Every Moment Has to Matter, but Then They Don’t. June Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

 

The other day I was listening to a Death Sex and Money podcast about different people’s experience with being near death. One woman was in an airplane accident. Another woman was holding her sister’s hand as she took her last breath. Another woman had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The host of the show asked her guest all of the big questions. “Do you fear death?” “Is it scary knowing you are going to die?” “Do you have any regrets?” “Does it change you?”

 

You asked, if it changes you. And for me, it definitely did. And not always for the better. I’d say for me, it’s made me more impatient. Every moment has to matter, but then it doesn’t.

 

Something about the line ‘every moment has to matter, but then it doesn’t” stuck with me. I think it’s because of the timing. I recently applied for a national fellowship that I thought I was a great fit for and would have been a tremendous opportunity for me. And I didn’t get it. It didn’t feel like the world was over, but it really, really, really sucked. It sucks just as much today as when I first got the denial letter. It really sucks now. Being rejected from this opportunity only conjures up all of the feelings in which I feel rejected from so many other things. But this letter isn’t about that.

 

I was thinking about the last time something sucky to this magnitude happened to me. I had just gotten the last of several rejection letters from multiple nursing schools and I was stuck at a abusive dead-end job.

 

Every moment has to matter… I don’t believe in wasted time; how you spend your time is either beneficial or not. I don’t believe that life has a waiting period before you get to the important part. There is no magic age to when you have to act like an adult and get yourself together. Today matters. Nothing just gets better simply by waiting for time to pass.

 

…but then it doesn’t. You already know the end of the story. I no longer work at that sucky job (I have an infinitely better one now that reflects my values of being part of the community and serving people who need it the most) and I’m now working on my third graduation from the same nursing school (that is 50x better than the ones that originally rejected me).

Cali Colombia 794 1

I took this picture in Cali, Colombia

I think why that quote has profoundly impacted me is because you can simultaneously encompass a single space with two very opposing viewpoints. I guess it’s because big things and small things are equally important. They can equally shift the projection your life at any moment. I think I (or maybe we) put more value and weight on the big changes and opportunities and overlook the small things. I placed a lot of value on getting the fellowship because, in actuality, it is a prestigious organization that is offering a unique opportunity that very few people qualify for. The intention is to create a think tank of doctoral students from minority backgrounds to help create innovative solutions for alleviating the health disparities in our communities. Apparently they didn’t want me, but whatever. What I don’t appreciate is that my friends and I do that all the time. Not to the same level as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, but we are still doing the same thing.

 

Every moment has to matter, but it doesn’t.    

 

It has been all of the little things that have gotten me to where I am. It’s the little things, the relationships, the volunteering, the friendships, the consistency, the  places you show up, the impression that you leave on people, the things you do in your spare time and your reputation that matter. And to some degree, none of that matters. They add up and they subtract. They open and close doors.

 

The big things matter, too. We all know that. But the big things are rarely the end all, be all. Big things matter, but they don’t, because there is this thing call the future that eventually equalizes things out (or at least puts things in perspective).

 

In conclusion, just keep it pushing. This is what life’s all about. You win some, you lose some. Ebbs and flow. Mountains and valleys. There is really no point in over analyzing everything and writing it down in a monthly letter and sending it out to not so random people. I’ll probably keep doing this until I find a therapist who will listen to my first world problems.

Something Beautiful

Hello Family and Friends,

As some of you may know, each month I send out an email to all of you about something that has been on my mind. This monthly expression of gratitude was inspired by my niece’s and nephew’s “Best of 2K14” list. Before the close 2014, they wrote out a list of all that was good in their life; I, on the other hand, was thinking of all the things I wanted to fix and make better in 2015. Their moment of gratitude and reflection profoundly touched me and inspired me to clutter your inbox once a month.

I try to keep each letter linked to this year’s theme: Be like water: Fluid, reflective and always tending towards stillness. I didn’t have much to write about this month, so I decided to share the lyrics of “Something Beautiful” by NeedToBreathe.  

