Posted by: lavieimaginee | December 13, 2016

December 6th, 2016

On November 28th, Sara went to the hospital for a routine surgery: a tonsillectomy. As the youngest child of a surgeon, and the younger sister of siblings who had also gotten their tonsils surgically removed, Sara was well-prepared. She had been warned about the screaming sore throat and the unbearably dull soft food diet; she relished the promise of popsicles. She flashed me a mildly nervous smile on her way out, but I reassured her that we had talked through everything. She knew what to expect. We all did.

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Before the original tonsillectomy surgery.

The surgery went well, and Sara’s recovery, for the first week, was smooth and unremarkable. She lost most of her scabs, graduated to more substantive foods, and was down to one final Percocet.

At eight days post-op, on December 6th, Sara made herself a bowl of angel hair pasta and sat down at the kitchen table to eat it. I had just returned from a long day of work and was sitting on a stool at the counter, decompressing and verbally sparring with my brother Rob as he scrounged up the extra pasta for his dinner. Sara had her headphones in, as she often does, and I was vaguely aware of her snapchatting with her friends in the background. She had been coughing and clearing her throat constantly over the past week as she healed from surgery, so when I heard her start up again, I thought nothing of it.

I was in the middle of laughing at something Rob had said when I heard a plaintive and quietly panicked, “Um, guys? Guys, I’m bleeding.”

I turned around on my stool to see Sara leaning over her empty dinner bowl, spitting blood out of her mouth. She had experienced some mild, completely normal post-operative bleeding when bits of her scabs had dislodged a few days prior, but this immediately looked different. Still, knowing Sara’s propensity to panic, I erred on the side of optimism. “Let me see.” I said as I settled into a seat across from her. “You’re probably just losing another big scab. Go ahead and just spit the blood out and wait for it to subside. Don’t lean back, and don’t swallow it because you’ll get sick. Just let it come. Don’t panic.”

Within a few seconds, watching the way the relentless and rhythmic way the blood would gush out every time Sara opened her mouth, I knew she needed immediate medical care. I didn’t know all the possible complications of a tonsillectomy, but I also didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that this wasn’t a normative part of the healing process. Something had gone terribly wrong.

“Okay, this isn’t a scab, Sara. We need to get you to a hospital where they can take care of this, okay?” I called calmly upstairs: “Mom? Call an ambulance, please. Sara’s bleeding.”

Mom walked over to the top of the stairs. “She’s what? She’s bleeding? Why don’t I just drive her to the emergency room?”

My mind was racing. I didn’t have time to communicate that we had no way of controlling this bleed, that Sara would need to be monitored and have an IV started in transit, so the next words that came out of my mouth were just, “MOM. CALL A FUCKING AMBULANCE.”

Sara immediately began to cry. “Am I going to die?”

“Absolutely not. Don’t be ridiculous.” I leaned across the table and took both of her hands in mine. “Someone at the hospital will cauterize this or get it stitched up and you will be FINE.”

“Do you promise?”

“I swear to God, Sara. You will be fine. But I need to you do something for me, okay? I need you stay with me, here. Stay focused. If you panic, or if you cry, you’ll make the bleeding worse. Breathe with me. Follow my breaths. Can you do that?”

She nodded. Rob came over and rubbed her shoulders, assuring her that this wasn’t serious, and that she would have to lose “wayyyyy” more blood than that in order to bleed out. Even though this was an obvious complication, we were both confident that it would be fixed quickly and easily.

Mom paced in the background, speaking to the 911 operator. I overheard some of the operator’s questions, obviously trying to determine the severity of the bleeding and any interventions already attempted. I’m sure the operator probably assumed this was some kind of normal post-operative bleed, and no one had used the word “hemorrhaging” yet around Sara. “Mom. Mom!” I interrupted. “Just tell them your daughter was an EMT, we have an uncontrolled bleed, and they need to dispatch an ambulance immediately.”

During the next few minutes (few million years), as we waited for the ambulance to arrive, Sara continued to hemorrhage, the bright red blood pooling in the white of her empty dinner bowl. I continued to hold her hands in mine, murmuring repeated reassurances and injunctions to “breathe,” “stay with me,” and “try to stay calm.” She wept silently, squeezing my hands and working hard to stave off a panic attack as the blood continued to pulse through her. A cop that had been dispatched arrived first, and, after seeing Sara, stood in the front door to signal the ambulance to the right house with his flashlight. By the time the medic burst through our front door, Sara’s dinner bowl was full of her blood.

The medic looked briefly at her throat (because, protocol) and immediately called it as transport to Bryn Mawr.

“Follow us in the car, Mom!” I remember yelling over my shoulder as I rushed Sara out to the ambulance. She was in her pjs. I was in my stocking feet. Neither of us had coats, shoes, phones, or wallets. It was raining.

En route to the hospital, Sara continued to bleed relentlessly. I rode in the back of the rig with the medic, Yochim, who was able to stabilize Sara’s blood pressure and respiratory rate, and get an injection port established for an IV. We assured her that she was in a controlled environment and was being well cared for. Somehow, despite filling an entire bag with blood and starting in on the second during our brief transit, Sara reconnected with the inner sass and hilarity that would prove sustaining over the next hour or so in the hospital; she was making jokes, singing, and chatting up the medic. As we rolled her into the ER, she flashed peace signs to all the nurses and administrative staff and said, “Yo, what up? Just bleeding from my face. I’m hot AF.” Everyone looked VERY confused at first, but quickly fell in love with her obvious positivity and strength.

As Sara was wheeled into an ER room and surrounded by medical staff, I provided what intake information I could. Mom arrived a few minutes later, blessedly carrying her phone and purse. She instantly took over with the administrative side of things, providing insurance information and getting in touch with Dad and the rest of the siblings. I ran back into the room to help with Sara.

I wish the story just ended there, in the ER. I wish she had received the timely, solvent interventions I had been so sure were just around the corner. Unfortunately, the next few hours felt like a dizzying descent into hell.

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At the beginning, before it got messy. I’m watching vitals. Sara filled 5-6 of these bags during her ordeal (not counting the dinner bowl).

One complicating factor was that the doctor who had conducted Sara’s tonsillectomy the week prior did not live or practice locally. Sara had gone out to our Dad’s area to have her surgery done. Obviously, a long transit under these circumstances was impossible, but because of medical protocols, no one in the ER wanted to initiate a surgical intervention without speaking with the operating physician first. He proved difficult to reach. Another complicating factor was that the local, on-call ENT doctor also proved difficult to reach; when they did finally manage to get in touch with him, they discovered that he had been sleeping. He obviously needed time to collect himself and drive to the hospital to get prepped for surgery. Unfortunately, with bleeding like Sara’s, we had precious little time to work with.

