Consider the Oven

As I apply salve to the blisters, June Carter Cash's song petitions the circle to be unbroken in her Southern-honey voice. We light the candles and sit down to supper. We consider the gift-oven's miraculous powers and presence — gifts I did not give us by “fixing” the situation, but which came to us through the generosity of others.

The Ritual of Returning (to Kenya)

As much as I miss the surety of my childhood idea of home, I am grateful for the tension that stretches me between two continents. I am drawn back not as an explorer or safari gazer who longs for Africa in the naïve and ideal sense, but because I love what Africa has become for us — a place where we belong, a kind of home. And I know that some day when this ritual of returning to Kenya becomes less regular, I will be homesick.


Conversations About Race

Eight years ago, the life paths of three women — one black, one white, one multi-racial — crossed, and a unique friendship was born. The topic of race was central from the inception, and we shared a fundamental sense that we needed one another as we explored the terrain of race. Despite the fact that many of our conversations over the years have been difficult and sensitive, they’ve also been beautiful.

I do not remember what I said to my mother over the phone, or what Ms. Reed said when I came back to class. What I remember is staring at my desk, the florescent light blurring into a seamless expanse over me, a pencil shaking in my hand. What I remember is the way my mother walked into the office, wordless, a pink sweatshirt bunched between her hands. My mother’s lips were bare and pale, and the sweatshirt hung past my knees.

 In so many ways, my ideal home is like the earth itself. Perhaps that is the real reason I eschew plastic and acrylic. Perhaps that is why I love wood and wool. Why I like to see our rooms change with the seasons. I want to remember that I am made from the stuff of earth. I never want to forget that the earth is my God-made home. The sky a tent overhead.

I sit for a moment in the reality of my own fortune, my own comfort, my own deep-seated needs and self centered nature. I remember the ashes, the feel of them on my forehead, gritty under Father Boyle’s thumb as he pressed them into the sign of the cross and I breathe then, one deep breath, one heavy sigh that releases shame of that milk carton moment, that column of ash moment, that slow march toward Good Friday. Carus, we are Easter people.

In my writing about my friend, I embellished certain details. I filled in the holes. And as a result, if I’m honest, I’m not sure which parts of the story are true, as in truly happened, and which parts I’ve added, piece by piece, over the years. Was it my need to remember that built this parallel between his eyes and the radio? Did we really smoke pot on a park bench, en plein air, as I’ve so often recalled, or was it cigarettes? Did he hold my hand during the movie we watched together, or did I dream that, too?

When I sat down last Friday night, I expected to hear an essay — fresh, different, perhaps unpublished — on one of his go-to topics, whether the environment, social justice concerns, or some other aspect of intentional living. Since the day I’d booked him, I’d been waiting for the moment when he’d take the stage and begin reading — his deeply rooted ethos already apparent, piercing — and then I would steal glances around the room to see the shock of recognition on the faces of my students, see the visible signs of narrative transport taking them to a new place with a master at the helm.

But something else happened. Not something bad, not less than . . . just different. 

The Mother & Child Project

The role of the artist in society is unique. Unlike bankers, teachers, police officers, senators, doctors, or professors, artists stand at the margins of society and write poetry and prose rife with metaphor and images as a kind of prophetic voice, hopefully with a vision of truth and love. This vision can empower community, uplifting the vulnerable, and provide a newfound hope for a better life for all. The artist has the power to bend language to her will to get “between the lines” of poetry to allow what the Bible calls “true religion” to emerge. With this perspective, there is beauty, clarity, and pure advocacy.

1,000 Days

Never mind that this child is in a different country than the one for which we have been approved. Never mind that moving forward with this child will mean redoing much of our paperwork, once again driving around to banks, doctor’s offices, police departments, and myriad government buildings to get new documents printed, notarized, and certified. My friend Jill has a song that sings, “And then out of nothing, it’s telling me something I didn’t know that I knew.” There is a mysterious kind of knowing that can happen to a person, and it seems all the more sweet and supernatural when it comes to your life partner in the same time and space. 

Like any matter of taste, reading well is an exercise in preference, but as I consider the discovery of most of my favorite and abiding titles, I find that each one either came from following a strong writer, mimicking a good reader, or trusting a well-regarded “leader.” And, more often than not, the best of the best cross-check against all three! 

So, this winter, I’m finding it worthwhile — even necessary — to name the things that are saving my life. Sometimes I scribble down a list in my journal (a gift from my sister last Christmas, and itself a lifesaver). Sometimes I take the time to write a blog post, with pictures of those purple tulips or a brave blue winter sky. Most often, I’m trading daily texts with my friend Laura, both of us doing our best to find and name the things that are saving our lives. The act of naming them often becomes a lifesaver, a welcome glimpse into the brighter side of this world.

It was the hardest assignment I’ve ever been given. It had to be a certain length. It had to work musically with the tone of the visuals. It had to comment on what was going on onscreen without describing it, so it had to add subtext. I loved the challenge, and I’m still really happy with the final product. Auden claimed to have written a poem in every meter style that had ever existed. And if someone came up with one he hadn’t heard of before, he’d write it down and try to create a new poem in that meter. Pure craft, right?

When I was a child, I lived in fear. Now that I’m a man, I’m learning — slowly, it sometimes seems — how to act out of love; love for my friend, love for my neighbor, love for myself. Love grounded in particulars, freed from the burden of empty rhetoric. Love that honors the dignity and complexity of every person I meet.

The real answer is that I choose books over the internet and social media. I choose to read books rather than browse Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. I choose books over blogs and forums and e-mail. The answer is not finding the time, it’s choosing how to spend it. Instead of going online frequently, I put limits on my social media time in favor of moderation. At the end of the day, for me, reading a book is more edifying and better for my well-being than reading through social media posts or falling down rabbit holes online. For me, it’s about putting the phone down and choosing something else. There is enough time for things we value.