you followed a path
until you came to a grassy junction
and you chose another path
but when you turned around
a little ways along
your path had disappeared
and you couldn't go back
"please! can someone help me?"
"I want to go back
and take the other path!"
you look back
and try to understand it
but everything feels foggy
and you sink down
in the middle of the path
you huddle, your head buried
in your arms
confused and grieving
"did I go wrong?
I thought it was a new path
oh, if only you could lift your head
and look up to see
Him looking down on you
everyone points fingers
and you criticize yourself
but He is up there saying
"I love you."
so look up!
I was going to do it. I was always going to do it.
Until I didn't.
When I finally got there, finally, finally got there, I reached for the wires like I had always planned to. Like we had always planned to. But something stopped me. It was miraculous that after all our careful surmising, plotting, planning, agonizing over details, and the action and tension of the actual day, I could just stand there.
But I did. And something stopped me from putting those two wires, two circuits together. Stopped me from preventing the deafening explosion that I knew would occur. The explosion that would blow up the whole plant, with the laboratory attached. I was on the 'good' side until I wasn't.....I simply stopped doing it, completing the final action that was the climax of all our effort. And I left.
Because in that one instant I had switched sides. And everything was wasted. All of our efforts. The bare, smoking landscape-- that was wasted too. But I had a new beginning.
I'm sorry. I regret that everything you did was only to see me desert you.
cultural journal #3: diamond in the rough
What is your sense of belonging in?
This is a sensitive subject. Sometimes we shrink from analyzing what we feel belonging in or what makes us 'special' because we don't feel like we have belonging....or like we identify ourselves like we should be. But for most of us, this sense of security is in our surroundings, not our inner security.
But, frankly, we really can't control our surroundings. We can only controll ourselves, and very often we don't do a good job of that! In a world where everything has brand labels or a number of likes or somebody's name etched into it, what do you cover yourself with?
You 'cover' yourself with what you love, what you hold precious. What you follow.
Do you put your identity in surroundings you can't make perfect? Are you a diamond in the rough that shines brighter in contrast to the smudged stone around it, or are you buried irretrevably deep in it?
Poor or rich, special or unrecognized, beautiful or ashamed, "perfect" or not, you don't have to put your identity in how other people see you and simply where you are.
Search. Put it in something higher.
This Is My Game
Nobody says it. Every new person I bump into in the chaotic, colorful atmospheres in which I circulate ignores it. Or avoids it.
But I can see it in their eyes anyway. The thought ricochets from one person’s amused eyes to the next. To me, it bounces off the walls and echoes a million times, silently. Perhaps it burrows deeper, I don’t know.
When I was little my mother used to take my face in her hands and say, “Whatever you may lack in height, ma p’tit, you make up for in spirit.” Even as a small child I had that fierce, competitive recklessness that I still possess today.
I always ensure that the second thing people notice about me--after my stature--is something quite different. That I am not somebody to be messed with.
Because I always win. Whatever I have to do, I do it. Gambling isn’t about taking only chances you know you can make. It’s about taking ALL the chances. And making them.
Tiny Maria de Vries can finally have control over something.
From the way I casually entered the Paresse de Luxe and paid the entrance fee (insisting that I was, in fact, old enough), no one would guess that I have never been there before.
Tonight is the night I up my game. I’m dressed accordingly--a little black dress and a shy, demure expression. It’s starkly opposite to the loud clothes and attitude of most of the inmates of this club, and in contrast to the noisy ease and brightly-coloured clothes I usually wear. In short, my appearance is misleading.
The interior is brightly, colorfully lit. Jazzy music is blared and the lounges scattered around are littered with cushions. The floor is dark gray tile and the round poker tables are surrounded by semi-circular booths which have smooth, fake leather seats.
I sauntered over to a table of six. I slid into a seat, eyes averted, but rather than overdo the part, after a minute I looked up and glanced around the table at my opponents.
Across from me were the only other two females at the table- two girls in tight blouses, with cigarettes balanced between garishly painted fingernails. Their thick eyeliner and short, sleek haircuts accentuated the differences between us.
