i do.

I got married on a Wednesday. In India. In a tiny little room, on a dusty little street, I stepped through a crowd of people, maneuvered my way around and over a cluster of mothers nursing their babies, kicked off my glittery sandals, sat on the floor in my bare feet and married Andrew.

As far as Wednesdays go, this one was pretty cool.

I love weddings. I love the buzz and the bling and all that weddings represent, the excitement, the hopes and dreams of two people setting forth on their lives together. I love the dancing and the speeches, the feast and gathering with friends and families. I’ve stood up with friends as a bridesmaid. I’ve read Bible passages and poems and even shared my own words at weddings. I have relished the opportunity to share space at the altar with friends as I’ve facilitated ceremonies celebrating their love. But my own wedding? I never really thought much about it. Getting married has never really been a thing for me. My little girl dreams weren’t of white gowns and wedding bells, but of jewel-toned, far-away places, windy roads, wandering and wondering.

A few months ago I was walking home from the vegetable market and was stopped dead in my tracks by a powerful feeling. It was a hot, hazy day; the street was bustling with cars and tuk-tuks and cows and people and motorcycles. Music poured out of a crackly speaker at the temple and my arms strained under the weight of the grocery bags.

The heat and the sound and the smell and the dust…I had dreamt of that very moment, of walking on that very street. And so it was months later on a hot, hazy day as I left the quiet bubble of my car to find myself surrounded by hundreds of people all in the same place for the same purpose. There, on another little road, in the heart of a city of 5 million people were guests and grooms and brides in bright colors adorned with flowers and jewels, just like me.

On that little road, this bride looked through the crazy crowd of brides and grooms and spotted her groom. He was looking for me, glowing amidst the sea of people. Andrew was waiting to marry me. We’d each been wandering and wondering around the world until we found each other. I broke into the biggest smile I have ever smiled and hurried through the throngs of people; I couldn’t wait to marry Andrew.

In our quest to keep it simple, we got married on our own. Our only witnesses were six amazing folks who helped us get here, settle here and thrive here. And while we missed our families and friends as we stepped out onto the road as husband and wife for the first time, we were met, instead, by India. By the colors and crowds and chaos that brought us together in the first place. Grooms clamored to shake Andrew’s hand. Brides peeked at me and smiled, touching my decorated hands gently with theirs.

We were tiny. We were larger than life.

Our intimate, hybrid Hindu/Western ceremony was one of hundreds of ceremonies that were held on that dusty street that auspicious day.

We circled the altar, hand in hand. We exchanged garlands and tied turmeric around each other’s wrists. We prayed. We offered gratitude to our parents, our brothers, our friends and to all those who support and love us. We sat next to each other and looked into each other’s eyes as we exchanged our vows. We kissed (much to the Brahmin priests delight!) and laughed and cried.

Our ceremony was one of thousands held in temples throughout Chennai that day, one of millions held in India. And while they may not all be love marriages, ours surely is…

Each day of my life has led me to this one. I am grateful for them all, but Wednesdays will forever be my favorite.

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full heart

Today is kind of a big deal.

The beach is packed with women sitting together in their finest, brightest, jewel-toned saris, with men clustered together in crisp shirts, hoisting an altar above their heads, beating drums and ringing bells. The little shrine at the end of my street is decked with palm fronds and endless strands of jasmine; a pujari blesses the tiny elephant idol and prays with my neighbors.

The streets are strung with lights and music blares from every Ganesha temple in town. Today is the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, a celebration of India’s most beloved god, the remover of obstacles, he who brings fortune and heralds auspicious beginnings.

In the hubbub of it all, I am overcome with my own kind of gratitude to the great Ganesha. I may not bear an offering of coconuts and bananas and will likely pass on carrying my idol through the streets of my neighborhood before immersing him in the ocean. Instead, I let the celebratory breeze blow in and reflect on a year that has passed so quickly and think about the year that has yet to unfold.

I have never been more aware of my own heart as I have through this year.

On July 23, 2013, as excited as I felt to fly off to India, I felt my heart break a bit. I began a new chapter in a new place with a new cast of characters. It was a year filled with challenges, change and crazy adventures. The roller coaster of feelings and freedom and facing myself in a new space left me, all at once, exhilarated and exhausted.

