Friday, December 18, 2009

Dark Days

[This is a real old one. But I thought I'd post it since we are approaching the darkest days of the year, and it's been a tough week and a half for a lot of my friends and myself.]

There were whispers of them in the wind
Old men would tell stories about them around a fire
Children would lie awake at night under covers worried that they were hidden in closets
I thought they were just stories, like Santa Clause and the Easter bunny
But that was before a rejection letter, break in, and broken heater put those doubts to rest
The Dark day's were indeed upon me
The day's that grow longer the less you do
Day’s when you find yourself flipping back and fourth between the Cooking network and Animal Planet
When getting dressed makes the day a success
When yawns are the most comforting things you can say to yourself
but even those your bones don’t quite trust
When thought of any kind of tomorrow turns your stomach into a black hole
and the first thing sucked in is your courage
Days when your eyes are chained to the bricks under your feet
When sleep is the only thing you look forward to in the day
When Elliott Smith is the cheeriest music your heart can stand
When the best case scenario seems as likely as you getting up at 5 just to watch the sunrise
These are the days when you take a large pizza home at 6,
Eat it alone in your pitch black room,
Being too lazy to even turn on the lights
Roll over and sleep for 14 hours with your shoes on
These are the dark days

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Grandma

When I was small my grandma was old. She was five foot eight when she had my mom. By the time I was around she had bent over to barely five foot even.

Most of my cousins were half-raised by my grandma, but I was the youngest and when I was small, she was old. My babysitters were mostly high school girls. When my grandma did baby-sit me, I remember she was tough. Tougher than the other babysitters. Tougher than my dad. Tougher than my mom.

She limited my cartoon watching. As revenge, I gave her the silent treatment barricading myself in my room. I slipped a note under the door telling her she was “the meenest babysitter ever.”

I come from a long line of teachers. Four generations. Aunts, cousins, great parents and my grandma. After I slipped that note under my door she broke out her red pen, slipped it back under with my spelling corrected.

By the time I went to college, my grandma was still tough. Cracking jokes and standing her ground. She was still the center of the family. Even after she couldn’t get around well enough to cook, she’d pull up a chair in the kitchen, watch my aunts form the Thanksgiving meal around her.

I was a sophomore at Western when my grandma had a series of strokes. Dementia set in fast. My aunts and uncles drove hours every week to visit her. Held her hand and talked to her.

When she passed away, my mom called me and I didn’t really react. I didn’t know her all that well. I had heard stories about her and she always gave me butterscotch and saltines.

When we got to the church I was steady. I hadn’t been there since I was small, when my mom took me to see my grandma sing in the choir. Through my mom’s eulogy I was steady. I was proud of my mom (who wasn’t a public speaker). Through the first hymn I was steady. I remember it was one of the tough ones too—It is Well or something like that. But still I was steady.

Funerals when you’re not very emotional are boring. As the second hymn started, my eyes wandered through the pews on its way back to the clock. There were bloodshot eyes and tears everywhere. Still I was steady.

Right up to the last hymn, I was steady. When we started to sing How Great Though Art, I remembered seeing my grandma sing in the choir. When that last verse rolled through and we sang “When Christ shall come. . .” I started to leak. The eyes and the nose just let lose their fury. Something about music cuts straight through my defenses and knocks the wind out of me. All that stuff about heaven sunk down to my belly and I sang with a quiver in my voice. I pictured my grandma in the choir, and I saw her singing with us. And I was more than proud of her.

I want to be clear on the theology here. This isn’t some Obi Wan Kenobi thing I just pulled out of thin air. This is orthodox. As a Christian I believe my grandma was singing. I believe she is singing. And I believe when I sing in church my grandma with all the saints before her sing with me. This isn’t a sedative we Christians use to numb the pain of grief; it is the hope we use to transform it.

Within a few years cousins, Aunts and Uncles moved out of Sultan, the town my mom grew up in, and out to Arizona and up to Skagit County. Family isn’t static. This last Thanksgiving, there were no butterscotch candies or saltine crackers. But there were new babies at the table. Aunts and uncles were grandmas and grandpas. The turkey still made me sleepy, and my mom still made her potato casserole.

I don’t think about my grandma too often. I’ve got term papers, credit card bills and a fantasy football team to think about. But I can’t help but wonder if she held that note against me. And as I’m writing this, I wish I could go back, take that note back and slip this under the door. If for no other reason than to get my spelling and grammar corrected.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Graham, Did You See the Swans?

Graham, I saw seven swans flying over the delta yesterday. I thought of you. Of our bird watching drives and slurpees in Burlington. I can’t help thinking the fact that there was seven would have just pissed you off, because it was clear that God was referencing a Sufjan Stevens album.

I read somewhere that Illinoise was the second best album of this decade. Did you know that? I don’t understand why you hate the artist who created the second best album of the decade, and apparently even God likes Sufjan (and you know what a music snob he is).

I know, I know—“Jesus loves him, so I don’t have too.” But maybe you could try.

Graham, the swans were flying south; I wonder if you saw them.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

For Luke and Anthony

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23

It’s tough to concentrate in a warm basement listening to Christmas music. Outside it is snowing. I’m inside. Feeling sleepy after a hot sandwich and soup. It’s real warm in here, and I can’t seem to get my thoughts to stand still.

I found out yesterday that an old friend (Anthony) was stuck on a mountain. Later that day they found the body of another one of my old friends (Luke) who was with him.

They couldn’t send out search and rescue teams today because of the avalanche danger. Instead a helicopter is flying around searching from the air. Anthony has bright red hair, and I want him to be found so that he can joke about it being what saved him. I don’t think he’ll ever joke about it though; I don’t think anyone will.

It’s warm in here, and I’m trying to get my thoughts to stand still. I can’t seem to keep from wondering about Anthony. I look over at my bookcase and see the three-book set on the Psalms he gave to me when he left Bellingham. I wonder what scripture will be read at the memorial service for Luke.

All I want to do is sleep until I can read Psalm 23 again and actually believe it.

All I can bring myself to do is re-phrase another Psalm, and offer it up as a prayer:

O Lord, don't forget Anthony;
Don't be far from him.
Come quickly to help him,
O Lord our Savior.
Psalm 38

Monday, December 7, 2009

Long Drives with Robert

[I'm open to advice on this one, I'm not really sure what I'm getting at in it yet. But I hadn't posted anything in a long while so here it it.]

My hometown is a long drive down a slick highway. It’s a long drive, and in December it’s usually dark. The tale lights reflect off the concrete. It’s a long drive, and we have time to talk. About Luther Vandross and TS Elliott. Weezer’s fall from artistic credibility. Christ and Otis Redding.

It’s a long drive and we cover the weighty topics. The Hilltop neighborhood in Tacoma. Those officers that got shot in a coffee shop. Poverty and gentrification and soulfood restaurants.

We talk about our hometowns, old basketball teams and how good Ken Griffey Jr would have been if he used roids.

Our hometowns are long drives through a big briar patch.