Friday, December 31, 2010

Sitting Here, Hil: Why I Believe in Blogging Even Far From the Capitol

When I woke up this morning I convinced myself for a brief second that I was in my bed in Washington, DC - my green polyester comforter tucked under my chin, my body in its customary sleep positions avoiding my cell phone alarm. I felt my body relax into itself as my mind happily planned its afternoon - after work, maybe I'd stop off at E & 7th, NW to meet Hannah for lunch at Chop't, and then we could walk back to 8th St via Union Station. My legs stretched in front of me, and I wriggled my toes, and I felt a smile seep into my bones as I remembered with fondness that, "I need to put money on my SmarTrip!"

I'm not there, am I? I'm not on 8th St, in Chinatown, or within striking distance of my Starbucks and my morning walk up 16th St, past the National Geographic headquarters, and looping back around to work. I can't walk out my front door in business casual and look remotely like I belong. I can't buy a Chop't salad and I can't walk to Union Station and my body and mind are constantly fighting over the reality of being in Massachusetts.

I am here. My body, however unwilling, lives in Massachusetts now, in Beantown and Newburyport and clam chowder and real Dunkin' Donuts coffee. And my mind lives in Massachusetts, in Christian Theology and American Christianity classes, in TAing, in applying to scholarships and turning my mind around the prospect of graduate schools.

I am continuing to blog this next semester, and hopefully into the future, because I have this wriggling, uncontrollable hope that I can bring the person I became in sight of the Capitol building to Massachusetts with me, and to countries and cities and people beyond Massachusetts when I launch myself into the world.

New Year's resolutions have never lasted beyond the customary three days with me. Resolutions to eat healthier, run more, study early in the morning and the all-important, 'Go slower!' have never made it out past the starting gate. But this year, I am giving those resolutions a bit of a breather. I'm resolved to live fully where I am. I'm resolved to sit here and love here, and blog about here. I'm resolved to write about the world that I see in front of me, and learn about it, and sweep myself up in it. Ann, who writes a blog called A Holy Experience, is teaching me how to see God in small things. Lisa-Jo, who you've all heard about before, is teaching me to rejoice and question and run after Him by writing about the ordinary moments. And both women write for (in)Courage, where I know I will spend much of my 2011 searching for wise words.

Blogs are funny things. You write and every few words wonder, "will anyone actually read this?" And then you hit "Publish Post" and think, "why did I just write that?" And I won't always know the answers. But I do know that here, in Massachusetts, I can see sun shining, and people laughing, and snow falling - and I want to write about it. I can hear poetry echo around my mind, and I want to share it. I can hear questions knock on the door of my heart and I want to ask them out loud, ask them to hear them sounded out and to see them on the page - hoping, of course, that others can point the way to an answer.

Readers, as you think about the arrival of the new year, I hope your resolution includes something that brings you joy and helps you see the world in a new way. I hope you resolve to enjoy, and weather storms, and love deeply. And while you're at it, resolve with me to imagine and remember the places you love, and the people in it, and the wonderful and difficult things that have happened along the way.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

All My Love (A Sojourn Into My Grandparents' Love Story)

My dearest honey.

Where have letters gone? My mother's father, my grandfather, penned those three words into every yellowing page of his love. I paged through them this afternoon, as I sat in his easy chair on Magoun Avenue, marveling at the volume of ink I held in my hands. Where have letters gone? When do we pause in the midst of our days to uncap a pen and shower some blue-black love on another person? Where have we put stationary, stamps, envelopes - these hallmarks of time and thoughtfulness? 

Now we email, we "chat" until our fingers fall off from typing, we skype and call and text. We have bound ourselves to each other by an umbilical cord of technology, and parents and children are too afraid to cut this second cord, this connectedness. We don't remember how to write letters to each other, how to hold someone up to the light and examine them, see how light catches a little corner of their heart just so when we remember how they smiled at us on the walk between 8th St and Eastern Market, arms linked... We have forgotten how to write this down in letters, and send our love in bins through postal trucks and mail bags. 

And today I discovered what we are all missing. I have fallen into love, into the warmth of my grandmother’s 1943 diary, and the letters she's carefully preserved in binders. Her careful script records weather, the rush of 20 year old mind and heart, quickening at a letter in the mailbox from Theron, despondent when he sends back all the letters she wrote him during their first few months apart. “I guess he’s quitting me,” she writes, and I am crushed with her, though I know this same boy will be her husband in five years, be her true sweetheart for the next sixty-three years until he dies. She sounds exactly like me and nothing like me, her cursive a far cry from my Arial font on this blog, the pace of her life a meander rather than my usual sprint. But our hearts wander similar paths, long for love and romance, long for adventure, for the fullness of life to arrive. And I read my own words and phrases woven within hers, words I've inherited unknowingly - "awfully" and "heart" and "long for."

I sit and breathe the dust of their love story, and I look over at my grandmother, her face crinkled in memory, with the effort of remembering the joy and marrying it to the new sorrow, to his death, his departure, and her remaining. I see tears mirroring my own as we smell together the room where life was built between them, as she pages through love letters he wrote her for years. “My dearest honey.” “All my love.” I didn’t know I got this phrase from Grandpa when I started signing my letters with “All my love, Hilary.” I thought it was original, unique, something to be cherished because I had come up with it all on my own. I give others all my love, and now I realize that I am his echo, he who gave Grammy all his love, for years and for life. He gave her all his love.

They lived between gulfs of war and the distance from Kentucky to Chicago, lived among two kids in this one story house in Indiana, among the neighbors and snowstorms and Sundays in church and Christmases at the cousins’ two streets over. They lived their love in the most extraordinarily ordinary things. His trucker caps are still kept on their pegs on the porch, her embroidery still hangs in the kitchen and the living room. I can hear their conversations about the Cubs, about the Van Til grocery store and the neighbor’s rambunctious daughters. I hear the promise of their love.

In selfish moments I envy their love story, its beginning at seventeen and how they lived it until Grandpa died. I miss him everyday, and my missing grows into funny shapes and fill places in my heart I didn’t know existed before. If there is one person who I would want to meet a boyfriend (should I ever have one), it would be Grandpa. He would know, immediately, if I was barking up the wrong tree or if this was the real thing. After all, he used to say one of his only regrets in life was not marrying his dearest honey sooner. And I believe him. And sometimes the realization that Grandpa won’t see me get married wells up inside me like a hurricane and I wonder how I can bear his absence.

