Late to the Party

I didn’t get to meet Bond. Spending time with my family ran over, because originally they thought it was best for me to leave before getting the kids in bed, and the kids were squirrelly all evening. Bedtime was the last thing on their minds. I never should have suggested Friday night in the first place, knowing that what time I was free could have been different than I originally thought. By the time I got to the bar, she’d already left with no reply to the message I’d sent. I’d wasted her time, and for that, I was extraordinarily sorry. But the longer I sat there alone with my own drink (I still wanted to celebrate, even by myself), the more I realized that I wasn’t ready for this and perhaps it was for the best.

It wasn’t establishing a friendship that bothered me. It was thinking back over my life and realizing that perhaps an empath meeting intel wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. I worry about the tiniest things, much less a friend traipsing all over the Middle East trying to catch human traffickers. And, of course, it occurred to me that on loan from the British, she’d have to go back to London eventually if it became a thing down the road. Because I don’t just see what’s right in front of me, I vision years ahead… to my detriment most of the time, but it’s just the way I’m wired. I’m like the kid in MIBIII that can see every possible outcome of a situation and weigh it.

I know me. I would be a mess, and there’s no use in hiding that fact from her or anyone else. I don’t know that I would be okay living on the breadcrumbs about her life that she can actually divulge. I don’t know that she would be okay knowing that writing is my life, wondering if the secrets she shared would end up here (they wouldn’t, but still). To think about all that even in the few conversations we’ve had resulted in a future that did not happen… and it is amazing how okay I am with that.

I have to ask myself if I set myself up for failure, pushing her away before she could push me. I overpromised and underdelivered, but not on purpose. Just thinking in retrospect. Dragging her into my life would be as equally hard as just being in hers.

I did not seek Bond out. It was a Tinder match in which I didn’t know exactly who I was talking to until later in the conversation.

However, I did show up. That, at the very least, has to be something in my world. I did consider the possibility of opening up, but the things I have to open up about are heavy to the point of debilitation. I need to set off my own mother lion before I set off anyone else’s… yet another thing that encourages weariness on my part to engage. I don’t want to go from protected to closed, which I define as not recognizing safe space… and yet, even the thought of safe space has become foreign in light of thinking I had it and as it turns out, not so much.

Did I get the outcome I wanted? No. But I definitely got the outcome for which I prepared. I took the path of least resistance, which was sitting and having a drink, then getting up to go home and read.

My IQ wanted to meet another smart person. My EQ left me focusing on all the things that could happen, instead of what actually might. I need to pay more attention when I do it. Self-preservation is good. Starving myself of human interaction is not. 

Sermon for Proper 26, Year C: Matters of the Wallet

I was three, maybe four when I learned the art of a joke. Perhaps I’d just heard the lyrics wrong, or perhaps I was just trying to get the laugh. I’ve slept since then. Anyway, my mom taught the children’s choir a song, and this is how I remembered it:

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.

And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up and said, ‘Zacchaeus,
You come down! Mama’s MAD!’

In Hebrew, Zacchaeus means “pure” or “innocent.” These are two things that are rarely associated with tax collectors. In Jesus’ day, they were generally hated by the Jews because they were seen as working for the Roman Empire, which spilled Jewish blood on the streets when Rome didn’t get what they thought they deserved. Traitor doesn’t even begin to cover it in Jewish eyes, but they were justified in their emotions. It was either pay or die. I don’t think the Romans had jails for tax evasion. They were… unnecessary.

That is why this story carries such shock. Jesus asks Zacchaeus to come down because he intended to stay at his house. In modern day, this is perhaps as shocking as Pope Francis inviting Donald Trump for tea. Or, at least, it seemed that way to onlookers. Jesus saw something in Zacchaeus’ heart that no one else did, or perhaps would have even attempted. This story is much less about surface issues and more about the willingness to look at someone’s heart rather than their rough exterior. The Jews in the crowd had the collective gasp of not believing that Jesus would stay at the house of such a sinner, and Zacchaeus ended up dedicating his life to furthering Christ’s work in the world.

In effect, what you see is not what you get, especially if you are unwilling to look.

