New Year’s, Zombies, Lamentations

I set out today to write about New Year’s Day and the blank wall it seems to offer each year. I sat and stared at that blank wall, thinking, “Well, there’s that then. Time to get on with the big bright shiny blank new year.”

It’s not really blank, you know. There are variations in the paint, chips here and there, maybe a faded handprint, if I look real close. I might spend too much time looking at it real close, finding the variations, finding the handprint. I forget, in those times of looking close, that the wall isn’t the thing. I stare at that blank wall for a long time, thinking about how to fill it, thinking about what to hang, how to paint, putting in a window or a fireplace. How hard would it be? How expensive? How long will it take? How messy?

When I look into the start of the new year, sometimes it’s a blank wall I see. Other times it is a dark and deep hole in the ground. How deep is that? I wonder to myself. I drop some coins into it. I listen for the plink into water or thud into the dirt, at the bottom. It does not always come. I peer into the dark a long time, waiting for my eyes to adjust, making out anything possible, anything moving, anything bearing just a little light.

I woke up today cranky, and it was not because I stayed up too late, or at least, I do not think that’s the reason. I moved through my familiar shuffle to the coffee pot. I greeted the now fully-waked children, who were already deep into the new box of cereal. I poured out a little prayer as the coffee dripped into my cup. Morning always seems promising. The first coffee bolsters that promise. The “New Year” catches me in a current, and I am riding it– so far, so good. But it doesn’t last, and my cranky mood takes over. What is it? I think to myself.

I know what it is. I remember it now as I sit to examine the sharp tone of my reprimands, the exasperation when I see the stack of dishes in the sink already, the tightness in my chest when, despite my best intentions, I find myself comparing my “New Year’s Eve” to the pictures I see on the computer, my last year to everyone else’s last year. It’s a new year. Why am I still so far from the goal?

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
-Lamentations 3:22-23

After the second cup of coffee, a closing of the social media windows and maybe one more round of “why” I make a slow descent into prayer. I don’t want to go. I’d rather stare at that blank wall. I’d rather stare into the deep well in the ground. It’s astounding how fruitful that promise of the blank wall or the deep dark hole in the ground seems and yet, we both know Henri Nouwen is right when he tells us about the descent into the heart through prayer, don’t we?

“To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seing, within you.”
— Henri Nouwen The Way of the Heart

The start of the calendar New Year is a trap for me. It sets up a false expectation that change came in the night while the fireworks went off while the clock hands moved past midnight while my children slept soundly in their beds. Resolutions are made whether I meant to make them or not. Force of habit. Promises, not kept from last year, resurrect like zombies rising, arms outstretched and groaning. Remember me? They say, with voices that are eerily familiar from years of repetition. But it’s a trap. The idea that I woke to a blank wall or a deep well that formed while I slept and that the world somehow “reset” is flawed, at best. I just don’t buy it. I cannot buy it. It’s too expensive a cost because it is such a large purchase every year.

But the descent into the heart– not a deep staring into the dark once a year, but a daily, “new every morning” kind of looking, that’s an investment worth making, no matter what day of the year it is. The blank wall will be there, but great is His faithfulness. The deep dark holes in the floor will open up, but great is His faithfulness. The turning of time on the calendar will continue, along with the many and varied ways I can showcase my failings, but great is His faithfulness. Great is His faithfulness.

the scent of almonds…

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll already know that I’ve been slogging away at the task to complete 50,000 words on a novel before the end of November. So far, things are going pretty well, I must say. I like these characters and I like their story. I have no idea if I’m doing an adequate job putting it down on paper, frankly. I mean, it all makes sense to ME but then again, I’m the Creator here. I know their past and their future, so you know, I got that going on.  You can follow along on my word count progress by checking the #NaNoWriMo site and you can buddy up with me if you’re writing as well. Writing this is a lot like moving into new apartment, boxes all over the place waiting to be unpacked. Some small spaces are set up, they look nice. Mostly I’m wandering through  the stacks of cardboard, not entirely sure what I packed in each of these boxes, not exactly sure if I have the counter space to show everything or enough drawer space to be able to access the utensils I’ll need in the near future.

Big props to fiction writers. Big props.

Here’s an excerpt for anyone so inclined to read it……..

 

It happens like this sometimes. People with clean clothes and a good living suddenly find themselves thrown into a kind of fever. They rip bed sheets into ropes and climb down from third story windows to escape their houses even though the door is unlocked. They tell the Oversight Committee that they fear someone is listening to them through keyholes and flowerpots. They insist that there is something they must find, something they must do or remember or realize. Their families worry and their neighbors talk, because people do that. Invariably the Oversight Committee will place them into a treatment program and their families will continue to worry, their neighbor’s talk will increase and drown out the conspiracy theories about the Governors. It happens like this.

