My Life

Does the vague name make it sound more edgy?

Pray for One Person in Ukraine

Yesterday, a man at my church prayed for the people of Ukraine.

In the past few days, we have all watched the chaos and tragedy caused by the attack ordered by Vladimir Putin unfold. And while it has been heartbreaking to watch, it has also been inspiring to see the resilience and determination of the Ukrainian people as they fight to protect their country and maintain their freedom.

I have seen a lot of prayers and cries of support go out to Ukraine, but this one stood out to me. This prayer was not general, it was not surface level, and it was not sweeping. I don’t say this to criticize any other prayers or support, as the world needs all of them right now, but this one acted as a bit of a wakeup call to me.

In his prayer, he asked us to identify with the people of Ukraine. Not just think of them, not just pray for them, not just hope for their peace and safety. He asked us to remember that they are people just like us. They are not just a far away country or a story on the news. They are a community of individuals. They are people. Just like us.

As I listened to him pray, I imagined what it would be like for that war to be around me. To feel the terror of my country, my city, being under attack and not knowing what the future holds. I imagined what it would be like to watch my friends and family lay down their lives to protect their freedom, my freedom, and I imagined what I would do if the time came when I had to take up a weapon and do the same.

I imagined what it might feel like to listen to the world cry out in prayer and support for my country, my people, and my safety. Would it feel like they were really praying for me? Would they know I was there, scared, my world as I knew it darkening and cracking? Would they understand the consequences this war would have on the rest of my life—on the rest of the world, the rest of the country, the rest of history, yes, but also me, my life, and so many more individual lives.

The expanse of the universe makes it so easy to feel small. The size of continents, countries, cities, heck, even counties or neighborhoods make it easy to feel small. In Southern California, as I sit on the freeway in traffic, to so many people I am just another car. But to me, I am always an individual. I am always a person with thoughts and feelings that is living a life, having good days and bad days. I am one person. But I am a person. And in the Ukraine, amongst all the numbers, statistics and generalized news reports, there are millions of people. One person alongside another, fighting for their lives. Wanting peace to find their country again. Wanting their families to be safe and their future to be hopeful.

So when you pray for Ukraine, when you research ways you can support the people in the midst of their darkest days, remember they are a population made up of individuals, of stories, lives and hearts. Remember that those people are just like you and me, and that in a different world, they might be praying for us. For you. For me.

Think of what it would feel like to know that someone was praying for you. To identify with you, to understand the pain and trauma that you are feeling in a time like this, to let you know that you are seen, that you are cared for, and that peace and protection is being asked over you. There are so many people to pray for right now, but let’s not do so lazily or generally. Don’t be vague, be specific. Ignite hope, provide strength, and cast love on each and every person. Young and old and everything in between.

Pray for one person. Pray for every person.

My Nighttime Routine

Remember a while back when I was determined to find a morning routine?

And remember how after a few tries I figured out that my mornings do kind of have a routine, but that routine is simply organized chaos?

I kind of gave up on the idea of trying to squeeze things into my mornings, especially my weekday mornings, because I think I’m always going to be someone who gets done what needs to get done, and leaves room for nothing else. And that’s okay. As the poet Ke$ha once said, “we R who we R.”

However, I have not completely given up on the idea of a routine.  In fact, over the last few months, I’ve found great comfort in sticking to a nighttime routine.

When I was little (and honestly, still quite often today) I had a lot of trouble falling and staying asleep. I often had a lot of anxiety around the concept of sleep, and of the responsibilities that awaited me when I woke up. I also tended to be just plain scared of the dark, as it’s unsettling and, seemingly, unsafe.

Needless to say, I like to get in bed, fall asleep, and stay asleep until the sun comes up. And finding a routine that invites in that deep sleep has been very helpful for me.

So, if you are someone looking to add some routine to your evenings, or just need something else to focus on other than the impending workday, I thought I’d share some of the staples in my nighttime routine.

Note: While sometimes I do these in a kind of “order” it is neither rigid nor consistent. These act more like items on a checklist rather than blocks of a schedule.


1) Skin care

I’m not here to tell you to do 78 steps of skincare. I’m not even here to tell you to do five. I just know that finding a routine and doing it consistently has made my skin happy for the first time in *literally* 15 years. I used to always skip a step here or there, saying that I was too tired or that I didn’t really need to do them all because I assumed, I don’t know, I could overcome breakout prone skin with shear will. It was only about a year or two ago when I decided, okay, I will do every single step, every single day, and see if I can stop breaking out like I’m still 16 years old. And even though it took a little bit for my skin to adjust, once it did, it was like, FINALLY, GIRL, I’ve been waiting for this! My skin still isn’t “perfect”, but I feel like it’s no longer mad at me, and as a result, I no longer dream about peeling it off my face. So that’s nice.

