Finish the Prompt Tuesday (#3)

The Matticus Kingdom just keeps finding a gauntlet to throw. Here is the latest.

The Prompt:

Gently rubbing throbbing temples provided the illusion of relief without actually carrying through with the promise.  Another futile second and the hands dropped, defeated, and eyes flared open again.  Angry red lines coursed away from pools of deep blue that framed anguished black pupils.  Creases above eyebrows and worry lines appeared in the recently vacated spaces.

Neighbors cast furtive glances, some of concern, some of blame, and some of boredom, and they were all ignored.  There was no time or energy to deal with their intrigue, there was only pain.  Constant.  Intense.  It burrowed further in, disrupting the normal flow of tissues and synapses.  Eyes closed once more for balance but the bursts of light cascading in synchronized waves against eyelids required hands to go fumbling in search of something solid to cling to.

Balance restored, slowly.  Achingly slowly.  The throbbing headache remained.

Dark thoughts, twisted and writhing with mischief, found a way to surface when no others would or could: quick ways to end the suffering, names of those at fault for the current agony and how best to serve a fitting revenge, and the long road to recovery hidden in shadows and chains.  The abused heart lurched haltingly as it became wrapped in despair.  Knees grew weak.  Eyes, still hidden protectively behind their lids, rolled upwards.  Gravity did the rest and cooling air rushed passed falling limbs…

Now for my part:

Hours, or only an instant, passed by in a blur. Eyelids opened to the blue and white foam fast approaching. Time crystallized and stopped. Birds mid-flight, their wings stretched to full span, seemed frozen on the wind, like a stop-action photo. Trees stood still, holding their breath, while the waters of the fall below ceased their downward plunge, the roar deadened into deafening silence. It seemed to last an eternity, until the seconds began ticking again, first in slow succession like hours, then quickening their pace into minutes, then screaming past until – SNAP!

The taut bungee cord wrenched Dave’s body back up towards the old railway bridge. The pain was gone now, for the moment. He knew it would return once the rush was over. Adrenaline provided the only relief he could find these days for the pounding behind his eyeballs. He began to perceive the shouts of his fellow thrill-seekers, but he could truly hear the disapproving silence of the other onlookers.

Too far below to read the signs the disgruntled protestors still carried, he didn’t need to see them to know their message. The town had been in an uproar all winter over the decision to open the historic bridge to a local company intent on using it as a launch site for bungee jumpers. Dave was all for it – his now-empty savings account attested to his determination to find any way possible to rid himself of the relentless pain he now suffered.

Flinging his arms wide as if he planned to embrace the rocks before him, he let out a shout of delight as the cord released him downwards once more. This time there was no familiar SNAP of a rebound. Instead there was a tearing sound as the cord unraveled and broke into two ragged pieces.

Dave had time for one thought as he rushed towards the rocky waterfall below: “Well, at least the headaches will be over,” and he smiled in anticipation of that end.

Believing the Impossible

As has become obvious to my regular readers (if there are any of those), I have felt little inspiration to write lately. Sorry about that. Sometimes my life gets in the way. Lately it’s been my emotions. I told a friend the other day that I’ve been too angry to write. Working on that … meanwhile, I’ll blame (pre-)menopause and plow on.

Thankfully I ran across a daily prompt that inspired me to write something for the first time in what feels like a long time. WordPress, you continue to push me to keep writing even when life and my own emotions conspire to stop me. For this I am grateful.

Daily Prompt: Impossibility

by michelle w. on March 18, 2013

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland.

What are the six impossible things you believe in? (If you can only manage one or two, that’s also okay.)

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1. I believe that people are people, period.

That people resemble one another at their core increases cynicism and love within me. I don’t know how two incongruous emotions can spring simultaneously from one idea, but there it is.

On the one hand, cynicism lowers my expectations of people. I’ve learned to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when I see them at their best. I no longer expect anyone to really change over the course of a life either. Maybe that’s why when I actually do see dramatic change in someone, it is so inspiring. Because of it’s rarity and it’s unexpectedness, real change tastes that much sweeter.

People are people = +cynicism.

On the other hand, a multitude of relationships over decades of life have opened my eyes to the fact that everyone is a mess, most of the time. But knowing we’re all in this mess together enables me to give grace to others … most of the time. With some folks I have to consciously remind myself of our similarities. At the core, my selfishness is exactly the same as my bass-blasting neighbor’s, just manifested differently. This truth helps me to rein in the anger (when I remember to remind myself, that is…).

