It Still Hurts

This morning was rough. The first thing I do when I open my eyes is check my phone, like most people, because I fall asleep early and I want to catch up with everything that happened from the night before. A large, large amount of my friends are on the West Coast, so hearing about their lives doesn’t even begin until after 9:00 PM my time. I also got a Facebook direct message that dinged last evening, and I was so completely dead to the world that I didn’t even hear my phone go off.

Speaking of which, if you’re trying to reach me in the evening, your best shot is to call, because the ringer plays longer. It’s set to Unsquare Dance by Dave Brubeck, which I hadn’t heard until I saw the movie Baby Driver (big fan of Brubeck, but I tend to listen to Time Out repeatedly….). Speaking of Baby Driver, the link is to the first six minutes of the movie, which I have watched, and this is a conservative estimate, 25 times.

WORTH IT. STOP EVERYTHING. GO NOW. I’LL WAIT.

Back to our regularly scheduled program.

This morning was rough, because the first notification was not from a friend in Oregon or California, but a birthday announcement. Carolyn Baker’s birthday is June 11th. If you’re bringing friends together, invite them by making an event. For the love of God. I have done everything I can, both on my own profile and on hers, to mark her as deceased.

This picture is the last one of all of us together on Mother’s Day, me FaceTiming in from DC. It’s the last one, and I’m blurry. I would give anything, including all future earnings, limbs, whatever, to be able to go back in time. 13138797_10153554247046596_1204332628069398810_n (1)But in order for me to know exactly how important this photo is, I would have had to know it was the last one, and you never get to know that in advance. What I do like about this picture is how happy and beautiful both my mother and sister look. It was originally in color, but given the situation, I think it looks better without it…. because losing my mother so instantaneously plunged me into a world of greyscale, anyway.

Perhaps Facebook still brings these things to my attention because an event marking her birthday’s importance even though she’s dead can be healing, but I don’t think they’re that observant. She also didn’t have a legacy contact, so there’s no way to go into her account and either close it or make it a memorial, etc. Because of this, I chose Caitlin as my own legacy contact, because I’m not planning on dying anytime soon, and she’s my youngest sibling by ten years.

Actually, I just thought of an idea. I wonder if I could find a way to e-mail or direct message Sheryl Sandberg, because if anyone would understand the situation, it would be her. I’m assuming that a lot of people already know this story because it was so public, but she and David, her husband, were on vacation when he was working out and had a heart attack while running on a treadmill, which caused him to fall and hit his head, dying instantly. Not only did he die young, but they were on a parents’ only trip, and Sheryl had to come back alone and tell her children, probably the most heartbreaking aspect of a sprawling mess. It reminds me of a quote from Harry Truman when Franklin Roosevelt died… Well, gentlemen, if you’ve ever had a bale of hay dumped on you, you know how I feel.

I think that’s the hardest part of my own grief now. Because my mother and I lived so far apart for most of my adult life, there are moments when the fact that she’s dead slips into the back of my mind, because we were not used to talking every day, anyway. I feel most of the time like she is still on the other end of the line, and pick up the phone to call her, the bale of hay dropping over and over again.

I am truly not that forgetful. I believe it has become a coping mechanism. Grief gets locked away so that I can still function, because living in the smallest emotional place of missing my mommy is intolerable in terms of still moving amongst the living. My inner child just cries out, unable to imagine a world in which my mother is not here.

Cooking, because of its fast pace and utter relentlessness, is the one area of my life in which I am too busy to dwell on my feelings. Even when orders aren’t coming in like gangbusters, there’s still prep and cleaning that has to be done fast, because you never know when a pop is coming. If I am knee-deep in grief, my mind wanders too much to be quick.

I come out of the kitchen, sore and exhausted, and grief still doesn’t bubble up because I am too tired to think about anything, much less emote. Most of my energy goes toward complaining about how much I hurt physically…. breaking a cardinal family rule about complaining before I’ve taken anything for it. I will rarely have a beer to take the edge off, because what I find is that my tolerance is so incredibly low that one beer, even at 3.2% alcohol, will knock me on my ass, and I feel like I can’t think clearly, the death of creativity for a blogger. I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said to write drunk and edit sober, but he wrote fiction. Diarists are a different breed, because they have to remember things accurately. I hate doing anything that makes reality malleable. But sometimes I give in, because that fuzzy feeling makes my back hurt less… or maybe it just makes me care less that my back hurts.

Whatever.

It also loosens my inhibitions so that I laugh a little easier, because I’m not all up in my head, working in the same way that cooking does. Using my hands takes me away from thinking, and sometimes I just need a damn break from the interminable march of Sundays away from October 2nd, 2016. At first, I counted them like a Lectionary, but let that go when I realized that no Sunday would ever be in Ordinary Time ever again. For the first year, every week was a terrible Good Friday on an otherwise lazy Sunday morning. For the first time in my life, I feel that I have lost my way with Christianity, and not the part that’s spiritual. The part that is community-based, because I don’t believe religion happens in a vacuum.

