Tag Archives: Friends

A Big Small-Town City

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“Got nothing against a big town/ Still hayseed enough to say/ Look who’s in the big town/ but my bed is in a small town/ Oh, that’s good enough for me…”  –John Mellencamp, “Small Town”

I’m a homebody.  I’m boring.  I like routine and familiar.  I like comfortable.  I grew up in a small town and, while I have enjoyed some of the luxuries of the big city, I miss it.  I don’t fly by the seat of my pants.  I don’t do adventure.  I don’t try new things and most of the time I regret it, and then do not try something new the next time I have the opportunity.  I’m predictable and small.  Sometimes, though, I dream about being big and having stories to tell.  I think about what it would be like to be different, to be interesting, to be alive.  So, when one of my closest friend, R, left for graduate school at Tulane and continually invited me to come visit her at Tulane, I planned a trip with every doubt and reservation in the world.

Nervous and unsure of what to really expect, I left home last Thursday and took flight to the Big Easy.  I was off to see how R lives, so far from everything I know.  Sitting on the plane, I worried about so much.  Would it be too hot?  Would it be filthy?  Would I find new food that I liked?  Would it be scary to walk around in such a violent place?  Would I be boring and disappointing as a guest and friend?  Would I overstay my welcome?  What in the world would I find?  Would it be a miserable weekend?  I was calmer flying than I expected, but the nerves came as I stepped into the airport.

I am not an adventurer.  I stepped into a new place, not sure of where to go.  I felt embarrassed, lost among the people who knew these walkways.  I made my way out the doors and found R waiting for me.  I hopped in the car and drank in the dark sights along the highway on the way home.  We wound through tight streets and sped through the gaps in the neutral ground, which I never got used to during my visit.  The sun had set, but I could still make out the neighborhoods that we drove through.  I fell immediately in love with the houses, the porches, the wrought iron railings, the old trees sweeping over head.  I could not drink in enough of the streets.

Feeling a little less nervous, we climbed the stairs in her quaint, beautiful building and dropped my bags off.  Lingering a little on the crystal door knob, I pulled the door closed and headed out for my first real steps into New Orleans.  We crept down the street, past a pale cemetery bathed in moonlight, and turned down Magazine Street.  I felt a funny recognition, the shops looking like our beach areas here.  We passed bars and boutiques, yoga centers and apartments.  We stopped for pizza–familiar and safe for my first venture into the unknown.  We sat on the sidewalk and watched people walk, and stumble, by.  We saw a couple of her friends from school and watched a man’s car get towed.  We chatted and it really didn’t feel like I was anywhere but home.

After dinner, we went to a small bar, favored by locals, and had my first drink in the city.  In a number of the bars we went to, mojitos were prominently advertised.  It was strange to see something other than margaritas being pushed, and exciting.  I had a blueberry mojito, boasted as the best in the city, and quickly decided that it would be my last.  But I was brave and fought every instinct that pushed me toward the familiar.  We sat on the patio, bathed in smoke (also VERY different from California) and talked about family and boys and work–the familiar in the new.  After our drinks we went home to settle in and watch a movie.  She had to work the next day and I was getting my sea-legs, easing into the big outside world.

That first night, I was comforted by how underwhelming some aspects of New Orleans are.  I expected a sensory overload, people everywhere and no escape from the party.  On the contrary, her neighborhood is quiet and calming.  Life is simple and casual, slow and easy.  I expected big city grandeur, the anxiety that comes with drowning in traffic, sky scrapers, people and rush.  Instead I found a city that reminded so much of home, of life in a town too small for a Costco.  The city is cozy, comfortable with its smallness.  I admire that.  I revel in it.

There is much more that I saw and loved about New Orleans.  That first night, I was surprised to be drawn in and embraced by the city, not swallowed alive.  As I leapt from my comfort zone and dove into travel, I found that I landed somewhere comforting and wonderful.

“Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city/ Linger on the sidewalk/ Where the neon lights are pretty/ How can you lose?/ The lights are much brighter there/ You can forget all your troubles/ Forget all your cares…” –Petula Clark, “Downtown”

“All was well.”

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“He’ll be famous–a legend–I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future–there will be books written about Harry–every child in our world will know his name!”  –Professor McGonagall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This weekend I will go see my very last Harry Potter film in the theater.  I will see the final new movie.  Ever.  As I wrote yesterday, this is exciting and incredibly sad for me.

These movies are so special to me, and the memories of watching them are sweet.  It is a bit surreal to see the book that I loved played out in front of me, see how the images match up with my own imagination.  I moan and whine when directors make choices that I would never have imagined (cough REMUS LUPIN cough) and swoon when things appear exactly as I had dreamed them.  But the movies are more than that.  They are connections, memories, a world I share with people I love.

The first film I saw in the theater was Azkaban.  I was returning from college and went with my friend A.  We went to a late night movie, sitting far in the back of the theater.  When we left, we saw many, many friends had filled the dark theater in front of us.  We sat wrapped in scarves–scarlet and gold striped, of course–that my mother knitted for us to wear to the movie.  It is one of the last memories I have of A before she moved across the country, but every time I see that scarf, I think of her and my mother’s love.  I remember being in a small town, in a dark room, enjoying being young.  It was love.

