Monday, September 12, 2016

Homecoming and Hopecoming



I was sitting at Jovie's preschool orientation last week and I wanted to disappear. I wanted my face to not by my face. To somehow melt off into some nondescript other. Someone else. I wanted to take up as little space as possible.


Last year at preschool orientation I was friendly. I was open to conversation. I waved to parents I knew and sort of knew. I smiled widely and often. Confidence bred from familiarity and comfort. 


It is unnerving being in a new place. Even if it's a place I'm kind of familiar with. A new old place.


Peanut Butter, our cat, sequestered herself in her cat carrier in the laundry room, which reeks of other animal smells. I poked my head in periodically and invited her into the rest of the house and she just stared. "I'm good here."


And I got it. Being in a new place (or a new old place) can make you want to crawl into the smallest space with the most familiar smells and wait out the apocalypse. 


During our first few days in Virginia leaving the house to run to the store or visit the school felt like gargantuan, exhausting tasks. Nothing was rote anymore. Nothing looked familiar. Even those universal places like Target weren't quite right. Bizarro world places where things aren't where you expect them to be. 


But we're creating new pathways trip by trip. 


The walk to school is marked by two hills and the house with the wind chimes in the tree and the house with the lambs ear plants near the sidewalk that the girls must pet each time we go by. There's the man with the cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hat. The gorgeous, impossibly tan and fit gym teach greeting the kids with perfectly curled hair. 


The dark-haired children hopping off the bus in their jewel-colored dresses from where? India? Pakistan? They're much farther from home than me.


The route to preschool takes me through a neighborhood that looks so much like the one I grew up in I half expect to see younger versions of my sister and I on our bikes racing to the pool. 


It's such strange de ja vu returning as an adult to place you grew up. Or, at least a least a place near where you grew up. How could I have forgotten about the crunchy black crickets jumping around the crabgrass and in the kitchen? Or, Anita's? Where you can get the most delicious breakfast burritos ever. The crab grass here sends up long, skinny fronds I remember tickling my legs during gym class. The dark brown hinges on the doors to Lily's elementary school are identical to the one's at my elementary school -- I was always afraid they'd pinch me.


Life feels foggy right now. 


Last Sunday, after moving all day Saturday, I returned to York to pick up the fish. It's just this little 10 gallon aquarium, but the logistics involved with moving it were almost as hive-inducing as fitting the entirety of our lives into the back of a U-Haul.


You have to catch the fish and put them into a portable container, reserve as much of their water as you can so you don't shock them in their new setup, keep the filter wet, empty the rest of the aquarium water, transport all that into the car and reset everything back up in our new house in a two-hour window (what happens to the fish after two hours? No idea? Implosion maybe?). Refilling the tank in Virginia stirred up all sorts of debris and waste from the bottom of the tank. The fish looked like they were swimming in a snow globe. Well ... a fish poo snow globe anyway. 


And that's kind of how it's felt around here a little bit. I mean, not that I'm swimming through actual fish poo -- but moving has stirred up all kinds of physical and mental debris and trying to wade through it is trying and tiring. The stuff in the tank settled back into the gravel -- and the water is clear again. And I know that will happen here, eventually. 


In the meantime, I feel a bit stunned wandering around here. Disoriented -- like I've just left a dark building into the blinding noon sun. I can't see quite right and my brain and body are slower, like they're swimming through syrup. The sounds inside the house and outside the house -- all the chirps and motors and dins and buzzes and beeps and hums -- they're all different. 


And I've lived here before. I mean, I lived near here. It was more than a decade ago, but still.


Driving back from visiting my sisters the other day (returning to Virginia means returning to all my sisters. And my little brother. Not without its perks.) I was thinking about moving. How I had hadn't anticipated this feeling of otherness in a place I used to know so well. Had it really changed all that much? Or had I? As with most things in life, it's probably both things.


I admit I'm a huge wimp when it comes to major life changes. I mean, I'll do the thing, but not with a lot of hemming, hawing, whining, crying, foot dragging, etc. (This is obviously not news to anyone who's been reading this blog recently). And this is returning to a place that, eight years ago, I was actively trying to return to!