The difference between spirituality and religion is going into your closet to pray, as opposed to praying through shoe leather, working to foster the theology of liberation and inclusion. It will come again in time, but right now, every time I enter a church, I am enveloped in sadness that I cannot put away and just enjoy being in my community… even though getting through rough times is often why you need it.

I have severe problems with losing it in public, and sermons often pierce my heart with a knife so that I can’t keep it together. I feel like I need time to grieve in my own way, and for now, my process is making food that brings people together… even though in my grief I often reflect on the fact that I might be making The Last Supper. It’s a dark thought, but losing someone suddenly tends to kick you in the back of the face. That being said, my thoughts aren’t always that bereft.

Getting this job as a cook is the first time I’ve truly felt Easter…. resurrection happening in the middle of the mess (Dr. Susan Leo). I am learning new things, because every kitchen is different, and it is opening my mind to have to think in both Spanish and English.

Dios te bendiga.

Amen
#prayingonthespaces

The Last Little Bit

With all of the holiday craziness, it has been nearly impossible to find time to write. Now that I am back home in DC, I am getting in one last entry before the new year starts. It’s probably not going to be Hemingway, but good writing has never been the focal point of this site. It’s always nice when it happens, but the true nature is just to catalogue what has happened so I have a written record. You matter, but not as much as I do. I’m not even going to ask if that’s okay, because I can be codependent enough without asking “international television” their opinion (if you’re just joining us, that’s my nickname for all the “Fanagans-” it’s funny #crickets).

It has not been a good year, but it hasn’t been a bad one, either. I continue to learn more about myself every day, as well as escaping grief through copious amounts of reading. Through novels, I have traveled overseas, mostly to the Middle East. I read a ton on fictional intelligence (both govvie and non), because it is the one thing that will get me completely “out of my element, Donnie.” I don’t think as fast on my feet as Jane Whitefield, Atticus Kodiak, or Kathy Mallory… but thanks to them, I can at least rip them off verbatim should I ever get into a bit of a situation. For instance, I have learned that hair dye and different glasses (possibly a hat) are enough to fool nearly everyone in the world. 😛

For Christmas, I got a new novel called The Murderer’s Daughter, which I was told to read by the fire in my pajamas. I followed those directions explicitly, and enjoyed the hell out of myself after the hard-yet-amazing experience of decorating my mother’s grave for Christmas. My sister even found treble clef ornaments for “Fred,” my name for the tree that sits in front of her headstone.

Last year, when my mother had just died in October, I did not allow Christmas to happen. I did not wait for the baby, I did not count on new hope, I did not see magic in any form. I, in fact, went to sleep on Christmas Eve and did not wake up until Christmas Day was almost over. I didn’t get together with friends, and opened my presents alone in my room. In my devastation, I didn’t know what else to do, and nothing else felt right. I’d have ideas, and then think, “nah.” I didn’t sleep because I was tired. I slept because nothing else lifted me out of my pain. In retrospect, I should have gone to help the homeless or to Arlington National Cemetery, because if there is anything I have learned this year, a reminder that I’m not the only one who has ever experienced tragedy is powerful. But, again, I learned that this year. Last year, I was barely strong enough to go downstairs, much less leave the house… and by this year, I mean over Christmas at home, in the cemetery where my mother is buried, I found a set of three gravestones. They were all children who’d been burned up in a house fire.

Not only did it remind me not to be so egocentric, Lindsay reminded me that when our house caught fire, my mother could not find me, because I’d run to the neighbors’ house to call 911. Without even thinking about it, she sprinted into the burning house, because that’s what mothers do.

In our house fire, no one was hurt physically, but we all carry different sorts of psychological trauma from it. How could we not? It has faded mightily since December 20th, 1990, but there are certain things that stick with me, like my parents scrambling to buy new Christmas presents and thinking that all my birthday presents, my computer, and my clothes were gone. In fact, that last one knocked me out…. I didn’t have any clothes.

But like all tragedies, there were positive lessons, too. For instance, I do not give a rat’s ass about any of my property. My treasure lies in my relationships, which I often mess up for a whole host of reasons, but I keep trying to get them right, because I know a laptop won’t love me back.

2017 was all about learning to love again, after completely shutting down and refusing to emote unless I was writing. I could love as an idea, but I could not as a verb. Many people reached out to me which resulted in a lot of unanswered calls, texts, and e-mails. The only person I’d get back to immediately (or as immediately as I could) was my dad, because I felt so guilty that I’d shut out my mom in my depression that I absolutely could not alienate another parent. But everyone else just got the short end of the stick, because I didn’t have anything to give. Everything in my cup was the dregs from Pandora’s box.

