This is what volunteering at an LGBT youth shelter program looks like:
Dishes. Not as many as you'd imagine, but always dishes. Incoming residents, graduating residents, booted residents, and recurring residents. I've made friends. I am respected and maybe sometimes liked. French fries, sometimes fried and sometimes baked, depending on the staff member on duty. Always extra salty when I'm in charge. Reality television, OMG reality television. Sometimes music videos on MTV, but mostly we watch shameless America embarrassing themselves on camera. Chatting, superficially usually, cleaning, cooking, re-stocking, and chatting some more. There is a mix of gay and lesbian and transgender, but we don't talk too much about it. And I arrive with a smile and leave with a smile, wondering on the bike ride home (always wondering) how it is that I ended up being born where I was when I was in my home with my parents my upbringing my church my life.
This is what volunteering at an LGBT youth shelter program looks like:
Over the last two weeks my friends and clients have been asking if I have made any New Year's resolutions. I guess that is a standard go-to query directly after January first, and I wonder how many people proffer similar responses. How many people talk about diet and exercise, going to yoga, reading certain or more books, traveling, making more money, caring less about money, finding more alone time, being more social or less social depending on which way the pendulum swings. How many people make promises? To themselves, to each other? Or review promises from the years past?
Anyway, all this to say that I am not the type of girl to make New Year's resolutions. I am, however, the type of girl to make regular, non-holiday resolutions, though I call them goals. I am the type of girl who devises what she wants to do, get done, accomplish, and then I do it. I can attest that checking off the list is more satisfying than bandying around ideas with one another. Not to say that accountability isn't essential, because of course it is. And so what we should do as friends and sisters is to listen, to check in, to follow up and to follow through. Goals can be more readily achieved with the right support, the right encouragement. If you weren't able to get a fresh start at the first of the year, now is the time.
Oh, and as for my first New Year's Eve in NYC? It was not a letdown, as many threatened, but rather a super fun night out with a couple of my besties, some good music, some good looking people, and an open dance floor. I knew I loved this town.
You should know that she has been my right hand girl for eleven years.
You should remember that to some people, their canine companions are like their children, and no one wants to hear that their little baby is getting old.
Remember that I have another little Terrier that looks up to this “Old Gal”, and has no idea what life would be like without her.
You should know that I worked in a vet's office for years, and thus have witnessed the unforeseen deaths and the euthanasias of countless pets, often pets that look just like my own. Sometimes these pets are completely different breeds or even species, but they have the same eyes as my girl and those eyes can penetrate my soul when I think to pay attention.
Ponder the fact that one day I may have to make an unselfish decision, and that decision could potentially be one of the hardest things I will ever have to do.
Remember that even humans can go grey prematurely, and that silver hair doesn't automatically induct you in the senior citizens' club.
Don't forget that age is just a number, and no one deserves to be a victim of ageism. In fact, my girl is anti-prejudice all around.
You should know that not a week goes by where I don't think about her demise, because I am a worry wart and that's just what I do. It's okay for me to be unnecessarily anxious about something completely hypothetical and morbid, because that is me; but it is not acceptable for you to hint at her mortality with key phrases such as “old”, or “long life”, or “lifespan”.
You should know that she has always been a good girl, even when she was a tiny Boston Terrorist puppy and her instinct didn't always jive with my commands. In fact, there is nothing that this girl wouldn't do for me, except live forever.
The sermon from church yesterday really resonated. I know that's a very “churchy” thing to say, but the fact that I am still thinking about Brian's words and am wanting to look over my notes means it is a legit thing to say in these circumstances. And in this advent season, we are supposed to be focusing on preparing the way, our hearts, our lives, for what's to come.
So the fact remains, are you living a life of contentment, or are you living in fear? Contentment can have negative connotations, for sure, as in I feel that some are content with their own boxes of lives and have no desire to peek into the boxes around them, but in the spiritual sense, contentment is a fulfilled and lasting happiness, and is definitely something to seek.
Fear, however, is never mistaken as a good thing and it is such a strong word that I imagine most of us don't use it that often in a description of our daily life or our all around state of being. Yet the things that humans fear are the things that keep us from living a spiritually content life.
