The Gathering

Inspired by Bruno Pirecki’s debut novel Town Lawe as well as Ben Franklin’s Junto (which later became the American Philosophical Society), I decided to start my own communal gathering. Both the examples listed depict people coming together to discuss ideas and pursue wisdom. And that’s what I wanted to do.

As someone who naturally resonates with the lone wolf archetype, I am often drawn to self-sufficiency out of fear that the need for community is based in weakness. But ultimately humans are communal creatures, and the cultivation of a healthy community can be incredibly life giving. I reached out to some friends individually to pitch the idea to them: I wanted to start a weekly gathering to build community and to pursue wisdom through the discussion of various topics.

Some people attend once and others come every week; I usually provide a charcuterie board of sorts so no one needs to leave hungry. Through my commitment to set aside this time and space on a weekly basis, a small group of about three or four of us meet to talk, often late into the night, about our questions, observations, frustrations, and celebrations in life. Sometimes the conversation doesn’t go very deep; other times I find myself revealing vulnerable truths I wrestle with as I search for growth and healing. The whole process has felt like a necessary part of leaning into what it means to be human, at least for me.

And as I have sought to offer value to others, I have found that blessing returning to me as well. There have been times I felt exhausted, and a friend furnished and prepared the snacks for me so I didn’t have to. As I have attempted to cultivate an environment of trust for others, so I have found I am able to express more vulnerable parts of myself and allow others to speak encouragement into my insecurities. This, I believe, is part of what it means to pursue wisdom.

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On Solitude

I find it interesting that when I want to have an angry outburst there is no one to outburst to. The stressors of work, fatigue, hunger, anything that puts me on edge and causes me to want to express that frustration to someone – no one is there. It is then that I realize I am my own family unit. I am my own spouse, my own parent, my own child. Because those family roles have not materialized in front of me I become them to myself. I need to be self-sufficient, my own source of self-soothing and nurture because I don’t have the safety net of the nuclear family to fall back on. I am my own nuclear family. 

Really it’s a mercy I have no one to take my anger out on, because then the issue can come to an abrupt halt with just me, and no one else has to suffer for it. Perhaps you can call it the high road, the transcendent path that leads me to my most enlightened self. I hate it and love it at the same time. My solitary state has prevented the suffering of others and forced me to come to terms with my own suffering, and to take responsibility for my own healing. Oh it hurts. And I hope it’s not all meaningless.

A Quiet Reunion

Like a ghost, you concealed yourself in the dark corners of my mind.

Hidden in the shadows nearly forgotten until recently you emerged again, filling the absence of another. 

I have made peace with you; I am not afraid. You have been a constant companion to me these years and I have come to value your presence. You have connected me with a deep part of myself, given me access to a new dimension filled with wonders. You are a painful presence, but I do not resent you. You are a gift given to me to teach me hard lessons, to be my guide. I welcome you, my old friend: Loneliness.

Snapshot: My Lovely Saturday Night

“I’ll be taking wonderful care of you tonight,” my waiter said as he opened his notepad and readied his pen. My order was simple: water, lobster bisque, and biscuits. He dashed off to the kitchen, his feet almost as quick as his speech.

Alone with my thoughts, I took in my surroundings: the soft thump, thump, thump of the base drum on the radio, the low lighting creating an air of privacy, the Canadian man sitting behind me talking about his trip to Florida. A baby cried in an adjacent room. Nearby, some servers gathered around one of the cash registers to share a joke. I wondered if anyone would find it strange for a woman to eat dinner alone in a restaurant, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Wearing my new (to me) sweater and sporting a fresh haircut, I figured tonight was as much a night as any to celebrate. It had been awhile since I’d taken myself “out on a date,” and the gift card I had received gave me the perfect opportunity to do so. I would not look at my phone tonight. Instead, I savored the environment – the mainstream, commercialized bistro I had learned to love from childhood – and drew comfort from its familiarity. I basked in gratefulness for the beauty of these moments, moments I hadn’t experienced in a long time.

I had lost sight of something. Of myself. I had forgotten how nice it felt to do something special – by myself. Here, now, I could be fully present, and present I was – well, at least until I realized I had almost finished my soup. It was so good I nearly forgot to enjoy it. The bisque tasted like the sea and like a warm hug all at once, and the cheesy, buttery biscuits melted in my mouth.

I thought about how I had no one to talk to there, but I didn’t mind. My soul was content to rest and reflect and simply be, without having to focus on conversation. Sometimes loneliness is a beautiful thing.

The waiter gave me a small bag to pack up the extra biscuits; I gave him an extra tip for his sweet demeanor. My spirit was overflowing with joy from being fully alive and fully myself. It really was a quick supper – I was in and out in under and hour – but my heart was full. And so was my belly.

Social Life After College

I’ve often reflected on humans’ basic need for community, and tried to brainstorm how I can best develop my own community of people around me.

I hear it’s easier to make friends in college than post-college because you’re going to class every day with people you have things in common with, be it age, major, etc. I can see truth in this. Personally, though, I felt pretty lonely in college because there were very few people I felt I could really connect with. Yes, several friendships I have today are ones I cultivated in college, but most of them are with people I didn’t even share classes with.

