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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

harborwalk-trees

We’re (more than) three months into quarantine – my personal clock hit the three-month mark last weekend. Massachusetts, like a lot of states, is slowly reopening, even as coronavirus cases continue to appear. Recently, I’ve been out to a few local businesses that were closed for a while, but otherwise, my routine hasn’t changed much since March. And I’m frankly sick of it.

I keep seeing essays or tweets around the Internet of things people want to keep from this time: more time with their families, fewer commutes, less traffic congestion, and so on. That’s all fine and good – and I have a few silver linings of my own. But honestly, there’s a lot from this time I don’t want to keep.

I don’t want to keep the constant, gnawing anxiety: will I get sick? Will someone I love get sick? Will I/they be able to afford the medical bills? What if they don’t get better?

I don’t want to keep the constant risk/reward calculation (what one friend called “mental actuarial tables”) that goes on in my brain every time I leave the house. I am sick and tired of mentally estimating the risk of a walk or a hug or a trip to the grocery store. I miss being able to plan travel, or have anything but a walk or a Trader Joe’s trip to look forward to.

I don’t want to keep the constant isolation, so acute it sometimes makes me cry, sitting here at my kitchen table with no one else around. I miss my coworkers, my librarians and baristas and yoga instructors and especially my florist. Most of all I miss my friends, even those I have seen since quarantine started. We go on walks and wave goodbye from behind our masks instead of sharing a meal together and parting with hugs. It helps, but it’s not the same.

I don’t want to keep this incompetent president, unwilling to listen to scientific experts or wise advisors, fanning the flames of partisan division for his own selfish ends (or because he just likes chaos, I can’t tell). The U.S. response to the pandemic has been fragmented and inadequate, and I am frustrated and sad that so many people have died.

I don’t want to rush into a post-pandemic “new normal” until we can do so safely, and I think we’ve got a long road ahead. I will keep taking precautions and wearing a mask when I go out, for as long as it takes. But I don’t want to keep so many aspects of this time. And I needed to say so.

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Happy Tuesday, friends. Here we are in week 11 of this strange restricted life, and the world is turning toward summer. I ran this morning by the water, through haze and humidity and (eventual) bright sunshine. The beach roses are blowing and the purple iris are budding, and I’m wearing my favorite denim shorts and growing herb seedlings in my kitchen window (until I can get some soil to pot them).

We are deep into whatever kind of “now normal” we are all creating for ourselves, and while there’s beauty and joy in that, today I wanted to acknowledge: I miss how it used to be.

Here in Massachusetts, we’re moving slowly into a phased reopening, but masks and social distancing and other restrictions will be part of our lives for a long while. There are some parts of “normal” we simply won’t get back, at least not for the foreseeable future. And that hurts. So, in no particular order, here is a list of things I miss:

  • Hugging my friends.
  • Browsing my favorite bookstores.
  • The library, especially the central BPL branch near my office.
  • Hanging out at coffee shops.
  • Making travel plans, which are all obviously on hold at the moment.
  • Running to the grocery store to grab “just one thing.”
  • Walking outside without a mask.
  • My family in Texas (the Zoom calls are fun, but not the same).
  • Going to friends’ houses for dinner or just to hang out.
  • By the same token: having people over to my house.
  • My colleagues, and the musical chitchat that passes for water-cooler talk at Berklee.
  • Sitting in on workshops and talking to our students.
  • The buzz of commencement season in Boston and Cambridge.
  • Going to yoga classes in a real studio.
  • Going to book events at a bookstore.
  • Walking to Downeast with my guy on a Saturday night to sample ciders and talk to the folks behind the counter.
  • Planning for summer festivals and concerts.
  • Going to the hair salon (they’re starting to reopen, but I’m going to wait a while).
  • My florist.
  • Waking up without the constant low-level (or higher-level) pandemic anxiety.

What do you miss?

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leaves-blue-sky-eastie

I don’t know about you, but this is one of the strangest Holy Weeks I can remember.

Navigating this pandemic has either been the most fitting or the most terrible way to walk through Lent: isolated, alone. I struggle with Lent, anyhow: the focus on grief and penitence is difficult to sustain for that long. (Real talk: it’s even harder in the years where we have tough winters.)

This year I have been (loosely) following some of Sarah Bessey’s kind, pragmatic Field Notes Lent practices. And I have been extra glad I went to the noon Ash Wednesday service at Old South Church, because – though I didn’t know it then – I wouldn’t get to go to church again for a while.

