Life is Madness. Play Music. Eat Donuts. Dance. Laugh.

traffic

Is it humanly possible to leave the house on time when going to the airport?

I’m beginning to think not.

Yesterday only served to support this suspicion of mine. Planning to leave at 4:00 PM exactly, we pulled out of the driveway when when the clock was threatening to turn 4:15. The cause for our tardy departure was sentimental. We were savoring one last tea-time on the porch with my sister as an unmarried woman before sending her back to the UK.

Tea was sipped. Words were shared. Smiles were many. Dad checked his watch often.

And so, with a bustle the Girl’s Club (ie: me, my sister and my mother) were off!

Truth be told, we were not worried. We had more than three hours before Sarah had to get on her plane, and we were enthusiastic to savor a few more stress-less moments with our Sarah, driving through the vast Colorado mountain plains. What could go wrong?

Well, it started with the freeway coming to a complete stop a mere three minutes after we merged.

Having endured this test of patience, we drove hopefully towards…

Another complete standstill.

The frustrating thing about traffic is that all you can do is fruitlessly beg your mobile apps to provide a non-existent alternate route, wonder why that white car won’t pull just a little bit closer and not hold up the whole lane, bewail the state of US highways, adjust the air-conditioner, wish you had gotten more gas, and wait. And wait. And wait.

And, also play music.

I attempted to sooth our carnal frustrations with tuneful distractions. Soothed by the gentle croonings of Lewis Watson, we hardly noticed the angry clouds forming ahead.

First there were rain drops.

And then there was rain.

And then the sky was yellow.

And then Sarah was forcefully driving against the wind that was doing its bully best to steer us off the road.

And then it was tumble-weeds smacking our wheel wells like we were in some gosh darned wild west movie.

And then there was an earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake… I kid. There was no earthquake. But I would not have been surprised.

We considered pulling over, but pressed on watching the clock nervously.

Finally, we reached the stop for British Airways.

With lumps in our throats, we lugged suitcases and took windblown selfies with unparalleled verve, thinking this was our last few moments together, because our ridiculous car ride was over.

LOL.

Sarah, carrying her wedding dress as a carry on, and all her worldly possessions in two massive bags weighing 49.9999999 pounds, needed a bit of help in, so I happily obliged. Bumbling through the automatic door, we were greeted with an almost humorous site: long lines of disgruntled passengers waiting at the British airways gate. With what looked like a thousand suitcases in tow, dozens of people glared at the attendants while the attendants glared at computer screens. Sarah and I joined the line. And waited. And waited. And dropped one of her suitcases on a stranger. And waited and waited. For 45 minutes.

Turns out the whole British Airways computer system was down. Of course.

Shaking more with adrenaline than emotion, we waved our Sarah goodbye as she and auspicious garment bagged wedding dress traipsed down the security checkpoint.

Beleaguered, my mother and I picked our way back to the car, which, I might add, was parked in the very last row. We went on our way, pulling over as the storm threatened to blow us away. We got two donuts and watched the storm roll in. This was quite pleasant.

Back on the road, the weather took a sudden turn for the sunny. This would have been very pleasant except for the fact that the sun began to set right at eye level with the highway. My mother drove as my license has recently expired. My mother used to be legally blind, and while I admire her for the bravery and care with which she drove, we were once again forced to pull off the road.

This time we drove along curving back roads, where the sun was obscured by trees and buildings. The going was slower, but at least there was not imminent danger of hitting a poll without warning because the sun was so bright. And we even stopped to get take-out Italian.

On the road for one last homeward push, we were hardly surprised to discover that the freeway had six miles of standstill traffic. Managing to exit the freeway, we wound our way through backroads, playing aching (and loud) celtic music, and munching on the bread from the take-away Italian. All things considered, it was a pleasant… if long… drive.

By the time we got back it was 9:30 PM.

A usually 2 hour round trip took us 5 hours and 15 minutes.

To me, our airport escapade felt like a microcosmic representation of my life. So often life is more inconvenient and more difficult than we could have imagined. Everything takes longer than we want or hope it will. Obstacles surprise us, and just when we think they’re gone another appears. Storms make it hard for us to see, and we wonder if we’ll ever make it. Emotion is mixed with urgency. Perhaps most of all… Life is just not at all in our control.

I used to have this idea that I would feel peaceful just as soon as the next “thing” was out of the way. I would settle and be happy when there was time. I would be thankful when there was no longer anything to cry about. But life and the Lord have taught me that if I wait to love, be joyful, or be purposeful until the air is clear and there’s no traffic, I will be waiting for the rest of my life. I am not guaranteed tomorrow, or even the next moment. To live well is to greet each moment face-on and ready to laugh.

There will always be traffic, but only you can decide to put on music.

Or eat donuts.

Or find take out Italian food.

Or laugh wildly at the madness of your life.

Or squeeze your loved one’s shoulder just because they’re there.

A wise old wizard once said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light” (Rowling).

Traffic, storms, lines, broken computers… they’ll always be around. But will you remember to put on music?

 

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Concerning Change and Bacon Gouda Sandwiches

speedy changeCan we talk for a moment about the indignity of spending $10.75 on 2 pieces of 6 day old bread surrounding a substance made of more nitrates than turkey flesh?

