Chinatown

4:41 am—time to write with fingers living in insomnia.

There’s something so spiritual about music. What is it? Music has a way of permeating my thoughts, my emotions, the way I hope in the future, the way I feel at rest not knowing where my life is going. The song I’m listening to right now has constantly reminded me throughout my life just how beautiful it is to be alive. I don’t listen to it too often, but when I do it saves me from my darkest thoughts. It reminds me that life really is what you make of it, and that there’s some truth to looking out over the world from an airplane and feeling silly because from that perspective we’re all so small and temporary—organisms swimming in a universe of mysterious uncertainty and beauty. Once we zoom out from our own experiences we begin to see that regardless of our racial, religious, political, and other superficial differences, we are still human beings trying to find purpose with our lives. This is rather comforting. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are family—a dysfunctional family most of the time, but a family nonetheless. Through this song I experience the spirit breath awakening in me like I’m just waking up from a bad dream, and suddenly I feel at home again and ready to accept life for what it is.

Weeks ago I went to the International District, aka “Chinatown.” Just me and my backpack—the way I feel most comfortable in my own skin. Initially it was somewhat of a stressful experience getting there. I managed to get quite lost on my way over and ended up taking a very peculiar route to the area. However, once finding my way there, I actually found parking in a matter of a few minutes, so that was pleasant. I looked out at the streets of Chinese restaurants, Japanese shops, and Korean BBQs and thought to myself, “Where do I begin?” I walked up and down the streets looking for either a grocery store or a restaurant that felt quiet, had fairly cheap prices, and looked to have good food. I found a cute grocery store that from the outside looked quite welcoming, but upon entering I realized I would be very lost seeing as I didn’t speak Korean and had little to no idea what kind of food they were selling. Any way, I said to the owner, “K-ee-m” which is what they call their salted seaweed—something I’ve grown to enjoy far more than any sort of chips. I bought a 12-pack of seaweed and was on my way feeling semi-successful, but not very adventurous since I have had seaweed more than I know.

I kept walking looking for anything else that I might enjoy, but had little luck. Before heading back to my car and with no expectation of finding anything, I ventured down a street that seemed to be on the outskirts of the international district and came across a menu with pictures of dim sum of which I’m very familiar with. I grew up going out to eat with my grandparents and family to large restaurants that served dim sum. Unfortunately a majority of the delicious individual-sized foods contain gluten, which I am pretty sensitive to, but a handful of them are naturally gluten-free. So, my interest was suddenly heightened. Looking beyond the menu I found a very narrow building that stretched back very deep. I could see an empty stove, two refrigerators, and stacks and stacks of cha shao bao. I couldn’t tell if this was a restaurant or not, but I walked in and was soon greeted by a very polite Chinese woman. She could tell I was Chinese, but she could also tell that I was kind of lost. I explained to her that I wanted sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves—something my grandma would bring home for my brother and me when we were little. Apparently it’s called “nuo mi ji.” She went to her freezer and grabbed me one that she had already made and, to my surprise, then taught me how to efficiently heat it up myself if I were to ever need it in between classes at school.

I watched her prepare the nuo mi ji for me in the back. As she was doing this she asked if I liked watermelon and berries. “Oh, very much!” I said. She then made me a watermelon mixed berry smoothie and brought that out with my nuo mi ji. It was so delicious and she was so incredibly nice. I ate that up in minutes and she knew I must have been hungry still, so she asked if I liked chicken and curry. Of course I said yes, and so she made me one of the best curries I’ve ever had. Seriously, it was so good! She asked me where I was from and about school and asked me which one of my parents was Chinese. I told her it was my mom, and she told me she must be very pretty. She didn’t talk excessively though. There were periods of silence where I would just hear her cooking in the back and periodically looking at me to see if I was still sitting and eating and being happy. I know this is such a long story, and this is probably more for my own processing than anything else, but I thought to myself during these quiet periods that despite all of our differences that we may have with other people, we are still family. No matter where we come from, what religion we identify with, or what we look like we can still be decent towards other people. The one thing we all have in common with is that we love to be loved. I felt a connection to this woman. Her effort to show interest in my life and to cook me enough good food was much more than I was expecting to experience when I decided to go to Chinatown that day. I payed her for my meal, and bought some extra nuo mi ji and luobogao to take home. I tipped her for being a decent human being to me. I tipped her for reminding me of the person I want to be towards other people. And I went home with a desire to pray and ask the Spirit to give me life even in this time of personal uncertainty with my faith. It turns out that we live in a world where everyone is searching for something.

