Wearing Thin

The kitchen table broke today.

The small wood fibers had worked so hard

to hold the cold, dark metal in place.

They had born the seasons, held the weight

of pumpkins waiting to be carved, steaming casseroles

and Christmas cookies left to cool.

One of the drilled holes grew tired

of being mistaken for a foot rest, of

fists pounded, of forced expansions for feasts unasked for

and it gave way.

The other held on as long as it could, but

left alone, its former strength seemed

only a liability. Presumed upon until

one

final

exhale

sent

Red flowers spilling to the floor.

Advertisements

How the Day Sounds

Driving into the city before dawn, the lights of the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Memorial fill the still-hazy sky. Police cars line Connecticut Avenue surrounding the Hilton as guests from all around the world arrive for the National Prayer Breakfast. Protesters are already assembling, eager for world leaders to hear their concerns.

It is still dark, but commuters walk briskly to buses, to metro, already consumed with the day ahead. The train is full – but not crowded – and silent, except for the rustling of papers and the wrist watch alarm announcing 7am.

Day light has arrived unnoticed as I make my way on busy sidewalks to the cafe. One lone corner table for two stands by the window and I take it gladly. The paper is fully of news of riots in Egypt, Presidential campaign blunders, and tales of inequality. It is too much.Image

Coffee arrives with perfunctory flattery from the waiter. Tourists, businessmen, and blue collar workers all pause alike as motorcycles, police cars, limousines and SUVs race by with sirens blazing, distracting from the conversations that had held sway moments ago. It is the President, being whisked to the prayer breakfast to lift up his own voice, joining those assembled, to pray for this broken nation and this weary world.

A man runs by, pushing his daughter in a stroller, oblivious to the concerns of the world and the agenda of the President – unaware of the world around his, save for the mist on his daughter’s face and the cracks in the sidewalk.

And so it beings: Thursday morning in our nation’s Capital.

Banned Books

One of the things that unites the Rabbit Room community is a love of Story. So it was fitting that their second annual Hutchmoot featured formal lectures and discussions about tellers of True Stories: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Wendell Berry, Fredrich Buechner, Madeleine L’Engle and many more. Sessions on literature were led by writers from within our own beloved Rabbit Room – Jennifer Trafton, SD Smith, Andrew Peterson, Jonathan Rogers, Travis Prinzi, Pete Peterson – who are all trying, as my professor Steve Garber so frequently said, to tell stories that are “shaped by the truest truths of the universe, but in a language the whole world understands.”

As a child, my home had no shortage of stories. Some of my earliest memories involve me and my sister lounging by the one air conditioning unit in our childhood home, listening to dad read us stories. He read Nancy Drew mysteries and James Harriot books. Mom would read Winnie-the-Pooh and the Velveteen Rabbit, and even now when I read The Polar Express I can hear only her voice.  And then there were the stories demanded by us that were formed on the spot: My dad would tell tales about “Steggy” and “Bronty” (adventures of some stuffed dinosaurs that lived in my sister’s room) and my mom would create a world inhabited by the dust bunnies that lived under our beds.

We lived in a world of stories and devoured nearly every book that came our way. I remember reading Roald Dahl’s Matilda when I was in grade school and not having a category in which to place a household with no books. Stranger still were books that I encountered in high school and later life – Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and The Book Thief – that spoke of a sanctioned revisionist history and books that were viewed as dangerous and subversive.  But these books opened my eyes to the true things that were happening around me. There are those who do view books as dangerous and people who mount protests to have certain literature banned from libraries and school coursework. I understand the merits of wisdom and age-appropriate boundaries; that drawing any line is a slippery slope. But I trust that you will rightly interpret my frustrations.

