A Life and Death Resolution.

It’s January 6th. Happy New Year. Is this post late? Maybe. Regardless, I have some important thoughts about a resolution this year.

On Christmas Day (December 25th), I finished reading Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal. Gawande is a practicing surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts. In Being Mortal, Gawande takes issue with the current state of end-of-life care for the aging and dying here in the United States. With all the “care” available, from nursing homes to hospices, the aging and dying experience discomfort, dehumanization and sometimes downright depression as we tend to ignore individual desires in order to “fix the problems of aging.”

As Gawande explains, the advent of modern medicine has surfaced an entirely new field of medicine: caring for the aging, elderly, and the dying. Before modern medicine, most people died when they acquired a particular disease. Even the common cold could turn fatal. So the idea of aging- of particular parts of our body beginning to malfunction or deteriorate- is indeed new. The “natural causes” we die of would not even have surfaced in most people 300 years ago. Modern medicine also warps our perception of death: when we can defy it, even for a while, death becomes the enemy. This, despite dying being the most natural thing humans do.

Being Mortal explains that the problem with end-of-life care is the dissonance between doctors’ relationships with medicine and care. Most doctors see themselves as fixers- a patient has an illness, and their job is to piece together the cure or treatment puzzle. The problem with the aging and the elderly, or further the dying, is many times there is no easy answer- treatment causes other symptoms, patients’ bodies may not be in shape to receive it, or the risks may be too great. Doctors tend to give options that weigh time vs. comfort- take this treatment to lengthen your life, but you’ll be miserable. What is important to those who have a very limited time left on earth? When asked, most said time was less important than creating significance for the last months, days, or even hours.

The most important difference between me and someone in their early 80s is perspective. In two days I turn 28. Perhaps this is selfish and prideful, but I am not ready to die. In my mind, my life is only beginning- I have so many more experiences to share and so many people to meet. To someone who has lived a bit longer, this attitude may seem quaint. At every stage of our lives, we hold certain people and certain activities dear. We prioritize. I am not sure when we reach the turning point to say “I’ve lived enough, let me die in comfort and peace”…perhaps that attitude it dictated to us when we discover our bodies have reached the end of their ability to function.

My cousin Heather passed away when she was 28. She was hardworking, sarcastic, and adored her son Austin and husband Ryan. I found out when I was training to be a campus fellow for the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, and flew home immediately. As much as I missed her and felt the pain my aunt, uncle, cousins and family felt, the best word to describe my overall sentiment was eerie. Her death was unnatural, it was wrong and unfair. Someone so young had so much left to do. As I turn 28, I wonder if she felt the same way I do, or if forced nearness to death brought some form of peace and acceptance of a life lived from beginning to end. Perspective dictates what we deem important at different moments.

Gawande concludes Being Mortal by suggesting five questions we must ask as we plan for the end of life, for others and ourselves. They are:

“1. What is your understanding of where you are and of your illness?
2. Your fears or worries for the future
3. Your goals and priorities
4. What outcomes are unacceptable to you? What are you willing to sacrifice and not?
And later,
5. What would a good day look like?”

What would it look like if we asked these questions regardless of our perspective- if I, 28 years old and seemingly healthy, asked myself regularly, “what would my goals and priorities be if I really did only have a week to live?” It seems like a silly ice-breaker, but facing this seriously each day in 2016, I have already begun to recognize some hidden priorities and places where I waste time. The last question intrigues me most: what would a good day look like today? As 2016 hums along, my resolution is to wrestle with end-of-life questions, learning to understand more deeply what really matters to me and the people I love.

Citation:

Gawande, Atul. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. New York: Metropolitan, 2014. Print.

Advent for a Buddhist

My family is Catholic. I grew up writing letters to Santa Claus, listening to Christmas carols (and belting them in the shower- oh wait, still do that) and getting more and more excited each day I took another chocolate from my advent calendar. My assertion was that December 21-24 was the best time of the season: the rush began to quiet, school was finished, and I wasn’t disappointed yet that all the presents were open.

Studying at a Catholic school, advent was always full of messages of waiting for the birth of Jesus. “Waiting” was so hyped…I could barely wait 24 days, let alone the thousands of years that people waited for the coming of a savior. Every year, we hear the same message: advent is about expectations, possibilities, and…waiting.

