Posts Tagged ‘friends’

“Travel flirts with the unknown—that’s why we do it. There are a lot of responses to the unfamiliar. Fear is only one of them: there’s also resistance, denial, delight, hope, attention.
Tourists respond to the unknown by consuming it, whether by purchasing artifacts or doing ghost walks or buying postcards. Pilgrims respond to the unknown by simply being there.” –Martha Stortz, The Progress of Pilgrimage

First of all, I love postcards. Even when I was having worship-full moments at the cave churches in Turkey, I was now and then thinking, “I hope they have a postcard of this!”

I want to keep something, to hang on to it, to use it later for a gift card or tuck it into my hope chest. I want proof that I’ve been there, to see it on my refrigerator every morning as I get milk for my coffee, to say, “I was at a holy place and it was beautiful and I have lived in the world.”

I love the tangible, the physical, the keepsake. I want photos of my friends and loved ones. I got my ears pierced a second time the first week I was in Oxford—it was so dreamy, and crazy, and overwhelming. I wanted a spot to rub on my body to mark the occasion. Last year, I got my nose pierced during 48 hours alone in Varanasi. I felt floaty, like I wouldn’t remember what I had experienced (despite blogging, photographs, prayer beads, books) and I wanted that moment of nerves and [dirty] steel.

I’ve been thinking about pilgrimage these past few weeks, here in India. I’ve been trying to both help my classmates, and wondering about what helps someone have a good experience when traveling in a new place.

The idea of “pilgrim” is helping me frame this. I like to be in control. I don’t like days or trips where I don’t know what is going to happen. And yet, in India… one pilgrim suggests, “Prepare carefully, and then prepare to change all your plans.”

It’s hard to do this, especially when we carry with us our “stuff.” My stuff includes: I am [relatively] wealthy, I am used to getting my way, and I have agency. Like, if I’m sitting in a table I don’t like in a restaurant, I have the wherewithal and means to get a different seat. I can change apartments, wall color, beds, city in which I live. I can save up to by a car, or a scooter. I can take Spanish lessons, or scuba diving lessons. If I see it in a magazine, I can find it and purchase it. This is crazy—the amount of things I have access to and means to get.

And so, when I come to India, it feels like I don’t have agency anymore. Someone else makes my food choices, books my train tickets, creates the agenda for visits, lectures, holy time, and free days. This should be a gift, it could be. And yet, my habitual response is to think about ways I would do it differently, what I would like to do or eat [instead] and to chafe against all the unknown.

And yet, when I think about the holiest, most mind-blowing and blessed times of my life, they are often when I was not in charge. Moments sitting in the choir, in my home church, next to a dear friend…in prayer and song, being completely physically overcome.

Late, late nights with friends, when I had trusted them to choose the drive, choose the music, follow the conversation, and know that I was no longer judged—a bliss, a rest, a sensation all over my skin of belonging.

Of reading a book come recommended, that I didn’t know I would like, and finding a character who stays with me always, changing one way I see even myself.

Following a professor’s advice, following a new path along the river in Oxford, climbing the highest temple staircase…all against my first thought, and then arriving—like popping a particularly thick-skinned soap bubble—into a new understanding of my-self in the world.

I didn’t have control over any of those things. And yet, I wouldn’t be who I am without them. This is a strange tension—when to let go, when to try and steer.

I haven’t figured it out. The word “practice” gives me hope. Contemplative practice, teaching practice, “setting up a practice,” “practicing” yoga… I have some tools: I read. I take advice. I listen to old people, young people, dear friends—and try to connect all of the advice, and stories into something that helps me make sense of the world. I am willing to try, even if I make a fool of myself. I’ll try the new phrase, the new dance move, the daal.

As I said after I led the dancing for Mother Mataji this year, “It’s not that I’m a great dancer, but I make up for it in enthusiasm.”