The other occupants of the table included a middle-aged, large and rather seedy English gentleman with a tumbler of port, a gray-haired, lean Italian with a weary face and jaded eyes, and a young man to my left who couldn’t possibly be more than nineteen.
The round was dealt and the game began. While the young one may have silk neckties, he didn’t have the motivation I had at his age. He dropped out and ordered a drink.
A few minutes later I guessed that a high bid by one of the girls across from me was a rather weak attempt at a bluff and raised her. She glanced nervously over her cigarette at the others, but when they all folded she turned her sleek head and stared at me with her bold black eyes. She goes all in.
I laughed inwardly. She’s much larger than me and obviously thinks I’m not brave enough to challenge her. I delay for a minute, head down, toppling over my stack of chips and then rebuilding it. My frowning concentration must have fooled the table quite well, because the girl in the tight blouse across from me puffed from her cigarette and relaxed her elbows onto the table.
Finally I lifted my head up, and with a childish air of defiance slid my pile into the center. Glancing around the table I saw raised eyebrows, but the girl’s face fell.
Le grande flip—I smiled quietly and gathered the chips, moving on to the next table. My hand wasn’t great, but it beat my opponent’s pair of threes. I could feel her glaring insolently at my back.
I’m older than you, I thought.
The next game took longer, but I endured. And I got my reward—triumphantly I moved on to the next table and allowed myself to order my favorite drink, a pineapple juice. At this table there were higher stakes and more competitive players.
One of them I noticed in particular.
He sat across from me, and even if his pile of chips wasn’t quite as large as some of the others, he is no one to be messed with. In fact, I could see in his face that he plays like I do. All the chances. Accepting each new win, but barely glancing at it before moving on to the next. Greedy for opportunity.
I also had an uncanny suspicion that he saw right through my little act….and furtively studying him, I wondered if all that I can see of him is also only a mask….
He had a noticeable face and dark, tousled hair. He didn’t have the reckless all-or-nothing air that so many gamblers do, and he twirled a cigarette between his shapely fingers but never lighted it.
The game began. Carefully I examined my cards, but dread settled in the bottom of my stomach. Why did I have to have such terrible cards? On this round? For some reason this round felt significant. I raised my eyes from my hand and found him watching me from across the table.
My face is impenetrable, I told myself.
It was my turn. No need to look at my cards again, they were imprinted in my mind. Gosh, they’re terrible.
Did I dare? He’s the person I was worried about….for once in my life, I was scared to take a chance. I thought that if I tried to bluff my way through, he’d check it, and I didn’t want to lose everything! I remembered what it felt like to have no more chances. The grief of a gambler.
But I’ve never been good at quitting--I’m a fighter. So I hung in there, paying minimum, until finally it was down to me and him. He won, but I folded with enough to make the top two, and thankfully two people could move on.
I think he was surprised behind that mask of indifference. Why do I care about what he thinks? I shook my shoulders. If I wanted to win I needed to have no inhibitions, no restrictions….certainly no confining ‘charm’ cast on me. But the game was over, and I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. After all, I had another chance.
I pushed my empty glass away from me and stood up. It wasn’t over yet, no, not by a long shot.
Half an hour passed slowly. I had played no one at this table before, and there was a particularly vocal person this time, a youngish man sitting to my left with light, curly hair and a handsome, open face. Quietly I called bid after bid, and he muttered something quite audible and ordered another drink.
As the game progressed and the stakes rose, I began to sweat internally. The young man to my left might be rather intoxicated, but he knew his game, and seemed to have excellent cards. I got more and more nervous, breathing quickly and edgily tapping the seat with my fingertips. I was his biggest threat now.
“Look at her,” he jeered, the words rather slurred. “She looks like a li-ittle child. But she can play poker.” I didn’t respond. He took another sip of his beverage.
I raised his bid again. Quite annoyed but apparently undaunted, he raised mine. I raised it. More frustrated than thinking clearly, he went all-in.
