Amazing Grace: On Using Your Voice.

I was on the wrong side of the sign, again, and it wasn’t because of what I believed.

Maybe I didn’t understand how speaking for unborn children could be achieved through silence.  If this genocide was true, why would we not be raising our voices to high Heaven where the fetuses are all looking down, cheering us on with their partially formed vocal chords and their not yet developed cell walls?  Truthfully, though, I just didn’t read all of the instructions.

I was so excited to be part of the protest– a real stand in the street protest!– that I eagerly took my sign that shamed women I didn’t know anything about on a Sunday afternoon and waited for the resistance.  I didn’t anticipate a distraught pregnant teen to crawl down the center yellow line and ask for forgiveness.  I expected a cranky early twenty something with her hellbound anti-Jesus ways to scream and show her true colors, while I stood, righteous and strong, with a hymn on my tongue that Christ himself would hear like a glistening diamond to the ear from his throne that sat in the middle of all those aborted babies.  I had the truth on my side and a sign in my hand.

So when I took my place and discovered that we were not, in fact, standing in the street, I was a bit disappointed.  As Christians, I learned, the truth is something that should not interrupt the flow of traffic, but should instead condemn from the sidelines.  I was fifteen, fidgety, and frowning.  And I was going to shame souls into accepting Christ, goddammit, one intervened abortion at a time.  Or, at the very least, I was going to show what a compassionate individual I was to care so much for these women that I would stand on the sidewalks to keep them from going to Hell.  Or Planned Parenthood.  Evidently, one in the same.

So with my hands shaking and sweating, I scanned the back of my sign where the lyrics to a few Christian ditties were printed.  My options were tough.  I never get “How Great Thou Art” started off in the right key.  “This Is My Father’s World” is too strange of a melody for me to remember without the organ pumping in the background.  I settled on “Amazing Grace.”  Classic, I thought.  Classy, really.  Nobody doesn’t know they’re a wretch, even if they don’t know what a wretch is.  And how thoughtful that I might be able to explain through such an accessible song that God could even love them, the baby-killers of Western Pennsylvania.

A deep breath, then I began.  A single voice in the long line of sidewalk-standers, citing a clear melody of God’s eternal unending love for us all.  How good that I should choose to go first, being that I have such a pretty singing voice!  Maybe the pastor from the Baptist church up the street might come down to thank me when our hour is over.  Invite me to tea with his wife and kids to talk strategy on how a city hall Christian concert could save the town from saying cuss words and listening to Pink Floyd.

That’s when I noticed the woman standing a few paces left begin to glare.

…I once was lost…

She cleared her throat and began to stare forward again.

…But now I’m found…

She turned to me again and nodded to the back of the sign.

…was blind but now I see!

Another woman across the street gave me a course smirk.  I felt confused, but still a little emboldened, and carried on to the next stanza.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear…

And that’s when the gentleman on my right held his sign up to cover his face and stared deliberately at the bottom.

…and grace my fears relieved!  How precious did that grace– oh.

I finally saw it.  There at the bottom of the back of the sign, written bold and underlined and italicized for ultimate emphasis–

PLEASE KEEP IN MIND: THIS IS A SILENT PROTEST.  PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SING QUIETLY TO YOURSELF TO MAINTAIN CONCENTRATION, BUT OTHERWISE MAINTAIN COMPLETE SILENCE IN EFFORT TO REPRESENT THOSE UNBORN WITH NO VOICE TO REPRESENT THEMSELVES.

Oh.

I nodded a thanks to the man next to me.  I looked to the ground and caught the curt nod of the woman to my left in my periphery.  I stared for the remaining 45 minutes at the center yellow line, imagining myself crawling up 5th Avenue, begging for forgiveness.  I remained there until the last protester walked away, paying my penance of extra time in case my version of “Amazing Grace” caused another ball of human cell matter to be murdered on the spot.

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Two weeks ago I stood in a crowd of 15,000 people.  We listened to a woman in a bright pink shirt speak of love and justice and mercy and truth.  We cheered.  We stood as a unit, then drifted down the center of major streets using our voices til they became hoarse.

No one sang “Amazing Grace,” but when a rendition of “We Shall Overcome” began with a single voice, others joined.  At first timid, and soon as a chorus.  Because when enough is enough, no one stands alone here.

