Category Archives: Tragedy

If we were an alphabet then thre’d be mssing ltters by now.

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“Life’s gotten so crazy.”

That’s what we say to one another. When it comes to passing by. When we haven’t seen each other in a while. When the text messages have piled. When we collide in aisle 7 and we think to search the shelves of canned food for all the time we’ve lost.

“Life’s gotten so crazy, we really need to catch up soon.”

That’s the stake we drive into the ground, like the building of a white, picket fence that separates You from Me and Us from feelings that fit like sun dresses just yesterday when we weren’t so afraid of what Forever could feel like on the fingertips.

It’s an excuse. It’s a white flag on a battle field full of To Do Lists that never stop firing their cannons and calendars overflowing with the things we vow to be important for the moment. I’ll just be the honest one: It’s been far too long since I’ve seen your name circled beside a cup of tea I’ve doodled in the box reserved for Sunday afternoons. Those Sunday afternoons used to belong to you, my dear.

“Life’s gotten so crazy. I’ve missed you so much. We really should talk more soon. We really need to catch up soon.”

That’s what I told you yesterday as I clutched my foaming latte and headed for the door. That’s what I told you instead of the truth. The truth that I am beginning to misplace the pitch in your voice. The truth that if we were an alphabet then there’d be letters missing by now. Rnning amuck, with less than prfect syllbles, I’d stll try to tll you I’ve mssed you. That I am terribly terrified of the day when I wake up to find I’ve misplaced your laughter and all the sweet things you used to say to me when either life wasn’t so crazy or we simply didn’t care to notice.

It was yesterday, as I walked away from your table to get to a meeting I thought needed me more than you, that I stopped at a red light and let the thought of your face flood my memory. I thought sweet tea. A bowl of peanuts by our side. Kittens dancing in the yard. You and I when the air was ripe enough for secrets and honesty.  And I clutched my breath and told myself, when was the last time I told you that I loved you? And I meant it more than just a hurried, frazzled 3-word statement? When was the last time I told you that you’ve made this whole thing better? That I keep you safe in memory and I think of you more than my calendar will permit me to admit.

We’re living in a God Forbid world, my dear.

God forbid, God forbid, something should happen. In a park. In a movie theater. In a school. At a race. And I wouldn’t see you any longer. And you’d never pluck my face out of a crowd again. And one of us would spend some kind of eternity wishing we’d said more, did more, tried more to hold all the pieces together even when life got so crazy.

I don’t want to wait for my Twitter feed to coax me to turn on the news and see all the people crying over yet another tragedy. I don’t want to let it get that far– to fill my bones with fear that someone has hurt you, or wronged you, or taken you away from me– to call you on the phone and crawl into your voice mail with the whispers I’ve carried with me since yesterday:

Hey you.

I hope you’ll get this message. I hope you’ll pick up soon and tell me straight that it was some kind of mistake. That you are doing just fine. That I’ve nothing to fear.

Call me back and pull me in with your laughter. I can’t go a lifetime thinking the world might rob me of that sound forever. Call me back and say anything.

Just call me back. Please call me back.

I’ll stay here. I’ll stay here just clutching my phone. I’ll wait for you, don’t worry. I’ve not go nowhere to go. Really. Just waiting for you to arrive at my door and tell me it was confusion. Confusion, yes. Chaos, yes. A tragedy, yes. But that you got out so safely. And you thought of me… and your mother… and your brother… and your friends the whole way through.

That when the cell service went down you were searching for ways to let me know that it was all a mistake. And that you loved me too. And that we were going to forget about life tomorrow and just lay in bed all day.

Come back, please. Come back to me and I promise to lay with my head against your chest and ask you no questions.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Does it even make sense to say that now? I’ll try calling you back. Again & again & again. I’ll get good at pretending that I ain’t just calling to hear your voice tell me that you aren’t here right now, that you’ll call back soon, as soon as you get this message.

I’m waiting. I’m waiting. Get the message. Did you get the message?

Call me back and say anything.

Just call me back.

Please call me back.

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Filed under The Tough Stuff, Tragedy

Talks with Tragedy.

yellow dressThere are days when I need to believe that Tragedy is a human being.

A living, breathing, fleshy individual. Wrinkled & Grey.

Yes, some days I want so badly for Tragedy to be an elderly man who wears a checkered newsboy cap and is too proud to use a walking cane to steady his step. And he goes up and down the boardwalk of some seaside port, the mist of salt water curling around his glum face as he grumbles about grandchildren that never visit anymore, not since his wife passed at least.

He does this ritualistic walking nearly every morning, no matter the temperature, before he settles into the Same Booth of the Same Seaside Diner he has given his quarters & nickels to since childhood. And a woman named Betsey is his waitress. And Betsey has no idea but she will regret never having stopped to hear the awe-inspiring stories that the man holds. Tragedy, well he’s seen wars & great battles & a fair share of natural disasters, but Betsey will never know that. To her he’s just a tired, cranky old man who rarely ever tips. Tragedy takes his coffee, fresh or not, sipping slowly as he stares out the window at the children leap frogging over one another in the water and then toppling into the waves.

And he breathes in deeply, forced to cut most cups of coffee short because a funeral requests his presence or the news reports are already telling anxious viewers that Tragedy has arrived, even before he even knows where the atrocity took place.

Standing off in the distance, Tragedy hangs his head low until the next job calls. Wondering when he can retire. Wondering when the world won’t need him anymore.

