Things I Miss about Manchester

I’ve lived in Manchester twice, the first time in the neighborhood of Withington for 4 months and the second time in City Centre for 6 weeks. The flat I lived in the second time was about 10 minutes, walking, from the Manchester Arena where this week’s suicide bombing targeted young concert-goers and their parents. I would have been one of those people offering, at 2am, a cup of tea, a chance to recharge phones, even a spare bed.

To honor this city I adore and greatly miss, I’m making a list:

1. The people. Individual people, absolutely. The first I knew something had happened in Manchester was when I started getting Facebook notifications that friends had checked in as safe. But I also just miss the spirit of Mancunians. This is a former industry town, red-bricked and soot-stained with old canals and some gleaming new facades. First-rate public transit. Prams (strollers) in parks. Excellent museums and art galleries. Where there are more students than you can reasonably hope to count. Where I once saw a person in a rabbit costume walk sedately up the street. Where the Queen once attended a couple’s wedding in city hall. Where I could look up from my kitchen table and into the faces of passengers on the top level of a red double-decker. Where a statue stands of Abraham Lincoln, commemorating that though the American Civil War decimated Manchester’s economy, the ending of slavery in the US was worth it. They are extraordinary people.

2. Piccadilly Gardens. From hot chocolate at an outdoor table to watching children play in the fountain, from whirring over the city in a carnival swing to the Primark at the corner (good grief, I miss that Primark). I miss just walking through on my way to Arndale’s food court for lunch with a friend or to Printworks then a pub. (Both Arndale and Printworks are mere blocks from the arena.) I miss the ridiculous two Starbucks locations on opposite sides of the square, and a Cafe Nero, and another Cafe Nero around the corner. I miss getting desperate enough for a single Krispy Kreme donut that I pay that price and queuing for the bus in the freezing cold. I also miss running to the first stop up Portland Street when I arrived too late and my bus had already shut its doors to depart.

3. Food. MCR loves curry. And American restaurants. And Chinese food. Mostly curry, which is as it should be. And Chinatown is fantastic (I have a favorite place). Krispy Fried Chicken, Kansas Fried Chicken, and various other establishments (including KFC) can be avoided quite well, thank you. (The meat is hallal, there’s no such thing as extra crispy, they fry in olive oil, and it’s the greasiest food you can manage to find in all the Isles.) A friend begged me to go with him to the Arndale mall food court when Taco Bell opened. I know someone who threatened to move when the American-style burger place in the Northern District burned. But oh, goodness. The curry!

4. Parks. This is very much an English thing, but Manchester’s parks are amazing. I already talked about Piccadilly Gardens. Then there’s the one nearest my flat in Withington with double duck ponds and willows that look ready to whomp. The one where the Salford and Quays meet. The one where my friend took her boys to play every day, even in the rain, and where I also took them when I babysat them. The one we’d cut through visiting friends in Fallowfield. The one where I saw a 5-actor production of “Pride & Prejudice”. The ones attached to homes in the National Trust, great sweeping grounds of manor houses like Dunham Massey, Tatton Park, and Lyme Park (the house used as Pemberley in the classic “Pride & Prejudice” miniseries). There are even a couple more I can’t place. But parks are well kept and well valued by Mancunians.

5. City Katie. I’ve written about her before. She was her best self in Manchester. And she got really good at applying eye liner, mascara, lipstick, and blush on the train. Less so on the bus.

I long to hear the Mancunian accent. I long to queue! Every Christmas I miss the markets with an almost physical pain. I find myself wistful for a particular yarn shop, wishing I could get my watch battery changed at a certain hardware shop. I yearn for a specific Italian restaurant and please, please give me Nando’s! Did I mention Primark? I miss Primark. The Piccadilly Gardens one.

Manchester is truly English (much more so than London), truly British (see halal meat and curry), truly in love with sports (Man City over United any day), truly lovely in just about every sense of the word. And I am so, so sorry for them. I am also immensely honored to have called Manchester home those short, pivotal times in my life.

Things I Already Miss about NYC

I spent last week in the city of lights, specifically in Brooklyn and I was immediately a bit of a snob about it. I miss the narrow, tall house, the smooth wooden banisters, the orange and red tulips on my dresser. I miss the wonderful friends who hosted me. And here are some other things I miss.

Delivery on everything. We didn’t even order in groceries or pillows or bagels or postcards. But I could have. And I’ve missed that freedom.

Interesting food. Also bagels. And pizza. And macarons. And cart pretzels (even though I didn’t have one, they were always nearby). The restaurants themselves were fascinating: long farm tables so you can share a workspace, round tables stacked with silver plates of pastries, a narrow counter at an open window, a tiny square table in a former church.

Walking culture. I almost never say, “Let’s walk there,” in my life in Macon, GA. It’s still rarer for everyone in a group to assume we’ll walk. Even at church I take the shuttle to and from the back lot where I park. But in NYC, of course we walked the 1.2 miles to the book store. Of course we walked the 8 blocks from the restaurant to the theater. And I’m happier doing so. And I discover so much more along the way. And the Brooklyn Promenade my first night in town irrevocably captured my heart.

Trains. I love them so much a friend called me Sheldon. Mostly, I love that I can travel hundreds of miles without long waits and baggage hassles (as in airports) and while free to read, write, crochet, work, or any number of other things not possible when driving. Trains are soothing, scenic, inspiring, and the least stressful way for me to travel.