Ideally and normally, in these circumstances, a post-operative bleed would be controlled or stopped in the ER, and the patient would be stabilized before being transferred to the operating room for surgery. But the final, most problematic complication we faced was that Sara’s bleed proved resistant to every single non-surgical intervention available to us in the ER. Apparently, it’s fairly common for a small artery to be nicked but cauterized during a tonsillectomy, presenting no further complications. However, when Sara’s scarring burst, the pulsing, relentless, metronomic nature of her bleeding indicated arterial involvement. Over the next hour, we watched as every intervention, gradually increasing in intensity and urgency, failed to stymy the flow of her blood. They packed her mouth with ice. They made her gargle hydrogen peroxide. They gave her an epinephrine nebulizer. They tried to squirt a cauterizing medication directly on to her bleed through a syringe. As the situation became more urgent, the ER doctor climbed on to Sara’s bed, straddled her and attempted to manually plug the bleed with her fingers in the back of Sara’s throat. When she couldn’t reach it, she tried to MacGyver a gauze pad on the end of a tongue depressor to plug the bleed. Nothing worked.

As each of these interventions were implemented and failed to stop, control, or even remotely slow Sara’s bleeding, Mom and I watched helplessly. Sara turned green, then yellow, then ashen with a bluish pallor. She was diaphoretic. Her limbs grew cold to the touch, although she was wrapped in heated blankets. As her body fought to stop bleeding, she would develop massive clotting in her throat that cut off her oxygen supply and made it difficult for her to breathe. Every time this happened, the pressure of the arterial flow would build up behind the clot. As each clot blew, Sara would release a dizzying volume of blood, projectile spewing it (along with gastric contents, bits of soft tissue, and pasta) across her bed, the floor, and us. Her talking and crying both slowed as she weakened, because eventually even distress required energy she no longer had. She grew dizzy, clouded, less coherent. She fought so long to stay conscious, terrified that if she fainted she would choke on her own blood.  As that became a losing battle and she started to slump, I held her tightly against my chest to keep her upright. “I won’t let that happen to you,” I promised. “Look, I’ve got you. You’re not going anywhere.” She grew too weak to follow commands, to open her mouth or lift her arms, so I cradled her against my chest with one arm and held the blood bag up to her face with the other. Watching her hurdle headlong toward inevitable shock, Mom and I locked eyes over the flurry, silently trying to ask the question neither of us could bear. “What if?”

“I’ve got you, I’ve got you, I’m right here and I’ve got you,” I repeated over and over, probably as much to myself as to Sara. I will never forget the feeling of holding her so tightly and still feeling her start to gradually slip away.

Meanwhile, we waited for blood… which brings me to the final complication. Sara is young and healthy, and had never had an occasion for her blood to be typed. When she first arrived in the ER, they drew blood and sent it to the lab in an attempt to determine her type in the event that she would require a blood transfusion. They were not able to type her by the time she required a transfusion, and when the transfusion was finally ordered, it was emergent.

By the time the transfusion and the on-call ENT were finally on their way, and the operating room was being prepped for emergency surgery, Sara had filled an additional four bags of blood, losing well over a visible liter with an undetermined — but probably comparable — amount lost internally. Given her significant blood loss, the ER staff struggled to find a vein for the transfusion. After four attempts, Sara, who had been quiet for some time, roused herself enough to tearfully say, “Can you please stop moving that around in my arm?”

“WE GOT IT!” I cried, as we finally saw blood in the port. “We got it. It’s okay, Sara, they got it.”

Just then, Sara started to teeter from Stage 3 into Stage 4 of hypovolemic shock. I snapped. “Can we get an ETA on that blood?!” I yelled.

The ER doctor echoed me. “Someone get me that blood, and hurry!”

Sara went into convulsions on the table and started to lose consciousness. Right as that happened, the blood finally arrived and the nurses and PA wrestled and wrung the bag to force it into her system faster.

Sara continued to bleed as they fought to replace the blood she was losing, so they started prepping her for surgery. At that point, when she was finally receiving a transfusion and heading off to surgery, my body gave out and I collapsed to the floor. The next thing I knew, I was being helped into a wheelchair and told to put my head between my knees, fighting to stay conscious. I remember Mom wanting to make sure I was alright. “I’m fine, I’ll be fine.” I said. “Go up with Sara! I’ll be right behind you.”

Mom accompanied Sara, who had regained consciousness from the blood transfusion, upstairs for pre-op. I was wheeled up to the empty, deafeningly silent Green Room to wait while Sara was in surgery. The nurse who accompanied me waited until I had a couple cups of apple juice in my system. “Would you like someone to stay with you?” He asked.

“No, really, I’m fine.” I said. “A little embarrassed, but fine. You can go back downstairs. Thank you for everything.”

“Don’t be embarrassed,” he replied. “You’ve been through a really traumatic thing. Take it easy and don’t stand up for a little while yet, okay? Good luck to you and your family. We’re all rooting for your sister.”

As soon as he left, I walked shakily to the bathroom. My ears were ringing and the room looked yellow. I stood over the sink and scrubbed my sister’s blood off my hands and arms. I couldn’t get it out from beneath my fingernails.

When I left the bathroom, my mom was in the Green Room. She told me that Sara’s surgery was considered high-risk. Sara’s blood still hadn’t been typed, so the jury was out on how her body would respond to the blood they were giving her; her bleeding still hadn’t been controlled when it was time to put her under, and that (along with the need to pump her stomach and remove all of the blood) carried with it the danger of aspiration. Mom told me, briefly, about the various waivers she had been asked to sign, and about a conversation that had transpired just before surgery.   

“Am I gonna die?” Sara had asked the anesthesiologist.

“Sara, honey… this a very high risk surgery.” The anesthesiologist replied. “We’re going to do everything we can.”

Sara started crying. But then, ever the empath, she had instinctively and reflexively turned to Mom. “Mom, it’s going to be okay,” she said as they wheeled her off to the OR. “If I die, I mean. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.” Barely 17, she was making peace with the possibility of death in order to comfort her mama’s heart.

Sara would be in surgery for a bit, and we wouldn’t know anything further until the procedure was completed. Still shaking and weak, I borrowed Mom’s keys and drove home to gather an outfit for Sara, in the hope that she would pull through and need them to replace the ones cut off in surgical prep. When I got home, I filled Rob in on what had happened. He was shocked that the situation had escalated the way it did. I took to Facebook to beg for prayer, and sped back.