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2) Go through my to-do list

When I was doing research on how to find a revitalizing morning routine, I constantly saw things like “set intentions” or “go through your to-do list” as an important item. It is supposed to put you in the right mindset for the day, putting your priorities in the right place and jumpstarting your motivation. But for me, my biggest goal in the morning is finding a way to get up. I don’t have time (or energy) to go through my to-do list because what I’d like to do is go back to sleep. However, I have found that going through my to-do list at night allows me to plan out my next day, making me feel like I’m a little more ready for it. I check off what I got done and I review what’s still left to accomplish, and I start brainstorming how I can be productive the next day. It’s nothing too intense. In fact, I mostly just scroll through the list, make a few mental notes here and there, and then move on. It’s a way for me to center and quiet my mind, preventing it from spinning off in a million different directions and causing me to panic.

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3) Duolingo

I’ve been taking Spanish on Duolingo for a few years now and I have been very excited with my progress. Within the app, your “daily goal” is completed when you do about two lessons, and this takes maybe 10 minutes. I tend to do my Spanish when I get in bed and I start to have that internal argument about whether or not I should stay on my phone. I get a weird kind of separation anxiety about putting my phone down and not getting to see or know anything else until the next morning. But often when I give in a little, I take full advantage, staying on my phone for way too long. So, I’ve been using Duolingo as a kind of farewell to screen time. Once I finish my Spanish, I am finished with my phone for the day.

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4) Journal

One of the best ways I have found to quiet a pacing mind is to put all of those paces on paper. Sometimes I don’t know how hard I’m thinking or overthinking until I start to write about it, and then all of sudden I’ve filled pages and pages with thoughts and feelings. Journaling for me is like having a long, deep talk with a friend right before bed. You can get everything out, take that deep sigh of relief, and then relax.

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5) Read

The very last thing I do at night is read. After I’ve turned off all the lights, I lay down with my Kindle and tuck in with the latest chapter of whatever book I’m reading. Depending on the night, I will sometimes do this with my phone, because at this point, I am looking for that final distraction, that something to help me think about anything other than the spirals in my mind. More often than not however, my phone offers both a distraction from what I’m thinking about and a bridge to all new reasons to panic. With social media, I never know what I’m going to scroll by, so at times it feels like I’m waiting for a bomb to drop, for something to pop up that sets my brain on fire—which I usually try to put out by continuing to scroll, as if I’ll find something to undo it. Reading however, both relaxes and engages my mind. It asks me to pay attention to one story, and that story slowly invites in sleep. I always sleep better when I read before bed, and it’s nice not waking up with a headache or that feeling that, you know, I stared at a tiny screen three inches from my face for two hours in the dark.

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In a way, I have tried to make these things somewhat Pavlovian, tricking my mind into thinking that, once we go through this routine, we must sleep. We have to sleep, because there is nothing else to do.  I have come a long way since I was little and am much better equipped to manage my emotions and calm myself down, but some nights the panic is hard to escape, and it can compound with the fear of being overtired the next day, making it a viscous spiral. Having a routine makes me feel more in control, which gives me a sense of peace.

We all want to get a good night’s sleep, and this is how I believe I set myself up to do just that.


Do you have anything you do as part of your nighttime routine?

We’re Going Out Tonight

As I took my seat in the audience, I took a slow look at the people around me. There were conversations happening everywhere. Some serious, some lighthearted, some loud, and some whispered. Hands joined in greetings and introductions, and arms pulled shoulders into happy hugs. The stage was set, the show was getting ready to start, and the seats were filling up by the minute.

I fiddled with my rings, two on each hand. I don’t get to wear them as often as I’d like because I work with too many metals and chemicals that might damage them. So when I do put them on, it means I’m going somewhere special, somewhere fun, somewhere I want to feel the slightest bit fancy.

I put on my favorite pair of jeans and a fun top, a pair of white sneakers and my jean jacket. Standing in front of the mirror while I got ready, I put on mascara and some eyeshadow, and brushed product in my hair to give it a little oomph. I felt comfortable, I felt cute, I felt like myself, which is my favorite feeling—especially since it hasn’t always been the most common.

Getting ready can be a miserable process. Sometimes you walk into your closet and it feels as if all you own is a series of different colored grocery bags, and when you put them on you feel like the trash that people throw into those grocery bags in an effort to upcycle. I have been brought to tears by everything from the seam of a sock to the tag on a t-shirt. I have participated in the cliché throwing of outfit after outfit onto my bed, and I have dramatically slid down the front of my dresser, with my shirt half on and my pants unbuttoned, hoping that by the time I hit the floor the world might spontaneously combust so I won’t have to finish getting dressed.