People are people = +love.

Hopefully love will conquer cynicism, but I wouldn’t count on seeing it happen in me. At least, not anytime soon.

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2. I believe that God is good.

I would love to type ‘nuf said after that statement, but unfortunately, I can’t. I’ve lived too long not to know how many different emotions and thoughts just raced through every reader’s heart and mind when they read the word, “God”; reading “God” and “good” in the same sentence has produced another slew of reactions. Here it might suffice to challenge my readers to write a blog addressing what that statement means to you (whether or not you believe it to be true). 🙂 Gauntlet thrown.

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3. I believe that people are eternal.

Something deep inside me knows that death cannot be the end. I used to have a wealth of theological arguments and Bible passages to defend this belief, all of which have become smoke and mirrors in my mind. I guess besides my affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus, I depend on the very UNsupportable notion that life after death makes sense of my world.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of atheist blogs. Often they address morality in their writing and discuss it in the comments. The question that always arises in my mind: “If you and I are dust when we die, what possible difference could living a moral life make in the scheme of things?” Morality in a predominantly immoral, finite, godless world makes absolutely no sense to me, and yet, godless people affirm the superiority of a life given to helping/serving/loving others.

It’s all well and good to say that people should live in such a way that others are unharmed, or that love is a quality we should aspire to exemplify simply because this life is all you’ve got; but if atheists are right, then there is no basis for this assertion because there is no real reason to live that way (well, other than to avoid spending your life in prison, but then the motive for your goodness would not be goodness but the selfish motive of avoiding punishment).

I can’t help but wonder why it matters when a life is ‘cut short’ if there is no life beyond? Whether a person lives 2 years or 80, dust is the result and if there is no memory or knowledge of what that life consisted of, then nothing.really.matters. Paul said it this way [my paraphrase], “If there is no life after death, then do whatever makes you happy, for tomorrow you’re gone.” Paul agreed with me (or vice versa ;)).

Conversely, what does it matter if someone lives a moral life for 100 years if there is nothing after they die? What would it matter to be fondly remembered by people who are dust just like the person they remembered when they were living? It makes no sense.

My belief in an afterlife has absolutely nothing to do with reward or punishment (hard for most people to wrap their brain around that one, I know), but somehow what I do in this life has to matter in some way, and without a future existence it simply can’t. My desire to live to a higher standard here and now makes no sense if there is not life after death. Dust loving dust is ludicrous. Why bother?

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4. I believe that love will win in the end.

If you are limited by the world around you, and if you reject my belief #3, this dream is a hard pill to swallow. The opposite of love is all around evident. Incidents of suicide, terrorist attacks, party-driven mud-slinging, school shootings, and road rage all seem to say that evil and hatred is winning.

So I encourage you to turn your gaze within and listen to your heart. I hear the same message inside me I hear over and over again from movies to music lyrics: every voice screams, Make it RIGHT!” Our instinctive understanding that good should conquer evil explains our love for heroic stories, happy endings, and Cinderella.

In 1987 I sat inside a packed movie theater amidst dead silence watching credits roll. No one moved. Hardly anyone dared breathe. You could have heard a pin drop for probably 10 full minutes. I’ve never seen the like of it before or since.

The shock of what we had seen was too fresh, too intensely painful for disturbance. I believe the unanimous reaction was the result of devastation. We – every last one of us – experienced the excruciating shock of an UNhappy ending to a life-story dedicated to peace. It was as if our silent stillness was a collective shout: NO!” Considering there were probably a minimum of 250 people in the theater that day, representing all different ages, races, and backgrounds, all having the exact same reaction to Cry Freedom shows me that deep down we all demand love to win. It simply has to. There is no other acceptable ending to our story – to any story.

I read a book last year that pretty much confirmed what I have come to believe and at the same time gave me a brilliant new perspective on what love winning could look like. I wrote about it in this blog. It helped solidify my confidence that only everything good will ever make any sense of an everything bad world.

Ultimately, my belief that love will win is based on a simple understanding of the New Testament and what Jesus came here to do. I’ve already written about this in another blog. For me, the resurrection clinches it. Resurrection is one of the few remnants I hold onto from what I now think of as my ‘old life’ as an Evangelical. That love is more powerful than death remains the one core belief keeping me going. All of creation (including us) shouts it everyday with every sunrise. Love is going to win, damn it. It has to, and we know it.

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5. I believe that people are connected in ways we cannot now imagine.

