I Find The Sea

I thought, I can watch a BBC mystery show or I can post the third piece. Virtue won. Vice can wait twenty minutes.

This is another single syllable vignette, again set in Kuwait. I’d wanted to write about my sea walks for a long time. This form works but I think a long essay is waiting its turn too.

I Find The Sea

I find the sea one year. I take my girl and boy south and walk a path lined with palm trees. We are slow. We stop to look at ants, dirt, leaves. I hold my boy while he sleeps and watch my girl kick sand. There is a place I like to stay. It is at an edge. I look out at the sea and think. The weight of my boy and the hand of my girl make me turn back.

There is a walk I love, the sea at my side, my girl and boy near. They play while I look at them and think how much I know and don’t know at once, and how much I want for them and me and us. They can’t know all I hold in my mind when my breath goes tight. My girl runs at me. I catch her. Her hair smells like the sun.

The sea is new each walk. I go for that. I like to see how the sun and sky work the sea to make it gray or blue or green, to make it calm or loud, flat or heaved. My son likes the men who fish. They cast a line, pull it in, send it out. They shoo the cats who want bait. One man shows my boy the fish he caught, a slick fish with wet eyes.

One day we walk on the rocks. The path is too smooth. In my mind, I go where I can see my feet are the first feet to walk these rocks. I feel a kind of wild. You can, I tell my boy, and he steps a gap. There is trash in the cracks. My girl is mad at the trash. She wants to know why.

I lose my fear to the crash and turn of the waves. I am small and loved. That truth is good. Let me hold on. Let my girl and boy know I will not let go. And one day, give them a sea to go to, where they may think.

Valleys Of The Shadow Of Death

One of our pastors, Doug, died this week. He had back pain last spring. Doctors found a tumor wrapped around his organs. They guessed it’d been a slow growth for seven or eight years. Maybe it was already too late but Doug and his wife, Bia, went to the States for treatment. As a church, we prayed. Some prayed fervently for a wild miracle. Doug and Bia walked in small miracles near the end of his life.

On Friday, the message included  Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

At first, I thought the psalm was a response to Doug’s death, a pat reminder to us living believers that it all goes okay at the end. I think of Psalm 23 as great for the emergency room. It’s that bit about the valley of the shadow of death. I’ve read it in that light, dismissive of the passage’s succinct truth about God’s full care for his people. I’ve read it thinking that my valleys are not so shadowed as those walked by others. And so, I’ve read it feeling undeserving of the promises too.

Pastor Alan read Psalm 23 as truth for each of us. My valley of the shadow of death is not a too-short stay in a cancer ward or the loss of a partner. My valley is tired, discouraged, doubting, sad, wounded. My valley of the shadow of death is not wanting to get out of bed in the morning.

I get out of bed anyway

for you are with me.

Psalm 23 is rich. It’d taken a worn hue after decades of hearing it, not for me, not really. Ask for new comprehension. Read it slowly.

Running Still

I might be a revision junkie. I reread yesterday’s post and saw necessary changes. I’m not revising the entire post, but here is one paragraph that deserves better:

We have sweet spaces of time built for daydreaming and thinking. In college I began running longer and longer distances, mapping twenty-mile routes through the middle of nowhere. I ran with a tape deck once because my CD player wouldn’t fit in my Camelbak. Yes. A dubbed tape. But aside from that anomaly, my long runs were open to whatever thought flitted through my mind. I counted to a thousand, and then back down. When I started using the time to think about pieces I had in workshop, running and writing became more tangibly connected.

Nothing terribly wrong. But like I said, this paragraph deserves better. I skipped over the center of it: that running gave me space to space out. That’s it, really. So why mention the one long run with a dubbed tape? Oh, and I don’t like the word “flitted.” I don’t know why I used it. Maybe some thoughts flit, but a lot land with a thud or peek around the corner.

