Our things

Every morning, I take a small cream-colored pill. And every night, I take a white one. The cream-colored pill helps me get through my day and the white one, my night.

I have PTSD. And I’ve probably had it most of my life.

I got it from my father, but unlike my hair color and blue eyes and weak chin, it’s not genetic. It’s just something I picked up along the way. How it came to me is a story for another time, maybe not even this place. But it is who I am. It is as much a part of me now, of my personality, as those blue eyes and my loud laugh. It makes me warier than I would probably want to be. It makes me restless and edgy on some days, tired and unfocused on others. But mostly it makes me frustrated.

Frustrated because it is here. Frustrated because I had to explain it to my boyfriend when we “got serious.” Frustrated because there are certain places I don’t go, certain things I don’t eat, certain situations into which I try not to place myself because I just don’t feel safe and certain times of the year when I cannot seem to get it together. The situations and places are probably safe, but my brain no longer registers them as such.

I came to this place, which is actually now a pretty good one, after years of struggle and denial and anger. And like an addict, I had to reach the “rock bottom,” which for me was a particularly embarrassing and volatile encounter with a police officer (yes, I know, the irony) that probably could have resulted in my arrest and subsequent loss of my job. But it didn’t because God’s gracious and my friends were there to help me out and I, praise God, took the hint.

I got some help. I found a therapist. I joined the Orthodox Church and found a priest. I have a psychiatrist and a golden Retriever with the softest ears and most peaceful demeanor God ever bestowed upon a creature.

I don’t know why I am sharing this with you, my five or six (I’m optimistic) loyal readers, tonight. Maybe there’s someone that needs it. Maybe I need to say it. I say it, I tell it, because we all have our things: our PTSD, our loneliness, our alcoholism, our cancer, our cheating spouses, our hideous parents or our difficult kids.

But whatever our things, we have this NOW, this place where our things are with us, and God is with us and our lives are lived. And we have this grace, this tremendous thing God does for us in His love –this provision, this care, these relationships that help carry us across the asphalt (like the turtles).

I want for all of you, and for me, to be well, to be safe and to know that we are all still in His hands. We are all forever in the grip of His grace, regardless of our experiences, our choices and our struggle.

Our souls are safe.

No saint

Happy back-to-eating meat, everybody! Oh, you were still eating meat? My bad. Happy Feast Day of Sts. Peter and Paul to me!! I had fried chicken for supper.

So tomorrow (tonight liturgically) marks the end of the Apostles’ Fast and the celebration of the lives of the best evangelists (especially for my Protestant friends)–Peter and Paul.

St. Peter always gives me hope. Fr. Andrew again reminded me of why — here’s this obnoxious, occasionally whiny, finger-pointing, temper-losing and Christ-denying dude who becomes a saint. Not just a saint, but one of the big first ones, one who planted churches, wrote Scripture and whatnot.

Today, Fr. Stephen wrote about the saints among us, these people who make the world, the workplace, the home, the Church, better because of their presence. These people who speak no ill of others, who love well, laugh often and generally uplift.

Like St. Nicholas of Zicha, (and South Canaan, PA) who wrote “Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.”

That ain’t me.

My best hope for sainthood is probably what Flannery O’Connor said: “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”

Maybe, though, if I keep working out my salvation, keep confessing to Fr. Andrew about how certain people drive me crazy and make me mad and how I let my thoughts become actions and become attitudes, maybe one day after all this. I know I draw my sword too quickly, cutting off ears of those nearby. I know I deny that which I hold dear. I gossip. I malign. I’m just generally a jackass. (or something else, if you like)

Maybe someday, even if not here.

The remembered

I was originally going to write about this on Saturday, but it was so beautiful outside, I couldn’t bring myself to darken the day. But it’s still on my mind, so here we are.

The mother who killed her son and then kept her dead baby in the plastic tub received a 62 year prison sentence Friday. She got a few extra years for beating her older daughter, a beautiful and precocious 10-year-old.

The judge wondered aloud before passing sentence what damage was done to that girl, how ever will she build something resembling a normal life and view of the world. She watched the crime occur. So did two other children.

This was the second case so far this year in which children witnessed their parents killing or beating soon-to-be-dead children.