Good public transit. Set me down anywhere in a city like New York, ask me to get anywhere else, and I can do it. I don’t need a car or bulky bags—I can’t take anything too heavy with me—I just take myself where I’m going. I get to people watch. I get to share the space and experience with strangers. I’m also, as on trains, free to use my time because I’m not busy driving.

Connections. I had no idea how far the Chrysler building is from the Empire State building. I had no concept of how close Brooklyn Bridge is to Freedom Tower. I saw movies and read books about New York, so every place in New York was a shot framed under a lamppost, a pan of the skyline, every location disjointed and without context. I couldn’t see how the pieces fit together, relate to one another, and continually marveled at how near things were, even more than how big. Plus, I love recognizing a place I’m seeing in front of me from a favorite TV show or a well-loved movie (“You’ve Got Mail” came up a lot).

History. Yes, I love history. Give me a good museum and I’ll be happy all day. But NYC is, in so many ways, sacred ground. Every inch I walked and every train car and every seat in every restaurant has been vital in a person’s life. More than one person. In an old city, my heart beats in the echoes of all the heartbeats around me and before me. For centuries. Including people I admire and people I ought to admire but don’t know.

Art culture. Sculpture installations, galleries, musicals, plays, schools, book stores, and every other form or product of art. NYC is a place for art. When you visit the city, you’re expected to see at least one Broadway musical. The names of galleries and museums can be rattled off by people who have never been been to the Big Apple: The Met, MOMA, the Guggenheim, the Natural History Museum. And I do love art in Macon as well, and in Atlanta, but there isn’t a culture surrounding art in the same way.

Parks. City folks love—and need—parks. And NYC’s parks are unique, like The Highline: a former above-ground rail line full of trees and grasses and flowers weaving through the West Side along the river. Sitting on a bench in Cadman Plaza, I watched children race their scooters and nannies change diapers while a tiny soccer practice was underway. I live near a wonderful park that I use often, but NYC’s walking culture combines with the unique flavors of neighborhoods for delightful beautiful in high contrast to the surrounding miles of concrete. Not that NYC lacks green beyond it’s parks. I was delighted to find tulips growing at bases of nearly every tree on the sidewalks of Brooklyn.

City Katie. I love who I am in a city. I move through the world confidently. I’m comfortable. I’m so happy. Even when something goes wrong (or many things), I have options and I solve problems. Some days the city wins, but I win far more frequently. I’m flexible, patient, amused and amusing. I do so much in a day. I buy things that bring me joy and that I don’t mind carrying for the rest of the day. (It’s a good litmus test, really: am I going to regret buying this after carrying and keeping up with it for four hours?) I have access to almost any experience I desire. I’m creative. I’m so tired by the time I flop into bed at night. I’m on a constant adventure. I love being this creative, curious, confident, capable person. Driving to work in an ill mood this morning, I missed her the most.

7 Ways to Care for the Grieving

I’ve alluded to this before, but I’ll say it point blank: from January 2014 to June 2015, 9 people in my life passed away. They died of heart failure, blood clots, burns, young and old age. Plus the murderers of a childhood friend were sentenced. And a tree died. Some of my dreams died. My roommate’s dog started to die but we didn’t know it yet. It was kind of a lot.

Over that year and a half, I got pretty good at telling people why I’d be out of town again, at hiding that I was still grieving (or grieving again), at visitation small talk, at selecting photos for slide shows, at giving warm hugs without sobbing, and at thanking strangers for coming.

Lately, I’ve watched various people in my life experience intense loss. So here are 7 ways to care for a grieving person, learned from being the one grieving.

Say something. More to the point, don’t say nothing. Avoid platitudes, but a platitude is better than nothing. Say you’re sorry. Ask me about a favorite memory of the person. Don’t ignore it because you’re nervous or uncomfortable. That’s horribly selfish. Don’t be afraid to bring up my loved one or say their name. Even if it just happened. Even if it was two weeks ago and you just found out. Even if it’s been months.

Listen. Listen to what I say. Listen to what I don’t say. Let me guide the tone and topic for a week or so, especially when the funeral or death comes up. And if you conveyed your sympathy, I thanked you, then I started talking about work or asking about you, don’t keep dragging our conversation back to my grief. Maybe I really don’t want to delve those depths right now.

Don’t harp. I’m not the only person who has lost someone and neither are you. Mention that a family member died but don’t tell me the whole saga of your grandmother’s slow demise unless I ask multiple questions. Your harping makes me feel like I should be comforting you. Your grief is no less legitimate than mine, but mine is also quite new. Please don’t make my pain about you.

Do something tangible. What you’ll do will depend on how well you know me. My roommate would vacuum and tidy up while I was gone and be available when I got home in case I wanted company or a distraction. When I did want to talk, she asked how my family was doing, if the service went okay, if everyone behaved well. (That could be it’s own tip: don’t cause drama. Pity it ever needs saying.) The day we had to put the dog to sleep, a friend texted and said he wanted to bring us KFC for lunch.

Take initiative. Saying, “Can I bring dinner by tomorrow? I’ll leave it on your porch” is way better than “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” A dozen other people have said the same thing to me, and I don’t know that they all meant it. Assuming you did mean it, no matter what I need or how much I need it, I don’t want to inconvenience you. But if you take the initiative, I can either say “Thank you” or “Would you mind waiting until next week?” or “I really appreciate that, but I’d rather get coffee with you and talk. Could we do that instead?”

