Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Franklin



I have a mental snapshot of this moment. 

In the cinematic montage of our life together, this is the image I remember as the beginning.

The opening of a door.  You standing there, all darkness behind you.

If I could go back and tell us both in that moment, “this is it”, I wonder what we would have done differently.  There he is, there she is.

In the years following, I wonder how we would have chosen differently or how much harder we would have fought.  If we had known.

It took years for the knowing, though.  And the knowing didn’t heal.  You describe it as a funnel, two stars in orbit, with each rotation drawing closer until unity.  The knowing happened before the collision and beforehand we spent time close and reaching and healing.

Sunday night I stood in front of you, your hands in mine, and we vowed to love and protect each other forever.

We committed to the work of a lifetime of love.

And in brief, fleeting moments the image of you standing in the doorway transferred over yourself in front of me like a kaleidoscope. 

The obstacles we faced leading up to our wedding day were not unlike the challenges we’ve faced over the years.  Everything that it took to get to this day, every battle we fought, every plan changed, every moment of celebration was an effort to get us here.  To the merging of our lives.

Our children watched and celebrated and wept.  And so did our parents and our siblings and our friends.

All we had to navigate to get to this moment swirled around my head like the market lights and I have a deep knowing it took every hardship to build the resilience we now have.  I know it took the coming and the leaving and the staying and the birthing to build us up to be the two of us standing there.

We couldn’t have bypassed it all, and still ended up here.

But for the decades to come, where once I saw you standing in a doorway, I will now see you standing in the light.  Eyes on mine.  Hands over mine.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Silas


I laid in bed next to Judah, as I have for six and a half years, and wondered if tonight was when his baby brother would come. 

We are less than a week away from Silas' due date and ten days away from being done with work for a few weeks and twelve days away from needing to schedule an induction. 

I had walked three miles and climbed eleven flights of steps yesterday, my app said.  And as I laid there with Judah while he fell asleep I felt the cramping ebb and rise and somewhere in the back of my mind I thought, “no, not tonight”.

And that’s when I knew.  I had been looking around for the work left to do before Silas comes.  I had washed all the laundry and I had swept and mopped the floors and contemplated scrubbing the baseboards.  I had sorted through papers, bought diapers, arranged medical leave, called all my clients.  I did my eight year old daughter’s hair, teasing her that Silas wouldn’t come until it was done.

Everyone has advice.  Be open.  Imagine openness.  Have sex.  Drink raspberry tea.  Walk, exercise, do yoga.  Eat dates, eat spicy food.  “Don’t worry”, as if that’s even remotely possible.  Almost six weeks ago my little sister had her second baby and first daughter and we talked at length about trusting our bodies, about trusting our babies. 

I have learned to trust Silas – and I learned that last week when a doctor tried to tell me my littlest boy had flipped back to breech.  I knew better.  Because after ten months of this, I know him.  I knew he was snugly head down because I could feel him.  But the doctor wasn’t sure.  When I was right, I internalized the truest lesson about trusting my good baby. 

I am not sure yet if I trust my body or not.  But last night when I laid down next to Judah I knew last night I didn’t want it to be “the night”, not because I’m not ready to meet Silas, but because I knew this was the work I had to do. 

I could use the physio ball, get my hair cut, get a pedicure, go on walks, download the meditation app, shave my legs, pack my hospital bag and be completely ready.  But if I didn’t work to get my mind and heart ready, he wasn’t going to come on his own. 


In May of 2018 I turned 30, graduated top of my class in my graduate program, passed my licensure exam, was offered jobs in different states, and came home to my true love.  Over the summer we consolidated houses, I sold my first home, I enrolled Judah in kindergarten, and I started a new job.

We had had a negative pregnancy test a few weeks before the new job started.  And on day two of the job I cut my thumb open on a disposable razor and I spent the morning in UK’s Emergency Department getting my first set of stitches and being told I was, in fact, pregnant.  I went to the doctor that afternoon and confirmed we would be having a baby in April.

In the last year, Judah and I went from a family of two to a family of six with a seventh on the way. 

Since then we have combined and merged our household in a seamless way that’s made Tony and I a better team and better parents.  We’ve worked through a diagnosis with our youngest boy, learned to coparent in a blended family, and three weeks ago now we got engaged.

Now Silas is coming.

We have a bassinet and hooded towels and diapers and tiny onesies and gripe water and swaddles.  I have a goal and a plan to have an unmedicated birth for at least half a dozen reasons.  And so I feel a certain amount of anxiety as my due date approaches.  Yesterday I finally came to peace with an induction scheduled for 41 weeks and preparing mentally and physically for enduring Pitocin without medication.  For my sake and for Silas’.  I felt a certain amount of peace in knowing that if he doesn’t come on his own he can come on a pre-planned day so all our kids are safe and settled and I can knock out my teeth cleaning and Judah’s ENT appt and one last date night.  I still hope he chooses to come on his own. 
But after last night I know he’s waiting on me.

Not on the baseboards.  Not on the dental appointment.  He’s waiting on me, his mama.  To let him know it’s safe and good. 

Yesterday on the phone one of my favorite clients told me that Silas knew how the world was and he was choosing to stay where it was safe.  She’s a victim of horrendous abuse and trauma.  She is solution seeking and we are good and gentle with each other.  And she was right.

The world we are bringing this fifth baby into is a scary one. 

But the family we are bringing him into is a beautiful one.

So while I think about how to ready my heart and open myself up to be ready for this experience, this is what I want Silas to know:

 

Silas,

 

Four years ago your daddy knocked on my door and we sat on opposite ends of the couch and all the life that has happened since then has bridged space in a way that is healing and redemptive and sure.  I believe in soul mates because of knowing him – I believe in reincarnation because I know this is not the first time we have met.  And so as I wait to meet you, I cannot wait to get to know who you are and which parts of my soul recognize you.  Daddy described our journey as a funnel – two pennies journeying around and around towards the opening, coming closer to each other with each rotation.  Every time we tried, we got it more “right”.  Every time we tried to love each other, we came closer to you. 

You are not responsible for holding this family together.  That is mine and Daddy’s job.  But we are so grateful for what you mean to us.  The love you represent.  The unification you represent.  The gift you are to your brothers and sisters.  Especially to Judah, who has never shared DNA with a sibling before.  You are not going to be responsible for keeping this family together, Silas, but you are the product of a love that was so fervently fought for.  You are here because we believed in our love enough.  You are here because you were missing from our family.

So while you are waiting to come, I am thinking about who I want you to be. 

I used to tell Judah what I wanted him to be when he grew up.  Not his profession, not the job I wanted him to have or the degree I wanted him to pursue.  But I would tell him who I wanted him to be.  In a way, I believe I’ve been speaking this over him for seven years now.  Silas, I told your big brother I wanted him to be brave, curious, kind, strong, smart and gentle. 

