Saturday, January 31, 2009

Beginning to Return

Sunlight streams through the window in our living room, dancing gold and glittering across the wood on the floor, bouncing around corners and softly filling the entire apartment with a gentle glow.

On this, the last day of January, the sun is noticeably higher at this time of day than it was even one month ago.

But now I am going to read and think a little bit about the cultivation of grace.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The End

I don't know why I thought this was cool. I think I just like random collections of things with a common theme like that. Anyway, check out this Flikr page of all different "The Ends" from various movies.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


My grandma has been really sick lately, and she hasn't been remembering much. We went to visit her over Christmas, and at one point she grabbed my arm with her mittened hand and said, softly, "I just want to know where we are. What year is it, and are we alive or are we dead? Hank is here, and he hasn't been here for..." she trailed off. Her husband, my grandfather, hadn't been there for six years. She didn't recognize any of us, and we struggled to connect with her in any meaningful way.

"Would you like us to sing a song, Grandma?"

Okay, she nodded, slowly. We got out some Christmas song books and all gathered around the tiny kitchen my grandpa built so many years ago to sing Silent Night and a couple of the other common ones. Even my aunt and uncle, who were raised Catholic but whom I suspect hadn't attended church in decades, even they sang.

The words and tune formed on her mouth without her realizing.

These familiar hymns could bring her back, in a small way, to times when she was herself. Times when she knew who and where she was. When she got her hair permed and went to mass and made borscht and pierogi. When she yelled at us for leaving the screen door open or teasing the dog or tracking mud into the house.

We just found out that her condition has worsened. She has fluid in her lungs and maybe even a small stroke. They say it is probably unwise to admit her to the hospital permanently, though, because there is a risk of infection from the other patients. If possible, they will try to treat her symptoms at the hospital and then let her go back to rest at home. It doesn't really look good though. My mom is so sad and she asked us all to pray for her.

I don't feel like I have any faith for praying, even though I really want to. Now, more than any other time, I really want to.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Giving a Man a Fish

I am going for a lovely stroll on the Common in the rare sunshine yesterday when I hear a voice to my right.

"Excuse me miss, do you have any money?" This is not the first time I am singled out from hordes of people. Apparently I look like the sort of person who will give you money if you ask for it. I think people have this instinctive sense. Hmmm... this girl looks like a pushover, I bet she'll not have the heart to deny my request for money (money I will likely use on any number of unidentified activities).

"I'm homeless and I just want to get a sandwich for lunch and something to drink. I've tried calling the 800 numbers, going to the shelter, talking to the police... I'm just so hungry."

My heart leaps to this fellow human in need. Simultaneously I find it unlikely that none of these people would help her. And by the LOOK of her, she is getting enough to eat. Anyway, I don't even have any cash. But I cannot ignore her. Especially in the unlikely situation that she is telling the truth.

"Sorry I don't. But I can take you to the bagel shop there and get you something."

"Well... are you sure you don't have any money? See, I need to buy some socks too. My feet are real cold."

How quickly she changes her story! Inner cynic, doubter, struggle for the upper hand. I shush both, for now.

"No, I don't have any cash on me today, but come on, let's go to Finagle and I can get you some lunch with my credit card." The woman looks really reluctant, but finally agrees to the lunch proposal, under one condition.

"Actually can we go to Burger King?"

Are you kidding me? I almost laugh. And also, ewww. Burger King. Processed meat "product." Deep fried nastiness. Sugar water with chemicals and bubbles. Ick ick ick makes me cringe at every level. "Well..." I can't think of any way to describe these sentiments without being offensive. "Okay." Besides, if I am buying her lunch, it might as well be something she likes.

We dodge cars and snowbanks, making small talk on the way to Burger Ick. Very awkward small talk.

"So where are you from?"


"Which part?

"No part. I never had a home."

"Never? Even when you were a kid?"


"Oh... I am sorry."

Uncomfortably long pause as my puny mind struggles to imagine what this would be like. I actually cannot fully believe it, but I accept that she doesn't want to divulge the information to me. Although maybe it is as she says. Or maybe she thinks this story is more plausible. Or maybe the real one is just too painful to speak out loud to a total stranger.

"So what's your name?"


"I'm Katie." We get to Burger King. Even setting foot inside that place makes me feel gross. "Is it all right if I have a Value Meal?" Sandra asks me.