Zacchaeus stood in his house and told Jesus that he would give half of his wealth to the poor, and repay anyone he had wronged four times as much. I would try to tie this to a modern day example, but in this case, I believe Zacchaeus has no equal. The poor and the disenfranchised would never have seen that much money, nothing but shock registering on their faces as they received such a gift.

The story I believe is that Zacchaeus took a job from the Romans, and through Jesus, realized what he was doing to his own people. He was not a Roman at heart, and in that moment, he had the AHA! realization that he was supporting a government in which he could not believe. The Roman Empire had made him rich, but it hadn’t made him fulfilled.

It took Jesus to guide him through the process, but the Gospel does not record what Jesus said to Zacchaeus directly. It records the “evil tax collector’s” response. Jesus’ personality has never dictated a high and mighty approach, but one of soft power. If I had to take a guess, it went something like this… You are never going to get what you want in terms of fulfillment without taking a long look at yourself. What do you want, Zacchaeus? Do you agree with the way that the Romans are slaughtering your own people? Is that your story? Remember, you are writing it. No matter what Jesus said, after the conversation Zacchaeus lived up to his name. He became so pure of heart, it was later written that Zacchaeus became a Disciple, replacing Judas after the Ascension.

I have to believe that the first action to create inertia was the want so great it became a need to talk to Jesus. What did it take to get him to climb up the tree in the first place?

My guess is that he knew he was short, and it had nothing to do with height. I have no doubt that Zacchaeus was raised with the belief that wealth showed favor with God, an idea that persists today, and Jesus’ message fucked up his program… Strong words to illustrate an even stronger conversion. Jesus’ message was inverted to everything he’d ever heard. It broke his heart open to think that he’d gotten it all wrong. In his ever-analytical mind, God gave him things because he loved him… when in reality, it would show more favor to God to take that wealth and pay it forward.

In terms of equal airtime, other theologians believe that Zacchaeus and Jesus did not have a private conversation. They never made it to the house before Zacchaeus started proclaiming his willingness to give; he was just trying to appease the crowd of Jews in front of him… that he is not so much turning over a new leaf, but lifting up an old one. Falling back on an old tape that says “save face.” His actions in public were not an indicator of future behavior, but what he said in the moment to avoid getting his ass kicked… and not because he was undeserving.

In hearing this story, you can call forth classic images of conversion and redemption, or you can write Zacchaeus off as troubled and confused when the people from which he had to collect money were standing there in the midst of trying to make a life choice.

I have a feeling it depends on you. What you put into the story with your own life choices directly effects what you will take from it.

Here is what I see:

I see the Christ accepting the marginalized on both sides of the equation, advocating for “the least of them” AND willing to stay in someone’s house that was universally despised. Jesus is coloring outside the lines on both sides of the (SpongeBob SquarePants) book. Our invitation is to join him.

Surely you have family, friends, acquaintances that fit the mold of falling beyond your margins, or perhaps are cemented in your preconceived notions. Instead of trying to disccern how to treat either, you avoid. It’s just easier that way.

But it’s not fulfilling.

Fulfillment is removing the boundary altogether, seeing past what you thought you believed into what is happening presently. The essence of who you are is not tied up in one moment or one mistake. People can and do change, but often not at your insistence. On their own.

The best we can do as partners, friends, family… even just as members of the same human race is to ask people where they want to go and what you can do to help them get there… because no one truly changes when others see their flaws. They change when they see their own. It is not our job to create change for other people, but to facilitate alleviating their needs when expressed.

In order for true change to occur, you need to ask yourself what it will take to get you to climb the tree in the first place.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Finally… It Happened to Me

I am so proud to announce that I passed my ITIL exam. As I said on Facebook, I just went from good to invaluable in IT interviews, because ITIL is now all the rage for help desks, and even people who work on the back end (heehee- that joke will never get old)… particularly in places like universities, which is my ultimate goal. It would not suck to get a job in a place with tuition waivers. That will mean my money can go toward the important things, like college sweatshirts.

There’s no one I want to call more than my mom. However, in the classical version of Christianity, she already knows. It’s not scientific, but a comforting thought nonetheless. This has been a garbage dump of a month, and to have something to brag about is completely invaluable. As a geek with no college degree, I have a certificate that says I know my shit, as opposed to having to prove it in interviews which I may or may not get depending on how companies view not having a Bachelor’s. Most companies are okay with it. Some are not. It’s time to blow a little money on celebrating. Not much, just enough to make dinner memorable. I need a dirty Martini. NEED. Although my version of a Martini is different than Eggsy’s, I feel like I should include this quote:

With gin of course. Stirred for 10 seconds while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth.

