Wednesday, November 30, 2011

You are not leaving, you are arriving

Some days I think I'm watching myself go through open heart surgery. I watch as each morning run stitches me back together, how the smell of the water and wind over Coy Pond fills my lungs. I watch as a few short days in a city I love gives me 1,000 gifts:

Chop't salads at Union Station
the walk to Eastern Market
Port City Java
laughing until my sides ache on the Metro
running past 1615 L St and remembering
cupcakes and 30 Rock
good wine at happy hour and telling the secret I had been holding
running to the Capitol Building in the bright cold sun
leaves crunching on East Capitol St.
beginning to count gifts again in the journal from Italy
the zoo lights at the National Zoo
the warm cider and the long walk back down memory lane

and they go on and on. And each one is a stitch back together. Each one knits the broken jagged edges to each other.  My eyes are tired and my feet don't want to carry me any more. The idea of resting or waiting or listening to the silence feels impossible... but this is the season where my heart is healed.

Hearts really do heal. I don't know if you can hear me. But if you wonder about whether your heart will be healed, I'm leaning in close to tell you:

You will be full to overflowing.

I promise you. I promise you that time and winter and Advent heal. I promise that lighting candles and drinking tea and walking through your disappointments or your sorrows will move you to the other side. I promise that even as you pick your feet up to go up one more flight of stairs and you set your hands to the keyboard again, doing the small brave beautiful thing will heal you. I promise you with all of my heart because I wonder too, because I don't always trust it, but because if I tell you then I'll try to hope in it, too. Our hearts will become beautiful.

Last year a good friend of mine and I wrote "Poetic Friday" emails every week. We shared stories and always ended with a poem. She gave this one to me when I'd been having a tough week, and now I'm giving it to you, dear reader.

He is giving us back whole hearts.

The Journey

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

small, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving
you are arriving. 
~ David Whyte ~

Monday, November 28, 2011

Darkness into Light (Reflection on the First Sunday of Advent)

This is the irrational season
where love blooms bright and wild
had Mary been filled with reason, 
there'd have been no room for the Child. - Madaleine L'Engle

Advent is the excavation of our hearts. We begin to clean, dust off the cobwebs of the year, the words we collected, the stories we've been harboring, the sorrows and wild joys. In Advent we are making ourselves ready for the coming of Emmanuel. God with us. This Advent season, I want to offer a few reflections every week, to excavate my own heart and to prepare for Him with you. 


Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the
works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now
in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ
came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when
he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the
quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through
him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost,
one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

The collect for the First Sunday of Advent begins in darkness and light. How many of us have spent more time believing in the shadows than in the sun this past season? How many are skeptical of the promise of light when, after all, it seems pretty bleak? 

I have been one of those people. I have scoffed at the promise of the Light coming into the world, scoffed at the very idea that light is triumphant. Because in the mornings that are cold and the days that are long, when the work stretches out before me like an unending prairie trail and there is always one more meeting, one more problem, one more heart-wrenching, light looks like wishful thinking. 

But what has God done, we ask ourselves this week in Advent? What exactly has He promised about light and darkness? 

God gives us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and He puts upon us the armor of light. This is the week of humility that becomes majesty, that changes mortal life into life immortal, and that makes even the darkness seem like day. 

We have chased and chosen shadows over light all year long. We are the people who have walked in darkness who have seen a great light, who lived in a land of deep darkness and on whom light now shines. It shines in great humility now; it will shine in greater majesty in the time to come. 

Heavenly Father, give us again your grace to cast away the darkness and put on the light. Give us again your grace to watch for the light that has come into our dark land in such humility, that we might know that in us and among us, Emmanuel is coming. Amen. 

(mandie sodoma, sindisiwe photography)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I come home again (thanksgiving)

The wind picks up, spinning the leaves in a tornado on the pavement, the sun beams out from in between the buildings. My sneakers, still covered in Chebacco Lake and Essex St. mud, carry me down F St, dart right and then right again, and then, spread out before me...


