skipping stones

i believe in you and me
– and a we that leads from here to there and back again.
i believe in the long way round that gets somewhere by dark.

i believe in day and the night
– and in shadows that fall in all four directions.
i believe we can learn to hear across distance that echoes.

i believe in shores foreign and familiar
– and that we can meet (t)here without dashing ourselves or others on the rocks.
i believe some things are dashing and crashing and burning for a reason.

i believe difference is stone skipping across water

i believe in all kinds of things
– that are watching and working and wondering and wanting.
i believe they will not wait forever.

i believe in learning that lingers
– and in lifespans longer than you can imagine.
i believe teachings trip us up until they become love.

i believe eyes see what they remember
– even when they do not see at all.
i believe seeing and believing are not the same.

i believe truth is stone skipping across water

i believe that gathering in among the breathless
– calls to mind brothers and sisters who are not breathing still.
i believe calling is commitment is care is community.

i believe that nature and nurture are more than
– culture and belonging, too.
i believe rocks carry hard things that matter.

i believe that worlds fit in pockets and palms
– and that time is eternity lived in the blink of an eye.
i believe measurement is an errand that makes fools out of you and me.

i believe spirit is stone skipping across water

i believe in formation over frameworks, and people over profits
– in lives and lifetimes, in dyads and triads and quadrants, and so many lists.
i believe all 26-letters are speaking someone’s language.

i believe what you believe matters
– even when it chafes and churns. 
i believe some things are not worth believing.

i believe that some beliefs cause grave harm
– and that claims can crucify or resurrect.
i believe all beliefs are not made equal, even when we call one another by name.

i believe life is stone skipping across water

i believe that rest is holy
– relationship, too.
i believe that reckoning is a reflection of us all.

i believe the sum is creation of her many parts
– even those missing, especially those excluded. 
i believe humanity to be an audacious hope and a wild dream. 

i believe the future is already happening
– it might be here.
i believe histories are always repeating. 

i believe time is stone skipping across water

i believe yours and mine are training wheels
– ours is aspirational at best.
i believe the work is to keep reaching for them.

i believe in a here that hears
– where there and theirs matter, too.
i believe in hard places where yours and mine yield to that which cannot be had.

i believe in brilliant complexities
– and ambiguities that humble.
i believe in that which is not mine to know.

were these stones all there is, i believe they would be enough

May 3, 2021

working girl

I come from women who carry the load and pretend that the weight doesn’t bear. They came from women who stayed the course while denying the cost. Theirs came from women, too. Mine then is an inheritance borne of labors picked up and passed on. Mine will always be the work of putting the too much back down. My spirit lives for moments like these, when the calm after a storm carries memories of a different kind of being. Sometimes, the work is remembering the lessons we keep living until we learn them all the way to the bone.

Systems and supremacies – stories, too – are wrapped up in assumptions we make about people, productivity, and profit. It is my truth that there are things more valuable than labor. It is also my truth that some things are not worth the work. How then do we measure the cost of price and profit, of meaning and metric, of labors of love? It is sobering when the seeming ease of a solo turn erases not just our own labor, but the work through which which we grow one another into the kind of people who notice the weight of any lift. On the other side of a long push, I wake up and wonder: When will I outgrow this place, where the giving and the taking are so far apart? It was once my truth that to hold so much and so many so fully would be a gift that multiplies and returns. These days, I look for myself elsewhere. A working girl, perhaps, but so much more. May the gift of less than always be more than just enough.

March 19, 2021

Yours, Mine, Ours

I once spent the greater part of a long weekend on a mountainside with a group of strangers. Our gathering served as introduction to a two-year experiment in human relations with a storied history, complicated present, and uncertain future. We couldn’t have known at the time what our journey together would hold. The deep contradictions that tested the limits of who we were trying to be had yet to surface. Selected to represent difference itself, we sat in a large circle where we heard invitations to create beauty and to heal the brokenness of community. Hours turned into days as we listened to one another share our stories. Where are you from? And who are your people?

Traversing new grounds unawares, it was not always clear whether we were making molds or breaking them. Several years have passed and I am still sitting with all we plowed under in our efforts to sow something worth harvesting. What, then, remains to be gleaned? Looking back, I remember the holiness of sacred promises made. Some we kept. Others proved aspirational. I wonder what we might say to one another were we to begin again. What do we know now that we couldn’t know before?

