Long Ride Home

Currently returning from a trip to New York City visiting my friend Emily. The night before I left, I was tired and not terribly enthused about departing from home, but I had purchased bus tickets when my spirits and energy levels were high, so I was going regardless of my current feelings on the matter.

I stepped off the bus into a sea of humidity and grey rain clouds, and was greeted by Emily’s smiling face. My initial hesitations over the trip vanished as we embraced and began making plans for the rest of the day. We began by walking through the gardens of the High Line. The sun came out and a breeze whipped up, clearing out the humidity and the clouds. And then began the dominating activity of the next three days: exploring and imagining myself living an everyday life in each new spot.

I chose the bench on the High Line walk where I would take my journal to write in as I looked over the water. I made a list of the restaurants in Chelsea Market which I would systematically work through until I had tasted all the flavors it had to offer. I saw the bookstores I would frequent and the farmers market from which I would walk home with wildflowers and fresh vegetables. I picked the apartment rooftop where I would host lively dinner parties, and the fire escape where I would sit in the mornings with my coffee. I eyed Emily’s apartment and determined where I could make space for my KitchenAid mixer, and made plans for how I would store my Christmas decorations. My fantastical New York self would fit right in here; I was sure of it.

Best of all, this life had no complications. Faceless friends would populate it, but as I didn’t know who they were, there were no worries about finding them and no danger of their leaving afterward. I had all kinds of time in this picture– never a dull moment but never one too busy either. My bank account obviously would stretch to accommodate all the things I wanted to do and try. In this life I was always happy and carefree.

I’ve gone through this exercise often enough to see the escapist tendency that lies behind it. I know my ideal picture is truly a fantasy–expanded and overblown to the point where it is entirely unrealistic and unattainable.

Riding back to D.C. forces me to remember that my fantasy has no real bearing on the reality of my day-to-day. I’m attempting to avoid thinking about the slow drains in the bathroom, or the headlight out in my car, or the loneliness I felt last week. At least, I’m trying not to focus solely on them, these reminders of a less-than-perfect life. There are other glad things to return to as well: my own bed, my overflowing bookshelves, my deck with its herbs (hopefully) surviving the rain, my church with my Scottish pastor, and my very real friends who have faces and who love me in my weaknesses. The Good, Very Good, and the Less Than Ideal are all joined together into a real and concrete state of blessedness.

 

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Staying Awake

I’ve always had sympathy for the apostles who fell asleep while Jesus was praying in Gethsemane. I have even more sympathy these days, when a Friday night finds me, more often than not, passed out on my couch by 8pm. I wonder if they could have stayed awake better if they’d known why they had to wait so long. Waiting always seems easier when you know why, so perhaps they could have kept their eyes open if they’d understood what was really going on in that garden.

We’re just around the corner from the start of Advent. Every year I give a little nerdy spiel to my students about how the word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “arriving”. I tell them about why that matters, and that we use this time of year to think about two arrivals of Christ: the one already happened, and the one not yet here. I tell them we live in a time between, and that Advent gives us the space to reflect on that in a special way.

The problem is, outside of the Advent season, I’m often just killing time while waiting for that not-yet-arrived Jesus to show his face again. I’m tapping my toes and checking my watch as if I’m at the DMV, wondering why, for the love of all that’s holy, I am still stuck here. Just like the apostles, I am bad at waiting, and too often I fall asleep when I most need to be alert. However, I think I could be better at waiting if I had a deeper sense of what was around the corner and a greater purpose in what I ought to be doing in the meantime to help keep my soul awake. It’s one of the reasons I treasure the Advent season as a time to refocus and reorient my habits of waiting. It allows for a more natural rhythm of peace and reflection that can so easily elude me during the other months of the year.

My friend Becky shares my love for this season, and this year we teamed up and wrote a prayer journal specifically for Advent.  Check out by clicking here.  It’s full of different verses and creative exercises to facilitate a time of quiet reflection. In a season so easily overtaken by a flurry of activity, we hope it’s something that can bring peace and direction as you wait in Already-Not-Yet.

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Pieces and Promises

I’m terrible with resolutions. I’m always making commitments to go running more often, and then I don’t go running all winter, because it’s too cold, it gets dark too early, there are other things to do. I enjoy running, but only when it’s convenient and I happen to be in the mood for it, which means I rarely go running. I have multiple excuses to shield my conscience from my lack of activity, but therein lies the problem: I’m good at sliding out of promises to myself, no matter what they are. When I really need things to happen, I tell someone.

