England’s first gift

When I was small, there was one book in my collection that I loved best of all: “The Little White Horse,” by Elizabeth Goudge. It tells the story of a girl who loses her London family and moves to the English countryside, where she restores balance to her community and heals a longstanding rift between relatives, in addition to, of course, defeating evil. Suffice it to say, I found her most inspirational. And against the backdrop of all her victories, adventures and thrilling close shaves, a little white horse who is sometimes there and sometimes not stands watch over human upheaval from the silvery shadows of the wood.

I am in England now, as an adult, in one of real life’s beautiful adventures. This morning, as I rose from sleep to wander the lofty spaces of the country manor that has become my temporary home, I found myself in a drawing room with floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out on the morning mist.

If you have never seen the English countryside, trust me when I say that there is something about adding your eyes to the countless many who have gazed on England’s trees and fields and valleys, land that has been lived on and loved for thousands of years. As the sun began to rise and burn off the mist, I watched gently rolling pastures and split-rail fences come into view. And there, away off at the edge of the fields and the wood, stood a single little white horse.

In that moment, it was as if the magic of my childhood superimposed itself quite viscerally on the reality of my present. In a foreign country, in a period of post-graduate doubt and ambiguity, even amidst the general fog of jet lag and early morning, I felt completely at home.

I have no words of wisdom or groundbreaking insights. I only know that today I was reminded of something I had forgotten for a very long time: that the dreams we have as children, the books that shine like sunlight on the seeds of our infant imaginations—these are still lovely and still important.

Many dreams do not come to be. Other dreams, once realized, shape themselves around the fact of our collective mess, our imperfect reality. But there are perfect moments, and memories of perfect dreams. They run out of light and fade back into evening, hoof beats pounding the Earth, just out of reach, a fleet of little white horses.

“…The raised hoof, the proud poised head, the flowing mane,
The supreme moment of stillness before the flight,
The moment of farewell, of wordless pleading
For remembrance of things lost to earthly sight…
Then the half-turn under the trees, a motion
Fluid as the movement of light on water . . .
Stay, oh stay in the forest, little white horse! . . .
He is lost and gone and now I do not know
If it was a little white horse that I saw,
Or only a moonbeam astray in the silver night.”

For my mother, who taught me about magic.

When I was a little girl, I believed in fairies.

I spent half my time imagining how fairies might look and live, roaming the forest behind our house in search of forgotten fairy garments, fashioning palaces out of Kleenex boxes and tree bark—and pretending to be a fairy myself, much to the amusement of our neighbors.

One day, I started writing to the fairies. I left my letters folded up in the cups of tulips or tucked beneath tree roots. Unbeknownst to me, my mother saw me. And for the next year, she wrote back.

In beautiful letters painstakingly crafted from scraps of purple paper, my mother wrote back as a fairy named Lilac who faced the same struggles that I did. Though hers was a world of glimmering wings and dresses spun from raindrops, she too dealt with timeouts from her elders, the occasional unkindness of friends and classmates, and many other matters very dear to the heart of a little girl.

One day, the fairies had to move away. I was growing up. The last letter was from the Fairy Queen herself, who thanked me for being a friend to her subjects and reminded me of the important things I would need to keep practicing as I got older: things like faith, kindness and laughter.

Though the letters came to an end, the magic did not. My mother had given me the space to let my imagination flourish. She had given me the warmth of a friendship no less real for its mysteriousness. She was magical with that very particular kind of magic that lets daughters know they have been well and truly loved.

This Mother’s Day, there is no gift I can give my mother to equal the wonder and delight of my year as a friend of the fairies. I have watched her tackle painful life challenges far removed from the fantastical world she created for me. I have seen faith, kindness and laughter keep my parents together, endure through long illness, and grow my sister and I into women who will face life with bravery and grace.

One day, I will have a daughter of my own who finds a tiny letter in the garden. I have learned a very particular kind of magic.


Mary, who was no one’s.

I came across this article by a friend of a friend, and wanted to share. Her perspective is challenging, thought-provoking, and crucial to how we look at mercy and justice in the world today. It’s the Christmas story told another way. The story is still alive. It will move you.

The Rule and the Raven

While I was in Europe at a conference recently, I found myself witness to something most terrible. A witness to violence.