As an “adult”, the advent season seems a little less about waiting and a little more about a frenetic rush to check off the gift list, hopefully winning at sales and door busters. If only there were more waiting! That would mean more time to finish all the shopping. And in the midst of the rush, we hope to enjoy the lights, songs, and events surrounding the season. Beyond the traditions, this season is quite difficult for many- the ideals of family and friends sharing joy just isn’t a reality for many. Basically, the only thing we are waiting for is the moment we actually get to relax without any thought of braving the mall or attending a holiday party- or hearing another word about “holidays”.

Our students have been feeling the stress of finals, on top of everything else going on. They stay up all night preparing, take labored exams, and wait for the results of their hard work. In the same way, they feel time working against them. I hope they know how proud we are of them.

In this time of waiting and working, I remember one of the gathas or sayings of the Buddha that I use in my daily practice. “Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment. Breathing out, it is the only moment. Present moment, only moment.” What if, for only a moment, we could make this true? What if we could truly be completely immersed in this, the only moment…just for a moment?

Sometimes when I feel like there are too many items on my to-do list and the day only has so many hours, I sit back, close my eyes, and imagine that nothing around me exists. This moment is perfect- I have my breathe, my smile, and it is perfect, as perfect as a moment can be in this impermanent world. Just in this very short time, my body feels content, my mind is not racing, and I can breathe deeply without worry. Can we replicate this more throughout the day?

I remember taking exams and thinking at certain points, “I reallllly don’t want to do this anymore!” All the information I knew flooded into my head and simultaneously confused me. It was frustrating. All the studying and staying up late, strategy and flash cards, they didn’t seem to matter. Finally, after years of this, I learned to zone out for a moment, if only to give my eyes a rest. I sat back in my cramped desk, softened my eyes, and imagined my family at the dinner table, laughing. Even if it took 5 minutes out of my exam time, this practice helped me refocus. Perhaps this was a way to access the perfect moments I’m thinking about now.

It might never be possible to live in this ecstasy all the time, especially during this time. But these moments of complete presence and attention to our breath can refocus our minds just enough to complete our projects without feeling exhausted and bitter. It takes practice and dedication. Practice makes perfect- perfect enough.

 

Movement

As one who practices Buddhism, one of my truths is impermanence and constant change within the world. As people in the world, we are subject to these effects. I could write, “this week has been hard, the world is really hurting now” as if it weren’t last week, or month, or year. The truth is, the world is impermanent, and part of this truth is suffering and mortality. Just two days ago, my city of Los Angeles became the city of Lost Angels, as 14 people lost their lives in only one of the mass shootings that day. In an instant, we witnessed irreparable damage.

As a human being, I can’t help but carry a tiny bit of the weight of global suffering on my head. There seems to be so much in the world, and within every person. This week after an eventful Monday evening at Northeastern University, a word has been circling through my mind with multiple meanings. That word is “movement”.

Movement is change, and the world is always in motion. People, too, are constantly on the move, and this movement creates harm when it is unwelcome or seemingly threatening. Movement is what happens when a central place or system begins to cause unbearable suffering.

Today, over 12 million people have been affected by the crisis and violence in Syria. This is a season of migration, of moving, of people losing their homes, families, and identities. As the Syrian people seek refuge, the rest of the world must respond. People have always moved, always migrated in search of life that is safer, more prosperous, or offering something new. In this migration, we are exposed and vulnerable, whether we are moving or not.

In my current city, Boston, movement has demanded a capital “M” recently. Student activism is increasing on campuses here and around the country on issues from the Fight for Fifteen to Institutional Discrimination to Divestment. Movement is happening at the grassroots and is beginning to climb the administrations of institutions. Whether I agree with particular statements and actions or not, I do believe this nonviolent, intentional activism is something to be encouraged. Someone once complained about my generation being lazy because we “don’t have a Vietnam to protest.” On the contrary, the new campus Movements are part of a larger protest toward inclusion, safety, and true pluralism.

Part of my job at Northeastern University is to direct the Global Citizenship Project, an initiative to explore how we can utilize the resources of our Northeastern and wider Boston community to train students, faculty and staff to be global community members. Our Executive Director Alex Kern describes the vision of this project in three statements: “You belong, you are connected, you are needed.” These feel like immense but essential statements at this moment. They dig deeper at the popular “Think global, act local” we so commonly hear on college campuses and in global activism.

