Behind the Eyes –
I saw a picture of me from several years ago today. As most people, I don’t care for my photo to be taken but when it is I “grin and bear it.” Looking at the picture today the smile was there but it wasn’t genuine. There was also something missing in the eyes. There was no light behind them. They were hollow and sad. I was surrounded by friends in the photo, good friends. It should’ve been a time of stories, thankfulness, and memories but I can tell in my eyes it wasn’t any of those for me, only a blank stare and pasted smile. This was about a year before I was diagnosed with a Chronic Major Depressive Disorder.
The journey over these last years has been a hard one and there is still far to go but looking back I can see where I’ve come from and this does bring me relief. I’m not stuck in the same place even though sometimes it feels that way.
I’ve been watching a documentary titled; “The Kingdom of Us.” (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/08/the-kingdom-of-us-review-netflix-teenagers-lucy-cohen) It is the story of a family recovering from their father’s suicide. They listen to recordings of his voice, often in song, and watch videos of him and the family. They ask each other repeatedly, “Look at him! He’s so sad. Why didn’t we see it?” I know the answer; “because he didn’t want it to be seen.” We’ve all been there and done that; plastered on a smile when our hearts are breaking inside. We’ve pushed on even though everything feels broken inside.
Too often we take people’s word when we ask; “How are you?” and they reply; “Fine’ or ‘Good.” The key to discovering the truth is asking more than once and keep at it until they feel you might actually want to know.
This morning, in worship service, the pastor asked; “Who’s rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles tonight? Who’s going for the New England Patriots? Who doesn’t care? Who didn’t know the Superbowl was being played today?” There were hands and voices raised for each question.
Around 120 million people will watch the Superbowl tonight. That’s over a third of the population of this country which is roughly 323 million. Amazing to me that we can watch a football game together but can’t seem to unite over much else. It’s also a surprise the 2/3 of America doesn’t care about the game at all!
I will be rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles. I don’t have anything against the Patriots they’ve just won it so many times I think it would be nice to give it to someone else for a change. The coverage for the big game started early this morning. The network broadcasting the Superbowl had a great interview with a Patriot’s receiver, his wife, and children. It was a reminder that individual people, with unique stories, make up the teams.
It’s a shame we don’t remember that when we are attacking others for their political, cultural and religious opinions and beliefs. We cast a large net over those who don’t think like us and label them; “bad” or “good” according to our own fallible judgments.
Maybe, if we could see the individual, listen to their story, discover we’re all trying to make it the best we know how, we would realize when we fight all of us lose.
Today I had the privilege and duty to be a part of the memorial service for my father. It’s been surreal the last few days. So many errands to run, items to check off on a list, places to go, people to see. There’s been a sense of urgency, a nervous energy, a controlled chaos, riding a wave of sorrow and speed. Because of the hectic pace of the last several days, I stood on the stage behind the pulpit at the service this afternoon with no notes, and no structure to the stories and experiences I wanted to share.
Words, they’ve flooded my mind and soul since Dad passed. Words from family and friends who care and are sorry for our loss. Words that go into an obituary, on a card for flowers, in a service program and used in phone calls, emails, and texts. So many words used to describe the love a family has for one who is, was, the central fixed, point.
Now, standing behind the pulpit at the memorial service today, I had no notes, no words written, no solid ideas, memories swarming in my head but none coming in for a landing. How do you choose the right words to convey the meaning of a life which impacted many people? In the pantheon of phrases, how do you pick out those which will express the purpose of a life lived well?
A deep breath, a small prayer, and … share my heart, open my lips, loosen my tongue and let the words come. No, they will not be adequate. No, they will not be perfect. Yes, there will be second-guessing and memories that are forgotten to be shared.
Words. They are not, and cannot contain the heart’s cry of longing and loneliness or succinctly express the fondness, the love, the good of being apart from a person you love. This is okay. Living, being, existing, is more than words, deeper than condolences, greater than expressions of sympathy and sadness.
Living should be beyond our ability to communicate it easily if it is done well.
Into the Light –
Today was a special day for our incarcerated fathers class. The men, who attended and participated, received a certificate of completion, a letter from me along with pizza and soft drinks. Our certificate ceremony isn’t fancy but it is a way to let the guys know how much I appreciate letting me be a part of their lives for the semester.
Getting in and out of the jail is rarely easy which is, I suppose, the way it should be. There’s buzzers, intercoms, thick steel doors and tempered glass to keep people inside. Usually, I arrive at each door, buzz the “door keeper” and identify myself. I then wait until he or she is ready for me to go through the door. Today, however, the corrections officer was especially attentive as I was leaving. He buzzed me out as I was arriving at each door. It was almost as if the doors were unlocked.
In one of our classes during the semester, we talk about action and acceptance. I tell the men; “If the doors of this jail opened and you knew it was okay to walk through you would leave immediately, no hesitation. The problem is this isn’t going to happen. You have to accept you are here until they let you leave. At the same time, you can take action on keeping your family together and connected with the ones you love.” This is the balance of action and acceptance.
I thought about the men in my class today, the lesson of action and acceptance and their decision to come to class, listen, ask questions, share their stories and finally receive their certificates. They are trying to bring balance to their lives and hopefully to those who are travel life’s path with them.
she sits outside McDonald’s smoking a cigarette on break
writing frantically on paper a story
between drags she sighs trying to keep her eyes open
as the words fill up the spaces of white
what are these images she hastily puts down
from a distance there is no tale to tell
only in her mind does she see the picture
only from her experience the narrative recorded
what have you seen that compels you to write
what do you know which forces you to journal
what path have you walked that you find yourself here, now
sitting, putting it down on paper, for no one to see