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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Admon in Turkey: Part 2

The next several "installments" of Admon in Turkey are vignettes which follow the last paragraph of the first "installment" and which fill in those memories on which I was meditating...
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At thirty-thousand feet, perhaps somewhere suspended above the Black Sea or Turkey, I had pulled out my clean notebook to detail every event and experience I expected to encounter. Every one.
Being misunderstood… not seeing the stars… not feeling satisfied in the work that I do… getting sick…
My future roommate and cultural guide had counseled me months prior, “My one rule: Don’t have any expectations.” She had done this five times before and spoke with a voice of both experience and authority., But she had somehow had forgotten (didn’t realize?) that humans are programmed with an imagination and some with a highly active one (I happen to be of the latter brand). To not expect would require me to cease being human, and I believed hers was an unfair expectation of me. Perhaps she meant that I should lower my expectations. Regardless, this was the bit of her advice that I had immediately decided to discard.
Not getting enough exercise… not communicating with Home enough/frequently… forgetting tampons… having difficulty learning names…
I was on my way to northern Iraq to teach high school to Kurdish students. For my sanity’s sake, I was compelled to put onto paper what my over-active imagination projected concerning the year to come. Getting dehydrated… feeling over-worked… culturally confusing honor and rightness… confinement… That way, when it did happen, when the pressures of my foreign environment built up into an excruciating furnace and I feared I’d explode on my hosts, I would look at that list, do several rounds of deep yoga breathing, and remind myself, “Abbey, you expected this would happen.” This was my emergency plan in an environment where I expected to have few coping resources.
Meeting fascinating people… picnicking… learning Kurdish dancing… discovering that I love teaching… My List included positives as well, in my effort to be comprehensive. (I had to have something to be excited about!) So I exhausted my imagination for an hour on that flight into Erbil and filled three journal pages with all of my specific expectations.


My sense of adventure had drawn me to Iraq but, consequentially, made living there essentially impossible for me. Before I was even unpacked my life was immediately cleaved into two categories: What I am Allowed and What I am Not Allowed to Do, Wear, Say, and See, an agglomeration of cultural norms sitting as Judge over each of my choices. Restrictions on wearing, saying, and seeing were easiest for me to manage; the cultural rules for me as a woman over doing, however, (or rather, not doing) became suffocating. As I expected.
            At Christmas I traveled back to America for two weeks of rest, reflection, and for a respite from the stress of daily life in Iraq. I reassessed that Expectation List and put check marks on the expectations which came true: 49 checks out of 56. My first semester lived up to my expectations- in a word, it was challenging. And true to my emergency plan, that List had been my tether to a small buoy of sanity when disappointment, exhaustion, and rage had threatened to drown me in the ocean of cross-cultural chaos.


But as thoroughly as I had considered the unknowns and as contemplatively as I had thought about the future, even my imagination has its limits and he was not on that List. He took me by utter surprise. Tall and Middle Eastern, he was fantastically dark and handsome. His face was gracefully long and important, his jaw serious and square, and he always wore a five-o’clock-shadow which made him look older, mysterious, and extremely attractive. Thick and perfect eyebrows framed his deep brown eyes which were laughing or sophisticated (at turns) but always gentle. His full, round lips could be saucy or sweet and he didn’t like his Assyrian nose. But, like the rest of him, I thought it was perfect.
            He was a surprise because he was an Iraqi national, a Christian, a man, and quickly became my best friend. In my imagination and understanding of the world, these variables never fused. As an unmarried American woman living in a predominately Muslim Middle Eastern country, missing male friendships… romantic turmoil… and loneliness… were the bullet points that made my Expectation List and I was therefore unprepared for such a friendship.  

I met my surprise at school. Over time, as our friendship grew, I learned his story. He had been born the last of five children and given the proud Assyrian name “Admon.” When I feared I was misspelling it (some at school spelled it with an “E” and others even with an “I”), Ad quickly explained why they were wrong and I was right: “It’s our version of ‘Adam.’” Like his Hebrew namesake Ad’s name meant “of dust, earth; formed of clay.” In the Hebrew narrative Yahweh God formed Adam, the first man, with his hands out of the dust of the earth. True to his name, Admon was uniquely impressionable, shaped by the external events of his story. Yet as I learned more of his story I would marvel at how he- living as a minority amongst Iraq’s minorities- preserved a soft, moldable, and beautiful heart.   

