thanks to be given

November 23, 2009

“Gratitude…goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”—Henri J.M. Nouwen

i had the great pleasure of receiving the above words in my inbox today from our dear friend and hero, Sister Barbara. they are words that ring so incredibly true in my old soul these days, happy as i am. i am grateful for the beautiful family and friends that surround me, for the cozy neighborhood i am part of, for the blessing of work (however boring) in times such as these. but of course the challenge remains to knead gratitude into every fiber of our days, to practice it in all things – not to extract it or create it, but t0 realize its continual presence in each moment, glimpse, word, thought. to grasp every breath as an exchange of gifts – affirming existence as we accept air into our lungs, embracing that existence as we breathe it out. maybe this is all terribly new-age-y but ah well.

anyways. i am indeed feeling very grateful these days. this weekend past was damn near perfect. the beginning and end of it capped with slow, delicious, intentional meals shared with new old friends. saturday spent nesting, cleaning, and biking around while my other half hit the books. it was a serious blessing to enjoy the THIRD warm weekend in a row! makes the inevitable onslaught of winter seem (at least at this point) somehow bearable. anyways, i took the opportunity to make my last pilgrimage to the lakefront where i sat on strong rocks and watched the very peaceful lake mingle with the autumn stripped shore. there were bikers and hikers and children ambling about in clumps and it took a great amount of willpower to tear myself away from their busy midst. biking home, i took the opportunity afforded by the clear sky and bright sun to swing a big loop down south where i was pleasantly surprised by a tangle of wooded paths and ponds along the backside of the museum of science and industry. proceeding westward (and to my great joy) i came upon the 65th Street Garden – such an amazing configuration of land that is so well-enjoyed and thriving in the midst of abandoned lots.

(i’m so desperate for a garden. i walked through those rows and prayed that the Lord would be so kind as to help me participate in a space like this next summer. i have been hatching all sorts of secret plans about what i’ll plant and how i’ll configure it, schemed about all the garden-friends i’ll make with whom i can learn and trade and cultivate. we’ll see what happens. Lord knows i might be uprooting from chicago next summer too. but one step at a time…)

sunday my parents came in to go to mass with us and join us for the church “Christmas Bazarre” – a yearly event that collects the odds and ends crafters from the church as well as some possessions from recently deceased church members (oh yes, it’s creepy) in the high school cafeteria. each year i hold out hope that there will be something to be found there but as i never do develop a collection of dolls in the interim between bazarres, i never find reason to buy the tiny knit clothes that everyone seems to sell. maybe one day i’ll have a very small baby and  the whole event will take on a glorious new meaning. until then…

anyways, we had a lovely brunch with the ‘rents, an early celebration of mark’s birthday, and to top all this joy off, we found out today that mark was awarded a lilly grant for a theologian-in-residence program he has been concocting with a friend. the news comes at a great time, as mark (and his self-esteem) have been trampled by phD applications as of late, despite my protests that he is surely the greatest thinker to ever live. at any rate, mark and his companion now get to develop a Lenten course on contemplative prayer at our church and another while someone else pays for the materials. pretty cool, if i may say so myself…

i guess all these things make gratitude rather easy. i guess my tune is liable to change the second something cracks or breaks or falls to pieces. but i would hope that the practice of gratitude, exercised with intention in times of ease and joy could be carried over to the more mangled, ugly moments of life. at any rate,  if i don’t consciously respond to the continual gift of life now, i probably never will.



November 18, 2009

i recognize i can be a bit of a brat. well, a total brat. how the Lord has managed patience with me (not to mention my finite friends and family) all these years remains a great mystery.

i have been in one of those “moods” since yesterday, those awful affective states that muddy up just about everything for no good reason at all. the weekend was nice, the last few workdays have been manageable and yet these gray clouds gather overhead. i came home to a lovely smelling apartment last night, dinner already stewing on the stove. it was even yoga night. ah, to no avail. i still sulked.

prodded along by the very cautious husband, i eventually did dress for yoga (despite my protests that yoga was just awful and crowded and anxiety-producing) and mounted my bike in wild pajama pants and plaid ankleboots.

now i suppose i should concede that i make it just about everywhere by pure chance. thus, despite the fact that i have been to yoga every week for the past few months (AND that it is only a few blocks from home) i got terribly lost, trying to direct my path based on where i thought i saw the top of rockefeller chapel in the dim sky. by the time i had escaped from the scary underpasses and busy roads of my error, i was late.  rather than trodding in, i decided to take a bike ride.

i realize i don’t really take bike rides anymore. for the last five years or so the bike has been my primary transport, which has made the luxury of a leisure ride somewhat awkward seeming in that it is just like a normal commute lacking a destination. nonetheless, it seemed best for my cranky body to take some laps around the neighborhood and so around i went, looping timidly through the quiet streets, careful to remain within the generally familiar.

as the strain in my body rolled off i started to enjoy myself and the air that was not quite frigid and the leaves that had not quite let go of their branches; the general stir of promising youth circling the campus paths, the cozy den of the surrounding homes, the continuous thread that loops them all together and makes you simultaneously aware of the coexistence of the academy and the family in hyde park.