Hindsight can be telling, especially when we remember to go back for one another. With stories reverberating and histories repeating—and her stories, too—I am mining the many journeys launched that first weekend for something honoring of the complexities and contradictions through which we come to know ourselves as part of something both beautiful and broken. If one circle begets another, and even if it doesn’t, I wonder about the people and places that carry us from one chapter to the next. What if it takes all of us—even those we leave behind, even those who leave us—to live into something we can only become together?

Being human takes both nature and nurture. It is also an embodied practice that sometimes yields more humane versions of ourselves. Claiming humanity can require the willing suspension of all kinds of things: belief. perfection. greatness. But what happens when we entrust others with our basic assumptions about who we are? Whose humanity emerges when we share our greatest fears and deepest truths? What kind of generous hearing can we afford? And can we learn to distinguish commitment from confession, abdication from absolution?

As I turn to tables set for a new group of folks hoping to find in one another the courage to court ambiguity, I return to my own journey. What I remember is not always mine, but when I get quiet enough to hear my own still-small voice, I find more than myself. What if liberation requires the kind of deep listening through which reckoning and reflection make way for all the rest? When I remember all the way back to that first weekend on the mountain, I can count the people and promises we left behind. Centers, then, do not hold. But circles are no panacea either. I wonder who we might be if we sacrificed winning and losing in favor of one another? What if we reclaimed a value system that celebrates service over status? What if we remembered mutuality and meaning over and against more, and more, and more?

Going back for one another, for brothers and sisters and friends and strangers, too, changes things—including ourselves. Why invite a group of strangers to close in without closing ranks? What does it take to hold space for others to hold their own? As I look back on a journey others began this fall, I am reminded of the distance between intention and impact, between remembering and forgetting. What am I missing? And who is already falling through the cracks? What will this new group circling up decipher and discern on its own?

Translation is no small task. Nor transcription. It bears repeating that language is not always legible beyond our own ear shot. And so, as the legacy of one circle shapes the contours of the next, I wonder: What are we passing down and up and over and on from generation to generation? In whose image are we creating one another? And how much time and space can we give and take in worlds both unraveling and revealing?

If today is made up of moments and movements, what comes next? Time is ticking, and some have been counting down longer than others as the long arc of a steep learning curve just keeps coming. With teachings before us and behind us, one thing is certain: mine is not necessarily yours, and ours is always precious. Birthright, then, is bigger than me and you. It shapes circles and communities and countries alike. What of these gospels that preach prosperity over dreams and destinies? Not all growth is made equal. There is always more to remember. To hear. To feel. There is so much more. And then there’s enough.

As seasons and years come to their close, I’m looking for purchase measured in practices of sacred sufficiency that leave enough for you and for me. Will I get off the ladder—again and again—to bless the always-already worthy? This work of valuing differently honors difference itself. It also requires more than heads and hearts. It wants for our hands. Learning and unlearning, then, takes all of us. What our minds cannot yet know, the nose might sniff out. What the heart is not yet ready to hear is already aching in our bones. With lives on the line, I hold to this truth: that time, too, has a teaching. What does your here and now require? Mine wants for a new trinity—yours, mine, ours.

January 6, 2021

enough is enough

My morning routine starts with coffee. So much so that the ritual begins the night before, when my husband gets the coffee maker ready for my early morning switch-flipping. We’re not fancy with our caffeine at home. Strong coffee is more than sufficient, especially when I can rely on my favorite baristas and coffee connoisseurs for regular doses of the truly spectacular.

It has been a long season at home and we are weathering well enough. Some things remain the same while others keep changing. With my husband laid off from our region’s hospitality industry, homemade cold brew has been fueling work both indoors and out. With my husband’s health insurance also canceled, I have been running our weekly errands. Venturing forth for groceries and wine, dog food and wine, and seeds and starts, and more wine, we are counting the cost of too many things we used to take for granted. It is sobering to be out and about among once-thriving businesses still shuttered. It is heartbreaking to read about those who will never re-open.

