God Bless You All (Day 3)


Religion in India is a way of life, and the people here practice it with an intensity I’ve never experienced before in America. We went to a Catholic cathedral today and I was almost in tears because everyone there was so focused on their devotion. It was a truly beautiful thing to see. The churches are crowded at every moment of the day, and people sit in silence in front of the many statues, often touching Jesus’ feet or holding their hands toward Mary. These people seemed happy to see us in their place of worship — at first some of us worried we would be obtrusive or invading their sacred space, but when an old man came over and said kindly, “God bless you all” I felt like he truly meant it…it came from his heart. We took our shoes off at one area of the church where people were sitting on the floor praying in front of statues. I want to capture the beauty of these moments better but I realize I’m failing. Honestly, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life, and it had nothing to do with Jesus or Mary or the church’s beauty. It was all because these people feel their religion so deeply, so wholly, that I couldn’t help but feel it too.

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We went to a Sikh Gurdwara later in the day, where we removed our shoes, washed our feet, and covered our heads before entering. The women sit at one side and the men at the other, and we sat on the floor for most of the time. I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening at first, but I realized the man and woman at the front were wearing clothes of matching fabrics and…we’d stumbled into a wedding ceremony. We were welcomed warmly by everyone, and were given some sort of food at the end of the ceremony which I still can’t really identify, but it was a paste of some kind and tasted amazing. I seriously have no idea what was going on that whole time, but I felt a lovely calm in the room. Everything was so bright and beautiful — the gold, the chandeliers, the light, the people. I’ve learned more and connected more by silently observing for the past few days than I ever did back at home blabbering away with other people.

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What I’ve found most of all is that religion is most people’s support system in this country. When you’re born into a religion, you form bonds with the other people at your temple/church/mosque and are supported for life. If you need food, you receive food. If you need help paying for school, you receive help. If you need a place to stay in another city, often the temple/church/mosque will provide it for free or at little cost. And these people spend an amazing amount of time at their places of worship. We’re lucky in America if people make it to church once a week for an hour, but these people come for hours and hours, often multiple times a week. It truly is the backbone of their lives. And the amount of charity work done by most of these places is absolutely essential in this country, because the amount of poor and destitute Indians is so overwhelming that help from these large congregations is probably what keeps a lot of them alive.

The silent beauty radiating from these places is too much for words, but I think it really has changed my life forever. I’ve been practicing Hinduism for the past few years all by myself, because there isn’t a temple nearby at all, and I think I’ve missed out on the bonds and support I could’ve received. Hopefully someday I’ll find my place, but for now I’ll have to be my own temple. I look forward to going to Hindu temples here, because I know it will fill me in a way I’ve not yet experienced.

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I’m Still Alive


In case y’all were worried, I’m still alive! But I have had an exciting two weeks, so here it goes!

1. I hate faxing. I have spent at least 15 dollars in the past week faxing paperwork to my doctor, my study abroad program office, and the other university I had to be “accepted” to in order to receive credit for studying abroad. I hate faxes. I thought faxes had ended in 1985, and even though my mom faxes stuff all the time for work, I hate it. I hate it because I have to go to the student union, get ripped off by a grumpy asshole who doesn’t even look at my face while we exchange money for services, and…basically, faxing is stupid and I will never change my mind on that.

2. I also hate paperwork. Do y’all know how much paperwork is involved in going to India? From disclosing where my tattoos are located because the university in India won’t allow any of my tattoos to show while on campus to reading about the chances of me getting malaria and rabies while I’m there, I’ve gone through so many documents I’m surprised my head hasn’t exploded.

3. There is a mouse in my house. First it was ants crawling all over my food, and now apparently it’s a mouse. At first, I felt badly about potentially killing it because I have this idea that it’s wrong to punish a wild animal for existing in this space that I have designated as “mine” even though the little mouse isn’t aware of these rules I’ve made up…anyway, it started pooping on top of my fridge and I quickly changed my mind. I am not about to get some sort of disease from this rodent (I named him Ralph and he has a white tummy) no way no how. I am living the real-life version of Mouse Hunt and I will vanquish him. 

4. Guys, there’s still a mouse in my apartment. I think what bothers me most is that I was dusting my living room table and once it was clean I turned away for about 5 minutes before turning around and…is that mouse poo on my table? The sneaky bastard is an acrobat, I swear, and I started screaming at an invisible ghost-mouse for about 3 minutes while alone and waving my arms around like a madwoman. 
What really gets me, though, is the fact that he pooped about 3 inches away from one of my mouse traps, like he was taunting me…

Anyway, I have 4 weeks left in this terrible basement hut and then I’m off to India, where the bugs are no doubt gigantic and where I’m supposed to look out for wild dogs with rabies and not drink the tap water or eat “suspicious” meat, where there are guards outside my apartment complex and where I must remove all piercings except one in each ear lobe before going on campus. Where I will be riding around in 3 wheeled auto-rickshaws and getting the chance to feed an elephant, where I will be working with underprivileged children and taking classes on Hinduism and holy places in India. Where I will meet beautiful people and explore my soul and wear colorful clothes and where I will be so absolutely happy that any memory of this demon mouse will feel far in the past. 

