The Interview

 

My daughter Maria is in her third year of nursing school at the University of Portland and a while back I called her on the phone while I was walking my dog Bella at Wyakin Park, a nature park down the street from our house. I called her mainly because I was creeped out by a guy walking a ways behind me on the same path. I told her this and she immediately said “MOM! Why don’t you call dad? I’m pretty far away to be able to help you.”

“Your dad is always warning me to not walk in Wyakin Park alone so I don’t want to get a lecture. Just know that if I go silent call dad and tell him to call 911 and then drive here super fast because I’m most likely either killed or abducted and he needs to get Bella. I don’t want anything to happen to her.”

We kept on with our chatting while I walked the park, the creeper long disappeared, so it was probably nothing, though it’s good to be more safe than sound I always say.  The subject of her needing to conduct a two part interview with someone about suffering came up. 

“Well, you can interview my uterus, it’s suffering right now. Why is it that every time you come home for the summer my path to finally completing my year long adventure toward menopause is disrupted? Now my plans for a party are screwed up. I was TWO MONTHS away from official menopause day. I feel kind of mad at you and your alpha she-wolf hormones for messing me up. I’m too old for this crap.”

She laughed and we chatted about how crazy hormones were and other female topics that I think we both crave as the only two girls in a family of eight. Then we talked about possible people she could interview that we know have suffered a lot and whether or not it would be weird for her to reach out to them and finally decided she would interview me (not my uterus). I had gone through a rather rough patch of time when I lost three loved ones: my grandma, my mom and my friend Libby all within a seven year span, and all the experiences leading up to and after those difficult days created all kinds of suffering. I felt enough time had passed that I would be able to give a good interview on the subject of suffering. We scheduled the first interview and I put it on my calendar when Bella and I arrived home unscathed from our walk. 

Now, I have never been a fan of FaceTime which was the required method for Maria’s interview, unless she could do it live and Portland is an awfully long drive from Spokane. So I was a little worried about that part. I am always distracted by the little box at the top with MY face in it. Do I have boogers? How does my hair look? Do I have the phone positioned so I don’t have a double chin and my big boobs don’t steal the show? Also, the image of me I’m looking at is a reflection of the reflection I see in the mirror every day so it’s a mind bend seeing how other people might see me everyday. The thought makes me want to part my hair the opposite direction and turn my head to the right when I am face to face with people, which is my bad side but actually shows THEM my good side. It’s so confusing. And extremely self absorbed. 

So with that in mind, enter interview number one. I made sure my hair was done nice and I put makeup on so I would not be distracted by wishing I HAD done that. And then there was Maria, on my phone, who had clearly done the same. Her hair had grown longer since I last saw her, making her look older, more grown up and OH my FILLED UP HEART so beautiful. I felt this deep sense of awe that this delightful woman came partly from me and I was distracted from my own face in the corner which was good. We made some giggly small talk about how good we both looked and then got into the interview.  

I was fully prepared to just coast through the questions and as is my way, try and make it lighthearted and fun. I feel like I am pretty together and practical about suffering: it’s a human condition that is hard to avoid but I myself have lived through it thus far and relatively unscathed. What I was NOT prepared for was how meaningful the interview was for me and how my daughter shined with empathy and poise that had things spilling out of me that I did not at all expect, including tears and some amazing ‘a-ha!’ moments including the realization that I have pushed down a little bit of anger about the death of my mother, because I didn’t really want to talk about that part of my suffering. She should still be here. 

Now granted, I’m a talker. I have never had trouble talking or writing about almost any subject, including what my heart feels at the moment. It’s how I’m wired. But I have learned to keep some of my deepest things closely guarded, namely because people just don’t want to hear about suffering, at least not all the time. But also, it has been important to me as a mother that my kids don’t worry about me, at least not on a grand scale like I did my own mother for so much of my life. So it was a little bit unnerving actually being given permission to talk about my personal suffering, especially by my daughter in what felt like a professional counseling session. 

