My Mother’s Words

Copyright Miranda Rae Carter, 2014

Copyright Miranda Rae Carter, 2014

My mother.

She admitted to me once that she wasn’t always right. That there were things she wished she could have done differently for my sister and I. She has told me of the areas she would like to grow, and her elegant dignity has never kept her from saying, “Sorry.”

But my mother…my mother.

Some of the things that has left her mouth are the words she has forgotten, and the ones that I’ll remember.

 

1. “It is so much better to be loved than to be perfect all the time.”

It is instinct to believe that perfectionism is our ticket to love. No matter the style of relationship, we often convince ourselves that if we were only more attractive, more intelligent, more interesting or better behaved, less clumsy or awkward or more accomplished, we would obtain a more superior and permanent source of love. We apply this to that guy or girl we watch from the back of a classroom, hoping to catch a glimpse of their beautiful, beautiful face; we apply it to our families, and our desire to please them; we apply it to the friends we already have and the friends we want to make to the point of anxiety; we even apply it to our God.

Love cannot be earned. Perfectionism cannot be achieved. Unconditional means unconditional–without question, despite circumstance, forever and always. And, a gift is a gift.

Not only is it foolish to strive for something that has already been laid at your feet, but doing so only exhausts a cause that is already won.

 

2. “Anyone who has truly loved did so fiercely.”

Contrary to the tissue-paper, flower-petal painting of love society often features, love is not soft.

Love is a sucker-punch to the stomach. It is tears in a pillow and fear for another. Love is teeth-baring protection, and the on-fire thirst to give. It is raw truth. It is the giving of a life. It is blood dripping from a cross, the grasp of a hand, forgetting yourself in the glittering eyes of another. It is feeling pain that does not belong to you.

Love is not soft. It is hard.

I commend my mother for loving me that way.

 

3. “If you have any doubt in your mind at all, don’t marry him.”

My mother reminds me often that she nearly married a boyfriend or two before marrying my father at age thirty. She claims that almost making those commitments had more to do with believing that those relationships were ‘close enough’ to the image in her mind of what true, passionate, unconditional love must be like. 

Until, that is, she met my father. And suddenly, all of that changed.

My aunt Lisa remembers my mom visiting her at work approximately a month into her relationship with my father.

“How is it going?” my aunt asked.

“If he asked me to marry him tomorrow,” my mother said, “I’d say yes.”

My aunt was taken aback. Never, she said, had my mother ever been so definitive about a relationship before. 

“Even if it’s the day of,” my mom told me one day in the car, “even if you’re about to walk down the aisle, and everyone is waiting in the pews, you can change your mind.”

And, on a walk, “There should be absolutely no wondering whether or not there is someone better out there for you. That question shouldn’t even cross your mind.”

Simply put? Good enough is not enough. The skies should be clear, your heart light, the sting of love fiercely and tangibly alive. There should be no black bird of doubt staining those skies.

 

4. “When you can’t sleep, don’t get anxious about not being able to fall asleep. Just lay there and rest. Sometimes just closing your eyes is enough.”

My mom has endured way too many sleepless hours, distressed by the demands the following day holds as she twists in the darkness and my father snores deeply beside her.

When I suffer similarly, I remember these words, pull the blankets tight to my chin, and let my lids fall and mind wander. Sometimes I fall asleep; other times, I notice the clock ticking into the early hours of the morning. Nevertheless, finding that center–taking that time to enjoy any form of rest, and believing that the day after will take care of itself, is a peaceful practice that combats issues of control and stress.

5. “Your body is beautiful.”

Some people are mortified when they hear that my mother has no problem walking from the bathroom to the laundry room stark naked. They laugh nervously when they hear the story of the farmer who approached our house for water, only to spot my mom through the window, having just gotten out of the bath. Some of my friends turn red-cheeked when they try to imagine a life without locks on their bedroom doors,  and a mother who confesses to sleeping naked and riding bikes through the countryside with her friends in college, all of them topless underneath the summer sun. 

