Month: February 2015

The Realm of Love

There is an interminable space between us, and when we lay in silence, our eyes lost in the indescribable mystery of an infinite sky, we are more akin to mingling souls than mere lovers. Our fingers might entwine, or our bodies press together, but nothing arrays our infiniteness so aptly as the confluence of her gaze and mine, which, when held in silence, alternately subsumes us in rapt hypnosis, or frightens us to look away.

She came to me in the numb softness of days when, suspended between two cities and growing false even to myself, my ambitions had paled and what remained of my soul’s longing was nothing more than an ember, slowly cooling in a hearth grown anxious with disuse. Soullessness is impossible, but far from impossible is the callous disbelief that sets in when we no longer take the time to sit by the hearthside and listen, when we no longer lose ourselves to the enchanting whispers of the flames of our soul.

She came to me without assumption, barely more than a stranger. And nor did I think anything of her coming – even as the hours passed and we fell as easily as snow into a familiarity that felt ageless and true. We drove through the day, and later through the night, toward something neither of us had expected, and away from things entirely different, things made silent in the corners of our minds. Lightening fell and the windshield became bleary with rain. We spoke in a continuous stream of unknowing. We drove half blind. And as the hours fell behind us, and the road, soon encased in ice, became impassable, we paused – still not knowing.

Had things been different, we would have fallen in love along the highway and relinquished ourselves to something beyond our frail individuality. Instead we only walked toward the edge of love, curled our toes over the brink of it, and stared down, with astonished relief, at its endlessness. We did this unconsciously. We did it with an authenticity untouched by thought. Several weeks passed like this, and for several weeks we gazed not so much at one another, as at the space between us, which was not vacuous but full of light, and mystery, and things long forgotten. Not long after, when things were different, we unfurled our toes, and leapt.

We fell, and lost ourselves to that which is indescribable, sacred, and impossible to possess. I found in her an endlessness that could never be repeated; I was both mystified and entranced. Had I continued to fall then, I could have fallen forever. Had I known for certain that I belonged to the endlessness that pulled so gently at my heart, I would have released myself to it indefinitely. And indeed, I felt at first I had. But time passed and something ancient and familiar began to voice its surreptitious presence in my heart and all the calloused disbelief, and all the cold disenchantment that I thought I’d left behind forever, resumed its thick presence around my heart. Just as the snow reaches the threshold of the earth and can go no farther, so too did I reach a threshold upon the surface of my being, barring me from the infinite depths of all we had discovered.

Fear suspended me in defiance of love, and sentenced me coolly to the belief that the infiniteness of love I had found in her was an infiniteness to which I could never fully belong. This is shame: that I, despite my soul’s urgent appeal, would be stricken by the dismal belief that I do not belong innately, and eternally, to love. Shame means nothing else.

We fell in love, as people would say. But shame, with feigned compassion, compelled me then to avert my gaze from the depth of her beauty and linger instead upon the threshold where something still akin to beauty lay, and where I, avoiding the truest depths of love, could tarry undisturbed by my illusionary lack of belonging. She remained a mystery to me for a while, as even along this thin membrane of her being, so much was unknown to me. But time passed, and what shallow love I had believed in myself enough to fall to, mystified me less and less. My ego, convinced of the validity of shame, had compelled my gaze from the endless depths of her soul, arguing easily that I could never belong to such a place, and offered me instead a view of her to which I could feel more at home. It offered me the same frail dissemblance of love from which my ego itself was also born.

I have wanted love all my life. And all my life I have been deceived by the belief that although love was an endless sphere of light, as infinite as the night sky, I could only ever hope to reach the brink of it and gasp with disbelief before turning away. Knowing only the arresting hesitance of my own disbelief, I have stood at the same threshold again and again, choosing a dissemblance of love wherein egos remain at play in ever cycling dramas, emotional patterns, insecurities, and trivialities until frail bonds tethered to shallow places have come undone, and again I’ve drifted out, not knowing.

She came to me over two years ago. And this is how it differs: in the early days, when she was still a mystery to me, I was drawn at first to her infinite soul, but found myself withdrawing to the threshold, where I tarried for awhile in disbelief. I wove a dissemblance from egoic thoughts, convinced by shame that love could amount to only this frail parade of emotions, and it too, as it always had, came undone, came crashing all around us until the ground was covered with shattered masks, and the empty shells of colorful balloons, and the discarded fragments of garish costumes, and the rustling pages of repetitive scripts, and the silenced horns of a once-continuous din, and the broken locks of once-held secrets; and every game of pretend was suddenly laid bare. And this is how it differs: we stood amidst the chaos of all our extravagant and fallen charades, naked and ashamed, our infinite depths exposed and devoid of all glamour; and rather than drifting out again, not knowing, rather than turning in fear and running with utter desperation, we held one another’s gaze. We stared into the endlessness of one another’s souls and though we were frightened, we did not look away. We did not scramble to the ground to gather the pieces, and build them up, to once again be lost in a cacophony of endless stories. We held one another’s gaze. We stood at the brink of the endlessness to which we belonged. And we surrendered.

