Tag Archives: connection

Stay _ A Poem for the Journey

Stay with the waves, like the ocean you breathe
These are threads of your life, a cocoon that we weave

Stay present and watchful in the vigil you’re keeping
For dormant fears, they will rise, dreamed without sleeping

Stay alert to the storm that you stir with your hands
As you strive for control, to shape life’s shifting sands

Stay open, though around you dissolves much that you’ve known
There’s no need to struggle, we carry you as our own

Stay right where you are, and no matter how far you’ve run
When you return to yourself, you’ll be found, we will come

Stay for the joy in remembering the song
And all our rejoicing, you’ve come home, you belong

Stay for the soaring, and the rest still unnamed
Stay and discover who you are when untamed

Stay, though before you the forge-fires burn
Claim your place at the center, match our strength, it’s your turn

Stay though the flames leap across through your skin
They will sear fear and shame, mend you whole from within

Stay to meet gently each moment unfolding
There is always compassion behind any challenge worth holding

Stay while your light rearranges, unwinds
Though it may seem that shadows are all that you find

Stay curious, and welcome each one eye to eye
You can never cease shining, but you might forget why

Stay your hand, your self-hatred and anger aren’t yours
Dare the mudflats of memory, there you’ll find who it’s for

Stay strong, though for days you’ve been eclipsed in long hours
Dazed in grey silences gone secret and sour

Stay with us, you are trembling with terror to speak
You are held safe in love, find the answers you seek

Stay in the dance, patterned shadows and light
You are learning your wholeness, both the day and the night

**********

You are learning the pathway within to a door
That opens in stillness, go inside and step through
It is there you remember you are worth fighting for
And to do that, you must be the one worth surrendering to

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The Treacherous Terrain of Spiritual Utilitarianism

Imagine that you, a person who considers yourself firmly on a fulfilling spiritual path, have just broken your leg in a freak accident. While recovering in the hospital, you are visited by someone who, up until now, has been a dear friend. Unfortunately, that is about to change…

Your friend opens her mouth to comfort you and says, “It must be really hard to be dealing with this right now. But,” she continues with unnatural excitement, “You’ve given yourself such a wonderful soul growth opportunity!”

When you gawk at her with both incomprehension and a sinking feeling that perhaps you’d rather remain ignorant of her meaning, she simply ploughs ahead with the explanation you never had been waiting for. “See, before you were born, your soul chose all the lessons you were to learn in your lifetime. You chose to sign up for all sorts of traumatic experiences, including breaking your leg, so you could accelerate your spiritual development in this lifetime. Gosh, what a wonderful thing! Think of everything you can learn from it!”

Wonderful? Your doctor is running late on his rounds and you’re in need of more pain relief. After ordering your friend to leave in a voice which sounds unsettlingly more like a growl than a human, you sink back on the hospital pillows hoping for some peace. But it doesn’t come.

Despite yourself, you find you are very disturbed both by what your friend said and what her words imply. How can your friend actually believe her own words? And what if, an admittedly terrifying thought, your friend is right? After all, can anyone really prove her wrong?

Did you choose before birth that you were going to break your leg? Does everyone choose what happens to them before birth? What about abuse or cancer survivors, what about survivors of genocide. Surely, assuming there’s an afterlife; no soul would choose such a horrible experience willingly, no matter how sweeping the universal perspective might be. You think back to spiritual teachings you’ve heard in the past about the other side being full of light and unconditional love. Could anyone possessing unconditional love for themselves and all beings ever justify or permit atrocities to be done to themselves or others they love simply on the grounds of expedience? Talk about violence inherent in the system!

The above example is of course hypothetical, but the concept it describes is alive and well. It is a concept that is perhaps most popular in new age philosophy and spirituality, but is gaining supporters from people of spiritual backgrounds of all sorts. It is defended in books you never would want to pick up and read, and books by people who genuinely, purposefully, and passionately live their own spirituality every day with heart and dedication. In the spirit of respectful disagreement, I chose to quote someone of the latter sort to exemplify.

