Icons, part the infinity

(This is the theme of my life. This is apparently what I am to always remember, to never forget, to paste to the front of my consciousness.

The Icon and The Human. The Image of God.)

It’s another December with a sad story about a girl gone missing, albeit one a long time ago. It’s also that time of year when my heart feels heavy for a variety of reasons unconnected to anything obvious. I feel dark.

Helo and I have been busy with searching, seeking out those who are not with their people at the time of their passing and to return them to where they belong in some form or fashion. That can add to the darkness, even when there are answers, because the questions themselves are heavy, and block out the light.

So I need very much the Advent, the arrival of The Word and the dawning of the Light.

We’ll start at the end, with the sentencing Friday of the man guilty of modern Fort Wayne’s original sin, the first girl missing and killed near the high Holy Days.

My new job, back in news, takes me occasionally back to the courtroom, though I have much more control over the what and the when. (It’s nice to be the boss.) On Friday, I spent the morning at the sentencing hearing, and helping my reporter craft her story on the matter, while I put a written version together for our website.

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The courtroom was filled with the image of the little girl, a picture I could conjure in my sleep having seen it so much for so long. On Friday, it was all over the t-shirts of her family, an innocent image reflecting nagging grief. I saw how tired they were, and heard their exhaustion as they spoke of what he took from them. I observed the still-smoldering rage of those who hunt the monsters. I saw, again, the ripples of the Fall, spreading out and contaminating all that it touches, breaking and distorting on its way through time.

I cannot reach this time of year without thinking of the other A-named girls: Alejandra and Aliana, whose stories intersected mine through journalism and drove me to search work. I will likely again light candles in their memory, pray for peace for those who miss them, those who hunted their killers and all of us impacted by their deaths.

My church has new icons up, a magnificent project with the Theotokos and infant Christ above the altar. Before court, I listened to a story my arts reporter did on the project, her interview with Fr. Andrew as he discussed the importance of the image to us who worship in this way, the Icon as connection of the physical and the spiritual, the Holy Scriptures without words.

I thought about all I’ve seen in recent weeks in both jobs, my heart heavy with the thought of what those families carry in the waiting, albeit 30 minutes or 30 years.

The recovery work, like the journalism work, is so intricately connected to Orthodoxy I do not believe they could exist without each other. Every time I unclip the leash and tell him to “Search”, every time I uncap the pen to capture the story, I feel like I am chasing icons, chronicling the image of God as it presents itself around me.

I don’t mean this to sound too holy, but I think it might. I’m sorry about that. I just cannot seem to shake this feeling that I need this hunt to remind myself of my own nature, to aid in my recovery from the fall.

I have often wondered if the thing our cadaver dogs detect, what distinguishes human remains from all other organic material, even that of other mammals, is this strange thing, this image of God we carry. I wish Helo could tell me, but he only tells me when he finds it. I still don’t know exactly what he’s sussing out. I’m sure some will cringe at the spiritual way I approach such an odd and grim task. I am not sorry about it though.

Anyway, I’m sorry for the meandering. It’s been awhile since I’ve been here. There’s been sadness and success since my last post. I guess I needed to process. Thanks for listening.

Advent is upon us. The light is dawning soon.

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It’s really not political.

Humans, being. Again.

I know I post a lot of stuff. (I really just try to keep ya’ll informed. Doing the news thing, social-like.)

But I want to be clear: to me this is a moral thing.

If you give me a Democrat who recognizes the inherent dignities of every human being, born and unborn, I will vote for them.

If you give me a Republican who recognizes the inherent dignities of every human being, born and unborn, I will vote for them.

Since neither does either very well, I base my choices on which candidate does so better.

And I try to do journalism that amplifies the voices of those who get drowned out, to make sure that truth is told, to be ethical.

Repeat after me:

Holy InnocentsThe unborn baby is being made in the image of God.

The Honduran immigrant baby being pulled out of her mother’s arms is made in the image of God.

The transgendered person using a restaurant bathroom with you is made in the image of God.

The rural unemployed mom struggling with opioid addiction and keeping the lights on is made in the image of God.

The Syrians fleeing violence across the Mediterranean Sea are made in the image of God.

These are icons. These are what we must protect.

