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Archive for September, 2008

Here at Koinonia, I’m the coordinator of our mail and internet products business.  We were having many many problems with our order entry system today, so I went over to the office late this evening, with the intention of working said problems.  Instead, I ran into my friend Sandy and we talked for about two hours.  Sandy has been a member of Koinonia for 13 years.  Those years have been filled with constant transition and change.  As a result, Sandy has grown quite exhuasted and she is on sabbatical this year with her husband.  They have three kids, and their whole family spends a lot of time around the community, but they are doing their own thing and discerning about their future with Koinonia.

Sandy used to be the Products Coordinator, and I’ve always found it very helpful to talk with her when I’m agitated.  She laughs at all the right moments, because she knows exactly what I’m going through.  And she’s willing to question me, and to question herself, which is helpful when I’m making a sincere effort to solve a problem or a conflict with someone else.  I don’t have to have all the right answers when I talk with Sandy, and she knows that she doesn’t have all the right answers for me.  We both just get to be our fully human selves, real and goofy and messy and unsure, seeking God’s will in the midst of it all.

So tonight we wound up talking about conflict in community, and how to deal with all the diverse personalities that come to Koinonia when sometimes you just want to close the door to your office or retreat to your house and be left alone.  “That’s not very community,” some would say.  But honestly, that urge hits me more often than I would like to admit.  I get to thinking, “If all of you would just behave yourselves, I might actually be able to get something accomplished here!!  And if you can’t behave, then you should just go away and leave me in peace to do my job!!!!”  Hmm.  Not very community.  Not very Christian-like either.  But I admit, I think this quite often, and I usually there are a few choice words involved and some muttering under (or over) my breath.

Now, let me digress for a moment.  The idea of tolerance has been a theme running through all of my interactions lately.  If I am going to succeed in living in a diverse community, I have to learn to tolerate, and even accept, other people’s behavior.  But the question arises, what do I do when behavior becomes intolerable?  What do I do when it seems that there’s conflict all the time, and I am watching people hurting one another with disregard, and I am in turn hurting others and being hurt?  How do I know when to be a martyr, and when to be a torch-bearer?

I don’t pretend I know the answers to these questions all the time.  I do spend a considerable amount of my prayer life these days asking in advance for guidance and openness so that when conflicts inevitably arise God will speak through me instead of trying to figure everything out on my own.  I like to think this is what Jesus did.  He knew that his human side wanted to take charge when things were chaotic and no one was acting right.  So he constantly asked God the father to intervene for him, as him, and though he was tempted to ignore it God’s will always won out.

The Message translation of Galatians 5:22-23 says:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

As I re-read these words, I hear an invitation.  God is inviting me to stop being exhausted all the time.  He’s inviting me to ask for his help, inviting me into his kingdom where there’s not all this hurt and confusion all the time.  All I have to do is ask, seek, knock and his promises it will be given, found, opened.  Not saying that this is easy, or trying to over-simplify the process.  But it’s clear in these verses that when we do the hard work of giving up our selfishness, God will step in and make our efforts worthwhile.  He will truly allow us to experience his kingdom on earth.

This brings me back to what Sandy and I came up with tonight.  People have to get it for themselves.  That is, if someone does not want the fruits of the spirit, I cannot give it to them.  And while I can pray for someone when I am in conflict with them, I am not the one who will change that person’s heart.  Only God can do that work, and only when the person is ready for it.  That can leave us humans pretty frustrated sometimes, because we want to be in charge.  At least I do!  I want to get credit for fixing things, to be recognized as brilliant and compassionate and wise.

The truth is, all the brilliant and compassionate and wise things I’ve ever done are products of the gifts God gave me, the ones I didn’t even ask for.  So they’re not even mine to begin with!  I’m just harvesting fruit in his orchard.  There’s plenty here, if you’re ready to share it.