If I manage to get through that step though, all new obstacles await me in the bathroom. With the slightest error, my go-to makeup routine can become a session of torture. Sometimes I’ll put on the finishing touches and think, cool, I’ve turned a goblin into an oily goblin with eyeshadow. Other times I will look at my concealer brush as if it has betrayed me by not turning me into an entirely different person, and I apply so much powder in an attempt to hide my blemishes that I look like I fell asleep in a bowl of flour—then I’m mad about that and so I start over.

And sometimes, I’ll get all the way ready, feeling pretty good, or, at the very least, not pretty bad, and then I’ll walk out, either in public amongst strangers, or just into my living room amongst friends and family, and think, awesome, everyone looks great and I look like I rolled in the gutter and then put lipstick on.

I’ll admit, sometimes the mere prospect of getting ready can sway me from wanting to leave my house. The threat of feeling those negative feelings about myself or of comparing myself to others can prevent me from wanting to go anywhere at all. Because at home, in my space, amongst my things and my people, I know I can be exactly who I am, exactly the way I look, with no judgement. And when I step outside, I expose myself to a lot of eyes and opinions that I am sometimes not ready for.

But I’m starting to learn that while yes, some days are just going to be tough, sometimes getting ready is going to feel less desirable than getting the stomach flu—with the finished product feeling just as nauseating—the more you start to appreciate, understand and know who you are on the inside, the more you are able to honestly, accurately and comfortably present that person on the outside.

As I sat down in the audience on Saturday night, I felt like myself. I knew why I’d chosen that outfit and why I’d put on my makeup and my rings, and I wasn’t looking around the room for reasons why those choices were wrong or inferior.  I knew what made me feel confident to go out, and I loved seeing what everyone else chose.

Looking around, I saw a snakeskin blazer and black boots, a grey sweater with a small, hand embroidered flower on the back, a fedora, a black breton with lace detail, a shiny silk shirt tucked into a pleated skirt, a Tommy Hilfiger jacket, straight hair, curly hair, hair that was gelled back, suits, blue jeans, high heels, sneakers, necklaces, earrings, bedazzled masks and headbands. There were patterns and solid colors, and textures of all kinds.

In a room full of about 100 people, not one looked the same. But each of us had stood in front of the mirror, maybe agonizingly, maybe casually, maybe for hours, maybe for a few minutes. We all stood in front of the mirror and said, “okay, we’re going out tonight.” Maybe not everyone felt as confident as they’d like to, and maybe a few people walked in with that familiar feeling of, why does everyone look great except me? But as I looked at the people around me, I was just happy to see us all out. Happy to see us all expressing ourselves and our styles, all different and all wonderful.

We’d all overcome the biggest obstacle to getting ready—ourselves—and now we were all there, ready to have a good night. The lights went down, the show started, and I smiled, comfortable.

Two Different Days

On Saturday morning I got up early to drive to San Diego. Coming from Los Angeles, the drive is about 150 miles and can be two hours. But if you leave at the wrong time of day, it can get longer and longer (and longer). So when I head that direction, I do my best to outsmart the traffic. I left at about 8:30 a.m., and had an estimated arrival time of 11:00am, so I turned on a playlist and got comfortable.  

About 30 minutes into my drive, a motorcycle came up on my left, followed by about 50 more motorcycles. While it’s not strange to see crews of motorcycles cruising down the freeway, especially when the weather is nice, I was surprised when they kept coming and coming. Then, at the back, I saw a police officer. As an instinct, I sat up straight and checked my speed, but the officer paid me no mind, driving right by me, closely following the motorcycles. I continued driving, and then I noticed three cars in front of the motorcycles, all with their flashers on. In front of them, was a hearse.  

The parade of cars and motorcycles moved like a flock of birds. When the leader changed lanes, the line followed suit in a smooth transition. Hand signals were passed down the line like falling dominoes, and everyone stayed close together.

I couldn’t help but watch.

The playlist on my radio faded into the background and I drove on autopilot, fascinated. I examined the motorcycle riders, noticing how some wore matching leather jackets emblazoned with the name of their crew; some bikes had two people on them, one driver and one passenger holding on tight; hair flowed out from underneath helmets and tattoos were dark on forearms.

The hearse looked both like the toughest car and the most fragile. It was hard not to feel the weight of the vehicle, knowing it carried a body–a person. And everyone that followed in line cared about that person. Even though I had no personal connection to these people, and had no knowledge of the deceased, I still recognized the sting and humanness of loss.