Me?  I didn’t so much sing along.  I mumbled an occasional chant here and there, but whether I joined in or not didn’t change the exchange of smiles and the brush of hands.  Change is afoot, and I was joined by women all over the world to say so.  And somewhere between “This is What Democracy Looks Like!” and “We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains!” a 15 year stanza was finished for me–

…how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

Santa Jesus: On the Apprehension of Disbelief.

My nephew is fighting for what he believes in, again, and it will cost him the thing he loves.  His mother is proud, and she should be.  He’s smart.  He’s thinking critically.  And it is completely reasonable for him to question why Santa didn’t remember his name when he had just seen him the day before at a Christmas party.

“He’s a fake,” my nephew told me.  “But it makes sense.  He has to have some people helping him out, probably, to get everywhere at once.”

He’s allowing it this time.  Next year he may make a few more concessions.  Or, like his mother, he may give up on it entirely.  You can only allot the one you worship so many passes before they are just deemed unreliable.  Then unrealistic.  Then, just simply unreal.  We’ve all been there or will be there or have been and will be again.

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When the last course was served and the fifth round was poured, it was just a couple of blitzened grown ups on the eve of a children’s holiday.  My sister is reading the Bible in its entirety so she can be certain of what she believes.  What she believes is not the Bible.  And while she has never had an audible affinity for the sacred text, there’s a strange sense that the more questions she is asking, the more she is losing what was once part of her.  I don’t think she is brave or scared or right or wrong.  I think she is pursuing love.  And the best way she can is to lose a little part of her– the part that demanded far more from her than she bargained for growing up in a Christian home.

We fiddle back and forth with the terms and the conclusions of her pursuit of atheism.  I don’t disagree with her.  I don’t agree.  But I do see the same slow tearing that we will see with her son in the coming years– the giving up of a creature that is no longer useful, and requires emotional surgery to remove.  She will continue to make the Nice List even without the power of some person’s blood, real or imaginary.  But the curtains have gone up in her mind.  The lights are on.  And she is tired, tired, tired of suspending her disbelief.  No one is coming down the chimney for her at the end of this block to swoop her into Heaven with the rest of the baptized elves and reindeer.  It’s just a guy in a suit who can’t remember her name.

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Truthfully, I am content in the tension for now.  It was some time after my second full read through the Bible that I grew tired, tired, tired, too.  All of this effort for a thousand stories that change by the pulpit.  And sometime after I read my last chapter-and-verse, I found a new set of sacred texts– a new set of imaginary or real characters.  Three headed dogs and undying friendship and gods-among-men abound.  When I am caught reading JK Rowling or Neil Gaiman in a coffeeshop and confronted with a knowing look or an “Oh man, can you believe this stuff?!”, no one is really looking that I should be prepared to give an answer.  They are looking to see that I, too, have been changed by these mysterious sets of words.  That we have been caught loving the same magic.  That we are bound together by the long trail of stories that are being repeated every day and are learning from them.

Maybe I don’t love Jesus or the Bible or Harry Potter enough to ask any more questions.  Maybe my contentment in the tension is a testament to that.  Or maybe I am just happy to be part of the fabric, for now– now, when a political landscape stretches out before me in a clear pattern of black and white and right and wrong, it seems that having a few questions marks to lovingly wander through is more of a consolation.  But likely, just like we do for all the things and ones we love, I am holding those questions so I don’t have to lose them.  At least not yet.

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More likely, I am not so much tired of these elaborate stories and the terrible good and sincere bad that they inflict, but I am tired of certainty.  Not in an alternative fact sort of way.  More that I spent most of my life believing just myself a few hand selected missionaries and saints were making the Heavenly cut.  After years of successfully finding the text to back me up or the spin of “context” to back the text up, I am not yet comfortable or safe on the grounds that we are definitively worm food after this.  Now, I would like to believe everything.  Santa comes in a blaze of glory to redeem us all?  Excellent.  Jesus is a homeless man in the street?  Perfect.  God lives in a tiny pocket on the inside of each of us and when we all die we will complete him by forming one full and happy unit?  Okay!

This infuriates my parents.  This infuriates my sister.  The certainty is keeping them safe.  I am happy for them.  But for now, I am just going to ask one question at a time.  Like even if Santa does need a little extra help to be everywhere at once, what was the knock-knock-knocking on the roof Christmas Eve night?

