Never Again and Forever After

Twelve days ago, on Good Friday, my life fell spectacularly, publicly, heartbreakingly apart. After all of these past months of struggle, fighting and turmoil, everything in me gave up. I caused a terrible car accident in which, by the grace of God no one was hurt. But the aftermath, the wreckage has been incalculable.

brokenI ended up in the ER tonight because I have not been able to eat or drink anything for twelve days, despite the significant steps I’ve taken to start to rebuild whatever my new life will look like. My body just told me that it was simply not going to continue this way and it didn’t.

At the hospital, they were perfunctorily kind, suggesting that I perhaps try relaxation exercises, and brought in a very nice young man who asked me if I was considering harming myself. Since I believe that my life, and more importantly, my reactions to my life, to years of  deep misery had already done enough harm, I said “No.”

So they gave me some fluids, checked my blood work, watched as I shook, vomited up the water I couldn’t keep down, and then eventually sent me home. Lying there waiting to leave, I alternated between being terrified that this was actually what it looked and felt like when someone was truly cracking up, and then offering exactly what I was in those moments to God.

I thought that I had surrendered to God, but then I remembered that last night, my prayer was not to surrender but to want to want to surrender. I believed I had done this, but I hadn’t, until tonight. I surrendered because I had no choice, and a deep sense of giving in and giving up came over me.

Not of giving up my life, but giving up, entirely and completely, the struggle.  In that moment, in repeating to myself, over and over, “I’m done. I’m done,” I knew that I wasn’t done with my life. I was done with the misery of a life I’ve been living for such a long, long time. A river began to flow through me.

On the way home, I made a fierce commitment and that is this: “I will fight as hard as it takes for as long as it takes to recover.” Recovery of body, mind and spirit. That I never again want to live a life of relentless, undignified, useless suffering. And that no one and nothing was going to take anything else away from me. Or rather, that I was not going to let myself give any part of myself away. That I would fight for the life that God means for me to live, no matter what.

If you are struggling, remember this: Blessed be the warriors who are given the privilege of following this path, blessed be the suffering that leads us somewhere, especially somewhere bigger, greater and more meaningful. Blessed be.

See below, from Anne Frank, “As long as this exists…”

As long as this exists…

Anne Frank

“‘As long as this exists,’ I thought, ‘and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts, I cannot be unhappy.’ The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be.”

Love always,



Could it Really Be This Simple?

I found this Post-It in my son Jacob’s room and had to capture it on film. I asked him what you should do if the moment sucks, and he said, “Then live in some other moment.”

my new motto

A clarion call of a poem today from Mary Oliver about living in other moments, other lives, going down new paths, reaching beyond what you can see. Yes, it really could be this simple.

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives —
to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches
of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?

Do you think this
world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and
notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the
air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder
we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from
your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all
attentive to what presents itself
Who will behold the inner
chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer

Well, there is time left —
fields everywhere invite you into

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on
your coat, leave your desk!

To put one’s foot into the door of the grass,
which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be

To set one’s foot in the door of death, and be overcome

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the
ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that
way, to the flowers of the
present hour,
to the song falling out of the
mockingbird’s pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have

in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and
rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling
it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,

and the
opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
to the wild
deny me not,
but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I
sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or tow of music, damp and rouge
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing
in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what’s coming
is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a
while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
upon the immutable.
more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I
would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn’t ended

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross
the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.

I climb, I
I float.
I ramble my way home.

–from West Wind

Invitation: Come for Comfort

On Saturday afternoon I was at the nail place getting my no-chip manicure, looking at and listening to the people around me, which feels a bit like watching TV–calming and weird at the same time. There were two young women talking about their plans to go out drinking, discussing the names of drinks they planned to try: the “Dirty Girl Scout,” the “Naked Girl Scout,” and something with the words “blow job” in the title. There was a lady talking about her plans for the family Christmas dinner she was making, and how some of the kids could eat off of Christmas plates but not all could because she didn’t have enough for everyone, but maybe she should go to Kohl’s and buy more? And then there was the gigantic football player and his girlfriend: he was getting a mani-pedi, she was texting her friends.