So I spent about forty minutes thinking and writing about when I returned to running in college and what made that routine such necessity. I’ve written about my running before. This may be another start:

In college I began running longer and longer distances, mapping twenty-mile routes through the middle of nowhere. I drew maps on notebook paper and copied road names from the Gazetteer, consulting the note at dead intersections of farmland and sky. The running, even shorter distances in town, gave me undistracted time to think. I counted to a thousand and then back down, again and again, counting with my breath. I took interruptions.

Running and writing connected. I had a classmate who said she composed the best forgotten essays on her marathon training runs. Running was a piece of paper and pen, an hour or so to write, cross-out, rewrite, find the best word. I found and lost poetry on road and trail. I gave characters an audience and went home with the next scene for a workshop piece.

I also had a lot I didn’t want to think about. I was hearing truth, but not listening. Running took me far away from campus and my house. I hit my stride, thinking or not thinking. I found stretches of abandoned road and stopped to stare at the telephone wires. I might stand in one place, listening, for ten or fifteen minutes, sweat drying as salt on my brow. I remembered the goodness of being quiet.

This practice became necessity. I started praying again; I wanted to hear God. Running became my way of being still and knowing. Running with only your heart and mind to hold is as meditative as sitting still. There is something spectacular about working your body, finding a steady pace, and letting your thoughts come and go.

Better, yes?

Essay Revision: Practiced Avoidance

I need to practice revising personal pieces.

But a few are so personal:
Contentment (as in: my plea for complete)

Some pieces read like first thoughts. When I read them, I feel where I was. And then I wonder where I am. I read some pieces and sense refinement bringing me a breath closer to holy. A year ago I wrote a piece called “To an Affair I Haven’t Had.” I read it now, to rework it, and know I was spared. I didn’t fuck up my marriage. I only wanted to.

I only wanted to. That is why returning to a few of these pieces is tough.

The other day I showed Justin my sunglasses, the inside lenses speckled with tiny tear drops. My car cries, I call them, when I turn the radio off on my commute home and wrestle through whatever lump is in my heart. Some of these pieces I want to revise might have been written last week, rather than a year ago, or two. I drive fast and cry about wanting what is wrong. I drive fast and pray to want what is right. To really want it.

I am not returning to these pieces to tidy my story. I write confessional pieces to remain confessional. I remember writing about lust and thinking, I am not the only person who has felt this. But I named it on a page. I see no reason to hide my sin. And I see no reason to hide my desperate faith. I have no shame in its desperation. If I lived in a cave, I might have a meditative faith, but I live in the middle of full days and my faith is worked out on car cries and in my pages.

When I return to some of those pages this month, I pray I go with compassion and honesty.

The Knee Prayer

God, I write.

Father, I write.

Please, I write.

A few lines or paragraphs or lists of wants, needs, sins. I write prayers for the same reason I write many things: for the right expression or understanding. I write prayers to slow myself and think about what or whom I am seeking.

A couple of years ago, I knelt down to help my son with his sandal and I felt a tightness in my right knee and quad. I knew immediately something was wrong but ignored the pull, running for another week or so, until my knee swelled so painfully, I had to stop. I’ve been looking for a tidy summary of that year and half long experience, waiting for my knee, which had no physical injury appear on an MRI, to heal. Physical therapy provided my body with much-needed strength training, but my knee didn’t heal.

My notebooks from that time are packed with prayers about my knee. I confessed selfish motivation, on multiple pages. I played with syntax and logic. I wrote a single line over and over like a mantra: Please heal my knee. I thought if I hit the right combination of words – written or spoken – with the proper measure of humility and boldness, then God would just heal me. And it didn’t happen and it didn’t happen and it didn’t happen.

Until it did. But not because of a perfect combination of words written longhand. I don’t know why my knee finally healed when it did.

I am writing about that experience, carefully. I pressed hard into prayer. I often felt abandoned, stupid or misled as I sought healing. A lot churned up in the process: selfishness, idolatry, vanity, anger. It was a knee: it wasn’t cancer or paralysis or divorce. Now I am writing about the knee without knowing what clarity I’ll find from remembering, or what I might open to: questions of faith, prayer and healing. Very likely, I’ll write around the topic and leave it again, for another time.

But I think even that is worth it.