I want these things for you too.  But you will not be the same as Judah.  In the same way you will be different from big brother Elijah and your big sisters.  You may share their blonde curls or their sweet lips or their brown eyes.  But you are your own.  Coming as the fifth, coming as the baby, I know there may be days in the years to come when the comparison is hard.   When your family leaves big shoes to fill or has left big mistakes to clean up.  But you are not the same. 

I hope you are curious just like Judah. And brave just like Elijah.  And kind just like Brielle.  And smart just like Lailee.  I hope that you are sensitive and gentle and strong.  But as I feel you kicking and pushing, as I wait to meet you, my prayer for you is that you are hopeful.  That you are full of peace.  That you are full of joy. 

Your name means “forest” or “woods” and while that may not seem significant, the symbolism is often of enlightenment as if someone is exploring something that has yet to be explored.  With your arrival we are building a family, which has never been built before.  And my hope for you is that you carry on a legacy of true love as we learn how to do this together.

I wish more than anything that I could be with you every single day as you grow up.  I wished that with Judah too.  That no one else would have to help raise you, that I could do it without any help. 

That’s not our story.

But I want you to know that the time I get to have with you, just you, here in the beginning is something I already treasure with my whole heart.  As I wait for you, these are the days I look forward to the most.  Learning who you are.  Looking at you and seeing your daddy.  Looking at you and seeing someone brand new and letting my love grow for you.

I trust you to come when you are ready.  I am honored and blessed that you will trust me with your life and with your arrival.  We are ready when you are.

Monday, July 23, 2018

7/23/18

I sat down on the couch the other night and Judah snuggled up under one arm and looked at little Elijah and said, "you can snuggle my mom, too" and then looked up at me and said, "you have two boys who love you".

It is July.  Almost August.  And the last time I was here, I anticipated telling a very different story about my summer.  I planned to tell you about an adventure far different than the one I came to tell you today. 

Let me start with an expression of gratitude.

Deep, deep gratitude. 

I am so grateful I don't tell the story.

I am so grateful I don't always know what's best.

I am so grateful my ideas are not the only ideas.

Saturday night, one little boy who looks like me fell asleep under my arm.  Another little boy who doesn't look like me launched himself across the room to kiss my forehead, screaming "I love you!" with eyes bright and wide.  And a little girl sat in front of my knees letting me comb her hair, while her big sister fell asleep by my feet.  All while we waited on a daddy to get home.

A daddy. 

There's a man, now.  And I am so immensely thankful for him.  And all his goodness. 

Last night I watched him in the yard at his Oma's house.  It had just stopped raining and our four had been playing outside throughout the shower.  They were soaked.  And there he stood, with baseballs in his hand, trying to juggle.

And I watched four, wet, little faces look at him.

And I wondered if his mama was watching him from the window.  And I couldn't fathom how she could be more proud of him than I am, but I know she is. 

And I wondered if his granddad saw.

I wondered if his granddad saw him standing there with the most beautiful smile on his face, juggling for four small humans who love him.  Who look up to him.  Who admire his strength.  Who depend on him. 

I wonder if a granddad or a mom could have imagined this for their oldest?  Who grew up in that same yard.  Who struggled in that same house.  Who left and came back and fell and rose. 

I know my pride can't match theirs. 

But my whole heart was swollen with it. 

Pride.  And love.  For the ones who are mine.

Sometimes, I suppose, we can't know things will work out for sure. 

Sometimes, if you're told the plan ahead of time, you'd not believe it.  You'd not do the work that would make you ready.  You'd not heal in a way that was needed. 

Sometimes, you just can't know.

But I sit here today because of a screw in a tire, waiting on him to come back and get me.  And my eyes keep welling with tears. 

Tears just like the ones I cried two days after I turned thirty.  Two days after I expected life to change forever, when in fact it did. 

Tears of remorse, of hope, of love.

The kind of tears that happen when you walk back into a house that used to be home... and find it still smells the same. 

Find there's still room for you.

I had to come with a lot of grace, asking for a lot of forgiveness. 

And these days I exist with so much gratitude in my heart for the forgiveness I didn't deserve and for something, while it looks like a second chance, is much more simply a story, which deserved to be told.  A story, which deserved to be lived. 

Joy and pride and thankfulness for a man with light in his eyes; who tickles me, who thanks me, who makes room for me.  Who makes plans with me.  Who asks for me.  Who sees me. 

I don't deserve it.  This love that multiplied.  This family that grew. 

But I've made it my life's mission to not lose it again. 

There my treasure is.

Monday, May 7, 2018

5/7/18

I am 30.

It's 9:15 on a Monday morning and I am thirty years old. 

Yesterday I graduated with my Master's Degree in Clinical Social Work. 

This time last year I packed up the house I own, put it up for rent, sold 90% of my belongings, and moved to my childhood home for the first time in over a decade.  I quit my senior position at a long-term care facility and started classes. 

When I started the program last year they told me this would be the fastest year of my life. 

I think I've told this story a thousand times and it feels as though it's lost its magic. 

The amount of hard work and sacrifice of this last year feels normalized. 

I'm still coasting.  That long-legged run at the end of a sprint, to prevent the startle of a dead stop. 

This morning it's all done.  This part of it anyway. 

And I've normalized it, but in so many ways that's dangerous.

Dangerous to believe this amount of stress is manageable long-term, dangerous to not acknowledge what it took to survive, dangerous to not learn how to be proud of yourself.

I told my clinical supervisor the other day that when I started this journey, I didn't start it because I knew I could do it.  This was not a shoe-in.  I started because I was faced with a choice.  A fork in the road.  To the right would have been a cliff, I think.  Or a path of a lot of the same.  Maybe not something as obviously malicious as a cliff -- but life wasn't in that direction.  Growth was.  Flourishing wasn't.  To the left was a bridge.  A precarious rope bridge.  And I had no idea where it led.

No one needs to understand why I made the decision I made.

As that same clinical supervisor said, "desire is enough".  I might quantify that with a "sometimes", but what she meant was I didn't owe anyone an explanation. 

But what I want you to understand, even if you don't need to know "why", is that I did not know if this would go well.

I did not know if this would end well at all. 

I came into this season of life with an empty cup.  I had experienced more loss and grief and hardship and sabotaging than I'd ever care to admit-- a season of total deconstruction.  And I truly wasn't sure I had what it took.

But the risk of trying was worth it, compared to the risk of taking any other path.

So here I am. 

I am 30.

It's 5pm now because I don't know how to write this.

But I have a Master's Degree.

I graduated with a 4.0, departmental honors; was awarded student of the year, and passed the state licensure exam last week.



And now it's all over.

I'm laying on the couch, 30 years old, with a Master's degree.

When I was 20 I wrote, "it's only weird when you think about it."

There's no eloquence to be had right now.  There's poetry in it, somewhere.  It's a story worth telling, certainly.  But all my good words have gone missing.  It's taking all I have to string sentences together coherently.  Because this is all over now.  And what comes next will be hard in a different way.  What comes next will be a brand new adventure.  And honestly, I'll have to wait until more words come to process that.

All I know is that last night it rained.

As it should. 

