Just showing up

“Maybe I shouldn’t be here.”

The doubts came on almost instantly, brought about, no doubt, by the fact that I wasn’t seeing as many familiar faces as I would have liked or expected to see. (Cue social awkwardness in 3…2…1)

The church was emptier than I had anticipated. Not an aching, slap-in-the-face empty like Marlene’s funeral had been, but my guess would be that there were not more than 200 people present. It didn’t feel like it was enough.

It also felt so disjointed in a way that I don’t think Rick would have wanted it to be. Skot Welch‘s eulogy gave much honor to Rick’s work, but I felt like the message of racial reconciliation was too sanitized overall…as if the message was muted. Dear God, at my funeral I want people to be pounding their fists on the table, shouting against injustice, breaking the uninitiated out of their kum-ba-yah complacency.

(Someone later pointed out to me that this wasn’t Rick’s way…he approached these issues with grace and gentleness…so probably this is my bias. Also, I do need to acknowledge that some people (most normal people?!) would think that this was not the time or the place for such a rant.)

But if others I’d been expecting to see weren’t there, should I really be? I started to doubt myself. I had asked to leave work early so that I could sleep a few extra hours before the funeral. I had struggled to articulate to my boss the relationship I had with this…friend? colleague?  We had worked together, had common passions, spoke the same “language” when it came to issues of white privilege and injustice. But sitting there, alone, I was starting to feel like a fraud.

I’ve long wrestled with the vagaries of funeral rituals. The question I posed once of whether it’s more appropriate for a casual acquaintance to go to the wake* or the funeral itself was never quite resolved, with people landing solidly on either side of the issue. Today’s funeral was one of the type that seems to be more common this days…no separate visitation time, just a time to greet the family in the hour preceding the funeral. I debated whether or not to come and “greet the family”. I’ve never met the family…except for his “brother” and co-host Skot Welch. I came most of all because I wanted to hug Skot, to tell him how very much I ache for him, how I of all people understand how important friends are, and that there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. If I could do that one thing, perhaps my presence there could be redeemed.

I wrote most of this (up until this point) during the funeral…on my phone. I imagine that the people sitting behind me were glaring at me disapprovingly, thinking I was on Facebook or some such nonsense. How to explain to them–to anyone, really–that I need to write in order to process?

The service was over, right on the hour, and I made my way out of the sanctuary. Skot was standing right near the door, and in my typical rude fashion, I cut in on a conversation he was having to give him a hug and to tell him how sorry I was. I ran into a few other friends, brothers and sisters in this work.  I almost felt redeemed. I was simply showing up. Whether or not I felt I had the “right” to be there, it was done. I had been there.

And hopefully, just showing up was enough.

*I had a friend tell me that calling it a “wake” is antiquated and conjures up images of drunken Irishmen. East Coast friends would disagree, and old habits die hard.

The joy of not having a headache

If you have ever had a migraine (or any really bad headache, I guess), I think you will agree with me that the best feeling in the world is the moment of reprieve after it fades, the moment when you realize that, right now, you do NOT have a headache.

As the Facebook reflections have been coming in, I’ve tried to look back as well. And what I realized is that this year was a “not having a headache” year. In other words, it was a year that didn’t totally suck, that wasn’t filled with non-stop pain and the inability to focus on anything outside of that pain. This was a year in which I could breathe, and could appreciate the small joys and blessings because I wasn’t going through hell.

As a Christian, I don’t believe that we are meant to have it easy in life. And I like the *idea* of karma, but I don’t “believe” in it. My theology tells me that life on this earth is not meant to go well all the time, that sometimes the bad guy DOES win, and that some people who don’t seem to “deserve” it will have good things come to them and a life of ease. In other words, I know that there is no guarantee that the year ahead will be an “easy” or “happy” one for me. I also know that focusing more on my blessings and less on my troubles does seem to help; maybe part of it is that I’m in my forties now and trying to be okay with who I am, even the things I can’t stand about myself. Maybe, just maybe, all that therapy is starting to pay off 😉 or maybe I just realize that I have people who love me, and that is enough.DSC09360

I am thankful to God for the year behind me, and for the years behind it, even though they held so much difficulty and loss and sadness. Just as it’s impossible to understand how amazing it is to be free of a migraine unless you’ve actually HAD a migraine, the good moments are not as rich for someone who has never been through a deep and seemingly endless valley as they are for those of us who have.

