Ruminating: All the day

I go through seasons of feeling as though nothing I write is showing up much of anyplace at all. They feel like desert patches, the sun bearing down and sand kicking up in my face when the wind blows. I think about the way the heat seems to bend the air, making it heavy and visible, making everything ahead appear farther away, more desolate, no consolation in sight.

It’s a little disconcerting to say the least.

Then there are times when it feels as though I reach an oasis. I have a little thing crop up there in the middle of the big nowhere. It’s a life-giving event, a life-saving event. Here’s the water, at last.

I have a new post up at Ruminate Magazine’s blog this week and I truly hope you have a chance to read it.

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It was a tough one to wring out, to be honest. It was tough because it touches on the grief I encountered recently when a pal of mine died suddenly. Reading it brings up all the sad again, it’s as though it reignites that grief in me even now, a few weeks later.

And I’m glad of it.

I have to be reminded of these things, these feelings, these losses. I want to remember. It’s easy for me to get caught up in my own brand of bullshit and crazy making. It’s easy to turn away from the people and the events that press in on my pain and in fact, it’s preferable in some cases. But I want to remember the people I’ve lost. It’s important to remember how much I loved (and still love) them. It’s how I know my own mortality, how I know my own heart, how I know my own fragile state of being.

So, I hope you read the essay on Ruminate and I hope you will be able to get in touch with your loss and your grief too. Turn away from your own brand of bullshit and crazy making just for a little while. Let’s remember together, how fragile we are.

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Can’t complain…

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This morning I woke to the sound of rushing water, which sounds far more poetic than the reality. I sat in bed for only a moment, listening to the water rush, wondering if it was rain or someone in the shower already at this early hour. I walked softly to the stairs and listened again realizing the water was rushing in the kitchen. I swore loudly as I stepped bare feet into the half-inch of water that had accumulated in the kitchen, held in check only by the porous nature of the wood and the next realization of the dripping sound in our finished basement. Tiptoeing through the water I slogged to the basement stairs and swore again as I watched the water dripping quickly from the light fixtures and air vents.

First, stop the water.

The sound was coming from the refrigerator so I kneeled in the water reached under the sink and shut off the source. The rushing continued, but slowed. I gathered every towel in the house and began to sop up the water, knowing it was already too late for most of the basement ceiling. I focused on the pond in the kitchen. I considered calling Dave in Los Angeles. I thought about Miles’ “family day” at 9:30am, that I was supposed to read a story about my grandfather and my mother, flying for the Civil Air Patrol in the 1950’s. I wrung out water, I swore more loudly, I woke the children with my panic and methodical work of bailing and drying and swearing.

I moved on to the basement and cleaned up what I could, but water finds a way, through the drywall, through the ceiling fixtures, through the venting. The drywall was bubbling and I moved what I could. Some books were already ruined. I didn’t linger there, choosing instead to rescue the couch by moving it away from the ceiling fan, choosing to save the laptops on the table under the bubble of water ready to burst above it, choosing to rescue anything movable, anything still dry, anything at risk. I would have to get the kids ready for school still. I would have to change my clothes at least for the presentation at Miles’ school. Life goes on.

I don’t have breast cancer.

On Wednesday I had my first mammogram. I know, I waited too long. When I turned 40 I was in flux, between doctors. When I was 45 I was in flux, coming back to Chicago, getting life back together. I waited til now, when there was a lull of sorts, near the end of the “deductible” deadline and I made an appointment. The results were back right away. Everything looks good, better than good, the best possible. I don’t have breast cancer.

When I talk with people sometimes I’ll ask how they are and sometimes they’ll say, “I can’t complain” and I’ll nod and agree. I can’t complain. My life is good, overall, things are good. I don’t have breast cancer. But the truth is I can complain and I do complain- often, daily, sometimes hourly as I sop up the water that drips from the ceiling above my head from the broken water line to my refrigerator. No filtered water for my coffee this morning. No saving the books I read to my children when they were toddlers. No dry towels for a shower this morning.