Stormed and flooded; lightning and thunder.  My god, it rained.

And Olivia said it first.

Washed it all clean.


2/2018

this morning i was driving into lexington and behind me the sun was rising and in front of me the darkest storm clouds were churning.  it looks like spring.

a song came on pandora and all i heard were the words, we don't get to be here long.

i spent the morning in an interdisciplinary meeting, shadowing, pretending i don't know what i came to learn.

bereavement risk.

spiritual risk.

grief.

loss.

thankful.

loss of control.

words being thrown around in the way that only professionals can throw them.

all ive been thinking about all morning is how short of a time we have.

that at the rate we are going, and if im lucky to die of old age, fifty or sixty more years doesn't seem like enough.

its not enough.

and my eyes are hot and puddled as i say that.

i hope for reincarnation.

i hope there's a pause.  of glory and relief.

and i hope one breath rolls into another and you are crying as you are rebirthed.

not because heaven isn't real.

or because i dont believe in what comes next.

i just hope that's what comes next.

and i hope that we get enough life that we eventually arrive to the end and we feel satisfied.


Friday, May 4, 2018

5/4/18

Someone in my family mentioned the other day about how they had spent their whole childhood wondering what they would be like when they were 30. 

I did too.

I remember when women I love turned 30.  My mom.  My aunt Donna.  Lea.  Each of these women were in a very different phase of life by the time they turned 30; their lives looked nothing like mine.  My frame of reference for 30 did not prepare me for what life looks like for me right now. 

As I crept closer to 30 I met peers whose lives looked like mine.  Single parents, unmarried, college graduates, homeowners.  Beautiful women who were either role models or cautionary tales.  Women who've loved us, uplifted us, led the way.

But I have very few people to look up to who knew how to navigate 30 the way I am going to have to. 

And that's the only part of the new decade that scares me. 

Otherwise, I am happy to be here. 

I struggled for days after my family mentioned how during childhood we daydream about 30.

I grappled with what my 12-year-old self would think of me today.

I worried that I have not made her proud.

The truth is, I wouldn't have.

There's no way 12-year-old Anna would be proud of who I am now, because 12-year-old Anna would have zero frame of reference for what it took to get here.

She'd not understand that being married and having a house and being a writer was not the only life worth living. 

Recently I left a really hard thing and paused, telling myself and the people standing with me: there are things in life that I am very thankful we don't know how hard they are before we go into them.

There are seasons of life, tasks, events, milestones, jobs, relationships, roles, that had we known how hard it would be... we'd have never started in the first place.

I'm afraid had you told my 12-year-old self I wouldn't have any of the things I wanted back then... she would have tapped out.  Run for the hills. 

I am so thankful we can't always see what comes next.

I am so thankful we don't encounter something until we are almost ready for it. 
I am so thankful for attributes of resilience and flexibility.

We've all seen the movies.  The Kid, with Bruce Willis, comes to mind.  As does Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  A character travels back in time and meets themselves as a child (in the case of the Meatballs, he travels forward and meets his future).  Ultimately a character is given a decision.  Do you alter your life by interrupting the course of events?  Or do you allow your former self to experience life as it comes?

I'd tell my 12-year-old self to be prepared.  To get ready to be surprised. 

That life would be hard. 

That even the next year of her life would be unbearably painful and scary.

But that life doesn't have to look like we planned to be good. 

I might be tempted to tell her what catastrophes to avoid.  When to leave and who to walk away from and who to speak up to.  But even then, I risk unraveling the whole story.

A story that, I hope, is nowhere near ending. 

A story about a lot of hardship, a lot of loneliness, but about a lot of adventure.  About a brown-eyed boy who thinks you are the most beautiful.  About rediscovering your strengths.  About being brave.

I'd tell her, just wait.  It's not easy.  But it's going to be good.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

3/27/18

I lodged the ball in a hidden space between my back and shoulder.  A tight, locked and tender place.  And then I leaned.

Leaned into my bad side.  The side that is deformed.  The side, internally rotated, causing so much grief.

I leaned into the pain, into the sharpness the ball found.  The place where blood wasn't flowing.

I leaned and pressed and turned, finding what hurt and working there.  In the hurt.

I pressed, and my mind flooded.

This is what I've been doing.

In every facet of my life.

I leaned and exhaled, thinking about distortions and schemas and thinking about driving hours to talk to people and asking to do a job I've never done.  Thinking about saying no.  About walking away.  About asking for more. About risking all over again.

Breathe out, realizing what had once been a year-long commitment is now five weeks away from being over.

The hard thing, the impossible thing, the painful thing... at least this one... is almost over.

I have spent almost a year laying on the proverbial lacrosse ball.  Manipulating the fascia of my mind and heart and spirit in order to be able to navigate this life with less suffering and more grace.

Some lessons it feels like I'll never learn.  That no matter how long I lay there, applying pressure in order to release the sinew and tissue... there's no relief.

But I am almost there.

And much like mobility work, the proof is in the re-test.

The evidence that your hard work and the discomfort paid off is when you re-test your ability to approach a challenge.  What was maladaptive before, what was compensated, is less so now.




Sunday, February 18, 2018

gun control, part 2

Judah will go to kindergarten in the fall.

And I do not want to send him.

I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now, because even before another mass shooting occurred in Florida, I was faced with the very real reality and concern that it could happen.

Late last year I wrote a post about gun control that helped me, not anyone else, wrap my mind around how I felt about this issue.

This time around, I am overwhelmed with the task of processing every other aspect of this argument.  So I come here.  To sort it out.

Right now my job is to provide brief intervention and therapy for pediatric patients at a doctor's office in town.  It is an affluent neighborhood and a homogenous demographic of children.  I anticipated, naively, I wouldn't have much work to do.  I was used to providing case management and resource services.  I was used to assessing for abuse and neglect.  I was used to a measure of preservation work that comes along with the oppression of poverty.  Even as a trainer for foster parents, I was used to providing alternative methods of discipline and redirection.  Unbeknownst to me, my jobs have prepared me for the truth that hit me square in the face this year.

So this week, on Wednesday night, when people started deciding who to blame for yet another tragedy where seventeen children and teachers were mercilessly slaughtered, I had a whole new perspective.

What I'm hearing mostly, regardless of what side it's on, is that it is a single faceted issue.

A one point problem.

Individuals, especially adults, have zeroed in on one issue worthy of campaigning over and have decided that their hot-button topic will be the answer.

I am solution-focused by nature.  I am wired in a way that allows me to be comfortable with your emotions, usually to let you sit in them, but I don't want to leave you there.  I am working on the practice of attending and mindfulness so that I am more comfortable with the nature of the present.  But I know I will never be the kind of person who graciously recognizes that nothing can change.

 So in an attempt to bring you my unsolicited opinion on this topic, I started listening.

I hear a few different things.

1) Guns don't kill people, people kill people.  You can outlaw guns, but then people will just use bombs, cars, knives.

