What kind of story are you telling?

A few things converged to make me start thinking about this.

One of them was a wrestle going on in my head: I’m 35, practically homeless, degree-less, and basically lacking all the things our culture requires you have to be successful/valuable.

Another was a song – there is a line in it that says, “my story’s crazy but it’s true.”  I got really excited and thought “Yeah, that’s me!”  But then had a bit of a reality check when I realized: it sounds cool to say it that way, but in the midst of the “crazy” part, it’s usually very difficult.

And the other was a scene in the Harry Potter novels.  In case you are unfamiliar with it, I’ll sketch it out for you (and then urge you to go read it).  Harry is, obviously, the hero of the story.  He has many conflicts with the “bad guys” where he emerges victorious.  His friends will say, “You did this, and you did that, (you’re so cool).”  Harry is always protesting, particularly to his friend Ron (who tends towards jealousy), that it isn’t like that, that it is mostly luck, coincidence, and just barely scraping by.  But then Ron has a dramatic confrontation with the darkness, in which he is the victor.  As Harry is telling someone else about how amazing Ron was, Ron expresses that he really wasn’t that cool.  And exasperated Harry says, “Yes exactly!  That is what I have been telling you for years.”

I have been so inspired and encouraged by some of my favourite stories, by music I’ve listened to, and by the movies/TV we have watched.  They shape the way I think, and the way I view my own life.  They help me to be able to frame the story differently.  So instead of being “homeless,”  we actually have many, many homes.  (Because I built my house upon a stone.)

I don’t know what kind of story your life is, but mine is an epic.  In the best epic stories, some of the meaning or significance of events is only revealed much later on, viewed backwards.  In my favourite epic stories, there was usually a point where I nearly quit reading them because things got so heartbreaking and hopeless, I could see no way the world could be right again.

Friends, this is the chapter we have been in lately.

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I could mention so many people, stories and lyrics that inspire me to keep going, that this awful, painful, desolate moment is not the final word.  (Because I need this reminder so often.) From one song I have listened to over and over: “Hold on to your hope, watch your triumph unfold.”

The way that heroes get through the darkest chapters is to just keep going, to keep moving forward towards the “goal,” even when that seems hopeless. We keep reminding ourselves.  And we keep trying to choose the best steps on an unclear path.

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On Sunday we get on a plane, to return to Rwanda.  We will be there for about 2 months.  We are looking forward to seeing people we love, but we are also apprehensive and dreading how hard this will be.  This is the next part in our epic tale, and we are “holding on to something” as we keep going.

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On Death

I’ve been writing this post in my head for a long time.  There are so many things I want to say, and I can’t seem to make them fit together in a coherent package.  So maybe this will be filled with rambling bits that only I see the connection between.  Doesn’t this sound like fun?  Come with me.

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I’ve been reading a lot about death and loss over the last few months.  One of the things I have found, at last, is a language for the sadness and grief that is an ongoing part of our lives.  I’ve felt it, and tried to reason with it, but lacked the language and the recognition that this is part of all of our experience, even apart from major events.  Beatrix’s death was an Event, and it gave us permission to come to a full stop as we grieve this along with other accumulated losses and griefs.  (I am so thankful that we have a “job” that has allowed us to come to a full stop and still survive.  I heard on the radio the other day that there has just been a law passed in Alberta that says you cannot lose your job because you have lost a loved one… so if I had been working in Alberta in August, it is possible I could have been fired because I just couldn’t go back to work for a while.)

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One of the books I read has the subtitle “A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul.”  I thought “Exactly.  There is so much insanity (often in the form of denial) in our culture regarding death.”  (I saw this as we planned the funeral.  One example is: often a grave is dug, and the dirt is moved away so that people don’t see it, and then brought back after people are gone.  Aren’t funerals about mourning the reality of your loss?  Besides being unnecessary work, this practice struck me as a way of sanitizing/denying the process.  But it is not clean and nice, it is ugly and painful.)

One of the reasons I think we cannot honestly acknowledge our losses is that we have no underlying Story that helps us answer the Big Questions:  Where did we come from?  Why are we here?  Where are we going?  If we can’t face those questions, it becomes much harder for us to acknowledge and prepare for a day when we might lose someone close to us, or when our loved ones might suddenly be planning our own funerals.