I’m so pleased.

The Rebirth


It’s been two years, either today or yesterday, since life meant very little to me. Two years since I broke and my mother had to take a plane at 6 a.m. to be with me, to keep me safe and protected. Two years since I started rebuilding.

I never expected any of that to happen, and I would honestly prefer that I hadn’t felt that much pain and suffering and absolute nothingness, because it’s the absolute worst, so don’t start thinking it was a positive experience at the time. But I also know I would not be who I am today without those horrible experiences.

“Everything happens for a reason” is an obnoxiously common saying, and usually I think it’s a bit of a cop out, a way to distance ourselves from pain and confusion. But in a different way, perhaps a more subtle one, I believe it. Life is one long chain of events, each tiny action creating reactions and waves. It’s not just that I wouldn’t attend this particular university on this career path with these friends; it’s that I, as I exist in this moment, would not exist. I wouldn’t understand my inner self in the same way (in fact, that inner self would be very different indeed) and I would not have the same outlook on life that I do right now.

That other person, that child who existed pre-December 2011, would have been lovely too, and I know that wherever she exists — perhaps in an alternate universe — she is absolutely striking. But she is not who I was meant to become.

I’m so happy with who I am and the path I have chosen. Something inside me — some slumbering beast of peace — awoke two years ago and has been struggling to the forefront of my consciousness ever since. I surprise myself lately, in the most exciting and breathtaking way, by how at peace I feel. Every discovery I have made — in Hinduism, in my daily life, in understanding myself — existed in that beast and absolutely exploded into being these past few months.

I am so perfectly flawed and so determined to work through the knots I hold inside, and I honestly gasp sometimes when I realize…I am fulfilling this destiny of sorts. I am becoming me. I never realized I didn’t know who I was until I met myself — I wasn’t lost until I was found.

I will question “why me” in the future, I’m sure, when something terrible happens and I feel broken again. But never again will I look to the past and see tragedy; it was only opportunity of the most brutal nature that allowed me to feel so utterly free.

This earth is so much, so gorgeous, so overwhelming. Sometimes I drink it in and realize I can’t stop and I drown a little, blinking into the sun and choking on the cold. I remember a time when even the heaviest downpours felt like nothing, just another burden to bear. Now, I welcome the sleet as another excuse to feel every nerve in my body vibrate.

“Namaste:” the light in me greets the light in you. Now I have found my inner light.

Home


No feeling matches this
stirring in my bed, expecting to be at school
then opening my eyes and…home.
Where every moment feels slowed down
a bubbled sanctuary from the world
as nothing touches me but softness —
the hugs of my mother
the quilt of my youth
the cat sitting on my face.

I Grew Up So Well


I may be up at 2 a.m. and it may be because I finished editing a short story I’ve been working on for a year and I may have just submitted it to my university’s literary journal so I may be having a mini heart attack but also may be feeling so accomplished that I can’t stop jittering. Y’all, I actually finished something. Conceptualized, drafted, wrote, edited, re-edited, ruminated, re-re-edited, and…submitted. This is real life.

And it got me thinking…I had the best childhood. (How’d this thought train happen? I wrote something! –> Reading as a child helped me write –> one time I wrote a crappy story about Cleopatra and my mom loved it –> My parents were so supportive –> My parents had such eclectic taste in everything –> I practically came out of the womb singing Neil Young.)

When I say “best childhood” I don’t mean “most innocent” or “happiest” necessarily. I mean I had a childhood that I look back on and appreciate, because I accidentally was a pretty insightful kid. And everything I did then, everything I was exposed to, has made me pretty awesome (if I do say so).

Want an explanation? I present you with a series of poems from my childhood, which you will receive every other day for as long as I can come up with them. They will all be first drafts and will probably be written in the middle of the night, so feel free (gently and lovingly) to offer criticisms and ideas.

We’ll begin with BLOCKS.