2) This is not a mental health issue

3) It is a mental health issue

4) Gun laws need to be reformed

5) This is a parenting problem, a generational problem

6) This is not the time to discuss politics / this is not a party problem

7) We took God out of schools and this is the problem

I considered doing a literature review prior to writing this, and maybe I still will.  You deserve real information, reputable information.  In a world full of memes, peer-reviewed, substantial, ethically sound research is where it's at.  We will get there.  I will give you that.  Let's start with 1.

1. "People kill people".  People have killed people since the beginning of time.  We have not always had the access and availability of means for which to kill people.  But people have always been killing people.  People, I agree, will always find a way.  My concern with this approach is that it is dismissive and passive.  Someone dear to me recently helped me identify my hatred for the term "it is what it is".  He guided, patiently, the way only someone who loves you can do.  It really is what it is.  Buddhist principles that I admire so much even say so.  What's happening in the current moment is exactly the only way it can be.  We have to learn to accept this.  But my disdain for the statement comes more for a resentment and frustration for complacent people.  So yes.  People kill people.  I will, for the rest of my life, try to make it harder for people to kill people.

2. "This is not a mental health issue." This is where peer-reviewed research would come in handy.  I have a suspicion, although I've not been able to flesh this out in a respectful place, is that the stigma of mental health issues in America has made us believe that saying something is a related to mental health is an excuse.  It's a particularly sensitive subject for those of us who are passionate about race relations and justice for people of color.  We have created a society where white men who shoot and kill over a dozen people are"mentally ill" and have the opportunity to stand trial, but Black and Brown men and women are executed by police or fearful civilians without having access to their right of judge and jury.  This is not okay.  But I am here to tell you, there is a difference between someone saying "this is not a mental health issue" and "someone is not mentally ill".  I grew up with the instruction that behavior makes sense in context.  We strive to understand someone's experiences, their perspective, their history not in order to excuse them, but to explain.  In this context we strive to do so to find patterns so we can break cycles.  There are millions of people with diagnoses in America and all over the world.  There is no predictive validity to the presence of a mental illness in regard to mass terrorism.  Mental illness is a variation of human suffering, however.  And to deny that someone is suffering because we don't want to elicit compassion for them is not the way to find the solution.

3.   "It is a mental health issue".  I am only hearing this argument come from sides who are also saying #1.  That it is a mental health issue so gun reform can't fix it.  And if you're right, if this is purely an issue of psychopathology, gun reform won't "fix" that.  But you know what would?  Access to mental health care.  Health insurance.  Grants and programs that are designed to integrate mental health care into primary health care and school settings so when children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged and elderly adults have issues there's an additional net to catch them.  Ironically, these were components of the Affordable Care Act that, of course need improvement and revision, but the current administration is trying to repeal.  If this is a mental health issue, I'm concerned about why an Obama-era legislation was repealed last February regarding mental health screens and background checks for people who were seeking to buy a firearm.  I'd ask, for anyone who chooses this particular platform, to just seek consistency.  Mental illness, as I said before, is overwhelmingly specific to an individual and is a form of suffering but it does not have to be debilitating.  To label anyone with a mental health diagnosis as dangerous or evil would not only be unethical, but false.  This perspective perpetuates stigma and paints a picture of millions of people, using only one face.

4. "Gun law needs to be reformed".  Over the last three or four years, I have worked intimately with close to one hundred individuals with suicidal ideation.  In the scheme of things, this is not a high number.  But the protocol for working with someone who is a threat to themselves or to others, once they are in the care of a professional, is to ensure that they do not have the means to do so.  Are guns locked and kept safe?  Do you have access to copious amounts of medication?  Are the sharp knives put away?  Do you have a support system?  Safety planning is not foolproof and we have learned over the years that creating contracts with patients who want to take their own lives is less than effective.  However.  While contracting is not protocol, safety planning is.  We understand, on an intellectual and systemic level, that people pull triggers on guns.  People will do bad things.  In the same way that we know people will misuse narcotics, so we created legislation that controls these substances and holds doctors and pharmacies accountable.  Do people still misuse substances?  Absolutely.  But we created checks and balances so that fewer might try.  Fewer might have the opportunity.  Gun law reformation is not unlike this.  For those of you concerned about the black market, I am alarmed because this same logic is not being applied to marijuana which is not inherently harmful.  It is not even being applied to opiates, stimulants, or benzos.  Black markets are created by our legislation, and I am not denying their existence.  But how many people with limited means, social skills, access are able to not only discreetly find, but obtain goods through this system.  Cruz, in Parkland, Florida this week, obtained his AR-15 legally.  Because of the way Florida gun law is set up.  These are the kinds of laws we are talking about.  Systemically speaking, the problem is so large, deep, and multi-faceted I am afraid we are freezing in the face of it.  There's too much to do!  The problem is too big!  If we just do one thing, it won't be enough.  Whereas, my mentality as someone so accustomed to micro change and impact, is that some is better than none. When there is a problem this complex, a knot so tangled, progress is slow but it has to be made.  One law at a time.  The mentality of "we cannot fix it all" cannot keep us from fixing what we can.  I urge those of us who are in this camp to continue to lobby for reformation of the law.  But don't stop there.  Being myopic is just not an option here.  Be methodical.  Address the acute problem so we can move on to the chronic ones.

5.  And finally, "it's a parenting issue".

Deep breath.

This is actually what I came here to talk about.

Because you're right.  Really.  You are.

It's not the only issue though.  It is not the stand-alone, single cause of gun violence in America.

If you were to sit down with the parents of children or young adults who committed mass murders, empathetically sit and listen and consider the person in environment, I don't think you'd find much compassion or sympathy for the murderers.  But you might gain some understanding.  Which is not the same thing.

I said it before and I'll say it again. Understanding doesn't mean excusing the behavior.  It creates an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance, which most of us are not willing to grapple with.

I read a facebook status this morning from someone I've known for a couple of decades.  We were raised in the some town, by similar parents with (at the time) similar beliefs.  She attributes this current problem to "this generation".

She described this generation as entitled.  As coddled.  As requiring "safe zones and participation trophies".  She described that they're taught that right and wrong are gray areas and relative.  She described them as believing they are god, rather than serving THE God.

Talk about cognitive dissonance for me.  I tried to wrap my mind around what children she's talking about.  Is there a specific age group this applies to exclusively?  Is there that much of a generational gap that someone in their 30's uses these words to describe a teenager?

This is where you lose me on the "parenting is the problem" agenda.

I have been working with families and their children for only five years.  That is not a long time.  I have only been a parent for that same amount of time.  And in twenty years, maybe I'll come back to my thoughts on this topic and just shake my head at my naivety.

But for the last seven months, I have sat across a table from parents who've been caught by our net at the pediatrician's office.  They sit there with their children who are anxious, depressed, angry, suicidal, and afraid.  They aren't sleeping.  They're panicking.

And in almost every single parent, except the three (out of 70) who I can remember as being healthy, caring parents, I see a mirror image of their child.

I could write for days about this.  About as a neutral party how I can look at a family and see how something occurred.