I took a deep breath and did likewise.
This was it. If I won, I had another chance. If I lost, I was done for the night. We flipped.
I gasped audibly with relief. I had only just beaten him, a three-of-a-kind to a two-pair. But he was angry. Half drunk, he lunged for the pile of chips and was forcibly extricated from the table by two waiters. He left calling out jeering insults intermingled with curses.
I ignored him and placidly continued clearing the chips before moving on. But internally I was shaky--that had been way too close.
Only one more game to go before the head table. For me, the whole night felt as if it were leading up to that moment when I could finally be there. So I finished the game as if I had come to the club a million times and done this very thing-- I was getting so comfortable, so used to the atmosphere that I had almost forgotten that it was my first night here. Only my heart raced as I finally took my place at the head table.
But he was there too.
There was no one else at the table yet, all the others were either temporarily up at the bar or still playing other games. He looked up when I slid into my seat but then kept his eyes thoughtfully on the table. After a minute he took the now lighted cigarette out of his mouth and spoke.
“I know you cheat.” He spoke the four words quietly, as a statement. I squirmed inside but outside I was rigidly still.
“I know you do.” I didn’t speak defensively, but calmly as he had, as if we were exchanging a sort of mutual confidence. A silent moment passed, rich and yet strangely still with thoughts. He smoked, staring at a fixed point on the table as I drew idly on it with my finger.
He took the cigarette out of his mouth, an amused smile spreading across his face. “How do you live with it?”
After a moment I said slowly, “It’s all a game, isn’t it? Everyone can--influence--if they don’t get caught. So, it’s fair play.”
“Is that how you see everything?” he asked. “As a game?”
“No!” I said, almost sharply. “Just poker.” But even so I wondered--was it all a game to me? Would I take chances--not staking shiny plastic chips but lives? Fortunes?
Life is a scarier game. I can’t control my opportunities.
“Fair play,” I repeated slowly, “Within the game.”
“Then let’s see your game,” he said smoothly…., “Maria.”
I stared at him numbly. So he did remember. But there was no more time for words as the other players began to take their seats.
The cards were dealt. I looked at mine. They’re okay, not great. I could work with them, but I avoided looking across the table.
The game progressed……and by the turn card, I knew I was not okay. At all.
He had good cards. I knew it.
I started to panic. What if I was wrong? What if to me life wasn’t a game…….but the game was life?
I glanced up at the tiny chandelier above the table and watched the tiny flickers of flame waver and shimmer. The cards were lying there so perfectly under them, and a thin cord held the fragile structure up. A wild thought flashed through my mind. Would the sharp edge of an expertly flicked card be enough to bring it down? I remembered all the times my uncle had thrown cards and sliced through cucumbers as if they were made of butter…..Calculating, I weighed the card in my hand, curling my fingers around the edge and mentally flicking my wrist. I glanced around the table.
All the players but him were, miraculously, preoccupied.
Suddenly I knew I would do anything to avoid being hopeless. Chanceless. Useless. Small. The word echoed through my head, a whisper as thin and harsh as an icy, biting wind.
Fair play within the game. What counted as within the game? I looked across the table. He was watching me, that same hint of amusement in his eyes but something else too….something dangerous….
I lifted my arm and sharply flicked my wrist.
The crash and shatter of glass rang throughout the large room.
This is MY game.
a “knowledgeable” perspective
They were going to come for her any day now. She had spent too long guessing, presenting opinions as facts. She had spent too long sitting in the same pub window seat, day after day, and they were angry. They said she was blaspheming the government. They said she was lying. They said she had never said a true word in her life.
She entered into discourse frequently, her opinions taken without consulting sources. Her answers were not carefully curated scripts like those of the actually knowledgable professors she debated with, and most people would say she had no knowledge about the things she discussed.....or maybe she had all the knowledge.
She sat at that same table in the window of the Lamb & Flag. A group of students came in, coat collars unfurled about their mufflers in a vain attempt to keep out the same chilly Oxford air which now whispered its way through the pub before the door shut. She did not shiver but drew the long gray sweater more tightly about her body.
