Handsome Stranger

He was beautiful. But I was drawn to his presence. He was self-possessed but cool, confident but in a relaxed way. He wore gray knit shorts, flip flops, and a light blue t-shirt, but he was clearly put together. His hair was thick and dark, tinted auburn from the sun, with neatly trimmed scruff. His features were dark, aloof, and inviting. He was fit but not overly muscular. The cake was how he noticed his surroundings but focused on his reading and coffee. I snuck a peak at his book, something in French. I swooned.

I stopped myself, “Am I attracted t him, or do I want to be him?”  Maybe I just liked what seemed exotic, the allure of the opposite: his dark to my pale, his casual confidence to my constant inner questioning.

My eyes followed him as he left the coffee shop. He took a right and rounded the corner, walking past the large open window where I sat. Would he glance or smile? Or would he pass by, impervious to my interest?

He did indeed look my way and then veered in my direction with a grin. My heart leapt, until I realized he was stopping to say hello to friends at the table next to mine. His voice was warm and clear, friendly but firm, and not overly deep like so many men do to overcompensate. He congratulated a happy couple who is newly pregnant, and then went on his way, French novel and my fascination tucked under his arm.

I’m attracted to men all the time based on how they look or act. This was different. I was drawn to this guy’s sense of self and how he carried it. Clearly I am projecting onto a stranger what I wrestle within myself. “Who am I?” I wonder. And could I own myself, the way he does?

I have this hollow space carved out inside. There I turn ideas over and over, thinking and feeling my way through them. What sometimes is curiosity, is at other times insecurity. That inner question mark allows me to plumb the depths of a conversation or quandary. It can also make me ill at ease and lead me to gravitate toward those who are more self assured.

It’s like there’s an interior longing that turns round and round in the hollow. I can savor experiences and encounters, like the one today, lingering over reflection about identity and attraction. The trick seems to be easing up when the turning becomes churning.

I left the coffee shop this afternoon wondering if I’d see this guy again (probably not, seems straight). More importantly, I wondered what the sudden pang of self-reflection means. For awhile, I was kind of ‘praying’ that I’d one day be more at ease and confident, the way the handsome stranger was. Then I realized this hollowed out question mark is a part of me, both good and challenging, life-giving and distressing. And the ache I felt, was just the desire to share that part with others, friends and lovers alike. Deep calling to deep.

God, what a torrent of thinking came from a chance afternoon coffee. I can hear friends telling me to lighten up. But that’s the ocean within the hollow, the rush of emotion over the everyday experience. That is part of who I am, not be thrown away.

Fearfully and wonderfully made, huh? I doubt that sometimes. But then, sometimes I take the risk of believing it, and letting it become true.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know full well.”
–Psalm 139





Day 30 – Believe

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I met Jason for coffee at Qualia in Petworth. Homey place. Good coffee. We sat outside and talked about church: how it’s changing, what it needs to adapt, and what part I might play. After an hour of brainstorming, I realized that he was encouraging me to see and to value the gifts I bring–as a teacher, a Hill staffer, a talker, a thinker. I came expecting to talk shop. He came to affirm me.

I don’t know where any of this leads in terms of future career. So far, I think it means becoming a priest. But I do believe he was right. All the experiences I’ve endured, the heart aches and triumphs, the skills and the doubts, could be drawn together in giving myself to something greater. I can take the next step in a direction not fully known, trusting that I have something to offer.

Later that night I met a group of friends at Compass Rose on 14th Street. What a madhouse that strip is now. Compass Rose, though, is delightful. The restaurant serves international street food in a renovated row house next to Saint Ex. Over a bottle of Georgian wine and khachapuri, we had a spirited conversation about travel, hymns, and sex. Mostly we talked sex. Imagine that, among a group of gay guys.

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I left buoyed by the conversation, not just the wine. It was a full day, full of the really good stuff that makes this world splendid sometimes: bread, wine, God, sex, laughter, friendship. I am grateful that people shared these last 30 days with me. And they shared more than the new coffee shop or restaurant. They shared a part of their story, and the things that make them tick, including the tragic and the sublime.

I come away from this month believing more. I believe that this city is full of tucked away places and unknown neighborhood spots. I believe that people have so much to offer just by sharing their thoughts and their fears. I believe that there is depth of spirit in everyday occurrences, waiting to be discovered if you’re willing to slow down, reflect, and maybe even write about what you have experienced.

This world is full of splendor and pain. All of it is worth savoring until it yields to that infinite, creative possibility that lies within it. Open your eyes, Jeremy. Think and feel. Taste and see that this world is good.

God, what a life you have given me.


Day 29 – Drink and Dive


I met Ben at Dodge City around 9:30. The bar was half empty when I arrived, and practically empty by the time we left. I ordered a vodka soda, which the bartender served with a shot of tequila. “That’s for you,” he said kindly but forcefully. So this is how this is going to go.