What I find much more disheartening is that some of them get out of the shower, and avoid looking at themselves in the foggy bathroom mirror.

Our bodies are incredible. They aren’t machines; they are unpredictable and unique, but they also work for us as best as they can, even when we don’t treat them with the respect they deserve.

Being young, it is easy to forget that our bodies don’t stop changing at adulthood, kind of like our assumption that every scrap of wisdom worth accumulating is achieved by the time we are married and have children. That’s simply not the way we were designed. We were designed to evolve, mind, body, and soul, every day, every month, every year. 

My mother taught me how important it is to love our bodies and treat them with a spirit of gratitude.

 

6. “Let me be your mom.”

Once, I felt so guilty over burdening my parents with the overwhelming load that laid heavy on my heart. I was approximately twelve years old when I asked my mom, “Do you ever cry over me?”

My mom paused for a minute. Staring at my narrow, peaked face, she eventually replied, “You don’t ever need to worry about me. You worry about you.. This is my job. Just let me be your mom.”

I remember this when it becomes my turn to fulfill a role, or when a friend admits their discomfort in letting others see their brokenness to avoid the guilt that comes with it.

Hiding is not what we were created to do. We were created to make up for one another’s weaknesses, to stand on guard in others’ battlefields while they stand up in yours.

Know your roles, and take them with heart.

 

7. “God has already set in place the people in your life who will love you.”

Even if we could fix our imperfections, it would not add one more loving person to our lives. All of our relationships are planned, intricately designed by the Great Creator. We can take rest in that, knowing that there is no use wasting energy on changing who you are to accumulate relationships that aren’t for us.

 

8, “You can’t control everything.”

Some things. Not everything.

I like to play this game. I like to pretend that I am the one in control of everything in my life. I pretend that I am in the power seat, and take credit for every put-together corner of my existence, and take panicked responsibility for any detail that goes haywire.

While playing the game, it’s easy to forget that this brings a lot more anxiety than it does peace.

So, sometimes, my mom has to play referee. She has to interrupt the game, re-explain the rules, and encourage me to drop the ball right where I found it.

 

9. “It’s all about energy. Sometimes if you put too much energy into someone or something, it will start to pull away. But if you pull away a little, sometimes that’s enough to make that someone or something chase you.”

The push-pull of energy isn’t a hokey idea planted in silly brains. Every human being possesses a specific energy, and I am of full confidence that the level of energy we put into/pull out of people or situations is of great affect to the intricate balance of relationship.

 

10. “Sometimes in forgiveness, you have to offer it up, then ask God to help you until you mean it.”

Forgiveness isn’t always easy. But, I have learned from my mother that we don’t always necessarily have to feel it before we offer it to someone.

The fact that we are willing to work toward feeling our forgiveness is a display of grace. Because we are human, and imperfect, it sometimes takes time to develop the softened heart that comes with our offering. And, that’s okay.

 

11. “Just drink some water. It’ll make you feel better.”

A stomachache. A headache. Extreme hunger. Carsickness. Emotional upset. 

Every ailment, my mother arms herself with whatever else may be needed, but never forgets the cold, slippery glass of water.

 

12. “Concerts are the best.”

My mom has attended countless concerts. She has gone to so many that sometimes it becomes difficult to recall those she has and hasn’t seen. Several artists she has seen twice. 

She took me to my first concert when I was in the third or fourth grade. The featured bands were Big Daddy Weave and FFH, and though I had never heard of them until that night, the darkened atmosphere and wailing wavelengths of electric guitar were like cocaine to my system, sending me into the deep, lifelong addiction my mother had suffered for all her life.

There is nothing like it. Never do I experience more freedom or clarity than I do standing among strangers, faces turned up toward the powerful delivery of human condition and spirit.

Like my mother, I am already accumulating a long list of those I have seen. And, like her, some I have seen twice.

 

13. “Every girl should have a pretty dress.”

