When Men Cry

Tears;

the outpouring breaches the surface and

twirl,

inside-out–

crash-shattering.

A jagged ache and throbbing beneath, under-internal, that forces the tiny distresses violently to their birth then to a sudden, dry death.  Erupted exposure, then suffocated.  Tears are not just drops that fly from ducts and slide through eyelashes toward their doom, caught away by the loving hands of family.  First, I feel them like long, vibrating, lightening fingers–reaching electric through my neck, the plates of my skull, my finger nails. Swimming through my body before they arrive to–visible.  An ominous churning in the foundation before breaking.  A jolt and a burning.  A perpetual buzzing and clenching and twisting and tension through dense muscle fiber.  An agonizing and uncontrollable constriction and contracting of the body.

These buzzing and tingling sensations interrupt the surreal state.  Looking out of my eyes, like through smudgy, dirty windows, it looks like hazy, looks like clouded.  But these exposures and fingers tell me that the pain is very much actual and absolute and indisputable.  And they also tell me that I’m not outside it, but whirling within it.  Like a knife burying slowly, steady into the chest and the consciousness of pain comes on, not immediately as one would think, but several seconds later, delayed.  A live-streamed reality where the audio comes shortly behind and never quite matches the physical motion of parted lips.

But somehow I stand on a Rock in the midst of the whirling storm around me.

Strong, steadfast men sit uncovered.  They grip hope and they own it in sadness, and I see them suck in their breath and hold it and let it out in exhale and wipe their eyes, integrity and vulnerability mashed together.  They weep openly, with soul-tearing cadence. These sons, these grandsons. Then quietly, quietly. They are like faint echoes and inflection.  A sweet, vibrating hymn.  A pulse and a lilt. Tears. A psalm-song plays in these bodies surrounded.

His aged, broken, and paralyzed body lay.  And my grandmother prayed for mercy under a dark sky and moon from God, and He heard and He answered. Slipped from here into a newness, a glory-life built, in a whole body, waiting for all of us who are here still, restless but trying to be patient.  A very loved, compassionate soul, leaving a void that aches down low and hollows thunderous in hearts that called him their own.

When I witness men cry I come undone; needles of reality become and they center into my flesh, and sorrow mingled with joy arrive and puncture.

I watched him use his hand to wipe his own tears mere days before, as men flew on airplanes and drove in cars to come to him and pray with him. I stood and watched as a man slowly passed from this life into the next over days.  Slowly, so slowly, but terribly fast.  A tear, and a hard squeeze of the good hand, and a paralyzed half-smile, and an I-love-you-whisper, and a “wow” from his lips as he looked upward, and his children on his shoulder, and forehead to forehead with his soulmate wife, and a–gone.  It will be a long time before I see him again.  That is why men cry.  For the time between the goodbye and the welcoming, comfort of love-embrace.

In an instant, bricks can crash, and crack, and smash, and sound suddenly lurches to meet the live-streamed motions–a rupturing, a weighted severance shouts with deafening shrill, in garish finality.  My mind rummages frantically to memorize in haste, to replay, replay replay until it is automatic:  his familiar, gentle voice, his soft limp and gait, his eyes filled with love and compassion, his hands clasped over mine, his curved down smile, the tiny beat and inflection of his laugh, his fresh cologne smell, and his devoted presence, before I forget them.

This tearing removal, this harsh division from a self so loved, is a testament, a confirmation.  A terrible glimpse into the Father and Son cut-severed during bodily death, before final Life.  An arduous, but humble willing— this tearing apart hurts and burns and scars forever like a branding, and frees.

Love.

This is a death that must take place.  A death that leads to life.  To real.  A death that will come for us all and only One Way to cross over into.

Funeral roses actually smell sweet, and fragrant.  An unusually soft and velvety comfort.  We pull them from the casket and rub them on our cheeks and they hold and melt and absorb the tears, these soul aches, into their death and we hang the stem and petal to dry and remember.

As if through a mirror dimly, faces smudge on frosted glass.  And I smell him when I walk into my grandparent’s house, mingled with the smell of my grandma, because he really was there once, and now he is not.  A veil that cannot be crossed until it is our turn, but I can see him turning and looking, his familiar blue eyes and his smile that turns downward and I know he would say:

The one that you loved, cherished, embraced; the one you now weep for, ache for, and recognize; that feeling, a void deep down, for the man that you knew to be compassionate, slow to anger, forgiving, loving, steadfast, faithful, true….it was not me!  But it was Him.  It was my Jesus whom you ache for.  It is what he told us while he was even still with us.  Not I, but Him.

And this is the legacy of my Grandfather….that God is real, and greatly to be praised.