But as I hide myself in my grandmother’s scribbled words, and hear of her deep love for her boyfriend, my grandfather, as I crawl into her thoughts and root around her twenty year old heart, I realize that this story is part of my lifeblood, part of my dreams of love, part of my own story. My grandparents lived the kind of great love that I hope to have someday; my grandparents who lived life’s mess and loved each other through and despite it. My grandparents are roots of love for me, and I know that as their story seeps into my skin, just as the smell of Grammy’s perfume seeps into my blue jeans, I plant myself firmly in the ground of their love story, and settle for nothing less than the ordinary miracle it is. 

All my love,

Monday, December 27, 2010

In the Bleak Midwinter: Blizzards, Solos and Double Chocolate Cookies

I skitter up to the praise band equipment as the Peace is ending (where we greet one another in our church and say, "the Peace of the Lord be always with you"). I am singing a solo at the Offertory and my knees are knocking together under my corduroy skirt that I've kept since sophomore year of high school. It isn't that I'm singing, or that I am singing alone (which is usually pretty intimidating) - it's just my age-old, gut reaction to standing in front of people and performing. 

It goes back to theater my junior year when I was Cinderella in a production of Cinderella. I knew all my lines at least a month before the curtain came up - but I remember my stomach tying itself into sailor's knots before my every entrance. Or when I gave a presentation in an all-school meeting about Hurricane Katrina. I knew my facts, knew which slides to press and when, and still felt fear rise up into my throat and tickle my vocal chords until ten minutes had passed and I was able to croak out the words about failed levy systems and where breaches were strategically placed.

I know the time is arriving as Fr. Roberts opens his mouth and out come the words, "Let us walk in love as Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us in offering and sacrifice to God." And I look over at the pianist, and she smiles and presses the first few notes on the keyboard - and the song has begun. 

And then grace.

I am amazed to find that, rather than warbling through my first verse, my voice rings clear and echoing through the congregation. I close my eyes. These words are not ones to be read off a sheet of paper like statistics reports, but they should be sung with a full heart that's waiting to receive God into her. And so I sing, and sing and sing. And I realize it's not just my mezzo-soprano voice that's reaching into the pews, and sitting among the fuzzy sweaters and wool mittens. It's the voice of Someone inside me, ringing out much clearer and on key, strengthening my knocking knees and my feeble voice and helping me sing to Him all the things I most want to say and never have the words to say. 

There is a blizzard howling outside our windows on Sunday evening and I can hear the wind rattle windows all around our house. I sit on the couch with my mom, drinking Earl Grey tea, talking about life. My brother is baking Double Chocolate cookies from a Betty Crocker mix and the sounds of soccer waft from the living room into the fireplace room where I sit. Life is filled with simple things: infinite cups of tea around the wood stove, the black lab snoozing and the grey cat surveying the scene from her perch on the arm of the red chair, baking from a mix, snow whirling through the night sky, family. I most want to give thanks for these things. I most want to sing about these things, these deceptively small things, that in turn are the greatest things. 

And so grace

What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. But what I can, I give him, give my heart. 

These are the words He helps me sing - and in turn I give Him our double chocolate cookies, our tea, our moments of fire and warmth and family. I give my heart. 


Friday, December 24, 2010

Marcus Aurelius, England and The Weight In My Stomach: Reflections on the Last Night in Advent

"Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart." - Marcus Aurelius

I hear Marcus Aurelius' words as I drive with my dad to Tendercrop Farm in search of a Christmas turkey. We've been a RBYP (Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding) family for years, but this Christmas we are cooking a turkey with roasted vegetables and stuffing. As we drive through the back roads of New England, the wind whistling along beside the car, and the runners in their crisp white sneakers and sleek black leggings moving like lemmings in the rear view mirror. I am overcome with a longing to be in England.

England. The land of moors and craggy hills, of hedgerows and sheep. England. The stone house, the tea, the fireplace, the River Cary where I played Pooh sticks with my father as a little girl in my wellies and floral skirts. I think the word England and my mind immediately leaps to car rides through small towns as Dad and I talk about my dreams of being a full-time author, living in my own English cottage, owning three Welsh corgis and having four children. And as I drive with Dad through stop signs and past Christmas decorations, my stomach fills with the weight of this place:

And I can remember the home, and I feel it drop into the pit of my stomach, because I know that I am so very far from this home this Christmas, so very far and yet not far at all. If there is something that my mind and heart cannot stop thinking about it is this idea of being "home." It is the weight in your stomach of places like these: 

(photo credit for this one: Hannah Cochran/Sam Bender)
And people like these: 

And Marcus Aurelius is right, I whisper to myself as I miss my homes in England and Washington. Do so with all your heart. Do so with all your heart. Today, my friends and family, those of you I have just begun to know and those of you who have been in my heart for years and years - today I feel the weight in my stomach of missing you and rejoicing over you. Christmas is the arrival of our truest and best home. Advent, this season of waiting for the Lord, has culminated in this night, and His birth. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! All of my heart I want to bring to the manger tonight - my heart brimming with these people, these places, my heart full of longings and joys and sorrows. We sing, "What can I give him, poor as I am?" in In the Bleak Midwinter. Bring your longings to Him tonight. Bring him your whole heart, all filled up with messiness and love. Marcus Aurelius is right - we must love and accept what is before us, living fully in our New England marshes, our English moorlands, our DC city blocks, our Pennsylvania hills or our California rainstorms. Love fully the place where you are: and know that you bring that love to Jesus in the manger tonight. This is who I hope to bring tonight (thank you, Mandie Sodoma, for capturing me so beautifully): 

Love this Christmas, in Him. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lessons, Carols and My Mother's Smile: A Reflection as We Approach the End of Advent

It is quiet in the church building, light flickering on familiar faces. There are women and men whose wrinkles have creased hundreds of times upon seeing my face - men and women who watched me grow from one month old to twenty. I sit in my dark green puffer vest, my hair spilling out over the collar, my feet tucked snugly under the pew. I am waiting in silence for the beginning of Lesson & Carols at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, and I sense that the congregation waits with me. There are silent greetings - a pat on the arm, a red coat being shrugged off one shoulder as she clutches her friend to her side, the frantic wave between sides of the center aisle.