I know. I know. Ridiculous.


How do people survive bigger moves? Moves to totally new places? 


Last week on the preschool playground, I was chatting with Elizabeth, who moved here six or seven years ago from Puerto Rico. She spoke English well, but she said it can still be tiring, constantly having to translate and assimilate while simultaneously pining for the life she had -- hoping to share part of her heritage with her son. 


What drives someone to not only leave their town or their state, but also leave their whole country behind? Arrive in a place where it's not just a matter of figuring out the layout at a new grocery store, but navigating entire cultures and new languages. 


Chasing new opportunities? Escaping unbearable situations? Something in between?


It strikes me as a really brave thing to do.  


What does that say about our country -- this melting pot -- that so many people willingly give up what's familiar for something so foreign?


I often get too focused on what's wrong about this place. Because, let's face it, as a country, we're kind of a mess right now. We're fearful of our neighbors, while feeling desperate for community. We've replaced dialogues with self-righteous monologues. We're so focused on black versus white that we no longer see gray.


We make the average eighth-grade boy look like reasonable, sane person.


Yet, despite all the flaws, people from all over the world still want to come here. To build a life among this lunacy.


And my best guess for the question of why is simple. 


Hope.


Our raging, rageful adolescent hormones notwithstanding, we still offer hope. 


And that's enough for them to swim through their own metaphorical snow globes of fish poo. 


Coming here is still a worthwhile endeavor.


I realize I'm a long way from where I started. Back when I was trying to disappear among the parents at preschool or bunker down in a cat carrier in our smelly laundry room. 


That's usually what happens when I get to thinking about things. The road from Point A to Point B is filled with detours through poo-filled aquariums and bypasses near my sister's house and U-turns around the state of the country.


Here's how you survive a move. You do the heavy lifting. You allow the dust to settle. You You leave the house and you hope that the next time you return, it becomes home.


And you know eventually it will.


Because that's the great thing about moving here. 


Hope. 


It's part of our identity as a country. And so it's part of mine. 


The Virginian turned Pennsylvanian turned Virginian again.


Ever the hopeful American.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Goodbye York

Photo courtesy of Lauren Siegert/Flickr
In the great big state, there was a lovely old town
With a statue of a strongman, spinning around.

And a beautiful park with giant stuffed bears
And a carousel at the crowded York Fair.



And parades of full of green things
And shiny, candy-coated cars.



And a Christmas forest to amble through
Where lights twinkle like stars.

And a market house, near a smelly soap shop,
Where you’ll always find lots of bubbles to pop.



And a cozy house with a purple door,
Near friendly neighbors
And squirrels in costumes galore.



And a farm full of silly critters
And a school full of friends.
 And a library full of stories.
We wished would never end.

Goodbye town.
Goodbye strongman, spinning around.
Goodbye stuffed bears.
And goodbye York Fair.



Goodbye parades. Goodbye cars.
Goodbye to the Christmas lights twinkling like stars.

Goodbye market house and the smelly soap shop.
Goodbye all the bubbles, we love to pop.



Goodbye cozy house and goodbye purple door.
Goodbye friendly neighbors
goodbye costumed squirrels.



Goodbye farm.
Goodbye friends.

A new story begins, where another ends.




Monday, August 29, 2016

Dispatches from the piles of boxes


"You two are too big for York," a friend told me at our big last-night-out in York earlier this week. 

He was being earnest and kind. But I politely disagreed.


Twelve years ago I might have agreed. At 23, I thought I was too big for York. I thought I'd only stay here long enough to get a line on my resume before moving on to bigger, better prospects. Places where people didn't spend June nights watching cars from a lawn chair pulled up by the side of a highway. Places where people didn't obsess over deep fried dough as dense as bricks or the opportunity to get free anything and everything.


But a funny thing happened on my way to the rest of my life.


I found it right here. In the town I was too big for.