We ended the first interview and I found myself excited for the next one but worried that I had worried her.  

We were both less concerned with how we looked on the second interview and got into it pretty quickly. She had some follow up questions for me that were hard to answer because they were very thought provoking. These are the ones that stood out to me: 

  • What support was missing for you during that time? 
  • What have you learned about yourself through suffering? 
  • How did suffering affect your faith? 
  • What gives you a sense of hope when you are in pain? What IS hope in your mind, what does it look like?

Lots of big questions and I found myself meandering a bit with my words in search of what the answers were which was cathartic in and of itself. But here are a few answers I discovered:  

I know that I have never lacked support because I have learned how to ask for it from the people who I know are willing and able to give of themselves when it is most important. What I do know is that it’s not always the same person I turn to and that each person in my core has a different way of supporting and loving. Three words from the men in my life can sometimes be as powerful and soothing as hours of wailing with a soul sister. Different love languages for different types of suffering.

I have learned to understand that suffering is a gift when I look at what it would mean NOT to suffer which is one of two things: I’m dead or I do not love.

My faith has been altered but not shaken from suffering. I have had a few fights with God along with a more expansive and less defined by ritual understanding of who my maker is. I’m still pondering this one a bit but my spirituality as a whole hasn’t wavered much. I figure if I’m yelling at God, it means I’m a believer. Or crazy. Maybe both. 

But looking into my daughter’s eyes as we dove into our deep and powerful conversation,  I realized with a most profound and solid certainty that she and her brothers are the very definition of what hope is for me. My children, each with their unique gifts and personalities,  will absolutely make the world better, long after I am gone. What could be more hopeful (and soul soothing) than this? 

I got to witness first hand Maria’s healing gifts and know with certainty she has chosen the right path for her life “You should be a geriatric psychiatric nurse. Is that a thing? Old people need to talk this shit out before they die! You are amazing!” I said, wiping happy sad tears from my eyes. “I wish I could have had this kind of talk with my mom. That would have been amazing. This is priceless stuff. You’re welcome by the way.” 

“Ahhhh…” said my daughter “there she is!”  

Ordinary Fear

Today is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, according to ‘Today’s Missal’ at church. There is something very soothing about calling time ordinary. I don’t know about you, but if a day is already labeled extraordinary before it has even happened, I’m probably not going to live up to it on account of the pressure. I tend to do the opposite of what is expected by me, especially when it is me doing the expecting. It’s like knowing I should be outside enjoying a beautiful sunny day when I am in a stay in the house rainy day kind of mood.

On this particularly ordinary Sunday I slept in but still rallied for Mass, dirty hair and all, because lately it has felt good to go. I have been enjoying the intellectual and emotional stimulation of church without expectations or demands with the understanding that an open heart and mind can allow surprising and simple treasures to sometimes land in my lap like that chewy, nourishing heaven bread landed in a desert of hungries.

Fears have been keeping me awake and unhappy lately, ones that seem insurmountable and singularly unique to me: career failure; money worries; having ‘all the cancers’ plus a touch alzheimer’s; not teaching my kids how to properly clean a toilet; and my annoying fifty something belly fat are a few of my current fears. I have felt a bit shameful about these fears believing that I MUST overcome them in order to be happy, but seeming to lack the faith and intellectual strength to do so. Consequently, I have grown them like big, fat inedible mushrooms, nourished in the dark recesses of my heart.

Okay, that’s a little melodramatic. My heart is mostly not dark. Ha!

The words “Action Conquers Fear” are written on my motivation wall from an article I read on LinkedIn called “11 Powerful Mantras for Those Who’ve Lost Motivation” by Ross Simmonds. So it feels like I should be DOING something about these fears.

But the visiting priest’s homily today landed a bit of inspiring and timely “ah-ha manna’’ in my lap that made me look at this mantra from a slightly different angle. In speaking about the last supper and the Eucharist, he mentioned the name of a scripture interpreter who’s name I can not recall, though I know she was a woman, and quoted this from her writing:   

“He prepares the table in the presence of my fears.”