In your ocean, I’m ankle deep/ I feel the waves crashin’ on my feet/ It’s like I know where I need to be/ But I can’t figure out, yeah I can’t figure out

Just as there is no clear defining point where the land ends and the ocean begins, there is no clear defining point as we transition from one state of self to another. For instance, I’m not sure of the exact moment when I became an adult (and I’m pretty sure that I’m an adult now) because I know it didn’t immediately happen the day I turned 18. Maybe I have been fooled to believe that there is a rigid dichotomy between “State of Being A” and “State of Being B”. Being grounded and rooted in a firm foundation is, perhaps, not  mutually exclusive from being swept away with dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

Just how much air I will need to breathe/ When your tide rushes over me/ There’s only one way to figure out/ Will ya let me drown, will ya let me drown

I like plans. I like lists. I like schedules. I like a maximum of 48 hours of vacation away from plans, lists and schedules before being without plans, list and schedules scare me. Of course, sometimes all of that is necessary. Other times it’s an anchor holding me back. For you, it may not be plans, lists and schedule, but it may be something else. Can you recognize your safety blanket.  How do you let go of  trying to control life and letting all of its uncertainties overwhelm you with new possibilities? (In “Christian-ese” what areas of your life are the manifestations of having  “let go and let God”?) I love the line “Just how much air will I need to breath?” I understand it as as important  as air is, you only need just enough. “Air” is the stuff we can control. The “tide” is the good, the bad, the unexpected. The stuff that makes you cry, doubt, and laugh until it hurts. Tides come and go with variable strengths- pushing and pulling your life- determine by the natural rhythms of Earth.

And the water is risin’ quick/ And for years I was scared of it/ We can’t be sure when it will subside/ So I won’t leave your side, no I can’t leave your side

The tattoo on my foot says, “Where Faith is fear isn’t”. I’m not saying I never doubt anything in life. I’m just saying that I always have faith that when the troubles and hardships come I will get through them, relatively intact, eventually.

In a daydream, I couldn’t live like this/ I wouldn’t stop until I found something beautiful/ When I wake up, I know I will have/ No, I still won’t have what I need

What is it that you truly desire? Not a $15 million dollar home. Not a porsche. What is it that your soul truly yearns for? That gentle whisper that motivates so many of your decisions. I don’t think the writers of this song intended “something beautiful” as something tangible. I was just thinking to myself how lucky I am to be surrounded by people I love. There is no malice or ill-will. Yes, there are disagreements, hurt feelings, and disappointments every so often. But, there is not a single toxic person in my life. I rejoice when you rejoice. Many of you celebrate when I celebrate. I may not always be the kindest person to you, but I do feel awful when I think (or know) I’ve hurt your feelings. How lucky I am to have full agency and hope for the future and gratitude for the moment. Now, isn’t that something beautiful.

Hey now, this is my desire/ Consume me like a fire, ’cause I just want something beautiful/ To touch me, I know that I’m in reach/ ‘Cause I am down on my knees, I’m waiting for something beautiful/ Oh, something beautiful

I’m curious. What does this last stanza mean to you?

So this letter is getting on the long side, so I’m just going to end it here. As always, this is my way of staying in touch with you. It really and truly does mean something to me when I see an email from you. It also really and truly means something to me to know you read it even if you don’t respond all of the time.
Brianna

You’ve Got Mail

Dear Family and Friends,

 

Each month I write a letter based on the theme for the year, ‘When we make love we make life’.

 

I failed. I missed sending a letter during the month of May. Also, I still have no idea what to make of the theme, ‘When we make love we make life’.

 

So May’s letter (that we are pretending I sent a few days ago) is a short letter about mail.

 

Do you remember when you had dial-up internet and the only internet browser available was AOL? You would have to go to Fry’s or Best Buy and pick up an AOL internet disc. After waiting 3 minutes to connect to the internet, the AOL voice would say “ You’ve got mail’.

 

Today, I got mail.

 

I received a plain envelope in the mailbox. The physical mail box that usually only has junk mail in it. To my surprise, there was a $96.67 mileage reimbursement check that I submitted nearly 3 months ago! It had been so long since I submitted the reimbursement form that I forgot that I had money headed (albeit slowly) my way.

 

It took about 10 seconds from the time I realized that I had money in my hand to the time I picked up my phone to deposit the check. When I went online to check my account I had another surprise waiting for me. Someone got access to my debit card made a $2,800 purchase with my money. Not really my money because I didn’t have $2,800 in my account anyways. But still, someone essentially stole $2,800 from me.

 

This is life. Sometimes 329% of your banking account gets wiped out to pay for someone else’s shopping spree. Bad things happen. We are not immune to unfortunate events unexpectedly happening to us. We can’t live perfect enough to avoid everything bad in life.

 

But this is why faith is so important to me.

 

Faith is like a letter in the mail. Faith is holding on to the belief that something is good is headed your way; that things are slowly coming together in your favor. For my religious friends, it’s the belief that God will never let you fail when you are going through a tough situation. For my non-religious friends, faith is the belief that nothing ends on a bad note. There is always some good, some lesson, some growth, some wisdom, or something that matures you that comes at the end or during the process. Faith is why you hold on through the painful experiences. Faith are the small reminders that the balance of life is always biased towards good rather than bad (no matter how bad bad is).