On Monday evening, I realized that Northeastern students do participate in global citizenship as they recognize this movement in the world, from global migration to caring for one another. A group of students from different faith traditions came together to assemble winter packs for homeless citizens of Boston. Many of those students stayed for the Islamic Society of Northeastern’s weekly Deen and Dine to share a meal with other Muslim students and listen to a fellow student offer some wisdom about a passage from the Holy Qur’an. From there, many of the same cohort of students attended a fundraiser for Syrian Refugees, an event that brought together students from a variety of cultural and religious organizations. As I listened to a very enriching talk by a Northeastern Professor about the current climate of Syria and neighboring countries, I realized these students are modeling global citizenship. They are thinking and acting globally and locally. They understand that change requires movement, and movement catalyzes change, and they are cultivating a sense of what this movement could look like. Despite the constant violence, harm and sadness we see in the world, I know there are young leaders that give us reason to smile.

 

Hospitality, Not Hostility

It has been one week since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Baghdad and a week and a day since the attacks in Beirut. It has been two days since 80 died in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram. Today, at least 21 people have died due to a terrorist attack at a hotel in Mali.

The examples of terrorism, hate, and violence need not even leave my own country to overwhelm me. Every minute, it seems, someone dies at the hand of a gun. There is so much anger, so much pain.

Last week, members of the Islamic Society of Northeastern University (ISNU) showed me a post on their group’s facebook page that read “Burn Your Local Mosque” with the comment “here ya go, scumbags”. This post highlighted the broader rhetoric present in the US media, especially around the upcoming elections. Words like “internment”, “ID cards”, “security”, and “Islamists” have been thrown around. Does this remind us of anything? It brings to mind much darkness for me.

In a time when it is easy to feel despair, I remain committed to telling the stories that demonstrate community building, not combat. The stories of positive work across difference, of practicing compassion toward strangers, of turning away from fear and hate to welcome those under threat are the foundation of hospitality. When we tell these stories, we show that fear and aversion to difference need not control our lives- and when love and friendship do, we defeat the suffering that comes with hate.

Yesterday, NU’s Intervarsity Christian Fellowship sent an email to ISNU and CSDS with an attached letter and invitation:

Recently, the Muslim community has been alienated and attacked unfairly by many across the country. We recognize that this discrimination isn’t new, but is only more intense and more visible over the past few days, and that much of this has come from those of the Christian faith. The Intervarsity community is sorry and insists that this is not in line with the Christian faith and is not the heart of God. No one should be judged based on generalizations or live in fear because of their identity. As Christians here at Northeastern we support you on this campus.

The letter concluded with an invitation to ISNU’s members for a shared Thanksgiving dinner next week. The most powerful piece of this letter and invitation for me is a group of students reaching out to community under threat. IV acknowledged that though this might not be the first time this hate has infiltrated this community of Muslim Students, and moreover that it might even seem commonplace,  this bigotry is unacceptable. It is unacceptable for Muslims (or anyone, for that matter) to live in fear because of their identity. On this day, the National Transgender Day of Mourning, the day we mourn over 1000 lives lost due to violence this week, the day one group of students decided it is better to extend a hand than turn their backs, I beg us to keep the strife of the world on our minds, but to keep the possibilities of this hospitality in our hearts. Our minds can remind us, but our hearts should guide us.

My Fire Sermon.

In accounts of the Buddha’s life, the Buddha was known for giving sermons. Once, he spoke about burning and desire in a talk we now know as “the Fire Sermon”. In this sermon, the Buddha said, “Bhikkhus, all is burning.”

“The ear is burning, sounds are burning…

The nose is burning, odors are burning…

The tongue is burning, flavors are burning…

The body is burning, tangibles are burning…”

Last, the Buddha says, “the mind is burning.”

What did the Buddha mean by this? Why is all burning?

Burning is the consequence of our desires, our passions, our ambitions. Our senses burn as we seek to fulfill them. Our ear burns with the desire to hear beautiful music. Our nose burns with the want to smell colorful flowers. Our tongue burns with the craving to taste delicious food. Our body burns with lust.

Our mind burns with the passion for knowledge.

All is burning in our bodies and our minds. The burning causes prohibition from liberation. Simply: the burning of desire controls us, it does not make us free.

This burning has gone beyond our bodies. This burning has taken over our communities and our nation. My friends: today, this Veteran’s Day, we remember those who have sacrificed their time and their lives for the fulfillment of our own freedom. They have served. They have seen the burning, and they want to extinguish the flames. Our freedom, though, is unreachable, set apart from us by a ring of fire.