And then I hear the voice, quavering only slightly on the first two notes, sounding like a gong straight through the expectant silence. Once in royal David's city, stood a lowly cattle shed... And I am suddenly seven years old again, and Christmas Eve is the night I long for, and I treasure the haunting soprano voice that rings out over the lectern. I am ten years old, my own faltering voice climbing the notes like stairs, as I sing where a mother laid her baby, in a manger for his bed. I am fourteen, and anxious about my new school and making friends and being Christian, Mary was that mother mild. I am eighteen, home from my first semester in college and I am crying because I do not understand how Jesus Christ, her little child can be the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises I just memorized for my BIB101 final exam.

In the pews of Christ the Redeemer, I see these snapshots of myself like Polaroids strung on a ribbon. I am tempted to turn and see who it is, who is singing this song that has been my Christmas song for years, and then my eyes catch sight of something else - my mom is sitting in the pew next to me, and her eyes are closed, and a small smile peeks out of the corner where her lips meet. And I think, how long has my mother been smiling like that and I have never noticed?

When you are seven, or ten, or fourteen, or eighteen, you probably live in your own head most of the time. You notice how a song affects you, how what so-and-so said at the lunch table made you feel, and how good you are at singing. I hadn't, in all those Christmas Eves of the hymn "Once in Royal David's City" noticed my mother. I had noticed myself, my own heart and mind, my own adolescent turbulence. But when had I looked over at my mom? When had I listened to her talk about what Christmas means to her? When had I simply sat with her, in a darkened church, with green puffer coats and purple long fleece jackets, our faces dancing with shadows, and appreciated her?

My mother is the teacher of patience. My mother is the one who says, "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus" over our makeshift Advent wreath of tinfoil, old branches of Christmas tree and a cookie plate. My mother is the one who laughs at my jokes, who gives me practical advice over the phone when I don't know what to do and I call her as I enter the Farragut North Metro Station.

And as we enter the day that Mary gives birth to Jesus, as she gives birth to God Himself in Bethlehem - I think about my mother, and the many Christmas Eves we have shared, and how this song, "Once in Royal David's City" makes her smile, just as she makes me smile.


P.S. Photo from Willow Tree. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Let it Be Unto Me: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am not a candidate for a bachelor's degree in Biblical and Theological Studies. I am not, despite my high hopes, an intellectual prodigy in the realm of living faithfully. But this year, on this blog, and perhaps for years to come on this blog, I would like to offer you a few thoughts for each week of Advent, the time of preparation and waiting before the celebration of Christ's birth. 

This Sunday marks the Sunday that I have been anticipating throughout my time reflecting on Advent on this blog. I am nervous to write about someone who to me has been more experiential than doctrinal. I have few sophisticated thoughts about her and even fewer coherent thoughts. Mary, far from being a theological concept, or question, or problem - Mary is a person to me, a mother, the mother of God. I have wondered about her and encountered her; I have tried to think about her until I am exhausted; but then I try to love her. And lo, a relationship has been established. A connection, a sense of seeing each other - and so, this blog post is an attempt to talk about the woman I know in Mary, rather than theology about her.

This Sunday we turn our attention to Mary, the mother of God. In the Orthodox Church she is the Theotokos, the Birth-giver of God. In the Roman Catholic Church Mary is Our Sovereign Lady, the Sacré Coeur and Chartres Cathedral in France. While many of us turn our attention to Mary only on the fourth Sunday in Advent, she is perpetually present in our experience of the Christmas story, perpetually present as we live through the church year and the life of Christ. She watches with us his growing up and his ministry, and she weeps with us at the cross, and at the tomb. Mary, who ponders all these things and treasures them in her heart, is present in the story.

Mary is pregnant with God.

How can this sentence be true? How can Mary sit on that uncomfortable donkey, in the middle of the journey to Bethlehem, heaving with pregnancy, with a baby inside, and know that she bears the Christ-child? Mary is pregnant with God.

And if that is not strange enough in our story, Mary chose this. I don't know what to think, most of the time, about the dilemma of God's sovereignty and human choice. Sometimes I think everything is my choice, and sometimes I think nothing is my choice. But where the dilemma comes home to me is Mary's story. She says Yes. She says, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be unto me according to Thy word." If I can be more astonished at anything besides the image of Mary, pregnant with God, it is this: that Mary, herself merely human, could say Thy will be done knowing it would mean utter transformation. Knowing that her insides would be completely rearranged. Knowing that there would be no real return from the journey, no re entrance into normal life. Mary looked into the face of the glorious, terrifying angel, and said, Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let be unto me according to Thy word.

This Sunday,  we light the fourth candle, and I have to ask: have I said yes to being pregnant with God? Have I agreed, like Mary, to bear the Christ-child into the world? I fear that the answer is only sometimes yes. Sometimes I say yes to God, sometimes I say yes to Advent, to Christmas, to the arrival of Christ in my heart.

But often I say no, or "maybe later," or "It's not very convenient right now..." I do not answer with Mary's words nearly as often as I want to. So this Advent Sunday, I look for Mary. I look for her in the Gospel stories and in the prayers and in my own heart. And today, she helps me answer God. She helps me say, in her words, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to Thy word."

May we all pray with Mary today, sing with her:

“ My soul magnifies the Lord,
        And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
        For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
      For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
        For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
      And holy is His name.
       And His mercy is on those who fear Him
      From generation to generation.
       He has shown strength with His arm;
      He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
       He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
      And exalted the lowly.
        He has filled the hungry with good things,
      And the rich He has sent away empty.
       He has helped His servant Israel,
      In remembrance of His mercy,
       As He spoke to our fathers,
      To Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1.46-55)


Fourth Sunday of Advent

We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by
thy daily visitation, that when thy Son Jesus Christ cometh he
may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the
same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for
ever. Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Tradition, 1979 edition) 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gift-Wrapping The Year: What I Wish I Could Give

I sit among piles of wrapping paper, a sea of greens and slivers of silver darting through like minnows. There are reds and crisp whites, tissue paper and too much ribbon, snowmen cards to say, "Hello," and "Merry Christmas from" and I am awash in the chaos of Christmas.

What I want to wrap up this year though, stow away for safekeeping under trees and in stockings are moments. This uncontainable laughing fit, that early morning on the rooftop deck overlooking the Capitol Building, the walk from 8th St to 2nd St. I sit among cardboard skeletons of boxes, my clothes still carrying their faint whiff of District air, and I want to wrap them up again and give them away. 

So I imagine.