On these days, when I convince myself that Tragedy is an aging man with faulty vision and a grumble with no grin, I am tempted to scour through the yellow pages and call every seaside diner until I find the one who tells me, “Yes, that man is a regular. He arrives here every morning at 9:30a.m.”

I’ll scuffle into sandals and sling the morning Boston Globe beneath my arm, stuff a few old photos in the deep pocket of my tote bag, and march right over to that seaside diner with every ounce of resentment percolating inside of me while Tragedy waits, unknowingly, for a refill on his coffee and for my arrival.

“We need to talk,” I’ll say, speaking before even fully sliding into the booth across from him. Before even seeing the wrinkles that surround Tragedy’s Sad Blue Eyes and the anguish already written upon his face.

He’ll just stare at me. Let out a slow chuckle. The saddest laugh I will ever hear. I know it already.

You think you are the first person to approach me with a newspaper? Get that outta my sight,” he’ll say.”You were going to open that damn paper up to page A6 or D1, doesn’t really matter because I am on every single page, and show me all the problems I have caused by being there. You people act like I take delight in my job, like I enjoy attending twelve funerals an hour and showing up at the bedside of sick children. You people think I take vacations when I head over to places like Japan & Afghanistan to oversee the rubble and the devastation.

And then, then, you’ll pull some photo out from that bag of yours and tell me that I took someone away that you loved very much.

And that wasn’t me kid. That wasn’t me.”

Anger will burn at my cheeks as I pull my tote closer to me, envisioning the photos of the woman laughing in the side compartment of the bag. I want him to be sorry. I want so badly for Tragedy to be sorry. Not indifferent. Not unphased.

His voice will crouch lower. Softer. Practically silent.

I don’t plot the sadness and cruelty of this world, I just show up because that’s my job. You try to imagine doing a job every single day where you know before you even stroll out the door in the morning that people don’t want you around, that no one is ever going to be happy to see you show up. I’ve seen the look on Joy’s face when I arrive at a good pool party. I’ve had my face slapped a couple of times by Happiness and that twin of hers, Elation, when I “ruined the party” and made everyone go home sobbing. You try being the bearer of the most awful, most terrible news, every single day and then you tell me how it feels to be attacked over your morning coffee.”

“But I just don’t understand,” I’ll say, trying my best to keep composure. “You are absolutely everywhere and I don’t understand how the world can keep spinning and moving when Beautiful People pass away or a shooting kills dozens. I don’t know how to move on after you show up. After I locate you in every sad photograph, looming over victims, or I can feel your presence around me like a shawl that I wish would just stay off of my shoulders. My head hurts just thinking about all the places you’ve been and the pain that comes with you.”

That’s not your job, kid,” he’ll answer. “Your job might be to pray that I will disappear but it is not your job to try to understand why I am everywhere or to think about the places I have been in a day. I am the one who has to take all the sadness of the world onto my shoulders, not you. If you think it’s you then you better take a good hard look in the mirror and rearrange yourself because the world wants something different from you. And if you cannot accept that then here, here, let me give you a job:

Show up, after I have gone, and help people pick up the pieces and clear away the mess. My whole life would have been different if that had been my job. If I could just stick around after I did my job as “Tragedy” and then really help people. People are really, really broken. I’ve learned that best from the funerals, and the shootings, and the kinds of events that make no sense when their jumbled and splayed on the cover of the paper. But don’t get so caught up in your anger at me that you forget to help people and give them hope. You people forget your power too quickly… you let fear win, you let me triumph when you shouldn’t. Do you hear me, girl? I don’t want to triumph. I don’t want to win. I don’t want to be center of all you people’s conversations. I don’t deserve that, I never have, so don’t let me win this one. Please look for hope and work on forgetting me.”

He’ll stand to gather his coat from the booth beside him.

Listen kid, I have to head out. The job calls me at all hour,” he’ll say, placing two single dollar bills on the table beside him. “Remember my suggestion though… That’s a better job for you.”

He’ll reach the door, swinging it open with a vengeance that only yields the small clanging of a single bell at the top of the door.

Oh, and one more thing,” he’ll add, stepping back through the door. “Take that picture you have in your bag and find a good frame for it. You don’t have to bother showing me, I already know she was beautiful. Maybe I should have said that first.”

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Filed under Tragedy

Coming home to your shoes.

Your shoes are by the door and I know I’ve done it again.

Only a lone pair of sneakers this time, it can’t be so bad. The last time this happened I unlocked the door and pushed it in to find hiking boots, dress shoes, sandals and a pair of slippers. All Size 11. Craterly & Mammoth to my Size 7 feet.

“I’m sorry,” I yell into the dark apartment. “I know why you’re here.”

“Do you really? And are you really sorry? I guess those are the questions on my mind,” you respond from the kitchen—a small space of pots & pans tucked tight and out of sight to the left of the apartment.

“I didn’t mean to bring you up…”

“But you did.” I wait for you to come into view. Wait to see your tousled hair. Your black ankle socks. Your casual, boyish attire.  “I’m worried because you did.” You don’t show.

“But…”

“Go ahead, explain it to me.”

“Alex was having a hard time. I brought you up. I told her about us. Our story.”

“Babe, how many times do I have to tell you that…”

“ I know, I know. We don’t have a story… or at least not one that I need to keep telling over & over & over again.” I walk past the kitchen, throwing my coat on the sofa and heading for the bathroom.

