Friday, February 5, 2016

"to make beautiful even the reckoning"

In a recent post about coping with a baby who doesn't sleep, Sarah Bessey wrote:
I think that when we are faced with something we cannot fix or control – however small or however big – it can break us wide open and we discover who we were underneath the comfort trappings of answers or affluence or health or even sleep or whatever it is that we’ve lost. And then when the underneath of us is out in the fresh air, I think it’s an opportunity to heal it, to strengthen it, to make beautiful even the reckoning.
And my heart wept. Bessey, even in her sleep-deprived state, eloquently expresses an idea that I have been circling around for months.

Tragedy and tribulations force us to ask whether we really believe what we say we believe, whether we have the courage to let our beliefs guide our actions. When ten schoolgirls were shot in 2006, the nation was shocked as the Amish community lived out the faith they profess, showing compassion to the family of the gunman. I admired them, but I thought it must be terribly difficult.

In 2013, I found myself in a similar situation. When a reckless teenager killed my husband, many of our friends wanted me to be angry, to exact punishment, to demand that she be tried as an adult. Beyond simply being too numb to be angry, I realized that I could not make those demands. I just could not, not if I believe that adolescence is psychologically and physiologically different from adulthood, not if I believe that the rehabilitative justice of the juvenile court is more effective than the retributive justice that dominates the American legal system, not if I believe that my faith calls me to compassion. That summer was, as Bessey describes, a moment in which I was broken wide open, and I had to discover who I was.

Right now, American society has been broken wide open. Domestic and international terrorism and the wars and military actions in which we participate strip away our collective sense of safety and security. We feel threatened, we feel vulnerable, and the world seems chaotic, but it is in our response to this loss of the sense of control that we discover who we are. If we respond to our broken-openness with fear, if we scramble to cover the underneath of us that has been exposed, we become not what we believe ourselves to be.

We Americans have long professed values of openness and inclusivity. Indeed, the symbol of our liberty invites to these shores the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. If we want to continue to profess these values, we must look to them to guide the decisions we make. Even if the poor and the tired do not look like us or worship like us or speak our language. Even when it is difficult. Even when welcoming immigrants and refugees may change us as much as being among us changes them.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

a glimpse of community in the city

A little over two years ago, already knowing that I would be leaving my life in Michigan to start again elsewhere, I posted a glimpse of community in winter.

Today was a day a lot like that day: crisp and clear and snowy-but-not-snowing.



As we skied through the neighborhood, we chatted with other folks out enjoying the snow and starting the cleanup.



And then we met up with a hundred or so neighbors and had a snowball fight on Penrose Square.



Most of the people there are people I don't know, of course. At first, it's a bit odd to play in the snow with strangers. And then you (I) relax, and it starts to be fun.  

And then, I saw all these people that I do know!



All of these beautiful people also walked to Penrose Square for the snowball fight today because all these people live (or had Snowzilla sleepovers) close enough to Penrose Square to walk. How amazing is that? Even when driving is impossible, all these people I love are close enough to get together. That's pretty amazing.

The isolation of the property on which Rambling Farmhouse and Rustic Lakehouse sat was one of its positive features for Adam. He wanted to have land that was his, space that he could use however he wanted, whenever wanted. I'll admit that it was nice to be able to host large gatherings like a wedding or an apple butter production party in our own back yard, but it was also isolating. Visitors were generally a plan and a commitment. 

While I do miss having acres of skiing and skating right outside my door, I like not being responsible for land on my own. I like sharing my green space with other people. I like that looking up from the shovel to chat with me on my skis made strangers smile this morning. I like working together to shovel out our cars in the parking lot of my building. I especially like that on the way home from this neighborhood snowball fight, we stopped at the neighborhood grocery store. On foot. 

My community looks different now than it did at the end of 2013, and I miss the faces in that other post like whoa. This new community is pretty amazing, too, though. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

listen

The turn of the year is always a time for taking stock. The long break between academic semesters makes space for all the thinking I've been avoiding to assert itself in the forefront of my mind.

As I've been reading job ads and assembling application materials over the last couple of weeks, I've felt pretty disheartened about my work this year. My CV is glaringly unchanged over the last twelve months. Having finally finished my PhD helps on the job market, but I still don't have the publication record that would help me compete with the real job candidates. I feel a bit like Pinocchio or the Velveteen Rabbit--almost there, still not real.

