“First of all: I am tired. I am true of heart!
And also: You are tired. You are true of heart!”
—A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
It’s a quiet October Friday. Earlier today I napped and went for a walk in heavy autumn rain and didn’t get anything done on my to-do list. Outside it’s just starting to get dark, and here in my new living room, Sister Julia is next to me reading a book and sipping wine. And I am wrapped in a blanket writing about change and transition, trying to make sense of it all. My heart (and being) is tender and wants to be cradled after a particularly heavy week. But this moment of sharing a quiet evening with someone I care about and being honest with myself through words—this, in a small way, feels like being cradled.
I live in Chicago now, in Hyde Park, in a beautiful old house with lots of wood and rooms and a backyard with tall trees and squirrels. I live in a community with creative and incredible women who care deeply about the world. This past month of moving, transitioning, forming new relationships, starting a new job, learning the trains and buses and streets of Chicago, putting on my extravert self, needing help and exploring on my own—it’s a lot, and it’s exciting, and I’m still finding my place in it all. For reasons I have yet to discover, I was called to this place in this specific time of my life. I’m trying to pay attention to that.
When I learned about the new community I now live in (The Fireplace 🙂 ) I was so drawn to the mission of this place being a refuge for spiritual seekers and artists and activists (and getting to live with and learn from radical Catholic Sisters—the Holy Spirit is good.) Right now there are four of us living here, and based on our conversations about what we feel the Holy Spirit is inviting us into, we are starting off by valuing slowness, contemplation, prayer and presence. I brim with gratitude because this is what I have been craving and needing—slowness, contemplation, silence, attention, prayer. And to get to do that in an intergenerational community is so exciting and hopeful to me.
My year in DC has left me exhausted in ways I don’t understand and have a hard time recognizing. And I think this is true for my dear housemates that I lived with there—that experience truly wrung us dry, and then being ripped out of that home so quickly… it’s left me feeling all at once relief, confusion, identity-crisis, loneliness, nostalgia, and gratitude. Transitions are always disorienting but this one went from 0 to 100 back to 0 so fast. I’m trying to land at 50 maybe. 50 sounds like stability. 50 seems good. Though it’s all unpredictable, and I know this.
Yesterday I talked on the phone, while drenched in rainwater from the heavy downpour during my walk, with my dear friend Ashley who I lived with in DC. It was grounding to talk to her and listen and ask questions about things we don’t understand, especially in this time of transition. One of them being—the unpredictability of the future, how lonely and sad it is being 23 and not knowing what is happening with our lives. So much longing, and possibilities are endless and yet at the same time feel limited to opportunities and resources. And how to live and love ethically in the midst of it all? Asking the questions can be fulfilling, but living the questions is messy and uncomfortable. But living the questions is life. And I want, here in Chicago, in this community that I have committed myself to, to be grounded in reality. To be in tune with myself, even the uncomfy parts. To get out of my head and into the world, into my body, into relation. Into life.
A few Sundays ago, a priest-friend was visiting our community and said mass outside in our backyard. Members of Julia’s community (Franciscan Sisters) were there with us, and it was one of those deeply embodied and fleeting moments where in simple presence I felt God’s love so tangibly and not abstract, which of course makes it impossible to describe with words. In the Gospel that day, Jesus asks: who do you say that I am? We each shared a bit of how we would answer that for the homily, and their answers were so genuine. What they said, they did not say to impress or be profound… they were just honest, the words coming from a deep well of love and wisdom.
We don’t need to overcomplicate things! How often I forget this—feeling that I need to think deep thoughts or write and talk about complex things in order to show that I care. I resonated with what one of the Sisters shared, and it is so simple—God is my All. God is my all. Yes, God who is my all, God who is All, sustain me in heartbreak and healing and the longing I’ve always had to be loved for who I am even though I don’t really know who I am.
Earlier this month, I had a dream about waking up and seeing snow, looking out the window and seeing a fresh blanket of it in the backyard. And then when I actually did wake up, Sister Sharon and I were sipping coffee outside after a rainy night, all earthy and cozy, and realized we had had the same dream about waking up and seeing snow. And we looked it up, and the symbolism of snow in dreams can mean new beginnings and fresh starts. This was such a special moment for me. Like, I needed to hear this and be comforted by it, that in the hecticness of transitions there is hope and I am loved in it. Snow imagery means a lot to me and always has (I named this blog Rose In Winter when I started it at 16 because I loved the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and how she left fresh roses for Juan Diego in the middle of winter, and my middle name is Rose and I was born in the middle of winter…) In Story of a Soul, St. Therese writes about how it snowed on her vow day: “Have I told you, Mother, of how much I love snow? I wonder how I got this liking for snow. Perhaps because I was a little winter flower…”
I love this and I feel so often that I too am a little winter flower. A little winter flower searching for threads of meaning in her life, questioning and doubting but somehow always returning to the mystery and silence of the icy soil.
My life so far has been a story of searching searching searching—a moving, quiet restlessness. I see this when I read old blog posts and journals. I feel very known to myself when I’m journaling (which I’m realizing can be a restless act) or seeking out a bench I’ve never sat on with a view I’ve never seen. Riding my bike along Lake Shore Drive the other day, with the earth and sky and lake blending into one another on a day of long-sleeves, even then, when I felt so full of awe, even then I still felt like I was missing something or someone, thinking of the past and future or made-up scenarios. It is hard to really be in reality. I’m trying to meditate more but, especially in times of change, it’s hard to be present. Yet that is another theme of my life—trying in so many ways to really be present. And those moments when I am present, that is when I experience deep aliveness. My roots sing in the dark and all is abundant. When I pay full attention, I feel again the liberating truth that life is gift and I am not in control. But I must also try to not be so hard on myself when it’s hard to meditate and hard to be present. That is life too.
God, please give me the silence of the afternoon sunlight, stale, through the scratched plastic windows of the Blue Line, onto the rusty train tracks with litter and weeds and graffiti. Give me the silence of a steady cloudless day, sidewalks and pink houses, on a walk with D—a core member at L’Arche who I’ve been sharing life with. Give me the silence that exists in his heart, knowing and trusting. Give me the silence of my harp waiting for me to pluck its strings, give me the silence of the faraway horizon of the lake. Give me the silence of the wind slicing through the tall buildings downtown, of the harsh morning sun, of the funky low-ceilinged coffeeshop early in the morning. Give me the silence of the mysterious place in me where these words come from. Give me the silence O God, in this world that is ancient and loud and erratic and cruel. I exist here in my never-quite-sure. In my ‘am-I-enough’ and my ‘am-I-too-much.’ In my trying and learning.
In this lonely and unfamiliar and uncertain soil of figuring out who I am and where I belong—may my little winter flower self slowly find her roots. And may she someday feel at home.
Little side note: I wrote about Chicago on my blog when I was 17—it was the first ‘big city’ I had ever visited aside from LA (before New York, that is) and it completely captured my imagination. It’s extremely sappy to read, but my 17-year-old self was so amazed and it’s kind of lovely that her longing came true in a roundabout but more-beautiful-than-she-could-have-thought way (“I knew, as I blended into that moment and soaked it in like watercolor, that I desperately want to live in a big city someday…. I will be a journalist one day and hopefully write and interview and tell stories about spectacular things.”)
Lead me to some holy place, then shut my eyes that I might taste
Your land, your sky, your sea
I’ll sing you what I see, Lord, I’ll sing you what I see
—Chris Thile, “Dionysus”