Overseas and Under Covers: On Inauguration Week.

“It’s not that I am choosing to pretend it’s not happening,” I told my Someone.  There’s more war.  People are dead.  Headlines are flashing.  I am aware that I live in the privilege of opening my front door without being gunned down.  I am aware of my general state of fearlessness.  Don’t look away, my friends are saying.  This is really happening.

The problem with this, is that I know that it is.  The problem is, my brain is on a constant circuit that somebody somewhere is unjustly folding in front of someone more malicious, more powerful, less good than themselves.

These days, it seems close to my turn.

I’m not hiding out pretending it’s not happening.  I am working to recover all of this waste of human life.  I am trying to do a good job.  To hope.  To write.  To help.  And the more stories I hear, the more I want to give up– the more I believe that it all doesn’t matter.  Go to help, and I will die.  Go about my life, and I am not trying.  Make something beautiful for the people around me, and still there are people dying.  I am lost inside words like Russia and genocide and terrorism and death count.

“Death is a hungry monster,” I say to my Someone.

“Yes,” he says, “but we all get eaten.”

“Yeah,” I agree, “but where is the belly?  I am just trying to find out where we all end up in the belly.”

Mariah Carey and First Husbands: On Forgiving the Laughter.

Last week I publicly defended Mariah Carey’s poor performance on a near-stranger’s Facebook page having never seen the video everyone was railing against.  I can’t explain the mystery of my retroactive affinity for this 90’s icon.  Maybe it was the collection of self pronounced Christians who were poking fun that spurred me on.  Maybe it was my delight in watching the backpedaling– “Well, I felt bad for her is all…”.  Maybe it was the triumphant validation of watching the comments post, “Maybe it wasn’t her fault.”

There it is.

Maybe it wasn’t her fault.

Maybe it wasn’t her fault.

Maybe it wasn’t my fault.

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I was squaring my jaw so determinedly that my shoulders hurt when I woke up.  Each time I rolled over in the night, I practiced my comeback lines.  But I never got to use them.  That’s the thing about my Someone.  When he puts his foot in his mouth, he rarely removes it until my anger has passed.  He can read my fury like the back of my head as I am faced away from him for the duration of the night.  I grew angrier as I got up to feed the dogs, my best lines thwarted by his patient silence.

“I think you are confusing me with your first husband,” he had said as we sat in the company of family.  We were recalling something funny, or something unimportant, or something a little red wine wasn’t bringing back.

“Don’t be rude,” I had whispered.  It was too late.  The shame had already returned.

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The trouble with living is that for all the assurance that nothing is permanent– no feeling, no trouble, no situation– all these impermanent things are leaving a permanent indention on our permeable insides.  So much so that even on a rainy April day, I can sometimes still feel the ache in my right ankle from when I twisted it at the wedding reception five or so years ago.  The first wedding reception.  To my first husband.

I don’t need internet memes and online videos haunting my browser to relive it.  It’s consolidated all into one dull, rainy day ache, or occasionally resurrected by a bad joke.

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“And this woman said to me, ‘Marriages are like pancakes– you always throw the first one out!'” Gessi laughed.  I laughed.  Our Someones laughed.  It’s good to have someone else’s six.  It’s good to make the first joke.  There should be t-shirts! we said.  We could wear them all the time! we laughed.  Start a club!

First one to wear it wins.

First one to give it out, well.  They hurt someone.

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“It’s not your life to make fun of!” I yelled. “I’m not your punchline!”

“I know,” my Someone said.  He was sorry.  He had been sorry since he said it.  He was sorry all the way from last night to this afternoon.  I wasn’t relenting.  I hadn’t gotten all my retroactive hurt out.

The truth was, he wasn’t wrong.  I had gotten them confused.  But the point wasn’t the confusion.  It was the statement.  Everyone has exes.  People who messed up have first husbands.  My Someone has heard me make worse jokes than his.  He’s watched me play the part of a Southern Belle who’s been de-belled a couple too many times, audibly working through my memory with a thick characterized voice–

“Now, let’s see, my first husband…” as though I have to work through the many before and after him to hone in on just that certain plot line of a man.

It gets a laugh.  I should make t-shirts.