I once had a therapist point out to me that, physiologically, anxiety/fear is the same sensation as excitement. Sometimes, when I’m feeling the adrenaline, I check in with myself. I say, “Is it possible you’re a little excited about this? Is it possible this is a good thing that part of you is eager for?”

That happens a lot in travel. I feel the nerves ringing, and check, “This is kind of scary. But is it possible this is also…delightful? Worth noticing, at least for a moment, before you run away?”

“Practicing pilgrimage.” This is what I’m thinking about, here in the rain near the Ganges. I’m covered by bug bites, and beginning to tire of mangoes. I would give Rs. 500 for a fresh, Golden Delicious apple.

I start to get impatient with my classmates. I think, “Just try it. Be grateful. Don’t be afraid!” And then I remember a time when I’ve burst into tears because the restaurant I had hoped about all week is closed and my plans have to change. I don’t like new things! I resist the unexpected. Maybe it’s part of our human-ness. Hence: practice.

The Jains believe that every living thing has a soul, and every soul is on its own path to omniscience. I’m not better than you, or better than a tree, because each of our souls is learning, striving, growing…on its own. Maybe you can offer me some tips, some compassion, some hints for enlightenment.

Like a honeycomb of musical practice rooms, all of us going over the tunes we’ve been assigned, stretching our fingers, correcting our posture, trying again. And again, practice.

And then, sometimes, it’s time for a recital. I put on my ball gown (true story) and nervously practice one more time before getting on the train. You bring a picnic, a bottle of wine, some Whitman to celebrate afterwards. We all gather, to listen to one another: an appreciative audience sometimes shepherds miracles.

Small children can fiddle circles around me, but I do my best. I am relieved, and excited; we are happy and feel invigorated, walking to the park afterwards, several conversations swirling around, about bravery, audiences, making mistakes, good teachers.

I want to practice pilgrimage because I’m greedy for those moments: invigorated, talking together, courage, mistakes, appreciating miracles.


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The course is over; my classmates left yesterday, and I left PV to go to the guesthouse where Matt and I will stay for the next week. I still haven’t really processed the fact that our six-week journey is over, so I’m trying to articulate a very small bit of it here, in photos.

A treat, a refreshment, a small icon of our days: Mango Sip.


Garland with hand-hammered ornaments in a temple.


A small statue in the terra cotta museum. Will forever remind me of my visit to the Lanka Police Station.


The Lok, the physical representation of the Jain cosmology. Hellish beings at the bottom, we’re all in the middle, heavenly beings in the top level before they reach moksha and ascend. This is in Jumpudweep, the strange Jain “creationist Disneyland” we visited. You can go up in this Lok in an elevator.


Mother Matiji, at Jumbudweep.


We pay homage to Mother Matiji with dance.


A tirtankara, in Hastinapur.


Silver plates and cooking utensils, left out to dry in the sun.


A heavily decorated temple in Hastinapur. My kind of decorating: more is more.


Hand-carved bells.


On the bus to the Taj, singing.


At the Taj.


A fantastic hotel in Jaipur. We had a wonderful tea service here.


Lovely baby at the Fort, in Jaipur.


The Fort and Palace grounds.


Strange dolls for sale near the Fort.


One of the elephants.


Street food.


During the taping of the Indian talent competition.


At the Indian wedding.


Naan at the wedding.


Ganesh at the Monkey Temple.


One of the temple priests, preparing to anoint us.


An open air temple, under Jaipur sky.


Street food: fried spicy patty, with yogurt. Delicious.


Chai at the most famous chai house in Jaipur.


A BBQ joint “our” tuk-tuk driver, Rishi, recommended.


Block-printing by hand at the textile factory.


Our first open-mic night. Tarot card reading, singing, recitations, two ghost stories, journal sharing, and a sing along.


The Holy Ganges, before a Puja.


One of the card catalogues at the library at VP.


Nelda with a giant savory, crispy, pancake filled with a spicy potato mixture.