Over the years Mike and I have had several conversations around death and funerals.  After Mike’s dad passed away several years ago, we had many conversations.  This meant that we had a foundation of understanding and common thought with which to approach Bea’s funeral.  We knew what we valued, what we didn’t care about, and what questions to ask to get more information.  We were stunned, and our world was turned upside-down, but we weren’t also grappling with many concepts we had never thought or talked about.  (For example, by what criteria do you even start choosing a coffin?)

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The subtitle of another book I read is “Grief and Praise.”  I had never thought directly about the idea that our grief is intricately connected to our praise.  You won’t mourn the loss of something that doesn’t mean anything to you.  In actually mourning (whether it is a death, an illness, a change, etc), you are acknowledging the value of what is lost.  And when we face losses with as much honesty and courage as we can, we are able to acknowledge with gratitude the real value of what we have had and currently have – or what we are seeking.  Making space to face the things that grieve us also allows us the space to celebrate and be grateful for that which is good.

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One of the things I have continually reminded myself over the last few months is “I am the centre of the circle.”  The idea looks like this:

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My favourite explanation of this is here – she explains it with what I think is just the right amount of humour and reality.

This model has been familiar to us in other circumstances, and it has worked well.  It has given us permission not to feel responsible to comfort others (unless we are capable of it), and also to receive comfort without feeling guilty about being a useless lump.  I had had discussions about this idea with my parents, so when I told them that our MO for this season was going to be “I am the centre of the circle,” they didn’t roll their eyes or need a long explanation.  They said, “Yes, absolutely.”

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Let me try to end my wanderings with some explicit exhortations, in case you are the kind of person for whom direct works better than subtle.  It is my hope and wish that we all go through our years gently, with no trauma, loss, or grief.  But in case you haven’t considered it – you are probably going to die.  And before you get there, you will probably experience all sorts of griefs.  Read the article (or google circles of grief, and find one that fits your tone if mine is too snarky) and talk about it with those you love.  Mike and I have watched a bunch of doctor shows – which has led to all sorts of conversations about what kind of medical interventions we think are reasonable – and affirmations of our trust in each other to make good decisions should the need arise.  If you die suddenly, will your spouse still have access to finances?  Will your spouse or children wrestle with what your funeral wishes might be, or will they be able to make decisions with as much confidence and peace as is possible?

And don’t shy away from the Big Questions.  Real peace with them doesn’t come quickly, but allowing yourself to ask – to look, even peripherally – is the beginning.

True, Beautiful, & Funny

I get much less response from these posts than others, and I know that very few of you are actually clicking on the links, but…   I want to communicate something, and after a month of moving from house to house (to house to house to house to house to house), my heart is exhausted.  I haven’t had much time for reflection, and I have had so many heart-to-hearts that I have nothing to say that would be worth listening to.  (It has really been a rich, wonderful time.)

Plus, I like writing these posts, so here we go:

I am really enjoying U2’s Songs of Experience.  (And technology/Spotify are so amazing.)  I usually have a quick response to music when I first hear it, whether I like it or not.  For some reason, each time I have heard a new U2 album, I’ve thought, “Oh well, I guess this album just isn’t that good.”  But each time, after several listens, it grows on me until I really love it.   So after initially thinking it was no good, (and then reading this Rolling Stone interview), I gave it a few listens anyway.   Some of my favourite lyrics today are “I know the world is dumb but you don’t have to be,” and “Oh Jesus if I’m still your friend / What the hell.”

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Mike & I laughed and laughed at this video, “How to Care for your Introvert.”  Very educational.

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I received some thought-provoking books for Advent &41NFrsI6CXL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_ Christmas.  I devoured Gabor Maté’s book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.  I really appreciate the way his writing combines his own stories and insights with scientific studies.  It was surprising to me to see many of the same ideas and studies I have been reading about over the last few years in parenting books.  WhenTheBodySaysNo(Obviously from a slightly different angle.)

I’m working on another book by the same author, called When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress.  I already believe most of what he is saying in this book, but it has been good to read more about scientific studies, and to hear a doctor’s angle.

 

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There is a blog written about missions by a group of people who are or have been involved in missions. I’ve spent the morning reading some posts, and have laughed and cried.  I don’t know if this article about clickbait headlines for expats is funny for people who aren’t living overseas, but it will give you a taste for how humour can help one cope with some of these things.  And this article about Fundamental Sadness and Deeper Magic seemed to be speaking directly about the emotional journey Mike and I are on.