It has been bitter cold here so far this winter. I have been thinking of the homeless population a lot. My brother in law works for an outreach program to assist. As I type this I can hear the wind. It makes me think about so many of the things I don’t have control over and wish I did.
Yesterday was the last day of 2017. I did yoga with a friend in the morning. He talked about how he preferred to set his intentions during the Chinese New Year as it gave him a little time to decide if his intentions were worthy. I had lunch with my father-in-law and then we went to a drum lesson. One thing I love about drums is that the skin of a drum starts to vibrate when you approach other drums being played. It is as if they greet each other in recognition.
I came home to my housemate Terri getting dressed up for a party. Simon came by to hang out and while we were walking Bruno he asked me what was the wildest New’s Years I could remember. What I should have told him was the story about South Africa. But I didn’t think of it. Instead I was thinking of all the New Years Evenings that were not wild. The ones where I was in bed before midnight, warm and happy and waking up to comfort our dog Sam when the fireworks went off, then falling back asleep to the sound of Marshall breathing.
By 11 p.m. I was in bed with Bruno and a book when I got a text with a picture of the Avett Brothers concert where my stepdaughter was with her cousin. Around midnight I started to get Happy New Year’s texts from friends. I fell asleep feeling the love.
On the first day on the year I woke up remembering the New Year’s I spent in South Africa. It begins with my uncle meeting his wife in Hong Kong during a previous Chinese New Year. His version of the story goes something like “I went to a party for work. I didn’t want to go but when I saw her the evening became much more interesting. She was beautiful and the fireworks were happening and I knew I loved her immediately”. I was maybe 19 at the time. My uncle, 7 years older, had superstar status in my eyes.
She is Afrikaner and when they decided to get married they planned to have the wedding in her home town of Pretoria during New Years. My grandparents generously decided to buy me a ticket to join them. I was a college student in Austin and my grandparents lived in Houston. We would leave shortly after Christmas.
This trip was my first international experience. On the plane I wrote a letter to a friend recounting my liberal expectations and honestly I went to Africa with a lot of white guilt and self righteous judgement. But at that time in my life I was too shy to say out loud what was in my head or heart.
Arriving in Johannesburg I felt I had been dropped into one of the most magical places on earth. I was participating in a romantic love story with people I adored. Apartheid had just lifted and everyone we met took so much hope from the fact that we were Americans and maybe our presence meant that sanctions were going to be lifted and things were going to get better.
My uncle has a thing for trains and the honeymoon was to be a trip aboard the Blue Train leaving from Cape Town and returning to Pretoria. What I remember is that Cape Town is beautiful. It is sometimes so windy that if you don’t hold onto something you could be blown off your feet. You can be in both the cool Atlantic and warm Indian Ocean at the same time. What I can’t forget is driving by miles and miles of homeless people as far as I could see.
This morning all I wanted to sing at sunrise was Good Morning Heartache by Billie Holliday, so I did. And for a moment it felt good to be sad and pitiful, just me and heartache sharing coffee together. This song, so familiar, so full of loss.
Sometimes I think there is only so much pain one can witness and only so much one can bear. There are miles and miles of unjust and unimaginable evils. But just when I think I will scream what comes out is something else. It is a raw unfiltered song, and it is my own.
So I went down to the River to Pray
Streams of Mercy , never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise
I’ll find the things they say just can’t be found, I’ll share this love I find with everyone.