Spines and Stories

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The Brattle, Boston

I picked up “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion in the Brattle Book Shop in Boston.  We were the last ones in the store, my love and me, with no plans but to walk atop the bricks until our feet ached and our hands grew chilled.  I tend to gravitate to bookstores, so many spines holding up bodies I want to know, lines of old friends with yellowed paper and curled edges, beckoning me to know them.  The smell always settles me somehow, mildewed paper and brewed coffee, the soft hum of words printed and set.

I opened it up on the plane from Hartford to Atlanta, and finished it while my son slept curled up on airplane sheets in Austin, Texas.   And after I closed the last page I thought to myself, “why just yesterday I pulled you from a shelf, and now I have woven you into my soul.”

The book was about grief. Joan journeyed through it as she lost her husband, just months before her only daughter’s treacherous stint in multiple hospitals that nearly cost her life.  It was not a lofty attribute to the dead, nor a heavy rendition of loss. It was not spirit-rich and syrupy with comforting words.  It was real.  And friends, that’s something we fail to write about well: the authenticity of pain.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in an instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Those were her words, after her husband of forty years had a heart attack and the traveling of the mind set in.  It made me realize we can’t escape it, hiding in tight boxes as if they will hold us.  For the walls are cardboard and melt with the pummeling of so many tears. There is no preparing for death.  One thinks that a golden path can be laid so that the entry into the beyond is smooth, but that is fiction like so many pages I flip past at night.

I’ve come to realize how much I appreciate honesty, the way someone says something crazy and knows it.  Whether it be through a taco or boarded-up window or the sickening sweet of wisteria, memories burst through our boxes and start stabbing at our heart.  You can numb it or avoid it or push against it or scream at it, but despair from grief or divorce or a tangential loss comes at us at times like a black hole that sucks and does not give back.  It pulls at our inner parts no one is supposed to see.  And in the end we find comfort in strange things.  Not sappy songs about Jesus.  Not cards from Hallmark.  But the way a neighbor drops off Chinese soup every day for three weeks, since that’s the only thing one’s stomach can handle.

As I reflect upon life and death, about joy and pain, about the fragility of our stint on this earth and the tenacity of the human spirit, it makes me appreciate how people write.  The opening of the mind to share with our fellow cohorts, so we don’t feel alone.  Isn’t that the purpose of our communities, our families, and our deep-seeded friendships? To feel less alone? To have someone to hold at night and say “I’m here, with you, right now and forever?”

I continue to duck into bookstores whenever possible.  I get lost in the walls of stories, of beauty and suffering, of how one processes things.  Sometimes I sit on dirty floors and dive in, while others I just touch like friends I will someday meet.  Often I take books off shelves and run my fingers across the various covers, because someone spent many hours and months of their life pouring over this particular collection of words.  How glorious.  I like new books and old books, funny and poignant.  I read words of Saints and sinners, the ancient creed of apostles or quirky wit from mommas. Words provide an opportunity to see things I cannot see.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in an instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

This may be.  Your heart might be broken, or empty, or in my case full of new love and promise to the extent that my eyes well up at the happy.  But in all cases, words provide clarity and community, reinforcing that we are all in this together.

Don’t hold back.  Share your words with the world.

 

 

 

21 Things I will Teach my Children

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(1) If something makes you laugh, it just does.  You don’t have to know why.  Just stick with what truly makes your gut seize and you’ll be okay.

(2) Please floss.  It’s boring and awful but so are cavities in-between teeth and then you have to endure awful drilling sounds from the dentist chair like nails on chalkboards so PLEASE FOR THE LOVE JUST FLOSS.

(3) P.S. Your mother does not often floss because she wants to pop out her dentures for her grandkids.  See (1) above. Forgive her.

(4) Sometimes your body has a desire to move to the beat of the music.  Feet are notorious culprits. Please do not resist this urge.  It’s a natural and beautiful thing to allow the beat of song to match the beating of your heart.

(5) Cursing can be fun.  Don’t tell anyone I said this.

(6) I know that right now you hate onions and mushrooms and olives.  But someday try them again.

(7) Travel to New York alone.  Pack walking shoes and drink coffee and explore all the nooks and crannies.  It’s okay if you want to take pictures of signs or storefronts or subways. Sit on the second row of a Musical.

(8) Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings.  For example, I just tonight looked at your diary and you wrote “sometimes I’m bad at spelling.”  I think this is odd that you can write down anything in the world – made-up worlds about unicorns or glitter hair gel and yet you choose to write down this – but hey.  It’s your diary, kid.

(9) Don’t accept the premise that “it’s just food.” It’s not.  It’s what we put into our precious bodies.  It’s what creates memories.  It’s what makes our eyes roll back and our tongues drip with drool.  Food is energy on all fronts.  Learn to appreciate it.