Jesus Carries the Cross
From “The Stations of the Cross” at the Church of the Advocate in downtown Philadelphia. All of the icons or religious artwork have been replaced with photographs of refugees or the poor. A heartbreaking reminder.

I try to keep it simple:

Is this a human being? yes.

If yes, is its dignity being threatened? Yes or no

If yes, help it. If no, applaud its victory.

Humans do not infest or inconvenience.

Humans are.

 

The Stranger

When I backed out of my driveway this morning, I noticed a guest: a small juvenile robin sitting on our door frame. It’s mother chattered nervously nearby.

When A trimmed the hedges this evening, he maneuvered around the little one, again to the chatter and now with added dive-bombing activity of the parents.

I took Helo outside tonight, to take some pictures and enjoy the freedom of a cool-ish evening before summer heat settles in. It was a long week at TJTP and I needed a breather.

I knew what was coming in the afternoon, and I made sure to spend some time in the prayer corner Thursday morning. A reading from Matthew:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

A visit from the Attorney General demanded coverage, and I sat in room filled with old sources, old friends, and new sources and new friends. I listened to the words of my Holy Scripture being twisted into knots to justify the unjustifiable, to explain the inexplicable.

Anyway, back to the yard.

So I am trying to both take a picture of Helo and throw his tug, and I hear a cacophony from the sycamore over the woodshed. It’s both robin parents, beside themselves. The baby is nearby.

Keeping a close eye on my dog, who would eat it in a minute, I try to find the bird. There it sits, tucked in the root of another tree on the other side of the yard. My heart is glad it’s there, and worries about the barn cat catching scent. There’s nothing I can do, other than allay the parents’ fears and keep Helo out of the way. I put him up as quickly as I can, keeping him moving quickly on the opposite side of the baby.

A natural instinct: protecting your offspring. The killdeer stagger and flop around to keep Helo away from their poorly-planned nest sites. The robins, they shriek in terror, clattering and calling to their beloved.

If I am filled with compassion for a baby bird, how much more so is my God. How much more so should I be for the parents approaching our southern border to find a twisted knot of American ideals and misapplied Scriptures.

They are of more value than many sparrows.DSC_0118 (3)

Don’t stand silent. Do what you can do to keep the predators away. Move them to safety if you can. Don’t just pray and cross your fingers that it will all work out because that is not going to work if you don’t do something.

If you are a Christian, this cannot be you. He’s been clear about it from the get.

Leviticus, Job, the prophetic books–It’s all over the Old Testament.

Then there’s this verse: Matthew 25:35

I was a stranger, and you invited Me in.

That’s unequivocal. Don’t pretend it only applies to the four-walled auditorium where you spend a couple of hours on Sunday.

It applies to all of us, out here in the open. In the yard. Under the tree. Along the border. At the ballot box.

I hope the robin is OK. I’m not going to stress them out by taking her from them.

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Presence

I finished the book. It took me longer than I thought it would because it hurt, remembering what she went through, learning new details about the events and their impact.

I’m so glad I read it. I’m so glad she wrote it. I’m so grateful for her bravery, then and now.

But the book left my brain rummaging through the metaphorical drawers of that period of time, picking up the photos, the memorabilia of the upheaval of my early 20s and the wreckage of my family.

There was a photograph taken of PT (the writer), me and the third of our little pack that summer, sitting on a rock wall at the shore of Lake Charlevoix. PT and I were wearing baseball caps, Polo of course. Someone’s brim was backwards. Our arms were cast around each others’ shoulders, but our faces were far from carefree. PT later sketched the photo from the back. I’m not sure who has possession of the photograph or the drawing, but it is the drawing that remains the most vivid in my mind.

You can’t see our pain. You can only see the love.

The lyrics to that summer were Jagged Little Pill, or Candlebox, or the Indigo Girls. She taught me how to smoke, how to properly use the F-word as all parts of speech. I lost my fundamentalism, which later led to me finding my faith.

We stressed everyone out. Our sweaters were on backwards or inside out. We were sad but laughing. Brave but chicken shit.

She was struggling. I was struggling. Our friend, M, was trying to keep us on an even keel. M, the oldest, had a great theory of how to help people: If the person who is hurting is with you, they are safe.

I tried to do it for PT. I know she tried to do it for me. M did it for me. We were juvenile raccoons loose in a kitchen, emotionally, so it was messy and probably not always the BEST thing.

