New posts on Soul Like a Spider

 

 

The Stories We Have Buried

The best part about having great writing friends, professors and classes is that they give me the courage and tools to write stories that I haven’t been able to write before.

We all bury stories for one reason or another, whether out of fear, or self-doubt, or imperfection. Maybe it’s that situation that was so odd you’ve been trying to figure it out for ten years. Or that missed connection that you’ve guilted yourself over. Or the one where you said something you shouldn’t have. Or the one that was too strange, too sweet, too secret to share. Or that story you keep replaying for yourself because it made you feel exactly like the self you always want to be. A lost love, a blunder, a dream.

You don’t want to tell it because what will it say about the other person? Or worse, what will it say about you? As someone who by nature prefers to keep the dust settled, it’s a little bit weird for me to be saying all of this, but that’s the point, right? To go beyond ourselves to become better? To tell our stories so that other people know they aren’t alone? To find even more ways to celebrate all of the good things in this world? To relish in our humanness.

Find what you need to unearth them and to tell them. I know it hurts or is weird or frustrating, but it is useful work. It’s work that will never be in vain because to tell stories is to know yourself and others better. There is power in being vulnerable and speaking truth.

Find some sunshine or a place where you feel safe. Have a drink, some coffee, or tea, whatever stirs you and write it. Or whisper it in the ear of a friend. Tell your stories for reflection, meditation, comfort, and for baring your soul.

Even if that friend is only the inside of your hard drive. It’s someplace to start.

I’m writing this as much to myself as I am to you.

Burying memories might seem like a good idea (and sometimes we have to in order to survive and move on), but they can also fester. They can create an itch, something resolved deep in the corridors of your being.

In my case, I left that memory down there for almost seven years. And it came knocking with a vengeance in my sleep. I had the same dream once a month for about a year and a half. It was seldom enough that it took me a really long time to notice the pattern.

It was the same person coming to me over and over telling me that they forgive me. As you can imagine, I was a little bit freaked out. I didn’t even know why they were telling me that.

So, I did what I have done for years when faced with something I can’t understand: I take to the page. I started writing out the story. It was the first time I had even given the memory to paper. I wrote it plainly, without judging my past self for being so blind.

The dreams stopped. The answer came out on the page. As it turns out, I had completely misinterpreted the situation. So by writing it down I was able to process the pain and finally be at peace with it. It took me seven years, but that’s okay. Seven years is better than never.

I know I’m being vague about the details of the story, but the details weren’t the point.

The point was how I finally found healing in something right in front of me: art. Notebooks were the friends who helped me during my adolescence through grief, heartbreak, love, and abandonment. They are just as powerful, if not more, as an adult.

I have a quote written on a sticky note at my desk by Joseph Campbell:

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

So, let the memory see the light of day. Call it up out of the darkness. Look at it. Tell it to someone, or just yourself. Maybe someday you will be able to set it free and by doing so, maybe someday you will be able to set yourself free.

As for that story … You’ll have to read it in my future book.

 

Photo credit: Flickr / Oleh Slobodeniuk

 

The Book of Job, Omelets and Funerals

We are sluggish getting ready for the viewing for my grandmother. Partly because we just finished a six hour road trip and partly because my father-in-law’s funeral was only six months ago (and I can’t believe this is happening again). As I put on my dress clothes I am lost in some reality where I believe that if we just slow down the viewing and the funeral won’t happen. They will be suspended in some far off future waiting for someone, somewhere to un-pause in twenty years. Or maybe never. I can just stay in this hotel room, I can keep getting ready, and it will stay away from me.

I am putting on plum-colored eye shadow when my husband takes my hands in his and says, ”We can do whatever you feel like. We’ll be there as long as you want. If you need to leave or something, just let me know.”

I remember a quote I read on the way here describing God as an artist:

God must destroy as part of the process of creating. Even God cannot make an omelet without breaking the eggs.1

♦◊♦

I walk across the room with my mom pulling me gently by the elbow toward a group of people. The carpet is red, and it’s the overly squishy kind that only exists in funeral homes like these. It’s like they are trying to do to your feet what they are also trying to do with your emotions: strangely insulate them.

The sequins on my shirt are digging into my sides and I meet a group of men who are extended uncles or cousins or something, but I’m not emotionally equipped to remember their names past the conversation. Not today.

My body is successfully sending messages to my brain—like how these pants fit weirdly on my hips but I never remember in time to do anything about it because I wear them so seldom—but yet my limbs feel dull and blurry, like I’ll lose them between tears if I’m not paying attention.