But in this affluent, homogenous community who doesn't need my case mangement skills, who doesn't need resources, who doesn't need money... they're presenting to me with so much unhappiness and so much discontentment and so much pain.

I don't see entitlement.  But I do see bad parenting.

I do see parents setting an example with their behavior, which maybe they aren't setting with their words.

My point is.  Parenting is absolutely the issue.

My point is also that it is our generation and the ones above us who works for the schools right now.  For the government.  For the FBI who failed to investigate Nikolas Cruz.  It's our generation who's raising the next generation.  And we are the ones telling the victims of this most recent shooting that "They don't know what they're talking about".

We raised them, folks.  We are raising them.

And while you are maybe not raising a psychopath, so you feel comfortable with your performance as a parent... I wonder if you're raising an asshole?

You should have seen my face as I dared to type that.

The likelihood that the way you parent will result in pathological or murderous behavior is pretty low.  Statistically speaking, it would seem insignificant.  It only takes one person to kill hundreds or thousands, which is why we must address this.  But the likelihood that you will raise a selfish, unkind, greedy, self-involved person... those stats are a little higher.  That's the risk I want to talk about.

I don't know too many of the kinds of kids this friend described.  I tend to pull from a different pool than most do, so my guess is if you are a teacher you see more than most.

But my question is, how honestly different are these children than their parents?  How many entitled children have you met who did not have an entitled parent?  How many impatient children have you met without an impatient parent?  How many unkind children have you met without an unkind parent?

We are raising them.

So my question is.  Even though you're probably not raising a psychopath.  Are you raising an asshole?  Are you raising the men and women who will gain power in our society and only care about themselves?  Who won't know how to handle conflict?  Who won't know how to ask for what they need?

Ask yourselves these questions, and ask this of the people who will be honest with you who know your children.

Are you raising a kind person?

Are you raising an involved person?

Are you raising a thoughtful person?

A brave person?

Are you raising a child who feels heard?

Do you know what kind of person you are raising?  Because it takes time and intentionality to find out.

Discipline is an imperative component of parenting.  But as I talk to people in my generation (a millennial), we feel a distinct absence of guidance.  We were told what was wrong, for sure.  Most of us were spanked, most of us were punished, most of us were held accountable for our "bad" behavior.

But we weren't necessarily taught what the alternative to this was.

Bad behavior has consequences.  Don't do the bad thing.

And the buck stopped there.

When was the last time you asked your child his opinion?

When was the last time you took your child to volunteer somewhere?

When was the last time you sincerely asked your teenage child how he was feeling and how you could help?

This is not coddling.

Natural, age-appropriate, and consistent consequences are necessary.  Absolutely necessary.

But that's not all parenting is.

I've seen a few people flesh this comment out, and I'm very proud.

Usually, the statements will end with "and you're not their friend" and this always pierces my heart.  Because I know exactly what you mean.  But what I see, in practice, is that we forget we are raising humans whose friendship we are going to crave and covet if we do it right.  "Not being their friend" is really a statement about not trying to just make our kids happy all the time, which to be honest, I don't want that in a friendship anyway.  But it also doesn't mean you have to be a prison warden, it doesn't mean you can't like your child.

I have been asking people I know, both who are good parents and good clinicians, what the traits are of good parents.

They can't tell me.

I think we just know you when we see you.

But I would encourage you, if this is your platform, to recognize what a longitudinal issue this is.

We were raised a certain way and this is impacting how we are raising our children.

Change happens incrementally.  And it cannot be mandated or regulated.  Which is why this cannot be the only solution to the safety of our children in public places.

And with this culture we've created, we've created so much judgment.  So much superiority and blame-laying and shaming.

It would be beneficial for all of us if we considered the concept that someone is doing the best they can.  And if it bothers us so much that we don't believe this is true, then ask how we can help.

And then go home and sit down to dinner and ask your kid how he's feeling.

Ask how he's feeling and then ask him his opinion on something.  Ask him what ideas he has.

6. and 7. "This is not the time for politics/God belongs back in schools".  I only want to touch on. Because I am not emotionally intelligent to address these issues without being derogatory.

Wednesday was Ash Wednesday.

Most of the pictures from Douglas Highschool, teenagers had ashes on their foreheads.

School is not the place children learn their religion.  School is not the place children learn their morals.

A public school should be neutral territory where people of all walks of life can be free to express their faith and religion in any way as long as it is not harmful emotionally or physically to someone else.

This was depicted beautifully by a pastoral services student in one of my classes.  She is devoutly Christian.  And she gently mentioned in class one day that she has prayer rugs and multiple different religious texts available for her patients because "just because what I believe and what you believe is different doesn't mean I can't minister to you."  Let that sink in.

Ten Commandments from the Christian's Bible do not belong on the walls of schools unless every religion's religious texts are also represented.  Students should be allowed to pray, to organize faith-based functions, but teachers and administrators should not be making these things mandatory.  If you are a coach on a sports team and your students ask to pray, pray.  It just shouldn't be your idea.  And if it is your students' idea and they have classmates who don't want to participate, there's an opportunity to teach about inclusion and acceptance.  This is going to look different all over the country.

But to impose your beliefs about a God not everyone believes in is harmful.

To suggest that the God you believe in allowed this to happen because you took religious rites out of schools makes me terrified of the God you believe in.

That said.

In conclusion.

The root word of politics is "polis" in Greek that means city or also "polities" which means citizen.  The dictionary defines it is "the activities, actions, and policies that are used to gain and hold power in a government or to influence government."

Politics, by definition, is a power struggle.

For those suffering, there are multiple perspectives.

But engaging in political action is the only way anything has ever changed.

Because we have created a culture, which has a government (the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members of communities, via Merriam Webster dictionary online) we have created an existence or a life that is intertwined with politics.

Every last thing you do in America is related to politics.

If you identify as a non-political person, it means that you either have not educated yourself on how politics affect you, or you are so privileged that politics tend to err in your favor.

In this day and age, "being political" is one of the greatest insults someone may try and hurl at you.

Politicizing emotion or tragedy or using terror as a platform for political change is either viewed as necessary or abhorrent.  There's almost no middle ground.

But right now... there are too many people who are directly in danger or at risk because of a power struggle.

You can choose to remain uninvolved.  All this tells me is that you are either so deep in the throes of oppression that you don't have the energy left and that's why I have my job and use my voice.  Or you are so benefited by the systemic oppression that addressing it threatens you.  This is also why I use my voice.

I will not condemn you for not speaking up.  And I don't assume that if you don't speak up on social media, that you aren't involved elsewhere.  Plenty of people are only politically active on social media and that's not the kind of action we need.  I mean, if you are not speaking up in your families, at your workplace, at the voting booths... I will not condemn you.

I just ask you to use different language.

You are political.  Everything about your identity as an American is politicized.

It's just time to call it what it is.  That it is not your priority.

That political evolution might impact you in a way you deem negative.  So things are fine just the way they are.