I speak, of course, of Airport food.

A few moments ago, I found myself faced with the difficult dilemma of airport induced hanger, or a stale sandwich. In the end, I rejected the food stand sandwich in favor of a comparable choice at Starbucks. At least this overly expensive, stale bundle of preservatives comes with chips.

This choice was thrust upon me by Starbucks’ lack of Bacon and Gouda Breakfast sandwiches.

In days of old—by which I mean when I attended college—each trip home to Colorado from the Santa Ana airport was accompanied by a happy tradition: a bacon and gouda breakfast sandwich and a tall mocha with whip. This carb, sugar, dairy filled treat was one that heartened me for the homeward journey. I looked forward to it. I counted on it.

Today, I am flying home from Santa Ana, but alas… No bacon gouda breakfast sandwich.

Considering this with a hint of disappointment, I mournfully popped a potato chip in my mouth. My tastebuds swiftly made me aware that the chips were not original sea salt, as I expected, but vinegar. I sigh and resign myself to the eye-watering sourness.

Life, it seems, is conspiring to remind me that nothing is the same as it was.

This whole visit has reminded me of this fact.

On a whim I decided to go back and visit my dearest college friends. I stayed with my college roommate. We visited our old haunts, talked about everything, laughed a lot, showed each other our favorite new shows, ate like we were still Freshman, and took too many pictures. My soul was filled.

But accompanying the lovely time we had was a slight ache.

Everything is different.

Things are changing.

You can’t get back what you once had.

This was particularly evident on a visit to my old favorite coffee shop, the Night Owl.

The Night Owl was our place during college. On my last day in California, we decided to go back for a visit. In defiant opposition to the heat, L and E and I sat with hot beverages in hand. In the comfort of easy conversation we talked about post-graduate life, our years, our disappointments, our surprise, our unsureties, and our hopes. In the presence of my friends I felt at home; I belonged.

And yet, I didn’t belong in the Night Owl anymore.

The Night Owl was significant for me. When I was an Resident Advisor, I escaped on Fridays to the high back chairs and mediocre americanos as a reprieve from the constant and necessitated extroversion of my job. I wrote countless papers there. I had deep thoughts about the opening passages of Dante’s inferno there. I ate too many ham and cheese croissants there. The baristas knew me.

But now, I don’t belong. This place has no context for me. It is a Walmart print in the photo album of my life. Californians with tan skin and hipster glasses slip in and out of the curtained front door with ease, but I feel too pale, and I don’t belong.

Perhaps you understand this. Perhaps you have returned to a place that was once yours, only to discover it has moved on without you. And you have moved on as well.

Change.

There is a lot of change in my life right now. My sister is getting married. I am moving to Scotland, Joel to Cambridge, Nathan is settling in New York. My life no longer has a gravitational pull to one place. I have felt a shift in my life, a sense of forward motion and of urgency… though I can’t quite articulate what for. When I step on the plane to the UK this August, I don’t quite know where life will take me next. It’s exhilarating. And, somehow, sad.

It’s a lot for my little heart to hold.

Everything is different.

Things are changing.

You can’t get back what you once had.

You can’t even order a bacon and gouda breakfast sandwich.

It is often said that the only thing you can count on in life is change. I don’t think that this is true; there are ties stronger than the ceaseless beating forth of life. But change, in somethings, even in most, is inevitable. Nothing remains static. If we do not change, we cannot grow. And if that is true, a great deal of my life will be contingent on how I respond to change.

Grief and embrace. These are the ideas I’ve been wrestling in this season of life. To embrace change, you must release parts of the past. A friend’s mother of mine recently recounted her daughter’s wedding. She said it was beautiful; everything they could have wished. And yet, that the day after the wedding she found herself totally undone, bleary eyed. She said it felt like grieving.

Change begets and requires grief. It’s hard to believe sometimes that something good could require us to grieve. But, really, grief is a response to loss. And even in the best of life’s changes, there is something lost. Familiarity, security, closeness, innocence, childhood. It is right and good to grieve because it helps us let go of the past— even if the past was very good— so we might embrace whatever gift God offers us in change.

And so we must release… something. So that we have willing and able arms to embrace.

As the ancient Preacher in writes, “There is a time to embrace, and a time to turn away” (Ecclesiastes 3:5).

In change there is grief, and there is embrace, but I also believe that beating beneath the frantic dance of life, there is something sturdy and steady.

We live in uncertain times. I confess that sometimes I look at my world, the headlines, and the events of my own life and am stymied; what will my world look like in 10, 20, 30 years? It is not for me to know, not until I get there. But I confess that if all I was guaranteed in life was change, I might crumple. And yet, I find that in this gypsy life, there are roots in my heart that can’t be ripped up. Chords of love and faith that tether me.

Love and Faith.

My love for my dear ones, my family, my closest friends is a root that means no matter where life takes me, I belong. In Hannah Coulter (2004), Wendell Berry describes “The Room of Love.” It is the space in our heart that we allow our loved ones into, and where their love stays no matter what. Near and far, life and death make no difference, the love is still present in our hearts. What could be more rooting than that? I give in love, and am given abundantly more. I choose to invest in love because it is the only thing that transcends fear and change. In the love I give and share, I always belong. No matter what change comes. Love casts out fear. And that is good because I am so often afraid of change.

