Solitude & Camaraderie

solitude

The winding highways and streetlights after dark tease a quiet magic, an unnerving freedom to fly through the night on rubber and metal. A universe of concrete, oxygen and stars slosh against my windshield. I am small and insignificant, a flicker and a breath. But it feels like a whole world lives in here, with four empty leather seats around me, and a rotation of voices from my podcasts: my favorite preachers unearthing Scripture’s gems and ordinary people telling true stories. The searing conviction, the tragedies, the comedy—artifacts of our souls, evidence that God stamped His image on us.

It’s warm and lonely inside, but in a rich and sweet, not sad, way. Sometimes, I’ll blast Taylor Swift and think of boys from days gone by. Sometimes, I’ll mute it all and sing quietly to my Savior. How great Thou art.

//

Dusk falls silently, the bright golden sunrays peeling off my studio walls. Distant birds and children fill a lazy summer soundtrack, but I’m lost in pulp and ink. Only the need for light forces me to resurface and realize nightfall swept a few hours away with it.

The world seems dim after the vibrant strokes of my weather-worn book. It’s like waking from a dream—or falling asleep. I can’t decide which.

//

I’m one of the few traveling alone on this flight—makes sense, since there’s nothing at the destination but resorts. I don’t mind, though. It just means plenty of open aisle seats when I board.

I’m already thinking of tropical weather, beaches, food, and of course, the family I only see a few times a year now. But there is something giddy in just the anticipation, surrounded by strangers, hurtling through the clouds. A few more hours of aloneness, of looking forward, of the almost but not yet.

camaraderie

Two hours pass by in a flurry as we reminisce, the line snaking forward slowly. Thank God for friends who make wait times feel like nothing. By the time we buckle in, my soul is refreshed though my feet and back hurt. No one is laughing at the ride operator’s joke. Then the music plays, we free fall, and everyone’s screaming with happy terror.

//

It’s past midnight but we’re wide-eyed and alert, forgetting Monday morning is creeping up on us. Four hours in, and we’re finally in the end game. Bated breath before every die roll, we fluctuate between tense silences and energetic bargaining and wheedling, a bright huddle around Catan while the rest of the world sleeps.

//

The DVD remained untouched all night because even introverted girls can talk forever at sleepovers. When you’re a good listener, you find everyone has good stories to tell. We are made for them.

//

We’ve found all the best conference rooms on our floor, hidden away from prying eyes. Behind closed doors, we’re a haven of honesty and laughter in the well-oiled wheels of the corporate machine. My co-conspirators share a horrifying secret: our prestigious academic records and resumes produced zero ladder-climbing ambitions.

We’re dreaming of the day we open bakeries and write bestsellers. Please spare us the manufactured goals and ten-year career plans.

//

We vacillate between long monologues—a stream of feelings, dreams, prayers, and reflections—and comfortable silences. I’m not sure whose awake and whose asleep as we’re all curled up in our seats, watching the parking lot empty out around us.

We are fragile souls, prone to wander, prone to break. But I listen to the quiet strength in their voices, hear the conviction of faith in their words, see the undeniable grace of God in their lives, and I know He is holding onto us.

Give me solitude over empty chatter. Give me souls we can knit together. Give me no less nor no more than I need to know, that I am made and fulfilled in Christ alone.

Pilgrims

kc-luk-188412

In the breath between birth and dust
we bare our messy souls
through fumbling words
wrestling with limits—of language and finitude

And yet
an unearthly power rings
in our thin, trembling throats
These silent walls listen, with the angels,
as we kneel, scraped knees and bruised hearts
before the Alpha and Omega,
our Abba Father, who hears our speech
and our silence
Because He once carved an awful mercy
into Roman wood and the blood of God
so we might come near

Pilgrims,
gathered together in winter’s cold
a reprieve from a world drenched in mockery,
we whisper the names of friends
and enemies, of frailties and fears,
of sorrow and joy and sehnsucht—
our naked hearts find a voice before the throne
On a canvas of black space and burning stars,
we find a cradle of eternal warmth

 

Photo by KC Luk on Unsplash

eleven strangers: in haiku

eleven strangers
meet in winter’s bluster and
peel away their masks

she stitches stories
from silence and fleeting lives
this is her halo

he meets the world in
the curve of an integral
day breaks above sea

kindness is a word
he whispers through the marble
cutting the granite

double-spaced essays
dance in the base of his throat
breathed into new life

home is an anchor
where a mother strokes her hair
and makes the world flee

a little girl’s dream
paints too small a fantasy
for her new canvas

earth, wind, air and fire
she builds her castle in the
California sands

life is a labyrinth
but wings lift her above walls
a view from the skies

he walks in bare-faced
challenging the masquerade
the stage vanishes

learning stirs their souls
her classroom is a voyage
into the unknown

The Misfit Pioneers

This piece first appeared in 1:1000, an online literary journal. Check out their excellent stories! 

Ming hauled the door open, her lips pressed together against the chill. Rubbing her hands, she dusted the white flakes off her coat and hurried inside.

She rarely came to this side of campus. Though it was a small university, the engineering students kept to their quarters and the art students to theirs. A quiet thrill shot through her at this minor act of defiance.