(10)               Friends are more valuable than jewels.  If I could say it in multiple languages and hang it from banners in the sky, I would.  Because I want you to cherish them.  Love them.  Learn from them.  And keep them.

(11)               True love is elusive.  It’s scarce.  It’s the stuff novels are made of.  But it’s real.  Please don’t give up trying to find it.

(12)               I think by now you should be flossing.

(13)               If you get a poor grade, consider it an opportunity to improve, not a reason to call yourself a failure. I love you regardless of your status in fractions. Someday you’ll be sitting in a boardroom and you will lean to the person to your left, asking “what’s eight times seven again?” I mean hypothetically this might happen. Focus on flossing.

(14)               When you have the opportunity to travel, be on television, or bicycle across America, you should absolutely take it.  Be bold and wild when you are young without doing any drugs of any kind. Do I need to repeat myself.

(15)               Pray this often: “Please Lord, help me maintain a soft heart.  Full of warmth and forgiveness and compassion.”  This helps from building up stones inside that cannot be broken.  Because a hardened heart is a life of misery.

(16)               Don’t waste time on television when there are books.

(17)               Stinky cheese is better with wine.

(18)               If you don’t believe in God, Jesus, the resurrection, or the Holy Spirit, I don’t hate you.  If you don’t want to read Genesis or go to church and want to walk around scowling wearing nothing but black t-shirts, I will still lovingly claim you as my own.   That being said, I’m going to expose you to love as I see it. And I will sit with you in the hard nights when you need me.

(19)               I am your mother.  This means you can always come home.  You can always call.  You can count on me when everyone else fails you.  I am delighted in the mere existence of you.

(20)              Prayer works, even when you can’t see it.  I will sit tonight and pray hard for you.  Because you, my dear and beautiful children, are my fortune.

(21)               Floss.  In case I failed to mention it.

 

photo:

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Layer upon layer

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Some days are comfortable.  You have the luxury of sipping coffee with two creams and your kids put on their shoes without argument and you’re listening to folk music in your car with fancy leather seats.  And you think to yourself that you are Quite Blessed Indeed as you sip and hum and smile.  A layer of peace and soft sheets at night to rest your head.

Some days are sad.  Old demons pull your hair and whisper things in your ear about how things used to be and aren’t.  You forgot to shave and you left the kid’s lunch on the counter and you are almost out of gas. And you sigh deep because Wendy’s forgot to put the salad dressing in the bag and you sent that text you shouldn’t have sent and lost your temper and work just piles up high on your desk like steel buildings scratching the sun.  The expectations are too big a mountain to scale.  And this layer is dank and stained, thrown in the wash for another time.

Some days are powerful.  Because you own this suit and you own these heels and you walk tall down this hallway plodding each foot down hard like a runway model.  Nobody gets to tell you how to negotiate this deal or write this contract or win this case or run this house because you got this.  And a smile creeps up from some inner place not from joy but from lust for it because there is a greedy rapture that comes from being The One Who Leads.  An alluring devil whispers,  there you go, kid. Own it.  This layer is a silk ribbon tied over fool’s gold.

Some days are bombs that explode upon your heart.  You were once just standing there stirring the pasta pot on a Tuesday and now you are curled up on the bathroom floor hugging your knees.  Because this couldn’t happen and she couldn’t die and he couldn’t cheat and you refuse to believe it.  Your life that was all planned out is now different and broken and will never again be the same.  You cry out with a deep moan like a wounded animal and beg for God to save you.   For that powerful you is gone now like a vapor, and a child remains. This layer is nothing but putrid and rotten, like a limp banana in the trash heap.

Some days are red hot.  Ah, yes. These days you can’t breathe for the passion, because you didn’t think it would feel this way and your heart races at the thought of him.  People walk up from behind and it frightens you because you were daydreaming of boats in Venice and long walks aside the river and park benches. And when you touch it’s electric and you are scared it might end for the fury of love is deep and unquenching. This layer is a long handwritten love letter, inscrolled with words meant for one.

But these are only days.  They do not make up a life. It’s the character that forms as a result of these days that matters. Layers upon layers of emotions and reactions, heartbreak and redemption.  A butter biscuit that can be pulled apart, warm and rich, the smell permeating and filling the kitchen with a promise that they will be eaten soon enough.

I thank the Son for being an intimate part of my days.  And I thank the Father for being a trusted anchor when I could not stand.  I thank the Quiet Spirit that resides in me on bathroom floors and in the midst of passionate kisses, on park benches and in fancy leather seats.  For our bodies and our lives are a temple on good days and in bad, in the dark and in the light.

