Presently

Something there is
Courses through the open window,
Parted blinds,
Riding on the back of the
Afternoon light:
A wind
Like memory,
Heavy with summer scents
In mid spring,
Casting dappled patches of light
That seem to say
“Look:
The light is here,
The time is now.”

Finifugal

Finifugal: (adj.) Hating endings; of someone who tries to avoid or prolong the final moments of a story, relationship, or other journey.

This past week has been a veritable tornado of things and feelings that have ultimately formed themselves into a crisis of sorts, reflected in the fittingly changeable weather plaguing north-eastern Pennsylvania. My birthday coincided with the sudden death of a close friend, leaving me breathless and wondering how God works all things (all things) for good (because He says He does, and I sometimes don’t know how to trust that). I’ve spent the last seven days waffling between busy okayness and moments of exhausted despair.

In the midst of the guilt that trails in a suicide’s wake, as well as the existential questions that naturally form as another candle finds its way on to the cake, I’ve found myself questioning my identity. Who am I in Christ? Who am I as a person? How do the two meet and mesh? If there’s anything I’ve learned moving through these things before, it’s how easily it is to let the weight of sadness overwhelm you, turning life into a question of blank futility. “What’s the point?” you ask. I have a theory: I believe that sadness is like matter– it can be neither created nor destroyed, just manifested and passed along. Suicide passes the greatest of sadness onto those left behind, a sadness so great you feel like you become the emptiness itself. So it’s in this moment that I find I need to remind myself who I am, and especially Whose I am. You don’t necessarily need to this list (although it may help you understand me); but in this moment, I do.

I like to think that God believes in irony, but never coincidence.

I can (modestly) climb a tree while wearing a skirt. This talent took years to cultivate.

The quickest ways to my heart are flowers and books.

I want to take a cross-country road trip in which I stop and spend time on a swing set in every state.

I take sermon notes in free-verse poetry.

I can spend hours in a museum.

I like pots of tea at 4 PM- scones of course are always welcome.

The only place flannel and plaid belong are on blankets and kilts.

I sometimes get caught up thinking about the micro-worlds that could exist on every single dust mote.

There are few things as satisfactory as a purring cat.

I love tall windows and natural light: I avoid using overhead lights.

The best part about tall windows and natural light are the patches of shadow-and-light they throw across the walls and floor on clear afternoons.

I drink coffee out of necessity, I drink tea out of preference (and sheer enjoyment).

My favourite films are in black and white.

Even so, I know almost every line from the original Star Wars trilogy.

No matter where I go, I almost always have two books with me: a small anthology of Eliot’s poetry and essays, and a rather battered copy of Donne’s verses.

Someday I want to live somewhere I can keep a garden.

Kindles are convenient, but real books are best.

Paperbacks are for dog-earing and annotating.

I like to buy used books with notes in the margins: it’s like a peek into the previous owner’s mind.

Both my favourite poem and song have the same title: Clair de Lune. One was written by Paul Verlaine, the other by Claude Debussy.

Cumulus clouds are my favourite.

I don’t know who I prefer: Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald.

We will obviously be singing choral music in Heaven, because it’s simply the best. I imagine the set list will include Eric Whitacre, Arvo Part, and Gregorio Allegri. Also, there will be cellos.

I desperately want to have a picnic in a graveyard.

The thing that astounds me most about salvation and God is the incredible freeing nature of His grace and love: I am a fearful person, and I find it hardest to rest in the knowledge that the only thing that could ever make me whole was completed by His Son. There is an amazing kind of peace in that.

My favourite day and place is a foggy beach along the Pacific.

Stargazing is wonderful, but it’s better with someone else.

I could survive on banana pancakes and orange juice.

Everyone has a story, and stories are for sharing.

I don’t trust people, but I’m working on that.

If you cut me I would probably bleed salt water, ink, and earl grey tea.

As hard as it is to move through suicide, I’m coming to understand that perhaps one of God’s desires for me is to continually find and work with people who struggle with it. And that scares me.

