it’s been a long time since my friend died. a lot of days have passed since that heavy, awful august. and i wish this wasn’t true, but i’m still sad a lot of the time.
i’ve been reading some good books that have shed light on the weirdness and persistence of this lingering grief. i liked this thought, especially:
"i felt embarrassed about not being able to move forward more quickly, and about being such a wreck, and about the tears all over my face and neck as i spoke. but every time i thanked them for listening and tried to turn the conversation, they turned it back and spoke to me like people who love me, because, i’m realizing, they are."
shauna niequist doesn’t know me, but she might as well have written that line from “cold tangeringes” directly for me. sometimes on sad days i find myself asking, “is this normal?” as though some random measure of normalcy could dictate how long my personal sadness should linger in my personal brain.
duh. it’s not normal. none of this is normal. there is no normal.
and honestly i’m relieved when i let that thought settle in, and even more so when i say it out loud.
because there are some spots in this city where i swear i can feel your spirit vibrating through the concrete, and your voice is in every big gust of wind, and i wonder if that isn’t you, just up there ahead, walking away from me. i like to think it is - that you’re in all of it - that you can see us all down here wrestling with your absence like some ill-fitting shirt we’re trying to take off every which way.
i rode my bike along clark street the other day, past wrigley field heading north. and when i passed the metro theater and coasted through that diagonal intersection with racine i felt like a balloon that someone let the air out of, all deflated and a little woozy…and it surprised me that a physical space could carry so much spiritual weight. but it was one of the very last places i saw you, so it shouldn’t surprise me, i suppose.
i don’t know where i’m going with this really. i guess it feels good to say some of it out loud. or…you know, to write it down. if you are a person who has wondered if i’m “over it” i’m not. and if you’re a person who thinks i ought to be, i wish i was, but i’m trying not to be sorry about it. because grief and guilt and shame are bad bedfellows and that’s not a combination i need in my life, thank you very much.
but mostly - most of all - if you are another person who isn’t “over it” and likely won’t be tomorrow or ever…just know that i think of us as kind of tethered together on a heart level, and that means neither one of us has to do this slow, hard work by ourselves. if you want, we can sit next to each other and talk about it or just sit and not talk at all. maybe that way we can find where the healing is hiding, and plod along in that direction at whatever pace we can manage, promising to never ever worry about what’s normal.
here’s one more from “cold tangerines” for good measure…
"we can’t stand in the way of death, but when it comes, we can stand in its face together, and celebrate life and celebrate family and celebrate having loved fiercely and expressively."
sometimes when i ride my bike home from yoga, my lungs feel huge. expansive, actually. like i could breathe in the whole city in one breath.
i felt that way the other day.
it was the first warm night in a long time, and the buildings were shooting up into the darkness and i could smell summer even though it isn’t here yet. i could feel all of my roots holding fast underneath this big city, which was good, because sometimes in the winter i think about packing a bag for california and never looking back.
it’ll make a poet out of you, that nighttime city view. a big, cheesy, blog-writing poet.
at school we’ve been talking a lot about revolutions and folk music and stuff that matters. history is rife with victories and tragedies and valiant attempts and all sorts of passionate people. sometimes i almost jump up and down talking about it, hoping something will catch fire in one of those little hearts now so the world can change later. but mostly the kids just want to know who’s a bad guy and who’s a good guy.
and wouldn’t that be the easiest, if everybody was either a villain or a hero?
sometimes i beat myself up pretty badly with that either/or measure. i’m good, until i forget to send that email or double-book myself for the fourteenth time this week or snap at a student. then i’m not good anymore. and it doesn’t matter how much good i do, because there isn’t any gray. it’s either black or white. one little misstep derails the whole train.
i do know that isn’t how the real world works. and it certainly isn’t how god works, thank goodness. but i look at things that way sometimes, because if i’m really honest i’m just like my students. i want the quick and easy answer. i want life and god to be small and comprehensible and human. i don’t want gray, because gray is slippery and scary and impossibly complicated.