At the same time, I did accomplish a lot of things in my personal life, most critically finally defeating the hydra of my late husband's estate: all the real estate, all the vehicles, all the financial accounts. Done and dusted.

And then I moved our household from middle to coast with minimal disruption to the children's academic and athletic lives. I deserve a medal for the level of normalcy I maintained for the children through this process.

In pursuit of those accomplishments, though, I became a person I don't like. In some ways self-centeredness was necessary. I could not have finalized the estate and finished my degree and moved the household if I had also volunteered for school and civic organizations as I had previously. I needed that hyper-focus in order to begin again.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, though, I sat down to make a list of the loved ones I wanted to give gifts to at Christmas. This is usually an activity I enjoy because giving gifts is wonderful, but I made the list of names and then realized I had no idea what to make or find for any of them. No idea. Not for my kids, not for my mother, not for my best friend. No understanding of what my beloveds need this year or what would bring smiles to their faces.

I forgot to listen.

Beloveds, I apologize if I have been less than the friend you needed. I am so sorry if I've pushed you to be more than the friend you wanted to be. I am ashamed of having failed to show you that I value you. Please forgive my selfishness.

In the new year, I am resolved to be more present with you, beloveds. This year, I will listen.




Monday, December 7, 2015

promise



Once upon a time, we made each other promises: to love, to honor, to cherish until death would us part.

We kept those promises in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, joyfully and grudgingly, even when it was phenomenally difficult.

And then, one day, death did us part. And the terms of our promises were fulfilled.

My choices have reshaped my life into one unlike the one we chose together, but I make you new promises:

I promise to have your picture in the house where your children can see it.

I promise to use the things you created until they weather with age.

I promise to tell your stories, but I promise to tell all of them because I promise not to turn you into a saint.

I promise to learn from our mistakes.

I promise to remember.

I promise not to wallow.

I promise to honor your contribution to my happily ever after.

Friday, November 27, 2015

begin again

Over the course of the last two-and-half years, I've talked a lot about inhabiting the liminal space between end and beginning, and recently a beautiful drawing captured this so well:

I can hardly believe I'm putting a Mitch Albom quote on this blog,
but I couldn't resist the artwork by Mike Medaglia at http://mikemedaglia.com

The Kings James translation of Psalm 90 tells us that the alotted time of a human life is threescore years and ten. I feel like in half that time, I have lived an entire life.

My thirty-six years have arguably checked all the major boxes: childhood, youth, college, marriage, homeownership, babies, graduate school, widowhood. I have loved and birthed and buried and mourned.

The vision that I had for what my threescore and ten would look like died with Adam. That was a frightening, almost paralyzing, realization.

But as I learned to make my way through the dark wilderness, I realized that it was also liberating.

I get to choose a new life.

I get to make all the decisions of early adulthood over again: Where do I want to live? City or country? What kind of partner do I want? Do I even want a partner?  Do I want more children? Do I want to stay in academia? Is it the right place for me? Is it the best way to support my family? What other job would feed my soul?

I can choose differently than the last time I answered those questions. I get to reimagine the second half of my threescore and ten.

Some of those decisions are still under consideration; others have been made; some of the latter may yet change.

Selling Rambling Farmhouse and Rustic Lakehouse and moving several hundred miles to Lovely Apartment felt like the beginning of beginning. Having said good-bye to our cat Jack feels like the end of ending, the end of the season of leave-taking that began with #1 Cat's death just a month before Adam's. Although I know that there will always be periods of loss and grief in my life as long as there is love, at the moment, the light of hope is gaining on the darkness.

This is a good place to be at the beginning of Advent.

Friday, November 6, 2015

deliciousness in dough

So there we were, Chris and I, drinking beer on a Sunday evening, as happens not infrequently, and we started talking about how delicious food is.

Especially how delicious food is when wrapped in dough.

Especially how American cuisine does not have enough savory deliciousness wrapped in dough.

Especially how much we envy other cuisines their dough-wrapped deliciousness: Salvadoran pupusas, Bolivian salteñas, Mexican empanadas, Russian pirožki, Chinese dumplings, Indian samosas, Italian stromboli, Korean mandu, French crêpes.

So we hatched a plan to ride our bikes from one local ethnic restaurant to another sampling all the deliciousness wrapped in dough.