I felt the rawness of being exposed in a new way, of being vulnerable and far away and all alone. I felt the sadness, the regret, the selfishness creep in on days when I was missing something in my family: Taj’s spy party, Rayne’s 21st, Naiyah’s India party, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, tea and the Sunday crossword with Mom or a random Tuesday night dinner at 130 Kenyon. I felt people drifting away from me and I said goodbye to a love that held me close for many years. I came face to face with my privilege and life of plenty in this land where so many are hungry, thirsty, ill and without access to the very basics needed to survive.

India broke my heart wide open.

And, by the grace of Ganesha, the opening let new light in.

I found friends here who saw my tender heart, embraced it and trusted me enough to share theirs with me. My community here has taken shape and we care for each other through shared experiences, letting each other in and with lots of laughter. The opening created space for new experiences with my parents as we traveled together in India, Sri Lanka; we rewired and strengthened our connections. It allowed light to shine on friends at home who have been and continue to be my anchors. I found some quiet and worked at acceptance and letting go, of grieving what was gone and welcoming in the new.

India reminded me that today is always a big deal and amidst all of the chaos of life here and all of the change that comes with a new chapter, I found clarity. As the obstacles were removed and the dust settled, there, standing right in front of me with his own new-found clarity, was my person.

This year, on July 23rd, with my heart wide open, I let go of my vision of myself as a solo-artist and said yes to living my life with love, a ridiculous amount of laughter and real, honest sharing within a true partnership. And, here I am, back at the beach pad celebrating with gratitude as I venture into year-two of this life filled with auspicious days. Filled with Ganesha in all of his glory! Drums and bells. Bright colors and throngs of people and  flowers and fruit! Dust and dirt and hard rain and hardship beyond hardship.

I am happy to call this place home today and can’t wait to see what the gods and goddesses have in store this time around.

Good old India.

Ganesha

LITB: from india to ireland

Dear Rayne,

Welcome to the land of magical creatures, delicious breakfasts, lush green landscapes, endless stonewalls and the nicest people on the planet. I am sure that Ireland will unfold itself to you without hesitation and you will soon let go of your new-to-town nerves and find your groove.

Breathe deeply in your new space.  Remember everything that you smell: the city smog, the ocean, the dusty roads. See with new eyes: the green, the crumbling castles, the thatched roof cottages. Sit for a while with people with sparkling eyes lined with crow’s feet and listen to their stories. Eat fish & chips out of a newspaper cone and drink warm Guinness and sing in a pub with new friends.

Savor every moment!

Explore!

Through it all, be yourself.  You are stronger than you know.  You are smart and funny and incredibly observant. You are insightful and kind and you show people your open heart.  You are brave, humble and quietly make your mark wherever you go.

There will be some moments where you will wonder why you did this. There will be some moments where you are surrounded by people and feel completely alone.  There will be some moments where nothing seems to makes any sense.  When that happens, hold that arrowhead in your palm and know that you have taken a step that feels so scary now but will surely change your life forever.

You have made a conscious decision to grow.

You have chosen courage over comfort.

Hold that arrowhead in your palm and know that you are snuggled in between continents by people that love you from the deepest parts of our hearts.

I am so proud, so inspired and so excited to hear your tales.

Love,

Aunt Saide

PS: Don’t forget, Love Is The Best.

raynecityhallfountain

 

 

 

 

listen.trust.grow.fly.

I ask my kids at school a big question when they are at a crossroads.  It’s not anything major. It’s not even original.  Some of them roll their eyes. Some of them spout out some ideas about what that might look like. Some of them go inside themselves and really think on it.

Last Spring I asked an 8th grader the question.

“This is your one life, what do you want it to be?” and while he sat there wrinkling his nose and rubbing his buzzcut, I thought to myself, “My one life.  my one LIFE. My ONE life. MY one life. MY ONE LIFE!!!!!!!”

My life? It’s kind of amazing. It doesn’t fit into a box, but it’s kind of amazing and I want it to continue to be amazing and I want to continue to grow and change and be excited and feel grounded and laugh my head off and love deeply and be moved by encounters with strangers and have adventures in places that rock me right to my core.

And, then, I remembered that the kid sitting across from me in my office was still there.  He wasn’t sure what he wanted his life to be yet but he knew that there were things he wants to do and that someday he’d like to have his own car and go to a real NFL game. And that made me remember that there are things that I’ve always wanted to do that I haven’t done yet and I’d better get to it.

