Category Archives: Abstract Thoughts
“Either everything will fall apart, or poetry will make everything alive again. It’s not going to stay like this.”
-Matthew Stein, Words from a Dream
January thaw in Houghton is a bit like a teaser trailer for the next highly anticipated movie – it may be weeks, months, years before the main feature is released, but it’s all you can think about until the moment the first screenings open.
Unfortunately, the season of spring can’t be leaked online, it cannot be interviewed, and there’s never an exact release date, especially in western New York. Spring may come as early as March or as late as June. All the snow may disappear overnight, or there may be a period of uncomfortable indecision where snow boots and a t-shirt may be a compromise.
The thaw is cruel as well as kind in its winter reprieve – it will haunt you until the first daffodil breaks through the crust of slush on the grass and the temperature stays above fifty for more than two consecutive weeks. It also allows you to carry on through winter with some optimism. You will dream of fresh air, the cloudless sky, of sitting in the grass with bare feet while listening to peepers sing to their mates. Spring is a siren; a trap; the very best strain of seasonal disease. She infects and she lingers and she overwhelms you with a sense of security and warmth. She leaves no lasting damage, only seamless transition. You don’t think of winter, you only think of tomorrow and the breaking of a new day, just like this.
The thaw is just a sampling of the real thing, but in the State of Perpetual Winter, you cling to what you can get without complaint.
The afternoon air is registering at 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Proper steps must be taken:
– Exchange a sweater for a long-sleeved t-shirt.
– Slide open the storm windows to let in an ozone and grass-laced breeze.
– Slip off ski socks and slide into flip flops.
– Ignore remaining snow drifts and icicles hanging from gutters.
– Listen to the animals waking and scratching, to the birds twittering unseen in the trees.
– Feel the warmth of the noon sun on face.
Close eyes, breathe deep. Exhale, repeat.
I am no fool – I will not miss an opportunity to bask in the gloriously soothing glow of mid-winter sunlight. There may be snow on the ground, but if it smells like spring and you can comfortably walk about with only a light jacket, there’s a sign of hope. There is an end in sight; there is affirmation that winter is neither the conclusion nor the stopping point… that there’s something more than this, something yet to come.
Reminders of this truth are everywhere. One that sticks prominently in my mind is the Disney animation for the 1919 version of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The underlying message is that destruction is a natural part of the flow of life. Despite what may happen or what forces may lash out and seem to tear the world apart, there will be renewal. There will be dawn and life and growth and light.
Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain took me a longer time to figure out, but it’s along the same lines. We have death and decay, and in a sense without it the world could not progress. If you only have growth and expansion, you face overwhelming surplus. Living forever on earth can only be accomplished by being a part of other living things; by feeding the earth in death. There is death, but it leads to new life and afterlife and ultimately a better existence. Death is not a means to an end but a means to a new beginning. Time is a cycle, time offers repetition.
I’m at a time in my life when this idea is showing up more frequently and an in more obscure ways. Celebrating my twenty-first birthday this summer, I found myself facing the death of my childhood, but through it finding the excitement of finally growing into adulthood. I had to say farewell to the benefits and joys of adolescence, but was then able to step forward into a brand new light of legality.
Graduation is the expiry of my formal education, of my time in this place with these aims, but without the end there would never be a new beginning elsewhere, utilizing the knowledge I have garnered here. (You can read more about my feelings on senior year here).
In just over seven months, I will be getting married. There has already been an ending to our “dating” relationship when we felt we had reached the preparedness and commitment to quest on to marriage through engagement. Soon, we shall face the termination of our lives as solitary individuals, but without this surrender we can never be together, bound in matrimony, united until physical death do us part. Some people try to accomplish this without sacrifice, but it’s not the way the cycle is supposed to function. An end brings a new and more wonderful beginning.
The end of a day brings the promise of a rising sun, and the falling snow brings hope hinted at by a welcome thaw. It’s an offering of grace.
Without winter, we would never know spring.
Nothing is more refreshing than waking up well rested, sunlight twinkling below the blinds and dancing on the floor. The sheets are warm, the pillow is soft, and the body is relaxed. What better way to begin a week than to wake up like this and then bake a hot breakfast?
