i took a walk the other day, because it was 60 degrees, which is a damn miracle in this place in this month. it has been awhile since i have been able to walk--so much ice on the ground, all that cold wind blowing in my grill. i am still struggling with my body, still not OK with being pregnant and what it all does, i try not to look in the mirror and try not to care as the numbers creep up and up and up. but the other day i was walking around my neighborhood, and i fit in as never before. people gave me the chin-up nods of acknowledgement, the moms pushing strollers side-eyed me with compassion, i hoofed it around the convenience stores and halal markets and taco shops large and in charge and i was just another piece of the scenery of making it here.
we all feel like we never fit in, i am sure of that. but to be a re-locater puts another layer on that whole lie, the one that says both our good qualities and our sins are so very different from the person living in the next neighborhood over. i wear my whiteness every day, and i also wear my pietism and my moralism, the desperation to do some good, the eagerness to befriend and cozy up and transform. but the best thing happens when you get tired, so very tired, and you find yourself just living life and trying to make it. no strategy, no compulsion, just the routines of where you walk and shop and read and play piling onto one another, it all adding up to something more.
i went to get myself a birthday drink this morning (hashtag thirtyoneandhavingfun). i had an hour or two by myself at the coffee shop--a greater gift can no one give to an introvert, i am sure. the coffee shop is starbucks. i hesitate to tell you this, because i know the scorn of the mass-produced myself. but i can't bear to drive farther away to the hipster places, the ones where the coffee is delicious but out-of-my-budget, where i can read and write in peace and quiet and not be bothered by excessive friendliness, content in my isolation. this starbucks i go to is a hub of activity, chock full to the brim at all times with the faces and languages of the neighborhood--mostly East African, and mostly men. they talk loudly and argue and so obviously enjoy hanging out with each other; the lines out the door are long and i fight for a seat at the bar. the word on the street is that this starbucks is called the sugar shack, due to how it goes through 4x more sugar more than any other starbucks in the city. i think about the chai i make for my students during our break time, the horrific amount of sugar i am required to put into each cup in order to make it pleasing to them. and i sit in my noisy, crowded, bastion-of-Empire coffee shop, and revel in the fact that it is simply too chaotic in there to read.
but i try. in fits and starts i read the first few chapters of City of God by Sara Miles and my heart aches with love for my own city. here's a quote from the introduction:
"I began to see that city-ness, not necessary prettiness, might be the characteristic sign of heaven. Sexier and more beautiful than Eden, the city of God is a crowded, busy place jammed with languages and peoples, including the ones who argue so incessantly with one another. A place so mixed, so layered, and apparently impure that it proclaims a love vaster than humans can come up with on our own. A place as surprising and generous as the sheet full of formerly unclean food in the Book of Acts that turned Peter from heaven's gatekeeper into it's dazzled servant."
as i was leaving the coffee shop i ran into an old student of mine, a woman who never learned to read despite our countless hours trying. she is beautiful and wide-hipped, and her eyes appear to be naturally lined with kohl. she was talking loudly into her cellphone, her bright dress blowing in the breeze, and i timidly waved at her. Still on her phone, she hugged me and kissed me and then exclaimed over my belly. Alhamdulillah! all praise be to God! and she did what my students have been doing for the past few weeks, she kissed her hand and put it on my belly, over and over again. and then she walked on up the street to where ever it was that she was going, and i continued on my own way, receiving the blessings that she had so freely bestowed.
in truth it has never stopped feeling like every day is my birthday, my privilege to be here. I am just dazzled, dazzled by it all.