Sunday, December 18, 2011
(This poem came so quickly that I suspect I'm copying at least part of someone else's work. I hope not. If so, I'm sorry.)
Raise me up from ashes, burning...
Dreams that fall from me like stars,
scars that mark where I have tried
and failed, and bathe myself in ashes.
Raise me up from ashes, crying
tears like tiny raindrops, dropping
down to earth and watering
the flowers that will grow around my feet.
Raise me up from ashes, clutching
pain, and teach me how to let it go.
I wear the past like a coat of skins.
I'm tired of blood. Set me free.
Raise me up from ashes, lighting
a fire to fuel me forward, towards
resurrection. Ascending, I will rise
towards You, and reach out my hand.
Raise me up from ashes, singing.
Raise me up from ashes, dancing.
Raise me up from ashes, battle-weary,
scarred, with fire in my eyes.
Raise me up, let me shine,
and I will sing Your praise.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
- facial expressions - cheekbones, freckles, skin
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
So, this past Sunday at Common Table, the liturgical team led a service based around a simple liturgy from Iona. As part of this liturgy, we meditated on scripture and also on our past week, and were encouraged to share a short anecdote from the week, incorporating our response to the scriptures in that. We were particularly encouraged to make our anecdote visual... to try and capture a particular moment visually.
The texts we were meditating on, taken from the Lectionary, were difficult (Exodus 32:1-14 and Matthew 22:1-14). These texts emphasized the wrath of God, and in particular, I found the questions posed by the opening verses of Matthew 22 disturbing.
So I wrote about my cab ride from the night before.
The cab driver's skin is the color of a Hershey's Special Dark bar. His collar is up, against the mild cold of the evening. "You are smart," he says. "You go home early, beat the traffic." I laugh. "You bet, man. I love my sleep." Pause. He looks at me in the rearview mirror. His eyes are the same Hershey Dark, with arched, thick eyebrows, giving a vaguely Sean Connery effect. His face is creased with lines, particularly around the eyes and forehead. Worry lines. This man is a thinker.
I decide to say it. "Plus, I gotta be at church in the morning." Arched eyebrows fly skyward. "Church!!", he says. "What kind church?" Ahh. What kind church. "It's hard to say. Let's just say Protestant. We're a mix of denominations." I hold up my hands, with interlaced fingers. "Somehow we make it work."
He nods. I dive in again. "You're Ethiopian?" Slight crease between the eyebrows. "Yes, I am Ethiopian." "Ethiopian Orthodox, then?" The crease smooths. "Yes... I mean I was. But now I am little bit confused." He switches lanes. He's a competent driver, knows these roads, knows where he's going.
I say, "Well, a new culture, another country... it's easy to be confused."
And the dam bursts.
20 minutes of questions, challenges, one arm waving, one hand on the wheel... eyebrows raising, furrowing, dancing on his forehead. "If God is love, why did He kill His Son??" "If Jesus was God, why was He afraid to die??" "All the churches, they teach different things, who to believe??" "Why so many versions of the Bible??"
We're hurtling down 14th Street: lit shop windows, darkened office buildings, shadowed doorways, pedestrians, crosswalks... a stream of vari-colored images: the secular world, material, embodied, and a thoroughly unhelpful visual landscape for contemplating answers to these questions. Not that I really intend to answer them, though. He's not giving me space for answers... occasional pepperings of "Yes?", "You see??", and "You know???" appear to be there for verbal ornamentation alone.
So I nod. I say, "I see your point," and a couple of times, when he stops for breath, I offer a short response to the couple of things for which I feel I have a response. Some of his questions I just don't have answers for... they're things that bother me, too, but not enough to chuck my faith. Plus, it's late, I'm tired, I just want to get home. I end up having to talk over him in order to give directions... otherwise, it appears he would just speed on on on into the dark night, driving as long as his questions last, hurtling us both forward into the bottomless pit of his doubt.
In front of my apartment, he turns to me, intent on continuing. I mutter something about how he has more fares to collect, hand over my money (with a healthy tip), and pat him on the shoulder. "Keep asking the questions, buddy." Pathetic. But a bright smile flashes across his face, worry lines around his eyes smooth. "Have good night!!", he says brightly.