Back in the hospital Green Room, we started the waiting game. Mom started making phone calls. We found out that Sara made it through surgery, but that the riskiest and most complicated part was still to come. They had intubated her, and the process of removing the tube from her throat could so easily undo everything they had just done surgically. It was another full hour before we knew that she was going to be okay. During that time, Dad and Perry both showed up at the hospital. I started receiving messages from people who know and cherish Sara, offering prayers and asking how they could help. We were so carried by love in that hour.

Mom got to go see her first. When it was finally my turn, the hallways seemed interminable, as though they were morphing and stretching like the tunnels of Alice in Wonderland. It was probably the longest walk of my life. When I finally turned that corner into the post-anesthesia room and locked eyes with my tiny sister so many beds away, we both started weeping.

I took her yellowed hand in mine. “You made it.” I whispered, half-triumphant, half in awe. “I told you.”

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The picture Mom sent to Abby to convince her that Sara was okay. CLASSIC.

I’ve gone back in my mind, often, to that moment. To the long, white room; to locking eyes with Sara in the distance; to the disbelief and gratitude and wonder and speechlessness that flooded all of us. I’ve been thinking, in subsequent days, a lot about resurrection. About the fact that Sara came back from the brink, unceremoniously hurtling back into the arms of a life that bolsters and breaks her by turns. For some inexplicable reason, when others are not so fortunate, Sara has life yet to live; she has things left to do, and to experience, and to become. Tuesday wasn’t the final date that will follow the dash on her headstone. She’s still in the middle, with us, and there are things that are required of her here.

There are smaller resurrection moments, like these, in all of our lives. Moments where we are knocked down, moments when we are so nearly destroyed, only to be reminded that this is not the end. Moments when we struggle up from the darkness in response to the divine voice, and hear the words that carry with them such incalculable privilege and immense responsibility:

“Arise. Take up your bed, and walk.”

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Posted by: lavieimaginee | May 2, 2016

This morning. 8:37am.

I took a deep breath and stepped on the scale. I waited for it to read my presence. I willed my weight down into the bottoms of both feet, anchoring myself in a world that has been spinning for months. I’m here, dammit. Tell me that I’m still here.

The electronic face stared back at me, unflinching.

96.6 lbs.

“Fuck you,” I breathed bitterly. “FUCK YOU.”

My eyes burned and watered as I climbed back upstairs and crawled into the bed that has held my exhausted, steadily diminishing frame for more than its share of hours over the past few months. I buried my face, my shame, and my confusion in the familiar mess of pillows and the fluffy peach comforter I got for Christmas.

It’s hard to say how I got here, exactly. I know it started with a really stressful week in the first month of grad school, when my anxiety kicked into high gear and the nausea that seems to inevitably accompany it made eating difficult. I lost five pounds that week.

As the stress of the semester compounded, my anxiety spiraled out of control. More weight melted away. My appetite disappeared completely. I started seeing a doctor each week for weigh-ins. I will never forget the day she stared at me across the exam room and said, “Kristin, I don’t mean to scare you… but your body has been calorically deficient for so long that it has stopped sending you hunger signals and cues; it thinks you’re starving and is trying to ease the agony of this process. If we don’t find a way to turn this story around, it ends with you in the hospital.”

The anxiety, the lack of appetite, and the constant nausea all continued to compound and exacerbate each other. Eventually, my doctor and therapist determined that my immediate priority should be to see a psychiatrist and get a prescription for an SSRI, in the hope that medication would take the edge off my anxiety enough to allow me to eat and stabilize my weight.

It took weeks to get in to see a psychiatrist. When I was finally able to do so, she started me on Zoloft. Unfortunately, the side effects associated with the month-long titration process include nausea and weight loss.

And this brings us to today, a week and a half into titration.

Friends, I have spent much of the past few months unsuccessfully battling this spectacularly disorienting cocktail of factors, but its effects, while incremental, have been relentless. I am not winning this one. My breasts and butt have all but disappeared. My clothes don’t fit. My joints ache. I am always tired. My doctor has given me a litany of symptoms to look out for that warrant an immediate trip to the hospital for IV fluids, in order to make sure I’m fully prepared for that possibility.

I guess I’m finally talking about this because I feel so disheartened. Shame and confusion dominated my emotional landscape for the first few months, but they’ve recently given way to fear and frustration as I struggle to live in a body that will not cooperate with the basic measures necessary to sustain life and health.

I feel like Moses, struggling to lift his hands over the battlefield. I think I just need my people to come stand beside me and help me hold my hands high… until sunset, until battle’s end. Your support, encouragement, advice, and presence are all invited and needed.

Posted by: lavieimaginee | October 21, 2015

A Love Letter to a Stranger, in a Time of Transition

My friend Holly recently challenged her Facebook followers to write and leave behind an anonymous love note for a stranger. “Write the words that you yourself need to hear,” she said. It is a powerful exercise in extending permission and grace to yourself, albeit indirectly (which is perhaps the part that makes it accessible to someone like me).

Here is mine.


Dear Stranger:

Yes, you. You are so much richer in potential, in mystery, and in capacity than you realize. In your life-blood flow the words of a thousand possible stories. Don’t ever believe the voices that conflate your uncertainty with emptiness, with lack; most especially, do not believe your own.

Uncertainty does not arrive from absence, but from the overflow of present possibilities. You have done a brave thing by dipping your foot into the unknown… by stepping into a space that forces you to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Hold on to your hat, because this ride is about to get crazy. THIS is where the magic happens.

You have opened the floodgates and welcomed in all the voices and ideas and dreams that are never given space in the context of a prefabricated and predictable life. It’s going to feel crowded and clamorous in here for a while.

It’s important to breathe. It’s important to exercise patience with everything that feels cluttered, tenuous, and fragile within yourself. Your interiority is full of possibilities, but they’re all in the awkward, adolescent stage. Some are shy, some are shouting for attention, some are testing boundaries and pushing buttons and binging on sugar. They all cry more than they should. They are on a quest for place, trying to determine where and how they fit in relationship to each other and the world.

Allow time to come good. Gradually, individual pieces of the puzzle will settle into place. The picture will begin to come into focus. Some colors and textures will become dominant, and you will recognize the soul-palette you are working with. It will be worth the wait.

