Archive | December, 2013

Dancing in the Threshold

31 Dec

The night before the new year is a threshold of sorts. It is the time when we dance in the gray between the past and the future, and in one small motion of a clock’s hand we are simultaneously a second, a minute, a year. Time stops counting—we become infinite.

Sunday night I once again found myself in the back of a bus, staring aimlessly into the unknown as I rolled from home to home. As the bus took me from Ohio to Pennsylvania I let me mind take me through my last 365 days. And in doing so, my heart burst open. When you look at just one small slice of life, a year in review, you’re able to subtly bear witness to the molding of your heart. You’re able to notice where you’ve changed, where you’ve grown, where you’ve loved. You’re graced with seeing—a little.

One year ago I was living in Chicago, preparing to embark on a 5 day silent retreat that since has left me on a path of faith never before traversed. I’ve dived to the depth of my own relationship with the Divine, with no sign of the bottom of the well. But all is well, and will continue to be so. Then, in February, I led a Women’s Retreat and gave a talk about women in the future—tangibly solidifying that I am a woman of the future and that it was officially time to leave the Ramblehood.

I’m thankful to the friends who fed my stomach with food and my spirit with life. I’d be sad and hungry if I didn’t have your homes and your outstretched arms to wander to. And I’m thankful to Chicago—who took me in as one of her own. I belonged until I didn’t, and she gently nudged me home and told me to Carry On. But we shared one last sunrise, and that was pretty cool. Then, just as easily as I walked out of Chicago and waved Loyola goodbye, I walked into Cleveland, always willing to take me home.

Nashville, St. Louis, Detroit, and New York City beckoned me this year, and I answered the call. Dancing on tabletops, climbing fences, eating and drinking with friends and strangers alike, living out loud. Not to mention being reminded, once again, the meaning of hospitality.

And woo, child, lest I not forget the love I have seen this year! I stood witness as my brother married the girl of his dreams, silent tears streaming down my face as I saw the pure joy in his. And then I saw it again…and again… and again…when Mike/Lisa, Katie/Matt, and Nina/Steve were wed. This summer, when my mom broke her leg and my dad became her caregiver, I saw a selfless love like no other. And my heart was changed.

And then there’s Pittsburgh. It’s meant to be, I think, almost as if this city reached out to me and grabbed my hand, pulling me eastward. All I had to do was move. I can’t quite tell you what this place has done to me yet, but I can promise you I will not leave here the same as when I arrived. Stack these Franciscan ideals on my Jesuit values, add a community that is as selfless as I hope one day to be, and throw some old people in the mix, and something powerful is stirring in my soul. I can feel it. Stay tuned on that one.

So we stand at this threshold. We gather here, teetering between who we’ve been and who we hope to become. I have high hopes for my next 365 days. Hopes for peace and for clarity, for knowledge and wisdom, for witnesses to and experiences of love. And for joy—lots of it. I have hopes for simultaneously changing the world and fully living in it, and maybe even setting it on fire if I can find some matches.

These hopes float up from my head and my heart to join the masses drifting through the air. Dreams abound tonight. Reach up and grab one, or two, or ten. Make them your own.

Big things, 2014. Big things.Image

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Do You Believe in Magic?

23 Dec

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind. ” 
― Mary Ellen Chase

If you’ve been following my blog up until now, I’m sure you’ve deduced that I’m a bit of an idealist. All of my elusive comments about magic behind every corner and grandeur in every breath must get a little old to the likes of you who rationalize with mere logic. If this is you I’m speaking about, I’d stop reading now. Because if you think I’m quixotic under normal circumstances, you haven’t seen me around Christmas.

I often think that other people, when acting authentically, become guides from the beyond, but there’s something about the season of Advent that makes these guides more bountiful. Maybe they’re angels paving the way for the Newborn, or maybe they’re elves, frolicking around like those pointy-eared children in Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause. Whoever they are and whatever the reason, they’ve been sprinkling magic this Christmas season (I can rhyme too, Mr. Grinch).

A few weeks ago my community and I helped Catholic Charities stock a home for an incoming refugee family. As we pushed our four carts around Wal-Mart, overflowing them with $500 worth of household appliances, a few of us headed to Electronics to purchase a pay-as-you-go cell phone. As the clerk explained to us how to set the phone up, we explained to him that we were purchasing the phone for another family to use. As we thanked him and walked away, Wal-Mart Nick looked at us and said, quietly and subtly, “keep doing what you’re doing.” As that short phrase escaped his lips, it was as if all of the Wal-Mart shoppers grew quiet and their carts grew still. It was more than an offhand comment—it was a summons. And all this from Wal-Mart Nick in Electronics.