The only midnight show that I was able to go to was Goblet of FireE and bought our tickets ahead of time for a theater as far from our campus as we could find.  We waited in anticipation and the afternoon of the film, loaded our bags with books and notes and went to sit in line.  We sat on the sidewalk in front of the theater surrounded by middle schoolers and those special breeds that dressed up.  We intended to study, but the evening faded into darkness and we simply talked.  I’m sure we discussed the book and the films, but mostly we were just happy.  We laughed and shared a night that no one else has shared with me.  We smuggled hot Starbucks in with us and settled in for a late, long movie.  We found out the next day that plenty of our friends went to the theater about a mile from our school, but our secret adventure made the night all the more magical.

Order of the Phoenix was another beast altogether.  It came along at an odd time, was a bit more inconvenient–the summer after my graduation.  I actually saw that film twice.  I saw it first with my parents, sitting in the back of a theater while they visited me.  Then I saw it with a friend that I had classes with.  In our Modernism class, we discovered a shared goofiness, disregard for pretense, and love of Harry.  It was different, going with her and her friend, and not nearly as cozy as my other movies, but it was wonderful because it was yet another way that I connected, a friend of my geeky heart.

Half-blood Prince was the summer again.  I was alone in a big city, missing my movie buddy E.  I reconnected with an old college friend and we met up for an opening day matinée.  The line was surprisingly short and we watched the film further back than I would have chosen to sit.  As I rewatch this in my living room right now, as I write, I remember very little of the film.  I remember the book well, its heart-shattering end.  I remember being very dissatisfied, robbed of my beautiful grief.  And I remember talking with my friend after the film, enjoying when our criticism or kudos aligned.  It was delightful to have someone to talk about it with passion, who loved the books and world as much as I.  It was a wonderful recognition of a friend who is far more like myself than I realized.

Deathly Hallows was my last venture into cinematic Hogwarts.  This time, E was back from deployment and living in my city again.  We were reunited and it was as it should be.  A tiny twinge of guilt shadowed the night because we both had other people who we should have gone with, but we had to see it together.  We hadn’t been in the same city for long, and it was a special chance for us to embrace what makes our friendship wonderful.  As the film ended, we were determined to end the series together, but that was not to be.

So now I anticipate going to see the very last movie for the first time.  A sent me a message, reminding me to wear my scarf.  My mom will be visiting next week, and I have a hunch a movie is in our future.  My dad and I talked at length about the lead up, about what is to come.  E is deployed and we will have a movie night when she returns–she has already emailed me to ask how it is.  And I will go back with my excited Half-blood friend.  We are making an early day of it and enjoying a morning show.  I’m excited to talk with her about every word that strays from the book and sends a pain through my soul.  And we’ll enjoy the final reveal, the last moment of this adventure, and it will be another magical movie memory.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.  –Albus Dumbledor, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“Let me tell you ’bout my best friend…”

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“Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them.”  –Marcel Proust

My best friend, E, is getting married this weekend!  I am so excited for her, and my happiness comes from how much I love her.  There is something special about a best friend, but it’s a title that I have had conflicted thoughts about recently.  I have other friends who are close, who mean the world to me.  They love me and support me and we have fun together that no one else can bring.  They are blessings.  And no matter how much they mean, E is still my best friend.

“Old friends cannot be created out of hand.  Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions.  It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.  –Antoine du Saint-Expéry

C was my best friend growing up.  We went through all of school together, and were inseparable through the beginning of high school.  She was quiet, smart, goofy, innocent, and slightly awkward–just like me.  We had so much fun, played endlessly and talked on the phone for more hours that our parents liked.  We were a team.  I had other friends, and longed to be part of the popular group.  Our class was small, and I was gradually included more and more in that crowd, but it always came back to me and C.  She understood and accepted me in a way that I never would have survived childhood without.  Her family treated me as one of their own and our worlds were intertwined.

High school came, and we stayed close in the beginning.  Then we had classes apart.  And she got a boyfriend.  And I made new friends.  And three years passed.  And this past summer, she was married.  Without me there.  I don’t judge or begrudge her that.  I do know that, if my big day ever comes, I cannot imagine it without her there.  We haven’t talked in years, but she will always have a home in my heart, a starring role in my memories.

“No, don’t you remember? There’d be, like, this one person, who had, like, perfect hair, or perfect breasts, or they were just so funny, and you just wanted to eat them up — just live in their bed, and just be them. It’s like everybody else was in black and white, and that person was in color. Well, Rayanne thinks Angela is in color. Major color.”  My So-Called Life

Then came A.  We became friends in high school and she was in major color.  We had mutual friends and got along well.  And then we spent more and more time together.  And then she knew me better than anyone did.  She was everything I wasn’t, what I wished I were.  She was loud and confident, cute and likable.  School was an option and grades weren’t a stress.  Her dad was cool and laid-back.  She did what she wanted, how she wanted, and answered to no one because she didn’t need approval from anyone.  She made me laugh and feel free.  She reminded me that there were more important things than papers and grades, that adventures could be fun and life could be spontaneous.  She was a splash of cold water on my face.

