Times

I’ve been trying to write a blog for a few days now.  Nothing is working.  So I’m posting an old piece.  I wrote this in December 2012, just a day after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings.  This is my response.  It’s my heart, at that particular time, looking at the world, cringing, melting, unable to understand it.  I live in Ohio, and I was completely unaffected by anything in Connecticut.  But my head and my heart were searching, right after that, for some explanation.  Didn’t make sense.

Last week, a lot of stuff didn’t make sense.  Lots of crazy happened.  Illnesses and surgery in my family, a family death among my friends, school stresses, extra-curricular stresses… And then there was so much joy.  Real, genuine joy.  How to reconcile the joy and the pain?  How does it both exist so fully and so truly?  Am I really that intricate of a person that I can weep and sing and laugh and sigh and yell all in the same breath?  Are we all that way?

I’m adapting this piece into a scene for my theatre class.  That’s why I revisited it.  But after reading it, I know these are my missing words.  The ones I searched for this week.  It doesn’t match up completely.  But God, once again, has used Past Courtney to speak to Present Courtney.  Weird.  Awesome.

This very well may be one of my favorite pieces I have ever written.  It’s so unlike anything I usually write.  It is very intentional.  But it is also very real.

So, here it is.  Times.

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“I don’t get it!” she screamed at him.  She was standing in the middle of the dock, and the small rowboat was to her left, bobbing in the water.  The mountains were behind her and they silhouetted her.

He was standing on the concrete shore, the parking lot they passed for a beach.  He looked at her, and the rowboat, and the mountains.  The rain was coming.  Of course it was coming.  It always came at times like this.  “I don’t get it.”  She whispered now, because the quickening wind was drowning out her voice and her thoughts, and she liked that.  “I don’t get why there is death inside some people.  I don’t get why it eats them, turns them into black ash, makes them crumble to reveal a heartless chest cavity.”

She whispered, but he heard her.  Maybe the wind was blowing the words to him.  He glanced at the rowboat and the mountains, and then at her once more.  He only stood.

 The rain started.  Right on cue, because rain always comes at times like this.

“Say something!”  She was screaming again.  “Give me an answer, give me something!”  She sucked in a ragged, cold, mountain-air breath, and whispered.  “I know it’s bigger than this confusion inside me.  But you’ve got to answer me, or I’m gone.”  She pointed down at the little rowboat when she said this.  Raindrops soaked her hair into strings, and she had cried moments before so her nose and eyes were red.  To look at her was to look at a thing tortured too long by too many thoughts, her stubborn optimism marred by overwhelming fear.  It wasn’t beautiful, even though it should have been, with the mountains towering behind her and the rain and the water and the expanse between them.

He blinked slowly, head down for a long instant, before looking back at her.  He took one step closer and she edged one inch closer to the boat.

 “Where would you go?” he said finally.

 She sighed.  The rain was heavy but when she yelled her answer, it was calmer.  A desperate, defeated calm.

 “I don’t know.  Maybe there’s a place to hide.  Someplace where people don’t die before they die.  Someplace decent.”

 “Maybe,” he replied.  The rain, as is common in times like these, died down a bit.  Drizzle.  He scuffed his boot against the concrete as he thought for a moment.  “Yeah, maybe there is someplace like that.  But I don’t think you believe you’ll find it.”

She only stared at him.  They stared at each other a lot.  They had been best friends a long time, after all.  Staring is usually more important than most words at times like these.  She gave him time to tell her what they both knew she knew.

 “You said you don’t understand why there is death inside some people.  Why it eats them and turns them into something not alive.  But what if it’s inside all of us?  What if it’s not just some people?”

The rain had let up.  There was steam rising from the water in the bay, rolling down from the mountains standing, imposing, behind her.  Because she didn’t want to be near another person, but because she also didn’t want to leave him, she sat down in the middle of the dock.  He sat down too, ten or so feet away from her. He went on, because she let him.

“I think maybe some people do evil things because everyone has it in them.  I think people kill other people because every day, in my own head, I think deathly thoughts, but they’re only ever thoughts.  I think there is a creeping sort of plant in everyone’s chest cavity, one that grows slowly, and can be killed itself by most people, or at least kept at bay, at least can be pruned back often.  But some people can’t handle it.  Some people let the plant’s twisty vines squeeze the life out of their insides because there is nothing in them that tells them to control it.  I think stuff is really screwed up.  And I don’t think anyone gets it.”