Open Road

079

E.H.Uminn

The brassy blonde fields roll out, extended.  Stretching high, arms of impending harvest.  It is golden and waving, surrounding the open road traveling West.  Bathed in the early, July sunrise, heat is absorbed into the stiff stalks.  An energetic haze and glow hovers over the expanse.  At summer dawn, only a few cars dot the distressed pavement.  Motors and metal frames carrying passengers are welcomed into the fields.  Entering, passing into, and swallowed by the land.

Tired and worn, the vehicle tires circle and click along the western road, the hum and rhythm of rubber on blacktop.  Click-click, click-click, click-click, click-click.  The driver rubs his eyes and replaces his thick, clear, plastic frames on the bridge of his nose.  They slide down and he pushes the center of them again, up to the middle space between his eyebrows and moves his hand up and over his head, pushing back unwashed, dark hair.  He holds the wheel with light placement of his wrist at the top, mesmerized and sleepy from the hallucinating terrain that lulls him into listlessness.  Next to him is the snoring Robert, passed out after taking a turn at the wheel for the better part of the graveyard shift.  Passengers recline in faded bench seats behind the driver, the sweet summer heat curling, sweet summer breeze billowing, into the cabin through open windows. Whipping, whipping, whipping against upholstery, skin, and glass.  Softly rippling the gauzy, floral silk blouse of the young woman.  She picked it up at the thrift store back in Tennessee for two dollars and fifty cents with a story of its own.  Her head resting against the spongy seat that her body is curled into: legs pulled into the chest, arms wrapped around knees, loose curls of sun-bleached hair brushing her soft skin beaded with perspiration.  Sweaty, sticky….heated with comfort as her shoulder blades rise and fall with slow breathing.

And they could go anywhere.

The pink dawn streams through glass windows, illuminating dog nose smudges paired with thick fingerprints left behind.  A primitive maze-map of soul-persons and companions.  Left for a little while until they are scrubbed away by a dirty, gas-station squeegee.  Another young woman sprawls out next to the first and there is a third in yet another bench seat, along with two more men, one with an unkempt beard, the other of them unable to sleep, peering out the window, looking and watching.  Two drops of salty blood fall from his nose before he can grab a tissue to stop the bleeding and tilt his head.  A collective of friendships, a mashing of mortals, mingling and moving down the open road.

Are they running?  Escaping?  Chasing what is ahead of them in a feverish rush?

The  infinite distance beckons them to fill the underground space awake inside, under the skin, cognizant in their chests.  The dog stirs and stretches paws on the red, carpet floor of the vintage station wagon.  He closes his eyes once again.

The woman with the thrift store blouse wants to place her bare feet on the rocks that jut out over the coast someday, to see the white foam peaks of the Pacific.  Robert clutches his cigarettes in his sleep and breathes in an anxiety with his cap pulled down far over his forehead, hiding his eyes.  Pearl may throw them out if she finds them.  The Rockies are not too far.  And all of them eat hotdogs at stands when they spot one and drink sodas from the vending machine bought with quarters. Except for Dina who doesn’t eat sugar or processed food because she’s worried about her figure.

The lullaby of the tires is always humming when they are sleeping, or talking, or crying, or laughing.  Hanging forearms out of open windows, elbows resting and palms sinking and rising, sinking and rising against the push of the wind.  A lullaby hum that cradles and rocks the baby in her infant seat, ready to start up again when they stop to fill the dry tank with more fuel for more miles, and miles, and miles.

They chase and explore, they stop and they look.

They sit and feel grass under their backs, tree bark with their palms, and lake water with their toes.   The heat from a bonfire is set to a brilliant blaze of color: red and blue and orange and blurred.  It burns their faces to blush.   Heavy quilts wrapped around bare shoulders, clutched with fists and knuckles.  The baby is quiet, fingers in her mouth, sucking.  And Arthur tells stories with his violin, echoing into the settling dusk.  He’s calm when he plays and closes his eyes, with his arm swift and quick, punctuating lonely folk-notes that reverberate and jump start and shatter while they sit and sip drinks and listen.  And they pile in the bench seats and crash onto the carpet floor and sleep, and think, and someone turns the ignition over with a great roar and rumble.  They move again out West.  On the open road.

The Giving and Taking

118

(lyrics written by Matt Redman)

Blessed be Your name

In the land that is plentiful

Where Your streams of abundance flow

Blessed be Your name

One girl falls in love with one boy on a tandem bike ride around an island.  Latched together, moving in harmony against heat, and waves, and wind, and water.  Pushed and pulled by the brevity and the infinite.  Blessing and trial to come; blessing and trial to come.  And tender, young-love lifts off into a lifetime of sacrifice-love.  Forever and surrender-love.  Giving-up-ourselves-at-all-costs-love. Opening like a book to be read, and treasured, and held bosom-close, and cherished, and hurt, and scared, and welcomed, and home.