 

My wish for you today is that something good and necessary is formulating and and headed your way.

God Believes in 2nd Chances

Dear Family and Friends,

 

As many of you know, each month I sit down and take a moment to reflect on something that makes me feel grateful. It is an intentional effort to live in the moment. What is even more special is that you are taking a moment of your life to bear witness to my thoughts, my experiences and introspection of life and journey with me as I figure out what my theme for the year, “to make love is to make life” looks, feels, and taste like. Some of you are doing this unwillingly because you have no idea why I’m sending you this email and you are wondering where this email is going.

 

Sometimes I think about what I’m going to write about all month. And some months, like this February, the process is a little bit more rogue. This is your warning. Forgive the rambling should it occur.

 

When I think about life I think about Linda, Terren and Sammy. (Click here for pictures)

 

Linda, a former classmate, passed away in a tragic snowboarding accident. The last memory I have of her was a conversation about being a struggling, starving and nearly homeless graduate student one week and then, magically, having enough money to go abroad the next week. She went to Cuba that year. I didn’t.

 

Just a few weeks ago I was in Cuba and had this sense of peace rush through me as I thought about Linda. It can only be word it as, “God believes in second chances”. Everything comes back around again. Be ready for it. And go for it!

 

It also gave me peace when I thought about the opportunities that I hope to come (back) around. Soon. Like now. Any day now. In life we struggle with many unresolved things, things left in the balance, and things that don’t make sense. We ask ourselves real and legitimate questions: “why me?”, “why not me?”, “why now?”, “when will it be my turn?”, “will this ever end?”, and “will I ever get a chance?”

 

I haven’t been on this Earth for very long, but I do know that all of the things most pertinent to our heart and soul will get closure. Those questions will be answered. The process in answering those questions will transform you. The hard part is recognizing when things have been resolved and it is time to let go and move on.

 

 

Many people don’t know this, but I save people’s voicemails. I have a file in my Google drive of old voicemails that people have sent me. I am deathly afraid of forgetting what people’s voices sound like. However, I don’t think I could forget what Terren sounded like.

 

When I think about life I think about my cousin, Terren, who got into a car one day and didn’t make it to his destination safely.

 

My memories of Terren remind me of how he filled the space that God gave him. You could not miss Terren if he was in the house or down the street. He was the living embodiment of living the full breadth and depth of life. My relationship to him makes me realize that the breadth and the depth of your life have nothing to do with the goals you achieve or your unrealistic self-perceptions. The breadth and depth of your life is materialized through the many ways in which your love produces life in others, your community and the world.

 

You see why I chose this year’s theme, “To make love is to make life”.

 

Lastly, I’ve been thinking about Sammy. I never met him. I would have never known that he inhabited this earth until my niece told me that he had committed suicide.

 

Any death is tragic, but a child who has found life so unbearable that he would end it is devastating. I wonder what his day was like in the last hours of his life. Who was the last person he talked to? What was going through his mind during his last meal? When was the last time he laughed?

 

When was the last time I laughed? What was I contemplating while I ate my soup for lunch? What were the highs and the lows of the last few hours? Weeks? Months?

 

This is such a sad note to end on, but life is but a blink. Who we are is what we impart in people’s spirits once we leave (this includes physically moving away or growing apart). This is why I am going to take a moment each month to reflect on the different ways in which I, and others, produce life from the various ways in which we love.

 

One way in which you can produce life is by emailing me. I really love hearing from you even if it is only once a year. I’d like to know how you are making the world a beautiful place. (I know you are making the world a beautiful place because you are on this email thread!) Until next month… or whenever I see you… or get an email from you… or when you call/ text me (because you know I don’t make the initial call or text).

 

You Will Never Find Happiness

Hello Friends and Family,

‘Tis the season to be told all of the secrets of life. Every blog, magazine and momma will tell you the:

10 Ways to Bring Joy in Your Life

9 Ways to be a Great Team Member

8 Reasons to be Grateful for the Season

7 Steps to Being Victorious in 2017

6 Tips to a Better You

5 Communication Techniques to get People to Like You

Success in 4 Easy Steps

3 Tenants of Prosperity

The Only 2 Things You Will Ever Need in Life

How to Survive Thanksgiving if Your Family Voted for tRump (yes, this is a real title)

 

You could easily believe that all of your hang-ups and disappointments are because you only did 6/7 required steps of being victorious. Or, you only have 3 of the necessary tools to communicate effectively. It insinuates that life is a perfect formula. Do the required steps and you will get the anticipated results. Put a dollar in the vending machine, punch a few keys and get a pack of skittles. Boom! Happiness delivered on demand. It is just that simple. If life sucks, it’s your fault for not following the formula.

