Under the Big Sky

I think I am happiest when I am loping through the mountains of the American West.

This is the thought that pops into my brain as I bound down Entertainment Trail in Helena, Montana.

After a month in Europe [I’ve been terrible at updating my blog. Life update: My boyfriend finished his dissertation! I finished the school year! Then we lived in a camper van in Europe for a month! Then I came to Helena to write while he surfs! Then we go to the PNW and then home to Hawaii!], I have made my way back to Helena, Montana, and got myself to the nearest trailhead as soon as possible.

As I bound and push my way up Mt. Ascension, I finally come to a stretch of beautiful, single track trail around the mountain and through a meadow. It’s here that this thought pops into my head.

I leave the meadow, and go through a few minutes of forest before turning a corner and stumbling onto a beautiful field of wildflowers.

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It stops me in my tracks. I take a breath, and in awe at how truly beautiful it all is, and how blessed I am to be in this space.


When describing my summer plans to people, one of the first questions I inevitably got was, “Why Helena?” I admit, in a whirlwind of Europe, Colorado, and the Pacific North West, Montana is not normally perceived as “exciting” as the other places on my itinerary.

And, in some ways, that’s fair. Helena still has a small-town feel (Population: 31,179). It has an ice cream shop, a few coffee shops, and some local boutiques. It does have some excellent breweries and a wine bar, and it’s also a place where the drivers are so polite to pedestrians that it can sometimes cause a traffic jam. I wouldn’t describe it as a “party” city.

Which, to be fair, isn’t what I wanted. So, after falling in love with this place last year, Helena popped into my mind when I first realized I had the time to give to it. Still, I wasn’t sure how it would be to come back. I didn’t know if the small-town feel would make me as happy as it did last year.

Then, on my first morning, I ran these mountains, and my heart has been floating there ever since.

On my second morning, I ran a different set of trails. The trails here aren’t overcrowded (like they are at home), but you’ll pass by a handful of folks out there– which is nice since there is quite a bit of wildlife in Montana. People are generally very friendly when they’re hiking and this time proved no exception.

I was running around Mt. Helena when I stumbled on an older woman and her three adorable (and very big) dogs. As soon as they saw me, they immediately began bounding over to me, which stopped me dead in my tracks. I love dogs, but I also know they can have different reactions to a new human than you plan.

“Don’t worry,” the woman called as she ran over. “They’re friendly! They just love to be pet.”

I started scratching their heads and ears and laughed, “Don’t we all?!”

She took a second, then laughed– a sparkling sound that made her throw her head back a little. Then, she reached over and patted my shoulder. I love touch, but I rarely receive it from strangers (something I often consider a blessing). I was gross and sweaty from running. I had only been back in Helena for 36 hours.

Still, this woman, who did not know me, took the time to laugh, show me some love, and wish me a safe run. The familiarity of the gesture, the willingness treat me as a friend even in my very not-cute state, is something that stayed with me the rest of the day.

And it was another reminder of why I love this place.

I wrote, last year, that I was admittedly very nervous coming here as a woman of color. Both times I have arrived at Helena Regional Airport, I’m the only person of color there.

I also shared that I had found nothing but kindness and warmth once I was here. That remains true (and I’m seeing more diversity!). I still get some looks, but I am still consistently shown a sense of friendliness that, honestly, I have rarely found anywhere else.

And that has been very, very relieving. My newsfeed is pretty consistently filled with videos and stories of people from oppressed groups having their humanity stripped in public, or being attacked and assaulted outright. It is easy to feel on edge and have very valid concerns about one’s safety just existing in public spaces.

Still, it is nice to know that there are still parts of our country where people are just treated as… people. While I’m sure Helena is not perfect, there is still an overall culture of care that flows through its streets and in its citizens. It is an important reminder that, in a world that consistently feels more hostile, there are places where people coexist with care for the humanity of those around them.

Why is that? Where does that come from?

I was pondering that as I walked home the other day. The streets are tree-lined and quiet– just a few folks walking their dogs or in their gardens once the heat had finally settled down. I passed a woman on her porch, who greeted me, then looked over my shoulder.

I turned and was treated to another beautiful Montana sunset. Gold and orange streaks filled the sky, while the clouds were painted brilliant shades red and purple, adorning the sun as it went behind Mt. Helena.