            Admon and I taught together at the high school: he four sections of mathematics and I three of liberal arts. It was Admon’s third year teaching and my first. When I had time and free brain space during my breaks I watched the various Iraqi teacher-to-student and teacher- to-teacher interactions with great interest. As in all his relationships I observed Admon engage in, he was gentle with his students (even when he had to be stern) and was big-brotherly with his affection towards them. His students respected him and, true to their culture, demonstrated their affection publically. They also teased and joked with him, which were behaviors that he both provoked and reciprocated with unconcealed pleasure. Towards his coworkers Admon was the same man: warm and social yet refreshingly unpretentious in a culture wherein flaunting one’s self was the celebrated norm. As I observed other young teachers flirt and vie for attention or favor, Admon was no-nonsense. He was not only tallest in stature of all our teachers, but the height of his personal character quietly rose above us.  




When I first met him Admon, as the Iraqis say, “had 24 years” and was very much a mature man but, despite all the hardships of his young life, he maintained a boyish soul. Perhaps this is how we became fast friends, and why our friendship blossomed: Ad loved fun. He worked hard and was well respected, both in and out of school but, unlike many of his peers, he was curious, sought out new experiences, and found levity in the mundane moments of life. This part of his nature complimented mine. I had found a kindred spirit in Ad.

School was where we laid the foundation for our friendship. Admon interpreted Arabic for me and English for our Iraqi Kurdish teachers when, left to ourselves, we were unable to communicate. He played music, told jokes, and shared breakfast. Ad and I laughed and plotted together during our shared breaks. He quizzed me on American culture and voiced his anger over the dominant Iraqi cultures treatment of women and minorities. Admon was a genuinely bright soul, but deeper conversations with him revealed the complexity of the grief he carried as both a observer and a recipient of Iraq’s discrimination and persecution. Sympathetic, Admon became my professional advocate when I needed help managing my own anger over the treatment of minorities. When discouraged, we worked hard to cheer for and encourage each other, respectively, in our workplace.

Then, on a Saturday in October, I had discovered we were literally closer than I thought. On a brisk walk around my neighborhood an immaculately white Chevy Cruze pulled up and drove close beside me. The driver’s window rolled down and I heard his voice, inquisitive: “Why are you walking in my neighborhood?” Startled by the vehicle yet relieved by the voice emitting from it, I replied smartly, “And why are you driving in mine?!” We were both very happy to learn that we were neighbors! Admon quickly volunteered and became my willing driver to anywhere I normally was not allowed to go by myself; sometimes (with my roommates’ permission) we broke the cultural single-girl/ single-guy rules and traveled together unchaperoned.

Living and working in close proximity, our friendship grew daily. My coworker, my neighbor, my friend, Admon was my on-and-off again secret crush, but, more than everything, my best friend. Even our students recognized it: “Miss, you and Mr. Admon go together,” a group of ninth graders explained. My Iraqi surprise, Admon became the most important person in my Middle Eastern life, enhancing and often sustaining it...

A Middle Eastern Market


Iraqi food prepared and served "the proper way"


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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Admon in Turkey: Part 1

It's been two years. It's time now for me to start writing about Iraq. To protect friends, some names and small details have been altered but the stories are true. I lived them.

This first  piece will come in "installations." 
I wrote it for Admon, my glass of cool water in the desert.
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A mosque in the Kurdish Region of Iraq

