Life and Randomness

freedom

I am in a stretch of 5 days alone as the kids are on spring break. I’m not on break at the same time, but somehow that makes this time even sweeter. It’s strange for me to get my own self ready for work and focus on only that without the constant hum of school bus schedules and packed lunches and homework in the background. I’m grateful for this few days in front of me.

Friday night I saw Patty Griffin in concert in Atlanta. I sent a hurried text to a friend a couple months ago when the tickets went on sale, and she said yes, so we jumped on it together. It took some planning and last minute rushing to get kids squared away just in time to head downtown and grab dinner before the show.

I’ve been a fan of hers for so long, and I can’t even count the lines that have echoed in my head and on my speakers when I need a little direction. I was listening to “Forgiveness” as I drove to my grandparents’ house that sunny Sunday morning when I got the phone call that my grandmother passed. I had that song on repeat so much during my grandmother’s last weeks. It hit the spot for some unknown reason, as music always works that way. And I raised my voice to the air, and we were blessed. 

And a couple of years before that, “Let Him Fly” was on repeat in the earliest weeks, when I was still living in my married home and couldn’t get a minute to think or be alone. I’d take the long way to the grocery store or on the road to an errand and listen to it on repeat like a mantra. It would take an acrobat, and I already tried all that.

She has been my nearly constant soundtrack for these last few years. Something about the solid simplicity of her voice and the call of her lyrics tell me everything is going to be okay. Let the rusty nail no longer hold this world together.. I’m going to let it hear the prayer, no matter who is there, no matter who is listening. Lately it’s “When It Don’t Come Easy” that tears me open and takes me somewhere I can’t get otherwise. I don’t know nothing except change will come, year after year what we do is undone, time keeps moving from a crawl to a run, I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home.

When we left the show, I said to my friend that Griffin is just so solid and real and true. Those were just the adjectives that came out at the moment, but they are also the most fitting ones to say. In a world of Botox and airbrushing and constant reinvention to appease whatever is trending, I think it’s so beautiful to see someone who knows herself well enough to deepen what she creates in the way she has. (This quick PBS interview is a great commentary on that, too.) It was such a great night – and a reminder to me that, at the heart of it, truth and beauty are the same thing.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about aging – about the ways I feel old and the ways I feel young. Most of all, I’m just feeling like I’m only now getting started. I think it is that first half / second half idea that Richard Rohr speaks so much about (and Jung wrote about it  before he did). I’m only now beginning my second half, so to speak, and everything just feels so vast and wide and deep and true in a way it wasn’t before. What a gift it is that the magical second half really doesn’t depend on how much time has passed or how much time is left, but it’s a change of perspective. It’s not guaranteed for everyone, and it is usually brought about through pain and surrender, but it’s so worth it.

Last week, in passing, I heard someone talking about life and growth and the way she phrased it was that she is “doing so much better in life than they are” and that line rolled around in my head for a while – I don’t even know who the specific they refers to exactly, and this was just quick passing conversation. But it just made me think about that whole better in life perspective that I don’t understand at all anymore. (And to be fair, no judgment. This person is young and square in the middle of those early years where necessary score-keeping and comparison are your ways of life.)

I was reading through some of my daily Richard Rohr email meditations last week, and he elaborated on Jung’s theory of individuation – “the lifelong project of becoming who we were meant to be.” This resonated with me and what I see around me. Rohr says, “How counterproductive our popular culture [in the United States]—with its fantasies of prolonged youthful appearance, continuous acquisition of objects with their planned obsolescence, and the incessant, restless search for magic: fads, rapid cures, quick fixes, new diversions from the task of soul.” I think the thing I’m realizing, and the example I see in artists like Patty Griffin, is that you cannot participate in that chase while also participating in your own individuation. The two processes are mutually exclusive. Rohr continues to explain that if you can pass that threshold to the second half, you “will be freed from having to do whatever supposedly reinforced one’s shaky identity, and then will be granted the liberty to do things because they are inherently worth doing….Ultimately, our vocation is to become ourselves, in the thousand, thousand variants we are.”

There’s so much freedom to be had when you stop playing the game. I could feel that in Griffin’s presence and you can feel that in the art produced by others who do the same. You can feel that in the lightness that illuminates people who compose their own lives in that space of freedom, too. When you aren’t playing the better at life game and you just do your own thing and pause long enough to hear that still and small voice, you stop keeping score. You stop comparing. You draw closer to your vocation and your life starts to take its own shape around you – solid and real and true. Truth and beauty are the same thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life and Randomness

trigger

It’s been a hard couple of weeks in the news. I know so many women who are having to turn away, and sometimes I do as well. It feels like the same message is taking different forms and swirling, swirling in the universe for me to grab hold and bring it to the light for a better look.

I unloaded to my friend last weekend about some personal battles I’m having in my own head and heart and some hardships she is facing, and she mentioned that Pema Chodron quote, Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn. And look at us, here in 2018, still having public conversations about who is to blame for someone taking advantage of a woman’s body, her trust, the essence of who she is.

