BE, HERE, NOW

I wish I could say that I remember living in Queens, but I don’t. I know that I did certain things like skip home from the public library with a stack of books around the age of 3 and play in snow that nearly came up to my tiny little shoulder around the age of 2. But remember, I do not.

I don’t remember moving from Queens to Suffolk County, Long Island with my family around the age of 3-and-a-half! nor do I remember painting my new, all-to-myself room a shade of purply-pink. But what I do remember is a constant, pervasive feeling of Not Quite Liking Where I Was.

I’m one of those people who is always reaching for what’s beyond me; always seeking something better or grander and always thinking it can’t be found where I am. I don’t know why but I’ve never really liked Long Island. Well, that’s not true. I like the geography, and some of the towns, but the people—sorry to say it—embarrass me a bit. The rough and tumbled accents; the crassness and propensity for strong language; the general lack of grace and gentility; the culture of god only knows what that’s always felt very much Their’s and not at all Mine—even though a peek through a few of my family’s photo albums would tell a different story. But let’s just say that’s because I was an eccentric teenager trying, for a minute, to fit in to a place where I never fully could.

That’s the problem I guess, Long Island never felt like mine. It wasn’t a place that I could lay claim to, so when a dear friend recently said to me that there was something “so Long Island about you,” I felt my blood boil because to me, there isn’t. Worth noting: she isn’t from here.

You see, my closest friends growing up weren’t in my school district, one wasn’t even in the same state as me. My earliest boyfriends were also from different school districts, most weren’t in my grade either. My own family is mostly from the city, if not different states all together. For college, I shirked convention and hightailed it to a private school in North Carolina, much to the surprise of what felt like everyone and their mother’s who attended in-state public universities or ones within a few hours’ drive of home.

So when I came back to Long Island after college, I did so with my tail between my legs with all intentions of at least working in the city. But that was a thing that very much didn’t happen as I worked for the town I grew up in for 2 years—literally, I was in Town Hall. All the while scratching that itch of mine to leave (again). So I dated someone who lived in Brooklyn. When I finally moved to Brooklyn myself for school, it was largely a disaster and I found myself back in Long Island sooner than I ever wished to return (which at that time was never, mostly never, with the exception of birthdays and holidays and the occasional trip to the Hamptons).

So I was back here. Living in Long Island, at least working in New Jersey (words I never thought I’d say). But when that commute just got to be way. too. much., I was fully here once more—goodbye Brooklyn Boy—dating here, working here, living here. All the while scratching that itch of mine to leave (again). So I dated someone else who lived in Brooklyn; and then someone who lived further east in Long Island but had an apartment in the city; and then that one who lived in Harlem that was so good until it wasn’t good at all. And then I was fully here once again.

But not quite! Because I was still hoping for something better/different/farther away to come my way somehow. Until, quite literally last night, when a very important person in my life—mind you, this is a person I never thought I’d see again (life, you’re funny)—stopped me in the middle of yet another one of my “Why am I here? I can’t stand it here,” diatribes and looked directly at me as he said, “There’s nothing wrong with being here.”

Here.

It has literally cost me so much trying to not be here. I’ve chased down every possible avenue to have an excuse to not be here—religion, education, romance, work—and all of them have ended with an exasperated, financially-strapped, heartbroken me looking up at the sky saying, “Really? Here? Again?”

But yes. Here: apparently where I’m supposed to be now (thanks for nothing Ram Dass). My parents moved my siblings and I here, as in Long Island, for a “better life” and my stubbornness has left me trying to leave this “idyllic suburb” every chance I’ve gotten. Yet my Parent—capitalization necessary as I’m talking about God y’all—has kept bringing me back, saying all the while, “Child, will you just be Here.”

So I shall be here; and not reluctantly this time. Because maybe there’s nothing wrong with being in a place that doesn’t quite feel like Mine. Because maybe it’s not supposed to, and maybe it can’t feel like Mine yet if I am to truly make my mark on it. And maybe, just maybe, this is the biggest test of all: being fully here, in this place and in this moment, even though it’s a here I never really wanted, and finding its light and all the ways I can love it.

Aha.

P.S. Necessary listening…

 

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IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT (REVISITED)

My car was outwardly at rest but inwardly restless, much like its owner. I sat zoned out but contemplative and stared back at my friend, trying to find answers in her face.

I was in the midst of my third meltdown of the month. Just a year out from graduation, I quickly learned that life is hardest on the planners, the dreamers, and the idealists. What we dream and what we do are often ill matched. What our hearts need and what our minds are paid to create are too often worlds apart.

“I just don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. Who I want to be, what I want to do, how this immense confusion even happened…”

Frustrated by my lack of answers and sensing the exhaustion radiating from my passenger’s seat, I called it a night to put an end to the early morning existentialism. Or so I thought.

On my drive home I hugged each turn and abbreviated each stop sign; reckless enough to feel a rush, responsible enough to feel secure. When I finally calmed my engine after pulling into my parking space, the beauty of the midnight sky overshadowed my desire for a comfortable blanket and a warm bed.

Seven stately oaks line the cul-de-sac I live on and each of them takes quite the beating when autumn starts to show its face. One by one, the leaves drain themselves of their chlorophyll – changing from red to yellow to brown as the season progresses – and start their descent toward the ground. The oaks are bare by the time winter rolls around. Absolutely naked they stand and sway – bending to their limits – seemingly dead. But in their core, life is making its mark. Even in the dead of winter – the climax of their creative depression – they are growing again.

In a way, the oaks feel the manic cycles of birth much like humans do. In this Creation, everything has its season.

My cold body shuddered. I shoved my hands into pockets already weighed down with material possessions.

“Everything was created for One by One,” I muttered. “I will learn something out here. I have to.”

I cleared my lenses, opened my ears, expanded my lungs, and planted my feet.

“I am ready. I am listening.”

I looked up to the belly of a tree. My tree. The oak I grew up with, the oak I spent many summers and seasons with. The oak that lent branches to be the arms on my snowmen, the wands to my Hermione, and the mechanisms by which I transplanted squishy garden bugs to new locations. The oak I never much appreciated, until then.

Have you ever noticed that bare tree limbs look a lot like the bronchioles in the human lung? The way they branch from the trunk, to the limbs, to the branches, and finally to the twigs. Tree branches are the bronchioles of the universe. They sway to and fro, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

In a way, trees breathe the way humans do. In this Creation, everything is connected.

Back to the sky lit up by a three-quarter full moon. Clouds varied in intensity on the gray scale; coming and going, they changed the ambiance like a dimmer switch. As bright as the moon is, it can disappear entirely if the right shade and density of cloud comes along.

In a way, the moon’s luminosity is dependent on external circumstances, much like a human’s is. In this Creation, everything goes through cycles.

The sky cleared to a deep and silky navy. The stars winked flirtatiously. The moon glowed, backlit by the sun. A gust of wind, pure and crisp, rendered me breathless.

One with the expansive, infinite joy that is Creation, I whispered into the night, “Thank you.”