Every so often, Postsecret publishes a secret that could be mine, and this week is one of those times. I didn’t have the above mentioned dream, but when I read it, I found myself thinking I get it. I’m never told I’m beautiful, so… I get it.
I’ve written before that I rarely feel pretty. Feeling beautiful is almost a foreign thought.
I am occasionally told I “look nice” if I have dressed up and put on some makeup. My mother tells me I’m beautiful, but she’s my mother, so that doesn’t reach all that far.
I remember the first time I’d felt pretty in years. It was the day my baby cousin got married in 2013. I had a new dress that I loved, my makeup looked pretty good, and I was happy. It was still while I was at my heaviest, but I remember looking in the mirror and feeling pretty. I saw pictures and was amazed that I managed to look happy amidst the darkest months of my life. Even as I started losing weight and working on being happy, the pictures from that day reminded me of a turning point: I had the potential to be pretty.
Then, a few months ago, my father tried giving me a compliment, but in the process, I was devastated. I know that he was trying to encourage me by noticing the changes I’ve made, and the work I put into it. In doing so, he pulled up a picture to show me just how bad I used to be. It was a picture from that day, in that dress, smiling in that makeup. I know my dad loves me, and I know what he meant, but what it felt like was someone saying What you thought was beautiful is something to be ashamed of. I could barely respond to him. I know he didn’t mean it that way, but damn if that didn’t cut pretty deeply.
I don’t get told I’m pretty very often. Definitely don’t get told I’m beautiful.
But sometimes I like to feel like I might be.
Fat girl clothes are expensive. Pretty fat girl clothes cost a black market kidney.
For most of my adult life, I have been poor, required to wear a uniform of some kind, or both. Especially when I was in seminary and ministry, the opportunities to be frilly and feminine were scarce. When I tried to take advantage of them, I got grief about it from people who didn’t seem to realize that their little jokes and comments about “who I was trying to impress” made me feel foolish for bothering to wear a skirt. So I did what I could: I bought pretty underwear and bras.
Standing in front of my dresser, deciding what I wanted to wear under my uniform was the only time I got to wear something that fit my mood. Lace? Satin? Polka dots? Snowflakes? No one saw them but me, but I felt just a little bit better knowing that there was something pretty there.
That habit hasn’t changed now that I can wear pretty much whatever I want. Wearing boring, plain, cotton underwear makes my day feel less spectacular. I could be wearing the prettiest dress I own, and if my undies are lame, I feel it. I’m willing to spend more on what I like, on what is better quality fabric, cut, etc., because when I wear it, I have a little more confidence. A little more oomph.
When I wear it, I feel like even if I’m not pretty, at least something I’m wearing is. So give me Calvin Kleins, bikinis with lace so delicate you hesitate to touch it, cottons so fine that they feel like magic.
Today, I read that the average person has just twenty-one pairs of underwear. I found this astounding because I own sixty if I own one. I commented to a group of people that I was shocked by this, and the conversation got ugly. I was mocked and laughed at for having so many pairs, and for spending money on something they see as unnecessary. I explained that pretty underwear changes my attitude a little and makes me feel pretty, but what they heard was that I thought they can’t be pretty in regular old Hanes (I didn’t mention them at all). I was told that the things that make them happy are more meaningful: a husband who helps out, kids who do what you want them to do, etc (I don’t have a husband or kids, so those aren’t even options). I tried explaining again, but that didn’t help. I was told it was petty and pointless, and that I needed to get over it. I don’t care what anyone else wears, but it stung to be mocked and told that what makes my day a little brighter is ridiculous. I was defensive and hurt as I cried most of the way home.
It’s so damned hard to feel pretty when you don’t fit the common description of pretty, and as much as I try to be above it, I want to be pretty. And not just wear pretty underwear, or a pretty dress, or manage to braid my hair in a way that impresses people… I want to be beautiful. I want to hear from someone other than my bff tell me that I’m gorgeous, but that has never happened, in 34 years. I want to turn a head for once – in a good way. I’m slowly starting to have more moments when I feel almost pretty. I’m getting there.
And Christ Almighty, if it takes a bit of overpriced lace from Macy’s to help get me there, I’ll go with it. Because chances are, my own voice looking at that scrap of lace is the only voice I’ll hear all day that associates me and beautiful in even the most indirect way.