Lissa Rankin is a spiritual person I greatly admire, many of whose teachings and perspectives I have also come to adopt along my own spiritual journey. She is definitely not the first, and certainly won’t be the last to defend the plausibility of what I call spiritual utilitarianism, the doctrine that actions are right or acceptable when they maximize usefulness, here understood to consist in the greatest personal and collective spiritual development over lifetimes. Here is her eloquent and succinct articulation of spiritual utilitarianism found in her book, The Fear Cure.

Think of the greatest challenges you’ve ever faced—childhood
Abuse, the abandonment or neglect of a parent, illness or disability,
The loss of a loved one, betrayal, heartbreak, divorce, poverty,
being the victim of a violent crime, selling your soul for a paycheck,
Or whatever has hurt you the most. What if, instead of
Being a victim of these traumas, on some soul level, you chose
these challenges?

– Lissa Rankin, The Fear Cure

What if, indeed? Houston, we have a problem.

First, let us inquire into some of the practical and physical world dangers which could easily result from the widespread adoption of this view.

• Victim Blaming: It wasn’t his fault, she asked for it … literally, before she was born.)
• Apathetic Response-Ability: I can feel like a good person while I do nothing to help with (poverty, homelessness, that woman being harassed at work, that man being discriminated against for his disability) because everyone having these experiences chose to put them in their life. Who am I to interfere with their spiritual development? I’m off the hook.
• Complacency and Disconnection: If you really believe that everyone’s hardships, including your own, are a result of soul decisions you made before incarnating, compassion and empathy are optional, not necessitated. It is hard to be authentically present with your feelings if you think you have set up the circumstances of them in advance. If this is true in your own case, it is even truer when trying to relate to others who obviously chose their own suffering.
• Standard Problems for Maximizing Consequentialist Theories: Spiritual utilitarianism holds that actions are spiritually good/worthy if they maximize spiritual growth and minimize spiritual regression or stagnation. It is for this reason a maximizing consequentialist theory—that is, the good on this view is defined in terms of maximizing consequences and outcomes.

Spiritual Objections to Spiritual Utilitarianism
• Spiritual Utilitarianism is a System That Fosters Disconnection: The choice which spiritual utilitarianism posits occurs before birth is itself, after drawing out implications of the theory, a vehicle for separation. That is enough to call its claim to being a theory of spirituality into question.
• A Theory to Shield One From Vulnerability and Mortality: Spiritual Utilitarianism is a wonderful defense mechanism against confronting your own mortality or your own susceptibility to pain, illness, disability, loss, and hardship. Are you struggling with a disability or illness? You can try to console yourself with the thought that your higher self lovingly wanted this for you. Are you currently able bodied and are afraid of disability or loss? You don’t need to confront your fears or seriously question your inaccurate assumptions about others’ quality of life if they all asked to have such experiences. You can ward off fears of facing your own vulnerability in this way, too, believing that while the future is uncertain to you, your higher self already knows all about it. Defense mechanisms always sound like a good idea until you remember they are one of the most common barriers between you and genuine spiritual development, interconnection with all of life, and self honesty. Defensiveness leads to self-deception, which prevents a person from either fully shining her own light, or being able to fully give and receive love. When any spiritual concept or theory is used as a defense mechanism, it creates suffering, disconnection and isolation, and blocks openness, integrity, intimacy, love, and acceptance.
• A Superiority Complex: If you are happy and healthy, spiritual utilitarianism could easily lead you to conclude that you’re quite spiritually evolved, while those who are suffering have a lot to learn. But one of the most fundamental spiritual truths that exist is that we are spiritually equal. And one of the most fundamental physical truths is that we are equally susceptible to vulnerability. After these considerations, spiritual utilitarianism seems right out, as well as highly divisive.
• Spiritual Utilitarianism Permits Betrayal by your Higher Power: Should god/source/the one betray you in the name of expedience? Assuming for a moment such a betrayal is possible, spiritual utilitarianism seems to condone such a soul-devastating occurrence if it will result in your rapid spiritual development (somehow.) It might also be permissible for human beings, in the name of spiritual utilitarianism, to create suffering for others if that suffering is found to further spiritual growth. At first, this might sound crazy. But it is most definitely not, when you remember that the theory in question defines right action only in terms of the act’s consequences.