Nowadays, my closet is full of them. But I remember the first dress I ever saw and truly desired, for no particular reason than the fact it made my heart sing.

The dress was the color of champagne, vintage lace dripping to the knee. I was fourteen, had a long history of jeans and shorts, and had nowhere to wear it to. Nevertheless, I showed it to my mother.

She was surprised that I had any interest, and after a quick conversation we left the store without it. But, as we were pulling out of the lot, she said, “Every girl should have a pretty dress.”

She just knew it was worth waiting for.

 

14. “Don’t manipulate situations.”

We’ve all done it. We’ve all heard that that cute boy or girl is going to be at that basketball game and made sure we didn’t miss it. We’ve all tried our best to weasel something we want out of our parents or siblings, and we’ve all tried to get caught doing something we wanted to be noticed doing.

My mom advises against it.

If something is supposed to happen, it’ll happen. Like they say in any sport, Don’t force it. Don’t force a situation, because usually the turn-away is more brutal than waving as it passes by. Don’t be convinced that you know best, because you don’t. Don’t be motivated to get what you want at all costs. 

If it’s not meant to be, it will always be taken from you.

 

16.  “All is well.” 

This is the mantra I hear when I am in tears, when fear plagues me like a reaper at the door. 

With serenity gracing her face, my mom will pat her heart and tell me, “All is well.”

And so far, she has been right. Every single time.

Happiness.

retrieved from tumblr.com via wild-nirvana ( ©natasjatobin

retrieved from tumblr.com via wild-nirvana ( ©natasjatobin)


Happiness.

Happiness is a picture your father hoped with all his heart was captured, a picture of you. And in that picture, you are three years old, with saucer eyes and bow-mouth agape, cherubic fingers splayed open but not touching the yellow bouncy blow-up your parents surprised you with at Christmas. And your father asked your mother, more than once, if she captured that face, because gifts are more than objects.

Happiness is being eight, with your sneakered toes almost touching the muddy foothold of a four-wheeler. Your helmet lightly bumps against your father’s chest as the four-wheeler roars over uneven trails. You are warm, thanks to Grandma’s hot chocolate and the oversize coat your mother made you wear. Morning sunlight splices through cool, sticky pines, and the song playing in your head will not go away.

Happiness is standing on the stained seat of a hand-me-down Honda, head sprouting through the sunroof as the evening settles heavily on top of the hills, and deciding, for the very first time, you are going to write a book.

Happiness is listening to Fleetwood Mac from a glowing console, a console nearly as bright as the Independence Day fireworks still lighting up your eyes. It is being too young to be ignorant of the word ‘damn’ in the song, and too old to admit that you’re sleepy.

Happiness is coming home from school to gooey, rich, chocolate chip cookies cooling on a silver rack.

Happiness is when the tears have subsided, and you have cried hard enough to do nothing but be still.

Happiness is the unexplained swell of joy in your heart as the school bus crests a hill and the sun is a yolk in the sky. It is so bright, it makes you close your eyes; but, you still see it. You still see the farm property to your left, with the trickling creek cutting through lush grass and under crooked fences. And you still see the hill to your right, halved by the road you travel on. And though your music plays loudly in your ears, you can hear the crunch of gravel underneath tires and feel the working body of the engine. And in your head, you picture the shining teeth of your keyboard, that boy in the dark grey t-shirt, lined paper over a desk, and the thrill of possibility. And your eyes are closed, but that doesn’t matter. The sun still silks your eyelids with red.

Happiness is “Here is Gone” playing as the airplane leaves the ground.

Happiness is the lights reflecting off the Seine in Paris, and every elaborate inch of Versailles.

Happiness is the number four. It is Halloween costumes, a circle of trees, huckleberry suckers poking at a summer sky. It is a Canadian maple leaf and perfect pancakes. It is a crocheted throw and rented movies, dolls and discovering that apples taste like pears when dipped in tomato soup. It is a frozen creek and walking sticks and fairy houses. It is renting a dusty cabin in the woods that boy scouts use sometimes, a cabin with a dangerous trap door, bed bugs, boy/girl bathrooms, and an oven for Mom to make orange rolls in.  It is turning one another inside out like a sweater so that you can love each other better. It is inside jokes and being scolded by one another’s parents. It is Sunday dinner. It is getting older together and being afraid only sometimes.

