welcome to the next chapter...

once a long time ago, i read on a blog, "i am a lesbian but thats not all i am". i was then just teetering on the edge coming out as a lesbian. back then, although i understood what she was saying, i was completely drowning in that one dimension of my identity. i knew then i was more than also but such turmoil tends to shrink your field of vision. it is scary and exciting and anticipatory and it is exhausting.

i am almost 5 years out now. some things look differently in my life. some things are the same. but i revel in the knowledge that i am a lesbian and in the knowledge that i really am more than just... my field of vision has grown to include the wide open spaces of life's endless possibilies.

for those of you who know me, you will be able to find the familiar places of my old writings which i will have on the sidebar. for those who stumble upon me and find yourself confused by fragmented references or are struggling to come out later in life, you will find the Closer to Fine link most helpful. I recommend reading it from the beginning, it makes more sense.

one more thing, blame my lack of capital letters on e.e. cummings...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Traveling Mercies (continually)

It started one sad day that my congregation was told that our worship service was being discontinued. I just sat with it in the service because it wasn’t exactly a surprise. We all knew something was coming.

As my beloved pastor began her scripture, she began to speak about prayer. Then the emotion came bubbling up and I realized I hadn’t prayed for months. I had been stuck. And now my beloved service was being yanked out from me. The Screaming Crazy Lady started screaming in my head, louder and louder until I grabbed my shoes and purse and ran home to spend the rest of the day crying and screaming and still not praying because I didn’t have any words but perhaps “HELP”. And when I did speak it, it seemed to flatten out and fall to the earth without ever coming close to ears of God.

I made an appointment with my Pastor the next day. I assured her that I didn’t leave due to her sermon. She laughed and said,

“Whew, I thought I’d lost another one….”

 God I love her.

I explained that it was the topic of prayer. That I was stuck. That I couldn’t pray anymore. The Crazy Screaming Lady in my head would drown out any words I tried to send to the heavens. She got up from her chair and handed me a book. She asked if I was familiar Ann Lamott, Which I wasn’t. The book, Traveling Mercies, she said, spoke about her struggles with prayer and that there were days in her life all she could manage as say to God was “Help”. It sounded familiar. I was thankful for the book, but in the back of my mind, I knew I wasn’t going to read it. My eyes are dim, my attention span is sparse and it frustrates me to no end when I can’t remember the last sentence I just read. I long to have books in my life but they taunt me because they seem to know the pain to causes me in even trying.  The book was put in full view of the room I walked through the most. It looked nice there and made me look smart having “the current book I‘m reading” on display.

The day I received the call that my step mother was failing fast. I emailed some close friends to tell them about what was happening and that I was taking the next bus out of Boise to Vernal at midnight. They offered condolences and one of my best friends, Alice Ann offered me “traveling mercies”. That was the first time I had ever heard that blessing for travel. It made me smile.

I was on my out the door when I saw the book sitting on the mantle. “Traveling Mercies” I smiled, said “what the hell” and shoved it in my bag. Still knowing it was never going to be read.

The next day at about 1:00pm I came rolling into Vernal. I dropped my bags in the room I would be staying and went promptly to the hospital and I stayed until the rest of the family had time to go home, eat, sleep and wind down. I pulled the hospital chair up to the bed and I laid it back exactly the way my (step) mom was laying and I was able to put my hand on her head and one hand on her hands. I closed my eyes and began to time my breathing with hers. Calming her if she became agitated, and spoke to her to let her know that I was there and she was stuck with me. I told her I loved her. I slept on and off. Mostly off. I could see her coming in and out of her coma. She would open her eyes and I wanted to ask her where she would go then she closed her eyes. She would always smile before she slipped back. It was not for me to know, I assume.

That night around midnight my daddy came in to take the next watch. I spoke to her to let her know that her sweetheart had come to visit. She perked up for a minute to say hello as he put his hand on her cheek. I left quietly and drove back to their house. I got ready for bed and sat down in the bedroom and there was that dang book. I had time before my sleep meds kicked in so I picked it up. I was more than a little under whelmed,,,, I couldn’t keep track of who was saying what and why. I put it down and turned off the light.

We left that morning to meet with the dr. who told us that both her liver and kidneys were shutting down and that even if they were to put her on dialysis it would be painful and it would only sustain her for perhaps a few more months. A painful journey either way. I heard my dad crying in the distance saying that “He didn’t want to make the decision to “kill her“.