Maybe I am already wearing it.

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I’ve covered all of this before.  I have been healed and moved on from this.  But that’s the thing about living.  You get creaks and cranks that come to surface even after the scar tissue has repaired.  Sometimes it’s just phantom pain.  Or sometimes the rock knocks you square in the same thumb that the hammer did years before.  Sometimes seeing someone else get hit is enough to sink you back with your old wounds– and you wait with your breath held for someone to tell them, “It’s okay.  It’s not your fault.  We are not going to laugh at you for your mistakes.”

Sometimes you are the person on the internet defending Mariah Carey to alleviate your own empathetic embarrassment.

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I kissed him before he left and removed him from the hook.  I drank another cup of coffee.  I watched the winter birds.  I had the house to myself for a rare moment.

When I went downstairs, I found a note on our bed.

“I’m sorry.  Please forgive me?”

The thing about living is, for all these things we can’t take back, and all the invisible permanent changes that are made to us with and without our choosing, we are compelled to have something we can hold in our hands that will tell us we can keep going.  That we can keep getting hurt, and that the hurt might be forever but it is not intolerable.  And that the more we forgive each other, the more we forgive ourselves.  And the more we forgive ourselves, the less those strange phantom hurts ping when it rains.

I turned the card over.

Here we go again.

“Always.”  I wrote.

Communion and Resolutions: On Submitting to a Stupid Pinterest List.

January 4, 2017

2017 (as I hope for it)

  1.  Savor the first sip (be present).
  2. Embrace the mud (roll with it and let it make me laugh).
  3. Be vegan if I want to (don’t let the convenience of other people dictate my choice for health).
  4. Deep breathing (when I’m scared or stressed or sad or angry or happy– big long breaths [also see #2 {ha! I said #2}]).
  5. Call my dad (maintain my commitment to repairing and retaining relationships that aren’t always close, natural, or easy).
  6. Wake up with no hangovers (don’t give in to the boredom with numbing [also see #1 & #4]).
  7. Write when the idea hits (and when it doesn’t).

Oh no, I thought.  I’m actually that boring, now.

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It was already December 20th, and it wasn’t here, yet.  It peaks in at least by the 15th, but usually at the first sight of a fully decorated Christmas tree.  I tested my untethered heart.  I brought in visions of opening presents and familiar faces sitting around a table, the after dinner sit down, the long afternoon.  Nothing.  I was still breathing steady and even with no sign of sinking into my annual abyss.  My Someone calls it The Get Mallory Through The Holidays Campaign.  I call it a wasteland.  And I remember it being always there, even at my earliest memory of the long dining room table set with ivory cloth.

I tapped my chest.  I shook my head.  Nothing.  I smiled.  I tried to tell my Someone, but he was gone.  He was sinking fast.  His Januaries came early this year.  My experience in the holiday sadness should make me an expert at comfort.  But I’m actually just angry.  Annual Holiday Depression is my market, and he was encroaching on it.  There it is, I thought hopefully.  There’s the familiar Christmas me.  I waited another second.  It was gone.

Shit, I thought.  I might be happy.

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Lately I’ve been worried that the chain-smoking-whiskey-drinking-cranky-woman-in-a-muumuu-reporting-on-channel-4-news-about-how-she-seen-the-whole-thing might not be my destiny.  I’ve been carving out my stake in this future since my early twenties.  Lately, instead, I’ve been looking down the barrel of a vegan-somber-smiling-red-wine-on-occasion-yoga-every-morning-peaceful-easy-feeling type.  The disconcerting part is that I understand that I am neither.  I am in between.  I am always in the in-between.  And I am having difficulty deciding whether it is more pitiful to be in the indistinguishable or to be a future Orange is the New Black character.  Being angry and self loathing during the holidays may not be fun, but at least it was familiar.  At least it was something to count on.

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It’s the last full week in December, and I am making a menu for no one.

I am constructing a grocery list that I can’t afford.  In the next couple days, I will spend more than I have to bring home a few ingredients to make a meal that no one wants.  And I just hope that someone will show up uninvited.  There was a scuffle.  There was confusion.  There was more than one hurt feeling.  Feast of Fishes, the Christmas tradition, was cancelled.  And, still, I couldn’t stop myself from planning it anyway.

“No one wants to eat my food,” I say.