Questions That Need Asking:
Before taking any theory on board as part of your ethical outlook or spiritual practice/belief system, critical thinking is a must. Here are the questions I’ve asked myself about spiritual utilitarianism.

1. Generally, we think it wrong to sign off on something without another’s consent. The incarnate you will not remember her link to the soul who made the decisions for her life to come. How is choosing horrendous hardships for your future incarnate self any different morally from making the same choices on behalf of your imminently arriving future clone?

2. Suppose you want to learn a spiritual lesson and there is a rapid harrowing way of achieving it and a much slower gentle way of achieving it. Is it really ethical (or an act of self-love or compassion) to willingly harm yourself by subjecting yourself to the former rather than opting for the latter? My intuition is that such self harm is spiritually/ethically wrong, but such a decision would be praised for its goodness on the spiritual utilitarianism theory.

3. If it would maximize your spiritual growth through a particular soul lesson for you to cause grave suffering to another, should you do it?

4. Is suffering ever absolutely necessary? Are unconditional love and prechosen courses of suffering compatible?

5. It seems that the claim that we need to maximize spiritual growth is incompatible with actually achieving such growth. That is, a person who goes about actively trying to maximize her development will, by the very nature of grasping after outcomes, distance herself even further from the goal. Does the same self-defeating logic apply on the other side?

6. Is it possible for a soul to live authentically, allowing the divine to lead her, while insisting on choosing for herself ahead of time how her life is going to go, at a general level.

7. What if you’re not a utilitarian? If spiritual utilitarianism were true, would all souls have to adopt it? What if you, as a spiritual being, lived by completely different principles or took a different approach to growing and becoming more generally. Aren’t you allowed to conduct yourself according to your deepest truth, or is spirituality cosmically standardized? I shudder at the thought!

Personally, after working through all these implications of the spiritual utilitarianism theory, I am willing to see it sent off to that lovely place to which absurd, harmful, or groundless theories go when their time has expired. I am willing, as well, to bet that whatever happens after we die, choosing the pivotal events of great suffering for our lives to come is not part of it. We can thank the gods for that!

I will eventually be following this post up with another which aims to explore what, if anything, might replace the rather misplaced theory of spiritual utilitarianism as a plausible theory of spiritual growth and right action. Don’t be surprised if it has virtue ethics in it. I mean, my entire dissertation is on virtue ethics. What else would I advocate? Surely, it would be the very stuff I believe and live by.

Meanwhile, question everything.

Solstice: Before the Turning Tide

Of the snow that falls,
I will tell you,
And of crumbling walls,
I will tell you,

And when solid ground gives way,
And you’re grasping at what cannot stay,
I will tell you

About your feathers and your wings,
I will show you things
You never even knew
About the sky,

And why there is no need
To know where you are going:
You simply are,
And you are growing.

When the rains wash flowers in their crying,
I am here,
And when the wind takes up its sighing,
I am here,

And through all the pain and loneliness
And longing you’re denying,
I am here,
Holding, keeping you near.

In the soft-spun light
Of each day’s dying,
I am reminding you of why
Every season passes by,

And oh how I hope
That now you really hear
That you can safely give up fear.

Of the sun’s journey to return,
I will tell you,
And of the years it took for us to learn,
I will tell you,

And when all the underbrush of overrushed time
And hurried dreams are burned away,
I will tell you how beautifully you shine,

Wrapped like a child
In the fine threaded fabric
Of this new incipient day.

And together
We will watch this weary world
Again begin to stir,
Having slept through the clay-cracked cold of winter.

Life stretches and uncoils from itself,
Reaches up
Passed what’s certain and what’s sure.