Antalya, Turkey: Camp Cherry Grove, June, 2015
It had been a big step for him. He got on a bus that took him into a country he'd never visited and out of the one from which he'd never parted in all his 25 years. Next, he got on an airplane (again, for the first time) to fly the 1,000 miles into Istanbul. Multi-lingual though he was, he didn’t speak Turkish. I had wanted to be with him, but he did it alone.
The day before Admon left was my second to last full day in Iraq. The Tailors, a family from the UK whom I had adopted as my Western family, hosted a goodbye party for me: a merry melee of Iraqis, Brits, an Aussie, and a handful of us Yanks. Ad came and brought his oldest sister- sweet, quiet Nadia.
At evening's end, the party filed out of the Tailor's front door, one by one, giving me their goodbyes. I would only cry for Nadia. And that would happen the next evening, when I truly told her my Goodbye and when Admon was gone.
Admon, the most important person in my life in Iraq, I did not hug. Admon I did not give my Goodbye. Somehow, in the surge of bodies that crowded me at the front door, he had slipped out silent and unseen. Later, Nadia would tell me that Goodbyes are distasteful to Ad. He can't handle them. Besides, Ad texted me late that night and before his departure the next day for Turkey would sever our texting communication, I'll see you in Turkey.
I had legitimate reasons then to doubt the fulfillment of Ad’s seemingly casual assertion. Sharing a few days in Antalya, Turkey was part of our original plan to travel there together by bus from our city in northern Iraq. He would then go on to Istanbul to spend the month with his friend and I would start work at camp. But Admon had gotten the dates wrong and accidentally booked the trip by himself all the way to Istanbul, 450 miles northwest of where I would be in Antalya. After his mistake and before he left Iraq I had told him, When you visit me in Turkey it must happen during my time in the city before I go into the countryside for camp. I’ll be working 24/7 once I get to camp and I won’t have time for you. Meeting up in Antalya proper during my first five days in Turkey seemed like the best and possibly the only time for us to connect. I knew that communication between us in Turkey would be very difficult because neither of us would have Turkish-compatible phones. Nevertheless, prior to his departure Admon never revealed to me his actual plans to visit. He probably also didn’t –couldn’t- understand how absolutely essential Goodbyes are to me. And he was gone -without one. Would I see him in Turkey?
Weeks later I would see the images on Facebook of Admon’s parents parting from him at the bus station that next morning. They looked sad and possibly even afraid (it would be a somewhat dangerous trip for him as an Assyrian Christian traveling through northern Iraq and into Turkey along a route where minorities weren’t welcomed) but in the pictures Admon himself maintained his classically cool demeanor, sporting shades and wearing his sexy, serious face.
When I left Iraq the following day Facebook became Admon and I’s only medium for communication. We used it on my first day in Antalya to message each other briefly. Turkey was a whole new world of adventure and exploration for Admon and he was enjoying it immensely. A day, and two, and then three passed as I waited for him to announce his plans to meet me in Antalya. And… nothing. My stint in the city sped quickly by. On the fifth day, before I departed for camp, I left him this message: Ad, I’m sorry our communication failed. I want to see you! I think our best option is to plan on meeting 3 July. Maybe you can fly to Antalya on 2 July and stay the night somewhere in the city close to the airport. Then I will arrange to meet you in the morning before my flight takes me back to America at 5 pm. I cringed at that small window of time to share with him and considering all the variables (neither of us would have phones; neither spoke Turkish; neither knew the city nor anyone therein) made me sweat. But this Plan C was the only other option I could think of.
Penthouse living in Antalya proper (the City)
A rooftop view of an open air market in Antalya

The Mediterranean


The Old City
At the end of those first five days as I drove into the countryside Admon’s silence felt heavier than the Tailor's SUV when the trunk (or “boot,” as these Brits so delightfully called it) was filled with 5-gallon Culligan jugs. Culligans, I remembered, the water that sustained our lives in the desert, like Admon's friendship has sustained me over the past year. That weight pressed in upon me even as the excitement of camp activities commenced.
Camp life in the Antalya countryside