Happiness is the palpable relief after a panic attack.

Happiness is Sandpoint. It is gritty sand and smooth bikes weaving through downtown. It is fresh food waiting for you on a gleaming granite counter, a cold basement, and the freedom of a boat ride. It is friendship with an olive-skinned dreamer, whose room is painted in royal colors, and the sound of “Mr. Jones” in the park. It is the calm of the lake at nightfall, where silver coins of light reflect off the water, and a market to explore in the morning.

Happiness is a thrift store.

Happiness is the soft embrace of your mother. Your mother, who has hands that paint and cook, plants basil and loves massages. Your mother, whose mouth spouts wisdom and a shower of “I love you’s.” Your mother, who dreams of Provence, is fascinated with WWII, and who begs you to come home when you cry.

Happiness is a book. It lies in the weight of the book pulling on your hand, in the stitching that holds every fresh-smelling page in place. It is the crisp turn of each page as you become engrossed in a story that is as important as your own. It is the beginning, the middle, and the end.

Happiness is a concert led by two blonde brothers who write and show truth. It is standing in a silk teal dress and boots, and having the silver cross around your neck gain weight as their words resonate around you, within you, from you. It is watching them and hearing them that brings you closest to God, and it is the image of headlights hunting down purpose that shows you what it is to live.

Happiness is having friends lie to you well enough that when a hopeful summer evening turns into dark disappointment, you walk through the doors of an old, rickety home full of young, reckless people to have the three of them come at you from all sides, arms wide open.

Happiness is June 12th, 2013.

Happiness is jumping up and down with your an apartment-mate, whose wide-open face is unafraid to betray enthusiasm, connected by a childlike rush of excitement and secrets told.

Happiness is skiing for six hours over brilliantly white snow, and plopping down in a sticky plastic chair in the ski lodge, and only then discovering how pleasantly exhausted you are.

Happiness is his face, and falling asleep with your arm touching his.

Happiness is your twentieth birthday. The grey skies make morning last all day long. Your mother fetches you from your first apartment and drives to a city two hours away, only because she loves you. She lets you play your favorite songs. When you arrive at the hotel, you find she paid for a room with two beds, and that the window overlooks rustic buildings and a parking lot full of fatigued vehicles. You spend two hours in a single store that has blindingly clean, white walls and racks of handiwork. When you get back to the room, you spread all those fabrics and patterns and stitches over the couch, because for some reason it fills your heart. And when the two of you go to dinner, you wear a dress with a folded ’40s-style neckline, talk about love and ambition, and for the first time in a long time, eat until you are full.

Happiness is the orange of umbrellas clashing with the ’50s-diner-red of leather benches on a patio, backed by French words written in chalk and whitewashed walls. It is the smell of espresso punctuating each question exchanged as willingly as coins clanking in the tip jar. It is watching kayak tour guides walk across the tile in bare, sandy feet, hair wet and dripping. sharing the floor with birds that are as flighty and twig-legged as you are.

Happiness is five in the morning, when the sky is lightening, the streets are empty, and the world still belongs to you.

Happiness is your sister. It is being in a social situation and being the only two laughing, because one look is all it takes to know what the other is thinking. It is driving in the middle of the night through small towns together, not really knowing where you’re going, while listening to music your mother would shut off and rolling down the windows, though the air makes you shiver. It is sleeping in a large bed, watching Disney movies, and wrestling until someone gets hurt. It is telling the truth, getting the angriest when feeling protective, and pretending the words, “I love you,” should be avoided. It is being best friends and family at the same time. It is telling one another everything, even the pointless stuff. It is sharing. It is understanding the most complex, inner-workings of your minds and ambitions. It is being for them.