We just have to tell the truth about that.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

reese's

August 2016 

I didn't pack enough food to take to work with me the other day.  The morning was hectic and it was more important to get Judah's shoes on than to pack an afternoon snack.

I had just enough time after work to drive straight to the gym for bootcamp.  So I texted a friend who works out with me and asked her if she had any snacks she could bring with her to tide me over.

She showed up at the warehouse that afternoon with two mini Reese cups.

Protein, we joked.  Perfect.

For the last three months, I have been working at a job on which I had piled exceedingly high expectations.  This job was my ticket out.  It was my saving grace.  It was my heroic opportunity to escape the tyranny I was experiencing in Winchester.  It was a chance to send Judah to school.  To do work that mattered.  To be proud of what I did.

I have this really detrimental habit, though, of ignoring important things.  Postponing doctor's appointments, avoiding the online banking app, not looking at the syllabus at the beginning of a semester.  I am not irresponsible, I just do not front-load well.  I cannot handle a barrage of information.  And I didn't budget well this time.  I guessed at some numbers, in my desperation to just "get out" and I reasoned that I would handle it like I've handled everything else so far.  I knew I was supposed to leave Clark.  To me, this seemed the only viable option.

It was a bad choice.

Judah has thrived at school.  Absolutely flourished in a way I could have never anticipated, but at the same time doesn't surprise me at all.  If all continues to go to hell, I will know I made the right decision for this season because my son has been poured into and taught and loved in a way that has truly nurtured his whole being.

But it was a bad choice financially.  It was a bad choice for my heart.

And I'm still processing the deep deep feelings of failure I have for making this decision.

To make ends meet I watched people's houses and dogs over the summer.  I have been cleaning people's houses as well, having to check my pride and do something I never thought I'd have to do.  Clean someone else's toilet.  This has helped curb the edge of the financial disaster that we've been perched on for the last three months.

Today, the severity and the harshness of the situation just settled in my belly.

I've been applying for new jobs, as much as I don't want a short stint of employment on my resume.  I've been looking outside my field of education, trying to find anything that will pay the bills.  Pay all the bills. I started looking for work outside of Lexington.  Branching out, expanding my search, to Louisville and Cincinnati.  Every day I get jobs sent to my email.  And every day I find a job to apply to, and just keep my fingers crossed.

I have been dealing with a certain degree of depression.  Between not being able to provide the way I've wanted to, working on a hospital unit which feels like a dungeon, doing work I am not nearly as passionate about as I dreamed I would be... recovering still from hurt and trauma.

Today I needed help from a manager at work.  He's a tall, friendly man who is always incredibly helpful.  And he showed up in my office today, walking in through the door into the tiny space, and leaned over and dropped two mini Reese cups onto my desk.

And this is what I believe.  In the middle of my worry and in the middle of the difficulty, I felt this was God's way of saying, "this job is not permanent.  This job is not meant to fulfill you.  But it will get you through until the better thing comes.  Until the real meal comes."

This was the greatest encouragement I could have received.

September 2017

It's been a year now.

About two months after Brian laid two Reese cups on my desk, a job opportunity came up for a promotion in my field.  A job as a director at a local nursing facility.

I was interviewed.  And called a few days later and offered the position.

I went into the facility that day to ask for particulars and tie up any loose ends.

This time, on my new boss's desk, was a whole jar full of mini Reese cups.

A whole jar.

I accepted the job.  Feeling like this was a sign.

That this was my green light to move forward with the promotion because I had felt before that God had promised his provision with two little Reese cups.

In November I started the new job and things didn't go quite as I had expected.

I don't even know how to tell part of the story.  I don't know how to explain how hard this was, without telling everything.

I don't know how.

So I won't.

February 2018

Six months after starting a director's job, I turned in a letter.

Thanks for the opportunity, it's time for me to go.

They asked me to stay, to help when I could.

So I started grad school, stepped down from a director's position, and helped out PRN all summer.

They asked me to stay in the fall.  So I stayed.  Helped every spare hour between classes and practicum. 

On Thursday they told me they didn't need me anymore.  I'd helped keep a department afloat, amid all the changes, they were fully staffed now.  The money wasn't there, and Thursday needed to be my last day.

If you can't imagine the disappointment and frustration and fear I felt over the next few days, I won't bother you with describing it.

Tuesday came around and I had gnashed my teeth and crunched the numbers enough and I did the bravest thing I knew to do.  In order to save my self. 

In order to, for once, put myself first. 

To slow the toll that was being taken on my brain and body. 

To finish well. 

I did the hard thing on Tuesday morning.

At the encouragement of my family and colleagues and clinical supervisor -- who encouraged me to me to be kind to myself. 

Tuesday night I came home and found an empty mini, Reese's cup wrapper on my bedside table.

Friday, February 2, 2018

opportunity

the story of grad school will later be told like this:

i was scared and did it anyway.

and whatever cosmic force is in control, she was who led me here.

leaving crumbs for me to follow.

as she barreled through the forest ahead, tagging the trees

with mindfulness.

attachment.

existentialism.

motivation. 

resilience. 

i am not here by accident.

i dont know if what comes next is a clearing or a valley or a wall or a river or a storm.

but the forest is particularly dense right now.

and what i've learned, from the forces, from the teachers, from the guides who mark the way,

is to pause.

what an opportunity, i've learned to say.

anymore, it only sounds a little bit like sarcasm. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

steel umbrella

There's an apparatus at the park.  A giant, steel umbrella with the bones of a canopy, which spins.

I have no idea how it's supposed to be used.

But I know how Judah likes to use it.  

He is lifted up, grabs on to the rim of the canopy, and throws his body in one direction.

Because of the tilt, the climb up is slow.  If he threw himself hard enough, the weight of his little body will hold him momentarily at the top before the spinning starts again.  This time on a downward spiral, fast, fast, fast.  

That's how my thoughts have been lately.  

Throw my whole weight into it. Hands gripped, knuckles white, legs dangling.  My whole self: doing my best to create momentum.

There's a reason we should not stay in one place.

There's a reason we should not let our lives grow stale.

I am here today, taking my feet and knees and thighs and hips and pushing them against air and angle and the truth is...

We do the hard work for the feeling of relief when our weight is matched with speed.

Something happened and because my world has gotten small, I thought it would never happen again.

Like light breaking through the dark curtains, when the sun breaks through the clouds.

Something familiar, but forgotten, returns.  And it took so long for it to come back, your first instinct is maybe to chase.

But your instinct is wrong here.  Because while it is good, it is not rare.  While it is what you need, in part, it is not limited in supply.

You just let your world get small.

And the weight and angle and grip carry you higher and you travel the circumference and remember.  

I know how to do that.

I had forgotten.  I had forgotten that what light broke through the darkness this time, was not new.  It was not special, in the sense it was like none other.  I had found it before.  I'd find it again.  I had just let my world get too small.

Deep breath, pause at the top.  A smile tugs at the corners of my mouth as I wait, legs dangling, the momentum does its job and 

speed.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Maui

We sat in the back yard and I knew him when I saw him.  The oddball. 

