what i’m holding on to

we said goodbye for the last time on wednesday afternoon. she went to sleep, wednesday morning, and never again opened her eyes on this side of eternity.

i don’t have the ability to say how much she was loved. so very very much. she was a connector, bringing people together across miles, across lines of religion and race and all the things that keep us apart.

i’ve got one voicemail saved of her voice. she was just calling to talk. to encourage, to lift up. to do all the things she did so well. so now, we’re without her, and i want to remember her as much as i can. but life continues, and i can’t sit in my room, holding pictures of her, and crying.

Marlene, i miss you. your hands, moving like birds when you put on hand sanitizer. the elegance of your movements, slowed by pain. your beautiful feet. they took the gospel everywhere you went. how beautiful your smile was. your adventurous heart, that found ways to shine the light in dark places. i miss chatting with you. talking about the football teams we cheered for. talking about old movies. just talking. i miss you. and i don’t think i’ll ever stop. i can’t wait to see you again, and i’m going to live my moments as fully as you did. or at least i’ll try.

i’m holding onto a song by sherri youngward. it’s nothing but words i need to hear. words i need to remember.

everybody needs their mr. keating…

so with the internet exploding with depression awareness posts and blogs and news, i wasn’t sure i wanted to throw my hat in the ring. i’ve already covered my own battles with the darkness, and my experience is not unique. there are so many people who have said it much better than i could, so i will let it be.

however, every time i think of robin williams, i think of dead poet’s society. and i think of my dad. i remember seeing dead poet’s society on vhs when we lived in chicago – i think i would have been 11 or 12. we all remember (those who have seen the movie) the iconic stand on the desk moment. but what resonates with me, even all these years later was the introduction to the power and beauty of the english language. my dad, who is one of the most brilliant people i know, has an intellect that is completely different than mine. he is methodical, logical, process and detail oriented, whereas i am flighty, big picture, easily distracted, and very very creative. but in spite of the very real differences in our interests, my dad found ways to introduce me to the passions i would carry into adulthood.

i watched dead poet’s society with him, and within the next 3 years or so, he bought me my first book of t.s. eliot poems. those two events may seem insignificant, but they laid the foundation for my eventual degree in english, my love of the written word, and my hope to pursue a master’s degree in modern poetry one day in the future. t.s. eliot became, and remains my favorite poet. i return to his four quartets several times a year, and without my father’s introduction to mr. eliot, my interest in modernist poetry may have taken much longer to develop.

he encouraged me to play viola, came to every concert he was able to, bought me books of poetry on out of town trips. took me and 2 friends back to chicago for my 16th birthday, just so i could see the museums and feel like such a grownup (when truthfully, i was so young.) he covers the private school tuition for zoë, since the school she would be attending is ranked 1 out of 10 on greatschools.org, and similarly ranked using other national school ranking sites. he’s lighting the way for her through his commitment to seeing her well educated, pursuing her own passions and dreams.

dad was my mr. keating. and still is, truth be told. is our relationship perfect? not by any stretch. but like any relationship of value, i’m working on it. I’m closing with one of my favorite passages from my favorite poem from my favorite poet. hahah. But there are lifetimes burning in my moments, in zoë’s  moments because of him. through the dark cold and empty desolation, there is still that light.

 

T.S. Eliot – excerpted fr0m East Coker, The Four Quartets

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

voices and voiceless and all the in betweens

i had a friend tell me recently that she missed my authorial voice. which surprised me, because i didn’t think i had one. a distinctive voice, that is. maybe in real life, where i can sing tenor fairly comfortably, but certainly not a written one.

but it got me thinking, thinking about why the blog lay silent so long, thinking about what i place value on when typing into this blank slate of ones and zeroes. i realized a couple of things.

one, that i still struggle with wanting to put on my best face, and present the most perfect me to the world. i’m still wrestling through the requirements of honesty in a world of masks, and there’s some concern there. we’re not perfect. the laundry doesn’t get done with any regularity, and spencer and i probably have tense discussions at inappropriate times. we’ve only recently started making sure the dishes are done every night, and zoë might get to eat cereal twice a day on the weekends. by her choice, of course, but even still, if it weren’t, and that’s all we could afford to feed her, who cares? she is loved, adored, and cared for, and we are doing the best we can.

i can’t pretend that i have somehow become super mom, or even a more rigorously scheduled, put-together woman with a career and a perfect house, because it’s not true. instead of coming to a realization that prozac didn’t change my most essential self, it’s been easier to just stay quiet. because of shame, and wanting to be perfect, and not being able to. and that’s what even led me down the road of needing to take antidepressants in the first place – the myth of perfectionism.