I am blessed. Blessed when things are going well, and blessed when they are not. The older I get, the more I understand the lyrics to “It is well with my soul“, and the more I am able to accept the fact that storms will come.

Of course, I don’t want any more storms…not for myself, not for the people I love…but I’ve been through them before…I know they end, sometimes sooner, sometimes far later than we care for. For now, I will give thanks every day for this time of reprieve, and will trust that whatever comes next, I will  be okay, okay because I still have people who love me and a God who has never given up on me. At the end of the day, that is all that any of us really need.

War is stupid

I believe this with all of my heart. As in, I think it’s ALWAYS stupid and ALWAYS pointless and absolutely the wrong decision. I took an upper-level philosophy class in college (“Marx and Marxism”, of course!) and made a statement to this effect, which was met with incredulous disbelief by the professor. I’m certain that he thought I was some naive, over-simplistic…GIRL. (there were six or seven of us in the class, and it’s true, I was the only female–and absolutely in over my head, but I was intrigued by the subject matter.)

But I really, REALLY feel strongly about this. So much so that I have already asked my beloved godson (when he was three!) to promise me he would never join the military. So much so, in fact, that I lose sleep over the whole concept of Angry Birds…because the birds die trying to kill the pigs, and who wins then?!

Having seen Les Miserables (three times so far, but who’s counting?!) and then having seen Lincoln tonight, I am all the more convinced of this. So my question/challenge is this: Can anybody explain to me ANY situation in which a bunch of people killing each other is the best way to go, or even necessary?

I remember reading ten or fifteen years ago that someday in the future, wars will be fought on a virtual level–using a computer “game” of sorts. But I still–and I’m certain, always–cannot see any point to it. Not ever. It may sound simplistic, but I don’t care. We shouldn’t be killing each other. Ever. For any reason. We decry gun violence in this country, yet bloody revolution (and later, killing each other because we couldn’t agree whether or not the people we had subjugated and whose labor we had used had the right to be considered “human”) is in our DNA.

As far as my own DNA is concerned…my birth-father evaded the draft for Vietnam, and (if I am remembering correctly), he even served time for it. I know that Vietnam had a whole ‘nother layer of controversy, but even so, I like to believe that this is in my blood.

I will say it again: War is stupid. I would genuinely be interested in knowing how anybody can possibly think war is EVER “necessary”. I’m certain nothing anybody can say will change my mind, but I’m truly baffled by this, and want to see if there’s some way I can understand.

In the meantime, I will watch Les Mis a few (dozen) times more, but I will never embrace the idea of violence, even violence pursued in the interest of freedom and justice. There has to be another way…

The tyranny of stuff

My car is bugging me these days.

More to the point, what my car is costing me is bugging me. The amount of money I am spending on my (leased) car, and on the insurance for said car, is something like 20% of my take-home pay. The insurance is high because the lease requirements stipulate that there have to be certain coverages…and probably because I have a few skeletons (of the speeding ticket variety) in my closet. But I am once again wrestling with my choices, and wondering whether there is some way out.

The irony of my life is that I wrestle with having so many things, and yet, I really don’t have much compared to the people I see around me*. Perhaps this is still a remnant of my junior high and high school years, growing up on the low end of middle class but surrounded by classmates on the other end  of the spectrum. Even beyond that, though, I often think that there is something not quite right about me. I am bewildered as to how other people save money to buy a computer, or a car, or a new mattress, or a vacation. Money to me is something that comes into my life and just as quickly goes out. My relationship with it is, and always has been, convoluted.

True confession: I really love my car. Like, I’m sure I love it more than a human being (particularly a Christian) is supposed to love an inanimate object. But it’s just so “me” in so many ways–case in point–this is a picture I drew in response to a humorous conversation that I had with a friend, during the time I was carless:


As you can see, even my invisible car was orange.