I have only heard my father cry 3 times in my life. He cried when I told him my mom, his ex wife, has dying from lung cancer, the day I told him the radio had just announced that Elvis had died and that day, standing in the ICU unsure what was best for the love of his life. And there was nothing I could do to help him on his journey but stand back and be still. They moved her to the hospice wing of a nursing wing of a retirement home.

I went home for a nap. Sitting cross legged on my bed, the book was waiting for me. This time I would take a different tact. I began to flip through the book finding intriguing titles from the chapters. I landed on “Forgiveness”. It drew me in and even though I could tell it was a book that needed to be read from front to back it kindly decided to humor me.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott  Page 134, Forgiveness:

“One Sunday when I was struggling with this (forgiveness), the Scripture reading came from the sixth chapter of Luke, “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” Now, try as I might, I cannot find the loophole in that. It does not say, “Forgive everyone, unless they’ve said something rude…” And it doesn’t even say, “Just try.” It says, if you want that kind of love, you have to forgive everyone in your life--everyone, even the very worst boyfriend you ever had--even, for God’s sake, yourself.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott Page 137, Forgiveness:

“I read once in some magazine that in Czechoslovakia, about they way an echo in the woods always returns your own call, and so I started speaking sweetly to everyone--to the mothers, to the boys, And my sweet voice started getting all over me, like sunlight, like the smell of a Danish baking in the oven…”

I finished the chapter and turned off the light. Pleased that I actually made it through a chapter and it stuck with me until I fell asleep.

The next day was just as the last. I truly believe no words were wasted on this dear woman. Once when she woke up I asked her if she wanted to sing the alphabet backward for me just one more time. She smiled and almost laughed and happily said, “no” while shaking her head very animatedly. The room burst out laughing. I told her that I was going to have learn myself now. But I thanked her showing me that it really could be done. She whispered and held my hand and said, “Michelle you are here.” I told her I was staying too. That I will just keep coming back like a bad habit. She drifted off again. And her daughters and sisters and brothers and her sweetheart took their turns shifting around the room.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott Page 139--Grace: 

“I understand Auden that meant grace in the theological sense meant it as the force that infuses out lives and keeps letting us of the hook. It is unlearned love--the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s there to help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and and most charming charm have bailed on you. Grace is the light or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”

The next day the doctor sent orders to no longer give her her insulin if it was 150 or above. Stating that if one could chose to die from kidney and liver failure or diabetic coma, diabetic coma would be everybody’s choice hands down. Me not knowing all that much diabetes I assumed death would come quickly. And indeed, her sugar levels did begin to drop. When my night shift was over I really didn’t think I would she her alive again. But when I woke up the next morning, there was no news. I got to the hospital and the nurse informed me that her sugar levels had actually gone up. I just shook my head. This woman is the strongest woman I have ever known. I have told her over countless years as each aliment beset upon her that I desperately wanted to be just like her when I grew up. The woman faced life with grace and faith and humor and honesty. And if I ever do grow up, I want to be just like her. If I ever grow up.

The last time I actually spoke to my mother it was the beginning my late shift. As I headed toward the the hospital the full moon came out in all its glory. There were light clouds in the way but as that moon rose to dominate the sky the clouds bowed to its power and parted. It was beautiful.

When I got to the hospital I sat down and pulled my chair out into a bed and began to settle myself next to her. I touched her on both shoulders and told her I was there to have a sleep over. She opened her eyes and they followed me as I sat down and I began to tell her how beautiful the moon was tonight and that I was lucky enough to see it rise in all its glory. She smiled just slightly and I slipped my fingers into her curled hands and she fell asleep gripping my fingers so tight that I watched them turn pale and the familiar tingle started and then the numbness. I didn’t pull my hand away until she moved her arm dropping my fingers out of her grasp.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott Page 117-- Fields:

I was remembering a old story the other day about a man getting drunk at a bar in Alaska. He’s telling the bartender how he recently lost whatever faith he’d had after his twin-engine plane crashed in the tundra.
“Yeah” he says bitterly, “I lay there in the wreckage, hour after hour, nearly frozen to death, crying out for God to save me, praying for help with every ounce of my being but he didn’t raise a finger to help. So I’m done with that whole charade.”