April Is The Cruelest Month

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”
-T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

April: gently filtered sunlight passing in and out of cloud-cover, windows-opened for the first time in months- permitting the breeze to make its way through the room, the stir and stretch of the world as she wakes and brings things back to life.

I feel that all of the openness and light should make this my favourite month of the year, yet somehow these thirty-odd days have managed to encapsulate a sense of death, life, darkness, light, loss, and growth all at once, and it’s a paradox the inner workings of which I’ve long-since given over trying to understand.

But the more Aprils I experience (and I’m beginning to amass quite a few) the more I see parallelism between what transpires in my life as things transpire in the ground– the discomfort of death and life and that blank space in between where the living usually drowns into mere existence, about the discomfort of growth and T.S. Eliot using words to prod the pain of letting go to stretch into bloom.

It’s ironic that with all of this living, April is to me instead a struggle with death and how to come out or away from it. I know death- we’ve long been on speaking terms she and I- and I’ve stood at the edge of her cliff numerous times, usually holding the hands of friends, in dialogue about all the reasons to walk away as we continue to toe the line. A number of them have slipped over the side anyway: it’s never something you get used to. And that is April.

I think a lot about how little we understand life without the contrast of death– of Icarus as he fell, suddenly aware of what it truly meant to live. How impossible it feels to consider an eternity of living without death to make us aware of it! How strange to imagine that it was never intended for us, for this world, to begin with.

Growth requires the letting go of the dark, cool safety of the earth in order to move skyward, and April signifies this in so many ways: the fear and discomfort of growth and light, and the pain of loss and letting go of even that. Things bloom out of death- dirt itself is comprised of dead things-and it’s that which is necessary for plants to not only grow, but to sustain life. In that way it’s much like the death and life of Christ to the believer. He took on darkness and death that I might have

light and life. And perhaps that’s the thing: for all of the darkness in me I know myself to be a creature of the Light, and there’s the unbearable dissonance of two things that cannot mix. The darkness so often wins. But I always thought that if I could remind anyone of anything I’d want it to be cherry blossoms. Someone once told me that was silly and childish: I choose it anyway.

“I have learned
Things grow towards the light.”
-A Fine Frenzy, Grasses Grow

To the Girl in the Crowd

Quiet girl,
Careful girl,
Wide-eyed-blue and bright,
Observing things no one sees–
Pain before it’s felt,
Heartbreak yet to happen.

Caring girl,
Steady girl,
Misunderstood:
Armour of reserve
Conceals a lifetime of bruising,
Protects against those yet to come.
Sweet girl,
Clever girl,
With your music and lines,
I wish I could make you see that
Even in silence,
You are a music lovely to hear.

Mysterious girl,
Mad girl,
Falling down holes
Chasing rabbits,
In search of truth
And delight.

Smart girl,
Patient girl,
Skin indelibly marked,
An ink-drawn map
To who you are:
A blazing fire of hope.

Lingering in a darkness,
Which could never snuff your light-
Radiant and flickering-
Only more defined by the shadows
In which you stand.

A force of quiet
In a sea of weak and loud:
You are so much more than just
The Girl in the Crowd.

Rubatosis

Rubatosis: (n.) the unsettling awareness
of your own heartbeat

Where do I begin?

Whole pages of thought and impressions gone like leaves ripped from a book, plot holes superimposed over the storyline of my memory, paragraph-breaks in continuity. A Picasso portrait of angled questioned marks and blank squares.

Flashback:

I remember the first time my heart stopped– walking miles home in the withering July heat and feeling the abrupt pause as my last remaining ally skipped successive beats in its valiant effort to work on little-to-no support. Sitting on the sidewalk, counting passing cars and calories as I waited to catch my breath.
…Red, white- one hundred– white, silver- twenty– black, white…

Memories of standing on the bathroom scale, tilting back and forth as I tried to find the position that would show me the lowest number. Or the highest: I’m not quite sure.

Cutting off long inches of hair until it grazed my jawbone, partly because I wanted less of me, partly to better ignore the way it was beginning to fall out by the handful.

