Sunday, November 15, 2015

Where was God, if not in Paris?

What is there to do?

A bunch of lunatics so deeply miserable with themselves, or so obsessed with being heroic for a cause that they think requires them to murder, or so confused about what exactly God is and isn't, stole the lives out from under a group of regular people who had the misfortune to not be at home watching the French version of Netflix on Friday night.

It sucks because it happens all the damn time, and it happens in places where we just expect it, so no one really notices anymore. French lives are worth no more than Iraqi lives, or Palestinian lives, or Isreali lives or Syrian lives or African lives. It's just that when something is new, it seems so very much more atrocious to us, and we are moved to action and outrage. The question is, how do we continue to go to work and do the inane things we do everyday when the world is so g-damn random? But there are more questions people ask.  And why do we as a species continue to do this to ourselves? Where is God?

I am suspicious of anyone who claims to have those answers. After all, it's people with firm answers who are going around and blowing shit up in the name of those answers. I'll say it: how can we possibly thank God for good things, if we don't curse him for bad things? I believe that God is the source of all light and love in the world. But how come light doesn't seem to reach some dark places, including the hearts of terrorists? People will tell you because sin, or lack of faith, or karma. But few will admit what is more likely: we are volatile creatures, who can just as easily turn murderer as philanthropist. And God has nothing to do with it. We, in our god-like ability to choose, DO. He is inspiration, not puppet master.

There are people in the world who believe God is on OUR side, ergo- not on theirs. Unfortunately none of these groups can agree on the score of the game, and they settle it by at least, shunning and judging one another, at worst, murdering. I see why more and more people are embracing an atheistic or agnostic world view. From the outside, having faith is a damn foolish way to live and believe. Maybe at times - life threatening.

I don't know where God was. Nobody knows, no matter what they tell you. What I think is observing, grieving, and accepting souls as they came in with love and light. Not the Christian souls - all the ones he made, who wanted to be in his presence. Maybe the murderers got up there and felt gyped because they didn't see what was anticipated, and said no thanks - I'll take my chances elsewhere. Maybe they said, aww man. I screwed up. I was horribly mistaken. Can I still come in? And maybe He said of course.

I love you.

You can pray for the people of Paris if you think it makes a difference. You can pray for all of the tortured, marginalized, harrassed people in the world which are far too numerous to count or mention. Or not. Prayer is good. Action is better. However, action that begins with "shoot the bastards", we've probably had enough of. If you haven't noticed, it isn't really working. I don't know what WILL work, but the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I don't think we're going to get what we want here. This is earth after all. If we did get the peace we sought, we'd have to rename it heaven.

The kind of action I'm talking about is what Anne Lamott reminds us is the "next right thing". Why pick up the litter if there will only be more tomorrow? Because today. Because what the hell else is there to do? Why should I tell you I love you, if I'm just going to have to re-tell you again tomorrow?  Because your Paris might be coming. Forget fear of the beyond, how about fear of the here? If you left the earth no better off for your presence in it, your life had no point. What if God isn't going to punish nor reward you? What if you are just accepted? Or what if there is no God? Then the point is here, so don't miss it. There is nothing else these horrific things are good for than to remind us of our fragility, the precious tenuousness of our connections to one another. Let us not allow one another to be unchanged by these events each time. If we stay the same, we can be counted as victims ourselves.

Friday, September 25, 2015

On "missed connections"

"I'm not sure what I'm looking for. But I'll know when I find it."

Confession: I am obsessed with the craigslist "missed connections" page. It's been 20 minutes since my last page view, and I'm afraid I will check again soon.