I went somewhere fairly unexpected today: CFOT (the pseudo-seminary I went to). I never intended to go back. I was certain that if I did, I would be either met with pitchforks, torches, and holy water, or would have a massive heart attack upon entering. The universe has other ideas, though, and I found myself saying to a friend yesterday, “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
My friend needed help. I had the day off. Every molecule in my body demanded that I go, so I woke up, used my coupon for free donuts, and drove the few hours to get there. The traffic was gross, but I didn’t mind it. It was when traffic cleared up and I was a few blocks away that things got wobbly. My hands felt a little lighter. My shoulders tensed. My mind raced: pitchforks or heart attack, which will it be? What horrifying circumstance would undo me?
Whether it was one or the other, I was afraid of one message being received again: I don’t belong here. It was a message I heard a lot when I was in The Salvation Army. I saw myself being greeted by one of the officers who was sure to not want me there and having to explain why I was on campus. I thought of all the scathing things I would say and all the potential reactions. The one that brought me the most hypothetical satisfaction was the simplest: Because love shows up. When people need help, love shows up. In my mind, not only would this be simple, but it was also a little gratifying and pompous.
In order to get to the entrance, you have to drive around three sides of the campus. As I drove, I didn’t know what would happen. What monster was I going to meet? Three right turns and I saw the monster I didn’t plan for: my friend Steve.
If I’ve never wanted to jump out of a car I was driving before, I did then.
Steve is the best kind of monster. Steve is, for lack of a better descriptor, a Godzilla of love. Fierce, funny, unapologetic love for everyone, just stomping around this planet, daring anyone to prove themselves unlovable.
Cindy, listen to yourself sometimes: when people need help, love shows up.
I parked and called his name. He hugged me and in seconds, I was laughing. He walked me inside and I waited in his office for a bit. I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong anymore. I don’t know where he was coming from, or where he was headed, but through serendipitous circumstances, he was there.
I went and helped my friends for a while, and while I was helping, a few others showed up throughout my day: Heather came by and helped (I’ve known her since we were nine), and then I ran into her husband Xav, and my former instructors, Beth and Sandy. Dennis, whom I knew as a teenager and now as a young man. Hugs and happy faces. It was a mini “This is Your Life.”
Love shows up.
I was also excited to see my friend Brian, who works there. He’s been good to me over the years I’ve known him. He listens and and asks good questions. We sat and talked for a while before he had to leave and I drove home.
I wish I could have done more to help my friends, but I left knowing they have more help coming, other friends whom I love dearly are going to show up.
Love shows up.
There are times when I am still a little raw about the hurt some people caused. But the deepest part of my soul knows that when life is desperate, when my panic sets in and I need it, love shows up somehow, and often from the friends I have gained through my time in The Salvation Army. It’s not the place for me anymore, but thank God for the people who do get it right. Some are active members and some formers, but we all try to be Godzillas of love.
Because love shows up. When people need help, love shows up.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a double Starbucks day, but today is one. In fact, today might be the first double Starbucks day I have had since I resigned from professional ministry. Last night, I worked until 11, and then had to be back at work at 6 a.m., which doesn’t sound all that awful until I factor in the half-hour drive each way, the fact that I am never actually out on time, and still had to eat dinner when I got home and shower when I got up, and, perhaps more significantly, my brain is more likely to misbehave when I’ve not slept well. My first cup was a venti dark roast I picked up on my way in to work. When I got to work, the place was full of customers. Men just standing there, talking about nothing and drinking their coffees. I think I may have grumbled a hello as I stalked through them to get to the office.
I did not feel very pastor-y today. I didn’t want to have to see or interact with people. I didn’t want to listen to anyone’s problems. And for the love of everything holy, I did not have it in me to be gracious to other crabby people.
As a pastor, I should have known better: people seem to know when I feel least pastor-y, and that’s when they demand it.
My first shifter got a running start on pushing my buttons. She refuses to take on any responsibility, but wants to do all the management tasks that make her feel like she has authority. She has been in the store longer than anyone else, so she feels like she can do whatever she wants. She is forever telling me what she thinks I should be doing and is frequently disrespectful, particularly when she has an audience. It wasn’t even 7 a.m. when I was venting in my office, via my cell phone, to my sister.
I needed to be gracious in how I dealt with her. But oh my God, why today? Couldn’t she have waited until tomorrow to be in such a spectacularly awful mood?