“When the Meadows on the Body Turn Gray,” by Hafiz.


The view from Open Hand, one of our luxurious haunts, with good coffee and AC.


Me, at Open Hand.


The view from my berth before I left for Delhi.


A strange wind storm sweeps over the ghats.


Sunset in Varanasi, our final night together.


I devised a system for our last open-mic: we all wrote a sentiment, thought, or note to each classmate on slips of paper, and put the slips in corresponding envelopes. I handed them out right before our departure; we’re to open them on our own, when the time is right.


He’s carrying my luggage through the market place and to the guesthouse. I’m on my own for the time being, for one day until my love arrives.




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detailing inside a tuk-tuk…like our own personal fortune for the ride

All is well.

The head chef/driver took me to Varanasi Railway Station last Sunday afternoon. It had been raining; not only was there no electricity in the station, or in the trains, but the station was flooded. I followed him through the dark, through the crowds, through ankle deep water into the waiting room.

He doesn’t speak enough English for us to talk, so he just sat with me, in silent solidarity, while we waited for my train. I am finishing _Anne of Green Gables_ on my Nook/iPhone, which I probably haven’t read in twenty years. As I sat next to him in the crazy waiting room, uncertain what the next day–trip to Delhi to try and get a new passport and visa–would hold, I read the part where Matthew dies. He has been so good to Anne, and done the best he could in his taciturn way.

I was struck by this man, a near-stranger to me, and the fact that he prepares all of our food. Every morning, he comes up to the rooms and says, “Breakfast,” to wake us up. He is proud to show us when there are special treats, or sweet.  He sat with me for more than an hour. I felt tears come to my eye and I couldn’t tell if it was from the book, or from being helped.

When my train came, he used his phone as a flashlight on the dark train, taking me through the cars to my seat. He gave me his phone number, and tried to explain that he would pick me up on Tuesday morning. We said good-bye. I was in an un-AC car, so my window was open. A few minutes later, his face appeared in the window. He stayed until my train departed.


In Delhi the following morning, I was met by Prof. Rahul, who also made himself known by appearing in my window. I guess they just walk down the length of the train cars until they see my white, blonde head. Rahul took me to the Embassy, and then worried when they wouldn’t let him in. I told him I would be fine.

The Embassy was a marvelous place, full of American accents, strong AC, peanut M&Ms, and kind helpfulness. I actually had a new passport (an “emergency passport”) within the hour.

The Indian Foreigners’ Registry Office as trickier. Much more chaotic, fewer computers (I saw none), and many more desks heaped with paper files. I had little hope that I’d have a new visa before my night train back to Varanasi left.

And yet– everyone was kind, helpful. I had to get a new passport-sized photo for the visa application, and found a pack of school boys running a soda and tobacco stand with a sign that said “photo stat.” I had no idea how they were going to take a passport photo; even when they whipped out the digital camera I doubted. They had me climb over the stone wall into their hole-in-the-wall shop, and sit in front of the soda cooler. Then they produced a white piece of board, and placed it behind me. Voila! I laughed, and primped and tossed my hair for the photo, and gathered quite a crowd of children. They used a small digital printer, and four four rupees, I had four small photos.

My number one travel tip is to have a copy of your passport and visa– that battered photocopy of my original visa was like gold; it proved that I had had a valid visa, and gave the IFRO a starting place to trace me back to the airline, and verify I was legal.

After four hours, and many vague reassurances, I finally got called back to the official desk. The gentleman stamped once, stamped twice, filled in the stamped squares, and used a tiny piece of string to “staple” my papers together. Then he handed my my stamped passport. I said, “My visa? I have? I can leave okay?” He said, “yes, yes, this is your new visa. You are okay.”

I was so surprised, and so grateful, that my eyes filled up. I hope and pray that government offices in my homeland treat foreigners as well as I was treated. I did the traditional show of respect I’ve seen Jain and Hindu scholars and supplicants do for their gurus and teachers– I kissed my fingers and touched the ground in front of their desk. They laughed and clapped their hands in their surprise.