I was sure that my plan was not a viable one and I began to mourn my opportunity to see Admon a final time. Then a few days into my work a friend gave me another idea: have Admon come to camp! I was busy working from sunrise to sunset, but I did have four hours of “free” time most afternoons. He couldn’t hang out at the campsite, but I could go to him if he stayed in a nearby pansiyon (hotel) and we could hike, swim, and hang out together. Timidly, I asked my boss for permission and it was hesitantly granted. On my second Tuesday of camp, I frantically messaged this plan to Ad. I waited.
Days were busy for me, but not too busy to forget Admon. On nights when I had access to the Internet, I checked for his response. A week passed in this silence. I began to make up all kinds of explanations for his non-communicativeness. Perhaps the nature of his exciting new experiences in Istanbul married with the laissez-faire influence of his home culture prevented him from viewing the situation with the same sense of urgency with which I viewed it. Or perhaps our friendship wasn’t as close as I’d thought and his parting words “I’ll see you in Turkey” were a ruse. Or worse, what if he had forgotten me? What was going on with him? I waited, impatient, until my impatience bled out and gave life to hopelessness.
Now, two weeks have passed since my arrival in Turkey. Our first full week of camp completed, it is Friday evening. The camp is asleep and I should be too. But Admon keeps me awake. I am wondering about him, wondering why his silence remains his only response to my inquiries. Camp has been full of activity, new people, outdoor adventures, and refreshing, renewed freedom unlike I ever enjoyed in Iraq. (The sun is allowed to see my skin! And I go running alone in the mornings! And I’m allowed to be publically friendly with men! These and other forgotten pleasures multiply infinitely!!) I could give in to the pure exhaustion of the day and sleep, but as I lay on my bunk a single, nagging desire stimulates my eyes wide open. Sleepless, I’m staring into the darkness.
I am desperate to see Admon. Here in Turkey, I am both literally and metaphysically in-between worlds: Turkey, the geographical and historical meeting point of East with West, is a bridge between the Home I had long labored for- yet could never lay hold of- in Iraq and the fearful uncertainty of what a new life back in America will look like for me. Admon represents tangibly what was for me the best of my old life- my Iraq life- and scared about my future, I’ve not yet fully surrendered these feelings. In this transitional place, I feel frantic to be with him, to put my arms around him -as I was never allowed to do in Iraq- and part from him with his knowing how important he is and how deep the grief of separation will lodge in me.
In my desperation, I cry out to God. Please! I want to see and say goodbye to my friend. I want to see him, really see him, apart from the rules and restrictions and regulations of our lives in the Middle East… Although three other sleeping girls share the cabin with me, the emotion is so strong that these words escape audibly, forcefully, from my lips. They drift into a silence that hangs inconsolably above my white sheets. My bunk is a loft and a high ceiling catches parts of my prayer. Wooden walls absorb the rest. Does God hear?
Prayer brings me no relief. As I lie sleepless in the darkness of my bunk, I sense a heaviness in my body not from fatigue. I trace it. The heaviness tells me that I don't expect a favorable reply; I believe my petition is empty. I actually have no hope of seeing Admon. Ever again. In seven days, I will leave this city, this country, this continent, possibly forever. I’m kicking in my dark loneliness against all the odds that separate us: the miles, communication barriers, the cultural expectations, and restrictions. My grief multiplies as I consider how, when I return to America at the month’s end, each one of these variables will themselves increase: 500 miles will become 9,000, social media will be our only communication forum, and I will perhaps never get to experience a slice of life with my friend free of the suffocating restrictions. Mine is a despair driving me mad. Why am I convinced God's answer will be “No”? Why do I believe I’ll never again see my friend?
Too upset to entertain answers to my questions, my thinking dissolves into memories of Iraq, turning away from my problems and fears onto Admon himself. I begin to remind myself of the man he is and why we are such good friends as my hands fumble to deconstruct, stone by stone, this tower of despair in which my grief holds me hostage.
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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Sacramento Night in Fishers

The idea for this Story occurred during a nighttime November trip to Target. I wrote it to encourage readers to consider the “terrain” of their inner lives and what tools might be needed to reshape the visceral lands when once those lands become unhospitable. Written a genre the likes of which the writer has never before attempted, let the reader be gentle in his/her critique....


Sometimes Reality assaults in unforeseen places and at unforeseen times. When her invitation is to live freer it always comes at a cost: the path to liberation requires a multi-pronged approach that acknowledges the complexities of human nature. But I’m not thinking of Reality nor of freedom as I guide my car into the compact space in the Target parking lot on this November night. I’m musing on how it’s a Sacramento night tonight in Fishers, Indiana. As I step out of my car, my grey sweater hugs my hips above my jeans. My mind itemizes the wardrobe I wear: Tattered jeans. Mini-sweater. Blue Trader Joe’s tee. Haiti medallion necklace. Rubber-soled running shoes.

Closing the car door, my hands find their pockets. The sweater hugs all of me and, familiar to its camouflage, I hide beneath it. I hide from cold and from eyes which threaten. My second skin, this sweater. The jeans, the sweater, my Haiti medallion necklace, a blue Trader Joe’s tee, and the cool, damp weather evoke a sad happiness. I’m dressed exactly as I was after a shift at my Sacramento Trader Joe’s. Its black night, and alone in a public parking lot these many variables meet together for the first time in more than a year.

I remember Sacramento happiness. Black parking lots after closing shifts. Three jobs and living in my car, sleeping at my aunt’s. Adventuring alone in the foreign city at a break-neck pace. Exhaustion: deep-down fatigue I could not shake.

And I loved it. Even the parts that I hated were precious to me. Even the grief was wrapped in Welcome. Even the emotional chaos was an accepted Lover. Even the confused din of future decisions curled me into a hopeful smile. Because I wanted it, wanted Sacramento. It was my choice to be there and I accepted her in total.

It’s a Sacramento night tonight in Fishers. But Target’s damp blacktop tells me another story. The rain residue that meets my nose reminds me that in Sacramento there is no rain. Here, the rain is sweet, the November night unseasonably warm. The sweetness, the warmth surprises me. I’m lingering outside my car, hands now on the roof.