I play with the sink knobs. The water gushes out quickly. Soon enough, the hear pours out, collapsing and cloaking my tired hands.

“I only say it for your good. You know that, right?” Stop whispering, please stop whispering to me.

The tears stay pent inside the crooks of my eyelids where the gold shimmer faded nearly two hours ago. Not looking up. Not letting my eyes drift back to the sneakers at the door of the apartment.

“I only ever say it for your good because you and I both know that…”

“That I’ve got to move on. That I’m wasting time. That every time I bring your name into a coffee date then I am only hurting myself,” I steady my hands. I try to keep them from shaking.

You stay talking. On & On & On. As if you were the damn genius who invented conversation. And it does no good because I cannot see you and I cannot feel you the way I used to.

I abandon the towel and the light switch. I stay in the dark and crawl my way to the floor where the sofa’s legs kiss carpet and crook me into cushioned safety.

“You don’t get it… it’s not this hard for you,” I say into the darkness. “You are the not the one who has to live without me. I am the one who does that, every single day. In the best and only way that I know how.

And don’t you know that you are everywhere? You are in the trees. In the leftover slices of pizza that you should’ve ate in the middle of the night. In the side of the bed that makes me want to stay filthy forever if it means I’ll never have to lose your scent on the sheets. You don’t have to go through any of that…I do. I do. And I know, I know that every time I bring you up in conversation that I am going to come home to your shoes & nothing else, just the memory of you that doesn’t hold me right.”

I don’t hear you anymore. Nothing but the clicking of the clock all the way in the bedroom.

My hands are wet and down on the floor beside me. Clawing in the darkness at what I know is a shade of maroon that you picked out back when Carpet mattered & Salad mattered & Sunday Football mattered.

I put my head down on the floor and imagined what you’d do next. I know if you were here right now you’d pull me into your lap and you’d change my mind. You always did that. And not because I always seemed to melt into a pile of bones when I your arms wrapped me in, but because you were just one of those people who could explain the world for me. You plugged in lamps where I could not find light. You strung Christmas lights in the darkest of places throughout your whole fight. And so you say I’ve got to be stronger because you refused to leave me sitting in the dark. But it feels like dark. It feels like dark without you.

“Sometimes I hate you,” I whisper through clenched teeth. You know I am lying, right? “I hate that you left me here to do this without you. I hate that I couldn’t fix you. I hate that I’ve become some town tragedy where people treat me like a fogged up window that they can look through, apologize for the loss, watch me sway back & forth a bit and then head back to their own lit home. That I feel pathetic without you. That so much of this doesn’t matter without you.

I hate that I couldn’t go with you. That you left me standing here with all these secrets & things we told one another when the rest of the world fell asleep, things I was supposed to whisper back on a day when I wore white just for you. And now I’ve got to let it all go… I don’t want to let you go…. I don’t know how… I don’t want to learn.

I cry. For your arms. For a blanket you’d place over me. For the hairs on my head I know you’d stroke. For the tears you’d wipe. The things you’d say. For the thought of you, up in the clouds, hanging your head over an image of me rendered Helpless & Heartbroken.

“Come home… Just come home again…I cant feel you anymore…” Your shoes are already by the door. I can leave the light on. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’ll try again tomorrow.”

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Filed under Girl meets Boy, The Tough Stuff, Tragedy

The Never I’ve Never Really Known

“It’s that right there.”

I looked up to see a man pointing at the coffee mug before me. A Trickle of Agave Nectar Slipping from the Ceramic.

“Excuse me?” I responded.

He went on. “I’m still relearning how I take my coffee after 28 years of not needing to remember it.”

It was then that I realized: he was tying into the book cupped between my hands. Thoughts on Grief. A wadded 400-pages of excavated sadness. You know, just casual morning reading that leaves me light-hearted and ready to banter with interns all day.

If you want to know the truth: I’m sitting in too tiny Westport cafes these days, wearing black tights and black sweaters (because you can’t read tragic books when wearing yellow sundresses and polka-dotted wellies) while swallowing spoons full of sugar and realizing that nothing, nothing, makes grief go down easier. It don’t slide down yo’ throat like medicine, so back off Mary Poppins.

I’m writing a book. My character needs to know grief. Not because she wants to know grief but because in her 25th year she really has no choice. Grief pummels her in the way that Sallie Mae pummels all undergraduates. I wince having to put her through it and so I am learning all that I can about grief before 9am so I can heal her when I get back to my computer at 9pm.

But back to the man who stood before me… Here, I’ll rewind and tell you his words again because I think we may have lost the moment.

“.ti rebmemer ot gnideen ton fo sraey 82 retfa eeffoc ym ekat I woh gninraeler llits m’I”

“I’m still relearning how I take my coffee after 28 years of not needing to remember it.”

You can swallow words and paragraphs all day, especially when they are about paperwork and marketing, but a sentence like that should probably leave you as road kill. Just the mere picture of that man standing at his kitchen counter, relearning the steps of making coffee, is enough. Saying upward, “Marilyn, did I like it with milk or cream? Was I a two-sugar kind of guy?”

You pick the sound effect that followed in after his reply, as his words came to tear me down like the barbarians of biblical times. Was it: a) SLAM b)WHOOSH c) BOOM d) CRUSSHHHH.

None of the above.  None Of The Above.