I have heard a couple of mini-sermons this week, from an acquaintance back in Texas and from my friend Simon, in Oxford. (I don’t have much patience for sermons these days, but I will listen to him preach any day of the week.) Both talks included exhortations to hang onto God, who has not let go of us, and reminders that Jesus, of all people and all deities, understands fear and suffering. I also heard a little looking ahead to Easter Sunday, which to me seems premature. I know it’s coming, but I am not ready yet; we are still sitting in the darkness after that earthquake on a Friday afternoon, not knowing what the hell just happened or what might be coming next.

Tied up with the general isolation grief is my lingering church grief: I lost my church community here in Boston, abruptly and painfully, in the fall of 2018. I have tried to move on, to forgive and let go, but the wound has not fully healed yet. I had heard stories of churches hurting their members and their ministers, treating them badly, but I never thought it would happen to me. Palm Sunday used to be a glorious day at Brookline; the kids would march around the sanctuary waving palm branches while we sang every song we could find that involved the word Hosanna. I could hardly face the thought of it, this year.

I’ve been streaming bits of the Sunday services from two churches that are still mine: Highland, in Abilene, where I spent my college, post-college and newlywed years, and St Aldates, in Oxford, where Simon preaches and where I went every Sunday (sometimes twice) when I was in graduate school. I couldn’t stream anything on Palm Sunday, though: the mere fact of it broke my heart. We are usually together, singing Hosanna, and this year so many of us are alone.

We are sad and aching, fearful and weary, and on the days when I can muster up a little faith, I know this is where God meets us. I also know that faith resists all our attempts to write it into a tidy narrative. I grew up among tidy narratives, alliterative three-point sermons, questions and answers easily matched with Bible verses. My adulthood has brought doubts and change, messiness and grief – they do not fit into those neat boxes. Neither, I have to say, does the joy that comes bursting out when you least expect it, found in the most unlikely of places.

I am often full of fear these days, and I don’t have the answers, either for the current crisis or any others I might face. For now, I am holding onto the words my friend Christie wrote on Instagram earlier this week: “the good news is that ours is not the last word. The Word has spoken—is always speaking—and the message is mercy and love.”

If you are marking Easter or Passover or simply the arrival of each day, I wish you joy, mercy, and love where you can find it, in these days.

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This January has felt years long. But it’s finally (almost) over. Here’s what I have been reading, on a whirlwind trip to NYC (I came home early) and since then:

The Henna Artist, Alka Joshi
After fleeing her abusive husband, Lakshmi has made a name for herself doing elaborate henna designs for Jaipur’s wealthy women. But the arrival of her teenage sister upends her carefully constructed world, and the secrets it’s built on. An evocative novel of a woman fighting to make her own way in 1950s India. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Code Name Hélène, Ariel Lawhon
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was an Australian socialite who became one of World War II’s most daring, dangerous spies. Lawhon’s fourth novel explores her career, her heroics in France toward the end of the war, and her deep love for her French husband. I’ve read a lot of stories about badass female spies, but this one is great: powerful, fast-paced, heartbreaking and stylish. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 31).

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves, ed. Glory Edim
This collection comprises 21 brief, powerful essays on what it means to be a black woman (and the books that helped shape these particular black women), plus several lists of book recommendations. My TBR just exploded, both because of the essays and the book lists. Well worth reading.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
This series grows with every book, and I love this one for its new elements and characters (Tonks! Luna!), and the emotional heft of the ending. (Also: Fred and George Weasley at their finest.) This sets up so much of what’s coming in the next two books, and Harry (though he is so angsty) does a lot of growing up.

Agatha Oddly: Murder at the Museum, Lena Jones
Agatha Oddly is back on the case–investigating a murder at the British Museum and its possible links to a disused Tube station. The setup is a bit of a stretch, but Agatha is a great character (I love her sidekicks/friends, too) and this was a fun adventure. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