In the south where I live, the “thing” to do as an adult is join a small group or Bible study. I am definitely a fan of being active in one’s faith as well as finding like-minded people. Many times, however, a Bible study is not where one feels they can connect with people on their most personal level. I have experienced social relationships from work, game nights, or other contexts where I can reveal different sides of myself to different people. Not in the sense of being deceptive, but in the sense of being a human with multiple dimensions.

The challenge is finding a community of people where you can be your most authentic self. And that evolves over time, especially during big changes such as a job transition, moving to a different location, etc. It’s always frustrating to be in a transition time of any sort. Because transitions can coincide with a lack of depth. And lack of depth is isolating.

Dear Mentor

Dear Mentor,

I am hoping and praying for your presence in my life, and the sooner the better. Yes, I have plenty of mentor-like figures who have influenced my life, and yet I am desiring one to whom I can reveal myself more fully and openly on a regular basis. While I used to see a therapist, I eventually concluded that I did not want to pay money for someone to be my friend, to do life with me. I wanted to build a more personal relationship than that which is healthy in a therapist-patient connection.

I fear I may be too picky in the kind of person I want. I want God to give me a mentor, and yet I want it to be the kind of mentor I would like. Although I don’t know for sure exactly what I want, I have some ideas on what I don’t want, and I fear that might be just the thing God places in front of me.

I guess I want someone who will take the time to understand me and my background. Someone who has an understanding of and appreciation for mental and emotional health. I don’t want the vomiting of proverbs without the process of digesting them first, in order to make them concrete, applicable. Even the deepest wisdom is useless to the ears of one who does not understand the language.

I prefer someone who has a sense of humor, and doesn’t mind an occasional curse word here and there. Debate the morality of each if you wish, but I believe one must be genuine in order to experience growth. And sometimes being genuine entails exposing the crudeness and less reverent side of life.

I have begun every paragraph so far with the word I. I want to have a healthier view of myself and also of others. I possess a yearning for growth and for someone to help nurture me in my journey. And I need you, mentor, to challenge me while I challenge you, in hopes we can both become better versions of ourselves.

When Self Awareness Is Really Rumination

Many have complimented me for my self awareness, my ability to understand my personal growth challenges and identify my weaknesses. However, what many do not understand is that not all of my musings are a result of self awareness, but rather rumination.

Like a cow chewing its cud, I regurgitate my thoughts and turn them over and over in my head. Unlike a cow, I can never seem to fully digest them. They keep coming back up to haunt me. While I have done this for almost as long as I can remember, some periods of time are worse than others. My obsessing over various topics has kept me awake at night, trapped me in bed in the morning, and made me late or absent to scheduled engagements. Sometimes I can distract myself long enough to be productive; sometimes I can’t.

In trying to dig to the root of my struggle, I think I may have begun doing this as a self-soothing tactic to remedy my loneliness. I know that my thoughts are not logical, so instead of communicating them to others, I allow them full reign in my head. I don’t really think of it as anxiety as much as a means of comfort, much like a child sucking on her thumb.

I have tried to process these thoughts with people I am close to, but what I have discovered is I reason them away. I may acknowledge that they are illogical feelings, and almost apologize for them to the people I talk to. In recent reflection, I realized I still talk to my friends about the same thoughts and feelings I was having a year ago. The obsession is relentless.

So what do I do with all that? I have tried reasoning my feelings away, because I am a huge fan of being a person of reason, but there is no reasoning with feelings, no matter how convincing the argument. I think what I crave more than anything is for someone to enter into the worry with me, to cry with me before helping to bring me out of it. To help me realize that my feelings, however illogical, are valid.

What Physical Loneliness Looks Like

In my opinion, touch is one of the most intimate ways to express love to another. Of course, there are many dimensions and expressions of love, on emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and sexual levels. But at this stage of my life, touch is my favorite.

The only way to achieve physical intimacy as an adult is within the boundaries of a romantic relationship, or at least the simulation of one. No wonder so many people rush into unwise unions; how else are they supposed to feel the loving touch of another human being? Why can we not all love more overtly, without reserving such love for romance? Not that everyone should have sex with each other, but surely cuddling, kissing, hugging would be a way to build and strengthen bonds with one another as humans. To increase intimacy among mankind. With loneliness being a universal struggle, I believe all of us have a need to be nurtured in some way.

I once sat behind a couple at a public gathering, watching them interact with each other. She leaned on him, he scratched her back. Over, and over. Not just a quick pat, but a slow rubbing up and down to display affection. My blood boiled and fueled the tears of yearning hiding in my eyes. I don’t know what it’s like for someone to rub my back like that. But I want to.

Perhaps some would say I am desperate to be in a relationship. I do not altogether disagree with such allegations, nor do I fully agree either. I have fared quite well without a boyfriend, and do not believe I need one. However, what I do crave is physical contact. Not sex, necessarily, but some form of intimacy with other humans that conversation simply does not satisfy. I do not want to wait my entire life to seclude myself with one person; I want to make everyone feel loved. And it seems that reserving love for one person is a waste of the human heart.