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Head Above Water

The following is a piece I wrote when I was living in New Orleans in 2002.  It is about a job I had in college. (I went to Wittenberg University and graduated with a B.A. in English in 2000.)  I’ve been thinking about the people I worked with often these days, as I adapt to farm life and realize that the nature of work is that there’s always more of it to do.  When I lived in New Orleans, I wanted to live in a world where no one had to work unless they wanted to.  Now my wish is that we find work we love, and that we manage to do it with joy most days.

So here’s my tribute from 6 years ago, with some revisions, to hard-working women everywhere, to those who do the back-breaking, thankless labor that most of us never notice:

During the summer before my senior year of college, I worked for a few months in housekeeping at the Springfield Inn.  I had just returned from five months studying abroad in Lancaster, England.  My hair was 1/2 inch long and bright yellow.  I wore baggy clothes, big colorful t-shirts and hippie pants I made myself with patches down the sides.  I worked in the laundry, folding sheets and towels in seven hour shifts.  For the first two weeks my fingers were raw and red from sliding the hot linens through their tips.  By the third week I had developed callouses as thick as the ones I got two years later when I worked building houses with Habitat for Humanity.

The women I worked with at the Inn were intense and fascinating to me.  They appealed to my non-academic curiosity, gave my cushy college life a healthy dose of reality.  I learned from them what it really was to work all day, to go home weary and aching.  My co-workers unconsciously shared their lives with me, and diversified my view of the many ways that people live.  On paper, I was highly overqualified for a job like this, but my experience there taught me more about life than all the theories in all the textbooks I would have to read for my thesis that year.

They were Linda, Barb, April, Penny, Bobbie, and others whose names I lost before they reached my long-term memory.  Bobbie was my boss.  She was a slight woman, wiry but not shrunken.  She seemed to be my grandmother’s age, though she was probably only 50.  She chain smoked Basic 100’s.  She had been in the housekeeping profession for most of her working life.  She seemed very honest, though her mind was scattered and many times she simply forgot to keep her word.  This meant that I wound up on the schedule way more often than I intended to work.  But I guess I needed the money.  My parents still paid most of my expenses while I was in school, but I felt I had something to prove.  I couldn’t be like all the other students whose parents sent them money each week for partying or buying new clothes.  At least I would support my own drinking habit.  At least I only shopped at thrift stores.

About two weeks before I quit, Bobbie had some words with the hotel owner and walked out on her job.  I think she left town that same week with a man she barely knew.  I remember her frizzy hair and shaded-lens glasses.  I remember her bony fingers as she smoked, her frail collar bones.  The heavy rasp of her voice through the tar and nicotine festering in her lungs.  That night she had had enough.  I picture her now in California, or Nebraska, or on an island somewhere; she is smiling, her laugh scratching to get out past the years of corrosion.  I know she is tired.  I hope she is happy.

Barb, I took to the homeless shelter late one night.  Dropped her off there with two garbage bags full of all her earthly possessions.  She had been staying with Linda, who was often surly and hung over and came to work without her dentures in most days.   There were too many people staying in Linda’s apartment, too many loud nights, so the landlord threatened to evict her.  She, in turn, evicted Barb and then refused to give her a ride to the shelter, which was on the far side of town, about a 15-minute drive.  It broke my heart.  It made me wish I had more guts to say what I was thinking, about how shitty and hypocritical Linda was being.  But I didn’t do that because I also understood that things were pretty shitty for Linda right then too.  That’s all she needed was some buzz-cut, spoiled college girl who was 30 years younger than her to tell her how to run her life.  She dealt with meanness every single day, all that harsh reality.  She, like Bobbie, had the smoker’s cough of life catching up with her, what the hell to do now but destroy the liver along with the lungs.

Barb and Linda didn’t seem to be the greatest of friends.  That’s probably why Barb was the first to go when the landlord cracked down.  Barb almost always had a smile on her face, but I also got the sense that she was often on the verge of tears.  One day I let her borrow a book – Tar Baby by Toni Morrisson.  She was outside waiting for her ride and forgot it on the back step of the Inn.  The next day it was gone.  She was so upset to tell me about it, tears welling up in her eyes.  She apologized for a week and offered to buy me a replacement copy.  Forget it, I said even though it did bother me a little bit because I still get attached to books and other trivial things.

