Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Seven Days In

So far, the baby new year has not been as darling as hoped, more like the love child of Ann Coulter and Idi Amin, with colic and a blistering diaper rash. If you prefer to stick with the vehicle metaphor, so far it's been like a souped-up El Camino driven by a paranoid meth addict. It's already veered out of control and taken out a couple of innocent bystanders.

I really do hope, when we get to heaven, that there's an orientation session where all these things will be explained: why the wicked prosper, and good, loving people are cut down in their prime. Sometimes, in flashes, I think I understand, from an intellectual standpoint--but it still makes me want to throw up. I try to remember my five-word New Year's resolution: "Wait. More will be revealed." But waiting does not come easy to me. I want answers, and restitution for those who have lost things that cannot be compensated for.

I know I am a child of God, but not one of the docile ones that sits quietly at Jesus' knee in the pictures. I'm the foot-stamping toddler throwing a tantrum right outside the frame. My vocabulary is equal parts "NO!" and "WHY?" I believe with all my heart that God loves me, but I also believe He is a little relieved when I fall asleep and finally shut up for the day.

When my own kids were toddlers, they were by turns frustrating and frustrated. The only saving grace was that I knew, as they matured, they would understand and master the things that infuriated their baby selves. I hope the same is true for me. I hope someday this world makes more sense, is more orderly and less of a howling wilderness. I hope I develop more patience, and kindness, and a better attitude. I hope I grow up, and mellow.

And I really hope this squalling, sputtering, shit-spewing baby of a new year does, too.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Stay Strong

Boy, if there are two words I can't stand hearing together, it's "Stay strong." People say it all the time to cancer patients, but they say it to other people facing awful circumstances, too. It's almost always said with the very best of intentions, and when the speaker doesn't know what else to say in the face of the immense struggle the listener is facing.

Sometimes, what the speaker means is, "I wish you strength. I know you have to deal with something terrible, and I want to help you, but I have no idea how, because this is so huge. I'm hoping that my love, and the love of others, will help you tap some secret well of strength you didn't know you had, and you'll come through this awful time intact."

Sometimes, the speaker means, "Something huge and terrifying has happened to you, and it terrifies me, too. I don't know how I'll react if you fall apart. I'm afraid I'll fall apart as well. I need you to stay strong so I don't have to face that possibility."

Sometimes, people who say, "Stay strong," mean both of those things without realizing it.

Many hearers can take the phrase in the best possible light, and that's great, but I worry about the other people. What if they can't stay strong? What if they have used up all their strength just surviving to this moment and they desperately need to know it's safe to break down, that someone else will patiently wait and help them figure out how to put things back together again? What if you say, "Stay strong," and they hear, "Don't break down. Not here. I can't take it?"

Here is what I'd rather say: I'm here for you. I'll cry with you. Don't feel like you have to be strong for me, or for anyone. The only way out is through, and I know it will be hard. But I promise, no matter what, you'll never be alone.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Keep on Truckin'

Some years back, a friend of mine recounted to me the New Year's Eve tradition of burning the old year's calendar in the fireplace after a particularly bad year. The idea sat uneasy with me, though I could never quite articulate why. I suppose the closest I can come to an explanation is, "Don't tempt fate." Those noises from the fireplace might just sound like the crackle of pages curling and burning, but if you listen closely, you can hear the whisper of the old year saying, "You think I was bad? Wait until you meet my bitch of a little sister."

So I never burned a calendar.

Lately, it occurs to me that there's a second reason for not burning the calendar: because it's unfair to the old year. Let me explain.

We have such high hopes for new years. After 365 days that, as an aggregate, did not go quite as hoped, a new year is a positive relief. So bright. So shiny. So un-messed up.

Until, of course, it is. Sooner, usually, rather than later, and then you're stuck with this clunky, nearly-new year that lost much of its value as soon as you drove it off the lot. And you can't sell it on Craigslist, can't trade it, can't get an upgrade for, say, 361 days. No one can. Only cell-phone companies, and possibly Satan, have more airtight contracts than Father Time.

What are you going to do? You can't very well say, "Crap, I dented my new year! I'm just going to sit right here until another one gets delivered." You can't. You have to keep going with the one you have. Maybe you can buff out the scratches a little bit, maybe the damage is so huge that everyone around you can see how badly your year's been dented. They might wonder how you can keep rolling in the face of such a wreck, and you might wonder, too. But on you roll, even if slowly and with much grinding of gears. Through day 89, and 111, and 235. Onward.

There's only one way to get out of your crappy, banged-up dented ride early, and you don't want to take it. If your year gets totaled, so do you.

So if your wreck of a year lurched into the garage last night at 11:59, exhaled a toxic cloud of smoke, and expired, don't kick it and curse it.  Be grateful. It got you here, and now you've got a sweet new ride. Make the most of it.