fear is the little death

ever read something that you’re struck by, like a bell that resonates throughout your thoughts, echoes through your days? i certainly hope so. it’s like hearing the words of someone you love, intruding into your thoughts, months after they’ve moved away, years after they’ve gone home.

today, i was on facebook, and saw a friend remembering her mother. a mother i remember in bits and pieces as well – the friend and i went to high school together, and her mom worked at our high school as well. her mom told my mom i was wearing my lip ring to class (DIY at home piercings were all the rage in the 90’s, okay?), and that was the beginning of my teenage rebellion/depression/searching for identity. but her mom was always so kind to me, whenever i would spend the night – she had the homiest kitchen, in this really cool cabin of a house in what was then rural area in our county. she also passed away a year ago, a year ago today.

i heard once, that people fear speaking in public more than they fear dying. i don’t mind speaking in public, but the thought of this short beautiful life ending before I am ready for it to, terrifies me. the presence of loss, the specter of death hovers over our every step, and yet all i do is pretend it away. pretend that i can send that email encouraging a friend on another day. pretend that my sharp words can be apologized for tomorrow. pretend there is another day, another time to walk in kindness. pretend that i can be distant in my fear, pull away because of potential pain, hide my heart away and keep to myself.

this isn’t easy to balance. on one hand, there is the guilt of all the things left undone, the words left unsaid as i try to forget that i might lose my mom, my sister, my daughter, my family, and everything, in just a moment. and yet, there are still bills to be paid, work to be done, lunches to be packed, dinners to be cooked, and i could slip so easily into despair if all i thought of was the unavoidable nature of loss. i’m going to, one day, lose everyone i love.

the quote that’s been ringing in my ears today is this one:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

it’s from frank herbert’s sci-fi classic dune, and while most of it is glorious escapist ridiculousness, there is something to be said for adopting this idea. to let what terrifies me be accepted as terrifying. it is scary, and overwhelming, and yet, and yet.

i am afraid of losing the people i love. i am afraid of my sister dying, even though i know it is only the end of her mortal body. i am afraid of losing my brother. i am afraid of losing my daughter, like one friend has already. i am afraid of losing my mother and my father, as another friend has. i am afraid of losing my husband to death like a friend of mine has. i am afraid.

and yet.

c.s. lewis has written so many, many words that bring light to my heart, and today is no exception. i find myself longing to read the great divorce again, to remember that every fear, every hope that i lay down will one day rise again, made truer, made right. lewis writes in various places on these ideas:

Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.

If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.

I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) has not been lost: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in ‘the High Countries’.

so today, i am confronted with my fears. and in seeking to let them wash over me, acknowledge their presence without giving them power, and believe that one day, i will see my family in the high country. that the things i lay down, let go of will be abandoned for a greater hope. that this is not the end, and my heart does not need to die a thousand times a day before the ending comes. now to put these words into practice.

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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.

luck be a lady…

so i’ve never really believed in luck. i mean, sure, i had my silly rituals as a kid – don’t step on the cracks, heads up pennies, fingers crossed – but i never really believed in it. so now, whenever i say things like – fingers crossed and wish me luck – in the back of my head, there’s a little voice that reminds me that i’m being foolish. there’s no such thing as luck.

i don’t know where fate falls into things, i’m not a strict calvinist, so i’ve had a hard time believing in my life being chosen for me. but i still have moments of nervousness – i don’t want to tempt fate. or really, God. because i have a hard time not attributing a capricious nature to the God i claim to follow. i know it’s not scriptural, and sometimes i truly believe in His goodness or faithfulness. but a lot of times, i have a Jonathan Edwards type view of God – i’m a sinner, and He’s angry. and though i know that sermon is really about the grace of God, my head tells me that grace is for someone else.

so what does this have to do with luck? the other day, i mentioned a possibility that i was excited about. i was hesitant to mention the details, because there was this fear that if i told everything too soon, then it wouldn’t work out. foolish, right? but somewhere in my heart, i was afraid. afraid that a capricious god would hear my hope and decide i was unworthy. afraid that a trickster god would fool me, afraid i was somehow unworthy of blessing. notice how the g is not capitalized? that’s because it was a god of my own making. fear of being unworthy. of not being enough.

and in answer to my fears, i was blessed beyond expectation. i applied for a job at my alma mater on monday of last week, after hearing about the job opening on sunday. by thursday i had an interview, and this week – monday, to be precise – i signed my name to the offer letter and sent it in. i have applied to many, many jobs at UGA over the past few months, and never even got an email response. let alone an interview. let alone a job offer. let alone a start date.