The night I took Barb to the shelter, she hugged me and thanked me, and she did not cry.  She smiled with watery eyes, and wouldn’t let me help her with her bags.  As I watched her walk away, I felt the enormity of the darkness above me, blotted out in the parking lot by the jaundiced glow of streetlights.  I thought of women coming to the shelter every night.  I thought of the meanness of it all and it made everyone in the world seem vulnerable.  Barb was swallowed up by the shelter, too kind to wish Linda ill will, though her anger brewed deep within.  Linda used her weakness to exercise control over the few people she cared about.

Me, I just got back into my fully operating car and drove away, fighting off the guilt of having a car and an apartment and an education.  None of which I’d paid for.  All of which oozed privilege and opportunity.  And what did I do with these things?  The same shit as Linda and Barb…I drank and talked and smoked and hurt, I got frustrated with relationships and with myself, I threatened to quit it all at times, to quit this life, because even with all that opportunity it was sometimes too much for me to handle.

But how could I tell that to these women whose experience probably told them that I was a spoiled brat?  I didn’t ever tell them.  I avoided talking about my experiences in travel and school, and found that I had little to speak of outside of that bubble.  But I was still there, working, just trying to keep my head above water, just like the rest.

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Last night I was distraught.  I had been through an awful day of argument.  With my kids, my husband, my dog, with myself.  I was grouchy and on the warpath all day long, and so was everyone else in my house.  It felt so dire, like I feel when I have the flu or a head cold and somewhere near the middle of the illness I’m certain that I’ll probalby never feel normal again.  I always have trouble remembering what it was like to be well.  But the vague memory lingers, and so I manage to get through the misery by clinging to the hope that one day I will in fact walk around without a headache and sore throat.

I was feeling that same sense of unending doom on Sunday, except that it was just my mood that was ailing me.  I couldn’t imagine that I was ever going to like anyone in my family ever again, and that scared the hell out of me.  So what was my response to this fear?  Did I become sweet and kind and responsive towards them?  No, I fought even harder, fought all afternoon and evening, until bedtime, and then I got out of the house for a couple of hours so that when Brendan had finished putting the girls to bed I wouldn’t be able to do any more harm to him or anyone else.

When I got home he was sleeping, and I was feeling a bit better.  It was a full moon, which is always at least a bit of an excuse for irrational behavior.  But my actions that day had been inexcusable.  I found myself sitting on our futon after midnight with my Bible, but had no idea what to read.  So I asked God to lead me to the scripture that could help me.

But first I prayed.  I prayed for forgiveness, and for God’s direction.  I prayed for all the people who had angered me this past week.  I prayed for a friend of mine who is beginning a time of fasting as she seeks God’s will in her own life.  I prayed for my family, for the people of Koinonia.  In each case I did my best to release the people and situations to the care of God, instead of holding them as mine.  I get into this state sometimes where I think I know what’s best for others, and that if only they would listen to me their lives would be so much better.  As I have to remind myself quite often, I usually don’t even know what’s best for myself, much less for the hundreds of other people in my life.  God always delivers a better answer than I could ever dream up, and so yesterday I even released my own life into his care.  It was an inspired (by that I mean Spirit-filled) prayer.

But the coolest part was just after I said “Amen,” when I heard very clearly the answer to what scripture would be helpful: “Lamentations.”  Hmm.  I laughed a little nervously, and shook my head.  “Um, thanks,” I replied, and then I went to my Bible.  Now, I grew up going to school at my church and spent the better part of ten years studying much of the Bible.  But I don’t know if I’ve ever read Lamentations.  And if I had read this book under any other circumstance I might have just forgotten it.  But there were two things that stood out to me.