We fear not being needed.
We fear not having control, being powerless.
(I list these two first because they are the two I struggle with the most.)
We fear not being wanted.
We fear insignificance.
We fear defeat.
We fear shame.
We fear not having enough, or being enough.
These feelings are so real and so vivid in the our own lives and those of the people around us and sometimes I just don't know what to do about it.
Biblically we are given some practical instructions (some easier than others) such as:
Do not be greedy, do not hoard, do not be discontent, do not compare your things or your life or yourself with others around you, do not corrupt, do not manipulate, and stop complaining.
If I were someone who used profanity on a regular basis, I believe I would be cursing at least twelve times a day. Yes. Twelve. Twelve seems to be the average number of times my strength is tested throughout the day. Not my patience, not my physical prowess, not my intelligence, but simply the strength I possess that keeps me from breaking into tears.
There are these things, these reminders, these coincidences, that pop up and make me stumble for a minute, make me hesitate as I collect myself and refuse to give in to the pain that threatens to push through. And logic and experience and my bustling brain tell me to be past this already, this threat of emotion, to be further along than I am, to think about the present. But gosh darn it I am in the present and guess what the present can hurt just as much as the past and when you compound the two together it is not always easy to hold it together!
And why do I have so many memories from such a short period in my life? And why am I allowing my feelings to be so tender over stupid and unimportant occurrences? And why do I remember my dreams so vividly? And why the heck did I take so many pictures and print so many pictures and stash so many pictures around my room so that when I open my desk looking for an envelope I come across two photos from one year ago and feel the burn behind the eyes?
I am a strong girl, I am. And I will be even stronger in a few months. And it's fine. I'm fine. But I am still sad sometimes.
It's like this. The weekend before the hurricane, I watched friends and colleagues scramble in preparation. I don't mean that they were stocking up on water or batteries or candles (though some of them were responsible while others regretted not taking the prep more seriously), but rather they were scrolling through their little black book.
Ok, ok. Let's get serious. No-one I know actually carries around a literal black book. Why would they? The magic i-Phone allows one to enter a three line name (first, last, place I initially encountered the person or other defining trait, such as “Puerto Rican” or “chef”). I am pretty sure if you were to scroll through your contacts you might come across some random names that may take a minute or two to become familiar. Even when you are exceptionally descriptive (“skinny cyclist Art Bar Halloween”), it doesn't always register right away. This is New York, we encounter hundreds of people each week and it isn't easy keeping track.
Anyway. I digress. The thing is, many of my female friends found themselves anticipating the blackout as a potential romantic setting, and less of a burden or something to be feared. This is unsurprising, since movies and books alike romanticize blackness illuminated by faint candlelight, two bodies forced in closer to create warmth in the cold. And suddenly people were not required to work, or physically could not make it in to work, or found that their busy week now had gaps just waiting to be filled.
First and foremost, I am ok. The hurricane came and went, and we are picking up the pieces by volunteering and cutting one another slack and donating time and money and blood. Mom and Dad, do you believe in the reality of climate change yet?
I see the Hassidic women walking through Williamsburg every day. Some of them have dark brown hair, some have dark brown hair with subtle highlights, some have dark brown hair with bangs. These are all wigs. It is not that they are all born with the same hair color and texture and density, it is that they all shop at the same wig distributors. Last week I saw a woman with a blonde wig. An Hassidic Jewish woman was pushing her stroller down Bedford Ave wearing a blonde wig. How daring. How rebellious. Unique. And I wondered what made this particular woman go against the grain and order a blonde wig. Maybe she was born with blonde hair and she wanted to hold onto that individuality in a sea of brunettes. Maybe her husband likes blondes. Maybe I caught her on the one day a week she goes rogue, swapping her brunette bob for a yellowish honey bob. I don't know. I was tempted to follow her to see if she did other things differently than the women of my neighborhood, but I stand out and would not have been able to sneak by, unnoticed.
And I sent my book out to a publisher last month. When I received an email response, I felt childish but could not open it until I was alone. And it was a rejection. But a nice one. An encouraging and helpful and thought out rejection. Rejections do not hurt so badly when they are delivered nicely.
