Monday, December 17, 2012

For Sara: Thoughts about Newtown


You are blessedly unaware of the senseless and brutal events that happened in Newtown, Connecticut last week.  As a sweet, innocent, loving and hopeful seven-year-old girl, this is how it should be.  

All of the beautiful children who were killed last week are just the same age as you - six or seven, an amazing time when you are really starting to reveal who you are and who you might become.  Twenty beautiful boys and girls, just like you, taken from their families.  We will never know who they might have been.  We do know who their teachers were:  brave, selfless, loving women.  It is all such a horrifying tragedy.

I have not tried to make sense of what happened.  It's not possible.  I know that if I allowed myself to really play out the grief that those parents feel I would come undone.  You would find me hiding in my bed, weeping for their loss.  Here's a truth about parents, Sara: our children have forever changed the way we view the world.  It's impossible to see those sweet faces without also seeing yours, or to hear their names without hearing yours.  We know that today we are the lucky ones and that there are no guarantees about tomorrow.  It's terrifying.  But it's a small price to pay for having you in our lives.

The news broadcasters can - and do - spend hour upon hour offering up every detail they can find, trying to piece together what put that man in that place on that day.  They can search forever, but our hearts will never be satisfied with their answers.  Our souls demand more.  We want justice that will never come and peace for those families that will, in all likelihood, always elude them.  But I think what we want most of all is reassurance that this won't, can't, ever happen again.  That it won't, can't, happen to us.

In our efforts to come to grips with the death of 26 innocent women and children, a lot of people are engaging in debates about what we need to do to prevent something like this from happening again.  All over the internet you can find gun-rights advocates wrapping themselves up in the Second Amendment, and proclaiming that guns don't kill people, people kill people.  They drive their point home by displaying jarring pictures of weapons that I can only assume are meant to shock us into believing them.  Your mother has no problem with the Second Amendment, but she does have a problem with the insensitivity of plastering the internet with pictures of guns and rifles and all manner of firearms that, in the end, are designed to kill.  Now is not the time for this.  Can't we at least grant these families a reprieve from those images until they've had a chance to bury their loved ones?

Of course there are those on the other side, too, who are clamoring for gun control.  They are just as right about the need for greater oversight as are those who are advocating for responsible gun ownership, but they are all shouting so loudly at each other that they can't possibly hear what is being said.  Sadly, maybe that is the point.

There are still others out there who are turning this into an opportunity to advocate for healthcare reforms.  I suppose it goes without saying that the man who did this awful thing was not well.  He most certainly suffered from one or more mental illnesses that drove him to the point of madness.  I would like to believe that, had he received ideal treatment, this might have never happened.  But I'm not convinced of that.  Mental illness is a long, hard road.  It carries with it a stigma that a cancer patient never has to endure, and successful treatment often takes years of work and dedication on the part of not only the patient but also their medical team and support system.  Insurance companies and healthcare systems certainly have work to do in order to help make identification and effective treatment a viable option for people facing mental illness -- but that alone will never be the solution.  The government simply cannot regulate us into wellness.

I think these debates flare up so furiously because people are afraid.  Do you want to know what I'm afraid of, Sara?  I'm afraid that Americans have become too sure of themselves.  I'm afraid that the gun-rights advocates and the healthcare reformers are both so sure that they are right that they won't - or can't - listen to one another.  I'm afraid that we have come to take our liberty so much for granted that we've forgotten that we also must be responsible -- for ourselves and for one another.  (Just because you can, Sara, doesn't mean you should.)  I'm afraid that goodness and justice have become mutually exclusive ideals.  I'm afraid that compromise and compassion are viewed as weakness, when in fact they are the backbone of strength.

I'm afraid that we are too far-gone to save ourselves from future tragedies like this one.  And more than anything, I am afraid that someday you will suffer because of it.

Yesterday our President went to Connecticut to attend a vigil with the community in Newtown.  The grief was raw.  President Obama was wise to say that "mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts."  He is right.  But here is the thing:  I truly believe that mere words will be the only way we can turn ourselves around.  No new laws, no radical reforms, will spare us from another Newtown.  It will take conversations, listening and learning and stretching to understand one another.  It will take faith in the fundamental goodness of people.  It will take trust that we rarely allow ourselves to feel.

