On moving and moving on

A couple of months ago Mark and I had a falling out with our third housemate, and decided to look for a two bedroom apartment. For those of you who don’t know, Mark is my good friend and long-time housemate. We lived in an intentional Christian community together for several years, and four years ago moved into a three-bedroom apartment and have been renting out the third bedroom. It was a good plan, I think. We needed to leave the community, and our incomes are both on the low side, and this way we’ve been able to rent out the larger bedroom and pay a little bit less.

I was in the Christian community for seven years, and it was a hard seven years. In many ways it was a toxic environment for me, though despite that (and maybe a little bit because of it) those were years of a lot of inner growth. But it was a community, a family, and hard as it was I was scared to leave, to go off on my own. I was so scared I kept putting it off, year after year, crisis after crisis, until the time came when the decision was taken out of my hands and I had to leave. Mark and I started looking for three bedrooms. We trekked around Boston with realtor after realtor and saw some awful places. Tiny apartments, filthy apartments, bizarrely shaped apartments. It was extremely demoralizing, and the days until we had to move were ticking down. Then we found this place.

This house, where we’ve been for the past four years — it’s gorgeous. It’s spacious and sunny, up on a hill on a tree-lined street, with two porches, a great view, and rabbits living in the back yard for crying out loud. The third bedroom is actually two rooms spanning the whole third floor, so we were able to rent that out at a higher rate than we paid for our bedrooms. I have no idea how it was in our price range, or how we were the only viable applicants. Just to add to the drama and the miraculousness of it all, the landlords didn’t accept our application at first but decided to have another open house — and no one showed up! So at the eleventh hour, just days before we had to leave the community, we signed a lease for Primrose Street.

This house has been such a place of healing for me. After years of struggling in the community and being afraid to leave I found myself spending glorious solitary hours sitting on my porch watching the sun set over the hills as the birds sang in the trees all around me. I rolled out my yoga mat in the large, wood-paneled living room, in front of the working fireplace, and felt my body healing as I stretched. In the winter I chopped garlic and onions, potatoes and carrots in the kitchen and filled the house with the smell of hearty soups. I bought viney plants and watched them slowly take over mantles and bookshelves. I chatted with Mark in the evening, grateful to have a friend to talk to and grateful when we went to our separate corners of the house, introverts respectful of each other’s need for solitude. I’d been so scared to leave, and look where I’d landed. My heart rose up with the words of the Psalms:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I felt God’s message to me in my very bones: “Don’t be afraid.” As Frederick Buechner has so beautifully expressed it in his definition of grace: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

But almost as soon as we’d moved in here I knew there would come a time when we’d have to leave, and I knew it would be really hard. I thought that time would be when our landlords decided to move into the house themselves, since that was their long term plan for the place. But after this last experience of disagreements and miscommunication with the third housemate, Mark and I both agree that we don’t want to have to keep finding and coping with a third person. For even as the house has been such a wonderful place of quiet and healing, there have been conflicts and struggles with our various third housemates. Beautiful and terrible things seem to always come together, don’t they?

It was a hard decision, but I know it is the right one. And I don’t want to be afraid of moving on to the next thing. I was afraid for so long before, and then when I wouldn’t take the leap of faith myself I was pushed, and landed somewhere wonderful. I don’t want to be afraid again. I want to trust that the same Spirit that led me here will lead me to the next place.

And now, right now as I type, we are in the eleventh hour again. We’ve given notice here for June 30th and we haven’t found a new place yet. We thought we found something but it fell through yesterday afternoon. Today is June 16th, officially less than half a month till we have to be out of here. Two weeks, if you prefer things in tidy sets of seven. Mark is in Connecticut helping with his grandmother’s funeral preparations. Right when things got crazy here with our housemate Mark’s mom broke her arm and his grandmother started failing, so he’s been down there for three months now while I try to handle things up here. We’re both struggling with health issues both chronic and acute. Everything seems to be happening at once.

Last night, in the midst of all of this, some good friends from my days in the community came to visit. They are a family of five and one of the things that made it so hard to leave the community, and I’ve greatly missed popping next door to hang out in their kitchen, or Shima stopping by for some of the iced coffee I always had on hand, or the kids knocking on my bedroom door to tell me about their adventures. They sat in my kitchen last night, amidst the moving boxes, and we caught up. They had just bought a house in Atlanta, and Steven shared with me how impossible everything had seemed. He’d applied for a promotion with a pay raise that he wasn’t sure he’d get, they’d been living in a rented house far too small for them, and buying a house seemed out of the question.

