a place for yourself.

Maybe right now you are preparing a place for your future self. I suppose that is the romantic way to look at it.

It’s impossible to know when you’ll arrive at that place, or if it will look anything like you imagined. Probably not, but that’s okay.
Dating and in general relationship-making has never been easy for me. Hell, the last time I fell in love with someone it ended up being in India among the masses crammed into the metros and markets, with a constant sheen of sweat and dirt.

I’m also not a stranger to hearing, “It’s just hard to put a finger on you.”

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some part of me likes it that way. But, I can honestly say I just don’t think I can be any other thing. Especially the exact thing you need or want me to be. (Maybe this is my death sentence in the world of romance.) I also know you aren’t going to be that for me, either.

Most of me just feels like I’m really broken in places (and not the theological sense that Christian readers eat up so much). Mainly, I feel not quite glued together just right. A lot of duct tape, and whole lot of feeling like I don’t fit back into where I belong.

This leads me down to some deep and dark places. Like maybe that was why my marriage dissolved into a mess of youngins having no idea what they were doing. Each year from that time, I come more to peace with where I am. I still process, like we all process our hard bits. What could we have handled better — and more importantly, how do we handle this in the future?

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Becoming more adult is scary. Awesome, but scary. Already at 30 years I am thinking of all the weighty ghosts that wander around and I see them all every day. It’s damn hard to move on from how people made you feel. A smell or a picture or a piece of paper in a small box discovered and BOOM. You are right back in it.

I think it’s amazing that we can feel that way. I think we’re better for it. We at least begin to understand what we can survive and for that, we can feel strong. On the other hand, I witness all sorts of innocence on a daily basis and want it again so badly.

I am frustrated. I feel I am not boyfriend material. Partner material. Maybe never again husband material. Some parts deep in my belly wonder if fatherhood will ever be in the hand I’m given, but I certainly do not count any of those things out.

I am lucky that I have something to go to every day that I pour so much of myself into. It is my church, and it is my love that is so full of rage and passion and fire. My adult kinda love.

Who do I think I am?

God knows I’m changing every day. Like maybe my system updates when I go to sleep and when I wake up, I take it for a test run. Some things get left, but more often then not I gain some perspective — some memory — and inevitably something stronger to keep moving on and on.

You are right. I can’t put a finger on myself. For all I have known until now, this is the busiest my brain has been. It is exciting and terrifying and it’s all smushed together like English peas.

But I can tell you that I believe my heart is being made into something new all the time. Maybe that is for a place, some day. It is something I can love and protect and grow all at the same time.

I am always on the look out. Eyes steady on the horizon. Moving toward the Greater Mystery.

retreat and reconcile.

I’m not quite sure where my head is at.

In between a lot of layers of self doubt and pride and movement. Each layer is built upon what I consider my deepest self. The one that I return to before I fall asleep at night, and perhaps in the morning when I have a few quiet moments.

Who the hell am I becoming? Is this person good? Will this person be lonely? Can I find some balance in this wonky world?

No big surprise you probably ask yourself the same questions. Getting older (and older) I am pressed by the second hand moving around the clock. I live my life in seconds, really. At least when your job is putting food on plates, seconds matter.

Okay. Write about what hurts.

sed_layers

Often, the answer for loneliness is to seek out a person, or people to do life with. But it’s awfully complex. I fear writing about it because it’s got all those layers, too. And I really don’t want to receive worried messages. Actually, I’m quite good with how my life is working.

I am reaching into the places that I feel a little worn and for lack of better imagery, desolate. Being reminded almost daily of lives that I’ve had already. Images that are burned into my brain of people leaving, of me leaving, and also ones of great love and warmth. I like those, a lot.

Daily, I reconcile the person I am becoming. The person who has to be tough on employees and himself. Who is often careless with his words and how they sink deep into another. I have a responsibility for all of that. One could lock themselves in a room forever, but I cannot think of a worse reality than to not feel or to fear the responsibility of feeling the depth of one’s humanness.

I wish I could afford spiritual retreats. Or perhaps more spirituality in general. I think this is also what hurts. Food, in my world, is my way of communion with people. Its facade is one of hipness and energy and hustle — but what I crave at its marrow — communion. And that involves all the moving parts. Sort of like your church. Sort of like your people.