I spent more than an hour trying to deal with a vendor whose delivery was every kind of messed up you can imagine: wrong products, wrong quantities, wrong prices. We scanned and counted and crossed things off of lists, and still, we got nowhere. There was no combination of things that got us to the right ending.
I needed to be patient. Of all the days to demand patience, today was hardly the best choice, but there we stood, reviewing stacks of Monster energy drinks and trying to sort out $3000 worth of beverages clogging up the hallway.
As a pastor, I should have known better: the universe knows when I can’t handle one more thing, and that’s when it throws its best curve balls.
My two favorite people to work with are Carol and Abby.* Abby works at the sandwich counter in the store, is barely nineteen, with a pixie face and her dark hair up in twin pom poms that look like Minnie Mouse ears. Last night, we were talking about tattoos, and I told her that the verse written in Hebrew on my right wrist reminds me that no matter what is happening, God’s character is constant. She told me about her tattoos, from the matching bow tattoos she shares with an aunt to the flower on her arm “just because it’s pretty.” Her grandmother, Carol, works on my side of the store. She’s in her mid-fifties, with bottle-blonde hair, pink iridescent lipstick, and a voice that tells you that she has had a wild life. She’s shamelessly herself, chatty, funny, caring, loud, and has the ability to make people feel like they are the light of her world, just by being on the other side of the counter. She’s always talking about her dream of owning a food truck, making good, reasonable food for people in an environment where she can cook, hang out, and live the life she loves. Sometimes, despite the fact that I know she doesn’t have much of an income, she will make a bunch of food and bring dinner for everyone at work just to let us know she cares. I adore her. Last night, I got to work with both Abby and Carol, and it was really great.
When Carol came in today, she looked at me and said “Honey, you look so tired, and a little depressed. Hard day? is everything OK?” I said that I was pretty tired, and that it had been a hard day, but that I was otherwise OK. She asked about how things are going with a guy that I’ve been seeing, and I filled her in on the latest. She was, as usual, glad to hear that things are going well.
“I’ve had a hard day, too,” she finally said. “You know I went to that [lung] specialist today, and that asbestos disease that they talk about on TV? Well, I don’t have that, but it’s almost the same thing. My lungs are all folded up and full of shit and there’s no treatment or anything. I’m gonna get a second opinion, but if it’s this disease, I didn’t do nothing to cause it, but then it’s like, six months and I’m gone.” She wiped under her eye. “Don’t tell nobody. I’m not saying anything until I get a second opinion, and if I talk about it, I’m gonna cry again. So don’t tell nobody, OK?”
Regardless of the work polo I was wearing, I was immediately in “pastor mode” again. I listened, and told her that I wouldn’t talk about it with anyone in the store (given the fact that none of you know her/where I work and names are changed, I figure this isn’t violating her privacy). I was stunned. She has been in and out of emergency rooms for her breathing, and her condition was generally overlooked by the staff at the income-dependent medical clinic that she went to for far too long.
She’s too young. Too nice.
She doesn’t deserve it. I mean, how many people do you know who, when given a six-month sentence, go to work a few hours later and are first concerned about how their raggedy boss is doing?
I’m glad she feels like she can tell me these things. She’s part of my little unofficial mini flock, now that I am in a different kind of ministry. I doubt she thinks of me as her pastor, but she does think of me as a friend, and that’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.
As her friend, I’m devastated, heartbroken. I am so very angry that it is happening to her.
I’m helpless. My years of pastoring taught me well that I cannot fix anything. I can guide, love, teach, pray. but I cannot fix things, and that is the cruelest reality for pastors. Every pastor I know wants to fix things, and not one of us can. I’m reminded, again, by the verse on my arm that God didn’t change from one minute to the next. God is still God, diagnosis or not. No matter how hard that is to comprehend today.
So I do what I can do: I can love. Listen. Grieve. Pray. Be a friend. And drink this tea at Starbucks while I brainstorm how to do those things better.
*Names are changed.
Brandon was trying to point out a guy who was behind me, just off the corner of the lit up dance floor. He spun me once, twice, and then whoosh, I had spun maybe half a dozen times, as fast as my feet could go. My pink skirt flared out and I’m sure more of my thighs were visible than have been in years. My eyes were shut tightly after the first spin and finally my glittery shoes found a place on the floor again, my arms flung around his neck as I laughed and tried to find a steadiness again. The strobe lights made his face look like a stop motion picture while he laughed.