She let his words travel between the expanse and into her, to the place words are kept.  Then she spoke, and in her voice resonated all the pain in the world.  Of course, the pain was her’s and her’s alone, and it belonged to no one else.  But the thing that must be understood is that when someone says “all the anything in the world,” it is because their own world is heavy enough to suffice for the universe at large.  Our own life is big enough to feel too big most of the time.

So, she spoke: “Why not me?”

He knew her best, so when she said this, he understood that she was not talking about what everyone else might have thought she would have been talking about.  She wasn’t asking why she was never a victim.  She was asking why the plant in her heart never overcame her, but overcame others.

The rain was going to come back.  At times like this, the rainless moments are only a short reprieve.  Eventually, it will be moderately sunny again, but when a storm comes, it rains for days.

“Why not any of us?” he said in a low, gravelly voice.  “We’re all broken vessels, love.  But some of us get patched, I guess.  There’s no explaining it.  There’s only living with it.”  He paused, smiling halfheartedly.  “I think we should be happy about it.”

“Feels like everyone is scared and angry.  Like everyone’s got it in their heads that now is the time for their own vendetta to start,” she said.  “I don’t think anyone cares much about dealing with life.  They’re just pissed at it all going to hell.”

 Quickly, he said, “It’s not going to hell any quicker than it has been for the last couple thousand years.  It’s just easier to see it these days.”

The rain was starting again, but this time the wind didn’t return.  Everything was softer.  The fog swirled around, the water in the bay wasn’t as choppy, the rowboat didn’t bash into the dock.

 “Maybe everyone is pissed because they all feel it too,” he mused.  “The creeping plant, the broken places.  Maybe the vendettas aren’t about this thing at all.  Maybe the vendettas are just a safeguard against themselves.”  He laughed suddenly.  “You probably should leave then.  There are far too many people in this world all full of hate.”

She smiled, pushing her tangled, stringy hair from her eyes.  She reached out her foot and nudged the boat in the water, raising her eyebrows at him, like an invitation.

 “Wanna come?  We could float away from the confusion.”

 “Nah,” he said.  “Confusion’s always gonna be here.  It’s a screwy place, under these mountains, on this shore.  But I think, since we’re some of the ones who’ve been patched up, it’s probably sort of a duty for us to stay here.  Keep showing people there’s hope, you know?”

She stood up very slowly and walked to him through the rain, leaving the boat and the mountains behind. She was smiling and so was he, which felt, for one fleeting instant, like a very wrong thing to be happening.  But it’s only possible to be angry and upset and full of pain for a certain amount of time before it’s ridiculous not to go on with being normal.  She knew this, and so did he, so they let it feel wrong for a second, then they let it be what it was.

 “You think?” she said when she came to him.  They began walking back toward town.  “Hope?  It’s our job?”

 “It’s our part,” he said with a shrug.  “I don’t think most of it is up to us.”  He stared at her as they walked.  They had both gotten good at staring and walking, since, as we now know, staring usually means more than speaking.

 “You don’t patch broken things unless you intend to use them,” she wondered aloud.  She stopped walking abruptly.  He was one or two steps ahead of her before he stopped too, looking back at her.  He just waited for her to work out the words that were already in her.  “We have to go on without answers, don’t we?”

 He nodded. “Yeah.  I think.”

 She nodded once, curtly, resolutely, resigned but freely resigned.  “Okay.”

 The rain, as it usually does at times like this, kept on.  But they also kept walking.

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This is a post to inform you of a future post. Probably.

Almost every night this summer, I’ve gone on a walk with my dog.  And many times, my mom comes as well.  We walk the country road outside our middle-of-nowhere home, half-a-mile down and half-a-mile back, framed by ankle-high corn on one side and… well, ankle-high corn on the other.  Our dog, Toast, a spazzy little dachshund, runs ahead of us, pulling his leash as far as it’ll go, chasing birds as if he could catch them.  I’ve seen few things more joyous.