A touch, and see, and burn, and give-love. 

One girl and one boy so fixed and steadfast that it hurts–an indisputable love. A constant that will hold them, gripping to the depths when all will soon seem permanently vanished.  Lost.  And shortly they will begin to learn and to know where this relentless, persistent, Ever-Love comes from.

A hardy, little sailboat embarking on a maiden voyage.  Champagne bottles crashing and christening against her, pushing her off.  Catching the salt-wind gusts in bright, warming sunshine, a tiny vessel amid the great, vast sea.  This new, untested, pioneer-love.

Blessed be Your name

When I’m found in the desert place

Though I walk in the wilderness

Blessed be Your name

A man weeps openly when he is witness to the unashamed, exposed felicity of others. For he has an inability to feel joy.  A burning-low and barely-seen love.

Little boat, tossed to-and-fro, as the thundering, rolling-grey storm sets in.  In the dark of night, it comes.

 A woman escapes into the forests where the beach house is nestled near the Lake, the familiar sand gripped tightly into her fists, to find a peace on the shore that eludes her.  It is fleeting, and the chasm of emptiness is always there.

Hurts and isolation and loneliness are weighted on them like concrete, pulling them down and apart, though they fight it.

Man and woman, escape again running.  A hiding as old as Adam and Eve.  Little life raft turned to a distant memory of wounds and brokenness, fleeting snapshots of loss and heartache.  Of dreams dashed against rocks, feeble boat smashed and swallowed, it’s passengers left to sink.  And murky, dismal waters envelope and crush.  A death-love.

Blessed be Your name

When the sun’s shining down on me

And the world’s all as it should be

Blessed be Your name

Sometimes there is a serene eye in the center of the storm, or one storm ceases before another begins.  It’s as if the clouds part and you can glimpse the sun and feel it’s warmth as a reassurance that it actually exists.  This reality washes over, even if only briefly.  In these moments of slow-motion glory, of eventful truth and joy, I breathe deeply into my lungs, gulping and feeling them fill to the brink.  Like a woman in labor, catching her breath between oxygen ripping, body-clenching contractions, knowing there is more bearing down, more to tend, more to toil through until the end.  A sharp-low struggle, deep-soul tearing, stripping away, reaching into the secret chasm, before newness and joy emerge.  More death. This transformative-love.

Blessed be Your name

On the road marked with suffering

Though there’s pain in the offering

Blessed be Your name

She can’t sing the song with words, but they are  fire-branded deeply, a severe and excruciating claiming and owning of her soul, and pride is purged in each tear that dashes over skin, catching on tired, pale cheek.  A never-letting-go love, a hanging-on-at-all-cost love.  And it doesn’t even touch the grief that Job suffered, or that her Christ Lord pulled onto himself, but she feels just a sliver of it, and it hurts.  It hurts and burns to be rescued.

And the torrent rains come washing down, from dark clouds to the sinister, onyx water.  A baptism of man and wife, going under, and sinking, and drowning, and dying.  A letting-go for gaining-it-all, love.

You give and take away

You give and take away

My heart will choose to say

Lord, blessed be Your name

An all-costs, to the bitter-end of it all, love.


True or False

There is no objective, absolute truth. 

There is no god. 

Pencils are scribbling on paper, pages are being flipped as I read the above statements.  I rest my forehead into my palm, knowing what my answer will be.  I also know that the professor sitting comfortably in his chair, feet reclining on the desk while he scans a slightly crumpled Gazette, is sure to swiftly mark it with a big X.  I face a dilemma: answer the poorly worded question in such a way as to have it graded correct or answer the question according to it’s own logic and have it graded wrong.  I can’t have it both ways.  I grip my pencil and circle False.

~

In the summer of 2001 I skipped my family’s annual trek to the Wisconsin peninsula on Lake Michigan to take Sociology 101.  They set off to the beach house, tucked away in the serene forests of Whitefish Bay, while I worked second shift and took the morning course at the community college.  It was a beast of a class…3.5 hours each weekday for 8 weeks, long tests full of 50 to 100 true/false, multiple choice, fill the blank questions, plus 5 or so essay questions each Thursday.  My brain felt fuzzy and drained each time I walked out the door.  It was one of the most mentally exhausting exercises I have ever participated in.

My professor was a tall, middle aged man with large, squared glasses.  He wore his blonde hair to his shoulders, socks with his Birkenstocks, smelled faintly of cigarettes and aftershave, and paired Hawaiian print shirts with khakis.  He was openly against the idea of the existence of a god, mostly due to corrupt motivations and behaviors in the church, and had moral indignation toward Christianity in general.  Hence, I was the embodiment of everything he disdained: a middle-class white girl with a penchant for silently digging her heels in.

