Wednesday, January 29, 2020

How to reflect on your marriage (and still stay married)

The first "I do." July 23, 2016. Photo by Kelly Prizel Photography

Julia: I was never a firm believer in the folk wisdom that “opposites attract.” But then I married M, and then we sat down to prepare this talk.

M: When we saw our notes for this presentation, we thought, “Are we really so night and day?” Our differences suddenly seemed more drastic than they feel on a day-to-day basis.

Julia: Which then made us wonder … After three years of marriage, are we growing in different directions? Are we doubling down on our natural tendencies? And how on earth are we making it through our daily lives intact?

Being married has been one of the greatest joys and greatest lessons of my life. At times I feel I live on the learning curve with nary a plateau in sight. But once in a while, an opportunity arises to hit "pause" on learning and press "play" on reflection -- which Nature Boy and I get to do as part of the team for our church's marriage preparation program.

In its unabashedly loving and welcoming way, my parish does Pre-Cana (the Catholic Church's colloquial term for its marriage prep programs) a little differently. Besides our pastor's brief opening remarks at the start of the day-and-a-half event, the program is led entirely by married couples of different ages, stages, and backgrounds. The intent is to give the participating engaged couples an opportunity to focus on what they want out of their new, shared life; quiet time and space to reflect on big questions away from wedding planning stress; and insight into discoveries and approaches that have helped other married couples fully live out their sacramental vows. It's inspiring, thought-provoking, encouraging, sobering, and emotional -- much like marriage itself.

For the most recent session, Nature Boy and I were called upon to present our first talk. The topic: "Daily Living." Just as you're not advised to perform surgery on yourself, sitting down as a couple to dissect your day-to-day rhythms did not immediately seem wise. My husband was tense. I was overbearing. We were writing in a shared Google doc, and it took every ounce of my willpower and knowledge of the creative process to let him put down a rough first draft in the faith that we'd revise later.

Basically, our process to create this talk mirrored the point of the talk, which was how our personalities and habits permeate and shape our domestic life. We ended up covering such topics as energy (introvert/extrovert), environment (natural/urban), diurnal rhythms (night owl/early bird), levels of tidiness (eh/yes please), approaches to conflict (we both avoid it), desire for control (pretty much all me), and so on. We ended on a story that regular IMS readers might recognize (an adapted version of "The lesson of the table") and closed with an alternating recitation building off the phrase, "This is the person who...".

That's when I lost it.

I was doing SO WELL during our actual talk, hitting laugh lines, patting Nature Boy's back affectionately, pausing after important takeaways. But then I got to the last line I'd drafted, and when I said it out loud in front of a roomful of relative strangers, every moment of joy, every shared sorrow, every disagreement, every wordless hug, every act of service, every discovery welled up within me. Here was the enormity of lifelong commitment. Here was our vow, which we choose to affirm each day. Here was our marriage's raison d'être:

"This is the person who always reminds me that though the world can be harsh, it is also beautiful, and we get to experience it together."

It's not a flashy sentence or even a particularly eloquent one. But it is heartfelt and  -- more importantly --true. Which is why my voice cracked and my tears leaked. Because partnership is not for the faint of heart; it is for the whole-hearted.

Prayer #343: How to Do "I Do"

Set "I do" on endless loop, because it's the soundtrack of a marriage.

You'll say "I do" to mistakes and misunderstandings. You'll say "I do" to celebrations and silence. You'll say "I do" to being wrong, being right, and being somewhere in the middle that neither of you finds comfortable but does admit is necessary.

Most of all, you'll say "I do" each night to an entirely new person who has been transformed by the catastrophes, triumphs, and lessons of their day. And this person will say "I do" to the new you too, each night, until the nights run out.

God who gifted us free will, help us say these words with hope (if not always with conviction). We may voice them with a whoop, a mutter, or a sigh, but we are voicing them nonetheless. Be with us in this commitment -- a practice built on loving choice.