I’d stood in those shoes many times before. I’d walked out of churches or across the grounds of cemeteries; I’d driven home from funerals and celebrations of life, drenched in the pain of grief. On those days, I often wondered what it might be like to be someone else, disconnected from the feeling I felt, living a different day, making different memories.

But on that day, I was the someone else. The sun was warm and welcoming, and I was excited to make the drive down to San Diego to visit one of my best friends and her family. I knew my weekend was going to be full of good conversation, good company and an undeniable lightness that comes with pure, unconditional friendship.

They, on the other hand, would feel differently. Their day would perhaps be quite heavy, quite hard, quite slow. They’d lost someone and their world looked a little different now. I knew how they felt, and I was sorry they had to feel it.

A hand went up in the front of the pack and pointed to the right, towards a sign for an upcoming exit. It started a ripple effect, sending hands up and to the right, down the line until it reached the last rider and the policeman following close behind. They moved smoothly into the next lane and then the next, and then took the off ramp. I drove past them, continuing on my way, and slowly turned my music back up, coming back into myself and my drive.  

I thought of them often throughout the weekend, wondering who they’d lost, how they were doing, and what had brought them all together in the first place. They were all living different lives and walking down different paths that could have taken them in a thousand different directions. But on that day, and perhaps many before it, they were all together. And on that morning, I was riding along with them, empathizing with their loss, admiring their community, and hoping for good things in the future.

We were all just people moving from one place to the next, but at the same time, we were so much more than that. We were the directions we were going and the places we’d come from. We were every morning that had led us to that one, and every morning that would come after. We were a collection of all the people we loved and all the people we’d lost. We were stories, actively being written, side by side. Perhaps we’d never cross paths again, but the fact that we had was a humbling reminder of how many lives are being lived in a single day.

Two hours later, I turned off my car and knocked on the door of my friend Nicole’s house. She greeted me with a warm smile and her two-year-old son looked up at me shyly.

“Hi Kim,” he said, before stuffing a bite of muffin in his mouth. I took a seat next to him, thankful this was my day, knowing not everyone was so lucky.

The Day My Washer Betrayed Me

So, there I was. It was Saturday night. I’d just finished my takeout. I was watching a movie. I was sitting at the dining room table, painting. I was doing laundry. I was thinking about making hot chocolate. I was feeling at peace.

Then the dryer buzzed.

Our dryer is a little on the older side, and the timer can only be set for 30 minutes, so you have to run it through one cycle, listen for the buzz, and then start it again. Two cycles usually does the trick. I’d already done two loads of laundry and I only had one left.

So, the dryer buzzed, and I decided to finish painting one final flower before getting up. I was painting daisies on an old window that my mom’s friend had found at a garage sale. There was green on my hands from the stems and a chunk of yellow under my thumbnail from the pollen in the center of the petals. I was sitting with my legs crossed under me, in big fluffy socks because my toes had been cold since I woke up. My legs were stiff, my shoulders were slouched, but I was in the zone. The hours were flying off the clock in that happy way they do when you’re immersed in something you love. But then I remembered: the dryer buzzed, and if I didn’t get up now, I’d never remember to start it again.

I stretched my arms out, rolled my head along my shoulders, and then stepped onto the wood floor to stand up. Instantly, my foot was wet. I jumped and instinctively took my sock off, wondering what spilled. Then I took a few more steps and realized the whole floor was wet. I walked to the kitchen, and when I crossed the threshold of the wood floor in the dining room onto the linoleum in the kitchen, my foot splashed into a near two inches of water.

I gasped, whispering, “no no no no no no,” as I sloshed through the kitchen. When I opened the door to the laundry room, the small shag rug was floating like a raft in front of the washer and dryer. I pulled the knob to turn off the washer, then kicked my way through the water to find towels.

I laid the towels down and they withered, like a piece of paper in a puddle. They absorbed what they could but then just lay there, pointless, and within seconds, I had no more dry towels. Standing in the near ankle-deep water in the kitchen, I grabbed a plastic cup out of the cupboard and began shoveling the water in the sink, as if I was trying to keep a boat afloat. I threw in cupful after cupful—and then I called my dad.

As I waited for him to arrive, I started to use one of the towels like a mop, laying it in the water and then wringing it out, laying it in the water and then wringing it out. Then I noticed that the water had moved into the entry way by the front door, and through the doorway of my sister’s bedroom. So, I wrung out the towel for a final time and took off running, my feet splashing across the floor, and turned on her bathroom and bedroom light.

“No no no no no,” I said again as I moved into her room, horrified by how the water had slithered down her hallway to the base of her bed and underneath her desk. I began to use the towel to push the water back down the hallway, careful not to direct it into her closet, and out into the entryway where the water was already pooled. From there, I would take the towel and wring it out in her sink, then start again.