I don’t have breast cancer. I’m thankful for it, tremendously, because maybe part of the reason I waited so long to get that baseline mammogram is that I thought I might have it, because so many of my friends have walked that in the last 10 years or so. I’m thankful for being healthy and for my children being healthy so I can’t complain. But that’s not really true. I can complain and I do complain and i will continue to complain because that’s normal and that’s human. I’ll complain and I’ll swear and I’ll be ungrateful. That will happen because my memory is short and my life is complicated. I”ll forget to be grateful while my basement is flooded and that’s natural. We’ll be okay. We’ll work it out. Everything will dry out and we’ll only have lost some things. I can’t complain. I won’t complain. I don’t have breast cancer.

guns and ammunition…

This is a rant. It’s all I got.

Another shooting today, this time in New York City. The Empire State Building saw bloodshed this morning and after the initial “newsy” tweets came the barrage of finger-pointing and sarcastic remarks and thoughtless, souless jokes and I fell to tears because it was all I could do. Sitting alone today, two kids at school and two kids away on a trip with their dad I fell to tears in the wake of yet another shooting and another wave of commentary, speculation, wry connections to political parties and religion and left or right wings and I fell to tears because it was all I could do.  Perhaps it is all any of us can do, really. Smug remarks won’t fix our broken spirits. Sarcastic retorts won’t keep this from happening again. There is no “perfect” candidate to vote into office.  There is no “perfect” solution to what ails us. What ails us is too deep, too rooted in mistrust, anchored to an absence of hope and an abundance of apathy.

“Us” is a big term, unwieldy, unmanageable. I can only speak for myself perhaps. I can only answer for my own part in how things unfold. It is all about being “local.”

I’ve tried posting about intelligent discourse where politics is concerned. I’ve tried to curb my own tendencies to fall into being a smart alec when confronted to non intelligent discourse. It seems to fall on deaf ears and I admit, often I don’t take my own advice when it comes to curbing my outrage when the news cycle revs up. It’s a struggle, there is so much machine to rage against.

It seems as though the only goal I can set for myself these days when it comes to political discussions and news of the world is simply this, “Try not to be an asshole.” Whatever I post, whatever I respond, whatever I think or feel I’m working the hardest to just not be an asshole toward my fellow man where politics is concerned. Heaven knows I am prone to fail at this and for that I am most truly apologetic because after all is said and done no matter who gets elected I really want to keep the friends I have and I’d prefer they didn’t think I was an arrogant asshole.

Lord knows, the discussion won’t miss the opinion of one more asshole.

I fell to tears today in the wake of the anger and infighting and loss of life. I fell to tears and prayers of “Lord, have mercy” because in the end, it feels as though it is all I can do. In the name of compassion and kindness, we fall to tears.

breaking…

Like most of us in the US, I woke to the news of the terrible tragedy in Aurora, CO. The “breaking news” alert might have been what woke me at 5:46am. Breaking news alerts of this sort seem to come on a regular basis these days, so much so that I almost skim over them taking in words like Egypt or Syria, shaking my head, maybe silently praying for God’s mercy and then moving on. I had to reread the flashing headline a few times to take in the reality that it was in Colorado, that it was at a movie theater and that there were victims as young as perhaps 6 years old.

That desperation rose up in me, to know more, to understand better, to have an explanation. That desperation leaked out of my pores, through my fingertips as I scanned the internet for information. The internet is generally good for that, whether the information is accurate or not. I should know better than to read the commentary on news pieces, I blame the desperation for it this time, hoping that someone knew something more than the short news brief nearly ALL sources were giving. The commentary went right to finger pointing and pontificating. If it was mere question asking it would be one thing. If it was “I wonder if it had something to do with Rush Limbaugh?” or “I wonder if it had something to do with the Bain Capitol attacks from the Left?” it might fall under the natural desperation we all feel to know more, to understand better, to have an explanation.

But these were not questions, these were statements. When we state our opinions in public forums in the wake of tragedy, in an environment polluted already with political rhetoric, emotional manipulation and general uncertainty, those opinions stated as “fact” are dangerous. We already know how easily public opinion grabs on to the line of the day. We already know that we are at best, feeling some degree of desperation all the time in this country. It is not hard for a large population of people to jump to the simplest conclusion and then have trouble shaking loose from it, whether it is proven false or not.

My heart and my prayers go out to the victims and families of this terrible tragedy in Colorado today. My heart and prayers go out to the victims and families of those killed or injured in attacks such as this in every part of our planet. And I pray peace and wisdom and discernment for us all in the coming days.

bitter pills…

About 15 years ago a friend of mine had a “chocolate” party. She went to a lot of trouble to gather different kinds of chocolate and did research on them and arranged it all beautifully for a gathering of friends. Sadly, I was not able to go that night. I love me some chocolate and I love me some Kerry so it was hard to miss it.