I had considered the soul and the will for the last several years, and I believed in God and the Bible.  When I was fifteen my boyfriend declared himself agnostic and shared, very matter of fact, that he simply didn’t agree with the premise of organized religion.  Several months later he told me he might be an atheist.  I mention it because it was my first encounter with someone I deeply respected and cared for who didn’t hold the same beliefs about origin that I did. I wanted to listen; I wanted to hear what he had to say.  Throughout the next several years I encountered friends who asked probing questions of my reasons for believing in God, or to defend my position on why I thought the will might be free (or not).  The summer after I graduated a friend declared, severely I might add, that I while I spoke often of loving people unconditionally I had done a bang up job the way he saw it.  I had wrestled with belief and subsequent behavior, the supposed idea of science vs. religion, for some time.  I knew that my sociology professor was trying to save me from what he deemed as propaganda and brainwashing without understanding or caring that I had thought long and hard about all of this.  My basic beliefs were not irrational, blind, or hasty.

Sociology, as a field of study, deals with the origin, development, organization, and functioning of human society.  According to the dictionary, it deals with the fundamental laws of social relations and institutions.  Fundamental means basic, or primary, implying that there are basic, primary beliefs that humans hold that cannot be proven in infinite regression.  What this means is, at some point every person on earth has to take a leap of faith on something.  Sociology is highly linked to philosophy, religion, and science because it attempts to answer the primary questions all humans ask in life: Who am I?  Where did I come from?  Why am I here? What do I do with that information?

I answered “incorrectly” to a myriad of questions on the test, including an essay question.  I went on for a page and a half in scrawling, handwritten thoughts, rationalizing my answer.  It didn’t matter.  This wasn’t Philosophy 101 or even a course on logic and rhetoric.  It was sociology and we were coming from two completely different presuppositions about origins.  Apparently there was objective truth in that classroom. I received my test back a week later with a big, red D….and I knew it was coming.  There were many more tests and many more poor grades.  It was my first, albeit poor attempt at rationally defending my belief system to someone who angrily disagreed, with tangible consequences.  My professor held my GPA in his hands.

Regardless of the belief system that I held or he held, I answered False out of mere principle: It is contradictory to claim zero objective truth and demand that your students adhere to that statement. If there was no objective truth, my 19-year old self reasoned, then why should I have to agree with his statement?  Apparently, some very real, difficult experiences still tasted bitter to him.  He was valiantly going to save the minds of his students, turn the lock, and hope we didn’t desire to find the key.  I honestly believe that he honestly believed his motivations were pure and noble.  No one in that room could doubt his sincerity.  But I just couldn’t figure out why he cared.  All I kept thinking was what had made him come to these conclusions?  What experiences did he have that caused him to stake his claim the way he did?  What fear did he hold against God?  I chose to consider rather than to speak out loud.  I only voiced thoughts on test questions every Thursday morning from 8am until 11:30am.

He built the entire course’s premise on our need to ask questions rather than blindly take leaps of faith.  He told us we were right to question authority and seek answers for ourselves, something I deeply agreed with and supported.  But his big, fat “D” in red ink on my test paper told a different story.  Even though he wanted me to question authority in theory, he didn’t want me questioning his authority.

I also received a D in that course, learning more about real life than I have in any other.  I was searching inwardly on what it meant to see people, to listen, to observe. For all the worth that science holds, human beings do not come to study science (or sociology) value-free.  They come at it with presuppositions that form their hypotheses.  Human beings do not form basic, fundamental beliefs about life and their existence based on scientific fact, but on experience and observation.  What we experience has everything to do with our perspective.

Why do we think the way that we do?  Why do we behave as we do?  What basic assumptions do we make about one another?  I once sat under the teaching of a very wise man who said that just because a Christian believes in a God who controls and designed the universe doesn’t give him a pass to sit back and call case closed.  It doesn’t let him off the hook in considering the nature of reality, the basic beliefs that we hold.  These questions eventually landed me into the field of psychology in graduate school, where I was forced to look myself in the mirror and consider my relation to others.  To listen before speaking.  To feel the pain and the brokenness of souls, my own and those around me, and the subsequent desire for freedom and peace.  All of these fields of study lead back to the same basic Big Question: What are we and where do we come from?

What do we do with that?

What do I do with the questions that I ask and are asked of me?  And then, what do I do with the answers?  That is where integration of life begins.  Fragments of souls scream out to be assembled cohesively, to make sense of this jarring and magnificent world.  People who have been abandoned, unloved, lied to, violated, brushed aside, uncared for.  I am also one of these, seeing and feeling their confusion and frustrations.

What do I do with that?