Laughing, blinking,
Once more breaking open
Letting go of all you thought you were,

Once again you have awoken
To the song that carries you,
Remembering the words, from deep within
The truth you always knew.

As the soul of the world calls,
I will be there,
And as trees bridge the two worlds,
I will be there,

And soon it will be time,
And with the sun’s rebirth we rise,
Until everything on earth
Glows vibrant and alive.

Until the light of all that is
Is reflected in each other’s eyes,
We will weave the path that lies ahead,
Its symphony in every thread.

Threading Over And Through: The Endless Journey

Far beyond that one, ephemeral day,
Vitality ever flies, clear and shimmering.

Within the lone wolf’s mournful howl
They heard their own cries, calling out, calling in return.

These are ones who lived beyond their sorrow,
For all in their sunrise to see.

the sunset Of their one flutter of light
Has scattered their existence.

Perhaps we will glimpse an old reflection of ourselves,
In the still and silent water,

Or perhaps, when the lightning strikes,
We will once again raise leafy hands to the sky,

Aware of the intertwining roots,
Anchoring us firmly to the heart of earth,

And the way we take light into ourselves,
A feast of the many colors.

The great charged arcs from the dark clouds above,
Illuminate the core of us from inside out.

I am here, now,
In this starlit night,

And I become the lonesome wolf cry,
You, the moon I call to.

You, shining through the mist beyond the horizon,
I find we have once again traded places.

I will shelter you from the storm,
Though its anger strikes out, I stay your tears.

The map is lost,
Though that’s not stopped any of us from making the journey,

And always I will hold you safe,
Far from bitter winds, even when it seems no one understands.

Phoenix Returning

I woke up with a sunrise
Echoing in my eyes,

The colors all collide,
And all that I can find

Is being alive
Engrained in every surface where it shines.

What else could I do but trade
The limits of the world for a song,

The song in whose melody
I’ve always belonged?

Believing the words held in silence so long,
I am, I am, so grateful to be.

The categories stripped away,
The day made out in perfect contour

Against the breathing sky,
And I, The crying light beaming,

Each a color that streams,
And the words form wings.

They dance each ray of light leaping,
Expanding from every point, changing never leaving.

Like a young universe, carving its own horizon,
I reach out, there Is no point

From which I begin or then return,
I am, I am, so grateful to be.

And so I rise,
With the sun rising in my eyes,

Surrendering the need to try,
I know I can’t fall, only fly.

What else could I do but trade
The fears of this world for a song,

The song in whose melody
I’ve always belonged?

There is more to our lives
Than the world will let on,

Night has it’s stars, from the ashes I’ve gone,
I rise, I rise, and always I’ll be.

Brené Brown: “The Power of Vulnerability _ The One-Many (OM) Project

I’ve decided to continue posting, when I come across them, the words and work of others who, like myself, are committed to living and articulating the interdependence of life, and how and why we should live by, among, because of, and even sometimes for each other. If you know of anyone doing related work, let me know and I’ll include them! This is my passion: not only what I am learning from my spiritual companions, but what I’m writing my dissertation on. I’m calling this, in honor of my own experiences, and yes in order to keep my inner word nerd happy, the One-Many or OM Project. We are all one among many, but never separate from each other.

No one walks alone, so I am including the words of those gone before, who walk their journey with me.

The Message From My Ancient Kin:
“Child, the way has not been clear, but Change is always in the making. Even now, each voice that hides inside, could burst at any moment, and from the heart of every silence, rend from it the truth it yearns to cry. This silent cry, breaking in waves upon the world, floods the landscape in its pleading, still aching to begin, speaking wordlessly within. Be that voice, speak your truth, embody that spirit that is all that you are. For our world is starving for love, is yearning for meaning, to hear the song of every life. And our children need us to live life fully: how else can we leave them their beginnings, or guide them to live by the wonder shining out through their eyes even once they’re old? We have always belonged. We need to remember. Our lives are but a single thread. This is love that holds us, even if it can’t be heard or seen. Our raw moments of connection are the knots tying us together, and it’s from the strands of our own song that we spin the story we become into something beautiful and strong, part of the fabric pattern of the world.”