While a restaurant is not by any means a place of spiritual reckoning, it is often where my feet are planted. It is my holy ground that knows too many curse words and blood and sweat. It knows stress and dirt and fear. These were the things I didn’t know as a home cook.

But this is my life now. I have the marks and I breathe in the warm oven and the first pot of coffee in the morning. I dip my spoon into everything.

I taste and I taste and I taste.

When I come home I toss my body onto my bed and often miss the presence of another next to me. Maybe giving me a back scratch. Or a run down of their day, which is often a nice retreat from the noise inside my head.

But really, I have myself. Perhaps the squirrels that run along my tin roof and the occasional lady bugs that still happen to find their way on the edge of my water glass.

My world, as small as it is, seems impossibly huge sometimes. Even when I see the earth from space, falling into nothingness, I am still alive and aware of that gift.

Of Existing. Feeling. Moaning. Laughing. And really just, being.

When I write about what hurts, I often find what heals.
They often stem from the same things.
That is life, I think.

Reconciliation and Communion.

Over and over again.

Layer upon layer.

moving.

I will be moving in a few weeks.

Not very far, so don’t worry.
Moving up, a bit. I like to say. A little more room. A little more of a quiet space. Not so much because I need my surroundings to always be quiet and still — but because my day to day life contains a thousand moving parts and some of them have voices and all of them are important.

I am happy and sad and weary and full of many things. That is my heart, most days. This is starting off to be a heavy year for me and many of the people I love. Waking up to news about another person I love having to carry an impossible weight — how any human does it is still a mystery to me.

People still help, ya know? This whole adulting thing is tricky. Really, we all have to learn from scratch. We all have to figure out how to handle loss and divorce and sickness and pride. But people are still around, and many of them actually listen to you and are willing to give you some of their time. That is invaluable. That is something I’m learning right now.

Time is that precious resource. Always moving forward, always losing it and wishing somehow that it would go faster and slower. Like kissing soft lips for the first time — or being at a table where things seem to stop.

There is the other side, where we have to keep our mouths open at the dentist or wait for our test results. Sometimes that is agony.

moving-boxes-top-photo

I stood outside the back door of my apartment and realized I’d outgrown it. Maybe a little came from the new tenant above me who shakes my ceiling when he walks. But I knew this feeling of having to move — slightly familiar, and with it comes some hard stuff. I teared up a bit.

I rebuilt my life in this tiny home.

I fed a lot of people out of it.

I struggled with my craft and almost left a few times.

By some weird luck, and I believe hard work, things have shifted and I am changing again.

Being a chef in the capacity that I am is one of the coolest and hardest things I’ve gotten to do. It is such a blast and can also be so absolutely brutal. But there is a peace to waking up every day and going to a kitchen where people are cooking and laughing and venting.

I’ve built a family too. I love that.

Y’all, I’m on the move again…

and as always, pressing into the horizon.

 

Cooking with Figs

I think often of that Sylvia Plath bit.

About making choices and those damn figs. You know the one.
Well, I sit here in this space, again.

Not due to choices or regret — but the weight of knowing which figs are nearing their fall and the ones that have yet to bloom.

When I am sad — with the things I have in front of me — I think about how lucky I am to have cooking. I suppose I have writing too. But let me know tell you about this thing that I have.

The first thing that brought me back when the Earth cracked beneath me was chopping onions for a dish I’d be serving later that evening.

You see, food is reliable in my eyes. I know that I can add another egg to make something fluffier. I know I can leave a steak in a hot pan to get that crust I love so much or reduce a stock to make a sauce.

I know butter makes mostly everything taste better.

I know that I can dissolve into a recipe like the salt itself.

And I know that when I set it on the table in front of someone, it is generally good.

When I feel my raw self, cooking brings me back. And God do I put so much into it.

fig

Attraction is funny. And moving from there is tricky. People are tricky and mysterious and flaky  And I am one of them. Though I am not good at being mysterious these days. I will say that I am guilty of trying to be too cool. I think it’s called being single, though I’m not sure.

In my head, I just say, “F*ck this, F*ck this — just cook and mop and be a good chef, dude” and move on.