Last Summer I felt my heart beating faster when I started thinking about a new adventure.  In Autumn I felt myself light up inside when I’d look at the world map that hangs above my desk at work.  This Winter I took the plunge and accepted a job offer at an international school in Chennai, India.

And today it’s snowing and I have never seen anything quite so beautiful.

That’s what happens when I do what is real and right for me. Everything becomes more beautiful.

I walked in the snow just now thinking about how this might be the last blizzard I see for awhile. About how my life in Hartford is so rich. I thought about my dad’s kitchen table that he made out of the tiles from the kitchen in our old house on Annawan St. and how much I love to sit at that table with him.  I have love and comfort and stability and the waitstaff at the coffee shop hug me when I come in. Hartford is my home; my people are here.

And because of that love and comfort and richness and that little 8th grader with the buzzcut, my wings emerge. I choose to do what moves me. What makes me feel alive. What challenges me and takes me out of my comfort zone and enables me to grow into a different space.

Being grounded is about how you stand on the earth no matter where on earth you stand.  I am moving to India. I am following my heart and my dreams and my gut. I am moving on from an amazing job that has allowed me to grow in ways that I never could have imagined. I am letting go of things that I thought that I needed that no longer serve me.  I am moving away from people that make my life amazing. I am trusting that love will transcend time and space and challenges and that the people who love me will love me through this.

My one life…I am flying with the feeling of following through on something that I have always dreamed of. The discomfort feels comfortable. Strangely, I feel grounded as I take flight.

And these wings? They look pretty good on me.

tree

sawubona: i see you

I waited 23 minutes at the dentist today.

The hygienist offered me a magazine but the pickings were slim so I opted to look out the window instead. The reclining chair left me just right with a perfect view of the slanted slate roof and a big old tree outside. In that 23 minutes I saw four different kinds of birds.

Framed by the antique window, I saw them through a different lens. A little bird with a bright yellow breast hopped along the peak in the roof. A robin with something stuck in it’s feathers fluttered and fluffed and fretted before flying away. A crow popped in with a crooked smile and was gone in an instant, surely up to something. A cardinal landed gently on a limb and stayed just long enough for me to marvel at his red feathers. Just before the dentist came in I remembered that these little magical creatures can fly!

Birds. Holy smokes. They are kind of amazing. And they’re all around us and we see them all of the time but, it’s been years since I remembered how freaking cool they are, how resilient, how resourceful, how high they can fly.

How many other amazing things in my life have just become so much a part of the day-to-day, part of the normal, part of the giant blur of all that is around me that I forget to really see them?

Just as the crow disappeared, I thought of my students at school.

I thought of my seniors, kids that I have seen every day for seven years. Kids that I have lost sleep over, kids that have struggled through things that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, kids that have risen above grief and trauma and loss and poverty and gossip and failures, kids that have it all, kids that have a little and share like they have a lot, kids that stopped being kids long before they should have had to. I thought of all they have gone through to get to this very moment.

And while these seven years with them have all blurred together, on Saturday as they received their diplomas, as they looked me in the eye on their way off the stage, as they tossed their caps in the air, I saw each of them.

I remembered how freaking cool they are, how resilient, how resourceful, how high they can fly.

roots and wings

Staying put was never my thing.

There was a time when I moved every two years, at least. I itched for change. For the rush of starting something new, carving out space in an unknown corner. I traveled, I moved. I made friends, started to get settled, and than picked up and moved again. Sometimes I’d move back to my hometown for a bit and then take off again. I was in full on flying mode, wings ever at the ready; I knew I wasn’t ready to put down roots just yet.

And that made my life pretty interesting.

In 2004, I wound up on a road trip in the Kalahari Desert with a great friend, her mom, and her stepsister. Four women piled in a jeep, cruising through desolate southern Africa; it was really something. At the time, I was living in New York City, just finished grad school and had turned down counseling jobs in the Bronx and Shanghai. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got back to the U.S., so my desert adventure was a perfect detour. We spent our days spotting rare birds and springboks, goemsboks, and zebra, chatting with San Bushmen. At night, we’d crouch in shelters overlooking watering holes, hoping to spot a lion, drinking tea out of thermoses, whispering and giggling in the cold.

One night, I looked up at the amazing, huge, sky and marveled at the sight of it. Clear. Limitless. Not so unlike the sky I’d seen lying on my back in the front yard at home. I knew in that moment, that whatever I ended up choosing to do, wherever I ended up choosing to go next, it would be right; I could feel it in my gut.