Pain is pain. My friend told me this nine years ago. Her fiance had just called off their wedding and she couldn’t understand why a lady in her church, who had recently suffered a miscarriage, had reached out to her to offer encouragement. “Your loss is so much greater than mine,” my friend had said to the woman. And the woman had answered, “Pain is pain.” All pain is not the same, and maybe you don’t understand why I’m grieving so much over the death of my roommate’s dog or the falling of that tree. Just know it was important to me, and so the loss is painful.

Don’t tell me I’m grieving wrong. You aren’t helping by criticizing how much or little you saw me cry. Maybe I’m much better at acting okay than you think. Maybe this is my third funeral in two weeks and I’m a bit numb. Maybe I wanted the woman in the casket to hold my babies and I just saw how much yours have grown. I’m working through this is my own way. You don’t have to understand to respect it.

Dream: Marked “Undesirable”

Given the events of the past week and months, I have hesitated to post this. I am relating an actual nightmare I had in January but that I didn’t have enough perspective on at the time to be able to write. I’m still not sure I do, or that this is the best time to post. However, I am doing so in order to put words to fears I have and others may share, and by so doing to lessen their power. I am also sharing my response to the events and policies which have given rise to these fears. In this week of Passover, this week before Easter, I am making a commitment to myself with all of you as witnesses.

Trigger warning: Holocaust references and imagery, violence against people with disabilities

I don’t know what to make of it.

I had a piece of green tape stuck to my right shoulder. It was dark green, matte, about as wide as electrical tape with ends where it had been torn. It was stuck so tightly to the cloth of my sky blue floral summer dress that a hand must have painfully gripped my shoulder, the tape underneath, for a glacial and dangerous moment. Four inches long, it stretched from below my clavicle, up and over the top of the dress, just past the seam connecting the front and the back panels. The symbols on the tape looked like a semicolon, a button-sized black circle above another button with the curl of a tail.

The lines in the rough hand had creased the tape fractionally, as had my dress, but the semi-colon accounted for both, like a typed wink two inches long. Others in my group of other green-matte-tape people had wide colon eyes or other halves of emoticon faces. But we all wore the green tape. And we were all sitting in a rough knot of lunchroom-style tables with round seats attached that aren’t supposed to swivel but do. And we were all being held at gunpoint.

In the way of dreams, I just appeared there, knowing things without having learned or been told them. We were free to move around a little in our group, even to talk quietly. The people in uniform holding guns were fascist soldiers, and there would be no legal recompense if they shot me, or all of us. It could happen in a moment.

We were green, meaning mental illness, and the symbols indicated which illness with which we’d been diagnosed. Mine semi-colon meant depression. There were other groups at other tables but we were all “undesirables.”

We were on a cruise ship’s top deck, in the hollowed out slope of what would have been a pool. We were chugging along on a beautiful day, clear skies and smooth sailing, though the surface is a little choppy.

The fascists were standing at intervals around the rim of the waterless pool. We were waiting for their orders to either release us into the population below decks or to kill us. The orders might be jumbled. We might be moved later. We had no idea.

But we knew some of us would die, our illnesses deemed too severe or too noticeable or too shameful according to the State. Some of us had already been killed. A group of soldiers forced one group, the whole group, to line up on the edge of the deck so they’d all fall overboard when they were shot.

A woman, about my age, slid into the seat next to mine. As if this really is the lunch period at high school, I’m sitting in the corner seat, not looking at the fascists behind me or the empty tables between us. I’m eying the fascists in front of me instead, careful not to make eye contact. The woman who joins me is Asian and sits taller than I do, though I don’t know if she’s actually taller. She had an open face, deceptively so, and bent toward me in a mirror of my crumpled posture.

I can’t remember the exact words she whispered to me, but it amounted to this: we have to get out. I had two friends in the group, a married couple. They’d try to slip away together, but the rest of us in this escape cohort—not the whole group—would try to slip away one by one. We’d have to find a map belowdeck to find the right floor, but the plan was to meet in the kitchen of the restaurant on the very back of the ship. There was a balcony and an oven that (dream-logic) we would push out of its place, off the boat, into the water, holding on to it by straps so we’d float along with it and be saved.

We knew we might not all make it. We knew everyone in the group wouldn’t.

I did slip away, though I expected a bullet in my back or chest at any moment. When an annoyed soldier sprayed bullets into the group I was standing in, I pretended to be shot, clutching my stomach as I went limp. While the soldiers argued and the toed a few people over with their black boots, I rolled, then crawled, then ran away.

I hid the green tape with my hair. Barefoot, I crept in stairwells, searched for safe passages, and memorized the map. Once, I ran through the empty casino toward the maze of cabins, air smokey and thick, a riot of dings and whirls covering the shouts and footfalls behind me. Later, I had to climb up to the eleventh deck to avoid a suspicious guard. I burst from the stairwell and encountered four people I knew in middle and high school. Oblivious of what I was running from and what was happening just one deck above, not noticing my sweat or terror, they asked me if I knew a good place to tan. Not sure if they could be trusted, not sure if they were in trouble themselves, I tried to warn them that it was too hot on the pool deck. They didn’t understand and took off at a gleeful gallop, and the hallway was too full to call after them or to warn them more directly. I don’t know if I was sending them to their deaths or not. The State had decided there was nothing wrong with them, and they believed there was nothing wrong anywhere.