Then I left town for college and started to build a new life hundreds of miles away.  A was the only person I visited when I went home, the only friend I would go out of my way to see.  It only felt right to see her, because she made home what it was before I left.  But I made new friends, people who were living life with me, experiencing my school and world.  She had loss and revelations and one day, in some big ways, she wasn’t the same.  There are still things that she posts on facebook that make me smile and break my heart, because they are why I love A.  They make me miss my friend, wish we were still close.  But distance and discoveries made us new people, and it became hard to get to know those people.  So we send quick notes, but the friend that I had no business adoring has drifted off into life.

“The most beautiful discovery true friends can make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.”  –Elisabeth Foley

And now there is E.  We became friends our freshman year mostly because of the weird similarities we discovered.  Both the oldest with two younger brothers, we participated in Mock Trial in high school.  We love Heavyweights.  We love to buy office supplies.  We dip pizza in ranch.  And as we did more together, more commonalities appeared.  We shared a room and apartment, and everything that happened.  We talked and laughed and cried, studied and procrastinated, and we saw four years fly by.  We lived in the same apartment, but made a point to meet up for meals and go to the beach for our favorite sandwiches once a week–just us.  Somewhere in there, she went from a person who happened to be placed on my hall to someone who knew me inside and out.

E moved to the east coast after school for the Navy and has spent time at sea.  She has had relationships and friends, literally seen the world, and found the love of her life.  When many of my friends studied abroad in college, including her, I worried about their return.  I worried that they had seen so much, their world was now so big, that little me no longer had a place in it.  They had changed and I had not.  But she still has a place for me.  She doesn’t treat the mundane life I have lived, the smallness of my world, as insignificant.  She still lets me in to her life.  She makes me feel important and loved, even with all the other things she juggles.

I feel so guilty saying I have a “best” friend, because there are so many others that I love and have loved.  There are so many who have shared secrets and experiences with me, grown with me, changed with me.  But I would be lying if I said that these girls were not special, didn’t stand out in my memory.  A part of me grieves for the loss, that a new friend has replaced the old, but that’s the way of life, I guess.  They have new friends now too.  I would like to think that, when they look back, they remember me with the same aching affection, that they feel bittersweet tears spring up when they remember the beautiful friendships we had, and now do not.  As I think about these special people who sustained me, I can only hope I lived up to the friend that they deserved.

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends/ And say my glory was I had such friends.” –William Butler Yeats

sO lOng Oprah

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 “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”  –Anatole France

I know that this is a week late, but I’ve been thinking about the end of Oprah this past week.  The final episode of her show is strongly tied to the upcoming wedding of my best friend, in an odd way.

I am not a fan of Oprah.  I do not follow her book club.  I do not watch her show.  I don’t cling to every word that her drones spout, especially Phil.  I don’t see her as a saint, a prophet, or demigod.  I mostly disdain her for her hubris, her cockiness, her pretense.  It was a very, very rare day that I turned on her show to see what the topic was, and even more rare that I watched.  I caught perhaps three shows in the past year, and one of them was the very last.

I won’t say that I watched like an execution gallery, wanting to make sure it ended.  I watched for much the same reason I watched the royal wedding–it was history.  I wasn’t working, and there was nothing better to do or see, so I watched history take place.  The previous day I had seen snippets of the orgy of Oprah love that took place.  I was disgusted with the celebration of her, the emotion leaving love behind and venturing into worship.  It was all too much for me to stomach.  That being said, I’m not sure what compelled me to keep watching the finale.  It started with her declaring her desire to impart all her wisdom to her audience… again, the gross self-indulgence.

However, I will, humbly, admit that her last show was not horrible.  In fact, much of what she said was, surprisingly, wise and important to hear: find your passion and pursue it, acknowledge and validate others, give God His due.  And while I will give her kudos for her message, I was moved much more that I expected, no thanks to her sermon. 

I watched the show and thought about the countless episodes I watched when I was younger.  I remember watching her and Donahue with my mom, after school.  I remember hot afternoons in my stuffy bedroom in front of the old tv watching her talk.  The topics were far over my head, but I drank it all in.  I remember when her theme song changed for her tenth season and marveled that that was fifteen years ago.  The show is just about as old as I am.  And now it’s gone.  I don’t miss her and the show will not leave a hole in my life, but I am sad to see it end.  It is just another thing that is changing.  It is one more small piece of my childhood that has faded away.  The show reminds me of my mom.  It reminds me of being small and precocious.  Now I am old, average, and alone and hating to admit it.  I deeply dislike Oprah, but the end of her soapbox was much sadder than I was prepared to admit.