This is the second car I’ve owned in my life, and the first one that I really have felt like I’ve “chosen” (after a slight mishap/false start). And despite my angst over owning it at all, I really do love it and love having a car.  (I am still not a fan of mandatory bus travel, although Elijah would be thrilled with it!) But I will be paying this fairly hefty sum for two more years, and then will likely be paying for at least another three years if I end up buying it (which I likely will, either because I will have gone over on the mileage, or because the various dings and scratches will be too much to turn it in). I am not careful with my things (see also: my current computer and cell phone).

Right before I got my car, I was seriously considering taking a job that would have been a substantial pay cut for me. I reasoned that I could take the bus (a short ride, no transfers) to that job, and so would not need a car. I still dream of taking that job, not because it’s the job I want, but because it’s not the job I have. Budget-wise, though, it’s simply not possible.

I think there is probably some way that I could turn in my car early…I would have to pay some kind of penalty, I’m sure, but I would still be paying less in the long run than I will be by keeping it. The thing is, though, that I know that I do *not* want to do that, not unless I absolutely have to. So I try not to think about the fact that I don’t have the luxury of taking a job that pays much less than I’m making now…and I try not to think about my ongoing angst about “stuff”. But when I look at my budget, what I struggle with is the lack of autonomy those payments represent.  I tell myself that I would have money for a new laptop and plane trips to see people I love and who knows what else, if only I had not made this choice to love this thing in my life.

I just don’t like what it’s keeping me from.

Maybe I just need to find gratitude for what I have…it may be true that this car limit my choices in some ways, but in another sense, it opens up choices that riding the Rapid would not afford to me. For now, then, I guess I just need to live with where I am, as I try to figure out where I’m going.

As long as I can get there in an orange car…


*PS – PLEASE know that I am well aware that even in my “lack”, I am among the wealthiest people in the world. I’m just constrained by the context I’m in.

God, grant me the serenity…

The first part of this well-known prayer includes the phrase, “…to accept the things I cannot change”. True confessions: I am really, REALLY not good at this. Case in point: almost four years later, I still all but refuse to call my godson “Cecil“. I am being forced into it more now that he is in school and is used to being called by that name, but I do whatever I can to get around it. He can be “Lovey”, or “Cecil Elijah”, or, by habit and/or utter stubbornness, just “Elijah”, but it’s rare that I will call him only by that man’s name.

That man is his dad, though. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…

A lot of the acceptance that I need to find is around issues with Lovey, oops, I mean, “Little Cecil” (another variation). This has always been the case…he is not my child–I know that–and as much as I would want many things to be different for him, I have to accept and respect his parents’ choices. The phrase that came to mind, given recent circumstances, was, “Don’t do anything for someone that they’re not willing to do for themselves”…but does that apply to what a person is not willing to do for their child? Do I still do my best for him, or do I do no more than what they’re doing? Those of you who know me know what I end up choosing, but it’s a struggle.

There are plenty of other areas where I need to find acceptance…who the people I love choose to spend their lives with and how those choices affect my own relationships with them; the prayers that seem to always get answered with “no” or “wait”, or with no answer at all; the waiting and waiting for whatever is coming next. God, grant me the serenity…and not the “SERENITY NOW!” type of serenity–but real, true peace–“radical acceptance”, as the term goes–acknowledging that I don’t like the situation, but that it’s not something I can change right now. Okay, probably ever.

I’m stubborn. More often than not, I want things to be different than they are. But I know that I waste a lot of energy fretting over things that I can’t do anything about, and I know that I need to find a way–somehow–to live in this tension.

I don’t know what it means that we have to pray that God will “grant” us that serenity…the dictionary’s first definition of the word “grant” describes the word as “to consent to the fulfillment of”…so who fulfills this? Do I? Does God? Is it some combination of the two?

Either way, I clearly need this prayer, no matter how much I resist–or maybe precisely BECAUSE I resist.

It’s no easy task.