but gray is all there is, really. and that’s what i’ve been thinking about on my nighttime bike rides - how delightfully gray the whole wide world is, how gray we all are, with all that good and bad swirling around in us all the time.
i can think of a lot of times not so very long ago when my black and white worldview probably made my words sharp and unkind to the hurting and foolish to the wise. i felt pretty confident in my rightness all of those times. and thinking back on it…that’s when i’m most grateful for the gray. because grace lives in the gray, and boy do i ever need it.
brevity is hard. i like words so i use lots of them. but that’s what good editors are for, right - trimming the fat and making things better and whatnot?
when i was writing for magazines i learned a lesson that i think about sometimes. i went out on a lot of funny little assignments to see comedy shows or check out new shops, and after one sort of unimpressive outing i asked my editor, “so…what happens if it was just kind of blah?”
and what she told me translates to pretty great life advice.
"we don’t waste space on negative reviews."
the thing is…we do, though. we do waste space. i do. i waste mental space and conversation space and sometimes internet space on negative reviews of all sorts of things. and why, you know? a waste is exactly what that is.
i’m not advocating for dishonesty - surely there are times when hard truths need to be told. but that little piece of magazine editor etiquette matched up just right with my grandma’s “if you can’t say something nice…” adage and i think i might live bit brighter if i followed those rules.
anyhow. that’s all! just a happy thinking / happy living post for our slow but sure swing towards spring. adios!
this winter has been forcefully introspective. i hear all sorts of people saying the same thing. there aren’t a lot of places to go when the windchill dips to negative fifty, you know? there’s a lot of time to sit, to think. so i have been.
i’ve been practicing my lettering a lot, too, and i went to my first class. sometimes i feel like i have so many ideas and plans swirling around in my head i might burst. and then i go online and wonder how, what with the internet and everything, anyone manages to have an original thought anymore. everything i think of exists somewhere already. there’s always somebody out there doing it better. it makes me tired.
one of my twenty-fourteen intentions was to be inspired rather than intimidated by all the creative goodness i find online. so i’m trying to cultivate some patience and tenacity. i’m trying to protect this little flickering hope that i can make something worth making someday, too. i’m counting all my goof-ups and ink smudges as steps in that direction. and there are a lot of ink smudges. you should see our coffee table.
matt is smart. he took me to the conservatory last weekend because he knew it would cheer me up. i was springtime-style giddy in there. no coats! green things growing! humid air that doesn’t make my nose bleed! there is a whole room full of incredible succulents like the ones pictured up top. i could’ve stayed there all day.
so, to january i say: goodbye, good riddance, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
to february i say: let’s get this over with, shall we?
to spring i say: don’t dawdle. just about all of chicago is on the struggle bus* at this point, and we’re getting awfully antsy.
*thanks, kate bell pederson, for that phrase. i’ve been it using on the daily ever since our fajita date a few weeks back. so perfect.
i was amen-ing out loud, reading along with rachel held evans the other day when i happened upon this new-to-me blog, tamára out loud. i’ll circle back to her seriously refreshing candor in a minute, but first…
you know, 2013 was kind of garbage. and i don’t mind saying so.
i managed to dig a few positive memories out of the heap for the sake of my sanity and our christmas card…but in general last year really was tough.
death, car wrecks, unemployment, anxiety attacks, long-lasting sickness, frozen pipes…if it didn’t happen to me directly it happened to someone i love and it was just too much.
and in addition to those real and really difficult things, one stupid thing tripped me up over and over again, all year long.
that thing is the internet.
in particular, the internet became a sort of spiritual stumbling block for me in a season when i really needed spiritual things to be safe and un-confusing.
[i’m about to get mid-level churchy right now, fair warning to you.]
what i mean is…i am pretty much a church-going, jesus-loving type of person. but the jesus i kept meeting on the internet - the way people were representing him in tweets and comments and status updates - it didn’t line up with the jesus i believe in.
i could use a lot of colorful language to describe what i read online and all the ways it made me angry, but that probably wouldn’t represent him very well either, so i’ll skip it and you can think what you will.
all i know is, i really need to wipe off the residue of 2013. really, really.
so. tamára out loud. i just want you to read what she said, because it is so beautiful, and so simple, and so much better than keyboard mud-slinging. mostly i love it. here you go:
"HOW IS GOD FOR YOU?"