I don’t know what to make of it. Not yet. Maybe never. But it isn’t hard to see my fears manifesting. I see the lack of compassion, the lies in the current government. Just yesterday the White House Press Secretary spouted what amounted to Holocaust denials from behind the Presidential seal. And it’s not hard to see how selfish and privileged my fear of being one of the undesirables was. And I haven’t been diagnosed; I don’t know if I should be or if I will be at some point.

How has my internalization of ableism manifested here? Am I so ableist that I fear a diagnosis, and of being branded? Or do I feel solidarity with mentally ill people? Or am I just so afraid that all my Holocaust studies will be acted out before my eyes? What am I not doing that I should to support Jewish, Muslim, disabled, and other marginalized communities?

This is Holy Week, during which Christians remember Jesus’ final week before his arrest on false charges, torture, abandonment by friends, betrayal by the justice system, and then his slaughter. Only later do we celebrate his resurrection, rejoicing that goodness and love cannot be killed.

I follow an innocent Middle Eastern Jew who was murdered after a sham trial.

Dear Lord, show me the innocents I need to help protect. Make me stand up when I see violence and injustice around me. Give me courage and passion as I speak against the dangers others face. Heal, and please let me help. Most of all, forgive me. Forgive us.

Early Morning Prayers

I don’t like mornings. I’d prefer not to see most hours of them. Springing forward and having to get up that morning in the dark is a mechanical sort of torture for me. No hope. No mercy. Just darkness every morning for weeks. I’ve been this way almost since I was born (I made my appearance just after 7am, so I like to say that it was the only time I willingly got up early).

When I was in middle school, my brother (even more squinty-eyed in the mornings than I am) declared that even God wasn’t up yet and he didn’t see why he should have to be up either. I adopted the phrasing, but I did sometimes have such terrible early mornings (fights breaking out near me in the school gym, betrayal by a once-friend, arguments, missed homework, word of new terrorist attacks, rumors of wars and battles and deployments, flat tires, deaths) that I have been glad to know that God does not, in fact, sleep.

In time, I came to imagine that God the Father has passed off those dreadfully chipper mornings to God’s inexplicably early-rising Son. And so, like the Greek celestial siblings Helios (sun god), Selene (moon goddess), and Eos (dawn goddess), the parts of the trinity pass their duties from one to the next based on the hour in the Eastern Time Zone of North America. At times, surely, they are all three awake (it’s 6am somewhere on this planet) and I can talk to any of them and the Bible tells of all three doing unique things in the same scene at the same time. But on bitterly cold, grey-blue mornings on the bus or not-quite-dozing in my mother’s little car, I imagined those prayers going to answering machines while God the Father took five more minutes and the Holy Spirit grunted over a mug of coffee while Jesus took careful notes.

Now then. About two years ago my roommate and I felt called to foster children. We went from single friends excited about Shark Week and trying to catch up on our respective weekly Bible studies to temporary mothers of three traumatized children under three years old. I don’t know when the last time that baby had had a full stomach—he ate for two days as if it’d been weeks—and the older boys hadn’t been vaccinated since they were each nine months old. Their legs were also so badly bowed that I worried they might jump and their femurs just snap.

Putting them to bed the night they came to us was horrific. All three screamed—screamed—for two hours. No amount of cuddling or patting or shushing or singing soothed them. One would calm, then another, then the third would scream and start the others up again. Even putting them all in different rooms, they could hear the others crying and screamed in solidarity. Even the baby. Separating the older two proved to be a bad idea because they were afraid and had likely always slept together. Still, eventually, one by one, they screamed and cried themselves to sleep.

It took my roommate and I a bit longer to drop off ourselves: we lay on the couches in the living room under blankets scrounged from other parts of the house, clutching the baby monitors to our ears at the least rustle, reaching a leg from beneath the blankets to rock the two-month old in his bassinet every time he woke or fussed in his sleep.

At 6am, I was feeding the baby. It was dark and I hurt all over from physical and emotional exhaustion. I squeezed by eyes shut to try to pray, but that hurt, too, so I relaxed them. The pre-dawn grey light filtered through the slits of the blinds behind me and, for the first time, I felt thankful for morning. The easy light. The gradual way God brings the world into wakefulness. I sent the simplest snatches of prayers to whichever member of the Trinity had early-morning duty.

After a few minutes of “Thank you for this little boy,” “Thank you they slept so long,” “Please let him fall back asleep,” “Everything hurts,” “Please get us through,” “Thank you for this moment,” “It’s so early,” and similar prayers, I found myself grateful the Spirit is up, too, interpreting these bare words and literal groans into something sensible. I imagined Jesus on his knees and leaning against a Gethsemane rock, face aloft, attentive and squinting one eye, listening to my prayer, confused. Then I pictured him reaching over one sandaled foot to nudge the Spirit awake. The Spirit jerks and his mouth falls open before his eyes do, already interpreting my prayers to Jesus, who’s face relaxes.

With that image, I rocked the baby and opened my connection to the Spirit, focusing on the tightness in my upper back, the aching behind my eyes, the pulling at my scalp, sharing each with the Spirit. By this I believe the Spirit told Jesus all I hope for, how worn down I am, how afraid. I felt love radiating back to me, and the comfort of Someone just listening, understanding.

