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.

I promise.

Here’s what I have. I ask you, my sisters and brothers, to hold me accountable, to add to this list, or to expand it in your own life where it applies.

Or ignore it completely. That always remains an option.

I want to go on record.

I promise to do my dead-level best to:

  • Love mercy
  • Do justly
  • Walk humbly with my God
  • Expand the Garden of peace beyond the borders of my own spiritual community whenever possible
  • Pray more
  • Love better
  • Do whatever I need to do to build stronger connections, maintain the bridges between us, and to repair the places that have eroded due to neglect and error.

I promise I will step in when I see injustice. I promise I will try to always stand on the side of the oppressed, the minority, the wounded, the suffering, and the wandering.

I promise I will help you find your words, perform your duty, carry your burden, and find rest.

I promise there is no such thing as alternate facts.

I promise you Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the people who voted for them, are icons, made in the image of God.

I promise I will always try my best to tell the truth, to call out falsehood when I see it, and to encourage others to do the same.

I promise to continue to mean what I say every liturgy “we pray for this country, its ruler, its people, civil authorities and armed forces.”

I promise to speak out against greed and injustice.

I promise to listen to your stories.

I promise to have “Lord, have mercy” on my lips as much as possible.cropped-mg_6828.jpg

 

Peering into the depths

We’re in an odd spot.

I saw the sunrise this morning.

That rarely happens on Tuesdays, when I get home around 11:45 p.m. from the late night police-reporter shift I work on Mondays.

But the big gray pickup truck picked me up at 05:45 so we could go back out on the water and try to find a guy.

We spent yesterday out there too, before I went to TJTP. I spent the midday with my hand marking waypoints on GPS screens so we could better triangulate the position of the missing man, hidden from us under more than 100 feet of water. Each time the dog barked, I marked.

Our job was made trickier Monday by the presence of other people on the lake, a big, heavily-populated recreation haven. As we tried to get our K9s in the best position to work, we had to dodge water skiers and inner-tubers, fishermen and pontoon boaters. They seemed oblivious to our presence, or couldn’t really care.

They knew, though, why we were there. Conservation officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters had been patrolling, diving, pinging with SONAR for days in an attempt to find the man. One game warden told me that it had been nearly impossible on Saturday and Sunday to get any work done with all the boats and the wakes and the people.

They couldn’t close the lake, though, because the people would be too mad.

Too mad.

Too concerned about what they wanted to do to let the family do what they needed to do: find their loved one and mourn.

This is where we are: pulling your kids across a grave site in a tube behind a speedboat on a sunny Monday is more important than a body recovery.

Our connections are so frayed anymore, I really don’t know how we hold together at all. We shoot police officers guarding protesters, we assume the worst about our neighbor, we are impatient, unkind, and concerned only with pleasure.

We play Pokemon Go in the Holocaust Museum.

I’d like to pretend I don’t know what’s wrong with us, but I do.

We have no framework anymore for our connection to each other. The individual has been all that mattered for so long, we don’t see anyone anymore.

We’re all invisible.

It’s time we wake up and take a look.

 

Why:

Sunday evening, I drove down some country roads in a neighboring county, ones I thought I hadn’t driven in a long time. But the further I went, things looked familiar, recently familiar. I realized I was there not long ago, on those roads riding shotgun in the big grey pickup truck with the SAR boss, a pack of search dogs in the back, walking those fields hauling gear on one of a growing number of searches in my brief SAR career. It felt good to know I was making progress, slowly but surely covering ground.

The question was asked tonight by the boss in our private Facebook group: why do we do it? Do we know why we are out there, weekend after weekend, morning after morning, training after training?

I absolutely know. In the past (nearly) two years, I’ve written about it a couple times, but I know that in these past months, those reasons have shifted and deepened, extended far beyond anything I contemplated in those first few months.

On the outside, it looks like it might have something to do with my dog. But the further we go, the less it’s about that and the more it becomes about the journey itself.

There are challenges, yes. A physical challenge: the work is demanding-climbing rubble, walking miles and miles and miles through heavy brush, under hot sun or in cold weather, early morning meetups at scenes, pages in the dead of night. The mental challenges of learning new skills: emergency medical response, making harnesses out of webbing, reading human footprints, not getting myself lost in the process of finding those missing (harder than you think!).

But this is spiritual to me. Search and Rescue, obviously, is about finding that which is lost. But it is also about the search itself, the act of being open to something to which you don’t understand. It’s about understanding, or at least getting closer. Every time I have gone out, it has felt like a prayer, one extended Kýrie, eléison. 

My life feels like it has always been about the search: figuring out the right questions to ask, looking for the answers. It’s been about looking for the connection – the place between the questions and the answers, the places of uncertainty, the places where the scars are formed, where the stories are written, the places where the image of God that lies within each of us becomes hidden or revealed based on the choices we make. SAR taught me that The Job That Pays is not terribly different from The Job That Doesn’t Pay -both are about the questions, the answers, the connections. It is about reaching out and taking hold.