I am just soft enough though to know that I will still put so much trust and hope in people. I will still allow myself and others grace. I will still work so hard at communicating in a way that I hope comes off as helpful, rather than making things more difficult to navigate (than they already are.)

Relationships with people, in my specific circumstance, are tricky. I am just all sorts of  vulnerable by nature and at times can just be plain awful to myself. I feel awful for making people feel awful.

So, I’ll go home and cook.

I will fill my cup with forgiveness because again, I have no idea what I’m doing.

I will throw another tablespoon of butter in the pan because it needs it. Hell, I need it.

Cooking, regardless of the many things I’ve messed up, always brings me back to myself and that I truly love it. Creating. Consuming.

And having it consume me. 

To be honest, that’s how I’ve always looked at cooking. I let it consume me. Sometimes beat me down to a pulp. Sometimes eat something so good I wish I had someone across from me to share it with. I have wept more times at a stove then I care to admit.

Not so much from over-salting the eggs, but because somehow I still have a way to care for myself and others. That makes me feel very lucky.

Relationships are just plain tough. Nitty gritty hurtful stuff. Also full of love and pleasure and sustenance. I am full of all these things.

The figs.

Well, some have fallen and rotted away. Others are getting ripe and some have yet to bud — but I am okay in this space, right now. Because deep in the belly of the tree I do love myself and can feel okay when things are a bit wonky.

I know that when I wake up the next morning, it is a bit holy for me. Like maybe something got washed away in the great depth.
That, I am thankful for.

And for you. And you. And you.

And for my pots and pans and heat and pressure and time.

I am always thankful for you.

 

mosaic.

Mr. Roger’s always said to look for the helpers.

I was a Mr. Roger’s kid. Maybe it was his kindness — his softness.

I can say now, as an adult, I value those words even more. Yet again we are left with a bunch of painful stuff. As Anne Lamott would say, “we gather bits of broken mosaic” — and that together it makes something altogether different.

This is a mosaic kinda place. So many times, broken into millions of pieces and put back together again. Maybe a few more awkward pieces to fit in — but it works, again and again.

I’ve been bursting at the seams to write this week. I’ve gotten to see so many faces and have been so many places. I again step into old worlds where I used to feel so desperate and clingy — to a place of great hope — and back again to my home where I get to gather up them pieces.

We have a hard time touching pain. “Show me where it hurts?” No. I don’t really want to, because you’re going to want to see it, maybe touch it, maybe tell me what to do with it. Sometimes you should. Other times, you just need to sit in it. Sometimes you need dig yourself out so that the sun shines on your face again.

This is where we all come in — this part right here.

Reaching our hands and arms in to that darkness; struggling with; hurting with.

Ultimately loving, but it takes us a while to understand intentions. It’s not that easy to be with someone or something that hurts. It takes our own skin and heart and bone. Do we really want to drag ourselves into it?

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Lately people have been asking how I’ve been doing. Words like great, good and ‘not bad at all’ come to mind. I am so lucky, first and foremost to have those words fresh on my tongue. Because truly, I’m doing well, to my knowledge.

And this is my season. There were my times where I broke down a lot. Questioned some deep and spooky parts on my soul and I still see them, from time to time. I still see some darkness. It is always there. Like I’ve written before, I am not strong enough to keep it at bay. Instead I’ve made it a point to embrace it like that old friend. It sits with me and we will devour pain and sadness together.

Joy arrives abundantly. Swiftly. Like the way a walk-in feels after a hot rush.

That is how it works. This is how I move. Which I do, quite often, from place to place.

I don’t know how people handle a situation as terrifying as that. With weapons and that kind of hate mixed with that kind of violence. A deep, deep wound by wounded peoples all over the place.

It should be noted that I am writing from comfort.
I can hear my heaters hum and I am sipping on hot coffee.
But I can say that two hours ago I was doing this on and off again teary/snot-coming-out-everywhere thing.
Thinking about my grandparents.
The places in the world that are picking up pieces.
Remembering all of the things.
Feeling all the feels.

The pieces you help pick up are part of that bigger thing, ya know?
So we need you keep picking them up. And I will too. Okay?

It’s never finished and nothing ever has the final say. Thank God for that.

And thank you for being there for other people and baking them casseroles or listening to music with them or scratching their backs. You are healers and all angel-like.

