Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dangling Modifiers

I'd sell your heart to the junkman baby
For a buck, for a buck
If you're looking for someone
To pull you out of that ditch
You're out of luck, you're out of luck

The ship is sinking
The ship is sinking
The ship is sinking
There's leak, there's leak,
In the boiler room
The poor, the lame, the blind
Who are the ones that we kept in charge?
Killers, thieves, and lawyers

God's away, God's away,
God's away on Business. Business.
God's away, God's away,
God's away on Business. Business.

- Tom Waits

When you turn around and discover there’s no god, it is the most terrifying moment in your life.

It feels as though someone is telling you that you do not, in fact, live on planet Earth. It feels as though your parents are telling you that they picked you out of a cabbage patch. It feels as though everything that you once believed to be true is now untrue.

And you’re partly right.

But you’re immensely wrong also.

But it takes a long time, to get your bearings, to realize you can still breathe, to get through the pain of all the loss - the family and friends who treat you like an alien, those you push away because you just don't know how to think straight with all their words clouding your mind. The greatest losses, if you were once an active believer and practitioner of a faith, are the community and the daily time spent focused on your faith.

Suddenly your sentences are filled with dangling modifiers.

"Having left the woman with no direction, the world was weirdly empty."

Who? Who did what? How?

Nobody.

Nobody did nothing.

The world is just as empty as it ever was.

The obvious elephant, seen only by a far removed eye, is to replace the missing elements. But that is far easier said than done. You can't just replace your community. Well, maybe you can, if you recognize that it is what's missing, know where to go, and have the clarity of mind to do it. Like I said, you can't just go do it. It takes time, and sorting and taking out a whole lot of garbage. And that time you used to spend focused on faith...you do or can sort of replace it. It just feels different and takes getting used to, and it took me years to realize that it needed to be done.

Plus, the truth is, I spent a long time fighting against anything resembling what I had been taught. It wasn't a rebellion like I had been taught to disdain and shun. I wasn't angry at a god. I wasn't fighting a god. I wasn't a backslidden Christian. I was trying to find clarity, to sort through the rubble and figure out what was actually true and what needed tossing out. There was no god to fight. I was rebelling against falsehood.

But, with all that time and space, I got to see that faith I had lost in a whole new way. And one day, as if it happened suddenly, it all just seemed so silly. And I could only see all the damage it has caused, in me, in others, in the world. And it felt like everyone I knew still believed in Santa, and it turned out that it wasn't unbelievers who were crazy, it was believers. It just seemed so absurd. I tried to write about it. But I wrote with anger and out of a place of frustration. I was sick of my voice being treated as childish and pathetic. Of course, my rantings only resulted in a lot of "that poor girl," and "she's obviously so sad." I pushed people away. Utter failure. I really did feel like I had found truth and understanding and light and life and freedom, but it was met with a sort of sadness and head-shaking. Some people did try. My cousin called. She wanted to hear me, to understand. But it was like I was speaking Martian. There was no way to close the gap.

But lately, with so many people sick and dying and the edges of existence beginning to fray, the gap seems more crossable. Some of the people I love are beginning to see things a little differently. And I am trying, to let go of my own disdain and anger and cockiness. And the truth is, I want to admit that I do feel connected to something greater than myself. I cringe from those words just like I cringe from being "spiritual." But I am, whether I want to admit it or not. As Maya said the other day as she held her hands in the air, "Mom, I am touching everyone in the whole world right now. All the atoms in matter are all connected so I am touching everyone."

My nonreligious friend was telling me yesterday about all these "kismet" experiences of "the universe" bringing things to her attention and making her wake up and take notice and pay attention to what is happening to her and how she is receiving. I admitted that it made me uncomfortable to hear and that I usually approach all of such experiences as explainable and having no meaning. You know, "sound and fury signifying nothing."

But I tried to stay open. And I admitted that I think that I am missing all of my moments like that because I am so quick to eradicate any feeling of connection. I have been so afraid that absorbing those moments would mean I was falling back into the snare of religion and the opiate of belief. But then, I am missing it, whatever it is that causes those absurd coincidences and unlikely events. I am missing out on the chance to feel that, whether or not it is personal or just an unfeeling universe, I am connected to something greater just because I am HERE. And I am pushing the gap wider between me and those who believe in something specific and motivated.

But life is too fucking short for that.

I think it's time I "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and put down my arms against the sea of troubles. Because I cannot end them. As Maya said, "There is no such thing as tomorrow." There is only now. There is only connecting. There is only loving each other. And there is no time to waste in doing so.

God may be away on business, but all the things that I loved about a god, the love and grace and peace and forgiveness, the community and contemplative time, they're not gone. And I am here. And so are you. And that's outrageously amazing. With my arms raised, I am hugging you right now. We are connected. And I see that it is good. And now I am going to rest.

