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.

Gethsemane

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,
maybe
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.

Heavy
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.






Gone

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.]

Glimpses

Don and Janel Farr

I came across this photo of my grandpa's youngest sister and her husband today. My grandpa passed away my sophomore of high school. I was 15, he was just shy of 82. He passed away in his sleep on January 4, 2001; it was a surprise. We'd all been waiting to hear news of his brother just older, Denzel, and his other sister just younger, Nathel, as they had been ill for quite a while. Two days after my grandpa died, Uncle Denzel died, and a day after that, Aunt Nathel was gone too. The three oldest siblings in a family of six children. In 2003, two more siblings passed away, Cloyd and Gail.

(Agness Macdonald Lund with her three oldest children: Denzel, Irl, and Nathel)

Janel has been holding down the fort for quite some time. They were all born between 1916 and 1927 - Nine years to come together makes fourteen years a part seem like a mini eternity.

I was lucky growing up. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and, in so doing, I spent a lot of time with their siblings. My great aunts and uncles are giants in my childhood, and some were even my neighbors for a while. I love when my girls get to spend time with my aunts and uncles (and Jake's too), not only because that generation is so important to me, but I know how rare and lovely it is to be close to so many in a generation beyond that. I like thinking that I'm helping my aunts and uncles be the greats my greats were to me. In that sense, I never get to spend enough time with any of them.

But the sweet photo of Don and Janel. The women in my family are fiery. They are sturdy stock who are filled with wit and humor and stubbornness. And they are strong. On an afternoon when I was 18, Aunt Janel gave me one of the greatest compliments of my life during a casual conversation. I keep it tucked away with a handful of other compliments I've received throughout my life that haven't really transformed how I see myself, rather, they've illuminated how I see myself - glimpses of who I am through the eyes of someone else.

To Remind Myself...

From Rising Strong by Brené Brown...

I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can't have both. Not at the same time.
Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage. 
A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think, we lose our ability to connect. But when we're defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you're not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback. 
When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling. 
Once we fall in the service of being brave, we can never go back. We can rise up from our failures, screwups, and falls, but we can never go back to where we stood before we were brave or before we fell. Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. This change often brings a deep sense of loss. During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to that moment before we walked into the arena, but there's nowhere to go back to. What makes this more difficult is that now we have a new level of awareness about what it means to be brave. We can't fake it anymore. We now know when we're showing up and when we're hiding out, when we are living our values and when we are not. Our new awareness can also be invigorating - it can reignite our sense of purpose and remind us of our commitment to wholeheartedness. Straddling the tension that lies between wanting to go back to the moment before we risked and fell and being pulled forward to even greater courage is an inescapable part of rising strong. 
If we're going to risk engaging, we're going to experience disappointment. 


Pending

There is a house in Oklahoma City that just went from "Active" to "Pending" on the MLS. We are the reason for the pending. I am pinching myself and doing my best to stay low-key excited. I never thought I'd ever in a hundred bajillion years buy a house without setting foot in it first. Jake's parents face-timed us through on Saturday. I still feel like owning a home should be so far off, but everything that's happening means our lives are transitioning out of grad school.

Inspections are next week. Two car garage, basement (this is big time in OK to also serve as a storm shelter), yard with so many possibilities, front porch, original tile in two of the bathrooms, original doors and hardware, ridiculous closet space for an old home (built in 1938 - Dot could technically be her/his mother), and more than three-times as big as our grad housing apartment. So many more floors to clean. So much more space.

We couldn't swing our beloved Mesta Park this time around because the market continues to balloon, but I'm hopeful I'll quickly feel cozy in our new 'hood (knocking on wood that all goes smooth to closing). We'll be one block away from one of Jake's cousins and his sweet family. That is rad.

This is happening.

Pinch.

Adulting

Jake is out of town this evening. I got home right around seven because of a track meet. I put my girls in the bath and started dinner. They went to the meet with me because I wouldn't have been able to make it back to school in time before the after school program closed. They enjoyed it. It rained in various intensities the whole time. They also got to hang out with some of my students, which they loved. After dinner, we got in an episode of The Magic School Bus, and they were off to bed.

As I ran around putting food away, cleaning out lunch boxes, doing dishes, and preparing a few things for tomorrow, a wave of nostalgia come over me. Sometimes I'm caught off guard by the fact that I am the adult in the room. There's no one here to put me to bed or make sure the dishes are done. It's me. How does this happen? I'm a grown up but still feel like a child. I've been a mom for nine years now, but there are moments when I can't believe that another human being is depending on me for pretty much everything. Jake and I still have moments of bewilderment when we look around and say "Two little people live with us."

We pay bills and make weird plans and are pretty exceptionally responsible people. I get caught up in the idea that time never moves backwards. I'll never be in my twenties again. I'll never be seventeen again. I'll never again be a nine year old riding her bike through alleyways in Mesa, nor the high schooler who did her homework on the roof. I'll never be so many of those things again, yet I'll always be all of them.