His words fell down on me in a calm way. Like the first snow that waits in the wings for the streetlights to come on. In a way that made me realize, I can find someone in this lifetime who will let me help them make their coffee. What a beautiful blessing that might be, to have the intricacies of yourself get lost in details that another keeps. To have a partner in this life who carries your love for agave nectar and half & half deep in their suit pockets and brown leather bags.

In a way that made me wonder, what would it be like to have that ripped away?

I pictured him standing there by the kitchen counter, waiting for her car to roll into the driveway. Waiting for the day he’d get all tangled up in Christmas lights for her again because she wanted them on the roof the day after Thanksgiving. Waiting for the day when Never became real. And it hit him with a thud, “you’ve got to carry this word, buddy.”

Learn to carry Never as if it were a watering jug. Like the first time your momma showed you how to carry a baby and the Blaring Fragility of It All.

Sucked dry as juice from crazy straws and left holding this word Never. In place of a voice he adored hearing. In place of name he loved seeing on the caller ID.

And it makes you wonder if one day soon he’ll start screaming at the very word, “Please, Never! Please! Let me lob off the N from your EVER and place a FOR there instead. Let me unscrew the N from your EVER and latch YDAY onto the end of you.” Because I need some kind FOREVER today. I need some kind of EVERYDAY with her. More than I ever needed a Never.”

But then maybe he’d sit, and cry a bit… get silent. Real Silent. Saying to the Little Word, furled up in a ball at his feet, “Never, you are such a pretty little word. Makes me wish you stood for something else. That your name meant flower. Or your name meant, “specks of fallen gold on window panes” instead of “yes, that’s right, I won’t see her any longer.”

Sitting, petting Never as it curled up around his ankles.

That man, he walked away from with all the Never in his arms and left me  there, in a too tiny Westport café, holding a scrap from his paper snowflake, one he had been cutting ever since the day he lost her.

I watched him get into his car and pull away. I’m wondering now when Never will stop howling and crying in the night. When he’ll roll over and not see Never sitting next to him in bed. When Never won’t share a space on the couch or the passenger seat of his SUV.

I might Never know when Never will leave his arms. Sometimes we can Never know those kinds of things.

Never, you are such a pretty little word. Too bad you can’t mean something else, like “specks of fallen gold on window panes.”

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Filed under The Tough Stuff, Tragedy

Goldilocks, Gretel & Goliath: Thoughts on Grief and Turtlenecks

I know too many people who are hurting these days. They are grappling with God and why he takes some of us away, hides someone we love like a stray sock in the hamper. Today,  if you are a) hurting b) missing someone c) keeping Grief in the guest room of your house d) thinking today might be better if someone particular were sitting beside you, someone you wish hadn’t taken all your best secrets with them up to Heaven, if you are any of the above, well I wrote this for you and a woman named Kim.

These days I’m finding my way around grief.

I’ve got seven books on grief just flopping all over my bedside table because I want to learn it so badly, and still, I am stuck with this comparing of grief to a turtleneck shoved under a pristine tutu.

Though it was nearly 20 years ago, I can recall quite perfectly the invincible feeling that overwhelmed me as I sashayed around my elementary school during my first Halloween parade, hair slicked back into a knobby bun with 99 cent gel, a classical pancake of pouf fluffing out around me in Degas fashion.

And then my mother went and ruined my life. She slaughtered my ballerina status with a heinous white turtleneck that she insisted on jamming beneath my leotard, going all maternal on me and caring about my health while all I wanted to do was prance around the night in my Little Pink Tights, without a jacket or a thermal.

Tinkerbelle never got pneumoniaaaaaaaaa, mooommmmmmmmmmm. Roooooaaaarrrrrrr. I acted out my tantrum right there, in case you couldn’t tell.

Seriously though, turtlenecks beneath a leotard are no good. They make Jasmine look silly. They make ninjas look like wimpy fools. I want nothing that they have to name after a leathery, slow sea creature on my body.

They are, I imagine, how grief must feel on the chest. Uncomfortable. Lumpy. Hot. Bothering. A pain to adjust to. Sometimes strangling. Unwelcome. And you swear, everyone is focusing on the turtleneck and how unnatural it looks. The grief and how decrepit it makes you feel to the outside world.

I received an email from a woman named Kim the other day who told me first that I had changed her life. Immediately I wanted to respond and tell her there was a mistake, a typo in her email:

Dear Kim, I change shoes. I change coffee flavors. I am learning to change tires. I will change diapers, one day. But I don’t change lives. Love, Hannah.

Kim wrote that her mother passed away in January, just days after being diagnosed with lung cancer (one day soon I will write a letter to cancer, and it won’t be lovely by any means). Suddenly, holidays took on a new meaning for Kim, parts of her hollowed out.

Grief, the mighty Goliath that he is, forced himself into rooms to sit beside Kim, like a Ginormous Goldilocks sitting in Too Tiny Chairs. I am beginning to see that no matter how much of life we get “good at,” we never get good at letting Grief in as a house guest.

He’s too big. He’s too messy. He breaks plate. He’s terribly loud. He lets the cat out and it doesn’t come back. He breaks the washer and then the dryer.

It’s as if I can see him rumbling and barreling through all of Kim’s rooms, snorkeling food and knocking over fine china. Reckless, so reckless, with the memories of her mother.

Before releasing every ounce of love I could slam into the keyboard for Kim, I sat, considered how much I really do like my “a” key and my “?” key and decided to keep reading before breaking the keyboard over brokenness.