I have been reading this section of the CL personals (which are not for the faint hearted... fair warning) for the last year, and find the posts to incite a mixture of feelings in me: disgust (for, it IS craigslist), curiosity, hope, and frequently: vicarious despair. I can't help wondering what will happen to the cashier at Starbucks with the bright blue eyes who always remembers her customer's order. Will he ever get up the nerve to ask for her phone number? Or what about the guy pumping gas on Thursday at 7:45 at Kwik-Fill with the white truck and hunting stickers, did he manage to find the ad addressed to him? Is he even single? Straight? Did he remember the moment he locked eyes with the 45 yr old brunette in the red sedan as she drove past? I wish we were given updates. It is more or less a soap opera- with all it's vulnerability and sexual need and desperate silly hope. Sometimes I am repelled, other times optimistic, but most often what I leave with is gratitude. Yes, that I have a nice life and am literate and not too lonely and not terribly perverted and desperate - qualities and conditions that I don't share with an inordinate number of the posters. But also grateful to feel a tiny bit better about my life and the condition of being human, because I see that no matter their age, gender, race, or what part of town they live in, and whether they are married, gay, straight, separated, transgendered, kinky, religious, bright, dumb, rich, poor, ugly, or (reportedly) beautiful - no one is immune from to this terrible desperate need to search for something with which to connect.

You get that we're on a pilgrimage, right? Going somewhere...marching through earthly life on the way to the end of it. And along the road we manically swivel our heads about looking for that thing we could swear we've lost. That piece everyone else was born with, that just came missing in our kits. And we're trying to fill it. Sometimes with things that other people say are bad, or maladaptive, or dangerous. And they are. Lots of booze, or a little bit of drugs, or money, or easy sex. Food, netflix, video games, running 3000 miles a year, God. Hobbies or interests or compulsions that become consumptive and, in the end, maim and destroy. (Yes, too much God is bad for you. You don't have to trust me. Just think of the most religious person you know. See? Too much God. He's forgotten how to be human.)

I feel better knowing that everyone else is in the same type of heart pain. It's not acute for me, and thankfully for most of us it isn't. But there is a nagging in each of us aching to move toward...something - to locate and slide that piece to the puzzle that was left off, in it's place . I tell you what to do a lot because I can be bossy. But I won't be arrogant this time and claim to know what DOES go in that spot. If I knew, I'd damn well put it there, wouldn't I? I'd argue that the thing we seek is probably not available on this side of life. But then, that does dick to help us now doesn't it?

It's hard. This being human, shit. It's tiring and lonely and confusing and painful. My brain always gives itself to thinking in thought bubbles, filled with the beautiful words I've collected. I lately hear the "rich man" from the biblical account begging the angel to let Lazarus dip his finger in water and place a drop on his tongue. "I am in agony in these flames," he says. Being human is the real hell. It hurts. And sometimes (yes for all of us) it is agony. We want so badly to be okay - to find the thing that will make us okay from one day to the next. And that thing is elusive. Unavailable. It doesn't exist. And I am not talking to broken people, people with extraordinary mental health issues or addictions - I am talking to you. To me. We can pretend it is okay, because most of the time it is. But sometimes...even if very infrequently- it is NOT okay. And that is when it is helpful to be reminded that neither of us is okay. And it can't be helped. But it will be okay eventually. And eventually - for good.

What we can do to manage these pitiful longing hearts we've been given is to stop and look outward. If you cannot translate your desires into action for others, at least you can look at the "missed connections" and remind yourself how much worse it could be. And that we are all not so very different from one another. And maybe, when the lights are too low inside your heart, you can find the strength to root for someone else to make a connection and chase away their restlessness. Cheer for his or her relief.  However brief that may be.


Friday, September 4, 2015

A Glass Banana

When we were shopping at the thrift store for items to fill the kitchen drawers at our new house a couple months ago, I came across a blown glass banana. It cost $2, was entirely useless, did not fit in as part of some odd collection of glass fruit I already had going, and I refused to leave it at the store. The girls asked why. I said:
"Because glass banana".
"But who would have a glass banana?"
"Well, we do. Now."
"But why?"
"Because it's a glass banana."

I was tying to teach them something. I am not sure they got it. Something about whimsy. About embracing moments. About being odd because you can, when you can, because why would you want to be the same? Because people will come into our house and say, "you have a glass banana". And I will smile serenely and say, "Yes. I do."

