I am a menace. To myself, that is. The rest of the planet is safe....well, unless you happen to be walking behind me, close enough to catch a flailing arm as I attempt a hack-kneed swan dive in the middle of the sidewalk, complete with a set of shrieking howls resembling those of mating alley cats. And dear God help you if you are in front of me when I'm attempting to negotiate the spinny door at the hospital or board the escalator in the mall. (stupid things should have harnesses) There will be causalities. Why, do you ask, do I provide such entertainment on a regular basis for the throngs that gather?
Oh baby, I was born this way.
While reaching for the salad dressing the other night, I was stopped by my husband's: "Oh my WORD honey, what did you DO to your hand?!?" I'm totally blank. "Hmmm?" I ask. "Look at your hand!" he points to the fingers clutching the blue cheese like I'm about to be robbed. Upon closer inspection, I began to count....two burns, a slice across my ring finger, my first knuckle was missing, and there is an inch and a half gash down the center of my hand. Admittedly, it was a hot mess. "This is the new sexy." I told him.
I remember losing the knuckle while adjusting my stationary bike. (imagine my husband laughing out loud as I'm attempting to explain this. "You got hurt riding a stationary bike?!") The gash was acquired while cleaning under the microwave which had a previously unknown broken plastic thingy that removed my flesh like Satan's melon baller--of course I irritate it every time I get my phone out of my pocket or put gloves on, so I've jacked it up even more. The rest?
Not. A. Clue.
It's been like this for--ever. Today is my birthday and I have been a poster child for band aides and neosporin for so long I should demand shares in the company! (right now my left knee is a stunning rainbow of color as I dropped the largest drawer in the guest room dresser two days ago and caught it with my leg) I think I've developed some kind of pain nerve memory block. Honestly, you could hold a gun to my head and demand to know how I bruised the entire back of my arm last week and I would have to die. I have NO recollection whatsoever! I fall UPstairs. I trip over carpets like a drunk ballerina with a death wish. I now have an escort that seems to follow me around Home Depot, I think they were worried there would be lawsuits.
Years ago I went to visit one of my best friends in Florida. It was to be a romp of a weekend; fly down on Friday, back on Sunday. I left a chipper, smiling girl with a bounce in her step. 48 hours later I returned with the skin missing from half my face (scraped it along the bottom of a pool), limping (pulled my hamstring in a wild game of cosmic bowling), and gasping like an emphysema commercial as I had caught some plague while guzzling the apartment complex pool water. I had to get shots. Missed a week of work to recover from that "two day girl get-a-way."
I couldn't watch The Hangover. It was entirely too real.
I think we should have punch cards for the doctor's office...."nine visits and the tenth one is FREE!"
Relationships. They're what give the turning of this planet meaning. So much more than sunshine and water; humanity's soul has taken thousands of years of mornings and afternoons and breath-taking moments--and made them matter. As we birth and raise and laugh, as we weep and bury and mourn--we create. Music, poetry, paintings......roses that bloom in the dead of winter. We have altered the world, built and destroyed civilizations.....and tangled within it all, we have loved.
Sometimes it's romance that shakes the soul; it burns with an igneous passion composed of shared breath and melded flesh. Sometimes it's the wonder of new life and a protectiveness that would fight to the death against any odds. Sometimes it's friendship so deep--founded on experiences be them of pain or joy--that bind two hearts together. Regardless, it's the life that is shared, that shines in the darkness.
I have traveled. I have loved and married; divorced and learned, and loved more deeply the second time. True friends have been few and treasured, but neighbors and acquaintances have flowed through my life in a river of color bringing laughter and frustration depending on the day. In one thing I have been careful....to draw distinction. Intimacy makes one vulnerable. Knowing who has your back and who doesn't is vital.
With the invention of Facebook, we have taken the cherished noun "friend" and morphed it into a verb. An action. Something done with strangers. Now I completely understand that this fabulous land of "like" has a million uses. Publicity, causes, networking, real estate and recipe clubs. But I wonder as we are changing the very meaning of that word....will it be replaced? Or will we just forever alter what a "friend" is?
I found myself before the bright screen of my laptop late one night.....contemplating my "friends." I scrolled through the list...ticking off in my mind, "college, high school, neighbor...." And my own distortion, my own...corruption, reared its loathsome head into view. For the very plastic nature of fb had absorbed me. Why indeed is it merely a shiny promenade of new pictures and proud announcements? Why does it feel so shallow and flimsy.....because it's not made for true friends. It was created for strangers. And most of us are about 176 degrees from real on it.
We friend co-workers and fourteenth cousins and people we went to third grade with--curiosity gripping us in its wiry talons. "I wonder if they married? Do their kids have red hair too? Did he get fat?" And once on this slippery slope we careen down an avalanche that leaves us buried beneath a mountain of "friends." You awake upon a stage. Do you know your cue? Don't mess up your lines...
I did the unthinkable. I "unfriended" 48 people. Do you know, not a single one contacted me as to why....except one. My sister.
WHAT?? You unfriended family?!? Is that legal? (will there be umbilical whiplash from your parents??) But as I told my sister in a letter the next day, "We may be sisters, but we are not friends."
