The Lump

I have this feeling in my body.

Yeah?

I feel this lump inside me.

Yeah?

It’s a lump of emotion.

Yeah?

You hold an imaginary lump to the left of your belly button. It’s fist-sized and at your core.

It’s like all of that sin is right there and it’s about to come out.

It’s vulnerability, you realize.

Mmmm.

It’s like there are cracks in my heart and all the rocks are going to come out and it hurts but it hurts so good.

I giggle at your rare and specific description of feelings – and you’re speaking in metaphor! You’re beautiful.

Shaker sunset

So I’ve been thinking about these lumps. They’re dense. They form slowly. They’re uncomfortable. They don’t belong.

I admire you. If it were me, I’d feel that lump right away and keep it there as long as possible, unwilling to let it go. As much as it discomforts, I’m a lazy lady. I dread change.

But you. While you don’t notice the lump forming there for months, once you identify it, you’re ready to let it out. Teach me your conviction? Your dedication and humility? Your ever-trying heart? Your love.

I’m Sorry

I have an aversion to problems.

I see someone’s struggle and say, “Stay away from me,” instead of, “Let me love you.”

Like most of my aversions, it’s because I’m scared. I fear that problems are contagious. No. I fear that their stigma is. I dread being associated with bad behavior, obvious selfishness. And how selfish of me!

That stigma…

Where does it come from? I know it. I live it. I join the collective movement to decide what’s good. Then we tell other people the rules and tear down those who don’t follow them – the ones who don’t admit that they’re struggling through life but who obviously are. Like me.

Except somewhere it becomes individual instead of collective. Each of us has our own interpretation of this supposed collective judgment. So each of us is fighting to appear to follow different rules. The rules break down – they aren’t universal and they aren’t even right. And most of all, no one wins.

We want control and security and self-assurance. We think the only way is to measure everyone else and elevate ourselves, however undeservingly. Then we will be safe. But we’re alone and vulnerable and more scared.

So I’m sorry. I’m sorry for avoiding the attention-seekers and love-wanters. I’m sorry for judging the controllers and the fearful ones. I am all of you. And we need each other.

Don’t we know that problems, struggles aren’t even problems? They’re merely an indication of our needs. And what we need most of all is relationship.

Despite our desire to separate right from wrong, we must become magnets, traveling to draw each of us together, bond each of us closely. Hope and love are the remedy to our fear, and hope and love can only happen in relationship. Let’s stop this isolation, this façade-life, this outlook of masked dissension. Let’s lift each other up to redemption.

CLE + Joy: Food Culture

I’m hesitant to join the food Instagram-ers, and I refuse to become a “foodie” to combat the Gen Y syndrome. But the spiritual and physical life-giving power of food brings me joy, makes me want to share.

Below are some of my Cleveland food experiences, made beautiful by art, relationship, and adventure.

1. Crepes, delicate, rich, and packaged the same way they are in France:

Crepes

2. Apple strudel at a Hungarian restaurant:

Hungarian Apple Strudel

The Hungarian owner, a gruff but endearing gray-haired man, waited on my table. He didn’t smile at our eager “thank you”s, but he waved from his chair at the back, in between overseeing the tables and ordering the bus-boys, as we exited.

3. Jokes on Shaker Square:

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4. Dim sum bringing cultures together:

Dim Sum

Every time I see West meet East, contrast is revealed. I delight in the conflict/communion/cooperation.

Today I heard that food is inherently good. Genesis 1:29-30 says “Then God said, ‘Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground – everything that has life.” Before sin!

Literal vs. figurative interpretations aside, food was placed here for us to enjoy, along with the rest of the universe. And it creates order within creation. So let’s receive.

From the Tub

It was a relief. Not only because I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken a bath, but also because I’d spent most of the year in India. Tubs are in short supply there, commonly replaced with bucket showers. But there I was in Ohio, enjoying one. The night Aunt Linda died.

She was my biggest advocate. Aunt Linda’s the only one who spoiled me, the one who called me “Sweet Chess” and “My Beauty.” My godmother. The one of the four Mitchell daughters who addressed my mom only as “Sister.” And the one Mom called “Sister” back. The mama of my dearest cousin Mitchell – my version of a sister.