Then the Christmas music started, specifically, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and tears started running down my cheeks because all I have on my mind are the people of Newton, Connecticut and their families. I was crying, but couldn’t wipe my face because my hands were soaking in polish remover, and this seemed both ridiculous and completely appropriate at the same time. We go about our regular, sweet, silly little lives, because what else would we do, and at the same time we are all, as one of the characters in Jan Karon’s lovely “Mitford” novels says, “trying to swallow something that won’t go down.”broken-hearts-on-hands

I’ve been wondering for days whether to write this post because what in God’s name can anyone say or do?  That is the question I was asking myself on Saturday, sitting there in the nail place, especially when the owner’s two little boys came in and crammed themselves into one pedicure chair together and played Angry Birds on an i-Pad. What can I do? What can I say? What can I do?

So this post has just been a draft, and would have remained as such until today’s news of the funerals started coming out, and I realized that I was actually afraid to take my 7-year old son out shopping on our way home tonight. What they say when school shootings happen is always the same: “Things like this don’t happen here.” But that has never been true. Things like this happen here, wherever you are reading this; here is Virginia, Oregon, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Norway…the bottom line is that Newton, Connecticut is anywhere, everywhere, and those children and those families are us. All of us.

My intention in writing this post is to invite you to come and be here. Something like a virtual prayer service. Just be here, with whatever you have, whatever you can offer, whatever you feel. Come and sit here, in front of your computer screen, and pray as hard as you can, pray with everything in your heart. Cry or breathe, let your heart break open, then pray some more, because it matters and you won’t be alone. I truly believe that when we have no idea what to bring but bring ourselves anyway, it matters. If all you have to offer is grief, then sit here in front of your computer with your grief. You aren’t alone, and it matters. Your grief matters. Your love matters. There is love here. There is heart here. Because you are here and you aren’t alone.
brokenheartThe poet Denise Levertov wrote, “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” That is what made me write this post. And because, as the Rilke poem below tells us, when grief is all you have, then grief is what you bring. It is right and good to demand that God hear our grief and help us bear it.

Read the poem. And if you want to let me know that you were here, if it helps you to do that, I promise you that your prayers will be in my heart as I keep offering up whatever I have to offer. Your prayers will echo in the hearts of everyone who is here reading, and that matters. Together we can share what feels unbearable, together all our prayers will mean something, not just to us individually but to everyone else in pain. I promise that too.

I read this quote from one of the Newton school neighbors who took some children into his home to wait for their parents: “This little boy turns around, and composes himself, and he looks at me like he had just removed himself from the carnage and he says, ‘Just saying, your house is very small,'” Rosen said. “I wanted to tell him, ‘I love you. I love you.'”

When our hearts are broken, sometimes love comes out. It will never be enough, but it matters more than we ever know. I love you. I love you.

Pushing Through

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
 in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.

Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

In Which I Write About Jacob’s Accident & Become Famous

As some folks know, Jacob was hit by a car last month while riding his bike to school. The driver didn’t stop (yes, you read that right. Someone hit a child on a bike, knocked him over and kept driving.)  Jacob wasn’t hurt.

It was a very powerful learning experience for all of us.  I wrote a short piece about it for the website, and it is my Very First Guest Post Ever.  Go here to read it (Mom, that means you have to click on the underlined words).

Happy May Day all!

Dining with David Whyte, Part 2

It’s taken me a long time to get up the courage to write about this experience because I was afraid I would sound like a braggy name-dropper.  But maybe it’s that enough time has gone by, maybe I’ve eased up on myself, or maybe it’s reading about artists like Summer Pierre, who set 6 and 12-month creative goals for themselves, and have the self-permission to pursue them without getting in their own way.  I love this kind of humble confidence–the simple, fierce belief that you, and everyone else, have the right to do something other than what David Whyte calls waking up every day into the “great To Do list” of your life.  (Summer Pierre is AMAZING, BTW.  Must-reads on her web site: “100 Things,” and the story of how she gave birth to her son on the side of the highway in NYC).

Continue reading “Dining with David Whyte, Part 2”

Dining with David Whyte, Part 1

Someone recently asked Barbara Walters who she thought would/could “replace” Oprah as the queen of talk TV.  Barbara put her own astute spin on her answer and said, “Lady Gaga.”  She wasn’t referring to Lady Gaga as a talk show personality, but rather as a charismatic figure who speaks directly to her fans (her “little monsters”) with a message of empowerment and courage:  “It is a different time but the same message: ‘I had to struggle, I couldn’t get there, look at me, I made it, and YOU CAN TOO.’  And both of these women, Lady Gaga at 25 and Oprah in her 50’s, both of them mean it.”