Ben is an artist I met through a mutual friend years ago. But I got to know him through his photo blog, which is stunning. A boy from backwoods Louisiana, he captures New Orleans in a way that grips me. Several months ago, I was so drawn to one pic in particular, and the short reflection he wrote about it, that I messaged him and asked if I could buy a print.

One of the things that struck me about Ben’s work was its honesty. New Orleans is the asshole of the country, he wrote, where all the muck and shit of the country is dumped after its twisted journey down the Mississippi. People in New Orleans don’t turn up their nose, though. They accept and celebrate it. (I paraphrase.)

In that spirit, one entry was about reconnecting with a friend he met at a mental hospital years ago, bonded over anguish and healing. Here was some raw reflecting on the shitty side of life. I found it refreshing.

In a city like Washington, we put our game face on and our best foot forward. We are ambitious and successful. We have plans to save or change the world, or at least plans to make something of ourselves. So we relate to each other from our strength. But Ben’s writing reminded me that real communion happens in our weakness, our failures, and our deep seated insecurities. For me, that’s anchored in all sorts of Christian teachings about humility and the cross. For Ben, it seems to come from surviving and living a hard life.

Two drinks in (I’ve used that phrase a few times in this blog!), Ben turned the conversation around on me, “What you just said is pretty vague.” I had shared a few of my less attractive moments. I didn’t understand what he was getting at, until I let the question sink through the barrier. I was sharing the highlights and skipping the dark valleys. So I let it rip – holding the hand of my dying grandfather alone in the hospital, watching my mother suffocate, losing a job because of homophobic parents, losing a relationship because of…reasons not suitable for this blog.

He nodded in a shared understanding of hurt, then smiled and said, “Now there’s a story.” There was a story, to be told to those who can bear it and to find communion in our poverty.

I want to be careful here. I’m not proposing one-upmanship about scars: “Now look at THIS baby.” Nor do I mean you have to dive into your existential pain in order to make friends. But I do mean that moving, spiritual things happen when you let your guard down long enough to share your fears and failures. With or without tequila.


Photo by Ben Carver: http://www.bencarveronline.com 

Day 28 – Sputter


I sputtered through Wednesday. I’m not sure I saw or did anything terribly different. But I did notice a new pace.

I met up with a financial advisor at a new coffee shop. Bread & Brew was a bust, the cafe part at least. It was hot from the oven, the tables were kind of dirty, and the whole place felt disheveled. Talking to a financial advisor was new, and a little depressing. Growing up is hard, and new questions beget new things to think about. #NegativeNancy

I took a long, slow walk home, even though it was 85 degrees. At least I was adjusting my pace so as to see more in the neighborhood. I wandered through Dupont and Logan, looking at houses split in two. Developers must have literally cut originally large homes in half and painted a line down the middle of the exterior. I had never really noticed that.

I was making my way to The Coffee Bar in Logan, a great spot I blogged about earlier. It was closed by the time I arrived, so I ambled up to U Street and opted for frozen yogurt instead. Menchie’s isn’t new to me, nor is the concept. It is a little…whimsical though, if you can avoid throwing up from all the neon and sugar.

A few other landmarks or interesting places caught my eye. In reality, though, it was a pretty routine day. In fact, the really new opportunity I had was the invitation to attend a black tie gala celebrating Georgia Independence Day. The country, not the state. But I had to back out at the last minute.

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By the time I arrived home, I had seen a few new sights, walked a slower pace, and reflected a bit more than usual. Maybe that, in itself, is a shift due to this 30 day challenge. Routine, everyday things like a walk home can be approached in a different way, loosening up my thoughts and perspective, whether life changing inspiration strikes or not.

Day 27 – Start a New Job


Ok, the new job was in the works before I started the 30 day challenge. But this gig has aspects that are pretty new for me. The organization has only five employees. Everyone works virtually. Weekly staff meetings take place at Open City Diner.

After today’s meeting, I asked my boss, “So, what would you like me to do?” His response: “I’ll send you some emails, and you’ll figure it out as you go.”

Usually I am uncomfortable with up-in-the-airness. At age 22 I took Hebrew, a language that is translated pretty fluidly. Words and phrases can mean several different things, and there are several possible answers. Some of my classmates loved the flexibility. I did not. I wanted to learn the rules, apply them, and then spit out a tidy English sentence.

Fifteen years later, I am trying to take a different approach. I’m waiting and seeing. I’m diving in and feeling the water as I go. I’m looking for peace in the midst of uncertainty and not rushing to judgment.

One step at a time. Easy does it. Such basic life lessons and an invitation to trust.

Of course, I will come to a point that I lose my zen and hate the flux. I will exhaust my expertise and still need to give more. Yet, I think there will still be the invitation to trust and to learn, to fail and to start again.

I wonder if this could be a spiritual experience, depending on how I go through it. What might it look like, to be open to a deeper current stirring in everyday events? I guess there is only one way to find out.


Marilyn welcomed me to the corner
Connecticut and Calvert this morning,
next to Open City Diner.