What I’ve Seen

I can’t sleep. I’m supposed to get up in 4.5 hours to take the long, 9 hour drive to Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, but JET LAG. 

Usually I try to calm my brain. I use a sleep meditation podcast,or I find a mantra (I like “It’s ok to just rest. It’s ok to just rest. No, really, it’s ok to just rest.”).

Tonight I tried walking through my house in my mind. My husband and I bought our first house a year and a half ago, and I’ve never loved a house more. I love the sunlight in our bedroom in the morning, and the way the moon passed through each window of that room every night in the summer we got married. 

I love the dining room full of plants in the winter, the way the ivies we bought to decorate our first apartment cascade now down the dining room windows. I love that you can see out over the city from the window in the attic. I love the sound of people milling about in the mornings in our guest room. I love the sound of baths being drawn, and the way the whole house smells when we open the windows on the first warm days of spring. 

I love where we live. I left it behind yesterday, boarded a plane and met my teammates in Uganda. 

Tomorrow, I’ll sit in a car and ride across Uganda to Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, a place where 250,000 people fled where they lived for safety in a foreign land. 

Tomorrow, I’ll travel to a place where 250,000 arrived after fleeing their homes, the homes where they got married, where they woke up every day to the smell of parents cooking, where they saw their babies’ first steps. 

Tomorrow I’ll travel to a place where 250,000 people ran across the border, leaving behind the seeds they planted, the walls they built, the tables they sat around with their friends. 

Tomorrow I’ll travel to a place where my teammates have helped build villages where nothing stood before, meeting thousands and thousands of newly arrived refugees every day for the last months, trying to help them cope with this running, this screaming on their way out of a place ripped apart by fear. 

Tomorrow I’ll travel to a place where the tiniest unknown villages with the tiniest unknown communities are suddenly surrounded by thousands of unknown neighbors, knocking on their doors asking, “Where is the hospital? Where is the water? Where is anyone who can help with anything?”

I am not scared. I am not anxious. This is not because I have a spiritual gift, unless it is that of keeping my eyes open. Because with my own eyes I have seen other refugee settlements in Uganda, those now decades old, where refugees are business owners, environmental activists, and volunteers leading support groups for women and youth, leading soccer teams and building homes for new refugees, new neighbors, new friends. With my own eyes I have seen communities welcoming refugees, showing up at the border or the airport or the office with clothes and smiles and money and bags of food and hugs and backs to carry loads for people they have described as mothers and brothers and sisters and fathers without ever meeting them before. 

With my own eyes I have seen a 12 year old girl, sick with a fainting disease that keeps her from school. I have seen the bloody rakes on her face from her last fall, and I have seen her stand on a podium with a first place prize after running a 12 kilometer race through her refugee settlement. 

With my own eyes I have seen refugee women in Thailand holding scissors in the air, dedicated eyes watching American hair dressers teach them American hair dressing on a volunteer trip going so unexpectedly well. With my own eyes I have seen them all weep on their last day together, teachers and students, all overwhelmed that they have found a couple dozen people brave enough to act out a belief that their world could be better, that they have everything they need to make it so. 

With my own eyes I have seen Syrian women gathered in a refugee camp to do aerobics. They extended a welcoming wave to me in between exercises, their hands on their hips, smiling in between heavy breaths. I have seen the library next door in the Youth Center built by refugee volunteers. I have seen Syrian kids play volleyball, passing the ball to each other, laughing, trying to feel alive, full of joy to see each other living. 

With my own eyes I have seen an old man in Eastern Congo, hands full of seeds, standing in front of a field full of vegetables, the sound of his family chattering as I take his photo in a place where gunshots and mortar shells once peppered the air. 

With my own eyes I have seen the bright white moon against the blue sky of the early morning, there in the window of my bedroom in the house I love in a state that stands for peace in a country full of dreams and the possibility of more every day. 

All of these things are part of the same world. I have seen them. And tomorrow when I see Bidi Bidi I will carry the belief, hold on to it with dogged determination, this belief given to me by so many, that the world I love exists – the one where my home stands and seeds grow and refugees do aerobics and build houses for each other – and that this world is full of people who make it better.

