Breathe

I laid face down with my head in my hands, composing… like a musician that carefully pencils in the notes as he hears them floating around in the void between his ears… watching for words that appear clearly like a star falling from the night sky during a meteor shower. I wait, like the girl who lays on her back in the bed of a an old pickup truck, covered by a blanket, praying that the clouds will blow just a little more south, that they will reveal the twinkling lights and create a space for them to fall into… please… let the words fall into my eyes and down into my fingertips and onto this blank page… words that will express or explain the way that I wrestle with myself, the way that I kick and scream and tear at the air in front of me while it remains dark and illuminated simultaneously. The way I struggle with the suffocating heat inside of an Inipi, staring at the glow of the burning stones as the beating of the drum and the sound of the prayers reverberate through each and every atom that makes up this human skin… let the words consume me like the fire that scorches the prairie grass and smells of sage while it blackens the earth into a pitched horizon… let the thoughts swiftly navigate themselves into the living letters that punctuate the page… like the hawks that circle, and circle, until they softly touch the branches of the old dead tree.

What is this present moment? And how can I live in it and love it if I do not understand what it is and what it could be? I don’t understand infinity… how I try… so hard… to grasp the idea of something eternal. My friend says that infinity and eternity are brother and sister. They touched and created Space, and then Time, and then Power, and then they all got together and created Reality. They created the present moment. The present moment is infinite. It goes on forever. I am everything that I ever was or will be, all at once. I am the worst of myself, the best of myself… I am in the moment as much as I ever was… or wasn’t. Detract Time, and understand that everything is but a single moment of existence. Detract Space, and understand that everything is connected. Detract Power, and realize that we are all dead without the Spirit. We begin to see that Reality is nothing more or less than a dream. Somehow critical, and yet meaningless. Simultaneously alive and dead.

I understand that nothing inside of me occurs in linear fashion. There is nothing chronological about existence, really… especially inside of perception. We use our senses to create a mental image or understanding of the world. Then we project ourselves into it. We decide who we are, and what is happening, by marrying our senses to our imaginations and creating what we believe. Actions demonstrate beliefs. Honestly there is no better enunciation of our values then our behavior. There is no better creation of imagination then life itself. We show ourselves and each other what matters, what we see, what we consider important, what we care about. We show each other how we feel, how we love, what we like, what we want….

I’m changing like the snake that sheds its skin to grow a little bigger, a little brighter, a little smoother, a little stronger…. But the process itself is uncomfortable. It’s like digging my skin into the rocks to peel away the old parts. It’s frustrating when there is much effort for little change, forgetting that the little change is necessary for the big change. I long for people to notice it, so that I can tell that it’s real. But like everything, I get lost inside that longing…. Forgetting to notice that other things are peeling away. Why do I sleep different, and dream different, and love different? What’s happened? Who am I becoming?

I trust it. But I am still nervous. It’s not funny, the subtle irritations that crawl under my skin like beetles that crawl into the dusty grey dirt outside my front door. I had a dream once a few years ago that these beetles had names, the three of them that landed on my arm. They were called selfishness, judgment, and apathy. In the dream I felt panicked when they landed there, as though I could do nothing about it, until I had the clarity of mind to reach over and brush them to the ground. Today, I want to take the blunt end of a screw driver and smash those beetles to pieces before they wreck my life.

My heart beats a little faster sometimes, when I notice the subtle rebellions. The simple way I can know better, and do it anyway. The way that emotions can swirl around inside me until I’m scowling at strangers…. The way that I can pick apart another person, from top to bottom, inside and outside, until there is nothing left but dust…. Without ever opening my mouth. Everything happens inside my head while I smile or stare out the window. The way that I say No. Here’s the flow, there’s the river… Go. But I stop, I turn around, I go the other way. I never address it, I pretend it’s not there, while it rushes past my toes, the cold, refreshing bubble of crystal clear current knows the truth, and somewhere deep inside of myself my greatest desire is to splash and swim and lay on my back and let it float me downstream, closer to God and closer to Love…. But I stay. I keep my feet planted on the reality of life that I know and life that I can see and touch and smell… the life I can hear in my ear when it speaks to me of different options and other ways, the life that tells me how much better it will be if I just decide what I want and go after it, without sinking my foot into the water and just listening… to the sound…

I’m nervous that the sparkle will go out of my eyes and the whispers will leave my heart when I’m busy with something more ‘real’. I’m nervous that I’ll choose myself.

