II/LII: Midnight in Paris

Thought long and hard about how to go about this, this whole 'documenting the year' ordeal. Thought I'd keep writing words and sharing pictures to match, all at once. But it just doesn't work for me. I love to write. All the time. So many words, every single day. Sure, most of them never see the light of day, but maybe one day they will. And I also take photos. Lots and lots of photos. All the time. And most of those, too, haven't seen the light of the day. And maybe they never will. But the two are entirely different entities, two different forms of expression, and I'm done with trying to throw them together. I don't feel like the blue of the photos and the red of the writing become three-dimensional when combined. They aren't enhanced. They need to remain predominantly separate to be most accurately expressed, I've decided. So I've chosen to sometimes do written posts. And sometimes, picture posts. Today, I'm full of words. So many words. So here goes, red without the blue, hopefully still impressively dimensional and multi-faceted as a result, but no promises.

* * * * *

It's late on Sunday afternoon here in Paris. 17.42 at the time of commencement to be exact, and though I had all these extravagant plans for my Sunday afternoons over the next few months, they've all crumbled into nothing, because, well, reality happened. I even wrote a relatively structured way to come to new cities, for every day, not just come Sunday. The intention was to make a system out of an entirely free and unstructured way of life. My perfect plan, penned in my favourite little orange notebook, went something like this: I'd spend my first day fresh in a city getting acquainted with the area- looking at the Metro maps and riding a tour bus around to get my bearings. Context is important to me. I'd stroll through a grocery store and marvel at the aesthetics of a language I wasn't used to seeing all over. Purchase some things that were 'typical' for the place I was visiting- locally made or something along those lines. The next day would be spent scouring the local thrift stores and the smaller, lesser-known art galleries. I'd planned to purchase a homeless person a meal at least twice a week and volunteer at a shelter as often as I could. And of course, I was going to participate in various yoga classes across the city at 7am every morning. And find all the flea markets possible. And stroll along riverbanks and sit in parks and make a serious attempt at poetry for the first time in my life. And Sundays? Sundays were to be spent within the walls of as many churches as I could find- not just of my own religion, but of many others, too. I'd fill the day with worship, and stained glass and architecture and choirs (!), and work hard to increase my understanding of the differences and the similarities between us all and what we believe, and would then spend the next day tied to my laptop, writing about what I'd observed as a result. How idyllic it'd all be, how controllable, how delightful. But alas, as I mentioned earlier: reality happened.

Let me take you on a brief walk, through just the tiniest portion of what I've learned and noticed and thought throughout the past few days. It hasn't been as easy nor as enchanting as I'd always dreamed arriving in Paris would be, but being here has already taught me more than I could have conjured up in my own imagination. And I'm holding on for dear life trying to keep up with it all.

Wednesday morning arrived and I woke up after a night I can only compare to Christmas Eve- sleep being broken every hour or so, due to excitement butterflies so strong they kept winning the battle against the need for rest. It was difficult to comprehend that in just a number of hours time, home would no longer be there in that huge house, smack-bang in the centre of suburban Utah. That I'd no longer go up the stairs to be greeted joyfully by bright-eyed Carolyn, the mother of the household. That so soon, I wouldn't hear little meows from the neighbours cat at my window anymore, signalling me to climb the stairs to open the door for her and let her in- before she rushes by, curling her way around my feet, pushing up against my shins with her fluffy tail high in the air. But the time had come- and it felt right to be leaving, moving on, and making new. 

Skip forward a teary goodbye, a pensive train ride to the airport, and a ten-hour flight, and there I was, stepping off the bus, giant bag on my back, staring at the Arc de Triomphe- a million cars rushing by on the road in front of it in a disorderly fashion, beeping their horns. The hustle and the bustle had the fourteen-year-old, French-art-and-music obsessed girl inside me bursting with joy.  I'd made it. I was in Paris!