I once had a professor who noted that “the way you treat land reflects how you treat  people.” There is something about people who grow up or spend time in nature that embodies this truth. Within them is a willingness to connect with things around them and a deeper understanding of their place in a larger world. It comes from knowing the people around you are tied to the same earth that you are and, just by existing there and holding that land in reverence, you create kinship. It goes deeper than culture– it goes to the very place of you that connects with time and physical space itself.  Perhaps the kindness and warmth I have found in Helena comes, in part, from that place.

The woman and I took a moment together to watch the sunset. We did not know each other, yet under Big Sky, we were both children from the same creator, in awe of the beautiful place we were in.

A Shatter, A Death Knell, A Wail, A Rallying Cry

I’ve been writing a lot about mental health recently. At least, it seems that way— for Teaching Tolerance, thinking about it as a runner and educator. I’ve been talking about “fighting monsters” for years now, mining stories of the times I “got off the mat,” or “made the choice to stand up.”

Those stories feel good and victorious, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy I’ve written them. Those days do feel good— the days where I am able to look my monsters in the eye, to get up, to not let them control me. Those are stories that feel good to share too— reading how other people cope with mental health has also been an inspiration for me to move forward too.

There are days when the monsters win, though.

These are the days that are hard to write about.

They start slowly. Lots of times, a panic attack will hit me out of the blue– a blind-turning-truck-into-a-deer-in-headlights hit. The tsunami wave you were so sure would never come. I don’t expect, and the ferocity of it flashing through me is enough to knock me on my ass. It hits. I cry. It passes. Panic.

Some days, though, my body has been a battlefield for weeks. I start noticing little things– I’ll stutter when I talk, I’m tired all the time. I start struggling with my spatial awareness and running into desks and doors, bruises blooming on my arms and thighs.

Still, even now, I try and see if I can outrun and out work Panic. Two-a-days and yoga in between. An extra beer at dinner. Nights laying in bed, hand on my heart, repeating, I am fine, I am fine I am fine Iamfineiamfineiamfine, like a talisman to protect me. If I run my tongue enough over the words, maybe I will conjure some sort of magic that will make the statement true.

You can’t ask the external to protect you from what’s already inside you, though.

And so, over the course of the day, a few hours, it comes. I am lightheaded all afternoon, my heart feeling like it will beat out of my chest. I am so hoping it’s just an upset stomach or tired mind. I try to calm myself, taking my own pulse to prove that I am not having a heart attack or dying. I just feel that way. I hang on, for as long as I can, to the rational part of my brain.

I begin to shiver, and my body becomes the Hoover dam holding back the flood, bursting at the seams. I wrap my arms tightly around to try and hold myself in, as if I could keep my rabbit-heart safe in my embrace so it does not beat right out of my body and lose a bad fight bloody on the floor. I breathe. I tell myself, iamfinefiamfineiamfine,

And then, I call my parents. They immediately hear something in my voice. “Can you stay on the phone with me? I think I’m having a panic attack.”

And then, I break.

They stay with me as the first wave passes. They’ve been here before– comforting and cajoling me to breathe, just breathe. As I alternate between hyperventilating and sobbing, they tell me that it’s okay. They gently remind me that I’m okay, they’re okay, everyone is okay. They sit on the phone and tell me that this, too, will pass. That they are there, and that they love me.

And, in many ways, this is more than enough. The first wave passes, I am able to breathe again. They remind me how much they love me, ask me to get some rest and stay safe and, when I am ready, they hang up the phone.

The fight is not over though.

I roll onto my side and begin to heave, my body furled tightly into the fetal postition like a flag rolled up to try and survive the storm. I cannot stop crying. I openly weep, long unfettered wails pulled out of as I mourn the gentle peace my body had built. I try and let loose everything bursting from me, as if I could scrape the bottom of the well of my sadness as a sign that, just maybe, it’s finally gone

I roll onto my hands and knees on the bed, the blanket draped over my back like a fallen warhorse making its last stand that I saw in a book somewhere. “You need to get up now,” I beg myself aloud, sobbing as I press my forehead to the bed in a desperate prayer. “You have to get up.”

I continue to cry, to wail, to try and somehow call my body back out of the hole we are falling into and try and find my way. I slink and slither to the foot of the bed, trying to breath. One foot touches onto the cold linoleum. Then the other. I come to my knees on the floor, pressing my eyes into the mattress as I finally, finally start to calm down.

I don’t know how long it takes, but by the time I am able to stand, it is dark outside.

I get up, slowly find my footing.

I breathe.

And I begin to rebuild.