Entering the realm of Love, we leave behind the coarse dissemblance of egoic pride; we release our shame and open the places within us most in need of love. We reveal hidden shadows and cover them with light; we call out the demons and finally see them as frightened children in need of our embrace; we arouse to fierceness the dragons we have feared and bring them at last to our loyalty. In Love our souls whisper their thin ribbons of flame and everything becomes illuminated. We roam through infinite meadows and endless forests and discover the full beauty of who we are. In Love we are home.


Malawi Floods

Several weeks ago I was contacted by my friend Samuel Magombo from Malawi. I worked with him in November and December of 2013 documenting hunger inssues in Malawi and his efforts to address those issues. With the support of the work that I did for him, he has been able to find funding for the projects that he is involved with in Malawi. I was also able to raise $1500 for his projects this past summer during my Dollar a Day Diet.

Recently, the rainy season began in Malawi. The flooding this year has been extreme and has led to loss of homes, crops, and life. Samuel made a very ardent request that I return to Malawi as soon as possibly to document the current crisis, which will have a rippling effect over the rest of the year and likely longer.

He is able to cover my costs while on the ground, but I’ve had to provide my own airfare of $2000 and take a three week leave of absence from my work. To be honest, I do not have the money, and will be paying off my credit card for the rest of the year. This seems insignificant when compared to the devastation that Malawians are now experiencing in such an acute way; but it remains a reality for me. I will be leaving on February 17th and will remain in Malawi for 3 weeks.

I recognize that we all have our own financial burdens in addition to a responsibility to those that depend on us in a more immediate way. However, if you feel compelled and willing to support the work that I’m doing in Malawi I would be grateful. I am pursuing connections with organizations working in Malawi that may be in a position to pay for images, but if I am unable to establish any payment for my work I’ll be operating at a deficet.

Here is a recent article from Al Jazeera describing the current situation in Malawi:

Any other help in terms of connections would also be largely appreciated. If you are interested in supporting Samuel Magombo’s direct response to the crisis you can do so by following this link:

Thank you for reading,




I spent the last few days of 2014 alone at home, sifting through closets, arranging rooms, and dusting the forgotten corners. I disposed of, or passed along, things I no longer needed, and cleared space – not for something new, but for simplicity. I treated these days like a meditation and remained as conscious of the present moment as I could. There were things everywhere and if taken in as a whole, our home appeared quite chaotic. Instead, I lifted a single book and chose to be aware of only that single book as I placed it on the shelf; or, I took a cloth and cleaned a mirror, choosing to be aware only of that mirror. By the last day, the climate of chaos had been transmuted into something far more akin to order, and I felt calm – even when taking it in as a whole. Compelled by the desire to mark this new climate in a clear and simple way, I decided to rearrange the couches in our living room.

Before touching any of them, I sat down at the kitchen table, drafted the room on a piece of paper, and cut out a set of scaled representations of each piece of furniture. This wasn’t necessary, but it tied the moment back to adolescent memories of rearranging my bedroom furniture in the days when my bedroom was still my soul territory. There was something nostalgic and pleasing about this process, and after I had decided on a configuration that made sense to me, I confidently began executing my plan.

The first couch moved easily. I put it out of the way to make room for the larger hide-a-bed. I moved the round coffee table as well, and then set about clearing the corner. I pulled the first side of the heavy couch away from the wall, and then suddenly stopped. At this time of day, and at this time of year, the living room is full of golden light. It spills across the carpet and fills corners that otherwise remain shadowed and unnoticed. There against the wall, as if resting peacefully, was the body of a small bird. I don’t know how long she had been there. Her eyes were closed and desiccated, but her feathers seemed perfect. Somehow, she looked comfortable, as if sleeping; but there was no movement. I felt immediately responsible, and at the same time, oddly privileged, as if this bird had come into our home with a lesson for me to learn, or a message that needed to be discerned. I had already been thinking of death during the days before and I recalled the Buddhist meditation that some novices undergo. For several weeks, perhaps longer, they sit before a decaying body until they reach a kind of consciousness that frees them from their attachment to their own body.