By the time my dad got there, I was wet from the neck down, openly panting. Shortly after, the neighbor from down the hall knocked on the door, kind but concerned.

“Do you guys have a leak?” he asked.

I nodded, my feet now numb and my hair sticking out at all angles. I tried and failed to start a few sentences but ended up just apologized over and over, to him, to anyone, to everyone, to me. He graciously brought me more towels and I threw them down, using some to mop and squeeze, and others to dry the parts of the floor we’d manage to clear of standing water.

I was still making trips up and down my sister’s hallway as my dad worked diligently in the kitchen, trying to drain our makeshift lake. Then, as I wrung out my towel on one trip, I noticed that the sink was covered in drops of blood. I saw it on the towel, and then I saw it on my hand.  The ring finger on my right hand, which has been prone to random and inexplicable bouts of aggressive eczema for the last year, had split open. The sensitive, paper thin skin, had been rubbed raw from the water and the tight, persistent squeezing of the towels. I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept going.

When I took breaks, I would lean on the walls, my hands shaking and my legs getting weak beneath me, and then I’d curse, realizing that as my apartment was actively flooding, I was also getting blood all over the walls.

Once it appeared that all of the standing water was gone, I started to scoot around on the remaining dry towels donated by our neighbor, trying to dry the floor as best I could. My dad turned off the water in the laundry room and noticed that not only was the washer full to the top, but the knob I’d pushed to start the cycle had not moved.

“It never stopped filling,” he said. “The cycle never started. The washer just filled and never stopped filling.”

So, as I’d sat crisscross applesauce, peacefully painting daisies at the dining room table, the washer had slowly filled to the top, then spilled over the sides, gracefully and silently, until it snuck into the kitchen, into the living room, under the table in the dining room, into the entryway, and down the hallway into my sister’s room—never making a sound.

If I hadn’t been home, if I’d set the washer to run and went on a walk or gone to the store, or, heaven forbid, stayed the night at a friend’s house, the washer would have simply kept filling, drowning our apartment and everything in it.

At least we’re on the first floor, I thought, imagining how bad this could have been if we lived above someone and brought unexpected showers to the forecast of their Saturday night. But then I thought, wait, how did our neighbor know we had a flood? I hadn’t called anyone except my dad, and I hadn’t told or talked to anyone else since my sister wasn’t home. I stepped out into the hallway and was horrified to find rivers of water running from our apartment to the one across the hall. The floor squished and bubbled when you walked on it and I held my head in pure panic.

We knocked on the door of the apartment, but no one answered. Unlike the kind, concerned neighbor who’d brought towels, I’d never met this neighbor, and didn’t want to do so Noah’s Ark style, when we were all trying to escape two by two.  So, we got to work, dragging our towels along the carpet and then wringing them out in the sink. I called my landlord, who put in a call to Servpro, and then, when there was seemingly nothing else we could do, I sat down, wondering if I was going to fall asleep or openly sob.

Just before 11:00pm, my dad, a true hero, took all the towels home with him to wash and dry, and then I got in the shower, the water warm but borderline triggering. Standing there, I worried I was going to step out of the shower and find more water, or that the neighbor across the hall was going to get home, get angry and come banging at my door, aimed to hurt me.

I knew none of this was my fault. I knew that things were going to be okay. I knew that I’d done absolutely everything that I could. I also knew that I was exhausted, that my muscles were going to SCREAM at me in the days to come, and that what I needed most was sleep. But after my shower, I walked back out into the living room and sat in my favorite chair.

The wood floor had started to pop and crack in the places where water had gotten between the panels. By morning, it would be bubbled and warped, making our once flat, shiny floor, rough and hilly, like a miniature golf course. But that night, I sat there, eating Oreos in my sweatpants and robe. My wet hair was sticking to the sides of my face and the raw skin on my ring finger was pulsing and red, but I sat there and finished the movie I’d paused almost three hours earlier, pretending like the evening ended like it was supposed to. Hoping that, somehow, I’d lay down and then wake up to find that this was all a dream.

But it wasn’t.  

Walking

Yesterday, I went on a walk.

After being down with COVID for about a week, my stamina had slowly (oh. so. slowly.) started to come back, allowing me to do things like stand up, make dinner without feeling like I was going to pass out, and even do small bouts of yoga that were mostly just breathing and remembering that I wasn’t a blob.

So, on my best day yet, I decided to walk.

Recreational walking was not my thing for a long time. I thought, if I am not a dog mother, giving her child exercise, or a human mother, pushing a stroller while my infant sleeps, then why would I walk places when I could, you know, run?

Running always seemed more logical to me. You can burn more calories, increase your cardiovascular strength, and lose weight all in way less time than walking. Plus, you feel like a badass, and with enough training you can even do crazy things like run marathons.