I found myself having a little chat with Jesus:

Me: “Does this mean that I can enjoy the great dinner you made even though I have all these nasty fears?”

Jesus: “H. Bring all of you to the table. Your fears will continue to grow if you focus too much on conquering them. If you think having ‘all the cancers’ is bad, trying being a slave to a giant ugly mushroom. Now there’s a good horror movie idea!”

Me: “So I shouldn’t take action to kill the mushrooms? That doesn’t seem very Jesuit of you, especially you being the founder and all.”

Jesus: “You’re such a dork H, always trying to complicate things. The only action you need to take is to step up to the plate as you are every day and let yourself taste and savor what’s right in front of you. This is where the light is. And mushrooms don’t take kindly to light. It really is that simple.”

Me: “Sometimes you don’t realize you are starving until you get a taste of inspiration that has been missing from your plate for a bit. Thank you J.”

Jesus: “You’re welcome H. Now, go be in the light, with all your ordinary fear on this ordinary Sunday.”

Me: “Now I’m singing the song ‘Gravity’ by John Mayer.”

Jesus: “Ha! Whatever it takes to keep you where the Light is.”

When Things Get Hairy

The Sunday before my oldest son’s birthday we decide to meet him along with the rest of the kids after church at our favorite restaurant to celebrate. My husband asked me on the way to church, which I was attending for the first time in a very long while “You having the chicken fried steak?”

It’s what I always order when we go to this place for breakfast. It’s to die for: yummy goodness on a plate. I say “Hell no. That meal is ruined forever for me. Have you forgotten about that horrible day?” My stomach does a sickish little turn at the mere thought of chicken fried steak.

He looks at me with total amazement. “Are you kidding me? You’re letting one little incident ruin the best breakfast in Spokane?”

Now, if this were a flashback scene a survivor was having in a horror movie, you would hear the foreboding music that plays just before someone is about to be slashed with a machete by some creepy masked guy. The camera would first zoom in on a big, black hair that sat right on top of my gravy in perfect corkscrew form which made me feel CERTAIN it was a pubic hair. Then the camera would pan in on my face, horror in my glazed over eyes, lips thin and pale but stoically resolving to not scream. I wave my hand for the waitress who comes over quickly. “What can I get you love?”

“Could I have a double bloody Mary with extra olives?” I ask, trying to keep my eyes on her face and not look at the glaring abomination that has ruined my $14.95 breakfast.

“Sure thing honey!” and she trots off to get my drink.

My husband asks “Why didn’t you just tell her there is a hair on your food?”

“If I say something, then all they will do is take the plate back to the kitchen and take the hair off and maybe throw some more gravy on my plate, nuke it in the microwave and serve it right back to me. And that’s only if they feel BAD about the hair being there. If they think I’m a brat they will leave the hair and just cover it with gravy. And even if they did give me a new plate, I’d always wonder if they really had. No. The damage is done.”

“You have serious trust issues. Do you maybe need to see someone for this?”

“Look, I know that I probably eat plenty of other people’s hairs all the time without knowing it. But the emphasis for me is on the NOT KNOWING. Once I KNOW it’s just all over. See? So I understand that in reality this is not a big deal and if I were a mentally strong person I would pick the hair off and carry on with eating. But I am NOT strong in this category. No sense complaining about something that is my issue, unless of course the cook put that hair there on PURPOSE. But just thinking that would mean I am paranoid and just plain weird. So I am going to drink my breakfast and carry on. And YES I have guilt for wasting food. But that is a whole different issue.” The waitress brings me my new and improved breakfast and I raise it in a toast while my husband shrugs and digs into his food. He knows I am a lost cause.

Enter us, birthday breakfast day, into church. The prodigal daughter and her husband, the holy one who doesn’t let hairs get in the way of his enjoyment in life.