I survived it. I learned, through those girls, the value of presence. Of being with each other, even if there aren’t words, even if you can’t find your words. Especially if you can’t find your words.

There’s been so much discussion in recent weeks, necessarily, of how to appropriately respond to mental illness, to reach out if you are hurting, or how to find the proper resources, etc.

I know I struggled with thoughts of suicide during that period. There were times I wished that my family’s violence ended that way. It would have been neater. Simpler.

It didn’t. I didn’t. The reason I didn’t, in part, is because of two girls, arms draped across my shoulders, even in the midst of their own pain, their own struggles. We were with each other. We were safe, or as safe as we could be.

I know I wasn’t always as helpful as I could have been, or should have been. I wasn’t always my best self.  But I remembered the value of presence. I tried to be present for my sisters, and my mom as we moved forward. I try to be present for my friends now.

If you are with me, you are safe.

It’s harder as an adult. Work calls us in the morning, and we are no longer able to be awake until 4 a.m. and function. We have husbands, and wives, and dogs, and kids, or whatever, all things that take us away from the necessary sometimes.

Depression. Anxiety. Grief. Worry.  It doesn’t have to be “mental illness.” It doesn’t have to be diagnosed. It is the human condition.

Don’t wait for them to ask. Don’t wait until you’re “healthy enough.” You don’t have to be a therapist. You don’t have to have all the words.

Just drape an arm over the shoulder, and look out in the same direction. Sometimes that is enough.

God knows, it’s a start.

 

Constellation

My friend wrote a book, a marketed-by-Barnes & Noble-and-available-for pre-order-on-Amazon kind of book.

I am in awe.

It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve seen this friend. There was no breakdown in the relationship, but there was life. The friendship itself, the proximity of it, was so very brief. Of course, when you’re 21, it seems like such a long time until you are 26. But then you wake up and you’re 44 and you realize that really was just a fart in a skillet, time-wise.

When I met this friend, it was right before the events of the book, and our lives diverged in the years following. During that chapter, I was unpacking and repacking the wreckage of my own experiences, so at times she felt like she might be just a little too hot, too much, for me.

I was in awe of her then.

The book came this morning, while I was out running Helo over a rubble pile looking for some remains. For now the book sits on my end table, atop a stack that includes a couple books on photography, a survey of classical literature, dog training books, a book on a local serial killer and a book on wilderness navigation.

I tell myself I won’t read it until I get this last set of papers graded, this week’s training logs caught up, etc. etc. But I know that’s not true. I know the minute I am done with this, I’m going to grab it and dive in.

Last night, I dreamed about my friend. She came to visit, as the adult she is now to the adult I am now. We were with the friend who introduced us, who worried over both of us during that period of time. We were talking, comparing grey hairs. We were different, and yet the same.

She was always much braver than I. That’s why she wrote a book. I tell other people’s stories, and hope someday to screw in the courage to tell my own. As I sit here, though, reflecting on the path my own life took–mundane in the main, but interesting enough in the small details to keep me entertained–I am grateful that that path crossed hers.

I know that as intense as that time was, as unhealthy in some ways and healing in others, I know I grew. I know I will grow by revisiting her story once again. Those are the very best kinds of friendships, that still propel you to the light no matter how much time has passed.

And if she reads this, I want her to know I never, ever, ever don’t see Orion and not think of her. Even after all these years.

The beach ball of Holy Week

DSC_0809I love Holy Week. I love Pascha and the longer I’m Orthodox, the more I like Lent (or grow to appreciate what it does for me).

Some years, I’ve been able to unplug from life during Holy Week, coming into a rhythm that allows the week to almost seamlessly merge into the celebration of Great and Holy Saturday and Pascha. Those years I’m usually with my sister, godson and their family at Holy Assumption Orthodox Church in Canton, and I’ve taken days off and am plugged into only the cycle of services and my family there.

This year is not that year. A new job and new responsibilities means less time off. Teaching made for a Lent without one Presanctified Liturgy (one of my favorite services). And life backed up into Holy Week this year, putting me in places other than the pews on days I would normally be in church.

