Finding words in ordinary life

“Let’s get growing in El Paso” a sign reads on a table in front of me, advertising the free seed program that the library offers to encourage patrons to grow plants (!). People with library cards can get free seeds to start gardens in their homes, and seeing this sign makes me think about the garden that is my soul, the spiritual cultivation that I have experienced over the many recent days and weeks of my life.

I have been having a hard time making any effort towards outwardly expressing my thoughts and observations onto paper. Recently, every time I sit down to record even the slightest detail of a day, the forces of self-doubt and discouragement tell me that not only is it a waste of my time, but that I have nothing worthwhile to say. In theory, I know that’s not true at all! And yet, I have the hardest time coming up with words to put on a page, possibly because there is no professor asking me to do so. If any of my former professors are reading this, feel free to send me a writing assignment so that I can sit myself down and get the words flowing again! ?

The view as I type this.
The view as I type this.

Last night, around midnight, I hopped onto a call with a dear friend who I met two years ago during a week spent in the French countryside. My friend and I have an incomparable connection; I believe we might have been soulmates in another life. I was telling him how I recently was reading journal entries I made for a creative writing class during my study abroad, which were simply observations of daily life. Here is an example of one:

The children, running around with futbols, scooters, and puppies, do not need the same thick, fluffy coats as their strolling parents.

Another one of my favorites, which I share because of the !!Halloween!! season:

For the first time in my young adult life, a young man who looks near my age washed my hair. I have come to get my hair trimmed for my trip to Lisbon, and after only a simply exchange of words I am seated in a shampooing chair and this boy, with face makeup like a ghost (?) and his hair slicked back, gently massages my scalp with hair products. Happy Halloween to me!

That last one I think is quite silly, and classically me ? And as I told my friend how much joy and depth I enjoyed focusing on these small details of life, he said something along the lines of “oh yes, there is so much to enjoy in the quotidian.”

Quotidian is a French word that literally means “occurring every day” and refers to the things of daily life – the commonplace, the normal, the ordinary. My creative writing professor in France used to use it all the time, and suddenly I was brought back to the posture I used to have of noticing the texture of pastries, the sounds of water fountains and whispered French, the richness of the colors of stone pathways. And I started to think about why maybe I have somewhat disconnected from those observations in my day today.

Sitting at San Jacinto Plaza whilst reading The New Jim Crow and drinking some caffeine.
Sitting at San Jacinto Plaza whilst reading The New Jim Crow and drinking some caffeine.

The challenge about writing about my days living in Annunciation House is, I think, connected to the fact that much of what I experience on a daily basis does not fit into what is normally “quotidian.” The intensity of many moments makes piecing them together a new challenge which I have yet to face. The phrase “never a dull moment” serves well here, but the encounter with so many difficult situations also makes the arrival of dull moments so much more appealing.

To just give a few examples (which, I hope you’ll forgive me, are quite striking), I once had to call the police on a woman who told me she was planning to kill a man who had kidnapped her child. I’ve met so many women who are fleeing sexual violence. I’ve given medicine to so many children who caught colds and coughs in custody of ICE and CBP because their holding cells are uninhabitably cold and the children are there for too long. I’ve sat with people as they told me about the deaths they’ve known in their own nuclear families, and I’ve seen single, 8-month-pregnant women walk to the bus station to board multi-day bus trips in a foreign land with nothing but a bag of snacks and a sweater to accompany them on their journey.

I don’t mean to share these things to sensationalize their lived realities or to make myself seem like a hero. I hardly do anything for any of these people besides look them in the eye and smile and try to be my best self for the moment we share together so that they know that they are loved. Most of the time, my tendency to be a warming and controlled presence overrides any emotions I might feel in the face of this immense suffering and chaos, and so I am usually just fine. But, as I try to put these experiences into words on a page, I find it difficult and even painful. The quotidian here isn’t necessarily mine to share, since most of these hardships are not happening to me, I just happen to witness parts of them.

The more I learn about the reality of global migration, the pervasiveness of violence against people robbed of their dignity, the inability of polities to stop the spreading of policies and practices that prioritize profit over people at every turn, the more my hope lies in the other-worldly, the place of rest that I believe every soul will come to know when we reunite in eternity with God. The faith of the people I meet teaches me that everyday.

And when I think about what we can do here in our time, while remaining civically engaged in our communities, I am convinced more and more that the antidote to everything is love, care, and kindness. The bigger my world view becomes, the more I believe that intimate, compassionate relationships are the thing which will sustain that which is Sacred and Holy, that will bring renewal, healing, and hope into the traumatized and suffering human family.

A bountiful dinner that Beto O'Rourke dropped off at the shelter one evening after meeting with a group of recently released families :)
A bountiful dinner that Beto O’Rourke dropped off at the shelter one evening after meeting with a group of recently released families :)

As the quotidian for the average person who is tuned into social media and news outlets (which remind us of how horribly we’ve gotten everything wrong) is painful, confusing, and promotes feelings of helplessness, anger, and desolation, I hope that everyone can find their own ways to recharge, whether by sending loved ones postcards, taking note of the colors of the sky, smelling candles at the local HomeGoods ?, or planting seeds in a garden. After all, even if it feels like the world is crumbling, we still have the power in our souls to laugh and to grow, and that is a miraculous and unchanging thing.

 The spirit of love is always on the horizon...

The spirit of love is always on the horizon…