"Uhhh what is a 'Value Meal'? Nevermind... sure." Let's not drag this out. We go up to the counter and she orders. Number eleven. I hand the cashier my credit card.

"You're not going to get anything for yourself?"

"No. I think I'm actually going to eat someplace else. I don't really like Burger King." Because I am snobby and vegetarian and find this place disgusting. Or maybe I'm just really uncomfortable right now. Maybe I am just a horrible person, okay?


The cashier hands me back the receipt and the credit card.

"Well, you can go if you have other things to do."

"Okay, you'll just pick up the food here when it's ready then?"


I feel a strange blend of relief and concern. I catch her eye, hesitating suddenly, stalling, for some unknown reason. "Well, okay good luck Sandra. I hope you get things figured out." I really hope she does.

"Thank you. Give me a hug." She says and grabs me around the waist. Ahhh being touched by strangers!!! I hug her back, trying to act as though the whole situation is totally normal. I am surprisingly touched right now but also entirely embarrassed. I just want to escape. Outside, the world continues as usual. In the park, the tourists take pictures of each other in front of fountains and monuments, the ice skaters glide around to cheesey pop music.

I purchase a mozzarella-tomato pannini at a small cafe and mutter to myself.
Burger King! Gross! You bought her Burger King! Think of all of those empty calories. Is that really what she needs? And beef! What about your values?

"Give a man a fish," they say, "and he is full for a day --- teach a man to fish and he is full for a lifetime."

I just gave her a fish.

Anyway, how am I supposed to know what she needs? I don't even know what I need most of the time... If I can't solve my own problems, I certainly can't solve yours, woman. Money won't solve them. 'Value Meal' certainly won't solve them. I don't know what to do! I just go to my job and come home in the evenings. And get clobbered by giant directionless waves of compassion for friends and strangers.

Still walking, I pass by another of the city's homeless - a man this time - sitting with sign and cup on the steps across the street from the statehouse building. Agh homeless people everywhere. Like they were all placed directly in my path by a spiteful universe in an effort to point out my utter uselessness at ever accomplishing anything GOOD. Even if I give you twenty, a hundred, a thousand dollars, what difference would it make?

"Have a good day" he drawls. Despite myself I can feel a my mouth forming into a smile. How can you NOT smile when someone wishes you a good day?

"You too!"

"Hey--" he says. "Nice smile."

"Thank you."

And I remember what somebody said one time about being homeless. Yes it sucks not having food or a place to stay. But worse is feeling like you do not exist, worse is being ignored by the world. I have felt this way even, awash in a cloud of strangers, stumbling towards what end, what destiny?

Nice smile, he says... yes. Something flickers inside of me.

True, I did not teach her to fish.

But in that moment, by asking her name, looking her in the eye, giving her a HUG for goodness sake! none of these things probably matter in the long run, but I guess in that moment, in my extensively awkward way, I allowed her to exist for me. I, too, am pitifully human. I can't solve everyone's problems or maybe anyones, especially my own. But I can acknowledge that, yes, she and I are both human. Sojourners we, both pitifully and both gracefully human.

Sandra, if that is even your real name, I do hope you find your way.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Van de Graaff!!! I want to share this image with everyone because it filled my soul with joy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stuck in Head

Evidence we are related:
Me: Do you ever get a word or phrase stuck in your head and you keep silently repeating it to yourself over and over?

Em: Yeah.

Me: Do you know which phrase I've had stuck in my head recently?

Em: No.

Me: The Graaaaand Poooooobah.

Em (nods thoughtfully): Oh yeah. I've had that one stuck in my head before.
Awww my thithter.

Monday, January 19, 2009

MBTA Wuuuv Stories

Make the commute more exciting!

Was staring at me when I awoke from having my face and entire body pressed against the corner of the window...

Wow! I have never seen anybody fall asleep standing up on the train before. I can't even fall asleep seated. That is so impressive. You know - if I had been sitting down I would have given you my seat. So what do you do, anyway...?

Kind older Bolivian gentleman...
Are you accepting applications for marriage?

Might have been gay...
Last night I got WASTED. I was supposed to be wrapping Christmas presents for my nephew. Get this - I ended up using wallpaper instead of wrapping paper! Ha ha ha. Your hair is pretty.

At a party...
"A guy at the T station made me this balloon animal parrot, and he wrote his phone number and email address on it and sang to me in Italian."

"Ooooh... was he cute?"

