Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lent: A Season of Yes

This Lenten season, I am not on Facebook. I deleted my Instagram app (though, I confess shamefacedly, not before making sure I could still access my account when I decide to get it back again). I kept twitter. Gotta keep twitter because it keeps you smart, though admittedly in the most lowbrow way possible.
Having stricken myself from social media, I should mention that I don't characterize this as "giving up Facebook for Lent." That isn't quite it. It's so prosaic. It's so paltry. Because it's really not a big deal. The icky part of me, who likes to imagine herself far cleverer than others, dislikes the meager ring to it, the hackneyed, college-girl piety. But I think this twisted feeling draws its source from another, quieter, and better voice.
In my best intentions, this is not exactly a fast - a fast is meant to push you to your limits physically, to teach your soul by way of your body that there are things you cannot ever do on your own. To say, "I gave up Facebook for Lent" seems to me a feeble fast.
Lent is traditionally viewed as a season of giving things up, of fasting and penitence. This is good. But Lent literally means "springtime." Lent is a unique giving up - a sacrifice of ourselves that is in reality a yes to more abundance. It's a turning, a journey, a path increasingly lined with life, a season that ends in Resurrection. In addition to our fasts, Lent is a time to examine our lives, our habits, and see where we are quenching life in ourselves. Where do our daily distractions keep us from fully seeing and breathing and living in the sharp real of God? These days, we say so many "yeses" -- yes to parties, yes to friends, yes to responsibility, yes to relationships, yes to anything you suggest that I can't refuse without feeling crap about myself. But so many yeses are just a way of saying no to the life inside me. Lent, more than anything, is a time to say no to our myriad habitual distractions -- not for the sake of the no, but for the sake of a better Yes.
Henri Nouwen says in The Life of the Beloved that the Christian life is "the change from living life as a painful test to prove that you deserve to be loved, to living it as an unceasing 'Yes' to the truth of that Belovedness.'"
Lent is a season of yes, a respite from all the other acquiescences that leave us harried, stressed, anxious, violated, afraid. Lent is a yes to the love of God, a yes to our need for him, a yes to becoming human.
T.S. Eliot describes the Christian life as "A condition of complete simplicity / (Costing not less than everything)" Rilke says you must change your life.
So I've asked myself, How can I make my life simpler? How can I create space for a better Yes? This is just a little baby step to changing my life.
Jesus says, "I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly."

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Today started innocently enough. Like any other good Saturday, I was two cups of coffee into the morning and on my fourth episode of How I Met Your Mother. On the couch, in my PJ’s, enabling my behavior to continue guilt-free by throwing out the occasional, “I really should shower and clean my room.” 
This continued for some time with only small variations: walked to the kitchen to heat up my coffee, took a break from TV to scroll mindlessly through my Facebook feed, and – seemingly innocuously enough – decided to watch Jimmy Fallon.
This was my mistake.
It was going well at first. Jimmy and Justin doing yet another History of Rap, being cute and sorta boyfriendly with each other which let’s be honest nobody hates. But then I finished that episode and backed it up to the Michelle Obama episode.
Before I know it, my First Lady is looking me in face saying, “I try to exercise every day!”
The story ends with me doing a Jillian Michael’s DVD and nearly dying. Like who knew butt kicks could be so hard? (Also a flowerpot fell and broke because I live in an apartment where the floor resettles when you do jumping jacks. The universe telling me to sit back down on the couch??)
Living on purpose takes so much energy.