A surprise and a gift and we followed him around as he explored. 

Walked away, the three of us.

I knew, no one else did, that I was trying to replace what was lost. 

I was trying to fill a void, the space left empty. 

Let us take care of something.  Let us heal. 

And I was up around the clock. 

Potty training.  Softening food.  Bathing.  Snuggling.

I remember the night Judah got jealous.  I remember the night that he got his fingers gnawed on and he cried and panicked and I remember thinking, I did this for youHow could I have gotten it so wrong?

And what we had expected never happened. 

Voids never filled.  There was no fulfillment.  No peace.

Families have pets, I thought.  Somehow in my mind, this gesture, this gift, would make us whole.  Would repair what had been broken. 

So every time this oddball peeled and ate a whole bunch of bananas or dug through the trash or pitted an avocado or gnawed on a pair of eyeglasses, resentment grew.

This was supposed to fix it. 

And I had been wrong. 

When we moved home, he came with us.  Happier to have a yard, happier to have a friend. 

But what happens in May? I wondered.

When this pup, who turned out much differently than we thought he would, has to go back to living in a crate.  Has to move into an apartment.

What happens when we attribute so much meaning and so much expectation on one thing.

One person.

One job.

One degree.

One house. 

One salary.

One ring.

What happens when we wait to repair and we wait to heal and we wait to redeem and we wait to resolve and we wait to reconstruct because we feel we are missing pieces. 

We wait to live.

So I think back to the backyard.  Picking that warm, furry body out of the pile of warm, furry bodies.  Thinking, certainly, this will fix us.  This will heal what hurts.

And in hindsight, knowing I was wrong, I wonder how to let go.

When we attach ourselves to the purpose of something, the function it can serve, rather than who it is intrinsically... love has a hard time growing.  We become enmeshed, calling it love; except we only really love what it was supposed to do for us.   

What happens in May today turned quickly into what happens now?  And all over again I have to face this furry, oddball puppy who can't stay.  

floodlighting

Turns out, graduate school really takes it out of you. 

Not as if I haven't done all I knew to do over the past seven years to be my best self.  But the last eight months have been an entirely different story.  Rapid transformation seems to bring on a certain measure of shame for not changing, evolving, so quickly in the past.  

Education and resources and perspective have changed and elicited this transformation... there's no way my brain looks the same as it did at the beginning of last summer.

I read something in Daring Greatly by Brene Brown a year or two ago... and I spent an hour trying to find it on the internet yesterday without having to check the book back out from the library.

Turns out everyone loves talking about bravery and vulnerability and what it does for us.

But not many people want to sound byte the narrative about what happens if we do it wrong.

And I wasn't doing it wrong on purpose.  But it still was happening. 

I got a nasty text from someone who didn't know me the other day.  Who talked about how I was too much, essentially.  That I had abandonment issues.  No wonder I was alone.  I took it with a grain of salt because, again, they don't know me.  But I sifted through the criticism and remembered this term from Brene's work.  Looked long and hard to find it.  The internet is a strange place.

But its called "floodlighting".  Defined by Brene as an attempt to elicit a response or to breed connection or a false sense of intimacy.  When we share too much too soon with the wrong people. 

Some people do it for attention (think: Kardashians). 

And then there are people like me.  Still working through a lot of shame and a lot of trauma and trying really hard to not let it fester in the dark. 

Maybe I want to know if you're okay with my story before we get too deep into this; it'll hurt less if you choose to bow out early.  There's a small part of me that still naively believes that if you know what I've been through, maybe you'll choose to engage me differently.  Not stay out of pity or choose me out of obligation.  But if you know what my family has been through and you recognize you can't fill a single need we have, maybe you'll just choose to go.  Maybe you'll choose to communicate. 

Maybe it's my way of normalizing some of what we've been through.

But it's not good.  And I know that.  I knew it before I just didn't have a name for it, and so now that I have a name for it I not only feel empowered but I have immediately done the work I know to do to fix it.

This space, my writing, is not so different from that concept of too much too soon with the wrong ones.  But you choose to be here. Over the years, you know whether you want to click this link and read along or not.  Really I don't share details here until after I've processed it all, anyway.  And that's one key component to healthy vulnerability versus floodlighting.  Being vulnerable not to fill a need and not dependent on a response. 

Yesterday I was talking with a friend who was describing herself as an empath.  I have spent my entire life with empaths. 60% of the women in my immediate family are empaths.  It wasn't until yesterday though, after my friend stated that she thought I was one too, that I realized I wasn't.

So, as per usual, I did some research. 

Turns out there are four common emotional personality types.  The Intellectual, the Empath, the Rock and the Gusher.

And guess which one I am. 

I am currently hitting my face with my palm, face red still from the embarrassment.

Sometimes it's embarrassing to find out who you are.

And I'm right there.

Gushers, according to Dr Judith Orloff, are incredibly comfortable with our emotions.  We express them, experience them, share them.  Sometimes too much.  We don't wallow in negativity because we are comfortable feeling it, but we often want to talk about it.

It took me a few minutes to get over feeling embarrassed and of course... shaming myself for feeling lots of emotions, which of course makes me the "gusher" that I am.  It took me reading through the other personality types to convince myself that I was not the only one with inherent and interpersonal flaws. 

And then I realized what the author recommended was not to change yourself, but to strengthen yourself; her methods suggested were everything I've been working on the past seven to eight months.  Somehow, without the words to describe myself, I had perceived my own need and begun the hard work. 

I also was able to recognize and acknowledge that this is one of the reasons why I am not too shabby at my job.  Why I thrive in these fast-paced, charged environments.

The way people feel doesn't scare me.

People's experiences and feelings and grief and joy... I am not overwhelmed by them. 

I understand them.

My empathy may not look like absorbing their energy or sharing their load. 

But I can sit with someone.  I can let them be, whatever it is they need to be.  I am a sensitive listener.

And that's something. 

Am I still a little embarrassed?  Sure.  Kind of like realizing you've been walking around with a hole in the seat of your pants, or your dress got caught in your pantyhose.  Nothing too mortifying.  Nothing anyone has not seen before.  Just a little embarrassed because here's a flaw.  And I know I have them.  I just didn't want you to know.

The other facet of this process has been resisting the urge to text everyone I've ever vented to and apologize.

I'm sorry for who I am, essentially. 

None of this is news to you all.  I'm sorry it took so long for me to see it. 

Growth sucks.  But here I am.  Neck deep in changing our whole lives, starting with my mind and heart.

I'm doing the best I can.  

Monday, January 29, 2018

when it's over

Endings are wildly irreverent, sometimes. 

But I tore it to pieces and I'll throw it in the trash on my way out.

No ceremony.  No celebration.

Just an ending.

A debt paid in full. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

1-28-07

January 28th 2007.  

A heavy breath of fog had descended on the bus station, causing lights to blur, and a layer of dampness to cling to every surface. He watched as drivers and security filtered through the automatic doors, and he felt the gust of warm air on his face every time just as the doors closed again. 