I said, “Thank you so much! I wish I could back you a cake.” The head gentleman said, “Your affection and gratitude are thanks enough.”

I paid $135 for the new passport, the visa was free, and my train tickets were bought by another professor here because I had no debit cards at the time.

Rahul was catching the same train back up to Varanasi, and so made sure I was settled in my car before we departed. An elderly Indian, retired from British airlines, told me about the books he is writing–on the eight wonders of the world he’s seen, and on India threw his own eyes–during the first part of the train ride. Then, I climbed up into the top berth, right underneath the AC, under a clean sheet and wool blanket laundered by hands I’ll never see, my new passport safely in my backpack under my head, and fell deeply asleep.


The next morning, the chef/driver picked us up (in the car! what a treat!) and drove us back to PV. When we parked on campus, he turned to me and said, “Breakfast?” He was not satisfied with my only taking tea, and insisted I take two bananas.

Today, we had our last day. Yesterday I finished my paper (really a four-week curriculum and full teachers’ guide, with resources) on a Jain-based–emphasizing compassion and perspective-taking–for secondary school students.) Today I presented my project, and we had our last lunch. Our last mangoes! We’re about to venture out onto the ghats… tomorrow my classmates will leave. I’ve planned another “open mic” for tonight on the roof, a chance to share moments that have struck and stayed with us at some point during the trip. I can’t wait to hear what we’ve all found.

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My dearest friend Janet sent me an incredibly inspiring e-mail about perfection. I have spent many years, and many Lenten and Advent seasons, considering my own pursuit of perfection. It’s paralyzing.

I call my closest friends, the ones I trust the most, “ugly cupcake friends.” I went through a period in my life that when I made a made-from-scratch cake, if it didn’t come out absolutely perfectly, I would throw the entire thing away. No matter how good it smelled, or tasted, or how much joy it might have brought those around me.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, now.  Now, I know better; I know that people love cake, especially homemade cake, and I have never heard anyone say in the face of fresh, warm cake, “Oh, this is kind of ugly.”

When I admitted this practice–throwing away imperfect cake–my friends Nick and Kim were aghast. They chided me hard, reminding me that people don’t like me for my cake. _They like me for me._

(There’s a related story where Nick had to also remind me that I am not my grades, “You are not your fucking grades!” on a churchyard after the summa cum laude awards were given. I have good friends.)

I came up with the concept of “ugly cupcake friends” to describe how, for some friends, I feel comfortable enough to give them misshapen baked goods, things I would have otherwise thrown away for fear of being judged.  Over time, I have grown more and more comfortable with myself, and with the understanding that people like me for me, not anything I make or do.



Janet wrote,

‘Mistakes and shortcomings are part of the package of claiming Earth as an address.’
I’m victim of trying to do it all, do it all perfectly and do it all perfectly with a smile & act like it was nothing at all. Whew.  That’s really, really difficult and exhausting.  No, impossible and just plain crazy.  I need to let go of the notion of perfection.  God is the only One who can claim perfection as an attribute.  God is honored when we give it our all and strive for excellence.  I need to remember that:  give it my all, but not demand perfection of myself and everyone around me.
I crazy clean my house, crazy organize my house, crazy give myself elaborate tasks like making birthday goodie bags & homemade cupcakes for Olivia’s classroom, crazy think if our condo had a new shower head it might actually sell…so I bought and installed a new shower head (go me, I’m a plumber but hellloooo, that’s nutty behavior!)”
I am thankful to hear Janet’s voice reminding me that I’m not alone in giving myself elaborate tasks and that it is good practice to let go of the [deceptive and impossible] pursuit of perfection.
God, on this Good Friday, help me remember that while you are honored when I give it all, I am not expected to be perfect. Help me remember to be more accepting of myself, and to trust love and acceptance from you and from my friends. Thank you for these glimmers of reassurance: for those who love me, ugly cupcakes are fine.”