The economy rarely sustains my undivided attention, even as its fluctuations and failures play out all around me. Left to my own devices, I choose life and the life-giving over capital systems that demand allegiance in exchange for livelihood both ensured and foreclosed. But if this pandemic teaches nothing else, perhaps it offers this reminder: we need one another. Driving by living-proof of all that will not survive COVID-19’s incursions, I find myself questioning assumptions—both mine and others’— about the nature of things. Not all systems are sui generis. In whose image, then, will we recreate the world? Yours? Mine? Ours?

I have written before about beloved people and places in my circles of consumption. This love letter rings true several months later as I watch my household trying to honor weekly purchases that might shore up a favorite local restaurant or small business. I can name too many ways in which our economic systems reward egregious behaviors, amplifying inequities purchase by purchase. And still, we are doing our damndest to do our part. Is this what being complicit looks like? Can anyone buy their way out of 2020’s mounting impossibilities? What might flourishing look like if we didn’t measure all things in dollars and cents?

Steeped in truth and poured in love, a cup of coffee can return us to one another, nurturing habits of interdependence strong enough to undercut supremacies—all of them. Sometimes, the littlest things point to the deepest truths. I’m still curious about my joy almost-unspeakable at seeing one of our local cafes offering curbside iced coffee on a recent round of errands. I am still surprised at how thirsty I remain for human contact shared face-to-face and heart-to-heart. Holding in my hand a remnant of something freely given, I keep wondering about the relationship between purchase and power, between self and system, between reckoning and revolution.

I am not hoping naively for the return of that which never was. Some things are bigger and deeper and harder than a simple cup of coffee can hold or convey. And still, teachers show up in many forms. Some lessons are daily medicine. I have been thinking a lot lately about questions of sufficiency, especially in the context of a world designed to extract the most from the least. What does enough look like? What does it feel like? And what does it mean to forgo the more than in favor of the enough? In a season when ground truths are shifting daily, I am searching for higher grounds. What to make of the way we see and serve one another? And will we keep counting the cost? Life and livelihood hang in the balance.

October 26, 2020

in the beginning

In the beginning was word and it mattered.
In the beginning was question and it wondered.
In the beginning was chaos, and it created.
In the beginning was wisdom, and it was everywhere.

In the sun and the moon. Will you remember?
In the blessing and the boats. Will you journey?
In the known and no longer. Will you sing?
In the blinding and untitled. Will you bear witness?
In the water. Will you pour?
In the story. Will you proclaim?
In litany and in liturgy. Will you be? Or maybe not?

In the beginning was a practice, and it was alive.
It was flesh and bone, river and earth.
It was road to nowhere and eternal return.
It was resurrection morning, all day long.
It was holy difference and the same old thing.
It was sum and parts, everything and nothing.
It was life and death, and all manner of hubris in between.
It was breath. It was body. It was enough.

In the beginning was here. It was also there.
We were, too. And it was good.

October 10, 2020

mai-mai more than

I saw you online recently. You were one of five women participating on a panel tackling complex questions on a tight timeline. The scheduled hour was never going to be long enough for both generous introductions and deep thought-work. Unsurprisingly, the intersection of gender, religion, and difference requires a longer runway. As does the work of holding space for the fullness of one another. What, then, do we make of these invitations that squeeze us in and mete us out?

The conversation was scheduled during dinnertime and I was hungry as I logged onto the call. I wondered whether you had found time to eat. I wondered about your family and their sustenance. But the show must go on. Or so they say. You were brilliant and eloquent and fierce and strong. And when you called out your mother and daughter as fieldwork companions? The ancestors heard their names. And when you claimed kinship in the same sentence as a Mai-Mai warlord? Power repurposed. Plain and never, ever simple.

There is more to say about this group of women who took the time to introduce us to worlds beyond our knowing. During dinner. In a pandemic. I remember the wholly predictable moment a young child came into the room where her mother was presenting. As this child tucked into her parent’s side, it was a gift. Because, we rarely see labor – or its fruits – in spaces set apart for a different kind of production.

As the call came to its close, we were invited to celebrate both the poise of the interrupted mother and the monographs these scholars – women all, and many Black and Brown – would write this coming year. Business as usual. Or so they say. And I wondered about the other books these women were writing, revising, improvising, and eking out in this season of compounding assault. Sometimes, writing our own names – and those of our beloveds – into the book of life is more than enough. May it be so. Asè.

