Beginning to arrive

 

 

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When doubt arrives at my house with his suitcases, I know trouble is brewing. He is not an easy guest to host. Sometimes I survive him by reading poetry. Lines of sentences on a page, a word here catching a word there, can be grounding to a soul steeped in never ending suppositions. Poetry gathers all the pieces of me that life strews allover the place, bringing me closer to myself in those times when the only thing I need is healing. It pulls all the parts of me together. It makes my heart start beating again and slowly I can recognise my limbs, my face, my lips, my voice. There is nothing more nourishing to my soul than words that fit. Words chiselled to hold me tight; to make magic inside of me.

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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

New Zealand travel diaries

Dunedin. If there is such a place as this, it is right here. Quiet in its bearing. It is easy to get wowed by the rolling green hills that sometimes seem to stretch on forever. And I want to be wowed. I want to be taken in by the secret charm that hides in this city’s street corners and in her strangers’ smiles. It is so easy to unfurl for this and forget to remember that on the other side of the rolling hills the pacific waves are crashing against solid rock. A duel of duels. Read More

American travel diaries

My American trip. I didn’t take a lot of photos this time around. My camera stayed in my pouch. My fingers were busy gripping something else and there was an urgency at which they did so. I had no control over that. It was a matter of curling up into a comfortable spot and watching how they dug deeper into the textures and contours of people, places and objects. Wanting to remember the smells and the feel of moments. Wanting to become part of the landscape and part of strangers. To be swallowed up, never to be the same self again, alone and separate. Thoughts were what stuck to my fingers. Thoughts that came swelled up and fat with determination and emotion. Read More

The harder, beautiful bit of relationships – also known as staying

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Packing suitcases remind me of all the pieces of goodbye and staying, and how they hook into one another. They share the same body, opposite ends of each other, friends yet enemies, elements that are together  yet separate.

Maybe it is the action of standing in front of my wardrobe and deciding which pair of pants I will take. Which sweater and dress? Which scarf?

I imagine my clothes excitedly jumping up and down: pick me, pick me. It is a vulnerable moment as my hands reach out for my favourite bits – the ones that wrap around me with comfort and warmth, the ones that mold to my body in perfect lines, displaying my curves but also hiding them. At the end of this process when my hands finish grabbing at garments and I survey the damage, some clothes are chosen, some are not.

If my clothes were living things they maybe would feel the stab of not being chosen. They would lower their eyes in disappointment and settle into that heaviness of  heart. They would feel things just like I feel things as I pile my suitcase with pieces of myself to take to another place.

I have to get onto a plane next Tuesday. Flying is not really my thing at the moment. My best friend would tell you that I haven’t yet recovered from the careless way planes have been falling out of the sky lately. That I am still hang over from the incomprehension of the unexpectedly random loss of lives.

But much more than that, it is the way I have been thinking about what it means to stay.

We know alot about leaving. I think we do. About packing bags and walking away. The world never lets us forget that it measures our strength in relationships in chunk sizes of self-empowerment – of not taking nonsense or not letting our heart be smashed on by the other human in the relationship. There are even songs about that. Wonderful songs that make us fist pump the air and deliver courage to our shaky legs to walk away.

It is the age of self definition and somehow self definition has come to mean not letting people step on our toes. We are masters of our souls. And so we are schooled in the art of goodbyes when boundaries are crossed and love breaks. Yes, goodbye is still painful but we are more afraid of being forever known as those people who didn’t love themselves enough to walk away when things broke into pieces.

There are books about getting over people. They come in bold, beautiful covers that ensure you bury yourself in them. They want you to emerge out of their pages feeling victorious.

We all have stories about getting over people. Stories like mine. The one about that first boy I really liked when I was 16. The one who made my breath catch as it tumbled allover itself within the four walls of my chest. I didn’t know how to do it, the whole walking away thing. I turned the thing this way and that way trying to find the perfect way to walk away. There was no perfection in that exact moment. Instead it was messy and  full of ugly cries. But I walked away. And in walking away I became more of the woman I am today.

So, yes, there are times to walk away. To leave old things and places behind.

Staying is much, much harder. Maybe this is why there are no books on the bookstore shelves with bold titles like How to Stay. And maybe deep down we all just want to stay; to stay in love; to stay in that relationship. Maybe deep down we all just want to keep each other forever. But sometimes we don’t exactly know how.The ups and downs of being human beings in relationships is at best unravelling, sometimes confusing and often exhausting. The skill to know when to stay and when to go is not easily acquired. It takes discernmanet. It takes knowing ourselves and how we fit into other people, and how they fit into us. We map ourselves onto them and project from a distance all the places that may or may not align in all our relationships, good or bad.

But in staying we choose the harder, beautiful bit. Because it means showing up for the relationship time after time, again and again. It means taking a chance on our heart and giving a little piece of it away to those we love.

As much as I respect people who walk away from things I’ve only ever wanted the ones who stay. I find them inspiring in the totality of how they sit in relationships. Their fingers curl tightly around your fingers finding spaces to draw close and occupy. And all the goodness they can find in themselves they pour into the relationship. They are not perfect – and maybe this is the most beautiful part of all  – but they never use that as an excuse not to try and not to love you. It is never a reason for them not to deeply desire to learn how to be properly human in relationships.

Maybe these people understand what I have learned, what we all learn at some point:

Apart from growing a love that is visible in action, real, true, strong and godly there is no formula to staying in relationships. There is no mystery. People stay by staying because the only way to stay is to stay.