We know our days are numbered. And in the end, there is nothing but dust on the earth.  Comfort is fleeting, power an illusion. Heartbreak temporary and passion fading.  These days, they will someday come to an end.  But the honey that drips so deliciously down, into our souls and into our hearts and makes our mouths water – this love that binds the days and hours and years – this pure blinding love of God that soaks into us and becomes us and radiates from us?

This remains. 

Thank you, God, for this beautiful life. For the good days and bad.  For all the delicious layers.

 

photo:

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A Southern State of Mind

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It’s easy to glorify our heritage.  For us southerners, it’s a right of passage.

I get it. Texas flows through my blood and I am damn proud of it.  I was raised in a small town, buried deep in the Hill Country, close enough to eat Mexican food in San Antonio but far away from those city slickers in Dallas.  And yeah, we skipped rocks and jumped into the Guadalupe and climbed atop the Cypress.  But it all wasn’t sundresses and barbeque either.  Well that’s a lie.  It was always about barbeque.

But nobody had fancy stitched boots back then, and we only listened to George Strait because it was the only thing on the radio. There were long days in the summer when the cicadas wouldn’t freaking die and they never shut up.  The droughts went long and the days wore on like an old piece of leather.  You could sit and change the dial in your car while driving down country roads but all you heard coming out of the speakers was steel guitar, whether you liked it or not.

But there was a dark side to all this rug cutting and beer drinking.  It made some people feel inside the circle and others out.  Cast aside like God didn’t have room for them, mostly because they wore black or held up a different color flag or happened to have serious doubts about the holy triune of their father’s father.  There was a leaning in my upbringing for everyone to blend together in perfect harmony. Trucks could either be black or red or have a lift kit or no, but let’s not get started about them Volkswagens.  You could ask anyone in church on Sunday hard questions about why they believed in God or how all the details worked and they’d just shrug, because it’s a box that gets checked, is all.  After church is fried chicken and football, so let’s not get all dramatic.  If you really want to be different and weird you just might as well pack your things and move to Austin where the hippies live.

Being from the south could be suffocating.   Women were often unfairly marginalized.  People who didn’t fit in were avoided. If you didn’t want to raise two kids and join the Rotary Club, it might be uncomfortable for you here in this place, where the world revolved. There were times you sat on the front porch and wondered if you’d ever break free and fly.  Out of this town where sin happened just the same as any other, but folks were too busy buying deer corn and cheap beer to notice.

And yet there are some people growing up that opened their doors like Jesus did.  To the rich and the poor.  The hungry and the full.  The sinners and believers alike, all hunkered down eating macaroni salad.  My grandfather was one.  He owned a sand-and-gravel business, and whenever one of his workers couldn’t make it until payday, he’d hand them a loan without asking for repayment.  My friend Lynda Ables would just cluck her way around singing and gathered up anyone who walked into her path without judgment.  Kids would gather around Macky Pitt’s dining table drinking tea and talking about things that scared them.  These are the memories that bind to my heart.  These are the things I hold most dear.

It is my prayer that my own home will also become a haven for the doubters.  A place of rest for the weary. Where all are welcome to put their boots or flags or labels by the door and simply come-on-in.  For a warm hug and a firm handshake.  A good hearty meal and real, true, forever-type love.

Please, Lord, don’t insulate me behind picket fences.  Allow me to welcome all, and appreciate Different Things.  Use me as a spokesperson for the skeptics, who see this religion thing as a country club for the few instead of a hitching post for all. For the sun, it is rising.  It’s climbing out of its resting place and poking its head above the oaks, spraying the world with God and light and tipping the clouds with gold.  The coffee is brewing. The birds and singing.

The time to love our neighbor has come.

Ya’ll grab a plate, now.  Grab a sweet potato biscuit with honey, a piece of that brown sugar bacon, and some of those cheese grits. Don’t be shy: eat your fill. Sit a spell and let’s talk about life. I want to look into your eyes, and I want to know you.  I’ll tell you about the beautiful love of Jesus if you wanna.  If not, that’s okay too.  We’ll just sit here, looking at the sun in that big ol Texas sky, rocking on the porch drinking coffee.  Because that’s what we do here in the south.

Come on over and visit.  The front door’s open.

photo:

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The Shelling of Prayers

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Right this very minute, I’m inhaling the smell of garlic and bacon simmering and bobbing amidst the peas I shucked last summer, their little black eyes peering at me from the pot.  All last summer I sat and shelled them, long afternoons while the washing machine swished and my brain pulsed hard with thoughts of change and going back to work and whether I’d ever be happy.  Break off the end, pull the string, run my fingers alongside the edges so the peas tumble out with little joyful pops, and then breathe out slow.

