The subway ground to a stop and we all shouldered our way through the doors into the stale, concrete bunker of a station. On an average day Bostonians are wired pretty tight on the T. Earbuds trailing into coats and thumbs hovering over mobile devices as far as the eye can see. The exceptions to this rule: spilling out from a Sox or Bruins game where you get the play by play, whether you want to hear it or not, that is either “wicked awesome” or “a fucking miscarriage of justice.” We feel strongly about such things.
I ride the T a lot. Driving in Boston is a fool’s errand, easier to toss Frodo’s ring into Mount Doom than pilot the inscrutable paths that pass for city streets. I always notice how siloed we are in each other’s company. How two people traveling together can seem as if they are on separate trains—he on his phone, she staring at a half-peeling advertisement on the wall. Everyone seems as if they are somewhere else. Sometimes I search the faces and play that game of “what would you do if this were a Michael Bay disaster movie? Would you, dozing Asian student, spring into action and help us move the steel beam off average white guy? Would you, lady in the grey business suit, tell people to stay calm, to learn our names, to keep it together for our sakes even when all you want to do is fall apart?”
I think about the stories unfolding all around me that I’ll never have access to, I think of how our default mode is to pass through each other’s lives like ghosts until something as common as a smile, a nod, a shard of eye contact catches us, pinning us in place for a minute.
Lately, it’s the hearts that stop me in my tracks. I see them everywhere. The day I stepped out of the T, coasting along silently with the rest of my fellow strangers, I went maybe five or seven steps before I happened to glance down to see a smidge of white on the ground. It could have been tape or toilet paper, it looked so thin, but it was a little white heart. Right there in the dungeon of the Harvard Square T stop. What made my eyes fall right there on that spot? What made me get in that car that would pull up to that part of the platform? The questions are a gyre.
Yesterday it was the pattern in the middle of a knot of pine in my bedroom door frame in the house we’ve lived in for three years.
Weeks ago it was a heart-shaped yellow leaf in the middle of the sidewalk.
A month ago it was a tiny, heart-shaped sticker on the floor at the gym—the no-frills-no-juice bar-could-have-been-in-one-of-the-Rocky-movies gym I go to each day—winking up at me from the edge of the mat, the one that runs the length of the entire room.
Two months ago it was the beach, and maybe that’s where all of this started.
I was at a retreat for the non-profit I work with; it’s a girls’ empowerment organization dedicated to changing the way girls treat themselves and each other. The annual retreat takes place over several days in California and even though the programming is not explicitly for the team, it nonetheless manages to graft its way onto our skin, sticks to our souls like barbecue sauce.
That particular morning, the girls had a session with Rochelle Schieck. Rochelle is a movement and energy teacher who created this form called Qoya, which is sort of like a hot stone massage for your spirit. There’s dancing—like shake your thang any which way kind of dancing—and yoga-inspired stretching and poses, but there’s also moments to set intention, to saddle the energy you’re working with and let it ground you into being right where you are.
It is equal parts incredibly fun, exhilarating, and serious mojo-shifting business.
At the end of the day we gathered together on the beach to watch the sunset. Rochelle asked everyone to clump together around her. “Find a rock,” she said. I am one of those people who pick up stones and pebbles everywhere I travel. To me, they are relics, moments in solid form. Once we all had our rocks, Rochelle said: “Now, hold it in your hands and whisper some words of intention into it and when you’re ready fling it out into the ocean.” I froze.
Huck my precious into the Pacific churn? Just no. But then I decided in the spirit of keeping the juju flowing and not wanting to risk inadvertently calling a curse upon all of women kind with my stubborn willfulness, I played along. I honestly can’t recall what I whispered, I was a little too focused on the business of giving something up. It felt too risky to untether myself from my own small universe of logic and control.
Jesus, it’s a rock, not the cure for cancer, I chided myself. What’s the big deal?
I wound up and threw. I watched the sea swallow the stone as easily as a bird takes a berry from the vine.
I hunted around for another rock to take home with me as a souvenir.
The tide was leaving, exposing thick slabs of sand as smooth as clay. The rounded back of a shiny, grey-green rock stood out so I bent down to dislodge it from the sand.
I read a quote recently that said, “abundance is letting go.” I’ve lost as steeply as anyone else in my short life and because of that I cling too tightly—to things, to dreams, to people and relationships. I took a chance and slipped a piece of myself into the sea along with that rock, trust and belief in the bigger architecture, the hope that I am doing more than gliding through life and the lives of others, the courage to claim my right to be seen, to be heard, to be counted on this planet.
What I got in return was both a promise and a remainder, which, to me, is the definition of prayer. I whisper it whenever a heart catches me now: You are loved, you matter, you are here.