Eventually everyone has left except the family. We stand wrapped in each other’s arms in front of the casket. Her face is grey and lies just under orange Bird of Paradise flowers. The smallest grandchild cries, which prompts another two to do the same.

It’s like I am looking in on a future memory. I’m not supposed to be here. Not today.

♦◊♦

funeral-grammy

Photo credit: Haley Faye

The car ride from the funeral home to the grave site is long. No one says anything because nothing really feels appropriate, except for,  “Is my mascara all over my face?” ”No, you look fine, really. But you can borrow mine if you need some.”

We listen to Johnny Cash as traffic stops for us and we ride through Western Pennsylvania’s dark green hills and pragmatic highways.

I haven’t been to the cemetery since we were singing “It is Well with My Soul” over my grandfather’s freshly dug plot. The grass looks brighter. We all gather in a circle around the new hole in the ground next to his.

I’m wearing her oversized coat—weirdly—and I wonder if she knows she left her lipstick in the pocket.

A bell rings in the distance while my uncle gives a benediction. I’m trying to listen, but I’m not listening. I can’t. All I can hear is the groaning of the bell.

I shiver. My eyelashes are wet.

♦◊♦

As we get off the turnpike and glide down the hill toward her house, I read the words of Job. It is such an odd and yet perfectly time to be reading this book for my Judaism class as we travel to the funeral of the matriarch of my family.

For those who are unfamiliar with the book of Job, Satan visits God and bets that he can make one of God’s followers forsake God. God says Job is faithful but that he is welcome to try. God allows Satan to wipe out Job’s family, crops, house, and livelihood. The bulk of the book is Job mourning and listening to well-intentioned but misguided friends about why this happened.

At best, churches skim and hurry through Job, and at worst ignore it altogether. They tend to rush to the end and what’s left unaddressed is Job’s cosmic sorrow and begging for answers from the deity in charge:

Your hands fashioned and made me altogether,
And would You destroy me?
Remember now, that You have made me as clay;
And would You turn me into dust again?
Did You not pour me out like milk
And curdle me like cheese;
Clothe me with skin and flesh,
And knit me together with bones and sinews? 2
 

Job, like any of us would, wants to know why his life has been upended and devastated. When God finally speaks, God ignores Job and instead poses a set of unrelated questions back to him asking if he has ever commanded the morning or guided the constellations.3

The reason for Job’s tragedy is ultimately left ungiven. The only real answer that we get in this story is from the beginning where Job is merely a pawn in a pissing match between God and Satan.

Some would interpret God’s questions that assert his authority and omnipotence as the Bible telling us that our questions about why bad things happen to good people are unimportant compared to understanding the character of God. However, in a weird way, this book was actually kind of a relief because the writer of the story uses Job as a vehicle to bang on heaven’s door to demand to know why death and injustice exist. It’s written as a conversation about how all of the typical pat answers just aren’t good enough in the face of true, deep suffering.

I’m not fine with a god that tells me that such a heavy blow to my heart is insignificant. I’m not fine with a god that says, “I know you’re in a lot of pain, but how dare you question me. I make the sun rise.” The meaning of Job can’t be that simple, so I am going to keep searching. I’m going to keep reading and listening.

God gave me this heart and when its bruised and brilliant lights are blindly snuffed out, I want to know why. Even if I have to keep on banging on the door. Even if the writer of Job and I have to stand out there for together forever.

 

1.  Byron Sherwin, ”Faith Finding Meaning: A Theology of Judaism,” 135
2.  Job 10:8-11, NASV
3.  Job 38:12, 32, NASV

Lead photo credit: Flickr / Nicki Mannix

 

I Will Give You

A new year is upon us. While that holds the promise of a clean slate ahead, we sometimes carry baggage in from the old year despite our best efforts. And so if your year started as dark as the last one ended, this is for you.

Maybe you have poured yourself out so much that you don’t know who you are at the bottom of the jar. Maybe you have worked really hard for something you thought would pay off, but it didn’t. Maybe you give yourself to things that are necessary for your survival, but they drain you. Maybe you have lost something and the vertigo of grief is overwhelming and disorienting. Maybe you are exhausted from the daily slogging through anger and expectations. Maybe you are empty, breathless. This is for you.

Even in the darkest of moments when you feel abandoned, there are gifts all around. This is a reminder of life, joy, and the gifts we have been given that surround us even when we feel hollow.

Appreciating these gifts will not solve everything. But maybe they’ll give you a moment of rest and serenity, some extra fuel to keep on, or a little bit of light to combat the darkness.

Before you read this post, turn off the lights. Full-screen this video and breathe.

And god said I will give you:

… Clouds that flow like oceans of milk that move and breathe like they are running out to sea.