Changing in This, My Ordinary Life

2013-03-01 08.44.18

In my natural state.  🙂

Confession: I think way too much about what I should include on this blog and what I shouldn’t.  It isn’t all bad.  A blog has to have a specific voice and purpose to be useful.  Mixed with the author’s personality, the blogs I follow have something in particular that give information.  Much of the time nothing seems worth sharing on my blog.  It’s like that weirdness that occurs when you say a word over and over and over to yourself and then the word begins to sound strange, like nonsensical jibberish.  (I know I’m not the only one out there who does this.  No, really, I’m not.  Neither are you.)  Blogging is a difficult thing for me because I am always drawn back to it, but it often eludes me.   There is a delicate balance between a blog being a constant conversation with oneself, sharing the most mundane things possible, or never posting at all because it all seems so trivial and self-important.  It’s hard not to be an exhibitionist in our digital age.

So how do I find the balance?  The only way I know how is to declare that I live a very ordinary life and to embrace it as such.

An ordinary and average life often seems unimportant to share, but it is what I know and experience. 

 I’m not unique in having joys and trials; we all have had them.  I don’t believe that my life is much more joyful or painful than yours and so I just have to share it and essentially say, “Look at me! Look at me!”  I have hobbies and interests, but I’m not accomplished in a way that makes me an expert on any one thing to hand over to those around me.  Most of the time, I am just trying to wrap my mind around what happens in each day.  I feel like every year in my life, especially the last decade, has been a crazy whirlwind.

In the last year alone I:

* Interviewed for a position I never thought I would get, just to keep myself adept at interviewing (my nemesis!), landed the job, and turned it down

*Went from homeschooling full-time to sending my children to private school

*Took up substitute teaching in a classical Christian school and falling in love with my passion again

* Started my own furniture painting design business called Dixie Dutch Design

*Completely re-hauled our budget and financial life with my husband

*Graduated (um, finally!) from graduate school but opted out of walking in the commencement

*Started running and training for long distance races

*Got my health back on track after a scary 2011

*Took a positive pregnancy test and then experienced miscarriage

*Looked at a house with my husband as we consider what the future holds

*Buried a grandparent

*Made myself sit in my chair and write more often

*Started another part time job (alongside teaching and painting) this summer in retail clothing

*Applied for position at the university

*Took up reading again like it’s my coffee

  This is just naming a few surface details.   I’ve made mistakes, (some big, some small). I’ve had heartache and crazy blessing along the way.  Much of the time, the things that I desperately want don’t end up falling together.  Sometimes they do.  There are moments when I am completely blown away and surprised at things I’m given and I needed but didn’t know I needed until they showed up in my lap.  I’m hoping that I’m learning more quickly now than I used to.

The challenge is how in the world can I be fully a wife, fully a mother, and fully passionate about my work?  Are they all mutually exclusive?  In short, how do I stop living compartmentalized but integrated in all these things?  I’ve been learning that lesson for the last 11 years and I’m still learning it! When I started out in this thing called adulthood I was optimistic, bright-eyed, and had a basic philosophy of life that everything always works itself out in the end.  Maybe a lot of it was the fact that I was head-over heels in love with my husband (then boyfriend) and love makes everything hazy :).  Even though I am first-born, I must have been a late bloomer.  I was always the anti-type A personality.  I was go-with-the-flow, flexible, adaptable, a non-worrier, and confident.  It’s why I was married at the tender age of 20, pregnant a year later right before my senior year of undergrad, and just kept trudging along without much thought except that life works itself out.  Along the way, I’ve been dragged down not just by circumstances but my own perspective.  I’ve made mistakes, gone through disillusionment and disappointment, had my dreams turned completely upside down and set backward, only to see them reemerge in ways I never would have imagined, for good or bad.  In short, I started out at the base of the mountain with a lot of overconfidence, brushing off life as easy and enjoyable the whole climb up. I wanted to quit a quarter of the way through, hated myself for wanting to quit and give up so early in, and slowly started to learn how to keep moving upward even though it was painful, difficult, and circumstances unpredictable.

I’m still climbing that mountain, but I’m a different person than when I started at the base.  I started out holding everything in life very loosely in my hands, taking it all for granted. In time, I began hoarding what I had, trying to control it and keep it close as dreams started slipping through my fingers.  I’m learning how to live with open hands again, but I pray I do so with wisdom.

The ordinary is quite amazing, scary, and breathlessly good, if we are willing to stare it full in the face. 

