Hallelujah Anyway: To the Listeners

I've been reading Anne Lamott's Hallelujah Anyway. Listening to it, actually. I've been enjoying it so much that I picked up a copy from the library so I could go back and reread passages. This morning I listened to chapter six on my way to work. Much was said on the mercy found in listening. I wanted to write some of it here.

Mr. Einstein said everything is moving and we're all connected, and maybe never more so than when we listen [...] Everything slows down when we listen and stop trying to fix the unfixable. We end up looking into other people's eyes, and see the desperation, or let them see ours. This connection slips past the armor like water past stones. Being slow and softened, even for a few minutes or seconds, gives sneaky grace the chance to enter. There won't be something waiting that you can put on a bumper sticker, and it will not just be one cute thing, although I would very much prefer this.
There is such a depth to listening, and an exchange, like an echo from inside a canyon, when friends have listened to me at my most hopeless. They heard. Someone heard, heard what was happening, what was true and painful, when the center would not hold. They sat, listened, and breathed with me like doulas.
Breath is a koan: both a resting place and enlivening. To take a deep breath is a thirsty person sipping water, both ease and nourishment. The person said, 'I hear you, it completely sucks. I'm here for you, and will be, no matter what.' You sat together breathing. Maybe the friend trotted out the excruciating absurdity of the situation, laid it on the table so we could observe it together, with amazement and eventual amusement. The friend let us go again to every place we have ever wallowed, and helped make it funny. The friend just got it. We felt like a failure, but we were helped to see that we were doing everything we could, as well as we could. Maybe we won't step in that same hole again now. (Maybe we will.) No one, not even God, has a magic wand so what awaits is probably still going to be hard sledding, but at least we're out of the ditch and on the hill in the slush. There had been no hope of this, when we were stuck in me me me, hurt, hurt, hurt. Now, as Rumi said, 'someone opens our wings . . . someone fills the cup.' My pastor puts it: 'God makes a way out of no way.' We will somehow be cared for by that someone - a dear neurotic friend, minister, mullah - or something or a shift that helped release a bit of what tortured you an hour ago, or what you tortured yourself with, a space you've populated with demons, now opening from that trance out to what is really there: a cup of tea, kind eyes, paper whites, orange sand" (112-114).

Real Talk

I have an anxiety disorder. That's no secret. It's been well controlled for the last few years. I initially sought help for it about five years ago when the panic attacks set in. One of the strangest attacks, though certainly not the worst, happened one afternoon because the icing of a cake I was making for a fundraiser wouldn't set up, the cake was sliding every which way and the deadline to get the cake to the venue was quickly approaching. My heart was racing, I felt all of the blood drain from my face, and before I knew it, I was laugh-crying on the kitchen floor at Dot at the absurdity of it all. I mean, it was just a cake.

After "Generalized Anxiety Disorder with Panic Attacks" was the official diagnosis, I spent the next few months on some medication that, after the initial horrific side effects, really helped "reset" my system. I weaned myself off of them after about five months, and I haven't taken anything regularly since then. I've kept an ongoing prescription of another medication to take in situations where I feel panic setting in, but I take it rarely.

Enter this move. This change. This additional transition. The last few weeks have been so hard. I wake up every morning with a pounding heart. Something inside of me exploded on Friday night, and I've felt sick and achy and nauseous ever since. My "panic mode" meds haven't been as effective as usual. I finally fell asleep around midnight, and I woke up at 3:30 in full on heart bursting, I hope I don't toss my cookies mode. And here I am. Almost 6 AM, heart racing, sweaty palms, and writing about it in hopes that it will be some kind of release. I know why I'm feeling this way, generally, though there is no easy solution, and no single contributor.

This is part of my life. I desperately wish it wasn't. I also wish I had time to fall a part, but time to do so isn't one of my luxuries right now. I think allowing oneself to fall a part can be beneficial in moving through and processing the emotions - getting it all out. I'm going into self-care mode. I wish sleep was part of that care, but I don't seem to have much control over that lately.

