Thursday, July 28, 2016

Brave New World




"Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly--
they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced."
~Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


Family reunions are peculiar things. 

We pack our suitcases full of clothes and toiletries and insecurities about what other people will think of us. We travel from far and wide on our high horses with our dogmatic beliefs, our judgmentalism, and the hefty planks in each of our eyes. We haul our heavy baggage in from the car and we unpack the broken pieces of ourselves. We shake hands and hug necks and kiss cheeks and attempt to present the very best versions of our lives. 

Or, if we are courageous enough, we don't do any of those things.

We drop all that dead weight on the front porch and we step over the threshold into a brave new world. A world where, like Huxley's John the Savage, we have the right to be unhappy. Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent. We have the right to be overweight and have cancer and depression. The right to be lousy. To not live up to expectations. To have failed marriages and unruly children. To be unemployed and unsuccessful. To live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow. To be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind (chapter 17, Brave New World).

I just returned from my own family reunion. 

As people showed up, I saw them scrape off dogma like mud on a doormat. I watched them shake off presumptions like water droplets off an umbrella and shed condemnation like slick and shiny raincoats at the front door. I witnessed people putting down the stones they intended to throw. Those who came armed with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune cast them down in a heaping pile on the floor. I saw insecurities melt away under the warm glow of acceptance like popsicles in the late afternoon sun. 

There are so many things I loved about this brave new world.

The walk to remember with my little brother where the waves washed away our grown-up footprints and carried our secret words out to sea. The sleepover with my big sister when we stayed up way too late whispering our biggest fears and failures into the dark. Holding each other while our little girl-selves mourned the loss of their great expectations for our big girl lives. Wearing glow stick necklaces and eating cupcakes by the ocean at midnight. Watching my nieces and nephews hunt for sand crabs with flashlights while we sisters shared our deepest, darkest secrets with just each other and the night. Sitting in my dad's lap and seeing him come alive as we sang an oldie but a goodie, both of us knowing full-well this could be the last time we ever harmonize together this side of heaven. Watching my mom cry happy tears at the sight of him being his old self again.

Here, we see the beauty in being broken. 

Here, our jagged edges seem to fit together when we stand side by side with one another. When we stand in the gap for one another. When we take arms against a sea of troubles with one another. When we stand inbetween our ex-spouse and our new one. Inbetween our mom and dad and our step-parents. When we stand next to those we don't agree with. Next to those who have hurt us in the past. Next to those who have broken their promises to us. Here, we have the right to forgive and to forget. To let it be water under the bridge. To stand together proudly and courageously and to do it on purpose. To boldly declare that this is what family looks like, for better or for worse

THIS is what love looks like in a brave new world.






Thursday, July 21, 2016

Blogging On A Plane





My breaths are purposely slow and controlled, but my poor heart is racing.

My head is glued to the headrest and my sweaty palms are clutching the seat belt. Stay calm. Breathe. Just breathe. Deep, deep breaths. In through your nose and out through your mouth. I hate flying. To me, take-off is the worst part. But it helps to observe the people around me and wonder what their lives must be like.

The nice, preppy dude sitting next to me in the striped polo buttoned all the way to the top lets me lean over him to take a picture of the view. The guy in front of me sports a touristy Hawaiian shirt and the blue rubber bracelet around his wrist says, “God Is Bigger.”

This is my new mantra as we ascend into the heavens.
The man across the aisle from me is wearing dark sunglasses and has a long, straggly beard. He is spewing curses at the flight attendants and is already asking them for alcohol before they even have time to shut the overhead compartments. He takes off his shades and his eyes look shifty and troubled. I wonder if I should be afraid of him, you know, because of the Islamic beard. And then, I am ashamed of myself. Just for that, I think I will join him. I’ll have whatever he’s having. His drink of choice? Southern Lemonade: Featuring Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka and Minute Maid Lemonade- “Sure to cool you off during the warm summer months.” And only $8! Don’t mind if I do.

The woman sitting next to me is playing candy crush.

Her arms and face are freckled and her eyeliner is smudged. Her hair is chestnut, but her roots are gray. She speaks with a slow, southern draw and it is comforting. I ask where she is from. She says she’s on her way back to Alabama. No wonder she feels like home. I tell her I was born in Opelika and my dad used to play football for Auburn. But she is an Alabama fan. She says “Roll Tide”.

This won’t be the last time we disagree.

She reminds me that flying in a plane is much safer than driving in a car. She regurgitates that old statistic everyone knows about the odds being ever in my favor that I'll die in a car accident rather than in a plane crash. But, to no avail.

I'm still wishing I was driving in a car right about now.

This trip was her first time flying and she thinks the worst part is landing. She says the next time she gets on a plane, she’s flying first-class, damn the cost. And if it’s her time to go, she says she’s ready. But she’d really like to be able to see her grandbabies grow up. She has just come from the birth of her fourth grandchild. Brenden Michael. She flips through the photos on her phone. Her daughter smiling in a checkered hospital gown. The proud father disguised in scrubs, surgical cap, and mask. A wrinkled, crying, red-faced baby. I tell her how cute he is, but everyone knows newborns look like aliens.

