Books, gratitude

It feels good to feel.

Last Sunday we hiked with the Boy Scouts. It was drizzly and foggy and 40 degrees and definitely not a day I would have left the house if I didn’t have a reason I had to. But we’d committed, so I packed the backpack with snacks and water bottles and extra scarves, and we set off – the three of us and the other three families who were there. Up the mountain, one foot in front of the other. The weekend before I’d hiked this same spot alone when it was 60 and gloriously sunny. (Thanks, Georgia winter.) And that day, my head was running all sorts of meandering directions which is a welcome moment sometimes, but this day, in the damp cold, it was hard to think of much else. Only the task in front of you gets your attention when it requires some physical discomfort it seems.

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We reached the top, and the boys completed a little lesson on pitching a tent and tying knots, and Norah and I found a large rock to perch on for a while. The view behind us usually stretches for miles, but it was all fog. When they were done, we walked down the mountain the same way we’d gone up – one step at a time. Then we got home, both kids laid under blankets on the couch for a while, and lentils simmered in the slow cooker. It feels good to feel something. Even when it is cold or some discomfort or some physical exertion. It feels good to feel.

Mary Oliver died yesterday. My writer-friend texted me while I was standing in line for our annual MLK convocation. I was in academic regalia and huddled in the hallway with other English professors, and then we all filed in the century-old auditorium where the university’s gospel choir met us as we walked in to take our seats. The rousing piano and the raised voices and the row of us in black. It felt like my own little funeral for her. There are memorable moments in each life that etch their shape on your mind forever, and this is one for me. Decades from now, I will say, I know where I was when I found out Mary Oliver died. And I will think of a gospel choir singing “Break the Chains.”

I think I have quoted her here probably more than any other writer. I’ve been reading so many online tributes, all of them beautiful, and one mentioned that she was always purposely ignored by a few high-profile literary critics because her work was so easily accessible. But I know that was with purpose, and I think this was one of the million things she taught me – that simple is perfect and that simplicity can stab you right in the gut where you need to feel it. Why embellish when what is here and real and simple is what pulses anyhow?

She taught me to, as she says, let the soft animal of my body love what it loves, to float a little above this difficult world, and to keep some room in my heart for the unimaginable.

I was flipping through one of my volumes of her work last night before bed, and Jude asked me what I was reading. I explained who she was and that she’d passed that day and that I just wanted to read a few lines to make me feel better. He asked to choose one to read, so I left him alone for a while with it and came back to his insistence that we read Alligator Poem. I read it aloud for us and he asked for another, so I flipped to that old favorite Wild Geese.  Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination.

I bought tickets months ago to the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibit here in Atlanta. I’m lucky that my university has a partnership with the High Museum, and we had the place to ourselves for two hours. We could bring ourselves and one guest, and I chose Jude as a treat for him and a rare day just the two of us. I emailed his teacher to explain why he was missing school and she agreed yes! go! It has been nearly impossible to get tickets in Atlanta, and the lines are typically long. I’m grateful for what feels like outrageous abundance allowing us to do this. It was an incredible morning.

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Art touches that place that you cannot get to any other way. And I know this is a very cliché English teacher thing to insist, but the older I get, the more I see that there really isn’t much else that matters. That place, that indescribable space that is both tangible and weightless. People spend their whole lives trying to fill it, and it really is the simplest things that can occupy that hole. We all crave it. It feels good to feel something.

What I feel lately – despite the state of our national affairs and the weather and the early darkness and the weariness that bubbles up in my everyday life and the huge unknown territory in my future – is something like hope. I feel it fluttering in my chest when the gospel choir sings that repeated refrain of I hear the chains falling. I feel it when I read her line, for the millionth time in my dog-eared copy, asking me Do you love this world? Do you cherish your humble and silky life? And I felt it standing in the mirrored room with my favorite boy watching infinite twinkling lights. Beauty can propel me anywhere. It can float me on from here to there.