What is happy? Happy Birthday. Happy New Year. Happy is a weird word and the title of a painfully annoying song by Pharell.

Being happy is a temporary state of good cheer and having your basic needs taken care of. ‘Happiness’ is more like the semi-permanent state of wellbeing and your more complex needs are met. Happiness is achievable… sort of.

After much thought and reflection, I will share the secret to finding happiness. I have traveled the world and have spoken to ancient spirits. I have dreamed prolific dreams and I have read every book. I have done it all and I will share my countdown on, “How to Find an Abundance of Everlasting Happiness in 6 Very Easy Simple Steps.” It’s free for you, but I’m going to charge the low, low price of 7 easy payments of $49.99 for the 1st 100 callers.

 

1: You will find happiness after you shoot the messenger. Who told you what happiness is and how did you conclude you are unhappy? Did it come from people bragging about their life (facebook or instagram)? Did it come from the thousands of images we see on T.V. that tell us what success, happiness and fun look like? Go ahead, shoot the messenger. Challenge any and every idea of what happiness is and where those ideas came from.

 

2: You will find happiness once you ditch the road map. There is no road map that will help you find happiness. Accept the fact that life is one big question mark or highs and lows, mountains and valleys, triumphs and failure. You will go forward, you will go backwards, you will go left when you think you should go right and right when you think you should go left. Sometimes you will stop and question yourself. Sometimes it looks like you are in the wrong place. Sometimes you will think you have arrived. And then, out of nowhere, you will realize that you haven’t arrived and you are lost. You will question the journey. You will question the process. You will question yourself, your beliefs, and your purpose.

If all of that is going on in a cyclic pattern, it is a sign that you are on the right path towards happiness. If there are more lows points than highlights in life, or you lows are really low, find someone to help you guide you back on the right path. Never doubt the power of the black hole. It will suck you in and make you think the only way to get out is to isolate yourself even more. People may not understand everything that you are going through, but we can all empathize with that experience. No one can tell you how to not be depressed, but there are people to hold your hand and help you heal.

 

3: You will never find happiness if you can’t recognize happiness. In order to find happiness you must recognize what happiness looks like. Happiness is the things you hope for within experiences that re-affirm your spirit.

Happiness goes unrecognized because we often place unrealistic ideas and expectations on people, places, things and experiences. I noticed that people (yes, that includes you) often are disappointed because people don’t meet your expectations. Or, we do things but the emotion that we thought we would have isn’t quite there. We buy things to make us happy, but they lose its appeal as soon as the newness wears away. It’s like having $900,000 in your bank account and being unable to enjoy it because 1) you are focused on the fact that you are not a millionaire, and 2) you focus on the bills (for all the things you enjoy on a daily basis), mortgage and rent (that allows you to sleep comfortably at night), and student loans that will drain your bank account.

 

4: You will never find happiness because happiness is not lost; therefore, it isn’t something that can be found. The Wizard of Oz teaches us more than ‘there is no place like home’. The people Dorothy loved the most in Kansas were really similar (hint hint wink wink) to the friends she found in Oz. Also, Dorothy had the ability to go back to Kansas at anytime. She didn’t have to get apples thrown at her, get her dog stolen or kill a witch just to get back to Kansas. Glenda, the so-called ‘good’ witch could have saved her the journey, drama and the trauma.

Happiness, just like home, is not lost. It is not something you have to search for. It is not something you win or accomplish.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the journey is necessary. There is something cathartic about being in motion. Get up, try and figure it out, do what you can, stop and reflect, and repeat tomorrow.

 

5: You will never find happiness because it doesn’t exist.   I have come to the realization that I am deficient. I am limited to a language that doesn’t have the correct words to describe my emotions. Rarely do I ever feel one emotion purely. Except for right now. I am tired. This is probably the longest letter of the year. Besides that, I’m rarely just angry, happy, sad, or excited. I usually feel a mix of things at varying levels with subtle undertones of extra emotions that are driven by the context of the rest of my life.

Happiness doesn’t exist. It is a generic place holder for deeper and complex emotions that don’t have names.

 

6: If you are still looking for happiness you will always miss the mark because…

  •         There are other perfectly good (harder to feel) emotions that you may really be hoping to experience, such as: joy, wonder, excitement, hope, togetherness, being understood, and fulfillment.
  •         Anything negative is not the antithesis of happiness. We know this because we have the ability to cry tears of happiness. We often appreciate the good when we go through the bad. The problem is that we don’t have a word that captures the fullness in the range, fluidity and continuity of our feelings.
  •         You really are looking for something else, or you are running from something else. You are using the pursuit of ‘happiness’ as a distraction from the real issue.
  •         Happiness may look like something anti-stereotypical. It may look like being more discipline, creating traditions, turning off electronics.
  •         You are going through the motions and not enough of the things that you do on a daily basis reflect the things you value.
  •         Something inside of you has died, become stagnant or has been left unresolved for far too long.

