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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single parenthood

River

It is Saturday night, and I’m settled on my couch, and my kids are currently boarding a plane to fly across the ocean. They return to familiar soil in something like 9 more days, and then they are finally home to me a couple days after that.

I kissed them goodbye today by 11am, and since then I’ve walked the neighborhood with a podcast or two, cleaned the house, and browsed store aisles to waste time. I grocery shopped and watched television. And finally I took a bath and let the silence in my house settle around me like a blanket. All I can hear is the rhythm of the ceiling fan and the clacking of the keys as I type this.  I’ve been alone in this house a million times before, but it feels different with them going so far away.

I listened to the Super Soul interview with Richard Rohr this morning. I know I reference him so often here, but again, it is worth a listen if you have time.  He spoke about the general idea he explores in so many of his writings – that we all have a false self and a true self. That the task of growth and spirituality is that we have to shatter that false self somehow, crack that shell of the ego, to get to the real thing. And how it is often hardship that does this for us. I thought about that first post that I wrote years ago when I was trying to fit myself in the new box. I thought about all the times before and after that when I have had to shed a layer or two of ego and lean into the unknown. I thought about ways I am still learning that lesson. Like the Velveteen Rabbit in that classic story, becoming more real as I move along and as I age.

Though the initial crack, the big explosion, the biggest griefs of my past few years – those have forcefully pushed aside the false self that was so tightly wound – I am still losing layers sometimes, in both big and small ways. This is one of those things. as I sit here in the dark typing these lines. The removing of the motherhood hat, if even just for a week or two, the loosening of the tight grip. It feels itchy and weird to have no label or role to put on next week at all and to have half my heart across the ocean from where I sit now. But any good thing I have come to find has revealed itself at the edge of my comfort zone.

I told the kids yesterday that they could choose what we did last night since it was our last night together for a while. I was hoping for a cozy night in, but Norah had a Build-A-Bear gift card burning a hole in her pocket, so they begged for a trip to the mall. I do not enjoy the mall, and I think the last time I was there was perhaps Christmas time. It seemed like the opposite of what I was imagining our night should be, but I obliged. We got there, and they were short-staffed, so we waited for ages in line for her to make a bear. Jude got a metal fidget spinner to entertain him across the Atlantic, and then we opted for a food court dinner.

When we went to leave, the automated doors opened to heavier rainfall than I’ve seen since I don’t know when. I didn’t have an umbrella and didn’t want to swim to the car, so I suggested the little play area inside the mall to entertain us while we waited for it to pass. We did that and we browsed the displays in the Lego store, and I thought for sure the rain must be gone by now. We walked to the doors again and we found the same thing. Buckets and buckets of rain. At this point, I felt like we had to get home somehow, so I told them we would run for it.

We held hands and ran across the parking lot in that kind of rain that soaks you all the way through your underwear in only a few seconds. The kids were screaming and laughing, and before I knew it, I was too. When we finally made it to the car, Jude was cackling and saying how much fun it was while Norah was wide-mouthed and laughing at her reflection and at my dripping hair. Teddy bears and food court trays and rainstorms turned out to be the most perfectly imperfect and memorable send-off for what is our longest separation so far. But I would never have orchestrated it that way if I held the reins to it all.  Parenting always works like this, it seems. And the rest of life does, too. Even when life gives me something beautiful or perfect beyond my comprehension, it is never the way I would have written it myself.

I’m a planner to a fault and I know this about myself. It is hard for me to let go of things – to let go of timing and outcomes and expectations. I pay attention to my retirement account and I eat my vegetables and I wear sunscreen and I plan most everything in advance. And I think of the one million ways that something could go wrong in any given moment and how I could mitigate that damage if it does. I grocery shop weekly and write out our menu on a little dry erase board in my kitchen. I erased it this morning – no need to plan for only myself. And I wrote in its place a Rohr quote that I need to say again and again like a mantra: “Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it.” Amen and amen.

I am not pushing. It is hard, but I am holding steady. I’m leaning into the silence and the new and listening closer for the real. I trust that there is a river. I’ll ride the current.