so i’m going to try to be a bit more honest – i don’t mop the floor but once every month or so. sure, we sweep, and vacuum, but mopping is not high on my radar. i make the bed about once a week. mostly on the weekends, because it is gratifying to take a nap on a made bed. we throw together last minute dinners most nights, because both spencer and i work. and he works somewhere between 50-60 hours a week, i work 40 and we’re just busy. i’m not a stay at home mom, and i’m not likely to be anytime in the future, and there was so much of a sense of failure over that fact, i went quiet. i currently have about 7 loads of dirty laundry to wash, and about 4 to hang and put away. again, necessary, but not high on my radar. i could have done it yesterday, but zoë and i went swimming after spencer went to kung fu training. the sorts of things that i am learning to embrace in the interest of self care. in the interest of not destroying myself with my own self imposed regulations that, while valuable, are not the most important.

the other thing i realized, is that my blog isn’t just about zoë. it’s about me. and spencer. and our dog, and the books i read, and the cakes i don’t make, and the chickens we keep, and the jobs we have, or don’t have and all the things that make us who we are. so if i feel like blogging about a book i read that i can’t get over (ie: annihilation – wow!) or something i am particularly concerned over (ie: world news in general), then it’s fine.

this isn’t just a method for disseminating information about zoë or pictures of the first day of school – this is a way or me to pour out on invisible paper the things that i used to journal. the flaws, failings, realness and rawness of being a person. having a voice, and allowing myself to speak. even if it’s trivial, even if it’s not big words in the face of genocide or persecution or depression or epidemics sweeping the world, they still have value. so there.

this was a missive to myself. to my feelings of doubt and failure. i needed to hear these things too. so there. authorial voice. and maybe you’ll hear from me again soon.

learning curve

i had about 1/2 of a post typed up. 9 days ago. since then, i have continued to get busier and busier, with today being my first moment to even remember the drafted post.

which i promptly scrapped, because wow. working and blogging is tough – everynight when i get home, i just want to cook dinner, watch river monsters on animal planet, and be in my pj’s. not on my laptop. so there’s that. couple that with the fact that zoë is visiting grammie’s house, and spencer is still in dahlonega and you’ll notice there’s not a lot to talk about.

i file reports, pay fed-ex, email people all day and drink copious amounts of coffee. i have lovely co-workers, an office (with a window!!) to myself and a sense of working autonomy that i did not anticipate. i think it is unusual these days, at least for those of us with humanities degrees AND no sweet programming/networking/IT skills to find positions where there are not micromanagers. perhaps i’m wrong… my experience has been one of less autonomy and more scrutiny in the work place. so to come into an office where everyone is treated as an adult, their opinions and ideas are valued and there is a less rigorous adherence to the letter of the law and more in terms of the spirit. don’t get me wrong, we work within very specific rules and regulations. but there are no rules on how to paper clip your files. or whether or not you can decorate your office. (more on that in the future, once all my prints arrive). and i’m even allowed to wear flip flops. WHAT?

so in terms of job satisfaction, i’m super happy. i accrue 3 weeks of vacation time a year. i have benefits, and i am getting paid a very decent administrative support salary. why am i going on and on about this? because it is so unexpectedly awesome. we had given up hope on moving back to athens – it just didn’t seem possible. it is incredibly difficult to get into staff positions at UGA, and i certainly did not expect to be here.

while i am busy, and certainly enjoying my downtime, i am looking forward to our family being reunited, and moving into a family home together. it will be a little time before that happens, and i will likely not be posting much as i re-enter the working world. there’s a lot of juggling that i have to do, that i have not done for a long time. i think it is really good for me though – i feel stretched and energized, taking on all these new things. and the best part about the job is that the learning curve doesn’t stop. i will master check requests, and travel and fed-ex and all of that, but there will likely always be something new to learn.

i’m going to get back to my lunch now – i’m enjoying a leisurely one hour lunch break these days, but cold food is no good.

oh the things she says…

so there’s a post circulating facebook about the silly things that kids say. so of course, i needed to ask zoë to finish some common proverbs, and then i needed to ask her some more questions that i found online. here are her responses – some of them are amazing. others are not so surprising (especially the one word description question). they made me giggle, and realize i needed to share this. just because she is ridiculous and wonderful.

a penny saved is… one cent
don’t put off til tomorrow… a day that is a playdate
the pen is mightier than… me
a bird in the hand… is a friend!
it’s always darkest before… light time
strike while the… bumblebee is stinging someone
children should be seen and not… thiefed by a bad guy
don’t change horses… stay on your own
never underestimate the power of… the Lord
you can lead a horse to water but… don’t gallop or he’ll get too tired.
don’t bite the hand that… is a goat’s. or he will bite you back.
no news is… no television
a miss is as good as… cold boiling water  (i think she thought i said “mist”)
if you lie down with dogs you’ll… fall asleep
happy the bride who… marries a knight

What is your happiest memory? when i rode the shamu roller coaster.