I walked down the street with the biggest smile on my face, to the apartment I'd booked- the size of a prison cell, on the sixth floor of an ancient Parisian building. The stairs creaked as I climbed them, the mottled wood brittle and dry. I'd booked the accommodation when I landed in France, after sitting at the airport for almost two hours, just watching people go by. Having no schedule but that which your heart desires is somethin' else entirely. There was nobody waiting for me, nowhere to be, nothing to do. Heck, nobody knew where I was. Or knows where I am, right now. And so I sat there, at Charles de Gaulle airport, and I watched, and I watched for a long time. A French boy in a long, black trench coat sat by me and we had a short chat before he went outside to light up the cigarette he'd been twirling in his fingers the whole time. I can't remember if I was tired or not, but I do remember the airport bathrooms, and how the world's most dignified and classy lady had walked in, wheeling a khaki-coloured suitcase behind her, before closing the bathroom stall door. Moments later the unseemly sound of throwing up bounced across the white tiles. I helplessly stood by the sink where I was brushing my teeth, wondering if I should ask her if she needed help, but knowing all too well that talking to a complete stranger- albeit in a different language- was the last thing she wanted to do right that second. After a little while she exited the stall, looking as dignified as she did when she entered, and with perfect posture, headed promptly out of the bathroom, green bag in tow. How bizarre. That was the first piece of the real world I encountered here, and it's not slowing down anytime soon. 

I walked forty minutes to find the Eiffel Tower that first night. With the little blue dot on my Google Maps guiding my way, I turned a corner and there it suddenly was: bigger than anything I could have ever imagined. I literally gasped, and in what felt like a trance, walked teary-eyed towards the great, big towering structure, lit up gold against the dark night's sky. How overwhelming. How beautiful. And despite the beauty, like most monuments I'd ever visited, it was nothing like I'd imagined in my head. The sound of the Eiffel Tower isn't French music and the smell isn't that of warm baguettes and Nutella-filled crêpes. It's the jangling of tacky rainbow flashing Eiffel Tower key chains and their sellers heckling you to buy one, promising you a 'good deal'. It's the sickly-sweet smell of marijuana. It's one-hundred tourists surrounding you and not a Frenchmen in sight. It's ten different languages being spoken simultaneously. It's burqas and bindis and kippahs and baseball caps. And it's incredible. What a world we live in! And what a time to be alive.

That night I walked home, heart full of love for diversity, and being in a city so international again. I smiled at an old man walking two sausage dogs, one brown, one black, in knitted vests coinciding with the colour of their fur. He didn't smile back. I shrugged inside and kept strolling along the dimly-lit street, freezing hands tucked into the pockets of my coat. Then I walked by a group of Arabic boys, who were pushing each other playfully right by an ATM, laughing up a storm. I love how universal laughter is. Love it. 

The next day was a blur, of trying my hardest to respond to people when they spoke to me in French, my response often just Swedish words flying out of my mouth in a French accent. That poor part of my brain reserved for foreign languages- it's suffered a lot this past year. I spent a good few hours mapping out my week, what I was going to do here, how I was going to make the most of it, and how I could come to understand this city and these people as quickly as possible. I feel like without coming to know the people of a place, you never really went there. You know?

Saturday came around and I made my way underground to the Catacombs, after a two-hour battle with myself standing in the neverending line of tourists to enter, so freezing cold that I almost left. But it was worth it. Or so I tell myself. It was haunting and beautiful and it reminded me of how much I love being underground, being in tunnels and caves and tiny enclosures. One of my favourite days in my life to date, was about four years ago- when we went caving. There's something about having to manoeuvre your way to move forward that makes movement feel so much more rewarding, something about straining your eyes and only being shown but a couple of steps ahead by the flashlight strapped to your helmet, that makes seeing so much more valuable. Restrictions are needed sometimes to show us the freedoms we enjoy so frequently. 

Coming back to ground-level in a part of the city I'd never been, and without a map or any way to navigate on me, I just let the night take me to wherever it needed to. The result? Attended Catholic Mass. 6.30pm on a Saturday night, like the party animal that I am. But it was more thrilling than any other Saturday night plans could have been. I entered the great, big cathedral and watched people from all walks of life slowly filter in. The Priest's voice boomed through the church and I tried my best to join in on the singing and paid special attention to the French lady sitting in front of me, trying to imitate her pronunciation. Music is the best way to learn a language. The organist accompanying the congregation wiped her nose with a red handkerchief as she continued to play with her left hand and both her feet. Multi-tasking at its finest. And in that moment, I was happy. And very grateful. For music and language and learning and people and religion and commitment. So wonderful.