I imagine wrapping up the gift of Ebenezer's Coffeehouse small vanilla chai and giving it to Hannah - watching as she unwraps with glee the hours that unfolded in our chairs by the glass door, our legs curled up under us and our hearts in our hands on the table. I can see the grin seep into the corners of her face as she realizes that I've included spontaneous trips to Georgetown on the Circulator and just a taste of the Pumpkin Spice Baked & Wired cupcake we shared over west coast espresso and Anthropologie dreams. 

I imagine tying a ribbon neatly on the gift of the D6 bus at 7:55am, hands in pockets as the group of us huddled together, waiting to begin our commute. I offer it to Virginia - the prompt 8:10 question about friendship or love, the laughing "see you in class!" when I clamber out the bus back doors at 16th and K St. I can see her sign "Thank you" and the faint echoes of laughter as she looks at me and envelops me in a hug, the two of us together remembering tea at 1:30am and signing our way through the Rayburn House Office building one brisk November afternoon.

I imagine carrying the big box of Family Night Dinners to Lisa-Jo and sitting with her at the long table in the back as she pulls out conversation after conversation. Mixed in I have placed Himalaya, La Loma, her favorite frosted sugar cookies. She smiles because we give each other Zoe, the gift of Life, and Grace, the gift of Love. And in the box of conversations I imagine Lisa-Jo finds created, chosen, cherished and celebrated on a small silver necklace - the conversation that means so very much to both of us who blog and laugh and live such very different and full lives. 

I imagine cupping my hands around a poorly wrapped cup of early morning coffee for Sam, our sweatshirts and hats keeping our ears warm as we laugh and talk, our heads together. I imagine she undoes the ribbon and discovers that I have included that first walk to the Lincoln Memorial and the stories we told each other. 

I imagine unwrapping a sunny afternoon at Jacob's with Cynthia, white chocolate mocha and green tea sipped in the rays of light on the brick patio. I imagine her joy at the small bundles of laughs I tucked in the corner of the box - our mutual love of bright pink shoes, yellow berets, and puppy dog faces. I imagine giving her smaller box, with nothing but a hug inside it.

I imagine presenting my apartment with the special, treasured gift of nights at our kitchen table, grinning like fools, laughing so hard they could hear us on the roof, our Sunday community meals, and our laughter ringing out over the living room where we sat at desks and uncomfortable couches, late night runs to 7-Eleven and the stories, the stories that would burst out of the wrapping paper into the air - stories of Harris Teeter groceries, Busboys & Poets, trips to Chop't and Starbucks and the world of Eastern Market. 

I imagine giving these gifts this Christmas, to all of those wonderful people who gathered around me this fall and surrounded me with more love than I could have imagined. I imagine giving these gifts, wrapping them up carefully in the semi-darkness of my bedroom, and joyfully presenting them under the tree. 

For now, I imagine these gifts, and I give them to you, readers, who are my special gift this season. Christmas is gratefulness - and this year, I am so grateful for you.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When The Grocery Store Becomes Overwhelming (Pause, and Drink Coffee)

Today I inaugurated being in my hometown with the all-important trip to the grocery store. This trip is significant because this is not a local fresh organic produce market, or an overly expensive limited options grocery store on Pennsylvania Ave, or even the Peapod virtual grocery store where you search for what you want and your purchases are delivered to your door. Nope, this grocery store is your typical , so many options we don't know what to do with them, high in saturated fats and non-organic options, with so many aisles you could be filming a movie in one and the nice lady sniffing apples in the next one over wouldn't even notice. I was prepared for culture shock (or so I thought).

Our local Market Basket is only a few minutes' down the road, but it was a trip I have been dreading. I haven't operated a motor vehicle in just about 10 weeks, and the prospect of guiding our little green Honda down a stretch of 50 mph (where people actually go 67) and into the chaotic parking lot of overcrowded Christmas shoppers intimidated me.

However, this afternoon I ventured out of my driveway and down said treacherous stretch of road, and into said overcrowded parking lot. I locked my car. I walked into the automatic doors and into a blast of artificial heat. I exhaled.

My eyes had a heart attack. Everywhere I looked were blaring orange advertisements: Peppermint Candies! 2 for $0.99! Chicken Stock! Only $1.99! Campbell's Soup in a Can! Now Reduced Price! There were feathery paper decorations in green, red and gold over every checkout aisle. The fluorescent lights blared, the radio crooned Bing Crosby Christmas tunes, and I stood there, red basket in hand.

I wanted to scream FREEZE! This is going by me too fast! The noises of carts, boxes being stacked on shelves, people clamoring for attention, the steady bleep bleep of checkout lines, the music... I couldn't concentrate. I wandered through the store with an empty basket on my arm and a dazed look on my face. It was a simple task: get a carton of juice. But for the life of me I couldn't think of where and how to get the juice. Aisle 7 - where the non-refrigerated juice is stored, or Aisle 2, where the butter and cream cheese is kept? Did I want frozen make it yourself juice, or did I want juice boxes?

It is a strange thing to be so inundated with choices. The grocery stores seem to wear their number of choices like a badge of honor. If you have 35 types of cheddar cheese options, then you must be searching high and low to provide your customers with the best possible array. But what if your customer has just returned from a different place, and isn't equipped to choose from your brilliant array of cheddar cheese? What if she just wants you to hand her cheddar cheese, and guide her to the checkout, and leave the chaos for somewhere quiet? What if, when presented with choices, she can't make one?

This experience, I'm sure, is compounded when you return from a different country, where the very act of grocery shopping is not a scavenger hunt but actually a fairly brief errand. But there is something about the experience of return, and its temporary paralysis, that we all share. I can't make a decision in a grocery store, and I wander through my day marveling at the familiarity and strangeness of these sights, sounds and people. I sit in my living room, by the fire, with my cup of coffee and my computer, typing away, and I want to laugh and cry and smile and scream.

So I'm drinking coffee, and pausing in the midst of this day, to remind myself that the paralysis is temporary, that soon I will have returned more fully, and my lungs will fill with the air of this place, these people. In sign language, the sign for "here" involves moving your hands, palms facing the sky, in circles parallel to the ground (I know, a poor description... here is the sign). I find myself signing over and over, "I am here," in an effort to tell my body to rest, to exhale, to be. I don't know quite if I will ever cease to breathe a bit of DC air, feel the Potomac fever in my blood, yearn to see the people who entered my life in August and transformed it. I do hope, however, that my lungs will fill with Massachusetts air, and I will continue with great joy the relationships here. I hope that my grocery store will become more familiar.


