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.

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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.

Unpacking (finally)

Place matters to me. I tend toward being a homebody, and other than my earliest years in Baltimore, I have always been a Hoosier, and a Fort Wayne resident for the past 15 years (most of my adult life). And I was proud of the professional and personal life I carved out for myself.

Then I met A, and he drug me off to his scenic rural home about 30 minutes away from my coffee shops and brew pubs, my downtown farmers markets and my noisy neighborhood. He flat refused to live in the city (in fairness my house was too small for me and the Cattle Dog, let alone him too), so to the country we went.

I went sooner than I planned when my house was burglarized the night before my bridal shower. Within a few days I started staying up there more frequently, coming down just to change out clothes and by the time Christmas rolled around (and I packed all my winter clothes for a two-week holiday) there was no point in going back. So we began the official move, but it happened in fits and starts with no big moment when everything was done. I just kind of trickled up the road.

I have to confess, though, it has not been a smooth transition for me. I make the commute for work and then again on Sundays for church (and since A changed jobs, so does he), so there wasn’t anything that made me feel like this new place, this rural county with its rolling hills and countless lakes, was home.

But I needed something to do out there. It’s weird, but I needed a thing. I needed something that was mine, in the new place. My husband and I do not share social circles for the large part (a hazard of how we met). And while our connections into each others’ lives and cultures grows, I felt very much like a guest. However, I never really thought about the fact that I actually moved. (Anyone wanna buy my house? PLEASE?) I thought, in some strange way that I merely just changed sleeping locations, and maybe someday I’d go back to the little white house. He’d be with me, somehow, but the life I lived here still existed, in nearly the same way.

Ha!

I moved. I moved my geographic location. I changed my name. I changed my legal status. I changed the beneficiaries on my life insurance policy, and my emergency contact information.

I cheated in the transition, though, because I kept my byline the same, so in the newsroom, with the people I have known for so long in the city where I lived for so long, I feel like I did before. Then I would leave to go home, but it didn’t really feel like home. I loved that A was there, and I love the life we’re building together there, but I did not feel like I lived in that place.

A few weeks ago, though, a new opportunity opened up out there in beautiful rural nowhere. I am not going to call it a hobby because it feels more than that. I will bug you later (trust me) with stories about it. But for now, this is just about this deepening sense of place, of belonging to a new spot as this new person. It will be my new name on release forms and contact sheets. These people I am doing this with, many of them know my husband, and know me now only as his wife — “Woody’s wife.” We talk about him because they have known him for longer, and in ways I do not. This is a very good thing. Until this, there had not been in anyway a place (other than with family and in-laws) where that identity — me as his other half — existed.

Is that weird? It may be.

I realized yesterday, when I came back to the city after more than a week away from it, it didn’t really have the pull for me that it did before. It’s now a place I work, and with the exception of my faith community, not where I live.

I live in a new place.

Lap 41: A few scattered thoughts

I am eight days into my 41st lap around the sun. Weird, huh. I told a friend the other day we are who we are in the eighth grade. She argued with me vehemently, but I stand by that. In fact, the older I get, the more I seem to be that person, albeit a more secure, self-assured version of that person. I liked that person. She was competent (working at an animal hospital at 13) and teaching herself the 8th grade (homeschooler!). She was curious. She was a good sister. She was brave, in ways I see now, but am not going to go into here. She loved well. I see nothing wrong with being that person again, though this time with a driver’s license, a good chunk of student loan debt still to pay off and business cards with a title on them. If I brought all that I liked about that girl into life with this woman, I could do a lot worse.