 

Gaia tells of days when the sun was more than a source of light and heat. She says that people wrote poetry about the sun and about the moon. She says that people are the sun, that people are the moon. When Gaia talks the children in the street laugh. “They are a new generation,” Gaia says. “They will be the last of the dreamers. Their children will not dream, they will not even know what they are missing.”

 

In my dreams there are colors, vibrant colors and smells, like the almonds from Gaia’s kitchen and the venison my mother makes when Stal comes home from hunting every year. There are words, floating on rivers and branches overhanging the river are filled with children, laughing. In the distance there are storms and sunlight and skies filled with birds or hovercraft. In my dreams, I am often running and when I wake, I am panting and out of breath.  I am relieved to wake up and I am grieved for the world in my dream.

 ***********

Abbi lifted the bundle of clothes from Gaia’s floor placing them gently on the bed. The scent of almonds was nearly overwhelming now and Abbi had to sit down next to them before she began to fold them neatly. She closed her eyes and inhaled, remembering something just out of reach of herself. She shook her head and groaned in frustration. Gaia emerged in the doorway and hobbled quietly into the room. She chuckled softly “You are thinking too hard.” She made her way to the hard backed chair nearest the bed. “I can’t explain it, “ Abbi began, “that smell reminds me of something and I don’t know what it reminds me of. Isn’t that crazy?” Gaia nodded, her eyebrows upraised, “Yes,” she said firmly and then she broke into an old woman’s cackle. Abbi shook her head again and smiled. “It will come to you,” Gaia assured her. “It will come to you in time, in God’s time. You’re not ready yet to know why it lingers in you. It will come.”

 

“Does everyone have these, uh…” Abbi searched for a word, “flashes?” Gaia stared out the window. “Yes.” She turned to look back at Abbi, her face creased with age and concern. Her eyes crinkled at the edge,  “they do not seek it out but yes, they have the memory, the memory of us all. Most will brush it off, like lint from their shoulder; they’ll blame it food poisoning or too much wine.  Yet, we are all poets, even the Governors are poets, even the well informed, the inner circle, but of course, they already know everything. Their memories are strong. It’s safe for them to remember, you see.” Abbi nodded, but she did not really understand. Often when Gaia spoke of these things she nodded. Often Abbi would write it down anyway, even though she did not understand. Gaia said it was important and that one day it would be clear.

 

Abbi folded the sheets carefully, smoothing out the places where the wrinkles seemed to be setting in. Gaia was fortunate to have someone willing to dry her laundry once a week. Her next-door neighbor, Patrice had known Gaia for most of her adult life. At one time, Patrice had come to Gaia’s house along with most of the city when Gaia spoke. Patrice stopped coming when the Sentries began to make themselves more visible. She was afraid of what it meant and had confessed this to Gaia who encouraged her to follow her conscience. Patrice no longer came to Gaia’s on Sunday but she was eager to help out in any way she could. Abbi thought that perhaps she felt guilty but Gaia only sighed when Abbi suggested this. She would take Abbi’s face in her soft, leather hands and kiss her forehead. “Let us save our mistrust for another. When we begin to talk this way we lose the thread of our present moment. It is all we have, this thread. Be at peace, Abbi.” As she said this she released Abbi’s face and touched her own forehead and heart with her fingertips. Abbi smiled at the gesture. Gaia’s responses had become entirely predictable. It was comforting.

 

The knock at the door startled Abbi. She and Gaia exchanged a quick look. “Do you want me to get it?” Abbi offered. “No, no…” Gaia said, waving her hand casually. “I am not concerned.” Abbi moved from the door automatically, unsure of what she ought to do. She had no reason to fear the Sentries or the Oversight Committee. Even so, she found that she was concerned. Too much had happened in the last few days with Peter’s leaving and the whisperings of “shifting” in the other continents. Gaia swung the door open wide without care. She placed her hands on her squat hips, “Yes?” The man who stood on the porch looked to be in his mid 50’s, clean cut and well dressed. Abbi had never seen him before. Through the screen door Abbi could only barely make out the color of his suit but the coat over top was light brown, perhaps khaki and very clean. She peered out from the room to get a better look and he made eye contact with her. He smiled and waved slightly. “Hello…well, to you both. Mrs. Calder, I’m Robert Murdoch, from the Homeland Office. I wondered if I could have a word or two with you.” Gaia smiled her wise, confident smile and tilted her head. She opened the door as she answered “Of course, Mr. Murdoch.”