(P.S. Remember the pink shoes post?)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mighty, He Saves: Reflections on the Third Sunday in Advent

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am not a candidate for a bachelor's degree in Biblical and Theological Studies. I am not, despite my high hopes, an intellectual prodigy in the realm of living faithfully. But this year, on this blog, and perhaps for years to come on this blog, I would like to offer you a few thoughts for each week of Advent, the time of preparation and waiting before the celebration of Christ's birth. 

This Sunday we light the pink candle in the Advent wreath, the candle of joy. We are joyful at the nearness of Christ's birth this Sunday, joyful at the vision of His arrival. This Sunday, joy confuses me. I feel it stirring in me, as the preparation continues and the celebration of Christ's birth draws nearer. Yet I also feel something else stirring in me: homesickness.

But Hilary, you say. How can you be homesick? You left the city only 27 hours ago! You are now safely curled up on your own couch, by the fire, with your black lab curled up beside you and a good cup of tea in your hands. How can homesick be stirring on this Sunday, with all of its joy, all of its anticipation?

If you were to ask me these questions, I would not have a full answer. But somehow joy is married to homesickness. I am joyful at my return but the very word "return" implies that I came from somewhere, and if that place is a place I love... then I can never be joyful at returning if I am not also homesick.

And so begins the unlikely marriage in the Third Sunday of Advent of joy and homesickness. We are often too apt to think of Christ's coming as His arrival, His coming home to us, His coming to the home of our hearts, and we forget that Christ came from the Father, from Home. In fact, Christ came to give us the gift of homesickness for the Home He was preparing for us. We joy in preparing for Christ to come home; He promises that we will someday come home. My DC mama Lisa-Jo writes of this in her beautiful blog post: "This is the gift I give my son for Christmas. To be connected to the Christ-child by a familiar feeling of being in one place but not altogether of it. Of harboring a longing for somewhere else. Of knowing there is more to the story of who we are and where we call home."

So joy, and homesickness together this Sunday. But I would be remiss if I did not also talk about the other thing stirring in me this morning: God's great might. The Collect this week says, "Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us..." We speak often of God's triumphant coming and forget the humility of His birth; but we also talk of God's humble birth without seeing the mightiness of it. God works best in shattering the dichotomies of our minds, in taking a word and impregnating it with paradox and meaning bigger than any we thought it could carry. God marries joy to homesickness and might to humility. God stirs up His power and comes among us as a baby. God enters history, enters life, enters our world to inaugurate the New Kingdom, the true History, the true Life.

This Sunday of Advent, we light the candle for joy. And I urge us to think of joy married to these other things, joy as a word pregnant with God's promises and His paradoxes. I am homesick for 327 8th St; yet I am joyful at being home, and joyful that I can be homesick for Washington, DC because it means home is a bigger word now. God is mighty; He is about to be born as a child. God stirs up His power... and with great might, He comes among us as a baby. Let us rejoice.


Third Sunday of Advent

Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come 
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, 
let thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver 
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and 
the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory, world without end. 

(From the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Tradition, 1979 edition)

Friday, December 10, 2010

For Moments When You Must Do Something: Practice Sign Language And Sing

I am getting sick. There is a pesky almost-cough hovering the back of my throat. My eyelids feel tired and droop below their normal height. I woke up from six restless hours of sleep wondering why there was so much talk of leaving. It's tomorrow. It's tomorrow. I have arrived at the culminating moment of departure and friends, my body is waging war against the idea. It wants nothing but to curl up on this semi-comfortable couch and hide from anything remotely related to AirTran 807 Baltimore (BWI) - Logan (BOS).

So instead of packing my suitcase, instead of finding my lone sock or finally clearing things out from under the bed, I am sitting on said uncomfortable couch and practicing sign language. You see, I am clinging to the moments of the semester where I have felt most myself, most alive, most peaceful. Sign language, the physical embodiments of the words I love (and write) so often and so dearly, has become a place of peace for me as I contemplate leaving.

So YouTube plays me praise music and I practice. Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me... Beautiful One, I love... My God is mighty to save. I practice these phrases over and over with my hands, making signs for "beautiful" and "soul" and "savior" with a kind of hopeful desperation. I cling to sign language because I have become so much more of myself in learning to speak with my hands, in learning to love words when they are not spoken but created in the air. I practice, and I sign. I sit in the still of this living room that soon will no longer be mine... and there it is: a glimmer of peace, a glimmer of becoming ready to go home, a knowledge that God is good, and in my voice and in my hands, I can proclaim that goodness.

Today is a busy day - coffees scattered between more official meetings and final outings - and I can feel my need to "do something" taking over my desire to simply be in the space I am in for one last moment and one last day. A good friend told me in a letter that "a thing is mighty big if time and distance cannot shrink it." (Zora Neale Hurston first said so, but I can hear my friend saying it as well). Her words are true, and it is my hope that this semester, the people, the places, the work... are big enough to withstand the impending time and distance pulling me away.

So, in these moments, when we are paralyzed by a desire to fill our days running around and to do nothing, I am choosing to sign, and to sing. I choose to lift my voice in its quivering way, with Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson in "Winter Song." I choose to learn the signs to sing "Grace Like Rain" with my hands. I choose to pause, to seek peacefulness, to let my voice and hands and heart unite. I choose to trust that this semester is a mighty big thing, that my friendships here are mighty big things, and that the joy of God Himself is a mighty big thing, that neither time nor distance nor trial nor fear can shrink.


For those we Love

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy
never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come,
knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we
can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Awake, My Soul: Mumford & Sons and a Midweek Reflection on the Advent Season

How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes
I struggle to find any truth in your lies
And now my heart stumbles on things I don't know
My weakness I feel I must finally show...

Awake my soul
Awake my soul
Awake my soul
For you were made to meet your Maker. (Mumford & Sons, "Awake My Soul")

This song skyrocketed to the top of my "most play" category in iTunes soon after I got the CD courtesy of Amazon. There is something in the rhythm of the song that speaks to me, something in its haunting, rollicking, almost a lullaby but then not at all... it's the in-between nature of the song that I fall in love with anew every time I hear it.

How fickle my heart. Here I am, just a few short days away from returning to Boston, and my heart is fickle. It loves everything here too much, everything at home too much, and everything not enough. I want to cry and take a plane home today. I want to laugh and hide in the basement of my building so that I miss my flight. But there it is: my fickle heart. I am fickle about a lot more than simply my excitement and sorrow at the close of this semester. I am fickle about Advent. I preach (on this blog and in my exuberant conversations with others) how much I love this time of preparation. But I have not practiced preparation this week so far. I keep saying I will do a daily devotional for Advent, that I will write in my journal, that I will pause and reflect. Selah. Selah. Pause and reflect. And instead I rush from moment to moment, afraid to lose any of them, afraid to be fully present where I am because I anticipate the leaving. I have no selah. I lack reflection and preparation. My heart is fickle.