     There’s something special and deep about connection. Why else would everyone seek it? Introvert or extrovert, farmer or business executive, president or monk, every person in the world longs for connection. I would venture to say that what makes a man a hermit is his frustrated inability to find it – a sort of giving up of the quest out of sheer exhaustion. But that does not nullify the basic desire.

     When we do connect, I think there’s way more to it than meets the eye. I remember when “Six Degrees of Separation” became popular. Yes, the world is getting ‘smaller’ in one sense – the internet enables us to connect in ways we were not able to before simply due to physical distance. But the superficial online relationships with people you neither know nor share any commonality with is really not the kind of connection I’m talking about. Have you ever wondered why some people are so able to push buttons inside you? Whether it’s the anger button or the love button, there’s a power we have over one another that I believe is wrapped up in a mystery called ‘connection.’

Sometimes I can almost see threads weaving between people, criss-crossing over one another, all tangled into an incredibly beautiful, orderly, glowing mess. I’m not even sure that I have to consciously know someone to have a connection to them. When I was a child I experienced this much more dramatically than I do now. (I think growing up hardens a lot more than the arteries … but that’s a whole other blog) There were times when I would catch someone’s eye for just a second, and think, “I know we could be friends.” It was like I recognized the complete stranger looking back at me. Even more fantastic, I could see in their eyes in that one locked moment, they saw the same thing!

Today I am amazed at how difficult it is to connect. I have addressed my theories for this in other blogs too, so suffice to say that the world has changed. We need connection more than ever, but we’ve never been so disconnected. I often lament the loss of the ‘front porch’ era. You know the time, when, without AC or TV the neighbors congregated on their front porches in hopes of a breeze, all the while catching up on the latest happenings in everyone’s life. I think I was made for earlier days. *sigh*

It’s tragic how sometimes the inability to find connection manifests itself in a mass shooting. I believe the underlying motivation behind such a deplorable act is the basic desire to touch someone, anyone, somehow, any way you can – a twisted attempt at being seen.

Perhaps if we paid better attention to the people around us who are crying out for connection, the number of tragedies like this might diminish into nonexistence. It’s very sad how easily we ‘brush each other off’, ignoring people’s attempts to be noticed. Did you catch how even the language of rejection implies physical contact – connection in it’s simplest form?

The way I can call a friend I have not seen or talked to for literally years and feel as if we picked up the conversation right where we left off displays a depth of connection that defies explanation. This astounding phenomenon I’ve experienced again and again tells me that there is more to this connection business than we imagine.

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6. I believe it is impossible to live ‘in the moment.’

     Contrary to every admonition to do so, I am telling you to give up the fight! It simply cannot be done. It is a hopeless quest for a person moving inexorably forward through linear time to ever be aware of – concurrent to being in – any given moment. Don’t believe me? Just try it, then. I challenge you to be aware of your current moment. Oops, it’s gone. Yep, just when you thought you’d grasped it, poof! It’s a dilemma, isn’t it, a quandary (I love that I found a way to use that word in a blog – quandary – a great word, don’t you think?), a pickle even. What we do have is memory of a moment passed. It might be only a micro-nano-googleplex-second in the past, but past it is.

     You can’t really anticipate moments either, engaging in some feeble attempt to grasp one just as it arrives. Have you noticed that? Oh, we plan, we worry, we watch the clock in anticipation, when, BOOM, there it is – gone! Sometimes I feel like I’m being bombarded by time, like the seconds are hitting me in the forehead as they blink by, bouncing out of reach.

     Unfortunately for me, I’m one of those people who has a hard time holding onto the moments that have passed. My childhood remains a blank slate with little snippets of memory here and there, like the cloudy, sepia photos of my grandparents in which I can’t really tell whether they are wearing expressions of happiness or despair. Names are a particularly difficult puzzle for me. Sometimes I slap the inside of my brain and shout, “PAY ATTENTION, ALREADY!!”

     I wish I knew if my attention span was the problem. I think that maybe the real truth is that my head is here, my body is here, but my heart – the me that is me – exists on some plane outside the confines of moments, seconds, minutes, and hours. Like there is some other dimension which subconsciously captures my attention making it impossible for me to be fully herenow. here and now. But that sounds more like the thought of a raving lunatic. Then again, I warned you that

what I believe is utterly impossible.

… For What?

The idea of time keeps messin’ with my head. I woke up yesterday morning (2:30 a.m. … 3:45 a.m. … finally at 4:25 a.m) with the sensation of holding my breath. Like I was waiting for something. But what?