In the past three months in SAR, I’ve taken sidetracks, wandered around, backed up and started again. My dog, the tool given to me for this work, no longer wants to find the living. Why I do not know. I can guess, but he can’t confirm. And it’s my job as his handler to take care of him, to act without ego or anger in his best interest. So we have switched to the mystery of the missing dead. He is happier. I am more relaxed. But before you ask the question–will that bother you, not rescue, but recovery? The answer is definitive: NO.

I believe I can do this. I’ve already seen the bodies in The Job That Pays. The sobs of the grieving at the scenes, those I have heard so so many times. I have gone from crime scene to charges to verdict to sentencing, faces becoming familiar in various stages of suffering all along the way.

If it is a difficult and necessary task, and you can do it, you absolutely should.

If this doesn’t make a ton of sense, I kind of apologize. It’s the middle of the night and I’m not sure why I’m not in bed. This post has been forming for a few weeks, taking shape in a few more rides in the pickup truck, a few dozen training sessions, hard decisions and now the question officially posed.

Why do I do SAR? To know. To learn. Because I can. Because I should.

I ask, if you read this, for your continued prayers. Not just for me, but for my teammates, for our pack of humans handling our pack of dogs, so many of whom have seen so much, so many of whom asked so many hard, hard questions to have them answered in ways no one wants to contemplate.

Pray for those who need our services, those whose icons are no longer where they belong, whose questions remain unanswered, whose connections to those beloved remain frayed or broken.

Kýrie, eléison. 

Memory eternal!

I read something last night about the two kinds of people who help you through trauma: the firefighters and the builders. The firefighters come in quick, get you out of whatever jam you’re in and help you deal with the immediate crisis. The builders come in a bit later, and do the restoration work, helping you start anew.

It’s a rare thing to find someone, a friend, who is both.

I finished college. I have a stable job in a community I care deeply about. I married a good man because my mother had a friend like that, a woman who was so extraordinary that her gifts of friendship and love to my mother extended on to me and saved my life in nearly every sense.

The life I have I owe to her, a willing and cheerful instrument of God’s love, Jesus-with-skin-on. A woman willing to walk through my mom’s divorce with her, to defend her, to cry with her, to make her laugh, to cheer her on.  A woman so committed to that friendship, to whatever is whispered between college roommates, to enact that verse in the Book of Ruth–where you go, I go — that she opened her home for YEARS to a skittish and often angry young woman (me) so I could breathe, and grow, and live.

When I dropped out of college in 1994, 18 months before I was to graduate, I honestly never thought I’d go back, probably exactly because my father said I’d be back in the fall. After my mom kicked my father out of the house, our family’s survival was in doubt. Our future and, specifically my future, became a concern to this old friend of my mother’s, to Jan. And she never, ever let it go. I have no idea why. She and her husband had two of their own children. She had a fulfilling and busy professional and personal life 60 miles away in Fort Wayne. Jan and Jack could have done what so many people do, what so many people did, to say “oh, I’ll pray/let me know if there’s anything you need/oh, there’s my ride.”

“Becky needs to go back to school. There’s a Taylor campus in Fort Wayne. She’s going there. She’s living with us.”

For two years in the late 1990’s, I lived in their home. I never worked. I never paid a cent in rent, bought any food. I watched their cable on a big screen television. I parked my beat-up old 87 Honda in their driveway. I brought boyfriends over for dinner. I never ever felt like anything less than one of their own. I watched Jack treat his wife with respect and patience. I watched her love him with laughter. There was nothing I needed more than that, right then. And it had nothing to do with my degree.

When I got the job at the Journal, I moved back in with them for another six months, paid off some credit cards and bought a newer car. I was now “Rebecca S. Green,” but every night I’d come home to “What’d ya do today, Becky?” from Jan, sitting on her reclining sofa-end, reading every single page of every piece of mail and periodical that came to the house and eating some random thing from the pantry as a snack. (editor’s note: she was one of the last people allowed to call me Becky, just FYI)

I had a second mom and dad. How lucky is that?! I still have a key to their house.

Jan died today after a two-year battle with cancer. My mom and I went to her hospital room Sunday to say goodbye. She was unconscious and I cried. Jack told her he still had not been able to collect a cent of rent from me, the deadbeat daughter that wandered into their lives nearly 20 years ago. Had she been awake, she’d have laughed and told him to give it up, that I owe them nothing.

That’s not true, though. I owe them, I owe her, everything.

Jan and my mother, at my wedding, exactly one year ago.
Jan and my mother, at my wedding, exactly one year ago.

Thanks, Jan.