Running: A Love Story, Jen A. Miller
I read one of Miller’s running essays in the New York Times a while back, and liked her voice. I blew through this memoir in one day: it’s breezy and accessible. I got tired of reading about her terrible romantic decisions, but the running parts were worthwhile.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
My friend Lisa recommended this book since I am navigating lots of change (hello, post-divorce transition). Sandberg lost her husband suddenly in 2015, and this book is her account of moving through grief, plus lots of research-backed strategies for building resilience (my word for 2020) after trauma and sadness. Practical, wise and “not too heavy,” as Lisa said. The right book at the right time for me.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
Harry and crew are back at Hogwarts: navigating grief, worrying about Lord Voldemort and (oh yeah) dealing with the usual teenage angst. Despite the increasing darkness, this is really the last book where they get to be normal teenagers: playing Quidditch, sneaking around the castle, making romantic missteps. (So. Much. Snogging.) I also love Harry’s lessons with Dumbledore and his gradual coming to terms with what he’s facing, with so much courage and love.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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apple orchard trees wonder woman bracelet red

I had my first bite of a September apple last week, sampling a crisp Macintosh from the white bag on the kitchen counter. It tasted delicious: tart, juicy, the embodiment of fall in New England. And I was stunned by the wave of sadness that followed it.

Since I moved to Boston, apples have been tangled up with September: crisp sunny days, cool nights, black-eyed Susans and dahlias and late daylilies in the flower beds around town. September is the start of the academic year, and in a city like Boston, that shifts the rhythm in a big way. And every fall, September has meant apple picking.

apple trees blue sky

Apple picking was and is a beloved tradition for my former church. I’d eaten apples all my life, but there are no apple orchards in West Texas, and I wasn’t prepared for the sight of their rambling, gnarled branches heavy with fruit. I fell instantly in love.

Last year, some dear friends who’d moved away came back to visit for a long weekend, and we made sure to plan our apple-picking excursion when they were here. We wandered the orchard and filled our bags to bursting and ate the traditional orchard lunch of hot dogs and apple cider donuts. There were photos and laughter and tired kiddos, and cold, fresh cider. It felt right.

This year, so much has shifted: I’m living across the water in Eastie, spending my Sunday mornings sleeping in or running instead of going to church. I’m navigating the end of the marriage whose story began when I was in college. I am not who I was, and my life is a testament to that fact. But it is still September, and the apples have appeared at the farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

I’ll keep eating them, because the flavor and enjoyment are worth the reminder of all I have lost. Things are different now, but life is still full of sweetness. I’m trying to feel it all, live it all, truly taste both the grief and the joy.

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what I know about Kelly

 

flowers lilies windowsill church tulips brookline easter

My friend Kelly passed away last week.

I hadn’t seen her for some months, since her health began to fail (she had battled cancer for two decades, but the last stretch has been particularly rough). She and her family are a part of the church here in Boston where, for eight years, I spent nearly every Sunday. I always loved catching up with them at common meal, or in the back of the sanctuary after service. Since my time at that church ended, abruptly and painfully, last fall, I had mostly heard updates about her health through the grapevine.

By some measures, I didn’t know Kelly very well. I know she came to Boston from Oklahoma, many years ago, and chose to make a life here with her husband, Joe. I know she fought hard to beat back the cancer long enough to watch her two daughters grow up. I know she makes a delicious cranberry relish, which she would sometimes bring to Turkeypalooza, and sometimes Amy would bring it, made from Kelly’s recipe. I know she listened well, and was honest about her pain while never letting it dominate a conversation. A few years ago, she and Joe hosted the church Christmas party, and we ate and laughed, and sang carols in their living room. I know she enjoyed having everyone there.

Most of all, this is what I know about Kelly: she is a person who loved, and was loved.

I ran into Kelly on the library steps a few months back, when she was on her way to meet friends for afternoon tea and I was heading to the farmers’ market. We hugged, caught up a bit, and there was sorrow and kindness in her gentle eyes. We miss you, she said. I know, I said. I miss you too. We chatted about her girls, and my then-new job at Berklee, and we parted with another hug. I can’t remember if we said I love you, but I know we both felt it that day.

Last year, on Easter Sunday, J and I stood in front of the congregation and sang an old hymn I have known all my life: There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. J played the guitar and we took turns singing, and I looked at Kelly sitting in one of the front pews, quietly singing along with us. It was her lips moving to those familiar words, and the joy on her face, that prompted me to invite everyone to join us on the last verse: Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die. 

Kelly lived by redeeming love, walking a hard road with faith and compassion for many years. She embodied the names she gave to her daughters: grace and hope. And she is – I hope with all my heart – at peace and at rest from her pain.

Rest well, good and faithful friend. I believe you are healed. We will miss you here, but I look forward to hugging you and singing with you again one day.