Friday, February 6, 2015

I Scream, You Scream

I scream, you scream, we all scream for understanding

My eye hurts
Maya has a fever
Dave died on Monday
Corey was murdered two weeks ago
Eddy died in December
Wilson may go to jail
Patrick is gone
But my eye hurts
And that's the most occupying thought in my head right now
And Maya is sick
And I missed the field trip
And people I love are in crisis
And my freaking eye hurts with every single stinking blink
And my tea is cold
But it's warm inside
And I'm going to just watch a movie with Maya
Maybe I'll make us fresh, hot tea
But there is a heartbeat under everything
Boom, my friend is hurting
Boom, Denise is in pain
Boom, Betsy will be alone
Boom, Alex needs his dad
Boom, Carole is still hurting
Boom, why
Boom, because
Boom, no rhyme
Boom, no reason
But twenty degrees and my cold breath as I step outside
And the sky
And the billions of stars
And the expanse of the universe
A candle is burning
The scent is seeking balance
Maya's handheld microscope and little ice crystals
A lovely note from my sister
A great book
Boom, Love
Boom, Grace
Boom, Peace
Boom, Community
Boom, Love
Boom, Love
Boom, Love

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Face Forward


Remember when you were a kid and someone told you that if you made a certain horrible face too many times it would stay that way?

They were right, it turns out.

You just don’t know, when you’re young, that there is going to be this moment when you first notice the face in the mirror. “Oh,” you think, “Look at that. Look at those wrinkles. I’ve done that so many times that my face has LITERALLY stayed that way. So, now I’m here, at this stage. I’m in the beginning of the face-staying stage.” And you remember that you’re thirty-seven and that you are TWENTY years older than when you couldn’t believe your eighteenth birthday would ever come.

I know, blah blah blah old age and getting older and suprise-suprise it’s you too.

But it’s not the wrinkles that I’m worried about, actually. It’s the way my soul has gotten stuck from doing the same thing over and over again. Yes, I’ve grown. I’ve changed. Some. But I don’t think I’ve paid enough attention to all the little habits that make up my life...the little habits that have gotten stuck, the scaffolding of my well-being, the face of my inward self.

When I was in high school I had the greatest math teacher ever. She literally made an entire class sit on the edge of our seats while she lectured. In Advanced Math, a class of seven boys and me, we witnessed this whirlwind of passion and expression as she furiously laid out the explanation for us of the connection between pi and sine and cosine. She was madly writing, chalk dust flying, and ended with a dramatic slam of chalk in one final point. She turned around to gaping mouths and eight enlightened minds. My friend Mike said, “OH. So this is why we’ve been learning everything we’ve been learning up until now.”

But have I been memorizing the right equations? Have I been repeating the right phrases to myself? Have I been building the foundation to equip myself for this time in my life?

Because, from what I’ve borne witness to lately, this time in life requires strength, grit, health, flexibility, endurance, compassion and, above all, love. This time in life is filled with the hardest things - sickness, injury, tragedy, the pain of others you love, and loss. The older you get, the deeper you love and the more you stand to lose. The losses are deeper and wider. And everyone around you is going through them.

Have I been making the same horrible inward face of fear?
Can I replace that face with a face of love?
Can I make the same inward face of love so many times that I get stuck that way?
What qualities do I want to get stuck doing?
How can I benefit the world by memorizing the right words, practicing the right habits, strengthening the right muscles?

Because the world needs me to be healthy, strong, flexible, enduring, kind, compassionate and loving. The world does not need me to be beautiful, wealthy, busy and wasteful.


A Great Need - by Hafiz


Out
Of a great need
We are all holding hands
And climbing.
Not loving is letting go.
Listen,
The terrain around here
Is
Far too
Dangerous
For
That.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Life is hard. Grab a broom.

"To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for the world's sake - even when the world bores and sickens and scares you half to death - that little by little we start to come alive.”
― Frederick Buechner

I have been seeing it all wrong.

Aurora, Marco's amazing cousin, and I were discussing marriage. She stated that after the first three years, as long as the romantic "honeymoon" stage will take you, marriage and loving someone becomes a choice, sometimes daily, sometimes minute by minute. Life is the same.

We're told, marketed, this idea that our lives all deserve certain things:

A tremendous romance
A passionate vocation
Stability
Comfort
Delicious food
To be young and beautiful

We think that if we don't have that, life is dissatisfying. We think that when we've lost one, our identity ceases to be what it was.

Who am I?

Does my body matter?

Does it matter if I am romanced the way I see in movies?

Does every meal have to be what I want?

Is it even good to have comfort all the time?

What makes me feel stable and can I be stable without those things?

Can I find joy, stability and a sense of being completely okay with me if my house is a mess, I fail at my job, my husband is angry with me, I put on 20+ pounds?

Is me the woman in the photos?