I walked down a cobbled street on a gray morning, and three people ahead of me were screaming at each other. A man and a woman yelled until their voices cracked, and a second woman stood with them. The verbal combat spiraled furiously between the two who shouted, and I approached as the man pressed himself close to the woman, forcing her backward as all those hidden instincts to express power through physical space played themselves out between them.

They screamed in French. Their voices were too broken for me to understand exactly what they said.

I walked directly between them, coldly breaking the invisible field of combat, and I glared straight into the man’s anger-darkened face. I tried to fill my eyes with every ounce of contempt that…

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Why Every Day For Me Is Father’s Day

Last Sunday got me thinking, and if I can find the words, I’d like to tell you a little bit about what I have learned from my dad. Image

I can still hear the notes leap from my father’s fingers on the strings.  Like prisoners presented with an open gate, melodies spun out of his hands and skipped across the evenings.  On those childhood nights, his songs stood sentinel over my dreams, ushering me out of wakefulness and into sleep.  I loved this music, and I assumed it would always be mine.   

The concept of transience, however, caught me in a stranglehold one Wednesday evening when my father began to play.  All of a sudden, as my eight-year-old brain lilted its way from lullaby to lullaby, I realized that he wouldn’t be able to sing to me forever.  How do we handle this kind of collision with mortality?  Even now, especially then, I wasn’t big enough to deal with such a loss.  I could not comprehend a life empty of the singer and his song. 

There is no real solution when pain so stealthily encroaches on the pristine certainty of childhood.  For the next three years, nightmares painted themselves garish and immutable across the ceiling of sleep. Visions of violence stalked the dark corners of daydreams and I imagined my dad injured or killed countless times.  Sometimes in my dreams we’d be driving and I would look over to find him abruptly disappeared from his seat, seat belt still buckled, gas pedal still depressed.  He left me, helpless and alone, speeding down a highway through the nowhere land of loss.  

These dreams disappeared of their own accord.  Mostly I think I just stuck them in the back of my mental file cabinet, neatly sorted alongside all those other things that I understand only insofar as I don’t understand them at all (see “Passing Away” and “Pantyhose”).   With these profundities safely tucked in storage, I survived middle school, graduated high school, and left for college. 

Going to a university halfway across the country finalized my acceptance of distance from my dad—or so I thought.  I missed him a lot, to be sure, yet purely as one of the most important pieces of my life all the way back in Kansas.  We would keep in touch over text or through phone conversations every few days.  But I turned 19 two years ago.  On my birthday, I received the following email from him:

 “Well…here’s the story.  It doesn’t take long to tell, and perhaps I’ve told it to you before, but after our very nice phone conversation on Saturday afternoon, I had a flashback. I was driving home and Eric Clapton’s song “Tears in Heaven” came on the radio.  You know the history; he wrote it in 1991 for his 4-yr old son after the little boy died in a tragic accident.  A couple of months or so before it came out, your mom was only a couple of months into her pregnancy with you.  One day she sat down by me and said she might have had a miscarriage.  She wasn’t sure, but it was possible that you had gone away.  I wept so hard…I was so afraid…so broken even by the thought.  I have never felt a loss like that, before or since.  Praise God, it turned out not to be the case, and you were still with us.  The song, when it came out a few weeks later, hit me right in the heart.  I had felt some part of what he was singing about.  And every time I’ve heard it since, I get that same feeling.  God helped me understand, by holding me in limbo for a time, how precious you were and are to me.   I’d not heard the song on the radio for years, but God played it again for me after your call to us that afternoon…just His gentle reminder of what a precious gift you are, and of how I know.”

Everything ends. Only love in its many forms manages to outlive the transience of our time on this planet. For there is permanence in loving and being loved that deeply. It changes a human spirit forever, and cannot be stopped by something so empirical as the distinction between this world and the next.

I acknowledge the fear that on occasion still dances around my dreams. I nod to the vast uncertainty that stretches behind my birth and beyond my last breath. But I am not afraid. Here and now, there and then, I am my father’s daughter. I know that when I see him on the other side, he’ll be singing.

A Note to Angry Preachers

To the guy in front of Cooper Hall, disturbing the peace after class.

Eyes and ears seize you

Branding my baby Earth with your gospel of hate.

