Why can't I write? I wonder tonight while I run, cicadas threatening to drown my soundtrack, sunlight fading, running, not because I love to run, but because my sisters run and because I'll never be thin and because I love food and because running is supposed to negate everything I ate last weekend.
Why is pain seemingly easier to write about than happy days and good stuff?
I could write books on grief and loss and pain and loneliness but my husband took me to Jamaica for a week in November and I don't know how to write about that. Is it because it's all too beautiful and fragile, these days, months, now years of joy creeping through? We leave the kids with their grandparents and drive to O'Hare, pinching ourselves like two little kids, buying mismatched clearanced swimsuits because it's winter in Chicago and I hadn't thought about that; chocolate and granola bars and Nike sun visors at Target and carefully laying out our super crisp passports (we are green to world travel) and asking the hotel desk for a three am wake up call.
We fly to Montego Bay groggy and hungry and disoriented and squinting in the blinding sunlight and then a sweltering bus trip and free-flowing alcohol and winding streets and smells and the ragged beggars and haunting faces out of broken hut windows and I wonder why us, why here? We don't belong here, tourists, vacationing Americans, I don't deserve this, I could never have dreamed of this back when we had nothing but each other and nothing to our names but hard work and delivering papers and furniture and babysitting and stretching ends to meet each other. This is too good to be true.
Cool tile and palms and pools and the ocean right there and hours on the sand with books; at the pool bar we order everything under the sun sans alcohol and the salt cracks my lips; we eat jerk chicken on the beach with our fingers; fresh coconut milk, which tastes exactly like soap, cracked open with a knife right in front of us, and we drink it for the experience. We promise to watch the sun rise and never do, exhausted and spent from our demanding life, we sleep in like kids on summer break. Lying in bed one night watching TV, I hear Sara Bareilles' Brave on a HP commercial and wonder why I've never noticed it before:
Maybe there's a way out of the cage you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is
And it's easy to let the light in here, on an island, with chocolate croissants for breakfast and music late into the night, but sometimes it's scary to let the light in at home, back in my little hometown with so much responsibility and our uneasy truce on whether or not to move and my entrepreneur husband's goals that seem to take him further out of my life.
I want to be brave and sometimes brave is being happy. Sometimes brave is letting go of the grief. Sometimes it's closing a chapter and moving on.
And maybe fear would have been saying no to this beautiful week, choosing to stay in the mundane, choosing to close the door to adventure and choosing to play it safe and secure and so much less extravagance.
We rent a sailboat and go out in the bay and then to the ocean and watch another boat capsize; I'm terrified and lose a twenty dollar bill out of my pocket in the wind and Daniel laughs harder than I've heard in a long time. We can see clear to the bottom, light all the way down to the sand, but we can't find my lost twenty and it doesn't matter anyway because money can't buy happiness, only a little freedom, and money can't prevent heartache, only pay for the aftermath, and we know all of this from painful experience.
I've held a $127 masculine wedding band in my hand and said I will and I do,
and I've held a tinny (and tiny) navy blue cell phone and begged my girlfriend Allison to come visit me in this town where I'm so lonely and know no one,
and I've held a pregnancy test with two lines through it far before I thought I was ready to be a mama.
I've held nothing, I've held loneliness, I've held invitations, tentative friendships, I've held shingles and helped my husband roof our first little house, I've held my first child and felt my heart burst wide open with love.
I've held toddler hands and preschool pencils and a little sister's wedding invitations and one morning my little son who wasn't alive anymore and then I held loss in my hands.
I held kleenex and my sobbing mouth and dirt on a grave and cold winter snow; held on too tight and let go of some things I shouldn't have and held my husband as he drifted away from me; in humiliation held the edge of a counselor's couch and in shame I've held letters written with my own hands, wishing I could have taken back bitter, angry words, hurting the broken man I loved.
I held grief and years of darkness and then another tiny son and I held him and terror, too, watching him creep toward the one hundred twenty-eight day mark.
And I wrote, wrote, wrote about all of this. What do you have in your hand? God asks.
This sorrow. That's all.
Tears are healing and life can be wildly healing and our people breathed grace into our broken hearts and then one day my hands held hope.
I held another shocked grieving mother, crushed her to me and stroked her matted hair and rocked her on my shoulder and looked into her swollen eyes and met the grief and I held little black babies all the way in Africa who were alive, but without love, and I learned about this, too, a different kind of loss, and maybe my grief tunnel had gotten a bit narrow and maybe I wasn't the only one suffering.
I held soccer schedules and then school books and choir programs and so much work; Jamaica and rest and joy and somehow the iCloud loses all of my photos but it happened and I hold it in my heart: this, sun and salt and water and joy and ten years with someone who loves me all the way to my soul.
And then I held my coffee cup in a restaurant and watched my husband buy a business; held a pen and signed under his name, too, in shaky handwriting, and I held packing tape and moved to a dream house, brick, and front porch and on the same street as my beloved library, held my breath and said goodbye to that little bedroom where my son had breathed his last, held a cloth and wept as I wiped off the chalkboard wall:
love will hold us together
make us a shelter to weather the storm
Somehow the storm seems weathered and I don't know how to document this, the joy. I feel so undeserving. I remember being the sleepless insomniac, reading grief blogs, resenting and almost hating the ones who were happy again. How could they forget the pain?
But now I know you don't ever forget the pain; your heart just opens up wider to hold everything- loss, joy, pain, happiness again- and this, this is a gift.
Lewis writes, "Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither." Earth is thrown in now for me, and peace and happiness are fragile, unexpected gifts.
What is that in your hand?
This is in my hand, now, God - joy, and thankfulness and I will thank You and and let the light in again.