I used to talk about it more- the all-consuming battle of anorexia- and I’m not sure when or why I stopped. Perhaps I grew tired of sharing the word to  watch eyes inevitably flit down and across my body, incredulous because I no longer look the part. It could be the overwhelming shame as I duck and weave in and out of behaviour patterns, constantly skirting the edge of the cliff and occasionally peering over the edge and down the slippery slope. I truly think it was after too many failed attempts to explain the complicated nature of this abusive relationship with the voices in your head- with yourself- all the while trying to maintain some modicum of composure– trying to explain the reasons why while protecting my privacy.

Privacy: the hallmark trait of eating disorders, and the reason it so often stays relegated to a petty choice.

So privacy be damned: here is my transparency.

 I struggle with anorexia.

Because my father’s voice has taken up residence in my head, a constant loop of names and conversations, all beginning with “undesirable” and ending with my need to change. I’ve destroyed every journal I have ever owned, but I still have the scraps of paper on which I wrote all of the countless reasons he told me I would always be alone. Sometimes I wonder if I truly believe I am happier on my own, or if I choose it because I’m afraid I’ll discover that he was right. Or maybe its because he was right and I already know it. He wouldn’t have said it if it weren’t true. Right? My fears of abandonment will never be fulfilled if I permit no one in to begin with. And this terrifies me.

Because four years ago, if you touched me I could easily have shattered into a thousand pieces. Numerous pounds later you probably still could.

Because I’ve seen so many friends succumb to the illness, and so many overcome it, and I’m not sure of whom I am more envious.

Because it’s my attempt to take the internal clutter and fragmented pieces, the chipped china bits of myself that I put in a box, placing it in the darkest corners of the furthest reaches of the highest attic. All of the pieces that find their way back down again despite my best efforts: all of the ugly, jagged things that I try to hide with skin and hair and an unattainable perfect shape, hoping that they will distract you from the mess beneath.

Because perhaps if I am beautiful it will compensate for all of the unbearable, unloveable things I feel I am underneath.

Because in the end, that’s why any of us do it: we want to be loved.

There are never two people with eating disorders under the same circumstances or for the same reasons; only that all of us have things we don’t know how to carry or to hide, fears we can’t control, and flaws we can’t conceal. It’s never really just about being thin. It’s about all the unspeakable things moving beneath our skin: lies that we fear by speaking out loud would only somehow make them irrevocably true. And if by speaking these half-truths into existence I can shatter the stigmas surrounding the world of eating disorders, then I will consider it worth while.

Cathexis

Each year I find myself more befuddled by Valentine’s Day. It has nothing to do with the saint himself (although I doubt people would celebrate the day in quite the same way were they aware that the man was imprisoned and martyred, with bouts of torture more than likely occurring somewhere in there too). Certainly it’s a fun event as a child, but the shine begins to wear off the older you get, and for many people eventually becomes painful as they watch couples around them celebrate relationships in some myth-like rapture of chocolate and true love.

By no means am I aligning myself with the opposite end of that spectrum, though. For all the balloon-popping anti-valentinites out there there’s an equally stern lecture for them about learning how to accept singleness with maturity, and without conversely trashing the joy of others. Believe me, I enjoy raining on other people’s parades just as much as the next person (admit it, you’ve laughed at least once at the person who’s just lost a biscuit in their cup of tea, no matter how many times it’s happened to you too). However, feeling embittered towards the day and the millieu decked in varying shades of red and pink isn’t the answer to dissatisfaction with a relationship status of any kind, and it certainly has nothing to do with why I don’t care for the day as a whole.

I dislike Valentine’s day first and foremost because it’s another holiday for the poor sods of the world to not only struggle to remember, but another towards which to put ridiculous amounts of money. Valentine’s Day is highly marketed: the sales for chocolate and flowers are higher that week than any other of the year in the US, with the jewelry sales that month rivalled only by the weeks preceding Christmas and New Years. I understand that gift-giving is a legitimate form for expressing affection- it’s tagged as one of the primary love languages (however much stock you choose to put into that theory). Heaven only knows I love receiving flowers almost as much as I love receiving books (or doughnuts). However, it’s not everyone’s love language, a fact that the marketing industry strives to help you forget. Which brings me to my biggest issue with the grandiose celebration on Valentine’s Day.

