Disasters all around

I see things through the filter of disaster.

If this turns into a dystopian society, will I still find this career meaningful?

If the house burns down with all my belongings in it, will I still be pleased with how I spent my money? (Note to self: also, get a good metal box for car title, etc.)

When we go hiking for 10 miles with a pack on my back, I think, isn’t it good that if we had to flee for our lives on foot, we are physically capable of doing so?

How many people could I put up, if there was a displaced people needing to be put up?

I could say it was the pessimistic genes I inherited. I could say that even reading history in grade school and high school, I was astute enough to notice that civilizations ebb and flow. Hard times followed by peaceful times followed by hard times. And if life seems like it’s been too good for too long, there must be a terrible disaster just around the corner.

But I think in a more honest inspection, I want my Joesph moment. Not that I want to be sold by my siblings into slavery and prisoned unjustly for decades. No; I just want my moment where I can say, “Now it all makes sense. Everything that happened to me was preparing me for this time.”

I tell myself, well, this is silly. Every moment is preparing you for every moment. God works a complex enough work that all of the things are interwoven and interconnected and nothing stands alone.

But the vanities of vanities sneak up on me, and I’m left struggling again to find some sore of theme or plot arc or resolution upon which I can hang some semblance of meaning. I know that in the big picture, it’s not about this life at all. But right now, I’m in the little picture, and I want to know that this is a deliberate drawing, not a mindless doodle or a dishonorable scribble.

And disasters in life are somewhat of a purifying fire. The irritating situations, the relatively minor miscommunication, the I-should-really-exercise-more-consistently, the I-guess-I’m-supposed-to-think-about-what-happens-when-I-grow-old-even-though-I-don’t-know-what-I-want-for-next-year-next-month-next-week. . .it all pales in the face of an honest to goodness disaster where basic human needs and immediate safety are paramount. The first world guilt that we could always be doing better — someone else assuredly is — narrows down to, essentially, decency: was I kind? did I try? Am I turning my back and hardening my heart, or am I doing what ought to be done even through the pain?

Romanticizing disaster? A little. I know enough of disaster to know how quickly it breaks me beyond tears, how rapidly I crumble under the weight of it. But I also know enough about disaster to have tasted some of the truth, and it changes you: the perfect little suburban home with the perfect little suburban life is ashes in my mouth. I don’t want it. I can dream up the perfect little rural life, and it’s far, far more tantalizing. . . but perhaps instead like eating just the frosting off the cake. You might think you want it, but really, it makes you sick.

I don’t want to live in a constant state of disaster. But I do wonder, I do take note, and I do uncomfortably shift. Waiting for disaster to come has a safe passiveness to it; you can’t prepare, because it could be anything. You just hold this glowy ideal in your head that your hour to shine is coming. But what if maybe I’m not supposed to wait for disaster to come to me; what if I’m supposed to acknowledge that there is disaster all around, and what if I’m supposed to rally out to meet it instead of quietly letting that be someone else’s problem?

The need is endless; we can’t drain the ocean. This I know. But I was talking to an elderly friend the other day, and we were talking about the change in culture. Health care now vs health care when the doctor came to your house. Customer service now vs then. Even how now the facility where I work is full of “SIP” rooms – shelter in place. Better to have a plan if there is an active shooter. And I said to her that the sad thing was, there was no way to fight back, to say we don’t like this and we want it to be different.

But I wondered later if that was truthful. Is there no way, or is it just hard and risky and exhausting? What if it means not washing your hands of disaster, because it hasn’t come to your doorstep yet, and what if it means putting yourself on the line? Not the wearing of t-shirts or the buying of “socially comfortable” products. But instead, using up your precious time off to go show up where it is needed to have a person, a human being, being present? What if it means taking a part time job instead of a full time job, making your future that much more insecure, in order to help those who don’t know what compassion means? What if it means showing up in the yuck, not giving graciously and comfortably from your bounty?

What if? Not definitely yes. Because when you’re already struggling for meaning, it’s wise to caution yourself against drastic courses of action, just as with not making major life decision from a place of acute grief. Life can’t always be someone else’s problem. But neither can it be something we do for our own glory or piety: the suffering of others is not about our own personal narrative.

It’s foolish to wish disaster into your life for the sake of it’s clarifying influence. At the same time, if you’ve sipped from that cup and have that awareness of what is really important in life, is it wise to ignore that? I don’t have an answer. All I have is the awareness that this line of thought is not a passing moment of guilt or idealism, but a deep undercurrent spanning decades. Maybe, in this time of life, it is a fire best left banked. But in the background, it is still there: I’m waiting for a disaster with my name on it, whether it comes for me, or I come for it.


Oh, you.

I put on my 1950s style little black dress and a pair of sassy red heels, and I went to that wedding.

Not because I hardly even knew my cousin and her soon-to-be husband. Not because I like crowded spaces and loud music.

Because people are important, and important things take work. People take time, and showing up when you don’t feel like it, and making an effort to to be available, and patience to grow relationships and even extending olive branches when you really don’t know someone.