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December 24 Prompt – Everything’s OK What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright?

Several moments come to mind:

1. The morning before my wedding, as my friends started to arrive in the hotel room. That morning was one of the happiest in my life– my best friends in the world, the men and women I adore and am inspired by–in one space, surrounding me with energy, humor, witness and joy. I felt then that even if the church burned down and the reception hall cancelled, my friends would be able to make something work, and it would all be okay, so much more than okay.

2. Canada. Lying in a hammock, hearing the voices of Matt and his Mom and aunts from across the hard, with a book and cup of coffee, or book and mug of wine, or a pillow and blanket to nap… breezes rustling in the pines, sun warming my feet, a dog investigating occasionally. I had so many moments of “Everything is okay. Everything is going to be okay,” in Canada.

3. One night, my friend Nick and I had been out, drinking and talking over the various challenges of adulthood. Tricky situations, decisions, lessons learned, things mutually inspiring, how we get through and through things. As we walked out of the bar, and to my train stop, I was suddenly so filled with appreciation for his friendship and support, and simultaneously thankful to be young and alive in the city, and strong. I felt strong. Strong and grateful, and a little in love with being young and vital. That was a powerful moment of “Everything is okay.”

4. Driving to our honeymoon, we listened to Matt’s iPod. A band I really discovered for the first time, The National, I really noticed on the honeymoon trip. They have one song that has a piano that is always present, but really asserts itself about a third of the way through the song. It’s so marvelous. It’s sweeping, it absolutely sweeps. Every time the song comes on, as I hear that piano get started, I turn up the volume, up and up. I can’t describe the thrill of hearing that part of the song swell up, and then the singer’s voice enter again. Being with Matt, in a car on an open road, hearing that song, and reaching over to touch his arm– everything is okay.

I notice that the moments where I feel most okay are often when I am with dear friends. (Blessedly for me, Matt is my dearest friend.)

From Emily Dickinson: “My friends are my estate.”

The first photo is from that wedding morning, three of my dearest friends, looking at jewelry while we prepare to get dressed. I love how beautiful they are, three women from different parts of my life. In the second photo, Nick leads us out the door, and my lady friends help wrangle my hoop skirt.

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December 16 – Friendship How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? (Author: Martha Mihalick)

Gradual…  I think about my friends Tom and Eric and Jodut, and how they have influenced how I think about teaching, studying, being political in the world, taking care of my self…

I’ve grown closer to my friend Nick this way. For some reason, we hung out this year more than we have, and he went through some tough times that encouraged many deep conversations. He holds me accountable to my heart, and to living authentically.

Before the wedding, my friend Amy was a dream– I mean, she is always a dream, a gift, an inspiration, but particularly in the year before the wedding: she was everything to me. I am amazed at the grace, smarts, kindness, and humor that she’s able to bring to every conversation.

My friendship with Matt has deepened, of course. We see each other all day most days, and he influences how I teach, how I interact with students and colleagues, how I want to live my life… and all the little living details: cooking, reading, day-dreaming.

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December 14 – Appreciate What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it? (Author: Victoria Klein)

Thanks to reading Lee’s blog, I can no longer just write about one thing.

1. My husband’s family. I think about them nearly every day, thanks to the Facebook. And being with them at holidays, and feeling surrounded by their love and _acceptance_ at our wedding is such a blessing.

2. Health insurance.

3. Being able to teach drama. Not by sneaking it in to an ELA curriculum, but outright, whole-heartedly, full on.

4. Working with Matt. Sharing students is wonderful, but also: when he hasn’t had time to do his share of dishes, I know it’s because he’s been working like crazy at school. It’s so easy to appreciate his time and the things that wear him out.

