Friday shot: falling in love with strangers

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I fell in love with this little girl every day for 7 days in February.

I was in India for a volunteer trip. Each day she would walk into the community center and look for me. And when she found me she would just stare at me with her beautiful, big, fawn-coloured eyes. No words were spoken. It was just me, her and the eyes.

And that is how I fell for her.

She didn’t speak English well and she didn’t need to. Every day my heart and hers met and we said all we needed to say:

“I’m so happy to see you today.”

“Me too. Isn’t life a lovely thing that it brought you my way?”

Sometimes she would silently and shyly slip her tiny hand into mine while I stood in moments of hardness (because volunteering in India is a hard thing) where my mind was far away oblivious to everything and everyone. I would feel the imprint of her small palm against mine and I would hold on tight with no inclination of letting go.

I would wonder about her future.

She reminded me so much of me. The deep quietness that seeped out of her, that cannot be explained only experienced. Her sharp observing eyes which took in everything around her, turning over things and finding safe places for each one of them.

Sometimes I caught her smiling. A real smile. The curving of her perfect lips following the lines and paths joy imprints on our faces. I would simply stop and stare then, the magic of her smile becoming my orbit. I would take all of her in, this little stranger whose world was unknown to me 7 days prior but whose very being had become meshed with my own.

I loved her. For no reason other than that which love affords: it exists.

The right way to make assumptions about other people

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Is to not do it. Don’t go there. Just don’t.

There is this thing we human beings do. And we do it well – we assume we know people better than they know themselves. Not being the other person does come with a privilege – we can stand across them and see their blind spots much more vividly than they can. This, however, does not make us experts on who they are.

People are not blank pages that we arrive to write on with our fluffy fountain pens. They come with a lot of intricate stories tied to their past. They come with their own bags of experiences and awareness of the muddy paths they have trod. People come with themselves. And this is what they offer to us.

But in its organic form it is quite perplexing for us mostly because where on earth do we fit these people who are so different from us and so imperfect? Which cupboard in our mind could we shelve them?

It is sometimes uncomfortable to find spaces within us for people to occupy just as they are. And so we pick up hammers and start chipping away at the self they present to us until we can shave off all the excess bits that don’t agree with us. And so we construct our own version of who and why they are and the reasons they act the way they do.

There are different kinds of assumptions. There is the kind we do when we have never met the person before but because of all the whispers we have heard in the hallways we come to a conclusion about this person. Then there is the kind we do with people we know where instead of clarifying facts with them we simply find it easier to fill in the blanks ourselves.

Both types are hideous. The latter perhaps is more dangerous in the big and small squeezes of poisons it brings into our relationships.

Assumptions give us the power to hurt others by constructing them in a way that may not be entirely accurate or true. They can cause pain and misunderstandings because to assume something about someone is essentially to impute motives particularly to what they do and what they are. It is saying I know who you are regardless of what you say to me. It is at the core, misrepresenting and twisting a person’s self.

Assumptions reveal a failing in how we listen. Are we truly listening to what the other person is saying or are we hearing what we want to hear? Are we asking for clarification when we don’t understand or are we going to seek that clarity by talking to someone else about that person?

Make no mistake, our minds will make short cuts that help us make judgements about situations in life; and we are built to discern people and the fruits they produce. Making assumptions is different. It is an active speculation which sometimes involves sitting around a table with coffee and dissecting other human beings. I know this can’t be a lovely thing because I get a sickening feeling at the thought of being a subject for discussion on the table when I am not there to speak on my own behalf.

It’s easy to make assumptions, I know. We seem to come hard wired for it. Doing the opposite is much harder. It demands that we be brave and ask people the deep stuff; it is looking someone in the eye and asking that question that may fill the gap in our perception of them. It means we listen to what they have to say for themselves, holding the pieces of themselves they offer to us with grace and compassion. It requires us to embrace a kind of raw, crazy love that looks for the good in people first and wraps their brokenness in tender swaddles that heal not bruise.

I think we can align ourselves in the path of this kind of love. To become hard wired for it.

While it is true that what other people think of us is none of our business, it is also true that what we think of others has the power to harm their reputation, their integrity and their core. Perhaps it starts here, with the intention and commitment to do right by each other in our thoughts and in our attitudes.

                                                                                  

Friday shots: solidarity

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At the end of the day we huddle together. Not for lack of warmth or company but for solidarity. For the common and difference in us.

We have trod the same muddy paths of the day. We sat on rectangular desks in little cubicles in big office buildings that claim to shape the world for the better. But we also met on the roads less travelled of superhero moms and creatives.

I know your pain, just as you know mine. Intimate they are. It doesn’t matter that sometimes we are strangers on a train or our eyes melt into each other across the cold, lucid space that tries to force us apart as we pass each other on the street.