I'll be thinking about a processing routine for myself - a regular something that will help me refill my resovoirs. My tanks are empty. This is me right now. All love, prayers, and kind words are welcome.

I've been up reading Mary Oliver. I'll leave you with four of her poems; each tells part of the story - part of the complexity of what I'm feeling. Together, they feel right for this moment.


The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.
Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.
Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn't move,
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.
Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be part of the story.

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,

and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hands in this,

as well as friends.

Still, I was bent
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.

Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it -

books, bricks, grief -
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot and would not,

put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard

the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger

to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled -

roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply? 

I Go Down to the Shore
I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall–
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.


I won't wake up To the sound of your feet
Walking down the hall
Like a soft heartbeat I won't wake up
Cause by the time that I do you'll be gone

I won't look back
On a past so long
I won't look back
On the things gone wrong
I won't look back
Cause by the time that I do you'll be gone.

I won't have words 
I've said all that there is to say
I won't have words
Cause I know you'll just throw them away
I won't have words
Cause by the time that I do you'll be gone

By the time that I do you'll be gone
By the time that I do you'll be gone

I've been obsessed with Melody Gardot for the past little while. Her lyrics are so, so good.

Laying at the Wheel

This morning I decided to go for a run along the Oklahoma River trails. I'd never been before, but after my first attempt at running in Oklahoma again ended in a scene with me meeting and being chased by three stray dogs, I thought I'd try my luck on a trail instead of in a neighborhood (still thankful for the motorist who saw what was happening and pulled in front of the dogs to block them until I was far enough away). I was saying goodbye before heading out the door, and Cora said she wanted to come with me. I was happy she wanted to come. Then Magnolia wanted to come, and my solo run turned into a family run with Jake coming too. We ran/walked/skipped/lunged/stared at critters (including a snake) from Wheeler Park to Robinson.

Now, I wouldn't say the Oklahoma River is especially beautiful to me. It's brown and mostly still, but I appreciate what the city has done and means to do there. It's kind of like Red White and Boom. I like a free concert and people in the community coming together, and that helps me overlook the fact that I'm in the middle of a parking lot at the state fair grounds surrounded by large metal buildings and likely not too far from a trash can, and depending on the year, a soprano wailing through the sound system has caused me to involuntarily pull my hands over my ears. Nonetheless, I appreciate that the event exists.

When we got back to Wheeler Park, I picked one of the hammocks closest to the Ferris wheel. The Wheeler Ferris wheel was originally in Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier, a place we know well. As I laid there staring up, a lot was going through my mind, like "wow, it's brave to put a Ferris wheel up in the middle of tornado alley." There's always a breeze in Oklahoma, and as I was listening with my eyes closed, the sound of the wind moving through the wheel sounded like gentle waves; it almost made me cry. Not long after we moved back to OKC from Chicago, I was driving down Villa to my house when a thought hit me so hard: "Why here?" It was a similar feeling this morning. The world is so big, and of all the places we could be, we end up somewhere. Somewhere is better than anywhere.

I stared up at that giant wheel like we were friends, like I understood its longing. It stood for years with one of the world's most beautiful views of the Santa Monica Bay, Malibu, and the city of LA. It had been replaced, displaced, sold on eBay and relocated to OKC on the banks of the manmade Oklahoma River. And there we were together on a Sunday morning a few days into fall.

After eating lunch, I came out to the backyard, trimmed a few trees (there's A LOT more work to be done), and finally hung up the hammock. Church bells are ringing, clouds keep going by, and cicadas are softly singing in the trees. Making a home here has been slow going this time. I think coming back to somewhere familiar made me think I would skip over the transition phase. Despite the familiarity, which I'm grateful for, it's still change, and I haven't given myself quite enough grace for that. I'm looking forward to feeling connected again. Until then, I have my hammock, Mary Oliver's Thousand Mornings and Wendell Berry's Our Only World, and a jar of iced mint green tea on a lazy afternoon.

Reminding myself: This is your somewhere. This is your here. You are here.

[Even if I'm still missing there.]
[I once missed here like I miss there.]


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