maybe when I die someone will say:

Wow. To be loved by her was an extraordinary thing.

 

Post India – seeking light

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

We went to see a musical, my best friend and I.

It was a musical about seeking light. Sitting in the dark next to her, this girl whose heart beats as full as mine, images of India came flooding back.

I had left Delhi two days earlier. Boarding that plane that would take me far, far away from India was the easiest thing I had ever done.

See, India broke my heart.

She knocked the wind right out of me. She took my beating heart in her hands and squeezed. It hurt. A pain I will never find full forming words for.

From the start, my intention was pure and my mission clear:

I was going to India to observe, to listen and to learn. I was going to India to experience her. An old land of history and culture. What I ended up experiencing was myself. In all my folds and crinkles. With all the light gone out of me.

I had the audacity to go with my candle. The moment I landed at the airport and stood at the immigration counter, my light was forcefully snuffed out.

“Where are you from” they demanded to know. That was the question that started it all and the question that I have tucked underneath every corner and every furrow of my body.

They wanted to send me back. They did. On account of my passport. My Zambian passport. I had become a spectacle even before I had opened my mouth. And it went downhill from there.

When we took to the streets, in the nooks and crannies of new and old Delhi, I was a walking, breathing anomaly. With my dark flesh and brown eyes. The stares I received were dehumanising. Constant accusations of why I wrought myself in this body. It was suffocating. It was overwhelming.

I found myself walking around with my head bowed as if in mourning. I was unsure of how to hold my body upright. Every ounce of confidence in me had been sucked dry.

But sitting in the dark of a theatre in Singapore, next to my best friend who holds my heart in her own breast, India close yet so far, I watched as the characters on stage danced the story of seeking light. They sough it from themselves and from each other.

It suddenly dawned on me that I had allowed the world to crowd in, to become so intimate with me. I had allowed myself to accept the ugliness it works so hard to reflect onto me: tales of dark flesh that was wrought in dark coalmines. Deep underground. Where light does not reach. Years and years of hearing this had stencilled it onto every fibre of my being. It had made me walk like a slave, my knees buckling the deeper I went into the core of the world. I had folds on my skin to prove it. Scars on my heart. Bundles of hurt hooked to my shoulders.

The world. The way it is structured. The way it moves. The way people view people who look like me. The perceptions. The stereotypes. They have tried hard to convince me and everyone else that I am part of the darkness.

But the truth is even more frightening for some, uncomfortable for others:

I am part of the light. I am part of the rainbow that forms because of the light.  I am created to belong in the spectrum. It is not your choice or mine whether I stay or go. I was created.

I have work to do in this rainbow. My job is to be here. To exist. To disrupt your fantasises. To make you think. To make you uncomfortable.

My job is to be light.

Light.

It is the most silent yet most powerful thing in the world. When it arrives, there is no noise, no drum rolls, no fuss. But it holds the whole floor by its presence.

It penetrates the murk.

It chases away the darkness.

It forms molecules of beauty that match every part of its essence.

Light is life giving. It is nourishing.

And this is part of what I have been called to be. I knew this, yes, but I did not understand it. Understanding means I lift my chin off the ground and I let this light unfold all the folded parts of me. It means I tell you when we are not being properly human.

It means I say NO to the darkness the world wants to shove into sacred spaces of human beings.

To be part of the light, I must seek it. This I know for sure.

The power in our hands

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We should take a moment. And be silent. For the beginning of a new year. For the gratitude we must be feeling. For the chance to be alive, still. And for the power we have.

The power to love.

The power to give.

And this other power that has me sitting up in my chair and paying attention;

The power to break other people’s hearts.

Yes. It is as dramatic as it sounds. And it is as true as it is dramatic.

We walk into relationships all the time. This should never be a blind walk. Our eyes should be wide open. Our ears perched up. Our hearts naked and soft. Ready, steady, go.

I think we forget.

We forget that we are having relationships with other people. Real people. Not machines, not aliens. People just like us. Who at the core of them want the very same we do; to be loved, and to belong.

Society doesn’t seem to help us with this. The air waves are saturated with messages of love as personal gratification; looking after one’s own heart; making sure you hold back something for yourself. There is some wisdom in this, sure. But believe me it’s only a tiny bit. It is so tiny it wouldn’t even save a small city.

We have turned love into something that only works for us. And the moment it fails in this self-serving mission, it ceases to be love. We have turned love into armour that protects our heart, and from our vantage point, leaving the other person’s heart exposed.

But love is…love is…

Love Is.

It is not armour.

That we can hide behind. Love by nature is open. Unfettered. And without fear. Love is careful in the holding of another heart. It cares about the other heart in the relationship. The moment you choose to love is the moment you become custodian of another person’s heart.

There is responsibility in this. There is. No matter how many times the world tries to convince us that we are only responsible for ourselves. As good as that sounds it doesn’t actually work like that on the ground.

I am because you are.

We are interconnected in a way we will never fully understand. But we have to try. So we can get it right this time round.

Responsibility is power.

Just notice. Notice how relationships fizzle and crinkle when there is no care. No nourishment. No attention. No love. Notice. Notice the long-lasting pain when a heart is broken.

This is not about having perfect relationships that have no hurt or pain. No, no, no. that is unrealistic.

This is about you and I facing the fact that the moment we decide to love someone else, anybody else other than ourselves – friend, family, lover, and child – we receive the power to break their hearts. Anytime.

Let that sink in for a minute.

No, this is not about perfection. This is about having real relationships that recognise the choices we have to make within them; that honour the power invested in each of us to safeguard, protect, love and learn to love each other’s hearts.