I may not know you but we are from the same tree. And we are standing here together.

The pledge

Way of the heart

The world is hurting.

I know this because I am right in the midst of it. Just like you.

Sometimes I stay up at night listening to the wind. And the voices it carries. There are cries and sirens and I wonder about the people connected to those sounds. And other times, there is this surreal stillness. The night is silent. Everything quiet. Breathing. Alive. Well.

Much of the pain of the world is behind closed doors. In people’s houses. In their living rooms and bedrooms. In their hearts and minds. We all share in that.

But then, every so often we are catapulted into the open wounds of the world. Into those parts of her that no longer make sense. Where the whole humanity thing is suspended in a timeless vacuum. Some of the those parts are falling apart at the seams, coming undone, bleeding like that is the only thing left to do.

Syria comes to mind. The Central African Republic, Yemen, Sudan…India.

See, humanity’s wellbeing…it matters to me. It matters greatly.

I am invested in it. Deeply so. I wish I had the eloquent words that would explain this to you…in leaps and bounds right to the core of you. That you wouldn’t question me. That you wouldn’t disregard my regard. That you wouldn’t think me crazy. That you wouldn’t shoot me down.

But there are no words.

However, I have faith in you dear reader. That even though you might not fully understand the pieces of my heart, you will still let me exist. That you will still show up with me in the world.  That you will let me make this pledge:

I will make it brighter. Wherever I step into. Wherever I speak my words into. I will make it brighter for someone else.

I tried to hide from my responsibility.

I hid from you. From the words. From myself.

I didn’t want to overwhelm you. So I went in search of a rational explanation for the words I weave together. The words I send out into the world. The words I leave in your bosom.

There is none. No rational explanation.

And so here I am. I will just be. And I need you to just be. And maybe in our just being we can do something about the hurting world.

We can notice the pain. We can notice the indifference. We can notice the apathy. And we can move away from that. From building walls to protect the happiness of some from the misery of others.

We can learn to practice empathy. To love like it is the only thing we were created to do. To find our humanity and to warmly extend to someone else.

This is radical.

This will take a lifetime.

But it’s too late for isolationism. It’s too late for pessimism.

The threads that connect us cannot be severed. Flimsy they may seem but they are the wires of life. The blood vessels that pulse beneath the skin of the world linking bodies and souls across time and space. And one day the fate of this our world will be felt by all. At the same time.

It will be beautiful.

It will be disastrous.

But those links will become evident. Undeniable. Raw.

Until then I will make this pledge:

I will make it brighter. Wherever I step into. Wherever I speak my words into. I will make it brighter for someone else. I will be properly human.

On friendship

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In the spirit of being properly human, I’m showing up on the page today to completely bare myself. Sometimes I will write these kinds of posts. They may be uncomfortable for you but they are essential for me. For the work that I do and for how I show up in the world. Your job? Don’t judge. Practice empathy. Reflect.

I suck at friendships. I’m just putting it out there.

I love too much. Fiercely. Like a monster even. I am too selfish, fundamentally & deeply so. My kind of selfishness is the kind that wants all of the person. To myself. & to myself alone. I want to possess the person. I want to own. All their parts inside of me. All their heart, mine. I don’t want to share them. No. Not at all. I get jealous. The emotions rumble through me, passing like a thunderstorm, wave after wave after wave until I summon the courage to confront them.

When I step back and look at it from outside my body, I feel a sense of loss & sadness & pain & pity. I want to gather the self into my arms and hold her until her skin is moulded to mine & our hearts beat as one.

You see, all that stuff going on in my heart as I swim in that confused state of being is merely a cry for help;

“Please love me. See me. Value me. Walk into my life. Oh, please, please love me. Fiercely, like a monster even”

Life is forcing me to say goodbye at the moment. To friends. Some of this friend I have come to love more than my being. And goodbye is the last thing I want to say.

In the midst of all the heaviness & my own failure as a friend, I’m compelled to consider, to face head on, the sacredness of friendship. The all-consuming profoundness of it.

To be a true friend you have to be incredibly vulnerable. You have to be willing to have your heart broken. And sometimes you have to love expecting nothing in return.

This flies in the face of what we hear every day – ask for what you want, your rights, your needs, yours, yours, yours…it’s all about us.

We think it is the culture and the times that make us selfish but it is actually our own selves. We produce the selfishness that makes the culture that compels us to be selfish yet. It is a dirty web we help create.

True friendship flies in the face of culture. It goes back to the core. The basic of being a human being —connection— that thing, that essence that is present between people when they feel seen, heard & valued in all their parts, when there is no judgement over what they give & receive in the relationship, and they feel nourished & sustained & strengthened by the friendship.