The art studio exhibited a curious architecture. Filmy drapes hung on black bars, almost like shower curtains. Bulging pipes peered from the ceiling. A string of lights crisscrossed overhead with no real symmetry. Concrete walls splattered with ash and paint. At least the low-rise tables and chairs appeared orderly and clean, gathered in blocks across the tiled, gray hardwood.

It was a very American studio, at least in Ming’s mind. Back home they would not tolerate such a design, even for a creative workshop. Ventilation pipes belonged behind walls and makeshift lights would be tossed in favor of unobtrusive ceiling fixtures.

Naked. That is how she would describe the room.

“Escaping the cold?”

She jumped at the voice. Turning, she found a lanky, raven-haired boy watching her with an amused expression. His hands were dark with charcoal dust.

“I wanted to wait for the snow to stop. I parked in the main lot.”

“You’ll be waiting awhile, then.”

Ming shrugged. She did not want to dwell on what prevented her from going home earlier, much less explain it to a stranger.

“Are you a student?” she asked instead.

He nodded. “Just transferred from art history to art. Drop a word from my major’s name and gain another year’s worth of work.” He grinned. “I’m Jonah.”

“I’m Ming, electrical engineering,” she said, knowing that was sufficient explanation for why they were not acquainted.

“Ming,” he repeated. “Cool name.” Jonah glanced at the dirty window, the edges frosted over with snow and ice. “It doesn’t look like the storm is letting up. I make a mean hot chocolate, if you want me to fix some up.”

She hesitated for a moment but agreed. The roads were dangerous, and the hot and humid weather of her hometown had not prepared her for the bitter winters here. Besides, Jesse would not call anymore and Ming did not want to be home alone with her thoughts.

Jonah had an easy, unaffected manner. He filled the silence with small talk about his life as he bustled around the kitchen area. Ming sat at a table nearby and listened. She learned that he switched majors late, so he spent frequent nights in the studio playing catch-up. Unlike most college students, he disliked coffee, but had an unhealthy addiction to hot chocolate.

“It’s my grandma’s recipe. No sugar,” he boasted, as he set two steaming mugs before her.

The warm, rich scent filled her nostrils. “Thank you,” she said.

He pulled out the chair opposite to her. “So, Ming. Does your name mean anything?”

“It’s the same word for ‘bright’ in Chinese. It’s quite common.” She paused. “What about Jonah?”

“The prophet, in the Bible.” He grinned at Ming’s blank look. “God sent him to preach to a wicked city, he disobeyed, and was swallowed by a fish for three days.”

She considered it for a moment. “It seems like bad luck,” she said finally.

Jonah laughed. “He made it out alive. It’s a great story, actually.”

Ming flushed and fell silent. Her family burned incense, prayed for health and prosperity, and tried to live good lives for karma’s sake. In her last two years in America, her circle of engineering friends rarely discussed religion, philosophy or literature. If Jesse worshiped anything, it was Bruce Willis movies, which he insisted were a sufficient lens into western culture and ideals.

“Do you plan to go back to China after school?”

“I wasn’t, but—” Ming stopped abruptly, a painful twinge in her chest. She met Jonah’s eyes, steady and kind. “My boyfriend is from here. He broke up with me today.” The words fell out in a rush.

Jonah’s eyes crinkled. “I’m sorry.” Then he added, “He’s a jerk.”

Surprised, Ming glanced at him. “You don’t know him.”

“Of course not. But he probably is.” He held up a hand to stop her interruption. “Here’s a rule for breakups. Get rid of that urge to defend him.” A crooked smile slid up his face. “I don’t know him. I know you. I’m on your side, alright?”

Ming suppressed the urge to tell him that his logic was convoluted and nonsensical. She had to admit it felt good to have someone on her side.

She and Jesse shared the same circle of friends. Or, more accurately, Jesse formed their circle of friends and drew her in when they began dating. Ming knew this was nonsensical too, that the loss of one relationship could make her feel so unanchored and lonely on a campus teeming with students.

“Thanks,” she said. “My friends were all Jesse’s friends, so…” she trailed off.

Jonah nodded in understanding. “Jesse is from the Bible too. Father of a king,” he murmured. “I’m guessing your ex isn’t that great.”

Ming couldn’t help but laugh. “I don’t think so. And how are you living up to your name?”

“I’m all for seeing the inside of a fish.” Jonah grinned. “I like a good adventure. I’m forming a campus club for explorers, actually. The Misfit Pioneers. Have you heard the rumors about this place?”

She had. The administration tried to check wild gossip, but students still whispered about secret passageways and treasure troves buried beneath the grounds. Ming could never decide if it was the typical American obsession with conspiracy, or if there was some truth wrapped in the stories.

Jonah was on the ground, wrestling with something in the tiles. “This is what happens when you spend too much time here,” he called up to her. She heard a crack and an entire tile came loose. A plume of dust rose as he heaved it aside.

Ming yelped and joined him, peering into the darkness.

“What’s—in there?” she asked.

“Not sure. I was going to check it out sometime, hopefully with a buddy.” He met her gaze. “So, interested in joining my club?”

“How many people are in it?” she asked, still distracted by the gaping hole in the floor.

“Well, now there are two of us.”

 

Photography by Anthony Delanoix. Story by me. Original publication here.