Mary Oliver’s gift was writing single lines that can slay you. But I want to share some full verses from her work “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” before I sign off tonight. She composed it years ago when she faced a cancer scare, and it speaks for itself in one massive breath that I cannot embellish or admire or talk about except to distract from it.

Thank you, Mary. For the words and the spaces between them. For teaching me how to pay attention.

______________________________________

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

so why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,
all the fragile blue flowers in bloom
in the shrubs in the yard next door had
tumbled from the shrubs and lay
wrinkled and fading in the grass. But
this morning the shrubs were full of
the blue flowers again. There wasn’t
a single one on the grass. How, I
wondered, did they roll back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of
life?

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gratitude

one and the same

It’s the Winter Solstice, a day that once upon a time would have passed me by without notice, but somehow these things are on my radar now. Funny how what you notice changes as you get older, as you yourself grow and change.

And maybe it is that what you pay attention to grows idea, but I have heard so many references to the solstice and its meaning this last couple of days — two podcasts, a few Instagram posts, and a vinyasa yoga class this morning where the meditation and the emphasis during the whole class was how to take notice of the dark and shine a little light there. (This is exactly what yoga feels like for my body throughout the whole year actually, shining a light in the dark places.)

Every single piece of me right now wants to slow it down, to go in, to rest, to sleep. But also to prepare for something new around the bend. I guess that is the whole point of wrapping up the year as the solstice arrives. Day by day, a little more light comes and our paths grow wider and longer, but right now nighttime gives us so much space to reflect and to rest and maybe to dream of what is ahead.

I’m not good at winter. The dark hours and the cold temperatures and the days that seem to move too slowly on the calendar after the holidays are over. I’m grateful we have this season to decorate the darkness with a few twinkling lights, and when we pack those up in a couple more weeks, I’m still trying hard to love what is. Light candles and watch movies and read for hours on idle afternoons under a blanket. Loving what is has not been my strong suit when that includes cold and darkness, but I’m sinking into that cocoon a little tonight to welcome what comes this next few weeks. Instead of just looking to brighter and longer days, I’m going to slow it down and give in to what the rest of nature seems to be doing without apology. From two different sources this week, I heard that question – Think about how terrible it feels to sleep with the lights on? To have some false neon light shining in your window in a poorly angled hotel room? We need the dark, it seems. For our own bodies and our own rhythms and our own sanity. I think perhaps the modern world doesn’t give us enough of it.

Every message I have heard this week seems to somehow circle around the same ideas – finding light inside the darkness, relishing the dark, accepting it, seeing things through a lens of integration rather than opposition. I heard a reference to a Khalil Gibran verse about joy and sorrow this week, and I had to look up the full verse to hear it in context. Light in the dark indeed.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain …..When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Sometimes I am not even sure which one is visiting me and which one is asleep on my bed – the joy or the sorrow. They are so interwoven that they just feel like two sides of the same coin to me now. I’ve asked this question before, but is it possible to want something new so desperately but also want things to stay exactly the same? Because that is what life feels like to me lately. Joy and sorrow, one here and one sleeping. One and the same. Light and dark.

I went through my happiness jar today. I wasn’t as regular with it this year as I have been before. But even though it didn’t reflect everyday of my past 12 months, what it revealed did not disappoint. Sorrow and joy, light and dark. Every moment I recorded, when I look a little closer, reflects a little bit of both extremes.

Jan 4 Jude talking to me while I’m in the bath with the curtain pulled shut, water getting cold but he won’t stop talking, and I can’t stop listening. His ideas about God: “I think God just wants us to be free and kind, mom.” — Jan 21 Sunny and near 70 after weeks of freezing temperatures, outside on the patio chair, sun on my face, eyes closed, I hear kids playing. — April 1 Easter Sunday, perfect weather, little cousins running and playing in the yard, Grandmother gone, but I saw a stream of light through the leaves on the big shade tree. Breeze, laughing kids. — April 22 Yoga, class full of women, so much steady rain outside the window. — June 9 He held my hand as we walked across the parking lot in the dark — June 14 Late sunlight, last swim lesson, Norah smiling proudly in the rearview mirror on the drive home. The curvy hills on Pisgah Road, gray clouds rolling in for a storm.