True friendship is about being fully & wholly human – magnifying the good & working on the bad. A true friendship allows you to work through the parts of you that are imperfect, difficult & painful within the protective enclave of the friendship. She will hold your hand. She will feel with you. She will grow with you.

True friendship is showing your heart, letting it be seen by the other. And the other desiring to see it while showing hers.

This stuff means incredible vulnerability. And courage & compassion… It means putting yourself on the line.

Here is what I know now;

People don’t want to be owned or possessed. They want to be loved. To smithereens. So my jealousy reminds me of my need for love but it also calls me up on my responsibility – I need to learn to share people. How? By suspending expectation when it needs to be suspended. In those moments it stops being about us. And how we feel. It is about the other person. And what they need.

When we do this right, we come to this important point of truth that the world will try very hard not to tell you:

Friends who actively know and have learned how to love each other will love each other forever.

Because the truest of friendship is a choice. It is a scared space. You can’t bull doze your way in or stealthy sneak in. You have to enter through the front door, with courage, compassion, passion & sobriety. Because what is done in this space shapes the kinds of human beings we become.

I have much work to do on this. I don’t have it figured out. And I have no answers for you. I can only show you my heart. And my commitment to do this better.

Join me.

Two dogs at the park – a lesson

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I was at my local park the other day. I sat on my favourite bench with my feet curled underneath me feeling the sturdiness of the bench holding me up. Sure. Strong. And grounded. The world lay open before me; the vast green field of the cricket ground, the pristine houses that lined the streets, the setting sun looming over the tall, tall trees. So close yet so far.

There was a dog in the ground, running to & fro excited for the wide, open space, no doubt. He embodied freedom. A freedom I envied. I watched him dance his way from one end of the grounds to the other. His owner content to walk leisurely beside. I smiled.

I watched as a new comer with his dog walked down the slope into the ground. The new dog was big & intimidating. It looked like a conqueror of spaces and of other dogs. I was afraid for the other dog. In all his crazy excitement, he might spill himself all over the new dog. And the new dog might not like it. Not at all. So I held my breath and willed peace.

The big dog, in all his big-dog air walked over to the smaller dog. They sniffed each other & gave each other dogly greetings which involved more sniffing & kissing. Then as quickly as the ritual had begun, it ended. The two dogs ran off into the sunset together as though they had known each other forever. All was well in the dog world. I released my breath and sat back into myself.

I thought about the human world.

So much we can learn from those two dogs. But I want to pick one;

Acknowledge people. Say hello to people. Nod. Smile. Acknowledge.

Don’t hold back. Don’t hide. The tendency is to look away from people we don’t know. To suspect. To imagine the very worst about them. We have convinced ourselves that the world is full of crazy people who want to hurt us. Sure, there are people like that indeed. Let’s not be naïve.

But that girl serving you soup in the restaurant? C’mon, say hi. Say thank you. Mean it. Maintain eye contact with your banker. He is human too. And would appreciate a warm smile.

It all sounds easy. But it isn’t. I think you know. We have been trained by our culture not to care for people we don’t know. To be too busy getting from A to B to notice them. We have been taught not to be interested in random strangers who share random stories on side-walks. We protect ourselves by shutting them out.

I want to do better – to show myself more vividly and vulnerably, to love publicly. I hold back most of the time because I am afraid. I am afraid of being thought of as weird. I am afraid of being thought of as a hippie. Seriously.

But how on earth are we going to break these perceptions if we simply do nothing? If we do not even try?

Acknowledging people & saying hello, these things may be small but these are the small things that build our ways of seeing and being. They sit at the core of our worldviews and the sorts of stories we tell ourselves about the world. We will never know how awesome and so like us other people are if we avoid them or build glass houses around ourselves.

This has to stop. Break the cycle. Start small. With your family, friends or neighbours. Start today. Start now.

If dogs can do it, why can’t we? It sounds crude, but it is true. & its truth cannot be denied.

Go be properly human.

The night before

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One night before & my room is in perfect order…except my suitcase which is too full & spilling all over the place. My packing is not a virtue. Plus more pressing matters occupy the spaces of my mind.

I must gather the corners of myself together, to tuck them in safely. Because I tend to drop pieces of myself in strange places; in plane seats & strangers’ eyes, in small little cafes with crystals hanging in the door & in back seats of yellow cabs. I leave my heart in unlikely places. This worries me as much as it excites me. Being a woman of the world is a grave responsibility. One that I sometimes want to shove right at the back of my clothes drawer & shut it before I can think twice.

I was born with two feet & one heart. Like most people. But my heart felt like something I needed to give away – like it was never mine to keep. & so it was always wandering in lush green places of the world & in dried out deserts & valleys in equal measures.

