Three weeks gone. My heart is full.
Archipelago of ice caps jam the Atlantic.
Singing from the rear of the cabin.
A tenor and a bass walk forward. Smiling.
A stewardess serenade.
Originators of an operatic, mile-high club.
Even the proffering of water
Mundane as the day it was taught
Seems to levitate. Sacred.
I don’t deserve this.
I cowered at their complaints.
My gift felt heavy.
Burdensome at the thought of exclusion.
Chicago streets harder than hogs.
African American studies lands debt.
Not jobs. Not my life.
I don’t deserve this.
Loneliness was my mirror.
Notice me. Played in a thousand ways.
Crown me king in a game where only
Snake oil scams. Substitutes for
Knowing and being known.
I didn’t know like I know now.
My wife. The rise and fall of my child’s chest.
Hands stained by blood and berries.
Prayer. Fixed. Neighbors near.
I am found.
Perhaps it’s no more than this.
For those who enjoy poetry, I apologize. This is my first attempt at free verse poetry since Mrs. De Jong’s, 10th grade, creative writing class. But I had some time to kill on an 8-hour flight back from Italy. The gratefulness and longing I felt while writing this poem happened before Air Canada benevolently turned it into a 29-hour journey home. I might have revised it or included a sarcastic addendum set to the tune of Oh Canada had I been able to catch my breath after a 7am sprint down the jetway at Dulles International. So for those who ‘get’ poetry and are okay with allowing it to speak for itself, read no further. That’s a reflection of my time in Italy however embryonic and ungainly my prose. But for those who like me, find poetry mostly inaccessible, I’ll provide a few footnotes.
There were so many moments when I sat back in sheer gratefulness. There were moments where I just smiled and felt the warmth of God’s grace on my life. I felt this so many times like when we were in class talking about the roots of social justice embedded in the Biblical imagination of shalom or enjoying a long lunch al frescowith new friends in Rome or climbing up Mount Subasio to the retreat outside of Assisi where Francis and his friends saved the soul of the church by calling them back to prayer and to the poor. The entire experience was such a gift that I felt overwhelmed by God’s generosity.
And I also questioned the locus of that generosity. There were other very intelligent students who came from hard-scrabble neighborhoods who worked and paid their way through undergrad, racked up ungodly levels of debt and didn’t get a full scholarship like I did. Before I left to Italy, my neighbor Pureza, no stranger herself to difficult, economic circumstances sat with me in my doubt, affirmed that there might have been others who needed it more economically than I did, but that God had his reasons. There’s truth in that, but it seems too easy of an answer. I don’t want to discount the generous intentions of God, but neither do I dare theologize the ways of privilege.
The one thing that would have made this experience even more amazing was if Emily was with me. I did feel lonely without her, without the kids, without the regularity and rhythm and practices that keep us located and grounded. And feeling dislocated from them, I felt and noticed ways that I subtly drew attention to myself. I felt renewed compassion for those who experience chronic dislocation–for refugees, for immigrants, for single mothers, for truck drivers, for nursing home residents.
We long for home. We long for shalom. We long to be found in relationship, in practices like prayer and picking black raspberries from abandoned alleys that ground us. We long for these things because ultimately we long to participate in the very life of God. And sometimes that life of God gets loose and ruptures from the invisible realms and takes up its home in our own homes, the image of God once hidden, makes itself known in the sheer joy on the face of my son on a backyard swing crying, “Daddy, push me higher!” It’s there I meet God’s love rhythmically assaulting all intuition saying, “You deserve this. You deserve this. You deserve this.”