I was so pleased with myself that I know this now. I was so pleased with myself that I am consciously trying to build and strengthen family ties, even when I feel like I don’t really know the other person and that they might not even want to really know me. I was proud that I had put my money where my mouth was, and that I had whole-heartedly shown up, not half-heartedly gone through the motions.

Then I went home and found a sobering blow: my childhood best friend was married on the same day.

Or at least, I always thought we were best friends. I think I always had suspicions that maybe she didn’t think we were best friends. But I thought we were, and I thought we always would be. Because, of course.

You could say our families grew apart. That might be an understatement. You could say we grew apart. That would be trite. Looking back, I think we were pursuing (consciously or otherwise) totally different things for our relationship together. I think we had different ideas of what life was supposed to be like, what friendship was supposed to be like, and how we were supposed to relate to each other. The older we got, the harder I tried – and the harder it seemed to be able to connect with her in any meaningful way. The suspicion that I might not be her best friend grew into the suspicion that she really couldn’t care less, but that she was a nice person and would be nice to me.

That, in turn, grew into shame. Shame of what, I couldn’t quite say. Shame that I was a “needy person” perhaps. Shame that wanted a relationship the other person didn’t want. Shame that the other person seemed to have their life all together and mine was all a part, and that person was in a different class than me. Shame that I kept trying to pursue a friend who didn’t need another friend.

I think it was shame that finally did us in. I quit trying to hang on to the friendship, ashamed I’d tried to keep it going for so long. And I was the only one that was trying to keep it, so away it went. That only intensified my shame.  I should have let the friendship die a long time ago. Clearly, I was the desperate one. Clearly, I was the pathetic one. Clearly, never showing my face again was the best option.

Years later, she “friended” me on Facebook. I was startled. An olive branch? Perhaps I’d over-reacted; maybe I was too emotional — took too personally what was only a busy time in her life. Along with the request was a brief note, trying to catch up. An interest in my life? No; she friended me, but totally hid her wall from me, never followed any of my posts, and never followed up again. A nice person, who holds me no ill will, but no desire for friendship, either.

It made me sad. Actually, it made me more ashamed. Getting my hopes up over a superficial “friend request.” Entertaining the fantasy of returning to childhood friendship. Delusion and desperate as ever. She was the one who friended me, but kept me at arms length. Still, I felt a little guilty seeing pictures of her “tagged” on her wedding day. It felt as though perhaps I shouldn’t know this was happening — that I shouldn’t really be privy to this part of her life. She sent me no invitation; why should she? We hadn’t seen each other in countless years. I’m sure I couldn’t have been further from her mind on her wedding day.

But it took my breath away. I remember us as kids, occasionally mentioning hypothetically some-days when we’d be married, speculating about the future. If you told me that on her wedding day, we wouldn’t even know each other any more, I think you would have broken my heart. Maybe my heart did break, just a little.

I can extend grace to my nearly-unknown cousin from a position of superiority. I don’t know you; I don’t need to know you. But I will grace you with my presence, just so that you know that I am willing to be your family, should you ever want one.

But I find I don’t know how to extend grace to my once-friend, who at one point allowed me nearly the same grace-from-superiority: I don’t need you, but I will pity you, and extend to you some shallow friendship. I’ll friend you on Facebook – a token gesture – but not actually invest in you.

It took the wind out of my sails. Partly, I think I am still mourning a lost friendship — a loss I tried to cram down and ignore, in an attempt to escape the shame, rather than face the loss. Although I must say, it’s only been in the last several years I’ve really learned about loss and grief and mourning. But partly because I realize that while there is a sacrifice to Showing Up when you don’t really feel like it, “grace from a position of superiority” really bites.

This is where I run into my current conundrum. There seems to be no use in pursuing people who are simply not in a place or position or a desire to have a relationship. Yet at the same time, it seems devaluing of human beings not to extend the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship. But is it really an opportunity for a meaningful relationship if it is an offer from a position of superiority — of not needing, but allowing that if the weaker one wants it, to grant it? I think myself so beneficent to have attended my barely-known cousin’s wedding, but how can that really be meaningful to her? So, I showed up. Big whoop. Sure, you have to start someplace. But a real relationship is about a lot more than gestures.

I’m not hurt that my once-friend didn’t invite me to her wedding. I hurt that not all friendships are forever. I don’t hurt that I wasn’t her maid of honor. I hurt that relationships with other human beings are so fleeting and fragile that you can think you’re best friends one year and another year be lifetimes apart. I don’t hurt that I didn’t find out from her about her wedding. I hurt that we aren’t in each others lives at all any more and have no grounds for commonality or friendship. Even if  I saw her today, what what I say? What could we say? There doesn’t seem to be any scant reason for a conversation, except the distant memory that, once, we were friends. And we won’t dishonor that memory. But we can’t resurrect it, either.

