Category Archives: imagine this world

Lessons Learned While Lost

When James and I were in Atlanta in May, we ran into a homeless woman. We were pacing back and forth along Peachtree Street, scanning the storefronts for the Marta station sign. We doubled back two or three times before she saw us, heads ducked over a phone screen, trying to navigate our way.

She asked if she could help us find something. And then we were off, her and I chatting away up front, James trailing behind, slinging out water bottles and necessities in a bag on his back. She asked me where we were from, how we ended up coming to Atlanta. She told me about his bright blue eyes and smiled.

We were just steps from the escalators leading down when she shared her own story—how she’d lost her apartment two months ago, how she was trying to stay positive and how her son was embarrassed about her persistence, but could we spare some money for her breakfast?

I didn’t have any cash—we were going hiking—so I apologized. She looked me in the eyes, asking if I’d buy something, if I could just get her a bagel or something to tide her over, so of course I said yes.

When we left, down a second escalator, her arms full with a hot breakfast of grits and eggs and meat, I felt good. James, though, wasn’t sure about her.

Where we live, the streets are stocked with homeless people. My father-in-law swore once he knew one of the men, that he went home each night, changed out of the ragged clothes, and slept in a warm bed with his family.

The whole ride down the escalator, onto the platform, into the train car, on the tracks, I told him it didn’t matter, really, but of course she was homeless. She asked for breakfast, for God’s sake. She would’ve moved on if I didn’t have cash.

She had so much warmth about her, a wide smile, a genuine tone. I was happy to help her. I was happy to believe that something good had come from that morning.

“Two months,” I told him. “That’s not long enough to have found a whole new job and gotten back on your feet. She needs all the strength and energy she can get and that breakfast could be what she needs to get herself up—mentally and physically—so she can get a job. My kindness might have meant the world to her today.”

He’s still not convinced, but for me, it felt so good. Because when you’re standing in front of the world, telling your story, afraid to admit that it might not be going as planned, it takes all kinds of courage to ask for help. And when you’re standing on the other side of that conversation, looking into the eyes of a stranger with a kind heart, it shakes you. It stays with you.

The problem of poverty becomes real. It becomes a woman in a white tee shirt with black sneakers. It becomes her fast clip and warm smile and appreciation over and over as you pay for her meal. It becomes the itch inside you when you wonder how she’s going to make it through tomorrow, when her stomach starts to empty and she’s not having any luck finding a job and she’s hoping someone might give her a chance.

It’s hard to ignore. It’s something we shouldn’t ignore.

All The Things She Would Have Been

cissy

Each time I cross a monumental threshold, I think of them. Of her, mostly. Of the way she stood in my parent’s hall bathroom, the vent fan blasting.

It was the last stop before the garage and the car door. The last stop before whatever destination came next­—a dance recital or a Friday night dinner or a Christmas mass.

She’d stand there, brush brush brushing my sister’s hair, freeing the knots. Kels hated it, yelling and protesting the whole time, but I know now that was love—pressing onward when you knew someone needed you, even if they couldn’t see it clearly themselves.

She would have been 75 today—one of those years you think about spending on the front porch, iced tea in hand, granddaughter by your side.

She would have been a fiery 75-year-old, freckles dotting her face and her arms and her legs.

Her white hair still in thick tufts along the nape of her neck, not falling to the floor, defenseless against the chemotherapy.

Her shoes on and her purse in her lap the moment any one of her grandchildren, anywhere, had something big happening—she was a front row resident, a lifetime cheerleader. She loved us good and hard—tough but deeply, deeply caring.

She would have cried when you told her you were getting married next year—to a boy who loves you just as much as she did, full and unapologetically.

She would have sat proudly in the front row, hands in her lap, tears at the corners of her eyes. She would have loved your father-in-law. His stories. His character. His beliefs about the world and his children and his own grandchildren.

She would have been beautiful that day.

You don’t think about all the days you’ll lose with her until they crop up—one by one. Graduations, first jobs, engagements, marriage, houses, children—her great grandchildren.

You don’t think about telling stories of this woman to all the people you’ll someday know and love—people who don’t even know what a bead of hope she was in this crazy messy world.

You remember her white hair, her romance novels, her chocolate desserts. You remember all the freckles, the ribbons she threaded into barrettes for you. You remember the week they told you you couldn’t come to the hospital, you had to go to school, but that the waiting would be over soon. The waiting, it would be over soon.

You remember the funeral, and you wish she could see you in your own dress.

She’ll be there. We’re lucky like that. We know she’ll be there.

When we lose people, there are some we know, without a doubt, will always scoot up front for the best seat in the house, to see us smile, start our own family, get ready to brush our own daughter’s hair.