I know very little about love and doubt I’ll become well-acquainted with it: I’m single and foresee a future filled with cats, worn suitcases, an ever-growing collection of books, and exceptionally large cups of tea (and I’m willing to embrace it). But in my understanding love is details, and affection is communicated in the smallest of gestures: the ability to sit comfortably in silence together for interminable periods of time, saving them the last bit of coffee or sharing your favourite song, the lull in conversations in which the real communication occurs, falling asleep together on the couch during films, finding old annotations on the dog-eared pages of their books like opening a window onto the soul of their past thoughts. Better yet, it’s the way your book and film collections look pressed together like old friends on the same shelves. It’s garden-fresh flowers brought in during the spring; it’s laughing uncontrollably for reasons neither of you can remember. It’s choosing to be steady and present when the darkness reaches out its long fingers once more, threatening to pull either of you under.

Or at least that’s what I’d like to think it is.

I grow weary of seeing the flashy, pastel-and-bright-red version of love that gets tossed around each February (and don’t even get me started on Hallmark films). I also don’t understand why this concept of love must be relegated to romantic relationships alone. None of the things I listed above would seem strange in the context of a friendship. (Now would probably be a good time to apologise for all the of the books I’ve inadvertently pilfered from friends over the years on the pretext of “borrowing” them.)

This challenge isn’t issued to the couples or singles of the world alone- blissful or otherwise: it’s directed to anyone who has loved ones, friends, pets, or a heart (tin men and cowardly lions included). I would only ask you to think about what you do to show love, and consider taking the simpler route, whatever that may be.

 

A Grief Observed

The process of loss is never easy. It’s as if death and tragedy are handed down in an overflowing container- too large and cumbersome to carry- leaving you to grapple with the surface as you try to find a way to hold this thing that seems heavier than the entire universe. Then, after a while, there’s the grey dog grief: that faithful, sad-eyed creature following closely at your heels, a constant reminder of a million odds and ends you’ve tried so vainly to sweep under the rug and forget in the name of “moving on.” Odds and ends that eventually find their painful way back out again.

With all the times I’ve come face-to-snarling-face with loss, I still don’t know how to bear the things that follow: I don’t think anyone ever does. I can move like a machine through the formalities, but still must relearn how to breathe every time. I spent the entirety of a eulogy today sifting through eleven-year-old memories: picking berries next to the man in the humidity of a Maryland summer afternoon, cicadas sawing rhythmically away in the trees as he talked about his garden, guiding my hands away from the thorns, then running into the twilight to catch and hold fireflies with our stained fingers before setting them free again. 

Any good Christian will tell you that it’s wrong to be angry with God. I’ve sat through a hundred sermons on the evil presumptions of daring to ask Him why, about the importance of humbly and faithfully accepting the lot He has graciously given us. They would tell you that the best faith blindly accepts and trusts in the promise of His inherent goodness. 

But I am angry with God, and I cannot accept that the One we call Father doesn’t, in all His love, also have room for those of us who are sometimes Jacob, caught in a headlock and wrestling Him for hours on the road, begging for an explanation. I’d be lying if I said that I’ve simply and peaceably accepted the horrors of another sudden death, that I can move meekly through the aftermath. I expect that as a Father who felt the greatest of griefs, He makes allowance for mine, that He will continue to hold me even as I beat my fists against Him, that I can scream against the darkness of death and He will watch with compassion because He knows death was not meant to have a part in our world. I have asked why so many times this week, I’ve forgotten what the words even mean. I keep reading passage on God’s love, trying to understand how He could possibly be manifesting it here. I know the anger will eventually leech its way out again- that I will once more look at God without hostility-because it always does.

In the mean time, I am trying to understand the Creator as He tears down, the Giver of Good Gifts as He takes.

And He takes.

And He takes.