Why do you like being a kid? because i can go to the playground. and sit in the back seat.

One word to describe you would be _______. playing.

What advice would you give your parents? get me an ancient roman ring.

If you could be any animal, which one would you be and why? a cat. because i could eat anything except for cheese.

What do you like to do for fun? basketball.

Tell about a funny time in your life. when i was watching my little ponies and they had a pillow fight.

What is your favorite thing to do? Why? play basketball. because i like to shoot goals.

What is your favorite thing to do with your friends? to play teenagers at a cafe, and we dress in fancy clothes.

What was the nicest thing you did for someone? gave jewelry to allie and bennett.

What do you think you will be doing 10 years from now? babysitting.

What is your favorite thing to do in the summer? jump and dive in the pool!

What do you think makes a person good-looking? getting fancied up with jewelry and with fancy clothes on.

Name two things we should do as a family on the weekend. go to target, and see my friends at dinner time.

What is the grossest thing you can think of? mud! and slime.

spring is… cold?

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so here we are, two very cold rainy weeks later, and i didn’t take near as many pictures as i had anticipated. sure, we went on our hike up a part of the appalachian trail – it was an adventure just to get there! friends of our decided to join us, and they brought their 10 year old and almost 8 year old. so naturally, zoë was a happy camper. or hiker as it were.

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she got to ride with them on the hour and a half drive to the trail head. at one point, we were driving 15 miles an hour on a steep, windy, gravel, ONE LANE road. i think the trail head was 20 miles away. which, if you think about the history of settlers moving into georgia, or even the US, it is incredible to think of pioneering homesteaders making their way through the mountains and trees to eke out a subsistence living on a small hilltop. we actually passed a couple of places that dated from the early to mid 1800’s, and those people came up on foot, horse or wagon. and not the sure footed subaru pseudo-wagon we were careening in. careening is perhaps a bit strong. we only went about 15mph, but when you look down, it felt like careening madly. it certainly gave me a healthy dose of respect for the folks that settled the area. it takes an iron spine and a lot of grit to be a pioneer. though i think that is true in anything.

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so after our hair raising adventure up to the high mountain passes (perhaps a slight exaggeration), we made it to long creek falls trail. which also runs concurrently with the appalachian trail for most of it. so though it was no 2100 miles, our 2 miles still qualified me getting to say we hiked the ap. trail. because we soooo did. and maybe again i’m exaggerating, but i don’t care. it was a lovely easy hike, perfect for a 6 year old who, for all her love of being outside, does not enjoy hiking. or so her whining leads me to believe. she got the experience of using nature’s bathroom (aka: a hole in the ground) but stage fright won out, and she can at least check “i tried” off the list. at the end of the trail hike, we walked a bit by the creek, and the kids all posed in a gnarled old grove of mountain laurels. directly over the water. i guess it was the look on my face that made it so perfect to them – kids.
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it’s a good thing we went when we did, because the weather has gotten colder everyday since then. at least it feels that way. after the hike, we went back to business as usual – hanging out at the library (and accidentally accruing a ton of fines. doh!), species identification, picnic blankets at sunset and all the sorts of things that are not quite as exciting (writing and subtraction). but last week? well, last week was glorious.

i had texted a friend about seeing them when we were in athens over the weekend, but she informed me they were going to be out of town. how convenient, and did she mind if we crashed her house? that’s how you know you have a good friend – when you can show up, and they’re not even there. so sunday was church, and lunch at last (the monthly pot-luck i help organize) and then monday was the dentist for spencer. he’s in the final stages of getting everything pulled and replaced – i can’t even begin to tell you how long we’ve prayed for that. his teeth were destroyed by years of stomach acid wear, thanks to the ulcers he’s suffered from. he jokes that he has the mouth of a bulimic without the figure, but i’m thankful he doesn’t have the figure to go with it. so tuesday, and wednesday and thursday were spent in the company of friends that we don’t get to see in our short lived moments in athens once a month. although by wednesday, the 10 degree difference between athens and dahlonega was showing up in the thick layer of pollen we were sneezing at. we all got some kind of allergy flare, and wednesday was spent hiding in the house, watching movies and staying in bed.

