Living in hard times is nothing new. If you look back on history (and you need not go far), people have been presented with awful, horrific situations as bad or worse than what’s happening in modern day America, since the beginning of time. Floods, fires, pandemic, inequity, misogyny, racism, economic insecurity, climate change, partisan politics, to name a few. There are an abundance of examples of this in the Bible as well and on the morning after the news of another blow to 2020, the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I found myself looking to God for answers to my biggest, burning question: How can you send so much grief and angst to Your people in one year?!Continue reading “These are hard times”
The idea of seeing a medium has been bouncing around in the back of my mind for years. Nearly thirty three years since I lost my brother, Jeff, to suicide. There was no note. I was gutted. Why had this happened? I needed answers. John Edwards was a fairly new phenomenon back then and he had been a guest speaker at my college at the time. I don’t remember what he said that night, but I knew there could be an answer to my questions by visiting him. But I didn’t persue it.
There were a couple of local psychics in my hometown and one reached out to a family member a while after my brother died. She said my brother had visited her on the night he died and he wanted her to tell my mother he was OK. He mentioned very specific jewelry in her posession that no one else would know about. I imagine she was terrified to bring this information to my mother knowing we were a devout Catholic family who didn’t go in for other wordly nonsense.
It will all be over in twenty four hours. The build up and planning and anticipating will be over and we can rest easy into another blessed Christmas morning. But before then, there will be lots and lots of work. A labor of love. Traditions and rituals to observe. We’ve decorated, shopped and watched all the Christmas movies. We’ve witnessed the build up of advent and the journey to Christ’s birth. It has been a particularly spiritual journey for me this year as I attended weekday mass on many occasions during the month, and isn’t that what the season is about.
The term synchronicity shows up early on in week three of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (which I am currently halfway through!) and she likens them to answered prayers (which she says are scary). She tells you to be on the lookout for them every week there on out. One minute you are wishing, praying for something and the next thing you know, it’s right there. A weird coincidence. I don’t think synchronicity is scary but I’m not always paying attention for it either. A couple weeks ago it bowled me over.
If you have been following along these last several months, you might recall I have been unemployed since early January. I had a few weeks before unemployment benefits would kick in and from there I would have 26 weeks to find another job. I scanned the job listings casually at first, looking for a good fit. I was steering away from marketing jobs which I’d been doing for the last fifteen years, wanting something a little different. I also wanted to work part-time so I could spend more time writing. What is out there that fits this description? Retail, service jobs, low paying jobs. I am cool with less money but after thirty years of work history, I didn’t want something at minimum wage level. This is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Sometimes I think of life as a sandwich with three layers. The bottom piece of bread is where you don’t want to do anything. Energy is lagging, you might be feeling like a cold is coming or you feel like getting through each day is enough of a struggle without trying to do much more than sustain yourself and family. You feel weighed down by the rest of the sandwich. The top layer of bread is where you are sitting above the fray. Energy is high. Things get done. And there’s not a lot of work involved. The middle is messy. It’s where you push yourself a little more. You don’t just show up to life but participate in it, making decisions, making an effort, letting yourself shine through your actions.
Last night I gave myself permission to sleep in. This is something I should never do because those are always the mornings I am wide awake at 5 a.m. and this is especially true if the morning I’m going to sleep in is a Saturday. Instead of trying to go back to sleep, I decided to get up and pray and set some intentions for the day. This is how I both try to turn my day over to God and take control of it at the same time. Turning over my day is hard work, but well worth it.
Before I continue you my story about my journey to quit sugar, I have to tell you about yesterday. It was a busy day where I had a multitude of errands to complete before driving my twelve year old to his first overnight camp experience. I hit the ground running with a car appointment that led to some unexpected expenses. I need it in good shape before I hit the road next week so I’m happy to have brought it in. From there I briefly checked in with my sleeping child and bounced to my next appointment to have my hair cut and colored so I would be ready for the next few busy weeks. Once home, I decided to let my still sleeping child rest on because I figured camp might leave him with some sleepless nights ahead.