The Magic of Crooked Teeth

The W in my teeth is disappearing.

I wear those clear plastic braces that hold and hug your teeth and move them, “a tenth of a millimeter every two weeks,” my dentist said. That reads slow, but for me, it’s lightening. Imperfections in my smile I’ve stared at for years are fading in months.

The W was formed when my front two bottom teeth came in. I remember losing their baby predecessors at the same time in grade school. I can remember what it was like to run my tongue along my gums in the gap where the baby teeth once stood and to discover the slightest ridges when new ones started to come in. During their first days of sunshine, my front two bottom teeth met and reached backward with their inside corners, pushing against each other. From that moment on my four front teeth have formed a W.

No one really notices the W. I don’t even see it in photos. Still I’m aware of it every day – I’ve been rubbing my tongue along that point for 31 years. Since I was little I’ve had the nervous habit of biting the side of my index finger just to see the imprint of it, my own weird little letter.

I actually caught the magical gift of my crooked teeth for the first time in college. There are strange little spaces, tiny triangles they form in their bending. Sometimes when I talk, my tongue, teeth and lips line up just right, and suddenly I see floating in front of me the tiniest little bubble. No one but me has ever caught one, though I’ve pointed it out to a handful of people in these last decades. There floats the bubble while I’m talking to my boss or telling my family about my last trip to Uganda. There it is, the tiny, shining, barely seeable bubble darting around in the tiniest wind of our voices. There it is, a short-lived, nearly microscopic show just for me. There it is, a sweet little bit of humor, a gift, a tiny, tiny shimmering thing, no wider than a millimeter, that hops right out of my mouth thanks to my crooked teeth.

For me, it’s the universe just saying hello. “Remember me,” it says while I’m whining about a difficult work meeting, “I’m out here. The cosmos of atoms and planets and oceans and Birds of Paradise and pizza deliveries and rainbows and books and back scratches and tiny little bubbles made in the tiny little bubble shop of your front teeth. I’m all here. And the bubbles, they’re for you.”

Thanks, universe. Somehow you’ve made me grateful for even my crooked teeth.

Cheers and Bed Bugs

I’m up in the air again. I can’t get my work to load, so I am doing something else with my time up here above the North Atlantic – I’m talking to you.

I’ve been up in the air a lot lately, and now I’m on my way back to Uganda. I was just there two weeks ago with some work friends rehabbing a safe house for women fleeing domestic violence. What was a cement block of a room, walls smudged with old handprints, cracked and cob-webby, is now a sanctuary with bunk beds, clean sheets, toys, real plants and fake plants that will make you feel good if the real ones die.

I came home feeling like we had made something beautiful and itching all over from bed bugs that crawled onto me one night like I was a Golden Corral.

My life is full of these swings right now, these tosses and turns between moments on different ends of the emotional spectrum. Cheers at the opening of the safe house followed by sleepless nights tearing away the covers at 3am and crawling over the seams of the hotel bed with my cell phone light, fingertips peeling at every seam.

I’m heading back to Uganda right now with soccer balls and hospital scrubs and a coworker whose sense of humor keeps me laughing over the back-cracking rides on the craggy country roads. I wake up excited at the work I’m doing, telling stories of efforts my friends and coworkers are doing in corners of the world I didn’t know existed until I met them. At the same time, I am full of dread at the thought of arriving to Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement where 250,000 people – grandmoms and babies and fathers and daughters and siblings and orphans – they’ve all arrived in the last few months trying to survive, hoping there is a reason to.

The first days of 2017 I’m feeling the need to be quiet, to think, to plan, to hold the world in all it’s contradictions. This need is coming over me without thinking about it, without intending it, largely I think because my husband and I are trying to have a baby.

Kids. My kids. They’re going to be here soon. My husband and I cry just about every day with joy and anticipation, and now, somewhere over Greenland, I think about all these pieces, the bedbugs and the safe houses, the homes we make and the homes we leave, the world we wish for and the world we have.