i pedalled around, careful not to wander too far south (where that politician was held at gunpoint yesterday) or too far west (where that girl was raped last year). i desperately wanted to go down to the gardens but turned left instead, training my bike in the way of electrons which obediently circle their nucleus. as usual, i wrestled with the fact that i fear the place that i live, or that i fear the place that surrounds the place that i live (which is of course, the place that i live).

sometimes i feel like my femininity stifles me in this – that i live in such fear of violation and feel so ill-equipped to defend myself. it infringes upon my sense of independence, peace, and it mangles my rationality. every shadow lurches, every figure looms, i let my world morph into madness that always threatens the worst. i hate that i wear such awful glasses that bar me from seeing the innate goodness around me.

the battle over the 61st street garden has gotten me thinking a lot lately about this fear that i have towards the shores beyond hyde park and how much hyde park, in its educated coziness, is cut off from woodlawn and other surrounding neighborhoods. i’m not quite sure i know what i can do about it. i’m sure there is something.

maybe i need to start riding my bike a little further south and a little further west. maybe i need to start gardening a little further south and a little further west.

at any rate, it wouldn’t hurt to step out of my regular orbit a little more. i need to peel off more than just the transient layers of fatigue and mood – i need to chip away at the more residual and persistant layers of fear and prejudice.


November 12, 2009

well, i found out today that i will not be moving up in the company as had hoped. of course, the move would not have been real grand or expansive or anything, just would have maybe had more to do (which would be nice). when this realization began to dawn on me yesterday in the midst of inquiring calls from potential applicants i defaulted to the typical despair. i saw myself answering phones years and years into the dismal future, potential atrophying within me over time.

but, i also had good enough instinct to let myself just think a bit in the afternoon (the alternative to desperately scrambling for distraction, which is my typical mode of being). eventually employing some entry level principles gathered during my psychology studies, i calmed myself down, set out the dichotomy of pros and cons for the future months.

not getting the job cons: boredom continues, skill set remains same, no economic boost. pros: i am not tied here.

i am not tied here.

not that i’m some primal whore, out on the prowl. i just need to be thankful that should any interesting opportunity emerge into view from the mirey, depression-era hole that is our modern economy i would (theoretically) be able to take it without heavily-laden guilt. that is a good thing. that is a blessing.

it helps to set some sort of expiration date for misery, even minimal misery with benefits and pay. it’s like building support for a ceiling so that the roof doesn’t cave in on you.

i realize how entirely overdramatic i am about things. i work, i am blessed. life is not nearly that bad. i just overthink it all and have a melancholic head passed down from the claps side so what can we expect?

just working on remembering that, at jesus’ disposal, i am blessed.

rise above

November 11, 2009

yesterday the woman standing next to me on the bus collapsed.

in some ways, it seemed natural. the overcrowded buses mindlessly stack you in these perfectly awkward situations, bumping and grinding into the sea of strangers – all this making it inevitable that breath would be a struggle at some point. anyways, i was no less prepared for it, downright terrifying as it was. poor thing, eyes in the back of her skull, body bent like crumpled paper on the ground.

however, what impressed me much and what elevated what could have been an altogether awful experience was the reaction of my bus-mates. they seemed to flow in timely shifts to her side. this person fixing the position of her legs, this person moving her bag, this person taking her mother’s number, this person  holding her hand and speaking gently. a calm man called an ambulance, a sweet woman talked her frantic mother down via phone. a few gawked, a few guffawed at this untimely glich in their morning commute. but most people just held her in respectful silence, doing what they could, praying what they could, and all of us waiting for the ambulance’s call.

it was almost like being collectively held. joining together in thatched harmony around this uncomfortable situation. black, white, young, old, rich, poor. just like you always hope to hear. by the time she was gently removed from my feet, i think we were all the better for it somehow.

anyways. in a week filled with missing persons, bank robberies, death anniversaries, it was altogether nice to see something good prevail.

recalled to life

November 10, 2009

don’t know why i would do this.

no, i do. it’s cuz i’m bored. not with life, just mostly with the hours of 8amto5pm.

and i realize that that is ok. but i also realize that my weak little soul gets stifled and uncomfortable rather easily, gets it’s feathers ruffled and promptly dips into despair (if only for a spell). so this will be an attempt to keep my head above water, to push aside bones so my lungs can breathe. to give my spirit some space. cuz it needs it.

i’ve been avoiding writing for some time. some 4 years actually. i used to love it really. the easy flow, the unconscious selection of word order, the sweet self-indulgent joy of accomplishment (enmeshed with the self-depricating sting of embarassment).

but to a very definite extent, all i could conjure up had its roots deep in experience. perhaps that is to be expected. however once the soil encasing the roots turned poison with the mess of life – of death, of depression, of abandonment, of rifts and ravages and all things ugly – i no longer had words i wanted to order or events worthy of recapitulation. it was one of many things i buried on november 8th.

but now is a new time. thoughts have gotten used to tramping around the dull corners of my skull and i guess it’s time to give them more space to roam, though i don’t completely know why. we’ll see how this goes.

i am living the full joy of the newly wed and also the concrete boredom of modern office life. thankfully, the former more often overtakes the latter than vice versa. friendships, conversations, rich texts squeeze life into the cracks of my 8 to 5, trying to remind this old mare that there is more, there is more, there is always more.

so let us try to look for it.