By one, when he wasn’t awake yet, I peeked in to gently poke him awake (sleeping bears and all). This can often lead to him waking in a bad mood which it most certainly did. Why didn’t I wake him?! This was his last morning to play Fortnite (mommas don’t let your babies grow up to play Fortnite) and talk to friends before going internet and electroncs free for the next five days. I knew I was in for a tough couple of hours ahead. I let him play for a bit while I packed the car but I told him we had to leave by two so we could grab lunch on the way there. The only way I could get him out of the house was to turn off the internet and that never makes him happy.
This morning as I was doing my own kind of meditation where I lie in bed and send prayers and good thoughts for the day, I asked God to help me see what I should be in the world. On Sunday night we went to mass at a local Catholic college and it was amazing. For me, amazing doesn’t happen at mass all the time, but that night I felt so in tune with what the priest was enthusiastically asserting in his homily and it was all about being who and what we are supposed to be.
It didn’t come to me in a thunderbolt as I mulled this over in bed today but my thoughts drifted to a letter I need to write to a family member to set my side of the relationship right. It’s something I let go too long but it’s never too late, right? The letter needs to be hand written, something I haven’t done in many, many years.
Into my mind popped a vision of a yellow notepad, a notepad I used abundantly during the summer of 1988 to write letters to my brother, Jeff, who had taken his life 17 months prior. I was in the anger stage of my grieving process. It was the summer after my sophomore year of college and I was unable to find employment where my parents lived and so my uncle generously found me a well paying flag person job and I went to live with him, my aunt and young cousins 100 miles from home.
Standing in a u-turn on a major highway, alone for 12 hours a day gives a person quite a bit of time to think. I did a lot of that, headphones in my ears as I listened to the soundtrack of that summer: Walking in Memphis, Simply Irresistible, Hands to Heaven and everything by Phil Collins. When I hear these songs I can be transported back to that summer like it was last week.
Back to the yellow notepad. I would be exhausted at the end of the day and even though I had a boyfriend living nearby, I mostly spent the evenings in my room, scrawling out these lengthy messages to my dead brother. I was trying to come to grips with the why, a nearly fruitless endeavor for suicide survivors. This was long before I heard of the concept of a suicide survivors group. I also eschewed therapy, preferring to go it alone (a common theme in my life).
I wrote on those notepad pages until my hand hurt and then would carefully pull the pages from the pad, fold it in thirds as though I were about to tuck it into a number 10 envelope and then deposit it in the top drawer of the dresser. By the end of the summer the drawer was full but I was no closer to the answers I sought. If I packed them up as I left for my dorm that fall, I don’t remember.
Writing on that yellow pad was an integral part of my very long recovery process. Like the songs of the summer of 1988, I can’t see a yellow pad without remembering the angst of my nocturnal writing during those summer months. If I could write a letter to my 20 year old self, I’d tell her it was going to get better. Time heals all wounds is a trope no grieving person ever wants to hear even if it is true.
Somehow, over time (lots and lots of time), my heart patched over and I was able to work through my grieving process. I was able to go on and work with other survivors, listen on a hotline as people called in with the things that weighed heavily on their mind. Is remembering the notepad part of God’s mission for me? I think it is, at least for today because it was the first image I saw when I looked at Twitter this morning. I will keep seeking the clues He sends me.
A week ago we had our first parent teacher meeting for the sixth grade school year. I always have a bit of anxiety around these meetings because I’m never sure what I’m going to hear, but I was going in with optimism since the school year had barely started.
Admittedly it did not start off uneventfully as we received email communication from a teacher within the first week about a long-standing issue with his talking in class. We addressed it and started anew. The next week we stopped in for a talk with his advisor who will help him navigate the year and this conversation was also mixed. He’s a good kid, a smart kid, but his emotions run high and he’s often in conflict with a few of his classmates. Deep breath. Start anew.