Look at me in 2018, at nearly 38 years old, still wondering if I am to blame for my own heartaches. It is all the same thing.

Do you know how many times a day I say either aloud or in my own head that I am sorry about something? Or that I should have done better? Or that I should have some kind of future-vision where I could see something coming before it gets here and read through someone’s false exterior like an x-ray? Or any other number of questions I use to dig through emotional labor like a shovel through gravel in the wreckage left behind by a man in one form or another. Always in a soft space where I am looking for the kindest way to respond, looking for the silver lining, trying to put pieces together in a way that fits. But sometimes none of it fits. None of it. You just have to leave it there untouched and unanswered.  I guess I’m saying tonight that it feels heavy and I’m tired of my own softness.

I am trying so hard, so so hard, to believe that there are men in this world who are kind and real and honest and mature and can do hard things. But I have been proven wrong so many times that I am losing faith, friend. Losing it fast.

And even as I type this, I think don’t post this because clearly someone who has repeated heartbreak with the same scenario playing on repeat like a broken record is at the root of her own pain somehow.  But can you see what that is? Again looking for a way that I am to blame for someone else’s dishonesty.

I had a night this weekend where I was alone in the darkness trying to sleep, and it felt like such deja vu that was so long ago buried in my body that I forgot what it even felt like until it bubbled to the surface again. I was right back to a place I’d rather forget and it felt unwarranted but real, so incredibly real – that voice in my head and my gut, that heaviness and quiver. I talked myself out of it for days and days, telling myself it was trauma buried somewhere and resurfacing unnecessarily and I shouldn’t listen to it – to my own blood and bones and frame and gut that knew what it knew without reason. I was telling myself it was wrong.

But the body never lies does it? My wiser self is always in there somewhere saying can you hear me? knock knock. Until louder and louder it goes. And even then sometimes I blame my own self and call it a misdirection. But she is right every time, my body. Every time she speaks to me, I need to listen. Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn.

I asked that same friend tonight on the phone – through a few tears and a lot of her refrains of I know, I know – how many times a heart can take a beating before it just closes for business. Tonight I feel as though I am at my limit. In my own life, when I watch the news, when I look at a string of days behind me that I would rather forget or at least be able to write over again.  When I think about doing this again and again, I want to give up and just harden it and close the doors for a while.

But I know that my heart is a muscle the size of my fist and it somehow keeps beating again and again. Yours does too.  Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learnNothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn. I’m letting these words flow over me tonight like water, letting them slide and sink in the dark as I fall asleep. I don’t feel the deja vu anymore at all – no shakes and no quivers and no tightness in my center. All I can feel now is the quiet rush of my own self here again, the same as she ever was. Sore but not broken.

Today I drove home from work in the late afternoon light. My drive is long but mostly rural and beautiful and winding. I was exhausted from work and the questions tumbling in my head the last few days. And I remembered the day I moved from my old house – my married home – when I was coming out of a season of my body screaming at me for months and months before I listened. My friend, a fellow single mom halfway across the world raising her girls alone, sent me a song as a moving soundtrack. This played on repeat for me for nearly half of that day as I packed the last few boxes and swept the dust from the corners of the empty rooms in that house that felt like a haunted museum.

I flippantly put that same song on today as I rounded a curve, and I turned it loud as I drove toward the sunset to a quiet and empty house of my own waiting for me.

I didn’t expect it, but my chin quivered when she began the second verse – And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind. I can never leave the past behind. I can see no way, I can see no way .I’m always dragging that horse around. Then the tears came with my favorite line – I am done with my graceless heart. So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart. A long and winding road with the music loud and the tears flowing will get you where you need to be. Every time.

Here’s to cutting it out. Every last graceless piece of me that blames myself for someone else’s actions. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, sure. But the heaviest horse I carry, the one that hangs on my back like some never ending shadow is that command I have absorbed that tells me that it is my job to clean up any mess left and make neat, beautiful piles from the wreckage.

Tonight, I’m not sweeping anything. I am letting it be. Shaking it out and out and out again until all that is left is who I am underneath the heartache – solid and true. Grace upon grace upon grace. I believe every story my body tells me, every true and right thing she whispers. And I believe yours, too.

 

 

Georgia Love, gratitude, summer

soundtrack

I saw the Indigo Girls last night at the botanical gardens close to home. The amphitheater was fairly small, and listeners brought blankets and chairs to set up in the grass. It was warm, even after the Georgia July sun went down. The moon was bright, and the stars were out.

It was the seventh time I’ve seen them live. And as they began with a song that instantly took me back to 2004, I was telling my friend how crazy it is that it only takes a few opening chords on some of their songs to take me back to very specific moments in my life. “Galileo” and I’m in the back seat of a high school friend’s car while we sing with the windows down and eat Cherry Garcia ice cream we bought at a gas station on the way home from their concert the very first time I saw them. “Fill It Up Again” has me in my little grad school apartment writing papers I feared weren’t good enough and reading all day long on a Sunday afternoon. “Second Time Around” brings memories of a wiggly two-year-old and a big belly with another on the way and the quiet loneliness of a big house in the woods and a husband who was never home. It’s funny how music can do that, right? One chord or one line can take you right back and bring it all up again.