And now to E, my best friend, and her wedding.  I am excited and happy for her as she begins this new part of her life.  Since she has been back in town, I almost always hang out with her and her husband-to-be together.  I haven’t had her to myself for a long time now, and that is fine.  I miss our girl talk and being able to say anything I thought without a guy there, but I like him and we have fun all together. 

Nevertheless, her wedding signals an end to our relationship.  I know she is not about to leave me behind and stop our friendship in its tracks.  He is really respectful of our talk time, even when we’re all together.  But now, with those two little words, every one of her relationships changes.  She still has family and friends, and I know that she values them deeply, but he will become her first and foremost.  He is her family.  He is her roommate.  He is her best friend.  He is her person, her world.  I do not say this with bitterness or cynicism–this is exactly what a marriage should be.  He should be everything to her and for her.  That does not make the change easier.

I’m happy that E is happy and starting life as a “we.”  I am happy that Oprah will never again tell me what I ought to eat or read or do.  I am glad that life is changing and growing and that exciting new worlds are beginning.  But I am also saddened by what must end, what this newness closes.  It breaks my heart to know that my roommate will never again be my roommate.  She is going to be a wife, someday a mother, and we can’t be the same.  I am in disbelief that something so common, so mundane from my childhood is no more.  The little things that help bring me back are so precious, and another one is gone.  I don’t do change well.  I don’t like ends and goodbyes.  I don’t like newness and diving into something with no direction.  While life continues and the world gets bigger, I feel an ache for things to stay the same.  I know that they cannot, and will not, but in all the happiness, a quiet sadness sits still and watches it all pass by. 

“Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.”  –Joan Wallach Scott

“Land that I love”

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“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.” –Erma Bombeck

The Fourth of July has always been a small, quite holiday with a big end.  We never did much growing up.  Perhaps there would be a barbeque, some time spent by a pool, but generally it was a day spent trying to hide from the cruel heat.  In high school, I spent the day working at the local celebration at the park and since I left home I have had to work as well.  However, no matter how big the fireworks I watch are, nothing compares to a small town Fourth.

After we ate dinner, my parents would load us into the car and head down to the fairgrounds to watch the fireworks.  We would leave early, well before sunset, in order to find a good spot to set up our blanket and chairs for the night.  We collected our walkmen and gameboys and books and made last-minute requests for sodas and snacks to go in the cooler, and then headed out.  We had different friends that joined us over the years, sitting on the grassy hill, but the night was always the same.  We swatted bugs and fought boredom and saw dozens of people we knew pass  by.  We’d chase down friends and heave overly dramatic sighs when people would stand in front of us.  When the sun set and the cool drifted in, our attention would wander as we whined and wondered when the show would start.  Rogue fire crackers would sound in the neighborhoods behind us and tease eager kids.  Then, finally, the first real one would rise.  We’d lay back and watch the sky above us, ooohing and awing at the raining sparkles.  Babies cried at the loud screams and booms and for a moment the whole town stood still.  The grand finale would always come too soon and life would start again.  As soon as the last light disappeared, under the drifting smoke, we would pack up and try to beat the traffic out of the middle of town.

I’ve seen some really impressive displays since moving to a big city.  I’ve listened to radio stations sync patriotic music to fireworks.  I’ve spent the night drinking and eating with friends.  I’ve sat home, exhausted, and done absolutely nothing.  None of those nights has yet to compare to Independence Day at home, in the summer breeze, with my family. 

Yesterday I spent time with friends, and friends of friends, doing nothing particularly patriotic.  We ate and drank and played games.  We watched the boys play baseball and walked through the streets barefoot.  Unexpected and thick clouds led us to choose to forgo a fireworks trip and opt for the hot tub.  Beer in hand, we headed to the pool to talk and soak.  As we walked we listened to the crack and whizz of fireworks just beyond our view.  A sparkle or two made their way above the trees, but we saw very little.  A dozen twenty-somethings sitting around watched colored clouds reflect the celebrations as the displays went on.  A barrage of booms signaled the end, the best of the night.  With no prompting, with no explanation or expectation, one of the guys began to sing.  By the second “America,” we were all singing along.  Perhaps it was the alcohol, the day, the way we were raised, or just an authentic feeling of love for our home, but no one hesitated to sing along.  We finished our verse just as the last fireworks echoed across the neighborhood, and just as quickly went back to our conversations.

Perhaps these simple holidays are a little more patriotic than I give them credit for.  Sitting on a street with family.  Walking and talking freely with friends.  An abundance of food and drink and laughter.  Fearlessly going out into the night.  This is the Fourth of July, what our nation is.  We don’t fear war or occupation in our back yards.  We don’t cower under dictators or hide from the military.  We live free and joyful, boldly and hopefully.  This country is not perfect, and I am not always as grateful as I should be for its gifts.  While I was not at home, last night was an unforgettable birthday celebration for my home.  Being alive and young and free is worth celebrating.  Having a home that allows us to be who we are, fights for us to be safe, protects our right to be happy–these are things worthy of our gratitude.  Voices raising in the darkness, singing through the night about a country that, for better or worse, we love?  That’s what the Fourth of July is all about.