For Jojo, with love

September 1, 2020

the perfect cut

I like to measure my words carefully and often take my time with phrases that turn on so many things. Before I open my mouth, then, there are lifetimes to lean into, learn from, and let go. I find that the written word holds more space for my meanderings. It takes some doing and redoing and undoing to weigh – and walk – the distance between intention and impact, to honor the relationship between his- and her-stories, and to grapple with reception before succumbing to the seduction of getting it just right. Perfectionism. Bless. We have a complicated relationship that comes from places worn down by years of practice intended to make perfect. There are many ways to measure a day, a life, a world. If articulation is part of my salvation, then perfection is my downfall. It’s also an exhausting, insidious supremacy that silences. What would I say if it didn’t have to be quite so perfect?

I was recently invited to spend some time with friends and colleagues on a radio show. We have known one another for years and planned to chat about some of my favorite things. I am actually very comfortable as a public speaker, but the mind tells her own stories. While the conversation flowed freely and we tackled the questions at hand, I remember most clearly what I did not say. Sometimes, the “perfect” isn’t timely. And how loudly the unspoken echoes and reverberates.

It is tempting to rewrite the histories we proclaim ourselves. Why not spend time and space articulating “better” responses to questions posed days ago? After all, I have plenty to say about how relationship can be its own quiet and audacious revolution. But my practice invites resistance and inveighs against the urge to instant replay and constant improvement. There is liberation in managing not just expectations, but also in putting performance in its proper place.

I will always prefer a blank page to a live microphone. But, when and as I open my mouth to speak, I commit to keep showing perfection the door. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be just and also more than enough in their own glorious imperfection.

August 27, 2020

this i remember

I recently traveled across the state for the first time in months and was grateful to accept an invitation for food and fellowship along the way. I always look forward to a good porch-sit, but it’s an interesting season for introductions. Getting to know someone during a pandemic is tricky, especially when the assaults—on life and livelihood—just keep coming. And they don’t come for everyone with the same voracity and insistence. With life and death far from equal propositions, how then, do we turn to one another? And how will we continue to navigate contagion, collision, and collapse across lines that color us into boxes and birthrights alike? What if relationship is revolution? And what if salvation shows up at tables we set for one another?

On the heels of a few phone calls to explore collaborations, I arrived right before lunch. Before I could knock on the door, I heard a voice greeting me warmly. Following my host onto her porch was both threshold-crossing and crossroads-journey. We stayed put for hours, but the Holy has a way of transporting and transforming unawares.

It was an afternoon to remember and I can still see the bright colors and bold patterns and beloved plants everywhere. I remember art celebrating the fullness of creation. I remember beauty. I remember a round table and gorgeous settings and a meal lovingly prepared. I remember a conversation that meandered from Mebane to Mars Hill to Morocco and beyond. I remember a late morning that turned to afternoon before the evening fell. I remember roasted plums. I remember the generations who came alongside bringing lifetimes to share. I remember the heart in my throat stilling the voice in my head. And I remember the time it takes to settle into one another before the possibility of a “we” enters a conversation. I remember the work and joy of beginnings. I remember life itself holding just enough space for all that needed to be said and heard.

It was a day for simple pleasures with radical implications. Sitting together on the porch, the systems raging all around quieted just long enough for a different kind of memory to surface. Some wells run deep. How, then, we will drink? Some rivers speak of thirst. What, then, will we quench? May we have ears to hear and eyes to see. And may we stay present long enough to know what it means—and takes—to remember one another, always. Insha’Allah and Amen.

for Jaki Shelton Green, with gratitude

August 26, 2020

Yahrzeit Recitation

A few weeks ago, I missed the one-year anniversary of a surgery that both saved and changed my life. I’m not sure what it means that the day passed me by unawares. Some reckonings must happen on their own timeline. There is much to say about those who came alongside during a season of compounding unknowns, and I was raised to write thank-you notes for the smallest of gestures. But expressions of gratitude can be daunting, especially when kindness gifted reveals things that become more real in their naming and claiming. Since this time last year, when some of my bits and pieces ran amok at the cellular level, my world keeps rearranging itself. My body is begging for patience even as my mind is made up. It’s time to give thanks. But how do we honor those who show up? And when is an unexpected, unfolding journey ready for its accounting?