In the meantime, remind yourself of these Essential Truths:

  1. You are valuable. Your value is not determined by what you accomplish or how much you know. You are valuable because you are.
  2. Be the person you want to be in the world whether you are employed or not, whether you know what field of study to pursue or not, whether you are in a relationship or not. Be that person; being whole and vibrant is not dependent on the positions you hold, and it should not be threatened by them either. Gift the world with your presence. Show up. Don’t wait for an invitation and don’t wait to be “good enough.” We need you.
  3. Failure is a necessary part of growth and healthy risk-taking. Failing at something does NOT mean you are a failure. All it means is that you were brave enough to undertake a journey with an uncertain destination, where success was not assured. Congratulate yourself. Keep going.
  4. This is still your life, liminal spaces and all. Do not miss out. Do not underestimate the worth of this chapter. Do not be so consumed with trying to shape your future that you forget to cherish your present. This day, however prosaic, is a gift. Cultivate a spirit of abundance. Practice gratitude.
  5. You will always possess more potential than you will have opportunities to realize. Do NOT limit yourself: not early, not often, not ever. You are an infinite wilderness landscape. Commit to discovery as a way of life.

You are loved. And you can do this.

xoxo.

Posted by: lavieimaginee | March 14, 2015

of ash and resurrection

Remember that you are dust.

I read, once, that even the ancient stars are not infinite. And sometimes, at the end of their bright and burning lives, these generous giants collapse into themselves, draw one last magnificent breath, and exhale the elemental ingredients of life across the universe in waves of color and fire. Almost every element on earth was formed in the heart of an ancestral star, and every atom in the human body can be mapped back to the dust those stars gifted in their final moments. We, and all of this, are stardust.

Remember that you are dust.

I read, once, that God created a dark heaven and a formless earth. And then he took this forgiving canvas and splashed the boldness of light, and land, and sky across it. He coaxed out fruit and flowers, knit together the dense materials of planets and stars, and even sculpted the myriad figures of animals and insects. And then, finally, he scooped up some dust from the earth he had created to make the very first soul-house. He breathed life into it, and it became man. We are dust and the very breath of the divine.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

On Ash Wednesday each year, pastors and priests and laypeople gently trace ash across each other’s foreheads and murmur: “From dust you are and to dust you shall return.” It is a ritual that serves as a reminder of our transience and mortality, our temporality and finitude. It is a punctuation point in our meandering, a glimpse of a darkling horizon at the edge of our seemingly limitless lives. It is the words of Sufjan Stevens in the mouths of the holy: all things go, all things go.

It is also an invitation to a fuller and more abundant life. It is an opportunity to examine how we are spending the gifts of our days: where we are investing our energies, what is nourishing our fragile hopes. It is a reminder to be present in each moment, to take chances, to tell truths, to listen, to love, to write our stories boldly and with passion. To Carpe that [expletive] diem, as one of my decorative pillows says.

I find myself in a season of endings. Work I have poured myself into for half a decade is reaching its natural conclusion. Relationships I have been lovingly, loyally tending for years are coming undone. Friends who have consistently and concretely shared their lives with me are moving across the country. And what I struggle with, in times like these, is reconciling life’s possibilities and abundance with its many seeping losses.

We are finite stories bound with bookends of dust. Part of writing glory into the pages is realizing that every story includes small, sometimes terribly short chapters. It is in learning to let things go, to let them pass as they must, that we make space for small resurrections. It is by resisting the urge to scramble and clutch, to fill our aching hands with relics of emptiness, that we teach our hearts to stay open, invitational, and receptive to new gifts. It is by honoring seasons of loss and offering up the vacant spaces that we cultivate rich and benevolent lives.

So I am leaning into these uncertain days. I am trusting that the seeds of new and beautiful things will find their way into all the broken places, the way they seem to do instinctively in sidewalks all throughout this city. And I am choosing to believe that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

Let the soft silt of things passing slip between these fingers.

Let the breath of Love, which once moved over the face of the waters to call forth life, speak into the ashes of our endings – yours and mine – and create something new. Because this is what Love has done in the past, and will do again, and again… and even, again, at the end of all things.

Posted by: lavieimaginee | June 26, 2014

some scattered thoughts on aging.

One morning last week, when my mom was in town, we sank into the wide sofa chairs of my sunroom (more of a nook, really, with walls of exposed brick and copious bright windows) with cups of tea. It was a lovely morning: cool, misty, with a soft ambient light. We were chatting about little of significance, enjoying each other’s company and sleepily formulating plans for the day. At one point in the conversation, I must have turned my head just so – because Mom gasped lightly and declared, “You have a gray hair!”

I looked at her in disbelief. “I do?”

“Yup. You do. Right” – and she reached just above my right temple – “here. Do you want me to pull it out?”

I thought for moment. “No.” I said eventually. “I want to see it.”

I padded down the hall to the bathroom and studied my right temple in the mirror. Sure enough, there it was. Long, silvery, glistening. Beautiful, I thought. And then I had a moment of mortal terror.

Gray hairs are a strange sort of forecasting, a collection of small metaphors. They are chances to watch pieces of yourself age long before the rest of the body starts to catch up. They are mortality reminders. But they are also trophies; they are also testaments. I looked at that little gray hair, pulled back the layers of pride and fear, and saw the Gift of Days. This was a championship ribbon that screamed CONGRATULATIONS, YOU MADE IT ANOTHER YEAR – a silver-serpent witness to chapters closed and news ones begun and to a whole wealth of undeserved and blissfully under-appreciated years. I tucked it back behind my ear with its younger, still-pigmented brothers and sisters, and left the bathroom.

Somewhere along the line, we stop celebrating.

A friend of mine recently posted a picture on Facebook of the nursery she has thoughtfully and tenderly decorated for her unborn baby. It included a ruffled crib, a mobile of tiny wild animals (cartooned for gentleness), and blankets in soft colors. And, most significantly, it included a nearly floor-to-ceiling wall-hanging with lots of horizontal lines on one side, and a long-necked, smiling giraffe on the other. It was for measuring. It was for anticipating, marking, and celebrating baby’s first foot, foot and a half, and every inch that followed.

There is a long stretch of time, in our early years, when we are rewarded for simply being in the world. We anticipate getting taller and weighing in a little heavier, growing breasts and pubic hair, getting our periods. We wait anxiously for these milestones; we mark them, like accomplishments, when they happen as they should. We almost instinctively celebrate the things that tell us how long we have been here – the things that usher us over new physical thresholds.

But then, somehow, one unexceptional day, this narrative reverses on itself. And we wake up – mystified – to a world that is vicious in its condemnation of age. We realize the reward has changed to one we can only earn by appearing to have spent less time on this planet.

