Friday, December 24, 2010

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Snow is falling, soft and steady. I just came in from a walk, my coat and cap generously dusted with the lacy white flakes. There’s a golf course a block from our house. Covered in snow, that space of loping fields and scattered trees looks remarkably natural. Wild geese gracefully wander leaving webbed white markings, squirrels bounce quickly from one tree to the next. I stopped at the base of one tree and my heart melted with wonder as I watched intricate, individual snowflakes bind together and form a furry shawl on the bare, brown branches. A pack of kids were hurtling down the town’s only hill (aptly named “sledding hill”) with their parents at the bottom taking photos. I was tempted to ask someone if I could take a turn—I’ve only sledded once and long for an opportunity to surf the land like that again—but felt like today was one for observation. I took a picture in my mind (and on my phone) and walked on. When I got home I tried to build a snow-lady in the backyard to amuse the chickens but had little success. The true colors of our girls are beginning to show. They’ve always looked white as snow, but when compared to the real stuff their feathers are revealed to have a distinctly yellow tint.

All my life I have dreamed of a white Christmas. Holiday songs and almost every image of the season indicate that is what we are entitled to. Growing up in Florida, travelling primarily in the summer, snow at Christmas, or anytime, was relegated to the realm of fantasies and miracles. Many a prayer was offered up from children wearing tank-tops and shorts, “Dear Jesus, let this be the year!” This is my year, but it comes at a cost. For the first time I am not in Florida with my family during the Christmas holiday. Instead I have decided to stay at my home in Chicago. Our house, normally bursting at the seams, is nearly empty. The others that I live with are off visiting relatives. I am holding down the fort and Tonguy (our guest from Togo, S. Africa who is staying with us while searching for a long term living option) will be in and out over the weekend.

I appreciate the rare opportunity for solitude and am feeling peaceful and grateful. At the same time, I know that I am missing the cacophony of exuberant voices made up of a roomful of sisters; the excitement of welcoming my brother Adam’s partner, Allison, into the family home for the first time; the combination of my brothers and my dad that always results in subtly (sometimes not so subtly) coarse humor that we try not to laugh at but then laugh regardless because it’s funny; my two-year-old niece Indiana repeating back everything anyone says to her in her beautiful little bee-like voice; board/card game playing and movie watching; siblings piled up together on the same couch, the Christmas Eve candle ceremony (a.k.a. Nee family cry fest) when we all articulate are abundant love for each other.

This has been a year of great change for me. Great in both the large and the delightful sense. I have become so comfortable with my surroundings and so immersed in my activities that I temporarily lost sight of the heap of happenings that have occurred, many of which are quite momentous for me. I formed a number of intense crushes that have grown into something more. I don’t mean on individuals but on places and people and ways of being. I was wooed by the Divine Unknown (who I know as God) and came to reluctantly, irresistibly, re-engage in relationship with this God’s incarnation in the form of a man named Jesus. After much deliberation and vacillation I consummated this relation by being confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church. I continue to be delighted, bewildered, ashamed by, and affection toward this institution that has adopted me as part of the family.

Another family that has adopted me is the White Rose Catholic Worker community; a group of people I was drawn to from the moment we met and before that even. Last fall I took a class on Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Learning about these individuals lit a fire in me. Their interior and exterior lives were integrated with a rare authenticity and their ways of thinking and being resonated deeply with a desire for life that I had not yet found a way to articulate. I was especially fascinated by Day and the Catholic Worker movement. Searching for people who were continuing to attempt this lifestyle I had the good fortune of stumbling upon John and Jake who, along with Jerica (and later, Regina and Marie) were in the process of establishing a new Catholic Worker in the neighborhood where I was already working as a live-in nanny. In the spring they announced me an “official” member of the community and I moved in at the beginning of August.