Can you hear that the way I do? The sorrow sleeping on the bed in every one of those joyful moments. Light in the dark and dark in the light. It’s all the same.

 

 

Books, gratitude

ordinary

I turned the last page of a book today that will haunt me for a long while, The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs. I usually come here to share snippets and quotes of whatever I’m reading, but I am finding it hard to do that this time. It is hard to slice this one up. I swallowed it whole in only two sittings, and even among the chaos of this week before the holidays, I made time for it. I will only tell you that you need to read it and let it sit with you awhile like it has with me. And that I am not certain where I am going with these sentences tonight, but I only know that I wanted to remember what it felt like when I first read it.

Do you do that? I find a piece of art – a book or a film or a song that is new to me – and I want to bottle that feeling that swells inside when I first consume it.

Nina Riggs, first known for this Modern Love column, faced down a terminal diagnosis at 37, and essentially spent the final year or two of her life racing the clock to write down everything she could and make sense of what was in front of her – the living and the dying. She finished the final manuscript a month before her death, and the result is this shimmering stretch of narratives that are as much poetry (she was a published poet before this book) as they are a story. Like moments and still photographs sewn together with connections and meaning. It illuminates without burning you on sentimentality. It’s quiet but urgent. Descriptions of the ordinary that rise to become sacred. I loved it so much.

I was chiming in on a discussion about holiday stress and holiday blues with some friends recently, and I said that I sometimes get this weird melancholy at the end of the year where I look back at the previous twelve months and feel like I didn’t do enough, like I am treading water, like I have been so busy with these trees that I didn’t see the forest and I have wasted a year of my life. I feel like (Do we all do this?) everyone else is ahead of me and I am running in place somehow.

We like to mark our years in big ways, don’t we? Like one day we will look through some photo album, real or imagined, and say oh, this is the year that I went on that exciting trip, this is the year I made huge professional strides, this is the year I got married, this is the year I became something radically different than I was before and all the exciting things happened for me. But real life happens differently for a lot of us (most of us?).

This is the year I wrote a lot of words that mostly stayed on my computer and no one else read them. This is the year I finally threw out that couch I hated and bought a cheap replacement but I still couldn’t afford much else, so the rest of the room was pieced together with hand-me-downs and second-hand finds. This is the year the dog got a little older and slower and the kids got a lot taller, and I mostly looked just the same as ever. This is the year I got a promotion that in all reality just feels like a single footstep up a ladder that I am not sure is reaching where I want it to go. This is the year I finally went to the doctor for a physical and listened to my dentist and got a night guard. I started using eye cream every night. I bought a gray scarf I love. All of these tiny, insignificant steps to some place I don’t know.

Maybe this feeling of a pause is a good thing – after a few years in a row of things that shattered the frame I’d built. But I am on some sort of treadmill that is not pushing me forward as fast as I’d hoped, and the end of the year always shines a light on that feeling.

But this book cracked that open for me somehow. It is so simple, really. She describes her days as they really are, her moments as they happen, her honest difficulty in letting go of everything that lies here in this life – none of it spectacular in the traditional sense of that word, mostly what we would consider mundane and ordinary. And somehow it leaves me with tears in my eyes, so thankful for this little life that is mine. Treading water or not, I am here. We all meet the same end eventually, but right now, I am here.