So, we stop wearing the pride of our years and try to become so much less than we are. We lose pounds, we lose wrinkles, we eradicate graying hairs. We gravitate toward things that seem to indicate naivete and under-use, like anal bleaching or ridding ourselves of body hair, in order to look new and untested and small. We suddenly struggle to own the badges and battle-scars we’ve earned. We feel apologetic about these bigger, droopier, messier versions of our childhood selves, as if we should be ashamed of all the life we’ve lived and given, the heartbreaks endured, the journeys made, the triumphs and moments of transcendence that have been part and parcel of our ever-expanding stories.

Maybe our eyes dim with age so that they become more forgiving. Maybe the gradual loss of physical sight is actually just the recovery of eyes that see more deeply: the final unlearning of all the lies we’ve been fed about worth, and beauty. Maybe there’s a part of coming untethered from this world that allows us – at last, before the end – to really own our place in the universe, and to revel in the fullness of whatever back-bent and hip-heavy space we have grown to inhabit.

I hope I have the courage to carry the song of my years with grace. I hope I grow old enough to lose teeth, to look down at my hands and see skin spotted from years of sunshine. And I hope that, if I am that lucky, I radiate out from between my wrinkles; I hope I learn to wear my sagging skin around a soul that bursts with gratitude. I’ve known so many more deserving people who will never have that chance.

Posted by: lavieimaginee | May 17, 2014

My Little Sister’s Wedding (Homily)

Welcome, everyone. On behalf of Jeff and Grace, I just want to thank you for being here today, and for carving out space in your schedules to help us celebrate.

We gather today to celebrate love: the love between Grace and Jeff in particular, but in a more general way, the gift of love itself. We celebrate love that discovers, love that compels, love that both roots and transcends.

Love is a great mystery: alarming in its simplicity and unfathomable in its depth. Throughout recorded time, gurus, prophets, and the world’s major religions have been consumed with answering the question of Love: what is it, how can we find it, how do we practice or become it. The scriptures of my anchoring tradition tell us that God, God’s self, is Love. It’s a bold, rather radical idea, but when we read the scriptures with that truth as our lens, we open our eyes on a lavish and lovely view of the world. We realize that in the beginning, it was Love that moved over the face of the water, beckoning to the unseen possibilities within and calling forth life. It is in Love that all things live and move and have their being. It is Love that creates and sustains us, Love that is our germination point, our journey, and our final resting place. It is the beginning and the end of the story, and everything beautiful in between. If we believe this, then we must also believe that when two people love, they are leaning into and brushing up against one of the greatest and most essential of all divine mysteries.

Grace and Jeff, we honor the sacredness of your commitment to each other.

Weddings are, traditionally, a time to celebrate proximity and closeness. We light unity candles, or pour unity sand, to symbolize the fusion and melding together of two souls. We talk about finding soul-mates or better halves, the people who complete us. We talk about two becoming one, which is really just a mathematically inaccurate way of describing the team or unit that is created when two people commit to sharing and building a life together. All of these things are good and beautiful, and true in their way. And I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the investment of time and energy, the sacrifices and selfless work it takes to weave all the unique threads of your separate histories and personalities together in order to create something beautiful and new that is an equal reflection of you both. You have begun this good and sometimes difficult journey, and today is a day to congratulate you on how far you have come, and to express the fact that we, as your family and community, support and celebrate you as you cross this threshold and look forward to all the exciting milestones to come.

But the reality is that the closeness we celebrate in marriage is only half of the story of love. It is true that love is a home-coming of sorts, full of presence and companionship and understanding. But it is also true that love is a journey, and full of endless distances. This is not the pop-culture face of love, and it’s often and easily ignored in the narratives we tell. So I think the greatest gift I can give you today is to break the spell of silence around the strangeness we all possess, to celebrate and affirm the expansiveness and otherness that you each bring with you into this relationship.

It has been said that sometimes your soul-mate is not the person who understands your soul best, but the one who most respects, cherishes, and guards your soul’s Great Difference. Rilke, the Bohemian-Austrian poet and mystic, says that love “consists of two solitudes, which border, protect, and greet each other.” The French philosopher Emmanual Levinas says that the other person is a shore we will never reach, another side for which we set sail in our little crafts, but one on which we never actually arrive. And the philosopher Caputo says that the other person is not one of our possibilities, but one of our impossibilities. “The other person is a journey we never complete,” he writes, and “that incompleteness is not an imperfection, but a testimony to the perfect excess of the other; it is not a loss, but a source of endless novelty and discovery.”

In an interview given the year before his death, John O’Donohue, a delightful Irish priest and poet, spoke of the wilderness that rests inside each person. “I think it is more interesting to be with somebody who still has his or her wilderness territory” — he says – “Upon seeing that in the other person, you promise yourself: One thing I will never do is try to domesticate her wilderness. Because the authenticity of her difference and the purity of her danger and the depth of her affection are all being secretly nourished by that wilderness, as all of my spirit is being nourished by mine.”

If every person is a strange and separate country, a place apart, then the stories we tell ourselves about love must also be big enough to allow for those endless distances. Recently, a man who has been happily married for decades told me about the day he woke up, many years into his marriage, and realized that his wife doesn’t actually see the same world that he does, much less in the same way. What I want to say to you, like he said to me, is that this is nothing to be afraid of, but something to be celebrated and embraced. It is a gift to share life with someone who fleshes out your own perspective with his unique voice, someone who weaves the overflow of her rich individual life into the story you’re telling together. Sameness and insularity can weaken a relationship; but sink your roots deep into the people and things that you each find life-giving, and allow that broad root base to lend vibrance and color and energy to your life together.

But what does love look like, in this entangling of two solitudes? What does love look like when the person who is your home is also, in some very deep and true way, a stranger?

Sometimes, love requires that we respect the distances that can never be crossed, the boundaries that should never be transgressed, and that we have the courage to release our loved ones into their own nourishing wilderness space and encourage them to live out of whatever is most true for them there. It means vowing to protect and cherish one another’s deep strangeness: the interiority and singularity of the secret world we each carry with us.

Other times, love will require that you step outside of your own secret world and move toward your chosen stranger in order to meet him where he is. One of my favorite poets, Naomi Nye, says that, “love means learning to breathe in two countries.” Sometimes, love is about the willingness to go that distance and cross the great divide to draw deep breaths in someone else’s world. I suppose we could call this empathy, and it reflects the sort of desperate tenacity that love often requires of us, hurdling us outside of our own orbit and toward someone else with a generous, open-armed embrace.