She told me that when the sympathy cards rolled in she felt this overwhelming need to thank others for their condolences. So she bought a box of cards and a pretty sheet of stamps… they sat there. Untouched.

And then she bought another box. Again. Unwritten Upon.

And then she bought another box, this time with smaller cards. Less intimidating, right? Still… untouched.

You know, I cannot quite put myself into Kim’s shoes. I don’t know grief like this, I don’t know the reality where the maker of my favorite grilled cheeses and macaroni necklaces no longer calls me to see how my day is going.

The thought makes me want to look up say, “God, you’s a crazy fool… you really think we can take all this?” All This Anguish. All This Turbulence. Tell me God, why did you think I could go without a Him and a Her and a She in this place?

And yet, yet, I’ve seem Him, that same Crazy Fool of a God, weave some of the most astounding healing processes out of Loss.  As if he’s whispering messages to the sun and the trees and air like games of Telephone, “Tell my Little One down there that I care. I. Care. So. Much. And I won’t leave her like this. Slumped Over. Tired. Sucked Dry. Gosh, it’s killing me… but she’ll be lifted soon.”

And He uses you. And He uses me. To Get One Another to That Point of Lifting.

Kim found MoreLoveLetters.com last week, which means she found me and that is where our emailing began. She told me that recently she felt ready to let go of all the stationery, all the boxes of cardstock that no longer served a purpose now, months after the passing. And so, she plans to write love letters and leave them in memory of her mother, a woman who would have loved the project and swallowed it whole.

And here I am, unexpectedly somewhere in the middle of Kim’s encounter with the Goldilockish Grief. And suddenly we’ve got this great purpose, this Great Plan, to turn Goldilockish Grief into Gretel Grief.

A chance to sprinkle the grief like breadcrumbs to help another home. Pouring the grief into letters that another might find. Sewing and stitching the grief into pages meant for people like you to read. Telling that grief that he can stay here or there, but he cannot stay in our houses any longer.

Isn’t that what they would want, sitting up there in the trees of Heaven? To look down and see us sowing something miraculous just for them? I can see them now, all the ones we’ve loved and lost, Too Soon & Too Quickly, singing down to us like the Whos of Whoville:

“It’s quick. And it’s short. And it won’t promise you much. So be on your way. Be on your way today. Don’t stay crying for me, I’m not afraid any longer. Don’t stay sad for me, that’s never what I taught you. Use me. Use the tears you have for me and sow those tears into something bigger. Something that would make me smile and tell you that I am proud. And then, and then, come back to me–after a long, long day– and tell me every inch of it.”

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Filed under Disconnect, The Tough Stuff, Tragedy

I guess I wouldn’t need a God if I knew how to be strong when the radio comes on.

She let me go.

Turned up the volume of the stereo when she saw the first traces of salt begin scraping down my cheeks.

She asked no questions.

She already knew: Some Wednesdays are made for bowing down to the Waterworks. Welling up. Washing outward.

Some Wednesdays were made for all the “W” Words Welding together to Whisper in your ear the Very Verbs to obey that day: Whimper. Wail. Wallow. Welp.

Some Wednesdays were made for Washing Away like the stains in silk blouses the moment you hear Adele, her alto voice bellowing through the radio. She’s practically Warning you with each strike of a chord, “The next chorus will get those eye sockets of yours good.”

I cried for a solid 3 minutes and 46 seconds yesterday. It may have been longer. May have been shorter. Led by Lyrics to a Desperate Point of needing to let it all out, screaming at the sadness, “You can’t stay here no more.”

The Whole time I stared directly ahead of me at the Windshield Wipers sloshing. Back & Forth. Back & Forth.

And I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thinking about the pain or the memories that will become of all this in the next few weeks, I was simply Wondering why something as small as a few Words can be so capable of pinning my spirit to the ground like the three-time Winner in the championship Wrestling match, collapsing me into a sobbing mess. Why, oh why, cant I just Hold It All Together? God, please. I need to be strong today.

I guess I wouldn’t need a God if I knew how to be strong when the radio comes on and pain folds out into my lap like a Geisha’s fan.

You and I, We wouldn’t need much of anything. No friends to Whisper full with our secrets. No mystery “Somebody” to explore over coffee dates and Walks in the Park. None of that. None of that “human stuff” if we could Live this Strange Thing on our own.

So I take the fact that I can fall & fold over a few lines of a song–“I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue. I’d go crawling down the avenue“– as a sign that I am Helpless. Hopeless. In need of a hero on a daily basis. Without that, I’ll make it about 5 steps out the door before I spill my coffee, forget my computer in the back seat of the car, take the wrong train or miss the shuttle. I’ll last fifteen minutes, one tragic turn of events, one bout of bad news before I admit it: I am nothing by myself. Nothing without conversation. Without prayer. Without knowing that when I cry, really bawl my eyes out, I am not alone.

So tell me that you ache too. I need to know you are searching. I have to, have to, have to believe that the second I fall and stumble and find difficulty in understanding this World and How She Operates that you’ll be coming around the corner, and you’ll be shuffling me to a place where we can turn our heads upward. And you’ll tell me in so many syllables, or no words at all, that you’ve been here before. And that Human Hands are Worthless if not knit by Something Bigger that sees us hurting and weakened by the shortness of this life. 