It takes time to speak from a core that is rebuilding itself muscle by muscle, breath by breath. On the inhale, I find myself searching for words that don’t always surface. With each exhale, meaning itself becomes a memory. 365+ days later, I may know some things anew. Other lessons will be lifelong companions, as will the beloved community that bore generous witness to a diagnosis so rare that I claimed unicorn status for myself and all sojourners. I am still learning to speak cancer. Its harsh consonants betray the gentle learning that has me reaching for an underbelly that just keeps growing. Before speaking, though, there is so much to hear. I am still learning to quiet enough of me to honor what my body has to say. Perhaps the listing of Team Unicorn’s improbable mercies will give voice to a resurrection journey that hopes to take nothing for granted. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? This liturgy of thanksgiving is both recitation and remembrance. I name these generosities to claim the power they twice bestow— first in the giving, then in the naming. May these memories be a blessing.

Was it you who packaged love in take-away meals and late-afternoon pours? Mothering takes many forms and the overflowing box of my favorite treats you sent home fed body and soul. The way you share pieces of yourself in each plate of food you prepare is the stuff of communion. When we become one another’s keepers, wine-shop counters become holy altars. For the bread and the wine, I give thanks.

I get that this might be part of the job description, but it didn’t feel like work when you sat with me on the porch while I grappled with the gospel of life and death. Waiting together for scan results, you brought to mind the women of faith who raised me. You are not my grandmother’s baptists, but she would have loved that you showed up with the full armor of God and a lemon bundt cake. I give thanks for preachers who know when to pray and when to bake. May you be blessed.

Years had passed since we last communicated beyond Facebook and annual Christmas cards, but you responded to my message immediately. The hour we spent on a call, when you listened to my panicked rehearsal of things beyond my control, was initiation and rite of passage. Sharing your own impossible journey, you helped me to hear what I could not yet articulate. But it was your tears that brought me to my senses and gave me license to feel. Thank you for modeling how to play a shitty hand and for loving me enough to say the hard things. I wish for us both the gift of time and the wisdom to keep living this life, day by majestic day.

Sometimes our newest family members arrive at just the right time. Not everyone is for every season, but you have been a sister since our fortuitous pairing as mountaintop roommates. Your willingness to celebrate and grieve in equal measure makes so much blessed room for our full humanity. When healing feels particularly circuitous, yours is the number I dial. I will cross counties with you any day. This grace of turning to one another in both pain and possibility? It is fellowship.

You were among the first to come over after my diagnosis, showing up for dinner with a unicorn-ready casserole and proclaiming a resounding “Fuck cancer!” as we settled into our meal. That might have been the first four-letter pronouncement of this journey, and it gave me both pause and permission to experience in full color. Ours is a chosen family that sings together around a shared table: Praise God, friends, from whom all blessings flow—in four-part harmonies and four-letter words alike.

We showed up on your doorstep after sending cryptic messages about heading to the city for some medical appointments. We arrived before you got home and got to work in your kitchen, losing ourselves in the familiar tasks of chopping, stirring, and marinating. It didn’t take long for you to piece our story together, but your quiet hospitality met us right where we needed to be. I like to think that our weekend of home-cooked meals and heart-led conversations shows up in each tune we play together. Music, then, carries us from cradle to the grave with melodies that circle us round and round until we become one.

Yours was the second household to take unsettling news in stride. Responding from wells that run deep, you showered me in stickers, kept the red wine flowing, and gifted presence for the trying on of a new season. We never know why our paths cross with those who become both tell and teller. When I attempt awakening (to) each and every day, I remember a magical weekend of truth-telling and table-setting. To the ever loving unicorn within, indeed.

Some friends show up for the long-haul. Beginning our journey together in the crucible of a doctoral program, it feels like we have already weathered much that life might send our way: three kids, multiple moves, career transitions, and now cancer. How grateful I am for friends who birth more than the godchildren I love so dearly. For those whose vocations also call us back to center, I give thanks. Your family, and prayers, and witness—and a truly epic introduction to the art and science of all things green tea—journey with me always.  

We met in a Yoga class taught by your daughter who weaves community across love, light, and breath. There is no good time to get cancer, but any season can be enriched by sitting with those who share their wisdom. After enjoying a meal on the porch, you read for me a powerful story about this year in my life and the patterns I might seek to understand. When you spoke, it was medicine. May we be open to receiving that which is not ours to know. May we always honor those who speak in tongues both foreign and sacred.