Things I can tell you about today: Jude sat up quickly when I woke him up, excited for his class party. He could hardly open his eyes to the lamplight though, and he has the thickest, darkest lashes. He always has since he was a baby. They are still the same. He just sat there in bed smiling with his eyes closed and his enormous lashes casting shadows, trying to open them in the dim light. Norah’s freckles are fading now that we don’t see the sun as much, but they will come back next summer. I know about these things – eyelashes and freckles – because I see them everyday, but I forget how perfect they are. How good it feels to know them well enough that I can see them with my eyes closed and know that I will see them tomorrow again. Will that stay in my photo album one day? 2018, the year I saw the eyelashes flutter every morning and the freckles fade and reappear.

Tonight after dinner, I needed to take the dog out, and Jude’s coat was closer than mine, so I grabbed it. I can wear it now. I can wear his shoes, too. Three years ago, that would have been unimaginable. Three years from now, he will have outgrown me. 2018, the year we met in the middle of where we were and I first discovered I could wear his coats. Norah asked (again, as she does every night) if I would take a bath with her when it was her time to get clean. This is weird maybe (Is it? She is six. I don’t know.) but also it is not weird for us because neither of us makes it so, and I know one day very soon there is coming a day when she will turn her head when I change my clothes instead of saying Mama, get in and pouring warm water over my shoulders. 2018, the year we sat in the bathtub where she pretended to paint my fingernails every night.

Sometimes I wince to think of my life staying just the same as it is now for all of eternity. That is the ultimate fear, I think. That nothing will change, that I will never do the things I am meant to do. That everyone will run ahead without me. That I will keep treading water forever with no mileage to show for it. But this book is just sitting on my heart after I finished it with a quiet whisper that you hear from an old, familiar friend. Like it is something I have always known, only I had forgotten it.

 

 

 

 

 

writing

in deep enough

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve written here. But I am writing everyday, up early in the dark. Books don’t write themselves, and I am seeing firsthand the deliberate determination and fierce desire that I have heard authors speak of my whole life. Writing doesn’t feel easy lately. It feels like shoveling something heavy from one side of the street to the other over and over. But it is still the only way that I make sense of anything at all, and I feel so grateful this thing is mine.

This is how it goes lately — I wake early everyday, brew coffee, set a timer for 15 minutes and use my hand with a real pen on real paper to get that space between sleepy dreaming and consciousness on the page. Then I open the computer and pick up where I left off before and sometimes use something scrawled in the notebook. Inevitably, I think it is absolute shit. Then weeks later, I print off the chapter when it is done, and it seems moderately less shitty than what it felt like when I wrote it. And I line edit and fill the holes or find the moments where I am just scratching the surface of what is really there, and I shovel in deeper. Again and again on repeat. I am in deep enough that I have no real interest in anything else right now – not Christmas shopping or news headlines or fashion or decor or men. Just words all the time, either my own on the page in front of me or another writer whose sentences I study to see how they are built. I am only 80 pages in and have no literary agent yet, and somehow my heart has set sail with this thing, and I don’t think it’s coming home until it is finished. This is the space I have wanted so desperately to find myself in since I began cooking this idea a year ago, and yet now that I am here it feels scary and burdensome and like some insurmountable summit I cannot reach.

I am in that space that people misunderstand and over-romanticize, the one where the book is this living, breathing thing you have to care for like a pet. It barks at me when I ignore it for a day, and it sometimes feels like I am just cleaning up after it. But every now and then – between the this is terrible thoughts and the will anyone ever read this anyway? thoughts – I see a glimpse of the whole picture it is shaping up to be, and I feel it for just the smallest split second. Like when the sun glints through leaves on a tree and you see the glimmer sparkle for just a tiny moment before it hides again.