These are the days I do not often write about. The shatter, the death knell, the wail, the rallying cry trying to bring me back home to my body. They are the not the Cinderella-story where Panic is the thing I find some magical cure to overcome.

Yet, they are just as much a part of my story as any. At the end of the day, I always come home. After it all, this, too, does pass. And today, raw and wounded as I feel, I have put hand to body, and begin to rebuild.

The Last, Best Thing

I’m on the second day of the OnBeing Gathering, and I am already in awe of the number of connections, spiritual fulfillment, and pure grace I have gained here. Every time someone has joined me at a meal or started a conversation, I have been so grateful to be pushed outside of my introvert zone and made some truly fantastic connections.

One of the benefits of this has been the space to refocus and start clarifying my own purpose and desires. I’m beginning to realize, very quickly, that I really love writing— poetry, prose, short, long– I want to write more. 

So, beyond giving up coffee, I’m going to write a poem a day for the rest of Lent. I have some making up to do, but I’m excited to push myself in this way. It won’t be perfect, I know many of them will be bad, but I know I need to start rehabilitating and rebuilding the muscle.

Anyway, here’s the first.


2/16/18

When the last, best thing
spills forth from
your lips, what will be
the image that you paint?
The story that you tell?

You have lived a life on
the cusp for years now,
so carefully dipping
that funny toe of yours
right the buoy marked, “SAFE.”
You have reached around
that barrier trying to
find some sign saying to “GO.”

Can you see beyond yourself?
Can you find the place
in you that is pure
movement? That bubbling
red blood in your gut
that fuels the body
to movement, to action?

Can you ride that river
to the sea that called
your ancestors, as it
once did to you? Can
you find comfort in
the raging currents,
see the beauty and
not fear the white-foamed
wave that swallowed you?

See your rabbit-heart as
the paddles of your ship,
the curve of your hip the
rudder of riding the current.
Know that the last, best
thing you say or see will
be found on the side of a buoy
or ever be the safest route.

Go, now, knowing the best
thing will be to set out
and find yourself home
again.

And In Each Other: Rejoice!

The warm, squishy body wriggled in my arms for a few minutes. Penny, my aunt and uncle’s dog, let me snuggle her, and then looked up at me as if to say, “Dude, it’s loud in here.”

And it was. I was home for Christmas for the first time in years, and my father’s side of the family had all come together and raucously filled my aunt and uncle’s house. The number of cousins is in the double digits, and that doesn’t include their significant others, children or my grandmother and our aunts and uncles themselves. The dining room was packed full of people who have known me since my birth or theirs.

It was, to be honest, perfect. It is kinship of the clearest kind– forged through years of laughter and heartache, built on a strong foundation of finding love and joy within each other, even when it felt impossible.

I love Christmastime for lots of reasons. Beyond the surface-level, it’s a time to remember to love as puppies and babies do— without restraint or judgement, and with a full-hearted sense of wonder and awe.

This Christmas, though, I was in mass reflecting on the nativity. I was praying with imagination and imagining myself in the stable. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve normally seen myself in awe as one of the shepherds or wise men.

This time though, for reasons beyond my understanding, I imagined myself as Mary. Don’t get me wrong– I hold no lofty illusions about my own lack of sin or greatness in the world. I was just sitting in mass, thinking about her in that moment, and realized that Mary must’ve been so scared.

I mean, pregnancy is scary. Motherhood is scary. Doing all of those things, at a young age, when you didn’t even conceive the kid but instead because some angel showed up and said God wanted you to? Like, how even? Now, to top it all off, everyone in the neighborhood is being the worst and you have to birth this kid in a stable, one of the coldest and grossest places one could birth a tiny human? That is truly some shenanigans right there.

In all seriousness, though, I imagined how helpless I would’ve felt in a moment like that– how out of control everything would’ve seemed, how my body would’ve, perhaps no longer felt like mine.

And I got a little teary because I have certainly felt that way this year.

Then, in all that fear and helplessness and pain, I thought about how Mary looked up and saw people around her— a husband that stayed with her through the most ridiculous of circumstances, random folks from the meadows who were told that they needed to come through. And I remembered a line from Fr. Boyle’s book, Barking to the Choir: “If love is the answer, community is the context, and tenderness is the methodology.”

In the middle of the worst conditions, the birth of a child created a community of warmth and love. For one night, that stable was an enclave of joy, laughter, love, and light. In a time of struggle, tenderness rallied these people together to create something much stronger and more powerful. Much like the dining room of my aunt and uncle’s house, they found raucous, bubbling kinship in each other, even when the world outside felt less than hospitable.

