7. Faith

I’m always reticent to talk about my personal faith, mostly because my past experiences have led me to some deep skepticism, which I generally assume others share, but also because it feels deeply and immensely private. Most of the time I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. But, as this is the space I have designated for precisely these kinds of musings, I will share with you the journey of the past few days.

I should clarify that acts of faith are not really my forte. I’m more of a “pray for God’s will and then soldier forward with everything you’ve got” kind of person. Like… trust, but also… take action. Lots of action. Also, map out every step for the foreseeable future just in case your first plan doesn’t work out as you hope. And then give lots of thanks when it actually does.

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6. The Answer

I was seven when my mom bought me my first journal and I discovered what it felt like to put pen to paper. To see one’s innermost thoughts take tangible shape and form seemed a sort of magic, like spinning gold out of air. To create something where nothing once existed surely must be the most powerful realization of our humanness, Imago Dei enacted. Writing felt like the most natural extension of myself, my way of knowing my place in the world.  

I stopped writing when I became a teacher, a sort of natural response to the need to shore up my emotional reserves so I could be present for my daughter and students. Good teachers are optimistic, encouraging, consistent in mood and demeanor, able to buoy up their students through their own resiliency. I am not, naturally, any of those things, as most of my students can attest. It took a lot (A LOT) of energy to rise above my naturally moody disposition, my tendency to brood, contemplate, ruminate, prevaricate. You get the picture. Writing only further pushed me into a place I desperately needed to stay away from in order to do my job well. So it goes. I have no regrets. Those five years of teaching helped me grow in ways I never could have imagined. I loved my students. I loved my classroom. It was absolutely where I was meant to be in that season. 

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5. The Question

What is it that you want to know? And if I answer, will you turn away? To be seen is fascinatingly frightening. Who can bear up under such a thing? Still, I have carried this inside of me for so long. It has carved pieces out of my soul, like water shaping stone. What have I lost in keeping it so close?  It is mine and yet it no more belongs to me than the wind to the sea. Each day it presses against my being, seeking release. What will happen when my fingers unfurl from the last frayed strand? Will I cease to exist? Will I stand alone where I once was loved? I cannot say. But I think it might be time.

The hours of this past week have been consumed by the exhausting, frantic rush to produce something… anything… tangible on which to build a future. The new school year begins next week, and I am more aware than ever of the need to settle the unknowns in my daughter’s life. To create a home for her has been my greatest joy, to spread roots and ground us in place. There are many parts of parenthood where I have failed, but this has been the measurable success of my tenure. I have spent more hours than I can count attempting to predict the unforeseeable, to account for every variable, to make backup plans for the backup plans, so our stability remains intact. And for what? There is so little I can control now. 

Still, I try. So unwilling to surrender. Frantically, I try. 

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4. Atonement

The following post contains language and imagery that refers to suicide. Please take care in reading. If you need support at any time, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

I am not sure if the voice I hear in my head belongs to my brother or just my memory of him. I hear it most profoundly in my sleep, even just a word or two. Watch your step, he gently warned the other night, right behind me as I hiked up a steep hill. I turned back to look at him as I stumbled. He was gone. 

The loop that plays through my head is not the moment just before he took his life. It is the moment just after. I do not conjure up the opportunity to change his mind. I do not imagine trying to stop him. Neither options occur to me until suggested. Rather, my mind insists on this: I will rush to where he lies. I will slide my arm under his neck, lean over his chest, and pull him close to me. I will hold him as tightly as I can. I will push away the terror that comes at seeing his broken body, and I will mind only that I am there with him, that he is not alone, that he feels the wellspring of love my heart holds for him. I will pour it over him again and again in those final moments. I will speak to him calmly. I will fill the room with my voice and I will fill it with my love. I will banish the anguish that surrounds him. I will comfort him as I did when he was small, when it first crept in, when our childhood began to crumble and little made sense in the world. 

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2. The Only Woman Alive

April 26, 2020

Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here came on the radio the other day. It opens with a long and sparse guitar intro, in which a cough can be heard across one of the tracks. The sound is startling, as though someone unexpected was suddenly discovered to be in the room. More than once I’ve looked over my shoulder when hearing it. It’s what I love about the song, a reminder that this moment has been and will continue to be shared across distance and time.

When I heard that transcendent cough this week, it articulated a feeling I had barely been aware of, though I had been experiencing it almost relentlessly the past three months. It began ninety days ago, the day my brother took his life. There it is. In writing. That tufted weight that tugs at the edges of my brain. It is the presence that accompanies me when I wake in the night, the heaviness that pulls at my eyelids when I open them in the morning, the static that buzzes beneath every conversation. I don’t have to be thinking about it to feel it. But every now and then, a cough sounds and I am reminded. And I am startled by the reality of it all over again. 

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1. The Tether

The tether. That thing that binds us to our families of origin, not by any desire of our own, but through the mere act of existence. We spend our lives exploring the roots of this connection, be it to an unending wellspring of love or the heavy, unshakeable burden of pain. 

In its healthiest form, the tether is meant to eternally connect us to a place of love and acceptance. It ties us to the hearts of those who know our deepest flaws and greatest mistakes and yet love us anyway. It is the place we can always return to and the greatest security life can offer us. The very existence of an umbilical cord, that first biological connection in utero, suggests the importance of this tie between humans. 

A broken tether leaves us in freefall. It exposes us to the greatest anxiety a human can know- the potential of being detached and alone in the world. To be deemed unloveable by the humans we need most to love us, or the person who committed to do so until death do part, shifts something in our interior life that we can never fully regain. It is antithetical to the existence of humans, the deepest pain one can experience. And yet, almost all of us will experience it at some point in our lives. 

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