It takes a special friend to intuit that what I really needed was to hold the things I was about to lose in my hands. The bright pink uterus that arrived by mail was both heart-wrenching and hilarious. I can’t wait to feature this festive piñata at a Team Unicorn gathering. I am imagining all kinds of closure raining down as we tear apart this physical manifestation of loss itself. Until then, I am proud owner of a very large papier-mâché friend that makes its home on a shelf in my closet. Tucked between unicorn paraphernalia and my doctoral hood, it makes me laugh. There is so much learning—and healing—in the sound of laughter.

When we met to design my tattoo, you had the perfect touch. Together, we imagined and mapped the majestic itself onto my forearm. I have never aspired to body art and my family does not necessarily celebrate this particular mode of expression. But your theology of pain proclaimed a baptism by thousand pin pricks and my body said “Amen.” I might have had a panic attack the night I wore myself home, but that was the balance of forever seeping below the surface. When I woke up with my commitments right before my eyes, I caught up with something. It might have been me.

You are not really supposed to befriend your therapist. It gets in the way of boundaries. But I have long suspected that we would be close in a different way if I hadn’t first shown up in your office while I was finishing a dissertation that made clearer—word by word—that I did not, in fact, want the prize far-from-guaranteed by the three letters I could hardly bear to earn. In the realm of the hard things we’ve tackled, cancer hardly registers. But I am grateful that our practice was in place when this diagnosis came calling. Our post-op session on the front porch of the home you helped me be brave enough to wish for and purchase made clear that some of the best healing happens when we can reflect deep truths back to one another. You are the hand that holds the mirror through which I can see myself clearly. Sometimes you are the mirror. For the reflections through which we find our way, I give thanks.

I don’t remember why my husband couldn’t come to my first oncology appointment, but you were the right person for the job. We had just moved to our new home within walking distance of the university where you had stopped me in my tracks a few years earlier. “Slow down,” you said, as I tried to first steer and then save a sinking ship. This invitation to not kill myself on the altar of something sacrificed long-ago still resonates as we live into this Thelma and Louise sequel I didn’t know we would star in together. It’s not just your mind that reminds me of all things science that bear on many things survival. It’s that you showed up in your convertible with the top down and helped me remember the questions I wanted to ask. And then you kept answering them again and again in texts I keep sending. Let’s keep driving off cliffs together.

We met in the most impossible of circumstances. Who hires a 37 year-old dean anyway? And when it was my time to go, you took my place and carried an unforgiving cross. And then you brought gluten-free cookies to the porch and we held court together—because we survived. Friend. For the laughter and the learning and for leaving it all behind. Onward.

There is something comforting about a marriage older than I am. I love sharing time with those who answer each other’s sentences and whose movements betray a choreography decades in the making. When death looms large, it’s good to take stock of what a partnership might hold. I remember being a bit nervous adding you to my meal train, but you showed up with soup and bread and salad and recipes. And when you blessed the food and the hands that prepared it? You spoke healing over us all.

Sometimes, a friend prepares a salad that meets each and every dietary restriction only to happily steal you away for ice cream. Ours was my first post-surgical joy ride and I am still grateful for your willingness to break the rules. Salad matters, but sprinkles are always worth it. Life is short. Let’s keep eating dessert first.

We didn’t invite many folks to join us at the hospital, because not everyone has a healing touch. But you came into the room and made yourself comfortable on my bed. You cut right to the heart of things when you took my feet into your hands. There’s a reason foot-washing is a Holy Week practice. Thank you for getting close enough to hold my pain, and for bringing the perfect socks to carry me through.

After reaching out for meal support, I remember the intention with which you showered each of your delicious offerings in prayer. The literal taking-in of the gifts we prepare for one another is both sating and sobering. We are one another’s keepers. And the wild rice salad you shared as a special treat? It has become a family favorite. Dishing it up, I am reminded of love both measured and freely given.

We met years ago in your Yoga studio where I finally caught my breath after struggling through a long sprint I couldn’t figure out how to pace. I don’t make as much space for my body these days—some healing is still too fresh—but the invitation you keep extending reminds me of the possibility of a sure return. Even as this long arc of recovery withholds both roadmap and timeline, I am grateful for the learning that keeps me apprenticed to the here and now.