Our own nation is on fire. Our own nation is burning.

Just as the ear burns, our houses burn.

Just as the nose burns, our streets burn.

Just as the tongue burns, our schools burn.

Just as the body burns, our churches, mosques, synagogues, Gurdwaras, and temples burn. Our sacred places are on fire, and the flames grow and emit black smoke as the walls are incinerated, falling, crumbling to the earth, dragging the bodies with them.

All is burning. This Veteran’s Day, people are giving their lives around the world and next door to us, to extinguish the flames that prohibit the path to liberation. In our own communities- on college campuses, at political rallies and debates, in the streets, our liberation melts away. The fires of injustice rage, and the firefighters are sprayed with tear gas.

Last night, I read something that set my own mind ablaze. Pastor Shaun King posted on his Facebook page: “If you EVER wondered who you would be or what you would do if you lived during the Civil Rights Movement, stop. You are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.”

We are living in the year that saw the deadliest hate crime against Black Americans in the part 75 years in Charleston, South Carolina. We are living in the year that saw more Black Americans killed by police than were lynched since 1923. We are living in the year in which every day, the Council on American Islamic Relations posts a story online of at least one hate crime against a Muslim American. We are living in a year in which Sikh people are targeted for wearing turbans and beards, mistaken for people of another faith, both deeply misunderstood. We are living in a year that sees a constant conflict between freedom of speech and marginalization, between exploring new ideas across cultures and deepening divides between people. We are living in a year in which colored cups seem more important than colored lives. We are living in a moment when we might finally have to admit that our country is on fire, and the ashes are growing taller and taller.

Indeed, we are living in a time of upheaval, movement, and for some, a clinging to maintain “order”, the “order” that suppresses, quiets, and locks out the external flames of progress and motion. Perhaps this can go on for a while- the flames can protect. But the Buddha is right to say that the burning prohibits all of us from liberation. Only when we have extinguished the flames in our own mind and bodies can we embark on the path toward liberation together. The fires in our schools, sacred places, homes, and streets will burn and destroy until we quench our own desires for power and influence, causing our inability to listen. Love quenches these flames. Love is a flame that does not destroy us but burns the distractions from our own liberation. The path to liberation is found separately, but traveled together. Fire can sustain us, and can also annihilate us.

Every day, I look for an example of someone feeding the flames of love while extinguishing the burning of desire that inhibits justice, that walls off liberation. My students, sometimes loudly, sometimes subtly, are working for justice. They are taking the love in their hearts for each other and for the earth and seeking to make change. I hope they do not give up. I hope they can alleviate the burning with the flames of love, the flames that illuminate the blood and sweat on their faces as they face the teargas. All is burning.

Lessons from Tears

Last week, I was in Salt Lake City attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions. 10,000 people from different faiths and communities gathered at this momentous event, and 10 of those individuals made up our Northeastern delegation. 3 staff and 7 students of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service took part in sessions, plenaries, and experiences that taught us new lessons, from the wisdom of grandmothers to Mormon feminism to combating hate speech, both in person and online. When I returned home late Monday evening, I felt overly exhausted, yet thought deeply about the stories I took with me. Throughout last week, I learned many lessons from tears.

Before we touched down in Salt Lake City, I clung to the book in my lap as my middle seat jerked back and forth from turbulence. The book is called “Tears and Tributes” and tells the story of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (‘AS) and his companions. The story was particularly pertinent to last week, as both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims observed Ashura. For Sunni Muslims, Ashura marks the day the Pharaoh in Egypt freed the Israelites. However, for Shi’a Muslims, the day observes the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, son of Ali, the nephew of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). In Shi’a communities, this time is deeply mournful. As my stomach turned with anxiety, tears streamed down my face as my mind immersed itself in the beautiful but tragic story of the events at Karbala.

Last week, recovering from jet lag and lack of sleep, I attended the Islamic Society of Northeastern’s Fall Dinner. ISNU’s student leaders had been planning all semester for this event, featuring two speakers: a Sunni activist and non-profit founder, Sara Minkara, and a Shi’a convert and scholar, Coa Schwab. Approximately 100 students attended the dinner- it was a big success. Seeing the student leaders enjoy the fruits of their work made me so delighted. I laughed with the students at my table throughout the evening.