I drag Pops’ box blocks, dead like wooden bricks
across the oriental carpet (red spirals from somewhere I will dream of later)
and — thunk — drop rubber zoo animals from their cloth prison, only to box them in again
within the lifeless block-walls.
The harder they come the harder they fall
Jimmy Cliff sings, high and warm, as lions leap upon giraffes, teeth tearing through tendons and muscles, spurts of blood hitting onlookers.
Years later I will remember this carnage fondly
if only to laugh at my morbidity as a five-year-old
and to rent a copy of The Harder They Come
which was about drugs
according to Dad
and I didn’t know that meant violence, too, because drugs are always paired with violence
at least when desperation gets involved,
so we document it in movies that hurl knives against the TV screen.
Age 5 doesn’t allow for true understanding of desperation, but I must’ve seen it
because I replicated it
with lions
in my house.
Peace often followed, as the lions
sick with remorse and giraffe flesh
bathed in the sun, rolling in the red tide of a rug born somewhere I’d never heard of.
As all I couldn’t comprehend washed over me
heavy accents filled my ears
and mondegreen* stole my understanding, turning every sad lyric into something pleasant.
Them a loot them a shoot them a wail shanty town.

*mondegreen is the mishearing of a word, usually within a song.

Fall Is Not For Lattes


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A photo of my gorgeous college campus last fall.

Every girl in college is excited about fall because “yay pumpkin spice lattes, cozy sweaters, and boots!” This isn’t to say I’m not excited about those things too, because I love me a chunky sweater and some tall boots (pumpkin spice lattes are another matter entirely — my taste buds are very friendly but do not wish to tango with pumpkin spice ever again), but it is to say that there are a lot more wonderful things about fall than sweaters.

This is my favorite season. How could you not want to spend every waking moment outside (or at least looking outside) in fall? Every breath you take is filled with the smell of earth, of leaves, of cold, and everywhere you look there’s a new color you’ve never seen before. The world has changed for us to simply look at. We’re always so preoccupied with doing, making but in fall, all you have to do is watch. These silent changes happen over night, and as you wake up, throwing open the curtains, the earth reveals a startlingly red tree that was yellow the night before, or a bare tree that was fully covered yesterday. Am I the only one who wishes I could be constantly awake in fall so I could see the changes happen slowly before my eyes?

The eye was never tired of gazing, night or day, in calm or storm, it suffered but one grief, and that was that it could not look always, but must close sometimes in sleep.Mark Twain, Roughing It.

I wonder if this is how it feels to be in love: to want to stare into your partner’s eyes and simply look, observe, because just their heartbeat, the fact that they’re alive, is enough. That’s what fall is. It’s the long moments of serenity you feel when you just watch something unfold and grow before you, attaining new levels of life right before your eyes.

Spring is a time of rebirth and growth, and fall is when everything shifts to sustain that life through hardship. It’s like a mother, who gets you ready for bed and kisses you goodnight before winter comes and covers you with its cold blanket. Fall is our protector, our guardian.

So breathe, because it’s fall, and fall smells like life.

Age is Wisdom


I’ve been watching documentaries for study breaks this week, and after watching “Make Me Young: Youth Knows No Pain,” a documentary about people who get plastic surgery/body modifications/Botox, I’ve lost a whole lot of faith in humanity.

I don’t understand the motivation behind injecting diseases into my face in order to look “younger.” Most of the time, those people don’t look younger, they just look like they’ve had work done. I also don’t understand how people consider that aging gracefully. You’re not aging gracefully, you’re cheating the system; while modern medical science is amazing, and plastic surgery is great for people who develop deformities or have accidents, I don’t see the point in denying yourself and others the ability to see that you have lived your life.

Here’s the deal: Back in the day, we used to celebrate people as they aged. Smile lines showed that you’d led a happy life. Frown lines? You worked hard. Crows feet? More smiling, probably. Wrinkles meant wisdom; they meant that you’d been through life and seen it all.

I’ve always thought of that as a beautiful thing. I thought it showed that you’d lived. I guess I didn’t realize how many people thought differently, that so many people are fighting their age. Hell, wear makeup! It’s fun and beautiful and a gift from the gods, but permanent or long-term “solutions” to the aging process? Really?

Who knows what I’ll think when I’m that age, when my hair is grey and I’ve got wrinkles, and things are bigger and saggier than they used to be. I really hope that I don’t care, and that the people in my life treat my age with the respect it deserves. I want to love my life, and not be consumed by things and appearances. 

We’re constantly trying to be something we’re not, no matter what age we are. If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I wanted to be in college, I would’ve screamed and jumped up and down and spelled YES on the ground in Skittles or something. Now? Finals Week is beating me over the head with a text book and I don’t even know if I can spell anymore.

So if you’re haggard, at least your face reflects your mental state. Let’s just embrace our natural selves and change our perception of beauty instead of changing ourselves

Cheers. And get that needle away from me. No, seriously. Now.