Tag Archiv: tears

For the Story Tellers

The Israelites Crossing the Red Sea. Circle of Juan de la Corte (1580 - 1663)

The Israelites Crossing the Red Sea. Circle of Juan de la Corte (1580 – 1663)

I had naked tea last week. A friend and I talked storytelling (that wasn’t the naked part) and then sitting in a donut shop, we quietly told our own. Naked is better with a tea cup than without, but given one cup of tea and three places requesting coverage, it isn’t easy. If the tea weren’t so hot, the best solution may be to keep the cup moving in a triangular blur, but the thought of burning tea is scary, so you take your chances, keep what you can behind the cup, and trust that your uncovered self can manage an hour of exposure. (The value of a practical imagination for diversion in the midst of emotionally difficult subjects cannot in my mind be underestimated.)

Awake in the night with no tea to consider,  I wondered a question whose answer I have debated for years. Why do we tell our stories?

There are all the noble reasons people say they write . . . to save everybody else, etc. but I take those pronouncements with a grain of salt. They may well be true, but the only thing one can reliably say about preachers is that they preach.

Ten years ago and even five, the desire to tell my story was almost a burning. Then I put the pages in a drawer and gave them a time out. To my surprise, the words took to what I thought would be a brief sabbatical and requested an indefinite one.

Why now, I also asked in the night after my metaphorically nude tea time, do I want to forget my story?

The next morning I wrote a sincere list of reasons in favor of forgetting. It ended with, I don’t. I can’t. Even if I could, I wouldn’t.

My desire for written memoir is either dead or deeply dormant, but that isn’t the same thing. I don’t wish to remember out loud very often. But sometimes is good. When the children of Israel escaped safely through the Red Sea, Miriam wrote a song to tell the story. She named the terrors of the past to be present to the joys of her new unfolding reality. Deliverance foresees a future. Telling our stories assumes we were delivered for a purpose.

Writer, Andrew Solomon tells a story of an experience in Senegal where he tried a traditional treatment for depression. At one point of the day long ceremony, he was asked to repeat the following:

Spirits leave me alone to complete the business of my life and know that I will never forget you.

I like that quote. It captures both my reticence towards gazing backwards for too long and my conviction that remembering is a gift. I found the musical celebration below after I’d written about Miriam above, but ending with it helps say what I’m trying to say. We may tell our stories with tears but telling them dares us to dance.

 

 

Windows of Time and Tea

Interior in the North of Holland tea-time. By Sipke Kool. Found on Wikigallery

Interior in the North of Holland tea-time. By Sipke Kool

Monday I invited a friend to tea. She wore a purple sweater. Deep tones that matched her long and flowing skirt. I’d forgotten that people dress for tea, but it wouldn’t have mattered. There was something about her seventy year old self I couldn’t have matched anyways.

Our farm’s not perfect, but most days we like it, I said.

Nothing down here is perfect, she said.

We talked about everything. Schools. Kids. The value of memorizing. Farms. Babies that die. Far away countries. Cows and milk production. Thirteen liters a day was a very good milk cow when she was young. Now the cows give forty liters a day. What have they done to the cows? We discussed the effects of poison and growth hormones for plants, animals and humans. Wondered about the best chickens for meat. Talked about when things go too far. When we forget we can’t control everything so we kill ourselves trying.

She told me of someone she knew who cared deeply about her home. Someone wanted to visit with her child who was in a wheelchair. No, the woman said. The wheels cannot come in the house. They will be too dirty.

That cannot be right, she said.

I told her my failed dreams of adoption, my thoughts about foster care someday. I talked about my piano teacher, Mrs. Murdoch. How strict she was, how much I hated her until I loved her and realized how lucky I was to have her.

My kids’ piano teacher was strict, she said. They didn’t mind her. I think they were used to strict with me so there was no difference. Some people didn’t like her, but I was strict and I wasn’t changing. That’s how I was. So they were used to it.

She shared my tea, overlooked the shortcomings of my presentation and gave me the gift of slow time together. She probably had clay feet hidden under the table, but I couldn’t see them. What I saw was her heart. Full up with tears. Courage. Love. Determination. And each of these in such abundance it left me quiet with wonder.

What a gift the moments when, however dimly or however briefly, we really see each other.