No clue what. Thought about it all day. The saying, ‘Life happens while you’re making plans’ came to mind. But I’m not planning anything. At least not consciously. The closest I come to a plan these days is packing my lunch the night before I go to work, or looking at the tennis schedule to see if I’m on this week, or putting in for time off to go home for Christmas. Still, life is happening … and me with the sensation that it’s happening around me, almost like I imagine an out of body experience might be.

Baited breath. Anticipation. Waiting. That knot in my throat keeping me from swallowing or taking a deep breath. Did you know there’s a sign on the cork board in front of my desk instructing me to ‘breathe deep’? I put it there 6 months ago.

It occurred to me that I’ve lived this way for a long time. The experience is not new but the awareness of it is. Interesting. Why the recognition now? Probably because that time thing has been messin’ with me. My daughter reminded me yesterday afternoon about living in the moment. I reminded her of the impossibility of that venture – as soon as you are ‘in a moment’ that moment is gone. So instead of living ‘in the moment’ we are forced to live moment by moment. We do that whether we are aware of it or not.

We spend so much of our lives waiting. As children we wait to grow up … young adults wait to meet their mate … adults wait for their children to arrive … grow up … come home for a visit. People wait for the perfect job to come along, or whatever circumstance they are in to change. We wait for planes, packages, people, and events. We spend our lives waiting … to die. That’s what time does. It’s killing us one second at a time.

wait

verb (used without object)

1. to remain inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens (often followed by for, till,  or until): to wait for the bus to arrive.
2. (of things) to be available or in readiness: A letter is waiting for you.
3. to remain neglected for a time: a matter that can wait.
4. to postpone or delay something or to be postponed or delayed: We waited a week and then bought the house. Your vacation will have to wait until next month.
5. to look forward to eagerly: I’m just waiting for the day somebody knocks him down.

So what am I waiting for? ‘Your next life, maybe, who knows’ (the Oracle to Neo in The Matrix). My next life? Yes. Absolutely I am waiting for that. I eagerly await an end to time as well … an end to waiting. But that’s not where the knot’s coming from.

What are you waiting for? Your next promotion … your spouse to change … your kids to be old enough to go to school … the cure to an illness … retirement? I once heard someone say, “My favorite verse in the Bible is ‘it came to pass’ … and everything comes to pass.” True. Perhaps everything comes to those who wait as well. I wonder if I have to know what I’m waiting for to see it come? It’s coming whether I know what it is or not. I just hope I don’t miss it before it passes. It’d be nice to live knot-free.

Stranded in Time

Time is a funny thing. At any given moment I may feel like it’s standing still, like I have “all the time in the world.” Other times I can almost see time zooming by like the landscape outside my car window running past at 80 mph on a 14-hour trip home. I can’t imagine a more apropos image of time than sand moving through the middle of an hour glass. Like sand moving under ocean waves … utterly impossible to hold on to. Immediately upon our awareness of a moment, it is gone.

Looking hard at turning 50 means a lot of time has passed in front of my eyes, be they wide open or slammed shut. 50 years = 438,300 hours, 26,298,000 minutes, 1,577,880,000 seconds. Of course, the immensity of the number of seconds, minutes, even the 400k+ hours just makes my eyes cross. I’m not even sure how that kind of time translates into a life of days, months, and years.

And while I don’t think I’ve gone through life with my eyes closed, inattentive to its lessons, with 50 just around the corner, I begin to wonder. Where has all that time gone? What, if anything, have I managed to produce? What have I learned and have the lessons changed the way I live – who I am? Or as the saying goes, ‘What do I have to show for all that time?’ What about the time I have left? What exactly am I supposed to be using that for? What about today? Was the activity packed into the last 24 hours worth anything? Wonder what ocean all that sand is buried under.

StrandedInTime

Most of my life has been defined by my relationships; and, in a very real way, time itself has defined me. In my younger days I would have balked at such a statement. The very idea that anyone’s ‘stage’ in life defined them would have offended my determination to define myself apart from any constrictions like time or place or even other people. Age has taught me differently. And while I would like to believe that I have allowed my faith to define me, even that has become as elusive as the outgoing tide.

Truth be told, it all started with family, brothers, sister, and parents, that morphed into peers, then friends, then almost-as-close-as-family college relationships. Marriage and kids opened a whole new realm from in-laws to the people I met because our kids played together.

