…and so yet again I have to try to find mercy inside pain, which is, as we both know, the work of a lifetime.Brian Doyle, Eight Whopping Lies, p. 90
Last week, I came into church and was immediately hugged by a woman who’d just heard of our miscarriage.
“I know you know this,” she said, “but, God has a reason. We just don’t always know what it is.”
It was, of course, her way of trying to offer comfort. It was her way of making sense of the senseless. It was her single lifeline, and as a wise pediatric oncologist once said, “Don’t take away someone’s lifeline.”
So I didn’t say, “No, I don’t ‘know’ that. I don’t believe that. In fact, I have preached against that. Or were you not here that Sunday?”
Instead I said, “Thank you,” and meant it. Because her hug was the more important thing. Her broken heart, displayed on her face, was the real comfort. And we all just take our lifelines where we can.
For Christmas, my husband got me a book with the subtitle “how to stop complaining and start enjoying the life you always wanted.” Should I be upset? All right, to be fair, it was on my wish list.
I’m not ready to undertake the book’s 21-day challenge, not even if it is the first day of 2019, perfect for fresh starts. But I will. The book says on average it takes people 4-8 months to successfully go 21 days straight without complaining, criticizing, gossiping, or being sarcastic. (If you slip up you start back on Day 1.)
Meanwhile, on an unrelated note, I’ve begun a list of Things That Bother Me:
- When built-in ribbon bookmarks start fraying, so you have to trim them and then they’re too short.
- When I’ve stopped before a crosswalk to wait for a car, and then the car slows down and stops for me.
- That feeling you get when you’re wearing leggings, jeans, and snow pants, and you have to go the bathroom.
- When drivers glance up and glance down, glance up and glance down. You know they’re texting. No one’s lap is that interesting.
- Houses with those laser-star Christmas lights that look like the house has green chicken pox. We have ours angled onto tree branches and it is much, much classier.
- When a parking lot is sandy and then I step into my car and feel the brittle sand rubbing the pedals under my feet every time I accelerate or brake.
- When you take great care to clip your nails over a sink or trash can but the clippings still go everywhere.
- People who clip their nails anywhere.
- Nearly all styles of parenting.
- Almost all children.
I had just finished a hospital visit and was texting a joke to my colleague as I walked through the parking lot. I looked up every so often, between finger taps, and stayed on the edge of the lot.
A car slowed down and the driver, a man, said something out the window.
I stopped texting. “I’m sorry — what was that?” I ducked my head to peer into his car. There was a woman in the passenger seat. Both were smiling.
“I’m sorry,” the man said. “I’m not trying to be rude, but I’m worried about you texting. You can’t tell what’s going on around you.”
“I know,” I said, “and I know it’s bad, and I do it anyway.”
“I know. And you never know if someone’s gonna sneak up behind you and steal your pocketbook.”
Both he and his passenger seemed kind, and embarrassed.
“Thank you for looking out for me.”
“I care about you,” said the man.
“Thank you.” We exchanged have-a-good-days, and then I said something I rarely say, even though I’m a pastor: “God bless you.”
I sat in my truck to finish the text, zipped the phone into my purse and drove off.
When I was in Divinity School, my preaching professor admitted, “It’s hard to choose which issue of justice is most important. Race? sexual equality? poverty? refugees?” He had sat through all our sermons, all our worries, and it’s true they were all over the map. In the face of so much injustice, we were tempted to despair.
“For me,” he said, “the main thing is creation care. That’s what it all has to come back to. If the world isn’t here anymore, in just a few generations…then what’s it all for?”
His words came to mind when I read this blurb just before Election Day:
I’m almost a single-issue voter. I’m not, but my thinking about … elected officials and what their purposes are begins and ends with how they approach health care. My thinking certainly visits all the other issues along the way … but number one among all the issues for me is health care. My reason for that is that I believe that you can’t really effect* positive change in any other area if your body (or your child’s body, or your partner’s body) is sick or not working. Nor can you effect change if you’re struggling to pay for – or even get – vital medicine for yourself or a family member. Nor, again, can you effect change in areas you care about if you’re in significant debt for medical care you’ve already received. You can even have a hard time effecting change in the political issues you care about if you merely live with the specter of not being able to access or pay for medical care for yourself or your family.
I think both men make a good point. Maybe I’d give a slight edge to Rob Delaney, over my preaching professor, because it’s true that we can’t advocate for environmental justice if our ill bodies are draining away all our advocating energy. Plus my prof said it’s basically too late anyway.