It’s chilling when you think about it: how their little brains have been rewired before they even start out, opening the door to struggles most of us can’t even begin to imagine. There are those who will condemn them for those struggles, the choices they will make in the future, the lives they will lead and the situations in which they will find themselves. But I am giving them up to God. He knows where they started out and He will see where they end up.

My brain struggled with the contrast, though, on Sunday when we baptized yet another baby. (We’ve had a baby boom of sorts at church, so it’s been nearly every Sunday for the past few months. It’s cute.) This little girl was so happy, so adorable. She sat, mostly naked in her godmother’s arms, chubby hand stuffed in her grinning mouth while Fr. Andrew anointed her with the blessed oil.

So here we have these two stark realities:  a child protected and loved, prayed over from the beginning and hopefully safer within the community of believers of which she is now a part; and then these children in the care of mad people, crazy from anger or drugs or mental illness, who see that which most of us never see and then have to match that reality to the rest of their lives.

I may have to start lighting candles for all these kids. I already light one for my friends on the blog, the ones that fight on. I could turn the back of the church into a forest fire, though, with candles for all the children, living and dead, I’ve written about over my dozen years in this business.

For the ones that died: McKinzie, Jezaih, Ariona, Kweli, Alyssa, Kelsie, the list goes on and on, names I don’t even remember, there have been so many.

For the ones that live: most of those names I never know, the ones that survived, or the siblings of the condemned who saw or heard or knew.

Lord, have mercy.

Turtle crossing

I am becoming increasingly concerned about the turtles. Seriously. Every single time I drive down the highways, I see at least one little turtle standing by the fog line gearing up to cross the road. And with nearly the same frequency, I see little smushed turtles just inside the white line, obviously unsuccessful.

Sometimes I rescue them, carrying them across and trying not to think about how they’re going to want to come back and maybe no one else will be there to provide an asphalt ferry.

(Remind me to tell you about the time I ‘rescued’ a really big turtle on a divided highway. It’s funny. Involves a blind man and heavy traffic. Seriously, no one was harmed. Not even me.)

The other day this little turtle just stood there, head stretched out, looking totally determined. And completely crazy, a one pound creature not known for agility trying to dodge thousands of pounds of speeding steel and rubber.

I thought about the turtles and the theater of the absurd and how we’re all not really any less vulnerable or any less ridiculous the other night when I was changing my car’s battery in a rainstorm in a Bob Evans parking lot about 60 miles from where I wanted to be. (That was a really long sentence, sorry).

Mostly, it seems, I just close my eyes, stretch out my neck and dive into it, hoping for the best while the mortal dangers of financial ruin, disease, crime, broken hearts, and whatever else hurtle by. Sometimes we make it. Sometimes I make it. Other times, we miss the goal, and get flattened by some truck we couldn’t get around. Or never saw coming.

Sometimes people come along and help me get across. Thankfully, my mom and grandma were with me so we were able to go buy the battery after an hour of fruitless jumping. I have a boyfriend, too, who was willing to make the trek to where I was to help (I was fine, thank you).

I’m lucky. You’re probably lucky too.

I need to do a better job of watching out for human turtles, instead of getting mad at them. Like the other day, the welfare mom in front of me, pregnant and with a cart full of snot-nosed kids trying to figure out her food stamps while I just wanted to buy a gallon of milk or something. I was so irritated I’m probably going to have to confess it.

She was just a turtle, really. Trying to do something as ridiculous as get herself food for her kids in a world made more difficult by her choices and the choices of others. So many speeding cars.

Blogger’s note: I realized so many of my posts deal with critters. I’m not a total animal nut, but they make such great little object lessons. And my brain thinks only in metaphor. If only I could have applied that to algebra class…

Searching…

So much is on my mind tonight…I could write about most of it. How I feel about the rising gap between the top 1% of Americans and the rest of us. (Outlaw motorcycle gangs call themselves 1%ers. FWIW.) How another Father’s Day passed with estrangement. How nearly 70 of my colleagues at the Indy Star lost their jobs today, a few months after Gannett’s CEO gave himself a $1.5 million bonus. About how proud I am of my mom because of how hard she fights for her patients.

So much.

What do you want to know?