How woozy my eyes. Have you ever thought about our lack of vision? So much of our world goes unseen because our eyes are woozy. I am realizing that I need glasses for distance vision (well, I've needed glasses for distance for about two years but have yet to get them and wear an appropriate prescription)... and the amount I cannot see sometimes surprises me (don't worry, friends, an appointment with the eye doctor is in the offing, at least it should be). I am astounded, however, at what I choose not to see. I choose not to see the glory of this world. I choose not to see the people here as glorious creatures. I choose not to believe in the best of them, and forsake the vision that they are people of the living God. My eyes are woozy.

I struggle to find any truth in your lies. I have been puzzling over this line for a few minutes as I have been writing, because I do not know whether or not I have such a struggle to tell, or any semi-profound thoughts on the subject. But truth and lies are certainly a part of Advent preparation. In Advent, the Truth arrives, in flesh, in embodied, human form. I am asked, and I ask myself, to prepare for the entrance of Truth into my heart. And to do so, I must clear away the cobwebs of lies. We tell so many lies, we repeat them, we love them and carry them with us. And I struggle to find the truth amidst the lies of my heart this Advent season. Questions to which I tell myself untruthful answers (for example, Am I beautiful? Am I worthy? which over and over I answer poorly), for example... I struggle to find truth in those lies.

And now my heart stumbles on things I don't know. Advent. I don't know the meaning of the coming of the Lord. I don't know what it will mean for Christ to become incarnate in my heart this Christmas season, and I do not know how to prepare for His arrival. My heart stumbles upon these truths, in my thinking throughout the day - the quiet joy at signing "Beautiful One" correctly during worship tonight, the recognition that a friendship begun here will continue to build itself and grow in the days and years to come, the exuberance that I am, despite my shortcomings, most alive in teaching Dominique how to do basic algebra. All of these moments my heart stumbles upon, and I don't know what to think of them. All of these are part of the continuing incarnation and formation of Christ's presence in my heart, but I stumble because I don't know. My heart stumbles on things I don't know.

Awake my soul. Awake, my soul! Did you hear? Jesus Christ will be born soon! Did you hear? The Lord is coming into the world? Did you hear? All things are being made new. I have been listening to a song on repeat the past few days: New Again, by Brad Paisley and Sara Evans. It is a beautiful, heart wrenching song and I find myself drawn to repeat it over and over again in an attempt to awaken my soul from its anxiety about leaving DC, its sadness at the pending changes in my life, and its reluctance to practice preparation for Christ's coming. But, as Mumford & Sons so rightly says, you were made to meet your Maker. I was; and at Christmas, I meet Him anew, I celebrate the first and life-altering meeting of His initial entrance into my heart.

Awake, my soul. 


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Equal Justice Under... 30 Degrees (SCOTUS, Justices and an Adventurous DC Morning)

There is nothing quite like living in the city where a ten minute walk will send you to the line to hear the Supreme Court's oral argument session. There is nothing like the fact that you can wake up at 7am on a Monday morning, bundle up in more jackets than you think humanly possible, and take your good friend to get toffee nut lattes and stand in the freezing December wind waiting to get into that hallowed room.

Friends, I live in such a city. And yesterday, I lived out such a dream.

My obsession with the Supreme Court began in fifth grade. While we were learning about civic government (important lessons, to be sure) and filling out worksheets designating the three branches of government, I began to realize that being President was nothing compared with being Chief Justice. As Chief Justice, you got to wear those cool looking academic/Harry Potter robes that my dad always wears to Gordon graduations! As Chief Justice, you get to hold the Bible and administer the oath to the President! As Chief Justice, you get to sit in the very center of the most beautiful room in the city of Washington, DC! As Chief Justice... you got it pretty sweet.

And it was all a rushing downhill speed skating love affair. I read about John Roberts. I wrote a "Coursus Honorum" in high school following how JR had become Chief Justice, from Harvard to Harvard to law firm to district judge... I was (and in so many ways still am) amazed by that man's legal mind and the career he carved in his life. I took Constitutional Law my freshman year of college with one Dr. T. Sherratt, and I can say without hesitation that it has been the class in which I learned the most. We read five cases per class, briefed probably over 75 cases total, did two simulations and got the chance to both argue before the Court and to be the Court. If any of you who read this blog have ever been interested in constitutional law, I give the class my highest recommendation. You learn more about the Supreme Court, the way that law is crafted and interpreted, and how to identify ways of viewing the Constitution.

But I digress. Yesterday Hannah and I sipped our Starbucks as we stood with our sneakers and black flats on the marble steps in front of the soaring columns and the "Equal Justice Under Law" engraving. 8:15 became 8:30 became 9:00, when we knew they would let people into the building to be seated for the day's oral arguments. We were line numbers 53 and 54. They took in the first 50 people. We looked at each other, horrified. We had made it up to the very front of the line and they weren't going to let us in!

I was tempted to charge the building, make a run for it, because at this point more blood would have gotten to my freezing toes had I charged one of the security guards. I hopped up and down; Hannah and I chatted about plans to see each other after this crazy adventure in DC ends. 9:00 became 9:25 and the guards looked at the long line of public citizens from behind their ski masks and warm fuzzy hats and their eyes seemed to crinkle in sympathy (or perhaps laughter).

I made eye contact with one of the guards and he smiled at me. Yes! I thought. My feminine wiles will surely get this man to let me and my friend into the hallowed building where justice resides and balances the legislature behind me! Score one for Hilary!

No such luck. The guard shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "Tough luck... I know it's 30 degrees, I know the wind is blowing in all the possible openings of your many layers of clothing at 15 mph, and I know you've been here for at least an hour in the cold. However, justice requires that you wait your turn in line just like everyone else."

Feminine wiles defeated, I turned around and gasped. I still can't quite get over the fact that the Supreme Court building overlooks the back of the Capitol. I can't get over their proximity, and how the SCOTUS building really seems to be watching the Capitol building. I wonder how often they go to hang out in each other's buildings... our government branches are, when you think about, really just next door neighbors. I make a law over here, and you provide judicial review, and our neighbor over there signs it when it's been finished in my home.