You are not dispensable.

I am not dispensable.

People are not dispensable.

This is why love is important. This is why this matters.

And the day we carve that onto our skins. And onto our hearts. Is the day we move a step closer to being properly human.

For the things & times that don’t make sense

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There is a map.

No…actually, there is no map. For life. For you. For me. Not one that explains everything in detail. Like how the everyday should unfold. How people should behave in any given moment. This terrain, for each of us, is uncharted. Un-navigated. Its surface gets made as we go along.

And for those of us whose minds are elaborate patterns and tapestries of connections, this is one place where life fails us. And the why question walks into our front yard and pitches a tent. And for certain times & things, it looms larger than life itself. It invades the space where we eat, breathe and sleep.

Why is a powerful question.

When it is answered it can change the world and the lives of those it touches. Unanswered, it takes away life. Sometimes quick. Sometimes slow. It snuffs out the energy to try just more time.

There are two things that never made sense to me;

Unrequited love and death.

Both signify loss. The former is a mystery of the heart – this muscle that won’t often do what we want it to do.

But the latter is what’s on my mind.

When my father died 4 years ago, I thought the world would stop and mourn with me. I don’t know where this idea came from but there was something heartbreaking when it didn’t happen. A kind of betrayal. I expected a moment’s silence. Everything quiet. To honour the man he was.

Yeah, yeah. I know you might be thinking this is silly and naïve. And maybe you are right. But a mind in loss often loses grip on reality and expects this. Or rather deeply craves this. A kind of acknowledgement of the pain. The loss. The fleshly wound of deep hurt. Something much more than the standard, often unfeeling  “I’m sorry for your loss.”

This is one of those moments the why question walks from your front yard, enters your house and stares you right in the face. Almost daring you to challenge it.

So what should we actually do when things don’t make sense?

We wait.

We reach out for support.

We ask for love.

Love is a phenomenal thing. It has the capacity to cover the spaces of uncertainty. It holds one until the clarity comes. Until the answers show up. Don’t ask me how it does this because I don’t know. I just know that it does. It held me until I woke up one day and the pain of Dad’s loss was no longer a fiery dagger piercing my heart. But a gentle throbbing of awareness that will stay forever.

Loss shifts the map. Yes, the one that doesn’t exist. Sometimes like an earthquake re-aligning the surface of our ground. And to get through the shifting, we need to know that we are loved. With a powerful love. A love more powerful than anything in the world. A love more powerful than our greatest fear. A love more powerful than death itself.

So, here is my preposition, from one human to another.

Be a part of that love for someone else in their time of senselessness.

Be that love.

Be that support.

Don’t be hardened. Be soft. Feel. Gather that person’s “whys” and hold them. Simply hold them. You don’t have to answer. Just listen.

It’s only ever enough to love for those times when things don’t make sense.

And then when the time comes the One who ordained life will show up and take care of the rest.

It doesn’t matter. Every death we hear of. See. Glance. Should make us stop. In our minds and in our hearts. To offer silent prayers for the loss of another. At first I thought this is ridiculous because it would mean that we would be in a perpetual stand still because people are dying almost every second. That’s one way to look at it.

But no, it will mean we will be in perpetual awe of the importance and fragility of human life. That we will honour and respect. That we will acknowledge.

And to be properly human, we have to see the ways we can be better for each other. And acknowledging other people’s loss & pain. Sitting with it. And loving them through it. Is one such way. It is a better way.

The day Nelson Mandela died

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Nelson Mandela was not a god.

He was a man, a flawed man, no doubt. Just like the rest of us.

He had a body. He had a heart & a brain, hands & feet too. Just like us. When I look at him and I look at myself, there is a commonality that is undeniable – he was human. Just like me, just like you.

But then we all know there was something else about him…something that made him appear a little bit taller than the rest of us. Something different. Something we look for in ourselves. We saw it in him and we were drawn to it, this thing that turns ordinary men & women into super human icons.

Nelson Mandela believed in a cause. It is as simple as that. No matter how much we try to dress it up, it is only as simple as that. What is remarkable, however, is how he went about it.

Anybody can have a cause. In fact, most of us do. And maybe some of our hearts are fiery hot with the energy of it. But what does it all mean?

Mandela’s cause was to uphold the dignity of all peoples. The thing is, he was prepared to die for this cause. He was willing to forgive incredible injustice for it. He was willing to pour himself out for it. day after day after day. He showed up for it. consistently.

Sure, he had bad days where he probably held his head in his hands & felt sorry for himself & maybe even disappointment in the people he was fighting for but he never let the despair & the cynicism of the world erode his own humanity & that of others.

Because I know human nature I know this was never a walk in the park for him. But his belief in his cause was much stronger than the fear, doubt & judgement —the three things that hold us back & force us to jab at one another instead. The three things that keep us from being properly human.

My question is, what do we do now?

Courage, my comrades, courage. We grow us some courage.

The courage to disrupt injustice & inequity in whatever forms they come in, big or small. The courage to be properly human. To stop the fussing over image & status.  To show up for the words that flow from your heart. Show up for others – the needy, the poor, the broken hearted. Lend a hand. Open your hand. & give. Show up again & again & again. We are definitely not ever going to solve the world’s problems in a day nor can we do it on our own. Like I said, this is going to be hard. So resilience is key. & courage.

Courage my comrades, courage.

Nelson Mandela made a mark on the world & on our minds & on our hearts because he carried a torch; strength of character.

And the day he died is the day he passed that torch, that baton to us. It is the day this heavy responsibility became ever more visible on our shoulders.

What will we do?