Fort Wayne has had a blue million homicides this year and apparently it finally got to me. Early this morning, I woke up deeply disturbed by a dream involving a young black man walking around with a bullet hole in his head (he was dead and walking around) and I could do nothing about it. I tried to draw attention to it, but nobody paid any mind. I couldn’t help him in anyway. Maddening and nauseating. The timing is puzzling to me, though. In April, I stood at two homicide scenes, feet from the bodies. No problems. I covered a couple homicide trials this year, and had no issues there either. Why I woke up panting and disgusted with myself and all in the world at 4:30 this morning, in a hotel room after four days away from it, I have no idea. I can only guess the trouble is cumulative: too much death in too few days, too much controversy, too much feedback from the public (they can take a step back at any time and it’ll be fine with me).

I notice, though, I’m getting a lot more cynical and a lot less tolerant at the same time. It seems counter-intuitive, but even though my gallows humor functions quite (inappropriately) well, I am prone to feeling more sad in the courtroom, much less able to separate the victims’ emotions from mine by distance. I blame age. I blame an ever-deepening realization of consequences, of loss, of anguish, of love, of all that makes life here so completely miserable and amazing all at once. People I love with my whole heart have lost so much in the past year, and it is maddening to be so completely impotent, so totally incapable of doing anything more than walking along beside. And I just am not any good at that. (see above reference to incapability and know that makes me angry). If we have another case like Plumadore in the next few months, I very well might find myself curled up on the floor.

This all sounds very depressing, I realize. I’m really not though, just feeling a tad introspective. Maybe it’s Bach on the headphones, maybe the darkened library in this fancy-pants resort we’re staying in for A’s work conference, maybe it’s the rainy November weather. No worries, though, it’s all good. My blessings are frequently counted these days.

My writing location
My writing location

And they are many.

On a totally unrelated note, I really like wedding rings. As you know, I’m big on symbol (connecting the spiritual reality to the physical realm) and they definitely are that. I like the wedding ring on my finger, I love the one on A’s and I just think it’s a fabulous tradition for a kinesthetic type like myself who is always in need of the concrete and the tangible. (I married Mr. Concrete and Tangible because I need it so much)

 

A new way

I know everyone says this, but I really don’t like change. I wish things could stay the same. Actually, no. What I wish is I could have new good things along with all the comfortable old things. I believe that is what is colloquially referred to as “having’s one’s cake…”

But whatever. Change gets my knickers in a bunch. Feeling a pull of two competing obligations makes me completely crazy and renders me totally incapable of enjoying anything. That means that, for example, if I am at a Holy Week service by myself, and my husband is at home eating a frozen meal (having an affair with Marie Callender), I will be feeling guilty for not being there. Or, conversely, if I am at home, eating a Lenten dinner of mixed bean salad, after having cooked him some chicken dish, I will feel guilty about not being at Church.

What’s a girl to do?

She’s to relax, and calm the heck down, that’s what.

Welcome to my first Lent, my first Pascha and my first four months as a married person. It’s also the first time I’ve not lived within a super-convenient 15 minutes from church. I’m 40 minutes from everything now, and while I just smiled a second ago when the rooster crowed down the road, I was struggling last night to keep the car on the highway as I wandered home from the late-night Lamentations service.

In 12 hours, we’ll be at Pascha. My poor husband, who had never seen or heard of Orthodoxy till he met me, will be experiencing his first Pascha — in which the church will be filled with about 70% of people we’ve never seen there before. There will be all kinds of “ritual” as he calls it that could not be more different from the country church he grew up in if you plunked him down on Mars. He’s quite the trooper. He had an Orthodox wedding in January, and in a week, we’ll be the godparents at the baptism of my nephew (a baby).

But for me, this has been this completely frustrating 50 days or so of trying to balance what I used to do with what I need to do. I told Fr. Andrew in confession the other day I wished I had fully enjoyed my single-life when I had it, spiritually-discipline-wise. I wasted so much time because I had it to waste. Now, I’d kill to have more time. (And be married…there’s that whole cake saving-eating problem again).