The other day a few of us were waiting in the snow for the bus for over half an hour, and we had just about given up hope that it would ever turn the corner in our direction. As we started to make our way back home, accepting that we would never make it to our destination,  I noticed there was an older woman waiting for our bus, but standing at the incorrect bus stop. My heart went out to her, so on our way back I went over to explain to her that the bus was on a detour and she had to move to a different stop to catch the bus. As I walked her to the proper stop, the bus pulled up—perfect timing. I swear that somehow, someway, it was her doing.

The beautiful thing about Christmas magic is that we’re all welcome to join in the fun. Last weekend my parents were driving home late from a holiday party, and the snow was really coming down. As they drove past a bus stop, they noticed a bus drive past, a man flailing his arms in its wake. Seeing him standing there helpless, they did the only thing they could think of—they picked him up and took him where he needed to go. To quote the wall of Paris’ Shakespeare and Company bookstore (which happens to be my favorite corner of the universe), “be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”

When you open your eyes, The Spirit of Christmas is everywhere. Can you see it?

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Happy Christmas from my community to yours 🙂

A Big Turkey in the Big Apple

1 Dec

A few summers ago I was a Recreation Coordinator for a company that provided international students an alternative summer vacation—a chance to live, learn, and explore the city of Chicago. I spent my days with high school students from mostly Spain and Italy, guiding them around the city so dear to my heart.

            On the day one of my favorite Spanish groups was set to depart, their travel leader left me a note. In it, she wrote that while traveling and seeing new places is an amazing feat, nothing compares to the people you meet and who touch your heart on your travels. That, she said, is why she travels, and why she loves it so.

            This year I spent 15 of Thanksgiving’s 24 hours roaming around the streets of New York. My pals and I hopped on a Greyhound in Pittsburgh at 10:30pm Wednesday night, arriving in the Big Apple at 5:15am Thanksgiving morning. After brushing our teeth in the bus station we booked it to the parade route, securing our front row seats for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

            The great part about something as magical as a holiday parade is that as time passes and you look back on the day, you remember the confetti, the floats, the cheer, the music. You don’t remember the numbness of your toes and the wind blowing across your face. So even though, when we calculate the grand total, we were on 42nd and 7th for nearly 7 hours, the cold is a passing thought in my memory bank when I think of all the joy that the parade brought. There’s just something about being right there in the middle of the magic that makes your spirit fly—everyone was jolly and full of life, rosy cheeks and all.  

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After the parade, we grabbed some New York pizza and defrosted our feet, then set off and explored all that we could in the next few hours: Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Public Library, Grand Central Station, 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Plaza. We then booked it through Central Park to Upper Manhattan, where three strangers had us over for a Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner we hopped in a cab, went back to Rockefeller Plaza, walked to Times Square where we wobbled right in the middle of the madness, then kicked it back to the bus that carried us home all through the night. A whirlwind indeed—but a magical one.

Despite the utter joy that the parade and the excitement of the city brought, I think my Spanish friend was right. The people I was with and who I met along the way were the real meat and potatoes (turkey and mashed, if you will), of the trip.

During the four hours we waited for the parade to begin, I struck up a conversation (naturally) with the man standing next to me. His name was Gary, and he was there all the way from central Canada. Watching the parade was on his bucket list, and he decided to get up get out and just go. Gary and I chatted about all kinds of things—from his grandchildren, to his 3D television, to traveling, to his love for all things Snoopy—and  he was a delightful man to share a parade with. And after hearing we are volunteers, he even offered to give us a little cash to support the rest of our trip. After much reflection, I’m convinced that Gary just might be Santa Claus, and he’s from a little farther “up north” than central Canada.

Speaking of good people, let me tell you about a few more we met. Thursday afternoon our Thanksgiving feast was prepared  by a hostess that not one of us knew personally. Her brother is Amy’s co-worker, and they discovered in a conversation last week that they were both going to be in New York for the holiday. So he, his sister, and their friend—no questions asked—invited the four of us to a delicious dinner. We walked in the door as strangers, became friends, and by the end of the meal were snapping group photos—just like family.

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I would be remiss, when discussing the goodness that surrounded me on Thanksgiving, if I failed to mention my wonderful traveling companions. Words fall short when I try to comment on what my community means to me. Our theme for the day was Up for Anything (“UFA!”), and we were. Spirits were high, happiness was in the air, and two overnight buses didn’t slow us down. Those kids make me a better person, and they were the real Thanksgiving gift to me this week.  

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