I was about to say that I talked to God in times like these, but that sounds all idealistic and cliché, like I have these spiritual moments in the south when I’m in an apron with an armload of peas and later I go into the garden and cut zinnas and make sun tea.  I do those things, but it’s an inaccurate description of reality.

A more accurate version is that I sat there in a t-shirt while the kids were watching cartoons, tired and half-dazed, in the middle of a divorce and an outbox full of emails expressing my “absolute interest in working for your organization,” wondering why the children always threw clean towels in the laundry when they were used one stinkin time, frustrated that it took an hour to pop out damn little peas that would gather in a ziplock for three days until enough of a harvest could fill a bag for the freezer. There was an apron, but it was stained and wrinkled.

But the thing is, I did talk to God in times like these.  It was more of a guttural cry to a Father with whom I worshipped and loved and yet sometimes didn’t honor and barely understood and I just wasn’t sure how my life would possibly work out.   And yet I began talking to God anyway.  I prayed and spoke and sang and wrote and at times just scowled in a general Godly direction.  Sometimes I wanted to take a bucket of peas and throw them across the French country table toward the back door.  But the more I cried out to Him the more I knew – I knew – from deep down inside my veins that pulsed and kept beat with my living heart, that this amazing love was indeed listening.  That redemption was not just a word we hear in biblical circles, but an action.  That somewhere and somehow, beauty was lurking.  Next season, perhaps.  But in time, it was coming.  I didn’t even feel it, but I wrote it on my chalkboard nonetheless.  Trust Him to keep his promises.  It will come.

Last year was long.  It was dark.  It was filled with forgetfulness and compromise and getting buried deep in thought. Break off the end, pull the string, run your fingers through until the little peas pop. And yet here I am.  The peas smell so good bobbing in the chicken broth, hunks of bacon letting the grease flow into their little green shells.  My mother is so excited to eat them, “fresh from the garden,” she says.  “So exciting.”

My tears are now rather different, for they flow with gratitude for my amazing life, and my beautiful children who bless me.  My daughter walked in moments ago wearing my fedora and scarf, and her blue eyes poured love inside of me in a way that she may never understand.  And my son crawls up next to me and settles, breathing in deep as if we together are stronger than apart.  And I weep actual tears at the glory of my mother, who stays with us and bakes cakes and makes dinosaur caves with my son and sews dresses with ribbons for my daughter and is so unselfish and pure in all her ways.  I have friends who allow me to be stitched forever into their lives, forming a tapestry of us, and I have found a man that is so special I can barely speak of him.

Like each pea I popped out of a shell, my prayers were heard. My God.  You are so holy to love us, and powerful to protect us, and glorious to redeem our broken lives.  I am nothing but a shell left on the floor after the words are spent. But in my small role I will play it well, because in another season there will be a purpose, and there is a greater glory, and in the end it will all make sense.

To those who are struggling, hold fast. God does indeed hear every single breathy prayer you may utter.  And in time His brilliant glory will be revealed, even if it’s in a year, or five, or after this mortal life is shunned.  But like the seasons this too shall pass, and we will someday cry a different kind of tear, and I am living proof that a heart can indeed heal.

Last year I shelled a lot of damn peas.  And today, we shall eat them.  With smiles on our faces, bacon grease running down our chins, butter melting into cornbread.  And we shall laugh, and we will play board games, and water the garden, and I will probably roll my eyes at my mother.  Later I have a date, and will wear high heels, and will feel strangely full.

Redemption.  It smells a lot like bacon. And it’s beautiful.

photo:

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Odd and Curious Thoughts of the Week

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(1) So this past weekend, while eating a salad at Maudies, my date and I see a child vomit at the next table over, the parents not at all outraged or disgusted and simply continue to eat while the waitress cleans up said vomit. The parents handed the kid an ipad and a glass of sprite while we sit and try to carry on a normal conversation.  In the midst of this shocking event, our waitress remembers my side of dressing, which consists of a vat of white creamy substance in a large bowl looking exactly like vomit.  I’m totally disgusted with all humanity and I am swearing off ranch dressing forever.

(2)  In other news, we went out for sushi and laughed with new friends.  It turns out eating raw meat is less gross than a vat of vomit dressing.

(3) In his elder years, my dog has managed to overcome his arthritis in the morning long enough to bark for treats and roam the neighborhood at will without a leash, a stern warning, or any time limit on peeing, apparently.  He has a bladder the size of Wisconsin.

(4) My kids were off visiting grandparents for a solid week so my house has been quiet and I missed their beautiful angelic voices and the singing and yelling and laughing and running.  One night I visited a girlfriend and she was like “OMG I AM SO TIRED OF CHILDREN LET’S LOCK THEM ALL OUTSIDE AND DRINK WINE” and I realized that sometimes a break is lovely. It’s all about perspective.