And we kept dancing. One of my oldest and closest friends, he doesn’t care that I can’t dance. I mean really can’t dance.
I’ve mentioned a few (hundred) times that I feel weird about my body, having shrunk quite a lot in the last eighteen months. I’ve always been clumsy and uncoordinated, covered in bruises and Band-Aids and more than a few Ace bandages. It’s little surprise that I haven’t exactly spent a lifetime on the dance floor. I am uncertain, anxious, and almost unbearably self conscious about dancing in public.
Last night was a friend’s birthday party. We had dinner at the best pizza place in the world and then headed to the gay bar that he and his friends have gone to for years. While I know that gay bars aren’t exactly intended to host us straight people, no one has seemed to mind me tagging along. For a straight woman with anxiety, it is easier to be somewhere where I feel like I can totally be myself without worrying about impressing anyone. These friends are as unashamedly themselves as it comes, and they beg me to be as honest, too. There is no room for bullshit with them.
Admittedly, it takes me a drink or two before I let Brandon drag me onto the dance floor. The other guys we go with don’t dance, it seems, so it’s me and Brandon. While I think I can tally my lifetime of dancing hours on my fingers and toes, he has spent decades working on mastering how his body moves. A state-winning athlete as a kid, and then years dancing and in the gym and… Yeah, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t look like the fool I am on my two left feet.
He dances with me anyways. And I’m slowly getting to where I am not as terrified to go dance. I mean, I still am pretty awkward. I am still convinced that everyone else is judging me cruelly when I dance. I fear knowing how many people see my fat jiggle and the sweat start to collect at the roots of my hair, and how pink my cheeks get. I tense up and am certain that everyone else is wondering why on earth my hands are on his hips or his arms on my shoulders, given the fact that it’s a gay bar and we aren’t the most likely of couples on the floor.
There were a couple times last night when anxiety peaked and I thought, “Oh man, I have to stop. Someone find me a corner and a beer,” but then the song would change and he would be excited to keep dancing to the next one. Or I would check myself and remember that most people were ignoring me as much as I was ignoring them. Or, at least once, I thought “screw it, I’m having fun, even if I look like I’m seizing.”
Altogether, it was a really fun night. A few birthday shots, a few beers, a few kisses, a ton of laughter. It was precisely what I needed after a long and miserable week at work. It was another mark of progress, too, since there was a time when no amount of alcohol, or smiles from Brandon, or any promise of fame or fortune could have gotten me to dance.
I did dance, though, and had fun doing it. I was brave, in my own way. And if anyone was hating or judging, they can shove it up their heinies.
When my family and I first moved to our home in Ludington, MI when I was a kid, I didn’t expect that the previous kids would have left not one but two snow forts in the back yard. That was a major bonus for a kid like me who lost interest shortly into projects as lengthy as fort building. One even had a tunnel. It was nice to have somewhere that hide during the snowball fights.
Around the same age, my friends and I would beg and plead for the chance to build blanket forts when we were indoors. Stretched over sofas and pinned under kitchen chairs, the blankets gave us the illusion of separation. As long as we were in the fort, no one could hear us whisper or see how many Milky Ways we shoved in our mouths.
As adults, my friends and I joke on tough days that we are going to revert to our younger selves and hang out in blanket forts, only this time with KitKats and bottles of wine. There, we can forget about grown up things like boyfriends/husbands, credit scores, and whiney kids. The only place that will exist will be that little pocket of the universe, tucked inside bedsheets and buffeted by couch cushions. Safe, worry-free, no stress… Sounds lovely, eh?
Of course that never gets to happen, in part because we live so far apart. We dream though. Little moments when we close our eyes and exhale.
I’ve been up for 38 of the last 42 hours, and the sleep I had prior was very limited and restless. Work was needlessly stressful today, I spent almost five hours on the road to pick up my sister from the airport. In my exhausted state, I started rethinking my financial plans for the next few months. I tried sorting out a major emotional dilemma – something I can’t do when well rested, let alone now.
I’m overwhelmed. I want to be in a blanket fort inside of the snow fort, protected from whatever comes flying this way next, and apart from the rest of the world. It’s just a temporary feeling. One that will be gone after tonight’s sleep and tomorrow’s coffee.