By the end of that day, the boys were with different families, my roommate and I were two single women watching Shark Week once again, exhausted and far behind where we should have read for the week’s Bible studies.

Though that morning two years ago was a meaningful prayer time for me, I haven’t tried to replicate it. Part of this, of course, is because mornings are terrible. But I think it’s also because I’m not used to praying in the dark. Darkness is for sleeping and stargazing and spy movies. We feel like we’re doing something we shouldn’t or slacking off if we aren’t praying with our eyes shut at a florescent-lit conference table or beside the brightest lamp in the living room (conveniently placed by the squishiest armchair, of course). Frankly, we feel like we’re wrong if we pray with our eyes open, too.

Despite my private jokes, though, God doesn’t need to be awakened and God doesn’t trisect God’s self to lessen the load around the clock. God neither nudges a part of the Trinity awake nor needs a poke in the ribs from me. Literally, any place and any environment is a good place to pray. You might need a bright lamp to read your Bible or journal prayers, and you may need some sunlight to help keep you awake, yet darkness is also a fine place to pray. Dawn and day and night and twilight and many other hairsplitting terms for mere moments on the clock can describe a moment you need to pray, an opportunity you may or may not take to pray.

This morning, as I read in Matthew 3 of Jesus’ baptism, I’m praying for those three boys again, two years older, who I held on the worst day of their lives.

Looking for Women in the Bible

I’ve always been really fond of Anna. And Jehoshabeath. And Jephthah’s daughter. Women who are barely mentioned in the Bible but who made for themselves full, devoted lives and incredible strength.

Some of these women are remembered in various traditions. One has a festival in her honor, and a bestselling novel and miniseries has been based on another’s experiences. But I didn’t know about any of this when I was growing up. I’d read and read the Bible, and come across a few lines or maybe a chapter or two featuring a woman I’d never heard of: Tamar, Dinah, Deborah, another Tamar, Philip’s daughters, Shallum’s daughters, Abigail, Lydia. For many of these women, they are only recorded at the worst moments of their lives, like when some man raped or murdered her, when a husband’s foolishness threatened to get everyone killed, when they struggled for the opportunity to use the skills their society and family ignored. There are plenty of women who made bad choices, too—Jezebel and Delilah come to mind—but there are far more women who responded well to their difficult, dangerous circumstances. And remember, so many men in the Bible made bad choices, too.

So as I grew up, I read and I studied, and what did I learn? That the best I can hope for is a footnote in history. Because I am female, if I am remembered at all, it will be for what happened in the worst moments of my life. If I’m lucky, I’ll live and get married. If I’m unlucky, I’ll die or be vilified for the rest of the ages. Which is crap. Crap options, crap ideas of both the best and worst case scenarios, crap societal views on women that led me to believe this. But I did believe it, even though my mother and many others, I’m sure, never wanted me to.

At some point, I got fed up with this idea that I can never accomplish enough to build a legacy that my child self would have craved to read. I wasn’t convinced that no women deserve or have earned significant places in history, but I was convinced that women wouldn’t be remembered in the same depth or breadth. So I started really searching.

I would come home from church and read a dozen or more chapters, often in the the Old Testament, in a day. And I read throughout the week, too. The more I read, the more interesting women I found. Outside the books of Esther and Ruth, very few accounts were comparable in depth or length to the accounts of men located nearby. But I found so, so many women. They all had lives as full as mine, and they had not been completely forgotten. Their stories, fears, hopes, loved ones are seldom and sparsely recorded, but of the details we have, these women sound so interesting. And they had roles to play: saving kings, hiding spies, guiding prophets, being prophets, bargaining with God, rebuilding walls. We don’t even have all their names, but they made lasting marks during a culture and time when women’s contributions were little-noted.

I found these women in the Bible, so surely history holds many more. I began with the women dismissed as beautiful (Nefertiti, Helen of Troy, Sisi of Austria, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette) to examine what their lives might really have been like and what they may have valued. Then I looked for women who barely or never show up in lessons, like Hatshepsut, Jahanara, Empress Myeongseong, Elizabeth Marsh, Noor Inayat Khan, Ida B. Wells, Anne Bradstreet, Genghis Khan’s daughters, Keumalahayati, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Fatima Al-Fihri. As a preteen, my mother bought me literally every book in the Royal Diaries series (like the more popular My America series, both of which consisted of fictionalized diaries of women living throughout history). Today, I follow the #BygoneBadassBroads hashtag. And every day I fight to make my life more than a footnote, and where I can’t (which is most places), I try to elevate other women out of the footnotes.

Honestly, the vast majority of people, both women and men, are known only to their families and friends before they pass away. They are only remembered so long as those who knew them live. But it is incredibly more like that men’s work and contributions will be remembered and celebrated than women’s. It is infinitely more so for white people than…literally anyone else. That’s part of my concern in helping to elevate other women. There are some stages on which I just don’t need to stand because I’m white and we white folk are pretty crappy human beings by and large. I don’t want to add to that and I don’t want to take up space that would otherwise go to a person of color, particularly a woman of color. People of color have been central players in history and their stories should be remembered and honored in far more than footnotes. As do women’s stories. Thank you to all those who listen and search and elevate.

P.S. I’m always on the lookout for more interesting women in history and the Bible!