I agree with the gin part, but I like my cocktails to be perfect in the classic definition of it. I always want the recipe to be balanced in exactly the way it was meant. Measurements exact, shaken cold until there are ice chips on top. The only exception I will make is extra olive brine.

The first Martini I ever had was given to me by one of the best poets in the country, Scott Chalupa. Of course I am biased because we’ve been friends since Jesus was a boy, but not entirely. If you read his collection, you’d probably agree with me. I didn’t know I loved Martinis until I just wanted to have what he was having, and thus began a long love affair. It’s real and it’s deep.

It’s good that I like Martinis, because I’m meeting Bond for drinks in order to establish a real life friendship. No, seriously. Of course I can’t tell you more than that, because not to protect her is not in my nature. I don’t know what will come of an empath meeting intel, but it would be silly not to try. If you had a chance to meet a real life Bond, wouldn’t you at least show up? I need to look up whether a drink will make my head hurt more. My celebratory drink may have to be a Diet Coke with bitters (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it).

If I am honest with myself, the reason I moved here was to run in circles of high intelligence, because I don’t think of myself as that smart. I think that being around smart people raises your own game. It has certainly served me well in music. Being around singers and trumpet players WAY better than me has shown me the path to Enlightenment.

They keep me honest and humble. What I have found is that since my mother died, I can’t read music for shit. My mind just wanders off and I stop counting, to my detriment and to others, because my voice is big enough that I can throw off everyone in my section. It’s a gift.

I stop following the metronome in my head, the thing that is supposed to guide me. I get back on track by tapping my foot or pulsing my toes, occasionally. Grief is too big not to let my mind wander aimlessly through the desert, my own 40 days and 40 nights.

However, I do have so many things to look forward to in my future. Nailing my exam is just the first step toward greatness, because it may lead to free college and grad school. I just want to make my mother proud, as much as I wish I could have done it while she was alive. This is not to say that she wasn’t already ridiculously proud of me, I just wanted to put the cherry on top of the already huge sundae with a brownie in the middle.

Finally, it happened to me. Things that are wonderful in the face of a garbage dump of a situation. I cannot help but think that this web site is responsible, because the more I process, the more I change. And in this case, change is good, with no reason to be afraid.

I go back to a quote that I read on Buzzfeed (probably the only memorable thing I’ve read there):

My therapist told me that if I could actually see the future, I would have no worries about how to get there. I’d just have to trust her that it was worth it.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Understanding

No man understands a deep book until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents.

Ezra Pound

Yesterday, I mentioned that when I get over my hesitance about having someone new in my life, I wanted Diana Gabaldon’s version of hot. It led Bryn to comment that she listened to the audio book of Outlander and was now listening to Dragonfly in Amber, in part to understand me better and wanted to go back through my blog to find the references. I asked her if I was right, did she see how the book explained me to me? She did.

Dana and I were connected by the brain and heart infinitely closer than Claire and Frank, which is why my feelings regarding Argo were so scary to both of us… and yet, there was no part of me that could escape them. As I said in an earlier entry, having appropriate boundaries with love was a future that did not happen. It is coming together nicely now after recognizing the disastrous train wreck I was capable of causing. I had to get tired of creating drama where it never should have existed in the first place. However, the type of emotional abuse I endured rendered that capability innate rather than external. I wasn’t causing drama for its own sake, but what had been modeled for me since childhood. I had to destroy those old tapes to move on and be capable of deep discernment for what I wanted later on. I wasn’t capable of moving on while I was in relationship with both of them, as much as I wanted it. Dana put me between a rock and a hard place, unintentionally, but still. She wanted to KNOW what was going on between us, and at the same time, we deserved our own thing.

They both had deep and separate compartments in my head. The way they lived dangerously far away in my mind allowed me to reason that it was fine to love both of them as long as they never crossed over. I was sure that the wrong feelings for Argo would pass, and in their place would become beautiful right ones. I was, in fact, correct. It just didn’t happen on Dana’s timeline. It happened on mine.

