trust & boxes within boxes

The lone bus jostles up and down erratically, and the tremors seem to rattle every bone in our bodies as we hurtle along the curvature of rural Scottish roads. Here, there is a stone bridge. There, a flock of sheep calmly grazing. We pass them by, not wholly neglectful as a collective but hurried, unchanging. One pothole proves to be particularly vengeful, causing all passengers to grasp for nearby means of support—an armrest, a pole, or, for one woman, her dog—and I feel transported, as in movies where the scene suddenly changes. I am once again on the Metra on a blustery Chicago day. Emma is talking to me excitedly about the links between music and neuroscience. She says we’ll travel Europe together one day and smiles.


I keep having dreams about everyone I’ve left behind.


Mary Magdalene clutches the feet of Christ, bathing them in tears. The adjacent museum chat label says she is “the very personification of sorrow and repentance.” I cannot look away from her face—her mouth is agape, and I wonder what she cries out for or if she can find no words.


On West Sands, yesterday, after the brutal wind and rain: a rainbow.


Something tugs me into the graveyard upon the hill. It is quiet and still, looking out over the sapphire coastline. “Thou art with me.” I read the headstones slowly as I pass. Some are too worn, ancient and eroded by the forces of wind and rain. Around a corner of the crumbling cathedral wall, I find the thing I was searching for without knowing it, the thing pulling me in somehow. Wilhelmina Barns Graham, Artist of St Andrews, 1912-2004. The scholarship that I received is in her name, honoring her legacy as a woman abstract artist. The tipping of the scales. The catalyst of my decision to come to Scotland after all. It can all be traced back to her. I get down on my knees in the grass and thank her for being a part of God’s goodness and pray for her soul and the lives impacted by her art, feeling a little silly but also overwhelmingly grateful.


“My dear God, how stupid we people are until You give us something. Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us. I would like to write a beautiful prayer but I have nothing to do it from. There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful prayer may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted. I am not a philosopher or I could understand these things. If I knew all of myself, dear God… what would I be then?” —Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal, 7


“The Flight of the Swallows” (1906) by John Henry Lorimer. Four girls in white gossamer gowns cluster near an opulent window. Long shadows fall upon the roof outside. The swallows are leaving, taking wing just beyond the pane, and the light is golden but soon to fade. Gilded mirrors refract the dying light, and one of the girls sits apart, her face in her hands, and cries. A French quotation inscribed on the bronze frame speaks of the loss of innocence.


Lord, my BRP isn’t here yet. I need the BRP to open a bank account. I need a bank account to receive my student loan surplus. I need the student loan surplus to pay my rent. I need the bank account to get a contactless debit card. I need the debit card to take the bus, purchase a new phone plan, and pay for my utilities. I need the big spiders gone in my apartment. I need the power to come back on because I need to use my fridge and washing machine. I need—

And God says, Do you think I do not already know what you need, dear one?

And are you so sure those are your true needs after all?


“My mind is in a little box, dear God, down inside other boxes inside other boxes and on and on. There is very little air in my box. Dear God, please give me as much air as it is not presumptuous to ask for. Please let some light shine out of all the things around me.” —Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal, 17


“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
 He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. Selah.” —Psalm 62:5-6,8 (ESV)

star shatter

welcomed, born without invitation

entering into inevitable dance,

stumbling, beckoned further than thought,

held, awakened to the sound

of a new tomorrow, trembling.

you said “fear not.”

you said “be still.”

and I recall something: a not yet.

so why all this star shatter,

why quake and thrill,

why the abysmal chatter?

why Hemingway and orchids,

bee buzz and dark matter?

motion and light quickening,

racing into piercing darkness

perhaps not dark at all

but merely such brightness

we are blinded and know no more.

attention, art, & love: quarantine thoughts

“The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.” —Marie Howe


“Daddy, she looks like a good person. Doesn’t she look like a good person?” The little boy chattering in the Target shopping cart, gripping a toy shaped like a beige egg, suddenly turns his clairvoyant eyes towards me. A good person. I smile broadly behind the gray confines of my mask and hope that a timid wave and a softening in my eyes can somehow be enough to convey a burst of joy. Soon, their cart rolls out of view, and I realize with a start that I will never know what was trapped within that egg, aching to emerge.


