Fall Feelings

This school year was the first year I felt unprepared to go back to school. I was enjoying the sun beating down on me every day, and the lack of papers I needed to write. I’ve always been someone who was ready to get back into the swing of the semester, but this year, I was dragging my feet to restart. I spent my summer abroad in Ireland, and visiting family and friends. Going back to school seemed like my fun was ending. That being said, being back on campus, and feeling the air around me grow cooler, I await the change of the season excitedly. I can’t wait for the trees to burst with color and for the endless events that seem to emerge during this time, like football games, bonfires, and Halloween.

Some love the blistering heat, and others enjoy watching the snow fall, but my happy medium comes from the beautiful balance between the two extremes. Beginning a new season means the start of a new wardrobe. A wardrobe with layers. The endless options of scarves and boots and long-sleeved shirts are among us. It also means legging-season for many JMU girls, myself included. Comfort is the best way to enjoy this season. Having the temperature drop also means a substantially decreased amount of back sweat after all of the walking students do on campus.

Although the three beautiful months of summer included no homework and a lack of responsibilities, fall is the time to get back together with good friends and enjoy another wonderful year at school. I have so many great times to think back on because of hanging with friends on the JMU campus. There are so many events that take place when school is back in session and it’s a fun way to meet new people and make new friends. The nostalgia wrapped in the season of fall brings back fond memories and makes room for new ones to prosper.

Snowfall will be coming soon on the heels of autumn—white, and beautiful over campus.  As the nights begin to darken quickly, I will snuggle into my bed as the air outside grows crisp; happy with the wonderful medium between too hot and too cold. To watch the incoming freshmen take in what has become my home, and to enjoy this campus alongside them is something I look forward to. This is my last year at this school, and I want to enjoy every changing minute of it.

Technology and Design, Tommy Koehler

A genie grants me three tiny wishes. What are they?

Well, firstly I’d have to ask my genie what they were doing inside my electric kettle, as that’s the closest thing to a magic, golden lamp that I currently have in my college apartment. After hearing their tale of woe about how they were trapped inside my electric kettle by an evil kettle scale-r (see “limescaling” that gross white stuff that collects on the inside of your kettle for no apparent reason even though you washed it) a few years ago, I would then begin to think about my first wish.

Now I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty up-to-date with my cautionary tale reading about magical beings. I know the rules about wish making: that you get punished for exhibiting the seven deadly sins, that you must have exact wording, and that you can’t wish anyone to fall in love with anyone else. So, with that in mind I would introduce my genie to the wonder of modern TV streaming capabilities, aka Netflix bingeing as I pondered my predicament.

The real struggle here is figuring out how good of a human I am. Is my first and only wish to set them free? Obviously my last wish will be to set them free, but is that enough to solidify my status as a Good Person? The point in mythology and literature is for the genie to tempt the character either into darkness or to reveal their internal light, as most fantasy creatures do in their various plot structures. And, it is so tempting.

I could wish for my family never to be sick again, and heal my dad and I, along with preventing anything happening to my mom and sisters in one fell swoop. But what if this means that everyone I ever love outside my family is constantly plagued with sickness and disease?

I could wish to be able to lose weight just by thinking about it, but I am always thinking about making myself thinner. So what if this one day just leads me to disappearing in a puff of flesh colored smoke never to be seen again?

I know better than to wish for money, no matter how much easier that would make my life, so I’m safe on that front. So the real question still is there, laying across the roadmap of my thoughts like guilty road kill: Do I set the genie free with my first or third wish? Do I continue on with the narrative of my life and form my own character arcs, twistsnd falls? Or do I chance fate and seize this apparent easy pass to my deepest flaws?

 

I set the genie free.

 

I have no wishes, only a smile in a shower of stars as the genie leaves my bedroom through my open window.