Simultaneously I understand that it’s not possible for these fears to be completely realized. I could never wander far enough away without falling down and waking up. I could never cut the rope that is tied around my soul and pulls me closer, and closer, to the light above me. Someone said that pain is necessary for correction, but suffering is a man-made condition. It happens when we don’t let go of our pain. It happens when we fall in love with our pain and we hold hands with it in the moonlight for the rest of our lives. It happens when we enjoy our own sorrow. When it feels so good, to be so sad. It happens when we nurse it, and milk it, and make it grow into something profound and deep and hollow.

If pain was a person, he would require introduction before he would go on his way. Like the drunk at the party who needs attention or he’ll be there until someone turns off the lights and he sleeps in the hallway, where someone will step on him when they get up in the middle of the night to go the bathroom. Pain is that guy. There are a lot of those guys in my life, the life that has happened all at once, the versions of myself that have been hurt, and loved, and wounded. The life that will not move forward in completion until certain things are sorted out and introduced.

How many variation of emotions, how many possible perspectives that contradict each other can be squeezed into the shell of this life? How many reactions, how many predictions, how many dreams and relationships and communities will fit in this reality? Perhaps that’s why it is the infinite moment, the eternal present. Because I think that there is no end. Even when I think that the walls of the universe will absolutely burst… or I imagine that space itself could not contain it… it’s only because I simply cannot understand that space, like time, is forever.

~~

I thought of her yesterday while I fastened a leather strap to my ankle. I wonder where she is… if she’s alright. It’s been about two years since that sunny afternoon in Portland when she whispered with Brian for a moment while they sat on the sidewalk next to my truck. When she stood up, this piece of leather was in her hand.

“I’ve been wearing this for something like five years, but I want you to have it. It’s my favorite leather,” she told me as she showed me the star cut into the double layer of animal skin and the snaps that held it in place. My eyes were wide as I thanked her and tried to fasten it to my wrist. I remember how embarrassed I was, much later that day, when I realized that it was meant to be worn on my ankle. It’s wide and worn, more so today than it was two years ago, but only because I didn’t take it off for nearly a year and a half. Shane has been wearing it for quite some time, but when I found it on top of his closet cabinet yesterday I kidnapped it back and snapped it in place.

“What will they think?” I had asked myself as I drove to meet them on the streets of Portland. I was lost in my thoughts, maybe too self-aware…. I was clean, I had taken a shower at the truck stop, and I was painfully convicted of the double life that I live too often on the streets. “Why would I tell them unless it’s necessary?” I reasoned with myself about the reality that I didn’t often tell people on the street that this was a ‘project’… I just told them that I lived in my truck. To most people, I’m just homeless.

That’s who I was when I had met Autumn and Brian the day before while I walked around town with my friend Amanda. I had noticed Brian playing the guitar as we crossed the street, and I was curious… teenagers dressed in torn fabric stitched together with dental floss, carrying backpacks covered in various patches and sharpie marker, safety pins and key chains. Hair full of dread locks that don’t look entirely purposeful, skin covered in piercings and home-made tattoos, scrapes and bruises… Who were these kids? Why were they out here? Brian belted out some heavy metal to the tune of an acoustic guitar and explained that Autumn was the musician, and she’d be back in a minute.

“She sings in Spanish, because she lived in another country for awhile. She’s actually good, I’m just messin around,” he told me. A few minutes later, the cops told Brian that he couldn’t sit on the windowsill of the business behind us, even though it was closed. I was instinctively angry, but Brian said that “the cop is cool, he gave me some combat boots one time.”

