Little incongruities kept popping up, like the time I went in to Hy-Vee to mail a package and the woman behind the counter had it all rung up and suddenly announced, "I can't meter this package for you."
"And that means. . . ?" I said.
"That means you have to mail it someplace else, unless you want to wait for my manager."
"And your manager is. . .?" I said.
"It's a phone call, and it will take about a half an hour."
I call these pop quizzes.
Then, early in January, Sarah told me they never got the sheets we sent. I called about them, and learned they had printed the mailing label, but never sent them. They never notified me, and now they were out of those sheets.
In the middle of all this, somewhere, Jack's truck quit. This was over New Years weekend, our anniversary, in fact. We managed to get it over to the shop where he takes it, and he started thinking about newer used trucks. Pretty soon he said maybe it meant more sense to get a car. (How odd, I thought. . .why would he want a car? Then I realized he meant it made sense to trade my car.) I decided I could be neutral about that. It does have 252,000 miles on it, but I like my car, and I trust it. We looked around some, test drove something, got the truck fixed, and decided to not do anything for a while.
I also experienced many moments of surprise, joy, and synchronicity--those little moments that came together unexpectedly, like when I got two new dinner plates for free, and the free movie and medium popcorn for two that showed up on my Facebook feed. Jack and I used the offer to see Concussion, one of the best movies I've ever seen, hands down. When the movie ended, we sat together in the dark theater and talked about all the things we enjoyed about the film, one being that it doesn't demonize or make you feel you should hate football. (A pretty good insight for me, considering I don't really care for football.)
And isn't it so nice when those things happen? I much prefer the free dishes and movie with medium popcorn lines to the broken meter machine and faulty mail order business and the breaking down car lines, don't you? And it can be a little disorienting when these things keep occurring together. . .the easy alongside the difficult, with no real way to make sense of it all.
And along with all of this, I notice I've been carrying a lot of tension in my body over the idea of scheduling Jack's back surgery. It's okay, we're getting it done now, we've met with the surgeon and we feel confident about that much. But I didn't sleep well for a couple of weeks because of this crazy thing going on in my jaw. (I've solved it mostly, by now, with changing pillows and consciously unclenching my jaw. Yes, I said consciously. In my sleep. A session of Healing Touch has been a tremendous help, too. (Surgery for Jack isn't scheduled, yet, but he's getting there. It should be mid-February sometime, and they will address the stenosis. A little hospital time and about a month recovery.)
So early in the month, I got to present a SoulCollage® workshop, something that is a lot of hard work and a lot of fun; and later that week I'd been asked to speak for a group of amazing, beautiful women at my church. I was scheduled to be there at 6:30, and at 5:45 I was sitting on the couch eating soup, and saying to Jack, "I wish I could stay home."
"But I think I'll go change clothes."
"Why are you changing clothes?" he asked.
"I'm not in top form," I explained, "and I think if I wear red I will at least look like I am."
On the way over, I thought about this. The topic was "Finding God in the New Year." Right. . .and I asked myself, "Would they rather I give them this nice little spiritual talk, or would they rather I tell them how it really is?" If it's true, as I like to tell people (ala Paula D'Arcy), that "God comes to us disguised as our life," then all of this must have something to do with finding God.
Soon as I walked in, I heard three people say, "I wanted to stay home tonight. It's so dark out, it's so cold. . ." So we went with the latter. I told them how it really is. And we talked about how we find God, even when it's dark out, and so cold, and we don't really want to be doing what we're doing right now.
So those were the challenging-yet-easy-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things parts of the New Year, thus far. The hard parts have been the illnesses, the deaths, the loss and the sadness. I was out on a stunningly beautiful Saturday morning when Sheila called to say her daughter was dying. Helen was fifty-four, "our first" Sheila says when she speaks of her. Dorothy's daughter, Pam, has been moved to hospice. They are hoping Pam will make it to her birthday next week, when she will turn fifty.
I opened an email for Terry's Caring Bridge to learn she had been ambulanced home to Iowa from New Jersey, where she had been receiving cancer treatment. All Terry wanted was to be home. Terry is Lilia's other grandma, Beth's mother. She died on January 9th, surrounded by family, along with her parents, who are in their eighties. I was grateful to learn from Lilia that she got to go see her grandma, and that Terry was awake for the visit.
And now Lynn has moved her mom to hospice, and Linda's husband texted to say Linda fell on the ice yesterday, and broke her femur. I got to see her, briefly, before they took her in to surgery.
These go far beyond the pop quizzes I mentioned. These are the hard tests and trials that also come with life, the experiences that somehow hold graces for us, which, if we open our hearts we will recognize. Sometimes those arrive only through hindsight, of course.
January also always puts me in touch with Eddie's death, my first husband, who died so young of lung cancer.
On Saturday, I was holed up in a nice hotel in West Des Moines, a Christmas gift from Jack, so I could write on my novel for a couple of days. I thought I would dive in and write away the time, strike on new energy and insight. You know, go to town.
I dove instead, into yet another layer of grief, and thought, "Oh, damn. . .here it is again."
Only it's not truly "again" so much as it is "still" and it's not even the same old "still" but something new and unprocessed, because it is observed from a different life stage. I began to do some thinking about how in the world I got from there to here. . .how a thirty-five-year-old suddenly single young woman with her whole life before her, as they say. . .became the sixty-five-year-old grounded, joyful, purposeful woman I am today.
I'm not sure I ever let go of the other losses that went with the losing of Eddie's life and presence with us--the death of dreams, of letting go of hopes for a different outcome, and plans for a different future.
But even as my thoughts turn to forging a life for my future self now--how to fulfill my vocation and be of service to the world in the time I have left, I remember how it happened thirty years ago: A friend of ours flew up from Atlanta and offered to give me some vocational testing, which revealed that I would do well in an academic setting. Because of that, I decided to return to school and finish my degree.
Because I chose to go to Drake, I made the decision to sell the acreage we lived on and move into town. After about a year, I realized I wasn't, nor had I ever really been, good at being a Baptist, so the kids and I started going to Westminster Presbyterian. I chose Westminster because I liked the building, and I felt that the worship style would better suit my contemplative nature. It did, but I turned out not to be a very good Presbyterian, either. (Once again, my liminal woman status at work.) I loved the people and loved the first couple of years there, where I was allowed to hide out in a big church and begin to heal, but it isn't my theology (which must not have caused me that much conflict since I ended up staying four years).
And then, critical to my unique path in the world, after I'd been at Westminster just a few months, Joyce Rupp was invited to offer a series of Tuesday morning reflections during Lent. My First Lent. She invited me into her spiritual journey group, and I stayed six years. My time with Joyce forged something in me that has given the rest of my life shape and substance, a touchstone that enables me to remember who I truly am and want to be.
This is not the smooth, steady movement from one logical thing to the next that it sounds like. This is the red thread of my story. Aside from this thread, I was flinging myself around all over the place, it seems, pursuing things I thought I wanted, combating loneliness and Third Grade homework assignments, trying to keep family connections strong, trying to figure out what sounded fun, wondering about relationships, hoping to survive. . .all the things thirty-five-year-old single mothers do.
So this is where the spiral that is grief took me on Saturday, the thirtieth anniversary of Eddie's death. And pretty much all I could do, I found, is sink into it, feel and reflect on it, and gaze out this third floor window at the bare trees:
And then, I pulled out my laptop and wrote and wrote and wrote, all evening. And maybe I got more done than I would otherwise if I'd made myself keep pushing.
I believe so.