Some people bring intimate knowledge of this cancer word and its many meanings. You were a familiar voice on the other end of the phone lifting up love and prayers, neither holds nor bullshit barred. What if all oncology nurses prayed and protested as fiercely as you? I love the unicorn popsicle mold you brought for our porch visit, but I love you more. Because you, too, were never shy to name this season for what it is: a mindfuck and mystery all at once.

Lady. Who do you call when you’re trying to negotiate a job offer while navigating a touch of cancer? You were out-of-town for the weekend when you got my message. Time is precious, but you shared yours anyway. We spent about 45 minutes on the phone, talking through the impossibility of timing and imagining all the priorities that change on a dime. You gave me courage to hold space for my many truths, however tender, however emergent. Your witness is part of how I claim just as much of this fallacious “everything” as I can stand. May we keep learning that we are always already enough.

Ours is a friendship born of a masters program that taught us to sit at one another’s feet and drink in wisdom too easily dismissed by systems and powers that be. We have crafted and storied and baked and walked and talked our way to a place where presence is optional. We couldn’t get our schedules to align in the thick of all the healing, but we didn’t need to. Your artwork that hangs on our walls keeps you close—each piece is a world in the making. Thank you.

I don’t know how to honor the hands that opened me up and took out something that proved to be so much more than we hoped for. I am living proof of the gifts you bring to the operating room, and to your teaching. Sometimes, we plant seeds of ourselves in others and watch our impact grow. You would have been more than enough, but you come with a posse of residents. Every time I interacted with someone you trained, they were there. Fully present. From the hourlong conversation about a surgery I didn’t understand to the practice of taking a knee to look me in the eye while I was in a hospital bed, I saw your heart at work. For knowing your own craft so well that you are tending to the next generation of those living into their calling, I give thanks.

There is nothing pleasant about an extended diagnostic period, but your office showed grace and love and kindness. And on the day of my surgery, when my chosen coping mechanism was a series of unicorn-themed shenanigans, you joined the party. I hope to not need your surgical skills again, but if I do, I will be in good hands that give in the taking. Sometimes it takes magic to make magic, and you showed up for morning rounds wearing a unicorn horn. Let’s keep this winning streak alive!

Y’all are way too experienced in all things cancer. I hate that you knew to make our first round of post-diagnostic gin and tonics super-human strong. When we sat on the porch and felt the world grow brighter and dimmer all at once, you said, “I wish this wasn’t a club you were joining.” But how grateful I was—and am—to find myself in good company. It has long been my truth that we won some kind of lottery to find ourselves as family. Your son is my greatest treasure. And y’all have my heart.

We met on an island several years ago and found ourselves in adjacent rooms, sharing a hall, a bathroom, and the stuff of life itself. I was recovering from another surgery at that time—foreshadowing is something else—and you were gentle and caring and kind. When I called to talk shop about all this diagnosis was requiring, you gently reminded me of some of my favorite things. Along the way, we remembered what is too easily forgotten: that we get to choose ourselves over and over again. This idea that we are the bread of life? A celebration.

They say that this is why you take vows and commit to the better and the worse, to sickness and to health. This has been a private reckoning, and you have partnered with curiosity and generosity. While the core of who I am and strive to be is testing what we know to be true, you are holding steady. This season wears on each of us differently, and I am grateful for a partnership that dances and sings. We have long known how to hold for a downbeat and to lean into harmonies that grate before they resolve. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then, is our solemn vow.

This was not the first time I didn’t tell you about a surgery until after the fact, but there you have it. Family is complicated and some things require more trust than we can muster. And so, you stayed in the dark for a while. And when the time came to walk together, you honored your place without complaint. There is wisdom in knowing what we can and cannot be to one another. Ours, then, is a work in progress. When so many of my beloveds were sitting in the thick of it with me, I am grateful that there was place and purpose set aside for life before death. In the many ways we are learning to be with and for one another, there is hope and healing.

This list keeps growing as gifts keep giving, some anticipated and announced, others unexpected and emergent. Even if this memorial recitation isn’t complete, I am letting go of the exhaustive in favor of the intentional. I am remembering enough to find my rest. I don’t always achieve the breath or balance that I seek, but this year has held more learning and unlearning than most. For love freely given, I name gratitude. For private revolutions paving the way to new commitments—to myself, to others—I claim victory over the grave.

July 30, 2020