 

 

Navigating Failure

 

An English Sloop Becalmed Near Shore the Shore.  By Francis Swaine

An English Sloop Becalmed Near Shore the Shore. By Francis Swaine

I have been working up the courage to write about failure. The latest rejection on my fiction novel came. (Thank you again for the social media supports to my efforts.)  I thought of writing lists of all the failures in my life. Maybe numbering them and tacking this latest one on the end. Couldn’t see anything beautiful about it so felt a little tongue tied.

I thought about starting a new blog to write about true, depressing, ugly things, but no. If you fail at beautiful, you can keep trying. If you fail at ugly and depressing .  . . well, it would be hard to get back up after that. (I am not without a practical side in these matters.)

The desire to write about failure is practically burning in me. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on the subject. Whatever the questions end up being, I’m pretty sure the answers are in tears and laughter. I know this because when I cry, things are better afterwards. Also because when crazy things happen (that have nothing to do with not being able to make your dreams come true) I laugh and afterwards things make more sense.

We were sitting at dinner. Most of us were eating, because that’s what normal people do at dinner. Sort of the reason they sit down I’m told. I have to clarify because while I birthed 3 eaters, I also birthed a stirrer . . . as in someone who stirs things.

I would try to remember what it was she was eating that night that she didn’t like except the list of underappreciated foods to pick from is too long. I’m not a fan of picky eating. The kids can all have one food they hate, everything else, they eat at least a bite of.

After half a meal of stirring, Girl one was getting restless. A bite or two went down the hatch and her idea light went on. “I could be a sword swallower when I grow up,” she said. She took another bite. “Seriously,” she said. “I trained myself on so many things swallowing them whole. I bet I could do it.”

—-

And lastly . . . putting Girl two to bed last night we got to talking about monkeys who apparently don’t leave their trees very often. This led to discussions of a practical matter and a little gem I have to say I did not see coming:

Boy one did that before

Did what?

Peed from a tree.

A long time ago?

A time that was close to today.

Are you kidding me?

No

Thank you

You’re welcome. (Batted eyelashes. Smug and satisfied smile.)

—–

My almost fourteen year old has been peeing from trees. Seriously, failure to publish children’s novel may not be my biggest crisis. I’m not exactly laughing on that one, but it has me good and distracted.

Free flow

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Some prayers take a long time to answer. When I was 18 and couldn’t cry, I would beg God, please, please, just let me cry. Ache. Stare. Nothing. Seriously. I’m broken. Let me cry. Mostly, nothing. He must have been saying, “just a minute,” and I couldn’t hear it. At 42, I cry for reasons including but not limited to:

* School is not out yet. I cannot take another note about anything and I cannot pack another lunch.

* It’s the last day of school and I realize they will never be in that grade again. It’s gone forever. They’re growing up and they can’t go back.

* Someone else’s child I’ve never met just made a great play on the soccer field and everyone is high fiving them.

* My husband is late coming home from work and I worry something has happened to him.

* I startle a few seconds into watery eyes over husband’s demise to realize I’ve started making a checklist as to how we will manage. The guilt of starting a list before you know, the funeral, or an actual death, well it doesn’t feel so good.

* Girl two tells me she wants her hair like mine.

* I hear Boy one pick up her sister and call her pretty princess.

* Boy two says thank you to someone without me prompting.

* Girl one helps with dishes because she says she likes to be with me.

* I read about old age, childhood, loneliness, hunger, rejection, abandonment, joy, accomplishment, triumph, victory.

* I have no ideas. Life is flat.

*  I have a new idea. Life is bursting with possibility.

* We weren’t able to have more children.

* There is too much laundry. It won’t go away and there are like a hundred years left until they’re old enough to leave home.

* One of the children is crying.

* The children are laughing so hard they are peeing their pants and I’m just so happy that they’re happy.

* I need quiet and I can’t get it.

* Everybody is distracted by other things and not into talking.

 

It’s getting downright mortifying the things that can flood the ducts and well up the throat. I think I can confirm not only God’s compassion but a wicked sense of humor as well.

Running and Pentecost

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I have been thinking a lot about Pentecost.  I got hung up a little bit wondering why it was so small. How, I wondered, could the observance of an event that kicked off the official start of the largest, most enduring organization on earth range from a blip of remembrance to blank stares? Shouldn’t the birthday of the Christian church be a big deal?

