The Guest House


Dear Keatsway,

I want you to encourage you as if it’s the most important task I’ve been given. You’ve been brave and adventurous, hopping continents and crossing borders, forging your career trajectory and becoming the most international person I know. All of which comes with a cost: leaving friends, meaningful work, and places you love behind. Of course, you are heartbroken and unsettled. You don’t know if you should prepare yourself for the next move or learn to love Amman. I don’t have easy answers.  I can only echo your broken heart.

Recently, I returned to America after living in England for sixteen months. In York, I fell in love with the city, the people, the lifestyle. I lived inside Roman walls, traded my car for a bicycle, bought my groceries at the year-round farmer’s market and grew to love the rain and the fog. I critiqued literature, translated foreign films, and learned how to read medieval maps. I went road tripping and hiking through the Yorkshire Moors, Scottish Highlands, the Lake District and Irish countryside. I traveled by train across Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain. I did daring things I had never done before: karaoke, bouldering, sensual bachata dancing, swimming in Loch Ness, clubbing until 3 am. I also wrote a thesis, fell in love, and started attending an Anglican church. I could write a book about everything I did in England but there is not enough space here yet for that.

A few months ago I unpacked my bags in a new place: a hamlet in southern Washington state. I am grateful for the hospitality of my cousins, and the chance they have given me to start anew in the Pacific Northwest. Nevertheless, I struggle to be fully here at times, as I imagine you are in Amman. My 16 months in England reels through my head reminding me of all the brilliant adventures and loves I have left behind. I want to return permanently, but I don’t know yet if that’s in the cards or as you say, Inshallah, if God wills it.

I agree with you Keatsway, we must write about our inner journeys. The highs and the lows. The joy of a discovering a new place and the ache that accompanies having your heart split across continents. What do you love about Amman? What do you miss about Kampala? What can you take with you from place to place to create a home regardless of where you lay your head?

I think we can choose to stay in a place and call it home. Even if we have to leave we can build our lives around returning. I don’t know yet if Amman is your city, but I do know that the last city I lived in felt like a place I wanted to stay.  I don’t know what it will take for Amman to feel like home for you. And if you are not sure about Amman, be excited about what the city has to reveal you. What the city expects of you. Maybe you will discover answers to Rilke’s questions or perhaps you will learn to carry them with grace and poise.

All that is yet unknown. As you learn to hold uncertainty with open hands, I leave you with this poem by Rumi. It offers solace for the expat whose heart is still halfway in Kampala or York.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

So much love,

xoxo Brightstar


Chasing starlight


Dear Keatsway,

I can’t think of a better metaphor than navigating by starlight for describing how we move forward towards the future.

In August, I attended a faculty symposium to create ____ College’s 5 year plan. I remember leaving the meeting strongly impressed by this phrase:

There is no such thing as the future…there are only the futures, the alternative futures.
–Alex McManus, WordPress blogger

That statement continues to make the future less daunting. It grants an incredible freedom. You are the determining factor in your future. You get to choose which future you want to live. It’s not static and determined. It’s open and moveable. It could change at any moment.  It’s not a product of chance or fate; it’s an opportunity.

Two things immediately came to mind as I read your post. I couldn’t believe how much your last lines echoed Galadriel’s blessing to Frodo:

I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

Galadriel presents Frodo with a type of solid starlight as he paddles away in his elf-made canoe from the safety of Lothlorien towards an uncertain future. A future that he hopes includes passing though Mordor to defeat the ring. Yet at that moment he still did not know the way, the method, or the outcome. He was plagued by self-doubt and had a task far larger than he was capable of accomplishing alone. Even with a fellowship of 12, a mountain had to be climbed, a dragon defeated, orcs and dark riders had to be outrun. Many of his companions perished or betrayed him, and at any moment he knew he could die and fail in his task. Yet something like starlight and hope compelled him onward.

Rilke writes in Letters to a Young Poet advice that well complements Galadriel’s:

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Love the questions. Live the uncertainty. Embrace the ricochet. It is an integral part of the journey of learning to navigate by starlight, become less afraid of the dark, and marvel like Van Gogh at the beauty of the stars.

Yours hopefully,

xo Brightstar