While I might not get the fortress I want right now, I am reminded that I have the shelter I need: a physical one that keeps me out of this horrendously cold weather, and the shelter of friends who love me. Friends who stand as shields and who crawl in and hide out with me, depending on the day. Sometimes, on nights that seem dark and long, I find shelter in knowing that while I sleep, friends from here to New Zealand and back are up and moving around, sometimes praying for me. The affection of friends is the most effective shelter there is against the overwhelming anxiety of just being.
With that comfort, I’m going to try to sleep. I wish you a good night, or day, depending on your hemisphere, and promise you that should you need a fort, I’ll bring the blankets and KitKats.*
*Unless, you know, that’s logistically impossible; in that case, they will be symbolically delivered via Messenger stickers.
I can’t stand when people (usually women) say that all men are alike. I hate it because it’s not true, and I wish it was.
There are rotten men. Men like my coworker’s boyfriend who lie, yell, belittle, drink too much, and intimidate and get away with it. Men like the creepy man who, after joking that he was old enough to be my father, leered at my chest and licked his lip while I got him his change at work tonight. Men who disappear after getting a woman pregnant, leaving her to fend for herself.
Tonight, I got to be a pastor again, for a moment. A woman came to the counter at about 9:00 PM with a hot cocoa, two donuts, and two king-sized Almond Snickers. A general “hey, how are ya?” opened the floodgates: she owns her own company and today, one employee was on vacation and the other called in sick, leaving her totally on her own. She asked her husband to come help out in the evening, and he said no and stayed home, giving her a 16-hour day. She hadn’t eaten or even drank anything all day. She was headed home, finally, and he was wondering what she was going to make for dinner. She looked at me and said “I am going to eat these huge candy bars – his favorite – for dinner. I don’t care what he does for dinner.” She was so weary. It made my heart ache to see how overlooked and unimportant she felt. I wished her a better evening and she left.
But not all men are the same. There are good men. I like to think most men are good, and it’s just the pricks that get all the attention.
There was a couple in tonight to buy lotto tickets. He handed her the money to give to me because she was at the counter, and when I handed back the change, she absentmindedly put it in her purse. He joked that that’s how things go, and she handed it back.
“He has his change, but I still keep the tickets, so that might be OK anyways!” she said.
“Yeah, but more than that, she’s got my heart, so who cares if she’s got my money, too?” he answered.
She blushed. And giggled.
As they left, an older man, probably in his late sixties or early seventies commented on how nice that was to see. I agreed.
Last night, after a really long day, I checked the conversation between me, BobbyJeff, Timothy, and Cameron. While I was at work, they had a ridiculous conversation that was fun to go back and read. I said I’d missed them, and they asked about and listened to me go on about my day. I was so glad to have them. I thought about how often Brandon listens and says the right things. And about how when my day was so rotten last week, David was the first to ask about it. I remembered how often Colin and the men in my tribe are quick to encourage and build people up. I think of Kenyon, and his desire to have an impeccable character, and how even when we disagree, he doesn’t get mean or lessen our friendship because of it.
I wish that all men were like the latter bunch I described. I wish all men were kind. Funny. Empathic. Respectful.
Of course, a parallel post could be written about women, too. I can think of more than a couple examples of women who could act a whole lot better.
Tonight, though, I’m just really thankful for the guys who set such good examples, the ones I point to when people say, in a derogatory way, “all men are the same.” It makes my heart quite glad to say “no, they aren’t. Want to hear about some of the good ones? I’ve got plenty of examples.”
This week, I got to catch up with an old friend. We have a weirdly speckled history, having met in the late 90’s, and then a few encounters over the middle years until the last couple years, when it has been sporadic, though more frequent. Amongst the reasons I appreciate him is the nebulous experience of “getting it.” We grew up in the same denomination and we both left it. I imagine it’s like when expatriots meet in foreign lands and connect (at least initially) because they have a shared experience of having come from a different land than the one they currently inhabit. While we were talking, he asked if I missed it. At the time, I hadn’t considered it much. In truth, the things I miss are both comforting and scary at the same time:
* I occasionally miss singing the songs I grew up with – even the ones I hate.
* I miss knowing who and what everyone at church is talking about.
* I miss knowing that it will only be a few months until I see people I love at regional events. Now, I’m certain I won’t see many again at all.