As Hutchmoot was ending, I was feasting on the many words offered that upheld my beloved books. In a session on children’s literature, Sam reminded us that “books help train our thoughts and deepen our comprehension of truth”.  And so it is still hard for me to understand those who would seek to limit that which broadens us.  Yet all week, people across the country are talking about banned books; that’s because it’s Banned Books Week. It’s a time to raise awareness about all the good books that sit on shelves or never make it onto the shelf because a small group of people objected to the content. I think that I am primarily opposed to censoring good books because it suggests to me that people can’t think; that we will absorb all that we read without challenging it, or noticing all the ways that it is telling a true story, even if it’s a sad or dark one. But it all this censorship of literature becomes a Catch-22 (which you wouldn’t know about if you’re from an area that’s objected to this Joseph Heller book) and weakens our ability to challenge that with which we disagree:

The more limited the literature we give to our children, the more limited their capacity to respond, and therefore, in their turn, to create. The more our vocabulary is controlled, the less we will be able to think for ourselves. We do think in words, and the fewer words we know, the more restricted our thoughts.”

– Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Good stories open our minds to possibilities and worlds that we didn’t even know we could imagine. They take us just far enough outside ourselves that we can see with fresh eyes the lessons they have to teach us. Walker Percy once wrote that “bad books always lie; they lie most of all about the human condition.” Literature that tells the truth, even if it’s dark truth, or snapshots of truth that are not seeking to describe the whole picture have merit – they “deepen our comprehension of truth”, allowing us to see more clearly the fallen world, yearning for redemption, that we are living in.

This week in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson published an editorial giving one of the best arguments for literature I’ve read in a long time. He lauds To Kill A Mockingbird, a book that has been challenged for many decades across the country.

But unlike Golding [author of Lord of the Flies], Harper Lee gives the adult world a moral voice. Atticus Finch teaches his children, Jem and Scout, that the proper response to injustice is courage — a virtue that appears in unexpected places and shines brighter as hope fades. “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin,” Atticus explains, “but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” It is present in Mrs. Dubose, choosing death without the comforts of morphine, and in Atticus himself, pressing his hopeless case against bigotry. Rather than a decisive battle, courage is a little voice at the end of the day saying, “I’ll try again tomorrow.”

This is what children need to be learning. This is what all of us need to be learning. How different would our world be if more students learned to fight injustice with courage? If, through stories, we stepped back and regained a clear view of reality, both as it is and as it could be; just imagine the world that we could create.

Gerson closes his editorial with a strong hope for those who get drawn in to a story that’s bigger than themselves:

This is the hope: …That a 13-year-old, like many who came before, might glimpse real courage in imaginary lives. That the end of innocence might be the start of sympathy. That even junior high can include a little grace.”

And this is my hope for all of us – may we all glimpse real courage in imaginary lives and in so doing, boldly transform our own corners or the universe.

The power of women.

There will be days for debates on the Equal Rights Amendment and for discussions about feminism and the shocking injustice done to women in our expanding world. But today is for the quiet strength. The mundane rhythms that tie us together. The brokenness and the hope and the corporate act of holding both together.

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.

Genesis 2:18

There are only a handful of times that I remember sensing the quiet, internal strength of women, uncorrupted by conflicting notions of power or debates about proper place. Groups of women, gathered after productive days, resting and coming together to continue weaving our legacy into the next generation.

On Easter Sunday, after the egg hunt finished and the ham had been eaten and most of the company had left, we remained, sharing stories of families and failures, of hopes and disappointments. The front porch held just seven women, spanning nearly 40 years in neat stair steps, marking our own unique generations. And there we sat, aware of the young children roaming in the front yard and the men shooting baskets nearby, but utterly wrapped up in the divine unfolding around us through the tales of heartache, redemption, and strength.

Here, in this place, all feels sacred and safe.

And in this, the power of women lies.

What not to do…

Dear DC Residents and staff,

I was hoping that after last year’s excessive snowfall, you would have learned a few things about winter weather. My commute this morning seemed to suggest otherwise. I offer you, free of charge, some suggestions that may make getting around this winter easier for all of us:

1. A leaf blower is not an appropriate substitute for a snow shovel. It is, however, an excellent way to make me chuckle while driving past your house.

