This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
– Jelaluddin Rumi,
Translation from The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks
If I cannot think myself out
Of this prison
I can write myself out
Is a bright light
And a gentle knowing
That when left to drift gently
Will act as a guide
Trying to start from a blank slate
What I am good at
What I am bad at
That have been
Around my head
Trying to untangle the thread
Me to another dead end
To new moments
A guy came up to my car while I was on my way to work. I saw him start to cross the street, but thought he was only crossing, so he startled me when he appeared at my window, asking if I had anything to eat. I could have said no. I could have said, “I don’t want to encourage panhandlers.” But while the voice of White Womanhood in me says “be afraid, be very afraid”, I also remember the voices of black men in my church and community, sharing their pain, how they are painted as more violent and more dangerous than they really are. My iPhone was in my hand, a clear signifier of at least moderate wealth, and while I didn’t have any food in my car, I had cash removed from the ATM the day before, and I could just as easily blow a $20 on beer without a second thought.
I gave him the $20 and said God Bless. I did my best to make eye contact and to SEE him when I did it. This does not make me a good person. This does not make me a model or an example for others. I look past people’s humanity every day. And even as I am telling this story, I am still selfishly thinking more about myself than about him.
Today I was reflecting on my trip to California, and I was thinking about how beautiful the west coast was — and so easy to see and find the beauty — the mountains and nature and ocean were all around us. Here in Memphis it can be harder to see. I noticed how beautiful the clouds and sky are here– big fluffy whipped cream kind of clouds. I looked up and noticed how beautiful the trees are — we are literally living where a forest once lived, and pieces of the forest still survive today. I was thinking about how important it is to see beauty, because beauty — and I say beauty, not just attractiveness or aesthetically pleasing design — beauty, itself, is a physical representation of Joy. A retail store and parking lot might be ugly and grey and depressing — but inside, the cashiers, the customers, are living, breathing, beautiful souls. In their hopes and dreams and laughs and kindness there can be so much joy. And even in Memphis, which is so scarred with trauma and tragedy and violence, there is still joy pushing up through the cracks. I want to get better at seeing beauty and seeing joy. I want to get better at looking past the grey, and seeing what is there, pushing up through the pavement, struggling to thrive, struggling to look into the sun, struggling to turn the grey and brown into green, into red and gold and purple and blue. That is why writing is important for me. It helps me to see. It helps me to notice. It helps me to push back against the laziness of just taking in the noise and the grime and the cement, and see instead the traces of life that are thriving in spite of being bullied and poisoned every day.