Fr. Andrew, because he’s smart like that, reminded me that this marriage is a sacrament. Being married works for my salvation, and A’s, as we figure out how to live together, build a life together, etc. Being a wife, a partner, one joined to another sacramentally works for my salvation, and A’s. I should not knock it, or feel guilty about it. I should, and am trying, to embrace this new thing, and all that it will bring me and us.

But it sure is different (good-different, in case you think I am griping. I am not).

So tonight, I’ll process around the Church and my hubby, who is so non-demonstrative, will help the men set up the inside of the Church for the Pascal liturgy. He will plug in in his way, while I do my thing. And then, together, we will say the portions of the service that he says every week–the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. And afterward we’ll gather with our church family in the hall to eat, laugh, drink and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.

We will do so as a family — this new family, this sacramental unit known legally as the Knights.e367d08cb41911e282a322000a1f9709_7

To all, have a blessed and peaceful Pascha.

On my Grandma, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream

Eunice Mae turns 90 today.

Happy birthday, Grandma.

I would love to tell you what she means to me, how important she has been to the emotional and physical survival of our family, but there aren’t enough words. She stepped in and stepped up when my parents’ divorced. She prays. She reads her Bible and she worries about the spiritual health of her family. She supported my conversion to Orthodoxy and tells everyone she meets they should go to Pascha because that’s pretty close to heaven here on earth.

She is the Matriarch. Her love for her great-grandchildren, who call her Oma, knows no condition, no reserve. It is as pure as possible.

She is the life of the party–laughing at herself with ease and speed. And she loves a good debate, especially about theology or her favorite, politics.

Politics keep her moving, though it’s often just between C-SPAN and MSNBC on the cable box. She goes to a political discussion group, talks to newspapers, and picks up the phone on a regular basis to chew out whatever elected representative is not getting right. (Just ask this guy who got ANOTHER phone call from her, this time about his perfect record with the NRA. He blamed violence on a failure to fear God. She had to remind him that the Islamist terrorist say a prayer to God before they fly planes into buildings, so that dog won’t hunt.)

And she keeps growing and learning, at 90. The local library branch knows her by name, constantly being asked to order the latest book on the bipartisan divide, a biography of First Ladies, or whatever. She’s been like this, FOREVER.

But this is what makes me the proudest, about how she grows.

When I was younger, she possessed the latent racism of many of those who were white and conservative in the 50s and 60s. She didn’t mean to be, but in her head, an entire chunk of the planet’s population was inferior — morally, mentally, physically.

But that didn’t last. It didn’t last because she became dissatisfied with it. She watched our basketball teammates at an inner city league where we played. She got to know the poor children of all colors and sizes with which I worked at a Boys and Girls Club. She took on Hispanic and black piano students (she still teaches). She got to know them. And she changed. In her 70s, she changed. Dramatically.

She marched into the pastor’s office at her old mostly-white Baptist church to try to get them to sell, at a reduced rate, a building to a black Baptist church she liked because, as she told the pastor, it’s not like you’re using it as much as they will.

After years of voting for Republicans, she cast her vote for Clinton. By the time Barack Obama was running for office, she was a poll worker for the local Democrats. On Election Night, 2007, she baked a ham and drove it down to Obama’s closest campaign headquarters. She has never, ever, baked me a ham.

In the run-up to this election, she collected votes for Obama like she was on a scavenger hunt–the clerk at the Best Buy (check), the guy at the pharmacy inside the grocery store (check). Vote for him, she said, not because you agree with everything he does or says but because he’s been through things, because he pulled himself up and got himself in the White House. He has character, she said. I’ve read all his books, she said. He’s a smart man.

So yesterday, on MLK Day, we watched the Inauguration while we made fancy mints for my upcoming wedding (five days away!!) She sat and smiled as she watched the Obamas walk up Pennsylvania Avenue, waiving to the crowd.

You know, she said, black people are so special because they have had to overcome so much.

Her face just beamed as she watched her president. My face beamed as I watched her.Image

Happy birthday, Grandma! May God grant you many more years!!