Remembering What Beauty Looks Like

A writer friend told me today that a chapter I drafted for my book indicated an evolution in voice and writing style, perhaps because I’d gone from story-telling to deep personal reflection. I sense maybe this blog post has done the same thing. And though I can pretend all I want that it is just me and the computer–it isn’t–and so I ask you, dear readers, to bear with me this one post–because, the truth is, sometimes, you just have to write what’s most on your heart.

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When the central landscape of your life changes, shifts, because of a change in relationship or location or work or any other significant transition, it can be difficult to find what your landmarks are. Not the post office or the drugstore or the library, or the neighbor with the tacky Christmas lights, but the things that remind you you’re still you, that despite personal or professional or physical upheaval, YOU are still YOU.

This coming week will mark a year since my Curly Girl and I have been in a new place. We never left our beloved Louisville, but we did move to another part of town. Of course the physical landmarks changed–I have a new “main” coffee shop, and a different grocery store. My route to work changed, too, and while I can’t walk most places on the weekends as I could in my old neighborhood, I’ve still found, within close distance, the things that make us feel like we aren’t entirely in a strange land–Heine Brothers, of course. Target, of course. Panera, of course.

The church we go to is nearby, but in an entirely different direction than we’re used to heading. We go to different parks and we take a different route to school–although this is a lovely bonus, because along the route is our new favorite thing–Clifton Donut Shop (dear lord, y’all–the chocolate iced old fashioned is enough to make a southern girl weep). And for every change we’ve made, learned or successfully navigated, for her, it has been doubly-so, as she has also learned the new landscape of where she and her dad live. She has a number of people in her life who pray for her, support her and watch out for her as she learns all this new-ness, and to that village I am entirely indebted.

There are things I miss about our old neighborhood. The little garden we had, for one–there isn’t quite space for such a thing where we are right now. And I miss how easily I could see the moon–which has anchored my soul when nothing else would for as long as I can remember. I miss–and this will sound so strange–the 3 or 4 homeless guys who frequented the doorway of a local coffee shop, the lawn of a nearby church, and the corner where someone often would throw some change their way. Something about them kept me on alert for ways I could be more compassionate (and trust me…there are many ways!). I saw one of them the other day on the way to pick up CG from school, walking through downtown, his head down, and my heart twisted.

I miss some things, for sure. Grief and failure still hang thick some days, too, though neither cloud my mind and heart as they did for quite some time. And the way forward, the way fully into this new life and way of being? It is not clear. Not at all. And so I am learning to, if not love, at least be friends, with the idea of “in the meantime” (h/t to the current sermon series at FCC, Lousiville). Because there is no rushing my way through–our way through–this new terrain.

Along the way there have been such angels of mercy–a dramatic and unlikely phrase for me to use, I’ll admit, because I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean anything with halos or golden wings or ethereal presence. Still, I know no other concept that even begins to encompass the people who have walked with us on the journey.

Because of them, each in their own way, I’m beginning to remember what beauty looks like.

Recently some new friends took CG and me for a boat ride on the Ohio River. Nothing fancy, no official boat etiquette or gear needed, just a life jacket, a clear night and good company. CG, of course, insisted on sitting up front, just ahead of the steering wheel and captain’s chair. This was not a large boat, and I knew that sitting where she was, she’d get some serious wind, spray, and bouncing up and down. Still, she was certain of where she wanted to be, and…well…you try arguing with that child when she’s certain.

Ten minutes later and I was watching my girl with her arms thrown wide and her head thrown back and her mouth wide open, shrieking with laughter and with zero concern about anything but how thrilling this all was. Her curly locks spun in the wind and every once in a while she’d grab the arm of her young friend sitting next to her, just in pure excitement.

My heart soared.

And I thought, as I watched her embrace it all with such beautiful welcome, “We may not be where I’d hoped/planned/intended for us to be, at this point, in this life, but we’re here. And we’re loved. And that smile she’s got is enough hope to fuel her mama through just about anything.”

And today, in the midst of a world screaming in pain, tilting more jaggedly into chaos with every passing day, so much broken and wrong and angry–today, in the midst of all this, it’s enough, simply to Be. Here.

And believe–because I know no other way to live–that all is not lost. Not entirely. And that beauty is still with us, even as we (all, collectively, across this earth) continue to battle all that would seek to destroy it.

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