Is that what he needed? It was a pointless thing to say, but maybe better than anything else I could have said. He wasn't looking for an answer... he just wanted a confessor for his doubts. I walk up the front steps of my building, tired and heavy with my own silence, but unable to think of anything more Christ-like than bearing witness to his struggle and answering gently and briefly where I could.
LORD, have mercy.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
I decided to tell my story about Angie (pictured at left), because it's been 10 years, and although I'd been really ambivalent about this service, I found myself agreeing with the folks who'd planned it that this was an important thing for us to do. Ten years is an obvious milestone... it seems important to look back, and to take stock, and to ask yourself about your life.
When I told my story, I was surprised to find myself shaking and crying. I had not expected that. Not at ALL. I hadn't cried when telling this story since right after it happened. I have continued to feel over the past 10 years as I did when I was first interviewed about her death... that it would probably be more honorable to keep my mouth shut since it seems like I'm trying to draw attention to myself by mentioning her death... but I always ultimately decide to share it because even though I end up talking about myself a lot in this story, it *isn't* about me. It's about remembering *her*, and saying "I knew an amazing woman for a very short time who inspired me to be better, and who should still be alive today and isn't".
And then I realized that talking about Angie's death put me in the emotional space I'm at over my friend Charisse, who died on July 25 of this year, and whom I posted about a couple of posts back. I'll come back to her in a minute.
My Angie story, in a nutshell, goes something like this: I moved to the DC area on September 9, 2000, trying to rebuild my life after being dumped 3 weeks before my wedding in January of 1999. There were a lot of reasons why recovering from that was hard, but part of it is that Phil abandoned me in a foreign country and with a foreign form of Christianity. I had chosen England and Catholicism not *only* because I loved him, but in leaving me, he failed to account for how hard I'd had to fight for the decisions I made in the context of loving him. I was excommunicated by the PCA. My relationship with my family was strained. I'd become a subject of controversy and embarrassment to some at the PCA college I attended when I returned from England as a Catholic. People took it upon themselves to attempt to convert me back. Coming back to the U.S. as a rejected 23 year old with no plans, my tail between my legs and a lot of bridges burned was bad enough without the confusion and heartbreak.
So after licking my wounds for a while in Roanoke, I was hoping for a fresh start in DC. However, moving to DC was extraordinarily hard... harder than I'd thought. It was an act of obedience... I had prayed for another door to open, had promised God I "would never kick in another door". I thought I was being punished in some way for how little I'd cared about how my decisions had hurt others. DC was honestly one of the last places on earth I'd ever want to live, but when the opportunity came to move, I took it, because it was the only door that had opened. But I was wretchedly, wretchedly lonely... and broke, and without direction, and still so confused about who I was and what I was supposed to be doing. Everyone I met in the DC area seemed like they'd walked straight out of Stepford: perfect, rational, making only good choices. I couldn't connect with anyone.
I started having panic attacks in July of 2001... the same day I pawned my engagement ring and found out that it was a cheap knock-off. These attacks were 2-3 hour affairs, and they were nightmarish. The feeling you get when you almost hit someone with your car? Or when you have a reallllly bumpy plane ride? That feeling. Without letup. For HOURS. I had fears of being buried alive... I couldn't shake the thoughts about that. I couldn't let go of the thought that the brain might live on even though the body was dead. I was afraid that I wasn't actually going to go to heaven, that God had abandoned me. Looking back on it, everything had kind of come apart, and I had been brave, but I couldn't take the pressure or the loneliness anymore. I found myself believing that God was willfully cruel. *I* was finally coming apart.
I met Angie in August of 2001, at the charismatic Episcopal church where I'd fled from the Catholic church in search of some sense of spiritual rooting and comfort. She was so full of warmth, and listened so intently and with so much compassion as I found myself telling her about everything that had happened after it came out that we'd both studied abroad in England. I was a little intimidated by her... she had everything together: a career, involvement in so many good causes and so loved and connected within her spiritual community. But I felt compassion from her, and I felt like she and I connected... like she respected me despite my poor clothing choices, bad hair, crappy administrative assistant job and just general chaos... like she looked past that and saw what I wanted SOMEBODY to see... that I *wanted* more. That I *wanted* to give and not be locked in my depression and confusion, but I didn't know how to get out.