We see you,
and with that deep and still place,

I want to say thank you.

grace and geology.

It’s a lot of pressure, getting older.

Every day is like something of a honing steel, getting sharper maybe. Focusing on what you want to do. Who you want to be. My craft requires a lot from me. I’m sure yours does too.

When you’re a professional cook, and while some call me a chef, there is the constant pressure to perform consistently better and better. Or maybe that’s on me. I guess it should be on me.

The truth of the matter is that I will let someone down. And so will you.
But getting older, man. This sh*t is brutal sometimes.

I think often, that I am not big enough to do certain things. But I’m doing them, somehow. And I think that’s how everything works. You have no idea until you are immersed and come out on the other side. Maybe a little more worn, but you’re okay. That’s what becoming more of an adult feels like. Being okay with big things.

Geology-2007

I’m on the last year of my 20’s. A decade of my own becoming. Spiritual crisis. Marriage. Divorce. Moving. Death. Big responsibilities to my craft and my people. I am not alone.

What a huge decade. One that I look back on like a blur of loud and soft. Heavy and fizzy. Some days it feels like getting tossed off a merry-go-round that’s going too fast. Other days it is front porch sittin’. Sweet tea drinkin’.

And what I am learning learning learning!
Goodness gracious.
Life is full of pressure. I often compare it to geology, which is generally the study of pressure over time, on certain objects. Or at least that is what they said in Shawshank.

At night, I sink into my bed and try to calm down. I resist the urge to pick up my phone and numb the edges.

It is important for me to be calm. To be good. To be kind. I’m less worried about being book smart. Or needing to know how to solve long equations. I’m a little more concerned with grace. And maybe how to better feed my people.

I say pressure because cooking for people means they’re waiting on you. Over the course of a week, that’s hundreds of people waiting on you to feed them. Clean up after them. That’s a load of responsibility. I suppose, since I don’t have children of my own, that might be just a little bit of what parents feel like. A lot of pressure to get things right and on their time frame.

I submit to that pressure. I have to.

But I have loved my 20s. Since that seems to be my theme here, today. Thinking of my new normals and what ten years can do to a human. The world is full of pressure. Geology. Time. The numerous times I’ve been wrong or angry. The adventures I’ve jumped into and the times I’ve held myself back. Little do I regret, which is rare for some people.

All I ask of myself is to keep my heart open.

Work as hard as I can without compromising my own peace of mind. To have some control over how stressful this work can be and keep my hands steady on the plow.

This is what I know, and it is what I’m good at.

Above all, loads and loads of grace. For myself and for others who have asked it upon me.

That, after all, is the gift I receive from others.

Yeah, ya know?
Today, I’m thankful for grace.

fog.

It was all very perfect.

I don’t say that often, but sometimes life hits you just right, and you live in it.

Up and down, through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fog, cutting through trees. It reminded me of how I pour icing on cinnamon rolls. Filling all the cracks, making things a little hazy, but all quiet.

I needed to see that horizon again.
Being on the road allows me to stare into them, push into them, dream into them.

I got to visit my dad, and I watched his garden grow.
I sat next to a girl who was very adamant letting everyone at the table know that she was the Chubacabra on NBC’s Grimm. We all drink some gin drinks and called it a night.

I cooked dinner for my dad and his wife. I petted their big dog Angus who has big sweet eyes and thinks he’s a human, sometimes.

I drove further up north and met some more friends and got some hugs from quite possibly the most beautiful little one. I cooked dinner there too and drink too much wine and talked about God and divorce and food.

All of which seem to be cut from the same fabric of our desire to learn about each other.

morning-mist-in-appalachian-mountains

I felt sad, a bit.

Like, really felt it. Like the way you feel when something sets in and there’s no way to stop it. You let it cut through you, like Appalachian fog.

I felt love though, too. Loads of it, in different forms. Through food and hugs and proximity.

I stared endlessly into those horizons, where I knew the curve of the Earth would never let it stop. So I kept driving. By rivers and more little mountains. I smelled the cool damp rock smell. It reminded me of the wild Oregon — the one I was haunted by. But not so much scared as unsure as to what it was all about.

There is still plenty of beauty here.
That’s what I came to realize.
I opened my heart and a lot of things got out and a lot of things got in.