Monday, December 30, 2019

"One day your life won't be like this" (A revelation revisited)

SpaceShoe/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Close to seven years ago, when I was in the thick of my late-20s lifestyle -- full social calendar, regular cultural activities, a respectable level of "adulting" -- I paused in my hither-and-titherness with a blunt thought:

One day my life won't be like this.

At the time, my reflection featured the (assumed) differences between living life as a single, childless woman versus as a married parent. But now I am a married parent, and as my first full year of motherhood draws to a close, the blunt thought has resurfaced, bubbling just beneath my consciousness as I strive to make it to midnight on December 31 with all three members of my family unit healthy, happy, and more or less intact.

One day my life won't be like this.

When I mull over this phrase today in the post-holiday quiet of my house, with my husband at work and my child at daycare, with my brain and body under my sole discretion for eight blissful hours, I appreciate anew its lack of judgment. The revelation didn't say my life would become better or worse, stronger or weaker, richer or fainter. It simply pointed out that my life was destined to change -- that where one lever would push up, another switch might flip, and all manner of proverbial doors and windows would disregard their latches and flap indiscriminately in the shifting breezes of time and circumstance.

One day my life won't be like this.

In one respect, my revelation has become a mantra. I whispered it under my breath during midnight nursing sessions and long hours of maternity leave. I shouted it from rooftops when a particularly hard period resolved. I have cried over it each time I recognize that habits or traditions I held dear are quietly evolving. I sigh it whenever, for the 8 millionth time, I wash a small plastic object festooned with my child's drool.

One day my life won't be like this.

But in another respect, my revelation has become a reminder. The words call me to remain present and aware, to participate in my life as it's currently shaped rather than reach for a shadow existence that may or may not gain form. And rather than repeat the sentence, I pray it, rolling each word through my heart like a bead -- smooth, warm, pliant -- to impart those same qualities to myself.

One day, my life won't be like this. Or this. Or this. It will simply be life, and it will be mine, to make of it what I will.

Prayer #342: Going, Going, Back Again

God of constant re-discovery,

I think I've learned something, only to lose the lesson amid life's daily push and pull, and then when I learn it again, I renew my delight and awe with the slobbery joy of an infant discovering her hand is attached to her.

As I absorb anew a revelation long known to me, I call on Your profound patience to ask once more: Ground me in my current dreams and frustrations, as well as in the wisdom that every personal epoch has benefits and drawbacks. And douse me not only in the grace of perspective, but also of presence -- the breath between words, the rests within music, the sight before waking.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The thirst to rejoice

Leaping for joy. Art-Hax/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

"... Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you."

—Philippians 4:8-9, NAB

I've been grouchy for a fair bit of 2019. Not deeply, not irrevocably, but more frequently than I have been in other years, almost certainly due to learning how to be a parent and enduring sleep deprivation and questioning my career path and inching toward my writing goals and feeling less than awesome in whatever I pursue and wondering if my hair is finally turning gray and did I mention sleep deprivation.

Oh, and the world continues to be on fire. That too.

So when I attended my church's annual Minkisi Ministry retreat earlier this month, I did not walk in immediately connected to its buoyant theme "In Total Praise." That is, until the gospel music began, and the congregation engaged in call and response, and I tuned into the fact that I haven't attended any retreat in god knows how long. And the combination of those things illuminated that the next eight hours were holding space for me to be with God, so I let my body release its omnipresent tension, loosening me enough to sing, to breathe, to weep.

Celebrant Fr. Robert Boxie said in his homily that day, "The sure sign that God is alive in you is joy." Until he said it aloud, I didn't realize how thirsty I was to rejoice. For all the emotions roiling through me in this past year of constant change, I have rarely wallowed in joy, even though -- or perhaps because -- it has often been the most intense experience.