I like poignant and strong word pictures and phrases (I am a reader/writer/thinker after all), but I bristle at dramatics, over-sentimentality, and over simplified philosophies.  A philosophy of life (like, life will always work itself out) doesn’t do me much good when I’m constantly looking to invent or build a life that is not what I own.  I recently read a quote from an amazing woman that hit me full force:

Whatever was God’s providence for me, it was His to lay out and mine to obey.  No longer did I have to invent myself. ~ Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Unlikely Convert

No longer did I have to invent myself.  That phrase struck me so deeply this week, that I’ve been thinking about it for days.  I scribbled it on scrap paper and stuffed it between the frame and glass of the mirror that sits in our kitchen.  I wrote it across my Moleskin notebook so I won’t forget it.  A freedom from the pressure to build a masterpiece that outshines the one next to us.  I often live life with my private faith compartmentalized in one corner and my public persona in another, with my daily realities and roles of wife, mother, and self somewhere in between.  Do you do this? Along the way, I’ve put this enormous pressure on myself to be an adventurer, to forge this untraveled path of my own.  In short, to invent myself, as Rosaria states so eloquently.  It promises to be exciting and unknown and I always receive the message that if I am not a free spirit wanderer,  (or an eloquent writer of profound words) I’ve settled for “less than” in this life.  That if I’m not living the fast-paced, well-traveled life, then I’m not really “living”.  (Thank you Pinterest for solidifying this with all your simplified quotes on the meaning of life with the ocean as a backdrop.)

What if the adventure is right here, in the quiet recesses of my own heart, mind, and soul?

I’m not talking about the often over-stated idea of “just” counting your blessings, finding contentment, and being thankful for what you have.  All of those things are true, but we often say them so much, in such a flippant, off-handed way.  Or we count those blessings just to cope….to make ourselves feel better about the bad without ever really getting to close to it….like plugging our ears and closing our eyes and saying, “I’m not listening!” to what is around us, even if we are suppose to look at it and hear it and learn from it.  I’m just too used to those phrases glossing over what is going on at a deeper level, and those ideas have slowly lost their meaning for me.   Again, like saying a word over and over until it sounds nonsensical.  I’m talking about sitting and facing yourself fully, looking deeply into the soul, looking deeply into the soul of others, trudging through big, enormous questions of life, and pushing past the fear of what answers are to be found.

Often, the would-be adventurer is a wanderer, running away from their own solitude out of fear.  Don’t let that fear rule.

So I write on this blog, not because I am an eloquent writer (I mash up my phrases and edit too quickly all the time.  I use “but” and “and” as sentence starters often, which is breaking the golden rules of writing, and I am always in internal turmoil over this fact.  I am a hopeless “rusher”.  I’ve edited this post four times and I’m just ready to click publish, for crying out loud.)  I write because the soul is a combination of intellect and emotion, and this life is made up of reality and truth, and I like to find it in the ordinary corners of days and weeks and months and years. So I promise to wrestle with the questions and share what I learn, and how I fall, and how I get up, and why I can even get up.

Thank you for letting me think and live out loud.  Thank you for listening.

What the Soul Remembers

2012-09-30 02.24.51

“E!”, she calls out in her familiar, slurred speech.  She is sitting, resting her legs.  She holds out her arms for me.  “E!  You haven’t seen m’room yet?  I have purple flow’rs!” She reminds me this each time I see her, more times than I can count.  Her routine conversation starter with me.  I respond.

“Yes, I have seen them Jaclyn.  I’ve seen the flowers many times, remember?” I smile at her.

“I think you forgot, huh?” she accuses me, shrugs her shoulders, and then smiles at me unsure of what to say next.

“How was school today?” I change the subject.

“Good!” she says, her eyes squinted into half-moon arches, her cheeks flushed.

“Tell me something you did today at school,” I look to her.

“Mom?  Mom?” she suddenly calls out, looking around, her index finger pointing in the air, asking me to wait a minute.

“Mom, whad’I do today, huh?  You r’member?” she speaks with a slur that is all her own.  I don’t know if she is asking mom just to include her in the conversation, or if she really can’t recall.   So I ask her, “Jaclyn, do you remember?”

She shakes her head mournfully, throwing her hands in the air with a shrug of her shoulders, but with a slight smirk, “No, I can’t.”  She sighs for dramatic effect.

“Jaclyn, you went out to eat with your friends today, right?” my mom reminds her as she breezes through the kitchen.

“Oh, right mom!” she giggles and smiles, her shoulders shrugged up to her ears. “E, I g’to-a restaurant, t’day!”

She tells me this triumphantly, a highlight.  Then she adds what she chose off the menu, “I ate chick’n tenders!”  She laughs at a high pitch and covers her mouth with her tiny hand.

I share in her excitement, telling her I’m sure she had a great time.  I speak in my normal tone of voice, as if I am talking to another adult.  But at twenty five years old, her brain’s capacity is locked down, buried in a time capsule.  A child trapped in a woman’s body.