“America!  America!/ God shed His grace on thee/ And crown thy good with brotherhood/ From sea to shining sea!” –Katharine Lee Bates, “America the Beautiful”

Settling for…?

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“I’ve always believed the greater danger is not aiming too high, but too low, settling for a bogey rather than shooting for an eagle.” –Peter Scott

I have thought a lot about the idea of settling lately.  Like nearly everything in life, there are two sides to the argument, multiple perspectives to the idea.  Settling can be bad and good, life and death, enough or disappointment.

I watched an episode of the Bonnie Hunt Show where the staff was discussing the book Marry Him!: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough by Mary Gottlieb.  I have not read it myself, but the jist seems to be that we have so many little hang ups, such high expectations and dreams about the man we will love, that we miss amazing people.  We imagine that our husband will be tall and Catholic so we do not give the short Baptist a chance.  With all of these trivial criteria, we let wonderful people slip by us.  To settle is to be realistic, to accept the flaws and see what really matters.  It’s learning to throw out preconceptions and plans and be open to finding love where we might not have imagined.  Perfection is overrated.  We are told to settle for nothing but the best.  Why eat Hershey when Godiva is available?  We spend our lives trying to be the best, be first, be perfect, and miss so much along the way.  Life is messy and we need to be willing to settle for something different, something we never expected.  We need to see that “good enough” really is enough, is fulfilling and satisfying. 

Then the flip side is that “good enough” is not “good,” let alone “great.”  It is not what we truly want, it’s what we can get.  Settling is selling our dreams, our plans, ourselves short.  We fear that something better will come, that we deserve more, that we’re tapping out before the fight is over.  It’s the tension that drives the mediocre Deal or No Deal game show.  Do you push on?  Are you being offered enough?  Is there something better waiting to be discovered?

I’m flailing somewhere in the middle of these two points.  I am settling left and right in my life.  I have begun to try harder to get a new job, but for three years, a job I hate has been enough.  Times are hard and a paycheck was worth settling for.  I feel unchallenged and degraded, but I’ve begun to feel like there is not much else for me.  I used to dream big, hope high.  I’ve come to question why I think I’m better than this, what makes me so sure that I deserve more.  I have thought momentarily about pursuing a credential to teach.  I love children and language, but I can’t bring myself to become a teacher.  Since I was young, I’ve been told I would be a great teacher.  I studied English, so every person I meet asks if I plan to teach.  I feel an anxiety attack come on when I think about teaching not because I don’t think I’d like it, but because it feels like settling.  I feel cornered, pigeon-holed before I could choose.  I don’t want to settle, but I have been for years. 

I think about relationships.  Do you hold out for the one who is perfect, the one who might be out there?  Or do you settle for someone good and kind, someone who is willing to settle for you?  Even in my friendships I settle.  I hang out with friends from work because my other friends have moved away.  I do what they want just to not be alone.  And it all feels worth it, to not be alone.  But they are not people I would choose for friends, if I could afford to choose.  They don’t challenge me, support me, bring me joy, but I settle for them because they are here, willing.  Sometimes it’s enough, and for that I am grateful.  Sometimes it’s not enough, and for that I feel all the more lonely.

So what do you do?  What do I do?  Do you take “good enough” and enjoy what you have?  There is something to be said for enough, for adequate, for average.  Friends are better than no one.  A crappy job is better than unemployment.  Or do you refuse to settle?  Do you decide that you earn, need, deserve, want more?  Do you refuse to settle for something less, demanding the best?  Do you fight and work for what you want, risk not achieving it, for the chance that you will?  I don’t know.  I have no answers here.  I just feel like across the board, I have settled for a lot in the past three years.  Some days it feels okay, like I expected too much and enough really is enough.  Other days, I am overwhelmed with fear that I have settled too often and missed my chances to try.  It’s two sides of the same coin.  Maybe it depends on the situation, the thing you are settling for, and how much you are willing to sacrifice.  Maybe it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice, so you can stand to put away the dreams.  Or maybe it’s too big, too important to accept less than you want.  How do you tell?  And how do you cope when “good enough,” isn’t?   

“There’s something to be said about a glass half full. About knowing when to say when. I think it’s a floating line. A barometer of need and desire. It’s entirely up to the individual. And depends on what’s being poured. Sometimes all we want is a taste…” –Grey’s Anatomy  

Lasting Impressions

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“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”  –Oliver Wendell Holmes

One afternoon, in Junior High, I sat on my best friend’s driveway with her.  We sat on the warm cement talking about boys and music and whatever else was important to our barely-formed selves.  We watched cars drive past and her cat at it pounced around the yard.  Slowly and softly, rain began to sprinkle down on us.  We laid down, sprawled on the gray slab, side by side.  We lay still and talked, letting the rain fall steadier and harder on us.  The ground warmed us for a while, until we steadily grew colder and damper.  We ignored her mother’s requests to come inside and stayed still.  We let the driveway grow wet, dark, shiny around us.  When we finally gave in and fled the chill, we stood up to examine our handiwork: two pale bodies, laying side by side, silhouetted by the rain.  We watched drops splotch over our images which eventually disappeared completely into the wetness.

