Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Learn and Live

I got my first official job when I was eighteen years old, soon after a Meijer grocery/everything store popped up in the nearest city from the village where I grew up. I worked in the shoe department in my lame polyester smock, sizing and shelving vinyl shoes that had people names like "Cindy" and "Kirsten".

Two of my co-workers would become some of my closest friends. I was the bones to their curves, the flat tresses to their curls. It worked. Together, we abused the store's PA system, sang along with the Muzak, raised more than one on-the-clock ruckus, and dipped our toes into the complex underbelly of retail store romances. Before summer's end each of us was dating a bad dude in a red polyester vest, dodging melodrama and re-spraying our bangs. We stacked the tiny toddler-sized shoes two pairs deep but it never crossed our minds to imagine buying some one day.

The days stretched into night and back again.We were young and ordinary. We were spectacular. We were good girls straining to be bad under a cover of privilege we didn't recognize. We knew the fury of the church along with its love. And the cost of every sin? We knew the weight of the invisible sliding scale dividing earth from air, ever set against the horizon, impossible to ignore.

The future loomed large, an escape hatch or certain death, depending on the hour. On our nights off we read smutty magazines out loud and talked about God.

One morning, walking to the stock room through the housewares aisle with its rows of screen-printed dish towels and tacky color palettes, a wave of dread swept over me. I would never belong to a world that required me to wash all the dishes and buy my own towels. I pictured an empty room with walls the color of melted vanilla ice cream and me, alone in the middle. If life was a blank slate, I was beginning to realize I had never even held a brush. It was too much, and I was ill-equipped.

Twenty years later, and I am here, a wife and mother, my two friends even more dear. We learned in the nick of time to find intrigue apart from men who hadn't learned how to love. We have mortgages now. Along the way we managed to discern our tastes in dish towels and acquire a good many.

But there is still so much I do not know.

In the past month, I sat near men addicted to drugs and women addicted to men. I watched hope slip through trembling hands and watched trust circle the drain. I saw men fight their way out of hell, running breathless and alive only to stop on a dime and stand perfectly still until it caught up with them again. Before my eyes, jail morphed into heaven, and freedom - certain death.

Sometimes Silas prays on our morning walk to school and sometimes I do, but for reasons I cannot explain, each prayer begins with, "Dear God, thank you for the trees." Lately, when I'm the one praying, my silky-haired boy murmurs along with his heart ablaze like the pious men of my youth, "Yes. Amen!" I have no idea what's become of him, but it sure wasn't me.

I have stirred sage into risotto and baked egg casseroles in foil pans so large, the middle wasn't set until the bottom was the color of my morning tea. I bought XL cans of Bush's baked beans in bulk as unto the Lord.

I have been lied to. I have been cried to. I have returned both favors.
I've washed load upon load of laundry. I've cleaned the bathroom for spite. I've played Rummy and laughed until I cried.

I have this thing about kissing my people every day, taking time to give them the affection they need, which differs across the board. So, I've done that. I've earned extra credit here, jogged this extra mile. I've kissed the soft cheeks of my children. I've kissed my husband, hanging on for dear life through another wave of the pain life deals, relieved again to realize we're still here, still mostly standing.

I have hiked trails to the tune of fall, inhaling white space, remembering years ago when we tried the same trail while in the throes of potty-training Silas. We're a happy family now, the one that quietly showed up while we were still grieving what we thought we had become.

Early one morning, I chased the neighbor dog in her cardigan sweater away from our cranky cat and worried for the boys who held the leash. I stared injustice in the face until my eye sockets bled, wondering why some kids are given opportunity while other kids are expected to earn it. I have watched as some of my small neighbors are cast quietly aside where they won't be missed. But we'll notice them again. One day, we'll stand with our rocks and make them pay for the sins we committed against them.

I have incited wars and hoarded grace. I've heard the voice of God from the lips of an ex-felon seated to my right at our dining table. 

This life is a blanket, and it covers us. We don't need to protect ourselves from it, it's the actual thing that keeps us warm, the very presence of God in the middle of the work we do and the ways we run. The narrative is one of profound sorrow and immeasurable hope. This melody is often sung in a minor key, so we brew another cup of tea, ride bikes with the wind in our faces, take chances and hot showers and hunker down, rediscovering the true love of the living God.

Things change, but the main things don't. The summer of '94 is still hot on my skin. I'm still fumbling around in the dark, stunned by all I don't know.

But there are trees that need watching and people waiting to be loved, so I guess I'll just keep learning while I live.