And so weeks later when walking down Farmington Avenue, rocking my favorite pink “Glam is Back” t-shirt, I listened to that feeling in my stomach when the opportunity to move back home presented itself. Worlds away from the Kalahari, I conjured up that clarity and though it seemed crazy to be 29 and moving from the greatest city in the world back to Hartford, I heard what my heart was telling me.

Seven and a half years later, I am so grateful that I listened.

I wound up back in little old Hartford, whose sidewalks I know as well as my own palms. Whose homes cradle the people that I love. Whose streets inspire me, challenge me, remind me. I wound up wonderfully enmeshed in the lives of family and old friends, in the families of my friends; challenged by carving out a new space for myself in the place that I knew so well but that had changed as much as I had.

I wound up working in a school where I am happy to go each day. Where I have found so much joy and reward; where I have been part of building something exceptional. I wound up being one of the lucky people on this earth who get to make a bit of a difference each day; working in a place with people who have empowered me to grow in ways that I never could have imagined that day on Farmington Avenue when my phone rang.

At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I felt like everything in my life was up in the air. I was mourning the end of a phase of my life and reveling in the beginning of another. I was scared. I was completely in flux.

Today? The flux continues.

And as it does, I go back to that quiet night under the stars; I conjure up the Kalahari clarity and remind myself that change is good; it’s not comfortable, but it is good. I give myself permission to reflect on all that for which I am grateful. I remind myself to trust the process, to trust my gut.

No matter what kind of noise is crowding my mind, my gut is always worth listening to. It has led me to some amazing people, some unlikely places and some experiences that made no sense to me until they were long over, but, my gut, it knows a thing or two.

This time, I don’t need to go to the desert to listen to myself. While my life may not be quite as exciting and interesting and story-worthy as it was back when I was rootless, footloose and fancy free, the flux feels powerful and exciting instead of scary.

And while I haven’t put away my wings entirely, my roots are here, at home; deep and strong and full of hope.

the 40 year-old PICOUP

My brother turns 40 today.

They say 40 is the new 30. They must know my brother.

He is vibrant and funny and full of incredible ideas and always making something neat happen. He is full of energy and passion and magic and music and stories. His spirit is limitless. He is magnetic. Babies love him. Nuns adore him. Even middle school kids who hate everyone can’t help but love my brother; he’s got a pocketful of stupid-human tricks that throw them instantly into idol-worship mode. (I just felt like Rob Bass: I mean even the ones who never saw him like…)

Since we were little kids and he could stand on his head and wiggle his ears first, I’ve been in complete and total awe of him. That’s not to say there haven’t been moments when my awe was coupled with, “oh my god! get away from me!” There have been plenty of those over the years. The time he tried to vacuum me comes to mind. I mean, literally, he vacuumed me. That’s all fun and games until the nozzle comes towards your hair.

All brother/sister torture aside, being the younger sister is kind of a cool perch.

I’ve been witness to my brother’s journey from a seat of looking up to and learning. He did almost everything first. He tested the waters. In many cases, he didn’t just stick a toe in, he cannonballed right into the deep end. In some cases, he dove headfirst into the shallow end.

No matter what he was doing or where he was, through the darkness and back into the light, my brother has always been an incredibly influential force in my life. I can count on him. Deluxe. And even though we’re older and I’m taller than him, I still love when he calls me his little sister.

My brother’s road has been windy. And bumpy. But as he turns the corner into 40, his road is smooth, new pavement with all sorts of great scenery. He’s kicking some serious world-butt. He has a beautiful family. He’s written a book! He has carved out an incredible career and he has a diverse group of interesting friends who, just like me, are in awe of how funny and cool and smart and ridiculously creative he is.

Today I see him more clearly than I ever could when we were younger.

Today I see a guy who loves so deeply and with so much of himself. I see a guy whose mind is racing, whose ideas are powerful, whose potential is limitless. Today I see a guy who can find something magical in everyone; a guy who seeks that connection, to draw that out in each person he meets.

My brother’s mentor and friend, Mike Gessford passed away unexpectedly last year, just before his 50th birthday. Mike had a sign above his desk that read, “PICOUP: Person In Charge of Unlocking Potential.” Mike was that. And, my brother Justin, he is that: a person who makes it his mission to help others find the magic inside of themselves.

Happy Birthday, Bo. Thank you for being the ultimate PICOUP to me…

UBUNTU and I love you.

 

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