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Rachel held Evans headshot

Like many people I know, online and off, I’ve spent the past week beginning to mourn Rachel Held Evans‘ death.

Rachel came across my radar nearly a decade ago, just before she released her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town. She was already writing online about faith in a way I’d rarely seen before: asking hard questions, wrestling with the tenets of the Christianity she’d grown up with and the layers of (often frustrating) evangelical messages attached to it.

After a warm email exchange, Rachel sent me an advance copy of Monkey Town. I read it avidly and found myself nodding at almost every page. Our experiences, as women raised in southern evangelical churches around the same time, were strikingly similar, and she rendered hers so well.

I kept reading Rachel’s blog, sometimes tweeting about her work or to/with her, for years afterward. I watched her grow bolder and more powerful in calling out the abuses of power (and abuse of many other kinds) perpetrated by churches and church leaders. She had the energy for the kind of online engagement I often shrink from, but I was (am) in awe of her voice and the way she used it. She wrote three other books, all of which I read and found well worth reading. She was no plaster saint: I watched her speak in impatience and anger sometimes, and I watched her listen and apologize and try to do better.

Rachel believed, fiercely, in the kind of Love that makes room for resurrection and redemption for all people. She championed the voices of women and LGBT people in the church. She made space for so many of us to grieve and doubt and ask questions – especially those who are refugees from a certain kind of evangelicalism, but who have not been able to stop wrestling with this story. She admitted, always, that she did not have all the answers.

We were all hoping and praying Rachel would get better after she went into the hospital with an infection a few weeks ago. My heart aches for her husband and two small children, her parents, and all those who knew and loved her. (Like Rachel, I am one of two sisters who are very different but love one another deeply, and I especially hurt for her sister Amanda.)

I’ve been amazed, in the last week, by how many people in different parts of my life have spoken about Rachel and what she meant to them. We miss her deeply, already. She was smart and fierce and thoughtful, kind and funny and faithful and brave. I never got to meet her in person, but she was my friend. May she rest in deep peace and love.

(Image from Rachel’s site)

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What Bears the Light

What bears light best is broken—
sea-glass, sand-scattered,
mica fleck-pressed into stone,
tessera tile bits glinting under plaster.
The shattered mirror throws a thousand
faces through the air.
What bears best is broken—
Light spills, splinters, wanders
through wave-crest, in ripple-riven
surfaces of lakes disturbed by wind.
What bears best is broken—
the heart, broken. The bread.
The robin-blue shell and crocus bulb
bear beauties, and every spring renew
their breaking open.

—————————-

Found via my friend Kari, who shared this poem on Instagram. It seems particularly fitting for this Good Friday.

You can listen to the poet reading this poem aloud, or read more of her work at her website.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year.

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There once was a man who thought love was war
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before…

I think of this song every year around this time, though I usually hear it in my friend Jenni’s voice instead of Tom Russell’s. Jenni is part of the folk trio JamisonPriest, and I heard her sing it long ago, at a few of their gigs in Abilene.

There once was a woman, a pretty young thing
She sold her soul for a diamond ring…

I love contemporary songs that somehow feel old: Russell released this one in the early 2000s, but his rough-edged voice and the plainspoken lyrics make it seem like a world-weary folk classic. It is not, perhaps, traditional Ash Wednesday music, neither a somber hymn nor a choral setting of a religious text. But it comes back to lodge in my heart every year, when we remember that we are dust.

They’re all lovesick, they’re love tired
They stood a little close to the edge of the fire…

I did not make it to an Ash Wednesday service this year. But on my way to the train after work, I walked by the Old South Church, where two clergy were standing outside in the cold, offering ashes to willing passersby. One of them, a woman I know slightly from our mutual connections to Harvard, greeted me and then marked my forehead with ashes. “Remember that you are dust,” she said, “and to dust you shall return. But today, you have life as a child of God.” My eyes filled with tears.

They’ve got holes in their pockets, holes in their minds
They’re holy people in an unholy time…

Like most folk songs, and like faith, those words and this song tell a story or two and then leave you with a few words and images you can’t quite explain. I don’t understand Russell’s lyrics in the strictly logical sense, but they resonate with me at a deep level. And there’s a reason we refer to “the holy mysteries”: I can’t fully grasp the story I have lived with all my life, but it still draws me in.