on a side note, spencer was concerned about me, because i was sleeping so much the last couple of days there. i realized there is a huge difference between the tired of “my sinuses hate me, i was up all night coughing and i feel awful” and the tired of “i feel awful and i don’t know why.” obvious to some, but seeing how it feels to be sick versus being depressed was illuminating. i can say, in all honesty, i’m sleeping more because i can’t breathe and i don’t feel great physically. emotionally, even this nasty weather can’t bring me down. i’ve been listening to a band that is new to me – pilgrim, with their down tempo, trip hop (although that may not be the best description, but they sure make me smile) being the soundtrack to the week. i particularly like #6, only your presence. at any rate, it’s always nice to say that i know the difference between tireds, given that i used to sleep so much and for no reason other than emotional duress.

so things are possibly afoot, but i am hesitant to say anything until we know for sure. just know that good things are happening, and will continue happening. more details on that soon. i’ve posted more pictures to flickr of our hike, and apparently forgot to take pictures in athens. right now though, we are shivering in the low 50’s and it’s the beginning of may. i think last year it went from ice storm to 95 and humid, so this prolonged cool spring is so very very welcome. i feel like we might even get 4 whole seasons this year! remarkable. so though the title might imply i’m upset about our cold spring, i am most definitely not. it’s glorious, because it means i can keep drinking earl grey and chai and coffee without feeling obligated to ice it.

i think that covers all of it – may the fourth be with you (hahahahahahah) and i’ll be back with more updates later.

a bright day

today (april 7th) my lovely younger sister turned 26. most of my memories of her as a child concern sunshine, and smiles and a lot of brightness. she always seemed to reflect light into every place she went, at least in my recollection. of course, i’m learning how flawed my own remembrance can be, with so many years of darkness to skew my perception of light. while i struggled in the dark, she fought a different sort of battle. perhaps not the exact same, but she’s wrestled with the same darkness and came out the victor a lot sooner than i did. i do know this, as sure as i’m breathing and drinking earl grey tea on this warm spring night – marlene has always been a light in dark places.

my little sister has cystic fibrosis. if you’re not familiar with this terrible and hidden disease, please take a moment to check out the very quick overview that the CF foundation offers here – about CF. i call it hidden, because for many years, no one could tell anything was wrong. she was bright, spunky (okay, she still is) and fully participatory in so many activities and hobbies. but CF takes it’s toll, and while i left and got married, and sunk into a deep valley, she started paying the price in her body. and i was unaware, and incapable of even conceiving what she dealt with and still deals with on a daily basis.

i have had opportunities for 6 years to talk about her sunny disposition, her never failing encouragement, her constant ability to know what a word in due season is, and yet i haven’t. mostly because of shame. it’s sad to think about my fantastic baby sister ever battling anything painful, and so i didn’t. think about it, that is. and in the process, distanced myself from the only sister i’ll ever have. the only sister who can tease me about the terrible mullet pictures taken when we were kids. the only one who knows how her obsession with sound of music in elementary school sparked a not so secret love of musicals. the only sister who introduced me to frank capra’s other films, and broadened my horizons by never stopping her concentrated reaching in. she never stopped believing in me, and believing my life had value and hope.

so here i am, realizing i’ve lost a lot of time to depression. my counselor told me there would be a reckoning at some point – that i would grieve the lost time. i think i’m starting that – trying not to get lost in regret, in shame. in loss. because i lost time and precious time at that, with one of the most unflaggingly encouraging people i know. she continues to astonish me with her depth of compassion, her understanding, and her joy. she is joy, and hope and so much of the reflection of the Lord. the day she was born was a bright day, and every day has been brighter with her in it.

it has been a hard fought light, and a hard fought fight. i’m so proud to call her my sister – she causes me to desire more out of my life, my relationships, my hopes, because she embodies hope to me. she continues to fight a physical fight that seems overwhelming to me. the amount of treatments, the medications, the physical pain, the hurts, the sleepless nights, the limitations. and yet none of those things limit her. she continues to speak life to everyone she meets, to shine a light in every place she walks, to minister the Gospel at every opportunity. she’s never bitter, never angry, never hopeless – or at least not that i’ve ever witnessed.

so today, sister that i love so very dearly, sister that should be receiving late birthday cards from me (this happens every year if i send them at all), sister that didn’t receive the loud and obnoxious phone call we wanted to make (their phones were down), sister that never fails to encourage me, to expand me, to challenge me, today know you are so loved. sure, this post is late – yay me! but know that i’ve been thinking about what to say all day, and when i didn’t get to call you, i knew i needed to get it out somehow. you are and have been sunshine in my life, a joyful voice speaking life to me, my friend, one of my favorite people, and thankfully, my sister. i love you.

 

i’ll be posting about this very soon, but i’m forming a team for the great strides walk at the georgia botanical garden in october. more details coming soon, but i thought it might be appropriate to mention this in conjunction with the very reason i would participate – miss sunshine herself.