I want to know about justice. I want to know when this all makes sense. I want to know when I’ll attain theosis and behave the way I’m supposed to, when I will uncover the mirror of that Divine Image within me.

I want to know where my favorite verse in the Protestant Bible — Jeremiah 29: 11-13 — went in the Orthodox Bible. Our Bible has the additional,  original, canonical books and Jeremiah is one  of the books numbered differently, based on the Septuagint.

I’ve been looking for that passage for a week now and cannot find it to save my life.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…”

I hope He does. I’m counting on that. I always have, I guess. Not in some kind of Jesus-is-going-to-pull-my-butt-from-the-fire way, but in an I’m-glad-someone’s-watching way.

All those years, all those different pews I sat in, sermons I listened to.

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you…”

All those times I ran and ducked to avoid trouble in my house as a child. All those fights, all the arguing.

“plans to give you hope and a future.”

All the times I tried to make what I knew about God, all His vast unknown-ness, fit into the little box of what I was taught.

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”

All the times I struggle and fall, grow weary and discouraged about the way things are. All the times I forget to pray, ignore study and fill my mind with idle thoughts that tumble out of my idle lips.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.”

I’m going to keep looking, I guess. I know it’s in there.

A happy carnivore

I ate meat today. It’s Friday. Happy tummy!

Fort Wayne’s annual Ribfest was today, so I spent way too much money on a fantastic beef brisket and a glass of Fat Tire. And it’s a Friday. For the first time since I’ve been Orthodox, Ribfest fell outside the Apostle’s Fast, a brief, meat-free period in mid-June that gives me pause at cookouts. Because it was the week after Pentacost, there was also no fasting from meat on Wednesday and Friday this week. Gastronomical perfection available to me today. Three cheers for how the calendar worked out this year. Hip-hip-horray!

As I clipped off my I-am-old-enough-and-plan-to-consume-adult-beverages bracelet from the festival, I remembered my old no-drinking, no-movies, no-playing-with-face-card days. And I compared it to my fast-filled word in the Orthodox church. There’s a big hairy-arsed difference.

We fast, I fast, from meat and dairy (when I can) nearly every Wednesday and Friday, about 50 days before Pascha, 40 days before Christmas, about 14 days in August and usually about seven days in June. When you add it up, I’m a vegetarian about half the year. I want to be clear: I like meat. If God didn’t intend us to eat meat, He wouldn’t have put New York strip steaks on cows. Just saying.

I don’t abstain because it earns me points with Jesus or because there is something inherently wrong with meat-eating. I abstain because it is a discipline. It gives me a minute to pause and think about Christ’s betrayal (Wednesdays) or His death (Fridays). It helps me focus on what is important before the big feast days, simplifying my menu and my life.

In my Christian life Before Orthodoxy, way before I even knew of it, we didn’t drink alcohol. We didn’t do a lot of things. We didn’t do these things because they led to other things that were bad (drunkenness, gambling, fun…) But we didn’t replace them with anything. We certainly didn’t get any benefit from such abstinence, that would be “works” coming into our salvation. Can’t have that.

So any indulgence in anything verboten brought nothing but guilt and spiritual navel gazing, at least for me. Is God going to be mad? What if someone sees me? What if it keeps people from being saved?

I do a lot worse things to harm the Kingdom in a thousand different ways throughout the day, other than my consumption of adult beverages. And those are things I should worry about. Refraining from meat, in theory, should cause me to be more aware of those things and put my mind in a more God-centered way.

But on these glorious days, when all is available to me, I feel no guilt. What I feel is a deep gratitude for the gift given me, not just in the wonderful food, but also my salvation. I am still mindful of what happened on a Friday, in part because my normal routine was interrupted.

But I gotta tell you, that brisket was pretty good. So was the sauce.

On wrinkles

So here I am, 24 hours post class reunion. I am, to quote my grandmother, too tired to wiggle. It was a fabulous time, and much too short.

And it’s true. We are who we are back then, only now we have mortgages and 401Ks and maybe a kid or four.

Back in high school, there were six of us girls who ran around together, thick as thieves. We cut up in class, ran wild in the hallways and ran afoul of that Baptist school in a thousand different ways weekly, I am sure.  Five of us made it back to the reunion and we recreated a picture we took on our last day of high school, so many years ago. It was a blast and I’m surprised no one wet their pants.

