persist

I am of the opinion that life is going to be painful.

(EDIT: Upon the first re-read, I see that as a ridiculously stupid statement. Of course life is painful. It is nonsense to say that is my ‘opinion’. It is a fact. In spite of the stupidity of the statement, I’m leaving it there and telling you this: What I meant to say was that I am ‘of the mindset’ that life is going to be painful. Which is similar to having an opinion, but different…somehow…. Anyway, let’s get on with what I was attempting to convey here; something about my somewhat fatalistic approach to life…)

I tell myself not to be surprised when challenges come or when ‘bad things’ happen, because life is hard. Things fall apart. People are easily broken, and mostly messy.

That’s not to say that I walk around all doom and gloom; I don’t. I’m generally happy and optimistic and I believe the best about darn nearly everything and everybody. I am often full of joy and mostly content.

But life is life. We are born shrieking, out of pain, and although our trajectory be ragged at times, we are pretty much headed inevitably towards death. So it goes.

I try to keep my expectations realistic. Everybody suffers. I look around and see the pain that friends have endured and understand that there is no comparison, no escape, and no sense in pushing it all away. I consider the hurt I have felt in my own life; I remember. I know that strangers all over the world are suffering in ways I cannot even imagine. The best we can do, mostly, is be present in that reality; to offer aid when we can, and to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.


I finished watching ‘The OA’ tonight; a Netflix series that I found quite compelling, very odd, and strangely beautiful. My viewing stretched out over a couple of months, as I ended up contemplating the story carefully in between episodes. I didn’t think about it a lot, but I thought about it some, and I did some reading about the back story and the creators. The dramatic premise (mad scientist, kidnapped laboratory subjects for his experiments, etc.) was a little much at times, but the exploration of life beyond this one – the ‘afterlife’ – was an interesting bit of imagination.  The character development is fascinating and the tale itself is fantastical…and it had me thinking, maybe…just maybe? 

It’s fiction; it’s entertainment. But the best creative work does more than occupy an hour or two; artistic endeavors that leave me mulling life and death and people and relationships and eternity – well, that’s the stuff that’s worth my time. ‘The OA’ didn’t change my theology or alter my beliefs about Life and Death, but it certainly made me think about all of the above – along with the power of our imagination and what’s behind – or in front of – a good story.


I also finished a Wallace Stegner book this week; Crossing to Safety drug me back into the 1940’s and thrust me into the life of two couples and their life-long relationship with one another. Those four people became real to me over the course of this novel, in a way that has tucked them into my memory like some long-lost cousins. It’s uncanny, the power of words to make you believe and understand and care about people who are actually fiction. But they live in my head now, in my heart, in my understanding of humanity.

I am thinking about pain and life and death in the context of these two fictional bits of art and entertainment because it happens to be where I sit on this Friday night. My heart is content, with positive input from all directions: Work, spiritual life, future plans, learning, children, husband, family, friends. There is the sweet sense that all, in this particular moment, is well; that sense is deeply satisfying. And yet I know that this sweet spot will not last. This is not the end-all, be-all for life. This is not what I am striving for.

And that’s the thought that strikes me tonight, brought on by the gift of one daughter’s art and inspiration and the heartfelt words of another. I am soaking in the gentle peace of this moment, this Sabbath evening with my son and his friend slipping into sleep on one side of the house, my beloved husband – my person, as I kept telling him last night – snoring gently on the other. The encouraging words of a friend are in my ear from a late afternoon phone call – words that are leading me into a new field of study and a step of faith-filled risk. In this moment, all is well; and all will be well. I say that, all the while confident that there will be pain and loss and darker days around the corner, but I believe life is meant to be looked upon with expectation and hope, fueled by grace and mercy that is not of our making.

Hence, all will be well.

This is a deeply rooted part of my faith, and I have yet to see which comes first – the chicken or the egg? The faith that mercy is true and good and will appear as needed? Or the mercy that exists as sure and solid as granite, giving birth to faith?

Whichever is primary, they are the bones of my life. And it is in that spirit – as much as it is in the strength of my stance as a strong woman, born of a strong woman, grandmothered by a strong woman, mother of three strong women – that I persist.

Life is hard. Nobody owes you anything. You are loved anyway – deeply, madly, surely. Persist.

Life will be painful, and pain-filled. You will mourn. Your heart will ache. Persist.

You will be shushed and silenced; you will meet resistance. Your joints will stiffen and you will be filled with fear. Persist.

You will live; you will die.

Nevertheless, persist.

For all the moments in between, all the bits and pieces of mercy and grace that will come to you in the open hands and outstretched arms of your brothers and sisters (and yours sons and daughters), persist. For all who will speak healing into your brokenness and comfort to your grief – persist.

And see that all is well, and all will be well.

persisted2
You can purchase a copy of this beautiful print from Moon River Print Co; that’s my daughter. 