In my own time of personal struggle this year, when I felt helpless and out of control, was it not my own community that made me feel like I could overcome and reminded me that I was loved? Was it not the friends consistently at my side supporting me, the people the universe conspired to bring into my life, the family who loved me unconditionally? Earlier this week, I spent time with people who I had no blood connection with, but who had known me for nearly twenty years. Some I am still very close with, some I hadn’t seen in ages, but no matter what I was welcomed with open arms and laughter.

Ultimately, what staves off fear and helplessness is connecting with and loving each other, even when it feels impossible, even when the connection may not seem visible. It may be your blood family. It may be your chosen family. It may be the dude who you were arranged to marry and some shepherds who followed a star.

You never know how and when community will emerge though. The question is, when it comes, will you be ready to accept it? Will you be ready to turn your back to the harshness of the outside world not to forget it, but to seek to improve it by turning towards each other and rejoicing in the presence and light of others?

So, as we move into 2018, I am eager to continue finding the communities of kinship, and rejoicing not simply in all things, but trying to rejoice in all people. I am hopeful to try and focus this year not just on love, but on community and tenderness too.

For a savior was born unto us for one real reason: because, above all else, we are loved.

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Running Towards Hope

A confession: I’ve been hurting the past few days.

Nothing crazy, but I’ve been waking up feeling particularly tight and painful. I couldn’t figure out why: did I have rhabdo (I clearly didn’t.)? Did I need to break in my shoes more? Had I pulled something? Of course, at a certain point, it hit me that three months of three-a-days with very sporadic rest wasn’t a particularly healthy strategy and that the amount of strain I had put on my own muscles was likely just catching up with me.

So, after a painful 5k on Thanksgiving morning, I took the day off yesterday, since I knew that I had to go out and do my twenty-miler sometime this weekend. I rolled out last night, went to bed early, and prayed that this morning I’d magically feel better when my feet hit the road.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t. At least, not at first. I woke up feeling fine and, despite gusting winds and periodic storms, the cool weather boded well for me. This was a good day to go out and do the damn thing.

I was bummed to discover, though, that after a few miles I was still tight. My shins were screaming and my hips ached. What is going ON?! I mentally wondered to myself. I kept having to stop every half mile to try and stretch out to make the pain go away. I kept trying to breathe into my muscles, but I was really struggling to make this run work.

Then, right around mile 3, my arm grazed a pole in just the wrong place, tearing a huge hole in the sleeve of my favorite shirt. I groaned and stopped. “BRUH!” I yelled at the sky, at God, the way only a young, Catholic, CrossFit asshole can. What’s the deal? I asked. Do you want me to stop and turn around? What do you WANT from me?

I stopped, stretched, and breathed for a second.

I heaved a heavy sigh, and the questions came back to me: Are you present? Are you here? Are you listening?

And thing is, I knew the answer: No. I was caught up in my head, stewing in anger over some things happening in my life that had nothing to do with the run and, frankly, were out of my control. I had been holding all the anger and sadness in my body for days now, and was parsing through it during those first few miles.

I shook my head, frustrated that all this negativity was still affecting me. I shook out my body again, and continued to parse through my thoughts. After a few minutes, I came back to two questions for myself:

  1. As frustrated as I am, can I let it go? Could I accept that even if something is unfair, it may also be what’s right? Am I able to say a silent prayer of gratitude for the surfeit of love and light in my life and walk away?
  2. Even when we are working through anger, can I still act with kindness and love? Can I center on that and find forgiveness? Am I able to stand up for myself and name my hurt while still ultimately knowing that, in the end, compassion is the place I am moving towards?

As I looked at these questions, I knew what my answer had to be. Even if I didn’t feel like living up to them, I knew that the only way I could stay true to myself was to recenter myself with these questions as the compass. I knew that, if I could say yes to these things, I would be okay, and able to come back to the place of unfettered love and joy that makes me who I am.

So, I prayed for strength and grace, and began to run towards forgiveness. It wasn’t easy– forgiveness encompasses all the sadness and frustration of grieving.

As I ran, though, I thought about the rainbow I had seen that morning. In Christianity, the rainbow is the sign of God’s promise to His people after the great storm. It reminds us that, even when the rain comes for forty days, we ultimately believe that the universe will bend towards justice and good. It’s a reminder that, in the end, things will be better.