(5) The kids came back and I was so excited to see them that I made crispy broccoli and tomatoes soaked in balsamic, but then I realized they are children and what the hell was I thinking.

(6) For dessert we had Ben & Jerry’s ice cream but mostly it was just me eating it with the occasional droplet of ice cream placed upon their tongues like they had just hatched out of a nest and they needed food as basic fuel to fly. But not too much because it’s Cherry Garcia.   I missed them and all but still.

(7) Went on a fabulous dinner date to Alamo Drafthouse to see Stand By Me with a full menu that matched scenes in the movie complete with beer parings from a pub in Portland, but three beers later I was like seriously folks it’s Tuesday. There is a morning coming.

(8) My children are sleeping in my bed because I can’t stand to be away from them.  I wedge myself in between them and sing spirituals and tell them in the middle of the night they are the joy of my life. My son woke up and said he dreamed he was riding a mud-laden roller-coaster and when he got off he kicked snapping frogs off his toes.  He clarified that although there are snapping turtles in real life, this was just a dream. There are really no snapping frogs.  I thanked him for the clarification; I wasn’t aware.

(9) Basically my life is amazing.

 

photo:

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Burn up the Rubber

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Most of us live sensible lives.  We drive reliable cars. We ensure our children have green vegetables and eat organic chicken.  We rent bounce houses on birthdays and allow our daughters to be princesses and when Fridays roll around, men grill steaks in their chinos and their wives say “they’re wonderful, dear,” and at night these women take off their make-up.

And the days, they change numbers. The t-shirts turn to sweaters.  But it’s all essentially the same.  Day camp on Monday, spin class on Tuesday.  Pancakes on Saturday and church on Sunday.  And we smile and cook lasagna and say hello to Sheila-and-Bob that come over for a beer because that’s what good neighbors do. We have grown so adept at hiding all the pain that comes from living this bloated American life that we tell ourselves this is it – the life we’ve yearned for.

And then one day, when you are driving home thinking of making crunchy tacos, you hit the familiar turn toward suburbia.  The brick house on the left, third street to the right, named after birds or rivers or wildflowers.  And that stretch of curve comes a bit too fast before it’s upon you like a crosswind, and you have a choice whether to slow down or take it.

And by God, you take it.

Something strange and sinister swirls inside you like a demon. Instead of putting two hands on the wheel of your trusty Lexus and meeting up with Sheila-and-Bob and making tacos and pulling into Braeborn Court to the brick house on the left, you have a feeling akin to flying.  The tires grip the road and you narrow your eyes and you burn that rubber.  You turn that ache into fire and you realize the life you’ve been living is a shadow of the one you’ve imagined.

So you take a right instead of a left and head through the rolling hills without a plan, without a full tank of gas, without a good set of recipes or a dessert for the pot luck.  And it feels good to crank up the music loud and let it pulse with the beat of your chest.  You rip out the hair tie.  You open the sun roof.  You stick your hand out the window like an airplane dancing and you pulse in your seat to the rhythm of the street and you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, shining.  You sing loud, laugh hard, and wave at passersby’s like a damn fool.

And as the sun begins to set upon your sensible life, the one you don’t seem to fit into, you head that Lexus back home to tell your children there are no more tacos. There are only ice cream sundaes, eaten at night by the pool at 10 pm sharp, and one cannot use spoons but must dive face-first into a bowl of strawberry, and everyone laughs with hot fudge dripping down their noses.  There is no longer grilling on Sundays, and spin class on Tuesdays, for you pack up your things and move to the mountains,  where you stand in your underwear on the ridge and raise your hands high – to heaven, to God, and to freedom. And your husband sips tea and kisses your mouth hard, the one he loves more deeply than before.

Sometimes a sensible life is not enough for a dreamer.  Life must be lived with wild abandon, with hands out the window and the sun searing skin and music raging in places that were once nothing and empty.  And you grit your teeth at so many turns, because that’s what wheels are for, really, to burn up the rubber. And it feels good to go fast, and live full, and go out with a flame instead of a whimper.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/30781947@N08/6154656560/sizes/m/in/photolist-anSdYh-6GmH8Y-89hsBV-5sXYn8-72wTKE-9hb8fu-6s7Xn5-o51QXS-89kHcC-89kHgA-76tkFK-8d1zXA-eDmG9b-eDmuKb-8dj1z3-4aYwnm-72wSBS-5kSaJg-6E2BRp-aAguJL-7ZWdQi-9UJbpN-5rNX5p-6Ne1NB-57QCbe-8kT1Pq-6E6MF9-6E6MoA-6E6Mud-yeaR-7zuodN-88jsAp-4W6Sig-9FptMT-72wSzJ-b4cR9-72wT2N-LtNrz-7LpxZa-75k8s5-7LpyQK-ccHcuA-7LpzDM-4W6Rke-bVkSTK-8dj1uG-58cTnx-c7A4Sd-5ZLmMu-8cXi48-8uvBW1/