Gazing past the parking lot I quietly surrender to memory’s calm seduction. Like a cat kneading, my mind massages the memories with solemn silence. Memory becomes a harbinger to a low-grade grief. I might stand longer in this grief and watch it grow except for a violent interruption. Unexpectedly, a specter called Rationality pulses fast through my body, toes to head. She escapes out of me, taking on her own stately, intentional form. Her arrival and presence freak me out. We face off. wordless. I study her.

Rationality is willowy, her expression stern, aloof somehow. All her features except her diaphanous skin are dark: dark green eyes, thick, black hair. Her presence is commanding and nearly offensive. She steps forward and slowly, deliberate, Rationality grips my hands (or do I clutch hers?), elevating my arms above my head. My feet lift off the ground. She suspends me high above this soggy night, black Target parking lot. Higher, higher. My legs are swinging and I begin to see a division between fields far below: This isn’t Fishers anymore. This is my life at 30,000 feet.

At this height, and in this cold, all my senses are activated, acute. Rationality suspends me here to survey for a moment. Blood pools and my feet throb but I’m transfixed on the scene below. I see a gradient of grey-browns and greens that, like a color-wheel unwound, spread east to west. A map! I actually see words identifying the map's two regions: to the east is What Now Is; falling with the westward slope is What Will Be.

I twist and peer over my right shoulder to view the most easterly part of What Now Is. It resembles a June 7th Normandy: cement buildings look bombed out; there are no trees, blackened stubs only. But the pervasive impression is made by the unhappy mud. It colors everything (surprisingly) not in brown, but in grey.  

A tiny canvas tent stands familiar in the mud terrain: it’s what I know, my own hovel home. I startle at the sight of it but continue scanning.

The mud carries on for a long distance as it descends past my tent, surrendering slowly to fledgling grass, apprehensive grass, yellowish grass that is as yet too timid to know whether it shall live or die. From the north an almost cheerful creek quietly cuts What Now Is; here begins a visible distinction between east and west: on the western banks under the branches of three delicate poplars  healthy flora flourishes. A green carpet spreads rapidly westward towards a modest congregation of young trees. Miles away the land, still gently descending and growing more brazenly verdant, becomes a forest. Thick, it appears impassable in places and strays into the western territory marked What Will Be.

The horizon stretches too far westward for my human-girl eyes to discern the distinct details of What Will Be and Rationality prevents any further exploration. Beneath her I remain suspended, fixed, above this single spot. I turn to look eastward again. I’ve seen all I can.

I realize that my hostess’s hands are neither warm nor cold. My lungs suck in air but I will not sigh. I exhale hard and in slow motion extend each finger, palms open, and crash down onto the earth below me. I rise and stand once again beside my car. It takes me a minute to “come to” but once I do my mind flashes back to that eastern mud region I observed and to the muddied tent. I meditate. I’ve now seen the whole extent of What Now Is, my homeland, yet I’ve dug out a life in the lonely mud region. For the first time I see my home in contrast to more favorable lands. Do I love the greyscale terrain? the pit in which I shuffle? Can I defect, change zip codes, build a homestead west of the creek? Can Rationality neatly deposit me on the Other side?

Rationality, as if summoned, alights. Freedom flashes wild through my veins, a virulent burst of craving.

I look up questioningly into my Maybe-Rescuer’s eyes. She has heard my thoughts. Her response is deliberate but gentle: Rationality alone cannot repatriate me to the beautiful western region of What Now Is. It is not within her jurisdiction, solely.

Rationality leaves me alone but I sense her lingering presence. I’ll need it for decisions ahead.

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Hands re-pocketed in the grey sweater, I’m walking into Super Target, the fractured Indiana night reflected from blacktop’s rain-mirrors. I inhale the rubber and rain. With each step I ponder the way forward.

This 30,000 foot survey of my life exposes incongruities within myself. I live in Fishers, IN, the land of What Now Is, but chose to make camp in its mud region. –Why? I begin to remember. When I moved back into town three months ago from Where I Wanted to Be and made a brief assessment of the land my realtor, Desire, pointed out how this region was, geographically, closest to that former land. If I pitched my temporary tent, Self-Assertion, here I could live closest to my happy memories of Where I Wanted to Be. Also: the mud region had been only recently annexed by What Now Is and by living here I could avoid the uncomfortable baptism of crossing Acceptance Creek and thereby avoid paying taxes for (and enjoying the benefits of, she failed to mention) residency in the western region. And, Desire assured me, “The elevation here is highest” (surprisingly, though it is water-saturated, she is correct), although, I later discovered, there is no view.

So I signed my lease. I pitched my tent. I never surveyed the other side of the creek.