so now, we’re on precipice of moving back to a town that has felt like home for 4 years. this year away has been hard, illuminating, and absolutely necessary. i was seriously broken in so many ways, and spencer and i were in bad shape. depression wrecks a family, ruins their ability to be whole – cohesive – not shattered, and i certainly wasn’t present for zoë. so when this year started, i was not in a place to recognize the loss of job, house, and familiarity as a blessing. as grace. instead, there was a hint that perhaps God was angry at me for being so broken. that my depression was my fault and everything that happened afterwards was because i was a failure.

do you see where the fear of tempting fate comes from? the belief that every painful thing, every failing, every disappointment was my fault, because i was a failure. so if something good was going to happen, i better not screw it up. better keep my mouth shut. and not tell anyone, and certainly not tempt God.

and yet, i was offered a position anyway. we have an apartment tentatively lined up, anyway. zoë will be returning to her beloved school, anyway. that regardless of my ability, or my lack thereof, or the luck i don’t profess to believe in, i am taken care of. we’ll have health insurance again. spencer will finally get his debilitating back injury repaired (he’s looking at surgery, or at least intensive physical therapy, not even including the week he will be out with his dental surgeries – which is why i was interested in the position at all).

and more importantly, i think i might have learned something. that luck isn’t a lady, and fate is no longer a trickster, or three women spinning yarn and forever cutting it, or that grace is not reserved only for the damned. that once again, the god i feared showed me He is a God who loves me. even when i don’t believe that about Him. even when i fear Him.

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.

the other side of the coin

so i’ve received some lovely emails and phone calls, making sure i was doing alright. it was immensely heartening, because it’s easy to pretend it’s all fine. i’m on prozac, everything is great now! except there are times when it’s not, and i’m always a little scared of sharing when it’s not. i’ve hidden the fear for too long, so baring my heart in a public forum like this blog is simultaneously liberating and terrifying. but i’m on the other side of the valley i was passing through, with the understanding that there will be others – there will be days when the shadow of the mountains falls over the path i’m walking, and days when the light shines through the peaks.

i’ve been watching the hobbit a lot lately, so give a girl a break. but in the same vein of mountains and valleys, i’ve been listening to a band called “the oh hello’s,” serendipitously  linked from a facebook friend’s status. their latest album, “through the deep dark valley” sums up so many of my thoughts and hopes and fear. plus, they sound like the lumineers met mumford and sons, with a hint of the last bison. basically, i’m a happy girl – they’re excellent.

i’m linking to my favorite song on the album, the very last one. it’s a reprise of the opening track, which is a question directed outwards – will you lead me? i am feeling ebullient, joyous, loved, and the song makes me think of all those things. i am lead, i am loved, i am never forgotten. i know that faith and medicine and depression and fear get mixed up sometimes, in ugly ways sometimes too. but i was reminded of the hope i have, and cling to. it is not in my circumstances or the outcome of situations – my hope and faith are placed in a God who loves me. screwed up, broken, sinful me. and He leads me anyway – sometimes through dark and narrow places, but i am not abandoned. even if i am convinced of it. i guess that’s called faith – having to believe something i do not feel at times. or at all when the valley is dark.

at any rate, this was an unexpected post, because i didn’t anticipate having a down couple of days, or the opposite side of the coin – the reassurance and hope that comes from knowing that i am not alone. or choosing to believe it when it is scary.

also, i posted post #350 with the mocha mascarpone cake. which is gone already. it was so good! i want to work on tweaking it a little, seeing if i can’t get more substantial layers out of it. even if it was a cake post, i was excited to see that this little blog, begun over 6 years ago is still pushing onwards. hard to believe at times – i’ve got a lot of pavement under my feet since the first day i posted. and, i hope, a little more maturity, and a lot more hope.

here’s the song, and please remember all the ramblings i posted today. even if you’re feeling lost and alone and abandoned, you’re not. you may not feel the hands that hold you, and the world might be dark around you, but you are not forgotten. your pain is not ignored.

 

in the interest of full disclosure…

i’m actually having a down day. it’s been a while. and while it’s no where near as bad as all the other horrifically down days i’ve suffered through, it’s still down. the restlessness and longing, feeling anxious, sadness that curls up in my chest like a sleeping cat – waiting for me to fall asleep so i can be smothered in a soft tail of despair. i guess that’s why i’m still awake – i can’t get it to uncurl.

is it the weather? it rained all day, and we didn’t play outside. but homeschooling went the best it’s gone in weeks – we were learning, playing games and having so much fun. we cleaned, watched a movie, i read, and did most of the things that make me feel better.

but the longing, the terrible longing won’t go away. it was triggered, i guess, by a disappointing bit of news – something we had hoped for. so now i’m left wondering what’s next, for us, for my family, and what will happen to us now. it’s not like things are terrible, and it’s life shattering. but it means that we’re back to the drawing board in so many ways, and left unmoored from the hopes that kept us from drifting out to sea.