2. Although Crocs may have the appearance of being waterproof, they should not be used as snow boots. People: they have a sling back and are full of holes. Try again.

3. Attempting to use a small ice-scraper to remove more than an inch of snow from all sides of your vehicle will only leave you frustrated and the cars that are forced to drive behind you angry as yet another gust of snow hits them as it careens off your roof. Please invest in a snow brush or move further south.

4. Excessively salting the roads, while preventing ice from building up on the streets for the next decade, will do very little when it begins to snow. Please lower the “plow” part of your truck and remove the snow, rather than attempting to melt it with 3 tons of salt. My car is supposed to be black, and I would prefer it return that way, rather than the grayish color currently settling in for a long winter’s nap.

With great hope for our future together,

KP

Me for President

In Washington, DC, you can determine who works closest to the “seats of power” by their dress. For example, business suit? You work on the hill or on K street. Skinny jeans and a nice sweater? You work in a far-flung corner of the district.

Today, I am wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

Despite my distance from the Capitol, financial sector, or lobbying firms, people choose my metro stop to advertise, fund raise, and stage protests. And today was no exception.

Walking outside to visit my friendly neighborhood Starbucks, (it seems that caffeine and I are destined to have an on-again, off-again relationship) a man turns the corner with a box on his head and a walking stick in his hand. The box has a small slit cut out across his eyes, above which reads: “ME” and below reads: “for president”.

This is a fairly accurate rending of him:

To add credibility to his cause, he has a website, which I recommend you visiting, if only to note that my illustrious congressman from my parents home district has positive things to say about him. Oh Dennis.

The moral of this story? This election season, stand up for what you believe in – whether its through a yard sign, a campaign bus, or a box on your head – and embrace the freedoms of this democracy and let your voice be heard.

On High School

The more time I spend in my twenties (six years now, for those of you keeping score at home), the more I am convinced that this decade is about moderation. It’s about toning down who you were in high school and college to be more palatable to a working, dating, marrying world, while trying to stay exciting enough to get a job, a date, a spouse. Maybe you partied a lot in college, only to find that in real life, having a hangover every morning made it difficult to hold down a job. Perhaps you once wrote a paper full of passionate rhetoric about Israel/Palestine or boldly stood up to denounce abortion in the middle of your women’s studies class. But this is the real world, and things are more complicated. Foreign policy debates don’t get solved in term papers anymore than lives are changed by bullhorns. So you temper your opinions and behaviors and watch The Hills instead. No one wants to talk about reforming DC public schools when Jersey Shore was on last night. So you move to the lowest common denominator and keep your head down, emerging as a slightly less-fun and less-thoughtful version of who you once were.

However, in my middle-twenties, I find myself moving backwards and spending a lot of time with teenagers. And I love it. Everything is extreme when you’re 16. He’s either the man of your dreams or not worth your time. She’s your best friend, or your arch rival. Joy is effusive, passion is undisguised, depression is worn on your sleeve and no one believes that you’re “fine”. In high school, life is either urgent or procrastinated. Teenagers don’t have a day timer with a list of deadlines carefully laid out and detailed plans on how to achieve them. Life is lived in the now.

My favorite manifestation of this is seen in greetings. Teenagers recklessly throw themselves into hugs. They cling to each other as if they have been apart for years, not hours. They go into a corner and breathlessly catch each other up on what was missed in the aforementioned hours. There is no shame in yelling across the room to welcome someone, or dropping everything to break into a run to meet someone at the door.

I spend time with teenagers for lots of reasons. But one of them is because I love this reckless abandon. I don’t come by moderation naturally. I am passionate and impulsive and loud and that’s hard to suppress in an office in uber-professional DC. So outside of the 9-5, I welcome the bear hugs and the urgency and the passion. I revel in a world that celebrates enthusiasm and joy.

I don’t think there will be handshakes in heaven. Only running hugs and gasps of excitement. Pure, un-moderated joy. I’ll be there with my arms waiting.