Separation, in retrospect, is ridiculous. Life is connected if you’re doing it right. No offense meant to anyone in DC. If there’s anywhere in the world you’ll live where LOTS AND LOTS of people have to live their lives in a disjointed fashion because of the levels of confidentiality involved, it’s here… even me. If I had a government job, it would probably be Secret or Top Secret, because I am most likely to get a job in computer support or working with databases. Worst. Job. Ever? Knowing which Congressmen watch porn at work and not being able to tell you about it.

It’s been the same for me in relationships, erroneously thinking that the only way you get a Top Secret clearance in someone’s heart is to sleep with them. It is not reality, it is compounded abuse talking… or alternatively, being given a Top Secret clearance and being turned on by knowledge, not attraction.

If there’s anything in my life that turns me on, it is learning… no matter what kind, really, but mostly learning how people work. It’s been a long-held false assumption that I didn’t really know someone unless I fell into their arms… and they didn’t really know me, either.

In the past, the more Argo laid her guts on the table, the more it triggered the false assumption. The future holds healthy boundaries in that area, perhaps not with her (not that I’m incapable, but it is unlikely that she’d trust again), but certainly with everyone else I meet.

It is another reason why my protection walls seem to grow thicker every day, not wanting to open myself up to the possibility of hurting anyone the way I hurt her. Forgiving myself has been a long and continuous process, and I’m not finished. I will not be able to move on until I do, because I have to get an internal sense that I am indeed better before I trust myself with anyone’s heart. It was a gut punch to realize that we were connected beyond all measure, but because she wasn’t dialed in to me the same way I was dialed into her, I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see her internal references for closeness and though I was open about mine, she didn’t understand them. Because how could she? Nothing I was saying made logical sense, because it wasn’t logical. It was emotional, which is often in diametric opposition. I couldn’t explain why things were the way they were, I just knew it was true.

But, as I told Argo directly, words and actions couldn’t line up. Apart from different orientations, I was in a committed relationship and that would have had to take precedence over orientation, anyway. For reasons I will not disclose, I had a skewed sense of commitment with Dana, too. Just because I wanted to be close to someone else didn’t mean that I didn’t feel commitment to her in spades, and that she would understand that better than anyone else because of her own internal references.

I wanted both women to understand that those feelings were real, but there was no reason to act on them. They were emotions that needed to be recognized and left alone, because in no way did I want Argo to unintentionally cross a boundary and she definitely wouldn’t if she was aware. I wanted her to be sensitive to the fact that she was capable of it so it wouldn’t ever happen, because in those days, I had a very strong sense that we would have a relationship in real life and that those emotions might change drastically after meeting on the ground, or they might not. I wouldn’t always be my writer personality with her, and who knows if my on the ground personality would have reached out to hers in the same way? Who knows if I would have felt differently once pictures became real? Maybe they would have deepened, maybe the things that were being written would have seemed annoying to actually hear. Her writing tone is blunt, no bullshit. In person, I don’t know if I would have been appreciative or if I would have recoiled at her “in your face” approach. But then again, maybe in person that would have been muted. WHO KNOWS?

What I did know is that Outlander undid me, for evil and for awesome. The more Claire struggled with her feelings for both men, the more I wanted her to stay in that place and talk about it. Seeing her married to both men at different times and places helped in my distress, because it forced me to look at what was bullshit and what wasn’t.

My conclusion is that the way Argo opened me up was like putting a racing engine in a Corolla. My brain power jumped exponentially, because I was thinking about bigger things than the minutiae of my own life. She believed in me more than I did or ever thought I deserved. Trust me that any award I ever win for writing has her fingerprint on the plaque.

In that way, part of my heart will always belong to her, but not in any way that is tainted with darkness. To have our shining, silvery chord run dull in spots is unbecoming of my true emotions where she is concerned. I want our music to always play in a major key. The moment I realized it was a metaphorical Piccardy third ringing in a cathedral, it was so immense and powerful.

I cannot begin to know how she feels or even consider it, because to wonder is to often go in the wrong direction… to think she has feelings that bear no similarity to what is tangible. There are very few things I know I don’t want, and that is one of them.

Rumination is toxic, and prayer is powerful. In prayer, I ask for her every good thing, and for mine. Since she is an atheist, I lean on these words all the time: I’m starting to count on you being my pinch hitter.