I of course, still hold those unspent wishes close to my heart, yearning for something to have a magical fix. But life, family, money, self-love – those things aren’t easy. They aren’t a gentle reward to moving across the “Pass Go, Collect $200” spot on the great monopoly board of life (get it, I put TWO board game references in one heartfelt metaphor), they are the ultimate goals of this humanly existence. There is a reason that all those famous fantasy novels (r.e. “The Lord of the Rings,” I’m looking at you Tolkien, a bazillion pages of walking, we get it) are based around long journeys. We need those long struggles to crack like geodes and reveal our truest and most beautiful inner character.

So set the genie free on the first wish, and maybe you’ll get a bit of extra luck here and there from your multi-dimensional mythological friend along your great tourist adventure of life.

Irish Revelations 

 

The Cliffs of Moher: Doolin, Ireland June 2016

We arrived in Doolin at 6:30 pm. The sun was still well above the misty far-off horizon line and my four friends and I decided to strap on some extra layers and hiking shoes, and walk to the Cliffs of Moher. We rounded the last hill where the  pavement ended at a fence bordering a pasture. We took careful steps around cow paddies and muddy puddles for a few yards, and then the sea opened up. The cliffs were only about 500 feet from the surface of the water and yet it felt like if you were to fall you would never hit the cold shock of the ocean.

This picture was the first photograph I took on the cliffs. In the blurry distance there are cliffs over a thousand feet high, the sunset trying to show itself between heavy clouds and a rainbow, ready to be refracted across the sea. This image of wildflowers clinging to the edge of a cliff-face hundreds of feet above the nothingness of empty air, and the memories that it evokes for me makes me think of survival, success, and the ability to thrive. Ireland changed a lot about how I see the world and my place in it. While I like to think that those changes in perspective are permanent, everyone needs a reminder every once and a while, and this picture does that for me.

A few days into our five weeks in Ireland, the entire study abroad group boarded a train (the first one I’d ever been on ever and let me tell you it is just as inspiring as all the movies make it seem) and rode to the town of Cobh. Cobh is a small town where the Titanic had its last port of call, set on the side of a blustery cliffs and a bustling fishing economy. Casting a stained glass shadow over the town is St. Colman’s Cathedral. A 19th century stone construction that towers over the coast line and holds the hill line under its flying buttresses. Curved around the side of the cathedral is a hidden Bible garden, where there is a fully functioning Abbey that tends to the garden.

Bible Garden at St. Colman’s Cathedral:Cobh, Ireland June 2016

It was here that I took the second photograph. The day that I was to leave for Ireland was when the daily news cycle of the Orlando shootings reached me. So I went into my summer travels with the reality of danger for the LGBTQ+ community weighing heavily in my thoughts and in my writing. But nestled at Mary’s feet in this small community bible garden was a candle inside a subtly decorated mason jar with the words “Orlando 2017” written across blue painter’s tape. Here in the heart of catholic puritanism, was a thought and a wish for prayer for a community not so easily accepted by the staunch and strict Catholics of the world. I was reduced to grateful tears in this lush green copse of trees and I hope to never forget that nothing can be as strong as a kindness when no one is looking, and love where no one expects it.

My King

 

During the summer after my junior year of high school, I went on a ten-day mission trip to Oradea, Romania with dozens of other teenagers to host Vacation Bible Schools (VBS) in Romani villages scattered along the outskirts of the city. As we trained at the Global Expeditions base camp in Texas, practiced Romanian words, and finally flew over the Atlantic Ocean, the expectation that we were being sent to help people in poverty grew.

After stepping off the bus that transported us from a Hungarian airport, our team turned to face rolling hills and a local church, Biserica de Hristos, confident that we would bring hope to the natives. Chanting songs and practicing various parts of our VBS, we re-assured one another that we were “world-changers.”

Until we went to Tinka.

As the poorest Romani village, Tinka sprawled across acres of trash and human waste. Songs shriveled in our throats when we witnessed a young woman stick her hand down her throat, throw up, and then eat her vomit out of hunger. Suddenly, our skits seemed foolish and our trinkets, trivial. We performed anyway and prayed with excruciating humility that our insignificant efforts would make a difference. But playing with the kids and exchanging broken Romanian with their parents only exposed our inability to really help them. Amidst trees that formed a canopy of brilliant green over rickety shacks constructed from metal scraps and bamboo, we discovered our own inner poverty.