But wanting to march in too many parades is a quick way to wind up miserable. Besides, the truth is, Pentecost passed me without much notice last year and some years before that. This year, there’s an inexplicable Pentecost bee in my bonnet. The buzz has been impossible to ignore, so I have been pondering Pentecost and what it means that God gives us mystery.

Pentecost is a bit like God showing up one day at the door with a gift, invisible of course, but no denying its existence, we can feel the weight in our hands. God says we need the gift, He loves us, and then He leaves.

Don’t worry about how everything turns out, He tosses over his shoulder. You’ve got the gift now.

For the rest of your life you know what the gift is, sort of, but you have no clue what the gift is exactly. What you do know is that since you received the gift, you are not the same as you were before. Sometimes you actually know this, like you know that standing in the sun feels warm, other times it’s a matter of faith. A lot of times you can’t see clearly what the gift is giving now as much as you can see it looking back at then.

Which I guess answers my own question about why the whole celebration has never really caught on that widely or crossed over into mainstream culture. If you tried to sell it to Hallmark they would have no way of making it tidy. If you think about it too long, Pentecost is a bit unsettling. It’s not a warm greeting card kind of feeling.

Pentecost says, Jesus came as one of you, but I remain beyond what you can imagine. You accepted a baby. Well done. Now let me set you aflame with the fire of Me. Afterwards, you will never be the same. Flesh and blood. Mystery. Forever and ever intertwined. Yes?

Pentecost is a voice on the wind. Whispers of a love that roars and takes no prisoners. One minute tearing you off your feet. Teaching you to walk again. Asking you to run. Another minute gently wiping your tears, sitting vigil with you at your private groanings.

The only question about Pentecost really, is which way to run. As far away as possible, or headlong into the wind?

Arthritis

weary by winslow homer

Weary, by Winslow Homer. Watercolor, 1878.

Some pain we can justify. (I am dysfunctional at the moment because X has occurred.)  In these cases, fallout from X is universally understood, even expected.  Other times we are broken by things we cannot name. Prayers taste like cardboard in our mouths. Silent tears choke in our throats . What we can name seems small and pathetic. And then to be brought down by such insignificant troubles is itself a trial.

Six or so months ago, Girl one was on our porch weeping madly. Control long gone, she gasped for air. I wasn’t sure whether to get a paper bag and treat for hyperventilation, or just to wait. I ran my fingers through her hair, wiped her tears, held her, and wished that I believed in sedatives enough to have some on hand.

For what seemed like a very long time, she was unable to tell me what was wrong. Either she was crying too hard to speak or she was insistent that she couldn’t say it. Any tiny attempts to explain the problem restarted the cascade of emotion, air shortage and tears.

My mind raced trying to figure it out. Was it sibling conflict, friends at school, or something with mom or dad? She shook her head no. Darker worries began to cloud me. I had never seen her so distraught.

Eventually, she began to talk. She didn’t want to get married (she was 7). Ok, I said. She didn’t want her sister or brothers to get married. I suggested that it might be hard for us to decide something like that for the rest of the family was met with five minutes of hysteria. In a weak moment, I backed down and agreed that none of the other children would get married either.

At last we came to the source of her sorrows. Boy one was changing. He was growing up. In a few years he would be a grown up and move away. She was heartbroken.  She didn’t want him to go to University. She wanted the family to stay together. She didn’t want to have any more birthdays or have anyone grow up anymore.

Logic didn’t prove very useful that day. We got through it by being together and holding hands while she cried. Maybe it’s strange, but I take comfort from that day. Granted, I smiled when she revealed the source of her grief, but I didn’t think she was foolish or contemptible. I loved her heart. Given my perspective and life experience, her response was overblown, but given hers it wasn’t.

I want to have the courage to be like that. Not all pulled together and fine thanks (unless I’ve got notarized wounds to show). Just as I am.  So, a nod to Girl one for showing me how it’s done.

Some sort of arthritis of the soul is at my bones, settled in to a dull ache these days. I was going to say it was ridiculous, as there have been no amputations of late, but maybe I’ll just say that’s the way it is and let it be.