And all of those things can come rushing back when I least expect it. When I'm the one putting myself to bed. Staring out the window, with the curtains that are always open when my husband is gone, at the night lights of Los Angeles. This city I used to dream about and is now my reality in a way the younger dreamers in me could have never imagined.


Phone Numbers. Sort of.

I've been laying in my bed crying for a while now. They recently moved my Grammy from California to Arizona to live in assisted living. I don't think that was the wrong decision as the care she now requires is more than a one person job. It dawned on me that this is the first time in my life when I don't know her phone number. It was a bit startling. I don't know a lot of things about her new home, but I'm sure she's probably laying in bed right now, too, thinking about her change of scenery and all the people she loves, and I hope her heart is full of peace.

I'm trying to write myself into feeling better.

I listened to a song my cousin Kiersty sent me a few days ago. When I got the link, I couldn't listen to it right away, but I'm glad it was unintentionally saved until tonight. I'm so sad in this very moment, and the song made me cry even more, but one of the lines was perfect:
A heart that's broke[n] is a heart that's been loved.
Yes. Sometimes things hurt so much because of how much love is involved. And where uncertainty and love meet...

My grandpa moved on from this life peacefully in his sleep sixteen years ago. It's strange to think about this year marking more of my life having been lived with him being gone than when he was alive. It doesn't feel possible. That's love, too. That's a form of eternal life.

Dying in one's sleep at home in bed after a long life seems perfect. When I got to their house the morning that he died, I walked into his room to see Grammy holding up his shirt that she'd hung across his walker the night before. She brought it close to her face and cried. She didn't know I was there, and I didn't want to interrupt that moment of grief, so I quickly stepped out and gave her a minute before walking back in.

I'm thinking of my time in Chicago, when me and Beatrice were Hattie's visiting teachers and we went to visit her in the hospital in South Shore. She'd had several strokes in the years prior. Her body was frail and her speech was incomprehensible. She cried like a child when doctors came to adjust something with her PICC line, and in removing the tape, they removed a good layer of her paper skin. I understood that cry. That cry out in pain juxtaposed with her smile at seeing us. When everyone was gone, Bea and I sat and held her hand and sang "I Am a Child of God."

On the way home, Bea and I talked about our lack of understanding about why people have to suffer in old age. Strokes, heart attacks, cancer - Hattie had been through them all, why couldn't one of them take her before it got to this?

Grammy isn't suffering like Hattie. And I'm grateful for that. But I don't ever want her to. The end is dragging out, and Grammy's hope is to endure well until it comes. She's working at being brave. She is brave. I'm trying to be too. But tonight I'm giving into grief. Getting it out of my system for a moment. Giving myself a moment.
And I'll sing Hallelujah
You [are] an angel in the shape of my [Grammy]
When I fell down you'd be there holding me up
Spread your wings as you go
And when God takes you back we'll say Hallelujah
You're home

Grammy and Love are the First Thing I Recall

There was a collection of her jewelry on the table this afternoon. She's laying twenty feet away, and we're browsing through her accessories trying to decide what the take - there's enough for something for each of her granddaughters. There are twenty of us, eighteen living. I looked in a box and saw her "cornflake" earrings. They're the ones I most remember her wearing throughout my childhood. They're the ones she's putting on in my very first memory. I wrote a poem about it in college: "Grammy and Love are the First Thing I Recall." 

Grammy and Love are inseparable in my mind and memory and being. The two were born together in my awareness and became a force in my life - a force that simultaneously propels me forward and lifts me up. 

She's in what I can only hope are her last days. I don't know how many tears I've cried throughout my life at the thought of her passing - of living my life without her. Buckets of tears. Late night, waking up from dreams, gasping for air because she was gone tears. About two years ago, I made my peace with what would be her eventual death. She had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and when I got to see her a few days after she'd been released from the hospital, I was finally able to say "It's okay for her to go."

She recently had emergency surgery to remove a bowel obstruction. The surgery was successful, but the incision wasn't healing as it should. She didn't want any more interventions to fix it. She came home earlier this week on hospice. Family has gathered and is gathering. No one knows when she will leave us, but I know she's ready.

I don't know what lessons are left to learn, and while I hope the end is peaceful and comes soon for her, I know that there is a timing that works out perfectly for each of us. I almost never listen to contemporary Christian radio stations, but I happened to tune to one on my drive to Fresno today, and this line caught me: "I can say God is good, even when He's not understood."

God is so good. Always. He gave me her, and he gave her me. We needed one another. And we'll keep growing to and from each other forever.


Grammy and Love are the First Thing I Recall

The middle of the bed
lumped up as she sat on the edge.
Hazy eyelashes, intertwined,
distorted my first morning view.

The mirror was in front of her,
to our side, the window.
Sun filtered through long lace curtains
that were floating on the morning breeze. 

I rolled over and watched her
pick her jewelry as I have always known her to,
holding up one earring and then another.
She is getting ready to go to work.

Final adjustments are made.
She fluffs her hair between her hands 
and looks on.
Her day outside of herself will soon begin.

She turns to me and leans down.
I feel her kiss on my forehead
and then she whispers,
"I love you" in my ear.

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