Marriage is simultaneously a commitment to remaining two, while being one. It is a commitment to throw yourselves into the untamed sea between your two souls, charting a course that dances between intimacy and individuality, between solidarity and spaciousness, between fusion and freedom. Rilke calls love a “story of binding and releasing.”

In marriage, you have been given the gift, privilege and responsibility of bearing witness to another life as it unfolds. I want to exhort you to do this with generous, inquisitive eyes, holding each other in a gaze that says, now and forever, “I know you. I love you. I realize that there will always be more to know, and more to love. I honor that journey; I honor the sacred wilderness in you.”

Posted by: lavieimaginee | February 22, 2014

what a beautiful piece of heartache

this has all turned out to be.

Lord knows, we’ve learned the hard way

all about healthy apathy.

 

Sometimes, healing visits us gently, almost imperceptibly, and long after we’ve resigned ourselves to living with the buried remnants of our woundedness. It can whisper up and surround us: the fresh green breath of surprise, interrupting the bewildering thickness of a summer afternoon. It can seep through every pore, and still us like the rain.

Not so many months ago, I awoke one morning to cool winter sunlight. I turned in my rumpled bed-sheets to face to the window, and I remember thinking about love, and about stories, and about the ways in which all things, somehow, become new. And I realized, in that moment, that I was ready to sell my wedding dress.

My never-worn wedding dress. That whimsical dream of ivory gazar organza with its little tendril of flowers cascading down the hip. The first dress I tried on. The one that made everyone cry.

For the first two years after the breakup, I held on to the dress because I expected Simon to come back for me. I felt convinced in my soul that it was only a matter of time before he would turn up on the doorstep of my dilapidated little three-flat on Chicago’s north side and say that yes, we had created something good, and no, we should not have given up so easily. Let’s start over. Let’s try again.

But those first two years, with all their aching and longing, finally passed. I stopped dreaming of Simon’s return. I made peace with the senselessness of our dissolution. Gradually, I pried my own tenacious fingers off of my deeply felt need for answers, for a cohesive narrative, and I resigned myself to living out the loss that we had created.

Over the next two years, I thought about selling my wedding dress several times. And each time, the decision to keep it was less about belligerent hope and more about nostalgia, about my grief over a story that had ended. This was the story I had wanted; this was the story as it was supposed to be told. It was a story about being found and being known. It was about a boy with a lilting accent and a way of laughing that was both foreign and familiar. It was a story held in a younger body, a less bruised and timid heart. And it was supposed to end and begin in that small stone church by the river.

A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in a delightful Italian café in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, sharing a tiny bistro table with my blue-eyed, soulful friend Kay.  We hugged our foam-art cappuccinos and talked at some length about life, about the ways we always thought it would be, and about how it actually IS. Kay’s eyes wandered to the window, and lingered on the stream of nameless figures passing by.

“There are so many ways to tell a story,” she murmured. “And so many different stories that need to be told. I comfort myself knowing that if it’s not THIS story, it will be another.”

It can be so hard to let go of the narratives gifted to us when we were small. There’s an artificial comfort in believing that there is a single way things are “supposed” to be, and an often-misplaced confidence in believing we can make that happen. In my childhood, there were no stories of girls who fell in love but DIDN’T get married. There were no stories of failed engagements, no stories about newly-single girls slipping into the anonymity of the big city and experiencing a delayed adolescence. In the stories I had been told, Simon and I would have gotten married. But we didn’t. And each time I thought about selling my wedding dress, it was a harsh reminder that I am in uncharted territory and that I don’t know what is expected of me here. I hated admitting to myself that I had fallen outside of the perfect storylines, and that I could never inhabit them again.

It takes great courage to enter into a generous, open-armed embrace of a world that can be unpredictable and vicious. It takes a willingness to be surprised, upended, broken, and remade. I am (ever-so-slowly) learning this type of courage, this hospitality of spirit.

The decision to sell my wedding dress is part of that growth. In letting it go, I am surrendering my claim to a story that was never meant for me. I am relinquishing my own need to be prescriptive about Life, and choosing to demystify those voices of societal expectation that have felt deafening for far too long. I want to live my life as an act of wide-eyed discovery, not spend my energies in a desperate attempt to hedge its meandering path. So what if the story I’m telling isn’t “by the books”? So what if I’m coloring outside the lines? So what if I didn’t get married at 25, when my heart was still innocent and undivided? I look at my heart now, with its peeling band-aids and stitches and scars, and I feel so much pride. It has been tested; it has been stretched; it has emerged with new depth and fullness.

There is so much beauty in the mess of our stories: in the sad endings, the false starts, the sudden changes of direction. There is beauty in the way we wrestle angels of wholeness and shalom from our unraveling narratives, the way we make meaning from the broken pieces. There is beauty in awakening to the surprise of our own healing. And there is beauty, especially, in the resilience that allows us to – finally! – mend old stories and weave new ones.

Posted by: lavieimaginee | February 2, 2014

Some long (probably belabored) thoughts on love and suffering.

A week ago, I caught a flight home to Chicago after a few brief but precious days in San Diego. I had been visiting one of my dearest friends, as I’ve done a handful of times in the past year and a half since his mom passed away from a short but debilitating battle with cancer. We had enjoyed a lovely few days together, marked by sunshine and salt water, laughter and glasses of tempranillo. But as my plane stalled on the tarmac, waiting for clearance to take off, I curled into the window seat beside a stoically polite German boy, and wondered why my chest felt like it was being crushed beneath some invisible weight. It took me a few moments to realize that I felt like crying. Not the quiet, prepossessed kind of crying that involves a single tear and a delicate hand to the nose, but the anguished, ugly, lung-emptying kind that happens when every sense is overwhelmed by some incomprehensible grief.

I should know to expect this by now.

I am an unusually, perhaps excessively empathetic person; when my friends grieve, I feel and adopt that grief as if it were my own. Austin is perhaps not actively grieving any longer. His position in the Navy doesn’t exactly allow him to spend much time in the echoing halls of loss, and his own innate strength, resilience, and determination wouldn’t let him dwell there even if he had the option. But where Austin’s life experience and constitution have shaped him into a container, mine have perforated me into a sieve. Despite my best efforts at containment, whatever I feel has a tendency to just leak out… all over me and anyone in proximity to me.

