I’ve had an intense, wonderful few weeks travelling. I went road-tripping to SoCal with Carmen, college-hunting through some of the worst storms in a generation. My sister Emily and I talked my dad into coming to CA even after he said he would never get on a plane again after his strokes last summer, but he did! And we had a marvelous long weekend with 3 generations ages three through 79 in two cities for four days.
Now I’m in Portland OR helping with my sister Sam’s kids while she is away. This morning as I was helping the 7-year-old get ready for school, he informed me that the scab on his knee was from a fall on the playground yesterday. “It bled,” he said, “which you can tell because of the scab–the skin broke and it punctured some blood vessels. A scab is good. It protects a wound from bacteria getting in.” (he is an exceptionally learned 7-year-old). “You must be a fast healer–it already looks about a week old!” I said in reply.
My goddaughter texted me a Mary Oliver poem this morning. We’ve been trading them since her longtime boyfriend broke up with her. She is 20 years old, and they’ve been together since she was 14. Theirs was a real love, one that matured them both, made them kinder, braver, more compassionate and wise. Even the reason he broke up with her was wise: so they could both continue growing, and find out who they might become as single people.
Her heart is broken. It will mend. I don’t have to tell her that. She is wise enough to know she will someday love again, and it would scoff at the legitimate pain she is in right now to hurry her there. My heart hurts for her hurt. And I look at her and see only beauty and possibility, resilience and hope. I can’t wait to find out what lucky human will get to be her next true love, and her next. A lifetime of Love School.
I’m 52. One of the things about being 52: when things break, they don’t heal so quickly. The bruise sticks around longer, the scab grows tight and clings harder to the wound. The literal pangs in the heart are more frequent and more worrisome, and don’t always resolve.
This week I had a small blow of the kind that happens more frequently in middle age: I got sick. The last night in Joshua Tree with my family, I was roiling with fever and pain and ache and exhaustion. It wasn’t a cold and it wasn’t COVID. My kind doctor diagnosed me with diverticulitis, an infection of the descending colon, of the little pockets that can develop in it over time. She ordered a CT scan and my first colonoscopy ever (yay!) to rule out anything more dire.
The first time I heard of diverticulitis was when I was a baby minister and Wilbur Andrews of treasured memory went into the hospital for it. Parish ministers know a lot about old people ailments–-we are lay diagnosticians just based on the sheer aggregate hours we have spent next to gurneys and hospital beds, praying for the people we love who have things going wrong inside of them, particularly when those bodies have been around a while. Entropy is real.
It was curious: I was relieved to get a clear diagnosis (and the antibiotics), but ended up crying about 4 separate times that first day. I was strangled by a tangled knot of feelings: grief that my body seems to be falling apart sooner than I expected, particularly while I still have children living at home and am working such long hours and haven’t yet had a chance to have a real midlife crisis or even a long, sensible, planned midlife adventure. Shame that there was something wrong with my body, with my pooping parts no less. Frustration that I couldn’t be more productive at a busy time because I felt so shitty. Anger at feeling shame and frustration, because both are so clearly a byproduct of misogyny (women are supposed to be clean and dainty and beautiful and not have broken poop parts) and hypercapitalism (humans are cogs in the great machine that is never supposed to break down).
Is this what life was going to be from now on? A new and unrelenting side gig in Deterioration Management™ that will eventually become a full-time job, without a break to actually, you know, travel around the world without a colostomy bag, or hike the Tahoe Rim Trail, or learn how to hanglide? Am I Wilbur Andrews? Will my greatest joy in life soon be the Tuesday scrod special at the Cabot Street Diner? (which is, admittedly, delicious–or was in 1998 anyhow)
I’m not going to rush myself out of this grief. If there’s anything I’ve learned about grief (and most feelings), it’s that it will have its due, and denying it just prolongs it. But a bit of my rational brain is already talking back to me. Reminding me that I felt this way during early cancer treatment, but that disability turned out to be temporary, and this one may well, too. Urging me to believe my own theology: that bodies are good, every one of them, and not because they can perform or produce–just because they are. And our wounds and ailments, with the right set and setting, angel messengers and practical supports, can be a Holy Spirit portal–-the place where God gets in.