In the past few weeks, I’ve also fallen down a Netflix hole of Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, and I cannot find my way out, but I’m okay with that. I’ve watched pieces of this before in preparation for writing papers about his ideas or teaching them, but this marks the first time I have watched him just because I want to. It speaks to me in ways I didn’t expect. I know him mostly for his ideas on the hero’s journey and their usefulness in the classroom when I teach students about how to view fiction, but there are so many other notable things he touches on in this series that leave me feeling full and less alone. In an episode I watched more than once just to hear it again, he talks about the North Star that lies in all of us that can take us where we are meant to go. In his words, it is so simple – just follow your bliss to find where you need to be. The brain, he reminds us, is only “a secondary organ.” The body, the heart, that pool of warmth and joy that you feel when you are doing what you love, that is where the real self resides. I am there, finally. Not sure where this will go and what the point of all of it will be, but I have tapped into that space where even the hard work feels right and good and true and almost unavoidable. I’m just going to stay here in the flow and keep going and see what happens.

In one of my daily Richard Rohr emails recently, he quoted William Stafford, an American poet from a century ago, who wrote, “There is a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change…. While you hold it you can’t get lost.”

In ways this has been a hard year. I’ve felt stuck in my tracks more than once. I have blinked for just a second and somehow the leaves are falling again, and it is the last of November and soon to be the end of the year. I want to say to 2018, No no no, I’m not done with you yet. This can’t be all it was. But maybe I am not giving enough credit to all the little things. The tiny imperceptible shifts that I can only see when I look back. The ways I am standing straighter and stronger and more sure than I was before. Every distraction that found its way to me was derailed, and sometimes it felt painful and senseless. The small annoyances and the large ones too, the break-up, the biopsy, all of it.

Every single thing that came my way woke me up and pushed me onward to find that pulsing thing that only I can judge and only I can give to my own self, that thread that pulls me on and on to where I’m meant to be. All I know right now is that it is hard but it feels right and that I am closer than I was when I began.

gratitude

engine

I can hardly believe there are three days left in October as I type this. Another year almost come and gone.

I mentioned this on my Instagram feed a few days ago, but I had a biopsy last week. It was a situation that began in August when I had my baseline mammogram, and it led to a second scan, and then my insistence on a second opinion when the first practice claimed I needed a biopsy. I am relatively young and have no strong family history of breast cancer, so I was hesitant to do it. But then eventually I agreed when the second specialist explained that the way it was clustered on the mammogram image did, in fact, need to be checked.

So on Friday the 19th (my grandmother’s birthday incidentally) I drove to Atlanta for the procedure, and it was honestly a little more than I’d bargained for. This wasn’t a lump I could feel; instead it was a spot deep enough that it required a sterotactic biopsy which just means that they do it while being guided by a mammogram machine. Like anyone else, I have had so much going on in the regular business of my everyday life. So I realized when I finally laid face down on the table that they elevate to access your breast and do the procedure that I honestly hadn’t really processed any of what that meant – the big stuff anyway. It was just an item on my to-do list until I laid still for 90 minutes for it to happen and that is when I finally let my head go to the what if question that this whole thing prompted.

The tech was an angel, an absolute angel. She grabbed my hand like a old friend when the needle made its way in and told me to squeeze. They like to stop the bleeding before you leave the room so that you don’t have risk of infection at the site later, and as I finally sat up, she stood there holding compression on my bare breast for another 20 minutes until it stopped bleeding so much. Then she cleaned me up and bandaged me with an ice pack and gave me a hug to send me home. As I sat there shirtless in the cold and sterile room and she cleaned me up, I remembered why it feels so ceremonial to clean someone else’s body. All the times this has happened before. In religious texts, when we read of washing someone’s feet, that first bath with a baby when they are still covered in blood from their entrance, the memories of bathing my grandmother in those last days when she couldn’t do it herself. These shells we live in. Both sacred and mundane.

In the days that followed, the initial soreness wore off, and on Wednesday the doctor called to say that magic word benign, which I knew was the statistically probable answer, but exhaled deeply nonetheless. What if, what if, what if is a scary game to play for any one of us.

