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“Like you’re drawn to the ocean –” she said to her son.  “– do you feel a conscious tug, or do you think you just have fond memories from when you were a kid?”

He stoked the fire and thought.  “I think it’s both.”

I recalled the first time I saw a photograph of the Hermitage of Carceri in Assisi, Italy.  I was a senior in college, in a seminar on mysticism.  I felt a jolt and I knew: I have to go there.  The next year, after spending Christmas in Ireland, I hopped a plane to Rome and rounded out a three-week solo backpacking trip in Assisi, the home of Saint Frances.

By that time in my trip, I’d stopped planning anything; I showed up not having a place to stay or knowing how I’d get from here to there in the sleepy town, which was mostly closed down for Christmas and the tourist off-season.  Assisi was the place that sealed in this bone-deep trust: go where you’re called to go, be who you’re called to be, and you will find yourself supported.

“I don’t think any one thing is the thing,” I told my sweetheart’s mother this morning as we talked around the last crackles of the Christmas fire.  “I think we’re compelled to go or be or create, and we don’t have to know why — we just have to follow what we love, which expands us to become bigger, to be more of who we were created to be.”

 

Italy Retreats for Women

 

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Washougal River Columbia Gorge | Morgan Wade Photography

We spent the cold months of my first winter in Portland drinking a lot of boxed wine — the good stuff.  We pushed furniture out of the way, plugged in the twinkle lights, and started a playlist with only songs that say “butt” “booty” or “ass” in them.  We debated what it means when one is instructed to “drop it low like there’s money on the floor.”  (We never came to an agreement.)

We watched Dawson’s Creek in its entirety (and agree that Joey made the right choice in picking Pacey).

She nursed me through strep throat with homemade elderberry tincture.

Reading to me aloud at the Oregon coast one afternoon, she introduced me to the magic of folk and fairy tales; she read aloud the original story of The Little Mermaid to me while I got my first tattoo.

She showed me that the balance between the sacred and the profane is not such a hard line to tow, that you can tell a lot about a person by whether or not they think the name Terry is funny.

Washougal River | Columbia Gorge Photographer

“I didn’t expect you to answer,” she said when I answered the phone last night, “we usually have to play phone tag for like eight months.”

And then we talked for three hours, and we laughed so hard we cried.  We now have an inside joke about used bra dispensaries.

There’s a natural invitational quality to some people; they energetically hold the door open for us, asking us to be really good to ourselves while simultaneously imprinting on us what it feels like to be well cared for.  What I find, especially as I get older, is that there is a quality of spaciousness in these people that makes me want to draw near to them.  I get closer to myself the nearer someone else is to themselves.

Also: the ability to detect one’s own bullshit and call ourselves on it is prime real estate for any relationship.  It requires an inherent playfulness and candor — it means you can pee with the door open and invite one another into deeper spiritual maturity, just by showing up and being real.

These are the kinds of people I choose: the audaciously honest, the resilient, the kind and self-aware.  People who make bonfires of their lives: glowing generously from the inside out, whose warmth draws the world in, and whose love sometimes takes the form of Beyoncé memes.

 

 

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I spent most of the day going through images from years ago I honestly never thought I’d touch again, and remembering how, when most of them were taken, I wished I’d done something with them to honor them.

Mendocino Photographer | Morgan Wade

But, as with all things: timing is everything. I can see those images from years ago with eyes and a heart that know something about those moments now that I couldn’t have possibly known then.

This is one of those images, from a hike in Mendocino after camping in the rain. I’m happy to see myself as I was then: imperfect, with bed head and delighted with the simplicity of being in an old, wise forest with someone I love. I love knowing that these things (and all true things) remain timeless.

I think so often, we don’t really see ourselves.  If we’re fortunate and have taken good care of ourselves, we tend to be surrounded by people who will remind us that we could do to be kinder to ourselves; we are frequently less lovely in our own eyes than in the eyes of the people around us.

They who are tireless in their reflections of our beauty and goodness are steady mirrors; they are the tenacious few whom we are graced with who have the gift of standing far enough in their own space to see and know us clearly — while remaining close and tender enough that we are able to share true vulnerability.

But I think it’s important to practice witnessing ourselves, too, and with deep love.  To be shameless in our self-approval, acknowledgement of our goodness, and the tribulations our souls have witnessed.  To stand back the way a dear friend might, and say, “Y’know, you’re kind of amazing.  Sit back and listen while I tell you about you.”

 

 

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