 

I don’t pretend that I am the repository of all wisdom. I have no answers for anything. I have thoughts and time to write. I would love to hear from you. Maybe you have found happiness and I need help.

 

As most of you know, each year I pick a theme to capture (what I hope to be) the essence for the upcoming year. Each month I write a letter to help me pause, reflect, and re-center my well being. This year’s theme was “Be like water: Fluid, reflective and always tending towards stillness.” I’m not sure if I figured it out, or have some deeper understanding. I’m almost as aimless about the theme as I was a year ago. But that is o.k. It sits well with me.

My Grandparents Hands

Dear Racism, I am not my grandparents. Sincerely, These Hands.

“Sincerely, These Hands.” Do you know what that means? I don’t. I was scrolling on my facebook newsfeed and I saw this ad for a t-shirt with this message inscribed on it. A week or so later I saw an article criticizing the shirt that thousands of facebook users scrolled passed. Apparently, the author thought the designer of the t-shirt was insulting previous generations for not fighting hard enough against racism, oppression and state sanctioned violence. “These are not my grandparents hands” meant that this generations of activist aren’t as passive and forgiving as their elders.

I spent this Remembrance of Indigenous Sacrifice day (also known as ‘Thanksgiving’) among my extended family. Before I was able to indulge in a combination of macaroni and cheese/ yams/ stuffing magnificence I had to stop, pause and participate in the yearly ritual. I’m not sure if your family is like my family, but every year before the Thanksgiving dinner we have to go around the table and say what we are thankful for. We actually don’t go around the table. We have to go around the entire room so that all 500 of us can say something prolific and meaningful. However, most people just repeated the same statement, “I’m thankful for my friends and family”. Keep it classy. Keep it quick.

This year I am thankful that my hands are my grandparents hands.

I am the product of my grandparents hopes and dreams. I am the manifestation of the triumph over their fears and their struggle. I am the answer to every tear cried and opportunity that was denied to them. I am my ancestors wildest dreams. I expand into places they couldn’t. I am their legacy after enduring Jim Crow, the Great Depression, and other horrific life events that I can’t even imagine.

This Remembrance of Indigenous Sacrifice I am beholden to and thankful for the sacrifices of my great grandparents and my grandparents: Lucious Sr. and Plurel, Ora Lee and Ocie, Pearl and Ocie, and Betty Jean and Roy. I just realized I don’t know my grandmother’s parents name. I’m pretty sure she (or one of my aunts) is going to read this and call me sooner rather than later.

And since this is my list of being thankful for all of the elderly people in my life I’m also going to include Aunt Gladys, Aunt Mildred and Uncle Edgar (the man who makes us go around the room and say what we are thankful for).

I am also thankful for James and Loretta McBride, and Joan and Jerry Moss. I keep trying to type the perfect sentence to express how I feel about them. I just can’t. I don’t have the language or the words to express my sentiment towards them. Every term of joy and endearment that I can think of just seems too shallow to capture the love and admiration I have for these people.

Every month I write a letter about something that I’m thankful for. If you receive this letter it means that you are someone that I appreciate. I would love to hear from you.

Be like water: Fluid, reflective and always tending towards stillness

As you may or may not know, every year I pick a theme to reflect upon. This year’s theme-  Be like water: Fluid, reflective and always tending towards stillness- seemed like a very poetic thing to pick for the year. I envisioned the calm waters of a river that Thomas Kincaid would paint in one of his masterpieces.

 

This vision of peace was challenged a few months ago while I was sitting in church. While I was rapt in the message of the sermon, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was real subtle. I wasn’t quite sure that I saw what I saw. And then I saw it again. I looked over my left shoulder and made eye contact with my neighbor. Then we both simultaneously looked up. The roof was leaking.

 

Water is not just reflective; water is revealing. Had it not been for the rain we would not have known that there were vulnerabilities in the structure of the roof. That is kinda how life is. We all go through different seasons where the elements of that time period exposes something that had been silently festering in the dark alcoves of our lives.

 

Once, I left a banana in one of my purses that I rarely use. For the longest time I could not figure out why I had this horrible infestations of gnats in my room. And then I found the most disgusting banana in my life. I get it. Life is a little bit more serious than bananas and gnats. It could be the person in your life that offended you. When they suddenly return back into your life you realize that you have been harboring unforgiveness and lingering hurt. Maybe you have been getting away with something that has now come back to bite you. Rainy seasons in life expose deficiencies in our lives

 

The good news is that the rain reveals something that you can fix. Nobody is perfect so we all need maintenance every now and then. So a little bit of rain in your life can help you see the snafus that can be repaired.