When I asked how it was a week later she said that only a couple of people had come. She was expecting maybe 20 and got perhaps 4. I was devastated and felt awful for her but she stopped me in my tracks there. “It was fine, Ang, we had a BLAST! It was the right mix of people and we had some great treats and even better conversation.”

I was so envious of her attitude. I wished I was that self secure.

My biggest fear has always been throwing a party and having no one come. I don’t read it as “I have busy friends,” I read it as “I’m not important enough to get people to come to a party I throw.” It’s terribly narcissistic, I admit. It’s my own personal brand of neurotic and truly, I’m not proud of it.

I don’t know what made me think about that chocolate party this morning in the shower except that I miss my friend Kerry and I’ve always admired her tenacity. It made me realize though just how far I have to go yet in this whole struggle toward wholeness and that’s a bitter pill to swallow, even if the pill will eventually help me to be healed.

There I go again using my blog as therapy.

coming home…

I’ve had a couple of hard but good conversations this week with friends from Chicago. I think we’re all feeling the loss of each other. We were so intertwined in our growing and our faith, in our parenting and our lives as spouses…it was hard for me to imagine that coming here to TN I’d ever find a community of women that would equal the support I had gotten from these Chicago Wise Women.

So after three and a half years it’s taken a lot of energy and a lot of focus but I have found a wide base of support. I have started deep, meaningful relationships with these TN Wise Women…and I cannot fathom how I’d have survived out here without them. I do not take lightly the relationships that were built and kept in Chicago nor the ones that are being built and nurtured here. It’s miraculous to me. I’m overcome with it all when I stop to think about it.

This morning as I thought about the hard conversations I had this week with Chicago friends I was struck by how formative their voices have been in my life and how thankful I am for that. The women I’m friends with here in TN are direct beneficiaries of the bricks that these beautiful Chicago women put in place with me so many years ago. Their speaking into me even after I left and their willingness to hear me speak into them from so far away is a testimony of the bonds that come with authenticity, integrity and love in friendships.

What is striking me just now is the idea of coming home. I do consider my home to be where I am living with my family of course. My home is here with this community now and yet there is another kind of “home” too. In so many ways Chicago feels like home because that’s where this community of women reside. They aren’t friends anymore, they are family….so Chicago is also home.

“Coming home” means visiting but it also means hearing from my “friend-family” members there, it means reaching out and being willing to be examined from 500 miles away and being willing to examine them in the same, loving way. That is coming home too. It’s scary to be honest. I want to put on my best face but I commit to being authentic. I want them to know the loss I have for them but I also want them to know I’m alright. It’s hard to walk with any certainty.

The hardest part about coming home is that it is humbling. These are people who knew me in my emotional and spiritual infancy and chose to love me anyway. It’s humbling to have people know me so deeply. It’s humbling to be allowed to see into them just as deeply.

So today I’m thankful beyond compare. I don’t even know what to do with this joy except to take hold of my children and husband for random acts of hugging, let it spill out in the exchanges I have with local “friend-family” members and write about it.

so there’s that.

9/11

This is what we do. We think of where we were when it happened, when something awful and unbelievable happened, something that changed our lives so completely that it is then hard to remember what life was like before that.

I was on the couch, having sent my husband off to work and my daughter to preschool. I was nursing my son on the couch and got a phonecall that I needed to turn on the television and so I did. I watched with great horror and utter disbelief. I watched and then I saw the tower fall…I watched still, struggling to make sense of it. I heard words but the images were far clearer than anything being said. My husband called to see if I was watching. We stayed on the phone as the second tower fell. Neither speaking for a long time.

This is what we do, we remember. We hope, we pray, we listen, we observe, we speak, we cry, we watch and we remember.

Writerchick is part of a event which takes time to remember those whose lives were taken on 9/11. I hope you will take a moment to check this out.

Enough…

I got news this week about a friend who is facing a diagnosis of bone cancer. We don’t know anything for certain yet except that it IS cancer and that it is either on his sacrum or in it. Depending upon the type of cancer that it is, they will let my friend know how best to treat it.