That's the thing about humility – it pounces on you in the best ways. Chances are the second you think you're too big for something, it's exactly the place you need to grow into. 


I've spent 12 years growing into York. It's this cozy, still too big sweatshirt I wear with pride.


There's a long list of firsts here. I moved to York for my first job. Met and married my husband here. Bought my first house here. Got a dog. Had my first little baby and brought her home to my beloved cozy, brick rambler. Had my second little baby and brought her home to my beloved, cozy brick rambler. Sent both of those babies off to their first days of preschool and kindergarten. Acquired a few cats and several fish. Learned how to pick a stall and console a sad pig. Finished my first novel.  


I grew up in Virginia, learning the tools I needed to function as a person in this world. But it was in Pennsylvania I came into myself. Figured out the type of person I wanted to be in this world. 


So when someone asks me how I'm feeling about this move, it's against this backdrop that I respond.


"It's bittersweet."


Bitter because I love this house and this neighborhood and my neighbors. I love my friends here. I love browsing the boutiques downtown and wandering through the wooded paths of all the parks. I love catching up with my favorite checkout lady at the grocery store and running into people I've worked with or played soccer with or sent my kids to tumbling class with. I love how important family (and family recipes) is to the people of York. I love how much they value community. I love the sense of pride and ownership of this place. 


And after this weekend when I had the chance to share another story at YorkFest and then sit among a group of amazing writer/poets who are molding this place into a better place with the power of their words ... yes, a little bitter that I hadn't come across them sooner. Sooner than the week before I'm moving, anyway.


Last week when Brad got home from Virginia, he insisted I go to yoga. So I did. And, appropriately, the class was centered around transitions. Focusing on the transition from one position to the next. The transition from one place to the next place. 


It was there I came around to the idea of moving. Finally. After knowing it would probably be in my future for the past three months. I had this thought somewhere between an up dog and a down dog that I am where I need to be. And that at any given point in time, I am where I need to be. Therefore, whether I'm in York or in Herndon, I am ... wait for it ... where I need to be.


That managed to relieve a lot of the anxiety. Though not necessarily save my from random, sometimes unfortunately timed bouts of ugly crying.


Random, like, I'm in the parking lot at the east-side Target and ugly crying because ... why? It's probably the last time I"ll shop at the east-side Target? Who knows.


And unfortunate, like, when I'm supposed to share an essay in front of a group of strangers and can't keep it together and require the heckling of various friends in the audience to pull myself together.


Clearly, I've been focusing on the bitter side, too much. Moving day will be here soon, so it's time to shift focus. Finally.


The sweet? Well, my family. As in three sisters and a brother and copious nieces and nephews who will all live within an hour or so of me. And old friends who live there. And maybe new friends. And proximity to the Smithsonian and all the museums I visited as a kid. 


And the chance to share all the lessons I've learned here about family and community and the power of art -- the chance to share York -- with my new neighbors.


I hope I never grow too big for any place I live. I think that might be a sign my heart has become too small. My ego has grown too large. 


See, because no matter where we live -- smallish city in Pennsylvania or largish suburbs of Washington, D.C. -- we're all just people trying to become. 


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Middle-of-the-Night Thoughts

Photo courtesy of William Warby/Flickr

It's 2 o'clock in the morning.

I'm lying in bed and my brain is muttering about all the things I need to do.


  • Contact Lily's school about withdrawing.
  • Contact Lily's new school about registering.
  • Find a preschool for Jovie.
  • Find a doctor's office for everyone.
  • What about Lily's dance class?
  • Get the permit for the garage sale this weekend. 
  • What if they hate it? 
  • What if we move and then get evicted and are homeless?
  • What if life doesn't work out as planned?
  • Wait, what was the plan again? 

The list grows like Jack's beanstalk as does my anxiety. I can feel the hairs on my head turning white. My stomach cramping. How will all of this get done in two weeks*?

I'm so tired. I need sleep. Sleep will make this better. Sleep will make this more manageable.


Go to sleep. Go to sleep.


I can't go to sleep. Did you see the list? All the things. I feel my brain whirring like the computer does when it's trying to cool down. 