 

But then again… sometimes floods can reveal very complex problems that are not easily fixed. I finally got around to watching Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke”. First of all, that is the most profound documentary of the entire century. The documentary took an in-depth look at how our nation failed some of the most vulnerable citizens before and long after Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans.

 

Water is fluid and powerful.

 

Water is always tending towards stillness. Water can also force you towards stillness. When I was in DC over the summer I observed some of the craziest things. It would be a beautiful perfect day one minute, rain like it is a category 3 storm for 30 minutes, and then it would go back to being a perfect day again. It took me a while to learn that the rain wouldn’t last for long. A very common practice was for people to just take shelter under the nearest makeshift canopy or Starbucks and just wait. And wait. Sometimes for 10 minutes. Sometimes much longer.

 

Water can force you towards stillness. How many times have you forgone plans because the rain started to drop from the sky? How many times have you turned the T.V. down just a little bit just so you can let the cathartic rhythm of the rain hitting the window pane? How often have you lingered just a little bit longer with someone just because it was raining outside? How many times have you stopped just to stare at the expansiveness in awe of the ocean?

 

‘Water is tending’ means that water is always working with some intention (towards stillness).Water is always works in some of the most understated ways. I believe of the physical and emotional healing power of water. I once burned my hand and found immediate relief in the running water of a faucet. It provides life and growth to every organism on this Earth. Water is key element in many ancestral and indigenous rites of passage. A deluge of water is often the first sign that a baby is ready to leave the mother’s womb. Water baptizes the soul from one state to another more enlightened spiritual state. Water cleanses. Water rejuvenates.

 

I still like the quote Be like water: Fluid, reflective and always tending towards stillness. But, I don’t see the quote in the same way.  (Even Socrates once said that you cannot step in the same river twice). Water is so much more than being fluid, reflective and tending towards stillness. Being like water is embracing the fullness of life and all of that it encompasses. It’s embracing the power of a flood and the peace of the river.

 

As always, I love hearing from you. How are you doing? What has changed in your life? What is consistent in your life? Do you have any good recipes? Do you have any good music recommendations?

The Opposite of Loneliness

Hello Family and Friends,

 

A while back I heard about this book, The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan, that had been published after she had died in a car accident at age 22. I stumbled across her book while perusing the selection of literature at Politics and Prose (one of the many reasons why I love DC!). The book commences with an essay, The Opposite of Loneliness, that was written for the school newspaper to encourage fellow graduates that life only gets better from here.

 

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life…. It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt.

 

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to stop everything else in my life and move to Washington DC for 2 months for an internship.I’ve had an amazing experience so far; re-connecting with friends I haven’t seen in many years, finding beautiful spirits in strangers, and exploring new places. From trying to make sense of the Metro system to figuring out basic survival (where I’m going to live, how I’m going to eat and whose numbers I should memorize just in case I get into an emergency while I’m out here), I’ve come to realize that the most perplexing enigmas are the ones that are within myself.

I know this sounds weird, but I never had to deal with my own thoughts and sense of placement so intensely. At home, it is so easy to get caught up in the routines of life. My thoughts are tethered to: my ‘to-do’ list, making sense of the place I just left,  making sense of the thing that I just did, or my thoughts about how to save the world. But here, in this bursting metropolis, I’ve found an inner stillness as I go from museums to monuments.

I was just thinking about the time when I first moved to San Francisco. A person once asked me, “What are you running from?” I’ll be the 1st to admit that I’m pretty lame. I have nothing interesting to run from. (If I did have anything to run from I would probably prefer to stay in those shenanigans). I don’t even like running. And that person annoyed me because it was such a cliche thing to say when a person moves. WOW! Don’t you think you’re Mr. Insightful now that you asked a stupid cliche? Clearly, there was something in that question that touched some part of my spirit because I’m still thinking about it 5 years later.

So, I think I finally have the answer. The answer began forming a couple of years ago when I visited my father’s side of the family in Toledo. I see the answer when I look at my friends in San Francisco, and Washington DC, and when I get an email from a friend from Colombia.

I’m not running from anything, but I’m exploring all of the physical manifestation of “home” through all the people that I encounter and places that I go. I was blessed to be born into a family that loves hard… and fights hard. I was nurtured in such a way that I can recognize love and connection that feels as genuine as game night. And game night is real. Game night, movie night, and long arguments about absolutely nothing is home. I’m not running from home; I’m finding home in all the places that God has placed it.

