Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Face of Freedom

Most Mondays I end up at Kroger. You could say I'm a regular there. Situated just across the railroad tracks, not half a mile away, it's easy to fall victim to the convenience of popping in several times a week for a can of green chilies, a gallon of milk, a bag of Cara Cara oranges because Ruby likes them cut into wedges. Besides, my friend is almost always working. We greet each other by name now. He asks about what I'm writing, his kindness disarming me each time. He's become an unlikely source of wisdom and goodness. A neighbor. A friend. I try not to notice the sadness behind his eyes.

Earlier this week I pushed my cart of privilege toward the van, spring air and sun on my face. The city thrummed, wide awake. It's funny the way nothing at all can spark a memory, its heat burning you back to a different time. It wasn't so much that I remembered who I had been, no. I became me, then. I walked the parking lot in my baseball cap, almost forty years old now, no longer referring to my neighborhood or this community as "new". Yet for a moment, inside this slightly looser skin was the woman from four years back, live as a wire about all I didn't know...

It had been my second visit to the dingy courtroom, hid underground like a shameful thing, its carpet worn, its lighting buzzing and dim. I'd driven her there, and she filled the air between us, preferring chatter over silence, talking like a mama to Silas who was tucked into his car seat with Charles in his lap. The worst was over. Everything was going to be alright. We plotted a fast-food scheme for afterward and I knew for sure, she was my friend. Two people can crash together in unlikely ways and exit the flames fused, somehow. That was us. I loved her. I loved the light in her eyes and wanted so desperately for it to burn into mine.

We sat for an hour or so, did what we were told. Stand. Sit. Keep your mouths shut.
We exhaled when it was over, our thoughts already turning to carbonation and salty grease.  And then they approached her. You have a right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you...

The atmosphere slowed honey thick and she didn't say a word. She looked at Silas, then at me. I prayed there wouldn't be a scene, worrying for the hundredth time that it was true after all, we were inflicting pain on our children, slow and insidious. Without a single word, she handed me the set of keys she was holding for a friend along with her phone. Her free hand swept up to her long brown hair and it tumbled down around her shoulders. She handed me her scrunchie, the kind we used in the 90's, fuchsia faded down to a dusty rose. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why she wasn't reacting. I pictured myself in her shoes, frantic, sobbing. I imagined the screeching halt of my life and the lives of those closest to me if I were snapped into steel handcuffs for any reason, ever.

Four years later, having arrived at a place where jail is as much a part of our day as good books and dinner around the table, it's the scrunchie that levels me, that long, sweeping handing-off of oneself to another. No words spoken, because there weren't any that mattered. The light had extinguished, her eyes gone cold.

What I didn't understand then is that, for good and for ill, freedom can be found in the most unlikely places. Our friendship wasn't headed for a quiet death, but for the depth and truth born in loss.

Tuesday evening was the annual Elkhart County Jail Ministry Banquet, a party complete with redemption stories and ample slices of pie, thrown by my husband in honor of his friends. It's one of my favorite nights of the year. Just like last year, I teared up often. I hugged our friends who bravely bared their souls before strangers. As I was leaving, three sleepy kids in tow, a man grabbed me into a bear hug and asked about my book. "I was just telling my wife about it on the way over here." His eyes brimmed with tears. "I still cannot believe anyone cared enough about me to put my story in a book."

Our friend Tom, one of the assistant chaplains for the ministry, emailed me later, "it  had an air of  victory. it was intoxicating to breathe it in collectively for one night. and it was refreshing to see calvin, silas, and ruby adding to it with their presence. now that we have seen them growing up through your posts, they seemed to be a natural fit to the evening as it was all about family in theme. i'm glad to be a part of this family."

We tend to share the best stories. We want people to see the hope that was born in a manger to save our broken hearts. But don't misunderstand, our definition of "best" has taken a turn.

Sometimes success means avoiding the needle on off-days. It's a start, so we celebrate it.
Sometimes success means reconciling. Sometimes it means telling the truth. Sometimes it means getting locked up again, seeing it as a gift, and receiving it.

We went to bed feeling light, honored to be living this exact life.
I woke at 6 a.m. to a terrifying dream, unreasonably violent, piercingly personal, the kind that drew me to Cory, sound asleep beside me. I gasped for air, pinched my own flesh. This is real. That was not. "It's spiritual warfare", said a friend. I'm already a little nervous about tonight.

If you find yourself wondering at times whether I'm okay, the answer is yes, I am always okay for most of the day.

I'm also usually sad at some point.

There's no way around pain when we're forever dodging the shrapnel of addiction and bone-deep longing. We are bound to be struck.

But did you notice the way the cracks in the sidewalk fan out like the veins of a maple leaf? Did you see the neighbor kid wearing brand new shoes? Did you hear my child thank me for being his? Did you feel the weight of his shape in the chill of morning?

I sure did.

"Yet I am confident I will see the Lord's goodness while I am here in the land of the living." - Psalm 27:13