The Freckles of God


It would figure that the one hour I spent alone in Istanbul would land me in the front seat of a cab with a sleazy driver. With barely a word of language in common, he’d managed to cover all the hot topics of conversation: I was American, unmarried, vaguely his age. My typical warnings about large brothers dropped somewhere into the language gap between his seat and mine. He turned the heater full blast and encouraged me to take off my heavy coat, and I pretended I was still cold, as beads of perspiration condensed on my forehead. He pointed to the little dots on the back of my hand, the only skin I had left showing, and arched an eyebrow.

“Freckles,” I told him.

“Fleckels,” he said. I could tell he was not sold on them.

“In America,” I said, “freckles are beautiful.” I drew the last word out emphatically, knowing it was one of those ones that transcends cultures. But I wasn’t speaking to him anymore, I was preaching to to my own spirit. The sermon was the same th​at​ time a man in India said his uncle could get me a cream that would rid me of them. “What! These? They’re beautiful!”

I reacted like he’d offered me a lotion that could erase my skin.  And, ​in a way, he had . . .

Read about My Own Beauty Campaign on the IndiAanya blog.


beat our dust hearts, singe our flour wings

I recently read an article about the song Cosmia, by folk singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom. (One of my very favorite artists, despite her odd lyrics and odder voice.)

I’ve loved the song since I first heard it the fall of 2007. Partly for the beautifully haunting and diverse instrumentals, and partly for the honest way it expresses the devastation of loss.

“Though I tried so hard,
I couldn’t keep the night from coming in.”

The song is about the death of one of her best friends.  She got the call while she was driving between gigs, during the year when her career was first taking off, and that moment defined the development of most of the songs on her following album.  One that, baffling to me as a writer, somehow faces grief head-on without denial of pain or a wisp of contrived consolation.

What she writes about the process of making the album describes well the tension I’ve been struggling with in my life and walk with God:

“The thing that I was experiencing and dwelling on the entire time is that there are so many things that are not okay and that will never be okay again. But there’s also so many things that are okay and good that sometimes it makes you crumple over with being alive.

We are allowed such an insane depth of beauty and enjoyment in this lifetime. It’s what my dad talks about sometimes. He says the only way that he knows there’s a God is that there’s so much gratuitous joy in this life. And that’s his only proof. There’s so many joys that do not assist in the propagation of the race or self-preservation. There’s no point whatsoever. In fact, they are so excessively, mind-bogglingly joy-producing that they distract from the very functions that are supposed to promote human life. They can leave you stupefied, monastic, not productive in any way, shape or form. And those joys are there and they are unflagging and they are ever-growing. And still there are these things that you will never be able to feel okay about. Unbearably awful, sad, ugly, unfair things.”