Needless to say, we got into the building and number 54 (me) was the last one seated before the honorable justices of the United States Supreme Court began presiding over the room. Imagine for a moment you are in the studio of your favorite movie or TV show. You can't believe it, but you're seeing the cast of Glee or Grey's Anatomy or Shutter Island or The Hours at work. You can see them rehearse and do a take and you realize, you are watching the creation of the thing you love.

Breyer asks better, more biting questions than the most provocative moderator in a Presidential debate; Justice Alito's legal reasoning hushed his colleagues and prompted an entirely new discussion of the Pepper v. United States case. Chief Justice Roberts was fair, asking difficult questions of both sides that almost made it feel like neither could win. Justice Scalia, leaning back in his chair and almost chuckling to himself, interrupted, scolded, and through his sarcasm he pinpointed some of the most pressing legal issues that the lawyer presenting the case seemed to forget.

These justices demonstrated, in my one magical morning at the Supreme Court, that it is possible to think about the law in a dynamic, clever, deep and powerful way. It is possible even for me to begin to think about the law this way. How many times have I, in the course of this semester, been frustrated by the way that I see "the sausage being made"? How many times have I wondered whether we should just give the EPA the power to make energy policy, simply because no one seems able to get anything done comprehensively? Where is the law, I want to ask myself at every networking power play. Where is the law as I want to understand it, as living, important and governing?

Stand in the bitter cold on a December morning in the heart of Capitol Hill. Stand with your mismatched scarf, hat and gloves and drink a tall toffee nut latte, with a good friend, trying not to laugh at the very shined shoes of the group of businessmen in front of you... and as you ascend the steps of the building on First St., NE across from the Capitol, I think you may find one place where law is practiced that way.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Prepare Me, The Way: Reflections on the Second Sunday in Advent

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am not a candidate for a bachelor's degree in Biblical and Theological Studies. I am not, despite my high hopes, an intellectual prodigy in the realm of living faithfully. But this year, on this blog, and perhaps for years to come on this blog, I would like to offer you a few thoughts for each week of Advent, the time of preparation and waiting before the celebration of Christ's birth. 

Upon our arrival to the Second Sunday of Advent I have been wondering about the prophets, those who speak of promises that they know they will not see fulfilled in their lifetime. The prophet must be an incredibly hopeful sort of person, because to preach the coming of the Lord with conviction, with certainty, with faith, requires hope in the person of God. A prophet must trust in God's very character, because if God is not all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, then the foundation for proclamations of His triumph, His coming, His entrance into the world will shake.

Who are such people? I ask myself. Who does God choose (or ask, or both) to carry that message forward? John the Baptist cries in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord!" and I cannot help but wonder if there are still those brave people who will cry out to make preparation, who will cry, as Isaiah did,

"Comfort, comfort my people, 
   says your God. 
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
   and proclaim to her 
that her hard service has been completed, 
   that her sin has been paid for, 
that she has received from the LORD’s hand 
   double for all her sins. A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
   the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
   a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
   every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
   the rugged places a plain. 

 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
   and all people will see it together.
            For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40.1-5)

Who are these prophets? Who speaks these words to us now? I always imagine the prophets as a star lineup, God's very best first string players. I imagine Him commissioning a special kind of virtue upon them, on giving them beautiful words and even more beautiful glimpses of Himself. I imagine, in my moments of desiring no responsibility, that all I must do is sit passively in my pew and accept Jesus. I am not one of the proclaimers of the good news, I'm simply one of those who receives it.

The trouble is, of course, that the particular good news of the Gospel is not like other good news. It does not sit dormant in your mind waiting to be filed away under, "Interesting Things I Heard on Dec. 5." If it enters your heart, and you acknowledge its existence, its truth, and its life... all bets are off. Suddenly, you are a pathway for God's radiance into the world. You are a proclaimer because this Good News, the news of the Incarnation, lives by proclamation, by being radiated outwards.

I don't mean that we are all necessarily wordsmiths who must write books, blog posts and go on extensive evangelism trips to preach the news. All those are undoubtedly important ways by which we allow God himself to radiate from us the Good News. But when John the Baptist says "prepare ye the way of the Lord," he means more than simply lay palm branches on the road. He means more than ironing out some troubles in Jerusalem's banking or Israel's worship practices. Prepare ye the way of the Lord is also about preparing our own hearts, for the news being proclaimed is news we ourselves will carry with us, for we will carry Christ Himself with us. Prepare me, the way, Lord: make the paths of my heart straight for you, make the will of my selfish soul bend to yours, clean the windows of my heart so that You may be visible to those who peer inside. Prepare me, the way.

So we are not all Isaiah this morning as we shuffle to church, to coffee, or to lunches and paper writings. We may not all have words about God to proclaim to others. But if we believe the Incarnation occurs in our hearts each moment, that Christ dwells with us in the actual, living presence of His Holy Spirit in our hearts, then we are all prophets preaching the good news of the arrival of Christ. We are all proclaiming that God is coming, that He has come, that His promises are trustworthy.

Prepare me, the way, O Lord, and let my heart radiate the good news of Your indwelling Spirit.


Second Sunday of Advent

Merciful God, who sent thy messengers the prophets to 
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: 
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, 
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our 
Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Tradition, 1979 edition)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gone Fishing... The Redskins and Writing Letters

Thursday was a service learning day, where my program splits us up into smaller groups to visit different service sites around DC and, well, serve there. Today I went to the Fishing School, an after school program over by 47th St., NE. I didn't know the streets went out as far as 47th - I live on 8th and I feel like it's a decent walk to the center of the DC action.

The house was electric blue and beautiful, the results of their recent visit from the people of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. There were all these brightly colored fish hanging from the ceiling of the entryway, and everywhere I looked there were nice chairs, pastel-painted rooms, bags of cheerios and goldfish in cupboards... everything that screamed well-run and empowering.

We went downstairs to meet the kids. That's always the part of the service learning in an after school program that makes me the most nervous. As soon as I see the faces of those twenty students, their blue polo and khaki clad bodies twisting in their chairs to talk to their neighbor at the other table, I immediately freeze. They won't like me! I silently scream inside my head. I'm really awkward at making small talk with people, let alone the kids who would have been so much cooler than me in elementary and middle school that I would never have been able to talk to them if I was 12 years old! I can't do this I can't do this I can't do this.