But as Fr. Boxie went on to explain, joy is not "reasonable," nor does it mean "to cheer up or be positive." At many points this year, joy has felt akin to pain for me -- a bone-deep, heart-twisting, breath-stealing sensation, one I'm afraid to repeat for fear it will break me. So to hear that joy does not mean happy was to relieve myself of a limited human concept and embrace a mystical one -- the promise that we can access, in the words of Paul's letter to the Philippians (aka, "the letter of joy"), "the peace of God that surpasses all understanding."

The onslaught of joy left me wrung out by day's end, like I'd run a spiritual marathon without proper interval training. But I also experienced the physical peace that comes from honest exertion, which signals to me that the effort was well placed. As retreat leader Therese Wilson-Favors said, "Praise tunes us into God's sufficiency." In a year when I have often felt incapable or inadequate, how glorious to remember that I am enough. That God is enough. That our union is joy itself.

So with all this in mind, allow me to flip my usual script of gratitude during Thanksgiving season and emphasize joy instead -- the ultimate prayer of thanks.

Prayer #341: Exult

To exult once meant to spring or leap up, to leap for joy. Yet somewhere in English's shifting sands we lost this visceral meaning and now use the word to signify rejoicing, elation, triumph.

Powerful words to be sure, but part of me grieves the original definition. Its active focus would help me remember -- simply by speaking it -- that my very body is built for praise. I am meant to leave the ground, to suspend myself mid-air, to stretch toward the firmament, when I remember how I'm loved.

God who leaps and bounds toward me, put this word on my lips and its energy in my limbs. May I reach for You with my whole being. May I embody worship.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

On one year of photographing my child

Moving toward the future, September 2019.

For me, the toughest part of parenting is the photography. Am I taking enough pictures? Am I taking them at the right moments? Am I capturing the times I'll care most about? Did I develop a cute enough theme for the monthly photos? Did I remember to take the monthly photo on the actual date? Do I have enough storage left on my phone? Where have I saved past photos? What are their filenames? Have I shared recent pictures with family and friends in the way each individual most prefers -- email, text, shared link, private third-party aggregator? Can I put just one on social media, or should I continue to abstain in the name of privacy?

Enter the creeping "shoulds." I should get in the habit of reviewing and culling photos monthly; that way it won't be such a huge endeavor later. I should mark my favorites as I go; that way I have a short list for special photo gifts. I should make an album every year on his birthday; that way I never forget. I should print photo gifts for the parents and godparents; that way they'll be reminded of his special bond with them. I should stick some on the fridge, take more to work, keep them all updated in as real time as possible as he metamorphoses second by second into an entirely new person, one I know on a molecular level yet one I re-meet every morning when I walk into his room and see him standing ever taller in the crib that once dwarfed his swaddled body. That way I won't miss a moment. Not one. Not a single blessed second.

Then anger bubbles up. For on top of being a parent -- no, on top of becoming a parent -- I am expected to simultaneously experience and document the transformation of the little human who made me one. I must be present, yet objective. Open, yet prepared. He must look cherubic and/or funny and/or advanced in every photo. If he does not, I have failed him. Apparently, no middle ground is permitted.

You see why I'm exhausted.

As this inexhaustible topic loops through my consciousness, I think back to a photo of me taken a year ago when I was 8 months pregnant and floating in a kayak during our babymoon weekend getaway. When I reflected on this photo one month into parenthood, I wrote:

... when I look again at this shot, I recognize what will be invisible to those who weren't there, such as the dried tear streaks on my face and the burgeoning blisters on my thumbs. But I also see what was invisible to me at the time -- chiefly, the sun rays defying the clouds and searching for reflection on the water below. They illuminate how this photo captures more than a moment in time; it captures a transition to a new state of being.
(Side note: Only someone who was still getting a consistent eight hours of sleep could have written those words. Right now, the sole state of being I want to transition to is napping.)

What do photos of my 1-year-old reveal? They show a chubby Gerber face, inexplicable blonde curls, delicious thigh rolls, little hands constantly pointing. Many pictures catch him pre-smile, which will mislead future generations about how often he grins and laughs. Quite a few are blurry because he rarely stops moving. There's usually a brightly colored object sticking out of his mouth. Sometimes he's clothed.