Headin’ for the church at the end of the line
Ash Wednesday…

We are right where we always seem to be, when Lent begins: still in the middle of winter, snow-edged sidewalks and bold blue skies, bare branches and biting winds. The green spears of daffodils and crocuses are poking through the earth, but there’s danger of frostbite a while yet. It’s almost Easter, a friend joked the other day, and I said, Oh, no. We’ve barely begun.

We’re all lovesick, and love tired, as Russell has it, or (to quote my singer-songwriter friend Rachel) “proud and aching and sore.” But we are also – I will keep saying it all my life – wholly, deeply, unbelievably loved.

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On Sunday morning, I put on a striped dress, brewed a travel mug full of spicy black tea, and got in my car to drive to church.

This is not so different from what I’ve done for the past eight (or 35) years, except that my destination is different, and varied, these days.

I have been a part of several church communities in my adult life, and mostly, once I found them, I have plunged in, swift and sure. I visited Highland as a college student, and several months of Wednesday night meals in the fellowship hall, a cappella singing and welcoming faces convinced me that it was where I belonged. I stayed there for six years, singing on the praise team and joining a small group, walking through more than half my twenties with people who are still family to me.

On my first Sunday in Oxford, 15 years ago last month, jet-lagged and overwhelmed and excited, I walked into St Aldates. I fell in love at once and forever with the joyful music, the ancient liturgy read with fresh eyes, the vibrant international community and the way they welcomed me: a stranger, an American, a young woman just learning to question so many things.

Nearly nine years ago, my husband and I walked into Brookline three days after we arrived in Boston, exhausted and grubby from a cross-country move. We found welcome there too, and music, and later, a place to serve. (Eventually I found another quiet, anchoring community on weekday mornings at Mem Church, where I still show up as often as possible.)

Last September, for reasons that I won’t go into here, we lost our footing at Brookline, at least for now. And I have felt, perhaps not surprisingly, unmoored.

I grew up in church, almost literally. My parents and sister and I spent countless Sunday mornings sitting in the pews of a handful of Baptist churches scattered across Texas. When I go back for Christmas or a long weekend, I join my parents in the same sanctuary they’ve frequented since I was eight years old. There are unnumbered Sunday nights and Wednesday nights in there too, hot meals eaten around folding tables off plastic trays, mornings studying the Bible and evenings singing with the youth group, learning so many songs and Bible verses I still know by heart.

Even when I am mad at the church, I crave church. I need to be among the people of God, to hear the words I have heard my entire life: words of grace and love and redemption, the hope (however slight) that God is working, making all things new. Like most people, I picked up a few messages from my childhood religious experience that I don’t want to carry around any more. Like a lot of us, I have spent time raging at church people who have gotten church wrong. More recently, I have hurt and been hurt in ways I’m still struggling with. I believe we are called, ultimately, toward reconciliation, and I also understand that it is not instant, and not guaranteed.

Since last fall, I have spent Sunday mornings all over the place: eating brunch in a friend’s spacious dining room, or watching another friend’s little boy run around the soccer field. Sometimes I’ve slept late and headed right for the river trail, or walked with my husband to a restaurant in our neighborhood. Some weekends, I’ve traveled or entertained guests, taking a break from a place and a rhythm that had come to cause me pain.

But on some Sundays, still, I go to church.

I go because I need to hear the words: The Lord be with you. Christ is risen. The body of Christ, broken for you. I go because I need to say the words out loud: And also with you. Christ is risen indeed. Forgive us our trespasses. For thine is the kingdom. I go because I need to sing, not only alone but as part of a community: Be Thou my vision. Holy, holy, holy. Alleluia. 

I wrestle and question. I doubt and grieve. Sometimes I stay silent, and sometimes I cry. I have come to believe I need all of that, and that church is a place where that can happen. I am not sure yet when or if I’ll find a new community to call mine. I am not ready, yet, to decide one way or another.

I have been grateful, in this city, to find welcome in every church I have visited so far: with screens and folding chairs in a community center, or the box pews and crimson-covered hymnals at Memorial Church. My heart tugs at the mixture of old hymns and more recent praise music at a church I’ve visited in the Fenway, and my soul relaxes into the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer in almost every place.

While I believe God is present throughout the world, I also know that, for me, one place to find God is church. So I keep going, keep seeking, keep wiping away tears. I keep doing my best to show up, when I can. I keep listening to the words I know so well, and saying the words I am given to say: Good morning. Peace be with you. Help us, Lord. Thank you. Amen. 

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