I made a commitment to write more often. Not that anyone really knew that. I didn’t spell it out or sign any documents. But it’s important. So I guess this is my way of telling someone. The problem is I have things I know I’m supposed to write,  but I only ever want to write what is so pressing and obnoxious that the only way to deal with it is to put it into words. So you see I don’t want to work on those poems I know I should be writing right now.

The other day a friend asked what the highlights of my life were. Those kinds of questions are so hard to answer. I always want to say something deep and meaningful, want to talk about something that changed my life, and then all that comes to mind are these small moments that aren’t even what I’d call “highlights” in the traditional sense of the word. Just random, regular memories, I suppose.

I remember my junior year of high school I played keyboards with the youth group worship team, and I got to know the drummer, Alex. And by “got to know”, I mean “had a crush on.” I don’t recall the occasion, but at some point he was driving his Ford Escape and I was riding in the backseat with another friend. I think we’d just gone to 7-Eleven to buy Arizona Tea and Slurpees. We were on a back road of sorts, and it was straight and flat and there was no one else around, and Alex started accelerating faster and faster and we were flying, and I remember feeling a little tense rush of uncertainty about going that fast, but the next second deciding to enjoy the moment: I clutched my can of Arnold Palmer and laughed into the wind rushing through the car windows.

I remember student teaching and having Prof. Vanden Bosch come observe me. I was teaching a lesson on gerunds that day. In my list of examples I’d accidentally included a participle, which looks exactly the same as a gerund except that it’s used as an adjective instead of as a noun. I caught myself, but only once it was too late. I sat down after class with Vanden Bosch, who gave me beautifully encouraging feedback, but couldn’t resist chuckling and noting the error. “I was wondering if you’d catch that, Ms. DiMaria,” he said with a smile as I turned pink and acknowledged my mistake. I teach gerunds and participles all the time now. I also think Gerund could make a fine name for a baby boy. My students disagree, and my friends think it would be mean. Personally, I think it’s preferable to Participle.

I remember singing in Cambodia, sitting on the floor of an empty tiled room, afraid to lean against the wall because of the bugs and lizards crawling all over it. We all sat in a circle in the dark; we couldn’t find the lights, and anyway they would just attract more bugs. The moon and thousands of stars glittering in the black sky cast a pale outline on those sitting closest to the open doorway in the corner. We tried to talk about the day, but everyone was tired and the floor was hard and it was humid and sticky. Instead we sang the Doxology. It was one of the most beautiful things I think I’ve ever heard. The hard tile of the room echoed and reverberated our melodies and harmonies. Our nine voices became a full choir and I forgot for a moment that I was in the middle of nowhere in a third world country, because for thirty seconds I was sitting in the greatest cathedral, singing to a God who occupied our dirty little tiled room with us, and who surely must have been pleased by this music his children sang to him. Praise, praise God, from whom all blessing flow. Praise him, all creatures here below. Praise him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Countdown

One week until Thanksgiving break. This is one of those times when the students’ absurdity level rises and my patience collapses on the floor in an exhausted heap. The only salvation for any of us, particularly me, is to maintain a sense of humor, so today I’m choosing to remember the funny moments rather than the frustration. The following things were said in the first ten minutes of class today:

“Lord, please help us do well on our quiz, and help me find my hand.”

“Can you give me a copy of that worksheet we did last class? It will keep my parents occupied.”

“Ms. DiMaria, do you wear heels to make your calves look good? You know, so the muscles stand out?”

“Bill took my stabbing device AKA my compass!”

“Joe, you are a neon potato.”

“Ms. DiMaria, do you like hurting yourself? You scraped your knee, and you fell down the stairs, and now you have a band-aid on your foot.”

“Ms. DiMaria, I have an irrelevant question to ask!”

 

I wish I could say these were taken out of context, but the truth is, there was no context to begin with. Happy Wednesday, everyone.

Seven days till Thanksgiving break. Seven. Days.

 

Sharing

Words that are mine yet belong to another. The lines resonate with the sounds of my aches and exultations. I sink into the luxury of concrete and abstract intersecting, and feel on my back the pressing weight of familiar truth revealed anew. Once, twice, and three times more I scan the page, memorizing each turn of phrase and uniquely situated adjective.

Then, an opportunity to share, and I am seized with indecision. Revealing this means vulnerability; my thoughts and feelings now woven into the fabric of this piece will surely be obvious. What was beautiful in solitude is shameful in the harsh light of attention.

But to keep it for myself seems…selfish, a holding back of beauty and wisdom.

More frightening: deep, deep inside, I long to be known. To have someone see the threads of my thoughts, to recognize me in the words and tell me that I add rather than subtract. And so, with fearful heart pounding and cheeks warming, I turn the page and begin reading in a halting voice that smooths into a quiet steadiness, punctuated only by silent prayers for acceptance.