Invisible to the neutral observer will be his near-constant giggling, reliably invoked by actions as goofy as snapping cloth napkins or playing peek-a-boo around the nearest corner. The pictures don't replay his little voice, which sounds more like a kid's every day. They don't convey the full extent of his mesmerized curiosity, his tenacious exploration, his burgeoning sense of self, his deepening will. A photo couldn't capture his sly "aha!" expression last night when he realized that holding food over his head evoked a strong reaction from his parents and that he could file away this practical information for future and entertaining use.

I know these backstories and qualities because I live with him. But no photo or video can communicate his essence. Hell, I grew and birthed this little being, and even I am shocked by how individual, how distinct he is. I have created a human who is of me but not me. That fact blows my mind every day. So I snap, post, and stare hungrily at blurry pictures to anchor us in life's whooshing current and to ground my quixotic grab at immortality.

A more useful exercise going forward, I think, would be to consider "what was invisible to me at the time." In the moment a particular photo was snapped, where was my brain? My heart? What was I sensing or feeling? What else was happening in my life? What did I just, or what was I about to, discover? Did I take the picture because I thought I "should," or because I couldn't help myself? Did I manage to make the moment indelible not because I fixed a detail in pixels, but because I captured a transformation in progress?

Though the 1-year milestone is bittersweet, I'm pleased I can stop the monthly progress shots and take one thing off my to-do list. Overall, I'm getting better at predicting the baby's movements and timing my shots. Plus, now that I'm used to sleep deprivation and farther along the steep learning curve of new parenting, I'm developing a photo storing system that I hope will make projects easier going forward.

For beneath my low-humming stress is a sincere desire to create a meaningful record of my child's life -- of our life, together. I want him to marvel at his growth, learn his personal history, and be rooted in the continuums of family and time. And as with every aspect of parenting, I want to give this gift freely, without self-judgment or criticism, and with compassionate love for who I truly am as a mother and person.

It will take more than a year to get there. In the meantime, I'll keep snapping photos to remember the process.

Prayer #340: Darkroom

What did humans obsess over before photography became accessible and ubiquitous? What method of recording beckoned them? Were they more comfortable with their mortality, less curatorial about their legacies? Or were they too busy surviving to want to document the slog?

God of profligate light, concentrate Your beams through the negatives burned in my memory to reveal the positive image within. My Technicolor life makes me sensitive to the full visible spectrum, so deploy darkness judiciously to develop an illuminated print. For we self-absorbed subjects are far from black and white. With us there can be no safelight -- only a blind and tentative hope, followed by brilliant understanding.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The curious case of imposter syndrome

Spot the imposter. Andrew Gustar/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Before the Meeting

My writing group has in hand my manuscript, my precious baby, the one 10+ years in the birthing. What an arduous birth it's been, a creative labor beset by fits and starts, motivation and stagnation, eager confidence and crippling doubt, all leading to this. This. A meager, nondescript word for a momentous occasion.

As any writer will tell you, to arrive at a functional "first" draft (first only in the sense that this version is the first one fit for consumption outside your desk drawer) is to free-dive into murky depths with blind faith that pearls await you. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that finishing a manuscript is like choosing to live as if the afterlife exists -- as if, eventually, your effort, attention, and sacrifice will reap untold dividends.

My own first draft, or at least my conception of it, has been kicking around for more than a decade. After setting many well-intentioned and then-ignored annual writing goals to turn this blog into a book, I finally reached the end of my rope in the aftermath of becoming a mother. Now time was scarce. Now I had to maximize stolen moments. Now I had to shove aside the exhaustion and overwhelm and reclaim the flickering pilot light of my essential creativity before a gas leak exploded the house. (Confession: I need more sleep to craft stronger metaphors.)