At its grandest, the plan has included a dozen restaurants and as many miles, but we're running out of biking weather and free weekends, so when the meteorologists told us today promised record-breaking high temps, we decided to do what we could in an evening: three South American restaurants outbound along Columbia Pike and two Asian restaurants inbound toward home.

And it was delicious.

I think the pupusas from Abi Azteca were the oddest. They looked like pita on the plate, but were more like thin pancakes (but not crêpes) with beans and cheese or pork and cheese contained by the sealed edges. The cabbage garnish was quite delicious.


The sulteñas from Pan American Bakery are a strong contender for my favorite. We got one with chicken and one with beef.


I brought one home for Anna. 

All in all, it was a delightful evening of cycling, fellowship, and deliciousness wrapped in dough. There are more picture in Chris's version of the story: "3.5 hours, 4 bellies, 5 restaurants, 2 bikes, and a whole lot of deliciousness wrapped in dough."

What better way to spend this day, the warmth of which we won't see again until after winter?



I'm looking forward to our northward swing on a tour of European restaurants when next the weather cooperates. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

labyrinth

I used to see life as path opening up ahead of me, sometimes winding and hilly, mostly direct. Occasionally, there would be moments in which I was aware of standing at a fork in the road, when I had to choose between two things with the consciousness that choosing one likely meant giving up the other forever. As when reading a which-way book, I was only able to see the decision right in front of me. In this model, the unchosen paths sometimes branched off sharply and disappeared from view and other times wound their own way nearby, still visible but not accessible.

Lately I've been thinking that life is more like a labyrinth, in which there is one path, but it is folded neatly around itself so that from any point, one can see the whole pattern.



The first time I set foot in a labyrinth, I fell in love. We were camping,* and my friend Karen looked at her husband Mike and said, "You know what we haven't done in forever?" No, love. What? "Made a labyrinth." You're right! I'll pick up ten pounds of flour when I go to town.

When Mike came back with the flour, they first defined critical points in the pattern and then started drawing curving lines from point to point. Even as I helped lay the lines, I had no understanding of  what we were creating. As the flour ran out, Karen declared the labyrinth complete.

"Now what?" I asked.

"Start here," Karen positioned me at the open space in the edge of the large circle full of lines. "Just walk. Keep going forward without crossing the lines. When you get to the center turn around and come back."

"But I'm not very good at mazes."

"It's not a maze. You don't have to make any choices, just follow the path. People have been doing this for millennia."

"But why?"

"You'll see."

She was right.

Since then, I've taken advantage of the few labyrinths that have appeared at my feet, and walking a labyrinth is always a profound experience. Not long ago, I was struggling to explain the experience of meditatively walking a labyrinth to Lou, so today I walked twice, once with a camera.



Even though I know what to expect, I'm always nervous to take the first step. It is a step over a boundary from the everyday to the sacred.


There is no wall stopping me from walking straight to the center. Taking this first curve in the path marks the choice to be obedient to the structure of the labyrinth.


I have to remind myself that getting straight to the center isn't the point, and yet early on the path winds close to the center, as if to give me a glimpse of where we are going.



And then, the path swings out to the outer edge of the labyrinth, and I feel so far away. Because even though I know that it's all about the journey, I still think of the center as the goal.


And then the path and I are back by my shoes at the entrance. Why are we back by my shoes?


So. Close.


Finally. Arrived.
On my second walk, sans camera, I sat down here and wept. I can't even say why. I sat down on the beautiful concentric cobbles, and there were tears. And when they were done, I stood up.


 Here beginneth the return. This is where I get cocky, thinking, I have walked all the inches of this path, I know you now, labyrinth. 



And I walk faster, and then, the path folds where I expected it to sweep.


Sometimes the folds of the path turn me in such a way that I can see neither the center nor the start. It's okay, though, because I know all the curves and sweeps of the path fit between those two points.


Look, path! We're almost there. So close to my shoes! 
I'm beginning to think that some of those unchosen choices from my past are more like this moment in which I can see something that I have not yet gotten to, something the path and I will reach later.


Oh. Just one more turn. Why are you done, path? I'm not ready.






__________________________________

*This camping trip was probably ten years ago, so all conversations are the paraphrase that survives in my memory.

This labyrinth is on the grounds of the Advent Lutheran Church in Arlington, Virginia, and I found it through the Labyrinth Locator.