“Art. Love. What’s the difference, really?” My friend says with a shrug, and when he smiles his eyes crumple into celebratory lines, like confetti mid-descent.


A few nights back, I had a dream that I was running, breathless, from something or someone. The only shelter was the church ahead, but I was barefoot; I couldn’t enter without shoes. My friend appeared in an adjacent doorway and kindly gave me his sneakers without a second thought. I rushed inside, only to see a face turn away in hurt.


December 9th, 2019:

“I bumped into a friend today, dressed brightly and carrying an umbrella. I rushed over to huddle under too, and we laughed when it bopped my head. We spoke of those graduating in December and exchanged a mutual frazzled look. We both expressed how charmed we are to be waiting ’till May, delaying the inevitable, taking our time with growing old. We parted ways. The rain fell.

Now I am sitting at Blackberry Market, and, though it is echoey and empty and strange, it is altogether like a second home. I think the baristas know me (embarrassing or flattering?) and my signature mug by now. I’ve settled in, to this seat, yes, but also here at large. It is making sense to me now. I drove friends to the store yesterday and knew the twists and turns and street names—no GPS needed. More friends stayed in my apartment until 2:00 am because they couldn’t bear to leave; they told me it felt like home, and I could see in their eyes that they were hungry for belonging. We listened to my Frank Sinatra Christmas vinyl and jazz and then fell into comfortable, companionable silence. I went off to bed, and a few still lingered there. As I drifted off to sleep, I bemusedly thought about this feeling—like that of a parent with children sleeping over. I fell asleep to the lullaby of whispered conversation and spurts of contained laughter. Tenderness.”


Lady Bird: “Well, I was just describing it.”

Sister Sarah Joan: “Well, it comes across as love.”

Lady Bird: “Sure, I guess I pay attention.”

Sister Sarah Joan: “Don’t you think they’re the same thing? Love and attention?”


January 13th, 2020, four months ago, first day of final semester:

“I make small talk with the girl beside me at the CPO window. We shared a ride together once from Midway; her friend drove us and insisted on me not paying. I smile and turn to leave, and she shouts after me: ‘Take care!’ I didn’t expect it, but it rings in my ears as I step out into the grey afternoon.

I drive to Twice as Nice and find that the dress I’ve been pining over for weeks is gone. I buy a cozy grey sweater instead and pay in all quarters. The woman at the register excitedly exclaims that they are just what she needs. She is almost out of quarters, she says. And pennies.

We are always filling in the gaps, whether we know it or not. I am amazed today by how we are able to be so many things to so many people, shifting and morphing in and out—how God stitches us into the complexity of His story. We may never know when our presence, our words, or our actions turn out to be exactly what someone else needs.

Earlier, in chapel, Dr. Ryken said, ‘It is when we reach the end of our own limited resources that God is able to do all that He can do.'”


“We have so little of each other, now… Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy? These fleeting temples we make together when we say, ‘Here, have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead—you first,’ ‘I like your hat.'”—Danusha Lameris


Another dream: On a road trip, I suddenly realized my luggage had mysteriously vanished from the car. Then, I could see it, there, waiting for me along the sidewalk. We were in bumper-to-bumper traffic, so I jumped out of the vehicle and barreled after it. The black form kept getting further and further away, and I turned to see the car had left me behind.


JO: “Perhaps… perhaps I was too quick in turning him down.”

MARMEE: “Do you love him?”

JO: “If he asked me again, I think I would say yes… Do you think he’ll ask me again?”

MARMEE: “But do you love him?”

JO (tearing up): “I care more to be loved. I want to be loved.”

MARMEE: “That is not the same as loving.”

JO (crying, trying to explain herself to herself): “You know, I just feel like women… they have minds and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it, but… I am so lonely.”


“I know you are reading this poem / as the underground train loses momentum and before running / up the stairs / toward a new kind of love. / I know you are reading this poem listening for something torn / between bitterness and hope / turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse. / I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else / left to read.” —Adrienne Rich