Dates

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My troubles started when I was six. Our family had spent the summer in Colorado that year. Before that, my mother said, I was happy go lucky and lighthearted. After that, things were not the same. It was a mystery to her the heavy quietness that was now me.

That fall, the bold and brave self that had eagerly trundled off to kindergarten, was afraid to leave my mother for too long. I would get to school and dissolve, unable to stop crying with how much I missed her. A few times I was sent home. Other times, I stayed, crying. I can remember the teacher shaking her head, while I buried my head on my desk and sobbed. I remember the desperate aching of needing my mother.

I banged my head and ran all the way across town from a birthday party to get home to my mother. I left a sleepover at a friend’s and refused to return. Nothing was wrong, except I missed my mother so desperately, I had to be home. My mother was embarrassed, but I was immovable. Calling the neighbors was one thing. Quitting school was another.

Out of the blue, I was picked up from school one day and taken on a date with my mother. Just us. To a real restaurant. I had a hamburger and a milkshake. My mother watched me eat. That’s all I remember. Eating my hamburger and sipping my milkshake, talking to my mother while she watched me.

Things improved. In grade two, I had an angel of a teacher. We moved the summer before grade three and I fell apart again. My mother walked me to the outside of my new school. We said goodbye, I walked into the school and down the hallway. A little later I ran out the door and all the way home. I couldn’t do it. I needed to be home. My mother decided it was date time again.

Maybe her dates with me didn’t fix the broken things, but those minutes of being all that mattered helped. (My mother was still swearing by them, recommending them to other bewildered parents when I was an adult.) I took Girl one out of school two weeks ago. Chicken fingers. Coconut Cream pie. Then back to school. I try to keep an eye on all of them, not for anything big, just to see who needs it. Eventually, I get them all whether they need it or not, then I start again. They love it, and I do too.

It was a good thing my mother taught me. I’ve decided it doesn’t apply to just kids or crisis. Everybody needs to feel seen and heard. Here’s my prayer for today:

Dear Lord, may I see my neighbor’s brokenness and be willing to watch and listen – with hamburgers and milkshakes of a sort. May I not turn away because I cannot fix it. May I whose tears were not forgotten, faithfully remember the tears of others.

Songs from tiny town

Winterfrost by Missy Friedl-Shipley

Winterfrost by Missy Friedl-Shipley

I am a blip on the screen in the only place I could ever say I came from, not a hometown girl. We lived there six years. A little space in the grand scheme of things, but the time it takes to go from age 12 to 18 is a whole lot longer than that.

At graduation, I was all about leaving. (I didn’t know how the place where you say goodbye to childhood sticks to you.) The town was an ailing general store and a post office, a railroad track down the middle, and ten or so houses, maybe fifteen. A mile up the road was a church. The school bus was an education in chewing tobacco, sibling beatings, pregnancy, and girl fights.

I don’t belong here, I used to tell myself. Yet if I wanted some  place to claim me now, it’s the only place that even might.

In grade ten, we had a writing class led by an eccentric teacher in her sixties, a writer herself. Outside of music, it was the only creative water I was offered to drink during those years. The rest I had to find myself.

In the fall I reconnected with an old friend. I lived in the preacher’s house at the top of the hill twenty-five years ago. She lived closer to the general store. We rode the same bus and took some of the same classes. We sang together in choir, but otherwise, we had different circles of friends. We were friendly acquaintances with a similar appreciation for humor.

We both hurt, but we never talked about it. I cried myself to sleep at the top of the hill, too self absorbed to note the torrents and rivers of tears washing from her soul down at the bottom. We are talking now as we didn’t then. I am a writer. She is a painter, a photographer, and who knows what else. I’m not convinced she’s finished becoming all that she is.

The name of her site is a good enough introduction to her humor. If want to see art that is beautiful, thought provoking, sometimes funny, and sometimes sad, check out Wigglebutt Studios on Facebook. I recommend it whether or not you’re an art person, and especially if you are.

How we two came from the barren soil of that place, I have no idea, but we did. Maybe seeds from tiny town aren’t so unlikely. Maybe they’re lucky. I’m from the same place as Missy Friedl-Shipley, for heaven’s sake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautification

Girl one loves things that sparkle or shine. She started asking to have her ears pierced before she was in school. I said no, pierced ears were for teenagers. How much longer until I’m a teenager, she wanted to know. When she was seven, we offered to let her pierce her ears for her birthday. Disbelief. Belief. Leaping. Wild celebration.