This Should Not Be Happening

 

Two people I loved died last week. Both lived in Texas, in or around the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex, where I went to high school and where my parents lived for over 20 years.

Both deaths were sudden and unexpected. The news came to me, in both cases, via a text message. In both cases, I whispered No. No. No no no no no no no….. I choked and tears flowed.

We push against the news of death, as if our desire to make it not-be-true might actually carry some weight. What else is there to say, but to shout No! To cry out a denial, to protest that This should not be happening?

My nephew by marriage – my kids’ cousin, just a few months older than my son Daniel – passed from this life to the next, the second chapter in a horrific story of loss. His older brother lost his life in a car accident a little over two years ago, and Brendon’s heart never mended. He lost his way, and his efforts to numb the pain led to an ending that broke all our hearts all over again. His twenty-one years were far too short. If you are the praying sort, you might remember his strong mama and his tender-hearted daddy, whose legs have little strength to stand after losing their boys. This should not be happening.

My friend and mentor, Jeff – a ‘door holder’ in my life who received an entire blog post in his honor – fell last weekend, for reasons unknown, and the subsequent injury took his life. Here was almost 70 years of family and love and music and business and travel and pride and joy; but the loss was still shocking and painful. This should not be happening. 

I traveled to Texas to attend both funerals. My head was spinning. There to honor the lives and the families of those who had died, I also encountered other sorts of loss along the way that were personal and deeply felt. I came to understand, as I drove the 90 miles back and forth from Tolar to Grand Prairie, from Dallas to Granbury, just how disjointed and disconnected my life had been. There seemed to be few points of connection between the girl who went to high school smack dab in the middle of the metroplex and the one who moved to a small town to teach K-12 music. While in Grand Prairie, I talked with folks who’d been settled in the area for most of the past 40 years. They stayed home, they stayed connected. While in Tolar at Brendon’s funeral, I talked with men and women who were students there when I was teaching; now grown, with grown children of their own, they were still tied to the community and the town. They stayed home, they stayed connected.

I looked at my own life and realized that there was precious little staying home anywhere. These past 12 years that I have lived in Powhatan consist of my longest tenure anywhere in my life, other than my first 13 years in Pennsylvania (and I’ll pass that record soon). I’ve traded communities and friendships every few years; I’ve planted weak, shallow roots that have often grown quickly faded blooms and then been left to die, abandoned in search of better soil.

I’ve had very little roots, it seems. And yet there is this: I have had a sense of place and I’ve invested in people wherever I have gone; and so going back to Texas brought a certain sense of grounding to my soul in a way I hadn’t experienced in a long time. It was, I think, a recognition of what it meant to come ‘home’ to a place that only bore that title for a limited time, with limited results. And whether or not the streets were familiar, even if I was struck by how much had changed, it was easy to find a few things to cling to, and to take away great gifts of remembrance. Mostly in the people.

There is a family, joined by grief, imperfect and dysfunctional. Mine is not the only divorce that has happened, but most of us gather; we come back, to do what we can to honor loss, to be present. We were family at one time; that counts for something. My kids share the same blood; there is connection there. We sing the songs of sorrow, we listen to the proclamation of hope in eternity, we embrace one another, we follow the ritual. We look and see a bit of our history in each other, glimpsing the passage of time in a more dramatic fashion than that which comes in day-t0-day living. We agree that this should not be happening, and we grieve. The grief washes over us all in waves, and we ride it, unsteady, together.

There is friendship – memories of school days, long ago. There is the history of friendship, mentorship; teaching and learning and a communal passion for music that soars and sings of secrets and mysteries beyond this life. Shared reminders: ‘If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right’; challenges to ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way.’ The snarky comments about the soprano section. Music, sung fresh, new, in real time – carrying the weight of a lifetime; nostalgia, notes and rhythms taught and internalized by 17-year-olds who had little idea what a lifetime meant.

The Lord bless you and keep you…the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and give you peace…

I sat through two funerals last week. In one, I played and sang music; in the other, I absorbed music. In both cases, I was fully engaged.

I wore the same black dress to each service. I was the same person, looking at a history of the different person I have been over the half-century of life I have lived. The disparate, disjointed bits and pieces came together in an odd fashion.

I went to two funerals last week. In being present to honor and respect the lives lived – even if, deep within the fault lines of my soul I continued to whisper this should not have happened – I found a small, slight glimmer of truth about my own life. I was present for myself; for my own history, the different places I have been, the different lives I have tried on like costumes in a photo booth. I inhabited all those places and found them filled with grace, for the girl I was, and for the woman I have become.

I found myself thinking this thought as I hovered over my journal this morning, pen in hand:

Out of death comes life.

I am not sure what I mean by that, exactly. But is there any other hope we might hold within our loss? Is there anything else we might strive to catch hold of, as our eyes turn towards the heavens?