Oprah has always authentically aspired to motivate her viewers, listeners and readers to live their “best lives,” and Gaga does the same.  Whether you like her (or even care about her) or not, Lady Gaga is a cultural phenomenon to pay attention to, if for no other reason than the extraordinary popularity she experiences.  She is bizarre, real, savvy, and culturally attuned to the complex issue of 21st century identity.  She has said: “I am the excuse to explore your identity.  To be exactly who you are and to feel unafraid.  To not judge yourself, to not hate yourself.” 

If this message seems worn out or far removed for you, (e.g. if you had had enough of Oprah’s empowerment talk, or are thrown off by the image of Gaga wearing a raw steak on her head or clumping through an airport in 24″ Viktor & Rolf platforms), take a moment to reflect on how many negative thoughts you had about yourself since you woke up today: 3, 5, 10, 50?  Not hating yourself is not about being a TV talk show mega-star, or a theatrical, otherworldly musician; it’s about waking up in the morning and being your own best friend.  It’s about talking to yourself as you would to someone you loved.  Or, at the very least, being someone who, as Anne Lamott writes, is militantly on your own side.  We all need more practice at that.

This post is a story about the terror and the triumph of following your passion.

Continue reading “Dining with David Whyte, Part 1”

For I Know the Plans I Have for You

Just in case a prestigious institution (or any institution, really), came knocking on my door looking for a commencement speaker, I’d prepared a few notes for the graduates of 2011.  But graduation has come and gone, just like those “Congratulations!” cards at Walgreens which graduates hope contain money.  (When my brother “graduated” from 8th grade, we caught him in a corner at his party, opening the envelopes and then shaking the cards without reading them to see if there was cash inside).   I could never give a good graduation speech, though, because Maya Angelou already gave the best one ever here in Illinois in 2002.  She sang; it was magical.

In my job working with students, however, it is helpful (for my sanity) to remember how amazing people who are mostly fully formed are, how much potential they have, how much we can learn from them.  It helpful because on a lot of days, I want to smash their hands in my office door.  Just this month alone I’ve been lied to, yelled at, insulted, sat too close to, sneezed on, and told about 785 stories of dead grandparents, usually in far-off lands to which the students must flee immediately, thereby missing all of their final exams.

Continue reading “For I Know the Plans I Have for You”

Antilamentations. Or Why You Should Make Lots of Mistakes.

My apologies for not beginning this year’s Lenten blog on the first of Lent, but I have a good reason.  I was the victim of the ferocious digestive virus that has been circling our city like a plague of locusts.  First Gabe got it.  He puked all over himself while sitting in his car seat on the way to daycare.  Oh, the crying.  The stench.  The longing for a new car seat.  And he had been totally okay ten minutes before.  Then last Monday, I was at work, fine one minute, and doubled over in pain the next.  And seriously, the only thing I could think of to do was to call my mother who lives 800 miles away.  I didn’t, but still. 

So, I spent Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras cursing every morsel of food I had eaten in the last week, and Ash Wednesday piously fasting, but only because if I ate anything I’d see it again in some form in about 30 minutes.  Anyway.  Welcome to Lent 2011.  For some background on both Lent and why I am writing this Lenten blog, please click here.   At least if you read that, it will lift the tone of this post out of the toilet.  Literally.

Continue reading “Antilamentations. Or Why You Should Make Lots of Mistakes.”

God, I Need an Umbrella

Today’s post is a little different because the poem comes first.  You pretty much have to read it, even though I know some of you don’t read the poems (don’t think you’re fooling me).  Afterwards, hopefully you’ll see why.  It’s about an umbrella, and the need for shelter.

Here I Am, Lord

The ribbed black of the umbrella
is an argument for the existence of God,

that little shelter
we carry with us

and may forget
beside a chair

in a committee meeting
we did not especially want to attend.

What a beautiful word, “umbrella.”
A shade to be opened.

Like a bat’s wing, scalloped.
It shivers.

A drum head
beaten by the silver sticks

of rain,
and I do not have mine,

and so the rain showers me.

Michael Chitwood

Continue reading “God, I Need an Umbrella”

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