"Well... how do I say this? He was a clown."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

OMG Barfday

In a handful of days I will celebrate my twenty-fifth anniversary of being born. I could delve into some hardcore introspective drivel at this point, but let's just leave it at this: I am legitimately proud of how far I've come in these two and a half decades that I've been kicking around here and both curious and excited to see where else I go in the ones I have yet to experience.

Finally, some words of wisdom from my big *brother, who recently asked me how old I was going to be.

"Just think," he said, smirking, when I confirmed my age to him, "if you live to be a hundred, your life is already a quarter over." Nice. Thank you. Terrific. "But," he continued, "you're probably only going to live to be seventy-five, so it's actually more like a third over."


*who, it should be noted, is approaching 30 this year

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's Not Easy...

We had an almost entire family dinner Saturday night and somehow we got to telling ridiculous stories from when we were younger. Priceless.

When my oldest brother was an adolescent, he was totally into the grunge, all-black, shave-half-his hair-and-dye-the-other-half-an-unnatural-color scene. Now, for each of our birthdays, my mother had created a tradition of baking a cake and decorating it as we requested - teddy bears, flowers, Bart Simpson, etc. etc. One year on Bobo's birthday, Mom asked him what he wanted. He shrugged his shoulders and mumbled that he didn't care - she could color it black if she wanted.

So she baked the cake, bought a bottle of black food coloring, and whipped up some delicious lemon buttercream frosting. She added the food coloring and mixed it up to get a nice rich emerald color:

Apparently the acidity of the fresh lemon interfered with the food coloring. So she added some more pigment. And some more. And some more. She ended up adding the entire bottle and it didn't turn out much darker than a hunter green:

"Oh well," she thought to herself. "This will have to suffice." So we had the birthday dinner, put on the ridiculous cone-shaped hats, lit candles, and sang "happy birthday to you." At this point everyone descended upon the cake like the foul sugar-loving beasties that we were.

It was delicious of course, and at some point somebody cracked a funny joke that made everyone laugh, revealing mouths full of disgusting green troll teeth. Tiny three-year-old E's mouth: green. Mom's mouth: green. Even Baby P's toothless mouth had a sickly greenish hue. To our child minds it was so hilarious. Little did we know the green did not stop there.

The next morning I got ready for school, made sure my hair scrunchie matched my stretch pants, brushed my teeth, went to the bathroom. Something was not right. I came downstairs, concerned "Mom, I just went to the bathroom..."

"Everything came out green?" she asked. "It happened to me and your father. And I just changed P's diaper... also green."

Not a single soul was spared.

And a few valuable life lessons were learned. Green teeth are funny. Green doody is funnier. Green pee is funniest!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


A lot of the time I see myself as a little awkward sort of creature, but occasionally I am looking at myself and realize I am somehow glowing with a transcendent brilliance I didn't even know existed. I have no idea where it comes from - or why - and no clue how to contain it or even if I should try. It is terrifying. It is delightful. Like I am emitting photons, only clearly invisible.

So yes, here I am sitting in my pink polka dot jammies, surrounded by blankets and dishes and unpaid bills, barely knowing how to approach this sacred effulgence.

Ahhh a day in the life.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


A classmate from high school had included the following lines (which turned out to be the first half of the poem "St. Francis and the Sow" by Galway Kinnell) in his FB profile and I was so struck by the words.
The bud
stands for all things,
even those that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing.

The idea of everything flowering from within, of self-blessing particularly, leapt out at me as significant and true. Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Getting Born

Their motions were silhouetted against the drapes, moving, bouncing toward the doors.
I cloaked myself in the shadow of the pines and waited.

With a clamor they burst open
and the light streamed and flickered lengthwise, blinding, across the snow.

The first one froze at the edge of the darkness
This threshold between womb and world
Held out a strong bunched arm that caught the other across the gut.

Spoken words snatched mid-syllable, sinking on the current and swirling at their feet
An instant suspended like a weightless orb

With only breath spurting in misty puffs into the night.

They turned to each other slowly, wide-eyed, maybe sisters or maybe lovers
and asked when it had gotten dark.

And the first one said
While we were laughing.

The second said

Somehow we found ourselves inside out.
Found ourselves in Tomorrow before it was Today.
And yet here we are.

Let’s get born.
Let’s get born right now. Together.

They shrieked, and they hooted,
And – hand grasping mittened hand – they strode out into the darkness.