God sends rain

But you,

Self-elected emissary of some Satan in the sky,

You cremate

The dead bodies of love, of mercy

They languish on the ground as I pass


Yes, goodbye!

By the sickening slick of your own poison

You will die.

Whom shall you convince?

Scorching heat of your stunted spirit

To think that I would dream of coming near it.

Festering sores


Hey, mister

Oh-so-sinister so untrue

Every day, with

Every Damn Thing I Say,

I triumph over you.

I will be the anti-hate

Breathe life into the love

You suffocate.

I am the rain, and you are a liar.

Watch me vanquish fire.

Sunrise on a Saturday

She sat on top of the hill and thought about how the grass was sticking her through the fabric of her jeans. She thought about how grass just kind of is and there’s nothing much more she could think about it, except that it was nice for the most part, although a little too prickly to lay down her head.

And she thought about how, if she tugged up a cluster of blades and yanked them straight out of the ground, no one but her and the neighboring grass would ever know.

Sometimes she wished she was like that, surrounded by neighbors but somehow insignificant all the same, so that blades of failure and a sharp stab of loneliness could be uprooted, without question or consequence, making way for a new blade of hope without a sound.

She startles, and stares up at the sky. Dawn is breaking, and with her hands cupped together she offers up a prayer of thanks like a paper crane. And just like that, gratitude flies on white wings up toward morning.

Finding Authenticity in an Ersatz Reality

A friend recently sent me an article about our culture’s obsession with authenticity. My first thought was that the Western world doesn’t actually strike me as that authentic: we live pretty leisurely lives and we tend to justify what we like without figuring out what is actually real or pure in a world where what we think about something matters more than the thing itself.

Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962. Dis...

As I kept reading, I found a key idea buried about halfway down the article: that “we can no longer perceive what we claim to value.” Authenticity could be staring us in the face, but if we recognize it at all we are left with only a vague idea that we’re missing something we desperately wanted and needed. We understand, unconsciously, in some dark part of our souls, that we can’t be certain of our own individual or collective authenticity of being or purpose.

It’s not a question of art. It’s a question of who we are.

In other words, this new wave of criticism and desperate searching for authenticity reflected in art and entertainment culture is symptomatic of and merely a modern manifestation of the gap between what we know and the fact of our existing, a gap which necessitates an infinite gulf of knowledge and meaning we kind of know we can never swim through.

I think art and life are the same things, really, just that art is a single moment stolen out of life and time. I also think that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. Not in the sense of a conventional chicken and egg dilemma, of which comes first, but in the sense that life is never understood by multiple people to be exactly the same thing. It’s beautiful to some, stupid to others, gratifying to many, and how you live it is often a matter of taste and privilege.

In reference to this article, life and art are intertwined throughout the pages of human history. Moving through the realism and purity of renaissance art, through the impressionism of the 1700s and 1800s, into the surrealism and now “modern art” which is more often than not a conglomeration of abstract shapes and lines, art reflects the tide of human belief as a whole.

Abstract and modern art is consistent with the postmodern and existential schools of thought currently dominating the Western world. They say we know only what we know, empirically, or what we can prove by watching the process from beginning to end and then repeating it exactly.

Something that looks like nothing is just as authentic and valuable today as something that depicts reality exactly…as long as it was supposed to look like nothing, and in its nothingness makes us think of something. Because atheism, humanism, existentialism, etc., any acceptance of a sort of infinite nothing beyond what may have temporal value, leaves us without any sort of ultimate standard by which to judge authenticity: in our selves, our lives, our art, or our coffee shops. Without a standard by which to judge authenticity, how can we possibly discover a true identity? How can we know who we are? That’s why we criticize what we deem inauthentic, what we fear might be cheap mockery. The idea that life might imitate this inauthentic art is far too terrifying to behold.

We are hungry for authenticity. It is at heart a hunger for meaning, for there to be something beyond the sum total of human struggle and triumph.

Check out the original article here:

So I got in a car wreck yesterday.

As I sped toward catastrophe, completely unable to prevent the collision, I didn’t have any major breakthroughs. I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes. I didn’t meet God. My thoughts were oh shit, oh shit, and oh shit, and it wasn’t until I had pulled off the road into a parking lot that I even took stock of the damage– the fate of the possibly injured other driver and the state of my own crumpled car (which will cost more to repair than it’s even worth).