Their music has influenced me like no other, and it’s truly the soundtrack of the past 19 years of my life. They have one liners that work like mantras for me. We are better off for all the we let in.– Truth of the matter comes around one day. It’s alright. — The hardest to learn was the least complicated. — That’s the thing about compromise. Don’t do it if it hurts inside.  The list goes on and on. It swells within me in that place where good art resonates, and their words have woven their way into my own inner landscape and my life story.

As I listened last night, I was struck so much by the ways my life has changed. The long list of things I’ve had to let go. The ways I am still changing. But it feels so good sometimes to exhale and lean back in the arms of something constant.

In her Dear Sugar column, Cheryl Strayed claims, “Eight of the ten things you have decided about yourself at the age of twenty will, over time, prove to be false. The other two things will prove to be so true you will look back in twenty years and howl.” I have changed in immeasurable ways, but as I look back at my life in the grand rearview, I see that really all I am doing is returning. Those things I knew in my core to be true, they are still true. There are a million other things I believed that I now understand are false, but my core?  It’s the same. I’m just coming home.

Music feels like prophecy sometimes. They sang “Love’s Recovery” last night, a song I’ve sung along with too many times to count. I’ve always loved it, but last night she sang, “There I am in younger days, star gazing, painting picture perfect maps of how my life and love would be. Not counting the unmarked paths of misdirection, my compass, faith in love’s perfection, I missed ten million miles of road I should have seen … Though it’s storming out I feel safe within the arms of love’s discovery.” And I heard the story of my recent life in exact proportions. It’s crazy to think about, isn’t it? It’s that strange sense of deja vu that I’ve written about before. Those moments when I feel in my deepest places that I somehow both knew and did not know what would manifest in my life.

I came home alone to my quiet house and climbed in the empty bed with my dog snoring at my feet. I fell asleep to that familiar noise of crickets so loud that you can hear them through the window panes. Summer in the deep south is sweltering and miserable for some; it’s comfort to me.

I’m grateful for love’s recovery and the new discoveries. And the re-discoveries most of all. It feels good to be home.

gratitude, Life and Randomness

breath inside

This was one of those work weeks that somehow felt so much longer than only 5 days. Little stresses here and there that add up to so much, and I was always dashing from one thing to another – both literally and mentally as well. It’s hard to just be still with yourself in those times. It takes a lot of effort on my part, effort to stop frantically moving from one task to another and just slow down.

I’m listening to the latest album by The Oh Hellos lately. There’s a lyric in one song (click here for a listen) that cuts me softly every time I hear it: I’ve learned a lot about the way of things. I learned that everything has breath inside. I forget I have breath inside sometimes and that everything else does to. I forget the power of breath. Yoga and meditation are so good to remind us of this, but outside of those experiences, I forget to listen to my own current. That steady reminder of life’s continuity.

I’ve changed so much in the past year – the past few months even – that it seems strange at times to think that it is the same beating heart in my chest, the same breath moving in and out. Same as it ever was, only maybe not. Because I feel it differently now than I did before. I feel everything differently.

The kids and I spent time today at my grandparents’ place which I’ve written about often as it’s so central to my own memories and my own identity. It feels good to come home to these associations, like the breath inside I mentioned before. A continuity that steadies you. This week was stressful, and yesterday was bitterly cold and rainy. But today we stood in the familiar and the sun made up for yesterday’s chill. Winter sunshine feels like such a gift. We collected eggs from the hens and walked what is left of the fall garden. Jude munched on raw kale that he’d surely push aside if offered on his plate, but somehow it felt like a treat when he plucked it himself.

Untitled

In the song that initially got me hooked on The Oh Hellos, they echo Hello my old heart, how have you been? Are you still there inside my chest? I’ve been so worried. You’ve been so still. Barely beating at all. I remember the first time I heard it when it appeared on my Pandora station last summer as I painted a room in the house soon after we moved in. It was late and the kids were sleeping, and I was working to bring something of my own to a place that felt new and foreign. The lyric resonated enough with me in that moment that I teared up a little.

We’ve all felt like that at times, I think. Like you’ve ignored your own voice and you have to press an ear to your own soul and listen hard to see what’s there. It’s easy to listen to the clamor of what’s outside and ignore that whisper that is only heard in stillness.

It’s coming back to me, my old heart. It’s changed shapes in many ways, but I finally feel it beating as it was before. Like that same breath that moves in and out. Those long-forgotten but familiar spaces are coming back. It happens in bits and pieces, but it feels so needed, like winter sun.

I ran across a Facebook post yesterday that featured one of my favorite Rumi passages I’ve quoted before. Elizabeth Gilbert expanded on that passage by suggesting, “Maybe the worst thing you ever endured was a crucible through which you became YOU. Maybe you could not have become YOU through any other means except by going through that trial.” It’s a weird thing, right? To journey so far and in ways feel like you just made your way back to the beginning. The you that you always should have been. The old heart emerging again but softer and braver than it was before, feeling the pulse underneath the noise.