And I could only watch the two slowly vanish under the stars.
My own breath pouring slowly from tiny nostrils, rising silently, finally fading to darkness
Feel the cold, the air, dragging me downward
Could only begin to wonder.

Let’s get born, they said.
As though anyone could just choose that sort of thing.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


In honor of Beth:

Beth and her visiting friend Betsy were going off to move Betsy's car so she wouldn't get a ticket for parking in Brookline overnight. The action roused me from my dazed nap on the futon. "Guys!" I called after them in an anxious tone. "What is BUBAR???"

No response.

"I'm serious! What is bubar? It is like a joke we had or something. What does it mean again?" My confused questions were met with an even more baffled silence.

"Uhhh Katie, I have no idea what 'bubur' means. You're asleep." Beth said, almost patronizingly.

"Do you mean 'bubber'?" Betsy hopefully suggested the diminutive term I use for those I find endearing (particularly for Beth).

"No I don't mean bubber. I mean BU-BAR. Like we took the word boo-bar and changed the first syllable to a long U."

"Yeah sorry we cannot help you there." Those effing bubars. They went outside and I fell back to the sofa and the clutches of those wild, wild dreams again. What is bubar? Maybe we'll never know.

Midwinter, Sorrow, Symbols, and Hope?

If I was born for any season, it was spring. New leaves opening. The mud. The GREEN everywhere. The rain. The baby animals. Life restored. The return of light to our hemisphere. Symbols of the rekindling of hope in our tiny magnificent souls.

Likewise, winter has often been hardest for me to bear: I think the fewer daylight hours mess with my moods. And the colors and symbols of winter, particularly post-holiday winter, the months between January and March, have traditionally magnified those feelings of despair.

I mope. I want to stay in bed all the time. Good days I write psalms to myself as a reminder of who I am, what I am, what life is. Bad days I wonder if I have a purpose, if anything has a purpose. I think a lot of people probably feel at least somewhat similarly about the season. So why would our ancestors place the new year, the time of beginnings; of new dreams; and of our newer, better selves; at such a time of darkness and sorrow? Why not in the springtime so it would carry some sort of reflection of the natural world?

Informal research into pagan and Christian holiday traditions has led me to at least some understanding. Originally the Romans placed the new year on the first of March (my proposed date). Later, the assorted Christian calendars would often place the beginning of the year on the celebration of Jesus Christ's birth, December 25th. Others placed it on the feast commemorating his circumcision, January 1st. Gradually all of the Christian/European cultures came to adopt the January 1st date.

If we look into the traditions behind Christmas, we see that many or most of them have history in the pagan rituals surrounding of the feast of midwinter, winter solstice, or Saturnalia. The day with fewest hours of sunlight also marks the beginning of the return of the sun. The mythic story parallels the Christian narrative as well: a half god/half human sun deity is born on this day. Or more precisely, I think as the tradition goes, the sun dies, remains dead for three days, and then is reborn, and his growth parallels the return of daylight to the hemisphere.

Whichever story you believe, Christian or pagan (or something else), I think there is some important symbolism in the celebration of a new year at this point in the calendar. Death, darkness, despair - these all have their unfortunate role in human existence. And I have observed from the ashes of sorrow comes some of the the greatest growth and personal triumph. Even the act of enduring the winter, to me, is a triumph. It is a tribute to the nobility of the human spirit.

We sang this song today at church which uses words from Tennyson's poem*.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
To Christians, Christ seems to represent the better, kinder selves we humans strive to become, for all that we are, for all that we wish to be. I do not believe that most change is linear. New Year's represents the cyclical process of death and rebirth leading to the expansion of our souls. And with this recently-acquired, strange, sad little peace, I find the seasonal location of New Year's Day to be, for the first time, symbolically appropriate.

*(There are more stanzas to the poem, but I think only three are included in the hymn.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Goals and a Song

Not sure if they're technically "New Years Resolutions," since I began them the second half of last month, but since it's the beginning of a new year, I guess I'll formally declare them.
  1. Perform more active service for fellow human beings.
  2. Trust more people to actually see ME and love me. I have had at least a couple close friends ask me questions like, "What makes you so special, so unique as to be unlovable?" There is no answer to that, so I see the problem is with self-perception.

I saw this movie on New Years Day with some siblings and friends. The soundtrack was pretty amazing. I will have to talk a little later about the actual movie, because my thoughts are still conglomerating. This song is from the first scene when the two little kids are running from the police because they were playing ball on the airport runway.