1.  The introduction to this book in my Bible (which is the Life Recovery Bible, New Living Translation) explained that this book is Jeremiah humbly expressing his sorrow and pain to God.  It says:

Lamentations does not provide pat answers for the suffering we experience in life.  As we read, we discover that it is all right to be real, to be angry with God, to be disappointed with life, and to despair about what tomorrow holds for us.  Jeremiah gained comfort as he honestly told God how he hurt.  God accepted Jeremiah as he was – angry, tired, and discouraged.

2.  Chapter 3 verse 58:

Lord, you are my lawyer!  Plead my case!  For you have redeemed my life.

I could elaborate, but these two quotes speak for themselves, and fit perfectly with every aspect of my life right now.

My friend Havilah and I were talking today about how when we became followers of Jesus, we didn’t realize that we gave up our claim to the constant approval of our peers.  In fact, when one has given over entirely to God’s calling for their life (as demonstrated by prophets like Jeremiah), sometimes it’s like being in an un-popularity contest.  Havilah said she’s learned that we are to look to God for approval, with the awareness that sometimes doing God’s will does not feel all that great.  In fact, sometimes it downright sucks.  But when we give our lives to Jesus, it becomes God’s job to make the call on what is right and what is not right for us.  We can accept God’s call or not, and we had better be ready to live with the consequences of either choice.

For me, accepting God as my refuge (or as my lawyer, as quoted above) is equal with acceptance of salvation.  Not the far-away, life after death kind of salvation.  But the salvation we get in the form of living a life in God’s peace.  It’s salvation experienced here, on earth, every day.

Next time you’re in a “mood” where everything seems wrong, let’s make a pact to spare ourselves the heartache of trying to fix it ourselves.  Let’s just take it to our lawyer instead!

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I guess it’s Daniel Johnston theme week.  The title of this post is partially hijacked from him.  I’ve had his song “Walking the Cow” stuck in my head all week.

Normally when I get a song stuck in my head like this it’s because the song has something to teach me.  And this time it’s quite literal.  A couple of nights ago I watched my husband begin to train one of our new milk goats to walk on a lead; he was literally walking a goat, and the goat was not happy about it.  And training a goat is not the end of it…this Saturday we will be getting our first cow, a six-month-old Irish Dexter bull and Brendan will start training him by, you got it, taking him for walks on a tether.

Brendan walking the goat

Brendan walking the goat

These days the nonsensical lyrics to “Walking the Cow” are starting to make complete sense to me.  Daniel croons: “I really don’t know how I came here…I really don’t know why I’m stayin’ here…
Oh, Oh, Oh.  I’m walking the cow…”
You can click on the link to hear the whole song on YouTube, and I assure you it’s a rare gem straight from the depths of Johnston’s mentally ill mind.

As I watched Brendan struggle with the not-too-happy goat, it hit me that we have chosen a way of life that will require constant work at the mercy of many unknowns.  For a farmer, the weather is unforgiving, and one disease or one cold night could have dire consequences.  Sometimes, as Johnston’s lyrics suggest, we aren’t sure how we got here or why we are doing this, but we remain faithful.

Walking the goat, or the cow as he will be doing in just a few days, can be a useful metaphor for other struggles we face as we learn about and experience living in community.  Tethering a goat for the first time is no small feat.  The goat resists with all her might, not wanting to be made to do anything unfamiliar, especially not wanting to do anything that would put her at the mercy of someone else.  Sometimes as members of Koinonia, we find ourselves needing to teach each other, and in hand we need to learn from each other as well.  We are stubborn.  We don’t want to be taught, don’t want to be led by someone else.  We want to remain fully autonomous and independent.  But the call to community doesn’t work that way.