Speaking of rejection. Still rejected. But picked up. But rejected.
I really want to cut my hair, it's just so long, but I can't. My husband likes it long. So can you keep the length but maybe lighten up the layers? But make it so he doesn't know I cut it. And bangs. Maybe bangs.
Will the bangs interfere with your head scarf?
No, I'll pull them back. I just want something different and it's been long forever.
Ok. I can do that. You said you were a student; what are you studying?
I'm studying to become a pharmacist.
Yeah, I just hope I don't get pregnant.
(Caught off guard wide eyes) Well, pardon my personal question, but are you taking measures to prevent pregnancy?
What? Oh no. My husband would never allow it. He thinks it's dumb that I am even finishing school now that we are married. He keeps saying, 'What's the point? Once we have babies you will not be working.'
How does that make you feel?
Oh, it's fine.
Actually it makes me really mad. I've put a lot of years and studying into school, you know? I don't want it all to go to waste. Like, maybe there isn't a point, but I'm not pregnant yet, so I might as well finish.
How long have you been married?
Just a few months. It was arranged.
Did you meet him before the wedding?
No. I saw photos, but we met the day of the wedding. I'm lucky, he's handsome and tall. My sister's husband is short. Very short.
How old are you?
23. I grew up in Pakistan but moved to New York when I was younger. I love New York. My ex and I went skydiving here last year.
He's my best friend. We were in love, but my family doesn't allow “love marriages”. He is married now, too. Also arranged. He was so mad when I got married, but now look, he's married to a beautiful woman. She is prettier than me. I wish she wasn't. I used to be skinnier but now I wear my veil and shawl and no one else sees me besides my husband, so what's the point?
Are you sure you don't want me to cut more off?
And so I wonder, which one are you? Are you the one who believes that there is another person walking this earth meant for you and you alone? Are you the one that thinks that God has created another half, just for you, and that you will one day meet this person and suddenly you two will fit together like no other, making you realize that those people before were great, but not right, puzzle pieces that could be finagled together if you cheated a little bit with a bend here or a squeeze there, but it's not the same as when two designated pieces slide in together just so. Or are you the type to think that relationships take work, that they are a choice, that two people are brought together by happenstance and then it is up to those two people to choose a life together, to choose each other with all that it entails. Do you believe in destiny? Fate? God's Plan?
Maybe you are like me, and you don't know. Having faith that God has created a match for you or for me seems like the better option, as in you can go about your day and not worry about the anguish of rejection and break-ups, because you can believe that there is someone better for you out there, in this giant maze, and that sure this hurts but just have Faith. You'll meet the right one. That person, while they seemed amazing and great and sure you could see a future together and all that, but that person was just shy of “the one”.
And I asked my friend Jamie about her thoughts on “the one”, seeing as how she just got engaged in a swirl of romance. This was her reply: I think "the One" is about making a choice in your life to make someone work. It's about timing and where you both are in your life. Also, Simon treats me better than I treat myself. I have never felt this kind of love in my life.
This sentiment makes me both happy and sad, but mostly happy.
Yesterday I went to the doctor for a physical. Seeing as how I have not had insurance for awhile (I know, I know . . .it's on my list of things to do) this was my first “check-up” in awhile. The man was professional, thorough, and friendly, save for his fixation on my color.
But he immediately started in on “my color” as soon as he began the exam. He said I looked weak and pallid. I smiled, and replied, “I just biked from Brooklyn on an empty stomach; I'm sure it's just low blood sugar.” But no, that did not satiate his determination. I confessed that I am usually anemic (this I know from all of the rejections at the blood drives) but I wasn't too worried about it because I feel healthy and stronger than I ever have before, and because low iron is not uncommon in skinny females. This was not enough either, and so I acquiesced and accepted his prescription for iron tablets.
And then he asked, “Are you Sad?” I could tell by his tone that he used a capital “S”.
“No, I'm not sad. Is my color telling you I am sad?” I joked.
He shook his head and looked me over again, then cocked his head at me and asked, “Are you sure you're not sad?”