I had a sneaking feeling this would happen. I usually care A LOT and my frustration of missed expectation causes an anxiety and frustration that are the exact opposite of the mindset I tried to cultivate during the Lenten season. I tried to do better this year, and it helped.

I finally got to church tonight, for Holy Unction. I missed the Bridegroom matins services earlier in the week (though I subjected Huntington University’s CO342 to a video of the hymns. My class, my rules.)

As I stood before Fr. Andrew, my palms open to receive the holy oil, I almost felt as if time closed in around me. The feelings I battled all week, like trying to keep a beach ball under the water while sitting on it, dissipated and nothing else seemed to exist.

I never wanted to leave.

Those who know me, know how much anxiety the current political situation is causing me. You know that, for someone committed to truth-telling, the constant lying, gaslighting and nonsense is beyond a challenge. I have not done a good job of keeping what matters in the foreground. I surrendered Lent in some very real ways to that which I cannot control. Another beach ball: something too big to keep under wraps, and too buoyant to keep under control.

I have three more days of services left in this journey: the Liturgy of St. James with the marathon service of Holy Thursday (the 12 Passion Gospels) that takes us to the Cross, and the Lamentations service of Holy Friday leading us up to the Feast of the Resurrection, Pascha.

There will be some work in there, a rubble pile, weather to complain about and distractions aplenty. If you’re thinking of it, I’d welcome your prayers for continued growth and focus during the remainder of this journey.

The beauty of the weeks leading up to Pascha–the Sunday of Mary of Egypt, Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, etc.–is that I am constantly reminded that it is never too late, I am never so far gone that I cannot welcome the King.

After Fr. Andrew anointed my head, my throat and my palms with the oil, I kissed the Gospel book, the icon of the Theotokos and Christ, and I slowly left the santuary.

The journey of Holy Week continues.

Advent

What is on my mind when left unattended on Christmas Eve…

I’m alone right now on this Christmas Eve. Aa answered a fire page, so he’s either on his way to a family interrupted by their CO alarm, or a vehicle sliding into a nearby pond. The roads are terrible, which is why we didn’t go to church, and that made me sad.

The Nativity Vigil is one of my favorite services, but as I crept down the road on what should have been a 40-minute drive and was clearly going to take much longer than the time I allowed, I made the decision to head back home. I didn’t feel like being the reason for someone else’s fire page tonight.

I love the Nativity because it is a study in contrasts, as are all our Holy Days. Darkness gives way to the light. Morning dawns. Stars shine and lead the way. Pascha is explosive–the shock of the Resurrection. But the Nativity? It’s a gentle beckoning to come and see, the Giver of Life in a manger, a foreshadowing of His stone tomb. It was just a baby, after all.

I have a friend who has been sitting by her husband’s bedside for nearly two months now, awaiting his recovery from a near-fatal heart attack. He’s far from out of danger, and I pray for them (when I’m disciplined enough to get that task accomplished in my day). I have another friend who has received a bad diagnosis. Another whose mother just died. And still others who have also recently lost their mothers or are awaiting the loss of their mothers. Friends are recovering from divorce. Friends are awaiting justice.

I have friends who are so very sad. I am sad for them. I am sad with them.

For me, this has been an odd season. I started a new Job that Pays, and am back in the news business. I am happy and grateful for a chance to rejoin the fight with The Fourth Estate, especially in this difficult period in American history. My family is healthy. We are, metaphorically, inconvenienced by things like CO alarms. We are well.

We are not currently in the ditch, or hanging off the road too close to the water. I have an acute awareness this is not a permanent condition. We will be there, someday. Probably soon.

I do not know why there is suffering. And I have long-ago tried to stop offering the simple platitudes of “purpose” or “reason” or “God wanted him/her/them home.” But I really do wish it were that simple.

We all sit in the darkness, I guess. Sooner or later it gets scary. I want you to know we do not sit alone. We have people, and family; our tribes and our packs. If you are reading this tonight, this Christmas Eve,  you are not alone. I hope you see the daylight breaking, really soon.

Aa just sent me a text as I write. The car-into-the-water was a “disregard.” The disaster didn’t materialize. No one is at risk.

It’s not a big thing. But it’s something. It might be grace.

Merry Christmas to you all. May 2018 find you in a safe, peaceful and healthy place. God bless.

(Thank you for indulging my little blog post.)Icon of the nativity