I can’t be who everybody wants me to be. I’m skilled not brilliant. I’m passionate not a force. I have energy for now. I am creative but slowly. I’m disorganized. I can’t multitask. I’m not big BIG picture. I’m not fine detailed. I’m Barbara. I draw pretty pictures not daring ones. I love showing people the love of Christ. I want to live every moment. I hate not having enough energy. I hate letting moments slip by. I hate thinking about the hours of television that could’ve been a novel. I hate leaving art projects undone. Why can’t all the projects be finished instantly? I’m disgusted by the idea of leaving something undone when I die. But I find it improbable and most likely inauthentic to who I am to ever finish everything at the same time. I want to meet Jesus now. And I’m frenzied for living another day. I love my bed. I love to climb in. I hate to get out of it. I love being in my mind. I love being creative, letting my mind work. I love it when my thoughts keep me up till four solving problems, unable to rest when beautiful visions are being built. Yet I scroll down my phone clicking back and forth between email, facebook, twitter, and wordpress, just to make my mind be still so I can sleep. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what God wants me to offer. I find out in the second. This is it. This is what you have to give. I’m tired. I’m crying. I wish others could see life as I do sometimes. It’s a gift this, the view, the creation, never bored in my mind. What would I do without characters talking, images parading. Just images, just stories, nothing grand, nothing that will affect the tides of politics or social justice. They’re not even true. They’re fiction as true as I can make them. I love stories. Some crazy story this, me, here, now.
With one thumb they draw the dark line of ash down and say, “Remember from ashes you have come.”
And with the same thumb they draw a dark line of ash across and say, “And to ashes you shall return.”
Because really, any way you look at it, up, down, left, right, horizontal or vertical, I was nothing and will be nothing.
But then all that ash that’s condemning me to miserable remembrance ends up being a cross on my forehead. Because there is one place where I am something, at the cross.
I came from nothing, receive eternal life, and return to nothing.
Jesus came from heaven and the beginning of creation, found condemnation and death, and returned to heaven at God’s right hand.
What a beautiful mystery is the interchanged middles of those two stories.
And what could be simpler than one line across another, touching each other at one point?
But some of the most beautiful things are simple.
There’s a story in one of the later Anne books. Anne of Green Gables has become Anne of Ingleside, a mother, and Mrs. Doctor. She has met some reasonable literary success, published, but by no means famous except among her circle.
A newly widowed woman comes to Anne and asks her to write her husband’s obituary. Anne is dismayed and shocked. She barely knew Mr. What’s-his-name! All she knows of him is that their interactions were cordial and he was a patient sort of man.
Anne does all right, I guess. She manages to write something and though it doesn’t exactly suit the widow, “too high-falutin’” it is admitted that Dear Mr. What’s-his-name would’ve thought it “real keen”.
I was asked recently to work a similar errand. A woman in my circle had gotten very ill. It was a Parkinson-like disease and I was around in the beginning as she became trapped slowly inside her own body. She was good friends with my father and a member of my mother’s Bible study. This is what brought me to mind for the assignment. And what was it to be? A last Christmas present, a letter from a dying mother to her sons.
I have known this lady long, but not well. Her sons I have not met at all. Like Anne, all I know is that this lady loved me well and was admired by people I respect. I thought about what I could possibly say on behalf of a woman whose mind I couldn’t know who has lived far past my own life experience.
I had only words of a mother to her children. I wrote it out. It was brief. I hoped it would be true words for a woman limited to squeezing once for “yes” and twice for “no”.
It was not the first time I have committed my work in blind faith to a greater purpose I couldn’t know.
I’m afraid the caregiver who had asked me to write the letter gave up hoping that it would come. I almost gave up myself when my computer refused to start up and let me send it off. But my husband stuck my over-heating laptop in the freezer and it stayed on long enough for me to send this one e-mail.
A week later I would find out that my e-mail arrived just as the caregiver was leaving to give the present. She printed out my letter and took it over to our sick friend. The letter was approved with tears and read to the sons, who had a final gift from their mother. She passed away the next day on Christmas Eve.
I can’t help but think, with all my ambition and all the blue castles I build in the sky, that this is the writing I do that will make a difference.
It seemed arrogant to presume I could write that letter. But I’m so glad I wrote it.
Last week I got into a fight with my husband. I said something. He said something. I said something else when I probably shouldn’t have. Then he REALLY said something.
The next day there was a bit of resolution … an unsatisfactory bit.
And then a few days later I said something again.
Now, here I am on Sunday morning sitting in church and I realize I have a fistful of strings clenched tight in my hands. This string is tied back to the moment he said this. This string leads back to the moment I said that. This string is from the moment that he didn’t understand. This string is from the moment where I was uncompromising.
And I’m picking at the bundle, trying to keep them straight. Counting the tally, who owes who what? Who has been vindicated? Did I come out ahead?
And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past six weeks since my son started school it’s that I’m not good at multitasking. I’m late for pickup. I’m late for soccer practice. I forget the library books. I forget the teacher’s birthday.
And it works to my benefit now as I get confused by this tangle in my lap, trying to keep track of my debt, my desserts.
I have to drop it. This could go on for weeks or months or more. I could hold tight to this little string or that one and save it for the moment when I could say, “See here. Remember when you said this?”
But they drop from my hands in my sudden inability to keep it all straight. And I gasp a little and grasp a little. Because I’m pretty sure I was coming out on top. But in that moment I feel free. And I can breathe. So, then I decide.
I toss them away, throwing the jumbled ball to the ground and wiping my hands down my arms as if to brush off the clinging spider webs of sour memory.
And I drink my communion cup slowly, letting it flow down my throat to coat, like the pink Pepto Bismol in the old commercial, redeeming every bitter thing as it goes down slowly into my gut.
How ‘bout that? There was resurrection in the morning! What a glorious surprise is a new beginning!
And the last song we sing is, “We are bound, we are bound, we are bound for Promised Land.”
So, I leave church without strings binding me backwards, but bound by one leading me ever forward into promised places.
On the day of September eleventh thirteen years ago I painted a picture of bubbles. I was twenty-one, still new enough to life to miss the greater significance of the day. I’m still not sure why I painted bubbles. I think I was trying to understand something that was both incredibly fragile and surprisingly strong, something like innocence.
In the same vein, there’s always been something about wildflowers that resonates deeply with me. They are delicate, inclined to fail quickly when plucked and vased. And yet, they grow in those rocky windswept places and thrive in the unirrigated fields, propagating themselves on nothing but the wind.
I’d like to think there is something in me like that.
San Francisco also continues to surprise. We went on a hike with some other Moms this week, a point on the map named Interior Greenbelt. I parked where I was told to, 17th and Stanyan.
“Is this it?” I asked out loud.
But Google maps had already told me my destination was on the right and would not deign to repeat itself. I was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There was no park fence, no signs, just homes. I looked around until I saw it, a small wooden stair running narrowly up from the sidewalk between two houses.
And this is what was on the other side:
Mt. Sutro is a eucalyptus forest crawling with blackberries, poison ivy, and red dirt right in the middle of the city.
This week I’ve been feeling a little mysterious to myself, discovering vast expanses inside me that I didn’t know existed. I’ve run into secret reserves of pride I thought were conquered; depths of resolve I didn’t know I had. And I am left feeling incredibly fragile and incredibly strong at the same time, like the bubble made of suds wrapped around air that somehow manages to make it past the gable of a peaked roof.
What a strange life this is. What strange creatures we are.