Perfect Timing

I don’t want to be dramatic, but the other night I was standing in my boyfriend’s kitchen when he asked me, “If you were to write a blog post about the past two months and send it back in time to yourself, would you have believed it?”

So, you know, he started it.

“But, Katie,” you begin, “What are you talking about? Who’s this boyfriend?”

Well, his name is Tyler. And even though I’ve known him for 9.5 years and counting, I don’t know that a detailed blog post from myself to myself could have prepared me for how much of my life has changed in such a relatively short amount of time. We’ve often said to each other, “Two weeks ago/A month ago/Two months ago, I could never have imagined I’d be here with you.” We say this while watching a movie or taking cinnamon rolls out of the oven, while holding hands at the park or spearing roast duck from the other one’s plate.

Here’s the short of it: I went to work, went home, co-lead a Bible study, hung out with my roommate, went on walks or to dinner with friends, wrote a bit, read a lot, and watched a lot of movies. Now I go to work, go home, co-lead a Bible study, set aside time to hang out with my roommate, pick one or two friends to see this week, write a little bit, read when I can, and almost everything I watch is with Tyler. Almost all my dinners are with Tyler, too. I see him almost every day, but we definitely text every day. I seem to spend more time at his apartment than my home, except for when I’m sleeping. And I’m incredibly happy. And as much time as I spend with him, I want to see him more.

I’m still working on the balance: not neglecting my roommate and friends; writing more, reading more, sleeping more (I don’t know what I’d do less). I’m more regularly having a quiet time, but the content is more Bible-reading and less praying than it used to be. The dust bunnies are forming an army and I haven’t seen the bottom of the laundry hamper since New Year’s.

So what if I’d known? Six months back, two years back, five years back, what if I’d gotten a letter from myself? As starry-eyed as I might be right now (although I don’t think I am, I know it’s probably true), I’m not pining at all the time we “wasted” not being together. That wasn’t wasted time. Not at all. I needed these years to become this person, right now, who’s finally ready to devote myself in a relationship. This person who can trust, who isn’t so racked with fear and insecurity that she can’t stand to be special to a man. He needed that time to grow, too. And if I’d gotten that letter, I wouldn’t have waited.

If I’d told myself who, even if I’d told myself the exact day we began and how it happened and everything since then, I would have been too nervous to look at him for ages and then too wound up and impatient to wait for the natural course. It would have been Sarah and Hagar and Abraham all over again (but without the slavery and stuff). I would have wanted to fast-track all my present happiness and shove it in the midst of all the life I was busy living four years ago, three years ago, eight months ago. And I would have been astounded, devastated when it didn’t work.

I’m not like David. If I’d been anointed the future monarch as a child or young teen, I would not have waited those 20-40 years God spent preparing Israel and David for the throne. At the very least, tempted by so many opportunities to kill Saul, I would have had some serious “Really, God?” prayer sessions. (Which is not to say that David didn’t; the psalms are full of his honest laments, complaints, confessions, and praises.) But I also would have thrown in my towel and quietly plotted to take the capitol, take the throne, take the kingdom. I’d been anointed, after all. King Saul was no longer good for the country, after all. Surely Saul wandering into this cave is a divine opportunity.

I would have been a terrible David, a terrible king, a terrible follower of God. No, I am far more like Sarah, prone to frustration and calculation and impatience and second guessing. What if God’s promise isn’t going to come the way we thought? Did we really hear all that right? Are we remembering it right? This is so hard; I don’t think God meant this. How can I nudge things along? God does help those who help themselves!

A week after a friend became a Christian, we were leaving the church building and chatting and generally being pokey about it all. From the circle of a conversation in the parking lot, I watched my friend walk up to the pair of glass doors at the entrance and deliberately pushed the right handle. Locked. Then he pulled it. Again, locked. He pulled the left handle. Locked. With a nod to himself, he stepped in front of the left door and pushed it open.

A few minutes later, he explained to us that he had visited the church two years before. He’d gotten there a little late. The doors were closed, the greeters had taken their seats, and no one else was coming in. He’d pushed and pulled the doors three different ways. Then, believing the church completely locked to him, turned and went away. He remembered it so well that he knew exactly what he’d done to each door, in what order, and he knew that all he’d missed was pushing on the left handle. If he’d exhausted that fourth and final option—if he’d noticed that he hadn’t—he would have come into that church two years earlier. Disheartened, we fumbled over our regrets and apologies, but he shook his head, smiling: “God’s timing is perfect.”

These past two months with Tyler, I have often thought of that friend, of his confession of faith on the sidewalk that afternoon: God’s timing is perfect.

Praise be to God!

The Land Basketball Forgot

I suppose no one made a big deal of March Madness in college because Georgia Southern didn’t have a standout men’s or women’s basketball team. It must have felt disloyal for students and faculty who carefully follow March Madness every year to tout their Duke-dominated brackets.

Or maybe I just didn’t notice. Spring was always so full: azaleas, breezy dresses, carpenter bees, voluntary walks, reopened pools, spring break, spring classes, and The Great Duckling Count. I usually went with friends to one or two basketball games a season, but that was long over by March.

No, the first time March Madness settled itself on my radar was the first year I started at the publishing company where I presently work. A coworker came around with finger guns, asking everyone if they wanted to compare brackets.

“Brackets?” I asked him.

The beat which followed told me I really ought to know this. But I’m still in my first 6 months! I thought, I don’t know this tradition yet.