We’re 2 weeks into Lent. As in other recent years, as Ash Wednesday approached and I thought about what my Lenten practice might be, I felt a bit of petulant irritation: “haven’t I already given up enough in recent years? And if I really believe the spiritual life is not a grim-lipped self-improvement campaign, what’s the point?” But growth is the point, and growth means change, sometimes even change actually voluntarily undertaken.
Since a life-altering trip around the world is not on the books for this spring, God put it into my head to go on an “inner trip” for Lent. I’ll save more about what this means to me for the next issue, when I hope to have some biggish good news to share, but in short: I’m not to pass up a chance to go down any wormhole into my deeper consciousness. God was clear: this is not about navel-gazing (or even chakra-gazing). Any inner work I do is for the purpose of not only knowing and healing myself, but of shaving down the callouses of compassion fatigue to renew my feeling for others. Anything might be such a wormhole–the fancy Wim Hof cold plunge with holotropic breath work I did at a spa in LA recently, or sitting in a mini redwood forest with my sister Em and Dad.
But things I initially think are bad might be wormholes too. The flood that grounded us in LA the day after the cold plunge (a very different sort of cold plunge…), in which our car got stranded and we were saved by 2 Mexican construction workers. My dad’s strokes last summer, his getting older a lot faster, which has strained but also blessed our relationship. Even–-especially–-an unexpected illness of my own may yet turn out to be a blessing.
Lent means hurtling toward Good Friday–-a flogging, public humiliation and gruesome death, followed by not just miraculous swift healing of superficial wounds but radical reversal of the death-blow itself. Jesus mimics our own life and pain. Blessing follows breaking. Especially for those of us with naturally optimistic outlooks, there is depth and growth in having our sunny spirits challenged on a regular basis.
This Marge Piercy poem is in my mind this morning. It found me again and again during cancer treatment, and finds me again today.
"Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool.
Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can't bless it, get ready to make it new.”Bless you in your ability and disability, your youth and age, your illness and wellness, wherever you are. May your grief not be too great. May your besties call at just the right time. May whatever you are feeling be a wormhole into your own depths, a Holy Spirit Portal into the divine.
Things bringing me joy and/or growth rn:
Collaborating with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg to bring a Christian lens to a discussion of her incredible book, On Repentance and Repair. Use with your book group/Lenten church group!
A new book about faith and finances, Serving Money, Serving God: Aligning Radical Justice, Christian Practice and Church Life (which I am going to read and ask my Finance Team at church to read too) by the wonderful Sheryl Johnson
The Many’s beautiful Lenten resources (it’s not too late to start a meaningful Lent!)
Chef Tanya’s Vegan Kitchen in Palm Desert, CA – hands down the best vegan restaurant I’ve ever been it. O the fries! Dipped in chipotle aioli OR an oat-milk ice cream Desert Hurricane!
Jumping pads, like this one at the Palm Springs/Joshua Tree KOA – you can catch way more air than in a regular bounce house! Someone explain the physics of that to me:
My various nieces and nephews, ages 1-7, who make me laugh and think (and jump and skip and sing and dance)--love you Ollie and Isla and Will and Owen!
And a p.s. We are up to 61 reviews of How to Begin on Amazon! I love even the negative reviews from disappointed evangelicals, which I think probably help me even more than the beautifully written ones by friends. I noticed a real shift in attention when the book passed the 50 review mark.100 reviews is another famed benchmark. If you have bought it from from Amazon, will you review it there? And if you haven't bought it yet, would you consider buying, reading and reviewing--then donating it to your local library so others can find it too?
And a p.p.s. This will be the last issue I send out from Mailchimp. They want to charge me since Doomsday Dance Party is over 1,000 subscribers strong! And I want to keep it free for you and for me. So next month-ish look for this lil email to arrive via my new Substack account. <3
Friends, Family, Colleagues & Readers I just haven’t met yet.