I feel the pavement beneath my feet and the cold air in my lungs, and I feel all the things that have happened in this long year since I have watched the buildings rise in front of me and passed Pitango, and Red Velvet, and 1615 L St, and the National Press Building, and that church on that corner and the street I passed every morning on the way to work.

This year, I turned 21, learned to be homesick for a city I love, learned to plant my heart in Italy in just ten short days. I learned something about awful obedience and courage. I learned something about love.

The traffic has been stopped on Pennsylvania Ave, so I take a chance and dash across the street to the Newseum, its clean glass giving me a bit of a reflection of this redhead running with the biggest grin on her face.

This year, I wandered through the desert and soaked in the sunshine and tested God and He rained back blessings. He taught me the hard lessons and I learned some of them.

My muscles ache but I push on ahead, straining my eyes to read the signs just one more time. I want to plant the grid of letters and numbers in my mind so deep that crazy New England town maps confuse me. I want to take a picture of all of this so many times that I dream it. 

This year, I laughed and cried and got tired and go reenergized and rocked babies to sleep and wrote papers and letters and fell in love with writing again. And all the while, this place has been waiting for me.

Last year I wrote this on Thanksgiving: 

But sometimes it is okay to bake from the box. Sometimes what we offer to our thanksgiving meal is humbler than we'd like. Sometimes what we offer from our messy hearts and lives is just that... messy, less than perfect, less than what we expect ourselves to be able to offer. And now, returning to this blog post after a wonderful meal and wonderful company, after a brisk 5 mile walk to and from the World War II Memorial (thank you, Hannah, for the wonderful vanilla chai and the company)... I know that it is okay to bake from a box sometimes. It is okay to be less than the perfection we imagine. It is even, in this day, something to be thankful for. 

So give thanks, whoever you are, wherever you are - give thanks as wholeheartedly and messily as you can. Bake from a box. Sing a song off-key. Write a letter and smudge the ink on the envelope. Drink tea and read a good book, call a friend. Give thanks for the mess, for the growing. 

As I turned the corner to climb the last few steps before looking at the Capitol, and then turned to run back down Pennsylvania, and took my hair out of its tight ponytail and let it blow in the breeze, I realized that all this life is mess and growing and there is nothing more beautiful.  

Love, always, from the city, 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dear Hilary, Love Hilary: The Beautiful Brave Things

Some days it takes a letter to yourself to teach yourself. Some days, we need the wise words of our own hearts. A while ago I started writing these letters to myself, bits of advice modeled after my favorite advice columnist, Dear Sugar. She knows how to spin these beautiful, fierce, true words and somehow carries kindness that doesn't compromise.

Dear Hilary,

I wrote to you a little while ago, back when there was just me and these questions about how to do what I needed to do. How to have the hard conversation, how to say the things that I don't want to. I wrote to you because I was afraid of putting honesty into the air. Well. I did it. And now, I guess, I want to know what to do next. You told me the awful obedient things are the way to the truth. What happens after we do those awful obedient things? Where do we go from here?

Not Wanting To, But Trying


Dear Trying,

Wow, sweet girl. Just wow. Let's take a moment, and listen to the story you just told. You did an awful obedient thing. You took the truth and you ran with it, into the chaotic and beautiful future. You listened close to your own heart and spoke from it. You chose the truth. Even though it sucked. Even though you knew it would be hard, cupping the phone to your hand or sitting across the table or writing the letter or saying "no". Even though everything in your squirmed away from the pain of it, you took that deep breath and pushed yourself out to the edge, to where the obedience is.

So here you are, Trying. On the other side of an awful obedient thing. And it is strange and new. Maybe you go for a run in the early frosty morning and you feel the absence sounding out from inside you. Maybe your feet carry you but your heart feels a little left behind. How could it be any other way? The truth never promised to be painless. The truth never promised to be easy, or convenient, or even an instant horizon full of sunlight that makes you safe and secure again.