I kept running. In a lot of ways, forgiveness is an act of hope. It’s moving with the belief that hurt has occurred, but does not need to be dwelled in. It’s understanding that the only way to move past pain is with love. It’s knowing that we can move past pain in the first place.

With each step, God asked if I trusted that things would be okay. With each step, I affirmed that the answer was yes. Each step was a silent prayer of gratitude and hope, a testament to my faith that things would get better.

As I ran, my body loosened up. My hips settled a little more. I breathed a little more deeply. I knew that, even if this wasn’t going to be easy, I was going to get through it. I was going to be okay.


So, what’s next?

Well, I have two marathons within six days of each other, because that’s what I like to do. I’ll be running the Honolulu Marathon and then, later that week, run the inaugural Hawai‘i Bird Conservation Marathon. Since the latter is an all-downhill course (I know), I’ll be taking Honolulu nice and slow to see what I can do later that week.

Of course, I haven’t been training for any of this. I’ve been running, sure, but until today my longest distance has been 10 miles. Today was hard and painful (running into the wind for those last 6 miles didn’t help). So, honestly, if I can finish both of them with a smile on my face, I will be amazed and happy.

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It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us

I saw The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and it hit me right where I needed it to. I’m re-reading the play and stumbled upon this gem in the first few pages.

I also think that religion gets a bad rap in this country and that non-maniac-type people who are religious or spiritual have a responsibility to stand up, be counted, and gently encourage others to consider matters of faith and to define for themselves what their responsibilities are and what it means to try to be “good.” It’s not about joining a team or a church or choosing sides or learning a prayer. It’s not about man-made concepts of good and evil. It’s not about doing “enough” or “too little.” It’s not about shame and guilt. It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us. Thomas Merton said, “To be a saint means to be myself.” What if that were true? What is it that we need to overcome in order to truly be “Ourselves”? I won’t pretend at all that this play answers that question, but if it provokes the question in you, then please let it. Ponder it. Because we need you.

—STEPHEN ADLY GUIRGIS NEW YORK CITY, 2005

Guirgis, Stephen Adly. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: A Play . Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Ashes: On Lent and Choice

I have always struggled with the concept of Lent.

In theory, I’m a huge fan of a 40-day retreat leading up to the Spring and Summer. It allows us to become thoughtful as we end the busy holiday and New Year season, and ensure we can reset our intentions (in any given context) around the new year. It’s a period to look inward, question ourselves, and push ourselves to grow as people and as Christians.

Still, Lent also comes with a whole host of rules that even non-Catholics question. Why am I fasting today? What if I have an athletic event that day? Why can’t I eat meat? What counts or doesn’t count? If I eat meat Friday can I get away with being vegetarian on Sunday instead?

I struggled with these questions because, honestly, I don’t really think God cares that much if I eat meat or not today, or whether or not I fast. If I ate a cheeseburger right now but still tried to generally be a good person, I don’t think I’d get kicked out at the pearly gates when my time came. I don’t think that would happen to anyone else either.

As I got older, though, and returned to my faith a few years ago, I realized that I wasn’t becoming involved in Lenten practices out of fear of my Father, but rather as a thoughtful choice to better myself as a person. Lent has nothing to do with “having” to give things up, it’s a choice to let go of things in your life that you may not need, or create some healthy distance from parts of ourselves we have perhaps become too indulgent in. Lent is the opportunity to actively step back and re-evaluate what you actually need, what you can let go of, and what you can do to enrich your life.

In addition, though, Lent is the opportunity to welcome new, more giving parts of ourselves. I’ve often enjoyed hearing from priests like Fr. James Martin SJ, who invited us last year to add more kindness to our lives this Lenten season. I was also happy to hear that Pope Francis encouraged us to give up indifference towards our fellow humans.

So, this year I have a few things I’m giving up privately. I’m hoping to become a healthier person physically and emotionally, so I’m using this season to work towards that.

I’m also, though, planning on donating to and shouting out a different charity each week. I struggled with this a bit– I don’t want to come off as boastful (and, let’s be honest, I’m a teacher– I’m not giving a lot of money). Still, I want to encourage others to find charity this season, Christian or not, especially in times where resistance and power are sometimes financial.

So, this week, I’m donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center. As someone who has benefited immensely from Teaching Tolerance and been involved with the amazing work they do. As we fight to ensure equity and safety for so many students, the work they do to educate teachers and students is essential. I encourage you to send a donation their way.