The truth is, this world is already theirs. What do I want them to know, and what can I do right now to make it the best for them it can be?

Let yourself be moved

I got my first tattoo last year. I have this rule, a 6 month rule. If I’ve chosen the design and the placement and held those unchanged for 6 months, I’ll get the tattoo. This is the only one to survive so far. 

“Awake.” I hand-wrote the word a few hundred times before I settled on the one I liked most. I brought the paper with me to the tattoo parlor. In ten minutes, I was scarred. 

“Awake” was my Peace Corps word. Two years of loving that experience, fearing it, missing my family, missing home, digging in my heals, tripping over the language and the culture. I would find myself overwhelmed, and this word became my mantra, a spell I used to bring myself back to center. 

“Awake,” I would command. “Awake,” and then calm and clarity. It was a call to stay awake, to stay present, to feel the physical presence of the world around me. This word was a guide, urging me not to miss my life while pondering the metaphysical reality, the eternal significance of every toss and turn I experienced. 

Don’t miss it. 

Over the past week, my mind has raced. I can’t get through a meal without talking about it or trying to find some news. I can’t get through a conversation without diving into the roots of our shared problems, digging to find the connections, praying to find solutions. I become overwhelmed with what I find, the piles of dirt and the paths of life giving roots all tangled together, living connections you cannot unravel. 

I keep telling myself to stay awake, to be present. For me, this week, that has meant two things.

First, to take stock. I am surrounded by beauty, by kindness, by people anxious to find authentic pathways to truth and hope. I have a running list of the things I work for, the parts of my life I work to stay true to. My husband and our future kids. The grace and peace I experience from my Twin Cities neighbors and friends. My life-giving connection to my family, most of whom don’t always share my religious or political convictions. My work, which ties together thousands of people around the world who want to help people displaced by disaster. And the thousands of small precious parts of being alive – the quiet moment in the morning putting fresh water in the cats’ dish, the bouquet of zinnias from the garden, a set of quilted stockings I’m working on for our first family Christmas in our house. 

I find myself taking stock of these things to remember. I need to remember what I love about being alive, and why it’s important to me to be active in my community, to create peace among people who, like me, have their own lists that make their lives so precious. 

The second way I’m staying awake after this past week is to stay in touch. I am not a natural protestor. I am not a natural political gatherer. But this election woke us all up to the divide in our communities, our states, our country, and it has awoken a beast of rage and hate, not among everyone of us, but in so many of us. And to be clear, the rage and hate is not coming from the fringe, it is coming from all of us. 

So, right now, I’m staying in touch with the people and places that I can find who are trying to get to work. We have so much work to do, but already I am waking up to the people I know and new people I’m meeting who are working to create hope and action. 

Yesterday I met Caroline Yang. She photographs the Black Lives Matter movement in the Twin Cities. They are the first photographs that I have seen that not only show the movement as real, beautiful people, but also, she has shown through her work how sacred these souls are, how sacred their movement is, how sacred the ability to gather and protest truly is. And on top of her work, I found she’s a regular Twin Cities mom, just another member of this beloved community trying to make it to school drop-off on time and figure out healthy eating for her kids. 

I have stayed tuned to On Being, the show that released a hope-sustaining interview with the late Vincent Harding who asks us, “Is America possible?” and answers with love. 

I am staying close to my friends, asking them what they’re working on, what they’re seeing, how they need support. 

And more than ever, I am letting myself be moved. On both sides of the vote, I find voices urging me to stay quiet, to wait. On one side I find people telling me not to do anything that would make them feel ‘looked down on’. I care about this, about how they feel, and this ask makes me pause. On the other side I read article after article telling me how safety pins are useless and small acts don’t matter; only well thought-out, ‘tangible’ acts matter. That also gives me pause. 

But today, I know I just need to let myself be moved to act. There is no action that doesn’t matter. I love and respect people on both sides of the vote, and I have to trust myself to know I will do my best to show that love and respect. But the real struggle isn’t a problem of love and respect, it’s problem of fear to act. I have to let myself be moved. 