In order to succeed here, to begin to know what I’m doing here and why I’m staying, I have to allow someone else to “walk” me from time to time.  Sometimes that is another community member, or one of my friends or family members.  Always it comes back to letting God take charge of my life, to allow him to lead me like the good shepherd he promises he will be.  The silly thing is, often I’m just as stubborn as our goat when it comes to going down God’s path.  I create excuses and distractions for myself.  I get angry and overly-emotional.  I complain and whine and refuse to seek solutions while I identify the problem in a dozen different ways.  Some day I will be broken enough to allow God to tether me without a fight every single time.  Until then,  I guess we’ll just keep walking the cow, and the goat, and the dog, and whoever else needs walking.  When it comes to my fellow community members I’ll try to walk beside them, though, and let God take the lead.

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Thirty

I was listening to Daniel Johnston in the car today, and as usual he seemed to be telling my life story.  He says in the song “Peek-a-boo”:

You can listen to these songs,
Have a good time and walk away.
But for me it’s not that easy.
I have to live these songs forever.

My biggest discovery upon turning 30 at approximately 1:30am today is that I’m still me.  I’m writing this

Thirty-year-old me

Thirty-year-old me

blog, and putting my ideas down in neat little anecdotes.  But then I get to go out and try to live the things I believe, just like everyone else.  I get to screw it up and revise, try again, have some successes and some laughter, some tears and some heartache.  And while it is often very enjoyable, it’s certainly not easy.

I don’t know what I thought 30 would be like, but I have a feeling I’m in for some surprises this year.  This is the first year of my adult life that I’m not anticipating any major changes.  Every single year since I turned 18 I have made at least one of the following major changes: moved, changed jobs, left the country, broken up with someone, gotten married, or had a baby.  Even with staying put with my family at Koinonia for the past 2 and a half years, I have changed jobs about every six months, moved houses once, and my second daughter was born here.  So I’m hoping my 30s will be a little more stable than my 20s were, that the transformation I go through during this decade will be more internal than external.

I guess thought I’d be more of a “grown up” by now.  Outwardly I may seem like a grown-up.  I’m married, with kids and a job full of responsibilities.  On one level I feel more self-assured, more “me” than ever.  On a parallel level, I still feel like a frustrated teenager, or an insecure child.  I’ve grown and changed over the years to the point that I’m not the same person any more, but those experiences from my past are still part of me, and I’m still processing them.

To sum this up, in all its confusion, I’ll use another Daniel Johnston lyric, from a song called “Some Things Last a Long Time”:

It’s funny, but it’s true
And it’s true, but it’s not funny
Time comes and goes
All of the while, I still think about you
Some things last a long time

The paradox is striking for me, like laughing when someone falls and hits their head and you want to be sure they’re ok.  But falling is, well, funny.  At the end of the day, it’s still about what we do with the memory of the experience itself.

Thirty is a milestone, to be sure.  Here’s to a fruitful year filled with memories and experiences to last a lifetime!

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If I ran the world, so many of its problems would be non-existent.  I mean, I have such a knack for seeing people’s needs, and problem-solving.  If only more people would see it my way, we could end war, poverty, hunger, and sibling rivalry at a single blow.

Ok, maybe not.  But I’ve been thinking about this all week.  If everything happened the way I wanted it to, what would the world look like?  The reality is, the world would probably still be just as screwed up and confusing as it is now.  The reality is, I usually don’t know what’s best for myself, much less anyone else.

I live at Koinonia Farm in community with roughly 30 other adults (the number varies based on how many interns and provisional members we have at any given time) and 11 children.  We are a diverse group.  We have people ranging in age from 1 to 80, with at least one person in every decade in between.  We are black, white and hispanic.  We come from varied socioeconomic, educational, and political backgrounds.

Here is the range of experience we embody: Some of us have a college degree, or a masters degree, or several of each.  Some of us never finished high school.  Some of us grew up in the suburbs, some in the inner city, some on farms or in small towns in the country.  Some of us come from stable families; others from broken homes.  Some of us grew up with every amenity money can buy.  Some of us had no running water in our houses as children.  We are democrats, republicans, anarchists, apolitical, independents.  We are pacifists, activists, conscientious objectors, war veterans.  We are Christians, Universalists, seekers, mystics.