But then the pandemic hit, and my sister, who was confined to working from home entirely on zoom, began walking in order to maintain her sanity, and I started to get curious. I started walking through the wealthy parts of our neighborhood and admiring the houses. I liked to imagine what it would be like to live inside. I even found a few favorites that I purposefully routed my walks around, just so I could be nosey on a regular basis.

Then, when we moved out of our home of six years and into an apartment closer to the city, I fell in love with walking. Not only did it help me familiarize myself with the new neighborhood, allowing me to map it out in my head, but it allowed me, once again, to snoop. To look at all the different styles of houses that are home to countless different lives.

Walking has become one of my favorite things to do—exercise or not. Whenever I’ve had a long day, I like to go for a walk to clear my head. And when I have an open morning on the weekend, I like to go for long walks, turning down every street I come across just to see where it leads. When I start walking, I don’t want to stop, I just want to stay in that flow state where all that exists is me, my music, and the beautiful things I can find along the way.

One of my favorite things about my neighborhood is the trees. The streets are lined with tall trees that cast wonderful shadows on the walls, gates, and sidewalks, and I often find myself looking up more than straight-ahead. I can’t get enough of the way the leaves look fluttering in the breeze with the sky as their backdrop, or the way the bark curves and clothes the trunks, in all kinds of textures and patterns. Not to mention, flowers of all kinds bloom in fenced in gardens or from bushes reaching out into the street, and mailboxes come in all shapes and sizes, some even hand painted.

Walking around my neighborhood has made me feel like part of the neighborhood. I have become familiar with some neighbors—and even more familiar with their dogs—that make their daily loops. I have started to choose which direction I walk based on what time of day it is because I like the way the sun changes the tone of different buildings, or the way the breeze blows down different streets. I know which hills are steep and which roads are flat, and I know which intersections are always crowded and where the sidewalks widen and end.

On my walk yesterday, I felt blissfully happy. Not only because I was so incredibly grateful to be out bed, out of my apartment and on the other side of COVID, but because it was sunny and warm, and I had no responsibilities waiting for me at home, so I knew I could take my time and go wherever I wanted. Walking made me feel human again, it made me feel alive.  I couldn’t help but smile the whole time, admiring all the colors and feeling the heat on my skin.

Turns out, walking was a well-kept secret. One often buried under pride and stereotypes. But it does more for me than most anything else. It reminds me that I am here, among so many wonderful things—and I often take pictures of my shoes to prove it.

I am here and today was a good day.

This Thanksgiving, Right Now

At Thanksgiving time, it’s common practice to take note of what you’re thankful for. It helps pull you into the present moment, as we often spend too much time looking ahead—looking for what’s next.

Thanksgiving says, look at everything you have right now and worry about the future later. Which is good. But lately I’ve been worrying about the future in a different way.

Growing up, the future has always promised more. More freedom, more understanding, more confidence, more love, more friends, more money, more adventure, etc. Everything that hasn’t happened yet can only happen in the future, so it seems the future is the place you always want to be.

I know that I’ve reached for (and relied upon) the future, hoping it has answers and solutions that I’ve long awaited. Hoping it holds happy endings to the stories I’m writing in my life. But I also worry (and know) that it will hold things I’m not ready for. Things I’ll want to trade everything to be back on this side of.

Sometimes when I think about the future, I think of everything I will have to give up to get there. And while I look forward to the people, places and things that await me in the years to come, I hope they know (and I remember) what I’m sacrificing to reach them. I’m not just giving up the hard parts and the unanswered questions. I’m giving up all the little, magical things that exist in my day to day that I might not even notice—things I won’t miss until their gone; I’m giving up all of the unique peace that exists in between the current chaos I want to move past; and I’m giving up the naivety that exists in this world before the hard parts that lie ahead.

I’ve been through hard parts in my life. I’ve gone through good seasons and bad ones. And when I look back on the times before the bad seasons, I long for those last few moments of innocence and ignorance. But then I remember all of the good things I didn’t know, all of the magic I was yet to discover, and I feel an appreciation for those hard times and where they have brought me.

The same might be true of what is to come. And I look forward to all of the life I will get the chance to live. But for today, I’m trying to be thankful for what I have right now. The people that are around me, the place I live, the way I feel, what I’m hoping for and working towards, what the world looks like, and the things that make me smile, laugh and clap my hands. Everything that defines this Thanksgiving, this year.

If I’m lucky, I will have many Thanksgivings to come. But this is the one and only time I will have this Thanksgiving, the one and only time I will have today, and I want to embrace and exist in it, before it becomes a memory.