~

The first underdog achiever I met in my life was 25 years ago this July. 1988. 

It was the decade of men’s skinny ties and acid wash, pleat-front jeans.  Of feathered and sprayed hair and women’s blue mascara.  Geometric prints, shoulder pads, and neon.  A decade still ripe with record players and vinyl.  My banana seat bicycle with those beads on the spokes that made a tinkling bell sound when I turned the pedals.  I used to wear my bleach blonde hair in a high, side ponytail and my tie-dye shirt knotted to one side.  The high charged 80’s.

When I first saw her, her head was wrapped in surgical gauze and a breathing machine was attached to her upper lip with medical tape.  The bleeping sounds of hospital monitors is faint in my recollections.  Her head was almost the size of her body; an enormous proportion that can only be described as alien.  Her face was tiny, but her forehead and skull were enlarged and strange looking.  Her left ankle was a grisly black and purple from needles and blood samples.  Bandages protected the stitches on her abdomen.  I touched the newborn skin on her leg with a  hesitant hand, my opposite hand curled into a fist, sucking my thumb and twirling my braids. This was a pink, tiny baby, premature and given a prognosis of 14 days life.  Max.

Her mother was able to cradle her in tender arms for the first time on day 14.  Still living.

After one month her young parents were informed that her head could enlarge to the size of a basketball and “she wouldn’t be in any pain.”  Really?  With all that cranial fluid and pressure on her brain and her eyes? They were more than skeptical.  Some doctors insisted that she couldn’t feel pain.  It is what they reiterated to reassure my mother a year later when she raced down the hospital corridor to her daughter’s blood-curdling shrieks.

They were cutting her open with a scalpel and cutting her shunt tube that ran from brain to abdomen, strapping her flailing body down without anesthetic.

“Why don’t you just take her home and let her die in peace?,” a nurse blurted out at the hospital.  She stared incredulously at the mother, the father, who against all human hope were doing their best to help their daughter fight, and have the chance to live.

~

Count your blessings and move on in life.

Throughout our childhood it was my job to ensure she did not experience a seizure alone.  They occurred at night and so she and I slept in a double bed together for my entire growing up years.  The family calendar that hung in the kitchen next to the refrigerator was marked up in ink with the duration times of seizure episodes. Medication bottles from Walgreens littered the counter top.  As a pre-teen I could correctly administer her differing medication doses, three times daily.  My younger brother was an expert time keeper at eight, calling out the length of her seizures in minutes and seconds with pride.  My mother held Jaclyn on her lap while my father or I would hold a bowl in case she vomited and a towel to catch her saliva she was unable to control.  We were all a team, working together.  The spokes turning around the hub of a wheel.

A childhood of occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy.  Weekly seizures, panic-stricken gasps when she would fall, her head smacking pavement or floor.  Like a movie reel in my memory sits my mother, fingertips feeling the bulging, make-shift shunt behind her child’s ear, just under the skin’s surface.  Innumerable surgeries were performed ranging from the eyes, to the brain, to the legs.  A near death scare from a growing infection when she was just a toddler. Hospital beds, walkers, orthopedic shoes, braces, casts.  Constant changes and adjustments in medications and doses as her body grew.  It was her childhood.  My childhood.  My brother’s childhood.

~

Count your blessings. She’s alive.

And she was alive.  Fearless, she would jump into a 12ft depth pool without a floatation device, despite the fact that she couldn’t swim.  She loved the water.  A determined toddler, she would crawl a quarter of a mile from our house to the park playground as quickly as she could before anyone would notice she was gone.  She loved the slides.  The feeling of independence and freedom.  Sociable, she greeted everyone who crossed her path, waving as she maneuvered her tiny, pint-sized walker at 3 years old, her baby blues magnified under peach colored eyeglasses.  She was the epitome of living in the moment.

~

Count your blessings, because it could be worse.

These thoughts burned like branding into a child that grew to be a teenager, a young woman.  A tattoo of permanent ink on the brain.  It could have been worse.  I used to hear this, swallow this, and before long, I stopped questioning it.  Be thankful she’s not staring at the wall.  Be thankful she can talk to you and recognize you.  Be thankful she doesn’t have a myriad of other problems.

By ten years old, I was trading friendship bracelets and having sleepovers with girlfriends and I knew she was not a sister in the normal sense of the word.  I was never going to stand in her wedding.  She was never going to take a weekend trip to visit me at college.   We were never going to gossip and shop and shut the bedroom door and discuss life.  We would never fight over clothes.  I was never going to pass on wisdom of being a wife and a mom to her, my younger sister.  She was never going to be the cool, single aunt that took her nieces out for the day.  I internalized these things as a child.   Long before my peers worried about such life lessons, I was preparing myself for the long haul.  And I never took the time to mourn these things because we were thankful.  We couldn’t change any of it.  I told myself, it just……is.
There is nothing to do but to just survive in it.