She bounced around the corner with a smile and jacked the guitar from Brian. He was right, she was better, and her songs were beautiful.

It’s a strange feeling, to sit back in a moment… to live it again in my mind… to understand it on a level that wasn’t possible at the time, with all the lessons learned in the distance between the two spaces. I am the same girl, in the same skin, that sat there on the pavement with them that day, talking about adventure and freedom, life outside of a corporate dream, travel and perpetual motion, mind altering substances, the Myth of Development, the downward spiral of mankind, the evolution of the collective consciousness, the future…. But despite all the ‘sameness’ of myself, my soul is different. I’ve grown in understanding and truth in ways that just… can’t be expressed.

~~

I told God this sunny morning alone in the scratchy yellow South Dakota grass that it’s incredibly ironic… the things that I used to dream about, the things that I wanted for myself, with this life that I’ve been given… I don’t want them anymore. It’s like I was dreaming inside of a box. My dreams could only get so big, and I thought they were just huge, because I was blind to the box entirely. I had these beautiful dreams for myself… but they were so physical… so human. Looking at them now, all that just seems… dead. It’s like somehow in the last two years, God has taken a crowbar to my box. He stuck the metal down in the cracks and popped the sides off, one by one. I think I saw them as they fell… and when they landed I think I saw the dust rise with impact. It must have been the lid of the box that came off most recently…. Because lately… all I can see is this clear, blue. The most beautiful blue in the world.

The possibilities of a life without limitations…. How to describe what that feels like? My fingertips danced on top of the breeze this morning while I pondered that thought… and I smiled into the sunshine when I realized… That. It’s exactly like dreaming on the wind. And there’s no more fear in that. Nothing left to be afraid of.

~~

There was this moment, as I walked with Autumn and Brian across the bridge in Portland toward the army supply store and I was walking kind of behind them, taking photos of the way that they walked together like the happiest couple in the world, their dog keeping the pace in between them… and I slowed down to look out over the water, the skyline, the buildings, and the grey clouds creating this peaceful almost-rainy scene for my photos. I was captivated by the moment… like something about this exact instant was going live forever. Like time itself is a photograph, and with pure love, we can freeze a moment for eternity to be accessed from any other space and place in our journey toward divine purpose. I believe it… I know it. Because I can still take a breath on that bridge, under that sky, with the city stretched out at the water’s edge. I can still feel the coolness of the air on my cheeks and the softness of my sweatshirt. I see Autumn bouncing toward me from further up the sidewalk with a bright smile and a twinkle in her eye. I am quiet, living in a moment lived once before and thousands of times still to come, as she falls into step beside me and we approach the highest arch of the bridge. Just before we get to the top, she holds something in front of me and I stop walking. White and pale pink flowers trimmed in gold stretch across a wide metal bracelet.

“I want you to have this. Pink really isn’t my color. Will you wear it?” she asked. Her voice was sincere, and I felt her heart. I know the feelings. I’ve felt them. Different lives… a different view out the windows of my eyes… but the sameness. It’s undeniable. I was only momentarily speechless as I nodded and touched the beautifully designed piece of jewelry.

I still have that bracelet… still wear it all the time, and get compliments on it all the time. Last week, two pieces of the metal fell apart and I had to place the bracelet in a drawer until we can fix it. Like everything made up of atomic particles, it falls apart, but the gift given is eternal.

I must have been feeling the same freedom that I felt this morning in South Dakota when I asked Brian where he would go, if he could go anywhere. It’s such a fun question. I asked myself that this morning, and the answer made me laugh. I want to go to Portland, where I met Autumn and Brian. And then to California, where I fell in Love with God. Maybe New Mexico, where I fell in Love with life and with Shane. And then perhaps a village in the middle of nowhere somewhere other than America. But by the time I get to Portland, the wind may have carried the dream elsewhere…

When I asked Brian, he told me that he wanted to go to Aberdeen Washington to the bridge where Kurt Cobain wrote most of his songs. I laughed. Back in Mississippi I was more than a little obsessed. I read Kurt’s journal, his red notebook, and it was enlightening. It was beautiful. It was profound. The man is a legend. I have a collector’s edition boxed set of Nirvana CD’s around here somewhere, and I used to have a huge poster of him that a friend gave me once… a poster that said “I’d rather burn out than fade away..”