Target’s automatic doors invite my approach. It’s late on a week night and my entrance is noticed only by these doors and by Target’s enveloping white lights. The lights pierce me from every angle but cannot penetrate past my protective grey sweater. The lights, seeing and enshrouding me yet unable to read below my skin, parallel my own vision; I’ve seen high-level truth but cannot as yet distinguish its on-the-ground applications. Instinctively, I wander red aisles.

I signed a lease. But now that I’ve seen Now’s green lavish land west of my mud pit I MUST move. –Can I take up residence in the good land, break my lease? Can I ford Acceptance Creek with tent in hand, pitch it in new, greener, real estate? There are no bridges across, I recall. I shiver to think of swimming November creeks in Indiana and with a load on my back. No; Self-Assertion, my tent home, cannot cross the Creek with me. I discard the thought as I scan the greeting card rack.

But the Need is deeper than crossing a creek. It’s more comprehensive than geography. It is really not about changing my address. It really is about Desire, my realtor. She is how I make my decisions. When I’m honest, I don’t want this land of What Now Is, any of it. I don’t want Acceptance Creek, or the green grass carpet, or the young trees. I don’t want the thick forest. I don’t want Fishers, Indiana! If I had cared for any of it I would have explored the neighborhood more, made more friends. Lights see me, and now I’m seeing deeper:

The mud is my rebellion. It is my carefully disguised two-year-old’s tantrum railing against What Now Is. I see a child’s stubbornness bleeding out from my dumb choice of real estate: 'I’ll live closest to Where I Wanted to Be. I’ll endure discomfort to camp in the temporary Self-Assertion tent. I’ll fight cold, and wet, grey, and mud. I’ll make friends with Isolation and make love to Autonomy. I’ll prove my point.' Because I crave the power to choose. Like I chose Sacramento.
I meander around the women’s athletic gear section, unraveling my soul’s discord.

-Do I stay or do I move? I’m replaying the tape of my life these last three months in my foster home, seeing for the first time my chronic discontent for what it is: Desire deceived me. She played upon my wants when she pitched the deal to me. It seemed smart to erect my impermanent tent in the mud since I was no longer free to live in Where I Wanted to Be nor to have any permanent home in What I Want. In this decision I was standing up for myself, asserting my will where I was unable to assert it in other ways. But following this puerile resistance strategy, I fell into Desire’s trap. My home, my community is a dump. I remember now that Autonomy is my Lover and a kid named Dissatisfaction follows me close, calling me ‘Mama.’

Down the hairspray aisle, I’m choking with this panic. -I must get out of here! to the Good Land! Leave these life-sucking characters behind! I draw up a hasty escape plan, recruiting Rationality’s powers: I can choose to want Fishers now. A simple decision, ‘Be Happy with What you Have.’ Cross the Creek immediately, leave it all behind on the other side. Freedom!

I can feel the pull of my soul towards this Freedom, magnetic, instinctive, lusty. I’m poised to dive, swim, escape. But a thick tether, my memory, restrains me. And honesty rebukes me. I flush red with grief. Really, I don’t want Fishers, Indiana. Saying that I do cannot activate a switch in my head that turns on happiness. I recount the times past that I’ve dutifully recruited the power of positive thinking as my Army escort on my Marches for the Good Land, Satisfaction. It’s a paper army. “Victories” feel cheap and, overall, the campaigns fail because the soldiers are not reinforced with holistic reality.

          The woman behind the checkout aisle smiles at me from under her hijab. Her skin is richly dark against her red Target shirt, her smile cautious. We exchange remarks, I pay. Grasping my bags I reenter the dark and outside chill.

I’m driving now but imagine myself standing along Acceptance Creek’s shore. -What is comprehensively true? I repeat, What is Holistic reality? I ponder, toes shyly exploring the Creek's shoreline. I look up.

Unseen from my previous height, I now spot a modest gathering of young trees on my muddy side of the creek. Trees are friendly creatures and I approach them, subjecting my duress temporarily to curiosity. The trees are conferencing, and shiver at my approach. But at my hesitation, they wave their branches, extending to me their Welcome. I step. Standing among them I feel their gentle strength. Both hands reach. I steady myself on their starchy smooth, slender trunks and surrender to their secret.

But my hands, stroking, sliding, are surprised. I touch words. Branded on these young trees are words, one word dug deep into each trunk. My fingers trace, and my heart memorizes their odd assembly: Emotion, Will, Fear, Past, and Community. -What can these words mean?