In the face of this news I began to pray because that it is the only thing I can think to do and because my friend asked me to pray. It is not nearly as instinctual for me as I’d like. I’d love to be the sort of “pray-er” who falls right into the well versed, proper stance for prayer but mostly it just follows Anne Lamott’s example of “help me, help me, help me” or “thank you, thank you, thank you.” Today I approach the throne with rather a surly attitude and all I can muster is “why?” and the occasional, “please!”

I’d like to say that it’s because of the injustice of it all and make some grand pronouncement about bad things happening to good people and the wisdom of God and not understanding God’s thinking on all of this but in the end it just boils down to me thinking about me, really. All I can think about is me, I confess. I feel like I’ve entered into a new phase of life in which I see people I love dearly passing into ill health, devastating crisis and fatality. Someone told me it’s because of my stage of life but this is a hard pill to swallow since I am only just knocking on the door to forty but I suppose she might be right.

It seems as though every year for the last 5 years there has been a loss of a friend or a friend’s family member or child and each time my response being mouth agape and lost for words. Because I’m a writer and because I’m a talker I look for the words when I see my friends who are suffering, who are facing treatment, chemo, radiation, nausea, death. I look for words and you know in the long run, words just fail…they just do. Once when I struggled to find something wise and comforting to say to a friend who was looking at terminal cancer I broke down and sobbed and she smiled the most peace-filled gracious and loving smile I have ever seen, she became the Comforter, the face of Christ and what a tremendous gift that was to me.

The same friend went through radiation several times. What is striking about this sort of treatment was that she could not touch or be touched for a few days afterward, she’d have to announce to people as she saw them with a stop sign palm out, “I’m neutropenic…” meaning that the radiation had destroyed so many white blood cells in the fight against the cancer that it also meant that our germs could hurt her, our touch could cause her more illness.

At a loss for words and a loss for touch…what am I left to offer?

My gracious smiling friend said to me once in the midst of her treatment that she was so glad for visitors because even though they could not touch and there was little, if anything they could say, she wanted to be seen, she wanted to be heard. This is what made her feel as though she was still a part of the human race. Her perception was that at first during her cancer people were everywhere, wanting to help, wanting to pray, wanting to speak but over time people drifted off somehow, got tired of the battle or got busy with their own lives. She suspected that the struggle was just too much. I suspect that the it was not the struggle but rather the loss..the loss of words, the loss of touch, the loss of control, the eventuality of the loss of a friend. Maybe we shut down to cauterize the pain of loss but forget that those still in the business of survival merely grieve for normalcy, for ordinary time, for the chance to have coffee and talk about American Idol.

I wish I knew more…I wish I could change things…I want to understand….I want to know God’s mind on this…I hope it turns out well…I hope my friend doesn’t die too soon…I hope he is not in pain…it all begins with “I.” Maybe “I” is all I have right now.

What comes to me is this; To see and be seen….to hear and be heard…maybe that is something. Maybe being present, being available, being eyes to see and ears to hear is enough. I hope it is a valuable. I hope it is a gift. I hope it is enough.

Cry Together: The Light of Day

third in an ongoing series…

There is something I should note going forward; Anna is not the only friend with whom I have had this experience. There have been several friends of mine who have struggled with infertility and miscarriage. I can say that almost each time I was pregnant, including miscarriages I walked with a friend who was also pregnant. Three times I went on to deliver a healthy baby and they did not, three times they went on to deliver and I did not. I have also walked with friends who never got pregnant, never miscarried and never stopped desiring motherhood even so.

I find myself skittish now about how to move with other women. This is sad to me. I think, perhaps, what should have come from this relational distress should be a greater understanding of how to find our common language. It is easy to speak Hope, easy to offer up bite sized helpings based on scriptural references. God WILL grant you the desires of your heart, He DOES have plans for you, plans to prosper you, Remember the persistent widow…blah blah blah…easily said. While all of these moments of Hope are genuine, prayed for, shared, they are not always meant to be delivered by someone who has no need for that particular brand of Hope.

I think what would have been life giving would have been for us to operate with Grace as a mediator, rather than Hope. Grace is difficult to speak because Grace operates so often without words. Grace is quiet and still. Grace does not require action but rather waiting and breathing and listening. When Hope enters the room it fills in the empty spaces like expandable foam, entering into the cracks but Grace, Grace is the air we breathe. It is what fuels this “walk beside me empathy” that is required. Hope may be dashed to the rocks when spoken in the silence but Grace is sweet when given, in noise, in quiet, in grief.