This week was no different. I worried and fretted as I looked around the basement where there were tables set up for snack. Kim began passing out apples, Julianne began chatting with a boy sitting by himself at a table, and I ... stood there. I realized after about a minute or two had gone by that I should just take charge. After all, hasn't this semester in the nation's capital given me a sense of confidence about things? Haven't I watched myself grow into a gentler, stronger spirit? Haven't I basically become capable of carrying on a conversation with anyone?

I took the plunge, striding over to the table where two boys were sitting, waiting to get their Ziploc bag filled with a glorified version of GORP (this one featured marshmallows, chocolate chips, pretzels and some dried fruit I didn't think I should eat). I said hey. They said hey back, and looked at me. Was I supposed to continue this conversation? Okay. Hilary, you can do this. I coached myself. "How is school?" I asked. "Good." Pause. Oh great. Ask the one question that adults always ask kids and kids always hate to answer. Great. Just great. I noticed as I was scolding myself for my first faux pas of the conversation, when I realized that there were now four boys at the table instead of just two. Larry with his dreadlocked hair and his love of math sat next to Christopher who doesn't like school, who sat across from Jayquan who was completely hyper and barely sat in his seat next to Marquese who was the quietest and the oldest.

If it was all boys... surely I can talk football, right? "So do you guys have a favorite sport?" I ask, grinning to myself as I contemplated the thrilling conversation that would ensue (in my mind complete with a rendition of "The Sound of Music"). "Yeah!" Larry shouted. "Football!"

"Sweet, who is your favorite football team!" I asked. "The Redskins!" He responded. "The Redskins?? Nah, man, I like the Patriots. I'm from Boston." I thought this was normal, laughing, we have two different favorite teams conversation. Apparently not. "The Patriots suck!" He shouted. Jayquan and Marquese agreed vehemently. Christopher came to my rescue. "I like the New England Patriots!" he called out. "Thank you! We are a great team. We killed the Steelers the other weekend!" I thought this made it sound like I knew what I was talking about. But as soon as Larry opened his mouth and started reeling off players, records, why the Redskins were better, I realized I had woken a sleeping dragon.

Life Lesson: Before you talk about football to boys of any age, do research. Know who the best linebackers are, and the best... whatever else they call football players.

The afternoon progressed into homework help and Tokaya's soil fill-in-the-blank worksheet (thank you, Stan Reczek, for teaching me the meaning of the word, "A, B, C horizon"). I munched on her Cheerios as she figured out what a natural resource was and where to fill in "soil profile" in the sheet. As we munched and talked science (and cheerleading, rap songs I don't know, and other things), I realized that one of the things I hate about goodbyes is the launching into the unknown, the fact that when she gives me a hug, pulls my hands with her hot-sausage-sticky fingers, laughs and hugs me right around my waist, I can't tell her when I will see her again (besides this coming Tuesday when we go back for service learning). I can't promise the next visit, the next homework tutoring, the next failed attempt to talk football to Larry and Jayquan. I can't promise because I don't know.

As I weave the word goodbye into my Washington vocabulary, as I avoid "goodbye" in every conversation at my internship, in class, with my friends here, with Jayquan and Tokaya and Larry and Christoper and Marquese, "I'll be back every week to get to know you and to tutor you and to be your friend." I wish I could simply halt the movement of my feet towards their arctic (I mean, Northeastern) home and simply rest in my roots here.

So I write letters. It's a tradition I began in high school (ask my friends who've all received a little note in their boxes by Mrs. Cahill's office over the course of their Waring career). I write because words are my love language, because I feel safer expressing myself in words, because I know that if I begin to write, the love and joy I feel at the presence of the people in my life will be expressed. I write letters in the hope that others can go forth and carry those pieces of me with them, can take a physical piece of 'Hilary' home with them.

I write letters so that I can anchor on paper the things I feel. I write on this blog so that I don't forget Jayquan and Larry and Tokaya. I write, and I write, and I write.

I'm sad to be going back to the Fishing School only once more before I leave DC, but I am glad that I have been reminded, not only to do more research on football, but also to write, to love through writing.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

10 Days: Why I Wish I Didn't Know How to Count

Counting is dangerously close to countdown. Countdown means watching the clock like a timer, like a kettle of water coming to a rolling boil, like the postman when you are waiting for a letter from a good friend. Counting down means awaiting the next corner, what lies ahead of us. It is straining to bring the future into the present, and straining to see beyond what is directly in front of us.

And so I wish I didn't know how to count.

I don't want to bring the future of my impending return to school, to Massachusetts, to home, into my present. I don't want the AirTran Airways plane to land me in Boston. I don't want the future here. I want Georgetown cupcakes, the International Spy Museum, the kitchen table where I sit writing this blog post, my roommates, and my beloved D6 bus (I write about that bus a lot... some deep conversations have happened on it). I don't want to live in a countdown because I'm afraid that if I bring the fiery force of the future into my world in DC, I will simply crumble. I know on some level that all things come to an end, that things must change, that we must move, and grow, and return, and leave. I know all of that.

But I want to keep DC in my heart. I want to stay here and let my roots sink a little deeper into this soil. I said goodbye to my internship today and as I walked out of the clean glass doors (the ones that must be oiled daily, they are so silent), and called for the last elevator to take me down to the first floor... I wanted to cry, because I don't want to be uprooted from the people there, from the wonderful conversations and laughs and coffees and lunches I have been privileged to have over the past ten weeks. I don't want to say goodbye, and I don't want to count down, and I don't want to leave.

It's ten days until I leave this city, and I return home, to Gordon, to friends and family, to Advent in a familiar place. And the returning will be good, just as the leaving was good. It's strange to realize that I am now repeating my feelings in reverse: where I had been anxious and sad to leave Boston, I am now anxious and sad to leave DC. Where I had dreaded landing into the unknown of Union Station, the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Eastern Market, the Pentagon, Georgetown, and ASP itself... I now fear the unknown of what lies at home. How have people changed since I've been away? How have I changed? Will the new Hilary fit into the old places?

I wish I didn't know how to count, friends. If I didn't know how to count, then I would sense time simply passing by, without constantly trying to be one step ahead of it and without wanting to wring out every last drop of time here. I would simply be in time, simply live out daily how and what I feel, without the added anxiety of counting hours, days and minutes until departure.

And so, at the end of this slightly rambling blog post, I leave myself (and all of you) with these words (thank you, Lisa, for giving them to me this summer):

"How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you - you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences - like rags and shreds of your very life." - Katherine Mansfield.



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