It’s hard to reach out to people and to be genuine and honest. But if it’s not genuine and honest, it really stinks. Forced, shallow and polite relationships really stink. Yet real, true, honest relationships needs a lot of work. Period. Good things require time and patience and mindfulness about tending. So how do you know when to let go, and when to keep patiently hoeing out the weeds? How do you know when “showing up” is part of the patient work, and when it is almost a condescension? And why do many chasms, originally there or grown over the years, never come to redemption?



I’m craving sugar and caffeine and I’m angry at the world. Possibly, these two things are related.

The rheumatologist today told me (in the sweetest way possible; he was a really nice guy–but, still) that I wasn’t his problem, and probably if I waited it would all go away.

That made me mad, although I recognize it’s not his fault I don’t have a problem that he can fix. I’m just mad to be defied (yet again) answers, solutions, plans or assistance. And while I’ve heard that both sugar and caffeine can be addicting, my guess is that currently it has more to do like feeling like I “deserve it.” I had a rough morning; no news from the long awaited, greatly anticipated specialist visit, a cranky list of errands. And I was basically told that as far as my health goes, I’m on my own.

Which I think part of me already knew, but since I’m a loan suffering brave soul, clearly I’m in need of compensation. Clearly. And binge eating on chocolate and drinking coffee sounds like a good place to start.

And I tell myself that’s precisely why I shouldn’t eat it. Because I’m not saying, “I’m hungry, get me some carbs.” And I’m not even really saying, “I’m tired”–although I am — “get me some coffee.” I’m saying, “I’m grouchy and pouting and I don’t like all of the things, and someone should make me HAPPY!”

I didn’t enter into this diet lightly; in entered into it because I figured out in some part of me that as far as actually getting better, I was pretty much on my own. I’m not abstaining from sugar and caffeine because I’m all holier-than-thou; I’m putting myself on a 6-week course of “medication.” Eating the cheap chocolate I happen to know is sitting in the drawer beside me — or drinking that awesome chilled coffee I have yet to properly dump from the fridge (maybe I just like the idea that it’s there?) — sounds like a really good idea in the short term. Like, right NOW. But I’ve just spent 3 months in “relative” agony, and no one is going to help me. If my last ditch to regain some function involves not eating a few things for a mere 50 days or so, am I really going to chose another 6 months or more of agony over the temptation of cheap chocolate?

I mean, it’s Day 2. Anything could happen.

But I want the answer to be, no, of course not, stupid. No, of course not; you act as though I don’t even have a modicum of self-restraint, like I’m an immoral person, a base animal. But the truth is, I’m not sure if I do have a modicum of self-restraint, and I think perhaps I am a base animal. And what’s to be done about that, hmm?

I just think that a big part of all of this is considering the “why’s”. Why don’t I have any self-restraint when it comes to irrational anger or irrational eating habits? What’s my problem really, because I do believe it is something deeper than, oh, disappointment over no new news, or an environmental conditioning to sugar consumption. People bristle at the idea of us acting as base animals, because they want to feel good, and being described as a base animal doesn’t feel good. But there’s a good lesson to be learned from wound care, which is, sure, you can just slap a bandage on it and pretend it isn’t there. But if anything is going to heal, it needs to be confronted, exposed, cleaned, observed and regularly attended to. Saying we aren’t acting in very base ways is usually just a lie we tell ourselves because we don’t want to attend to the stinking, oozing wound that is screaming, “problem! Problem!! PEOPLE, WE GOT A PROBLEM OVER HERE!!!!”

I get that part of the reason why I’m craving sugar and caffeine is precisely because I told myself I couldn’t have it. The forbidden fruit always has such a dreamy aroma. But more than that, I think I just want to exert my own importance. Life sucks, but I’M THE QUEEN! My to-do list scares me till my stomach knots up, but I got da shuga! I have no control over my limited function, and the doctors are no use to me, but at least I’m full and happy! Everything is going wrong, so what is one way in which everything can be safe and all right? Good food.

The thing is, um, guess what. No, actually, you aren’t the queen. I don’t mean it to be rude; but it would be better to figure out how to live in your lowly appointment than to continue going around with delusions of grandeur. I mean, in the US of A, we tend to take things like out-stepping your authority pretty lightly–or applaud it, even. Places who take these things more literally, delusions of grandeur can get you killed. And my gut instinct is, like sugar, declaring you’re the queen feels good in the short run and kills you in the long run.

What’s the cure? I don’t know. I’ve just been thinking, if I’ve been abusing sugar like that (for goodness knows how long), it’s probably really good for me to take a break from it, regardless of it’s impact on my health. My hair may or may not get shiner, my teeth whiter, and my health ratchet up several brackets of stardom, but mentally, emotionally, psychologically, it’s probably time to step away from the sugar. So if the sugar problem is just an extension of the queen problem, then it’s probably. . .time to start practicing being small?

I will be bluntly clear that I don’t really know how. And that it probably isn’t fun. I’m not going to paint smiley rainbows over this. It really stinks that I can’t fix my health on my time frame, e.g. NOW. And it really stinks, the school work and the errands.

But. . .

This is the day that THE LORD has made.

Not the day that I made.

And the “I will rejoice and be glad,” sounds a whole lot more like submission, and a whole lot less like being the queen.