* I miss not being encompassed by such a complete subculture while simultaneously celebrating being out of it.
* I miss that part of my identity/culture. It was who I was for 33 years.
But all those things, as significant as they are, don’t make me regret leaving. I’m sad that my experience ended like it did, but I’m glad I chose to end it. It was the right decision.
I’ve had great support from my friends still deeply a part of it, and I love them even more for their ability to stick with me. This friend holds a different place in my heart, in part because of his willingness to empathize, to listen. He is proof that there is life and happiness on the outside. And that, my friends, is a hope and truth that outshines the darkness that comes with missing what I left behind.
If I had to choose, it really wouldn’t be much of a contest between Marvel and DC Comics – Marvel would win just about every time. That said, I happen to be friends with a family of superheroes that would probably fit right in with the DC gang.
Like every legend, it didn’t start out as a way to get publicity or notoriety; it started in the kind, epic heart of a little boy named Ewan, who wanted to help people who are homeless in Detroit, near where he lives. His parents decided to put Ewan’s heart into action, and through the magic of social media, it has become a cause that not only the family works on, but one that the community is helping make happen. Elderly widows, Boy Scout troops, and random strangers contact SuperEwan’s mom, Ange, and twice a month, they load up vehicles and take food, clothing, and other supplies to people who struggle. No questions asked. No names collected and turned into any agency. As far as I know, no one has ever been turned away.
SuperEwan is humble, silly, empathic, and smart. It’s no surprise that he is such an admirable kid when his parents are such welcoming, open-hearted people who continue to impress me with their honesty and grace. His younger siblings, a preschooler and a toddler, get in on it, too, packing baggies of toiletries and tagging along on “Adventure Days.”
If you haven’t seen his page already, pretty pretty please check out http://www.SuperEwan.org! There, you’ll find links to articles about their adventures, television interviews, and more. There are also ways for you to get involved, whether it’s a donation or reblog or other effort. There is a Facebook page, too, and he gets really excited about new likes/followers, do even if you can’t donate, a “like” will make him smile – and he has a great smile. SuperEwan is a nonprofit organization, meaning donations are deductible.
Some days split your life into pieces. There is a before and an after.
January 23 is one of those days.
I was a senior in high school and had left my part-time job at the video store for the day to go to my friend Diane’s so that we could work on an English project. The weather was wretched and I wasn’t looking forward to the long, inevitably nasty trek to her house. We stopped back in the store to get a movie to watch and one of my coworkers asked if I had heard about Chris.
“No,” I said. “Why?”
“Because he died,” said the punk little 16-year-old behind the counter.
“What? No he didn’t,” I said, not finding him at all amusing.
“Yeah, he did,” he said, and I turned to look at the store manager, who silently nodded.
It seemed impossible. He was only 18. We worked together.
I went to Diane’s, and the night was a blur. The next day, I went to work. When I came home, I crossed the street to my grandmother’s house where my dad and uncle were working on a car. I had no words, so I just walked up to my dad, put my arms around him, and sobbed. Great big heaving sobs, and he didn’t say anything at first. My uncle must have given him a look, because between my sobs, I heard him explain that my friend Chris had been killed in the icy weather the day before, T-boned by a Toronado. When I was done, I went inside, got three cups of coffee, and stood in the garage while we froze and they worked.
He was not my first friend to die, but was the closest, up to that point in my life. In some ways, I feel like my childhood ended that day. The months that followed were not kind: five more friends would die in car accidents, during surgeries, and of health concerns.
Every year since then, January 23 has been hard.
Today, it became even harder. This January 23, a seminary friend passed away.
Admittedly, shamefully, I had lost touch with him and his wife over the years. Had I moved up to Minnesota last June like I “should” have, I would have been near them again. Despite the distance in time and geography, I’m grieving again.
It seems like I am always grieving anymore. I am far too familiar with how almost nothing is permanent. I’ve buried too many friends. Moved away from too many people. Left the church in which I grew up. But the hardest, of course, is grieving the loss of friends who died too young. Peggy, Chris, Rob, Tommy, Becca, Matt, Dan… I could keep going, but it won’t help to list them all.