The smell of freshly-baked sweet scones and dripping coffee make my entire apartment smell like a home. Even when a chilly October gust leaks through the crooked sill of my kitchen window, the room is warm and rich with scents and sounds and comfort. Birds sing thanks for the new seed on the deck.
Wrapped in the fleece of my dearest Matt and padding along the hallway in worn slippers, it’s the first time I will be ready to leave the house ahead of schedule. Weather.com is insistently assuring me that it will be WINDY (when they don’t put up a picture of the weather, they mean it.) So, it’s a sweater day despite the glowing sun. No bother, I have hot coffee and a warm scone and a crisp Winesap apple, right off the tree.
My walk is decorated with golden leaves and the babbling creek. The wind is cool but not cold, and the sun is warm but not hot. Moderation seems to be the theme of the day, especially since I managed to limit myself to only two scones.
Chapel is full of good friends and friendly faces. The speaker was good, the company familiar and the time well-spent.
My Monday schedule provides some leniency and a calm transition from October break.
It’s funny how I can write a post so fragmentary when my heart is so full of joy. It’s strange how detachment can allow me to look back at my morning and see the delight in it while being so matter-of-fact. Yesterday, I fought my way back to Houghton in pouring rain and darkness and was rewarded with Matt waiting for me with dinner. Tonight I’m celebrating being Artist of the Week and an open schedule by attempting my first meatloaf dinner. If we can’t delight in the small things, life will become dark and dull very fast.
It’s days like this that remind me why I’m alive.
At ten years old, I was no stranger to grief. Having experienced the death of several beloved pets, one grandparent and elderly friends and neighbors, I had known the baffling uncertainty of why God would take these people, these things away. I had known the trailing of hot, unbidden tears on my cheeks. I had known the stale waft of funeral flowers masking the smell of reheated coffee and death. I had known the somber shaking of hands and hugs and waiting in line to gaze on the face of someone who would never again gaze back.
So, at the death of my great-grandfather in 2000, I was now familiar to the rituals of funerals and death. I understood mortality and for the first time in a few years, I was part of the family of the deceased.
But I’m not writing about all that.
No, the part of that time that I remember the clearest was during the funeral, in between visitation and a memorial time. The kids (primarily my fourteen year-old sister, cousin and I) were all shown to a small side room with a TV and games and toys. We were given time to watch a movie and let the adults have some time with each other. My sister and I began giggling at the absurdity of E.T and some private joke we had just concocted. As we laughed and joked and began to lighten the atmosphere of our little space, my cousin whipped around dramatically and snarled at us, “How can you be laughing? You’re not supposed to laugh. Great Grandpa’s dead! That’s wrong!”
She continued to bury herself in a shade of brooding sorrow and anger at our apparent impertinence and breaking of code. We both were a bit taken aback, but brushed off her outburst, marking it as a part of her tendency to be over dramatic. My sister and I were sad, and we had payed our respects and cried and mourned. But we also knew that life went on, that factors would affect our attitudes and emotional states and that, in the end, we were children and it was permissible for us to find some joy.
America, do not get trapped in the pitfall of perpetual grief.
I am often worried when long-standing anniversaries of pain come up on the calendar. I do what I know to be right and good – I pray for those involved, I reflect on the events, I take time to thank God for His provision and care. But I also worry for those who lock themselves in dark rooms and refuse to smile and self-flagellate with solitude and blackness.
For the ten-year anniversary of September 11, I did not initially feel any connection to the day and the events. I know people who were directly involved in the attacks, particularly George Sleigh who was on the 91st floor of the North Tower. His story is unbelievable, and could only be told today thanks to an Almighty God. During the events, I was old enough and smart enough to understand some of what was going on and understand the gravity of the situation, and to feel fear. I have every reason to feel a very close, personal connection with the events. Then why do I not feel the same grief?
Because in that time, I felt God. In that time, I felt joy.
I remember walking into my sixth-grade classroom after lunch and finding most of my peers missing, gone home. Teachers tried to explain what was happening, and classroom TVs were all tuned to the news, the towers smoking and burning over CNN. I was one of few who stayed the entire school day. No one demanded I be terrified, no one made me cry. That evening, my family gathered on my parent’s bed and Mom and Dad did their best to tell us what was going on. They didn’t cower in fear, they didn’t act like anything was different. For them, it wasn’t different. Before the distaster, they trusted God to take care of us and protect us no matter where we were or what we did. After the planes crashed and our country was personally attacked by our enemies, my parents were aware of the increased danger. They knew that this event changed our country and our safety. But they never stopped trusting God with our health and safety. Instead of mourning, we prayed, remembered, helped others, and kept going.