“I want to,” my Someone says.

“No one else.”

“I want to,” he says.

“Okay.”

I don’t cook because I want everyone to be amazed.  I don’t do it because  I need to eat.  I do it to keep from getting stuck in the in-between.  It is a time when I am defined by the walls of a kitchen for an allotted time.  Then, there will be a table and chairs, plates or bowls or both, and a stretch of moments when butts are in seats and faces are turned inward and there is one meal placed between us all.  An extension of me.  I am not in-between because I am held not just in the eyes, but in the bellies of everyone there.

Oh, I realize.  Communion.

Jesus was wise to choose something as generic as red wine and white bread.  People will remember him everywhere.  Me– I’m stuck to a place and a time.  Dinner at six.  BYOB.  Come as you are.  Remember me.  Please.  Even after you leave.  Even if you are not here.

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It is the fourth of January, and I have finally gotten around to making my list of resolutions.  This year, it isn’t categorized by Financial, Social, Health, Music.  The specifics are lost in an aura of being less of a jerk.  I am thirty, now, and my resolutions look like something that should be decoratively calligraphied on a piece of cardstock and framed for Pinterest.  They make me feel squirmy.  They drip with future Yoga-Lady tendencies.  I remind myself that I just did yoga, so maybe my fate is sealed.  My inner whiskey drinking muumuu lady gives a shrug, “Ah, what the hell?”  Okay.  Okay.  Okay.

Last year, I resolved to have no hangovers.  This has lead me to a longer list this year of what feel closer to the substandard existence of most people, but to me is a real accomplishment.  Like deep breathing.  Like calling my dad.  Like not feeling like I have to eat cheese just because someone gives it to me.  I am working hard with my new list to be a grown ass woman.  And also, a kid– taking an idea on when it hits.  Embracing the mud.

This happier version of myself makes me roll my eyes.  She’s boring.  She’s repetitive.

Oh.  Communion.

Maybe I can, just this once, submit to the generic white bread and red wine.  Maybe this year, I can diligently come back to the same table with the same pulse again and again.  Maybe the excitement of being a pent-up, angry, holiday-hating creature will have plenty of time to emerge again.  The people I first invite to come may not be the ones to show up, but if I keep coming back to it, they may show up again.  The important thing is to keep coming back to check.  In this way, I catapult myself from the in-between to the now.  To the with you.  To the you with me.

Eat.  Drink.  Remember me, please, as I am becoming who I am.  Dinner is at 8.

The First Sip: On Being Not Bored.

“I think I am going to make a second pot of coffee today,” my Someone told me.

“No!” I cried out, a little more urgently than I had anticipated.  I decided to follow the feeling through, anyway. “You haven’t even finished your first cup!  How can you even be thinking about a second pot when you haven’t gotten to your second cup?”

“Okay,” he said, “Fine.  I’ll finish this cup first.”

I felt embarrassed.  So I naturally decided to dig in a bit further instead of backing away.  “It’s just, how can we spend our whole lives thinking about the next cup of coffee with a cup of coffee already in our hands?!”

“This,” he responded, “coming from the woman who is planning tonight’s dinner before breakfast.”

“Not the same,” I said, “Clearly I am just looking out for us– somebody in this family has to plan out our groceries so they don’t go bad.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

He continued writing.  I continued being self righteous.

“A second pot might be necessary today,” I said.

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This was three weeks before the world started spinning backwards.  This was before my belly began growing.  Before my brain started inflating my guts.  But it was the first prophecy.

“I’m not pregnant,” I kept telling my Someone.  But neither of us could deny the growing space in my lower guts pooching out over my yoga pants and through my dresses.  “It’s probably just gas.”

But as the month kept going, the pooch got bigger.  The pain got bigger.  I started fasting.  I exercised more.  I ate less.  I hated eating.  Everything was uncomfortable.  I was sleeping in the day.  I was staying up late worrying.  I was having trouble breathing.  I was blaming the cheese from the pizza or the change in the weather or the not-long-enough hike.  I was thinking to the next thing that could help my belly stop growing.  And my belly kept growing.

“This is getting crazy,” I said.

“It’s feeling like a lot,” my Someone said.

“I can’t stop bleeding, either,” I said.

“We have to get help,” he said.