… Friends you can share the deepest cupboards of your mind with.

… Sunsets of the strangest colors that painters will spend their lives recreating, and poets, retelling.

… People whose soul will leave such a deep footprint in your heart that they never really leave.

… Elephant ears, chicken curry, Frank Sinatra, and flowers that open with the sun.

… Steaming coffee and good beer that reminds you of the sweetness of life while the bitter hangs on your tongue.

… Hymns that will make you cry the instant you hear them and friends that you laugh too loudly with.

… People that sit quietly with you long into the night under fireworks to hear about what’s wrong.

… Mountains and fog that take away your breath, and skyscrapers that let you see the light.

… Sleep and wind.

… People who know you better than a sibling after ten minutes.

… Relationships that take work, but produce the deepest and most needed love you could ask for.

… Lovers, partners, dreamers, and intimacy.

… Multi-colored eyes with rings that rival the ones that wrap around planets.

… Sex and lips and kissing and laughter that will change your life.

… Smiles and wrinkles and crow feet and teeth that fill up your heart like heat.

… Poetry that can shred your heart and heal it.

… Holiday lights and paper cranes and snow and permanent markers and tattoos.

… People that you will fall in love with even though they don’t fit in the box and you will transform each other’s lives.

… Porches that you can sit on in the dark with friends, and porches that will give you a path out of destruction.

… Guitars, banjos, harmonicas, and cellos, and voices of syrup and smoke and silk and grit.

… Slices of conversations in common places that change your life.

… The Dalai Lama, Bukowski, Fitzgerald, Rakoff, Yates, Vonnegut, Klosterman and Rumi.

♦◊♦

The world is not a hotel room that you tolerate sleeping in for a one night, cautiously and unforgivingly. The world is not something you shower off the next morning.

The world is the scent of pine and grass. It is eye contact so pure and wholly attentive , it scares you. The world is a symphony, an unforgettable laugh. The world is a listening ear, hot coffee, a long hug. The world is a fever, a dream, a kiss, the freshest mint, and the best plate of Eggs Benedict you’ve ever had.

The world is a song.

The world is wrapping paper and humanity is the gift inside.

And god said:

Do not be afraid, come on in. The water feels fine.

♦◊♦

“Look for the mysterious in life. Wherever you look – in the white clouds, in the stars in the night, in the flowers, in a flowing river – wherever you look, look for the mystery. And whenever you find that a mystery is there, meditate on it. Meditation means: dissolve yourself before that mystery, annihilate yourself before that mystery, disperse yourself before that mystery. Be no more, and let the mystery be so total that you are absorbed in it. And suddenly a new door opens, a new perception is achieved.” — Osho

 

Photo Credit: “Adrift” by Simon Christen

↬ Robert Krulwich’s “Just Like Van Gogh, Ocean Waves Paint Clouds In The Sky” for the video and sciency explanations for odd cloud formations.

Mike Morrell for posting the Osho quote.

 

On Grief: This Living Person Gets It

As some of you already know, my grandmother, Faye, passed away suddenly a few weeks ago.

I’m having a hard time carrying this grief around. This sadness feels like a fever I have to burn out of my body. I feel like if I could just find the right bottle of medicine it would leave me. But I know that isn’t the case, so I am going to remain in this middle place for a while.

I am doing the things that make me feel good (reading books I’ve been wanting to read, hot showers, good food, blankets and Netflix), while also recognizing that those things won’t fix this, and that this pain won’t subside in a day.

♦◊♦

I’ve found a lot of meaning in all of this happening during the Halloween season. It’s the one time during the year where symbols of death are all around us, and the holiday lets me brush up against mortality and recognize it’s place in life.1

It reminds me of one of the beliefs about Samhain, the pagan holiday that inspired Halloween: this time of year is when the veil between this world and what is beyond is at its thinnest.

If it is, I hope my grandmother can hear me.

I’m not interested in communicating with the dead or inviting them into my house, but I do really like this idea of the curtain being thin. It’s as if we could catch a whiff of those we have lost’s hairspray or cologne in the wind just for a fleeting moment. As if they will appear to us in rocking chairs in our dreams. As if we could hear their voice echoing through the hallways of our minds. As if we remember this time of year how their footprints are still evident.

24810_373483273183_4353640_nMy father was wrapped around my shoulders and my husband around my waist as the pallbearers carried the casket after the service. My dad said tearfully, as I restrained a full-out weep, “Her legacy lives on through us, right?”

All I could do was half nod and keep my eyes shut as hard as I could. My cold eyelashes turned drops into rivers on my cheeks.