So, I stay awake. I stay connected to people making a difference. I carry in my mind everything in my life worth fighting for. I let myself be moved. 

That’s where I am a week after the election. I would love to know, where are you?

It’s time to do the work of love.

If you’re wondering what to do right now… if you’re thinking, I don’t know what world I woke up in… if you’re dazed an confused, it’s time to focus.

We have work to do.

Whoever you voted for, the pain felt in this election is universal. It is not equal, it is not felt in the same ways, but it is felt by every single one of us.

We have work to do.

Reach out to someone right now. You (yes, YOU) know someone who is afraid, full of worry about the years to come. Text them, call them, meet them in the break room, hug them in the hallway, email them, run home to them. Tell them you are with them. Tell them you will stand with them, for their rights, for their dreams, through their fears, in the face of every challenge to come. Reach out to someone right now.

We have work to do.

If you are an immigrant, a woman, muslim, someone with disabilities, African-American, Latino, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and you are scared right now, hold that. Hold it tight to your chest. Remember this moment and perform a miracle. Start right now looking for ways to take that fear and not turn it into rage, but turn it into positive action. Transform that fear into love. It is a miracle, and you have the divine power to do it.

We have work to do.

If you are white and afraid that you are unseen, you are seen. We see you. This is your America as much as it is every other citizen, and if you feel hurt, scared, we have to talk. You are not alone. You deserve the ability to build your dream. And you, with the rest of are called to reach out, too. These political divides are ours to cross together. Reach out to the friends and neighbors who are afraid right now. Tell them you will stand with them.

We have work to do.

My sister texted me last night. She said, “I just want you to know that I’m with you no matter what happens tonight. Your marriage is 100% legitimate. I will never stand by and let people take that away from you.” And while at first, I balked, wanted to say I wasn’t afraid, that I believe in America where that wouldn’t happen, the truth is – I am afraid. I was only given the legal recognition of my marriage last year. And my sister, she’s doing the kind of work we need to do right now, today. We need to reach out to those who feel the pain of this election right now, and we need to say to them, personally, from one human to another, “I am here for you.”

We have work to do.

“Sending you both a lot of love.” My friend sent me a text this morning to say that she’s taking a haitus from social media. “I just wanna reach out to folks I love.” That’s totally right. We have to reach out in love. Right now.

We have work to do.

This is our moment. This is our moment to reach out and grab each other by the hand. This is our moment to pick each other up and work. This is our moment to look around, to take our democracy seriously, to take our role as everyday citizens seriously. This is not happening TO us. This is us. And we are the ones who can and must step forward to make this country.

We have work to do.

And don’t think we’ve forgotten you, you civic action warriors, you protestors, you people who have been standing up against hate and living toward unity, forgiveness, peace, who just finished a long haul fight in this election and feel the fatigue of these past years. We will never forget you. We will look back to every hard road we have walked in this country, the leaders who took those first hard steps. We will look to everyone with a history longer than the past three election cycles, and we will ask, “What did you do when things were darkest?” We are listening for your lessons. We are looking for visions of hope.

We have work to do.

The world needs the love you have in your heart to give. The world needs you to give it, to those closest to you and to those who seem so far away from your political views. The answer is love, and I, YOU, WE must activate and give it.

We have work to do.

Start now. Reach out to someone who needs your love. Build a bridge right now. We have work to do, and you can do it.

 

Meeting Our Surrogate: The Morning After

I have a big long blog post in the works about what it is like to meet the woman who will carry your baby. For anyone who doesn’t know, I am a man, and my husband and I are unsurprisingly unable to carry our own children. Earlier this week in a quiet office on the edge of Madison, Wisconsin, we met an angel of a woman and her equally angelic husband. It was a tectonic shift in our lives, though on the surface it felt simply like meeting new, amazing friends. More on that later.