As I knelt down to try and pray, the hair incident stayed on my mind. Why did I so often let little things stop me from experiencing joy? I listened to the readings and then to the heartfelt homily from the priest who was new to our parish, or at least to me, the fallen one, and a swoosh of warm, delicious peace came over me. And as I returned to kneeling position in overwhelming, goose-bump awe after receiving communion, I realized I had I let my distaste for the previous priest, hold me back from witnessing a perfect place of Human/God connectivity.

Now keep in mind, I’m a convert to the Catholic faith and I have it in my mind that converts are looked upon by cradle Catholics in the same way people with new found riches are viewed by “old money” families: we simply don’t know how to use our riches properly and our ways of enjoying those riches are often frowned upon. But we newbies don’t really care. One example for me is that not going to Mass has never created a whole lot of guilt for me. I have always known, since I was a little girl that God wants us to WANT to hang out with Him, wherever we find ourselves. Going to church simply for fear of eternal damnation has always seemed counterproductive. Plus, no one wants to hang out with a friend who clearly would rather be somewhere else than with you. Right?

And this is the double edged loophole logic along with the excuse of disliking how another human spun HIS connectivity to God that I used to to stop attending mass for so long that I forgot how good it felt to go and got to a point that I no longer had the thirst to do so.

Funny the hell we can create for ourselves without any help from the devil. But grace is pretty bad ass and takes on all kinds of forms to open up our hearts. Sometimes in the shape of a yucky black hair on gravy.

Later at breakfast my husband raised one eyebrow when I ordered the chicken fried steak and a bloody mary with NO olives. On account of the fact that I was feeling pretty filled up.

Death and Laundry

The subject of death and dying (or should I say dying and death) has been on my mind a lot lately. It is very uncomfortable. I think this is because of the way I am currently defining death: a large and devastating LOSS.

And while I KNOW we all have to face death (our own and/or those we love) at some point, I generally prefer to distract myself with daily living to do’s. I mean why dwell when there is Tasmanian devil cleaning, half assed cooking (when I HAVE to do that dreadful task), money making and my favorite every present, mind numbing task: laundry!

On that note, I would like to say that ‘death and taxes’ should instead be ‘death and laundry’, laundry being the easier of the two certainties to understand: dirty laundry in, clean laundry out, dirty laundry in, gripe, repeat, every single f’ing day. It’s a perfect means in which to avoid trying to answer the scary question of us mere mortals: “what happens next?” I’ll TELL you what happens next my good people: I will fold another damn load of laundry.

Except!

Oh! The things I have discovered while doing laundry: items shaken from hiding during the spin cycle, bursting with proof that I live with (and love unconditionally) seven unique and interesting people. There is often money: nickels, dimes, pennies and when I am lucky quarters or greenery, all mine for the taking. It is written in the laundry doer’s handbook that it is acceptable protocol to keep laundered money as payment for services rendered.

But I have also discovered special rocks; shells; worms; pocket knives; combs; Nerf gun ammo; lip gloss; letters that were passed around in class, folded fourteen times over, exposing who likes who, or who no longer does.

Once I washed an unopened bottle of blue Gatorade.

Wallets have come through many times. It’s against protocol to take (all of) the money from laundered wallets, but okay to explore their content, which is necessary in the dry out process. It is difficult to collect all of the once contained by a pocket b-b’s; shotgun shells are not so difficult. Play-dough; crayons; ink pens; white out; a bottle of Elmer’s glue; half eaten candy bars: they can wreak havoc upon clothing, especially in the dryer phase. A grasshopper: was it alive before I washed it? Bobby-pins; earrings; spoons and forks (better left in one’s pocket than on the couch); rubber bands; toothbrushes; army guys; plastic snakes that still startle me as do the spiders, which are only sometimes plastic.

