The first time I heard Britney Spears it was on a casette tape my newly appointed best friend played for me on my parents boom box in the backyard of my freshly minted childhood home. There were may flowers in bloom that dropped their lazy white petals all over the concrete, and my friend sat at the picnic table and coached me on all the dance moves which I had never seen. I was flattered by her interest in me and attention to detail as she corrected me, but I knew if my mom caught me acting this way and listening to this music it would be the end of our baby friendship. She liked boys, and she didn’t like her home. I’m not sure why she liked me because she was clearly quite a bit older than me although I hadn’t figured that out yet. She lived across the street in the row of three cement condos with the empty flower bed out front. I spotted her on the first day that we moved in playing in her front yard across the street. As soon as I had jumped out of the car I had waved at her enthusiastically and invited her over to play at my house. She had short curly hair and a brother that was mean to us sometimes but mostly left us alone. Televison had already taught me my best friend would be the one geographically most convenient to me since I wasn’t enrolled in school and didn’t yet have full run of the neighbourhood. She would bring over tapes of Brittney Spears and Spice Girls and teach me all the moves, but I wasn’t allowed to go over to her house to watch them on TV. Once she told me she had peed her pants because she couldn’t get to the bathroom in her house. She couldn’t quite explain to me why she couldn’t get there, but having only been potty trained for a few years myself it didn’t seem that out of the ordinary. I reassured her and told her she could use my bathroom anytime. My parents started to ask a lot of questions about her, and my baby sitter wouldn’t let her come over to play at all. She did seem to cry and shout a lot, but I didn’t think that was unusual she just had a lot of feelings that she couldn’t explain. I don’t remember when she stopped being allowed to play in my house or why that happened. I do remember that someone explained to me that I didn’t have to be so nice to everyone. I didn’t find being nice to her a chore though. She would give me her undivided attention for hours at a time, and I would give her mine. It was a very mutual exchange from my young vantage point. Not long after that her family moved away from mine. Some time afterwards my family got a few months of cable as one of those internet bundle promotions. I remember watching all the moves my friend had taught me in real life on the television, and feeling a sense of pride over the hours we spent practicing our routine. My new friends scoffed at Brittney Spears and thought girls that liked that kind of music were stupid air head bimbos. I had to agree with them externally, but inside I remembered my friend asking the same questions that they were.
The first time our lips groped each other in gentle awkwardness a tidal wave overcame my body drowning my brain in the dizzying waves. You touched my face in that loving way we had whispered to each other about as kids. Except you weren’t the tuxedo mask or Kurt Cobain of our fantasies. You had soft hands that smelt like vanilla body spray and truth or dare perspiration. You pulled away while I was still struggling to catch my breath and laughed in my face. You said that its no big deal to kiss after all it was just a game. Even though I had tried to say to you many nights in the dark that I could fall in love with any gender, but what I didn’t say was that I was falling in love with you. I think of all those times we would practice our make up and try to find the right angle to make our barely there breasts seem most appealing in the mirror before lying together on the bed legs entwined talking about our futures. You said that we had to practice doing it for the boys, to attract a husband that we would wow with our nubile yoga bodies, and cook fancy meals for on special occasions. But I knew no boy would appreciate you like I do. He would be intimidated by your Amazonian figure, and fierce intellect. He wouldn’t know the hours you devoted to becoming your best self. He wouldn’t know the way your dad sometimes scared you, but you still loved him. He wouldn’t know that you think carnations are tacky as gifts. But I knew. I had watched you growing up all these years, blooming into not a woman but a force of nature. And I was the one reminding you that you were beautiful, and that shared your anxieties about sex and love and romance. I couldn’t say to you though that I was falling in love with you. You were my best friend, and if our parents found out no more sleep overs, no more friendship, no more innocence. Besides we agreed that we weren’t ready to have sex yet anyways. You wanted to wait for marriage, and I wanted to wait for more body hair. But then you kissed me on a dare at your birthday party while your parents were out in front of all of our friends and shipwrecked my timid heart. In that moment as my lips parted to your infinite wetness letting it wash away all my fear of being seen when I too felt like I might be a goddess of the sea, you laughed at me. You told me that it meant nothing. You could kiss me anytime that you wanted, and it wouldn’t mean anything to you because you are not gay. I am just your friend. And sometimes friends kiss because boys like it when they do, and you, my friend, really want a boyfriend for your birthday, and I am never going to be that boyfriend because I can’t hide how soft my lips are, or how smooth my cheek is, or how tiny my hands are. My tiny hands that could never encircle your waist in the strong titanic embrace that you dream of. I wouldn’t even know how to love you if I could. We hadn’t been practicing for this moment. The moment I would dissolve into your lips. I buried those feelings like a treasure closely guarded. Kept under lock & key, but always just below the surface. I had seen the ocean in your grey eyes, and I tried to swim back there everyday, but you were always looking somewhere else.
I would like to help. I don’t know where to begin. Tell me where does it hurt? It’s ok you can trust me. I’ve been hurt before too. In fact I’m hurting right now. I know it’s not always easy to say. Take your time. Let me help you. How can I sooth your pain? There is nothing too small or too large you could ask me for. I would love to help you. Can you point to where it hurts? Perhaps we can just sit a while. Tell me what is on your mind. The questions that pull at your heart. We can try to answer them together. Because when I see your pain I feel mine too. I would like to help make it better. Even if it’s only for a little while. Even if it’s imperfect & flawed. Even if you don’t think it matters. It matters to me. To see you happy & cared for. Because the love that we share heals me too. The parts of me that hurt feel better knowing you are safe & content. It might be a long journey, and it won’t always be easy work. But I will not turn away when I see you are in pain. All that pain hurts me too. I am also scared. I dont know where to begin. There is no place I would rather be than right here with your pain. For as long as you are hurting I am hurting too. I can only see with my two eyes, listen with my two ears, work with my two hands, and love with my big heart. But I am here in your service. Please tell me my love, where do you hurt?