So I guess in writing all of that, it doesn't sound all too bad, or too difficult. It also doesn't explain why I'm here, inside, in Paris, on a Sunday afternoon, instead of adventuring around town- diving in and out of ancient cathedrals. And I guess it's because I don't really like writing about things that hurt me, and would rather indulge in unnecessary amounts of words about the tiniest of joyous things. But essentially, it's because I've been outside long enough today already. I'm full of thoughts and feelings and questions, enough to last me a week spent inside, not communicating with anyone. Because let me tell you, this is a dark city. I've never felt the weight of the world drag me down so much before. It's a strange feeling, being in a place you've always dreamed of, only to find that many of your nightmares look exactly like it too.  There is darkness on every corner here, of every street. It is cold, and not just because of the icy temperatures. For the first time in my spoilt white-girl life, I feel a little bit... unsafe. And unsure. My naivety is decreasing as the number of my days here increase. And of all the places I have ever visited in my life, this is the first I can honestly say I'd never willingly live in. Who knew? And maybe I haven't the right to make such a call yet, for I've only been here four days. But I certainly wasn't expecting to feel like this. But the best learning happens when it isn't planned, anticipated, or controlled. Happy to call this city my school for the next little while, my learning ground, my very own life university. Happy to work with the missionaries here, to enjoy their light like I was able to today, and to find other light and joy and happiness in strangers and experiences all along the way, to offset the dark. There is more good than bad in the world. There are more of His followers than of the Father of Lies. We are winning now, and we will win in the end, for no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Happy to take part in the battle. And happy to be here doing just that.

* * * * *

Tomorrow I commence my 9-5 French course, which I'll be doing every day for the whole week. I'm excited to learn and to be in a school setting again. But mostly, I'm doing it because I'm tired of stumbling my way through street-side conversations, my French course from way back when rusty and right at the back of my brain, coming forth only in portions, and usually not when needed. Only arriving here did I realise just how important conversing with strangers is to me and how I work and grow. I'm one of those people, it seems, that more often than not wants to talk to people I've never met, in places I've never been. Just like my Maori Grandpa, apparently. Not that a week of learning a language will barely even scratch the surface, but barely is better than not at all, right? My schedule is bursting with appointments with missionaries and other humans I want to learn from this week, including a date with Mona Lisa at the Louvre and Valentine's Day dusk spent on the lawn by the Eifel Tower, camera in hand, waiting to see if I can find any proposals going on. It's going to fly by as always and will look nothing like I'm anticipating. But the best things never do. Like I said: happy to be here.

I/LII: Is this real? Yes. This is real.

We were 35,000 feet above ground and flying through a clear, evening’s sky. I’d never seen Utah in this way- physically or emotionally. As the valley, lit with a million and one lights subsided, and the Wasatch Front began, the world turned from a sea of glittering golden specks into a white expanse of snow-covered mountains and plains, and I couldn’t help but to marvel in silence at the beauty of it all, how intricate and intentional it was. And to think about how this is definitely not where I imagined myself being, not so long ago. Not going where I was headed. Not with the plans I’d made for the rest of the year. And most definitely not in this frame of mind. I was en route back to New York City on a three-times delayed flight, saying Goodbye momentarily to a place I felt so painfully torn towards. On one hand, Utah provided me with so, so much. With learning and friendships and beauty and happiness. On the other hand, it had caught my attention in ways I never really anticipated. And I needed a break. Because I was lost. And very confused. In need of a change of scenery and a wider perspective. A newfound appreciation for light. And a reminder of what it felt like to be a minority- complete with a renewed sense of urgency for the majority. 

By the time I’d collected my bag on the East coast of the country, boarded my first train, and pulled into Penn Station, NYC, it was almost 3am. Down in the subway roamed the misfits of the city- the broken, the abused, and the lost. Those without homes or peace- a terrible place to be, especially as an emotional state of being. The weight of the world tugged at my heart and I remembered what feeling really felt like again, like I’d broken through an unseen wall I’d been sitting against for quite some time, and I simply and gratefully let the feeling sink right through me. Waiting for my train, I smiled apologetically at the lady sitting beside me- three trolleys-full of her life’s possessions to her left, feet wrapped in layers of taped newspaper to keep them from freezing, and a sunken look on her face so deep it hurt me to look at. Feeling helpless is haunting. I had nothing to give. Just a longing for understanding to the extent of empathy, but having no more than just a heart full of sympathy. My life was easy, I am spoiled, and I knew that. It’s easy to forget when you’re surrounded by others in a similar position to yourself. Grateful to be reminded. I think this is what someone meant when they coined the term ‘reality check’.