Of all the papers I wrote in college, one of my favorites was a paper I wrote on the evolution of grief in western civilizations during the Industrial Revolution. To sum it up, when people moved away from their agrarian communities and into cities, the social allowance for grief was practically eliminated. When people lived in small towns and societies where everyone knew everyone, the death of a member of that community was felt by nearly everyone. It was expected that the grieving process would be more than a few days, or weeks, depending on one’s proximity to the deceased. In the cities, however, people came and went, lived and died, without too many others noticing. Those who grieved were expected to do so privately, on their own time, and not let grief get in the way of work.
Today, I was at work when I heard about his death. I was already kind of wigged out trying to learn a massive amount of things in such a short span of time, and then I saw the message from Linda. Just then, my boss entered the office. She wasn’t happy to see my cellphone in my hand, and I just looked up at her, stunned, and said “I just found out a friend died.”
She hardly said anything in return. In fact, despite the fact that I was honestly doing my best, she seemed frustrated that I was a little distracted the rest of my shift. I was trying, honestly… But all I could see was his son’s face. My memories of him are usually of his smile, his laughter. Even though it has been a few years, I felt like I’d just stepped onto a Tilt-a-Whirl, unsteady and discombobulated, and I was expected to act like nothing has happened.
I’ve learned, over the course of too many opportunities, to figure out a grieving process that usually works for me. I have also learned that grief doesn’t go away. It shifts and changes, lessens (and sometimes flares up again), but doesn’t disappear. January 23 will happen every year. Some years, it is sort of a speed bump, when I wrote the date on something and suddenly realize that it has been X years since Chris, and other years, like today, I find myself grieving more deeply. Now, it is for the loss of two, instead of one.
For the first 33 years of my life, Christmas meant a kind of exhaustion that most people cannot fathom. Christmas in The Salvation Army is a beast. I’ve experienced it as a soldier (church member), as an employee, and as a officer (minister), and while it’ll surely tick some people off by me saying so, nothing comes close to the kind of busy/exhaustion/pressure that corps officers (local ministers) experience. It turns Christmas into a kind of ultramarathon that can eat you alive. Even when you love Christmas, even though you think you know what you’re signing up for prior to your first Christmas, it is something to survive.
This is the first year that I have experienced Christmas outside of The Salvation Army, and it has been weird, to put it mildly. This perspective is so different, this schedule so befuddling, this setting so different that despite the decorations and music, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Not one little bit.
I’ve gotten to do things that I hadn’t been able to do for years: go Christmas shopping at reasonable hours, bake Christmas cookies with my family, wrapped all my presents in carefully coordinated papers, watch White Christmas, go downtown Chicago (my favorite thing to do all year long), guzzle too many red-cupped doses of Starbucks, and yet, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. I haven’t stood at a kettle, driven bellringers around town, taken a Christmas assistance application, done a TV or radio interview, shoveled a parking lot, gotten cussed out because of the contents of a food assistance box, scrambled to find presents for kids, visited a nursing home, decorated a church building, planned and executed any kind of Christmas program, or any of the other millions of things I spent my life doing. It has been hard watching my tribe continue to live through the monstrous exhaustion, sleep deprivation, soul-crushing emails from headquarters, borderline malnutrition, and emotional swings. I want to rescue them.
It hasn’t helped that my circumstances aren’t exactly what I would like them to be. I’m still looking for work, and I am so not used to living with people anymore, even my parents, and this year, it seems harder to miss my friends who are far away, probably because I’m not so busy that I’m distracted. I’ve gone and gotten myself a boyfriend, CJ, which has been exciting and fun and insane and anxiety-inducing all at the same time (more on that in a different post). It has been freakishly warm with virtually no snow all season, and not even my favorite Christmas albums are helping.
So here it is, Christmas Eve, yet in some ways, it might as well be the middle of February. It just doesn’t really feel all that special.
Hopefully that will change in the next few hours, when my brother and sister-in-law get into town and I go to Christmas Eve service at church. Even while writing this, things have started to look up: an unexpected Starbucks gift from my bff Brandon, listening ears and encouragement from my other bff Melissa, unexpected messages from people in my tribe who have paused to say “Merry Christmas” and wish me well, a text from CJ that made my heart a little happier, and my anxiety is dropping.
Maybe tomorrow, I’ll have some kind of grand holiday offering for you, but today, it lies here: It’s Christmas Eve and I’m a bit of a mess, but I can celebrate the love and kindness of my friends, who see the mess that I am and love me in spite of it.