Since life in the military has not given Austin adequate time or space for the full expression of his grief, I desperately want our friendship to be a place where he can continue to work through its many iterations, as they arise, episodically. I make a point to ask him about his mom and his own grief as regularly as I can, so that he knows that he always has that permission to process. The tricky part about trying to create this sort of sanctuary in any friendship, though, is that my own “leakiness” has a tendency to hog the emotional space. If we talk about Austin’s mom and I start crying, Austin will be pushed into the role of comforter instead of grieving son. And I don’t want that.

So, when we talk about his mom, I breathe in sharply. I blink a lot. Sometimes I bite my tongue. If he ever needs to cry, I want that emotional space to be available to him. But that means that when I’m sitting on the tarmac waiting to fly home to Chicago, all my un-cried feeling rise up and demand my attention.  So far, I can only manage to postpone my feelings for a short period of time; I can’t yet repress them indefinitely or eradicate them by sheer force of will. I suppose this is probably a good thing, although it rarely feels like it.

Recently, some friends of mine lost their two-year old daughter when she succumbed to a sudden, nearly inexplicable illness and then flat-lined on the hospital’s operating table. I remember calling my mom, nearly drowning in my own tears, and telling her that I didn’t want to be this empathetic anymore. “It hurts to care this much,” I sobbed, “And it never changes the ending of the story. It accomplishes NOTHING.” I wanted to only care a normal amount, I said, and not be so undone by the grief of others. My mom (bless her) immediately invalidated my use of the word “normal” and reminded me that compassion is a gift.

She would know. My mom currently works as someone hired by tight-knit families to provide extra TLC and end-of-life care to their terminal loved ones. Her two most recent assignments were much shorter than anyone anticipated, and because my mom is a tender soul, both losses caused her significant sorrow. She recently described herself as “a wimp and a warrior in a sushi roll,” a beautiful and apt description of what it means to live in this broken world as a soulful, connected person. She is someone who is deeply, poignantly familiar with her own emotional fragility… and simultaneously, she is someone who goes plunging back into the combat zones of fear, loss and grief in order to lavish love on those who are gradually being untethered from this world.            

Our deepest hearts (hers, mine, yours) are like muscle, like soil. Both must be broken to allow for growth. If muscle fibers were never torn, and the earth was never tilled with a hoe, we could look at that muscle or that swath of earth and perceive it as being “whole.” But the reality is that the lack of tearing or tilling leads to withering, to atrophy, to fallow fields. If we manage to stay emotionally safe, to develop the heart that C.S. Lewis describes as being unbreakable and impenetrable, we might have the luxury of looking stable, of seeming whole. But for its health and growth, the heart requires exposure. It requires vulnerability and sometimes, often, even brokenness. The biggest-hearted people you will ever meet may also be some of the messiest. They won’t ever have it all together, but that’s because they are constantly being broken and remade and experiencing all kinds of cosmic growing pains.

About eight months ago, a local pastor encapsulated this idea in a way that I found deeply resonant. He said: The form that love takes in a broken world is suffering. This echoes the famous C.S. Lewis quote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” One of the beautiful things about my religious tradition it takes this harsh, often devastating reality and turns it into a sacred calling. We are instructed to weep with those who weep, to lay ourselves on the line emotionally and to love sacrificially. We are not told to resist this Suffering Love, but to embrace and cultivate it. This is a counter-intuitive, subversive calling; it flies in the face of our self-preservation instinct and deeply felt need for protection.

In communion, we echo Jesus’s words: This is my body, broken for you; this is my blood, shed for you. In recent months, I have thought of my own participation in communion as an act of identifying with Christ in that archetypal moment of suffering. As a Christian, I follow the story of a suffering God who was spilled out with love for others; and in communion, I stand up and say that I am determined to be an imitator of that suffering God, that I am determined to live into an incarnational rhythm that involves loving to the point of brokenness because I was first loved in this way… and because I still believe in the redemptive, life-giving power of that love.

Posted by: lavieimaginee | November 9, 2013

It is a Saturday evening in early November. There is a rip-current of bitter wind folding and snapping against the corners of my third-floor apartment, but I am safely cocooned in a warm pool of light. My favorite winter candle is burning on the desk and releasing its fragrant magic – vaguely reminiscent of pine needles, frost, and mulled wine – into the still, safe air.

I read all of Anne Lamott’s Stitches today. I intended to read a chapter and then set the book aside to do something more “productive” with my Saturday, but Lamott’s thoughts were steamed milk with honey to a soul over-thirsty, tired, and aching with emptiness. I couldn’t put it down.

Ok, that’s a lie. I put it down after every chapter… only to walk around my room aimlessly for a few moments, look at various articles of clothing I probably SHOULD put on, get back in bed in my pj’s and re-open, re-engage. In other words, I tried.

Lamott’s most recent offering is a small one, a work of brevity and simplicity that taps into cosmic mysteries – life, death, love, grief, and hope – in a way that is gentle but utterly disarming. Much of the book left me feeling exposed, with the pressure of unwept stories rising in my lungs, and my own Big Realities marching to the front of my mind, demanding to be heard, demanding to be recognized, extending their own riotous and messy invitations to make peace.

In the spirit of honesty engendered by Stitches and this candlelit space, here is one of my Big Realities:

I live my life in a nearly-perpetual state of disbelief.

Early and repeated exposures to death and loss in my formative years, in conjunction with my naturally melancholic disposition, left me convinced that I was destined to die young. I sobbed in my grandmother’s car on my tenth birthday because my own mortality was smacking me in the face, and I felt loss I didn’t have a name for yet. I was desperate to turn back the clock. “I’m not in the single digits anymore,” I told my grandmother. “And I never will be again. I’m ten now. I’m in the double-digits. And that is where people die.”

“Oh, honey,” she laughed. “You have a long time yet. All that happens when you turn ten is that you get to live another ten years. And then another. I have lived to be ten so many times already! Someday, when you’re older, I am going to remind you that we had this conversation, and we will laugh about how you were so, soooo sad to be turning ten.”

My grandmother’s words did little, at the time, to soothe me. Surely, I thought, surely my card is up and I’m next. I lived the next six years with baited breath, convinced that I wouldn’t make it past 16 because that was the oldest I could visualize myself. I had a vivid, uncontained imagination, but for some reason I was never able to visualize myself graduating from high-school, going to college, working a grown-up job, having a car or my own bank account, living somewhere besides my family home. Obviously, I took this as a portent and spent my whole 16th year feeling petrified and morose, waiting for the shoe to fall.