Slowly, surely, things have changed… are changing.

This year, I got to wait for four babies, the eternal living Christ and three new characters to “Stories” as yet unnamed…. they’re still living in their first apartments, and won’t be evicted til Spring. I can’t name their parents because the news isn’t public, but I can tell you that two of them are sharing the same “bedroom.”

2018 is looking better and better every day, because there is no greater news than birth after dealing with death. I am now more and more excited to live my own life, rather than through the fictional pictures novels create.

It’s time.

#prayingonthespaces

Sermon for All Saints Day 2015

Though Bethany is listed in the Gospel as the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, note that it was a place of healing long before Jesus got there. The Temple Scroll from Qumran, the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, gives the number and exact measurements from Jerusalem in terms of places where the sick should be………… relocated. There should be three separate colonies, one exclusively for lepers. None of them could be within a three thousand cubit radius (about 1400 yards), and according to John, Bethany was 15 stadia (1.72 miles) southeast… out of view of the Temple Mount. Thus, it was the perfect location to hide away the ritually unclean, for two reasons. The first is medical; it prevented the spread of disease and infection. The second is social. No one had to look at the sick and dying, either.

Because the book of Matthew tells the story of Jesus dining with Simon the Leper in Bethany, it’s safe to assume that Bethany was the leper colony mentioned in the Temple Scroll.

Leprosy, today known as Hansen’s Disease, is a bacterial infection. It spread like wildfire because getting it was as easy as coming into contact with an infected person’s cough or phlegm, depending on how much of the bacteria was in the person’s system. Additionally, when you first come into contact with the bacteria, you don’t show any symptoms. If you looked bad enough to be sent to the leper colony, you could have already had the disease for years without knowing it, making it even easier for leprosy to become the “gift that keeps on giving.”

Today, it can be cured by a six or 12 month treatment of multiple antibiotics (depending on severity), now freely provided by the World Health Organization in case any of you Texans decide eating armadillo meat (yes, really) is a good idea.

Of course, back then there was no treatment, because not only had antibiotics not been invented, the idea of something called an “infection” or even a “germ” wouldn’t be introduced for hundreds of years. The only answer was complete isolation. Plus, lepers are not attractive people, which contributed to the temple’s need to stash them away.

Patients present with inflammation of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. As it progresses, lepers develop an inability to feel pain, so not only are their bodies and faces oddly shaped from the inflammation, they tend to have inexplicable wounds all over them because they’ve been hurt without even knowing it. In Bethany, the terrain is hilly, with a lot of brush and short trees… in other words, plenty of opportunities to trip and fall. If you can’t feel an injury, and you can’t see it, you won’t treat it, either. It’s a great recipe for secondary infection.

The classic image of leprosy is that it makes your fingers and toes fall off. This is untrue, although the people of the time thought so. What they thought of as fingers and toes “falling off” was actually secondary injuries causing tissue damage enough to make cartilage absorb into the body and bones to shorten.

If there’s nerve damage in the face, you lose the ability to blink, which can lead to blindness and even more chance for serious secondary injury and/or infection.

Leprosy rates are higher in places of poverty. This makes sense, because in the Aramaic, Bethany (or Beth Anya) means “house of misery” or “poor house.” Painting a picture of Bethany is not a beautiful one in terms of population. If you lived there, you were probably poor, sick, or both. It didn’t matter to Jesus, though. It was just the last stop before journeying into Jerusalem. While he was there, he found friends close enough to make it feel like home.

Jesus met Mary, Martha and Lazarus when he and the Disciples were passing through Bethany (although the village isn’t named in the Gospel of Luke) and the sisters opened their home to them. When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her in the kitchen while he taught the Disciples, he said, Martha, Martha… you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. After that, they remained close.

When their brother got sick, Mary and Martha naturally wanted their friend. Not only did they need him for emotional support, they thought that Jesus might be able to heal Lazarus altogether. They sent Jesus a message saying simply, the one you love is ill. Notice that they did not ask Jesus to come to Bethany at all. They did not send a message of expectation. They knew that their friendship bond was strong enough for the message to stand on its own. St. Augustine was the first person to point this out, saying it was sufficient that Jesus should know; for it is not possible that any man should at one and the same time love a friend and desert him.

When he heard the message, Jesus said, this illness is not going to prove fatal; rather it has happened for the sake of the glory of God, so that God’s Son should be glorified by means of it. Political tensions were growing surrounding Jesus’ healing ability. I do not believe that Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, although there are many theologians who do. At that point, I think he believed in his ability to deal with the situation no matter what it was, but that when he healed Lazarus, it would give the Sanhedrin enough evidence to convict him. Jesus did not mean that he was going to Bethany to show off by bringing a dead man to life. He meant that if he healed Lazarus, he was the one that was going to die.

