Others’ Lives

It’s strange to live so close to sadness as, every day, I go to my office past the Gyn Oncology waiting room. The faces are mostly blank, unexpectant, but somehow also fiercely present—wild ears pricking up at the sound of twigs cracking underfoot.

I think of them, watching some midday television trash, reading last month’s magazines worn down by many women’s hands. They grip each page firmly, to feel in control at least of each small printed word, each glossy picture.
Because how can anyone have the authority to tell them, you have cancer, you will never have children? Each woman without any say over her own broken body. They hold together just long enough.
I walk down the hall toward the reception desk, and a woman walks away from the terrible revelation of her doctor’s visit. Her face is firm, she is resolute in her direction, unconcerned with my presence. As we pass each other, I am close enough to touch her hand, to hold her up. And at the last second before her face disappears from my peripheral vision, she breaks; her face shatters into storm-worried water, ravaging fire.
I am shaken by how close I am to disaster, by how mildly I regard it.

The Astounding Thing about Living

Community is beginning to build up around me, like small stones a child piles carefully atop one another to build a wobbling wall. A house party and an invitation for a double date. Eating out Sunday at Panchero’s with new friends. A creative writing group that meets every other week.

And soon my job will start too—this Thursday. I’m beginning to see that it is possible to rebuild a life in a new place with new people. Even my aspirations seem new here, when I tell them to new people.
But this place is old for me too; it’s an origin of my life.
As a small child, I dreaded Madison. When I was told that we were going to take a trip to Madison, my mind thought of the hospital: of white sterile rooms, lying still inside the MRI machine while my mother read short storybooks to me. Needles and foreign fluids, and a sickening journey home over rolling hills. I always threw up on that trip—probably I always threw up on the outward and homeward legs of the trip.
Now Madison has been reborn for me as a place to call home, a place of green and lake and city. And the hospital has been reborn, as I look forward to working there—even in pediatrics! This journey God has set me on astounds me. How can all this be?
I am so very full with the grace of story—a grace which will, no doubt, flow over me until the day I die. And then I hope there is someone left who will be able to tell that whole, rich tale.

Quiet Days

Now that we are settled in the new apartment, I want so badly to write a letter:

Dear Friend,
The carpet is fairly clean,
and the closet space is nice.
We are happy
with the neighborhood.

I want to reach towards something outside my world, break through the new walls around me. I could lose myself in the anonymity these foreign spaces lend me.

Learning to Listen, Learning to Wait

What is the verb form for media, as in the media? As a force that so controls our life, shouldn’t there be a verb? So that I can say, My life has been completely media-ed.

Sometimes I feel hijacked by media—sitcoms and mp3s are easier to manage after a long day of work than a novel or a memoir or an empty Word document. Sometimes it’s easier to postpone satisfaction in favor of numbness. Eugene Peterson writes this:
Joy is a product of abundance; it is the overflow of vitality. . . . Inadequate sinners as we are, none of us can manage that for very long. We try to get [joy] through entertainment. We pay someone to make jokes, tell stories, perform dramatic actions, sing songs. We buy the vitality of another’s imagination to divert and enliven our own poor lives. The enormous entertainment industry in America is a sign of the depletion of joy in our culture. Society is a bored, gluttonous king employing a court jester to divert it after an overindulgent meal. But that kind of joy never penetrates our lives, never changes our basic construction.

After I spend a night watching TV (insert here surfing the Internet/playing video games/eating fast food/etc), I feel sick of myself and angry with my own suffocating indulgence.
I believe our lives hold the possibility for joyous living, but we are so easily seduced by claims of gratuity from easy entertainment, the sit-back-and-turn-your-mind-to-mush entertainment that is so enjoyable yet often so sickening. How do we hold fast to purer pleasures, to a way of life that sets us free rather than binding us to unhealthy excess?
When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them.
The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.
Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south.
Psalm 126:1-4

Sounds and Hearing

Noise has a medicating power. Turn on the radio. Watch a TV show. Sing to yourself. Talk on the phone. If I fill my life with noise, I can become numb. The numbness starts as an acorn planted at the root of my skull and grows static into my ears and eyes and brain. And then I can shut off and forget about beauty and about words, and more than anything I can forget about the nonnegotiable words: Love. Grace. Truth.
The less I give myself margins of quiet, the more I focus on guilt and self-worth: Do I work hard enough? Am I accountable? Do I produce good? Focusing on the questions only thickens the guilt. The only free place is the quiet place. The place where, once I get used to the silent words, reaches out with the water of sight, tells me the answer to my questions—is not this beautiful moment love and grace and truth enough to cover over my feeble graspings?

Breath, Growth, and Eternity

The human body is fragile, its skin torn by the wisp of a branch, its bone broken by a three-foot fall. How do any of us make it to adulthood? We are like day-lilies, opening to the morning and withering in the lull of evening. This Friday, we heard about a new life who was eager to greet the morning. Born three weeks early, July 4. And at church we heard news of a life’s evening, breath closing its petaled figure that same day.
While I can’t understand beginnings and endings of any sort—whether the simple flower or the convoluted life of a human—even more incomprehensible is the thought of the eternal flooding of day, a forever-spilling light that grows not stronger nor does it dim. The petals that do not fall, our lives in forever’s unchanging-ness.
Because what makes me human if not change, growth, renewal? How can I be if I don’t decay, cannot be dirty or bleed?
It is almost enough just to be created, just to be known in this moment. Sometimes eternity seems an abyss, not a blessing.

Hands to Work

One thing I love about doing the laundry is how very Bohemian our apartment feels when I come home on a day like today: windows open to the bright warmth, clothes strung on twine across the living room and bedroom. We hang our clothes to dry to save the extra $1.50 per load in the dryer downstairs. As it is, we pay $1.75 per load in the washer. I’ve always imagined that living frugally has its romantic moments, and I think this is one of them.

I also enjoy cooking soybeans and trimming Zach’s hair. It’s these simple tasks that make me feel connected, if even just slightly, to the generations that have come before me, before the great multitude of electronic and prepackaged wonders that complicate modern life. We don’t use our hands anymore.

It seems to me that one of the saddest things in American life is the need for gym memberships. There is no work in our daily lives anymore, and however much we enjoy laziness, we are missing out on the satisfaction of completing a task using our own bodies: no dirt on the soles of our feet, no sweat on our biceps, no grooves or calluses. Just carpal tunnel and paper cuts. I long deep within me for earth, because I am earth, deep within. Earth and Breath.

There is a connection between soul and earth. The physical was never meant to be so extracted from the mental and spiritual: we are each one whole being, the spirit connected to the physical like sinew is connected to bone. We need to live in our bodies, and see that we are natural, we are dirty, we are made to move in our work, to get messy in our living. The physical beauty of the world should move our spirits, because God is in it all, runs through it all. We miss the common thread because we don’t listen between the lines, to the song that all the earth sings in the quiet spaces, between the thoughts.

I am reminded of my favorite lullaby, of Native American chant origins, I believe:

The River, she is flowing,
growing and flowing,
The River she is flowing
down to the Sea.

Mother, will you carry me?
A child I will always be.
Mother, will you carry me?
Carry me down to the sea.