Life is special and weird and fun. But only if you make it so. It can be predictable - wretchedly so,  with bedtimes and meal times and work times and play times all scheduled so nicely for yourself. A few years ago I decided that I was going to start wearing my best earrings and best dresses and use my favorite things when the mood hit me. Even if it made me odd, or sometimes made me feel like I was playing dress up in someone else's life. I figured out that the only way to make something your thing, is to make it your thing.

We used to do silly stuff when we were kids, my friends and I. Decide at 10 PM that we wanted to see the sunrise over the ocean, so we'd hop in the car and drive all night to Cape Cod, and wait for it. Then drive home. Or plug in strings of Christmas lights and stay up laughing and crying and painting with our bare hands and feet. Or take walks until 3 AM, singing a Capella. Or put on all of our snow clothes and go to the beach in winter to watch the frozen waves grow higher as our bodies went numb. I did all that until that stuff I always talk about happened in my early twenties and did something in my spirit: I got married, I found Jesus loitering around outside my heart, asking nicely if he couldn't please come in. And when that all went down in a perfect storm, as things like that are apt to do, I stopped being wild. And my life revolved around fear. The fear of being left, of not being good enough, of other people's voices and opinions, of judgement, rejection. I suddenly had a bedtime, mealtimes, expectations and mountains of sin and shame I was to contend with. And I didn't measure up. No, there would be no cereal for dinner, all nighters, impromptu trips to wherever the wind blew. No dancing. No singing. No howling at the moon. Certainly no hammocks, or drop in visitors, or paddle boarding, or sleeping in the woods alone. And definitely no glass bananas. Such things were frivolous. And not in service of the Lord.

I'll tell you a story that I don't often tell, because it is so personal and so obvious and so damned cliched that it will barely make it past your ears before you are rolling your eyes to yourself and sniggering at my simpleness. But for one or more of you it may be a balm, so I will take my lumps. In those days my life was wall to wall rejection and inadequacies. My relationships to God and man played on my deepest little girl fears that I was basically the biggest piece of garbage who ever managed to take a breath. But one night, as I lie in my stupid bed crying my stupid tears for the millionth time, I heard the still small voice of God that we are always being yapped to about, finally say something worthwhile: "You are enough for me". I knew it couldn't have come from myself, because there is no possibility I would have been able to think such a thing.

I, of course, bellowed and howled and carried on like an animal. Or like someone brought back after a near death experience. Recalling all the things and people and garbage I held in esteem that I had NOT been enough for, finally....finally. Someone said I was. The One who reportedly, according to all the big voices for god, was displeased with me, because I wasn't enough, and I DIDN'T DESERVE his mercy, remember? Remember that story? How you are a sinner, and not good enough and you should feel awfully damn lucky that he wants anything to do with your sorry behind? I knew that story. And what a lovely way it was to keep me in my place of self loathing. But when I was quiet, and at my wit's end, the still small voice


And what happened after that? I jabbed a proverbial flag into the ground of my life and marked a turning point. Slowly I remembered the things that made me, me: speaking the truth, writing, wearing complicated earrings, standing up for myself, road trips, cheers with surprise guests, and glass bananas. Dirty and wild and silly and alive. What happened was resurrection from the land of the dead. I was always a weirdo, with a heart free like a bird. And now, I am a weirdo again. Growing weirder by the day. Sometimes I forget we are supposed to eat dinner and it's my job, so we just work it out when we're hungry, or the gals and I get in the car and drive to somewhere and decide where we're going on the way. I am teaching them about 90s dance music, and choosing lucky rocks, and taking mental health breaks, and lying in the grass, and deciding what and whom are worth pursuing. I hope as they observe they are also learning something about using the good china as popcorn bowls, lighting the best candles, picking flowers, looking intently, and saying what's on your mind. All the things I didn't do while I took that extended break from myself.