We have reached our cruising altitude.

The plane and my heart rate are now much more steady. Maybe it’s the southern hospitality sitting next to me. Or perhaps it’s the Southern Lemonade with vodka. I start to consider the future, now that I think I might have one. In just a few short hours, I will be reunited with family that I haven’t seen in years. My mom and dad (and their spouses), my two older sisters, my brother-in-law, my little bro and his wife, and my nieces and nephews are all convening at the beach. I almost didn’t get to come, but at the eleventh hour I decided to leave my four kids at home with their dad, and now here I sit on a plane contemplating life and death on my way to a family reunion.


It’s funny what you think about when you are 30,000 feet above the ground.

You wonder what people would remember about you if you died. You wonder if your life has made a hillabeans of difference at all. Maybe you've spent too much time building up walls instead of tearing them down. Perhaps you've become so good at protecting yourself from being vulnerable that your heart has become a quarantined, untouchable invalid. You wonder if you’ve said I love you enough. If you’ve forgiven enough. And if people have forgiven you.

Those are the things that really matter, after all.

If you don’t hear from me again, it was a botched landing. We probably went down in flames and my ashes have been scattered to the four winds. Whatever happens, here's what I hope you will say about me when I’m gone: That I knew what mattered in this life. That I loved. That I forgave. That I asked to be forgiven. And if, by chance, I do manage to survive this whole ordeal unscathed, I’m thinking I’m gonna rejoice a little bit more with those who rejoice. I’m gonna weep a little bit more with those who weep. And I’m gonna give a little bit more to those who are in need. But for now, I have to put my tray table up and put my seat back in the upright and locked position.

Wish me luck.

Friday, July 8, 2016

You Are Not Just A Hashtag



You are not just a hashtag, Alton Sterling from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
A.K.A. "Big A" and "CD Man"
Raised by your aunt Sandra after your mother died when you were 10 years old
Father of 5, living the hardscrabble life
Part-time cook who could make a mean pot of red beans and rice
Selling discs outside the Triple S Food Mart at the corner of Fairfields and Foster
One year younger than me when you were killed the day after Independence Day
Your life matters to me and I will not let you be swept in the dirt.

You are not just a hashtag, Philando Castile from Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
A.K.A. "Mr. Phil" and "Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks"
You'd be 33 today, same age as Christ when he was strung up on a cross
Straight A student who graduated with honors from Central High School
Worked your way up through the ranks since you were 18 years old
Wore a starched shirt and tie to your supervisor interview
Said your goal was to one day "sit on the other side of this table"
Fist-bumped all the kids, knew them all by name
Pushed extra food in them like a grandma

People said of Jesus after they crucified him, "Surely, this was the Son of God."
Just like after you were killed, the world said, "Truly, this was a GOOD MAN."

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Quiet Game



(A version of this was originally published by The Mighty on July 7, 2016.) 
(A version of this was also published by Still Mothers on September 23, 2016.)



In the wee small hours of the morning, if you listen closely, you can hear it. 

Silence.

Silence, when there should be a baby crying for a 2 am feeding.
Silence, when my husband and I should be debating whose turn it is to get up.
Silence, instead of sweet moans of contentment as a baby sucks down warm milk.

Some would say that silence is golden. 

No doubt, there are some haggard, overworked parents at the point of exhaustion who would give just about anything for a moment's peace. But for us, silence means a death sentence. For us, silence means we walked out of the hospital empty-handed. For us, silence seems like a cruel joke.

Sometimes silence feels like the enemy.
Sometimes silence happily mocks my pain.
Sometimes silence is the loudest sound I've ever heard.

For a while, that silence tried to consume me. It slithered up and surrounded me so there was no chance of escape. It coiled itself around my neck in a stranglehold and squeezed so tight I could barely breathe. After rendering me powerless, it rammed itself down my throat and possessed me, body and soul. 

And there are those who liked me that way. 

They would much rather me suffer in silence and play the quiet game. They think it's time for me to "get over it". They want me  to "buck up and move on". They don't like being made to feel uncomfortable by the mentioning of his name.

But losing a child is not something you get over. 

You can't just move on when your flesh and blood is buried beneath the ground. Or turned to ashes in an urn above the fireplace. Or scattered in the wind and waves of a turbulent sea. They continue to speak to us with voices that are otherworldly. Changing us from the people we used to be. The old has gone. 

We are being made new.

And this new me can't suffer in silence. That's not how you win this quiet game. He lives each time I write about him. He comes alive when I say his name. 

Cohen. 

Son of Charles and Andrea. Little brother of Chad. Big brother of Sarah, Hannah, and Savannah. He's a part of us. We're a family of 7. One of us just so happens to live in heaven.

Forgive me if you feel uncomfortable. Just scroll past me in your news feed. I don't mean to be an inconvenience. 

This is just me being the new me.