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.

Emmanuel

So it’s Christmas.

For most of my life, I hated this time of year. I know I’m not alone either. If you have any “thing” at all, this time of year, this season of “festive family fun” is a tablespoon of lemon juice on whatever open abrasion is on your heart. If you’re like I was, it begins somewhere after Halloween and by the time you get to Christmas Eve, you’re an anxiety-ridden depressive, clinging to your sanity like a cat to a screen door. And who would blame you?

When I was 21, it was a particularly rough Christmas season. One night that year, in my friend’s car, after she peeled me off the emotional ceiling, she handed me a tiny little ring, one made for infants. Inside, in even tinier script, it read “Emmanuel.”

God with us.

That ring. That idea. That notion that Someone from the great Out There was intimately concerned with where I found myself, it was not a new idea to me. I heard it growing up in the fundamentalist church. I heard it at the Evangelical college.

But it meant nothing to me, in that context of grief and despair, until right that minute. It found me. There. In the front seat of her Chevy Lumina, somewhere around two in the morning.

That night began my journey to Orthodoxy, I know that now. That night, that ring, that idea, cast a thin thread of light into a very dark place.

God, my God, the Triune Creator of the Universe, the One who Is and Is to come, that One, is not distant. He is the One who seeks out. He searches until He finds us wherever we may be, in the sharp and jagged rubble piles of our lives, trapped by our own guilt, or the shame others have put on us, frozen by pain and anger and grief. In the Nativity, we have this idea, this promise kept. “I am coming to get you out.”

He uses us to do it. It’s really the most efficient way. We’re here. Now.

Even if you are not a person who believes in the God whom I worship, even if you believe in no God at all, you have to admit: there’s something about this time of year, this promise of something connecting us to each other, to something in the beyond pulling us up and pulling us in. It’s the kind gestures, the love of friends, the warmth of an embrace of one who comes alongside. It’s wine at the table and kind words between family. 

It’s grace.

In Orthodoxy, we recognize that as the energy of God. We cannot know Him in His essence, but we can know Him by what He does, for us and in us. And since we are in His image, we can do that thing too. We can reach out to others, connecting them to that thing beyond themselves. We can love, and hug, and cry with, and slip little gold rings, like life preservers, on fingers that say “you are not in this alone.”

It’s been nearly 20 years since that night. Twenty years makes just about all the difference. I’m not stupid, though.  I know that, as a human being full of frailties and vulnerable to my core, it would take very little to put me in another bad spot. 

But I know that if I am ever lost and trapped again, the God Who Keeps His Word will be Emmanuel.

With me.

With us.

The limits of observation, part II

There are cases that I can’t forget, stories I’ve written that I wish for all the world I could unwrite, erase from my memory, look into that pen held by the Men In Black, or shake out of my head like the drawings on an Etch-a-Sketch. To be honest, most of the dead children, those I remember. (what is wrong with me, though, that I say “most” and not “all”? yikes)

Michael Plumadore is one of those stories. And when it snows, like it’s been snowing, and there are Christmas lights on the trees and bushes outside, and little girls are wearing Christmas dresses, I can’t forget him. I can’t forget what he did, what we couldn’t do as a community, and the limits of what I could do as a journalist. Hell, the limits of what is available to you as a fellow human being is the most maddening of all the particularly maddening things about life here, no?

Anyway, a little girl went missing at Christmas. I blogged about it then, as best I could, but packed it back up, buried it in the back of all the other homicide stories, the robberies, and the daily debris of my life as a crime reporter. But now, two Christmases later, I still remember her. I remember how I left work on a Friday night, mentioning to our police reporter that there was something weird about a “missing child” at that time of day, at this time of year. I remember coming back into the office at 6 a.m. the next morning, and hearing the county police continuing their search. I remember my heart sinking into the pit of my stomach. I remember calling a police source, and asking if we could help, if it was time to say something to the public about this way-too-small-for-her-age girl and how she was not where she should be.I remember her little face, in the picture the police sent us, wearing her Christmas dress at the funeral of her grandfather. I remember posting those stories that day to the newspaper’s website. I remember listening all day to the scanner, my face buried in the soft fluff that was my old Golden Retriever who always accompanied me to the newsroom on those lonely Saturday mornings. I remember praying, praying, praying. I remember hearing them organizing volunteers. I remember them calling in the search dogs.

When I left that night, I went to church. It was Christmas Eve. By this time, the whole city knew. By this hour, this snowy evening, everyone was praying or begging or hoping. I lit a candle in the narthex. I prayed for her, by name. Someone asked me, she’s going to be found, right? She’ll be fine. I remember deciding right then to lie, at least partly. Yes, I said. They’ll find her. I sat in the pew, in the candlelight, thinking of so much that had nothing to do with Christmas, tears absolutely pouring down my face. Of course, I knew how this ended.

They found her alright. Cops cried on my shoulder the next day, at the press conference, where they told the city what we feared. As the story moved from the trailer park into the courthouse, becoming words on paper, hearings in cavernous rooms, drawing vultures like Nancy Grace into my world (she’s nuts by the way),  I remember just being stunned at this creature who did this. I was never in my life so grateful for a guilty plea. Only worthwhile thing that man ever did, I am damn sure. 

Saturday morning, I sat in a cold-ish barn, drinking too much coffee while I looked at excel spreadsheets and phone trees, planning out my goal for search training for the  year.  The people to the right and left of me, these really interesting and generous and smart people, and their amazing dogs — their names are all over the witness list in that horrible case. They did try. They did something.

I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say that the case of  that sad little girl didn’t push me a bit into wanting to try to help. I told one of my judges at the time I felt like a carnival barker in hell, doing nothing more than publicizing the sad freak show.  I know, at some level, that my work as a journalist did help a bit that day. We got the pictures out, we pushed the community to want to  help, if just for one day or so, to look out for things larger than the sales at Macy’s. At least I have told myself that for a couple years now.

I just want to do a bit more. And to my very core, I am so very grateful for this weird opportunity to try. I am still a little disoriented by the way in which I found myself here, and the rightness of how it seems to me. Tonight, when I got home after an hour-long commute, I put on my boots and Helo and I went out into the snowstorm, working on our stuff in the driveway. We have a long way to go, but I promise the one missing a year or two from now: We will absolutely be ready.