My husband and I came to visit Koinonia for a week in October 2005 before we decided to come and live here the following spring.  During our visit I was part of a conversation about maintaining diversity in this community, and what a struggle that has been over Koinonia’s 65 year history.  The day after we returned home from our trip (home was Cincinnati, OH at the time), I was invited to attend the screening of a new documentary called Afro-Punk.  The director, James Spooner, interviewed black people from all over the country who are involved in the punk rock scene, from famous musicians to kids who play in basement shows to roadies to fans.  This documentary has started a thriving movement to promote bands in the New York City area.  The film was wonderful, and while I fully enjoyed the screening, it was not the film, but the question/answer session with the director afterwards that really struck me.  I raised my hand and shared about my visit to Koinonia, and posed the question about intentionally seeking to live in diversity.  Spooner’s answer floored me, because it was such common sense.  He said (paraphrased), “You can’t expect other people to do things the way you do them simply because you think it’s good and right.”

The universe melted away in that moment, and I was left sitting there in the puddle of my self.  How naive I was!  Expecting others to live up to my values just because I think they are right is so backwards.  I’ll give a fairly tangible example: I’m into environmental sustainability, and so it’s important to me to hang my laundry on the clothes line instead off using the dryer.  For a couple of months I got all caught up in how so many other people use the dryer all the time, and how it’s so wasteful, and in my head I spent hours trying to figure out how to keep people from using the wasteful dryer to dry their clothes when we have a perfectly good clothes line right outside.  I was obsessed with the idea that I had the right answer for everyone, to the point that I was willing to sacrifice my friendships with other people in order to convince them that my way was right.

The solution to this problem boils down to an idea that my friend Jerry Nelson shared recently: People are more important than _____(fill in the blank).  In other words, relationships with people are more important than facts and figures, more important than the environment, more important than being right.  I’ve discovered from years of experience that personal transformation does not come from someone else’s heavy handedness or self-appointed counsel; it comes only from the power of God’s Spirit within, and only when we are open to it.  Besides which, who am I to say what is right for any of you?  In doing so, I steal your autonomy, your God-given right to free will.  And if I sit and listen to you instead of trying to convince you that I’m right, if i honestly share my experiences without judgement or expectation, I might be able to embrace you as a child of God’s universal family.  I might just be able to put aside some of our differences and realize that you are a lot more like me than I originally thought.

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I’ve done a lot of traveling.  And I’ve lived in a lot of weird places.  I was a bit of a vagabond during college and for a few years after graduating.  I’ll get to some of those stories another time.  One of my favorite places in the world, where I lived for six months, is New Orleans.  When I lived there, people told me that the spirit of that city will get inside of you, and if you leave, you will always want to come back.  As Louis Armstrong croons, “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans…”  Yes!  I do!

My time in New Orleans was a crucial turning point.  I first arrived there with my team from AmeriCorps*NCCC.  We pulled up to the warehouse that would be our home for the next six weeks, nervously eyeballing the razor wire that rimmed the chain-link fence around the concrete yard.  We were just inside the edge of the 9th ward, along the train tracks next to the changing station.

I had trouble sleeping those first few nights.  The trains were constantly coming in to change cars, so the signal lights would flash and *ding*ding*ding*, seemingly for hours.  Then the train cars would crash together, and the massive warehouse would shake as though the world was crashing down around us.  Each time this happened I woke from some half-dreaming state in terror.  I’m still a little afraid of the dark, and so would lay there on my government-issue cot clutching my sleeping bag to my chin and listening to my teammates quietly snoring.  As long as I could hear them breathing, I knew I would be ok.