If only I could just feel her spirit here for just a little while longer.

There were moments over the weekend when I was walking through the hallway in her house that leads into the kitchen that I paused for a moment. The light from the kitchen was so bright, and I knew if I walked in that she would be there. Her energy still lingered. It felt like she was just in another room the whole time I was there.

As a friend said to me about my father-in-law on a hot Carolina night, “It just feels like I haven’t seen him in a while.”

On my way out the door back to Michigan I actually said, “I have to make sure I say goodbye to Grammy,” purely out of habit as I was hugging everyone else. The words came out as a whisper, hit my heart like thunder.

To some, mentioning Samhain is near blasphemous, but the idea of the veil being thin informs my grief. I need that sense of closeness, of an anniversary, of a time to stop and mourn. I need to know that when they go, they aren’t far from me. And when I go, that I won’t be far either.

♦◊♦

What’s surprising to me is that my impulse during these times is not to run away from the spiritual. I’m not clinging to it for pat answers that give me the easy way out of dealing with grief, but I am also not completely avoiding it.

I wanted to go up to all the clergy in collars and pastors that were there for my family in the aftermath and the funeral services. I wanted to run up to them and tell them, Thank you, you are doing this right. You aren’t giving me stupid, mindless answers about tragedy in between tears, you are here for my parents, you aren’t abandoning my family, thank you! But I couldn’t spit up the words past the compulsion. The clergy I encountered were exactly what I need religion and faith to be right now: present, and don’t hurt me.

ringIn not shying away from spirituality, I also found a burning desire for physical practices and rituals I could do during this time. My Baptist background gave me little more than awkward hand-raising during praise songs in the way of tactile practices to anchor my faith, so I’ve had to find my own.

I bought a rosary, and it has an skulls, anchors, and crosses on it and I’m learning to pray with the beads. I am wearing skulls on my wrist and they remind me that it’s okay to sit with my grief. I don’t have to shutter it into a box of Things I’ll Deal with Later. It’s okay as a living person to let loss be with me, and to contain the paradox of life and death inside me. For the moment the skulls are an outward symbol of allowing myself to feel whatever I feel.

I am wearing a ring that was my grandmother’s. It has tiny pearls and robin egg blue beads. When I look on one hand I have a symbol of my marriage, and on the other, a symbol that reminds me of all the people I have lost and how I carry them with me. I read liturgy for words when I have none. I light candles, I read poetry about my ancestors. And lastly, I am listening to Elvis, who she absolutely adored.

♦◊♦

The thing I am having the most trouble with is actually not what Emily says in the end of “Our Town” when she whispers, “The living just don’t understand.”

Sometimes when we walk around like invincible humans we don’t understand the gravity of what we have in life. But as I stepped outside the church to leave for the graveside and I heard the weeping of her children and we, her grandchildren, I have no trouble understanding the gravity.

Death eats everyone. And it’s in moments like these when I don’t know how to keep going like everyone I love doesn’t have a ticking clock over their head. I mean, I know we all do have ticking clocks over our head, but I don’t know how to not be paralyzed by that.

I have a hard time when driving on my daily commute not feeling like any minute some car will hit me on the highway and I’ll be out like a light. I have a hard time not wondering when the next phone call will come; or when my family will show up without warning at my place of work to inform me of some fresh tragedy; which upcoming Christmas will be absent of cheer and instead full of hospital rooms.

I didn’t need to see ”Our Town” after going to a funeral. I didn’t need to see that a girl from my university who was barely younger than me died in a six car pileup in an intersection I used to live by. I didn’t need my grandmother a week shy of her 74th birthday — who never did anything halfway and who had more energy than anyone in the room – to die of something active people aren’t supposed to die from. I didn’t need to watch my steadfast and strong father-in-law deteriorate Christmas after Christmas from a cancer that ate him.

This living person gets it.

I just don’t know how to not let that stuff create a permanent installation of fear inside me.

♦◊♦

I feel much like I did after my father-in-law’s funeral back in February. The whole family was gathered at my in-law’s house and the lights glowed and hugs abounded. I was curled up in a chair in the corner of the den. I was moving as little as possible to keep down the chest pain that sprung up whenever my heart raced or I breathed too deeply.2

I took small, slow breaths and sipped on steaming coffee. The room was bursting full of people I loved and who loved me. And even though my view into the living room was obstructed, I closed my eyes and listened to my husband and his best friend perform “Ring of Fire” on guitar in the next room. My husband’s uncle picked up a drum for the first time in years and played the rhythm into the night. Those in the room sang, “And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire.”