No good deed goes unpunished.
Clare Booth Luce, The Book of Laws

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13

Looking at this scripture in this light, it makes more sense that Jesus waited two days before beginning the journey to Bethany. The gospel does not record why those two extra days were needed, but venturing into fiction, when you know you’re going to die, there are things you have to take care of, first. Perhaps he had to take care of his own panic before he could lead his disciples back into fire.

In John 11:6-10, the disciples are terrified, and they show it:

Now, when Jesus had received the news that Lazarus was ill, he continued to stay where he was for two days. But after that he said to his disciples: “Let us go to Judaea again.” His disciples said to him: “Rabbi, things had got to a stage when the Jews were trying to find a way to stone you, and do you propose to go back there?” Jesus answered: “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If a man walks in the day-time, he does not stumble because he has the light of this world. But if a man walks in the night-time, he does stumble because the light is not in him.”

I believe that those two days were needed for Jesus’ presence of mind and clear vision. He had to pray for discernment, and ask the hard questions, like “am I really ready for this? If I perform another miracle, that’s it. My days are numbered because I already have a mark on my head and this will just send the Sanhedrin over the edge… and if they take me, they’re going to take me in broad daylight, because I will not run.”

When they reach Bethany, Mary is understandably upset, and so is Jesus:

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

I depart from most theologians on this scripture. Most of the commentary I’ve read says that Jesus intentionally waited until Lazarus was indisputably dead just to make the miracle that much more…. well… miraculous. But the words “greatly disturbed in spirit” and “deeply moved” do not point to that conclusion.

To me, it is a moment of undeniable humanness. Jesus, in his need for clarity and discernment, is late. When the crowd reaches the tomb, John says again that Jesus is “deeply disturbed.” I believe he has heard the Jews in the crowd who said could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying? After all, it’s going to be the Jews who scoffed at him who ignore the miracle entirely and rat him out to the Sanhedrin, anyway…. and he knows it.

He prays in supplication to show holy authority. The power to raise Lazarus from the dead does not come from him, but from God… and when he yells Lazarus, come out!, inexplicably, he does. Jesus then says to unbind him, and let him go.

This story is quite problematic because it is so great a miracle surely the other gospel writers would have heard about it. It’s also a problem because John says that this miracle was Jesus’ undoing, while in the other three gospels it is the cleansing of the temple… the story that beget the saying, “when asking ‘what would Jesus do,’ remember that getting angry and flipping over tables is a viable option.” To me, the cleansing of the temple seems like a much more punishable offense, but at the same time, if Jesus hadn’t cured Lazarus, would he have received such a spectacle of a welcome in Jerusalem (celebrated on Palm Sunday)?

I believe he would’ve. Jesus did something that none of the other Jews had the chutzpah to achieve- making the temple sacred once more. This story comes across as a parable mimicking Luke 16:19-31, which talks about a rich man and a poor man in the afterlife. The poor man, coincidentally (or not), is also named Lazarus. In it, the rich man begs Abraham to let Lazarus put some water on him because he is in agony. When Abraham denies his request, he asks him to send Lazarus to his house to warn his family of their fate if they keep treating poor people the way he did. Then, this conversation takes place:

Abraham: They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.

Unnamed Rich Man: I know, Father Abraham, but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.

Abraham: If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.

The Jews absolutely wailing at Lazarus’ death did not believe in a God who could change their lives even though a person rose from the dead right in front of them. We cannot possibly know what actually happened that day, but we cannot ignore the truth in the story altogether. It doesn’t matter whether Jesus raised Lazarus corporeally, but it does matter that if you feel dead inside, there is a way out.

Think about all the secrets that burn you up… the ones in which you’d rather be dead than tell. Everyone has them, because we are all human. What would it take to resurrect you and free you from that pain? Jesus is talking about walking in more than literal sunlight. The darkness is where we hide the things we’d rather not share, and in keeping them pent up, we limit ourselves from resurrection into a new life, one in which we can be our flawed human selves and have people love us, anyway.

Today as we celebrate the sainthood of those who have gone before us, I ask that you remember we call everyone who has passed on “saints,” but that doesn’t mean they were perfect when they were alive. They had the experience of loving and living just as we do right now, in the same “heavenly hell.” Talk about them as they were, and tell their stories of the death and resurrection that happened over and over in their lifetimes…. every time they had enough of the life they were living and decided to reach up for something more. Every time they resolved a problem they thought would never end. Every time they tried for perfection and reality got in the way but they bounced back, full and alive again. Talk about their Good Fridays, and every Easter afterward.

And then talk about yours.

Amen.