This entry today isn’t about my great-grandfather, and it’s not about death. It’s about the people who have gotten stuck, wallowing in the darkness of September 11. Don’t forget the sacrifices and remember the grief. Remember the ones who are lost, and pray for the people who either lost loved ones or struggle with the fact they survived. But don’t dwell on it. Don’t lock yourself away and mourn again. If we forget to keep living and having light amidst the dark, the darkness will always win.
Even in the shadow of death and sorrow, a smile and laughter can be had without guilt. Better to lighten the heart with a thought than to risk getting caught in misery again.
A clumsy finish to what began as a whole piece, but in the lateness of the day and the distance of my heart, that’s really all I want to say.
When the terrorist attacks on September 11 happened, America changed. Policies, ideals, beliefs all changed. But that change all feels like such a distance memory, doesn’t it? We adapt so well to change but sometimes we refuse to acknowledge how versatile we are. Mind you, I don’t want to seem like I’m downplaying what happened on that day. I know people are still hurting and may never quite heal. But all I know how to do is keep living as I have been, and keep praying for our leaders and our friends and our neighbors and the strangers. I get up in the morning, I put my pants on one leg at a time, I make coffee and I write a poem about the spotted apple on my kitchen table.
Is it wrong of me to feel like I was detached from September 11? Is it wrong of me to spend the day enjoying my time with others than in mourning and remembrance? I don’t believe so. If we panic and cower in fear and refuse to leave the house or get on a plane, our enemies have won a small victory. If we live like trapped animals, we live a cursed existence.
May we never forget ten years ago, America. May we never forget to keep living.
Hear George’s Story in his own words, courtesy of Parkside Church: http://www.parksidechurch.com/news-events/blog/2011/8/remembering-911-george-sleigh-audio-and-video/
Note from the Author – I know we disconnected a bit there at the end, but getting back into the swing is harder than it looks. I’ll be posting again on Wednesday with either a piece of poetry (ah, rare treat) or another entry on the first weeks of school. Stay tuned and good night!
Why do we fear the dark?
As the shadows lengthen across the yards and the light begins to melt away from the sky, the darkness slithers like a serpent of the night beneath our doorways, through our slatted blinds and underneath our beds.
The mind becomes a master of disguise, shrinking our courage and enlarging all our fears, even those we had no idea that we had.
In the darkest watches, we fear the dark. We freeze inside of it, inside a noise or a draft or a mere feeling, and remain stiff and cold in the paralyzing blackness rather than run towards the light.
Once we’ve snuffed the candles out, once we’ve said goodnight and closed our doors, we should feel safer.
But why instead do we feel alone?
Why instead do we surrender to fear?
What lurks alone in every passing shadow that reminds us of ourselves? Of what we could be? Of what is lurking behind our own facades?
We are born into darkness, we embrace darkness to hide our faces. In the late hours, we hide our secrets in the folds of night, and tip toe down the passages that we have abandoned for so long, cobwebs spiraling across arched ceilings, drifting as a sticky vapor along the crown moldings and down the peeling, faded wallpaper.
Though these sights and sensations are what we know, we surrender to our fear
yet it seems we are too afraid to leave the dark.
That which we fear has held us captive,
and we know not our own selves
we forget the feeling of the light breaking through the dusk, the warmth of a sunrise on clammy flesh, remaining from the terrors that the darkness brings.
The mind is weak at night, fearing that which it cannot see and dying at the sight of the most familiar things that are veiled in ebony folds of evening, set and gone.
We are different creatures in the dark,
all of our emotions rolling forth in a tide,
Blackness, like a forest pool, is our mirror into the deepest reaches of ourselves
for even rain can reach the seed deep under the ground, though the human eye does not know of its existence.
we see ourselves in the night,
and fearing ourselves, we run in the dark
but not towards the light
for even though we fear it,
the darkness is familiar
and we run towards what we know
And if only knowing fear,
then wrap ourselves in a blanket of the dark
and drift to sleep
before we forget
the racing of our own hearts
muffled by the sound
of rustling leaves,
a branch against the windows
and one owl,
reminding us of who we are
before we forget
who we are in the sun.