I found that I am always emotionally and physically- literally and figuratively- moving towards a home base. A beacon. The Northstar. A Target store. Yes, there are times when I feel lonely or think that I just had an experience that would have been better had there been another person with me. You know the old saying ‘being lonely in a crowded room’ feeling. It is still fundamentally different from not being in the state of the opposite of loneliness. If that makes sense. Read it again a couple of times. It probably may make sense. It probably won’t.

My state of being in the opposite of loneliness is you.It’s knowing that you are out there. That you support me- even just by reading this- and I’m always cheering for you. I may not see you all the time (*cough* I would love to get an email from you every once in awhile *cough*). It’s that every month I stop to think about what I’m grateful for it’s always some variation on some experience that leads me back to you.

So, popular consensus has told me that my letters are too long. I’m going to wrap it up right…now.

 

Sincerely,

Brianna

When Cows Get in your Way

Hello Family and Friends,​

As many of you know, every month I write a letter to you all on something that has been on my mind. It’s my pseudo therapy/ way to stay connected to you. I’ve picked a theme for 2016 (Be like water- fluid, reflective, and always tending towards stillness) and I will reflect on that for the rest of year through these letters.

 

Today’s letter is about being fluid when approaching problems in life.

 

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Cassandra and I went hiking in San Ramon. Las Trampas Regional Wilderness is one of the most beautiful trails I have ever hiked on. Think of rolling green hills with occasional cows and farm houses. The verdure continuously rolls on and on and on until it turns into beautiful blue skies and fluffy white clouds.

 

Cassandra and I were part of a larger group of of hikers. We arrived a little later than everyone else, but we were passing other people in the group like we were on a mission. We were going at a really steady pace until a herd of cows got in the way.

 

Imagine 10 people waiting for 3 momma cows and 3 baby cows to finish feeding. We are on a narrow road. To the left is a downhill mess of shrubs possibly with poison oak and poisonous critters. To the right- a cliff.

 

After 30 minutes of the group trying to figure out how to get around the cows, I realized this is the way people approach problems.

 

  • Some people become paralyzed by their problems. Before Cassandra and I were unexpectedly stopped by cows, there had been other people in the group just waiting for the cows to move. The saying goes, “when nothing works, do nothing”. And nothing they did. Not doing something when you are unsure of how to conquer your problems sometimes is the best thing to do. A good plan is often necessary instead of being cavalier in facing tough problems. The danger in waiting is that it can be an indefinite abide in the long abyss of doing nothing. Even worse, some people will  accept that the problem is no longer a problem and just an element of life.
  • Some people try to minimize the problem. Some people in the group decided it would be best to blow whistles, make noise, and wave our arms in the air. Yes, it sounds stupid now. We thought we would scare the cows out of our way.
  • Some people try to go back. One person suggested that we go back the opposite way. Go back 3.5 miles up and down rolling hills? Nope, not happening. Who is to say there weren’t more cows blocking the path in the opposite direction? Going back is not always possible or sagacious. People often forget the enormity of the challenges they faced in the past because all of the emotion and drama surrounding those problems has faded. They don’t realize the strength they gained from overcoming those problems has made them stronger, smarter, wiser now.
  • Some people refuse to acknowledge the problem. One person thought he could go through the herd of cows and act like they aren’t really a problem. Clearly he lacked the same acumen that the rest of the group had. He changed his mind real quick when one cow gave him the death stare when he got a little too close. We all know someone (none of you who I’m emailing of course) who has blatant issues in their life and refuse to acknowledge it. They continuously go through drama, trifling people, lack of discipline, carelessness, or whatever you can think of that causes strife; and, they don’t acknowledge the deficit it causes in their life.
  • Some people try to take a chance at an unbeaten path. While the rest of of the group was trying to figure out what to do, Cassandra was in the bushes and shrubs trying to find an alternative route. I wouldn’t have done that, but I figured that I probably would have had to follow her because she was my ride back home. She ended up climbing this ledge past the cows. We all followed like little ducklings behind their momma to freedom. Sometimes you have to be brave and do something out of character. More importantly, you have to be secure enough to accept the consequences if it doesn’t always work out the way you planned. Quit your job and become a freelancer. Start the company you have dreamed about. Adopt kids. Dye your hair blue and get the eyebrow piercing you always wanted. Yes there are risk, but the reward is that you dared to live life on your earn terms.  
  • Some problems are not meant to be solved alone. We all had some ideas on how to get past the cows; some were better than others… and 1 worked out to be the best solution. I personally don’t believe that any approach to the cows of life is wrong. Sometimes you have the answer, and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you are the solution to another person’s problem.
  • Sometimes you are the problem- not the cows. Now, those cows were minding their own business, in their own home, not bothering anybody. We intruded on them. Sometimes we have to change our perspective on the problem and figure out our own role in the problem. The Universe is not out to get you; however, you may be self-sabotaging your situation and not even know it. Take a moment and be reflective like water.