That’s the way I like it.
Because I also learned I’ve gotta lot left to learn about myself and how I treat people.
About my intentions — my humanness — my icky insides that make me wanna hide, at times, from the messes I’ve made.

I remember my sister-in-law Leah used to say, “It was just your turn to spill…” when someone knocked over a glass.

And maybe, that’s what it feels like. A knocked over glass. A little ashamed of being clumsy with something. And a million times I think I could have moved another way. But I sit and think that we all spill over.

The road took me back to Mississippi.

Where it is warm and not as pretty as them foothills.
But it is where I am, and how I felt myself looking forward to settling back down there.

Road weary. Thankful. Ready to stretch. Ready to move, again.

I guess home has a way of doing that.

apple cobbler

Anne Lamott always talks about life not having a manual.

I have a hard time knowing that regardless of what I read, what movies I watch, or which people I connect with, there will always be a curve and incline.

We are all feeling it, thinking it.

The Earth keeps moaning and we are feeling its wrath.
I think people are getting tired and weary, and all the weight that gravity lays on our shoulders is wearing us thin.

Two police officers were killed in my city this weekend. A senseless act of violence, among so many, fed with fear.
My community is heartbroken. Not just because they were cops, but because they were people in our community.

Southerners are emotional people.

They probably won’t admit it, but that’s just being Southern.

I feel their weight, not because I’m also a Southerner but because they are my people. We all mourn together. I take an active part in feeding this community, so in a sense, I worry for them and take their burdens as I hope they take mine.

It is a tough season for so many. My family. My friends. Moving. Change. Fear of the inevitable unknown.

Time is so uncertain and it is so precious of a thing.

Brocky,_Karoly_-_Arm,_hand_and_leg_studies_(1848-50)

So I settle into myself, for at least a moment. I let sadness in and I let it out. I do the same with all of those things. I become vulnerable with the people I work with, and it’s hard. It’s hard to lead and to also be vulnerable, though I think the best leaders are. We confuse vulnerability with weakness, when it is the opposite. It is strength. And it is your immeasurable power as a human being.

I grew up keeping so much in. A fist clenched tight with worry and anger and doubt.

I’ve certainly had my growing seasons, and also months where I wilt a bit.
But I have also learned that exposing your wounds to air helps to heal.

Sure, there are others things that heal. Time and a bit of care.

Okay. A lot of care. Self-care. Other-people-care.
Ice cream-and-warm apple cobbler-care.

These words are the sound of settling, of embracing my humanness and I want to crumble and dissolve into something bigger. Something, somewhere that knows me and places its palm on my arm to say, “Broken world, son.”

I hear those three words more often than not, floating around in my subconscious, reminding me that we are beyond fixing.

But we are not beyond healing.
And we are not beyond changing and growing and shifting. We are all okay to do that.
We are okay to open.
We are okay to bloom when the sun shines brightly and we have just enough water in our veins to be a gift to others.

We are…okay.

In these seasons, we are not asking anything but to be loved and heard.
To be set free and to live as wounded healers.

To be fierce sons and daughters of the Beloved.

I am okay today.
And though I wish I had that manual for tomorrow, or the day after that, but I do not. Neither do you.

That’s okay.
If you need me, I will be in my summer-warm kitchen, shoo’ing off a few fruit flies and washing dishes.
I will offer you a place at my table.
We will both dissolve into that something bigger and embrace our humanness.
And maybe, just maybe,

there will be apple cobbler.

hands lifting

I like being imperfect around other imperfect people.
Or at least the ones who submit to the fact that this world is hard and unruly and unpredictable.

I like hearing parents tell me how hard it is to be a parent. How their kids cry because sometimes kids just cry and that they are exhausted beyond any thing they’ve ever imagined.
I want the world to know that I love those little hamburgers from Wendy’s and that’s the stuff I won’t put on Instagram with a fancy filter.

We like real. At least I do. I think we are meant to struggle with each other. Sometimes we get to celebrate with each other too. Like anniversaries and new jobs.

I like that with each hard thing, I learn a tiny lesson. A gift in the form of a small train wreck.

I move forward with more confidence. I absorb it and I let it run through my system — the one that has felt this way before and can somehow manage to feel it though again and again.