A Heart of Freedom

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”

-Matthew 5:43-47

It’s hard to define love.  It ranges from simple affection to intense pleasure – it indicates human attachment, can highlight spiritual virtues, serves to facilitate art and war and even the continuation of our very species.  People identify with the concept of “falling in love” because we are all mammals with a basic hunger to mate, not be eaten by predators, and garner safety in companionship and numbers.

But love can take on other forms that require more effort. Sometimes I have conversations with God on my work commute or lying in bed about this form of love, this “decision to love” even when it’s hard and when it hurts and when the other person isn’t the subject of one tiny ounce of desire.

Like Ross, who sues you for negligence when you’re just a small-town physician trying to make it until Friday and it’s not your fault the guy had untreated diabetes.  Or Justine, who is strung out on heroin and watches her son scream and cry with starvation and wallow around in a diaper full of crusty brown remains. It’s Roy, who sits down in his basement with sweaty palms emailing children pretending to be Mackenzie.  And it’s the person who drove home drunk and plowed over the car of your beloved wife, leaving a trail of tears and dust.  There are often no valid explanations, and no reprieves, and when your mother dies a wretched death from stomach cancer and your best friend’s child is killed and bombs are strapped to back of Mohammad and people’s bodies are blown across a railway station like chunks of meat, it is so very hard to love.

For in truth, we do not love these people.  They are impossible to love.  And if we are perfectly honest with ourselves, we want them all to just rot in hell.  I beg all my religious friends to at least acknowledge this basic emotion before preaching against it.  It’s normal to feel outrage.  It’s okay to hurt.  It does no one any good to lack authenticity about the feelings that swirl around inside of our cavernous minds.

But when the dust settles and we scream loud enough for our throats to turn raw, we turn to the teachings of the One Who Created Us. And we learn, like students.  We grow, like children.  And we have the opportunity to make a choice about how we live and feel and act. And we realize that to “love” doesn’t have to be an emotion we give away to those who have earned it.  It’s not just a gift for our friends and neighbors, those who we feel add value to society, or the one to whom we are betrothed.   We have a duty to love the most despicable and foul.  Because the more broken a soul the more lost they are, and what pity to live a life full of addiction and fear.  What a horrible existence with an utter and complete lack of joy.

My dear friends, who I think of and pray for.  You have been given a great gift of life and a freedom to fail and be loved irrespective of your failings.  Every step and sip of coffee and walk around the block and word you speak to the Starbucks guy is an opportunity to love.  This day is yours, and the decisions you make can change someone’s life.  You get to make a choice: love or hate, apathy or empathy.

To Ross, who is hurting and confused.  To Justine, who is buried in her addiction and needs someone to lift her out of the well.  To Roy, whose mind is not his own and is lost inside a spiraling mass of voices.  To cancer and Mohammad and to that bastard who ran over the mother of your children. Yes, to them all. We can, and will, say with confidence “Come.  Sit beside me.  I release this hate in my heart to you because to love is to fully live, and to forgive is the highest form of freedom, and I will let vengeance be the Lord’s and hold hope that this life is not the end.”

This is to love your enemies.  To have a heart of freedom.  Then, when you rise and fall each day, you will smile. The days will be more good than bad, more bright than grey.  And love will finally “melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” ~Khalil Gibran

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/laracores/14448484494/sizes/m/in/photolist-o1Lg4C-6BDvbg-dAz3RP-e1Ev9e-759W1o-6w8WjN-nRsCgm-6Ke1MY-8yCDgQ-76t6sw-mN74S5-35j18V-7k9E4C-earD9x-kdHSZU-HGdT8-h152YN-kHeGE8-9qbjJz-aahDwv-6LMX4n-fk3463-87EJbL-89rNcu-64eXrU-5uBwzt-7vStdT-5iGDPh-6DCvwY-8xVGN5-4rtpxx-hkAegp-adAWsD-7BzykE-fHYCHy-8GaNxT-dU3WHD-2cDKu3-6JdGiV-cvD8-eZT6jm-7j5BWG-5yvryE-QuCHq-6FH1jX-4mrYiH-dAK6B4-dAK6Bc-6tJb9W-g2qx8-8sdBHV/

A Morning’s Tale

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This morning, I rose.  Groggy and heavy, I drug myself to the bathroom and tried to convince myself that it was a brilliant day. That I would find something elegant to wear.  That cereal piled high in bowls would suffice. I watched my son curled up next to the indention where my body formally lay.  He had snuck in sometime during the night when I didn’t notice and was soaking up my warmth, his face bearing a similar expression to the moment he was first born.  My heart pulled at the reminder of him rising from my body, shining and screaming.  I was and am ensconced with happiness.