A student glanced her way and frowned. She kept her face expressionless, staring at the mug of coffee on the table before her. ".....idle words," she heard him mutter to his friend. "Words but never action."
Suddenly she felt like getting out of there. She was disgusted with them, all of them. Everyone who blackened her name when she turned her back. So what if they had a bad opinion of her, thought she was all words and no action. It was about time she moved out of there anyways.
She got up and made for the door, deserting the half of a cup of coffee left steaming in her mug. Already stone cold, it was all that the police found two minutes later.
The above quotation relates to my experiences in real life because I have discovered how influential and powerful loving one another is. This is a 'new command' not only for people in the first century but also for us today, because whatever people say, loving each other over ourselves doesn't often come naturally. That's why it is life-changing.
We all love ourselves. No matter how much we self-deprecate, we value ourselves and our talents, our wants, and our potential. We live in our own self-interest and we really don't like to step out of what benefits us to benefit others, and if someone hits you, you hit them back. We all like our 'eggs' ME-side-up.
So why would someone do something that hurts them to help someone else? Having this kind of love is confusing to some people. They can't understand why anyone would step out of their way and do something for someone else. There are plenty of reasons that might be less obvious-- seemingly showing love for someone but just doing it to get the praise or admiration of others. Visiting a refugee camp and posting pics on your Instagram! But why would somebody show love to another person when it doesn't seem to benefit them? What's the point?
Self-sacrificial love instead of self-interest is life-changing because it is powerful. The kind of love that never hits back, that pushes itself down, that steps out of itself for someone else. This is a new command that is opposite to the one already wired into our systems, and so the person who can follow it needs greater strength to use it. I challenge you to do something for another person-- something that says "you-side-up".
name for a rose
A line of people, in chains that have bound them their entire lives. They face a stone wall and a fire somewhere behind them casts shadows on the wall. They name those shadows. That one wall and the flickering shadows, themselves facing it, is their whole world.
If they could break their chains, they could turn around, to face reality. They can't describe the world behind them because in their minds there is no term that could be applied to it. Like them, we have chains enclosing us and a limited vocabulary. Just think--if we had only lived in a cold world, we would have no concept of warmth. We wouldn't know of it!
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" --Shakespeare
Things exist seperately from our conceptions of them. If we had no words, everything would exist just the same. And our words can't exhaust the universe--they never could.
"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."--Einstein
If we didn't have words, if we didn't have names for things, what would we think about them? What connections would we make?
The people in the cave know that they are bound in chains. Part of living in this world is realizing we can't understand everything. We're such small creatures in such a universe--galaxies IMMENSE more than we could ever realize! Even if we do know that the sun is at the center of our solar system, we didn't always.
Which brings up questions......how are we such complex organisms? How do we even have a name for the galaxies that stretch seemingly endlessly into space? How do we even have the concept of a god?
What can we learn about what we don't know from what we do?
the other end of the rope
"Hi, Lily. What's up?" He slid from underneath the car he was working on, partially streaked with grime. We had one of our usual talks-- I sat perched on the steps and he worked, his arms lifted to screw around doing who knows what under there.
I was done burying everything away and telling me self it was probably fine, and so I ripped right into the thick of things and explained what was on my mind, swinging one cloth-shoed foot around in circles. He kept his gaze on the bottom of the car. After a few minutes I finished. I'm one of those people who work through things by talking about them, and I felt so relieved to have told him. Now I just wanted his opinion.
"You know, Lil," he said, "This group--I think there are other people that are more your type. Mia and those girls-- they are a lot less interested in doing things that are worthwhile and developing real friendships and opinions, and a lot more keen to just blow the time away partying. And then--" he grunted as he twisted something underneath the car--"if someone doesn't work out like she wants, she just drops whoever it is and moves on to the next. I don't know if you are going to like that, but there it is."
I thanked Gray absently and walked through the neighborhood home. With his shared understanding into how fickle or trivial Mia's friendship might really be, I had been enlightened into my own character. It had been bothering me subtly for weeks-- I didn't want what they wanted, what they had to offer.