And that there is no route but that it gets easier. Eventually. Eventually. And if it doesn’t get easier that the grip of your hand will only get tighter. Only Get Tighter When I Start to Slip.

I have to know that at the end of the day, in a Life that won’t ever promise you a Tomorrow like it gave you a Yesterday, that at least I won’t have to cry alone. That Windshield Wipers can Swing & Swing. The rain can fall down and blur the headlights. But that you’ll just sit beside me. Turn up the stereo. Ask no questions for that 3 minutes and 46 seconds.  Just Let Me Wash It All Away.

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Filed under Letting Go, The Tough Stuff, Tragedy

Kaleidoscope Lifetimes: 9/11. We Remember.

I spent precisely 73 minutes, curled up on the tile floor of the New York Library-Bronx Branch, crying yesterday. Book Propped In Front Of Me. Knees Folded. Pages Playing Tear Catchers.

I half expected a librarian to approach me, befuddled by my sinking the library with Titanic-like tears. Ok, maybe not Titanical Tears. But certainly rowboat tears.

Excuse me, are you alright?” She would’ve asked. Clearly feeling awkward upon the sight of me.

Oh, yes… Don’t worry,” I would’ve replied. “I do this all the time, no need to be alarmed. I always plant myself in the nonfiction section when I am having a bad day.

I wish I were kidding but we all have quirky ways to remedy our bad days. I am just more open to admitting mine. Something about the nonfiction section of a library holds me at hard times. The Shelves Quake as I envelope myself in stories that are not my own. Stories that remind me the word “Alone” can disintegrate with two steps in nearly any direction. We are not alone. We are not the only ones having tough days. We are striving so hard to be Individuals that we lose track of Sameness. Sameness Matters. Oh yes, it does.

I cried for a silent waltz between Individuality and Sameness bound up together in a hardcover. 1,901 portraits.1,901 Individuals Who Lost their Lives in September 11, 2001.

Mothers. Husbands. Teachers. Students. Fathers. Brokers. Aunts. Business Men. Fiances. Waiters.

All Different Lives. One Common Ending.

A day when Two planes Took To the air. Took down Two Towers. Took Too many.

If our lives look more like a waiting room than a kaleidoscope today then we are doing something wrong. If we are hoping life will begin someday soon then we are wasting time. If we are allowing words inflated with Doubt, Negativity, Hatred and Defeat take the reins in our vocabulary then we need a new dictionary.

Because 2,996 lives never found tomorrow after September 11, 2001. Over 200,000 lives lost the chance for a better life when the Earth Quaked in Haiti this past year. More than 4,000 soldiers gave up any form of a future to fight a war in Iraq. Why? So that we could have the future. Planted in our Hands.

We need only stare at a cover of the New York Times to slap our own wrists with reality: We have been given a gift. Gifts are never required. Nor guaranteed.

A volume full of single stories, each one begging to burst from beneath their byline, reminds me of the great nobility of everyday existence. In riding the 4 Train to work daily, where Doug Jason Irgang met his future bride-to-be after seeing her daily on the commute to work, reading her paper. They were set to be married in December 2001. In the pots of rice and beans cooked by Jorge Velazquez every Saturday for the homeless and hungry of Manhattan. In the spaces between the breaths of Janet Alonso as she called her husband to tell him That The Office Was Filling With Smoke. That She Could Not Breathe. That She Loved Him.

And then the Buildings Broke.

I am reminded on an every day basis that it will never matter which titles we held or the amount of money that our bank accounts digested. The fibers of our existence are counted then accounted for in the hands that we hold. The well intentions we wish. The prayers we send Upward. The compassion we sent Outward. The love we welcome Inward.

I hold a thousand secrets and I cannot share them all. But here’s one. Lean in closer. Open your ears: The only promising promise exists in this very moment and what we make of it. Ready. Set. Go.

 

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Filed under For a Better World, Life Lessons, Love Yourself, The Tough Stuff, Tragedy

He’s a tear catcher and I’m a fist fighter but all He asks of me is Love.

I’ve decided to take up pottery.

There might be nothing more soothing to me in this moment than the chance to sink my hands deep into a mess of clay and spin something wonderful into existence on my little potter’s wheel.

Plus, I think I’d look cute in an apron with clay smeared on the edge of my hairline and I had a semi-fine infatuation with Joey Potter, from the Creek, for a good five years so I figure this is the closest I’ll get to being a Potter, this whole pottery gig. Unless I meet a Dawson somewhere down the line but that’s for another day.

So why Hannah the Potter so suddenly? What’s fueling the visions of vases and pots & adobe stoves?

I need to make a basin, people. A very large basin.

Lately I’ve spent my workdays knee deep in monitoring the media of the food crisis in East Africa and, while I know surviving in this field requires a focus on the solution instead of the problem, I flick through enough tragic photos of the babies, hungry and needing in that area, to wonder: Who catches their tears? Who catches and counts their tears, values them enough to put them in a big basin? A Big Basin of Salty Tears.

Who treks out into the night, into the thick and high grasses of Africa, to gather up and account for the tears of babies crying with no relief?

I’d probably fist fight God if I could. If I thought I stood a chance. If I thought the swiping at the Creator the Universe would even get me anywhere or offer me anymore clarity into my latest question for Him: WHY do some people seem placed on this earth for Suffering and Survival?

But I can imagine God holding His Pinky against my forehead, a flimsy but mighty effort in holding me back, as I am Swinging, Swinging, Swinging.