Tonight I drove home with my window down, taking in the smell that can never be fully captured.  When I ran home at lunch today, my car was hot and stuffy, barely bearable even with the air conditioner blowing.  By the time I left, gray had covered the city and darkness had fallen early.  As sprinkles hit my windshield, I could smell it beginning.  I opened the window and reveled in the memories and peace of the beginning of rain. 

Nothing on earth smells as good, smells as safe, smells as comforting as rain on a warm sidewalk.  I inhaled so deeply that my lungs could have burst through my ribs.  I could not breathe in enough of the smell, could not possibly take in enough of the air around me.  It is warm and sweet, clean and alive.  I remember the smell drifting through the screen door of my childhood home, hearing the rain begin to lightly hit the fiberglass roof over our patio.  I am suddenly sitting in our living room, in front of the big window, watching the world be bathed.  I remember sitting outside at lunch in high school, sitting inside for lunch in elementary school.  I am back on that warm driveway, sharing life with my best friend.  The smell is safety.  I feel at home, draped in a blanket of memories, warmed by a simpler time.

Our outlines did not last.  They were quickly blurred and disappeared.  The smell of rain drifts away as the clouds continue to drop, lasting only long enough to be missed.  The moments, the smell, are fleeting.  The memories are indelible. 

“Let the rain kiss you.  Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.  Let the rain sing you a lullaby.”  –Langston Hughes

“Will you keep out all the sadness?”

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“Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.” —Vincent Van Gogh

For a little more than a week I have felt like I’ve been walking around under a dark umbrella.  For one reason or another, internal or external, I have just been down.  A part of it is loneliness.  I miss seeing my family and as I get closer to visiting them, I realize how much I really do miss them.  Part of it is spending a holiday alone and at work.  Part of it is having friends cancel plans and be in funks too.  Most of it is just me.

I have always been an internal processor.  I like talking through things with people I trust, but I never get as deep, as analytical as I do in my own head.  I have also always been overly sensitive, always taken everything personally.  There is no other way that I take things.  An unreturned phone call indicates that a friend is tired of spending time with me.  The small things become huge. 

Spring has begun to emerge and with it comes unpredictable weather.  I love the rain, love cozy, cold weather.  Yesterday, as dark clouds hung over the city and the rain began to fall, I realized that I felt as cold and dark as the sky.  I felt down, falling, disconnected.  I enjoyed time inside, warm and lazy, but it was a rare occasion when the weather didn’t so much get me down, but it reflected and intensified the heaviness I was feeling.

I watched Where the Wild Things Are this weekend.  It is a beautiful movie, but much like the rain, it is dark.  The colors are bleak and muted.  There are instances of striking color and contrast, but it is mostly a shadowy, dim film.  It is visually really beautiful, but something about the story and look really made me deeply sad.  It is a lonely movie, filled with people aching to belong and be wanted.  It just hit the wrong, or right, spot.  One of the first things one of the massive Things asks their new king is, “Will you keep out all the sadness?”  It’s the question we all ask, every time we forge a relationship, every time we spend money, drink, eat, create, pray– will this keep out all the sadness? 

I spent some time talking with a good friend that same night.  We caught up on life a bit and one of the things that we commiserated on was our ability to assume the worst.  We talked about how quickly we jump to the worst case conclusion, specifically with respect to relationships.  I have done this a lot lately with friends in general.  I assume they judge, they tire, they despise, they regret.  I assume that I am a problem, a burden.  Part of this is the dark mood I’ve been in, but part of it is just the core of me.  It’s been a week with a lot of tears, a lot of exhaustion.  It’s tiring to feel sad.  The energy drains from you, leaving heavy fatigue. 

Then today I ran out to the post office.  It was sunny and breezy, with warmth just beginning to cut through the morning.  The radio started up with Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day,” the most upbeat song about exactly how I felt.  “They tell me your blue sky’s gone to gray/ They tell me your passion’s gone away.”  There was something uplifting about singing along with it as the song played on.  It was followed up with Jimmy Eat World’s “It Just Takes Some Time.”  As I sat at the stop light, feeling sun on my arms, the words just spoke deeply into me.  All of the sadness, the darkness, melted away as I listened to the song tell me to not do exactly what I had been doing: don’t write me off.  Hang in there.  Trust that it really is going to be fine.  Trust that time changes things.  Sometimes it takes something really small to change a person.  I had a nice, joyful day after that.  I enjoyed company, the sun, walking around a beautiful city, coming home and resting.  There are still plenty of things that I am worried about, insecure about, hurting because of, but it feels so much brighter, easier.  I just needed a little reminder to lighten up.   