Except it wasn’t a company tradition, it is a national one. I returned home one day a few weeks later to find my roommate, who I could hardly convince to watch a single college football game with me, in rapt study of a Tennessee women’s game.

Eventually, I figured it out. March Madness is a national phenomenon. And I’m from the land basketball forgot.

Not intentionally, of course. But we don’t have professional teams in SC. We live and breathe the Clemson-Carolina rivalry because that’s basically all we have. If we must choose loyalty in baseball, the Braves are the closest. If we must choose in the NFL, the closest team is either the Falcons or the Panthers. (I know, the Carolina Panthers. But they play in NC and all the revenue goes to NC. Plus, when I was growing up, the Panthers sucked.)

I suppose I should specify that other areas of SC may well feel kinship for a team based on proximity to a border shared with GA or NC, but not so on my island. The state sort of looks like a piece of pie, the crust partially broken off to the north, and I’m from the gooey tip. I would have to travel to and through the crust to reach the Panthers. Atlanta, too, is about 6 hours away. So we residents of this land basketball forgot lean back with our water sports and our Clemson or Carolina coozies, never knowing that basketball carries raucously on without us each spring.

But, the internet. Travel. ESPN! Yes, you’d think a late 80s child who grew up in the 90s wouldn’t have been so insulated to the ways of that pimpled orange ball thwacking polished wooden floors all over the country. We certainly learned to play basketball in gym class—my brother even played basketball in high school—but we didn’t learn that basketball matters any more in March than at any other time.

Imagine my shock a year after I discovered March Madness when Macon’s own Mercer University not only made it to the playoffs, but beat Duke. The city shut down for the afternoon games. We took long lunch breaks to watch, coworkers clustered around computers to watch together.

Imagine my further shock a few days ago when, asking a group of coworkers what I should know about March Madness this year, I was told that South Carolina’s men’s team is doing really well. And it’s not a Mercer-esque underdog shot, either. Still, I was assured they wouldn’t beat Duke.

Except they did.

So maybe the land basketball forgot is just the county where I grew up. Or maybe it’s just the little spot where I’m standing.

Update: South Carolina is now in the final four! And that’s a big deal, apparently! A friend texted when they won to (a) inform me, and (b) ask if I’d caught the March Madness yet. But at this point, I think my lack of engagement is a winning strategy.

Complaining to Eve

I recently spoke to a woman who asked me if, when I went through a mild bout of depression last fall, I ever felt angry at God. I considered the question seriously, analyzing that time in my memory, what I wrote, how I prayer, how I spoke, and how I viewed God then versus now. I remembered that sense I often get of leaning against a sturdy tower with arms. [God is the tower, and sometimes I feel the arms reach around me in comfort. But the tower will never turn me away. (John 6:37; Psalm 32:7)] I didn’t think of that image much which I was depressed, but my fundamental understanding of God still matches it.

“No,” I told her. “I don’t think I was.”

We talked about ways we do place blame, and she mentioned that several people she knows want to have it out with Eve in heaven, and that she expects there will be a line.

Now, I personally hope that the heaven-bound will have let go of their complaints, no longer seeking restitution for the wrongs committed against them. However, I’ve been imagining that scene a lot.

Eve and Adam are standing beneath trees in the “New Eden” neighborhood of heaven, a line of people stretching out past the horizon, all waiting to air their complaints with the first people about their sufferings on Earth. By far, the longer line is Eve’s. People want to vent at her, blame her, and Eve takes it with gentle patience. Eve, who had no understanding of the depth and breadth of the consequences of her sin, explains again and again, apologizes again and again. We, at least, know what sin and death are. We rarely accurately predict the consequences of our own sins, but we have a much better idea than Eve did. And Eve didn’t act alone. Adam was with her, in charge of communicating God’s single rule to his wife, and is not recorded as saying anything to her as she sinned. And, when she handed him some of the fruit, he sinned it, too. And I’ll bet most people in his line just want to shake his hand.

One could argue that no sinner ever suffered as much as Eve. First, she experienced perfection without care or worry, then was driven from her home to a life marked (though not dominated by) pain, danger, and regret. Furthermore, she is the one blamed for everything from murders to lust to idolatry to menstrual cramps to natural disasters to cancer. And yes, she did introduce sin to the world, but her husband is not innocent.

If there is a literal Eve and a literal Adam who I might could visit and speak with in heaven, I would join the line. But once I arrived at the front, I think I would just hug her. And if Adam’s line wasn’t too long, I’d get into it for the sake of fairness. Hopefully I won’t be tempted to tell him off—but if people are telling Eve off then Adam should get his fair share, too. But I hope I’d just hug him. He suffered, too. They lost their relationship with God, their home, their innocence, their child Able, and ultimately their lives. And they are my family. In so many ways, even if the first humans look more like Lucy than me, I am just like them. I am a sinner. I do the wrong things. Knowingly, intentionally, I hurt others, hurt myself, try to hurt God. And, like the first humans, I will one day die.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which is the 40-day period leading to Easter. During Lent, we consider Jesus’ journey to the the cross, the instrument of his torture and death even though he had literally never done a single thing wrong. (Mary, his mother, would likely have disagreed. Especially that time Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem and didn’t tell anyone.) We also consider our own mortality and sinfulness. The ashes themselves symbolize both death and repentance.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Dust and ash (sin and death) are the final equalizers. The only difference that will remain is what we did with our sin. Did we look at the wrongs of our lives—the systematic ignoring of our Creator, the pretending we are in control, our imagined versions of fairness—and ask God for forgiveness? Did we ask for changed hearts that beat a new rhythm that brings peace and healing to all the world? Did we sit down and say, “I don’t know it all and I’m not in control and I’m okay with God being in control instead”?