After about a week the trains didn’t bother my sleep any more.  Instead I was kept awake by the restless spirit of a city below sea level.  You never knew what might happen when you turned a corner.  There might be a bluegrass band, or a hidden courtyard; kids frolicking in an open fire hydrant, or someone being arrested for public intoxication; dogs in ridiculous costumes, or one of your friends getting mugged at gunpoint.  There was a sense that absolutely anything could happen at any time, and I credit that to the fact that a city below sea level could disappear at any moment and probably wasn’t meant to be there in the first place.

But New Orleans is there, and I have trouble putting into words how deeply my time there still affects my life today.  I learned about true American poverty there, looked desperation in the face, partied like I might not live to see tomorrow, danced to reggae music with street punks.  I met many brilliant people who had chosen to live outside of the structure of American society.  Subversives.  Anarchists.

There’s a band named “X” that sings a song called “We’re Despearate”, and the lyrics go:

I play too hard when I ought to go to sleep
they pick on me ’cause I really got the beat
some people give me the creeps.
Every other week I need a new address
landlord landlord landlord cleaning up the mess
our whole fucking life is a wreck.
Chorus:
We’re desperate  get used to it (4x) it’s kiss or kill

That about sums up New Orleans for me.  Every time I hear this song, I think of my friends there who rented old abandoned warehouses for a few hundred dollars a month, added bathrooms and kitchens to make the spaces livable, played music, made art, went to anarchist meetings, had bike parades, grew gardens, worked for non-profits, or tried to avoid working at all costs.  We were all desperate, but at least we could share our desperation with each other.  And there was always this drive to do something, anything, to connect with the other desperate folks around you.

I ended a year-long relationship with my first love after we lived together for two months there.  After that I gave in fully to the desperation.  I started riding my bike through the streets alone, drunk, whispering poems or singing songs that I made up, laughing out loud because I was so unbelievably brilliant.  No one understood me any more, I thought.  I couldn’t even connect with my desperate friends there.  I rambled on endlessly about where I needed to go, how something different would fix me.  Maybe graduate school, or a new job, or joining a community, or moving to Europe.  People got sick of hearing my new plans every day.  “Just do something,” they would sigh.  Except for the other really desperate folks.  They would just nod, nervously smile, and offer to roll me a cigarette.

I left New Orleans after six months.  I couldn’t take it any more.  I had stayed up all night and all day and all night again one too many times.  I had met too many crackheads, too many destitute squatters.  I had looked over the edge, and though I wanted to dive in head first I was terrified of what I was becoming.  When I wasn’t drunk or high, I was crying because I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I had changed my plans at least 100 times, and then I believe that God stepped in and did for me what I cannot do for myself.

I decided to move back to Cincinnati, where I grew up, not knowing what was in store.  I told a boy I liked, who I thought liked me, that I was leaving New Orleans.  “Oh. (long pause) Uh, why?  Why would you go back there?”  I had some vague ideas about reconciling with my family, reconnecting with old friends.  But the real answer is, I had no idea why, other than the only moment of peace and clarity I had experienced in six months was when I finally decided to move back home.  At last, relief.

I know now that the only way I made it out of New Orleans was by the grace of God.  I think I might have actually heard a voice that told me to move, and do it fast.  My life changed so drastically so quickly once I got to Cincinnati.  Less than six months later I had gotten sober and met the man who would later become my husband.  Just under two years later I was married, and pregnant with my first daughter.

And a year after my daughter Ida was born, I watched New Orleans on tv as hurricane Katrina swallowed it up.  I felt that longing again, of the Louis Armstrong song, as I watched hour after hour of the horrific footage.  I looked for familiar landmarks, familiar faces.  I had long since lost touch with everyone I knew there, but I was so worried about them all.  Found evidence online that some of them were fine.  And felt that familiar desperation creeping back in, just wanting to connect with their brilliance and madness.

Now I have been sober nearly six years, and my life is so drastically different that I can’t even believe this story is about me.  And New Orleans is vacant, as hurricane Gustav rages towards it.  I pray for the city, and for anyone who is there now.  And though I am fully present here at Koinonia today, I do believe I left a little bit of my heart there, and I miss it each night and day.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

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