As I began to say my good byes, one student began a lively conversation about some of my professors at the University of Chicago. We excitedly shared the books we had read about Muslim Worship, and promised to have tea with a newly realized mutual friend. When I finally made my way toward the exit, our Shi’a Muslim Advisor gestured toward the student, and said “He is such a beautiful soul. Yesterday, he spent an hour with me, listening to the story of the tragedies at Karbala, crying with me. Though he is Sunni, he cares deeply that the Shi’a community is acknowledged and welcomed. I appreciated that so much this evening.”

Tears welled in my eyes again- this moment illuminated the real essence of “reclaiming the heart of our humanity”, the theme of the 10,000 person gathering I had just attended. Perhaps this gesture seemed small. Listening to a story and making a brief announcement at the Fall Dinner about the differences in Sunni and Shi’a observance of Ashura may not heal deep wounds in both communities, but isn’t reclaiming our shared human heart the first step? In order to help each other heal, we must acknowledge each other’s experiences. Wiping away the few tears on my face, I thought, “this is where we must start”, and headed home.

Appreciating Islam from a Buddhist Perspective

Today is the end of a pretty trying week. Violence, death, and hate continue to plague our world and especially our country. This weekend is no different- a number of “anti-Muslim” rallies and protests have been planned across the country, forcing mosques and even schools to be wary of threats. This is frankly ignorance and hate- but many interfaith activists won’t stand for it. Across the country, they have also been planning- dialogues, service projects, and even “mosque tours”. Despite the frustration I feel knowing ignorance still permeates, I want to humbly do my own part as an interfaith activist to affirm that Islam, and Muslims, are forces for good in the world. As is my custom, I want to focus on a positive way to engage this situation- so here are 4 aspects I appreciate and admire about Islam and Muslims, given my own experience and relationships:

  • The Ummah

Ummah means community, and can refer to a local community of Muslims or the global community, sometimes called ummah wahida. Anywhere I have traveled in the world, Muslims have treated me as they treat each other- like family. In Turkey, I have experienced first-hand a friend of a cousin of a father (and so on) invite me into their home, feed me delicious food, and fuss over me with no hesitation, and they do this for anyone willing to be company. This is true in the United States too- at iftar or the breaking of the fast during the month of Ramadan, my friends who have fasted all day offer each other dates (traditional bites to break fast) first, before feeding themselves. It really is like a global family, knowing that of course there are many differences. Salat, the five daily prayers, also have a communal aspect, one that reminds me of my own Buddhist sangha. Both prayer and meditation can be individual, but praying and meditation with others often enhances the experience.

  • Scholarship and Commitment to Faith

It can be very difficult to remain faithful while studying or working- especially if the study focuses on the faith you practice. At the University of Chicago, many of my Muslim friends expressed this difficulty yet still found a way to adhere to their faith and excel in their studies. I found that studying Islam and the Muslim experience was most powerful for me when my classmates were Muslims who sought to learn more about their own faith, historically, literally, and anthropologically. Further, many Muslims take education very seriously, committing years of their lives to studying medicine, law, or public policy- subjects that allow them to improve our communities. Faith definitely fuels this passion for scholarship and community building, one that offers a model for other people of faith or no faith.

  • Young Muslim Activists

An argument that frustrates me deeply is the “if Muslims are so great, why don’t they speak up and say ‘we are not like [insert extremist group here].'” The truth is, Muslims do speak out, often quite eloquently, about their desire and work toward peace and why they condemn these groups. Even more powerfully, so many young activists model the values in Islam that completely defy extremism and violence. One of my Muslim classmates raised over $100,000 last year for AME churches in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. Just this past week at Northeastern University, Muslim students organized “Islamic Charity Week” and hosted an event every day that raised both funds for non-profit organizations and awareness about important issues. You don’t have to look very far to find young Muslims doing awesome work around the world, and I’m proud to call a couple of them my friends.

  • Approaches to Interfaith Work

A large part of my network both professionally and personally are people involved in the interfaith movement. Muslims are very passionate about interfaith work, especially when people come together to perform service. My friend Sarrah, once the president of USC’s Interfaith Council and now a medical student at Harvard, so beautifully states that illness does not choose who it affects based on religion or faith, so why should we choose whom we serve based on this? Islam is about serving humanity and making the world better. Without Muslims, the interfaith movement, especially the youth, would not be nearly as strong.