Happiness is a hot, crunchy bowl of oatmeal.

Happiness is a plane ticket to somewhere new, a place of curiosity and untold tales.

But, happiness is also a plane ticket home.

Saint of the Sea

photograph by Miranda Rae Carter, Copyright 2014

photograph by Miranda Rae Carter, Copyright 2014

 

In downtown La Jolla stands a Catholic church with a saint, whose name I cannot remember, painted above the door in sun-faded hues of orange, sky-blue, and cream.It says she lords over the sea. If the simple, stout structure of the building and neatness it possesses weren’t enough of a welcome, the thick doors, hinged beneath a cut fringe of an archway, are always flung wide open.

Last week, I was wandering downtown in teal track shorts and tennis shoes with full intent to get myself to the gym despite an intense feeling of reluctance. So, before I entered the dingy, grey confines of downtown La Jolla’s 24 Hour Fitness facility, I stepped through those doors with little purpose and much curiosity.

Directly inside was information on the church and its services, none of which I read. It briefly crossed my mind that perhaps I had just stepped into a touristy venue, though the church seemed empty and I felt like an outsider, mostly because of my attire and the fact that everything pointed toward the congregation being predominantly Hispanic.

Nevertheless, I stepped inside, cringing at the creak of my sneakers on the warm-colored floor. The inside stayed true to its exterior: simple, yet extraordinary in spirit. Everything was pleasingly symmetrical, with sheer white curtains pinned to the triangular ceiling like sequenced waves, a mass of wooden pews separated like the sea Moses commanded with his staff to create a wide aisle, and rows and rows of identical candles flickering at the base of alters on either side.

I wandered in, convinced I was alone, and therefore increasingly comfortable with the resounding noise I was making. Once I reached the front of the church, where a painting of Jesus rose over golden candelabras, I realized I was wrong.

A middle-aged Hispanic woman, dressed in a business skirt and salt-and-pepper blazer with a name tag pinned to it, had isolated herself in the right wing, where another alter belonged. She was crying. Her bursts of tears were quiet and uneven, as if the thing hurting her would let her alone long enough to believe she could handle it before attacking her again. Her hands were clasped, and her mouth moved in quick, hushed prayer whispered in Spanish.

She was trying to keep it together, and failing miserably.

I stood there and tried not to stare. I wondered what the most appropriate thing to do would be. I wanted to approach her, put my arm around her, but I felt even more out of place. Me, this pony-tailed white girl in athletic clothing with a water bottle dangling from my forefinger. A non-member. With not a word of Spanish on my lips.

Another part of me wanted to do nothing. I considered walking away, leaving her to her sorrows. She probably wanted to be alone anyways, right? I had walked in and intruded, caught her in a vulnerable state that she didn’t want to share with anyone but God.

And then I thought of what I have learned about vulnerability, and waited.

The crying never stopped, but the prayer did. The woman quickly crossed herself and made her way out of the wing as an elderly woman in a serious but much more calm state sidled in.

The crying woman in business clothes brushed past me, as if she didn’t see me there at all. Or maybe as if she didn’t want to see me. See that I had seen her, like that. Nearly broken.

“Wait,” I said. She turned, alarmed. I wondered if I had made a mistake, but didn’t really care. Out of all mistakes, this would be a good mistake to make. “Are you okay? Is there something I can do for you?”

She mumbled something in a heavy accent, something about getting to work. It made me marvel at the drive of the human spirit–the courage to embrace normalcy when everything inside of us is shattered.

“Can I pray for you?” I asked her. “Is there some way I can pray for you?”

She nodded.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“I shouldn’t,” she choked. “I have to go to work. I shouldn’t talk long, but my husband, he…he went behind my back, he cheated on me, and now is living with the woman, and…” she trailed off, trying not to let the tears wash over her again. “…and…and it hurts my feelings.”

Pain. I felt it, right at the base of my clavicle. Her words were an enormous downplay of the situation, a child-like rendition of the ache she felt from being shown, falsely, that she was of less value than originally promised.