The classmate who planned the shindig invited us back to his house for a bonfire and adult beverages. After a Ranger IPA and some of the most marvelous tequila (agave juice may be proof of God’s love), I started to get a little (more) sentimental as I looked around the fire and visited with old and still dear friends.

I wonder what we would have done back then, those five girls in that picture, collapsing in giggles, if you told us what was to come. I wonder what all of us would have done that night when we moved our tassels over if the commencement speaker said this is what the next 20 years will bring: suicide, children who die, children with disabilities, spouses who die, divorce, singleness, spouses who cheat, loss of faith, change of faith…

We were all so much lighter back then, weren’t we? Even those of us who had already dealt with some pretty serious stuff, and the statistics say quite a few of us had, we bore it so well. We laughed. We squealed our tires in the parking lot. We recklessly stole second base, the basketball, the quick kiss by the lockers.

I was so concerned about being real the other day that I didn’t notice all the other Velveteen rabbits in the room. At this stage of the game, all of us have had our whiskers loved off, pulled off or missing for some reason. We’re all wrinkled and chubby, going grey or bald.

But our essences remain. That person God made us — the quiet one, the noisy one, the party girl, the serious student, the one-who-hollers-at-people-in-authority (three guesses who that is and the first two don’t count)…these are who we are. This is who we have always been. This is the person God interacts with, the one He is amused by, concerned with and loves. Mostly, I think, we’ve aged pretty well. We’ve improved and mellowed, like fine wines if you’ll pardon the cliche.

With all this time, weight comes (and not just around our middles). These things we’ve done, these struggles we’ve had, the victories won and battles lost, we end up carrying them around. I guess that’s age. And we seem to be bearing that pretty well too, at least in my humble opinion. So much grace. So much…

Hey gang, I love you all. To the quiet ones, thanks for being patient with us, the rowdy and rude ones. To the noisy ones, thanks for keeping everyone from falling asleep. I can’t wait for the next time we all see each other again.

So long ago  My gosh, look at us!

 

 

 

 

 

But I don’t think we’re doing too badly now…

2011

Ready or not

Tomorrow, or today when most of you, my five loyal readers, read this, is my 20th high school reunion.

I’m kinda nervous. And that makes me feel silly.

I graduated from a small Baptist high school –there were 44 in my graduating class or something like that. There’s supposed to be about 1/3 of us or so getting together on a riverboat for dinner and then head back to a classmate’s house for unBaptist-like drinks and a bonfire.

I worry they won’t like me. Isn’t that funny? (not that it’s outside the realm of possibility, but that I worry like it could change anything)

What if I’m too different from how I used to be? What if I’m too much the same? What if…? Good grief, I could go crazy.

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the “real” me. I hope I’m real most of the time. Orthodoxy made me more real because it allowed me to struggle honestly, to be a sinner in need of grace even after my “conversion.”  My Orthodox sister and I joke about how Orthodoxy made us like Velveteen rabbits –our ears all creased, fur petted off and our whiskers missing.

I wonder if I’ll be able to make it through the entire dinner without swearing. Hanging out with police officers and lawyers all day absolutely ruined my vocabulary. There’s only so many words to describe what we see… I wonder if the fact that I drink now will be offensive to those who do not. I hope it isn’t because I honestly believe it’s OK. Jesus didn’t turn the water into Welch’s. I wonder if my Orthodoxy will be strange. Will they wonder why I cross myself and then be further confused by my accidental swearing?

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that we are pretty much who we are going to be by the 8th grade. The only thing that changes is the acquisition of a driver’s license and a mortgage. Sometimes I believe myself in that regard. I still doubt some of the same things I doubted then, I worry about the same things I worried about then and I mostly want the same thing I wanted then — to do the right thing and to be safe. Crazy, isn’t it.

I know, though, that the past few weeks I haven’t been nearly as disciplined in my practice of faith as I should be. There’s been precious few prayers said, no candles lit in the home and too little time spent in study. Because my true identity, the person I’m supposed to be, is to be found in union with Christ, the odds are good I may be a little less myself than I want to be.