And for me, if I am being honest, the physical vulnerability highlighted the fact that I am the only adult in this house. My working body is the engine that keeps this train moving, and never for a second had I thought about the possibility that it might not until last week. As is always the case with the moments that shift our perspective in life, this was so many things rolled into one. Fear and courage. Pain and relief. Dissatisfaction followed by gratitude. And the heavy realization that in ways I am very, very alone. But also in ways I am supported beyond what I realize. The friends and family who volunteered to go with me to the procedure itself and even the way that the universe delivered a stranger who treated me like a sacred friend for the hours we crossed paths.

Here is the weird thing I am learning about life: we are never alone, but also at the end of the day, we are all alone, every one of us. These big questions can never be resolved by anyone other than the one you see in the mirror.

I have a lot of catching up to do this weekend — uninspiring things like laundry and grocery shopping and cleaning the bathtubs and grading papers. But I have also spent time recuperating under blankets with soup and hot tea and some television last night. I started watching Amazon’s Forever on the recommendation of a friend. I am only 4 episodes in but struck by the quiet thoughtfulness of this show. I won’t ruin it for you with too many details, but I will say that Fred Armisen plays the most perfect husband who is always cheerful and serves his wife dinner each and every night, and they exist in a house where everything is in its place at all times. Their lives are easy and predictable. And yet there is this moment where you see Maya Rudolph’s face as he serves his perfect dinner in their perfectly clean home, and there is such boredom, such misery. It delivers those lessons that only a paradox can teach you, the ones that echo inside you for a while after you quit watching.

It is only ever the scary and the risk and the unforeseen and the unknown that makes it worth any of our time, isn’t it? Tomorrow could change everything for me — for the better or for the worse. And that idea is terrifying but also electrifying. I have no idea what lies around the bend, but I know that my life has given me a spine of steel and the softest heart, and I think those two things can withstand anything.

I picked up Naomi Shihab Nye’s latest poetry collection a few weeks ago, and my favorite poem in the book concludes with her assertion that, “We’re so anxious but deep down, in the heart place of time, our lives are resonant, rolling. They’re just waiting for us to remember them. We are here, so deeply here, and then we won’t be. And that is the most unbelievable thing of all.”

It is unbelievable, isn’t it? That we are not here forever, that every single one of us has an expiration date. That we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. That we are never alone but also we are the only ones who can do it. I am so glad, always but especially this week, that this very particular life is mine. I would not trade any piece of it for anyone else’s. This body is mine, and the engine is still rolling onward to something I cannot see.

gratitude

something different

It is Monday again somehow. I spent part of last week and half the weekend at a large academic conference, and I was presenting this time, so it has consumed a good bit of effort from the past few weeks to be ready for that.  It feels good to have it checked off my list. Yesterday I crammed all the usual prep for the work week into the few free hours I had. Today is Jude’s ninth birthday, so I baked a coffee cake to greet him when he wakes up, and we will do what we always do and sit at our breakfast table and sing happy birthday to greet another year.

Right now, as I type this, the house is quiet and it is still dark outside. Coffee on my left and the dog sleeping in front of me with only the glow of my favorite lamp and the screen in front of me. I always wake up an hour before the rest of the house. The only time of my day where I can feel the space around me and in front of me and slow my pace enough to settle in. This is my favorite hour.

Where to even begin with this? Saturday I finished up the conference just in time to catch Rob Bell’s Atlanta stop on his Holy Shift tour. Pete Rollins was the opener, and I also grabbed a ticket for the Q&A session an hour before the show started. My brain was so fried from 3 days of academic jargon that I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to rally for hours of talk on God and humanity and philosophy, but they both grabbed me with their material, and it was the best night I’ve had in such a long, long time. As always, what I needed to hear found me at exactly when I needed to hear it.