The trees stir under my touch, excited. I draw back, their secret pregnant amongst themselves yet to me still intangible. They will not speak to me but I believe I may be closer to my question about holistic reality and how to reach The Good Land. Looking back at the creek, I move towards home, grey sweater shielding me from a gentle rain.

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This Target trip has been. Weird.

I burrow into my soul to examine thoughts as I make my way home. -Am I... melancholy? ...cautiously hopeful? ...guilty or acquitted? ...nearer freedom or an eternal hostage? I feel the old grief wash over me, gentle. I arrive home. Autonomy, my roommate-turned boyfriend-turned Lover, greets me at the door. Disinterested, I refuse his kisses. He argues against my aloofness and as empty words fall from his lips I stare. I survey him, see him perhaps for the first time. He looks unhealthy. Tonight we sleep apart, although my night is spent sleepless. The child Dissatisfaction nests under our sheets. But it looks somehow diminished, smaller than I remember it.

My whole existence is in question. I’ve been asleep until now to how deep the depression assails me. But now the child Dissatisfaction touches me in its tangible form, kicks its tiny legs against my back, and I am awake. Now I know how I got here. And why. I feel Autonomy’s proximity, hear his breath on the other side of my bed. I smell the rain sliding off the roof of my tent.

And I remember Desire and here is where I am stuck: When I am honest with myself about this sojourning home, What I Want, I feel trapped. The four canvas walls, the roof, the essence of this place represents my own desire. I see that to desire is to be truthful! But living this Truth seems like discontent. Discontent- the seething rebellion. Shame colors me as I remember. My desire betrays me as an insurrectionist, yet it seems to be the realest part of me.

Questions now outnumber answers. Questions repeat themselves. How do I get to the other side of What Now Is? And what shall be my existence there? If ever I do get across the creek, do I sacrifice authenticity? Must I become hollow as my few friends on this side? as unwell as my Lover? Is freedom an exchange: substance for surrender?  I consider the nature of my discontent, of my present state, of my self. Rationality woke me to at least a piece of reality in the parking lot. But I’m more complicated than this one piece alone. The incompleteness, impotence, of Rationality herself leads me towards a deeper truth. In the dark of my mind I grab with both fists and strain strong arms to separate my intimately woven strands of self: What is the “stuff” I’m made of?

I toss and Autonomy moans from his space but the child sleeps quiet. I rise to the edge of my bed, Give me peace. Let them both sleep. I finger the bed table, rubbing my hand instinctively against the wood. The texture reminds my fingers of trees, of words. Trees by the Creek! Words on their trunks! The separate pieces of their secret are joining together in a palpable answer. I start. What were those words? In the dark, they return to me.

Suddenly, I know what to do. My body flashes hot with emotion. Joy, perhaps? I slightly unzip the grey sweater, which has not left my skin. From the edge of my bed I jump, race to the other side and flat-palmed, rouse Autonomy, “I’m leaving, get up. You need to go. I’m taking the tent.” He does not wake, but mumbles. I persist, shaking him harder, “Get up. I’m breaking up with you. Take your things. I’m leaving.” Autonomy slowly comes to. Instinctively he wraps his hand strong around my arm, draws me. But I’ve practiced self-defense moves through watching YouTube tutorials and, angry, I break his grip, push away from him repeating, “You need to go. I’m leaving you.”

Now Autonomy sits up, gaining cognizance. I’m moving about the tent, excitedly throwing a few things into my yellow Nike backpack. He looks at me as I say, my voice trying to be brave, “Autonomy, I can’t be with you anymore. I” - choking, “I never meant for this to happen. We’re breaking up. I’m taking the tent. Well, not all of it. I just need the center pole.”

He is staring at me, his waking eyes mocking my quick movements, his face telling me what a fool I am, his body poised to assault me. Four words slip out of his scornful lips, “What about the kid?”

I laugh, a relieved explosion of realization, “That kid? Dissatisfaction? It’s not mine! You take it! Both of you- OUT!” And I am out. I unzip the door, push past the flap, reach up and seize the pole that holds up our roof. Fingering under the canvas enclosure, I’m sliding it out, pulling it away from the rest of the tent. As I pull, the tent slowly collapses in, my former “roommates” struggling underneath. They will be alright, but I will not if he gets his arms around me.

Like an Olympic pole vaulter –perhaps with more focus and resolve- backpack on and grasping my tent pole, I’m running towards Acceptance Creek. I reach the young trees and there throw down the pole, fumble for my pocket knife. I’m kneeling and the cold mud soaks through my jeans. I grasp each tree and saw frantically through five slender trunks. As I work I ponder each word and think:

Emotion. I am a creature outfitted with emotion.