**Photo by Jo Chin**

History & belonging

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Everyone belongs to a piece of something, to a part of the world that begins with humanity. Someone ought to tell the girl that because she shifts nervously in her chair, the air of discomfort growing taut around her. It envelops her like a cloak and saturates the breaths she takes in and out.

She looks around the table at the five faces she knows so well yet also doesn’t know. She wonders about the cords that tie her to them. Are they real and true? Or are they figments of her imagination?

In the moment she thinks about relationships – the belly in which they get formed, intricate detail by intricate detail. The history that collects around bodies to form an impenetrable wall that sometimes holds up its hands to others:

“No, you are not one of us.”

History. Does it come between people as a foe or as a friend? And when is it time to open up that history and let others in?

The seat beneath her feels too big for her. The conversation passes around her like delicious morsels, of things she knows yet history dictates her ignorance. She wants to grab every tidbit of the words and themes and concepts and tuck them into her body. To feel a part of the table and fit into her seat fully and securely with these people who know her so well yet don’t know her so well. She wants her place claimed for all times.

But instead she gets up from the table and smiles.

“I have to go,” she announces.

No one objects so she walks off still clutching the wonderings about friendships and family and the places these things get made. The easiness that comes to her, to tumble around with these sorts of things is not shared by many.

I watch her as she walks away, gently rubbing her chest, massaging the doubt that was beginning to beat behind the fleshy walls. I want to tell her how beautiful she is, from her heart to her mind and to the way her life pours out of her fingertips when it comes into contact with others.

In times of doubt she doesn’t see the full version of herself. And so I want to hold the ground for her. To hold up a mirror so she never completely forgets what she really looks like.

I want to tell her that family and friendships are things requiring honesty and vulnerability and that the world doesnt always do them well even where history is present. And a history that is not based in love will always keep others out. It will always be built around the superficial things of belonging:

—we have blue eyes—our father is that man—

If these are the only things we hang relationships on what kinds of families and friendships do we create? And maybe a look around the world today is enough answer to that question.

The girl gets onto the bus and sits in her favourite seat, her gaze following the setting sun. The red glow of twilight bathes her face in light making it luminous. Her lips twitch as though resisting a smile or a sigh. She does both.

I mentally grab her into my arms.

You are doing great, I whisper to her.

The deep things are mapped onto your bones. And love is the core from which you are hewn. This is where you belong, and where history should grow out of. And all the people you gather to you may not always know but they will experience the belonging etched all over you. When you give yourself permission to belong to yourself and to the spaces you occupy, others find the magic of wanting to belong where you belong.

The great big tumbling of time

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I sit on the porch and watch September roll in. It’s a welcome party of one. One girl in her purple socks, her feet curling into their warmth. Knees tightly pressed together and eyes fixed on the changing skies picking up the hints of red and mulberry that encircle the edges of twilight. It is more pronounced now. I see it and I leisurely pull it into my space. It means something. Seasons are revolving again. Coming round and going over. A big invisible turn we often miss because we are too busy doing what the living do.

Even the air smells different, the crispy, cool and fresh scent of evening leaves its traces on my skin. It’s time for a new perfume, the turning of the earth dictates so. I am thinking opening notes of spring water, green mandarin with a heart of white peony and jasmine.

I do this every year – wait for September. Only Septemebr gets this kind of special treatment. I don’t know. There is something about the month that pulls at my heartstrings. And I think of renewal and rebirth. I think of women and grace.

Women because I love them with a fierceness that is too big for my body. I am my mother’s daughter. A woman of faith and courage.

Women are mothers and sisters. Bestfriends and aunties. Wives and grandmothers. They carry things in their bosoms holding them tight and close – healing and covering in ways we will never be able to fully name. And they embody some of the grace too, in the way they are hewn from the ground. In the way they arrive and move through the world.

But the kind of grace that comes barreling alongside September in my mind is the kind that holds us even when the only thing we can be is a solid mass of rawness and nerve. When we mess up and have no clue what to do with ourselves.

And a lot of this powerful grace is offered to us in the passing of time.

A year ago in September, I was writing about women and autumn in Chicago and moonbeams. I was also fastening together the last dangling bits of my then mending heart. See, I had met this boy in the year before last Septemeber. He looked very much like the beginning of my world. And so when he dangled glimpses of his heart in front of me, naturally I reached out to grab them. I wanted them. All of them. Inside of me. I wanted them badly. But one day he said,

“I can’t figure out where you fit in my life”.

That boy broke my heart. But that boy didn’t know the grace that time would offer me – the good stuff that has become the woman I am because he hurt me.

It is not always clean and precise, this walk through grace. Sometimes the great big tumbling of time drags us through mud pits and dark caves and raging infernos. But we arrive. We most certainly arrive. To the point where grace finishes its work. And what was not becomes born. And time makes way for healing and it stitches together meaning for us.

I sit and wait for September. I can hear my watch ticking away. Every tick so quiet, so small, so seemingly inconsequential. So incomprehensible that the movement of a tiny tick reflects the big, great tumbling of time in and out of hours, days, months, years, decades, generations, milleniums, centuries, lifetimes.  And whenever and whereever time unwraps itself grace is always there in the fold. You may not see it but it’s there. In the silvery gray that begins to appear in your hairline; in the way your hand tightly and fully clasps another hand not being afraid of not wanting to let go; in the way having your way becomes less important than “Im sorry”.

With time we begin to understand these things, these things that take the shape of love, relationships, happiness, grief, life.

With time we begin to understand that time is really just another form of grace.

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.

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.