Consider it done.

What Did I Say? I Heard Me.

Yesterday, I did a really stupid thing. I got into someone’s car without looking, and she had wood piled up that stuck out between the driver and passenger seats. It banged into the space just under my occipital bone, and after four or five hours of all the symptoms of brain injury, I decided that to fall asleep before having a CT scan would have been the second stupid thing… and as Florence Capp said, “the next best thing to doing something smart is not doing something stupid.” However, I didn’t do the smartest thing- I drove myself to the ER. I made it both there and home by being extraordinarily careful, but I’m going to say for the record that I should have gotten someone to drive me. That’s because as my brain started to swell larger, I thought, “this is bad on so many levels.” I could have called said friend, but she lives in Fairfax, VA- not exactly conducive to getting to me and I didn’t want to put her out. On second thought, I should’ve.

When I Googled “Silver Spring ER,” the closest was 25 minutes away. I didn’t go to Urgent Care because I wasn’t sure they’d have a CT scanner and I’d have to be transferred, anyway, and I WAS intelligent enough to realize THAT.

It was not without certain… problems. They wanted to do a urine screen to make sure I wasn’t pregnant before they did the scan, and they seriously made me carry the locked container around until the sample was about to spoil. Then, three hours later, I realized that my semi-permanent earrings were a bitch to remove, and I got all of them out eventually save one, which my attendant taped. Why I didn’t just let him tape all of them, I do not know. What can I say? Not the sharpest knife in the drawer with my condition and the time of morning. Probably because the attendant was Muslim and I wanted to be respectful and not make him touch me more than he had to. Perhaps liberal Muslim men do not have a restriction on touching women they don’t know, but I didn’t think of that, either.

Speaking of my earrings, I gushed inside when a gaggle of teenage girls said they were cool at Chipotle, unprovoked. They specifically sought me out to compliment me. Being thought of as cool by teenagers is not a life goal, but traditionally them thinking any adults have something good going on seems rare. I mean, I passed 30 long ago, which generally renders me worthy of an eyeroll, or at the very least, invisibility.

I definitely felt uncool carrying around a cup of piss at three in the morning.

The only good part of the experience was finding a ton of change in my backpack, enough for all the Diet Cokes I could drink, which ended up being two, but I should have bought more, because they were cheaper than going to the store. 😛

When I finally got the results, the doctor assured me that I did not have a bleed, but the headache and muscle stiffness was going to get a lot worse before it got better, which I have found to be true. She then handed me three prescriptions; one was for percocet, one was for robaxin, and one was for Motrin 600. I didn’t fill the Motrin because I had a thousand ibuprofen at home and I can count.

Even with all that, my head and neck still ache, the first time that even lying down hurts, because I’m putting pressure on my head. I should check whether the percocet naturally is a 12-hour dose, or whether it’s an extended release, because if it isn’t, I can at least cut them in half and get a fresh injection of relief every six.

It doesn’t specifically say “XR,” but the last thing I want is to accidentally kill myself, which would be a third stupid thing in less than that many days.

It feels like a cruel world when I have so much other emotional shit to deal with, but at least the medication makes it where I don’t care about anything, much less something specific.
With my mother falling and dying, I didn’t want to think that I was overreacting, so I waited about four hours to see if it was a thing before I went in. Perhaps that was a mistake, or perhaps it was common sense. I Googled brain injury first and took some Tylenol, but I made sure to tell the triage nurse I’d taken it. The acetaminophen wore off about the time I actually got the CT, but the sponge pillow on the table helped.

I also learned that I’ve gained weight, but not in a bad way. The last time I had it checked, I was 118. Now I’m a buck twenty and some change. I don’t want to go much higher than that because I’m so short, but at least I am getting to a healthy size instead of feeling scrawny. For people who are anxious and depressed, it is often just as hard to gain weight as it is to lose it. Where I really struggle is muscle mass, because I don’t have enough motivation to work out… therefore, I am constantly winded and feel like weak sauce.