A few days after visiting Tinka, we stood on the summit of Mushroom Top Mountain and lifted our hands over red tiled rooftops and crystal skies. Stretching our bodies toward a Spirit that whispered with the wind, we wept at the realization that Someone could already save them – and He wanted to save us too.

Jesus didn’t come to rescue us with petty programs or lofty speeches. He came as a human, for humans. He came with compassion so scandalous that kings and religious leaders tried to suppress him, his own people discriminated against him, and we murdered him. But death could not defeat him, and he spread himself across the trash and human waste of our lives and offered his life for our freedom.

As I stood on Mushroom Top Mountain, Oradea gleaming in afternoon light, I felt God’s faithfulness in the sky, in the people around me, in the plan I knew He had for my life. The profound love I experienced in that moment set me free from my own poverty.

The following poem speaks of this fundamental transformation, which renews my hope each passing day:

There is a crown within this earthquake –

A glazed, glinting headdress

Golden as a yoke.

Break the egg

Tear down the mountain

There is a crown within this earthquake.

Sanctuaries are shattered and dead

Hands pull back the curtain

No rip it to shreds

From top to bottom

Expose open air to the holy of holies

Where no man should go

Without a rope wrapped around his ankle

And bells to clink and clank and signal

Yes you are alive and still walking.

Go to the tomb, I tell you

Gritty bits of rock and jewels lace the mouth

Open in after-shock, shaken and empty.

Murky chamber, peer in: For the man

Is not here. He left only linens

From his two-night stand with sour sponges and satan

Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?

Raise a hand and touch the scars seared with

Nails gnawing at flesh, pound them deep for

My King: He is not here.

 

Narrative of Luck  

I think people get lucky in odd ways. In little ways, big ways, round-about and upside-down ways that have us thinking we aren’t that lucky after all. There’s luck here, in the small spaces that surround people. I count myself lucky to see the crow’s feet that line the edges of my mother’s eyes when she smiles at my father while she thinks no one is looking, or in the exact angle of how my best friend always tilts her head back to laugh.

To find this innate luck in the intrinsic connection of humanity may be cliche, but I find that when the week piles up and I can’t see my own hands for the amount of work and stress I’m buried in that it is the way I feel the most lucky. These are the glimmering gold coin gifts that seem to keep falling into my lap and kept in a pocket to pull out when a dash of luck seems most needed. My favorite kind of luck is something that happens to me rarely during the sprint to the end of the semester, but is welcomed with open arms when it arrives. Sometimes, if I sit in the quiet of my room, with the dusk falling over the mountains in soft pastel waves casting an easy light on my keyboard, I can just about hear the shape of a poem.

There might be the lower sounds of consonance beating rhythmic drums to push the narrative forward, and ever onward, or perhaps the softer sibilant softly gentle culmination of sounds. But eventually, resolutely, I will be lucky enough that the screen will be filled. The hated black-blinking cursor on a white Word document will be preceded by artfully disordered-order in which a story unfolds. And who are we all really but storytellers? I count among my luckiest of days those when I can capture the faint strains of something that feels necessary. Something that pushes, at least, my own idea of how I relate to the world around me and how that pushes my own narrative.

So luck, small or large, whether it be winning the lottery or writing a poem that may never leave the inside of my computer hard drive, is another thing for me to be grateful for.

A Lucky “Brake”

Silhouettes of trees and sprawling fields swept past us as we sped along a back road in Amelia, Virginia. The last purple and blue shades of twilight sunk into the night sky, and darkness settled on the landscape around us. Desiray’s royal blue Camry whipped gracefully around each bend as we neared a local gas station.