“We can’t afford help,” I said.  And as I said it, I felt my belly get bigger.

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“I don’t want to go!” I cried out to my Someone as we walked our two dogs back to the camper.  We were four days in to our five night stint in the woods.  I was already feeling the pressure of rejoining the world– the buzzing phone and the computer screen and the election results and the eating one meal thinking about the next.

We read books here.  We took hikes.  We hugged our dogs.  We slept when the sun slept and woke when the moon slept.

But here it was, leaking in: the next thing.  I was already willing myself back to Nashville.  I was angry.  I was concocting a plan for us to live forever in the woods.  I was thinking of the next getaway.  Then, I remembered the second pot of coffee.

I am so bored.  I am so damn bored.

I am bored from one cup of coffee in the morning to my last glass of whatever golden or clear or fizzy beverage I have at night.  Between, I am bored by an array of meals and snacks.  And between those, bored by a constant succession of tasks and fun activities and requirements and pleasures and conversations until I sleep.

In the morning, or sometimes at night, I make a deluxe plan of savoring my first sip of coffee in the morning.  I imagine my not bored self deep in meditation– on accident!– on my yoga mat.  This version of me rolls the coffee around my tongue and leisurely closes her eyes and is transported to a world of that sip– a water slide of coffee that warms every sense from the fingers curled around the cup to sight of the liquid coming toward her face.  She is someone who can’t imagine being anywhere else, and is in fact nearly unsure of where she is for the love of the moment.

The problem is, I am always imagining her while I am waiting in my bed for sleep, or in downward dog before the coffee has been brewed.  And I realized I cannot be the person present with her first sip if I am not also the person presently waiting for sleep.  Or the person presently telling her Someone she loves him.  Or the person presently petting her dogs.  This Zen Coffee Woman will always be sidestepped with quick pushes to the next boring amazing breakfast til I am empty of being full at night.  When I am not doing, I am abstaining from the doing rather than just being.  Never just being.  If I’m not drinking, I am waiting to drink.  If I am not eating, then I am waiting to eat.  I am waiting.  I am always waiting for the next thing to catch me, and I am never being caught where I am.  So I am always bored with where I am.

Earlier this year, I have been learning to have enough.  To drink only enough and to not lose a day to too much.  To have had enough cigarettes in my life that I don’t need them anymore.  To have enough water, to have enough time to read, to spend enough time exercising.  And I’ve done it.  I can count on only a few of my fingers the times I’ve been hungover.  I quit smoking.  I’ve taken care of myself mostly.  But all of the enough came with a careful calculation– to premeditate each moment so as to not overdo anything.  Which means that while I have been stopping at enough I have also been bored with now.  I have skipped the ultimate Enough– that Now is Enough.  Right now.  This word and this word.  T.H.I.S. L.E.T.T.E.R.  This breath.

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I’ve made a First Sip Rule.  It helps.  And not just my first sip of my first thing, but my first sip of everything.  It’s not much, but it helps a little.  Somewhere to start.  Sometimes, it even helps me enjoy my last sip, too.  And I am working hard to stop imagining Zen Coffee Woman and to look at my fingers instead, to see what they are up to right then.  Usually, when this happens, they have to stop scrolling on their phone and ask my brain what it’s up to.  It usually responds with, “I was bored, but I think I will be present, instead.”

I find myself a less envious of the spot I wanted to sit in at the coffeeshop, and happier with the one I got instead.  I don’t even move when the person who occupied it left.  I am keeping my mind from my gluten free chocolate chip cookie that’s waiting for me after lunch and enjoying my salad instead.  Sometimes, I even wait to eat the cookie until later or the next day, because my not bored self just realized she was full.  When I am waiting in the car for my Someone to fill up on gas, I don’t always turn my phone on.  Instead, I say, “I am waiting in the car, now.”  And then I pet my dogs, instead.  Or see how my Someone smiles at me when he comes back out from paying.  I am learning that getting what I want is better when time is taken to figure out what I want.

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“You need to take more time,” she said.  “Sometimes, when it all becomes too much, I lay flat on my back in my office and breathe for ten minutes.  Usually, this alleviates the pooch.  And fiber.  You need more fiber.”