Let me tell you what it’s like the day after you meet your surrogate – a veil lifts and things shine. Every part of your house is different. Before meeting your surrogate, the dream of your family manifests itself in piles of papers, emails with people you may never meet, medical appointments where people you don’t know share their concerns about your sperm. Psychologists ask you questions, accountants ask you questions, doctors ask you questions. You feel in your gut this push to move forward, but when you think about a baby, your own baby, you just see papers and phone calls ahead.

The day after you meet your Surrogate, suddenly you have this amazing clarity. First, the worries you had about meeting her all but disappear. You will get to know your new friends, your surrogate and her beautiful family, over many weeks and months to come. But she is real, and the agents of the Surrogacy Center who told you they knew amazing, wonderful, purpose driven women who want to help you, their promises come true.

But the change I noticed most the morning after was that my imagination shifted. I can see our baby now. Right now, I’m sitting at my dining room table, and I can imagine her high chair, her giggles, the creamed spinach on her cheeks. I can look from here out the window to the lawn and imagine the leaves raked back and the blanket laid out and the animal sounds I make just to see her smile. Last night, laying on the couch with my husband after a long day, I imagined her lying on my chest, watching her whole tiny self move up and down while I breathed.

Every room in the house is different. It was an unconscious shift. Yet I walk through each room, and each one is already transformed in my mind with toys and blankets. I can see her photos on the fridge, and I can see the chair in the corner of our bedroom where I’ll try to rock her back to sleep.

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We’ve been texting with our Surrogate already, just a few days into this journey. We’ve been using the hashtag #projectbabylove. I still am shocked by this gift, but all of the sudden I feel like we have a new teammate, a new woman in our corner climbing this mountain with us.

We are on our way to a family now, with an amazing team along with us. Because of that, without even trying, the rooms are filling fast with visions of our baby. And let me tell you, this is one beautiful, beautiful babe.

One singed drop

My mother-in-law bought this percolator to use during her visits to our house. My french press wasn’t big enough. This weekend our gas was turned off to fix a leak, so with no stove, I was percolating. 


This morning I’ve converted to the tiny machine because of an unexpected result – the smell of the coffee burning in between the glass carafe and the hot plate. It’s just a dribble that makes it down, but that drops sends out a burning smell that I didn’t know I needed. 

Strange that charred coffee could hit such an emotional note for me, but smelling it I flew back in time to my grandparents house on the edge of Louisiana. 

Cigarettes and coffee. Cigarettes and coffee. And that percolator was used so often that those drips of coffee down to the hot plate, that singed drop, that’s a smell I didn’t know was lodged in my memory until I singed the same drop in my own kitchen. 

My aunt, my cousin and my Paw Paw live there now. The air in the Louisiana house is hazy in the morning. My Great Granny, she used to wake up earlier than all of us, brew a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette at the dining room table. I would be on a pallet of blankets laid out on the shag carpet, usually waking up at the sound of Great Granny’s door, surrounded by a brother, a sister, some cousins. She would move around the kitchen without a word, then sit at the table, a silhouette with the tiniest coal floating before her. 

The kitchen table is the happiest place in the house, smacked by well-played dominoes, covered in snacks, surrounded by laughing aunts and grand children. The second happiest place is the back porch where Paw Paw fries catfish. My little legs used to run across the lawn in the biggest backyard of my childhood. We played baseball, tag, caught fireflies darting between sky-scraping trees. Along the edge of the yard in a creek that is long dry now, we turned over coffee cans, landed them on the holes of crawdads to plunge them from the mud. We dangled into their dens ham tied to kite string, felt their tug at the lunch meat, screamed with delight. 

Sometimes my mom and I would sit on the back porch just the two of us. I asked her questions about her parents, her sisters. She told me stories of my aunts as high school rebels, beauties on motorbikes. She told me camping stories and birthday stories and stories of moving around West Texas. Sometimes my aunts would join us on the porch, or we would join them for more dominoes at the kitchen table. Then coffee and cigarettes and stories of a family I only learned about over years and years of porch visits and sandwiches and short games of 42. 