And now here is another OM person and an inspiring TED Talk which she gave in 2010.

Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Listen to the talk or read the transcript here:

In Brené’s words:

Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. … (W)hat we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is … how we’re wired

If I roughly took the people I interviewed and divided them into people who really have a sense of worthiness … a strong sense of love and belonging … and folks who struggle for it, … who are always wondering if they’re good enough … . There was only one variable that separated (them.) …(T)he people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.

These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness.

What they had in common was a sense of courage. … It’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.

And the last was they had connection, … as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were

They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating… They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…

Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her, she’s perfect…” That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” … Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today.

This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and … say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

In Difficult Moments: Learning to Let Myself Be Seen

I would speak for you,
I would call the colors, help you name the sadness in your eyes.
I would sing the sky’s song to you,
And hold the space for you that has no words.

But right now, peering through the dark stained glass,
Full of the mists of weariness,
I wish that silence would blow across the marshes of my memory,
Seep into conversation, drowning out my own sadness.

Sometimes there is only inky confusion
Lapping at the shores of my life,
As if a wave could slip onto sand indecisively,
Curling up upon itself just before its journey’s over.

Shame and its isolation wash over,
Conveniently masked by grey tears I wish no one knew about.
We have all asked, but I just don’t know why.
Shifting tides, interrupted flight patterns of birds,

An afternoon of lingering loneliness,
Longing for laughter,
And I’m trembling against sharing the seeds of such sorrow,
That never lets itself be named.

It’s tempting to frame it for you in pretty packaging,
Hoping, halfheartedly, that this time the tenebrous tendrils, fog of forgetfulness
Will snatch the melancholy from my mind,
Before you notice what’s there.

But the icy wind blows fiercely through,
Tossing untried possibilities across the vacant field
Of this directionless day.
And I am haunted by the changes I did not make fast enough, well enough.

Why can I not look inside
And recognize this nameless grief as mine?
Defeated I stare across the divide to where I thought I’d be by now .
Me—–you; place-where-I’m-standing—–place-of-my- longing.

The season is coming to an end,
And I fear I have harvested nothing.
I return empty handed, it seems, but for the tears pooled in my palms
Settling into the lifelines on my skin.

Perhaps, in this way, I can still water my dreams,
While the silent cry, breaking in waves upon the world,
Floods the landscape in its pleading,
Still aching to begin, speaking wordlessly within.

So I stop constructing paper cranes out of my pain,
And unfold the creases, between us its map and the indecipherable key,
The empty spaces for which I have no words.
And we wander the pathways there that I have yet to tread,

Because this is how we remember,
Our lives are but a single thread.
Because this is love that holds us, even if it can’t be heard.
Our raw moments of connection are the knots tying us together,

And it takes everything I have, to step across, reach out,
But when I do, the illusions shatter
And I’m amazed to find that you understand, that the shadows are familiar,
That you too struggle to name them, to share the origins of tears.

I would speak for me:
I feel undone, discouraged, , alone.
Could you surround me in your present, quiet light,
Until the fog clears, until I’m assured once more we’re home?

Please, help me gather these broken pieces
On the edge of this unknown,
Where there is nothing left to hide:
And for a moment keep them safe for me, carry them with your own.

Trail’s End (Written Around 2005-2006)

This winter the road is washed out by a waterfall.
The two children prance ahead,
Their laughter reaching the stairs
That lead to trail’s end.

I assume (of course) that there’s a cliff where the water torrents down.
The wet ground feels good against my bare feet,
And my sister, rushing river below,
Roars her rapture up at me.

Following my guide dog I wonder at walking.
Each step taken, is a falling
And catching of myself again and again,

Knowing nothing of what’s ahead, and moving forward anyway,
Expecting I will land upright, but when I stumble
I forget to trust my own sense of balance,
All the while baffled by my fear of letting go.