I grab at calming thoughts. Soothing, sleepy, chamomile thoughts. 


Deep breathing isn't working. The sheep aren't working.


I land on that Syrian boy. The one from Aleppo who's Internet famous this week because his house was bombed by his own government. Not the one whose body washed up on a beach last summer. The boy who lived. Omran Daqneesh. The dusty, bloodied 5 year old with the dazed stare and the bare feet and short legs. 


His mother probably isn't worried about kindergarten registration at this moment. The media just reported his 10-year-old brother, Ali, has died. Killed as a result of the same bombardment that put that otherworldly gaze on his brother's face. 


No. No need to worry about school registration. Are there any schools left in Aleppo? Or, doctor's offices? I hear they've all been forced underground, hiding out from attacks, as they frantically attempt to patch people back together. 


A bomb just evicted Omran's mother and her children. My vague, pointless fears are already her reality. 


What a luxury for me to entertain the worst in the middle of the night. On my bed, in my room, in my still-standing house.


"It's all relative." 


I always tell my friends this when we're swapping stories about the stress of the day. This one's baby is still not sleeping through the night and she feels like a zombie and it's awful. And another is struggling with health issues she's still not received any clear answers on and it makes her feel (at times) like an enraged zombie (if such a thing were possible) and it's awful. And I'm here in the middle of my house, which in the span of just four days has become a place of empty shelves and stacks of boxes with that never-ending list. And it's awful, too. 


We are all struggling.


"Life is hard sometimes, isn't it Mom?" Lily consoles me after my nth outburst of the day.


She doesn't even know. 


And I don't even know. Not really. Omran tells me otherwise.

The boy who will forever be remembered for this tragedy than celebrated for his contributions. His childhood and self-actualization annihilated. 


Comparing one's misery is a dangerous game. It can easily lead us down this path of dissatisfaction and resentment. 


"It's all relative," I tell my friends to avoid the comparisons. The one upping. Life is hard at times in a general sense. And our own erratic, fidgety neurosis makes it harder for us, as individuals, to get a grip on it. 


The airing of grievances is important, I think, to make us feel less lonely, which is why I will listen to all grievances any time of day or night. 


Even at 12:30 a.m. when Jovie's bed is too lumpy and bumpy to sleep on.


We all just want to be heard.


But the celebrating of grievances is fatal to our growth. And I have to remind myself of that all the time and this week especially when I feel like the weight I'm carrying is much larger than my mind and my body can manage. I'm burnt out and anxious, sure. But, I'm OK. I'm alive. And I have a roof over my head (and almost another roof over my head). And my kids are healthy enough to drive me bananas, which is to say, extremely healthy. My husband is so kind to me. And he has a good job. And I have various good jobs. The dog isn't barking. The cat hasn't thrown up on the kitchen table ... yet.


It's after 2 o'clock in the morning. I'm lying in bed and balling up all the thoughts -- all that energy my brain has been generating. I strain out the anxiety and transform it into love and send it across Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and across the Atlantic and through Spain and Greece and Across the Mediterranean to Syria where I'm hoping it wraps around Omran as a blanket. 


I'm still awake. But it feels more purposeful.


I wonder if Omran's mother thinks it's relative, too. But on this one, I'd say, with tears in my eyes, she wins. 


* Yeah. Two weeks. Remember the last post where I was bemoaning uncertainty? Well now there's a bit more certainty. We found a house in Virginia and are signing a lease. And because of the start date for schools down there and prior obligations to life up here, we are scrambling to move by Labor Day. Why the hell am I blogging right now when I should be doing all the things? Because pausing is important. It's the only place we get to find each other. And sharing the love is way more important than all the things anyway.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Dispatches From a Mental Vestibule

Photo courtesy of Paul Chiorean/Flickr
Confession: I haven't been writing a whole lot of fiction lately. Or really any fiction – except for maybe the lies I tell myself about how any day now I'll get back into querying agents for that novel. Or how I'll really buckle down on editing the manuscript for a children's picture book I wrote back in January. Or how I'll open up a new Word Doc and start writing anything for this other story idea I have, which was inspired by roadkill.