"how is god for you?" my friend asked, but i read it wrong.
i didn’t see the “for you” and i said, flippant but honest, “i reckon god is good as ever. haven’t asked in a while.” and i guess maybe i read it right.
because it made me go and ask god, “how are you?” and i looked up to the ceiling when i prayed it, but that was wrong too. i tucked my head down to my chest, closed my eyes, asked again.
"how are you?" and i really wanted to know. because that’s how relationships between people work, and god is a person.
"i’m in love with you." the answer was instant. and god does that - responds to me faster than my brain can conjure, probably so i will really listen before i can get in my own way.
i took that in. that’s how god is? not happy, sad, okay, fine or the hundred other shifting ways we label our state of being - but in love. with me. that’s how god is.
“i want to be in love with you too,” i said it soft and close and i meant it.
hello from the couch! under the comforter! surrounded by mess and medications!
my annual winter break illness arrived in full force on friday like it tends to do. only this time, it’s the flu! and my fever is hanging out above 100 degrees. and so it goes.
the bright side:
i took my first bubble bath in years yesterday.
i’ve watched three seasons of the wonder years on netflix. that show! the soundtrack, the history, the adolescent struggle! solid gold. [and yes, netflix, for the fifteenth time…i AM still watching…so stop judging me.]
i’ve been reminded about a thousand times how nice matt is. he’s done all the dog walking and food buying and water bringing and temperature taking and…you get the picture. but he is nice and i love him and i’m lucky.
i think i sidestepped my beginning of break guilt. the first few days of break are always weird, because everything sort of comes to a screeching halt and the work inertia tends to make us feel like big lazy-faces. but the fever and body aches have pretty much glued me in place, and matt’s been busy enough taking care of me, so…we win? kind of? as much as you can win with crippling seasonal flu, i feel we’ve won.
now i just need to heal up in time to light the luminarias, eat chinese food, and sing silent night at church on christmas eve. so, if you don’t mind, i think i’ll get back to doing a whole lot of nothing now.
yes to this. yes and more yes. full life and the right now and a god who is for us and not against us. to the haters, sorry i’m not sorry, i love rob bell. he is courageous and honest and speaks to my heart.
new glarus, wisconsin is about three hours away from our house in chicago. i think i spent two-thirds of that time freaking out.
you always do this, matt said.
and he’s right, i do.
i sign up for something because it sounds great! and then right beforehand…i get nervous.
maybe this was a bad idea, i said.
it’s going to be so cold! what if i’m not okay. if i’m not okay, will you take me to a hotel? what if there are serial killers in the outhouse!
you always do this, matt said.
but, do you know? i wore long-johns and wool sweaters and threw hand warmers in my sleeping bag and it was fine. i used an outhouse and did not die, via serial killer or otherwise. it was really fun, actually! well, the outhouse wasn’t fun. but you get the picture.
we went with our friends the toonens, who are wonderful and originally from minnesota, currently from pilsen. they like cold weather. they also know how to make breakfast hash with bacon and yams over a campfire. and they brought a box of wine. so.
after the breakfast hash we went for a hike, and then we went to the brewery. strawberry rhubarb beer, people! have you tried it? TRY IT. we walked through all seven of the shops in new glarus, including the cheese and chocolate haus, and ended up admiring the wood paneling at the glarner stube over dinner.
…not sure there’s a better place eat a reuben and drink a pitcher of spotted cow.
i think we really were stinky at that point, too, because the waitress asked us if we’d been at a campfire. whoops. but it turns out there is a strange freedom in being a stinky camper and not caring.
very soon after all of that, monday happened.
so we’re back to reality and running water and five-year-olds hopped up on halloween candy. i hope it’s a happy, sugary one for you, too!