Good night world. Good morning housemates who work incredibly early jobs.

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We’re All So Small

You paint the prettiest pictures with your gaze just like I’d imagine the hills think of the trees that scatter their faces in the mid-summer breeze. Do you hear the city bells calling out for help like I do? If you’re like me, the sound of the freeway and the noisy banter from the bars at night speak to you and say, “We are getting nowhere fast.” Is there also a place inside of you that sends birds into flight and frees horses and lions and smiles back at the poor?

I think of you so often and I don’t even know your name. I see myself in you. Maybe I’m more you than anything else. I hear my eager longing for justice in the way you speak to total strangers.  When you talk to others you spring the fullness of life into being within them as if you know we were all made for so much more. I keep trying to write the right song or pray the right prayer so that you’ll become real, but I’m so small and the more I try to do such a big thing, the closer I come to seeing my humanity in the face of God.

You don’t remember me, but we met in a place far from here on a sunday and you told me to remind you of the way we don’t see faces in our dreams. 

 

Tonight I Am Human

This is what I think just about every time, but this really is the worst night for me to have insomnia. I have to wake up at 7:30am for work tomorrow, which for me is really early, and on top of that I have to get up at the same time on Sunday in order to make it to church on time to get everything prepared for the service. It’s gotten to the point where if I don’t get 8 or more hours of sleep the night before, I wake up feeling like I have a terrible cold. I can’t be feeling that way tomorrow. I can’t bear to feel sick again at work. It’s unbearable. It makes me feel less human, which is ironic because it’s the suffering that unites us all as humans.

I wonder why it is that I have suffered so much in my lifetime. Maybe you’ve thought the same thing. I don’t know your story, but I sure feel like I’ve been through a lot of low points in my life already. Not a day goes by that I don’t find myself praying for things in my life to change. I have been dealing with so much pain lately, but you wouldn’t know unless you were my brain and could see and feel everything I do. I wonder, why me? What am I doing that is causing all of this suffering? Is it actually my fault? Is there something that God wants me to learn in all of this? It’s almost as if I don’t care anymore about the answers as long as I can have a decent night’s sleep.

When I do sleep, my dreams are love stories—the one thing that feels like home. The place is always lovely and damp with rain—a place for new beginnings. At last, I’m free of it all and can share my love in full without worrying about the overflow. In these dreams our faces don’t matter. What does matter are the ways we dance in the rain together, and how we can jump into the ground and not bleed a single drop of humanity. We aren’t human anymore. We are dreams and we are alive.

I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to live where I’m in love, where I don’t bleed so much, where my skin doesn’t scar because breaking the surface isn’t an option. I want a God who says, “I’m here.” More than that though. I desire a God who is visibly right by my side, who turns my off switch at night and always wakes me up in full bloom without a sickness that brings me down as the people grow up and strong. I want life. I deserve this, God. But no Nolan, you are human and don’t you forget it.

God… I am human. God damnit, I am human.

Sure this is the way I feel, but what I choose to believe is that even though I am suffering, I have a creator that is bigger than my pain—that has a plan for me and this world that transcends my pain. Yours too. God will use this pain to bring us closer to the beating heart of our relationship. But… I’ll be honest, I don’t see how. Right now, I see nothing that keeps me linked to the promises of scripture. It is merely a choice that lies before me. Choose to believe in the God of scripture or not. I can’t get myself to choose against it. There’s too much emptiness there—more than there already is. I feel like it is my job to find the anecdote for the emptiness of my existence. Choosing to believe that God is here just as Jesus said is what keeps me going. O God, help me to keep believing.

Amen.