In between these major events I also did have crushes on a few fellas and a few had crushes on me but those interests never quite lined up. I continue to be pleasantly independent and am anything but lonely. I also did more travelling than I have ever done in my life. April, I received a surprise gift from my dear, as-yet-unmet, friend Laina who bought me a plane ticket to go visit my family in Florida. I traveled with my friend Cat and spent a week and a half in Arizona on the U.S./Mexico border. We worked with a group called No More Deaths that does humanitarian aid work and advocacy for migrants. It was a simultaneously beautiful and tragic experience, offering an intense education and stirring up a number of questions. It recalled to me a passage of scripture that I’ve often connected with:

“...I can guarantee this truth: Whoever gives any of my humble followers a cup of cold water because that person is my disciple will certainly never lose his reward.”
Matt 10:42 (GW)

I’ve often felt overwhelmed by the pain and needs of this world and the lives within it that I have felt immobilized. When I read this scripture though I am called to action, a cup of water I can give. One of the things I love about the community I now live in is the way we try to engage in small good things to meet practical needs while simultaneously wrestling with larger, systemic issues.

I returned briefly to Chicago before taking off again to spend three weeks in California. There I visited my older brothers, Adam and Aaron in Los Angeles; spent some wonderful time with my beloved sister-in-law, Ann Marie, and niece and nephew, Asher and Clover. That trip happily overlapped with a visit from my younger sisters, Ruth and Rachel. The three of us spent several days with our fabulous Aunts Nancy and Judy in Northern California. I also had the opportunity to stay for five days with the LA Catholic Worker where I connected with the wonderful community there and participated in their work of offering food, shelter, and solidarity to the homeless population of skid row.

In the fall the White Rose community packed up to travel to “Sugar Creek,” Iowa for a gathering of Midwest Catholic Workers that felt like a family reunion. November I traveled down to Georgia with several from our community, as well as our friend Aaron Z., to participate in the SOA vigil at Ft. Benning in Columbus. Another intense time of education. I went directly from there to Tallahassee where I was able to see the home and meet the friends of my darling sister Grace. She and I drove together to the Apopka house where I spent the next week and a half soaking up the presence of my family. During that time I had the great gift of collecting stories from my parents of their life together which I hope to share more about later.

Presently, I am taking a break from the frenetic composing of completely handmade planners. Our community decided, in mid-December, to being this “cottage industry.” The orders for planners (which, naturally, are expected at the beginning of the year) have poured in and at this point exceed fifty. The beautiful intention, thorough planning and ultimately haphazard execution of this endeavor acts as an apt representation of most of our undertakings here. Many thanks to dear friends Ben A. and Aaron Z. who have shared in the work and lightened it with their presence! We are now up to three “open meals” a week when we welcome friends and strangers to join us for dinner and fellowship as well as offering access to the showers and washing machine and whatever clothing items or odds and ends we can provide. We are in intense planning mode, discerning how to make the best use of 10 acres of land that has been provided for us to grow food on and continue our experiment with providing an alternative economy and way of being in relationship with the earth and each other. As our community grows (we have doubled, from three folks to six!) and our ministerial ambitions grow with it, we are searching for a larger home to live in and work from.

There is so much more that I could write. I’ve been thinking a great deal lately of my time in Kentucky, the way my spirit was shaken to a new life and liveliness by the remarkable geography there. The way my mind and heart were expanded by the remarkable people there. And somehow that is all connected to what I am doing now, who I am becoming now. I love this life. Though I struggle with the interior work of clarifying convictions, developing relationships, and growing in love and service and mindfulness; I am sustained by the belief that I and those struggling with me, are endeavoring to live faithfully. We are experimenting with truth, supporting and challenging each other along the way. Advent is a season of hope. We await a promised savior. We celebrate the birth of a poor child, hoping in his promised potential. I hope in the truth of his strange story and in the potential of us poor children of earth. May his Kingdom come. May we live as though it is already here.

Much love and peace and Merry Christmas to you.

Your always remaining and ever-changing,

amy elizabeth nee