The truth promises to be good. The truth promises to be faithful. The truth promises to be life. And, my dear sweet Trying, that is what you just chose.

Listen to me, because time is short and there will be so many hundreds of moments where the awful obedient things present themselves to you. Sometimes they will be in clever disguise. Sometimes they will be glaringly obvious (remember that story I told over here before?). Sometimes they will ask you to be silent and sometimes they will demand that you find a voice and shout. Sometimes the awful obedient things will hurt, and hurt a lot. They will wrench your heart the way that the doctor resets the broken bone. They will test you, push you out towards that blossoming future you that feels so unreachable now.

But the awful obedient things are also called the brave beautiful things. You lay your heart bare for someone else, for yourself, you say no when you need to say no, you ask for something, you hold someone's hand or you walk away or... whatever it may be. Those are beautiful brave things. Let those things carry you.

Do not spend your life wondering if you messed it up. No doubt it wasn't perfect. No doubt there were things you said and did that you shouldn't have, or moments where you ached to say something and stayed quiet. But the beautiful brave things are not beautiful and brave because you did them according to the perfect rubric.

They are beautiful and brave because they are alive with the truth.

They are beautiful and brave because you chose the awful obedience.

The beautiful brave things, love, they make you beautiful. They make you brave. 

All my love,

Monday, November 21, 2011

Way Down in Hadestown (on falling in love with Orpheus)

Way down, in Hadestown, way down under the ground... The music swells and crashes through my eardrums. My feet take on a life of their own beneath my cramped theater seat. I can smell stale popcorn and I am sitting in the same seat where hundreds of sweaty teenagers wondering if they should hold hands or kiss their date or run away during the intermission.

But I'm falling in love with this crazy folk opera, Hadestown, the telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice story set in the Depression in America, with the Fates who sing about life when the chips are down, with a Hades who croons in the lowest bass possible about songbirds and walls, and with this Orpheus and Eurydice in front of me.

There is no stage. No sets or costumes or even the faintest glimmer of planned choreography. Eurydice isn't wearing white, or whatever I picture her wearing. She is a petite blonde firecracker with a guitar and a voice that shivers and shakes.

There is only the music. Only the words nestled between the notes. Only the voices that carry us down by long dark roads and telephone wires, to the underground speakeasy, to the wall between Hades and the world.

Have you ever listened to someone tell a story so good it made you want to stop everything and write? 

Have you ever heard a piece of music that made you want to learn to sing, just so that you could for a brief moment echo the beauty that you heard?

That's Hadestown. 

That's the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.

I wish I could take you there with me - to the cramped, dark theater on a Friday night with Lillie. I wish I could show you how my heart raced and laughed and longed for a pen. I wish I had the words for how music can coax you out from those safe shadows and remind you about how you are creative, how the stories won't leave you alone until you make something beautiful. 

So what? I ask myself as I come towards the end of another blog post. So what about those stories? So what about the gut-wrenching moment of yes? So what about that Italy dream, that unfinished book I have in my head, and those three plays and the poems? So what about Orpheus and Hadestown?

What difference does any of it make?

I want to create. I want to wander through the forests of words without any idea of where the path goes. I want to write the way Anaïs Mitchell sings. I want to tell the stories. I want to make something beautiful.

Why is it so hard to admit? Why is it my best-kept secret, that before all else, I want to write?

The music continues to swell, beckoning me from the birdcage I've built of expectations, of "what-Hilary-is-like" and "what-Hilary-can-do" and "what-it-is-that-people-believe-Hilary-should-do."

And for a moment I can just see it: the gut-wrenching yes to making music with my words. To write the stories, and those plays, and the poems. To go to Italy. To fly out of the birdcage and towards the sea.

Maybe the first story will be Orpheus. 



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