Inspired By Roadkill should be the name of a band, by the way.


My writing life feels as if it's in limbo. 


So when it got to be July and the deadline for the YorkFest literary competition I'd entered the past couple years was nearing, I didn't really feel like I had anything worth entering. 


But I'd really enjoyed the experience of mingling with artists and writer sorts and kinda sorta feeling a part of the community. OK, and it's kind of nice having someone affirm your work in a public way. And it's just plain fun to read your work in front of an audience. And it motivates me to write more (I know, I know, it's kind of pathetic and unnecessary).


And this year I felt like I really needed to send something in. 


Because it's probably the last year I'll enter something.


Because at some point in the near future my family's moving.


I don't even really want to discuss leaving York. In fact, reading that last sentence is making me tear up. (And this for a place I moved to at 23 and swore up and down I'd never stay in for more than a couple years.)


Let's not just talk about the leaving thing for the time being shall we?


So the deadline for this contest is nearing and I don't have anything to enter, but I'd really like to enter something so on a whim I grabbed a post I was kind of proud of from this very blog and sent in on in. 


Then I waited. I waited until around when I'd heard back from the YorkFest folks in years past. And nothing. And I waited for a couple weeks after that. And nothing.


Then I decided to be disappointed. I wasn't crushed, just bummed. I thought sharing one last story in York might be a nice way to say goodbye. Even though we don't really know when goodbye would be.


I guess my writing life isn't the only thing that's in limbo right now. 


So here's the story behind that. Back in May, Brad accepted a job with Gannett, which is headquartered in McLean, Va. Two hours away.


Despite the fact that I grew up in Northern Virginia and still have family down there (I know all about NOVA's giant malls and horrific traffic and obscene real estate prices), I've been tentative about returning. Why? Did you read the stuff in parentheses? You can't just skip the stuff in parentheses!


We've kind of created this Band-Aid solution for the new job which involves a lot of extra driving for Brad and a lot of extra parenting for me. It's not ideal and we recently decided we needed to stop trying to keep our feet in two different states. It's time to move on.


So we're looking for a place to rent. With our two kids, two cats, one barky dog and five and counting fish (they keep reproducing). You can imagine how easy hunting for a rental has been.


It's felt as if we've been living this kind of suspended life for the past three months and even though we finally made the decision to move, everything still feels so murky. I can't see what life looks like next month or the one after. 


Where will we be? What will it look like? Where will the girls go to school? Will I make friends? Will the commute murder Brad's will to live? Will we feel as if we'd made the right decision?


This murkiness has kind of taken over. I don't feel as if I can settle into my current life, because that door is closing. And the next door hasn't really opened yet. I'm just skulking in this mental vestibule. 


I don't really feel like being social because, what's the point? Anyway, who has the time?


Lately it feels as if I'm squeezing the life out of every millisecond of the day – what with the parenting and the working and running around to return overdue library books and make sure the doctor's office has filled out the right paperwork for kindergarten registration and the calling of handymen to fix that window in the bathroom and searching Zillow every five minutes for an updated list of rental homes and the packing. All the packing. 


The packing and the sorting and the throwing away. 


How strange it is to be stuck in a mental vestibule sorting through the ephemera of your past to get ready for the uncertainty of your future. 


It feels like some sort of joke. 


Here's the person you were – as written in the boxes of journals and pictured in self portraits dating back to 9th grade. All those youth soccer patches I'd collected, the beads for all the beading I am probably never going to do, the cassette tapes of all the Lilith Faire-headlining singer-songwriters I will never listen to again, the M&M wrappers I'd saved with the intention of making some delightfully tacky craft item of some sort, and the college notebooks I'd saved in case I ever wanted to brush up on the politics of the Middle East or the long literary tradition of Arthurian Legends. 


And then here's the person you are, all slouchy, grumpy and defeated, debating whether I should keep the patches, deciding to throw away the M&M wrappers and notebooks. Because you can't take it with you. Especially if you don't know where you're going.