Do I have legitimacy in that space?

Hello Family and Friends,

Be like water- fluid, reflective, and always tending towards stillness.

Water is a glorious thing. The beauty of oceans, rivers, and lakes serve as source of relaxation, fun, and inspiration. Water has the power to nurture plants and animals, destroy the terrain, and it covers most of the planet. Water is vital for everyday life but is deleterious if it fills someone’s lungs. Depending on the context, water may or may not be beneficial for every space. A farmer in the middle of a drought would want a downpour on her crops. But, she might not like it it turns into a storm.

Just like water, we flow in and out of different people’s lives, peculiar places, and dynamic contexts. Last month I went to this training for community violence prevention. The organization that held the training also runs a program for mentoring young men who have been (or are trying to get out of) gangs. The program trainers were hoping that some of us would be part of this organization and become mentors for the young men.

Now, many of the people in the room were:

  • Not male,
  • Not black,
  • Never have been part of a gang,
  • Have never been about that life,
  • Don’t even know what being “about that life” means,
  • Aren’t from the same neighborhoods that the mentees are from, and,
  • Concerned that their age difference prevents them from relating to the things that the youth are experiencing.

A participant expressed that she felt like she may not be the right person to mentor the young men. She honestly asked, “Do I have legitimacy in that space?”

This month’s letter is to challenge you to think about the legitimacy you bring different spaces.

Your work place/ school/ church/ community: What communities do you belong to and how do you commit to your community? A symbiotic relationship should exist as your space pours energy into you, and in return, you enrich your community. I’m not saying it should feel like rainbows and butterflies every day, but it should make you feel satieted most of the time. If it doesn’t you should re-evaluate why you are there.

As a random stranger: Sometimes I cross paths with random strangers and it really makes my day. The other day I was at the local community college wrapping things up. Then I saw the bus coming from around the corner. RRRRRRUUUUUUNNNNNN!!! Yep, that is how I ran. I hate missing the bus when there is an opportunity to catch it- even if the next one is right behind it. Any ways, as I was just about to slow down, then this random girl started cheering me on and held the bus. And yes, I caught the bus. It wasn’t the biggest deal, but it mattered. She made a legitimate, albeit fleeting, connection.

Your family: I’m going to leave this one alone. Loving imperfect people is something else.

Your friendships: Are your friendships legitimate friendships or really cool acquaintances? Can you seriously disagree and move forward. Can you cry in front of them?Can they cry in front of you? Have they been to your home?  Are they like half of my friends who text me “what’s wrong” when I call them on their birthday?

Your partner: Do they reflect the things you legitamitly value or do they fit an idea of what a partner should look/ be like. Sometimes when they fit a certain type we pretend that (or we really hope that) in their imperfectness is the true reflection of good character. Maybe they are a good person, but are they the right person for you? Are you right for them? Sometimes there isa mix-up between who we want to be with and who we need in our lives. If it isn’t working, re-assess the legitamacy of the situation.

Your home: Do you feel at home? Yes? No? Maybe so? Does your space reflect you? Are you safe? Are you comfortable? Is this permanent or temporary? Are you tethered to it? Is it a place of rest? This time last year I accepted a temporary roommate to move in. Her (adverse) presence made me really think about what my home space means to me: Who is welcomed (and who is not and to what extent); what I freely share (and the stuff that I do not); and, what and who truly make a home a home. “Home” is such a weird word.

Yourself: One of my favorite quotes is that, “People don’t change, they just simply become more of themselves”. For this particular season in my life, growing through this journey has been a series of negotiating different boundaries. What was not o.k. for me a few years ago might have a place in my life now (and vice versa). People around me change (or re-define our relationship) and different types of opportunities present themselves. I’m constantly adjusting the lines to make sure that I stay relatively whole, well and happy.

Your relationship with God: Not everyone reading this practices Christian disciplines (even some of the Christians reading this), but I think it is imperative to not only make space for spiritual wellbeing every so often, but to also make prayer and worship and all the other spiritual practices that keep you balanced as a legitimate part of who you are everyday. We are all spiritual beings. It’s the humanity in you and I that keeps ups pointing to a true north. My challenge to you (and myself) is to not neglect the opportunity to pursue a deep and meaningful spiritual journey .

This letter is getting long so I’m going to awkwardly end the letter right…now!