And so like I was in February, today I am sitting with the pain of my grief, surrounded by love, listening to the sweet notes of the universe that will nurse me out of fear and back into full life.

 

1. To some friends, this holiday is triggering, and that is okay too. It means something different to everyone, and you have to respect your own health and mourning in your own ways.

2. Everything is okay. It turned out to be pleurisy when I went to the ER later. It was hard to explain at first, because the symptoms showed up during the memorial and I said, “My heart hurts.” A family member replied, “You’re at a funeral! Of course it does.” No, really …

Lead photo credit: Flickr/Jo Naylor

 

Home: A Love Letter

I am not from Michigan originally, but it’s where I landed.

I was born in the shadows of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia, where I don’t remember much other than turning the driveway into one giant mud pie with a garden hose and looking over the fence in the backyard at the rock quarry during the humid summers.

After leaving Virginia at a tiny age, we moved around for the next several years. By the time I was ten I was already craving a place to put my roots down. I wanted to be in one place long enough to recognize friends from elementary school and where I could watch the town grow old. I wanted a relationship with the place as much as the people.

♦◊♦

I drove across town with The Stripes’ ”Little Bird” racing through my head, making me sweat.

I passed the former home of the Pizza Hut where we would pass out little red and pink valentines to some of my homeschool friends when I was young. They were held together with sweetheart stickers and opened over  buffet pizza. I altered the words a tiny bit in the one sent to my secret crush; I hoped by some magic he would know that my benign valentine meant something very different.

I passed the hole where the Caribou Coffee used to be. (It’s now a frozen yogurt place or something boring.) In the evenings, Alex and I would huddle around the large table by the window and crunch algebra problems, and after homework was over, our friends showed up and we lazed and laughed over sweetened coffee for hours.

(That coffee shop is how I knew there must be something more to faith and church: my friends and I wrestled with morality and started theological conversations there by ourselves, and they were questions our church two miles away wouldn’t touch. And when I asked them to, they tersely informed me that our pastor was not Billy Graham.)

I passed the house that I walked to after a severe breakup years ago. ”Arrive first so that he has to come down to your level and you start the conversation with the power.” It didn’t matter, it didn’t work. My significant other held up a sheet of paper with circled reasons why we were there, and they all led with arrows to the center circle: “Breakup.”

I left in a rage, the heat burning through my cheeks, and in my ’93 Bonneville I yelled along with Spencer Chamberlain in “In Regards with Myself“.

“There’s got to be some stable ground left to walk on
So tear another page from the book
Are you asleep or just alone?”

There are landmarks of home everywhere I look:

A stolen kiss in the former Borders parking lot.  Best friends and Lord of the Rings marathons down that road into the forest. A Halloween party that caused me to accidentally blunder a relationship down that one in downtown. Photos in a heavy, beaded red dress that made feel like a demi-god behind that church. Ate at that sandwich shop in the winter when I was stressing over Greek mythology papers and house-sitting.  Engagement photos in that park with the small river – the same park where I bought frozen apple cider at a yearly festival and a bee ended up in my mouth because it was drawn to the sweet and died in the ice.

♦◊♦

Not everyone around me shared this love of our state. Many felt like Michigan was someplace to escape. (Likely because, unlike me, they were born here.)

Former loves flew away to far corners: Washington, Arizona, Texas, New York, over the sea. One dreamt of a simple life of selling hot food outside of bars somewhere warm. One dreamt of a cabin in the woods where we’d elope and make maple syrup. Another, of living near the ocean so he could hear the waves in the morning.

They were dreams conjured and manifested and those states eventually called them away with a magnetic voice just as Michigan did to me. But this place, like many hometowns, takes a hold of you quietly. My section of the state isn’t anything in particular to look at, and didn’t grow up close enough to the coasts for the Great Lakes to be my childhood companions. However, I always visited them during the summer when they gifted me memories and adventures I will keep for a lifetime.

Michigan has been here through everything. It saw me through adolescence, love, grief, elation, dreams, fog, adulthood. Just a month after moving here, Michigan gave me a girl and a boy who would change my life.

This place has provided long winters to rest in, summers to purge my imperfections, decadent and rainy springs, and magazine-quality autumns. It’s a place where paczki and cider mills are sacred rituals of the changing seasons; where lighthouses stand abundantly on our shores, marking the edges of our state like fingernails.

This place bore itself into my soul, just as I bore myself into it.

On September 10th, 2001 we moved into a tiny condo and my love affair with the Mitten began.

Maybe someday I will fly away like the others. But for now, there’s not much more I could ask from a hometown.

 

Photo credit: Flickr/betsyweber