As for the person you will be – who knows? But right now, in this pile of sentimental misery, you're not even sure you want to know her.


But here's the other weird thing about being stuck in a mental vestibule. Life goes on. 


Even as you're sifting through the past to prepare for the unknown your family still gathers for a wedding where your 4 year old dances her (excuse the expression) ass off. Your nephew with all the swagger in the universe turns 7. The sunflower you planted in April finally blooms. 


The little baby you brought home to this very house gets ready to start kindergarten.


As it turns out life is a time capsule and a freight train and a vestibule all at once. 


Sometimes immobile but always evolving. The change you're chasing is already happening.


As my sister Laura wrote me so eloquently last week, "God has intentions and they are good. I believe that he knows exactly how to piece a puzzle for a perfect picture...even if we are a nebulous, tiny, inner piece."

Oh, on Wednesday I got an email. That piece I'd submitted back in July won first place for nonfiction prose. 


I'm glad one of my nebulous tiny pieces involves the chance to share one more story with a city I've come to love and call home. 


If you're around at 7 p.m. Aug. 26, stop by the Agricultural and Industries Museum in York to check out some fantastic art and listen to great storytellers.


Monday, July 25, 2016

In search of beauty



A couple of weeks ago the tenor in the household was ... shrill.

It was around 5 o'clock (always a challenging time of day). The girls were exhausted, but paradoxically, were racing around the house screaming at high pitches, bumping into things, crying about bumping into things, recovering, and then screaming, running, bumping and crying some more.  But then we were gifted with this tropical shower -- you know when it's sunny and the rain comes down in millions of fat drops and it seems as if diamonds are pouring from the sky. 

"Put on your shoes, girls! We're going for a walk!"

They protested because it was rainy. And because it was hot. And because it would be so boring. And the walk would take forever.

I ignored it all.

We trekked outside as the rain ebbed, I scanned the sky for magic. 

"Girls! Look! A rainbow!"

Their whines and groans transformed into oohs and ahhs. They jumped in puddles and came home better versions of themselves. We all did.

Being outside, being in the natural world (even if it's just the natural world creeping up between all the little brick ramblers and cape cods in our little neighborhood next to the interstate) – being here is transformative. 

I've been thinking about that this week – nature's ability to calm and soothe us. To minimize massive worries. To give us the chance to marvel and wonder from a very deep, primitive place.

Then, of course, we are part of nature. All things that are not human-made, are right? As much as we'd like to believe we owe our existence to ourselves, it's just not the case. We are borne from the same place as trees and butterflies and rainbows, even.

Returning to nature is going home. 

I've been ruminating on the nature of beauty, too. And the beauty of nature. How nature is always beckoning us to look closer, enticing us with these little jeweled gifts. The obvious ones like the perfect, endless symmetry of cornflowers and the ethereal grace of a swallowtail. But in less obvious places, too. The dried husk of an allium flower. The iridescent wings of a crow. or the intricate lace of the earth frozen solid.


We are desperate for this beauty, I think. 

On the ledge of the kitchen sink I keep a collection of small things I've found outside. Little pine cones, a starfish and bouquets of chicken feathers the girls and I gather at the barn. Our black-eyed susan's and coneflowers are in bloom right now and last week the girls handed me a bundles of them (roots and all), which I trimmed down and stuck in a miniature vase my mom gave me for such occasions. 

The trouble is, this new cat we have has a thing for flowers, well, and feathers for that matter. He's knocked over my bouquet at least five times. And each time I stubbornly refuse to give up on my flowers. This is their time to bloom and I want it to last as long as it can. 

"God damn cat!" I yelled at Pretzel last week as he knocked over the flowers yet again, breaking this beautiful soap dish my parents gave me yet again (thank god for Gorilla glue).

"He's not a damn cat!" Lily admonished me. 

She's right. He's just a cat being a cat. Just like me, seduced by green things. 