“Hey, don’t write yourself off yet/ It’s only in your head you feel out or/ Looked down on/ Just do your best, do everything you can/ And don’t you worry what their bitter hearts are gonna say/ It just takes some time/ Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride/  Everything (everything) will be just fine/ Everything (everything) will be alright.” —Jimmy Eat World, “It Just Takes Some Time”

The Ring and The Cross

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“It is a burden he should never have had to bear.”  –Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

In these last few minutes of Good Friday, I have been collecting my thoughts on what today means.  It means something slightly different every year that passes.  In the years that I went to Catalina for the days leading up to Easter, the death of my Savior meant something different from any year before.  When I was a child, we prepared for it with Stations of the Cross, washing of feet, and a Seder meal.  The choice of death, on my behalf, means something different every year because life means something different each year.  I mean something different. 

This week I watched the film Inglourious Basterds.  The film itself is relatively irrelevant here except for its violence.  While much less than I expected, its graphic nature was perhaps worse than I anticipated.  I flashed back to my Senior year of college.  As we finished studying the book of Mark, ending obviously with the Crucifixion, I was deeply struck by the gore of it, the depravity.  The way that humans torture each other, mock each other, humiliate and pain each other will never cease to perplex, sadden and sicken me.  We watched the death scene from Braveheart after reading the passage, a visual of the sort of scene we had just experienced.  I felt myself growing angry and disgusted as it played, looking away for much of it.  After reading about Jesus’ death, we watch a blockbuster film that profits from the depiction of a tortuous death.  It just sat entirely wrong with me.  Those feelings about violence came back to me watching Basterds and I really digress into this only to show that Easter means something different.  I still was uneasy with the violence, but not in the same heated, emotional way that I was on the island.  Life is different this year.

Tonight I sit in front of my television as the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy plays.  Appropriately enough, Gandalf just plunged into the depths of Moria with the scary fire monster.  All three films are playing this weekend, culminating on Sunday with the Return of the King.  The blueray dvds release next week, so I am sure this is tied to the sales of them, but I can’t help but think that it is also deeply tied to Easter.  As a literature and theology student, I spent a lot of time analyzing christ-figures in art.  Any number of characters in this epic qualify for that title, but I was thinking of Frodo in particular tonight.  He is similar to Jesus, but so different.  They both bear loads, on behalf of the world, that they did not deserve, if you will, to carry.  They travel through hell and back, literally seeing the “end of all things.”  They leave this world, at peace and ready, leaving behind a world that they saved.  Frodo is much more human, in some ways.  Jesus tells Peter to stay alert, reminding him that, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Mark 14:38)  I grew up thinking that this was in reference to His own feelings, to His sacrifice, but it refers to His companions.  When Frodo begins to fall under the ring’s power, this phrase comes to mind.  He wants to do right, to be good, but there are things that humans (or hobbits) fall prey to.  We are weak.  No matter how noble the intent, people are frail.  Eventually, Frodo ends the ring’s reign and Peter and the other disciples become the church, but it’s messy and a long road.  There are missteps and ugly mistakes, but the spirit’s willingness outlasts the flesh’s weakness. 

I’m going to leap again, since I’ve already been all over the place here, to Aslan.  As I’ve been rereading the Chronicles of Narnia, there has been so much that has amazed me.  Lewis is brilliant.  The thing that strikes me every time I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is the scene at the Stone Table.  This actually starts as Aslan quietly walks to his death, alone.  The girls watch him leave and follow for a bit until they are caught.  He tells them, when they beg to follow, “I should be glad of company tonight.”  This is the second thing that strikes me about Aslan, Frodo and Jesus.  There is an immense loneliness and isolation in their stories.  As the lion approaches his slaughter, he goes quietly and willingly, with no hesitation and fear.  Jesus’ prayer in the garden has always touched me.  He is a willing sacrifice, the payment for all sin, but He asks if there is another way.  It is not weak, nor cowardly, but honest.  He is willing to do His Father’s will, but if there is a way out of what is coming, He wants to take it.  He is sorrowful, scared, lonely and anxious.  This makes the whole story so much more beautiful, powerful.  He didn’t do something that was easy.  It was scary, and He wanted out.  He didn’t want out enough to deny God’s will, but He didn’t want what was waiting. 

I have perhaps the lowest pain tolerance in history.  I fear almost everything that might bring discomfort.  I know the feeling of dread, the clenching nausea that rolls from my stomach throughout my body.  I know fear.  I know loneliness.  I know what it is to feel, whether it is true or not, that no one else can possibly understand my pain, my isolation, my fears.  I can relate to a God who wants to do what’s right, but really is scared of the cost.  I like that my God knows what it is to feel alone.  Not because I want God to feel sad or be pained, but it means He knows how I feel.  He knows the desperate feeling of just wanting to feel connected, the empty ache of being left by those He loves.  He knows my racing heart as I wait to get a shot, because He felt the terror of impending pain.  While my pain cannot compare to His, my isolation paling in comparison, He knows how I feel. 

Today is a day to remember that Jesus, God with us, chose a brutal death.  He died.  A man that walked this earth and sat under this sun, that saw the flowers bloom in spring and had a favorite food and a family, died.  He chose death so that people He never knew, people who curse His name, people who killed Him, would have salvation from damnation.  He died.  He chose the hard, scary, lonely road to death for me.  His victory will be celebrated in a couple of days, but today, His lonely sacrifice is the focus. 