As Pete Rollins opened, he spoke a bit about that space between what we are and what we want to be – the ways that it can motivate and it can also create pain. The story of Adam and Eve shows us this. As does psychology (what is out of reach is always what you crave) and Greek myths, too. But Rollins rolled on with that Oscar Wilde quote, “There are two tragedies in life: one is not getting what you want and the other is getting it.” And he spoke about how we always think that next thing is what will make us happy, but in reality it never does. I think I forget this – that the secret to life actually lies in the longing, the desiring. Until you lock into that space of longing for something just outside of your reach, you can absorb a kind of inertia. (Something Rob Bell has coined as death by wallpaper and flooring on an earlier talk. A slow, steady death I see all around me in this chapter of my life. People who are asleep at the wheel all day long.)

I think the image Rollins left with us that won’t leave me alone is the idea that we are all haunted houses full of ghosts rumbling somewhere just beneath what we can access in our daily lives. He asserts that only when we are dreaming can we access this real space and we have to, in a sense, go to sleep when we wake up to begin our days so that we can get on with the usual business of life and distract ourselves from all these existential questions.  As someone who swears that my dreams speak to me sometimes (especially lately), I feel this so closely.

The whole intention of this tour is to explore the word holy with both its ancient context and its modern use, and Rob Bell came out after Rollins to do just that. (Here we are in 2018, and someone can come to an empty stage, one microphone, one chair, and no screen, and talk for nearly two hours about the word holy. Amazing.)

He used the story of Isaiah who claims he had a vision of the throne of God as angels circled saying Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh which is Hebrew for holy, and he jumped forward to what exactly does that word mean anyway, and how can we harness that in 2018.

I cannot condense two hours into a few paragraphs, but essentially what I came to hear and to hold a little closer to my own experience is this — Some things cannot be explained. And what is holy never makes sense in our immediate lives. When something makes me feel big (motherhood) or small (staring up at the night sky) or when something is just too weird as he so simply called it (the million instances in my life where things just cannot be rationally explained) … all of these things show me that there is just this space where I stand sometimes that I need to hold a little more loosely. I need to perhaps stop trying to connect the dots and just let it be and know that this is something different than the rational, something sacred and set apart only for me and my particular path.

I thought I was there already, but this past month has shown me that I am not. I could hold it all a little more loosely than I do. I could trust a little more.

In one of my favorite of Bell’s talks that I have downloaded and listened to repeatedly, he says, “When we suffer, often our first instinct, our first impulse, is we want answers and we want them now. And that longing and desire is driven by if I just had a black and white, clear cut explanation as to why it would perhaps fix this pain that I am holding that I don’t quite know what to do with. But in my experience, I don’t know if explanations and answers are ultimately what help us heal. Why did that particular cell mutate that way? Why did that car hit that patch of ice? Why did that person’s heart become hard in that way?  Would a clear explanation of that really help a person begin the long, slow road of putting one foot in front of the other and begin to heal and imagine a new tomorrow? …. There is an absolute universal truth I know for sure and it is this. When we suffer, this too will shape us.”

Two weeks ago, when my kids had been at dad’s for the weekend, they rolled in at 5pm, and we sat down in the little playroom to the right of the front door. Jude was babbling about something; I don’t remember what. Norah was trying to interrupt him to say something as well, and she laid down on top of me on the floor so that her head was on my chest, and I was just lying there on the floor looking up at Jude sitting there next to me talking and talking. He laughed at something; I don’t remember what it was, and it didn’t matter. And I don’t know what it was about that particular second. Maybe that I’d had a hard weekend battling my own never-ending need for answers and demons of self-doubt. Or maybe just that the house was full of smiles and noise again, and there was fall afternoon sunlight spilling through the front window.

But whatever the reason, I know that one full sentence ran through my brain unbidden. Maybe I am building something different than I knew I was. Unexpected words that come from someplace else are another way that the holy shows up for me.

I don’t even know entirely what that means yet and where to put it. But I think it is connected to all of what I heard on Saturday night. There is no end game where I stand. This is not some stepping stone to a perfect plateau that I can see stretched in front of me. This is now and here, and that is all I can see. Instead of connecting the dots, I’m going to hold it all a little more loosely. Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh. Maybe I am building something different than I knew I was.