My doctor has a calm, Kindergarten-teacher quality about her.  I had been cleared from the ER a couple weeks previous as having nothing “too dire,” but should “follow up in case it’s cancer or something.”  I had spent the previous two weeks in fear, until the fear dulled, and I was caught up in the business of not being bored.  Before my follow up with my kind doctor lady, I noticed that the less bored I was, the less I was skirting to the next thing without noting my present thing, the smaller my belly was getting.

I was relieved.  After weeks of not knowing, I still didn’t have an answer.  It could be an allergy.  It could be a change in diet.  But for certain, my brain was igniting my guts, and my stress was exploding me belly up.  There are specialists I could see and diets I can try.  But for now, my doctor told me to spend a little time being present to see if it helps.  Breathe.  Stop thinking about the next sip.

I am under doctor’s orders to be never bored.  I wish I could prescribe my first sip of coffee this morning.  It was really something.

New Puppies: On the Inconvenience of Love.

“Before, I couldn’t imagine having her,” I had told my Someone, “but now, I can’t imagine my life without her.”

We didn’t have our second 83 pound dog, yet, but I was practicing.  My Someone said nothing in return– he continued writing.  I detected a smile, so I pushed.

“It’s just, she is going to take up so much room!  But take up so much room.”

He glanced up, then kept writing.

I sat in front of him.

“It is so inconvenient to love an extra dog right now,” I said.

My Someone looked at me and smiled.  I waited.  He went back to writing.

“It’s just that, who has room in their heart for such a big, clumsy creature,” I said.  I got up to start the kettle.

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“Hey,” said my Someone behind me.

“Hey.”

“You are not inconvenient to love,” he said.

“Okay.”

Milk Carton Kid: On Waiting to be Called Home.

This week I have quit smoking for six months.  This leaves me a month and a half shy of the longest I have abstained since I started more than a decade ago.  So, naturally, when I think of my fine accomplishment and my clear lungs and my even clearer head, sans morning grog and congestion, all I want is to start again.

I am learning that this is not because I miss the buzz or the long conversations or how much more brooding and artist-like I look.  I am learning that I want to scrap my good behavior so that I can prove that I am still lovable– against all odds.

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“I just learned that I prefer to be by myself,” our host told me in a brief moment I caught her flitting between gardening and paperwork.  “I am so blessed,” she repeated.  This was the phrase she used after describing nearly anything– her well-maintained house, her knack for yard work, her divorces, her troubling tenants in a property a couple hours away, her two cats, her ability to take her own oversized garbage to the dump thanks to her new-to-her truck.  I was having difficulty deciphering if this was her mantra or her belief.

Earlier I listened to her wander around her open wood floored rooms, playing her small guitar and singing about brand new roller skates.  Two marriages later and she had it figured out– it was all for her to be alone.

And then, I wanted her alone-ness.  I know that one woman’s alone was another’s lonely– but hadn’t I had my share of love?  Had I been worshiping Aphrodite all along and am due to turn my head to Athena?  I started planning the tragic end to the love of my life, complete with waitressing and a bungalow in central Maine.  I practiced my lines to my adoring regulars–

Truthfully, I just realized after he was gone, I was really meant to be by myself.  This followed by a knowing smile and sad eyes and a sharp turn in conversation– You needing a warm-up, Eddie?  Charlotte?

I breathe in the North Carolina air.  The hurricane is coming in the next couple of days.  My Someone shuffles in his chair next to me.  I suddenly miss him terribly.  Two feet is too many between us.  I play out our coming years of close quarters and stupid arguments and late night prayers that we go out together and never live in Maine at all.

I am so blessed.

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My dog, Butter, is testing her boundaries again.  We like this game, where she follows her sniffs: nose to the ground, both eyes on me.  I whistle once, and I can see the involuntary muscles move in her front legs.  She can hear me.  I walk a few steps further and smile back at her.  She stops sniffing but keeps her nose to the ground, watching.

“Okay, I guess you can just stay here forever,” I call out as I round the bend out of sight.  I hear the jingle of her collar as she looks up.  I begin counting in my head as I slow my pace.

One.  Two.  Three.  Four–

I can feel the vibration in the ground before I feel her whoosh by.  Caught again!