So future, while I’m excited to see you, I can wait. For now, I’m good right here.

There are a lot of good things right here.

A Celebration and a Camel

At the beginning of September, a woman named Norma, who went to my church, passed away suddenly. She was the mother of some of my mom’s closest church friends, whom we’d all grown to know over the years, and who, for a long time, was part of our row.

Most Sundays, when we were all in town, one row of the church parking lot was taken up me, my mom, my sister, Norma, and her two daughters, Renee and Rochelle. We then sat together in a row of chairs during service, and afterward we all hugged, updated each other on the recent happenings, and then wished each other well for the upcoming week.

This past weekend, I, along with my mom and sister, attended the celebration of life service for Norma that was hosted at our church. The three of us were asked to help out with food and we were both happy and honored to do so. We arrived a few hours early and promptly took our places putting together finger sandwiches, preparing charcuterie boards and fruit and veggie platters, and sorting and organizing the ridiculously delicious Porto’s bakery pastries. We, alongside a few other wonderful women, worked hard, wanting to make the reception of the service as easy and fulfilling as possible. We wanted the family and friends in attendance to be able to sit down, eat, talk, laugh and reminisce without having to worry about a thing.

At 4:00 p.m., the service ended and the attendees began to move into the banquet hall, some emotional, some talkative, some admittingly starving. The line formed and then it kept coming, and we watched as people filled their plates and sat down together, making the room loud and happy.  Laughter and stories echoed off the walls, making it impossible to decide who to eavesdrop on. People hugged and hung on each other; hands were taken and smiles were given over shoulders; compliments were handed out for outfits, shoes, hats, and makeup; pictures were taken and desserts were passed around.

I stood in the kitchen, along with my fellow ladies, both keeping an eye on the buffet table to see what might need to be refilled, and looking out at the family who so clearly were celebrating Norma’s life.

Not being related to Norma myself, and only really seeing her on Sunday’s, I knew my knowledge of her was few. And yet there were so many faces, glances and expressions, hints of her that I saw around the room in her family and friends. It made me wonder what things they were thinking about, what stories they felt they had to share with the people around them, and what memories they were holding on to that, to them, were who Norma was.

In the decorations around the room, I saw pictures, trinkets and mementos. I saw Norma’s favorite candies and her collection of Precious Moments figurines. She existed so purely in the room, and in the hearts of everyone who came to remember her, that by the end of the night, I felt like I’d met her all over again, and gotten to know her deeper than I ever would have.

I watched as her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren loved on each other, how they made each other laugh, drove each other crazy and gave each other purpose, and I thought, isn’t it amazing how one person can bring this many people, this many hearts, this many worlds into one room to be together, and to celebrate life. And it made me feel grateful to Norma, for reminding me how much love exists in the world to find, and how much love has already found me.

At the end of the night, I, alongside anyone else who wanted to, got to take home one of Norma’s Precious moments collectibles. I chose a little figurine of a camel. When I got home, I put the little guy on a shelf in my room, next to my own collection of sand that I have stored in glass bottles. Looking at them side by side, it’s as if they’d always belonged together. And even though I never got to know Norma for all of her colors, or in the way that her family did, I feel special knowing that I’ll always have a little piece of her, and thus a little bit of that love she created, here with me.

I Hope 30 Loves You as Much as I Do

In the fall of my sophomore year of high school, I showed up to the annual softball tryouts as a “returner.” Having made the team as a freshman, my spot was already reserved, so I was just there to volunteer my time, meet prospective players, and, along with my teammates, be the butt of the playful jokes the coaches made to lighten the mood.

I was far more relaxed than I’d been the previous year, but I was still very quiet and shy. I was the most teenager. With awkward style, awkward body awareness and a tendency to blush at even the slightest bit of attention. But I was friendly and polite, and excited to meet the new girls.

Among those girls, was Allison Roecker.

As quickly as I met Allison, she was my friend. One day we’d never heard of each other, and the next we were chatting daily on AIM. Then we were texting, sleeping over at each other’s houses, sending longwinded personal emails, writing notes during class, and staying up late talking about things like death, love and the future. Soon enough I wasn’t calling her Allison, but Alleeson (because I wanted her to have double e’s like me) and Alfred von Roecker for reasons lost to history.

High school, for me, was tough. It was scary, and there was a lot happening behind the scenes. To compensate, I dove into schticks. I let myself be defined by foods I liked, jokes I told, and characteristics that I played up and hid behind in the hopes that no one would see how lost and confused I was. How scared and vulnerable and sad. And a lot of people leaned in to those schticks. They believed they were me, they took and/or got what they wanted off the surface and didn’t take the time to dig deeper. But not Allison.

