“Courage, Merry. Courage for our friends.”

Starting is the hard part. 

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Setting a pen to paper, hands to a keyboard: a moment of infinite possibilities surging through your brain and halting just shy of your fingertips as they coalesce into the here and now — things are changing now, my love, and they won’t stop for anything. Words change things, see. How we look at the world. How we think about the world. How we analyze our own lives. The pen definitely remains mightier than the sword.

That’s what makes it so frightening.

Realizing that your hands hold a tool with more sway than a nuclear weapon is decidedly not for the faint of heart. The oblivious, maybe; the ignorant, perhaps. The truth of the matter is that we should all be shocked anyone in the course of human history has written anything. We’re either sublimely courageous, incredibly stupid, or, and perhaps this is the most accurate, a bunch of foolhardy folk who are full enough of ourselves to consider what we have to say worth considering.

Perhaps what’s even scarier is that sometimes? Sometimes, we’re right.

*title quote taken from the character Eowyn in the film The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King

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fairy lights

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Traveling is well and good, but there are moments that catch you unawares: mornings when your tea makes you cry instead of smile, late nights when family seem close & yet so far, far away. If I close my eyes just enough, my mind puts me in a quiet kitchen under dim fairy lights. Roommates carry on with their lives: one asleep, one studying, one skyping home. Me, I sit in the kitchen stillness: hands wrapped around a mug big enough for two, glasses slipping down my nose, pages of loose leaf in disarray as I organize information using hands and fingers to sign meaning from the chaos, feet tucked into fraying purple slippers that have yet to let me down.

I wrote once that quiet, misty evenings leave me wistful. I wonder now if wanderlust does the same.

a note to days gone by

“What, me?”

She flips through the last few pages of notes, flustered. “I, uh… the geography… boundary question — um. The boundaries of Europe… That is -” she pauses, takes a deep breath. “Sorry, I’m just really nervous. Um. Could you come back to me, please?”

The T.A. shrugs. “Certainly,” she says, nodding at the next student over. Me. I glance at my neighbor, all brown curls and nerves under the eyes of all these strangers. Oh, I think. Oh, honey. Hang in there.

“I agree with what I think she was trying to say. That is, the importance of the geographical boundaries in defining the European continent –” My sentences weave themselves easily into paragraphs I never planned. I pull on the reading and reference our professor’s lectures, drawing a mess of words and ideas into ordered thought and coherence. The discussion comes naturally for me, even though the topic is new. I may not ask brilliant, thought-provoking questions — I’ll leave those to my siblings, thanks — but talking? Spinning a semblance of patterned dialogue from scattered thoughts and vague understandings? There, at least, I hold my own.

The girl smiles shyly and nods as I finish speaking. “Yes, exactly!” She affirms my additions to her staggering phrases. “Thanks,” she whispers.

I smile back, nod my head once. I sit back and listen to the next student discuss his impressions of our reading assignment. My mind slips into reverie; my smile dips into nostalgia, sinking into my first memory of ninth grade English. Suddenly, I remember –

thump. “Beowulf,” I blurt. thumpthumpthumpthumpthump. I am fourteen years old. I am sitting in a new city, a new school — for that matter, a new type of school. This is not the eighth-grade graduating class of six girls I’ve known for years. This is a standard, twenty person English class at a Quaker high school, and right now every single eye is focused on one thing: me. My heart keeps racing: thumpthump. thumpthump. I feel my face flushing. Breathe, girl. Breathe. Come on, come on. It’s just a question, and you knew the answer. It’s over now. You’re fine. Breathe. Come on, breathe!

“That’s right. Very good.” My teacher looks surprised. “Beowulf was the first epic written in the English language.” I exhale slowly, trying to calm my body’s reaction to speaking up in class. I hate public speaking. A shaky smile snakes across my face. But you were right.

I breathe deep, focusing on the next girl answering the T.A.’s questions. She’ll be fine, I think. She may not like speaking in front of strange groups right now, but she’ll learn to cope with it. It’s what Vidya told me last year, I realize — that TEDtalk about “fake it ’til you make it.” Eventually, it’s all Orwell — make a mask, and you grow to fit it.

I spare one more second for my memory, turning to look at her for a moment more: the teenager sitting at the long tables of the English classroom, a newcomer thrust between circles of old friends, eyes skittering across the faces that will soon no longer be strangers. I give her a mental nudge, an encouraging smile: you are going to learn, honey. You will. And when you do — oh, just look where you will fly!

for all my sweat, my blood runs weak

from the ninth of february, two thousand thirteen.

The day I found out that Arya died, I walked to the theatre filled with quiet. Her friends were waiting there, friends who knew her much more than the way I did: as a name on a screen saturated with memories of flashing lights and a shocked, weary, beyond-tears roommate sitting on an old couch in the back of the office. Friends who held her hand through other struggles, laughed with her about the funny things her professors said or her family did, cried with her over small things and big. Now they cry for her.

Before I arrived to this chaos of mood shifts and colorful costumes, though, I walked across the pavement in silence. I crossed towards 39th street, passing a couple walking their dogs. One was younger, clearly a puppy: Zorku. He skipped beyond me and then wheeled about suddenly, like he sensed my need for such warm and fuzzy comfort: I scratched his head and laughed clear and bright, smiling in the dark and wishing I could hold him for just a few minutes longer. I smiled my thanks and continued my walk, breaking my quiet to call mama and whisper hard words that that girl i mentioned, she died and hear her heart-heavy endearments of oh, honey, and know that she and Kari Jo were probably praying for me as soon as I hung up the phone.

I heard my name and stopped sudden, startled but surprisingly not embarrassed despite my cold, salt-stained cheeks. David stood there, bundled against this windy winter. He listened, kind and sharing quiet concern as I explained the heartbreak kind of a day it had been, that Arya had died and her friends were my friends and I was headed to run lights for their show. He expressed his sympathy and when I changed the topic to a cheerier one, heart-burning and beautiful, he said that of course he would tell me why he loves India, how about I stop by one day and we can discuss it?

I saw this movie once with some friends. It was a kid’s movie, small and happy and full of silly covers of songs and celebrity voices and Elijah Wood’s blue eyes on a fluffy, dancing baby penguin — the star of Happy Feet. There’s this theory in the movie that I still love. Everyone, they say, has a heart song. Everyone. The conflict in the movie comes up when Mumble’s heart song is more of a rhythm he beats out with his feet and less Brittany Murphy singing Somebody to Love.

We all have some kind of heart song, I think (mine is Mumford & Sons’ Below My Feet, but that’s a story for another time); something that makes us sit up a little straighter and breathe a little deeper and talk a little quicker. Sometimes, we might have more than one — but there’s always something that rings true and deeply resonates with some aspect of what we know life to be. There are topics that make my heart beat faster, make me know — know — that something in them matters beyond myself. For David, that something is India: its people, its culture, its history, itself. For me, that something ranges anywhere from healthcare affordability to Deaf Culture and language access.

I whispered thanks as I walked the last few blocks to Iron Gate, reminded once again of how good God is, how faithful; for he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…