Here or not, she’ll be there. She never wanted to miss a big moment. Couldn’t possibly stop now.

A Beat In Your Heart & Wind In Your Hair

Inside a brightly painted frozen yogurt boutique, we swapped fears about the future. There is nothing worse than fretting inside a neon green & hot pink shop, where strangers stand feet away sprinkling toppings onto their vanilla & chocolate swirl.

We were scared + tired + hesitant to believe that self-worth is a thing we build daily. It is like a house, built over years & years & storms & blizzards & knock down, drag-out moments with our mirrors & zippers & scales.

“You’re so passionate,” she drawled. “My sister says I don’t care about anything.”

There were days, I thought, when maybe she didn’t. Maybe, she walked through the haze of college with a book in her hand and a test on her mind and not a single second was spent debating a better, brighter future. Not a single second inched into dream mode.

And then, I thought, I’d punch my sister in the face if she told me I didn’t care about anything. But only because we know it would never be true. Only because I have seen the light dance on countertops in just the right way, seen it catch the front of a glass storefront, seen it play with people’s smiles on Saturday afternoons, and I love it.

Only because I am a Jeep girl. I have sat in the back of a red Jeep Wrangler with the top down and felt the wind whip my hair into a beautiful, alive frenzy. She is a Honda Civic with the windows up and the A/C on & her expensive sunglasses perched on the bridge of her nose.

In spite of all the funeral dresses and breakups and goodbyes and failures, I love the light that skips across our forearms on Sunday drives. I love the rush of a highway cruise.

jeepcampout-rush-highwaycruise

This world gives us too much to love. It hands us thunderstorms on Friday mornings & photo shoots on Tuesday afternoons & couples waiting in line for coffee with their hands in each others’ pockets like promises to always be the thing they keep.

And I realize that I’m passionate because I’ve let this life kick me in the gut and knock me to the floor and tell me that tomorrow will never look as good as yesterday. I’ve spent nights with my phone in my hand and my life on the line and enough fear in my bones to text my roommate that maybe, maybe my heart was giving up. Maybe we ought to go to the hospital.

On the way home, I told her to find what mattered. I’m still waiting. She believes that life is a day-in, day-out grind session, without so much as a beat in her heart for passion. She believes in waking up and doing work and going to bed and starting all over again, without ever sparking her excitement for life.

She’s built a wall. Not a safe haven for self-worth, but a wall that says the future must always be practical & controlled.

This life is too good. This life is too good to walk sorry all the time. It’s too fresh & new & possible to seem unimaginable that someday, she could be somebody’s somebody. That she could have a life outside of the monotony. That work could be more than a job. That sweat could produce goodness, newness.

I want her to hum symphonies of happiness while she sits in rush hour traffic. I want her to love her job. I want her to believe in something so real & raw her heart hurts when she cannot help it be. God, that’s the only way to live. Isn’t that the only way to live?

A List of Things I Want For You

alistofthingsiwantforyou

01.

One day, she’ll call me from a street corner downtown. She’ll press her fingertips against that storefront glass and that white dress will reflect in her hazel eyes. And she’ll cry as she tells me because she, she is the kind of girl you love forever.

02.

One day, he’ll call me feet red and raw, ballet shoes folded in his bag. He’ll wipe the beads of sweat sticking to his forehead as he tells me that finally, finally it’s his time to shine.

03.

We’ll be sitting at the breakfast table on Christmas morning when she leans over, quietly whispering that she’s found a place to tuck herself in. That she’s already picked out paint chips for the wall colors and she’s having couches imported from North Carolina and “want to come see it? Want to come see it someday?” Yes, I’ll say yes.

04.

He’ll be standing on the sidelines, suit freshly pressed, headset over his ears. He’ll send me a text message because that’s his way. He’ll tell me that he has tickets to next week’s game, tickets at Will Call, and he wants me to come. I’ll come.

05.

I’ll sit in the stands while he beams up at us, beads in a row of necklace string crowds, all of us strangers together in this little ceremony of goodbye. We’ll whisk him off to college & hope people fall in love with his heart & his smile the way we do every time he pulls us close. We’ll pray he never forgets to end a call with “I love you.”

06.

She’ll call from the back office, trays of food shattering across the wood paneled floor in the background. She’ll pause only a second before she turns back to me, focused, heart set on leaving. “Leaving,” she’ll say. “I’m finally leaving.” She’ll tell me about the phone call, the role, the way they dreamed of only her sliding across the set and slipping on this story for size. And I’ll wish her luck. I’ll wish her home sometimes, but mostly, I’ll wish her luck.