So for the first time in many years, I set a writing schedule and ... I stuck to it. The night before we left for vacation, after a marathon day of final edits, I shipped my 300-page tome to the four members of my writing group. For a brief and glorious moment, I experienced the singular euphoria of reaching a milestone, achieving a goal, and realizing a vision all in one act. Then I considered that these same four members were tasked with evaluating my labor of love for both its artistic and possible commercial merits. My euphoria evaporated, and with it any ounce of confidence I had in my original vision.

In terms of first drafts and the allure of potential, I have been down this wavering road before. To pursue a dream is to name it, clothe it, make it visible -- and thus vulnerable -- to the world. Once my art escapes the safe confines of my mind, it becomes subject to criticism and rejection. And yes, while the chance exists that the work will engender connection, appreciation, maybe even celebration, is the chance significant enough to counteract the fear of irretrievable failure?

We meet this weekend to discuss my book. I will report back.

Imposter syndrome is a psychological term that refers to a pattern of behavior wherein people (even those with adequate external evidence of success) doubt their abilities and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

-- Samyukta Mullangi, MD, MBA; Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, JAMA,Vol. 332, No. 5

After the Meeting

Sometimes your dream catches up with you, and when it taps your shoulder, you faint from shock.

Such was my reaction at the meeting when my writing group handed my heart back to me wrapped in warm blankets, affirming for me that laying it on the line with honesty and vulnerability was worth the risk. When my writing has made thoughtful people laugh, cry, and contemplate, then I have to think I am on the right path. That my vision is not a fever dream in disguise. That the still, small voice is right yet again.

None of this means I have skirted failure for good. But for now I have banished my fear, and instead filled the hole it left with audacious hope. Onward.

Prayer #339: Imposter Syndrome

Is my art to be endured? Submitted to? Inflicted upon? Or is it meant to be placed with confident authority on its own inch of infinite bookshelf, sandwiched between other heartfelt works, part of an unceasing cascade of human expression that arcs toward the divine in a desire to illuminate it?

Stand beside me when I retract my hand from the spine, for at first I will hesitate to leave my soul so exposed. But the longer we stand there, bearing witness to the courage required for and of creation, the more I will grasp that You are not an editor, not a critic, but rather a patron ready to endow my work with inspiration.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Grief for the life I once led

Starting summer traditions early. August 2019.

My grief first crept in on a splash. We were at my aunt's house for a pool party on a perfect summer day, and my cousins' young children had been in the water since the moment they arrived. Twirling off the diving board. Turning on the jets in the hot tub. Leaping from adults' shoulders. Running-not-running along the outer edge. Barely pausing for food. Protesting when it was time to leave. Each dive, each shout, each whiff of chlorine, it all combined for a blue effect -- bright blue of water and sky in my eyes, and a melancholy blue in my heart.

The second instance came on a Friday after work. "Let's do something summery!" I begged my husband. "Let's go the beer garden." We picked up the baby from daycare early and headed straight for the neighborhood hotspot where every other local parent was apparently scratching the same itch. We chugged our beers before the baby could grab them. We attempted to feed him at the sticky picnic table. We contorted our bodies to keep him from staring at the big screen TV. The three of us were sweating all over each other, and we adults added burger grease to the occasion. The whole affair was hurried and harried, but by god, for a brief hour we were part of adult civilization. Yet as we drove home to get the baby bathed and in bed, my grief tightened.

The third moment materialized at the end of a long, tiring work day spent in a windowless room on a team retreat. I had to figure out alternate arrangements for breast pumping (enter the executive director's office) and returned to the room late, breast milk in hand, at the start of our afternoon session. Then, at day's end when we were on our way to happy hour and mere blocks from the bar, I remembered I'd left my milk in the facility's fridge. I hustled back a half mile to catch the staffers before they closed the building, hustled back to happy hour, shotgunned a glass of mediocre red wine, and bid adieu so I could make it home in time to see my child before he went to sleep. Later, I saw pictures on Instagram of my colleagues building Jenga towers at the bar and giggling about new shared jokes. My grief -- tired, sweaty, lonely -- congealed.