I heaved my stuffed backpack onto my shoulders at 110th, and headed toward the staircase leading up to the streets. Cold wrapped its way around me, and I smiled inside because cold still brings with it a gentle sense of thrill, even though I’d been living in such a climate for a little while now. Trudging up the grime-covered stairs connecting the under to the above ground, soft, cold snow began to fall on my face. The first blizzard of the season in NYC, and I’d arrived right at its commencement. Glorious. Truly, though. The dim tangerine streetlights lit the falling snow in ways magical, and I smiled the whole ten minute trudge up the sloshy street, because it was deserted and dark and felt like a ghost town, being dusted with powdered sugar, and there’s something about the beauty of things unorthodox that is undeniable.

Is this real? This beauty and this life and the many complexities of the human condition? Yes. This is real. They are real. All of it. And sometimes it takes more than just writing it down to believe it's all happening.

Let’s rewind now, to two months before that beautifully unorthodox, snow-dusted New York night, when something seemingly insignificant, but with the hugest of implications happened. Let’s rewind right back to an early October’s morning:
“It's true, you are one of my favourite books to read”, whispered Angel Olsen into my ears through my headphones, as I walked down the hill in a flighty pace to work. The sky was scraped pastel pink, and a flock of birds circled overhead. Morning time feels sacred, when you’re right outside and right in the world when it begins. It feels sacred because of what it brings- newness. New opportunities and new chances, to grow and to learn and to become. Not just that, but the transition between night and day, dark and light, can change the world so quickly. Not just color-wise and temperature-wise, but the people and the situations going on within it. Fascinating. Think about it: when the Light of the world was born, His creations rejoiced with opening their arms wide open and letting light- and only light- stream unapologetically out to brighten the whole earth for longer than the norm. Upon his departure, darkness swept the lands in what I would interpret as worldwide mourning. Light. Light is truth too, and truth is heaven-sent, so really, it just makes a whole heap of sense. Darkness- or the lack of light, its opposite, brings with it confusion, fear, the unknown. The logic of it all is astounding. So much food for thought. Meanwhile, little did I know that that very day- a day beginning barely dissimilar to the days preceding it, would be so pivotal. On so many levels.

The clock hands wound their way one hour ahead, and the words slipped out of my mouth before I could catch them with reconsideration and reason. It hadn’t even hit lunch time, and I’d just quit my job. Just like that. Unintentionally, with no forethought, nor plans proceeding. I held my hand to my mouth when the words exited, like they were being controlled by a force of their own, someone or something that wasn’t me. The tears began to pour down my face shortly thereafter- because I realised what I’d done, I’d be leaving these people whom I’d grown to love like no other, and ultimately, leaving this country, because Visas exist to burden and make difficult, and I’d just burned the only bridge- albeit one that took a great deal of time to build- that stood between me and living in this country. What was there to do?

Time rolled slowly by as my shift continued and then ended, and eventually the day was traded in for dark. Drained by self-inflicted emotions, I found myself sitting outside on the hard cement ground of a local church building, in the shadow of its awning, with my back against the bricks. I was mid-conversation in a video call with my best friend back home in the land down under, with the remaining 2% of battery left in my phone. Not that I cared much for anything other than my own woes at that point, but supposedly there was to be a meteor shower locally that night, and having never successfully witnessed one, my hopes were low in that changing anytime soon. And then suddenly, when I was mid-complaint and confusion to an understanding Amy, somewhere way up in the sky to the East, a golden swipe of glitter flew by, so fast that I almost convinced myself that it didn’t happen. But it definitely did. Excitement melted away my confusion and in that moment, that pivotal moment, when that meteor flew right on by, I remembered who I was. Why I came here. Not just to this country, but to this Earth. And it wasn’t to be miserable, or to simply endure my way through, or to make irrational decisions on the fly. It was to live intentionally, to reach up and grab those glittery golden stars, collecting them in clusters until life would be so dazzling that there’d be no time or space to mope around. And then it occurred to me that those words that rolled off my tongue earlier on in the day weren’t entirely irrational nor unintended. They were necessary. Pivotal. There is no better word. And I think so many people find themselves in such a position. One that is pivotal in redirecting their life. Be it a birth of a child, a near-death experience, a spiritual awakening, or something in between any of these things, or something entirely different, or something somewhat menial. Like quitting a job. But those pivotal moments are exactly that- pivotal. Crucial. A shift in direction. Or as a dear friend responded when I messaged him shortly after the deed was done, questioning what I’d gotten myself into: ‘You’re moving your life in a direction of greater joy.’ Thank goodness for level-headed beings with their heads level to the clouds, just where they should be.