Fr. Stephen said it this way on his fantastic blog:

Most often we substitute the ego for our true self – we struggle to learn “to behave” as a Christian. But such efforts only lead us into the world of concepts and arguments, morality and guilt. We do not invent our true self, our authentic existence – it is a new creation and is found only in Christ…Christ must increase and I must decrease. As I decrease so do the false images I cherish of myself. The anxieties that surround me decrease. Lies and deceit decrease for in Christ is only truth. Such a decrease is not the end of my existence but its beginning.

To the class of 1991, those with whom I’ll share a meal and a few adult beverages, I’m going to try to be myself. I’m sorry if I offend. I often do, though I try hard to behave. I really hope that you see someone who believes that I am more of who I should be now, and that’s because of Orthodoxy, because of my faith and because it makes me “real.”

Crossing a bridge

(Tonight’s writing juice: Tanqueray and tonic. Ironically, and hilariously, it is resting on a brochure a friend snagged  as a joke for me from the most obnoxious church in Indiana. I wrote about a teenage encounter with them here.)

For the past six months, a pistol-grip Mossberg 500A shotgun (loaded) named Abigail has stood next to my bed, right by where I put my head.

I wish I could tell you it isn’t necessary. But I guess it is.  To tell this story, I have to be kind of careful because this is one of those awkward moments where the professional and personal intertwine a bit uncomfortably. And it makes it all the more ridiculous, this notion of objectivity from my higher-ups who have never had such bedroom decorations. Ah, this is my life.

There’s this guy, an actual bad guy. He went to prison in the late 80’s for a vicious, completely random, rape and attempted murder of some poor woman who crossed his path. He did every single minute of his sentence, which NEVER happens in the state of Indiana, because he was so horrible in prison. And even after all that, his sentence was overturned because of a 21-year-old judicial miscue. So he was released, with just a suspended sentence left to serve on probation.

In all the hearings he had before one of my judges, this guy creeped me out like no other human being ever has (and I have seen a lot of strange and dangerous souls). One particular moment stands out. It was late summer, hot, and I was wearing a skirt to work. He sat at the defense table, shackled, hands on the table. I came in the back door and he proceeded to leer at me like I have never been leered at before. If I had been naked on Main Street, it wouldn’t have been any less uncomfortable.  He moved his hands to his lap. And a deputy moved between him and me, breaking his awful gaze.  It made the hair on my neck stand up and I knew immediately how a rabbit feels when watched by a hawk.

Over the months, he had more hearings and I tried particularly hard not to attract too much attention. The county prosecutor, who handled his case back in the day, suggested that I should take this one particularly seriously if he got out.

Well, he did get out, about a week or so before Christmas. As I left church one night after a vesperal Liturgy, I saw two or three messages on my work phone. One was my friend/boss telling me to call her. The other was my boss/boss telling me to call him. I called him and he told me not to panic, but the rapist showed up at the newspaper and tried to get in the building.

I got home and called my boyfriend, a cop in another jurisdiction. He told me to secure the fortress, which resulted in an absolutely riotous story I’ll have to tell you about at another time. I called a city cop for some assistance. He too told me I sure as hell better take it seriously and arranged for an extra sweep or two by my house.

Long story a tad shorter, the rapist ended up at the newsroom the next day where he was arrested. But because of the nature of the sentence he had, he was released again a few days later. However before that happened, my man showed up at my house with Abigail and about seven shells in his hand. We practiced loading it and unloading it, putting the safety on and off. He promised to take me shooting in a few days time, but until that happened just point it in the general direction, take the safety off and shoot whatever it was all to hell.

But, he said, do NOT pull it out unless you absolutely believe in your heart you can pull that trigger. If you can’t pull that trigger, well, leave it by the bed as a conversation piece.  You better know you’re going to cross that bridge before you get to it, he said. And that is not a decision that is easy to make, he said, but you better make it before you load it. There is a big hairy difference between shooting at the range and shooting in your bedroom.

I came to that conclusion about a week later (the guy was in jail for a few days, so I thankfully had some time). And I was absolutely sick to my stomach about it.