He had finally worn holes in the soles of his shoes. His threadbare scarf was wrapped tightly around his neck, and his fingerless gloves were fraying. He lowered his head, lifted the burning cigarette to his lips, and drew a deep breath. He had been sitting here for hours.

Beside him on the ground lay a duffel bag. Green canvas, his name was printed on the side. It was stuffed, filled to the top, and these days the seams were stretching. The shoulder straps were darkened from his sweat, the bottom of the bag blackened from the many station floors it had fallen upon. His own shoulders had taken shape to accomodate the heavy bag, and he couldn't even remember what it felt like to walk without it.

A bus pulled into the station, its brakes exhaling and whistling. He looked up and caught a glimpse of the bus' number. The headlights penetrated the fog and darkness, and then was absorbed by the fluoresent glow. This was his bus.

He stood up, dropped the cigarette butt on the concrete, grinding it with the thin toe of his boot, and shouldered the heavy bag.

The sun would rise in a few hours, but he would already be on the road. When natural light was cast upon the bus station again, he would be gone. His bag a few pounds heavier, his pockets that much emptier. The thing was, the bag would only continue to get heavier. And his pockets would continue to be lined and then spent, his belly continue to get fed and then become hungry again. The only consistency was what was so inconsistent. The only thing that never seemed to change was the bag.

He shifted the strap on his shoulder and took a step forward. The windshield wipers on the bus began to sweep back and forth as the fog released cold rain. Taking a deep breath he left his bench and walked towards the bus, stealing one last look at the station through the corner of his eye.

There were days this bag groaned beneath its own weight. There were days when he wept for the weight of it on his own shoulders. The days of inspiration came and went. Days when he would stand up and leave the bag on the bench, or in the restroom, or in the overhead compartment. On those days he was done with the weight of it all. He was done with tying the top closed, making sure nothing fell out, reminding himself that his identity was carried in that bag. On those days he would leave the bag.

Those same days were the days he picked it back up again. Turn a corner and be struck by shocking vulnerability. Who was he without that bag? And he reminded himself he was nothing, that he was empty without it, and he would turn around. Usually running, he would return to pick up the green, canvas bag with his name on it, stained and smelling. Shouldering it again, he would continue on his way, he back aching from the weight, his soul darkened by the presence of the baggage.

Today was another day of inspiration.

Oh! what he could do without this bag. He could live a real life, find love, find his way back home.... the thoughts and ideas and dreams churned like turmoil in his heart until he could muster enough courage to lay the bag down again. Those were the days of inspiration. Those were the days, which inspired change. Those were the days when his heart, body, mind and soul wanted freedom from this burden.

He had grown strong for carrying this bag. He was powerful for having it. He was in control of his identity because of this bag. No one could take it from him, he was in charge.

But there were days when the bag had all the power.

He shook the thoughts out of his mind this time. Too much had been tucked away in that bag today for him to leave it behind. Someone might find it. Someone might see.

So he handed his ticket to the attendant, nodding silently and blowing the last of the cigarette smoke out of his mouth. He wondered if the attendant would think it such a "good morning" if she carried a bag like his. Would she be so happy if her shoulders ached like his did?

And then they reached for it.

This was why he hated traveling. Why he would rather hitch hike, sleeping in the bed of an old Chevy as it rumbled down the road. His fellow travelers never took his bag away from him. Some of them even had their own baggage thrown in the passenger seat, making the journey too.

The buses always took his bag. Every time.

He slipped the bag off his shoulder, feeling for a brief, strange moment what it felt like to be free. But only for a moment. He leaned over and picked the bag up in his arms as if it were a child and handed it over.

The cold rain fell on his skin and began to soak through the shoulders of his coat. The percipitation darkened the green canvas, making it appear black. He turned to climb into the bus, feeling the emptiness of his arms and the absence of the load on his shoulder.

And then he heard it.

He had known the bag was too full. He had patched and mended the seams too many times to count; this morning when he had dropped the empty flask onto the top and then clasped the bag shut, he remembered wondering how much more the bag could hold.

He heard them exclaim their apologies. He saw her bend down to retrieve the contents of the bag before they rolled beneath the bus. He watched as the wind caught hold of the loose strap and he felt his heart sink.

There, scattered on the wet asphalt, caught in the damp glow of the headlights was his life. Or, what it was his life had become. And he fell to his knees. He pushed her away, trying to hide his belongings as quickly as he could. There were, perhaps, a few more secrets, which hadn't been exposed. He wrapped up contents in the ripped bag and stood up. Shaking his head, holding back the tears, he stood up and walked away from the bus.

The rain came down harder. He felt the raindrops chase down the back of his neck, sending shivers up his spine. He stared down at his life, laying helpless in his arms. And he felt the hurt.

That's what the bag was for, anyway. To hide the hurt. To keep it. To numb it. Open the bag and it all returned... the memories, the addictions, the loneliness, a little bit of joy every now and then. Open the bag and his life would rise up, and he could smell it. He could taste it. He could hear it. The bag was to keep it all at bay.

The bag was broken now.

And he felt sick.

And he felt tired.

And he began to remember what it was like to feel...

And it was no longer inspiration... nor was it embarrassment.

But he felt something, heard it rise up with the fog.

And he stepped into the bus station, feeling the warmth on his cold, red cheeks again, letting the water drip from his boots. And he dropped his bag, dropped what was left of his life into the trash can.

He backed away slowly, still worrying that someone might find his secrets. But he left the station again, sat back down on his bench, lit a cigarette, and waited for the next bus. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Tell Me About the Time You Did the Dishes

Old Friend from Far Away / Tell Me About the Time You Did the Dishes

There was a season in our life that made a lot of sense.  

I had moved out of our childhood home before it all happened.  And then he moved out too. 

And for a long season, there was a lot of secrecy and a lot of dinners at restaurants and a lot of cleaning up whatever he left behind at the old place and a lot more of feeling left out.  

And then Fiddler's Creek happened.  

New beds happened.  That sectional happened.  A whole season of 24 happened.  

We'd all be there.  The four of us and him.  And it was clean and it was sparse and it was the best thing I can ever remember.  We would cook or order out, usually on a Monday night so that afterward we could watch Kiefer Sutherland save the world.  

After dinner he would always move to the sink in the small kitchen and wash the dishes.  

We would offer to do it for him and he always shook his head.

He liked washing dishes, he said.  

Most of what goes on in my days doesn't make sense, he tried to explain.  

When I wash a dish it's dirty, then it's clean, and I get to put it away.  Eventually, the whole sink is empty.

That made sense to him.  That was his resolution.  

A few years later I lived in a studio apartment and was a few months pregnant.  I had let the dishes pile high and couldn't bring myself to tackle the job of washing them.  

Finally, whether it was really that bad or pregnancy had heightened my sense of smell, I couldn't take it any longer.  I rolled up my sleeves and went to work.  

I remember being done and looking at the empty sink and knowing nothing moving forward would resolve quite so beautifully.  And I was thankful.