 

 

Life and Randomness

birth pangs

I have been waking in the middle of the night a lot lately. Unable to go back to sleep for quite a while, but eventually I do and then I am so sleepy when my alarm rings. It will pass, but my body has some humming energy with it these days that I haven’t felt in a such a long time.

Two nights ago, I had a succession of three vivid dreams right in a row. The first one found me in some unfamiliar house, and there was a sleeping person in the basement and others crowded around her telling everyone to sshhhhh stay quiet as not to wake her. I would tip toe around her and hear her stir and get scared I was going to be the one to wake her up. Then I walked upstairs and back down again, and the light in the kitchen woke this person up while I was standing in the middle of it. Everyone was a chaotic mess and looking straight at me as the culprit. I felt the guilt of it, and I was frantically trying to turn off the kitchen light with no switch to be found.

Dream 2. I am in a house again. But this time I am in a room of a house I lived in during college that has been torn down years ago. And my close friend and I (actually the same one I referenced in the last post) were saying, Isn’t this nice? To be in a dream where we can come back to this place that doesn’t exist anymore?

Dream 3. I am in a house I have never seen before, but in the dream it is mine. There is water coming in through the roof, pouring through the ceiling and dripping down the walls. I am trying to stop it at first, but then I just watch it happen with total surrender, understanding I can’t do anything about it anyway.

I know it is not as simple as looking up some magic symbol in a dream dictionary. But I also know what it feels like when some other subconscious piece of me is trying desperately to tell the rest of me something. Sometimes dreams, if we are patient with them and sit with them a minute, are trying to tell us something that we aren’t seeing otherwise. These three for me were so vivid and so strange that I have not been able to shake them.

Jung believed that dreams of houses represent the self and your various levels of consciousness. I don’t know about that, but I do know that I somehow feel like I have awakened some sleeping giant in the basement in this past two weeks, one I was trying to ignore and hope she’d sleep forever. And I was frantically trying to find a way to turn off that light switch and put her back to sleep, but she is awake now. I am for certain back in a space that I thought was torn down, long gone. And at first I tried to fight the water pouring in on all sides, but now I just let it flow.

Grief is cyclical. Things like intuition and spirit and emotion never move in a linear way, but they are always leading me where I am meant to be. And I am not even certain I can say I am grieving. That is not the right word. It’s more like an ache that echos and I don’t know what it means or where it came from — only that it needed to be here in this space and time in order to birth me onward to something new. I turn on the news, and I see the same thing collectively in our entire culture. Like it’s all boiling over for a lot of us.

This just happens sometimes, and I have lived long enough to know that I need to wait it out. Sit down and let it wash over and handle me however it needs to. Tears are like baptism, and I did nothing but write all weekend. Creation always has some scary, stirring energy that comes along with it.

I was thinking about this concept today when I was standing in line at the grocery store, and I remembered when Norah was born. I can remember when it was really intense, just beyond the scope of what I thought I could handle, when I’d swear aloud that I cannot handle another contraction, and then it would come and I would breathe through the pain, and then it would pass. Then the next one would come, and I would somehow forget everything I’d known, everything — forget that I’d already been doing this for hours, that I was doing this now, forget that I was born to do this. I’d feel sure of nearly nothing anymore. Repeat, breathe. Repeat, breathe. And just when I thought – for the millionth time – that I couldn’t do it anymore, that is when she came. Crying and bloody and messy and staring at me with the quietest eyes like she always knew we would meet and always knew it would be that second and in that exact place.

What if the whole world works like this? Every new and amazing thing that is born in my life. Every new and amazing piece of myself that I bring forth. What if the act of creation always puts you through a dark spot first? Breathe, repeat, breathe, repeat. Again and again until the new thing comes forward and looks at you with eyes that seem to say it was always supposed to be that way.