There’s a great podcast called “Podrunner” that I want to start again because it’s cooler- a superior introduction to working out because it starts at “couch to 5k.” I have been a casual runner since I was 18, which I remember with clarity because I started to bulk up for skiing and nearly jumped out of my skin with pain the first time I locked in my boots because I didn’t know I had shin splints. If there’s anything that would get me motivated into running, it would be the promise of a ski trip at the end. I love to ski, mostly because I’m such a klutz that I was surprised at how good I am at it. The first time, I went from greens to blues in less than a week.

I still haven’t tried a black diamond, and it is not a goal, because I enjoy skiing without being afraid of it and I’d like to continue that trend. Coming down the mountain with speed is thrill enough. I don’t want to take the lift up to a black diamond and be utterly afraid to come down, like climbing the ladder to the highest diving board and looking down at the water before you jump. I always end up diving, though, because I am not good with ladders and coming up is less scary than trying to climb back down. It would probably be the same with skiing, because I’ve never noticed a lift that carries people downward. There is no going back, only through.

If that isn’t a metaphor for life, I’m really not sure what would be. My grief is acute because even though my mom couldn’t help with the medical part, she would be a superstar in terms of listening or coming up and driving me around. I can’t believe she just retired last school year and she didn’t even get a chance to really settle in and enjoy it. On the flip side, the last time we talked, she was extraordinarily bored… not that the solution to ennui is death (N is for Neville, who died of ennui), but it must be fascinating to “watch me on TV.” I am nothing if not a constant source of amusement. Last night, I forgot she was dead and told the doctor and the triage nurse that if I was pregnant, I’d have to call my mom with an “I’ve had an immaculate conception” speech, because I promise you, that is the only logical conclusion one could make from my monk-like existence.

You would think that I’d miss that kind of intimacy by now, and you would be wrong. Between the medication that I’m taking and my utter lack of drive to put myself out there as available, I have no need. I put myself out there to meet people in the area and have had good success in finding friends, but there’s been no one that has lit up my insides. The memory of it is enough. I simply have a fear of flying… but when I get over it, I want Diana Gabaldon hot, which is scorching in temperature even on the page, much less watching it on screen.

Because I take it back. Wanting sex, for me, has never come from the drive itself, but from the drive to know someone. There’s no one I want to know THAT WELL.

But there will be, eventually. It wouldn’t be fair to any potential anything to drag them into my freak show of a life right now. You’ll just have to wait for the blog entry. I know I  do.

Sermon for Proper 25, Year C: Caught Off Guard is a Good Thing

Matt (my own pastor) started off today with a paragraph from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, about the sudden death of her husband. Tears started to fall as he described the circumstances of the husband’s death, and I lost my snot when he got to “I couldn’t give away his shoes, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that he might need them.” I howled inside at “grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.” He was reflecting on the psalm, which now I forget, but basically it talked about railing at God, and grief didn’t have to be about death… It could be about divorce, or a friend saying they didn’t want to be your friend anymore… I just kept crying, harder and harder, words gutting me like an ax, deeper with each blow. He was dissecting my world, and holding the diseased organs in front of me. I couldn’t just grit my teeth and keep it together. I was sitting in the back, alone, and my head hit my knees as I crouched in pain.

There was a reason I was crouched over. I did not want anyone to see me. I did not want to be touched, I did not want to be consoled, I wanted to be invisible.

We do not get everything that we want. The anxiety of being seen grieving in public was so great that I would have walked out if I hadn’t had an obligation to stay. It was not the grieving itself that undid me. Had it just been a couple of tears running down my face, I doubt I would have taken much notice. It was being seen at this level, where I couldn’t breathe, I had gone into the Oprah “ugly cry,” and there was no Kleenex. I didn’t want to be him:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

I did not want to draw attention to myself, as if grief were a show I needed to put on to tell everyone just how hurt I was… that no one was hurting as much as me… that there was indeed a notion of competitive suffering, and I looked to the outside world like I was truly “winning.”

I wanted to be him:

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Because Jesus’ whole point in the parable is this:

‘I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Bridget, one of my fellow sopranos, saw me crumpled into myself and came over just to hold me, rock me back and forth until I could get air into my lungs. I had to remind myself that it gave her something to see hurt and respond, and in order to live in community, I would have done the exact same thing had it been someone else’s mother and not mine. Otherwise, I would have buried myself with shame that I let myself emote.