 

‘Float On’: Meditations on “Home,” Day 2

I ran my mouth off a bit too much, oh what did I say?
Well you just laughed it off it was all OK.
And we’ll all float on OK.
And we’ll all float on any way.
– Float On, Ben Lee

I’ve been sitting here for an hour trying to figure out when I felt like O‘ahu became home. I was tempted to write about my students, who certainly feel like home, but I’ve done that before, multiple times

And it’s true– my school is the place that has felt most like home the past few years. 

Still, I had a life before teaching, and I have a life outside of it. I’m different than the girl I was when I moved here (which, consequently, I’ve written about as well). I have well-worn places on island that I love, and when I am away I crave seeing the green that I think only exists in Hawai‘i. There are restaurants, beaches, and parks that I’ve experienced on my own and with people. When those people have left my life, I’ve had to learn to reclaim them for myself.

And I thought about writing about that: what it means to re-learn a place after you’ve separated from the person who brought you there.

Then, I realized that those experiences were not “home” at all. Those people were not home either. I’ve known what home was all along, and that made me realize what I had done to find that on O‘ahu.


I wonder what happens if I turn left… here. I thought to myself as my feet pounded the trail. It was a sunny January morning, and I was enjoying a Monday off from school. On a whim, I decided to run to Mānoa falls, a common tourist hike due to its easy trail and pay off of a lovely waterfall at the end.

I’ve done the hike multiple times, and now occasionally run it when I’m looking to change up my training. After passing tourists (upon tourists upon tourists), I reached the falls and taken a long deep breath. I was about to turn around and head back when I saw a trailhead to the left of the falls that I’d never noticed before.

I was about to shrug it off and keep moving, but my heart tugged in the direction of the trail. I had no plans that day– nowhere to be and no obligations– and I figured I might as well spend the time moving.

I turned up onto the trail, and was immediately surprised at how much more calm and serene it was compared to the bustling falls below. A few feet more revealed a bamboo forest.

After snapping a quick shot, I began moving. The trail was nearly empty and it was silent as I walked.

If you read this blog often enough, you know that I’m a distance runner in normal practice. I often spend large swaths of time on my own, running, often silently. I have written that I find this meditative, that it is often a practice that helps return me to myself.

This exploration, though, is a different kind of meditation. Yes, when I run alone I can work through problems. I can walk and go within myself, trying to move towards a greater understanding of something.

On a hike, especially a hike I’ve never done before, it is difficult to zone out in that way. For one thing, it’s not safe. It’s essential to be aware of your surroundings and footsteps, lest you fall down a mountain or something equally dangerous.

You would also, however, miss out on some truly beautiful things.

There is a different sort of meditative nature that takes over when I hike. I think of it as a form of “hyperawareness.” It’s something hunters and foragers talk about when they are “in the zone.” When I enter a new space, particularly in nature, I notice the colors more deeply or am more attentive to the sounds around me– partially out of safety, and partially because I am eager to appreciate the new surroundings.

When I first moved to the island, I was terrified to go hiking on my own. After literally falling off a cliff about one month into living here, I was certain that death awaited me on O‘ahu’s trails.

It took a few months, but eventually my desire to run and explore won out. I found myself waking up early mornings to race up the steps of Koko Head or enjoy Kuliouou on my own. I’d go on Yelp and search “running trail” and choose a new place to go and explore.

I see now that, beyond being new ways to check out the island, it was these solo ventures that made me come to see the island as a place where I felt safe enough to explore it on my own. Frankly, a number of my experiences of O‘ahu — restaurants and concert venues– been colored by the people who brought me there. They were, at the time, a gift shared, an experience to enjoy with someone else.

Of course, I can reclaim a place if that person has left my life, or enjoy it again with the friends that haven’t. I normally do, but while these experiences have provided me with knowledge, they don’t always allow me agency.

When I am hiking or trail running on my own, I don’t need someone to guide me or hold my hand. I didn’t need to be shown somewhere. The only permission I need is the openness of my own heart. The only guide to follow is my instinct and the trail marker. If I feel like I’ve made a wrong turn, I just stop, take a breath, look for the next sign or simply turn around.

There is something ultimately encouraging about that: Yes, the trail is often muddy. Sometimes the path is unclear, but attempting to navigate them on my own has taught me an invaluable lesson: maybe you just need to push forward. You simply have to keep floating on and hoping that the most lovely vistas lay ahead of you, if you only keep moving.

Escape: Meditations on “Home,” Day 1

“Last time it snowed, you were one person. Now, you’re another.”