It was my idea but I was sick to my stomach. Ashamed that I was failing to hold onto to the standards set by the God fearing, tradition loving pioneers. For all I knew, we would soon be watching soap operas and drinking beer for breakfast.

At the jewelry store, I watched the woman pick up the piercer gun and waited for the lightening I deserved to strike me. A few seconds later, Girl one hopped off the chair beaming, a new spring in her step.

Mirror time had always been popular. Now it was a frequent necessity. I rolled my eyes at the silliness of it all. And I began to look forward to twice daily ear care. Me carefully cleaning around the new holes. Her mouth full of wiggly teeth grinning at the site of her ears in the mirror in front of her.

The sparkle of ear rings has been a happy part of the last year and a half. Christmas Eve, with much advance shouting from her siblings, Girl one appeared. She said nothing, her eyes filled with tears begging me to fix it. An ear ring dangled by no more than a string of skin from her ear, the blood long dried. Instead of a hole, there was an already healing rip to the outside of her ear. No one knew when it happened.

I cleaned the ear and held her. She sobbed until she was gasping for breath. When she could finally speak, she wanted to stay home forever. Cancel all Christmas celebrations. Never go to school again. It kept my own tears in check trying to focus enough to gently redirect the passions of my little mad woman. I don’t know how long I held her, or how many times I kissed that head of hers.

My feet felt heavy when I took a step. I wanted a good cry myself for letting this happen. For failing her so greatly in something that mattered to her so much. Christmas Eve afternoon does not afford time for personal meltdown. I told myself that I didn’t live in Syria. That my child was disappointed and embarrassed, not hungry or dying. We still had more than enough reasons to celebrate.

Girl one’s ear is rather tribal now. I have promised to have it pierced again.  Just above the small sliver of air that softly divides her ear lobe into two sections. There will be no ear rings worn outside in cold weather with hats, but I didn’t worry about the lightening when I promised. I’m content to have fallen in love with the mystery that is my daughter.

Celebrating Forever

We have no set traditions for our anniversary. Sometimes we go out to dinner. Sometimes we go to a bed and breakfast. Once, when we lived in a house with an unfinished basement, I secretly hung blue tarps and made a room. I hauled down a mattress and decorated our makeshift get away. I called it the blue lagoon. In another part of the basement I made a restaurant and movie theatre.

This year we invited the kids. After a candlelight dinner for six, we pulled out the video of our wedding. The audio was bad, but looking a little younger, there we were.

Tigger was relaxed, grinning from ear to ear. The priest was back from retirement and extremely nervous. It didn’t matter. He could have passed out and Tigger would have held him up and given him his lines until it was over.

I was in a different state. One step onto the carpet and I started crying. Except when I was speaking or singing the hymns, I couldn’t stop. I have never been so scared in my life. The video proves that I was there and that everything was beautiful. I’m glad of that. I cried again the next day because I truly couldn’t remember any of it except for the music and my smiling groom.

“Twenty years,” I told my beloved in advance of the wedding. “I can’t say forever. I’ll give you twenty of the best years of my life. After that, if it’s hell I’m out of there.”

He said he would take twenty.

“You’re only saying that because you have no idea what you’re getting into,” I said.

My goal when we were dating was to find a good father for my children. It seemed easier to stay objective and what was true love anyway? I hated the idea of becoming one. It sounded like you got married and ended up only half a person. A real prize in the world of the romantic I was.

The wedding was perfect, even if I can’t remember it. We had stunning taste in music and despite the crying bride, that groom’s joy is still contagious, even on low quality video sixteen years later. I sat in my living room with Tigger and the four greatest gifts of our marriage, overwhelmed at the mystery and miracle of it all.

Here we are. Together like it was always meant to be. Surrounded, pushed down, filled up, and overflowing with the blessings of love bigger than the sum of us.

“I’m good for forever now,” I said some years ago. “I’m glad you stuck with me.”

“It’s been worth it. I’m glad you said yes,” he said. “And by the way, I’ve got no regrets, but you were right. I had no idea what I was getting into.”

We laughed.