I told her I shouldn't have said what I said. And that damn (though used in context!) was not a particularly nice word. And that roping God into it wasn't especially kind either.

Nature and beauty are only good for us when we don't covet it. It's for all of us. Even Pretzel the cat.

I think this is why I seek out the farm. Why I never dread waking up on frigid winter mornings or hazy, humid summer mornings to pick stalls and wrangle fussy pigs. There, nature explodes. It's bunnies hopping across the lane and red-winged black birds whistling in the rain garden and barn swallows swooping around the rafters and geese splash landing in the pond. It's all varieties of fauna sprouting from the refuse of the barn. It's the smell of hay and even the smell of manure and the mumbling of chickens punctuated by the melodies of songbirds. It's all the little surprises -- tiny mushrooms sprouting outside Pete's stall and a toad holed up in the pile of sawdust. 



There's such wealth here. And it's shared wealth, you know? There's enough for all of us to partake and to celebrate.

Sometimes I feel as if humans are much too proud of how separated we are from nature. You know first we harnessed fire, then we figured out the wheel and then there was electricity down the road from that. Our frontal lobes forever solving problems that further separate us from ourselves and from the world around us.

I'm not ungrateful for all the things that have allowed us to live these comfortable lives. This week I'm especially grateful for things like central air conditioning, for Nick Jr., which allowed me to sleep in a little this morning and for the internet, even, which allows me to share my ideas and soak in the beautiful ideas of others with ease. 

It's when we allow our ability to create all these amazing machines to justify our dominion and superiority over nature and each other, that I feel wary. I'd much rather be a steward to this place, you know? 

Yesterday, I drove up to State College for a lovely day with friends. Route 322 west of Harrisburg takes you between these tall ridges near the Susquehanna and Juanita rivers. It's a beautiful drive, and one that makes you feel a little slight. I started thinking about how small I felt, and then I thought about how on the scale of Pennsylvania, a little two-hour road trip through some tired old mountains wasn't all that significant. And that on the scale of the U.S. stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic with much larger mountains in between, it was even less significant. And that on the scale of the Earth ranging from Everest to the Marianas Trench, well, I was kind of like an ant trying to scale a modest-sized rock. Here I was, this little speck swallowed by this massive planet.

Before I started mentally spinning out into the cosmos, I grounded myself. "You are part of all of this," I told myself. Because we are. And we all serve and Earthly purpose. And also, I think, a universal purpose. 

We are both significant and insignificant at once. Both the ant and the colossus at any given moment.

My Dad and I were emailing back and forth a bit about our mutual fascination with the universe. Dad's a kinda retired aerospace engineer who enjoys reading up on particle physics, dark matter and quantum mechanics in his spare times. So his understanding of the universe is a bit more expansive than my own. I love his explanation for why he is so passionate about the topic:
"My interest in the universe is that I think understanding it allows us to understand more of the creator. The amazing attention to the tiniest detail when working in such large dimensions is far beyond our capacity so I think that the more we slowly learn about it we come closer to looking into the eye of the Lord. (Compare the elaborate detail of the DNA structure in cells to the massive planets that orbit the sun - the large and small are finished to elaborate detail and perfection in order to work as they do)."
I heard something recently about how beauty is a core moral value in Islam. ... OK, OK, yes, it was something else from "On Being." (Yes, I'm obsessed.) In an interview shortly after 9/11, Muslim jurist and author Khaled Abou El Fadl shared his thoughts:
"Beauty is to fall in love with God, to fall in love with the Word of God, with the Qur'an, to read it and to feel that it peels away layers of obfuscation that I have spent numerous times building around myself. Beauty is to look around me and fully understand and feel, therein is God, in all that I see around me — and to understand my place in this, that I am integral as God's viceroy, as God's agent on this Earth, like everyone else. And at the same time, that I am wonderfully irrelevant."
So here we are in this place today. So desperately in need of the beauty that is right here in front of us if we only look up from our screens and outside of our own experience. The beauty that will bring us closer to our creator (or Creator) and closer to each other. 

Look up. Look up. 

You will find rainbows.