Summer has always been my favorite season because it signifies freedom. Freedom from early darkness, freedom from biting cold, freedom to enjoy meals and drinks outside, freedom to stay up late reading books, freedom to sit and do nothing near or in any available body of water.  Even as an adult with real responsibilities, I have always felt lighter during these months because the grooves in my brain forged from my past's most ideal summer days re-activate, promising that this carefree part of me does and always will exist as long as I nurture it.

But in this, my first summer of parenthood, I am finding it hard to believe the promise. With maternity leave and my return to work behind me, and the full reality of Parenthood-with-a-capital-P sinking in, I am finally absorbing the loss of my former life. Right now I can't play in the pool all day. I can't leave the house after dinner to get an ice cream cone. I can't wander to a watering hole with my friends. I have defiantly stayed up late reading pageturners, but I pay for it more dearly when my infant awakes at 4 a.m.

Where is my childhood? Where is my young adulthood? I can hear them in breezy leaves, feel them in sweat trickles and bug bites, taste them in cookouts and cooler beers, smell them in chlorine and salt water, but their presence is ephemeral, gone almost before I realize I'm experiencing a memory, not reality.

In a particularly blue moment, I asked into the void of Twitter if other parents, new or seasoned, have experienced this sense of loss. Here's what people replied:

"An old blueprint for a new life." "A beautiful if slightly teenage feeling." These descriptions not only validated my moodiness but lent it structure. I recognized the sensation for what it truly was: a signal that yes, things are different now; yes, I am in a new stage; and yes, my life will continue to evolve in unpredictable ways, forming new grooves next to old as pathways to a more varied, complex existence.

Ever impatient, I'd like to have the grooves settled now. But only time and experience and surprise will shape them, so I'll just have to wait. Wait, and imagine what's ahead. Wait, and mourn what's behind.

Prayer #338: Buried Treasure

Hand-drawn maps always make buried treasure seem thrillingly accessible, easily found beneath an exaggerated X, tucked deep enough to warrant enthusiastic digging but not so deep as to break a sweat.

Meanwhile, eager map readers gloss over the other meaning of "buried" -- to lay in a grave, to inter -- and understandably so. No one wants their adventure tainted with death, loss, or finality. They want to anticipate only their future wealth, practically assured by the clarity of the directions.

What happens, though, when the directions aren't clear? What if the route is more littered with obstacles than we thought? And in a cruel twist of expectation, what if treasure we had at journey's start has disappeared by journey's end because we had to bury it to keep moving?

Adventurous God, be with me as I bury the old and direct me as I discover the new, for the richest joys are also the deepest -- worth the wait and worth the effort.


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Why we must "confront the unwatchable"

Look me in the eye ... (Paul Godard/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

After the 2016 election, my already scattershot absorption of current events plummeted. I developed the habit of only occasionally scrolling headlines and infrequently scanning my weekly Time magazines. I stopped reading the Washington Post Express during my train commute. I had never watched cable news anyway, but now I avoided online clips too. Even NPR, my primary news source as a car commuter, got the cold shoulder; only recently have I been able to stomach regular news segments again.

My visceral response to our present world lies in that word: "stomach." My gut twists and tightens when I hear our politicians speak. The writer in me is aghast at how events that would be considered major climaxes in novels become mere footnotes in our emerging historical record. I feel nauseous and dizzy when I allow the full reality of our climate crises (political, moral, ecological) to wash over me. The news exhausts me physically and emotionally, to the point where it's easier to hide. And though I know so much around me is just plain wrong, so blindingly un-Christlike, I hesitate to debate it because I don't know enough "facts" (even though the core of most issues is not about statistics, but souls), and I hesitate to act because I feel like the only person against a dystopian world.