Remember: we are dust. And to dust we will return.

A History in Scarves

In the back and forth of this winter’s weather, from 34 degree mornings to 78 degree afternoons, I’ve been using a lot of scarves. My scarf repertoire is pretty extensive, but also relatively new.

The first scarf I ever owned was blue, downy, fluffy, and given to me by a middle and high school friend named Chelsey. I still have it and used to wear it to cold Georgia Southern football games. I also wore it skiing, along with my bright blue snow bib and pale blue ski jacket and Tarheel blue gloves, which is when I discovered that my scarf was quite ineffective against actual cold.

The first scarf I bought for myself was on the street in Barcelona. Okay, actually we were in Parc Guell by the bus parking lot. I wouldn’t have stopped but several of the others in my group had, so I felt safe doing so. I fell in love with the lightest, shiniest pink polyester scarf. Plyed with a “buy two, get one free” deal, I also bought a rich sky blue and a red and orange ombre. The pink and the blue I let an acquaintance borrow four or five years later, along with several dresses, because she was going to the same area of West Africa that I’d visited the year before. The scarves would cover her head as local custom demanded and and the dresses, which I’d bought there, would ingratiated her more quickly. She never returned them. I keep my orange and red scarf hanging in my closet, wearing it only once or twice a year.

I bought my next scarf—black, and currently hanging from the coat hook at my desk—from a vendor outside Primark on Oxford Street in London. I also bought a white one, possibly because of some sort of sale. I draped them over my shoulders in chilly classrooms and crisp evening streets. I draped and swirled and knotted and loved them. Where I wore hoodies in high school for warmth and armor, here was an elegant alternative suitable to a wider temperature range. I wore my scarves to the theatre and stuffed them into my bags.

That same summer, I bought a light, wide lavender scarf I had to fold many times to avoid blanket dimensions and to provide a touch of warmth. I wore it with a white blouse and grey skirt to Les Mis. At Javert’s suicide, I clutched it to me like Fantine and stumbled down the stairs from the Upper Circle, coughing so roughly that an attendant from the bar on the top floor and the coat checker from the lobby took to the staircase to search for me, one descending and the other ascending until they met each other, and me, in the middle.

My mother bought me an airy pale pink scarf from The Gap, so soft that I ran my fingers through and through it, still wanting it even thought we found a hole near one end. And because I wanted few things so much, she bought it for me. I liked to wear it to poetry readings and student panels in college, along with jeans, a white long-sleeve shirt, and my black pleather motorcycle jacket.

A very dear college friend returned from a year in China and gifted me a bamboo compact and a short silk scarf depicting the letters of an ancient poem. I keep the compact on my vanity and hardly ever wear the scarf. It is the most precious of all.

When I returned to England after I graduated college, I bought scarves quickly, cheap or expensive, to match outfits and coats, to warm and shield me, twice just to make me feel better, and once because my flatmate told me a lilac scarf gathered into puffs and waves didn’t look like me. When moving home again, I gave a few away. The rest, including the often-worn lilac-colored one, I stuffed into the corners of my suitcases until each seam held its breath.

The first scarf I completed was too irregular and short for an adult, so I gave it to a hot-blooded boy I babysat. Other than the moment I passed it to his mother and she tied it around his neck, I don’t believe he ever wore it.

The second scarf I made was more even, every stitch tight, especially when my flatmate (who’d taught me) was speaking. I never could regulate modest tension with her there, complaining and criticizing (even if it wasn’t about me). I’d pull my stitches so tight with unvoiced frustration, then she’d exclaim “watch your tension” and I’d want to hurl the entire thing, skein and metal needles and all, at her face. So I tried not to knit when she was in the room. Rather, I knitted while watching Merlin after she went to bed, in Edinburgh while she napped, on the bus to see the friend she didn’t like, in the kitchen while she Skyped with her boyfriend in her bedroom. I even took my needles on the plane home, getting the most done during the layover in Newark. I had five hours to eat Frosty’s and knit and reacquaint myself to the accents of so many Americans. But I never did finish that scarf.

I can’t regulate tension well wherever I am, so I asked a student at a later employment to teach me to crochet. I graduated from hats to scarves and taught others. In the four years since I first learned, I have gifted and been gifted scarves. Red knit, pink linen, gold crochet hang in my closet or lay rolled in a drawer. Two-toned reds with gold thread and ribbons of coral and cream appear in photos taken in cities I’ve never visited. My friends have frequently asked me whether or not I made the scarf I’m wearing. I learn new patterns, working and working the material between my fingers, working and working to keep its softness from the dog’s mouth, playing with colors and volume, keeping the skeins off the floor and away from the dog hair (so much dog hair).

I don’t crochet much anymore. There’s too much dog hair. I most often miss it when I’m at work, wishing I could spend my lunch break in the armchair by the window, intricately knotting yarn, my fingers worked as I listen to something soothing. But my work is always at home, with boxes and bags of skeins I haven’t touched in months. And at least one scarf is rarely far from me, at work, at home, in my car, if not around my neck.