I remember summer lunches at Waffle House as she drove my brother and I to Virginia for our annual visit. I remember the excitement of driving through the “tree tunnel” as we neared her house. That excitement gripped me even as I arrived alone at 3 am the morning of her memorial.

I remember stops at the Little Sue for candy and cigarettes as we left her private development each morning. I remember car ride sing-a-longs and “That’s what became of the monk, the monk, the monk, the monk.” I remember forgiveness for spitting my gum out the car window – not far enough to clear the outside of the car.

I remember receiving roller blades and Dad getting upset that she thought our visit was excuse enough for an expensive gift. And getting upset at Dad because that’s what we loved about her.

I remember mornings with the three of us – Will, Mitchell and me – squeezed between her and Uncle Armin in her king-sized bed. With Regis and Kathy Lee. I remember French toast breakfasts at the bar, but not until she got out of bed mid-morning in her white nightgown that matched Mom’s.

I remember summer craft projects and curling our hair into Shirley Temple locks. I remember days on the river and jelly fish stings. I remember feeding the ducks before swimming lessons. I remember boogie boards at the beach and aloe on my back.

I remember bath time – a daily, exciting event then. She lathered shampoo into our hair and sometimes let us use a dab of her expensive conditioner. We pushed our sudsy hair, Mitchell’s white and mine red, into straight-up points to look like “pumpkin heads.”

I remember late night compromises as she mediated another kid fight. I remember goodnight kisses and “Don’t let the bed bugs bite!” and “Say your prayers,” and, “Just holler if you need me,” as she walked down to her room.

I remember flowers and butterflies and clay sun faces in her garden. I remember fishing off the dock. I remember standing by embarrassed as she made friends with every cashier. Secretly, I wished I could be as confident and social as her.

I remember her house filled with the most diverse, bright trinkets I knew. From places I now identify as South Africa, Puerto Rico, Europe, Australia. And TJ Maxx.

She drew everyone out of their shells. She told you that she wanted you to have the time of your life. So of course you came out to be in her excitement, to enjoy yourself, no matter what. If only to avoid being scolded at the party, shamed for not having fun.

These are the things I remember now.

But that night. In the tub. I only remembered to calm myself.

Every night in India, I rubbed aloe moisturizer on my legs and back. I hate lotion. But it reminded me of my mom and her love of self-pampering. It comforted me.

And the night Aunt Linda died, I took a bath. It lasted only a few minutes. But I had stopped. Stopped to sit and think and be warm. My mom never goes a night without a bath and a Diet Coke and Aunt Linda loved pampering, too, right? So this connected me to her, right?

Soon, I started to sweat. It was time to leave before it got clammy. So I took a deep breath, dried off, and lied in bed.

Her death didn’t hit me until I got to Virginia a few days later, driving through the black-black tree tunnel. My cousin was without her mama. My mom, the baby, without her nurturer. The intricate house and garden without their caretaker. But that hot bath. It soothed me for the moment. It tied me to the Mitchell girls.

Red + White

Red + White

Grieving on the York

The York

CLE + Joy: The Faces of Downtown

The first of my posts on the small joys of Cleveland, this one is more universal than some of the beauties I described in the CLE + Joy introduction. I’ve been a shameless tourist when it comes to capturing downtown Cleveland in my month and a half here.

Being a tourist has allowed me to get a real picture of what downtown is – without letting all of the negative comments I’ve heard bring it down. Today, my boss said to the company, “Cleveland is the country’s best kept secret. We just have a self-esteem problem.”

There is much more beauty than dust in this city, and I want to share it. I can finally pick out the Cleveland skyline. And I love it. The lake sunsets, the intricate architecture, the fresh streets, the Wednesday business rush and the weekend excitement.

From Shaker Heights

From Shaker Heights on a summer night

From Ohio City

From Ohio City on a West Side Market run

From Progressive Field

From Progressive Field before a Tribe win

From St. Clair and E. 6th

From St. Clair and E. 6th on a Wednesday morning

From E. 6th

From E. 6th on 9/11/13

What are your favorite parts of downtown Cleveland? What’s beautiful to you?