After thinking about my reprieve from the past couple of weeks, I’ll save reflections for next week.
This week, I need to take a retrospective pause.
I don’t know what lies ahead for me.
So much is left up in the air and in God’s control. I don’t know when our house will sell, I don’t know where I’ll work after college and I don’t know when I’ll get married. I’m not sure where I’ll be in five years, or who I’ll be with or how I’ll be earning my day-to-day bread.
I don’t know where my friends or loved ones will be. I haven’t a clue if I’ll ever see some people again or meet others for the first time. I’m caught in such a void of uncertainty that some days, I’m not even quite sure what I was meant to do. I know the things I love and I know the people I love and I know where I’d like to be, but I don’t know any of these things in permanence.
All I’m looking for is a little security. Some sign that the future isn’t determined by Bob Dylan lyrics. I’m just asking for some sort of waystone that I can rest at, feeling the soft summer sun and knowing that some definite answers ahead of me. I don’t want all the answers, I don’t even want to see the future in all its Encarta Encyclopedia detail. I just want a glimmer that soon, things could be set. Things could be as they will be until I die. Most people wish this but they never see it. I doubt I will either. The problem lies in that my future is held in the hands of my protector, my suitor, and our Creator. My future lies in the economy, the government, my college and my global neighbors. So much of my future lies in the hands of others, and I can only try and pry their fingers apart to see the sparkle of light within.
I have keys to my future. I can determine which jobs to look for and hobbies to take up. I can determine the foods that I eat and will continue to lose weight through Weight Watchers. I will go where my family goes until someday, hopefully sooner than my poor, longing mind can imagine, I have a family of my own. I can decide which movies to watch and when to go to bed – and I can also determine when to get up and walk and sit and speak.
I don’t need to be long-winded to know what I feel. And I know this isn’t what you expected. Maybe it’s because of my lack of sleep or my lack of food or the fact that I’ve been working at the same table in the Solon Panera for over four hours without moving. Whatever the cause may be, my heart just isn’t in my writing this week. It’s not fair to you to be trapped with my insecurities, but occasionally the blogger must make the judgement call about what should be shared and what wants to be shared.
I’m taking the initiative to share myself with you. I want to share my uncertainties, my desires, my hopes with you.
I want to trust you.
That’s what this all comes down to – trust. I trust my parents when they say they will love me and provide for me, regardless of where we may have to uproot to. I trust Matt when he tells me he wants to marry me and it waiting for the right time to ask me to be his forever. I trust my friends when they say they’ll be there, I trust my college to prepare me for the world beyond myself. Above all else, I trust God that He holds me, my future, my soul in His hands at all times, for eternity. I trust He knows what is best, and will convey that knowing to all those involved. In His times and in His hands, when all else fails, this I will still have for certain.
I know that trusting people can lead to pain and heartbreak. I know trust can be hard, painful and shaky. I know it can be gained and lost. Trust is like patience – both must be learned and had and will have consequences. Both hold great reward.
I find that when I confront my thoughts of trust, I am weak. I am impatient. I am selfish. It’s about me and the fact that I deserve to know. I deserve to have all the facts that you do, to be on the same. Doesn’t that defeat the very idea of trust? That we put our resources, our effort, or lives into the responsibility of others? We still must take responsibility, but we must trust if we ever want to find rest.
Trust includes forgiveness. Trust includes love. Trust means being prepared to make a leap without looking over the edge. Trust does not mean foolish or foolhardy agreement and surrender. But it does mean a sense of surrender – knowing and accepting that you can’t do this alone.
It means falling back into the arms of love and knowing they will catch you.
It means tripping into a blind darkness of uncertainty and knowing a light will be there to guide.
Lord, you have given me this opportunity for patience. Lord, help me to truly trust you and those you have put in my life.
I long so frantically for time to pass a little faster.
The deepest yearnings of my heart paint utopian images in my head of how I pray everything will be.
I’m walking multiple paths with multiple people, but only one sits in the middle with one other traveler walking by my side.
I’m longing and hoping and praying, and over all of that, I trust.
Let me savor the time I have now rather than long for that which has not yet come.
But please, let it come soon.
I’ve never been very good at waiting.