We hung out twice, and I was really looking forward to getting to know her better. I felt kind of like she was my way in... to meeting more positive people, to figuring out my new life, and how to be alive in spite of loss... like she was carrying a light I'd lost, and I could follow that light.
When the plane hit the Pentagon on September 11, Angie was in a meeting room precisely where the plane hit, and was killed instantly.
As things happen, I ended up speaking at her memorial service, and then being interviewed by Voice of America about her, and then was asked to do another interview, at which point I said "enough". People were drawn to my story of her effect on me... they were drawn towards my conclusion... that I was tired of living a shadow life in my head, the life I wanted to live in England. I wanted to be as alive as she was, where she was, fully present. I wanted to give, like she did. I think people were drawn to the idea of this outgoing, beautiful woman reaching out to this quiet, depressed girl and giving her a vision of a better life. Like in some sense Angie would "live on" through me... which, of course, she wouldn't. I was uncomfortable with being asked to share this over and over... it seemed attention grabbing, and weird and unnatural. Not to mention that for the longest time if you Googled my name, one of the first links to come up was to the VOA story, with the words "Amy Moffitt was struggling with depression after moving to Washington, DC..." Yikes.
I do feel like Angie's death... of being in the position of having to really process Angie's death and make meaning out of it... *did* play a part in pushing me forward. I still didn't know what I was doing with my life, but figuring that out became more of a pressing matter. I started teaching ESL just a couple of months later, and joined the Episcopal Church when the bishop came around to do his bishop thing. I started to fight harder for my own life. Teaching ESL lead to working with international students at GMU. Now, 10 years later, I have my own apartment, a masters degree, 7.5 years of experience in international education and 2.5 years of experience with the Government agency created in response to 9/11 to more effectively monitor international students and exchange visitors. I have an amazing church, inspiring and generous friends, a small network of fellow poets and writers that I create with, and a neighborhood whose streets I know like the back of my hand.
But, to be honest, I'm back to wrestling with a certain measure of darkness. Charisse's death on July 25th has yet to leave me. No reporters will be interviewing me about Charisse, but I'll be honest and say that her death has hit me harder than Angie's. I am haunted by the thought that she might be forgotten... that *I* might forget her. She was in no way lesser of a light than Angie. I'd known her longer, and more deeply. She was generous to me, as Angie was, but I wasn't as needy. I've written quite about this in my post about her a couple of posts back, so I won't go into more detail about our friendship...
But on this 10th anniversary of 9/11, I find myself longing for someone to write an article about Charisse in the paper. I want a reporter on TV in a deep, solemn voice to say, every July 25th, "today, we remember what we have lost." I want people to stop and take a moment of silence. I want Voice of America to call me up and ask me about Charisse. I want to be able to say "she was full of light", and have that translated into foreign languages and have it broadcast all over the world. I want to be turning down requests from reporters.
This is the nature of loss. It's mundane, most of the time. People click their tongues and move on, because if we each felt the aggregate loss that occurs in any given day, we'd collapse from the weight. Rib cages would crack. We would disintegrate into dust. I understand that. But it doesn't change how I feel about it, or the sense of obligation I have to continue feeling that way, to let it run its course.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "I've made my whole career out of taking things hard." I read that in my senior year of high school, in a library in Salem, VA, in a slightly rickety yet comfortable chair with my back to the window, and my whole body relaxed. So there was a place for this in the world. People might not only tolerate this, but celebrate it. Thank God.
So today, I honor who Angie was, and I honor the changes that she helped catalyze in my life. I tell my own 9/11 story as an act of solidarity. And I pause and reflect on all who lost so much 10 years ago today. Yes, tons more people die in other countries all over the world every day from disease and war and famine, and the innocent civilians killed in the War on Terror far exceed the number of those killed on 9/11. But that's not what we remember today. Today we remember our own dead, our own losses, our own mass trauma and grief.