From day one, Allison created a safe place for me to be me. Whoever that might be at the time. And 15 years later, that safe place still exists and is stronger than ever.

Sometimes, when we get together for drinks or dinner or just an evening spent talking on the couch, I catch myself sharing and sharing, talking about myself as if I haven’t told anyone anything in days or months or years. I bring up questions and worries and I let them settle in the room, where they don’t feel intrusive or burdening, but safe and accepted. And I always walk away feeling lighter, more understood, more seen and heard than I do almost anywhere and with anyone else.

We bring it up often. How it would seem that we were destined for each other. Our friendship has scaled great distances, multiple moves, heartbreak, tragedy, success, failure and absolute joy. But as far as our friendship dates back, I can’t for the life of me remember how exactly it started.

I often wonder what we said to each other in the moment that we met. Did we shake hands, hug, or smile politely as we stood in a circle stretching during warm up? What did we do to begin a friendship that would withstand time, distance and the chaos of growing up? How casually did we introduce ourselves, not knowing that we’d help each other get to know ourselves in the years to come?

However it went down, I’m just glad it did. Because I don’t know where I’d be without her.

Tomorrow, Allison turns 30, joining me in a club that at times feels weird to be a part of.

In a way, it feels like we were just on that softball field, passing inside jokes back and forth in the outfield, laughing so hard it hurt at 2 o’clock in the morning, and singing our hearts out on the highway after I got my driver’s license. But then I think of everything we’ve been through, everything we’ve learned, everything we’ve tried and failed and everything we’ve achieved, and I think, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

So, Allison, while 30 might seem scary (though it’s not too bad, I promise!) just know that you have nothing to worry about. Because I met you when you were only halfway to 30, and you changed my life forever. So I can only imagine where you’ll go, where we’ll go, from here.

Happy birthday! I love you!

The One Question I Keep Asking Myself

When I was little, I was often asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.

When I was in high school, I was often asked what I was going to study in college.

When I was in college, I was often asked what my plans were after graduation.

When I reached my mid-twenties, I was often asked when I was going to get married.

And now that I sit at almost 31, unmarried and with no kids, I know I still have a lot of questions to come.

I used to believe that once I got the answer to these questions, I would have lived (or be living) a successful life. But then, as each question slowly got answered, I was disappointed to find that another one was always waiting right behind it. And each one got bigger and scarier and more life defining.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the intention behind these questions. They are shortcuts into getting to know someone. They are milestones that connect people. But I have also felt the pressure of these questions. Of entering a conversation and immediately feeling uncomfortable, praying that I won’t be asked the questions I don’t have an answer to yet, because they make me feel like less of an adult, or even, less of a person. I feel like a failure for not having reached some of the major milestones that my friends, family or some random stranger has, and I spiral into self-doubt and self-hatred, wishing I could change parts of my life that have made me intrinsically me.

And so, I have tried to start asking myself better questions. Mainly one in particular.

For me, right now, I am single and entering into the second year of my thirties. I am a rarity among my friend group, with no boyfriend, fiancé or husband, and no kids. I have worked the same job for over a decade that is not related to the field I studied in college, and I don’t really have a long term “career” path in mind. But that doesn’t make me a failure. It doesn’t make me less of an adult or less of a woman or less of a person. It just makes my path different than theirs.

So, a question I’ve tried to start asking myself is: what can I learn here?

Because one day, I won’t be single. One day I will have kids. One day I will have a new job. One day I will live in a new place. One day my life will look completely different than it does today, and yet, people will still have their questions, I will still have my fears, and there will still be reasons for me to wonder if I’m doing any of this right.

But right now, I’m here. And I believe I’m here for a reason. There are still things for me to learn, people for me to meet, ideas to form, conversations to be had, moments to be experienced and choices to be made. And so I focus on the question that has to do with where I am, not where people want me to go, or where everyone else seems to be.

What can I learn here? I ask.

And in asking, I find myself trying. I find myself searching my surroundings, noticing slow magic, and finding joy in small things that otherwise would have been missed.

What can I learn here? I ask.

And in asking I find potential. I learn more about myself, about what I like to do, what I want to do, and what I’m capable of doing.

What can I learn here? I ask.

And in asking I find peace. Memories long buried turn over in my head, unfelt feelings rise to the surface and new understandings dawn.

When I ask myself what more there is for me to find and learn exactly where I am, I better appreciate that place—this place—rather than wish it into the past in favor of checking off an item on a list, or staying on track with lives and paths that aren’t mine.

There will always be questions, and that’s okay. If there are more questions to ask, that means there is more life to live. But I’m trying to stay focused on one question, as it’s the only one that keeps me present and moves me forward at the same time.

What can I learn here? I ask, and the answers abound.