– The Paris Letter, Jon Robin Baitz

The last time I was in this house, it was nearly two months ago to the day.

I’d try and recount the weekend in detail to you, but I’d be lying if I said I could. Here is what I remember about booking the trip, and the first twenty-four hours.

1.

I booked the flight to leave O‘ahu for the weekend with one word on mind: escape. I had stopped and taken a good, long look at the life I created for myself. I spread it out on the table, nodding slowly while surveying the contents. It was lies and taboo laughter. It was reckless leaps and bad choices. It was too much red wine, gulped down alone in my apartment while waiting.

I looked at that life and said, “NOPE.”

So, I shamelessly decided to run.

I needed to be “away” in every sense possible. Not turn-off-my-phone away. Not go-on-a-solo-run away. But hop-on-a-plane-and-have-an-ocean-in-between-me-and-my-life kind of away. So, on April 30th I booked a flight to spend a few days in Kona two weeks later. Alone, in what I saw as “my parent’s house,” as I had never grown up there, I wanted silence. I wanted a blank canvas. I wanted to live a life that wasn’t mine.

2.

I got on the plane to Kona feeling jumpy and distracted. I had created a web of emotional turmoil that I had no clue how to see myself out of.  Somehow in the thirteen days since booking the damn flight, my life was more complicated.

Still, a part of me had been tempted to call off my trip. Was I running from my problems? Was I just shirking off responsibility? Should I stay? I had a million questions running through my head and coming from all sides.

“How did you get here?”
“What comes next?”
“Do you know what you want?”
“What are you going to do?”

The small, quiet voice lingered: escape.

I took a breath, turned away from my ride, and walked into the airport.

3.

My arrival in Kona is… disorienting, to say the least. Normally, Kona’s airport is a precursor for the kind of weather I will face: sun. Always gorgeous, occasionally brutal and unrelenting, the landscape is usually black rock and bright light, with little-to-no shade to protect you from it.

This time, the plane landed just as the sun was setting, and Kona is all dark blue sea and black jagged edges. Stormy palette, I think to myself, the sixteen-year-old-girl in me amused at the clichéd connection between the colors outside and ~my heart~.

I have visited the island multiple times, but rarely on my own. I normally arrived for work events that I needed to get to immediately, or with another person, or to run into the eager arms of my family.

“What time will you get here?”
“Did you land yet?”
“Do you need anything?”
“Where are you?”

As the sun sets to dusk on a mid-May evening, I got off the plane and onto the street. I looked around and realized that, for the first time in a while, I was truly obligated to no one but myself.

In an amusing twist of fate, I ended up in a silver, souped-up Mustang. It has an engine I will be unable to use to full capacity and a sound system that I don’t know what to do with.

It was absolutely perfect.

4.

I bought wine. And beer. And Goldfish and ice cream and junky dinners and girly magazines and I think nail polish?

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Oh, cereal. It seems I also bought cereal.

I took the above photo and sent it as a signal to some folks that I was a) alive and b) clearly on a path to try and find Jesus or myself at the bottom of a tub of Rocky Road or swirling somewhere in the Apothic Dark. After sending the picture, I looked at it and shook my head.

“Is this going to help?”
“Will this make you feel better?”
“What do you need?”
“What do you want?”

I uncorked the wine.

5. 

Text messages. There were lots of text messages. There was more wine.

6.

I took the hammock my mother bought and keeps, strangely, indoors, and turned it facing the TV. I painted my toenails alternating colors, like when I was thirteen.

I started swinging myself back and forth, trying to find a rhythm while trashy TV plays in the background. Oddly, a line from Hamilton: The Musical wormed its way into my head.

“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now…”

I laughed long and hard as I sang it to myself. My phone pinged with a new message, and I was equal parts terrified and eager to see it. That night, my phone had hosted fireworks and firestorms, and I wasn’t sure which I would get when the screen lit up.

“When are you coming back?”
“What does this mean?”
“What do you want?”
“Where do you go from here?”

I closed my eyes and took a breath.

“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now…”

7. 

An hour later, I went into my room to get something (A magazine? A blanket? I cannot remember), and end up sobbing on the cold tile at the foot of my bed. My head is buried in the covers.

How did I get here?
What was I going to do?
What comes next?
How could this happen? 

The ticker-tape ran behind my eyes as I tried to wash the questions away.

8.

I woke up the next morning, head throbbing, face puffy, sprawled on my parent’s bed.

