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.

You Could Call this Cheating

I’m unsure this is what you wanted
But you see I can’t write
Except to pray for something
Beyond my words,
And how can I shape my present cloudiness of desire
Into something legible and true and truly me,
If it’s still a blur
Because that’s soft and comfortable.

What little I can say for myself is not mine,
But I like the idea of writing in Paris
And living a life
Different from now.
Except I’m not nearly daring enough
To drop what I love for half a dream.

So you see all I can write
Is what I don’t know,
Penning evidence of something
I haven’t thought about yet.



If Callie Feyen tells you to go to a coffee shop, you go. The woman has a sixth sense when it comes to finding fantastic places to consume caffeine.

You’ll commit to it early in the day, when you find yourself with a grey afternoon of hanging clouds and scattered rains. You’ll encounter traffic, because this is DC, and the highways are never as clear as Google Maps make them seem. You’ll wonder if you’re being ridiculous. You’ll very nearly turn around. But the idea of going home to chores and the same furniture you always sit on will keep you driving west. You’ll have the right music playing, and soon you’ll realize your shoulders feel a little lighter.

You’ll walk in the door of Trinity House and a smile will break out immediately; this building was meant to have a coffee shop within its walls. The floors creak loudly as your steps take you to the kitchen in back,full of food and drink made just for grey Saturdays like this one. You’ll look at the menu and know you need tea and a grilled cheese, and soon you’ll have both and it will be just as comforting as you hoped.

imageYou’ll sit on the mustard yellow couch in the corner, near the window. You’ll read a little as you eat and collect your thoughts.Then you’ll settle in to write; you’ll try to wrap words around the vague calm resting across your back. Your pen won’t stop for a while, because this place makes you think about what beauty is and how peace and grace come in the moments when you most need but least expect them.

Before you’re ready it will be time to leave. You’ll hesitate and think about staying longer, but you’ll remember the drive is an hour long, and that time to rest in the quiet of roads through mountains is another gift today is waiting to give you. So you’ll drive on one-lane highway for miles, and it will take you past hills with hay bales placed just so, and in the background, mountains sporting little wisps of smoke from chimneys hidden behind pine trees. You’ll think of the word “glory”, and you’ll gasp with joy, even if that is cliche.

The road will widen from one lane to four, and you’ll start wishing you hadn’t left. But you can’t turn around, so instead you’ll cup memories of the day in your hands and remind yourself of last night’s prayer filled with quiet nouns: peace; contentment; calm; rest. You’ll think maybe this is God’s way of listening to you, and then you’ll smile.