“Let’s go then! I’ll take you.” I told Brian. I was planning to head to Seattle anyway. I didn’t know that Aberdeen was an additional 2 or 3 hours from the city. Even if I had known, I don’t think I would have cared.

We were crammed in the truck like sardines, with Zuzu and Sadie laying on pillows in the backseat and the three of us across the bench seat, with everything I own and some of their gear in the cab with us.

Autumn was full of questions about the Project. The moment after a long pause when she burst out suddenly, “I think you’re a genius!” is something that periodically pops back into my mind when people tell me that it isn’t “wise” to live without a savings account or a “real job”.

Aberdeen is a little coastal town, mostly abandoned, and there aren’t any signs or landmarks to point the way to the Kurt Cobain memorial. We only knew that it was a bridge… but there are lots of bridges in Aberdeen. We walked under two or three of them, and I got out my phone to look it up on google maps. It didn’t help and I can almost laugh at the memory, considering how often I tell Shane to put his phone away these days. Exploration and the human imagination, the necessity of meeting strangers and asking for directions is incredibly potent in comparison. It was dark when we found Brian’s dream… under an ordinary bridge, spray painted with hundreds of thousands of messages scrawled in bright colors; a tribute to the grungy musician who wrote a lot of his songs sitting in the dirt next to the water, drinking beer with the homeless guys and scribbling in a red notebook.

“What do you say to a dead guy?” Brian wondered. “Thanks for living!?”

Our laughter bounced off the concrete and I picked up a piece of cement for my friend Tom’s rock collection.  Something told me Tom was probably a Nirvana fan. A message written in sharpie across a splatter of green graffiti caught my eye. “Shane, with us in spirit.” I snapped a photo for him. He and Amanda were the only people that knew I had taken these kids on such a road trip. Most people would probably worry… afraid of something that they didn’t understand. Assuming that their own fearful instincts were more aligned with the God of the Universe than mine were…

Some things are better kept quiet until it’s all said and done.

I dreaded the moment in which they would get out of my truck. For 70 miles, I prayed for God to change something…. To alter the inevitable outcome… I prayed and gripped the steering wheel while Autumn and Brian slept soundly next to me. When I saw the city skyline in the horizon, a peace settled over me and I relaxed. Let it go…. It’s eternal, after all.

Where would I take them? Where should I go? I knew they were hoping to catch a train eventually. Catch, as in jump a freight train headed to some unknown destination and adventure. But in the meantime, there was a party they were trying to go to. Still… Somehow I followed the highway and ended up in a train yard under the east end of the city. It was perfect, and I was bitter about it. I parked carefully, gently, hoping that they would keep sleeping. A man walked past my truck, and I jumped. He asked me for a cigarette, and I gave him one. Zuzu started turning in circles on her pillow. I was afraid she would wake them up, so I tugged her fur. She cried, and Autumn stirred. They were awake in a few more seconds, and I was begging God to stop the rotation of the earth and the passing of Time.

The moment is still alive. I’m still on that bridge in Portland. I’m still under that bridge in Aberdeen. I’m still in that truck, parked next to the train yard while they sleep. I’m still driving a little too fast through the black night as the white lines fly under my tires and the music plays softly on the radio, the wind dancing with my fingertips out the window… I’m still saying hello… My eyes are still full of broken tears and my lungs still sing in agony and worship. My heart still beats with a love on fire… And all the faces and places that have embodied that love are living under my skin and shaping each thought that forms on the other side of my eyelids. We are still together. There is enough air for all of life to breathe in unison. This dream… is for both of us.

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