“Your heart,” I said, patting mine. “It’s broken.”

She gasped for air as she nodded and sobbed. She wiped at her eyes as I touched the padded shoulder of her blazer.

“I have to get to work,” she said, wiping her eyes.

“I’m going to pray for you,” I promised.

She nodded. “Thank you, thank you.”

Then, she did the sweetest thing. She turned from me and curtsied to the painting of Jesus. I could see in her eyes absolute faith despite the awful thing that had happened to her.

I was convicted in that moment of my lack of trust. While I grapple for control in the most mundane situations, this woman was curtsying to God; not haggling or bartering or raising her fist in accusation.

She began to stumble away, still fighting emotion, but I stopped her again. “What is your name?” I should have searched her name tag.

“Susan,” she replied.

“Susan,” I repeated, nodding. “I’m going to pray for you.”

She nodded, emphasized her thanks, then addressed Jesus once more before clicking down the aisle and out the doors that never close.

 

When I Am Old, I Shall Be Full

 

photograph retrieved from tumblr.com, original source unknown

photograph retrieved from tumblr.com, original source unknown

 

My mother has a slim book on her shelf titled, When I Am Old, I Shall Wear Purple.

Heartbroken from a hectic morning, I took to the beach and began to walk. I didn’t shed my shoes as I should have, nor did I touch the water. The day before yesterday was day 12, and I have yet to touch the water on La Jolla shores. Nevertheless, the beach has a way of taking you into its arms, wrapping you in salt and washes of sound, and partnering with a breeze that makes you forget to comb your hair or seek a roof. My heart accepted this gift with gratefulness, and for some reason as I plodded along, the phrase, When I am old…resonated in my mind.

When I am old, I shall walk by water every morning. Walk, not run.

When I am old, I shall eat pie and close my eyes while doing it. I will savor the taste and not feel guilty.

When I am old, stories shall be abundant. I will profess them, read them, write them, just as I always have. And those I love will hear histories of a time past, and know them to be true.

When I am old, my creased hands will not be still. They will hold paintbrushes dripping in shades of the earth, pen poems, and prepare nourishing food for those who sit at my table.

When I am old, I will read mounds of books. I will foster a library in my own home on shelves of oak that will not need dusted, because of the frequency of covers scraping across their surfaces.

When I am old, I will not mourn the face in the mirror. Vain insecurities will look juvenile.

When I am old, I will exercise my mind and memory through language and art and records of time past. I will own mounds of scrapbooks that hold images of my beginning and middle, and will pore over them with friends and family to describe the details behind each frame and the pinpoint the place they hold in my heart.

When I am old, I will be alarmed by how things are so temporary. There will be events I will forget to mention, when once they grazed the back of my forehead.

When I am old, I will laugh from my belly, not from my throat.

When I am old, I will have to bite my tongue. I will have much to say and must remind myself that learning doesn’t end until my life does.

When I am old, I will travel until my body no longer allows me. I will walk along cobblestone streets and smell the must of old Victorian buildings, revel in the strength of castles that came before me and will live after I am gone, let the ocean lick my toes and see with my weakened eyes the excitement of city lights at night. And when I return home, I will love it like it loves me, and nurture it so that I may leave it, once again, in good health.

When I am old, I will attend church each Sunday with open hands.

When I am old, I will bake for no one in particular.

When I am old, I will still ask questions.

When I am old, I will be known for something.

When I am old, I will dress up. I will attend every graduation, wedding, and convention with a tremble of excitement and a tasteful closet.

When I am old, I will surprise my kids, and their kids, and their kid’s kids. I will pick them up when they least expect if for spontaneous trips meant just for them, and give them gifts that spark pleasure in their hearts.

When I am old, I will remember what it is like to be young.

When I am old, I will be better. I will not be completely at peace, but I will keep faith in the promise of it. I will not be stubborn in the ways of my time, but rather in the ways of that which is good, true, and whole. I will like the rain and light a candle when it snows.