I had never seen an athletic cup before I had boys: now they come regularly through the laundry in several colors and sizes, their presence made known by gloriously loud dryer thumping. Nothing grosses me out anymore…not even barfed on sheets or poopy underwear, though both are becoming less and less of an occurrence. IPods; IPhones; cans of chew: they tell of the aging going on in my household. Less and less do I wash the littlest one’s blanket: his “me-me” doesn’t get as dirty these days.

The highly revered ($20  per pair) athletic socks purchased by oldest brother for two younger brothers who needed luck and good socks for basketball games and the ratty shirts my husband wears because he says there are more important priorities to invest in, speak of the great giving that happens in a big family.

The favorite t-shirts, sweatshirts and jeans that smell of dirt, and grass and hard core play or perfume depending upon the wearer bless me with the aura of my people.

And oh GOD to ever lose these people: unthinkable!

Because I have always thought of death as a loss, which is hard not to do because of all the rich love in the damn laundry.

I have a very dear friend who is dying. At a much more rapid pace than most of us are. Wrapped in the sorrowful question of “how will I live without her?” for several days, I became heavy and lethargic with thick, tangible pain, unable to lift my arms, and then guilty for focusing on my own feelings. And then kind of mad at her for causing me such despair, and then even more guilty, because it’s not like she WANTS to make anyone feel bad. In fact she will probably go out saying something wicked funny, for all of our sakes because that is how she is.

But here’s the thing. I can’t help but notice the children within this cloudy sorrow surrounding all of us adults who are trying to get our minds wrapped around the idea of losing our friend. The children: they still giggle, they still whine about homework or their brother poking and buzzing at them like a chainsaw, they still act obnoxiously when adults are trying to talk about serious things. They are sad yes, but it does not STAY with them as it can with us adults. My littlest, who adores our friend as much as any of us, when told that the medicine wasn’t working, that she was getting much, much sicker, cried hard and loud, spent 20 minutes drawing a picture for her, deep meditative, tongue out of mouth coloring, and then went to play, shedding the sorrow for better things like beating his brother at basketball.

We think: oh the children simply don’t get it. They can’t comprehend death. It’s too hard for them. They are too young.

But maybe they get it better than we do.

Now hear me out, because while I am NO theologian, nor am I someone who has lived a life with the absolute conviction that there is a clear cut path or WAY of living life that will assure eternal life or heaven any more or less than another path, and while I have no CLEAR understanding of “what happens next” I feel like there is something very powerful to express here that is as clear as day to me. I have used the word clear four times in this paragraph because I want to dwell on this brief moment of clarity.

You see, when I finally allowed myself a reprieve from the sorrow over what feels like great LOSS I was able to lift my arms again. In shedding the weighted veil of dark sadness, joy was uncovered: a bright, warm, deep KNOWING that is hard wired into all of us.

Sorrow, rarely contains the hearts of most of our children, at least for very long, because they have not grown as far away from their true and joyful form as we adults have. And even we, often broken, disconnected, devastated people, are unable to dwell in sad for very long because we are made for and connected to love. It is WHAT we are, and because it is infinite, it can not contain loss.

The sorrow, the sad, the despair, it comes because we can’t completely comprehend the infinite capacity of love that is our eternal existence. But we know, from the soft whispers in our hearts, that we will.

We will.

We can call it death I suppose, but if it is anything like laundry, well…I can live with that for ever.

Jesus Eggs and Other God Mullings on Easter Sunday

eggs

The monotonous act of peeling three-dozen hard boiled Easter eggs this morning (to make deviled-eggs) made me wonder a couple of things:

What makes one egg peel easier than another? Why do some resist, chip by stubborn little chip, giving up their colorful shells while other eggs are stripped so easily down to their soft, vulnerable insides? Is it from their placement in the boiling water? Do mellow chickens lay easier to peel eggs than old haggard cranky hens? Do certain colors of dye alter the strength of the shell?

And which of these is the more favorable:  the easy to peel egg or the resistant egg? Are we talking about modest, hard to get eggs versus promiscuous eggs; tenacious versus yielding eggs; or thick-headed compared to open hearted eggs?