What else I hope for them, is that they forget their Stepford Mother, with her schedules, and perfect dinners, and sensible clothing, and all the beige paint. And when they are grown, when I am gone, I would be supremely proud if they fought rabidly over who gets to keep the glass banana.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Here is how you know you've spent enough time in the woods:

When, instead of a vague recognition that you are striding through a wild berry thicket but you can't stop because there are miles to make, you pause and gorge yourself, carefully selecting only the ripest ones.

When you no longer dodge the spider silks that span the trail and glitter in the patchy sunlight, but march through them, collecting them across your chest, reveling in the feel of the strands whispering over your arms and dangling off your elbows.

When you walk twenty miles in to a 47 mile journey around the lake and discover that a group of industrious beavers have turned the brook that was shown on the map into a 75 yard wide pond, impassable safely when you are alone, because of the 12 hour hike from the nearest human and 30 pound anchor on your back, and faced with turning around and retracing your steps, you shrug and about face. Right after stopping for salami and crackers.

When your heart slows and breath slows and body slows down enough that you notice the odd shapes of trees growing around boulders, spot the smallest of toads and newts, and can hear snakes moving stealthily through the grass.

When you know the total silence of the humid north woods at 2 PM, when neither bird sings, nor chipmunk rustles, nor wind stirs the leaves.

When you cruise into the most beautiful campsite with private beach imaginable that you'd been dreaming of all day, un-clip and let that pack fall from your shoulders like a sack of potatoes, and howl in gratitude, like an animal, at the top of your lungs.

When you stumble to the shore line, see the water lit up orange by the setting sun, and strip down in broad daylight before God and nature and dive into the water to wash off the deet, and sweat, and filth you gathered from living outdoors.

When the book to read and journal to write in sit in your pack, ignored, because you'd rather spend 45 minutes studying the movements of one particular dragon fly, because the only thing that makes sense anymore is to be still - in your body, and your mind.

When you get a sick feeling in your stomach imagining the chimes and beeps and buzzes your phone will make after 3 days turned off, and how you'll possibly face all the humans and their various cries for attention.

When you stop cussing the biting flies that swarm you and whine incessantly in your ear, sun up to sun down, because they are just doing their job, as you do yours.

When you begin to hear the whoosh whoosh of the highway traffic in your final approach, and though your feet are hamburger and your back is in agony and your head pounds with thirst, everything inside of you screams to turn and walk back from where you came.

When you step finally into the bright sun and pavement, and stare dazedly at your car that seems now to belong to someone else, and use your leftover stream water to wash your grimy face and change into clothes that aren't caked with mud then look back at the trail head and wish you could plunge back in, let the woods swallow you, and never never never come back.

That's how you know you've been in the woods long enough.

Friday, July 31, 2015

"All that time I wasted."

I have been providing writing prompts to a friend who is doing her damndest to stay sober right now. Here is why that works: when you're drunk all the time, you have no feelings (except, perhaps, self loathing in those briefest moments between hits). When you have no feelings, you cannot write. Ergo, if you want to write, you have to feel. I have been giving her one liners to give her day purpose, in hopes something buds, something unexpected, something she didn't know was waiting in the sap of her soul. I know what's waiting in mine, because I am always in there. To the point of being obnoxious, I suppose. But, what if I prompted myself as well?

All that time I wasted
waiting for something to happen
when the thing that was happening is
me. You.
To hurt to suffer to grow to love to embrace to look and find or come up
It's not a waste.
Fear? What a shame.
Shame shame.
What will the Eternal say when he asks,
"What did you do?"

Repellant. I was repellant. My 'stay-back!' energy has been so strong most of my life that I could see in my minds' eye people flatten themselves against the wall when I walked past. "This week," said my therapist last year, "I want you to smile at someone and say 'hello'". The challenge left me one palpitation shy of a panic attack. Maybe we can bargain? "What if I just make eye contact. And it isn't with the "f$%k off" look? "Fair enough," she said. "It's a start."

It was a start. My heart beating out of my chest, I looked at a stranger steady in the eye, with kindness. I waited a week so as not to strain myself. Then another, then another. "Your tactic is very effective at keeping bad people away from you. Keeping you safe," she says. "But you also keep out the good ones." Oh.