When pondering “couple hood,” my mind immediately wanders to marriage. I think someday I do want to marry, but I have conflicting thoughts about it. Sometimes I think I can love others better by remaining single. But in a way I wish I could have sex with everyone. I know what it’s like to feel alone, isolated, desperate, helpless. And I don’t want other people to have to feel the way I have. Even if it’s just momentary relief, I want to give someone what has not been given me. I want to wrap my arms around them and love them, pretending that for once, everything is going to be okay. For them to experience my body and for me to experience theirs, to escape the world for a little while and go somewhere else. I want everyone to be able to feel that because the world is a broken place. I am broken. And I want to help other people put their pieces back together.

I Yearn for More

The question “How are you?” has morphed into a shallow greeting not meant to elicit an honest response. Those who do wish for an honest response have to probe further to uncover the mysteries that lie beneath the masks. Perhaps the more appropriate question to ask would be “How is your soul?”

If I am honest with myself, my likely answer to that question is “My soul is groaning.” I can tell you what my daily stressors are and why my life is hard, but that barely scratches the surface. Beneath the top soil of my heart lies the tough clay surrounding the root of my struggles, which sometimes not even I can define. Words are not sufficient to describe my feelings, my yearning for something I do not know how to find. And often this translates to depression.

I do not deny that chronic depression is an illness, a chemical imbalance of the brain that should be addressed. It is a battle I have fought for many years. Those who wrestle with depression feel differently from those who do not, even if it entails periods of numbness. There is a depth to the darkness that lasts indefinitely, casting a spell of fog upon those who experience that darkness. One could even argue that those who are depressed feel more deeply in certain ways. But suppose this is not a bad thing? Suppose we looked at depression from a different lens?

What if depression is not merely an illness, but a deeper realization of what it means to groan for eternity? That my soul longs for an unearthly love not yet realized? The material woes and issues of this life are but a thumbnail of a bigger picture which has yet to be revealed. A rocky relationship may propel me to fear that I am not loved and will therefore be alone. A dwindling bank account may scare me into thinking I will not be provided for.

Often we realize and express these anxieties only on the surface level, hoping that if we could just make more money or get along better in a relationship that our problems will be solved. We cling to these tangible issues because they are the some of the only ways we know how to express the deeper feelings of our hearts.

Truthfully, solving the issues on the surface may make life more convenient, but it will not satisfy the underlying ache that permeates the very fibers of my being. To place my hope of fulfillment on my surface saviors is a burden none of them were built to bear.

Many who aware of their deeper feelings have come to this realization, that nothing on this earth can fully meet their most intimate needs. As a result, people have ended their lives as a sign of giving up on this world, longing for a sense of relief and rest. They are right to realize the emptiness of life, but as most therapists will say, suicide is not the answer. What is has been debated over centuries, because this life as we know it is simply too limited for us to completely understand the human spirit. This much is clear: we are meant for something greater; what that entails remains to be discovered.

When Dark Descends

This evening I am enjoying the warmth and comfort of my apartment, the soft glow of the lamp on my homemade coffee table, the smell of cinnamon and orange drifting through the air from the kitchen. From my cozy corner I contemplate the presence of fear, of darkness, in the context of the surrounding materials shielding me from those horrors, and yet I have had more exposure to those elements than I would ever wish.

I watched an episode on Netflix in which the characters had to face the darkest part of themselves in order to get what they wanted. They had to come to terms with who they were. Coincidently I read a blog post right after that in which the writer suggests we run toward our greatest fears to create our best work. It is in the midst of this situation I find myself contemplating what areas of my life are shrouded in darkness. What do I fear? Who am I deep inside?

Far be it from me to expose my innermost thoughts to the internet, so if that is what you are expecting, I am afraid you will be left wanting. Still, I believe it a challenge to know for sure what our deepest insecurities are without extensive searching and reflection. We do not have a dramatic musical score to tell us when we have solved the riddle. Instead we have mere scraps of music, little bits here and there waiting for us to piece them together into our own song.

Something I fear deeply is being alone. Not physically, for that is how I am most days. It is on a more emotional level I fear I will not find companionship or love. I have no doubt many people love me dearly, but very few are able to come with me to the darkest parts of my heart. Sometimes even I do not dare descend the rickety staircase leading to that dusty basement for the possibility of getting caught in the cobwebs.

In the midst of all this, it is often the advice of many to turn to one’s spiritual health for solace. But I say this: no matter what you believe, it will not always change what you feel. Yes, we must acknowledge our feelings. Yes, we must do what is right despite those feelings, but feelings, fears, and darkness will not always dissipate no matter how hard we try to make them. When hope looks like nothing other than a distant delusion and healing a cruel con, sometimes all we can do is add more measures to our symphony in the making. We cannot yet hear the full piece, only an incomplete cadence. As much as we want to dissolve the dissonance to reach a resolution, sometimes our only antidote is to whisper to ourselves, “Maybe tomorrow.”