* Delaney is an intelligent man who can properly use “effect” as a verb.
Most people can’t; please don’t attempt it.
Recently I was reminded I will one day die.
I had gotten an MRI and was viewing the results: a bulging disc near the top of my spine. Even as the doctor tapped her pen on the offending bump, my eyes strayed to other bones, other features. My jaw, especially. My jaw convinced me I will one day die. It was the jaw of a corpse.
The MRI revealed something I knew but didn’t realize: There was a skeleton in there, with a skull like the kind on a skinless body. There were empty black eye sockets. Teeth that would fall out and turn to powder. There was a brain that might nourish a tumor, which would press on nerves. Meanwhile the doctor tapped her pen on the screen, its plastic tip hitting the slipped disc where a nerve was already being pressed. She suggested physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractics, maybe an anti-inflammatory diet.
I came home and e-mailed my 74-year-old friend. He wrote back, “That was pretty scary, thinking of becoming a corpse.” And he’s a Buddhist who meditates on his death regularly.
Happy All Souls’ Day, everyone.
The entire braid of the self is coming unwound in a rush.
– Advice for Future Corpses *
* And Those Who Love Them
Now you know why, in lieu of wedding gifts, we asked people to donate to Reality,
and in lieu of album money, all proceeds go to Reality.
Living in North Street neighborhood for two years taught me that the kingdom of God isn’t about “inclusion,” as though some are “in” and some are “out” until those “in” deign to “include” them. No. It’s about plain belonging. We all belong to God, and to each other.
Our house went five days without power. We put a towel under the freezer and went to bed early. The room’s stuffy air felt hotter than the air inside my mouth.
Every day, we went outside to escape the silent house. In the softened, rain-soaked lawn, my husband planted rose bushes we’d bought before the storm. I pruned other roses that had survived the hurricane. Cars drove down the street, saw a blockade from flooding, turned and drove back.
I had just come outside with glasses of tepid water when an SUV stopped in front of our house. “Would you like some water?” asked the driver, holding out a glistening bottle.
“Oh.” Maybe he thought our water had been shut off. “Thank you, that’s okay. We have water.”
“But this is cold.” He got a second bottle from his trunk.
“Are you just out being a Good Samaritan?” Then I saw his name tag. He was from the local grocery store, the one I stop by almost every day on my way home from work.
“We’ll have blocks of ice tonight, too, in case you need to keep your freezer cold.”
“Thank you!” I held the two wet bottles and watched him drive away. We hadn’t had anything to drink but lukewarm tap water, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (It could have been worse — we could have had no water.) This guy came along at just the right time.
My husband’s T-shirt was dark with sweat. He accepted the bottle gladly, then got back to digging.
There’s a house being built across the street.
Around 9:30 this morning I opened the garage door and rolled our recycling can out. I was wearing the long teal bathrobe Mom had sewn.
Around 10:30 I went out to mail a birthday card for my friend, who’s turning 97 on July 4. I was still wearing my bathrobe. When I walked to the mailbox, the construction workers stopped talking and looked at me.
They probably think I don’t work.
It’s 12:30 in the restaurant that has a cookbook named after it, 12:30 on a spring Thursday in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. Yes, we’ll wait for the outdoor seating.
A spillage of white Styrofoam peanuts flits over the sidewalk like scattered petals. Scattered petals, helicopter seeds, swirl in the air like snowflakes. People with name badges walk with a hand over their badges, to press them down in the wind. Dogs on leashes bite other dogs on leashes. A young reporter in heels speaks into a microphone. Three mothers, pushing strollers, all look at their phones. A woman leans out a second-story window to clear tangled peat moss from a window box. The dust drifts down. Two men in polos and khakis get on skateboards and coast down the sidewalk; one wears an unstrapped helmet and pushes a button on a remote to power the board beneath. Women in headscarves, their rounded heads like pastel Easter eggs, open the door of a café. A man in a white clerical collar stops to greet a woman.
I zoom out enough to notice how diverse is everyone and everything. Some women have shoulders exposed in round cut-outs, others have shoulders under pads in blazers. Some men wear pants with a hole in the seat, some wear suspenders and a belt for their walkie-talkie gear, some have butts that look like skinny frogs, and some women do too. In the zooming, it suddenly occurs to me that every one of these people will die, and I wonder if there is such a thing as heaven, and room enough.