Churchery and Blogs I Read

It’s a little weird when someone you don’t know all that well approaches you and says that they’ve been reading your blog. Then they say something about your life that you know you didn’t tell them, which is pretty jarring until you realize that they read it on your blog.

You get to know people through their writing, and you feel a certain closeness to them. They recount experiences that you can relate to. They help you to remember that you’re not alone in this world. Even though you haven’t met them, even though you’re not friends, they understand that parts of life can be especially hard.

I faithfully follow the blogs of two people who have been married for 10 years. On Monday they announced through their blogs (here and here) that they are getting a divorce. Over the years their blogs have shown what a great couple these people are. They’ve expressed love and appreciation for each other, and they’ve written about how they support each other in situations where they have struggled with mental health.

They announced their separation a few months ago, and when they announced their divorce, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of sadness for them. It made me think back to my parents’ divorce, and I guess I felt like lending a little bit of support and sent Dooce an email. Here’s part of it:

I didn’t understand my parents’ divorce when it was happening. They announced their separation in 1997, during my junior year at BYU. Everything finalized sometime in 2002. My mom was an immigrant and worked a minimum-wage job, and my dad’s lawyer somehow convinced him to sue Mom for child support for my then teenage brother. Dad came out looking like the bad guy.

But Dad has always seemed like the bad guy. Navy man. Almost draconian in disciplining us. We were spanked (belts, switches, whatever he could get his hands on), we were afraid of speaking up or forming original thoughts or developing our identities. He never listened, and he was always right. So I guess he felt he didn’t have to listen. The more I thought about it, and the more I talked it through with a therapist, the clearer the reasons for the divorce became.

They say that sometimes divorce works out to everyone’s happiness. Mom has since remarried, and my mental health has greatly improved. But my brother has stopped talking to my heartbroken dad, who has recently developed dementia and now convalesces at a Veterans Affairs place in Oklahoma. (When the house emptied, he moved from my childhood home in Florida to live closer to his sister.) I say “but,” but maybe Dad has found a little soothing in his blurry moments, like white noise or static on a tv screen. And maybe his lucid moments–when he recognizes his sister, when he and I have a good phone conversation–provide a little peace, too.

I see my dad in a different light.

Dad’s dementia has been an interesting extension of my therapy, an added reason to forgive him for the physical, sexual, and mental abuse I received as a child. He never remembered the sexual abuse (two isolated incidents), and I’ve debated confronting him about it for so many years. But now he’ll never remember it again, so why should I keep clutching a hurt that’s healed? When my aunt called with the diagnosis, it was like the tide came in after 25 years, and the sand I was holding in my fists magically washed away. I could finally swim.

Not that the divorce caused Dad’s dementia: causation, correlation, blah-blah-blah. Yet the divorce did seem to allow other events to unfold. And everyone in my family has learned to take varying degrees of charge of their lives. The happiness has been hard to find sometimes, but it has been there for the finding.

Today in church we talked about forgiveness, and one of the points that people kept mentioning was that many people don’t even realize they’ve offended you. They don’t set out to hurt you, but somehow it seems easier to assume maliciousness, so that you can take the high road and forgive. Which seems silly. The most sensible thing is not to take offense in the first place, because you don’t know the lives of those who may have hurt you. The better thing is to try to be more understanding, because forgiveness sometimes is so unbelievably hard.

Then again, if an offense is committed and your feelings are truly hurt, the other people may need your forgiveness as much as you need to forgive. It depends on the situation, I guess. So maybe my point here is not to let the grudge fester. Don’t let your refusal/unwillingness to forgive hinder your ability to see and the best in people, to understand them, to see them in a different light. Forgiveness can bring out the best in us, which is what the Lord always sees.

The happiness is there.

I Shoot Guns Here

The metaphor of taking aim and the satisfaction of hitting one’s target in the safety of a shooting range are so different than what I would imagine sighting a human being through a scope and creating a void in the universe by taking that person’s life.

My friend Eleece lives in Oklahoma. I was excited for her to take me on my very first shooting adventure. I was open to doing anything else, but this is the one thing I really wanted to do. We went to a range where Eleece and her husband are members, and she brought a few guns and her bag of ammunition. We bought two paper targets, and Eleece let me and Reilly shoot a few rounds from each gun. She taught us how to hold and load the guns and be safe with the safety. We wore earplugs and eye protection. Something about the whole experience was relaxing and exciting at the same time.

Naturally I looked forward to visiting New York City, but I definitely wanted to visit Oklahoma. My dad and his sister live about 80 miles east of Tulsa. My aunt and her husband own dozens of acres of open land, where fish swim and breed in ponds scattered around their property. They catch the fish. They eat the fish. Buddy the dog likes to run in front of the truck that tumbles over the rampant, tall grass. He doesn’t bound quite as high as he did two years ago when I last saw him. But he does seem to eat an entire pack of hot dogs with his usual, efficient flair.