I didn’t cry and I didn’t tremble. The other driver called the cops, I called my insurance and my dad. And then I got out and leaned against my car and I felt the afternoon. I felt the sun on my face and the asphalt beneath my feet and the tree branches waving in the breeze like they were my own arms. I stared through the hedgerow beside me at the busy street. I didn’t process anything other than the fact that the world was moving, full of sound and energy and soft yellow light.

Can panic and peace coexist? Maybe so.

Then the cop came, and by the grace of God he was one of the nicest men I’ve ever encountered. In a place where I was at fault and feeling unmoored, I was met with a kindness so deep I am certain I didn’t deserve it.

My head still hurts a little and I spent a lot of today resting. It kind of shocks you, to realize that sometimes you just can’t react fast enough to prevent something that was already set in motion. In that moment, I lost everything I could control. I lost every ounce of power over what was about to happen to me. I didn’t even remember to pray until after it happened.

But I am fine. Repeat: I lost any and all control over my life for a few eternal moments, and I am fine.

I don’t know why I was protected that day, when so many other people have lost their lives in almost identical situations. It’s a question I can’t answer. But I do know, now more than ever, that my life does not belong to me. It’s a wild and beautiful vitality born long before me, already spinning into a far distant future I will never see.

An Icelandic artist named Bjork once said that all is full of love. She said that we’ll be taken care of, that it might not come from the sources we would expect, but that we have to trust it all the same.

It’s been my experience that I am pretty damn limited in my ability to see and understand these sources. I know several people who don’t feel able to see or believe in them at all. I don’t think it changes the fact that all is full of love. We will be taken care of.

Say Yes to Yoga

I do yoga almost every day.

I’m convinced that these 50 minutes of Zen prevent panic attacks, muscle stiffness, irritability and other symptoms I generally associate with family reunions. Something about communicating with my body and pushing myself without pain makes me feel like life may not actually be so hard.

Thanks to the lovely folks at Forbes, I now have the science to understand why. Yoga has virtually infinite impact on a practitioner’s physiology. It impacts the body’s regulation of cortisol, endorphins and serotonin—all those nifty chemicals in your brain that can either make you happy or screw you over completely.

I’m for the first option. Practicing yoga regularly changes the body’s sympathetic nervous system  (this is the system in charge of our stress response). Because of whacked out modern schedules that often tamper with our bodies’ natural rhythms, the stress response can stay in the “on” position for hours at a time. Yoga helps your body realizes that there is still peace to be found. It can also keep the parasympathetic nervous system in tip-top shape, which means that your body will absorb nutrients better, eliminate more toxins and improve circulation.

And thus Western science proves what Eastern medicine has known for thousands of years. Do yourself a favor. Do some yoga.

If you are so inspired, consider running a free yoga clinic for battered women and children in your area. I did this several years ago and the results were life-changing for me as well as the participants. For people who have experienced far too much stress and pain to even comprehend, yoga can provide a physical, mental and emotional healing unsurpassed even by medicine and counseling. Give peace by putting the restorative power of yoga in someone’s own hands.



Electric Skin?

The Chemical and Engineering Journal recently published an expose about a subject straight out of science fiction novels: electronic skin.

A team at the University of Illinois has produced what they call “epidermal electronics,” postage stamp-sized temporary tattoos riddled with silicon and gallium arsenide nanomembranes. This makes no sense to me either, but the coolness of the project is undeniable.

John A. Rogers, the professor in charge of the research, describes it in simpler terms. The new skin is essentially a “spider web mesh of electronics” with limitless potential to revolutionize life as we know it. The patch can monitor any activity within the wearer’s body, transmit voice commands electronically to a remote receptor, and potentially even control the wearer. Repeat: a remote could control the wearer.

This brings up the frightening, if far-off, possibility of a select few people or autonomous machines rising to violent dominion over all of mankind (see the Matrix 1, 2 and 3). Yes, the science is amazing…but so is the human capacity for evil. Electronic skin technology opens up whole new avenues for dastardly deeds like mind control and manipulation. I am forcibly reminded of J.K. Rowling’s Imperius Curse.

Of course, the potential for these half-electric-half-biological tats to heal diseases and save lives also knows no bounds. It’s my guess that one day electronic skin will be available at every hospital…and maybe even that skanky tattoo parlor down the street.



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