We were seniors in high school with nothing better to do on a sticky summer night than lay on Desiray’s couch or raid the nearest store of soda. Undaunted by our isolation in middle of cow-county nowhere, we hopped into her car and pulled out of their long gravel driveway onto the two-lane road. Windows rolled down, we stroked the rushing air with our fingers spread wide as we sang into the darkened woods.

After running in and out of the gas station for our drinks, we swung back onto the country road in the direction of her house. Antsy from the lack of adrenaline, I asked Desiray to roll her sunroof down. “I’m gonna stand out of it,” I said.

She laughed, clicked the button and a panel of glass slid open exposing roaring wind and the moon glistening through low-hanging tree branches.

As I pulled the majority of my body outside the sunroof and mounted my legs inside her car, Desiray picked up speed – 35 mph, 40 mph, 50 mph. The air no longer felt crisp and inviting as it shoved against my torso, yanked at my clothes, and brought numbing tears streaming down my face. Shrieks and songs shriveled in my throat, and I swayed there, arms outstretched, speechless in horror and vicious delight.

“Sit down,” a firm voice in my head whispered.

I glanced again at the black road stretching to meet us like the gaping mouth of a snake and slipped back into the front seat. Seconds after clicking my seatbelt, Desiray slammed the brake as a deer leapt directly in front of the car. Anti-lock brakes jolting, we flung forward, and time halted as we seemed to float for a moment, vaguely clutching at the dashboard.

A minute later, the deer had darted back into the forest, but we sat in her motionless car panting, unable to look at each other.

“If I had still been standing out the sunroof…” An image clouded my mind as I pictured my body crumpled and wet with blood on a country road in front of my best friend’s car, a wild animal bounding into the nearby woods.

Desiray gulped for air. “A voice, a voice told me you needed to sit down.” The white of her eyes reflected hazy moonlight.

I looked over at her. “Me too.”

In silence, we made our way back to her house astounded by a stroke of luck that saved my life. To this day, I believe that it was something bigger.

Love and Basketball

Dear NBA,

Some say you stand for the National Basketball Association; others say you stand for “No Boys Allowed.”  Personally, I think that you stand for “Never Brought Agony” because you have never brought agony into my life. Well then again, I guess that’s only somewhat true judging by the fact the New York Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, but you are still good to me. You have brought me the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Lebron James, Stephen Curry….the list is endless.

I knew we were a match made on the hardwood ever since I put on my first oversized jersey and New Era fitted cap. From that moment on, I decided I loved you and I would dedicate my life to the pursuit of your love in return. You plagued my mind and stole my time. I thought of you as I shot 1,500 jump shots daily. I dreamt of you as I slept with a basketball in my hands. I spoke of you as I counted down from ten at the YMCA to beat the imaginary buzzer. Most importantly, I envisioned our wedding day when the commissioner would shake my hand during the draft and join us together forever in holy matrimony.

Alas, it seems that the staggering height of 5’10”, a delayed puberty, and a propensity for turnovers was enough to prevent our marriage from happening. But hey, maybe in a few years if we are both single, we should try to rekindle what we once had. In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with this poem.

This is my act of love towards the National Basketball Association
We haven’t had the pleasure of meeting but I know you through association
The time we’ve spent together is the sole source of my procrastination
I chose you over any girl, inevitably preventing chances of procreation
You manifest your destiny from east to west across this nation
You make your name from competition and your dime from elimination
Other leagues have tried to copy but you are a stranger to duplication
Although, you’ve made too many rules and I pray for deregulation

You can keep the NFL, Pain and I, we just don’t gel
You can have the NHL, I tried hockey once, but I fell
Why watch the MLB, when you can go to sleep for free
All these leagues are fine, but they are definitely not for me
I gave a chance to FIFA, but I just couldn’t watch their soccer
Their football was okay, but their acting deserved an Oscar.
So once again my love, please take this message from the author
I know you’re busy now but I’m steady waiting at the alter

Yours Truly,

Gabriel

The Heart and Soul of James Madison University