Is me the woman on the phone with a friend?

Is me the woman that one person despises?

Is me the fun person who brings life to the party?

Is being a party girl me?

Is being a stable mom me?

Is being hardworking me?

Is getting back into bed me?

And do I even have a right to know? Aren't there enough needs in the world that perhaps I ought to drop the baggage of this self-obsession and get on with the business of helping the world?

I don't DESERVE anything. I am just another human on Earth, built for survival, reckoning with the brevity of life. There's no schwag bag that comes with the life party! Your gift is this: you get to fucking live here on Earth. Have you seen it? Have you tasted the water that falls from the sky? Pretty amazing. Have you felt the warm sun on your face? Stupefyingly brilliant.

You're not owed a damn thing. Now quit whining and grab a fucking broom. Start helping.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Goodbye to Love

I wonder, how much of love is just being known?

It's 4:20 am. We're on our way to Ohio to say goodbye, to pay respects, to bury, to hug, to try to wrap our heads around the idea that Eddy, Marco's sister's husband, is really gone.

We've done this trip so many times that now we can basically prep with very little discussion. I know what he'll want to wear in the car, I know to remind him of his wallet. He suggests I use the bathroom one more time. We do a sort of dreamy dance, setting the lights, feeding the fish, loading the car. And so many little things I take for granted. He knows I will need my pillow. I know we'll stop for gas, and I will automatically get him a Gatorade. And this time is no different, although perhaps it's been done more quietly. Everything between us has been done quietly lately. I didn't know how much of grief would be vacant silence.

I thought I was prepared for his death. We knew it was coming. Sixteen months of a grueling battle with stomach cancer leaves one mindful of the coming end. But when that call came that they thought he'd die within hours, I crumpled to the floor. Everything I had been worried about doing that day just dissipated, leaving only sadness, impatience, regret, and desperation. I can't quite tell how much is my own pain and how much is the pain of knowing others are suffering. And not just others. Marco's family is my family. His sister is my sister. Her children, part of the fabric of my heart.

It's no secret that this last year was fraught with difficulty and frustration. Eddy's gradual withdrawal from life left a vacuum, both in the family and in our company. You see, not only are they family, but they are my coworkers. Our lives are tied by daily conversations, negotiations, emails, texts. We run a small home health agency where all but one of the admin team is a family member. It was intense before he got sick, but when the COO is going through chemo and then surgery to remove organs, all life lurches in fits and starts. It is painful. It is complicated. It is exhausting. It's filled with equal parts empathy and frustration. And for him, I can't imagine. He cared deeply about the company, the patients, the employees. He had poured himself into making things better, and he had to let go and watch us flounder and shift and try to make it all work.

And now? How do we all keep going, keep working, keep the company and each other going through this grief? How do we manage without the person who knows? He was the keeper of stories, the rememberer of old events, the guy with all the inside jokes. He knew us. And he was known.

I can't pretend that my grief is anything compared to what my sister-in-law is feeling, missing her other half, the man who really knew her. And the kids? How do we even begin to be there for them when we have no idea what part of them he knew, what secrets of loving them he held, what jokes they shared? Only they carry those mysteries. Only they know what part of them is lost in a memory we can never retrieve.

So, I packed cookie dough and sprinkles and bags of icing...for new memories, for new ways for them to be known, for all of us to gather and share the pieces we know are now missing. And I got them journals, so they can begin the process of capturing the part of him they have locked away, and the part of themselves they lost with him. His memory was great, we all have a lot of empty space now.

I explained to Maya that his body is gone but that who he was, the only part of him we ever actually had, is in our memories of him. And that's the afterlife, or the only part of living after death that we know for sure. Heaven is not awaiting. Heaven is here. We make it by sharing ourselves, leaving behind a legacy of memory, made in our lifetime. It sure makes you think about how you want to spend your day. For , "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." (Annie Dillard)

"The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It's the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared."
Lois Lowry, The Giver

We will all miss the man who knew us, the sharer of our memories. When someone dies, we miss them. Nothing can replace their physical form, their jokes and hugs and antics. But the memories of who they were we get to keep. He lives on in us. The part that's gone is the part of us that was in him. Eddy knew me. He knew all of us. And those pieces, those memories, those parts of us that only he kept, they're gone. And that radio silence is what lets the sadness in, like an air raid on your mind.

Love is being known. And today we begin to say goodbye to love, goodbye to memory, goodbye to shared moments, goodbye to inappropriate jokes, long phone calls, silly texts and too long hugs. We say goodbye to a man and goodbye to who we were with him. There are memories of myself, a harsh word, rolled eyes, that are best put to rest. But I will forever miss the part of me he held dear, the partner in-law who hopefully showed him respect and love and patience, who knew me as my best self and who shared a space and a family we would never have known had we not both stumbled upon these people we so love, people by whom we are known.

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