Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: July, 2016

Loud Voices and Little Altars

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Loud voices ring out in a crowded stadium of cheering people. The words reverberate with fear and hate and smug entitlement. I cringe from where I sit 2,500 miles away. Is this my country? Are these my people? Red, white, and blue confetti rain down on faces who look like mine but I could not feel more different from. Is this a celebration? It feels more like a trial where we are forced to examine an ugly truth from all angles. It feels like staring at a gaping wound that we do not know how to treat.

In another country, many miles away, loud voices, gun shots, and fighter planes whir in the air. I squint over my cellphone screen to watch the news come in through Twitter and WhatsApp and grainy cellphone video footage. Is this my country? Ugly, violent threats against people I know and love pasted up in public places. Kind, generous school teachers, doctors, professors, and aid workers labeled enemies of the state. The country they have helped to build turned against them. Divorced from society, they can only watch as in one fell swoop, their life’s work is dismantled and destroyed.

I remember a dinner conversation several years ago where my father remarked, “It is so much easier to destroy than to build.” Buildings that took years to erect, can be destroyed in a minute with a bomb. Societies that have taken decades to progress can be dismantled in a few weeks with a few new policies. Relationships that have been growing for a lifetime, can be destroyed in a day by a harsh word or revelation. Creation and building and growth are such a long processes. It seems unfair that un-doing them can be so fast.

My soul is weary of ugliness and destruction. The world feels too violent and harsh. I think about running away. Maybe I can find a nice man and a nice piece of land and raise some children and chickens and green beans and squash. Maybe I can hide away somewhere and just build something – however small – so I do not have to see any more things destroyed. But the still small part of me knows that running away for me would be listening to the fear I find so ugly. And would I be destroyed myself if I allowed fear of pain and destruction to dictate my future?

So I stay and I look for life where I can find it. In the exquisite face of a friend lit up by the dusky summer sunset. In the hands of my sister as she gathers the seaweed pooling around our feet and expertly twists it into a mermaid crown. In the smile and form of a dear one glorying in her youthful beauty. In the way my sea-wet hair is caught and curled and tangled by the wind. I capture these moments with my cellphone to remember these images. These glimpses of beauty and life. To replace the images of destruction that have been filling my screen for too many days.

I am asked to create. Make something from trash and discarded items. I am told it will be worship. All I can do is stare at the mess on the table. Beauty from plastic forks and leftover coffee lids? I am overwhelmed and step back from the table. I look on as those with more vision than I twist sporks into roses and fold chopsticks wrappers into birds in flight. I am humbled and I am awed. They saw something there that I could not. They reached in through the chaos and the discarded and found beauty and order. We are capable of so much destruction but also so much creation.

The cool air meets me as soon as I walk in the door. Releasing me from the oppressive heat of the week and inviting me to exhale and cease struggling – at least for a little while. I am looking for life and relief in an unlikely place – a museum dedicated to the broken. And in the stories of strangers, I find what I am seeking. Making my pilgrimage to these miniature altars, I find strength and encouragement from those who have looked pain and loss and destruction in the face and said, “There is still something here. There is still life here. There is still meaning here. And I will keep living and sharing my life with others.”

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A Conversation by the Lake

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I sat on the edge of the shore fighting back tears asking myself, “Why am I so upset about this?” I could feel myself about to spin out. About to just let the disappointments and frustrations of the day take me for a ride that I knew would be difficult to come back from.

“But I was trying so hard,” I emotionally argued with myself. “I was trying to be positive and have a good attitude but it feels like everything is stacked against me.”

“Everything?” The more sensible me asked incredulously.

“Well, not EVERYTHING, I guess. But really a lot. And I was already at low emotional reserves. And you know how hard this day of all days is. Really? Couldn’t I just get a break TODAY?”

I was hoping sensible me would just hand irrational me a free ticket to the emotional railroad and tell me to ride it. But sensible me knew that would not really help me feel better or salvage what was left of the day.

“Yes, it is a lot. It really is. And you have every right to be worn out today. And frustrated and disappointed too. But there is more than that.” How is it that reason is always so comforting to me?

“Sigh. I know. There are good things. There are really incredible things. This place is beautiful and the people I am with are wonderful.” Less rational me usually gives up pretty quickly but this time even I was surprised at how quickly she relinquished the fight.

“But there’s something else?” Sensible me often knows when there is a little more digging to do.

“Yes.” My lip quivered again and I could feel hot tears starting to sting my eyes again.

“What is it?” Sensible me gently asked. So gently that is surprised me. “What do you need right now?”

“I need to feel like all my hard work is worth it. I need to feel like all the energy I am putting into healing and hoping is paying off somehow. You know how hard I am trying to live hopefully. You know how intentional I am about creating new positive memories on days that carry heavy memories. It’s been two and a half years! I have now had as many anniversaries without him as with him. I would really hope that I am past the point that a stupid clogged toilet would send me into an emotional tailspin.” I think I wailed this little speech.

Sensible me nodded. “Yes, you are healing and yes, you are intentional about it. And also, life is just shitty sometimes (in this case literally) and you are handling it the best you can. Life is ugly and beautiful and annoying and satisfying and surprising in good ways and bad and you want to live all of it. You know you do. And you know the only truly tragic thing about today is if you let all these mounting disappointments hijack any of the potentially good things the rest of this day might bring.”

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I was right. (Or at least part of me was right while the other part of me was still trying to decide if pouting like a petulant teenager was allowed.)

“And I’m sad. There I said it.”

“Yes, you are sad. And that’s ok and honestly to be expected. Your ache is a long one to heal and today is just harder than most days.”

“Yes, I know.” I said and start to feel a teeny-tiny bit better.

“Just don’t blame what is happening right now on a deeper ache. Respect the deeper pain for what it is and care for it appropriately. You know it is not about the clogged toilets or too many trips to find the right plumbing tools or missed kayak rides. You know it is about a deep grief that you are still processing. It takes time and you are working hard at it.”

I nod and brush off any lingering tears from the tops of my cheeks. I just needed to be reminded it is a process and what happens today is only a small part of it.

“And who knows what else might happen today to lessen the grief and further the healing and hope if you stay open to it? Never let a day be ruined to possibility.”

I reached for my phone to finish dealing with the rental owner/plumber/maintenance company and the clogged toilet. And told myself that I would come back some other time to kayak.