When I walk alone, I pray.  Usually out loud, because my dog is the only one around to hear me, and he already loves me as much as possible – my talking out loud is nothing strange to him.  So I talk to God, and sometimes I walk in silence, trying hard to listen because I don’t do that enough.  I’ve found, too, that a lot of my praying consists of frustrated sighing.  Not usually frustrated at God, but with myself, because I’m no good at giving a voice to what I’m trying to say, especially with Him.  With close friends, the sighs are clues to what I’m feeling, and the best of them can pick up on the nuances.  With God, I am only grateful that He doesn’t need my words, and that everything contained in the sighs and in my heart are already understood more than I could even understand myself.

Takes a lot off a girl’s shoulders (and yet look at me – still all hunched over, but… another thought, for another Thought Train).

When I walk with my mom, though, we talk.  Well, let’s be honest – it’s still me who does the talking, and she slips in her nuggets of wisdom and her endearing eye-rolls.  A few days ago, I was angry, not with my mom, but with other matters.  When I’m angry, my default is to shut down.  Silence has proven to be intimidating from me in many situations, and I’ve been told that my face betrays my emotions despite the lengths I go to to control it.  I get cold and distant, partly because I know I can be hurtful if I speak with someone who doesn’t get me, and partly because I know the coldness can hurt as well.  That dark and light within me, at it again.

But, behind that mask of silence lives a mind racing with thoughts.  I’ve learned to be very careful who I unload on when I’m angry, because I know I can be hurtful.  But I also know that I need to talk through my anger, or else it eats me.  Really, I need to talk through almost any emotion, or it eats me (and therein lies the main point of this post, which I am getting to, slowly but surely).  There are very few people I allow to hear me this way.  Mostly because a lot of the time, I wouldn’t blame most of the people I love if they peaced out after listening to me this raw.  But my mom has never walked off.  She’s told me to shut up, which I’m grateful for, in hindsight – but she never decided I was too much, never decided that I was too confusing or difficult or messy to deal with.  I suppose that’s what a mother is supposed to do – to love unconditionally.  But I’m not naive and I also know I’m no picnic.  There are many mothers who do walk off.  And I am blessed.  Because I don’t have a mother like that.

So I allowed my anger to run its course on our walk.  Because I knew she would listen.  I was snappy and sarcastic.  I was humorless and irrational and self-centered.  I don’t like myself when I get that way.  And the horrible paradox of it all is that I can feel my distaste for myself even as I say it all, even as I snap and quip.  And I go on.

Can I just pause for a moment?  Because goodness – do I need grace and forgiveness.  And goodness – am I glad I can have them both.

On again.  When I finally wore out of everything I wanted to say, my mom just walked in silence for a few seconds.  She nodded at me and gave me one of her loving eye-rolls – her way of acknowledging that she heard me, acknowledging that I needed to cool it, and acknowledging that she still loved me anyway.  She gave me a few hints on how to stave off the anger that kept cropping up in this recurring situation (dontcha love my awfully-masked ambiguity?).  Then we walked home.  And I thought things through, and wrote things through.  Sometimes it’s like everything inside me is a river, covered in lily pads and algae.  After I skim off the surface, I can finally see the rocky bottom.

What am I saying?  That’s rhetorical; or rather, it’s self-reflective.  I know where I’m trying to end up but I don’t know if I’m getting there the way I need to (also another departure point for a Thought Train, maybe in a few days).  Let’s see… best to just say the thing that needs to be said, yes?  Okay.

I need to tell you about a poem I wrote, and the poem is dark.  Very dark.  It gets less dark, at the end, but it is still not shy in it’s darkness.  It’s about depression, and the reason I’m writing an entire post to preface a post I’m most likely gonna put up within the week is because that word – depression – tends to freak everyone out and send everyone into Save the Person Mode.

Let me assure you – I do not need you to barrel headfirst to my rescue.  I’m fine :)  See, I put a smiley there to emphasize the sincerity of the “I’m fine.”  I wrote the poem about a week ago, but nothing about it is fresh.  It’s retrospective and hind-sight-y and a compilation of not only my thoughts but the thoughts of others, morphed into words of my own.  It is something that has taken me years to figure out, and I still have very little idea as to what I’m trying to say.  But I’m saying it.  And that counts for something.  I think it counts for a lot, actually.