Here is what happens when you waste time protecting yourself - you miss everything good. I did. But I found the way out, just in time. What happens when you retract your spikes and look someone in the eye and say with a quiver in your voice and a troop of butterflies raging in your stomach "here it is...", uncertain you have what they were hoping to find? Sometimes you'll hear, "no thanks".
It makes you want to double over. Or take a knee.

I have found that happens less frequently than anticipated. When you are fortunate: in a sizzle of electricity, authentic and unexpected connectedness occurs. It's what I live for. People. Me and the people, the people and me. And the animals and the trees and the sounds I hear and the food I taste and the bodies I touch and the things I pull out of myself and expose to the air. But mostly, people. You know them, they know you. You help them, they help you. Around and around we go - taking turns in the care and feeding and tender loving of one another. The point of life is to get better. Sister, she says, you ain't getting no better by staying safe. She was right.

I wasted so much time. I didn't throw open my arms and say "welcome", because I was terrified of hearing "no thanks" and "goodbye". I am slowly, slowly getting used to hearing both, and saying them when it's right...or I should say, wrong. What I am still astounded by is all of the beautiful threads running from me to you and you and you. Those who answered my "welcome" with "it's nice to be here" and "thanks for having me" and "I appreciate you saving me a seat".

I have to stay on this - psych myself up every day, now that it is more than just friends and acquaintances and colleagues I seek. As I was warned, there are many frogs to be kissed. How many "no thanks" will I hear or speak? If I am brave? Tons of them. But if I am lucky, one will say,
"I've been waiting." And I'll say "me too."

Every "no thanks" will be worth that one "hell yes". It won't happen by squeezing back into my armor, though. Courage. Let no man on earth or in heaven above, accuse me of wasting another moment of my time on the fear of "no thanks".

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Compelled to Move

I knew a guy who wanted to know what God knew. He wanted to see the end of the story. The big picture, the little picture... he fasted and prayed over what was next before making any moves. The lamplight illuminating the next step in his path was not enough, he needed to see the whole road, vantage point: hot air balloon. He would refuse to move until he knew that the step led to the destination he desired.

So often, he didn't move. Often he waited and sought for answers in crystal clarity that just never came. I'd tell him: if you got an engraved invitation...if you saw the outcome, where would be the need for faith? This. This is the crux of faith. This blindness, this trust. This has nothing to do with Christianity. Not exclusively. It has everything to do with every faith, any faith. What am I living for?  I'm not sure. Where are I going? I'm not sure of that either. But. I. Am. Compelled. To. Go.

It sure would be swell to know now that the hard work I am doing in school pays dividends. That I'd not only get into the program, but graduate the program, and have complete job satisfaction when I do. (Did you notice all the "ifs" there?) How awesome would it have been to know that if I left my marriage, a better partner would be available to me?  That if I finally meet someone nice that I am not wasting my life space, head space, and heart space on something that isn't going anywhere. Boy, it would make those paths easy to take or reject. But then, the mysteries of life would never be solved.

Skipping to the last page of the book is boring. You miss the plot twists and character development. You miss the interludes. You miss the fun. You miss life. Sometimes I drive myself mad with wondering if I am doing what's right, on the right road, consorting with the right people...if my choices pay dividends...good ones. But that is the point of stepping out. Here I am, taking one baby step at a time, hoping for the best, feeling the ground beneath each footfall before I commit (is it quicksand or rock?). There you are, doing the same.

Or not. You could be like that guy I knew. Afraid. Afraid to decide, to risk, to believe or hope. To trust himself. To trust in The plan, The path, The Almighty, Mercy. To trust that if one does step on quicksand, miraculously someone shows up to throw you a branch. I am weary of frightened people. I grew weary of being one, so I stopped. It's that easy. We don't know which gambles are worth taking. But I do know one thing: we have no chance at living great lives by treading water. Safe life, okay life, good life if you are really really lucky. But 'great' is only for the brave, for those who are more curious about page 2 than page 276.

