Finding Identity

Do you ever lie in bed ready to go? Unable to stay there, sleep, because you know there’s one thing to do in that moment, one thing driving your soul? One thing to “dangle from…limp wherever it takes you”? That was me at 1:30 pm on Saturday, November 9th.

Unable to fall asleep for my craved afternoon nap, I lie tired under my white-white sheets under white-white quilt under white-white down comforter under white-yellow lines of sun shining through white-gray mini-blinds.

Shades of white

I brainstormed for my blog. I want a new design, my own domain. I want a title. Choosing them comes down to this: my identity. In the sun-bed, I realized this: I’ve claimed myself more than ever in the past 12 months. And I knew that I had to write.

So, I transplanted myself, laptop on lap, to my oversized chair under white-white slip cover under white-yellow lines of sun shining through white-gray mini-blinds.

I’ve stifled identity – to make friends, to keep friends, to impress teachers, to please bosses. I forget to be real.

But this year, I’ve claimed the following:

  • I am a writer. I write to create beauty and share love. And I will be joyful.
  • Building relationships is my life mission. And I will be joyful.
  • Objectification will play no part in my self-image or the way I view women. And I will be joyful.
  • I am God’s child. I’m inherently beautiful. And I will be joyful.
  • I’m given gifts designed for my personality, past, sense of humor, petty desires, every day. And I will be joyful.

Joy does not come naturally to me. I often forget that real joy comes from clinging to the mission so tightly that you have to let the rest of it go. Do you ever want to spend an hour complaining, a day in bed,  a weekend without socializing? Introvert time is necessary, but I know I’m hiding from my purpose, my identity, when I use my words and time selfishly.

Surrounded by these shades of white, though, I am pure.

I will claim my faults, desires, strengths, and this blog. I will write because it empowers my identity, and hopefully yours.

If you want to join me on this identity pursuit, this missional life, let’s do it together. What keeps you awake when you could be taking a nap? Who are you?

“We could, you know. We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—even of silence—by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting. A weasel doesn’t “attack” anything; a weasel lives as he’s meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity.

I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.”

– Annie Dillard, Living Like Weasels

India Memories

I drank chai in the dry heat at least twice every day – my only break from rice and savory curry. It sat on the sunned bench in a small silver tank. The creamy brown tea was hotter than the air, burning my fingers through the small paper cup. I stood in the middle of the brown sand drive, loving my India dessert.

A gecko smaller than my pinky finger hid between my suitcase and the wall. He scampered out of the room through the crack under the door, came back once, and left again. I felt guilty for wanting him gone, concerned he didn’t like the open hallway.

I experienced love and homesickness in the form of baking chocolate chip cookies with once the wrong kind and once the right kind of vanilla extract.

Middle-aged women prayed for me on a Tuesday afternoon. We were under the ceiling fan with the window open – one in starched sari and one in worn salwar kameez.

I frequented the tailor shop, always scattered with uncut, patterned fabric, smiles the main form of communication, the green-gray-eyed seamstress always curious.

Rats, monkeys lived at the train station, the baby monkey clinging to its mother’s thin and stretched belly. I stood for hours, careful not to let the edge of my foot touch the ground beneath my sandals, ready to run if the animals inched closer when the light intermittently went out.

Sunrise

I watched the sun rise from my bunk on the overnight train, sandwiched into a compartment with one young and one old Indian man and my travel buddy on the three other beds. All were asleep while I fearfully clung to the orange ball shining through the dust-covered window. It looked like The Lion King out there.

The older man made conversation with us in 10 or less English words at the end of our train ride. I’d been afraid of him the entire trip after hearing him grunt and seemingly argue with an attendant.

I bought chai for two rupees from a chai-wallah who got on at one of the train stops while the others continued to sleep. He offered me a second cup and had the happiest smile.

We sped up switchbacks to the hill station in the back of a taxi, signs warning fast drivers in English at every turn.

I looked up to the moon in the clear black sky through the palm leaves, the fumes of mosquito repellent and gasoline-smoke strong.

I ate the sweetest supermarket pineapple alone on the roof, rushing to beat the mosquitoes.

Rat-or-bat noises squeaked through my window air conditioner after I returned from a two-week trip. I pulled my bed away from the wall. The noises stopped after a week.

chilis

My favorite dining hall dish was spicy red egg curry. On that forever mound of white rice.

I ventured into the kitchen pantry to find (and eat) the Nutella I knew was there but was only served when guests came for breakfast.

I pretended to learn to cook but was only overwhelmed – all to get some home-made food and spend time with generous friends.

We ventured to the city – to buy a cell phone, go to the dentist, and get subway – all in an auto on our own. It was a long day.

I haggled prices and talked with an accent that wasn’t mine. Did anyone think I was mocking?

I bought an expensive long green sweater for the mountain’s cold evenings – and because I trusted the quiet shop owner.

I squinted at the Himalayas after climbing hundreds of steps. We took the cable car down.

Himalayas

I rode a horse along the mountainside, fearing for the blisters I’d have from the stirrups, and fearing for my place in the saddle, as we galloped down the steep, stony path.  Sultan was white and followed my directions, but he listened more to our rushed guides.

I met students – held their hands and sang with them and told them about OHIO.

I watched older students mock their teachers in a skit. So composed were they usually, I finally saw them free and pressing boundaries.

I listened to the fears of young women facing long train rides and life in villages. They held my hand on their bunks.

I recorded the names of my soon-to-be-teacher-friends and attended their farewells three mornings in a row.

I ate lunch with beautiful ladies, young and old, every day under the pavilion. When it got hot, we moved to the almost-air-conditioned dining hall. They always shared their homemade food, and it was always the best. They always joked, and we always laughed, grinning and holding each other’s stares.

My friend some days in the spring brought to work jasmine for my hair, and I saved all of the flowers in a tin.

I fainted on the street in the busiest and most dangerous part of the city, but I wasn’t afraid. These friends I’d known a few months – I trusted them.

In the Deep

You know that feeling when you push yourself underwater in the deep end and let your air out and sink until your feet loosely hit the cement 12 feet down?

Sky pressure

You blow a few extra bubbles out of your nose so you can tilt your head back and see the aqua-white sun shine through the lapping water. Your arms lift bent at your sides, and you finally can’t hear all of the sounds that come with water.

The noise, light, treading limbs are muffled. The pressure is closer than ever.

I crave that feeling.

For some reason, I don’t panic down there. Why does it quiet me instead of overwhelm me?

I have a theory. It’s because to get down there, I have to give up. I have to let go of my breath, my sight, my hearing, my ability to be heard. And go down there alone with that so-powerful pressure.

I can kick up to the surface if I want to, but I don’t. I need to let go of my power, succumb myself to what’s greater than this body. I need to just be down there.

I can’t do that with the usual distractions. I choose to prioritize comfort, fun, acceptance, money, over my real purpose. But when I place myself under that pressure-power, I realize it’s where I’m meant to thrive.

We live on the surface, though, in the chaos. It’s easy to slip down for some peace, and come up to the powerless pressure when we need air, forgetting that real power. But I don’t have to forget it – that it defines my core, tells me why I’m here. Let’s live the peaceful, real pressure. Acknowledge it always.

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.

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