Will. I have freedom to assert my own will.

Fear. Fear can rightly inform my will or wrongly cripple my emotions.

Past. I am not a blank slate; I am influenced by past experiences.

Community. I have the acutely human need for healthy community.

I bind these five trunks and their five words around my tent pole, Desire, thinking, To be wholly authentic, I must acknowledge desire.

Binding this unlikely assortment together with the three Target bags from tonight’s trip I realize THIS is holistic reality!
-I hope they hold.

Night’s darkness is surrendering to dawn. The rain clouds have dispersed and behind me I feel sun’s warmth rising, begin to vaguely see the other side of the creek. I mentally size up my makeshift “bridge” against the perceived distance across. Yes, I think it’s the right length and I heave the long end. It reaches the other side!

I’m on hands and knees. I crawl careful. EACH TRUTH IS A PLANK ACROSS THE CREEK bearing me to the other side. I’m moving into new real estate, into the unknown.
I remember how I got here and the planks that bear me across: Rationality woke me to my rebellion and my hovel existence, gave me a preview of the Good Land. Here, her work stopped short. I had to discover that I am a creature outfitted with emotions, desire, fears, and a will; I carry baggage; I have the acutely human need for community. Somehow, in my new home, I will learn how these complexities work together.

I will learn that in order to wage an effective campaign on Dissatisfaction, I’ll need to activate all aspects of me. I can’t just engage my rational brain, expect it to take over. This is not a single-front war, although I’d prefer it to be. Living fully on the verdant side of What Now Is will require a complex strategy that engages rationality and my will, gives credence to my emotions, and recruits the help of others.

On hands and knees I arrive on Acceptance Creek's western shore. Standing, bending, I grasp my bridge and drag it fully over, cutting my ties to the mud land from which I came. Freedom.

Hugged by my sweater, I sit and gaze on the November sun rising hopeful above what I have left behind. I breathe in cool freedom air.

One question remains with me:

-Can Desire fuse with Surrender?



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Putting a Feeling to It

I am 32. Very soon I shall reach 33. Or perhaps, it shall reach me.

I’ve never dated. For reasons that could be explained in another posting I grew up tacitly convinced that, like my father, 29 would be my last year. So although I was interested in romance I couldn’t see the utility in it. I never pursued it, and the few times it seemed to pursue me I ran away in terror.

After Time illegitimatized my own personal narrative (the Me-Dying-Before-30 Narrative) I considered how to replace it with a different and hopefully more redemptive one. In the new Narrative (the one that I like best) the plot includes marriage, children, and the adventure of growing with a family of my own. But as more birthdays visit me and the plot continues along a solitary trajectory a different kind of terror assaults me, the terror of being forever single.

“No one cares for my soul,” complained David from the Cave of Adulum. His was a legitimate complaint, holed up in that great darkness because a psychopath political leader was hell-bent on murdering him. He felt the loneliness of rejection and the terror of uncertain death. I remembered David’s song riding my bike today as I was searching for words to craft my terror-feelings into something more tangible.

No one cares for my soul. In David’s words I hear the guttural complaint of deep loneliness, grief, and fear. “Cares for” is the verb-part of his prayer. No one, says he, verbs my soul, actions my soul, looks out for or takes care of my soul. “Soul” is the essence of David, the substance of his being. No one notices or values the him of him. I hear him shriek from the Cave of Adulum. His is a lonely cry.

David’s words echo the feeling of it for me, this feeling of remaining unpursued by romantic love: No one cares for my soul. It feels barren, it carries grief, and it occasionally threatens with shame. Into David's cave I crawl.

I believe that I have emotions because God made humans to look and operate a bit like the ways He looks and operates. So sometimes when I have a feeling – a strong, lingering one, like the one I now have- I try to seize hold of it, bend and project it upwards, and look through it as a lens. The lens can teach me something about God.

This I do. And it surprises me. I learn that God’s nature is not to be solitary, but to enjoy and to relish in being enjoyed. I learn that He too craves intimate, active, holistic love. I learn that God also feels a wild grief when the Him of Him remains unpursued.

The lesson for me isn’t a new one; but finally it is becoming a real one. It is one to which I can now associate a real emotional experience. Through this I’m learning –experiencing- the tangible nature of God. And from my cave, it is a comfort. He is a comfort.


Psalm 142 ends in a redemptive tenor:
"The righteous shall surround me, for You shall deal bountifully with me."