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In and out, I think about the people in Nepal. I remember walking through their streets and I remember their people and their food. I remember playing guitar and singing with their kids. My heart is breaking all over because I know they are not built for such a thing. Who is, really?

I see rubble and pain. I also see hands lifting them both.

The Earth keeps spinning and moaning. Friction and heat and release.

I am saturated in it.
I mourn, with the rest of the world.
I pray and I remember how beautiful the stars were.

Somehow though, I am spared, and I am allowed to keep moving, each day.
Lucky is a word I use a lot. I’m not sure why. I wouldn’t consider myself a person of great luck, but I have become accustomed to feeling the good when it is good, because I know how bad things can get.

I’ve seen how deep and dark depression can be.
It feels a little like being at the bottom of a well, hoping you become the water that someone will just scoop up and save you from being in the dark.

Some days you feel a little bit like dying and it becomes less so. You just have to keep waking up and keep opening your heart to other people. I know that sounds cheesy and redundant, especially on this blog.

But I could never hear it enough.
I have written on my left arm, “These things take time”, and it’s surrounding a big pot, inspired by my friend Callie. Another friend of mine actually gave me the tattoo. I think I knew then that time was a gift. I wanted to remember that. I wanted to remember them. My people, the ones actually placing their hands on wounds.

They were my own wounded healers.

It carries over into cooking. I find myself cutting corners and knowing deep down, that is not who I am and it is not who I want to be. Time is nitty gritty. It is tiring and always pushing you forward, like your friends helping you to jump off the high dive.

You will plunge deep into the water, and it will sting your eyes and burn your nose, but you will rise up to the top and take in a deep breath.

That breath is a small victory.

So celebrate and throw up your hands,
eat a piece of cheesecake,
buy some new curtains,
hold tightly to your love,

and celebrate our healers as we are the hands,

lifting.

moaning.

mourning.

singing.

cooking.

cleaning.

tickling.

feeding.

rebuilding what is broken.

holy ground.

“She say, Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.”
– Alice Walker, The Color Purple

I think there are a few truths that are certain.
That life is full of pain.
That life is full of joy.
And that life is really funny.

Certainly, you can file ‘funny’ under joy, but I believe that it is its own form of spirituality. I believe Anne Lamott says that laughter is a ‘bubbly effervescent form of holiness.’

You have to understand, that writing about pain is important. I think some folks imagine me sitting, all Poe like, hunched over a dark writing desk with a human skull as my muse.

In reality, I am only exploring the things that allow me to feel shitty.

A mean customer.
A drunken man.

Then there is a group of people beheading prisoners on a beach.
There’s another man testing nuclear missiles for fun.
There’s a woman on death row in Georgia who is close to a dear friend of mine.

Daily, I allow myself to take in the human condition. I hear people talk about money. People with six digits still stressing about the world and their things and I digress. Those are not my problems.

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Yes, I cook.
But I also empty trash cans and mop floors. I have plenty of time to think.

I chose to cook.

I choose to serve, and I keep choosing a life where my hands bleed and my bones ache.

I can’t help but to think these things are hilarious, too.
I laugh a lot.
A lot.

Probably at things I shouldn’t. Whatever that means.
But also at things that deserve a good belly laugh.
I think, if God does reside in the Heavens, they laugh often. And with their bellies.

I also know, that if God resides in the Heavens, they also cry.

I don’t believe you can measure any of this. Amounts of pain or joy. Considering they are building blocks of a day. When we’re not doing our jobs to help grow our businesses or make the places we are, better than they used to be.

Last night, I came home late from a catering job.
I’d say there was a lot of pain in yesterday. Both mental and physical. I wanted nothing more than to forget about it, but instead I came home, sank into my couch and decompressed. Granted, a few episodes of Parks and Rec and another late night wanderer made my world a little softer.

If there’s one thing, among many things that I know to be true, is that dignity covers our scrapes and bruises. It helps to wash away the ever-pressing job of being fully human in this wonderful and heartbreaking world.

At the end of the day, I resonate with those very first words from Alice. That what we are looking for, is each other.

Mother Teresa also said that we belong to each other. More so, that if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

So, I am ready.
To dissolve into you, because you are the face of God.

and for all I know, I’m always standing on holy ground.