Despair has still got a rope around my ankle, it seems, and it’s pulling, pulling me down.
I spent this last week in Florida, playing on the beach. My brother and I went swimming on a day when the waves were high, and it was joyous to ride them up and down, effortlessly floating on the sea’s boundless momentum.
But coming into shore, the waves knocked me down with force and dragged my body across the sand. Every time I stood up, I was slammed back down until I was bleeding from the sand and broken shells.
I thought, Oh, this feels familiar.
This isn’t how I thought I would feel at the back half of 22–like I am fighting to see anything good in the world.
Time is both a blessing and a curse. People say that time heals, or at the very least, it lessens hurt, but in good times, time seems to sweep in only to steal away joy.
The Psalmist notes,
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more. (Psalm 103.15-16)
So it is with seasons of joy here on earth; they come and are gone. Time stops for no one.
It seems the joys in life are few and the pain and boredom plenty. I’ve had seasons when every day seemed bright and blooming. But they didn’t stay, and they left me feeling cold and empty. Admittedly, I am one who dislikes change and am easily driven toward despair, but lately I’ve felt like life is a meaningless string of days I am growing tired of. What’s the point of reaching a better place, if any future days of joy are just as likely to be ripped away?
In the dull hours you dreamed of ending, but think how you would never
have heard the birds sing above the quiet streets, seen the snow melt as January leans
toward thaw, or watched the red sun light the tips of the bare trees,
burning but not consumed.
Holy fire of sunset takes the world in stride; flames lick away what need not go on,
and you cannot kneel in ash forever; a gentle man once said,
let the dead bury their own dead—perhaps the harshest words he ever spoke.
But we are the ones still breathing, in and out, this ancient sacred breath,
inclining our eyes to the bright skies, branches aglow like embers;
they declare in the voice of YHWH, “You are standing on holy ground.”
Would you turn away from this world reviving?
Would you close your small body into a dark tomb?
Or would you rise again with the morning, feel sinew thread around bone,
blink as the dawn fills your eyes and see that the world, again, is wide?
It felt like each of your dreams died in the winter,
buried deep beneath frozen earth, and you stood alone
in the cold til you forgot what they looked like.
A part of you stopped believing that anything means anything.
We are just puppets here in God’s great game. We play our roles and fall in love or fall apart,
and all the while the world’s a burning explosion. Stare deeply into your glass of wine.
There are no answers.
Yet, even yet, snowflakes waltz from the grey sky—old shroud of a dead day,
weeping new fractals that spin in sheer exuberance, etching a message into the air:
the world dances on an axis of grace, and even in these frigid moments lives beauty.
Lightning split the sky open in a long streak of white, and thunder echoed like the whole earth cracked within its depths. My brother and I stood outside to watch as rain pattered against our hoods and soaked through our shoes.
At the end of the storm, a cloud drifted across the shining street and above the house, moving with speed and glowing orange and white and silver tones. It looked like it was painted with curved brush strokes. It looked so close we could touch it, but even if we could ever reach so high, we would touch only particles of water. We could never grab hold.
I thought of the story in Exodus of God going before Israel as a pillar of cloud in the wilderness. Is this how he seemed to them, so close but so out of reach? So breathtaking, yet completely unknown?
I was sitting on the deck at my parents’ house in late September or early October, crying, and the only thing that seemed to help was reading John O’Donohue like a prayer. I skipped around in his book of blessings, reading out loud, hoping to bless myself.
Some words I’ve come back to over the months since then are these, the first stanza of For An Exile:
When you dream, it is always home.
You are there among your own,
The rhythm of their voices rising like song
Your blood would sing through any dark.
O God my God
where are you and who am I,
scratching words on bone-white paper
to make sense of the tattered world
parading before me.
Inside my veins pulses love or fierce intention:
a wish to hold the broken pieces, light dark rooms, bind every wound
but the world’s a whirling circus; I crawl my way into my skull.
O God my God,
if you split me open, would love spill out,
or am I an empty cavern?
Are these words a salve or clanging symbol?
Once when I was a little girl on vacation by the ocean, my grandmother handed me a pretty shell to keep. As we walked along the beach, I dropped it in the surf and a wave quickly washed it away. There was no finding it again. I don’t remember what the shell looked like, its shape or its color, only the sense of loss in my small heart.
My grandmother doesn’t know who I am anymore. When we visit in the nursing home, she tells me what a nice young lady I am with no recognition on her face and asks if I think her long fingernails are real.
This is the world we wake to—a transient kaleidoscope, ever shifting. From the flowers that bloom and then die to the melting snow and our own memories slipping away, nothing is permanent.
I wrote this essay for fun last semester and was revisiting it today. I had thought about doing something with it, but that never happened. However, I am rather fond of it and thought I’d share. Enjoy.
“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”
Mary Oliver wrote these words, and I have them printed out and pinned to the corkboard covered in floral fabric that hangs above my bed. Mary Oliver writes beautiful poems about wild geese and wonder, about seeing beyond oneself. But of all her words, I think these are my favorite.
I once wrote in a notebook that what I wanted most to be was brave and kind. I think kindness takes a sort of bravery I do not always possess. It is much easier to bury myself in my own mind.
Lately I’ve been trying to take some hard looks at my life to eliminate the difference between how I’m living and how I’d like to be living. This post might be more thinking out loud than making any definite point about. I just want to put to words to my thoughts.
The pastor of the church I attended in Virginia recently wrote a blog post about belonging. He quotes the author Wendell Berry about a community in one of Berry’s books. Berry says,
“Members of Port William aren’t trying to ‘get someplace.’ They think they are someplace.”
That stood out to me, because I think I’ve always been trying to get someplace. In high school and even before, I wanted out of my town. In college, I wanted out of my state. Most things I spent my time with were a means to an end.