With a pen poised in my right hand over a lined pad of paper, and a heart full of purpose and conviction, sitting cross-legged on my bed in the latest hours of that same night, words poured out of me and filled the page quicker than quitting. Listed were all of the things I’d ever wanted to do in my life, the places I’ve longed to go, the things I knew fulfilled me, and helped me feel valued and productive and- most of all- joyful. And then I mapped out the upcoming year, plotted in all of those dreams and desires, and promised myself I’d make them happen- or at least put forth the effort needed in order to do so. No permission was granted for such a decision- for who, or what, even has the authority to do that? A bank account? I don’t know, I think there’s definitely wisdom in stability- in knowing. It’s healthy to be able to predict. But there is power in change, excitement in movement. For me, anyway. I don’t know- Kahill Gibran made a point when he wrote that ‘the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral’. Perhaps not so morbid for so many, but there’s something to be said about dropping all of the safety nets- whatever that may be, and being so desperate to make something happen that you really want to happen, that it forces you to pull all your resources together to see it become a success. Beginning a sentence with ‘I wish..,’ or ‘it’s my dream to..’, is a sign of the times. The time to do something about those very wishes and those very dreams, instead of living a life of longing.

Now, fast forward back to the white-dusted, almost completely deserted Columbus Avenue. What a joy a jumping spree of memories can be:

After standing silently in the falling snow for a few minutes, I fumbled with my phone, my fingers almost too cold to make it work, and called Murphy to tell her I’d arrived at her doorstep. She answered with a soft voice, being careful not to wake her roommates. Minutes later and she’d made it down four flights of stairs to the front door of her apartment building. First she pulled the glass door open- a look of surprise lighting up her face from seeing the snow come falling down, and then she pulled me- into a tight embrace. There is nothing like being in the arms of someone you love and trust. It always feels like coming home.

Night turned to day, day to night, night to day again, and there I was, walking through Harlem on a Sunday mid-morning.  The spirit of those streets injected life into me to a level I forgot existed. There were all kinds of interesting characters and street musicians and puffer-jacketed children with fluffy hats on their heads and too-big backpacks on their backs, swinging around poles much to their mother’s dismay. Street vendors selling overpriced plastic jewelry, Spanish guitars being plucked by frozen fingers, and too-loud reggae rhythms bounding out of basements. I spoke to four different ladies on my way, each dressed in different shades of floor-length fur coats, each willingly assisting me to find the right bus and the right street and the right place of worship I was searching for. My new friend from the bus, Eliza, who had curly hair and the kindest eyes, wished me a great day, I invited her to stay in my home in Australia, and then once the side exit door on the bus had clunked open, I stepped off the bus. Stepped off the bus and right into a little gathering of day-old snow mixed with the little pebbles they pour on the streets to stop slipping, and headed toward the church building my on-the-way friends had helped me find. I arrived, and swung the door open with all my might.

The wind Gods screamed from the outside as I changed my shoes in the foyer on the inside- pulling off my clunky, brown snow boots, and slipping on black heels with pointed toes and and little ties to wrap around my ankles. I was late because of the relentless migraines that have followed me since childhood, but I’m glad, because I arrived right when I needed to, even if it meant spying through the criss-cross glassed window in the door of the chapel for the remainder of sacrament meeting to avoid an interruption. A girl in an A-line red dress and darkened lips walked to the front and up onto the stand, and began sharing a story about riding a bus in Philadelphia, because last year she’d endeavoured to go somewhere new every weekend- just because. Just because why not? And how she’d felt an overwhelming feeling that a great work was happening right there and right then, and she couldn’t work out what that feeling really meant, and then moments later the bus turned the corner and there was Angel Moroni all dressed in gold, towering over the scaffolding below him, the scaffolding of a future temple of God. My little heart didn’t stop fluttering for quite a few minutes, from the image I’d created in my mind of the situation. Another speaker followed, this time in a dress coloured midnight blue, and she spoke about thin places- feeling the spirit world close around her, and the experiences and feelings she shared sent shivers up and down my spine. A girl standing next to me, also avoiding disrupting the quiet of the chapel inside, by standing at the door and listening through it, introduced herself softly as Sarah. She was wearing a white pantsuit, splashed with ferns and flowers. I whispered to her that my life was changing from these people sharing these things up there on the pulpit. They were all so eclectic, so interesting, so motivated, so willing. And she told me it’s because the people that come to New York do it to chase their dreams, so it made sense.