I thought of burying the bird, but then remembered a line of poetry I had once written: “We bury our dead that we might go on pretending/We avert our gaze knowing what mortal eyes will hold it.” And so I lifted her body with a thin piece of cardboard and carried it to the soil of a potted plant. I let them to lie together and continued my task, still thinking of the bird and wondering why she had come. Did her arrival mark the year’s end – a year rife with challenges and so many internal deaths and rebirths? Was it a portent of something else to come? Was it a universal response to my recent meditations on death and the questions I had been asking about the discrepancy between our awareness of death’s inevitability and our own feeble attempts at immortality? Or, was it nothing? At the risk of sounding ungrounded, I felt quite sure that the bird had chosen to die here in our home, and this made me immediately endeared to her.

Sometimes the confluence of rivers overwhelms us and what was once a steady stream of discouragement is compounded and reaches an edge that cannot endure it; what was once a river then cascades into a place of darkness. Discouragement becomes despair. We fall, like water over the edge of a cliff, and do not know what will happen next. Sometimes, something of our hope dies altogether and we must go on a long, deepening journey, through shadow and great sorrow, to find its resting place – if not to revive it, at least to be by its side and grieve for a while.

I have gone walking through the woods when discouragement has spilled over to become despair. I have gone to wilder places and I have felt a yearning for earth, felt the wanting of my body for burrowed alcoves, imagined the comfort of an earthen embrace. Desiring to lie down in a field, to allow the ground to slowly subsume me, I have ached, with homesickness, for the womb of clay from which my body was made and to which my body will eventually return.

The day after discovering the bird, my grandfather was taken to the hospital. When I went to see him, his face and his body were only vaguely recognizable. At the insistence of the nurses I put a gown over my body, a thick mask over my face, and a pair of gloves over my hands. I sat beside him and watched his breath, which was pushed into him, and then pulled back out of him by a hissing machine. I watched the wave of his pulse rise and fall on a small monitor. I followed the intricate lines of a web of tubes, which wove impersonally between his body and the stacks of machines that surrounded him. I sat beside him, and though I could not speak to him I prayed that he would not be afraid.

More than any analogous description of death, I appreciate most the understanding of death as being synonymous with birth. We live within the broad embrace of this temporal womb, where breath links us to life and where our fetal hearts beat only as our environment allows it. We are here, gestating, and though our bodies endure a slow decay, there is something else of us that is preparing for birth. Just as a fetus is suddenly compelled to what must seem like death, we too have a deep sense of timing that is not wielded by our conscious minds. We too will reach the day when this womb can no longer hold us, when something indescribable urges us towards the compulsory light that our conscious minds know nothing about. We too will reach a day when death and birth meet, like long lost friends, to share that single moment, to pass the torch of our existence from one to the other, that our existence might be carried on toward whatever happens next.

I wanted to stay for a long time. There was an expectation of movement that never came. His face and his hands looked like they belonged to a wax mannequin rather than a man. The coffin, though tasteful, seemed superfluous. A week had passed since I visited him in the hospital. A few days had passed since his death. This was not my grandfather. And for many, the comfort came from this, that although a body lay in front of them, my grandfather had already left it. I wanted to stay for a long time, because although I knew my grandfather was no longer there, I stood before the body that had been such a gift to him. I wanted to know what that meant. I wanted to know for myself as well, that although my body remains automated, and though it remains the womb that bears me, I will one day be born from it. It is a gift, but it is not I.

My cousins and I carried my grandfather’s body to the hearse. From the hearse we carried it to the grave where we laid it down above the raw cavity; so incongruous with the fine craftsmanship of the coffin. Words were spoken, flowers were passed around, and one by one the crowd dispersed until only a few of us were left; and then none. My one regret is that I walked away too soon, that I did not tarry awhile longer at this threshold of death, where the coarse earth lay naked before the sky, and where my grandfather’s body would once again become clay. I felt that old familiar longing for an earthen embrace. The sight of the soil compelled me. It comforted me. It whispered my name and I felt akin to it.

The bird came and what I first thought to learn from her arrival was the importance of making friends with death. I don’t know entirely what that means. We spend so much time denying the inevitability of death; we pretend we are immortal, or at least that immortality is possible. And maybe we are, but our bodies certainly are not. Making friends with death must at least begin by acknowledging his presence. Maybe then we could even one day say hello to him, or even smile. Maybe one day we could approach him, unafraid, and begin a dialogue with the one who will, one day, be responsible for carrying us forward into whatever happens next.

– C