I’ll grow tired and eventually sit down and that’s when He will finally speak… “Hannah, haven’t I told you time and time again? I didn’t make you for the question ‘Why?’ That’s a manmade question and no human will surely ever know the answer in his or her lifetime.”

“You could spend an eternity asking why…Why suffering? Why pain? Why less? Why more? Why Sunday and not Monday? Why today but not tomorrow? Why you and not me? Why me this time, not you? Why him? Why her? Why this but not that? And why this? Why this? Ah, Little One, you are wasting time. Precious time I’ve given you.”

I’d probably whine to God. Pull out a crumbled laundry list of excuses to rattle off to him, reasons why I think He needs to be clearer with me. More specific. Because I cannot save babies. And I cannot hop on planes to get to Africa and collect the tears in my amateur Basin.

He’s God, so naturally he’ll pull something out from his pockets as well. I think God has full pockets. Ridiculously Full Pockets. So what would he pull? Two pieces of paper, shining like tin foil, of course.

And he’ll place them side by side before me.

“Please don’t make me sign some contract,” I’ll wince. “I’ll only let you down.”

“No contract. Just job descriptions. Read and compare, Little One. Read and compare.”

“For who?”

“You & I, of course.”

Oh, God.

God, God, God, you are tricky and cunning and you’ve got this delirious grin but I will not be able to help but be in awe when I stare down at the gleaming sheets of paper. Only to find that God’s “To Do” list is far more cluttered than mine.

Mend 10,283,333 broken hearts. Fix 56,203,494 friendships. Open 33,293,492,310 pairs of eyes. Get 888,929,841,111 people to their destinations safely. Heal 710,296,443,090 sick people. Help uncover 39,283,555 pairs of lost keys, 66,327,000 lost eye glasses, and 101,672 left socks.

All in a day’s work.

And yet my job description will hold a single word in the middle of it. Scribbled Big & Bold. Juicy & Red.

LOVE.

He absolutely knows that I’ll flip the paper over, look for something more. So he will have already thought to write another message on the back. Even bolder than the first.

THAT’S IT. THAT’S ALL. LOVE & LOVE & LOVE. WHEN IN DOUBT, LOVE. WHEN NOT IN DOUBT, LOVE HARDER. WHEN STRUGGLING, LET YOURSELF BE LOVED. WHEN STRONG, LOVE FIERCELY. LOVE, LITTLE ONE, LOVE. AND ALL WILL BE WELL.

–Love, The Guy Who Catches the Tears Before You Even Think to Mold a Basin

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Filed under Creative Fiction, Tragedy

Perhaps we are not weak, maybe we’ve just been strong for far too long.

I’d be the most awful candidate for Miss America.

I know it already.

I don’t believe my ballerina talents would sustain me, stage lights themselves make me run for the wings to get sick, and I’d surely crack and sizzle during the question and answer part of the program.

“What is your single wish for generations that will come after you?” The announcer’s voice amplifies the auditorium.

I stand in perfect Miss America stature, knowing my answer already, “My greatest wish is they will get the life socked out of them…”

Gasp. Hush. The crowd will stare. The cameras will narrow in before shutting off, the producers ripping me off the stage.

“We never rehearsed that! You cannot just say that!” They’ll say as they kick me out onto the curb, sash falling from my shoulder, hair slightly disheveled from the jilting.

But I mean it!” I yell, “It’s my greatest wish!”

“It’s something that I think everyone need to go through once or twice in life!” I’ll start telling random people on the street. “You should feel it, and you, and you, and you….” Train Wreck Miss America on the Side of the Road.

But really, seriously. You. Yes, you. I want that for you. For you to get the life socked out of you. Because only after you’ve had the life knocked from your lungs, and your knees are on the floor, and you are pretty sure you cannot take much more,  will you learn the strength it requires to pick yourself up. And nothing– absolutely nothing– feels more glorious than that moment when you discover your own two feet again and you find yourself standing for the first time in what seems like a very long time.

Hardship isn’t glamorous, not by any means, but I would say we didn’t come here for the glam or the glitz anyway. That the stories that actually live on in books and the raspy voices of our fathers are the ones that left a protagonist with no choice but to scavenge the ground for courage and strength to make it through when the night rolled in.

Hardship teaches us the beauty of a song or a poem, it hatches for the first time within our souls as we curl and wait for the pain to go away. Something bigger is happening as the experience mends us stronger and more complete than we ever knew we could be.

And at the end of it all, after our feet grow tired and our lives grow long,  we won’t sit and talk about the way the door slammed as much as we’ll talk about how it felt to finally walk away. We won’t talk so much about pain and failure as much as the day we realized we were no longer choking back tears. Hot, sticky tears. We won’t talk of falling to bits and pieces and much as we’ll marvel over the delicate process of putting ourselves back together after the break.

We’ll chat about the victory. We’ll chat about rebuilding. We’ll chat about learning to stand again.

Even with all the purpose embedded into Hard Stuff, I am still constantly amazed to see how relentlessly we tear ourselves apart for feeling weak, for feeling kicked down when life has in fact kicked us down. We want to ignore the stuff that shakes our core and just keep pushing onward. I should be stronger. I shouldn’t be crying. This should not be so hard.