And in this vein, I also cry bitterly for the loss of Charisse, and I continue to fear that she will not be honored enough for who she was. I take this loss --a loss for me, and a loss for her many different communities, and a loss for the world-- hard.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
On Monday, July 25, the world lost a light. I'm not screwing around with this designation... Charisse was a LIGHT. When she walked in the room, she brought a sense of presence with her... this person was Fully Here, in the room, and was excited to be there, and was excited to see you there. It didn't matter if she'd had a crappy day, or she felt bad, or she'd had her heart broken, or maybe she hadn't been going out very much recently because she was struggling. When Charisse showed up, she SHOWED UP.
And when Charisse showed up, she was always introducing people to people: "Here, this is ______. She's an incredible writer, and you're an incredible writer, so I thought you two should meet." Any time she invited me to an event, afterwards she'd send everybody's email addresses and blog addresses to each other in the hopes that we'd see in each other what she saw in us, that we'd network and spark something creative in each other... that new life would come from her connecting the people she loved. She was lavish and generous in her praise of my work, reposting links to some of my poems on her Facebook wall, tweeting about my poetry. Everyone I've been in touch with since her passing on Monday already knew who I was. That's not because I was a great friend, that's because Charisse talked me up. She showed me love by praising me to her friends.
The first time I ever met Charisse, she was doing me a favor. We had a SPARK reading that was being held in Annandale, and I had put out a general call for a ride. She wrote back quickly that she'd be happy to give me a ride if I could meet her at Huntington station. She took the Longest Way I Could Possibly Conceive Of from Alexandria to Annandale, I think just because she was so excited and talking about poetry and asking me questions about myself and telling me about herself that she wasn't paying any attention to where she was going. I remember getting out of the car at Beanetics and just having this enormous sense of privilege that I'd had all that time with this girl. There was so much about her that was lively and generous and good... I felt something healing about that time...
But I figured that would be it, you know? She'd done me a favor, she'd drop me back at the Metro, that'd be nice and lovely and we'd probably never speak again. But no, she invited me to dinner afterwards with her and her friend Aleisha, and later she invited me to brunch with other friends, and to her birthday celebration, and to a tour of the MLK Memorial that's being built in DC. She faithfully checked in on me, and after a time, I stopped being shy and weird and started contacting her back and checking in with her. She kept up with me until I knew she was serious about being my friend. She knew it would take that, and she was willing to keep trying. I don't know how she knew that, and I'm still not sure why a woman with so much life and so many friends decided to chase after this friendship...
except that when I read her writing, I connect with it. I feel like she and I had a similar heart in some ways. I honestly feel she is/was a more generous person than I am... but we both struggled with depression, struggled with being single, struggled with being women who felt things very deeply and didn't let go of things very easily, struggled with the after-effects of growing up broke, struggled with continuing to be broke because we took jobs that enriched our hearts but not our pockets. We both found solace and hope in writing (which, after all, doesn't take much money to do, and had helped us growing up for that very reason), in relationships, in faith. We both had had to fight to find joy at so many times in life that when we found it, we grabbed it hard with both arms and sometimes a leg and we both held on for dear life.
When I got dumped in January by my out-of-town boyfriend, I woke up the next morning and thought, "thank God I don't have to move to New York" and I thought of three reasons I was so grateful for that: Church of the Common Table, my beautiful friend Heidi, and my beautiful friend Charisse. I thought she'd be around. I thought we'd probably both stay single (because we'd both always be a little too much for any guy to handle) and write poetry and stay connected on that soul level for the rest of our lives. That was my heart. That was my plan.
I never told her that. I didn't want to freak her out. And now I can only hope that she somehow knows how much she meant to me. That she knows I love her and appreciate her friendship deeply, deeply. That she understands that I was afraid to screw up that connection and so I kept my distance for a while, but that I was in for the long haul. That she taught me stuff in those intense conversations we had... that I will never, ever forget her.
Sweet, beautiful girl, rest in peace. I don't know how much you know of what's still going on here, but if you know anything, know that you left a mark on me and so many other people. Know that your life ministered to others. Know that you were loved.