I watch the impact I have on the earth.
What a strange way to journey through the day:
My body made of earth and water passing recognition over
Earth and water, before my time to pass over.

Like so many thousand drops of water, I am spilling over
Making way, dancing across boundaries between worlds,
Shimmering along edges of my clay self,
The path I am tracing, a carving through centuries and stone.

And then amidst the music that surrounds me,
Gathered in, held quietly, I am stilled,
As if I too could dissolve into the halcyon pool below.

Toward the dense, deep smell of grey
Looking up at the leafy tree branches above,
“Who are you kidding?” I ask.
Slipping beneath sound into its silences, I answer and listen to the one who speaks:wordlessly.

“We say, in a fight, you cannot win,
You can only defeat;
And out on the rock– my brother—we
Locked horns and the blasted words deafened our ears.”

“I remember being ashamed, lying sheet-wrapped and silent,
And more than the running into wall after wall,
It hurts to know that once we threw rocks,
And for a while afterward, we did not speak to each other.”

“Words are like oceans. They are beautiful and offer freedom,
But once you are there with them, never turn your back.
Perhaps I am who I was before.”

“And if I am, somehow, in some mysterious way,
Then a child was born who happened to have an I
Who I could hear and think and feel and share.”

“Coming home, we stamp off our shoes and put all our baggage away.
I look out under the stars and watch the world dreaming,
The rest was long and good to wait for.”

Now I stand next to the two children,
With no memory of how I got myself here.
Beyond the railing, I can trace the shapes
The river makes as it moves.

The wind is making a play thing out of my hair.
I wonder whose story I am telling,
And if I’ll ever know who called to me,
From somewhere beyond the stream of time.

And for a moment, the song of myself that lives in me
Sings of the wind of changes, and the land,
Cradling the river in it’s arms.

I brush away the lingering mist,
Spray splashing on my face.
But there is more to be said, and though I do not understand,
This time when I answer, I speak from more than I am now.

“Sometimes, we trip on the roots and sometimes we step over them,
And when we’re walking, sometimes the routes get too long
And we get lost retracing them, tracking where the footsteps fell,
And it’s the wandering lost that has often frightened me.”

Tell the I who sought after freedom, who long ago
Misplaced the map written in the language of belonging,
Tell my feet that crossed and recrossed the road
Full of its endless spiraled turning,

Tell the I who faced sun and rain to hold my own,
I am reunited with my own, I have come full circle.
Tell my hands that constructed and reconstructed the shelters,
I am home.

The Old Woman _ Spring 2013

She took my hands between her own
Herself of the mists and shadows,
I might never have noticed her

But the earnestness in those sea eyes,
They held mine–
I could not look away.

I will see you again, barely whispered within me–
And yes, I recognized her, Old and weathered,
A tree that has seen much,
Survived great things.

She was not a child, barely five feet tall.
Yes, I knew her—
Before I was born here again, I knew her.

The predawn finds me
Within the restless wakefulness of a night watcher
startled to have entered a vigil
I am unaware of ever keeping.

I compel myself to silence,
An endless stream of faces, lines etched in skin–
Because of how many losses do I exist?

The question’s afraid to be asked.
Awe and terror of it leaves me instinctively shrinking,
And I curl up under the covers, sobbing like a child against
The truth of things, it shatters into broken glass,

Shards of myself piercing through the hard outer shell
Piece by piece, I am wounded for it:
For gathering what lies broken and undone,
Deserves to come back whole.

This grief for what I never knew I lost:
How many memories will pull me out of sleep,
Drag me into themselves
As if I have become a prisoner of mirrors?

I took her hands in mine,
She is my great grandmother, my daughter,
And so I am haunted by what is.

Gone, all of them gone now,
But not from the marrow of my dreams
That ebb and flow, of places I’ve never seen,
Tides I’ve never known.

I’ll see you again, she said,
I uncoil my fragile body, exhausted with trembling,
Peal the blanket away from my eyes
And I am not alone.

Who are you?
Lingering where questions lie unanswered,
Breathing in silence, together.