I stepped over the dog and toward my daughter’s room. “Raise your arms, honey,” I whispered. “I’ll help you with your t-shirt.”  I hated to wake her.  This beautiful girl who is growing loves to lounge around on summer mornings reading and staring aimlessly out the window at rabbits and cardinals, poetry in her brain. But it was camp day, and she had just begun the evening before settling into this new experience, singing with wild abandon all the camp songs she’d been taught by happy college kids.  She slumped over and let me dress her, arms dangling with a mass of blond hair in her face.

There are layers of obligations before my day even begins.  Feed the dog, let him out.  Apply make-up, find childrens’ shoes.  I make lunch, look professional, curl hair, take vitamins.  Sometimes I just like to shake it up.  Shampoo last.  Kids eat on the couch.  My hair in a bun. The routine of daily life can drain a soul. But soon things are bagged and packed and the kids are out the door toward the car and I think to myself that I’ve got this. That somehow in the crack of morning I have balanced this precarious rhythm.

But the garage door sticks.  Some stupid light flashes and the button jams so I have to close it from the inside and go through the front.  My children begin bickering in the car so we have a car-time-out despite the fact that my daughter is old enough to know better.  And when I arrive at my son’s day care I remember that it’s water day, and his lunch box is sitting on the kitchen table, and he’s going to be the weird kid wearing a drippy t-shirt in the slip-and-slide.  I bite my lip.  Can’t everyone see that I have already remembered so much since yesterday?  Last night I dreamed of a business deal and contract revisions and woke up afraid I had agreed to a venue clause in Delaware.  We cannot escape our realities.

So I calmly kissed the boy and headed back to the car.  I aimed it back home for a lunch box and bathing suit.  Ten minutes later I loaded up again, but when I turned to talk to my daughter in the car the mug of coffee spilled, drenching my ice-blue pants in medium roast brown.  I had just gotten them out of the cleaner’s bag this morning. I bit my lip again.  I took deep breaths.  And I began the process of negotiating the garage door opener yet again.  Later on the way to work after dropping off my daughter wearing new pants I’m navigating child care for the next week.  Pick-ups and drop offs and swapping weekends and arrangements.  I am wondering what we’ll eat for dinner and breakfast and whether I will have the stamina to make more sandwiches.

I think of how horrible I’ve been as a friend and daughter myself, always taking, never giving. I think somehow this is my selfish season.  There are days I call my mom and just rattle off what’s happening in my life without even stopping to say hello, or wondering what’s happening in her own. And when I call my friends it’s often to just vent about something without reciprocation.  And I’m filled with shame for lacking an even greater capacity to love, until the dings of email remind me that I have more pressing obligations.

It rained on the way to work today, fat pelting drops that gave trucks permission to slow to a turtle crawl.  And I progressed forward in tiny lurches forward toward an office, and a meeting, and executives with agendas.  And when I arrived I made a comment about the traffic, rolled my eyes, and I sat down with a heavy sigh.

Today has finally begun.  It’s a hair past 8:30.  No one really knows the backdrop of a life.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/burningimage/2363258975/sizes/m/in/photolist-4AQjyp-4JjXce-4Krva2-4KF9Dj-4STFMz-4Tbgjc-59S5ba-59ZWf8-5akZxM-5fqg2i-5hK1oz-5r3DoA-5tdngD-5tYQkD-5vJGbr-5JMg5o-5RZqd6-676xCX-683poN-6bMwku-6i14P9-6pybJg-6r99Ud-6rVwNA-6vogim-6yLKJH-6VFTEM-789Mm4-78MLKv-7fzA14-mdXYRC-8aiTpA-9w8eWL-nyTdxB-ajL7uF-hFGSyC-8ey5Wr-mfPuYg-87SwfE-7CfbZ4-agYDbQ-bnBkXw-9Brckz-9rPxcR-9qdw4t-9d2zXu-c4Ttfy-cca2eq-7PAweF-fbY3MF-bMZ5LK/

7 Things your Best Friends Lie to You About

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I love girlfriends.  Without them I’d scowl more, spend more money on therapy, laugh only at Arrested Development, and likely have a drinking problem.  My besties are all beautiful and funny and selfless and they all strangely pick up the phone when I call. But let’s be honest.  Even amongst friends there are half-truths.  Nice ways of saying things.  Lying.  For example:

(1) I so don’t care what your house looks like.  Now this is a bald-faced lie, because they do care.  They care because the more piles of dirty laundry, crumpled up receipts, and dirty frying pans the better it makes them feel about their own lives.  To which I say: you’re welcome.  At a minimum I owe them this, so I purposefully leave hairbrushes on the kitchen table as a token of my undying admiration.