Gray was right. I was standing on the complete other end of the rope, but until I had understood her I hadn't even realized!
cultural journal #2: wonder
Ladies in colorful gowns twirl and step under glistening chandeliers. A scribe copies hieroglyphics in the cool shade of a stone pillar. A knight takes a deep breath as his page secures his helmet. A captain lifts his instruments to the skies and reads where he's going from the stars.
We read about these things and hear tell of them in history classes, but it's hard for us to realize that they actually happened. That's why when we step into a building that is centuries old we feel a sense of wonder......an amazing realization that thousands of other hearts beated and thousands of other voices laughed and chattered and wailed.
In Europe, there are beautiful, preserved relics and monuments left from past generations. I love walking into an old church (especially when there is hardly anyone there) and just feeling the silence. I love to sit in a cloister and look at the organ in the gallery I can't reach and wish I could touch its ancient keys. I love to watch the light seep through the beautiful stained glass windows. I love to read the signs that unobtrusively tell me that the church, used for various purposes, has been there since 1400. I love the way my problems soak into obscurity.
It's because of the sense of wonder. I once heard wonder defined as, "...a feeling of awe at being in the presence of something bigger than yourself." I feel wonder when I realize that I am such a small part of the universe. It's not an uncomfortable feeling of being cramped, it actually makes me feel more free. It's not all about me, after all.
Seek moments to be quiet and feel wonder.
Sunlight streamed through the rectangular window above the door, revealing the dust in the air and the faded colors of the Turkish carpet. The stairs looked creaky and the walls were a little dulled, stained by who knows what. But what really caught Rita’s breath was the destruction.
Furniture was smashed and part of the stair railing was sunk in, splintered. Cloth hangings were slashed and bits of paintings ripped out of their frames were lying scattered about. What had they done to her home? And what had they done to her parents?
To be sure, they were looking for it. For what she had come for.
She stood up and looked back at the door. No wonder her key wouldn’t fit– there was a new door! They must have completely smashed the old one. You never knew you could miss an old door until you lost it. Rita turned back around and slowly walked up the old stairs, past smashed portraits to the second floor.
In her parents’ former bedroom, Rita let the cloak fall away from her face and approached the dresser slowly. In a curiously untouched glass frame was a portrait of her father. Next to that was a little colored glass dish and the little maroon jewel case that had held her mothers’ pearl necklace. Rita tremblingly opened the case– it was still there! They must have been in such a hurry that they had no time to plunder thoroughly. The milky lustrous pearls dangled from her fingers. She stood looking at it for a moment and then quickly slipped it into the little maroon case and that into her cloak pocket. She also took the little colored glass dish, a gift from her grandmother. On second thought, they could swing against something and get broken…..She slid them into the satchel strung over her chest under the cloak.
Rita closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly, surely, she took the wooden mirror off the wall, revealing a small metal panel with a keyhole. Out of her pocket came another key, this one smaller than the one for the front door. She turned it, heard a click, and the panel swung open.
Rita grasped the golden hilt of the sword and drew it out of the compartment and out of its scabbard. She drew in a breath sharply in awe, turning it this way and that as it glinted in the dim light. It still held the same fairytale charm it had held when she was a child and her father had first shown it to her…..he had told her how it had been awarded to her great-grandfather by the Emperor for his brave and daring service in the marine corps…..
She didn’t want to think about her father! She rested her cheek against the blade. All her emotions were tangled in a tight knot, and she didn't know how to untie them. Maybe she didn't even want to.
Suddenly-- shouts in the street below! Crashes! Instantly back in survival mode, and too scared to do anything but act fast, Rita slid the sword skillfully back into the leather scabbard and into her belt. As she looked frantically around for a way to escape, she heard the door downstairs being broken down and someone rushing into the house.
The window! But…. Rita stopped short and snatched her father’s photo from its frame, slicing her fingers on the glass, and ran for the window, to do what she knew not.