“I am sorry I brought this upon you, my boy. I’m sorry that… you must carry this burden. I’m sorry for everything.”  –Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring

“Just Friends”

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“Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part gets in the way.”

“That’s not true.  I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.”

“No you don’t.”

“Yes I do.”

“No you don’t.”

“Yes I do.” 

“You only think you do.”

“You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?”

“No, what I’m saying is they all want to have sex with you.”

“They do not.”

“Do too.”

“They do not.”

“Do too.”

“How do you know?”

“Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive.  He always wants to have sex with her.”

“So you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?” 

“No, you pretty much want to nail ’em too.”  —When Harry Met Sally

The past few days this idea has been everywhere.  I turned on the Today Show this morning and heard all the reasons why men and women cannot really be friends.  It was an interesting discussion because it assumed that at least one of the two involved was in a relationship already.  The “experts” talked a lot about trust and crossing boundaries and sharing things with a “friend” that you would not share with your significant other.  Perhaps because of the audience demographic, the segment ignored the dynamic of two single friends of the opposite sex.  Then tonight, in a very different realm of television, Family Guy talked about Brian’s attraction to Lois, and his unrequited feelings led him into therapy.  And incontinence. 

It’s such a fascinating relationship and everyone has an opinion on the topic.  I think that most opinions depend heavily on whether or not a person has fallen hard for a friend or not.  However, the fact that a guy or girl hasn’t had feelings for a friend does not mean that they have not been the object of secret affections.  It’s really interesting to look at.  I’m sure that there is plenty of sociological or psychological studies that have examined these interactions and feelings.  It would be interesting to know just how many co-ed friendships cross the platonic line.  I would think a study on this would be near impossible, however, because how often do we risk the friendship and admit the feelings?

I wonder when all of this starts.  And when it all ends.  I know that for a few of my childhood years I felt more comfortable with and enjoyed the company of boys more than girls.  I remember the first friend that I realized I wanted more than friendship from was probably around seventh grade.  I’ve crossed that dangerous line time and again since that formative year.  It really is a point of no return for most friendships.  I have liked guys that I then pursue a friendship with, and had friends that I had feelings for, but I never feel quite the same once the feelings subside.  Does it kick in at different times for everyone?  I can’t imagine that there is anyone that hasn’t felt the pain of knowing that “friends” just isn’t quite enough. 

There is something unique to the male-female dynamic that is different from any other relationship.  Whether there is romance at stake or not, my friendships with guys are nothing like my friendships with girls.  I love the book Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller.  The book has so much to offer and opens up so many fascinating thoughts and ideas about why we are the way we are.  One of the things that Miller looks at in-depth is love, with attention to romantic love.  He writes beautifully about how man was not meant to be alone.  God saw that he needed someone around, he need help and companionship.  And then he waited.  He named animals and that wasn’t good enough.  Nothing would do but a woman, made of the same stuff as man, a piece of himself.  She was the same, but separate and different.  She was what man needed.  I’m sure that I should see this as proof for heterosexuality, or providence to keep humanity going.  And I guess it could be those things.  I think, however, that God knew that guys need girls.  There is just an innate need, a hole that is filled, by companionship with someone of the opposite sex.  We are not meant to be alone.  However, as a girl, I was also meant to complete and complement a guy.  Some might think that it’s insulting or demeaning that Eve was made from a piece of Adam, not on her own, to be his companion, to meet his need.  I think that is one of the most beautiful parts.  Yes, she was made for his solace and pleasure, but she was made because nothing else would do.  Women were created to be loved and to love.  Perhaps it’s maternal instincts or antiquated gender roles, but I think that is such an awesome honor.  God’s plan for me, for my gender, is love and friendship.

“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”  —Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I assume a big part of the problem is that we all like attention.  We want to feel loved, feel validated, feel special.  When we find someone who makes us feel alive and adored, we don’t let them go.  Friends do this, build us up into our best selves.  This attention creeps into the parts of our minds that spend too much time making things complicated.  We like feeling special.  The way we feel about ourselves becomes connected with the way we feel about the friend.  Then it all gets messy and lovey. 

All of this culminates in the ultimate question: if men and women can never really just be friends, do you sacrifice the love for friendship, or risk the friendship for love?  I always opt for the former, but I also tend to ask my self the torturous “what if…” a lot.  There really is a choice to be made.  You can’t be “just friends” and “more than friends” at the same time.  Which do you choose?  How do you choose?  How much do you risk and how much can you stand to lose? 

“How long can I go on like this, wishing to kiss you/ Before I rightly explode?/And this double life I lead isn’t healthy for me, in fact it makes me nervous/ If I get caught I could be risking it all/ Well, baby there’s a lot that I miss in case I’m wrong/ And all I really want to do is love you/ A kind much closer than friends use/ But I still can’t say it after all we’ve been through…”  –Jason Mraz, “If It Kills Me”