It will take a miracle of sorts, but we are blessed because God does not run short on them.  I pray He grants us one soon.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Psalm 84:6-7

It feels like I'm finally on the other side of the valley and I have no idea what took me so long to arrive.

Long ago - or really, not so long ago - I remember saying to myself that I just wanted to feel content. I didn't need to feel exhilaration or bliss or even "happiness," at least not the shiny version of it. Just content. I'm pretty sure I had no idea what that looked like or felt like but it seemed like a reasonable and very adult goal.

It also seemed to be a million miles away.

Well, it wasn't - but it certainly felt that way. I don't know if I'm alone in this (that seems unlikely) but I tend to mark the time in my life by the circumstances of each period. "When I was a kid" or "when I was at Butler." Grad school. Before Rob and I married. When Mom was sick. After Dad died.

And here we are at Now. Now has been a long time coming, it seems to me. The time from when Mom was sick to after Dad died was a slog, an exhausting, numb slog that I sometimes believed would never really end. Despite marrying and giving birth to our beautiful, loving daughter, creating a home and growing together as a family, it always looked to me as if there was a shadow cast on everything good in life. I guess you could call it sadness, or mourning, but whatever it was was slow and deep and stifling. I got to know that terrain well and it would be easy to find my way back there again. But I'm in no hurry to return.

Now is where I think I have found out what contentment means. It's not perfect; there are still frustrations and arguments, and the cats still really hate the dog. My laundry still piles up. The dust, though it hardly seems possible, appears to accumulate even faster than before. My daughter, my sweet, smart, loving, gorgeous daughter continues to leave a trail of destruction in her wake. Money is tighter than ever. I'm still overweight and mourning's long, slow slog wasn't kind to my youthful glow. But I am content, and able to rest - truly rest! - in the knowledge that life actually is good after all. We are healthy. We are happy. We are together. The long slog is over and I know that the bumpy, turning road ahead is passable. And promising.

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
They will continue to grow stronger,
and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Stuff of Life

I've officially dived head-first into a long-held dream.  It's awesome and terrifying and exciting and satisfying.  But like most dreams that finally come true, now that I'm here I find myself looking around and thinking "Holy cow.  Now what?"

For most people moving from a full time to a part time job might not be such a big deal, or it might be a move in the wrong direction.  For me, and for my family, it's a dream-come-true.  This isn't a story about why we've made this change; I'm really tired of that story and I'm ready to start a new one.  Thing is, I'm not sure what the next one is about just yet.  I know it's about my family, and the time I want to spend with them and the ways I want to care for them.  And I know it's about me, too -- but that's the stumbler.

What I'm feeling, deep in my bones, is that before I can move forward I've got to get a lot of stuff out of the way.  And I mean that literally:  I am drowning in stuff.  Right about now someone on Facebook would call this a First World Problem and they'd be right.  I hate to complain about being blessed with too much, but here I am.  I'm surrounded by things that require my time and energy to handle.  To figure out where it all goes, keep it all clean and in good repair, remember that it's there when I need it.  Honestly, I don't want the next chapter to be about stuff-maintenance.

The idea of purging, really purging the ish in my life is so appealing.  A calm environment that has what we truly need, and little more, seems like a blank canvas to me.  More time to do what we want to do, less time corralling The Stuff.  More space to live and play, less of The Stuff to argue about.  More resources to spend on what matters, less time worrying about how to pay for all The Stuff.  Freedom, really -- it feels a lot like freedom.