I REALIZE that eggs don’t have personalities. This is another garbled attempt at METAPHOR people.   

But why do we call them deviled-eggs? Maria said she thought we should call them Jesus eggs which sounds kind of crass, so I researched it and it seems the word “deviled” is an 18th century word referencing  food that is spicy or zesty. So I have to agree with her that we should call them Jesus eggs. First, He was always feeding people; second, He was able to spice up the mundane; though the devil probably takes more people to the dark side than is realized with his soft, subtle whispers that the mundane holds no value or joy.

And this made me ponder what a crap Catholic I sometimes am, especially during Lent. This year was by far the WORST EVER 40 days for me in terms of any kind of spiritual growth: I didn’t even PRETEND to be working toward holiness. I dug my heels in and worked on perfecting a few of the seven deadly sins.

And I didn’t go to church one time from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, which is no light sin my people…high heels in deep, thick mud, which is really bad for your shoes and other things.

I don’t really know why I fight so hard against spiritual conversion, especially during Lent. But here is a thought that I have been mulling over. The other day I witnessed a man on the streets. My guess was that he was in his mid-thirties. He wore groovy, kind of pimped up clothing: a plaid vest, leather coat, nicer jeans and a fedora. He had blonde hair, a smooth, shiny complexion and would have looked healthy were it not for his sunken mouth caused by lack of teeth. He was waiting for the walk sign to flash and was as high as a kite, blissfully grinning and stand-still dancing, flapping his arms around, the joyful buzz of whatever drug he was on making it hard to be contained in his skin.

Now, I know this is in poor taste (by stating that, it makes it at least look like I care) but I could not help but feel sort of envious of his current state of mind, even IF it was FALSE and chemically, illegally and HARMFULLY induced. Because while the after-crash was going to be total agony for him, he was for sure in current state of euphoria that in the moment did not contain an ounce of mundane.

While I am a no drug expert, I HAVE experienced some pretty amazing moments of elation. To name a few: the birth of my children; hearing a song that calls to my heart; closing a sale; writing something that says perfectly what I mean; and yes, the intense, knock me to my knees moments after receiving The Eucharist.  But to sustain these highs is impossible. We’d be exhausted. See? And it’s frustrating.

We for sure TRY to keep that high: some with drugs and alcohol, others with caffeine, sugar, exercise, sex and yes…spirituality. But all of these things we humans cling to as a means to feel GOOD inevitably end in a low, by comparison,  which is hard to take when you have been so high you can hardly be contained by your own skin.

There were saints to whom God gave these amazing visions and I can only imagine that it must have felt more euphoric than a thousand doses of any kind of drug.  No mundane in THAT kind of high. But the lack of God, or at least the lack of feeling or seeing God, which is an inevitable part of every human journey, had to be completely soul shattering for someone who has had more than just a glimpse of God. These saints, however, were able to sustain faith through what had to feel dreary and dull and dark, because DUH, they were saints.

I, however, am no saint. Nor am I a drug addict (which is good). I am a moody Christian who often lacks conviction when faced with monotony, which, let’s face it, is a pretty standard part of life for most of us. So, sometimes, especially during Lent, I pout, ignore God, eat Pringles and watch back to back episodes of “Hoarders: Buried Alive” until my ass hurts and say “Yeah? So what? Your point to all of this monotony would be WHAT? ”

But here’s the thing: God is a sneaky, conniving intervener and patient when it comes to peeling shells. And He uses people to help pull heels out of the mud: drug addicts, saints,  hoarders, teenagers who go to confession on their own and “feel less stressed out after” and little children who build churches at your feet out of Lincoln logs complete with a tabernacle and convince you to turn off the television, step away from the Pringles, put some shoes on and go to Easter Vigil, even if it’s just so there is less guilt and more time for the combat Easter egg hunt the next morning and Jesus eggs later… which by the way have never tasted so zesty.

Happy Easter everyone!

Risen