We play this game often enough that I’ve learned to stay in sight on the main trail.  Butter loves the hide and seek.  But when the seeking gets harder, and she believes she is alone, I have watched the panic take her over, darting and panting and whining as she searches the grounds and listens intently until the game becomes no longer a game, and she is plunged into a wild rage of panic.  When she finally spots me those times, she is so relieved she falls to her side and squirms in a way I can only imagine Mary squirmed to see Lazarus again.

Now, I play by her rules.  Nose to the ground, both eyes on her.  We are pushing the boundaries of being lost from each other without ever being lost at all.  Same goes for the Game of Sticks.  I find a stick and woo her in, Butter takes it and crushes it, every time, on repeat.  It’s only sticks, but sometimes in crushing every good thing we are handed by the one we love most, and still more sticks are given, that is how we know we are loved most of all.

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I was hiding again, but I didn’t know it.  I went as far as the property line behind my grandmother’s house, where the cabs from old bulldozers went to their final resting place.  Stacks of odd shaped pipe, manhole covers, and green overgrowth defined the space before the long chainlink fence that separated us from the chemical plant which everyone is now certain is giving the town cancer.  Maybe it was that I decided I had played out our other acres.  Maybe it was another story of a mean older sister.  Likely, I felt alone.  And just like my adult self, now, my 8-year-old self decided that the best way to combat feeling alone is to be completely alone.

Tucked into that old Caterpillar yellow bulldozer cab, I pretended to be driving.  I peeled the paint from the rust.  I pretended to be grown, then I pretended to be small.  I sang any song I could remember.  I made up my own.  I never heard anyone calling.  Just like my adult self, my child self rarely believed anyone needed me.

So when I walked into the house after dusk to a frantic mother and a couple of wide-eyed siblings, I was shocked.  After I was questioned and new telling-people-where-you’re-going rules were set up, I was a little relieved, too.  Sure, I didn’t know I was lost, but it was so good to be found again.

That’s when my brother disappointingly told me his now-ruined plan to put my face on the milk carton.  Me on a milk carton!  It was no Hollywood lights, but this was only from pushing the boundary of love on the property line.

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I haven’t lit up a cigarette, yet, and probably won’t.  If I was smoking, I would be trying to quit, anyway.  Just like how when I find myself so comfortable and happy living on the road, my Someone and I start making distant plans to settle down.  It’s all just a test of how different I can become, how far I can roam, and still be loved by the people around me.

And no matter how content or imaginary-content I am to walk far and alone to follow my sniffs, the truth is I am waiting to hear the whistle to call me back in.  I am waiting to see the relief on their faces when I walk in the front door.

The Pulley System: On Eliminating the Hell Factor.

I am starting to wonder if the trouble with treating everyone as equal, is that we don’t believe that someone won’t have to pay.  We’ve been raised in a Heaven-or-Hell and sometimes Purgatory system.  Which means that anyone who knows anything about the afterlife knows that nothing you do here doesn’t come back to stoke your personal fires of Hell.  Or gains you exactly one ruby on your winning Heaven Crown.  So, of course, when the we find out that we’ve been doing it wrong all along, the sinking feeling starts to take over.  If Christ must increase, I must decrease.  Someone has to disappear.  The fearful mutterings are coming out all ugly.

What if women take over the election?

What if black people take over the same jobs?

What if everyone is free to enter our country and work and raise a family?

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What if we do?

The pulley system tells us it will be our heads and hands in chains on boats shipped back to Europe.  The pulley system tells us that it will be our voice that won’t matter, anymore.  And here is the most dangerous part of it all: somehow, the people with all the power– the ones who are afraid of being oppressed by the ones they oppressed– they believe they will deserve it.

That’s what Hell teaches us.  We deserve what we get.

But what if it’s like this: the oppressed have no interest in becoming the oppressor.  And maybe it’s like this: if for a minute we could get our head from the Heavenly clouds or from the brimstone below, we could find a balance here in the middle.  Where someone getting what they need doesn’t mean another gets less.

Because if there is limited seating here, I can’t help but believe there’s a capacity in the Beyond.  And it was tapped out years ago.

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I have a strong suspicion that this idea of God stepping in when it’s all over to correct all the wrongs isn’t any more plausible a scenario than it is here.  Which gives me the feeling that the next thing will be a matter of us continuing to work it all out.  So, maybe, if we get a head start, the feasting can begin a little sooner.  Or the singing.  Or whatever it is we do when we all go to the same place after this one.