And that brings me right back to this dream which, at the end of the day, was all about freedom for me. My work was anything but freeing, but it would be foolish of me to replace a good-paying (but stifling) job for an unpaying (and stifling) life.  I've got to be free of the stuff that's in my way if I'm really going to be free.  But here are my obstacles:

  • I struggle with the guilt of poor decisions.  It's hard to give away a perfectly good (fill in the blank) that I've hardly, if ever, used without kicking myself for wasting the money in the first place.
  • I struggle with placing monetary values on things.  I wonder if what I'm about to donate is actually worth something, and with our new budget...  well, we could certainly use whatever money we might get for it.
  • I struggle with the people who live with me.  I love them, and I don't expect them to feel the same way I do about ridding ourselves of stuff.  At the same time, it's hard to swim upstream.  
  • I struggle with emotional attachments.  This is becoming less of a problem for me actually, but it's still an issue with everyone in the house -- especially the six year old, who somehow finds deep and binding ties to anything and everything she has ever touched.
  • I struggle with what-if syndrome.  As I'm trying to think more frugally, I always wonder "what if we will need this next week/spring/year?"  I worry that I'm going to part with something I might need, someday...  even though I clearly haven't needed it up to this point.  (And boy do I come by this honestly, as I was raised by parents who felt the effects of the Depression and were very slow to part with anything, even an empty cardboard box, because they might need it...  someday.)
I'm convinced that pruning away the excess is something that needs to happen.  I'm even looking forward to it, despite the pain of the process, because I just have this feeling that the rest of the story lies somewhere on the other side.  The purging is the preface.  Can't wait for Chapter 1.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Just breathe

It has been over a year since I’ve written anything meaningful (to me, at least). Life was full of too much stuff, a lot of it frustrating, burdensome, impatient stuff. There wasn’t room for me to think or dream or breathe.

But we’ve got to breathe. It’s so important that God built these bodies of ours to make the very act of breathing automatic. To stop the rhythm of inhalation and exhalation takes real effort and is wholly unsustainable, as our bodies will ultimately override our stubbornness. So why do I find myself – driving to work, lying in bed, making dinner – holding my breath? (Hmmm. That sounds like fodder for prayer, or therapy. Or both.)

Today I am feeling my breath again. How good it feels to fill up my lungs, the relief I feel in my shoulders when I exhale. Breathing gives me room to think and dream again. I’m so ready for it. My mind is racing with possibilities.

Breathing also, quite literally, gives us a voice. The air that rushes out of our lungs allows us to engage our vocal cords, vibrating like the string on a violin, to produce our voice: a unique frequency and resonance that is ours alone. But you can’t have a voice when you hold your breath, as the very act itself locks your vocal cords together, sealing off the airway and tightly holding back the air that urgently wants to escape – and the words, too.

I’ve spent the better part of my life being trained in the mechanics of breathing. Whether it was learning to swim, singing in college, examining the voice in graduate school, helping the voiceless at work, or studying the practice of meditation, the constant thread has always been the simple act of breathing. Inhaling and exhaling, again and again and again.

It’s feeling pretty weak but I think I’ve found my voice again. And wouldn't you know, all I needed was a little more room to breathe.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Most random post, ever

Let's start with this acknoweldgement: I know next to squat about Twitter.

Agreed? I admit, own, and fully recognize that I don't really get Twitter. So, OK? We can all accept this and move on?


But that's just the thing... I don't really get Twitter. And I think that I'm the kind of person that maybe really ought to. I'm not savvy enough to build a website from the ground up (are you?) but I'm savvy enough to use the interwebs to find my mother's long lost family -- and that was 10+ years ago, when the interwebs were still... webby. So I'm no Steve Jobs (God rest his soul) but I'm no idiot, either. I can keep up with the kids these days. I can Facebook and YouTube and Pinterest with the best of them.

But Twitter? I just never caught the bug. I don't use Twitter because I can't buy into anyone or anything in 70 characters or less. (Is it less? I wouldn't know, I don't use it.) I don't use Twitter because it's like walking into a room full of 20 different cliques, each with their own language and inside jokes and interests, and none of them particularly interested in having me join in. I don't use Twitter because I don't think anyone is really listening, so much as they are vomiting whatever comes to mind about the lastest trending topic. I don't use Twitter because it seems like the worst part of blogging - every idiot has a platform, just like this idiot does right now - has been given an express pass and a front row seat to my mind.

And I just don't need that kind of mental clutter in my life, you know?

So why should I use Twitter? Obviously it's the current Next Big Thing, but for the life of me I Just Don't Get It.