“All these pieces had to come together and it seemed impossible,” Steven said, “And I prayed and said, ‘God, you’ve got to make this happen, because it’s not something I can do. It’s all in your hands.'” And they did come together, all of them.

“Yeah!” I said. “That’s how it is for us, now. But you know, it’s better this way, because we see the reality of the situation. Everything is in God’s hands, but the people with all the money and resources don’t realize it. They think they’re in control, but that’s just an illusion.”

“Right,” said Steven, “Exactly.”

I’d been stressed out when they said they’d texted to say they were coming by last night, because everything was happening at once: We’d gotten word of that one apartment falling through just as I was loading the toddler I nanny into the car to pick up his sister from kindergarten, and Mark and I were trying to communicate about maybe appealing the decision and next steps if that didn’t happen. But what a blessing to spend time with old friends from the community I’d been so scared to leave, to hear how God had provided for them, and to exchange words of encouragement and hope. Shima said she’d pray for me, and I felt confident that God would hear her.

And how wonderful to have evidence of God’s redemption in the flesh, old friends who had been through the hard times with me, who have had hard times themselves, to embrace each other with forgiveness and love. Turns out I hadn’t left community behind — it came with me, and it will come with me on this move, too. I will set my viney plants on other mantles, roll my yoga mat out on other floors, and other birds will sing on other trees outside of other windows. There will be beauty, and there will be pain, because life always has both mixed together. I don’t want to be afraid.

***

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The world wants me to write about it today

“Pay attention. As a summation of all that I have had to say as a writer, I would settle for that.”
~ Frederick Buechner

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
~ Mary Oliver

The world wants me to write about it today. It’s been throwing itself at me, quite shamelessly. It will do anything, it seems, for a bit part in one of my stories. From the moment I left my house the water sparkled at me like some reverse paparazzi, wanting its flash bulbs to be the news on page six. At Starbucks I tried to write my blog post about finances, but an apologetic woman sat across from me, asking in a soft, Germanic accent if there was room for her and her friend, while the Chinese family at the other end of the table nodded and gestured to her, making the word “okay” seem like both a full sentence and a solemn ceremony.

A few minutes later I glanced up to see the Chinese man holding his hands in front of him, empty palms open like a book, staring silently and intently at their pages, and the man on my other side answered his phone with a click of his earpiece and earthy Russian syllables rolled out of his mouth. I paused to take a selfie for Facebook — the intrepid writer hard at work — and when I cropped it I saw I had also captured a woman behind me wearing a head covering, hard at work on her own laptop, a novel buried in the soft furrow of her brow.

“Slow down!” I cried, “Let me choose — I write slowly.” And I fled to the library, hiding in a study carrel with just enough room for me. Safe, I thought. But I glanced over and caught the eye of the man in the carrel next to me, just as he was glancing over at me, and his brown skin, shoes kicked off and tie slung over his shoulder called out to be described. What color tie? Purple, with green stripes, and the shoes looked like loafers–

“Wait! Stop!” I called again to the flamboyant world. “That’s not my job right now!” I glued my eyes to to my computer, trying to write the post, copying and pasting. But the library turned out to be a dangerous choice as a myriad of childhood memories ran up and demanded to play on my page. How many times had I ridden my bike the two miles to the local library and spent the afternoon exploring the worlds within that sacred world? What was the name of the street? What was that smell that drifted out of the Italian restaurant as I biked by? “Tell about it,” the memories insisted. “Tell our story.”

So I ran to the park, a pond surrounded by trees, benches, fields. I grabbed my notebook — there was work to be done! But just within the gates a Korean wedding party gathered for a picnic, laughing loudly as I scurried by, dodging inspiration. (How would I describe the smell of kimchi? Sour? Vinegary?) Then I ran straight into a group of women dressed head to toe in black hijabs, making me suddenly aware of my broad, naked face, my bare hair flowing in the breeze (chestnut, with shiny wisps of grey). But I was restored to modesty as I rounded the corner by a scene from the cover of a romance novel — a young Hispanic woman dressed in a sleeveless, backless, flowing pink gown, with two muscular men holding out swaths of the fabric as a crew of four photographed them. Coming closer I saw the plot twist — the woman was pregnant, and cradled her belly proudly, shaping the dress around it. “Now there is a story,” the world said, pulling out all the stops: “Write it!”