5. The nuns. They give me so much support–written, phone calls, e-mails, little postcards and prayer cards and notes. Just today I picked up a postcard Sr. Cyril Marie had sent in the midst of my certification troubles, and it re-inspired me. My Dad says the nuns are like the Elves in Rivendell. Not like us, and not of this world, and fading out of this world. Fewer and fewer women are entering the novitiate, so they tend to be old… and they are certainly not of this world. Some of them, they mystics, the ones who do not live in the world or even in the larger community: when they look you in they eye, you _feel_ their closeness to that close place.

6. Cable TV and DVR. Honestly: sometimes, I just want to watch _Law & Order_, and only _Law & Order_. It’s a comfort.

7. Our neighborhood: great fresh Mexican food, outdoor shrine at St. Lucy’s, public library in walking distance, seeing our kids and their families, Botanical Garden and Zoo in walking distance…

8. Living within our means. Having a good relationship with my student loan lenders, not having consumer debt, working on a budget and being mindful about what we have and don’t have.

9. Cooking with Matt: we complement each other, we take turns, we chop or clean up for each other.

10. Fiddle lessons!  I’m actually starting to learn things. I can play two tunes.

11. Baths. Reading in hot baths until I’m falling asleep.

12. Broadway UCC. This is the year I came to think of it as my church home. I have been fed and supported there.

13. My growing Sunday school there. There were years where I only had two small chickadees, some weeks I had no one. But they believed in keeping me around, and I believed– I could visualize, someday, Children’s Sermons on the chancel steps, full of kids, and so: it happened. It is joyful to see them and be with them.

14. Christmas songs. Oh, I love so many of them. Nothing beats singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I know the harmonies, and can sing without looking at the hymnal– allowing me to gaze about whatever space I’m in.

15. New clothes. There were a few years where I couldn’t afford to buy new clothes. This year, with working full time, and with losing weight, I’ve been able to buy some new things. Buying new pants was so much fun! Having some new options is exciting, and I so appreciate it.

16. Daily Puppy.com  I can’t tell you how many times those puppy photos have helped me wake up of a morning, or in the middle of the night. Cuteness = serotonin, which helps anxiety.

17. How Facebook helps me keep in touch with some of my favorite friends, and hear their voices, and see photos and videos… I love feeling connected to in that way.

18. Getting manicures. They’re affordable in this neighborhood. I don’t quite get them weekly, but it is so luxurious to have freshly painted, colorful, unchipped nails. No dry, raggedy cuticles. Pleasing, glossy, candy-colored fingertips.

19. My Christmas stocking. My Grandma made it; I think there must have been a year when she made them for all of us grandkids who were born by that year. She did our names in glue, with red glitter. You can tell my name is a little too long, or maybe she didn’t plan for it well, but the end is kind of scrunched in. And some of the glitter is chipping away. There was a time in my early adulthood when I was ashamed of it. It looked kind of cheap and white trash-y. The mother of the guy I was with at the time got me (as a replacement) an embroidered one from Neimann Marcus. I don’t even know where that one is anymore.

20. How Matt knows me well enough that he can check out a stack of library books for me, and I will love every one.

21. The weddings of beloved friends. Inspiring, fun, gorgeous.

22. My own wedding. One of the happiest, most fun, most exciting days of my life. I fell in love with my friends, and with Matt, and with our families, and with my church, and with flowers and song and food… over and over again.

23. Knee socks. Last winter I discovered that knee socks are fantastic. And that I could wear knee socks under leggings under pants, on the coldest days, and be completely warm and comfortable.

24. Canada. My first trip there with Matt was sheer heaven. I only want to go back there again and again, and there is a whole subset of things I appreciate in Canada: pie, hammocks, water, swimming, stars, cooking with family, tiny Anglican church services, painting, reading…

25. The written word. I get so much: pleasure, excitement, learning, truth, perspective, connection, ideas, inspiration… from reading novels, posts, scripture, essays, articles. I am so grateful I can read and write.

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