No, you really shouldn’t be stronger. If you are on the ground and you cannot get up, stay there for a while and learn the world from that viewpoint. If you don’t have the strength to stitch a single sentence more then stop stitching for a while, be amazed by the way someone picks up the needle and takes over for you.

And maybe we have this all wrong. Perhaps we are not weak, maybe we’ve just been strong for far too long. And we were due for it anyway, a time to relearn the art of standing, the art of covering ourselves in new kinds of Strength after the storm.

Learn the truth in all the hardship: You will be o.k. again. Whole again. Ready again. All you have is grey on your paint palette? Well something beautiful can be painted from grey.

Better we learn early that it is o.k. to reach the end of our rope. It is o.k. to curl into a ball and let the pillowcase take our tears for a while. It’s o.k. to be sucked dry of inspiration, to lift our hands up in exasperation and ask for a saving grace or just a little help.

If Loneliness needs to visit, then pull up its chair. If Sadness wants to dance today, get on those ballet shoes. If Tire and Exhaustion are demanding that they sit beside you on the train, let one take the window seat and the other the aisle.

They’ll be leaving soon. They’ll make their way out. They won’t stay forever, though it may seem that way right now. But you, you just keep on going, knowing that all you are doing is absolutely enough.

You are doing just fine. You are doing just fine. And one day soon, you’ll stand.

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Filed under The Tough Stuff, Tragedy

“Look,” she told my mother. “It’s me and Fred dancing.”

I wonder how we’ll dance. All of the time. I wonder if we’ll fox trot or side step. Shimmy or Waltz. If the music will come endlessly. If the record player will turn.

I picture a pearly floored ballroom. Mozart revived and stunning on the piano. God showing off his hidden talents with the strings of a cello. Mr. Blue Eyes Sinatra himself, captivating all of heaven’s dance floor with his debonair swagger and the alto roar of his voice.

But, if I want to talk about Heaven and the epic chance to finally toast my glass with Billie Holiday, I need to rest my fingers on this keyboard and tap out what comes first, the very thing that we may never come to understand for as long as we sink our feet into earthy ground.

Death.

I’ve thought a great deal about death lately, as he seems to be coming up in conversation more than I would like. Linking arms selfishly with people I believe still needed more time.  I don’t even like typing the word “death” because it seems to come weighted down with all sorts of tragic connotations. As if Sadness & Stuffiness & Discomfort are all sitting down on my keyboard, refusing to get up.

It is always when I see someone pass away, someone who seems too young or too needed in this world,  that I find myself attempting to slip into God’s shoes. Try as I might, my feet don’t even take up an inch of space in his massive Converse sneakers. I cannot even pretend to clunk around for a mile in his shoes as if I were back to the days of being Little and Girlish, playing dress up with Grandma’s night gowns and chalky, burlesque lipstick.

But, ironically, it is also always when a beautiful soul takes her leave on this earth to swoop across clouds up to Those Gates that I feel God coming up behind me– clomp, clomp, clomp–in his converse sneakers, to whisper in my ear. “I made you for many things, child. Understanding the way my world operates was never one of them.

And once again I fall back under His Unmistakable Power. Knowing little. Understanding less. But still wishing I could explain why several Grandmas get pulled back up to the clouds before lunchtime.

I’ll never know why God plants the best grilled cheese makers and advice givers all over the planet. I don’t know why he sews us into daughters and sisters, lovers and friends. Why he pulls us off this earth when our work is done. It’s a glorious thing, but it leaves holes in the human hearts, of those who loved us all the days of our lives; the ones who seem to need us here on earth, sitting beside them, holding our hands. Seeking our shoulders.

A dear member of our church passed away this week. Sitting in pews on Sunday morning, a thick layer of sadness rose up to the rafters and rolled down the aisles. Suddenly there was no denying that the world gets heavier with one less mother, one less grandma, one less distinct laugh to fill the space that calls us all to worship.

My mother visited her in the hospital a few days before her passing . She showed off her favorite photograph.  A picture of she and her husband diving and dipping across a dance floor. “Look,” she told my mother. “It’s me and Fred dancing.”

She passed two days later. Some believe she was a victim to a broken heart, her husband passing away ten months prior, but everyone knew for certain that she was ready to dance with Fred again.

Ready to dance. Beyond this world. Because standing here in heels that hurt my feet by the end of the day,  I have no choice but to believe that we were made for something more beautiful, beyond this. That, up there, somewhere over those Rainbows and all that Judy Garland once sang about, exists a place for us to dance. And jig. And wear the best red shoes. And take the hands of ones we loved and lost to finally be found over & over again. For all of eternity.

And perhaps this is the reason, poking up like sunlight from the cracks of tragedy, for being here. Maybe God shuffled us down here so we could do our best, and learn the etching of our own footprints in the sand. So we could stumble and fall and lean on him when we lose all stability. And search this life all over like blind men on the boardwalk, looking for dance partners to know our steps. Know our shuffle. Our hop. Our skip.

To practice dancing on the ground. To learn the hands and eyes that we’ll go searching for long after we’ve parted on this earth when we get to that pearly dance floor. The piano cuts. The crowd clears. And finally, the word “forever” will exist like we have never known it before, as we are reunited with those familiar hands. They’ll clasp our cheeks and pull our faces close to theirs and dip us down to touch the ground, whispering softly, “I told you darling, we’d be dancing again.”

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Filed under For a Better World, Girl meets Boy, God, Shoes, The Tough Stuff, Tragedy, Uncategorized