What about you? Do you hate your job or wife or friends or body or hobbies or sadness? But you stay and stay and stay because, at least it's known? You can do better. I know you can. You know how I know? Because I am standing in the kitchen of a house I rented, typing at a desk I purchased and refinished, and thinking that maybe I will go lie in my hammock in a little while after my girls are safely asleep, and that tomorrow I will get up and make more such choices. Not ones that my husband or my faith or tradition made for me...ones that made me feel depressed and empty, but ones I made. There is only one way to the life you never dreamed you'd have: it's to move. Take a step. The only failure is the failure to act. I hope to see you out here with me, blindly groping in the dark towards something. With the stupid faith that hopefully, something better is ahead.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dear Pit Crew,

Dear Pit Crew,

We're there.

Tomorrow is moving day. I remember when many of you stood by and stood up for us, watching as we did something that you knew was wrong but you hoped you were wrong about. But you shut your mouths and loved me anyway, because I never listen. So.

Tomorrow I am boxing up the pictures and the sheets and the Christmas ornaments in a flurry, and you will show up with trucks and mommy vans and SUVs with the seats folded down and your rake that you forgot to take out shoved to the side as you cuss at it and apologize. And we'll sweat and bang up our knees and scrape our knuckles on door frames and say "Where does this have to go? The ATTIC?! Dammit!" and heft it up the stairs and place my precious meaningless things down gently. And you'll smile at me, because you are good at that, and pat me gently on the shoulder, and remind me that you are proud, and I should be proud, and it's all okay now. It's okay now. It's okay. I am okay. The girls too. And we got this. And you're here. And then we'll toast, and maybe a couple tears will roll down my cheeks, and we'll all hug. And you'll say "call if you need something". And then you'll go. And I'll be all alone. All alone in my new house. I haven't lived all alone (or part time alone) for twelve years. It will be quiet. And sometimes I'll get weepy. And nervous. And wish I had my kids with me tonight, or my dog, or just someone. Someone. Just...someone.

But in that moment. The moment I get down and think of those other ones, those ones who have someone. Who have a great and happy life with a someone, I'll remember that I have you.

I don't know how it happened.

I don't know how I managed to accumulate connections with wonderful and careful and gentle and tolerant people like you. People who text me to say they are thinking, and how is class, and do you want to have a glass of wine and snack with me tonight? I know I don't deserve it. Probably, no one does. Was I so smart to find you and weed out all the bad ones? Was I so lucky? Was I so blessed?

What I learned from watching NASCAR races with my dad throughout my youth was not much. The drivers ride around fast in tight circles in stifling hot cars. (Sounds a bit like life, doesn't it?) But when it's time, they send the signal, drive into pit row and their crew rushes out. Like a well oiled machine they gas up, rip off tires and replace them, hydrate the driver and send him on his way. He could not possibly compete without them, and their expertise and dedication can make the difference between first place and second or tenth.

Just like you.

There have been people in my life who've let me down. A lot. Repeatedly. But ya'll showed up. Even when I was being a pain in the ass. Even when I was just a tiny bit whiny or hysterical or anxious. You sent a card or an email or showed up with ice cream and a hand to hold. This wasn't a tough year, or a tough twelve years, this has been a tough life. You knew what you were getting into with me. And I knew what I was getting into with you. We need each other. And when I saw your need, I ran towards you. And now that you've seen mine, you've run towards me. My life is worth living because of my girls and God and you. That's it. The end. You are an integral part of the puzzle. The engine does not keep running and tires don't keep turning without you. You make my life. Really, really.

Moving day is not just a celebration of my new life, but a celebration of your role in it, whether you are there to shoulder the mattress with me or not. I know you're all there in spirit. This is OUR triumph. Our move out and on and up. My wish. I have so many wishes. But my greatest wish is that I could be half so much to you as you've been to me. My dearest dearest friends and family. Your love is life.

Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Whether you gave me one kind word this last year, or millions. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Tomorrow is our emancipation.