“But said the bartender, squinting an eye at him, “you’re here, You were saved.”
“Yeah that’s right,” says the man. “Because finally some goddamn Eskimo came along…”

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott Page 118-- Fields

…”I woke up with a flu whose main symptom was a splitting headache. It was so sunny out that morning when I went to retrieve my newspaper that I shrank back from the glow, squinting like a mole. I need help, I said to God. And about a moment later Rick Fields drove by on his way home.
Rick is the editor in chief of Yoga Journal. He moved in with his girlfriend at the far end of our street a few year ago, and about ten minutes later he was diagnosed with lung cancer. It had metastasized to his brain. He has done surgery, chemo, radiation, and every imaginable alternative medicine but is still living with both his beautiful girlfriend and stage-four metastatic lung cancer. He seems to be in a quietly good mood most of the time.
I just do not understand this conceptually.”

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott Page 118-- Fields:

I read an interview he did for a Buddhist quarterly recently, in which he said that he’s so savoring the moments of his life right now, so acutely aware of love and small pleasure that he no longer feels that has a life-threatening disease: he now says he’s leading a disease-threatening life.
When I saw him the morning I had the headache and flu, he looked grizzled and radiant. He didn’t see me for a moment; he had his window open and his nose in the air, obviously sniffing the breeze, while I stood there gripping my back like Grandpa Walton.
“Hey you” he said, great sweetness rendered in a low and gravely voice.
“Oh Rick,” I groaned, “I have a terrible headache. And I body aches, and I want to hang myself. And here you’re such a good sport even though you have all these tumors”
“Sometimes colds and flus are harder to handle than cancer”. He smiled. He has a handsome turtlish look about him. He’ squints since he got sick, his face more leathery. He wears worn jeans, old t-shirts usually in some shade of blue and bearing the emblematic symbols a various gathering causes. This particular day he word a sky-blue shirt from a gathers called “Arizona Tibet” and a black baseball cap from a big powwow in South Dakota. “Did you take some aspirin?” he asked. I nodded.
“You’ll be better soon,” he said kindly. “God what a day!”
“Oh, stop!” I said.
“Can I do anything to help you today” he asked.
“Are you going to work this morning?” He nodded. “Will you stop by and get Sam on your way to work, and then drop him off at school?” And he said that of course he would.
We made arrangements for Rick to come by in an hour, and I went back upstairs. I hate being the kind of person who tries to get someone with stage-four metastatic lung cancer to feel sorry for someone like me just because I have a headache. (Though it was an ice-pick headache.) But the way I see things, God loves you the same whether you’re being elegant or not. It feels much better when are but even when you can’t fake it, God still listens to your prayers. And he or she will still try to send you an Eskimo.

Granny Coralie Timothy died at 5:45pm Monday the 25th. She died while her daughter Liz was standing watch. It happened suddenly. The nurse had come in to check her heart rate and told Liz it was beginning to slow and that she would be gone by midnight. She advise her to summon the family. Liz turned to get her phone to call us and her mother took only two more breaths and she was gone. We came immediately, perhaps no more than 5 minutes, to find her 20 years younger and radiant. Not a wrinkle in sight. She has suffered most of her life. Alcoholism which she was able to become sober 30 years ago. Diabetes, heart attack, stroke that set out a new journey to learn to walk again, spinal degeneration, cataracts… all left a story of pain on her face. Once released she was restored to the beauty that my father fell in love with as a 16 year old boy.

I never thought of death as a beautiful sight. I have now changed my mind.
I left by greyhound 3 days after all was said and done. I didn’t sleep the entire 12 hours of the trip home. I was a mixture of sadness, angst, worry for my dad and going back to a very lack luster life. As we pulled into Boise, a lady who had become a kind and quiet (thank you whoever you are) traveling buddy got up to let me out of the window seat. I put my hand on her shoulder and thanked her for the company and to have a safe travel home. She patted me on the shoulder and smiled. As I walked down the aisle she said,

“Traveling Mercies to you dear.”

I turned to look back at her but she was already settling in to the warm window seat that I had left for her. I was consumed with an odd sensation that someone was trying to tell me something.

As I stepped back onto Boise soil, all, I could still say was, “Help”

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