 

Georgia Love, gratitude, grief

rise up rooted

It’s easy to forget the way life used to be as we sit in the comfort of 2016’s America. I was talking with someone the other day about the McMansion trend happening in the suburbs. The vaulted ceilings, enormous shiny kitchens, three fireplaces in one home – all of which are rarely used and operated by a light switch. Look back even one generation ago, and these traits would have been rare and now they seem commonplace or stale.

My grandmother grew up in a tiny house with her four siblings. Two bedrooms and a kitchen whose walls you can almost touch with both arms if you stretch far enough. Her mother lived there until she died at the age of 92, and the house is still standing. It’s adjacent to my grandparents’ home, and I noted when I wrote her obituary that she was born and died on the same family span of property – a story that almost never happens anymore.

In the front of that tiny house, stood an old tree that shaded the yard and stands central to my childhood memories of family gatherings and Sunday lunches. Shade in the thick Georgia heat as we’d gather with long tables strung together, one right after the other, and food all the way to the end. Homemade ice cream and cousins and games of tag. Afternoons when we’d begin spread all over the yard and slowly move folding chairs to the shady spot as the sun spread a little higher and hotter overhead when the hours wore on.

A limb fell from the tree last week, and as it turns out, much of it was partially rotted, as trees often do with the passage of time.

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It was taken down on Thursday, and I drove by yesterday. It’s a weird sight to see that house without its tree out front. The whole landscape I know so well altered and feeling exposed, naked. Raw nerves left open when they haven’t closed yet anyway. Change after change after change. It’s only a tree, I know. Except that it’s not.

So many ancient cultures saw trees as more than wooden branches. They’ve been associated with prayer and spirit and protection for thousands of years. It’s easy to see why that is when you look at an old tree. Its wisdom seems to predate and outlast our own. We watch seasons change and colors come and go on the branches. And after every change and loss in the landscape of our real lives, they just seem to watch and listen patiently – a reminder of both what is temporary and what is eternal.

I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about how I was raised, the things I learned without knowing I was learning them, the truths I absorbed. You don’t really think about these things because they become so second nature to you. But as is always the case with death, my grandmother’s passing has me digging back through the loads of memories buried in my own mind and realizing the ways they taught me what I needed to learn.

Do people do this anymore? Do they raise families in tiny homes and see abundance around them instead of need? Do they know third cousins as well as they know siblings? Do they sit on porches and under shade trees for hours on a Sunday afternoon and talk about things other than work or money or pop culture? I think the answer is mostly no, and that makes me sad but also grateful I’ve led the life I have.

I woke this morning to my daily Richard Rohr Meditation in my email inbox, and his subject line read “Rise Up Rooted Like Trees.” Yes, God, I heard you. I’m listening, I’m listening.

Rohr happens to include Rilke, who has guided me so much lately and tells us, “If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. Instead we entangle ourselves in knots of our own making and struggle, lonely and confused. … This is what the things can teach us: to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness. Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.” The Earth’s intelligence tells us that things rise and fall, live and die. It tells us that we can’t control what is before us, even with vaulted ceilings or three fireplaces. We forget this though. It is a daily struggle for me, in our modern world, to know that you don’t have to be happy all the time, that sorrow and grief have a place in our lives, that our inner landscape is far more important than our outer achievements.

Rohr expands on Rilke a bit by explaining that in nature, “Nothing stays in the same shape or form for long. Plants and animals seem to accept this dying. All of the natural world seems to accept the change of seasons. Nature fights for life but does not resist dying. It learns gravity’s fall, as it were. Only one species resists this natural movement: humans—you and me. … We are free to cling to our own egoic resources, to climb instead of to descend. But we must fall if we are ever to fly.”

You have to descend before you can ascend, don’t you? Reach deeper inward before you can expand outward. Walk through sorrow with honesty before you can feel real joy. You can only rise when you are rooted.

I’m grateful for the memories I have of lazy summers spent under the shade of that tree, the shelter it gave us for the conversations that shaped my life and who I’ve become. And I’m grateful for it still, as it fell and was hauled away in pieces. It’s teaching me the most important lesson in its absence. Let go, let go, let go. Life makes us shed our skin again and again. It hurts to become something new.

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