Full to bursting I rushed up the hillside to sit in the crook of a fallen tree that would take me half an hour to describe. But I can’t, I don’t have time, because even as I write this a man has kicked a soccer ball near the pond and his shoe is flying into the air with it — he is hopping on one foot, laughing and shouting in Arabic. He is hopping right now, I tell you — he is bending down in the wet grass to retrieve his shoe. Did I mention the color of the grass? Did I tell you about the ragged feel of the trees after a long winter and a blustery early spring? Did I describe the slow perambulation of an elderly couple, leaning on each others’ arms for support? Did I write about the woman sitting in the crook of a fallen tree, writing furiously in a notebook as if the world were tugging at her sleeves? Did I get it all?

Tell about it

IMG_0369“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
~Mary Oliver

I’ve been having a little bit of vulnerability fatigue lately. I’ve shared a lot of personal stuff in this space, and I have more I want to share, but I think I need to take a break for a little while. I want to keep blogging, though, and keep writing, definitely. I love that Mary Oliver poem, above. It is the same writing advice that Frederick Buechner gives many times: Pay attention; write what you see. So I am going to spend some time doing just that. The next few posts might not be that deep or insightful, and they might be kind of short. But I think I need to get out of myself, out of my own head, for a while. And maybe my readers could use a break from the inside of my head, as well. Let’s look around, a little, and see what we may see. Here are a couple of my recent Facebook posts, in which I tried to do just that.

***

I swam, hard, for an hour today in a cool, dappled lake. Take that, inner voice that tells me I’m lazy, out of shape, and wasting the summer.

At one end of my laps, on the buoy that held the rope marking the swimming area, a bronze dragonfly sat every time I came back there. Near the end of my swim I paused and looked at him more closely. He looked back at me, flew up a foot or two then circled back to land in the same place. “That’s your spot, huh?” I said to him. He fluttered his wings and gazed back at me. I swear, he did. We had a moment.

Tomorrow and Friday will be ten hour work days, so I won’t have time, probably, to finish a blog post for this week. But I wanted the little bronze dragonfly to be written down. If my job as a writer is to pay attention and write about what I see, then I would be remiss in not mentioning the dragonfly. And the fact that, walking through the woods to the pond, looking around at the young trees that framed the path, I thought to myself: I should change the camera setting — this is too green, it doesn’t look real.

***

I just woke up to thunderstorms, a typical enough occurrence in the summer but somehow, at 6:30 in the morning, it seemed so strange. Dark, dark as a winter morning, with a tinge of pale yellow to the darkness and the rumbling of thunder like the portent of a not-so-distant war. The air was wetter than I’d ever experienced, too — the clothes that I left out on my chair, were damp. And now, as I sit by the window, flashes of lightning crackle as if the audience were ignoring the request of the actors for no flash photography, please, during the performance.

***

An Introvert Complains

People
Are so annoying
And they’re everywhere.

At least, all the places I can get to
before I start feeling ill at ease
too far from home.

People talk to me when I’m
lost in thought, talk
to each other, laugh
in that high-pitched, irritating
way that they have.

People smell, let’s
face it, and their
arm hair accidentally
tickling my own
arm hair is like nails on a
chalkboard or like
the neighbor’s car idling
in the driveway outside my
window, filling the room
with fumes.

Even here, home alone
as I listen to a podcast on
poetry (which you can blame
for the form of this post)
while I watch a video of
ocean waves and
scurrying sandpipers
to keep my mind from
wandering;

Even here,
as I’m lulled by the poetry
and the waves, and the
birds, people intrude — Surfers
splashing into the frame,
bobbing and calling to each
other, scaring away the
sandpipers and wearing
neon green.

And the mood is broken
so much so that I can’t even
focus when the poet, Elizabeth
Alexander, reads her words,

“Poetry
is the human voice,
and are we not of
interest to each other?”