Tonight my mom and I went on another walk, and we somehow stumbled upon the subject of depression, although very briefly.  Obviously, it’s a subject that’s been on my mind lately, something I’ve been mulling over.  I said I thought depression was a state most humans find themselves in at one time or another in life.  Sometimes they’re there a lot, and sometimes it’s less common.  Sometimes it’s bad – really bad.  And sometimes it’s less bad, but painful and twisty nonetheless.  And she did her mom thing – nodding, pausing, a quick agreement and a little I-don’t-understand-why-you-think-so-much eye roll.  That promise of love again, contained in so few gestures.

That’s why I told you that whole long story about me being mad and then being snippy with my mom on our walk the other day.  To make the point that my mom is smart and also listens to what I say.  But maybe more than that, the story was me warming up.  You see, I have been exceedingly open with this blog, and in the past six months, its impact has reached far beyond the internet.  I’ve opened up personally too, not that I was ever that closed-off of a person.  I just… I suppose I found some areas in my life where I could be more vulnerable, a quality I treasured but didn’t always practice.  Some people I decided to trust with most of me, even without a guarantee of acceptance or understanding.  And you know what?

It’s been six of the most incredible months because of these decisions.  Because I listen to myself.  Because I started believing truths about the person that I was.  Because people told me they got it, and some of them started finding poems for me that they thought I’d like, or they wrote me emails and told me stories, or they sat with me and listened to me and then let me listen to them.

There are so many confusing, difficult, messy people.  People I don’t want to walk away from.  People who aren’t walking away from me.

So I wrote the poem.  And then I put it away, because I didn’t know if I was ready to put it here.  I wanted people to trust that I was alright, that I wasn’t really ever not alright – I wasn’t great, but I wasn’t not alright (there is a time and place for double negatives, and this is the place, and the time is now).  Even in the darkest, rock-bottomiest times, I was aware of my Savior.  But I wanted them to understand how pervasive the curse is, how fallen we are that depression is less of an anomaly and more of a standard.  At least, as the non-psychologist that I am, that’s what I’ve decided.  It’s what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen.  I wrote it because maybe someone needs it.  Because maybe we should stop shutting away our pasts, because it’s part of us.  I am still so haunted by the depths to which my mind can go, even if it hasn’t gone all the way there in a while.  So I wrote it, because it’s the only way I know to deal with things.  Writing and praying, and to me, they’re one in the same anyway.

The poem is coming.  I want to read it a few more times on my own.  I’m thinking of passing it along to one or two individuals to read first too, because I want to ease into it.  I haven’t decided yet.  But I’m going to post it soon.  It isn’t anything incredible; nothing that will bend your mind or have you thinking any more than my other stuff.  It’s actually very similar to the other poems.  I’m not trying to build anything up.  I’m trying to talk myself into this.  I’m trying to take my own advice.  It’s working, slowly; but it’s working.

Ignore this.

I think I might’ve just written the most ignorant letter ever to God.  I want to eat every single word I see on the page before me, because each one is testament to my inconceivable stupidity.  Please tell me that I am not the only one to ever do this.

I will pretend you just consoled me.

I pray in two ways: the first is the most common way – I just talk.  I talk to Him as I’m falling asleep, or as I’m walking to a particularly gruesome exam, or when I drive by myself in the car.  I talk to Him in my head and out loud, in complete sentences and in incomprehensible noises and sometimes I talk to Him by glaring at the sky (that is by far one of the more ignorant things I do).  I talk to Him alone and with groups of people.  I talk to Him like He is my Father and sometimes like He is my unruly pet.  I shouldn’t talk to Him like He’s my pet.  But since we’re divulging my ignorance here, I figured I would just throw that one in, too.

The second way I pray is by writing.  This is most common for me.  I used to write to Him daily, sometimes twice daily, and just tell Him about my day, or give thanks for the things in my life, or ask for help and guidance for things I didn’t understand.  Those pages look like transcripts of a spoken prayer – something that I wouldn’t mind saying in front of others.  Something that was Christian and right and normal.  Don’t get me wrong; those prayers were real.  They were genuine, and sometimes they were gut-wrenching and sometimes they were the only things that held me to the ground.  But I still held back.  I didn’t pray about most of what really mattered.  I don’t know what I was thinking – that I could hide a portion of my soul from the One who made it?

I know it is silly.