There are a million more elements of Islam that I admire, so until next time, Salam Aleikum (peace be upon you!).

Pope Pilgrimage

pope program

I began my pilgrimage at 6:45 am Sunday morning when I boarded the Northeast Regional Amtrak to Philadelphia and cracked open The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau. This week was full of pilgrimage for many communities- Muslims celebrated the return of pilgrims on the Hajj with Eid Al-Adha. The Hajj brings thousands of Muslims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia every year, as pilgrimage is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. Jews observed Yom Kippur and before that Rosh Hashanah, the day of atonement and the new year. While not necessarily about physical pilgrimage (though many do return home or travel to be with family), one could say these two days both require journeys through the soul- challenges and transformations, just as pilgrimages require of us.

“Openness, attentiveness, and responsiveness are the essence of pilgrimage”, Cousineau writes. Over 2 million people joined me yesterday as we gathered to celebrate mass with Pope Francis. As I craddled my book on my backpack waiting to pass security, I heard dozens of languages spoken around me, some casually, some chanting, some in common prayer. Church groups donned in matching t-shirts attempted to stick together by holding hands. Babies cried and slept on shoulders, and in a vacant parking lot to the left of the security checkpoint, children ranging from 3 to 16 organized a soccer game. Souvenir sellers shouted their prices, and the crowd waxed and waned in anticipation and anxiety, in direct correlation to the amount of their personal space.

As I waited, I read more about pilgrimage. I began to wonder if waiting was actually my arrival, if catching a glimpse of Pope Francis was perhaps secondary to what would eventually overwhelm me with gratitude: as the mass took place everyone began saying the prayers and songs together. If you listened, the Lord’s Prayer happened almost completely in unison, in multiple languages. No one pushed or shoved. A young woman next to me began to cry, and I patted her hand, gesturing to my watery eyes. At that moment, I felt so inspired by every pilgrim around me, each journeying, anticipating, experiencing.

My faith comforted me so deeply yesterday. The three pieces Cousineau named as essential to pilgrimage, openness, attentiveness, and receptiveness, are also crucial to my practice of Zen Buddhism. I left for Philadelphia today feeling open to any new experience I was fortunate to receive. This made me feel calm and grateful- especially when I could have felt impatient and disappointed at the amount of space between me and the altar. As I waited, I turned my attention to my intention for this pilgrimage: to honor my family’s heritage as Italian Catholics, my passion for finding wisdom in all religions and the teachings of religious leaders. Perhaps most selfishly, I came to experience Pope Francis saying mass on my country’s soil, among 2 million citizens of the world. Receptiveness is an interesting piece in pilgrimage, and in Buddhism- it is perhaps the most important in both. Receptiveness does not mean we must react to each and every experience. It means that we should take our experiences on our pilgrimage and make meaning of them. Yesterday, the meaning of my pilgrimage was interconnectedness- to my family, my global community, and myself as a person of faith. Sometimes, physical proximity is essential to experiencing the sacred- perhaps the real wisdom is recognizing what physical attribute that is. As I wrote sleepily on the train home, I vowed to “share the boon”, as Cousineau names our debt to those who greet us on our return. I hold my fellow pilgrims with me, hoping they return safe and transformed.

Telescope

Today felt as though I was constantly zooming in and out on reality- like a telescope, allowing us to see one item in detail, then pulling back to look at a bigger picture. One moment, I was in “go” mode- printing flyers, setting up chairs, directing people. Changing the order of our 9/11 Vigil at the last moment so the President of Northeastern University could offer remarks. Running to the bookstore for the eighth time to buy another cord to connect my computer to the Sacred Space’s AV port. Walking so, so fast to the library because I couldn’t get our printers to work.

These moments felt like I was severely zoomed in- I was concentrated on my task at hand, checking my time to make sure everything was on schedule. I was mindful of my actions, but perhaps less of my emotions. And then I was nervous- I enjoy public speaking, and also feel very nervous.

“Zoomed in” was how I experienced most of this day. But in the short moments that my telescope collapsed, the moments in which I remembered why I was completing all these tasks, I fought the urge to cry.