That being said, what I know to be true is that sometimes people need to be left alone to self-soothe, to be able to draw on their own strength.

It came to me later that I’d already been doing that for weeks, without letting anyone in… the exception being Thursday at choir practice, but I knew that I’d be emotional ahead of time and I didn’t have any fucks to give. Those that didn’t know my mother just died could think I was mentally unstable because I was. I don’t know of any person in deep grief who isn’t; particularly those who have lost someone suddenly and are struck dumb by the ordinary circumstances under which it happened. As Didion points out, Sept. 11th dawned bright and sunny, and even though I only saw a patch of blue sky through my blinds that morning, I knew she was right.

After church was over, Bridget and I were walking up the stairs to the choir room to put our music away and get our stuff. I said, “I sometimes preach from my web site, and what jumped out at me today is that grieving people are both the Pharisee and the tax collector at the same time… because what do grieving people do in public? Try to act like they’re fine.” Grieving people, in order to hide how much they hurt, laugh a little too loudly or make the jokes themselves to cover up the wounded animal that lurks within. Often this is for the same reasoning I had- that grieving in public is calling attention to themselves for the wrong reasons.

What saved me today was knowing I was emoting for the right ones. My grief was genuine, deep and pure to the point of exhaustion. It was an ordinary Sunday, and I was caught off-guard, not knowing that I was going to hear such a message directed at my own heart, unprepared to have my heart sliced to that degree and have every feeling I’d tried to keep inside pour onto my shirt and pants.

Gloria mentioned that my mother had died during her pastoral prayer, and all of the people around me had the light bulb go on as to why I was crying all the way through that particular sermon. It’s possible it was just for me. I mean, I know Matt. We’ve met. It’s possible he’s a “Fanagan.” But it’s not likely. Occam’s Razor is that it was what I needed to hear in the place I needed to hear it, without regard for my own time.

I was the tax collector who didn’t want to be a Pharisee, and yet, sometimes we all need to throw caution to the wind and be open with our prayers, because otherwise, we can only guess if God is listening. To be vulnerable in a place where people can hear it is to be sure.

When Joan Didion was open in her grief with her sister-in-law, the response was strong and immediate- that we cannot catch the light by chasing it into the sunset, only by walking back through the darkness to find the dawn.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Four Weeks

It has officially been four weeks since my mother died, and three weeks since her funeral. I count it like a personal Lectionary, like the way today is 23 weeks after Pentecost. Because her death occurred on a Sunday, I always will. Sundays are about rest and reflection, and I cannot believe that there will ever be a Sunday again in which part of the reflection doesn’t include how beautiful church was and how I wish she’d been with me to see it… whether I am just going to church, or whether I was responsible for creating the experience.

There are so many firsts when your mother dies. This week it’s been the first period of my whole life that I didn’t have a mother to complain to, or when I lived in Texas, to bring me chocolate stashed in her purse. It seems like a small thing, but trust me when I say that small things are writ large. Besides, isn’t a period the most universal mother/daughter experience of which you can think? Are You There God? It’s Me, Leslie.

I have never done anything normally, and my period is no different. I got my first one when I was in the hospital for identifiable symptoms and no clear diagnosis… and I thought I was bleeding out the other end as a result. I was ten, maybe 11, so of course that’s how medicine worked. My mother had taught me about the birds and the bees long ago, but that information did not occur to me in the middle of being hospitalized for something else. I thought it was all connected. To my mother’s credit, she did not laugh. She just bought me my first package of Always and taught me how to use it.

It was a hallmark for me- the first problem in which I did not immediately run to my dad, the fixer of all things. This is because he wasn’t there, and she was. My dad, even then, was interested in medicine and had she not been with me, I probably would have told him first… because this wasn’t a woman thing to me. It was a symptom… of what, I did not know… but surely it wasn’t universal.

It was.

However, I’d just had a battery of tests, so if it hadn’t been for my mother, I would probably think to this day that meningismus and menarche were related. I mean, obviously everyone bleeds out of their hooha after a spinal tap, right? Right? #crickets

I am picturing Dr. Anthony spitting her coffee onto her keyboard at this point.

That image made me laugh, and anything that makes me laugh right now is invaluable. It is my reflex to laugh in the face of enormous pain.

Now I just have to buy my own Mr. Goodbars.