(2) You’re not crazy.  Because honey, sometimes you are.  When you and a boy break up and yet you end up texting him multiple times in one night like “heeeeey” and “wanna meet up later?” and his response is that he’s watching a baseball game – no thanks -  but you push onward not to be deterred until said boy says “you need to get over it” and you sob for hours and text him one teensy little text that may or may not be 500 characters wishing him a healthy future because he’s so kind and wonderful? That’s a tiny bit crazy, I’m not gonna lie.

(3) You look amazing. Not true.  You are wearing yoga pants and you haven’t washed your hair since last Spring when your daughter was studying fractions and at this point you just don’t care about the external appearance of your body in public places which is why your friends lie to you and say you look amazing. You’ve gained five pounds and you need highlights.  Let’s think rationally.

(4) Let’s grab dinner next week.  What this really means is that I care about you more than simply offering lunch, because it’s not that fun dumping the kids and going to Subway, and you’re worth more than ham sandwiches, and yet it’s too much trouble to wait until the hubs gets home and change clothes and meet you someplace and pay thirty bucks for margaritas and then drive home to kids up past bedtime unbathed while the husband said “I thought you were going to be home at 10” and so they say this as a term of endearment which translates to “text me tomorrow, girlfriend.”  It’s okay.  Just agree and move onward.

(5) You are so funny! This is a common lie to cover up the underlying meaning, which is “your life is such a train wreck that it makes me cackle on the inside that I am, in fact, not you.”  It’s not that you’re funny, it’s just that your life is a combination of awkward and unfortunate events that makes other people uncomfortable when you talk about them out loud so they translate that to some form of humor.  But I take it as a compliment and invite them to grab dinner.

(6)  Call anytime.  This is a crowd favorite, because when your friends are trying to sit at a swim meet or navigate their way through Costco the last thing they want is for you to call and start telling them about your crazy complicated work situations or why your ex-husband is the way he is.  Their response is usually full of mumbles and agreeable verbals nods followed by “I gotta run” and you’re left feeling like you dumped a load on the side of the road.  But they answer the phone the next day to make you feel better, tell you you’re funny, and remind you that life will get better because you look amazing.  How do they know. They’re on the phone. 

(7) I am praying for you.  This one is sweet, and I always say thank you, but in reality this means your friend throws three kids in a bath, reads The Tawny Scrawny Lion (again), hangs out with her hubs, watches two television shows, falls asleep without brushing her teeth, wakes up in a daze at 11:30, stumbles towards her bedroom, and on the way toward her toothbrush she thinks “Lord, help that poor girl because she can’t seem to catch a break” before falling into her mattress.  But it counts.  Cut them some slack.  They pick up the phone for you at Costco for goodness sakes.

Then every once in a while, one of your really good friends will say “Snap out of it. You’re worth more than this (guy/job/heartache/stress) and you need to head to the gym and I don’t want to hear any more of your bellyaching and a woman shows stress through her stomach but what the frack ever and you need to be grateful for your life or I’m gonna drive over and slap you and you are really deeply loved by so many” and the universe is righted on it axis because truth reins supreme.  So you invite her to dinner next week, say thanks for all those heartfelt prayers, and drive to her house to drop off a bottle of wine and a card.  And if she’s home, even better, so you can sit at her bar and laugh like silly children. Because honestly, you really don’t care what her house looks like.

Liar.     

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mpeterke/2062879689/sizes/m/in/photolist-49hNgc-bNdUhk-imwzDx-a7AYP2-hghyaz-75JYPh-Cg9Y1-7niFB3-4mg9WM-gKz5wA-8jJhpp-a6kjAf-2Eyxp9-bukbrC-arjX9t-8hqeLT-9DHqZr-gxBpPw-4fpbsV-aF2Jd6-bpHwiF-d5gWfj-9nduRf-ed1cm8-uXKET-afMnhx-8dcJsP-8gxu6s-8gmL75-8gxuk1-dbfPg9-jgRTWE-3zUH7T-dxgARz-8gnbhL-bv3qDi-bv3sdv-9h7S6N-8giX8t-6UxxZu-8eyYmT-bv3uJi-bCEcwr-9h4LgP-fnaRw-5DtBkS-69RYpT-8teeZ-btvRxm-7EKsGC-9XGyZd/