Monday, February 17, 2014

People of New York: Tough Guys & Flowers

It’s Valentine’s Day, cold and snowy in NYC, which basically describes our entire snowpocalyptic winter. I was almost home for the evening, but waiting for the bus, so I decided to duck into the liquor store — the one that is conveniently right next to the bus stop but inconveniently super creepy with a greenish fluorescent glow coming from the dirty windows and the half-broken neon sign outside flickering a big red “OR” to the street, which customers of a philosophical or superstitious turn might take as not such a great omen.
I am neither philosophical (well, kind of) nor superstitious (only sometimes and mostly about fraternities) so I use this store from time to time when planning has gone awry. The people who work there are very nice and it’s right by a cop station. (That sentence is both true and written solely for my mom.)
So I walked in on Valentine’s Day to find quite a little crowd huddled around the opening in the glass barrier separating us as customers from them as purveyors of the alcohol. Six big guys were sitting around behind the glass, doing apparently nothing really in particular, while one scrawny and harassed-looking young guy I’m used to seeing there was dealing with all the customers. When it was my turn at the window, I asked for a bottle of any cabernet cheaper than $15.
“Just a cabernet. Like whatever you have that’s around ten dollars,” I repeated, shrugging my arms full of bags and an enormous vase of flowers, attempting to indicate, “I am too preoccupied with not dropping these things to be a part of making this decision.”
He yells to the other guys: “Cabernet??”
“Eh, what kind you like?”
“Any kind, really, just like a $10 bottle,” I repeat.
Confusion ensues with three guys yelling names of wines through the glass door and me trying to say that really anything is fine if you would just bag it up and take my money. This does not go well. Everyone in the store is like Who is this chick with the books in her arms and the flowers in her face trying to gesticulate with her elbows.
Finally this really big guy – like enormous like a mountain, bald-headed and scar-faced (okay, that part is embellishment) – heaves himself up and unlocks the glass door and gestures me inside saying, “Let’s do this the easy way.” So I step inside and they start showing me the bottles and I pick one as quickly as possible since I already feel like a nuisance. Mr. Enormous Man stands by the door watching all of this silently. As I turn to go back out the door to the customer side of things, he says, “HEY—” and something I can’t quite pick up.
“I’m sorry, what?” I ask defensively.
“You know those lilies are gonna open up in a couple days. You gotta water ‘em good and give ‘em some sun.”
For a second I have no idea what he’s talking about, then he points at the tight green buds nestled into the bouquet I’m clutching. I hadn’t even noticed them.
I give him a closer look. “You seem to know a lot about flowers.”
The gruff face cracks into a bunch of craggy smile lines, “Yeah, four daughters and two wives. That’ll do it to you.”
I’m laughing, too.
I pay for the wine, add it to my assorted burden, and turn to leave. As I reach the door, he comes to the window, points again at the flowers and says, “Just wait. Those lilies will be the prettiest of them all. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Super

Right now I can hear the Super yelling. He’s down on the street, I’m four floors up, but he’s doing a fair job of making himself clear to the entire block. 
Henry is always enthusiastic. He welcomed us with a bar of chocolate each and an energetic assurance, “GIRLS, YOU HAVE PROBLEMS, YOU CALL HENRY. YOU CALL, I FEEX. NO PROBLEMS.”
He is originally from Eastern Europe but he’s been the super in this building in Queens for over twenty years. The landlords trust him completely. Rent checks under his door and everything. The children in the building run squealing at him whenever they see him, beside themselves with joy. He usually has a candy stowed away, like I remember my great-grandpa did.
Yesterday as I was leaving the building, Henry was perched on a ladder in the front door. The door was propped open and sparks were flying everywhere. He stopped to let me pass and said, “Soon this door no slam so loud!” I thanked him profusely as the sound of that door slamming could raise the dead. And some poor girl lives right next to it.
Ten hours later, I came back and ran into Henry on the street. I asked how it went with the door. “I FEEX IT, I FEEX IT,”  he said jubilantly. 
As I walked in and heard the familiar ungodly slam at my heels, I knew Henry’s way of fixing things maybe wasn’t always what anybody else would call fixing. But lord can he make a person feel welcomed home.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

People of the City: Central Park

He is thin, wiry, the septuagenarian's version of gangly. He looks ready to be puffed away, like the puff of his white hair which despite his best attempts is escaping from beneath a beige baseball cap, like the fluff of milkweed pods bursting. Black pants, running shoes, faded plaid shirt under a gray down vest. His face is pale and deeply lined. Tired. His face is a sigh at the end of a long day. His face is a sigh for a memory that lies down next to him every night. A memory that turns to a bitterness in his coffee the next morning, when light comes in his kitchen windows and the comforting dark of her memory can no longer be drawn about him. His face was a sigh for her.

Right now, though, as he passes the bench where I sit in Central Park, the memory lines break into lines of frustration as he gives a sharp tug to the red leash in his left hand. The Scottish Terrier at the end of it has sat down on the sidewalk, facing the way they just came, and is refusing to move. With a barely audible huff, the man walks gingerly back to his dog. He bends down to lift it, turns it around to face the right direction, sets it back down, and begins his forward journey again. Immediately the Scottie turns and pulls in the opposite direction. This is repeated four or five times, each time they get a foot or so nearer to my bench.

As I chuckle, the man looks up. Wearily, even apologetically, he smiles and says, "He doesn't want to go home."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sometimes, I Am Startled Out of Myself,

by Barbara Crooker

like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.
All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.
They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.

"Sometimes, I Am Startled Out of Myself," by Barbara Crooker, from Radiance. Copyright, Word Press 2005.