Person after person got up and shared words from their hearts, each one of them witnessing the reality of their beliefs, each story ringing home to me so personally. I felt the confusions in my own beliefs begin to slowly untangle, and felt the doctrines I knew come right to the forefront, pushing aside their confusing cultural counterparts. It was like being able to breathe again, after being underwater for a slightly uncomfortable period of time. All of it was real. All real!, I told myself happily and with a sigh of relief. It felt good to hear it and to believe it with the truest of convictions.

The closing hymn of that meeting was How Great Thou Art. Of course it was. Of course it was the hymn I’d sung as a duet on my final Sunday as a missionary in Germany. Of course it was one of very few Swedish hymns in the Hymnbook. Of course it was also the hymn I’d performed with my missionary sister in my mother’s Helsingborg hometown, when I was there months beforehand. And of course it was also the closing hymn of the sacrament meeting I’d attended a couple months prior, marking my one-year anniversary of concluding my days as a missionary. Of all the hymns in the hymnbook, of course it was this one. A beautiful circle, as per usual. Because my Father knows what kinds of things resonate with me- patterns and serendipity and the like. And here He was again, showing me just how personally and wholly I am known and loved, and that He’ll never change, He’ll always be there. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: even those who don’t believe are unexcused from His unconditional love. Even those who sometimes forget. Those lyrics couldn't have been any more powerful than they were that day. 'Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed."

There were so many things that moved me that week there in that big, bumbling East-coast city- so many situations where His power throughout the universe was displayed. That helped make sense of that pivotal point that one October's morning- a decision I made that would move my life into a direction of greater joy. So many things that reminded me of the realities of this life- of light and of darkness, of sorrow and most importantly, of joy. That jogged my memory of things I'd learned in the past and feelings I'd felt and all of the decisions I'd made as a result of them, and the guidance and confirmations I'd received along the way. Of wounds that had been healed and hope that had been restored. That lifted me out of the hole I’d dug myself into. It wasn't just one thing- it was many things: late night talks with the ones I love, eyes dropping from tiredness. The lady a few rows in front of mine on the flight over, who had two cats in a carrier in front of her, the occasional little meow disrupting the otherwise silent plane. How it reminded me of things being so bizarre, and subsequently things being so beautiful. It was Natalie, my newest friend from Trinidad, who I met walking across the street. She told me all about being cold and how to proper deal with it- sharing things I’d never even thought of in my whole life. Reminding me that there is so much left to learn, so many people left to meet on this Earth, to enrich and to be enriched by in return. It was the tall African man on the subway, belting out Stand By Me in his smooth, bass voice, while rattling his cup of coins in a tambourine-like manner. It was being spied on by two Swedish boys who were walking by as I tried to take a sneaky photo of a lady walking six (incredibly adorable) plaid-jacketed little dogs in Central Park on one of the coldest days of my life. They exchanged words about it and I looked at them knowingly, hoping they could figure out from my glance that I understood what they were saying. It was walking into a skincare store with my best girl by my side, being engulfed by the sweet scents of products made entirely from wildlife, and being offered a warm cup of herbal tea from the gentle shop assistant, just when we'd been discussing how much we wanted something exactly like that. It was a man wearing board shorts and a t-shirt outside on a freezing cold day, and him laughing when I congratulated him on his bravery. It was taking terribly unflattering zoomed-in phone photos of my dearest Savanna, texting them to her and watching her response from the other side of the room. And then seeing my phone light up with an image of myself she'd taken on the sly, at least ten times more horrid than the one I'd sent her. And then laughing uncontrollably in unison moments later, like immature teenage girls talking about their celebrity crushes. It was watching a dark man across from me on the subway pouring a yellow packet of peanut M&Ms into his mouth, his eyes lighting up and a smile spreading across his face as he crunched on his well-deserved, post-work treat. All of these sweet exchanges between humans are what makes the world go 'round, what makes it all worth it, makes it all make sense, gives it all purpose, and makes it all real.

Two weeks later, again 35,000 feet above ground, but this time flying through a late-night's sky. I’d seen Utah this way before- but only physically, and only going in the opposite direction. Emotionally, it was something completely new. As the dark expanse that housed the Wasatch Front subsided, and the valley- lit with a million and one lights began, the sea of glittering golden specks seemed to sparkle this time around. I stared in a marveled silence, again, observing the beauty of it all- how intricate it was, and how undeniably intentional. A change of scenery and a widened perspective had worked miracles, and had brought with it a newfound appreciation for the light that was already there, coming from a being who will never, not for a single second, disappear.

Is this real? Yes. This is real. All of it.