I miss them. I miss the aunts, the cousins, my Paw Paw, and especially my Grammi, a woman who could sit quietly alone while the house was filled with her guests. Suddenly, her voice would rise from her thinking chair and call over a grandchild, someone chosen for a special message, and you did feel it – you did feel chosen. She kept herself mysterious, and she delighted in sharing the mystery in long epiphanal conversations, always hinting at the truth and aiming just right of center. 

This morning I made coffee, and the singed drop of it on the percolator hot plate overwhelmed me of memories of that house on the edge of the bayou, a world away from my everyday. My Grammi is buried close to the house with her parents and her grandparents and so many great aunts and great great uncles. I’ve laid flowers on their graves, driven the long drive back home. Sometimes you forget how you carry them with you

Outside of space

I feel outside of space on a plane. I can see the figure of our vehicle on the map, wings outstretched over Greenland and the northern reach of the Atlantic, but these are colors and shapes on a tiny screen that wiggles when the man in the seat ahead adjusts his back pillow. I don’t feel connected to the air which should be cold enough outside these walls to freeze my little bones. Never mind I’m thousands of feet about the ocean.

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This is space travel, you know. The man in the seat next to me is watching Star Trek where two characters just apparated next two a third. They basically blinked and suddently they went from ship to valley and then patted their friend on the back. We are slower in our space travel now but not much. You can fall asleep in Seattle and wake up to breakfast with a friend in Hong Kong. You can watch a movie (you don’t even have to DO anything), and you’ll have traveled west on a journey that killed families who tried to make it from New England to the West Coast some hundreds of years back. It wasn’t long ago when the thought of a human in the sky was so fantastic it was only for gods. Now, the lady next to me is playing a crossword while she hurtles through the air at 590 miles an hour.

I’m signed in to Facebook so I can chat with my husband while I fly through the air with the greatest of ease. He’s spending time with a friend at our house, catching up and eating dinner. Talking to him, it’s like I’ve flung my thoughts 1500 miles back, and with such precision they’ve landed right there in the palm of his hand. “Maybe while I’m on the other side of the planet,” I tell him, “you could do some Christmas shopping.”

We are catching up to science fiction. It’s not that we’ve created every technology represented in every fantastic story but that we are living through technology in a way we thought was truly beyond our species. Flight? Space travel? Not nonsense anymore. Now we hardly balk at the idea that very soon our cars will not need us too drive, and shortly after that, robots will travel through our veins to rebuild our bones.

I’m falling asleep writing this which is great. I’ve got guided sleep mediations saved to my cordless phone/computer which I carry around in my pocket for this and a million other occasions. One more “I love you” sent over the airwaves, then I’ll sleep over the ocean and wake up in a foreign land.

I needed some white flowers

“This is the smell of being lost in the woods,” he said. “That’s when you know you’re really alone. You know what I mean? When you know no one is coming to get you. Here. It’s freesia.”

He puffed lightly trying to blow his long hair from his mouth. His hair was thin, but it seemed sweet to me that he cared enough to color it brown and grow it down to his shoulders.

“This one is almost gone.” He held up a withering flower. “But it smells so nice.” He shoved it into the vase. He was so high. Since we’d walked into the flower shop he hadn’t stopped talking, smiling, asking us questions about the flowers and the occasion.

“They’re for my husband,” I told him. “He’s got a big project at work.”

“That is so sweet!” This from the woman behind the counter. She wore a gray-blue sweatshirt and smiled wide showing the gaps between her teeth. Her hair was pulled back, her eyes darting around the room like his. Her eyes were bloodshot. She giggled. “You are such a sweet man.”

My friend, Maia, her eyes darted, too, but just to me, the corners of her mouth lifting into the slightest smile. We had started this errand at a fancy floral shop in south Minneapolis only to find it closed for an event. Thanks to Yelp we learned about this one, and we drove up a few blocks. With time waning, we entered and found the florists smiling wide and moving quickly to attend us.

“Hydrangeas are nice. They fill up the vase,” he said. He walked to the cooler where three hydrangea bulbs sat on the stop shelf above the only other flowers, a tall vase of red roses opening in the cool air.