 

Walls

 

photograph retrieved from tumblr.com, owner unknown

photograph retrieved from tumblr.com, owner unknown

 

There has been a great emphasis on the importance of vulnerability these past seven days in La Jolla.

Vulnerability is difficult because it is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable because it is common to be sanctioned from being outwardly emotional, especially in public situations. For example, what did your parents say to you when you fell down and started to cry? Probably, “You’re okay. You’re tough.”

And, ever since, that’s what we tell ourselves when our throats begin to prickle and our eyes shine. We tell ourselves that we’re tough, and oftentimes gulp back the urge to be honest in that moment.

Even if tears aren’t a byproduct of the situation, the mere thought of admitting any weaknesses, unpleasantness, brokenness, struggles, or fears registers as absurd. Our brains, trained to believe it is beneficial to uphold a put-together persona, instinctively suppresses any confession of being an incomplete being. This has birthed a society of hidden people, curtained behind tedious small-talk and offhand white lies: two weak institutions disguised as strength.

These past few days, our community in La Jolla has been pushed to disregard this cultural norm, abandon fear of judgment, and bear some of the hairline cracks, the birthmarks, the imperfections that are results of the recklessly lived life.

Last night, one person mentioned that when vulnerability is inserted in a situation, the room begins to move. The weather begins to change for those who keep their ears open.

I have made a similar observation. There is a special place for those who choose to be open, a respect and understanding that develops based not on their weaknesses, but rather their strength to be shameless of that which they lack. Not only do their true stories resonate within the hearts of those hungry to learn, but it allows those to be equally honest with themselves and with others in order to create a depressurized environment for all.

Most importantly, I have felt long-standing walls, hardened with stubborn clay and jagged rock, begin to crumble inside of me, walls that I have passed countless times for so long that they had become invisible even to me, who built them. Being interested in the quality of human spirit, mind, and body, as well as a journalism major, I have had countless conversations that I am proud to say facilitated the breaking of walls in others; but, very rarely, have I allowed anyone to do the same for me. Why? Because in the blind spot of my mind, I have come to believe that it is impossible to be the one to break walls if you need someone else’s help to break your own.

I am stunned to say that these past seven days have proved 20 years of believing this false.

 

Day 3

photograph retrieved from tumblr.com via lecoindelea

photograph retrieved from tumblr.com via lecoindelea

 

Every time I travel, I am stricken not only be how different people are; I am blown away simply by how many people there are.

Human beings, with butterfly hearts and fragile bones, stitched together with a thread of sinew and needle of grace. And each of these vessels carry lightness and darkness, memories of ways in which they have been touched and an ignorance or romanticized longing for ways in which they haven’t. Stories, blobbing around in each brain until told, almost always insufficiently, or until forgotten. Each owns a shelf of successes and an under-the-bed box of failures. And it is both stirring and heartbreaking to notice how hard all of us are trying.

Trying to look better, be younger, earn more money, find out the definition of ‘happy,’ or meet expectations. 3 days ago I watched men, women, and children of all different heights and shapes and shuffles moving with a destination in mind. There were those falling into relief at the thought of being home, and those tearing to get away. It occurred to me that each person, including me, harbored a purpose for being in that airport and a story as to how they ended up there, rolling carefully selected belongings in suitcases behind them, or sitting alertly in cushioned seats with their hands brushing the germ-ridden armrests.

These people and I…we have families. We have neighbors and friends and enemies. We have so much, and so very little in common.

I am in San Diego. It is Day 3. Today I have seen a myriad of faces, most of which I will not remember. But I have shared smiles with these faces, deemed each important, and mourned the observation that we are conned into believing we have so little time, when really, we have been given enough.

They are books. They are songs. They are precious and wretched and have imperfect hearts.

But, like me, they are trying.

Light ‘Em Up

Copyright Miranda Rae Carter, 2014

Copyright Miranda Rae Carter, 2014

 

My uncle once had a girlfriend. Her name was Lori or Debbie. I’m not sure which, because his girlfriends always seemed to be named Lori or Debbie; but then again, that could just be the assumption of the child I was.