Today at Northeastern, we celebrated many lives, and we mourned the members of our family that we lost. We hit the singing bowl 12 times- once for every student that died in the attacks of September 11, 2001. We listened to Billy Collins’ “The Names”, a poem dedicated to victims of the attacks. A Muslim student read the poem. I thought about how powerful it was that this student read this poem so beautifully, and how difficult it could have been, given his identity as Pakistani-American. President Aoun spoke about the Northeastern family, and we reflected on how strong our community is, especially in times of crisis. Two flower pots lined the center table, unassuming, hopeful and calm, and fragrant. Another student worker picked them out with me yesterday. Students and staff introduced themselves to one another. I met a few new colleagues. I helped the Muslim students arrange the room for Juma’a prayer after the service, and answered some emails, and said hello for the last time to our Muslim Spiritual Advisor, as he ends his time at NU for a new job.

10 students made quilts and cards for a women’s shelter in Boston. They listened to music and sat in a circle. I arranged the chairs again, this time for the memorial service for Javier, a NU student who died over the summer. I printed 50 programs, went back to the bookstore, and taught myself how to setup the AV. As I walked back from the library, I gazed at the picture of Javi on the program, and wondered who he was. After the service, I watched 50 of his friends sign the journal for his family, and thought how much one person, one life, is worth.

I didn’t know you, Javi. From the amount of people gathered today in your memory, you were well liked- no, you were well loved. You seemed like a student I would have liked to meet, and get to know. I would have loved you- just as I love all my students. Maybe you would have worked for our office, maybe not. Maybe you never wanted to think about faith, or big questions. Maybe you did. Maybe you would have come in just to ask where the restroom is, or to find your way to Curry Student Center. Maybe you would recognize someone, a friend or classmate, and stay a little longer than you planned. Hopefully, you would have felt welcome. You might even have come to an event in the Sacred Space- and you would have laughed with me and Alex and the student workers. You might have come in to talk more at length, and you would yawn from doing too much homework too late at night (or talking to friends, or eating delicious latin food, as they said you enjoyed). Maybe you would have shared some beautiful and heartbreaking things about your family, or moving, or what was bugging you about life at NU. Maybe you would ask for some advice, and we could talk through a problem, and maybe you would follow it, maybe not. Maybe, you would have graduated without ever setting foot in CSDS. And that would be totally fine. Probably, you would go on to save lives as a doctor or bioengineer, and you would love almost every second of it. I didn’t know you, Javi, but I feel like I met you just a little today. And for that, I am grateful and unworthy.

Today I felt like a member of the Northeastern family. And like my own family, I knew I would do anything for each member, to challenge them, support them, and love them as much as possible.

St. Anthony’s Birthday

This weekend my neighborhood (the North End in Boston) celebrated the Feast of San Antonio and Santa Lucia. The streets swelled with people, visiting makeshift booths selling arancini (rice balls with cheese and spinach), calamari, Italian ice, and other delicious snacks. There was an arepa booth that particularly intrigued me. Throughout Saturday and Sunday, members of St. Anthony’s society carried the statue of St. Anthony around the neighborhood and festival-goers pinned money onto the streamers tied around the statue. As I lazed in the morning and early afternoon, marching bands filled my apartment with celebratory music from the street below, while viewers shouted “Viva Antonio, Viva!”

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San Antonio is one of the most famous saints in the Catholic tradition, originally from Portugal but attributed to a region in Italy called Padova, where he died. Anthony is said to have known scripture fiercely well, and to have been an eloquent, serious preacher. Today he is most famous for being the patron saint of lost items, or lost people.

As I meandered through the tiny streets of Little Italy, St. Anthony calls to me. My senses feel alarmed as smells and colors change rapidly, from garbage to fried oreos, from the red, gold and green banners hung from old street lamps to deep green bottles of olive oil. A man on a motorcycle yells something at me that I choose to ignore, and I cause a slight grumble as I bustle past a middle-aged lady strolling on the sidewalk with her husband and children. Am I lost?

It’s been two weeks since I moved to Boston, and I have learned quite a bit- I can take the train to work without getting lost. I know where to buy groceries, dish soap, and even specialty salami, if I want. My apartment has internet and electricity, and I’ve even cooked enough food to carry me through the week. Eggplant lasagna.

Yet, I am lost…but not actively looking to be found. I am shocked, torn away from the familiar, and learning to do everything, every part of my day, in a way that becomes routine. As my body becomes exhausted very quickly, I begin to focus on my breath. We all need a reminder that every action impacts our world, for us and those around us. Not all who wander, are lost…perhaps some who are lost need to wander.