And Faith.

Faith for me is a matter of trust. It is a covenant held between me and God in which my end of the deal is to lean into his faithfulness, and trust that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. Someday, at least. In my heart I find a spark of hope that beating at the heart of the universe is not hate, or violence, or nothingness, but love. That tethers me. That sets me free to embrace change without fear.

And all these thoughts because of a bacon and gouda sandwich.

It’s amazing how much a breakfast sandwich can symbolize isn’t it?

As I munch, I can’t help but wonder what my airplane rituals will become when I fly home from the UK.

I’m flooded with images of the new and unfamiliar. Happy butterflies flutter in my belly. I think morosely and momentarily of how quickly this new context will pass.

But I quiet my mind. No need to go there yet.

I need only take the next step.

It’s time to board.

Learning to Listen

Rothmc_cover

When I was in fifth grade, my mother read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (Taylor, 1976) out loud to me. It was about a little girl, like me. She had gangly, mischievous brothers, like me. She had a mama who loved her and worried about her, just like me. The author even lives in Colorado, like me! But there was a difference: she was black. As a ten year old, I didn’t know why this should make a difference. I had heard words like “racism” and “slavery,” but, to me, they were articles of history, things that passed with the abolition of the slave trade and Martin Luther King Junior. Thank goodness we were past such primal sins! Could life be so very different for Cassie simply because of her skin color?

As I read, my eyes were opened to a thousand little ways that life was frustrated by the choking seed of racism sewn in our country. My country. For the first time I glimpsed the uphill battle life can be for those with a different heritage from me; I encountered my own ease. My eyes were opened to the many responses people had and have to injustice: silent submission, minimization, violent reaction, grief. As the book drew to a close I hoped for a happy ending. Those final pages left me with a hollowness and a realization that the wound has not closed.

I felt that hollowness this week.                 

A midst a hundred facebook posts and videos I couldn’t force myself to see, an echo of those condemning voices in Taylor’s book haunted me. I remembered anew that division, racism and injustice are not words associated with a bygone past. I felt in real life the complication, frustration and cloudedness I first perceived so many years ago in the pages of that book. I thought about how speeding tickets were a subject of annoyance to my teenage brothers, not of fear and danger.

One of the gifts that stories give us is the ability to see a world different from our own. They teach us not to be immune to pain we don’t understand. Clouded with our experience and preconceived notions of how life is, and how it ought to be, events like the shootings of this week become abstractions that support our already decided theses. Through stories we can imagine others pain, and let it affect us. Stories slip past our well built world views, and help us see the world through eyes that are not ours.

To live in a skin we don’t understand.

When I press my ear up against the walls of my country, I hear a wailing, wild sorrow that cannot be ignored.

I do not begin to know how to heal the wound of racial divides in this nation, and I cannot do it justice in this tiny blog post. I am not a judge. I am not a police officer. I am not black. I do not pretend to know what it is like to lose someone in the line of duty or to a broken tail-light. But, in my eternal state as a hopeless optimist, I want to believe that much can be changed through empathy. Through listening to others stories. To seeing the world through someone else’s lens, and weeping with them, because the wound of racism has not been healed. Finding in those tears seeds of hope.

My determination is that when I engage with this topic, I will not engage in it with disinterest, or preconceptions but a heart to hear stories, no matter how heart wrenching and complicated they are. I don’t want to think of statistics or platitudes, but of faces and names like Philando, Alton, Patrick, Brent, Michael, Lorne… I must imagine the people left behind. Could my beliefs stand if I had to admit them to the mothers of those who died? Surely, our facebook comments would be different if we thought that way.

When I closed the pages of Mildred Taylor’s powerful novel, I felt unsettled. It was an unsettledness that made me discontent with the weary and wounded ways of the world… a discontentedness that makes me long for a heavenly kingdom, and hunger and thirst for righteousness. We must be unsettled. Discomfort leads to change, and so to hope.

So be unsettled.

Listen closely to the stories of people you don’t understand.

Weep with those who weep.

Hate what is evil and cling to what is good.

And re-read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.

Fourth of July

Friends,
I don’t have much of a post today because I spent today walking in the parade with llamas, handing out bottles of water with my church in my our tiny town’s parade.

What are you doing today?

I hope you’re….

Hugging your family.

Eating corn on the cob.

Getting sunburned.

Tying bandanas on your dog’s neck (much to its chagrin).

Thinking about big ideas like freedom, responsibility, bravery, sacrifice, community and diversity.

Watching the West Wing. #Bartlett2016 

Slurping up too much watermelon.

Thinking about the family history that lead you to this great old melting pot/salad bowl of a country. 

Feeling thankful. 

Grilling in the back yard. 

Watching sparkling fireworks rain in the sky with an appropriate sense of wonder and delight. 

Saying prayers that this old republic of ours will continue in virtue. 

In short, I hope you have a beautiful Fourth of July.