As I’ve gotten older, my written prayers have changed.  They’ve become less simple.  Sometimes they aren’t even addressed to God, but both He and I know that I’m trying to speak to Him.  I’ve been looking through my most recent journals – my prayers have gotten jerkier.  Every so often, I’ll come across five pages of hopelessly-flung insults and childish passive-aggressiveness.  And it’s awful because I know, as I write things like that, how stupid it all sounds, how I am answering my own fiery questions and scoffing at my own anger.  It is sinful.  There isn’t a way to make it any more than that.

I don’t like that I can be joyful one day and angry the next.  I flip the page and there I am, sure of the Gospel and sure of the path the Lord is taking me down, prayers that are actually humble (if I can say so without not being humble).  Both prayers – the jerky ones and the grateful ones – are like reading the words of two different people.  I don’t understand why God puts up with me.

But I’m not hiding anymore.  I give Him the dusty, bent up parts of me that no one else will take, even if I tried to offer them.  Because we’ve got a God who takes the mess.  It doesn’t make it okay to pray with anger or ignorance or sadness.  But He’ll take it, because He is big enough for that.  I have a habit of limiting God.  I am like a vacuum, sucking up all the things I think I’m tough enough to handle, the questions I think I’m smart enough to figure out.  I don’t think God wants that.  I’m hesitant to justify my sinfulness – I don’t want to come across like I’m doing so – but maybe God wants the ugliness even if it is sinful.  Maybe He would rather me shout at Him than tear myself apart.  He can handle the shouts of a fragmented, tiny, insignificant girl.  But I cannot handle the claws on my own hands.  What is deadly to me is nothing to Him.

So here we are: my open notebook taunting me with the things I’ve written.  But the trouble is, I feel that.  I told Him the truth when I wrote what I did – that it was the way I felt and that I don’t know what to do about it.  But it doesn’t make it right.  It just makes it even more important that I do something about it.

I don’t know why I was compelled to tell you all of this.  It holds me accountable, I suppose, when I blog about things I probably should just keep to myself.  But I promised myself not to fake it, here or anywhere else.  So I won’t.  It’s the one things you can be sure of with me.  Writing this makes me feel like I really do have to do something about it.  I think everyone needs a way to be held accountable – and it is beginning to seem like mine is through the public forum the internet.  I thought I hated the internet as a primary communication tool – but maybe it’s not all bad.  It’s the thing I seem to need lately.

New prayer.

Father.  Forgive my ignorance.  I hate it.  It’s ridiculous.  Give me eyes that see only You, past all my blurry desires and supposed answers, past all my shouts of anger and pleas for simplicity.  I know You only give good things.  I know nothing slips past Your view.  I know You teach me the way I need to be taught, even if it hurts, and even if I hate it and think that I know better.  I know nothing.  Push me down.  Grant me the peace that comes with humility.  All of us – grant us all that peace.  Amen.

Convincingly Accurate Portrayals of Sinking and Swimming.

I have only seen beautiful people.
You should sit down for this
because I want you to
understand the gravity of the situation.
We are floating on the surface of an
ocean of possibility.
The probability of dying down there is immense,
and the probability
of finding the pirates’ treasure is not much less.
Still we float,
and we are content to do so.
Do you ever hate that about humanity?
Are you ever ashamed of our irrational fears?
Let us sink like stones to the abandoned sea floor,
once the top of a mountain before the earth turned herself inside out.
If only we could be like the plates,
shifting and breaking,
causing earthquakes and explosions.
I have always lived in the unfulfilled dramas,
praying for a breaking point
but never really expecting one.
Someone once said that the world would fall into anarchy
if we all just said the things we felt
but
I’m not sure if we would really mind that.
We crave that.
Upending the triviality for the reality.
Sometimes I think it’s all in my head,
that I am the only one who sees this.
But they are out there
And they notice things like no one else,
and I think we could change something.
Look!
When you see the ones that mean it,
you believe in your sanity again
and if we just promised one another that there was a point behind the pointlessness
then we could save ourselves a whole lot of wondering.
Let’s fall onto the grass like starfish
left behind after the sea receded into the dirt.
And there,
we will swear to ourselves and the angels that we aren’t going to be hypocrites anymore.
Dance the infinite dance.
It’s not a new line but it’s the truest one I can think of.