Maia perused the vases all sourced from a variety of glassware opportunities, some with tags from other stores, some with garage sale stickers. There were a few Ball jars, and next to the glass vases stood a selection of fake plants.

A woman in her thirties looked up and smiled, then looked down again and continued to color a Disney princess with a half-size ballpoint pen.

“I just love these!” The woman attending our order came in from the back with a armful of daisies and a fistful of white flowers that ran up sturdy stalks. “And eucalyptus!” She held some out to the woman with the Disney princess. “I go back there sometimes just to smell it.”

The man with the brown hair smiled from under his mustache. He was happy at work pushing daisies into the vase next to hydrangeas and eucalyptus. He created a really beautiful bouquet, symmetrical with sprigs of interest and the weight of heavy flowers. The bouquet shined, and then he just kept going. Daisies, more daisies! Taller and taller they rose, crowding out the other flowers. More quickly with the daisies so that freesia petals flew into the air to make way. Suddenly it was a tiny forest of daisies and all the other flowers were nearly lost.

“Why save all your money?” he said matter-of-factly. “The banks they tell you to put all your money with them so they can spend it whenever they want. They get rich on your money, and you have to go to them to get it. I’m serious. Why would anyone want to save all their money? When I get money I just put it right here.” He slapped his pocket.

“It’s really beautiful,” I told him, and picked up the vase. This vase of flowers was actually beautiful in the end. It was a no-daisy-left-behind bouquet. I had asked the two florists for a vase full of white flowers for my husband, and they raided their cooler and gathered everything from their back room. They gave me every white flower they had plus all the eucalyptus.

“You need a flower,” he said to Maia. Maia looked at me.

“I agree!” I said.

“What’s your favorite color?” he asked her.

“I like yellow a lot,” Maia said. “And orange. Orange is nice.”

“How about red?”

“Red is great.”

He pulled two red roses from the cooler and wrapped them in purple and orange tissue paper.

“You can’t hand them to her like that!” the woman behind the counter said. She took them from his hands and ripped a long sheet of floral patterned paper from a standing roll on the counter. She giggled as she struggled to fold it, finding the large sheet unwieldy.

He stepped in. “Let me do it.” The woman coloring the princess giggled. “You have to wrap them like a fish.” He folded the ends together and then rolled the roses. “Like a northern pike,” he said. He stapled all the sides and handed the package to Maia.

“Thank you,” she said. I cheered the same. I was somehow touched, these three folks high as the clouds and just as cheerfully fluffy, happy to be surrounded by flowery housewares and a few stems to offer. They were off the map, for sure, but not at all lost.

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Grateful

My husband’s hair salon has been shooting editorial collections for the last couple of days. I spent the day with them yesterday, and today I spent working on videos and thinking about how to communicate the stories we hold at American Refugee Committee.
I am so grateful. I ended my day at work reading this week’s Time cover story about the White Helmets of Syria, imagining the streets covered in impassable rubble, the dust mixed with blood. I returned to my desk wondering again how to rise from the mound of painful stories I hear to offer something useful to the world.

Then I came here to my husband’s salon where models in beautiful clothes are being attended by masters of hair and photography, poised in their version of their most beautiful selves. I am so grateful.

I am grateful that places like this exist. I’m grateful that a small group of people live in a city where they can dream of something beautiful and make it. I am grateful that music is playing right now, cameras are flashing, teammates are cheering as their efforts turn into a fantasy realized. This can all exist. This is a world where all of this can be real.

Once when I was in college I did some service work at a halfway house in San Francisco. At the end the tenants and our group shared our experiences. One young woman said, “When you come here you remind us that there is a real world beyond the one we live in.”

Now, after five years at ARC, I need places like this, I need to believe that in the world there really are grocery stores and parks and museums and hair salons where people live in a fantasy they made with their own hard work and imagination.

It’s like believing in the dry land in Waterworld. I live in dry land.

I’m just so grateful.