  I was like a caretaker with my parents, she was a live baby doll.  It was legally solidified the day that I signed the court papers when I was 25, honoring me as her guardian in the event that anything happened to my parents.  I moved out of state with my family; my brother now plays part time caretaker to help when he can.  The little boy who used to fight with her just like a brother would with his sister, complaining that she used to get away with everything, is now a man who watches after the six year old who hasn’t grown up.  Still trapped in a childhood my brother and I have left behind long ago.  But she is still there.

Her brain is a time capsule, forever locked down even though every person around her ages.  Forever young.

~

“Do you ever feel that you’ve played all your good cards?  You get three wishes from the Genie, right?,” I ask my husband, little girl grown up.  I know this question is ridiculous, but I know that deep down in my core, I believe it.  I can count my three good things in record time: my husband, my eldest daughter, my youngest daughter.

If I dream too far, too high, too much, I’m just going to tip the scale. 

The fearful thought comes back from my childhood past into the future: Count your blessings, it could be worse.

  A lie to shut off disappointment.  A lie that runs so deep that defeat is already accepted:  She could have died; just be thankful she’s still alive. And then it takes a jumping switchback from past to present: You could lose your own children, your own husband.  So be grateful you have them.  Counting those blessings over and over and over and the lie that morphs out of the evil heart is this: that’s all I get in life.  No guarantees.  Stop asking for so much, E.  A fickle jackpot and I already hit the lottery.  Play it safe.  I peaked at 23 years old.

Scratch that.

  I cheated death.  I was born alive.  I cheated a mental lockdown.  I was born healthy.  

My sister, was not.

~

My brother returned from Iraq in 2005, changed.  Grown from an unsure boy to a somber man.  He lost brothers. Friends. Marines. He had now cheated death too.

Guilt wracked his soul for having lived.  For coming home.

Marines had died.  The middle child came home, struggling to reenter civilian life.  His younger sister, still trapped as a six year old.  His older sister, shutting off her disappointment.  Emotional lock down.  We were all trapped.

~

“E, you have everything.  A perfect family, a perfect life.  Nothing bad ever happens in your world.”  These words haunt the soul, spoken by a dear friend when we were young.  When we were so impressionable.   

No, no one has a perfect life, I reassure her.

Then why don’t you talk about it?

Because it could be worse.  Because if I talk about it, it makes me sad.  Because there is nothing I can do about it, I think.  Because if I’m sad about it all, then that would mean I’m ungrateful, right?  Because then I have to be vulnerable.  Because then the wall comes crumbling down.

I was the daughter that experienced my high school years in full awakening.  I was the young woman who married my husband without a care in the world.  I was the one who was whisked away to live in a tiny apartment and start life together with an adoring man.  The lucky one that didn’t even try to get pregnant that blissful summer of 2003, but did.  God blessed me and anything more than that is just insipid, I tell myself.

~

Can we ever dream too big?  Can we ever want too much good?

The truth is, there is pain and trial in this world, and this is not the way it is supposed to be.  And I won’t ever stop talking about hope and joy and triumph.  I refuse to let hope be crushed under the weight of thinking this is all just luck of the draw.

2012-09-30 01.45.37

There was once a Dream set in motion, a Plan, meant to free those in bondage, trapped in hopeless chains.  To lift and strengthen the weak, the cursed, the dying.  There was a Word from heaven, Love itself, that would heal and cleanse and make anew.  A Hope that lives and moves and Love that will set free. 

Let Us Dare To Be Adventurers

Let us dare to be adventurers.  To live like no one else.

  Live what seems impossible.

Let us stop living in the what ifs, the should haves, the maybes.  Let us stop living in past mistakes and fears of the future.

I dare you to stop daydreaming about far off places to help you cope and to start really living your life here and now.

I dare you to stop believing that your circumstances control you.  I dare you to believe that you control your attitude and actions, no matter what the circumstances.

I dare you to quit.  Quit half-living the life you have been given.  I dare you to begin.  Begin to take it, seize it, call it your own, and make something of it.

I dare you to quit thinking that the life we see on television and social media is real.  I dare you to start seeing life through education, experiences, your work, the people around you.  I dare you to become useful, to be productive.  I dare you to contribute.

I dare you to quit aspiring to be rich and famous.  I dare you to start living in a bigger world than Hollywood or Facebook.

Can you do it?  Can you live a life of happiness even if the world doesn’t applaud you?  Can you live a life of contentment, of joy, of compassion, fulfillment, even if it’s your own little secret inside your heart?

I dare you.  I dare you to be an adventurer.