actually, i feel a little better even writing all of this down, because i do need the reminder. it’s not a terminal illness, or a cancer diagnosis, or a death in the family – something i have watched way too many friends walk through. but it’s another thing on the list of things that keep us from moving forward. moving on.

f. scott fitzgerald summed it up in his perfect final line of “the great gatsby” – “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

here’s to hoping for a change in the current. and not drifting too far away. tomorrow, i’m planning on making sure i take care of my mental health – because too many days like this tend to pile, and then i haven’t brushed my teeth in two days and i can’t get out of bed before 1pm. which is close to becoming a reality. full disclosure, i’m pretty much already there. not a pretty sight, but i’m trying to fight this off. toothpaste not included.

a quiet week, so to speak.

so it’s been a weird week around here. so busy, so full of stuff to do, but not a whole lot got done. sure, we had doctor’s appointments, and church potlucks, and homeschooling, and taxes and dishes and first soccer practices, and baking, but it feels like we didn’t do much. maybe we did, and i’m not giving myself enough credit.

but spencer has a permanent back injury (discovered thanks to our doctor’s appointments) and we’re trying to figure out what all of that means for us. we certainly don’t want him losing all mobility at 35, and it’s already started happening to him. meh. it’s a mess, but it will get figured.

on the more exciting front, zoë joined a soccer team here. we’ve got our first game on saturday morning, and she is so excited. we’re getting cleats tomorrow, and she’s already ready to get muddy and kick the ball. i’ve posted a pic or two on instagram of her at practice last week… you know, in case you want to see transcendent excitement on the face of a 6 year old. we’ll have more pics of practice, and all that – i have lots to edit still. uuuugggggh. the editing never stops, and i am so terribly slow at it. one day, one day.

we also got to hang out with amanda, and i got to snuggle the squishiest, sweetest, cuddliest newborn ever. okay, maybe not ever. zoë was all of those things too. but it’s nice to hang out with a new baby, and do it during daylight hours without the feeding and changing and all that. it makes me wish zoë wasn’t an only, as she was the sweetest kid to persephone. but given how difficult it was for me to get pregnant, and the life circumstances we’re dealing with right now, she might be it for us. i’m trying to be okay with that, but i have days/weeks/months where i wish it wasn’t that way. prozac is helping that too. ha.

we busted out scones a couple of times last week, and i think i will do it again tonight – this time i’ll post a recipe because they are goooooood. so good. i mean, yes, there is lots of butter and cream and flour, but they’re so worth it. at least that’s what i tell myself. in the meantime, i will continue to bake things and not take pictures, like the pastel de tres leches from the tartine bakery cookbook. 4 hours of baking and prep later, i had the most delicious coconut infused tres leches cake ever. EVER. of course i didn’t take pictures, because it was like 1 in the morning, and i was trying to be as quiet as possible so i didn’t wake up the whole house whipping cream.

actually, speaking of whipping cream, i’ve had two very unexpected moments of singular happiness this week too. that night, while i was whipping cream to fold into the pastry cream filling, i went outside onto the back porch – the whisk was clattering frightfully in the bowl, and i was concerned about the noise. the night was cool, but not cold, and an almost full moon was out overhead. when i walked down the porch stairs to stand in the yard, hoping to see the stars, the moon was hidden behind a cloud. suddenly, the milky way bloomed to life overhead and there was a small breeze blowing through my hair. i can’t explain the moment without sounding incredibly cliché, but it was inexplicably joyful and nothing like i’ve experienced in a while. i was alive, and present in a way i’ve not been in years.

it continued into yesterday – it was gray and breezy, with bright dots of daffodils growing by the roadside on the way home from the grocery store. i was by myself, so i decided to stop and pick a bunch of them. cars kept whizzing by me on the road, but i was in this glorious valley, cutting an armload of daffodils. it was another “present” moment, full of grace and gratitude. i was so happy to just be. be picking flowers on a windy spring day, be looking at the stars on a cool night, be alive.

and that was unexpected. not unwelcome, and certainly not unhoped for, but unexpected. i didn’t think i would find simple joy like i used to. i used to be the kid who could marvel at a dandelion, or crayfish in a creek, or the light shining through the woods in my backyard. but not as an adult. and certainly not as a mom, or a wife. so yeah. weird week. full of simple things, full of complex feelings, full of joy.

tonight, we’re watching the lord of the rings, drinking rootbeer floats, eating popcorn and having a family night. exactly what this overcast and cold day needed. i should have more pictures soon. hang in there.