The sun shone through the large, sliding door that leads to our backyard. The image was almost too-perfect: the sky bright blue, the grass so green it was Crayola-esque; it’s as though the saturation of this moment has been doubled.

“Look around, look around…”

I picked my head up off the pillow and look around.

“What are you doing?”
“What should I say?”
“Should I say anything at all?”

I dragged myself off the bed and into the living room.

9.

The hammock was at an odd, 45-degree angle to the couch. My towel is on the floor beneath it. There was a half-empty bottle of wine, uncorked, on the counter. There was an open box of cereal next to it.

“What happened here?”

I closed my eyes.

10.

When I opened them, I started laughing. Hard.

This wasn’t the bitter cackle of the night before, though. It was cleansing. It was open and cathartic. It was the laughter of someone who had fallen down the cliff, tumbled over the waterfall, crashed their car and rolled it, and still managed to get up, look down at their body, and say, “Holy shit, am I alive?! I am alive!”

I laughed more and shook my head for a moment, then I looked around the living room. This wasn’t the sterile, cold, silent retreat of “my parent’s house,” where I could pretend like my mess wasn’t real or my own. This wasn’t a question I needed to escape either. This was the home I needed to clean.

“Well, I guess it’s time to get to work.”

The Miracle Is That We Are Beloved

The worst part of death is the terrible silence. It is absolute– a void so empty it is rich in its darkness.

Be it of a loved one, a relationship, or a period of our life, there is always still the silence. The pause after the final breath. The moment when any denial we had about what was happening is stripped away. We can only look down at our hands and know, ‘This is my reality now.’ I heard that silence when I hung up the phone with my grandfather after telling him goodbye, knowing I wouldn’t be able to see him before he passed. I felt it when I returned home from an ex’s, with three years of my life reduced to a few garbage bags in a now empty-feeling apartment. There is nothing we can do but look down at our hands and realize that our previous reality has shattered, and that there is a looming darkness we can only face.

It is easy to feel unworthy in those moments. Everything we held dear has been stripped from us, it seems, and we realize just how fragile we are, how human and imperfect we are as we stumble through life. It is easy to look in the mirror, see nothing but the pain and darkness of that death and feel like we will never find the love or joy or happiness we are certain has left forever with death.

And yet.

Growing up, I had a priest who once reminded us that the renewal of God’s love at Easter didn’t, you know, have to take place on Easter. “If not today,” Fr. Fred told us, “Easter will come.” Even if it was not that Sunday morning, we were reminded that at the end of it all God’s love renews, heals, saves. Even after we have beaten, spit on, and ridiculed Christ, God still decides we are worthy of His love and forgiveness. 

I am reminded of this now, on an Easter Sunday where I am in the process of rebuilding. The darkness we face after a death isn’t a completely false one. Often times, it is an important reminder of our own humanity and imperfections, of the places we faltered and failed.

The darkness isn’t the lie; the lie is that we will never find that joy again.

I know that the miracle of God’s love is not that the world is perfect or that everything is good. The miracle is that, with those imperfections, we are still beloved. The miracle is that even when we are sure we are horrible and hopeless creatures, God reminds us that we are still worthy of love and grace. If we allow them, we still have people and moments that move us to uproarious laughter and countless joy.

This morning, I send a friend of mine a quick Easter message saying, “Rejoice! His is Risen!” He replied in kind and mentioned how blessed we were that we looked inside the tomb and see that is empty.

There, too, is the miracle. The story of Easter does not run away from the notion of death itself. Christ is still crucified on Good Friday and mourned for those three days. We all have parts of ourselves that die as we seek renewal. God’s love doesn’t make death disappear. The resurrection is not a wiping-the-slate-clean reaction of naivety. When Christ looked down and showed us His hands after the resurrection, they weren’t magically devoid of scars. Christ still bore the wounds of His past and crucifixion, even after He rose.

Easter is not about easy fixes or magic healings. It is when we acknowledge both death and the imperfections that came before it but do not stay in the darkness with the decaying forms of our past. The tomb is empty. We don’t have to cling onto those parts of ourselves anymore. Instead, we decide to walk out of the darkness with Christ and rise up better than before.

So, as this Easter comes, I am eager to walk forward in the miracle of God’s love. I look down at my hands and see the reality that they are still weathered and broken from the last part of my life.

This is my reality now, and that is okay. It is good. It is blessed. I have no need to dwell in these past pieces of my life. Instead, I stand up and walk forward out of the tomb and towards light.

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