I would cradle the world atlas in my tiny arms as I went to bed, close to my heart, feeling its rhythm bring every line & contour on the pages vividly alive. I would close my eyes to dreams of countries unknown & unpronounce-able on my tongue. I knew the world was my oyster, my playground, my home. & the people of the world, my heritage. The truth of it moved in my blood.

I feel connected to the land. to its spirit. No matter where I go – my first love affair is with the land – place and all that encompasses its surface – its joys, sorrows, triumphs & woes. Sometimes the connection is hard & slow. & other times, it’s like magic. Hands clasping, fingers intertwined kind of thing.

Unlike the land, the people of the world are not always kind. They misunderstand my restless roots that naturally want to intertwine with theirs. They say, “how can this be?” I have had to do much explaining. & I tire of explaining – I just want to love you like there is no tomorrow. What is wrong with that?

It’s a job of mine to be homeless – to be at home everywhere and nowhere. & from this bizarre place teach what it means to be properly human. The world is not really my home. I traverse its surface following its heart beat & song from one end of its axis to the other. & this is why I am a woman of it – a woman of the world. Not because I live in it but because I understand it & carry its raw essence within me. Nothing special, just heavy & beautiful.

So as I get onto that plane tomorrow, I know my job never sleeps. There is no off duty for the likes of me. For love & connection is always needed. And I, woman of the world am on a mission to tie the ends of the world together in a big, beautiful bow; to offer it back to the only One who can make it whole again.

Race & Fear

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She just walked up to me & talked to me.

A Caribbean girl, beautiful & awkward in her stride, in her manner.  As though the world was not quite a steady place. I could sense her soul, open & exposed to the elements. She needed no words for me to know she was craving. needing. love. connection. human interest.

She told me how lonely it was being a black Caribbean woman in Australia. My heart clasped & enfolded itself around hers. I understood every unspoken word she said, every bated breath that escaped from her body.

I had vowed to myself to never speak of race or culture on this blog. Even though these are the things I’m knee deep & thickly steeped into. for my doctorate & for my own every day. They interest me in a deep, under the skin kind of way.

The thing is, I have been afraid. Sucker punched in the gut kind of afraid. of offending. of being judged. of being thought of as overly sensitive.

Talking about race rarely goes well in our world. Other people are sensitive too. Emotions come spilling out. Hurtful words gush out of our mouths. Wrong perceptions are formed & dig their fangs into our conscious like leeches.

I’ve had people question my racial experiences or make excuses on other people’s behalf. I’ve had people tell me my experiences are not unique, that everybody has something that gets drawn out of them & for me it just happens to be the chocolate brown colour of my skin. & so I shouldn’t be asking for more. After all, the world carries on as it always has.

I have been shaken to the marrow every time I’ve born witness to this kind of thinking & talking. Did I say so? No. My heart, my beautiful heart trembled in its fear. Fear of confrontation & having that conversation that cuts deep.

Maybe every tactic in the world has been tried & tested. We can’t change the world anyway & so we go along with whatever is championed as the norm; as the superior culture. & the norm is definitely not the face or body you see when you look at me. Or so I’m told.

I find it funny how we all act as though we stood in a queue before we were born and God said,

“Alas! What shall I make you go as?”

“Well, now. I’ll take the blue eyes, blond hair & porcelain skin, thank you very much!”

No, people, it didn’t go down like that. God didn’t give me the choice to be born black or white. & so I find it deeply disturbing when people act as though they had something to do with evading the black skin; as though everybody else who is covered in skin that is not pure & white made a poor choice.

A lot of us wash our hands off race. with soap & all. Because let’s face it, it’s just too hard. too messy. & maybe we feel it has nothing to do with us.

I’ll break it down for you; EVERYONE. Every single, breathing, walking person is affected by race. For some it is positive & affirming. For others it is painful & frustrating. I know both as some of you might.

There is something really terrifying about living in a world where some people are rendered sub-human. The thought process behind that craziness makes me shudder.

I’ve had to come face to face with my fears. I sat down woman to woman with my own inferiority complex. the one that was stamped on me by virtue of being born, black, African & a woman. & the one the world tries to shove down my throat every single day.  I’ve had to deal with my own prejudices & perceptions about myself, about black people, white people, asian people, island people, nationalities & everyone in between. & because I can personally do these things, I can ask others to do the same thing. I never talk about things I’m not willing to do myself. That is akin to hypocrisy & in my life there is no room for that.

The fear that has held me prisoner in the past is fading & I have a mission to make life better for at least ONE person in the world.  Someone has to benefit from my existence.  I have a mission to talk about race in a way that connects people to themselves & to others.

Because when we take away the fear, race remains in its beauty. The way God intended. right. good. & perfect.

I hope I can grow the courage to lay this beauty over girls who walk up to me & speak to me of fear, loneliness & craving. Thickly wrap them up in the truth of race. & love.