I am done. I am over. I am rejecting connections by obligation. Yes--obligation. The actions taken to avoid offense. The checks cashed on guilt or shame or duty. Contracts with conditions and penalties if not fulfilled. Obligation.
With this new year I have been....examining. My heart, my time....my sense of worth. I have asked difficult questions. Why do I maintain contact? What do we offer each other? Does good....kindness....something healthy come from our relationship? Dear Lord, do we even communicate on a regular basis or is it just me putting my day, my heart-aches, my triumphs, my tears out there....and them watching? Critiquing?
Am I strong enough? Can I withstand obligation? Can I face neighbors and co-workers....my family? Can I say that their relationship with me is one of unrequited vulnerability? I want more authenticity....I want a return on my investment.
No family is perfect. History is difficult to overcome and childhood can be cruel. However, I've decided that I want today--which is all we really have--to matter. No waste. No counterfeits or masquerades. No pretending to agree when I don't or that we are something we are not.
Family is family, and co-workers are co-workers and dammit, friends are friends! Blessings to you if you can overlap some of those, my mother is absolutely one of my closest friends. But in this world of cheap imitation everything....friendship needs preservation.
I was browsing through the artwork at a lovely shop recently. There was a couple next to me also clicking through the frames, commenting on such and whatnot. He seemed slightly bored, she alternated looking with picking lint off her black cable sweater. Suddenly she exclaimed, "Oh, here it is! I've always wanted this for the hallway!" Triumphantly, she placed the coveted prize in her cart with a smile the Cheshire Cat would have admired. There, encased in lacquered wooden dark cherry swirls and divots, was the familiar scripture, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy...." Nearly everyone could quote this; it's amazing how truth is passed on and repeated and eventually written in lovely calligraphy, framed, and hung upon a wall.
I didn't find anything to captivate me so with my basket on my arm I headed toward the check-out, thoughts of something grilled and cheesy filling my hungry mind. Shifting from foot to foot, we stood. It seemed like there were twelve of us, but I'm sure it was only my imagination. And then I hear a voice--the same voice--demand a spot ahead of me.
"I was here before you!" the lady in black exclaimed, pushing her buggy into another cart, knocking it into the magazine display and causing the "5 Hour Energy" shots to totter dangerously atop it. "Um, I don't think so." The other cart owner replied, somewhat hesitantly. "Oh no," Mrs. Black responded, "I'm CERTAIN I was here first, I was just getting a water over there." It was late. Everyone in line was hungry, (the collective sound of stomach growls was beginning to sound like a wolf pack) and buggy owner #2 just didn't seem up to a brawl with Mrs. Black. (granted, she did look rather intimidating with her hair sprayed so stiff it resembled a helmet to enter battle with) And so we stood longer, staring at the back of a black sweater still flecked with lint.
I nestled my bags in the seat next to me, gazing out across the parking lot. The click of the ignition, shift into gear and ease out into the evening traffic. Winter seems murkier this year. Wetter. The holiday lights glittered like stars as I drove home that night. And within me, a fire burned.
I'm a redhead. I own a heavy bag. There is a reason.
I spent several years in my twenties down in Guatemala and Mexico. Working with local churches and orphanages, we helped American college kids to come down and work for several months at a time. We built houses, cleared fields, and swabbed scraped elbows and knees in health clinics. We lived in a large cinder block building with a tiled floor. There were no rugs. No television. No hot water. We had a chess board and a radio and a crazy kitten we had rescued named El Tigre, who ate holes in my socks and chased the roaches.
The only "art" in the living room, was on north wall where someone had taken a black marker, and written that scripture. "Love is patient, love is kind..." However, there was another wall. And upon it was written the first three verses of that chapter in the Bible that come directly before the "love is patient" section. The first three seem to be forgotten. Lost. They are not quoted nor have I ever seen them framed....
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Though you have glorious speeches, wisdom and knowledge beyond the ages, invincible faith. Though you give everything to the poor and martyr yourself/time/resources.......but have not love?
You. Are. Nothing.
I am saddened.....I am enraged, by people that know the words. They know the language and they know how to write checks and volunteer at the shelter and adopt a pet. But love? I'm not sure love lives within them.
Love was the only language I could speak in those countries. I remember holding a little girl's hands while they stitched her shoulder back together with minimal anesthetic....and I sang to her. In English. lol She didn't know a word that I said, but as tears sluiced down both of our cheeks, she knew love.
This year I am challenging me. I am challenging you. To analyze your heart. Why do you do what you do? Ian Percy said, "We judge others by their behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions." He nailed this with caustic accuracy. We constantly evaluate what others are doing, but often excuse ourselves because of our rationalizations, our justifications....our explanations. "I cut that guy off in traffic 'cause I was late." "I snapped at the cashier because I had a bad day." "I had to because my husband was waiting." But even when we do good....do we expect a thank you? Is it for the tax write-off or the applause? Is "Love" and everything that word encompasses, something you plan and act out? Or does it simply live inside you? In your pores, your breath.
Love isn't always thanked. It isn't particularly clean. It isn't comfortable and rarely convenient. It's often in the smallest of things. The most overlooked gestures. But when the God of the universe planted the seed within us, the magnificent potential that is the human soul.....it was meant to love. Above all, before all, and without filter.