That's why this Los Angeles Review of Books article, "Confronting the Unwatchable," struck a deep chord in me. Authors Maggie Hennefeld and Nicholas Baer discuss the "sprawling maelstrom of visual atrocities that we now consume as part of a habitual media diet" and how sustained exposure to those atrocities has dulled our appropriate responses of outrage followed by action. Either we avoid the unwatchable entirely (like I do), or we "hate-watch" to a degree where we're either desensitized or demotivated. Of note:

"While social media users lock into their airtight echo chambers, and white supremacist trolls and conspiracy theorists alike routinely disavow the documentation of homicidal violence, it appears that evidentiary truth has fallen victim to cynical reason. Call it an effect of “fake news,” or simply patent denialism, it is clearly a symptom of the broader decline of belief in traditionally refereed sources of journalistic news and expert knowledge. This is precisely what makes our current moment unwatchable — not just the excess of indigestible images, but the pervasive lack of faith or hope that an encounter with these images will be of any consequence whatsoever. The unwatchable represents the aesthetic condition of a political moment in which the future looks bleak, unavoidably catastrophic, and increasingly uninhabitable."

But as the article's authors explain, our world is better served when we keep our eyes open and train them on that which disturbs us:

"As a political gesture, confronting the unwatchable asks for more from the future than chronic precarity or inescapable cruelty. Instead, it demands that we face Medusa head-on. Only by refusing to misrecognize the unwatchable — as anything other than a dire symptom of our catastrophic times — can we debunk the medusan fallacy and imagine a different way forward. The unwatchable, as both a critical concept and a portent of our future, provokes us to build a transformative new politics in the ruins of liberal optimism." [...]
"Confronting the unwatchable opens up a third way, allowing us to envision new forms of seeing, modes of thinking, and spaces for public collectivity to stake out that vanishing middle ground between personal responsibility and powerful political action."

The idea of a "third way" appeals to me. It captures what has disappeared from our discourse and our actions -- creativity and commitment -- as we move to the poles. But we can only be creative when we know exactly what we're facing, and we can only be committed if we know we are working toward good. At the moment, I am neither because I am hiding from the call.

Ostriches are the popular example of the frightened creature that sticks its head in the same when danger arises. It turns out, however, that this image is a myth. If ostriches actually did that, they wouldn't be able to breathe, plus they'd be vulnerable to whatever was bearing down on them. Rather, ostriches dig holes to lay their eggs, and the mother birds periodically insert their heads to turn the eggs.

Here truth offers a better lesson than myth. I'd rather be alert, aware, eyes on the horizon, ready to respond while needed, while also nurturing in a safe, sacred space a pulsing hope for the future. It is time for me to face Medusa's deadly snakes, or else settle for a world of stone.

Prayer #337: Turn the Eggs

Dirt everywhere. Grating my eyes, filling my ears, plugging my nostrils as I plow my head deeper into the shifting hole. The sensation frightens me; how can I be mere inches from sunlight and fresh air, yet leagues away from comfort and freedom? But I remind myself: I am burrowing with purpose. I am burrowing through the grit and dark to find what I planted at the outset and to remember why I did.

My nose reaches the thin but sturdy shell. I know the egg by its scent -- chalk among earth. And it seems to recognize me, too, though neither of us can see the other. Tap tap. Its greeting comes from within, accompanied by a faint vibration.

Here -- faceless, wordless -- we sense our kindred desire to connect and pass our vulnerability like a basket of fresh bread. But while I remain anxious, the egg waits unperturbed. It is confident it will crack at the exact right moment to gift the prepared with revelation.

Oh, that I had such confidence in my quest to emerge. If only I could swallow the dirt as I burrow and consider it the cost of doing business in a broken world.

I nudge the egg. As it turns, it sighs and hums: Not yet for me. Perhaps, though, for you. And it's right, of course, so I pull my head back, rushing the dirt again over my eyes and ears and nostrils, and squint instead at the garish sun.

God who helps us turn the eggs, remind us that fragility is deceptive; we are all stronger than we think.