I dreamt I was a fertility goddess in space collecting seeds from the forest floor to feed the stars & end the war that killed them all. A single bomb, a child born, washed up on the sandy shore. Braided hair to pass the time, only speak in whispered rhymes. Taste the flesh that’s been seeding pine needles. Black rough hands in soft gentle creases. Working for a child’s right to die in peaceful times. Leading generals with all that’s mine. Comfort wrapped in round bouncing hips. Histories course tangled in my lips. A soft wet secret in my heart. The birth of a millennial new start.
“God spoke to me, and he said ‘I am the one who will decide which kingdoms will rise & whose will fall, and I say that I love & cherish these people as my children and they will flourish'”.
As I stirred creamers into my tea I did not look up at the man speaking, but I felt the hairs bristling on the back of my neck all the same. Inherited rage against the church of my father. It was late in the afternoon and the diner was mostly empty except for me, and these three church folk conversing over pie and coffee. There was something about the self-congratulatory confidence which this man’s faith spoke with that grated my nerves. Even as I felt the tension & irritation rise in the bile of my stomach a calmer voice reminded me to let it go. He meant no harm by his story, he was no threat to me in my booth, and who was I to judge his experience of the unknown.
“Father Clearey looked at me astonished as I spoke these words, for he knew that I would never have said such a thing! I was fed up with being there. There had been so much resistance, so many set backs, and they had just run out of money to pay us. So they called an assembly with the children to see if any of them had access to money. I was ready to throw in the towel, I was sure that these people were past hope and would be wiped out under the heel of God. So I said to myself, well I know what I think of these people, but God what do you think of these people?”
As I listened I felt the knots in my stomach relax into unexpected calm. Certainly this man was not perfect, he barely concealed his inherent racism & disdain for “those people”, but when that voice answered him he was prepared to listen against his own judgement. A small bead of hope settled in my heart. Here was someone whom I would normally consider beyond hope, a Christian missionary with an agenda. With Trump the President-Elect spitting his hate speech from the television in the corner of the diner these church folk stood for everything I thought was wrong with the world. Yet, here he was acting out of divine love to support people he had deemed beyond hope in circumstances that would try the most loyal ally let alone a bigot.
In that moment I thought about the reasons I had hated his faith, how similar they were to his own reasons for hating the faith of the north, how little any of our reasons meant in the face of so much pain. Humanities pain. My pain. The pain that I had been in when I walked into the diner to sit at my favourite corner booth where the waitress comes to sit on her breaks and cheers me up with stories of her weekend. She gives the best hugs. How I needed one of those hugs today because I was feeling so lost. There is no way to adequately describe the emptiness of depression. A real absence of care. Of faith. I questioned why I had turned away from all overt forms of faith as an attempt to prove that I was an intelligent, capable, grounded person in my father’s eyes. I noticed how much my heart craved that faith now. A faith that is open to receiving signs from beyond my own understanding of the situation. A faith that acts out of the best interests of those involved against my own petty judgements. A faith that loved deeply & fully with no expectation.
I was reminded of the one-step plan we had discussed in my yoga training. Give life. How impossible it had seemed when she had said that to me. Shed everything. She said that we were already on it. Over to God. I couldn’t understand how. One step. Over bagels & tea I understood the blessed simplicity of that sentiment.
There is no reason why that man should have had a change of heart. There is no reason that I should have stepped into this diner at this time to hear him tell it. There is no reason any of this should occur, and yet that is all the reason that I need to restore my faith in humanity. My faith in happy accidents & divine interventions. My faith in my own ability to keep going. My faith. There may be a divine reason too complex for my understanding, or I may have arrived here by a series of happy accidents, or gifts from the god as another teacher refers to them, either way the results are the same. I am sitting alone in the corner booth on a grey steely day stirring cream into my tea when I experience a change of heart. I can not measure or quantify the experience, but my actions change as a result. My thoughts change as a result. Love enters my heart as a result.
As I walk back to work considering the unlikely probability that I would hear these words at this time and have them land in my heart in such a way to momentarily lift the veil of apathy I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude for magical mistakes & mysterious meetings. As I walk the one step at a time path through depression I see all the other tiny steps that have got me here. I see that we are each walking the one step path together, and whether we waver or stumble, we are moving through it as one. One step. The rhyme or reason of it is whatever we each choose to weave between the lines, but the result is the same. We walk together.
October taught like a bow string drawing from the well that sprung in cool darkness of the soul rippling familiar resonance. Sweat trickles down the back of my neck warm in the dappled sunlight, as hand over fist works steadily to pull buckets of cool crisp crystal to my parched tongue that has cupped prayers silently for too long. Discovered while divining for a secret garden where my soul could bloom undisturbed. My eye focused on the horizon, rod in hand, aiming at the heart of unsung mysteries, finger strikes a chord, echo of caverns below humble footfalls, open to receiving each other in abundant grace. Glory in the morning as a purity that tastes fresh on salty lips slides down my throat in mutual gratitude of the refreshed. Harmonic symphony in an instant. Celebration of bounty surrounded by love notes from death.