In Orthodoxy, if you take a life, there are consequences. You remove yourself from partaking of the sacraments for a time. You spend a lot of time with your priest. And that’s if it’s justified. That played in my head when I thought about what I might have to do. The reasoning behind this is because our actions have consequences, not punitive, but these situations are so serious, they require some spiritual recovery and review. I like that about my church.

There was really no question in this situation. If he came here, I would have to kill him. Crazy, isn’t it. It’s weird to even type that.  Here’s me, a person, and him, a person.  I had someone make an actual attempt on my life once. That’s a story for another blog.  And I’m not unsympathetic, as a journalist or personally, to the problems that have plagued this man’s mind for his entire life.

But I know that while I am sympathetic, whatever is broken in him is so broken that he cannot seem to live among us. He cannot interact with his fellow humans as fellow humans, only as prey, something to be used or destroyed.  That makes me sad.

It makes me sad that we live in this place where people like that exist, where the choices made by us and others, or some strange genetic anomaly, make life with him impossible.

So sometimes, when I reach for my alarm clock and my arm brushes against the cold steel of that shotgun’s barrel, leaning on my nightstand which houses the iPod, the cell phone and books, I think about this. This –this choice to be ready to kill, the need to defend against our fellow humans, the need to keep the community safe, to build cages to house people, to pay men and women to carry guns to make that choice on our behalf — this is part of that “knowledge of good and evil.”

My life is altered because of just the presence of the possibility of what he could do. I am a different person than I was before he showed up at my work, twice. I am a different girl, one who sleeps with a loaded shotgun by her bed and knows how to use it, and is prepared to use it.

There are other things, of course, that have altered me and us and all that is. But this is what I was thinking about tonight. He’s got a hearing coming up. He could be out again. I’m not terribly worried, really, I’m not. It just makes me sad.

Duck, duck

I was walking out of the county courthouse this afternoon, running late to another hearing in the federal building, and one of the security guys asked me what the news was. I didn’t have any, I told him.

“The duck is gone,” he said.

“The duck? What duck?”

“The mother duck. Didn’t you see her?”

Nope, I hadn’t actually seen her. But I should have. A couple weeks ago, the city parks department had pulled out all the tulip stalks in front of the courthouse, except for one section dead center in the circular bed right in front of the main door. That section they roped off with yellow police caution tape, leaving all the tulip stalks in place. I saw the tape, meant to ask someone, but never did.

Apparently Mama Mallard built a nest in the flower bed, amongst the tulips, laid her eggs and was sitting on them when it was time to swap out the flowers. So the city, in a moment of sensible compassion, let her be and provided for her protection with the tape. So for a few weeks people passing by had no new flowers to look at, and were likely unaware of that duck.

But the security guys knew and they watched out for her, and watched her intently. During the horrendous thunderstorms of a couple weeks ago, while we were all engrossed in our horrible murder trial, they watched out of the second floor window while she flattened herself down in that nest to protect those eggs from any eventuality in all the wind and the rain.

“It’s kind of crazy,” the security guy said to me. “Here’s this duck, going to all that trouble. She knows how to take care of her kids and upstairs is that woman, on trial for killing her baby.

“The eggs must have hatched over the weekend. The nest was empty today.”

All afternoon, I thought about that duck. I thought about how God provides for even the smallest of creatures, how instinctively they know what to do and we can’t seem to function for more than five minutes without hurting anyone.

But then tonight, in a telephone conversation with my mom, again about my friends over on that blog, the duck made even more sense to me. I thought about how hard some people work to protect their kids, how much they go through to see them safely through to adulthood and how much of their own safety they risk and comfort they give up, just to see them off.  I thought about how horrible it would have been for the city to have destroyed that nest out of expedience.

And I thought about the abuse scandals that plague our communities — our Catholic churches, our Baptist mission organizations, our Boy Scouts, our family dinner tables. I thought about all those parents who try to protect their children, covering their wings out over the nest, so carefully chosen for optimum safety. And yet it is all for naught because of the choices of others. And it makes me sad.

To those parents, I pray for you. It does mean something that you tried. It does.

To my fellow injured ducklings, I pray for us.

Copyright pam fray and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Here’s to safe passage to the water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Cute duckling photo copyright pam fray and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)