As much as I hate to admit it, forces outside myself have always managed to define me, for good or ill, making my current situation bewildering at best, terrifying at worst. You see, for the first time in my life, I can say that I feel truly alone, cut off from others in any tangible defining way. The sense of being lost has never been so real to me as it has the past 3 years. Not ‘lost’ in a Christian sense as in losing faith – my faith in God has never been stronger. More like ‘lost’ in terms of my place in the world, my purpose for living. This feeling, wondering what I’m doing ‘here’ has left me with a kind of hopelessness born out of a loneliness for real connectedness in some ways almost too painful to describe.

Moving 25 times has not helped matters. Certainly in early years my ability to quickly establish deep friendships sustained me through times of loss as I left family and friends behind. But all the moving has also taken its toll on my ability to find and establish deep relationships in the first place. Bottom line? I’m tired. Wore slap out, as we used to say down South. How does one go deep, tear apart, and then do it all over and over again, at the same time managing the guilt associated with having to let go in order to move on? The pain sometimes feels like an accumulation of sand at the bottom of the hour glass, heavy and oppressive. Makes me want to shut down to avoid going through the process again. But loneliness is its own kind of oppression for an extrovert who has been defined by relationships all of her life.

I find that my ‘stage’ also has a lot to do with the difficulty I’m having establishing new friendships. My eldest (girls) are grown and gone from home and my teenage son has no interest in any kind of deep relationship with his not-really-very-cool mother. Moving at almost-50 into a small community has left me wondering if there is anyone around me who isn’t already over-burdened with their own years of accumulated relationships – too burdened to want to invest in a new one with me. At the same time hearing my spouse say, “We still aren’t settled,” implying yet another move, does not endear me to the idea of putting in any roots now, knowing the pain that comes with the uprooting.

Having to work full-time for the first time in 23 years has opened my eyes to the difficulty of establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships amidst the demands of work, commuting, and continuing household chores. There are literally days when I wish I could find a way to stop – everything – even time itself. Other days time feels like a prison cell, and I can almost see myself hemmed in to a little box running inexorably on a time-line which I can’t for the life of me escape.

Finally, having spent the first 40 years of my life steeped in religion, I never knew how very difficult it is to find meaningful relationships outside the 4 walls of the structure we call church. For me there is no going back to that arena. It took me a long time to see the machine-like quality, the distance-keeping business as usual of that structure, but now that I can see it, it’s all I can see. No amount of loneliness could drive me back into the dry bones of that dying institution.

So where does all this leave me? Looking hard at 50, thinking about the confines of time itself, sometimes grieving the loss of it, sometimes grinding my teeth at the speed of it. Recently, I’ve begun to see forward, linear time as the true curse we have been given over to. All of life’s ills from sickness to sadness to death itself spring from the well of forward linear time. I often imagine what life would be like if we could go back and relive an experience. I’m not the only one. Pictures, video recordings, movies about time travel, even the fast pace of our technological connectedness all testify to the human desire to overcome time’s limitations.

Strangely enough, that truth – that we are ‘stuck’ in forward, linear time – has given me hope. The very fact that I understand time to be the ultimate restriction to who we are as God’s image-bearers tells me I was made for a life without it. If thirst proves the existence of water, then our desire to control time proves that there is an existence beyond its limits.

I read a book of fiction this year that has impacted my life probably more profoundly than any other book save the Bible. Written by Jonathan Safran Foer, the book explores the idea that true redemption means everything running backwards, thereby putting all to rights. I cannot over stress the impact this idea has made in my mind. When one of the characters imagined the full extent of this possibility – beginning with the plane moving backwards out of the World Trade Center building, culminating in Eve “unpicking” the fruit from the tree – I couldn’t stop crying. I have come to believe that this is what true justice – true redemption – looks like.

Think about it. In forward linear time …

… a raped teen can never have her virginity back;
… a bereaved parent can never receive his child back;
… a harsh word can never be taken back, while the scars of our hurts remain indelibly etched on our hearts for all time. No amount of forgiveness or repentance can ever completely undo a wrong.

But what if redemption is the actual rolling back of time? What if we are going to see our pain, all the world’s suffering, in reverse – being UNdone? While it boggles the mind, I also know in my bones it must be true. When the prison doors that keep us locked in time are finally opened, the possibilities are endless! Why not this one? Why not the restoration of every broken relationship? Why not the healing of every loved one? Why not the complete redemption of the kosmos? Why not?

Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
 
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”