Reilly and I entered my aunt’s trailer, and the television blared Fox News. This aunt loves to give advice and tell stories about her days in northern Arizona, where she held various occupations and caused her share of trouble. The renegade of the siblings, she does whatever she wants but believes the things she believes with more conviction than anyone I know. I found her comparisons of Barack Obama and Hitler rather outlandish and very unconvincing, but she rattled off her theories as if they were truth. If you’re in your 70s and have made choices in the name of unforeseen wisdom, then I won’t mind whatever your political proclivities are.

My stomach sank when my aunt’s husband said how glad he was that we were able to visit, because he thinks this might be the last time I’ll be able to see my dad.

My aunt took us to the assisted living facility where my dad is staying. The dementia seems to be somewhat at bay. He talks far less than he used to, and whenever we talked on the phone in the past year, he’d describe the birds outside his window or how he watches this one particular squirrel scramble about the yard. The difference between having a clear mind and having an empty mind becomes heartbreakingly clear in my dad. My aunt told stories about how he nearly drowned when he was a child, how he had seizures and always had trouble in school. This is so different than my childhood perception of him, but this knowledge helps me to understand him, his passion for cooking that he no longer has, his meticulous cleaning habits that he couldn’t care less about now, because those thoughts never cross his mind anymore. I wonder if he’ll even know what I’m talking about if I tell him I’ve forgiven him for that time when I was 8 and 9 years old. I wonder if it really even matters.

Staring at the television, staring out the window. It scares me to think when his mind will shut off, when the power button on the remote will get pressed and the screen goes blank. Dark.

This growing mental void brings no satisfaction, but a type of grace emerges, makes itself known.

Dad still finds happiness in little things. In simple things. Him being able to walk, even though it’s much more labored with a weak heart and weight gain, and stricken with varicose veins and arthritis. The birds and the squirrels. Him seeing me with my husband. Him being able to tell me in person that he loves me. If hearts are the target and love and understanding are the weapons, then we’re finally becoming sharpshooters. Aiming across a thousand miles at each other, we’re turning into snipers, feeling more alive with every shot.

Part of Why I Remember 9/11

There are definitely ways of coping with the events from ten years ago that are more crippling than reparative.

But remembering that loss helps me to acknowledge in a healthy way the time in my life when I was terrorized.

It’s not a patch I’ll ever sew on my sleeve. I don’t talk about it all the time. I was a kid. It was in the ’80s.

It happened. I can’t unhappen it.

But I also have chosen not to let it discourage me.

Through it, I have learned resolve and determination and forgiveness. I have exercised faith. It has taken a long time.

So, of course I see loss and sorrow, but I also see hope and trust that our country will recover.

We will heal.

This Song and the Heart on My Sleeve

This song is from Patty Griffin’s first album, Living with Ghosts. It has been on my mind a lot, especially as I contemplate my life. If I were an island, the song would not make any sense. The principle would be ridiculous.

Maybe just a mini-review of this song.

It’s Patty and her guitar and her feelings. Rawness and purity and vulnerability. Universality and dissipation in bygones. It hurts, it heals: I like it.

May’s rating scale:

MAY!

May.

meh…

meh?

MESS.

We are swimming with the snakes at the bottom of the well
So silent and peaceful in the darkness where we fell
But we are not snakes and what’s more we never will be
And if we stay swimming here forever we will never be free

I heard them ringing the bells in heaven and hell
They got a secret they’re getting ready to tell
It’s falling from the skies, it’s calling from the graves
Open your eyes, boy, I think we are saved
Open your eyes, boy, I think we are saved

Let’s take a walk on the bridge, right over this mess
Don’t need to tell me a thing, baby, we’ve already confessed
And I raised my voice to the air and we were blessed
It’s hard to give, it’s hard to get
But everybody needs a little forgiveness

We are calling for help tonight on a thin phone line
As usual we’re having ourselves one hell of a time
And the planes keep flying right over our heads no matter how loud we shout
“Hey, hey, hey!”
And we keep waving and waving our arms in the air but we’re all tired out

I heard somebody say today’s the day
A big old hurricane, she’s blowing our way
Knocking over the buildings, killing all the lights
Open your eyes, boy, we made it through the night
Open your eyes, boy, we made it through the night

Let’s take a walk on the bridge, right over this mess
Don’t need to tell me a thing, baby, we’ve already confessed
And I raised my voice to the air and we were blessed
It’s hard to give, it’s hard to get
It’s hard to live, baby, but still I think it’s the best bet, hey, yeah
Hard to give, and I’m never going to forget
But everybody needs a little forgiveness
Everybody needs a little forgiveness

Now (Again) I Can’t Sleep (Still)

KING LEAR
Be your tears wet? yes, ‘faith. I pray, weep not:
If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me; for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong:
You have some cause, they have not.

CORDELIA
No cause, no cause.

I worked on a final paper today for my Shakespeare class. While rereading certain parts of King Lear, I realized that I have lived this passage.

And tears surprised me.

So.

Dad.