Lori (or Debbie) liked the sun. She liked it especially when it heated the dusty seats of the fourwheelers when we would stop to snack. She invited me to climb up on the seat with her, to take off the much-needed fleece coat that kept me warm, and press my skin into the leather seat, eyes closed, to enjoy nature’s furnace and the butterscotch-chips unique to my uncle’s homemade trail mix.

She also liked fires. And not just the fire itself, but the smoke that everyone else squirmed from.

Sitting on her lap one night around the campfire as the sun swung low and a fire raged before us, the smoke began to billow in my face. Clenching my eyes, I swatted at it and thought about moving from her lap until the smoke chose another unlucky victim, but she held on tighter to me and whispered words that kept me there.

“No, no, no,” she said. “I like the smoke. You know why?”

I shook my head.

“Because. When the night is over, and you climb into your trailer, and get all cozy in bed, and your hair spreads out over the pillow as you fall asleep,” she explained, grabbing a lock of my brown hair, “you can bury your nose in it, and smell the fire.”

That night, I did what she said. In my flannels, face and hands and feet scrubbed clean, I climbed into the bunk I shared with my sister and closed my eyes. As I waited for sleep, I turned on my side, and there it was–the fire, lingering in my hair, as if I had taken it with me.

There’s something about a fire.

I said this many a time yesterday evening as my sister and since-childhood friend, Lauren, and I hauled wood and snacks to Spring Valley for a summer kick-off, Miranda-sendoff hangout session. As my sister and I tossed wood into a big pile, I remembered my uncle’s girlfriend, and the many hours my university friends and I have spent around spontaneous bonfires and camping trips. I smiled and said, “Nothing gets the truth churning like a good fire.”

My sister, in raggedy braids and an over-sized flannel, raised an eyebrow and said, “I don’t understand what you say sometimes.”

I think maybe she might have at the end of the night.

We talked about nothing. We talked about everything. I notice that, about spending time with people you’re about to say goodbye to. Very rarely does the conversation veer toward the dramatic, honest, stripping-of-your-soul details of your relationship and the appreciation you have for one another, or the extent to which we will miss one another and why. You just don’t. You talk about your shoe size. You talk about boys that have broken your heart and the friends that haven’t. You talk about traveling, and how much school sucks sometimes, and of what you had for lunch. You talk about God and the Devil, the movie that just came out in theaters, mowing lawns, and roommates and classmates and money. And somehow, at the end of the night, all of this suffices. At the end of the night, you feel closer. And nothing facilitates this threaded-together feeling than a fire, ripping fiercely through the dark.

I wonder if the soul of each fire belongs to the same. I wonder how many secrets have been poured into it, how many stories it keeps safe in the smoldering embers. Maybe the smoke curls into the sky, just to share snippets with the city of stars what it has heard, but somehow I doubt that. I trust fire. I trust that what we share with it ends up smoldering beneath the tepee of firewood, passionately alive in us and in the coals for the night; and then, as the grass dews and our eyelids get heavy, and the fire crumbles to a cold, flaky blue ash, all that was said is locked somewhere, safe. Sorted through, boxed, and stored. Clean from us, though remembered.

I thought of my uncle’s girlfriend again as I got home and stripped for a shower. I wanted to keep the night in my hair, our confessions and laughter and the sound of the forest and the lake waking up as the rest of the world laid down. But I knew I had to get up the next morning, that the demands of today required I be clean. So, I jumped under a stream of rushing water and washed it away.

Nevertheless, fire is faithful. As I wake up this morning, with my sister and Lauren sleeping off exhaustion in the bed upstairs, I am filled with them and their love. Nature has penetrated my soul and palmed every off key until peaceful.

And though I have to say goodbye to them, I know it’s not forever. Just like the fire, they are friends who I know cannot wait to hear from me again, and I them.