The Listening Place

christinas-world-2

christina's world - wyeth

I was at my aunt's house the day she died. Everyone had gathered there to be with her on her last day here. Margaret was just a few months old and I didn't feel much older. I hated to go to that leaving-place empty handed and so spent our grocery money on buckets of fried chicken. The atmosphere in the house was solemn and loving and laughter. I took Margaret to my aunt and that sweet woman held her just hours before she left this world to be born into another.

I was in the kitchen with a few family members when her death began in earnest. I tried to stay light and bright. Laughing and lifting. Suddenly,  I felt a change run through the room. A crashing, enveloping thing. I felt disturbed by it and talked louder through its ripples. A moment later my cousin hurried into the room,

"She's gone."

My thoughts on our  literal spiritual connections to one another are still evolving. I don't know much, but I do know that something told me she'd just left. I talked through that sacred communication because I always seem to think it's my job to talk everyone through everything...including myself. I made a promise that day to never be louder than the things I am meant to hear.

A little less than five years later, I sat in a hospital waiting room with my brother and sisters. My mom was in the hospital room with my dad. I was talking loudly and smiling and teasing. I doubt it did much to help those around me...but I think I was trying to laugh and lift. A nurse walked in and told us my dad had a heart episode - the medical team was working on him. I stopped talking and walked out into the hall by myself...quiet and waiting for the communication I felt certain was moments away. I could nearly feel it...the pull back before an oncoming wave. The nurse came back and met me in the hall.

"He's stabilized."

I went back into the waiting room and told the people that loved him. I tried to talk loudly again, to shout down the ebb I still felt pulling through my veins. A few more minutes and my mom was there in the doorway. It hadn't worked. He was leaving.  As I ran through the hallway to that damn room and that damn goodbye, I tried to keep my footsteps light so that I could hear what I knew was coming.

A few minutes with him in that black wired room and the wave came crashing down.

On Sunday, he had been gone for a year. It was a busy day. Family and obligations and dinner to be made. We went to his grave and left flowers. The girls talked about heaven and Papa's favorite pinto beans. I spent a lot of time giving more volume to my words than they deserved.

But somewhere between loudly talking about how it was "a sacred day, not a bad day" and declarations of peace, I stood still in the center of everything that moves. I breathed deeply and listened closely for the things I'd been too loud to hear.

And they were many. And they were gracious. And they did not stay long enough.

From the Outside Looking In

tuesdaymorning

Tuesday Morning Still Life

I’m not where I want to be.

Mornings aren’t organized. The girls watch too much TV. I consider it a triumph when we carve even an hour or two out of the day to be productive and creative and together. I’ve had a hard time writing. I’ve had a hard time cleaning. I’ve had a hard time keeping in touch. I’ve had a hard time…

I’ve had a hard time.

So I’ve been reading. Medieval history, southern cookbooks, organizational gurus, Tolstoy, Austen (again and again), Early Christian writers, CS Lewis, Harold Bloom, Plath and Dickinson and Auden. And so many biographies. Pages that peer into the lives of the famous, infamous and merely human. Words that connect me to a mortal experience removed from mine by era and value and gender. And I’ve come to love these people - even the ones I’ve hated. In understanding them, I’ve forgiven them or sat back with greater awe in the face of their achievements, even the ones that were never known beyond the walls of their hearts. (Well, not known until some really snoopy biographer was like, “I will find her journals and expose their contents to the world! For money! I mean...for the greater good!” Then whispers, “and money.”) I’d just finished Manchester’s opus on Churchill when I realized I was giving these never-met people more room for imperfect living than I was giving myself.

I know what has happened to me. I know where I’ve tried and where I’ve let things fall. I know the battles I’ve won and the battles I continue to fight. I know the things that brim to the tops of the walls of my heart. What if I started to look at the last year the way a biographer would view it fifty years from now? (Granted the biographer would have to specialize in obscure women that weren’t known beyond their social circle. I am sure there is someone out there in the future just dying to profile “an everyday woman who accepted her mediocrity and turned the shower on twenty minutes before getting in it every morning as a means to avoid her children FOR JUST A FEW MORE MINUTES!” Ahem.)

But really, improbable future biographer of tedium aside, what would an objective, outside paragraph or two about the past twelve months look like?

Her father’s cancer returned the month before her twenty-ninth birthday. The records we have from that time express both her faith and horror at the time of his short illness and quick death. Her relationship with her father was one of the central points of her life. There is little record left by Megan of the year that followed. As she was protective to the point of defensiveness of her family, the silence can be viewed as a decision to safeguard those she loved as well as herself. And while depression was never acknowledged, it seems apparent that it played a significant role in this scene of her life.

It was a time of upheaval. She helped her mother pack up thirty years of life and marriage and move to a new home. Her husband’s career changed. Her children reacted against circumstance and she spent much time healing them and trying to heal herself. She let long sought opportunities fall into the dishwater and worried about little slights. The regret of these unconscious decisions was, at times, crippling. In her few private writings, there is evidence of a minor faith crises and a continued search for understanding. We also encounter a real yearning for place and calling in her journals. (And by “journals”, the biographer would mean the 15 notebooks that each contained about three pages of writing spaced between five years before I moved onto another notebook to “really journal right this time.”)

The quality of the little writing she did during this period varied wildly. Spread from the enlightened to the pedantic, she seemed to be scrambling to find her voice and the words it carried. By the end of the year, she and Riley moved across town to a house with fruit trees and an office for her thoughts. Her later works reflect both the growth and hurt she experienced during this time. The woman we came to know would not have existed without this era of which we know so little.

Hmmm. It’s not the beginnings of greatness (and honestly, it would never get published, sorry pretend biographer), but it might be the beginning of understanding and forgiving myself.

And right now, I really, really need that.

(You might need it, too. What would your paragraphs look like?)