But the days passed and I slipped, haltingly and awkwardly, into the completely unscripted reality that waited beyond the boundaries of my imagination. One lasting result of those early and deeply internalized traumas is that every day after 16 has felt like borrowed time. And now, at 30, I have lived nearly as long on borrowed time as I have on the time I assumed belonged to me. I have stumbled into each new chapter, and across each new threshold, in the blinking half-light of a profound and persistent disbelief. Is this story really mine?

On my better days, this disbelief manifests as wonder, surprise, enchantment. I spend much of my time in awe that this is all real, that this is my life, that I am still here. I am astounded by the overarching beauty of our collective narrative and the simple fact that I get to be a part of it at all. Even in the midst of reviewing my most visceral and cherished memories, I have trouble believing that I have seen the things I have, and gotten to experience such wildly disorienting love. This kind of disbelief makes me braver and more grateful with age.

On my darker days, this disbelief looks like baffled disappointment, like being the only vertically-oriented and blue-jeaned character in an absurdist painting that I cannot escape. I wake up to a life in which I have somehow, quite competently, managed to miss EVERY boat and milestone that my internalized voices say I should have achieved by now: graduate school, marriage, kids, a job that makes “real” money, getting published or teaching young people to fall in love with literature and to crystallize their ideas by its tenuous and honest light. When disaster and loss show their ugly faces again, I can barely comprehend or accept how much this life hurts; I am shocked that such harrowing pain is real, is prevalent, is repeating, and yet is, somehow, survivable. I especially feel disbelief at my own resilience and the resilience of others, and the grace with which we are learning to carry and redeem our heaviest stories.

I think that, as time passes, I am growing into a more generous grasp of these layers of disbelief. I have learned that sometimes we reel under the weight of great beauty and great grief in a similar way, and we feel undone or at a loss because these things are simply too big for us to hold. I have learned that sometimes these sorts of experiences can make us feel alienated from our own lives; we may want to be editorial about it, but sometimes we can’t even identify the story that we’re telling or whether or not it’s cohesive. So much of this life is lived in fragments and vignettes, and in the utterly perplexing liminal spaces where elation and devastation co-exist. Yet I am convinced that there is a sort of sacredness to all this – to the mess and confusion of the human experience – that resists encapsulation or explanation. There is a sacredness in the invisible currents that pull us from story to story, a sacredness that hides around corners and under piles of laundry, a sacredness that centers us in the moments when we are most unanchored. And it rests like a benediction over each uncharted life as it’s lived, which is usually one baffling or surprising piece at a time.

Posted by: lavieimaginee | September 11, 2013

Image

A week ago, I was roused at 5:30am from a fitful sleep by a Peruvian voice outside my tent. “Flowers?” He queried. “Buenos dias, Flowers. Time to wake up and have some coca tea.” I groaned and sat up, blinking through the darkness at the two burrowed bodies beside me. The day hadn’t yet dawned, but we all knew what it held in store for us: the long ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point of the Inca Trail. We were already nestled in the foothills of the Andes mountains, but this day would demand that we take on the mountains themselves, climbing a staggering 4,000 ft in elevation prior to lunch. We would pass the vegetation line and continue to climb, learning what it felt like to lift weighted legs in 30% less oxygen.

When I planned, scrimped and saved for this trip, I thought that the point was to arrive at Machu Picchu, or “old peak” in Quechuan. I wanted the journey, certainly. I wanted a pilgrimage. But the goal was always arrival; I wanted to trace the footsteps of the Incan pilgrims and the 20th century explorers, to traipse through rainforest and cloud-forest and clamber over mountains until I could turn a corner and see the remote ancient citadel entrenched below me. In a world of over-mapped corners and unfriendly borders, I wanted that sensation of discovery, of “stumbling” upon a once-hidden place, now widely (and perhaps ironically) regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world.

What I did not expect was the way in which the journey, subtly and almost without my consent, became the point. The arrival at Machu Picchu was, frankly, anti-climactic. But the shift in my perspective began sometime before that… somewhere on the trail itself. I first noticed it a week ago, in that moment when we finally summited Dead Woman’s Pass and I realized – with a small but unmistakable pang of anguish – that the hardest part of the trail was already behind us. The next evening, as the trail wound down from the mountains and grew progressively flatter, easier, and warmer, that tiny pang became a gnawing in my gut. I found my eyes welling up with premature nostalgia, an indescribably desperate longing for a place I had yet to leave behind. I only knew, in that moment, that I didn’t want to arrive anywhere; I wanted to stay in the rhythm of the road just a little bit longer. I wanted the trail, edged with teeth of stone; I wanted the wild orchids in their shades of sun-fire and blood; I wanted the throaty calls of jungle wildlings; I wanted the ritual cleansing of my own sweat, the intentionality of every hard-fought breath, the feeling of stronger legs beneath me each morning. But the trail wound on relentlessly, with even the most reluctant step bringing us closer to arrival, to landing, to the end of the journey.

The trail is, perhaps, a bit like life in that way… a bit like time. It unfolds before you and unwinds behind you, taking with it all sorts of stories that can never be retold. These moments, the “now” moments, the fully-present-and-embodied ones that I felt so anchored to on the trail, are already memory. In its way, this feels like loss.

And yet, I know that if I were to stay on the trail indefinitely, it would soon cease to be a journey. I would make the trail itself into a resting place, into my home. We humans weren’t created for stasis, surely, but we don’t do well in endlessly liminal spaces either; we find ways to domesticate and shelter, ways to stake our claim on small pieces of earth, ways to root even in shallow and uncertain terrain. And I guess this is why it would be mistake to conflate any place – including the Inca Trail – with the act of journeying. Because the reality is that we can cheapen any journey into a destination, or enliven any destination into a landscape that is rich with nomadic potential. The trick is committing to the wonder and fluidity of pilgrimage, and opening our eyes to all of the “unlikely” places where new pilgrimages can be found.

“Road Trip”

You don’t need the sprawl of the interstate, the odometer climbing
and candy wrappers haloing your seat. You don’t need toll booths and a pocket weighted with quarters. You don’t need speed limits or state lines or a full tank of gas. You don’t need to wait for solitude. You don’t need to wait for sadness.
Even if it’s an hour, two. Even if where you live promises little,
the destinations unremarkable, the landscape absent of glitter and thrill. Even if your car is a bicycle or your car is your legs or your car is your mind.
Make the goal, simply, movement. Let your gaze fall soft. Back out of the driveway of all that is familiar, and permit yourself the brief enchantment of a mapless ride.
Get lost. Get found. Get going.

-Maya Stein

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