A Softer Remaking

on fighting the malaise and red foxes on this 19th day away from the world

It is the first of April, a day for such a fool as I, so obviously I aim to go buy some baby chicks in spite of the red fox that slinks around here blatantly looking us straight in the eyes. I’ve heard the chicks have been panic bought, but here in Arkansas it’s a regular thing for the people to hanker for little chirpy puff balls, particularly after all the eggs have disappeared from the store for a month. When we moved to this house, I did it knowing I’d buy them, since I traded my farm dream for this place. I push mow my own yard, will never need a tractor, but I’ll have a bird parade and a garden, by George.

Other than that, most everything seems to have changed. The questions I had before this virus don’t carry the same weight they did before. We’ve had a collective shift in gravity, and now whatever was left of my desire to be thin has transformed into a desire to be well. Now my desire to be more in touch with my particular, specific, oh-so-special calling has morphed into a desire to survive and take care of the people I love. My capacity is small, so I don’t know much about across town, much less across the world. I understand that my job is to stay home and remain human apart from other humans, which is an actually an equation that defies humanity. So here I am relegated, lucky as I am, to kitchen work, Zoom conferences, and baby chickens.

I wash doorknobs and light switches like it makes me millions, and then I go ripping weeds and roots from the flower bed just to get dirty. I touch worms on purpose, and damn all the Lysol, alcohol, and soap. Give me a dirtier life! These are rollercoaster days, always moments from a white-knuckled freak-out and then back again to the more peaceful scope of a large breathing world and my beautiful, dirty place in it. 

While on walks, I do my best to notice the tiniest details, as in how the buttercups outline where an old home place used to be. Look; there’s an unearthed brick I never saw before. 

It seems just as easy to miss the larger details as it is to miss the small. Now I scan the tree-line and let my brain revel in its largeness. One giant tree here has limbs that point like rigid jazz-hands both straight to the ground and straight to the sun, as if the earth’s core were pulling with the same force. I zoom out with my ears and hear the birdsong swell in competition with treefrogs for airtime. Then I zoom in again and hear pollinator wings just flown by my own little head.

Everything is coming to life. See it through both the microscope and telescope, grabbing, drinking, being messy and born. My seed starters change by the hour. One hour, nothing. Next hour, the seed has splits and unfurls a white, feathered tongue. The hour after that, it clenches a deep straw in the soil. Yesterday I watched a seed die and immediately rise again. 

Now a malaise has set in, and we hardly know what day it is. It’s also still Lent. I dare say, this coming Easter will not feel much like resurrection. We’ll still be talking of what things we’ll do when this is over, and it won’t be over. We’ll be more familiar with death than we ever dreamed of being. Already, friends have loved ones on ventilators. It’s getting closer. Passover doesn’t require imagination. It no longer feels like science fiction, no more than a 21st century pandemic does. 

The thing I have to tell you is this: once in our younger days, a loud, buttoned-up and unshakable friend of ours got sloppy drunk and wept before us as if he’d fallen, skin-kneed on the sidewalk, and we were his mother. We were awe struck, holding silent and motionless with the honor that a big prideful man had broken in front of us. He let us glimpse his pain for a moment, as when an elk takes you off guard with its hauntcry. Had we really seen those antlers push through that thicket and fog? Then he backed up, puffed his chest wide, wiped his face, and carried on in a half smiling huff as if it’d never happened. He had held his brother and watched his last breath go. He was already familiar with how the heart isn’t strong enough to hang on to its love of beating. 

Now at my dining room table, Seth works from home as an attorney (counselor), and he hangs his head, listening, witnessing. On the other end, our friends and colleagues unravel, just like our big prideful friend did years ago. For many of us, what it means to be successful is now in the government’s hands, which is a very small feeling. We can’t keep ourselves going sometimes. We’re hearing a withered-down people, suddenly exposed by a great shakeout. The forest and fog that masks us has cleared. The patches we’ve used on our marriages, finances, memories, and characters are peeling back, and we’re becoming a people stunned by our own weakness.

I’m here to name to you the choice I’m having to make. I can harden off and wall up now, like a zombie bemused by my own humanity, like the seed that refuses to die for fear of cracking. But what life is there behind the walled-up and hardened heart? What life is there with a woman who’s let her mind go to Clorox, one that exchanges the awakened green life to keep calculation and control in her balled-up fists?

I’m not sure yet what all it takes to keep my softness, to really live and feel all this aching in the rise and fall of my chest, but I know I have to try. I know my mind has to give in to dirt, sometimes cracking wide open and broken, so thirsty and starved that I reach from all the dead places I’ve kept hidden. I have to remain alive to my hunger. I didn’t know how already familiar I am with death and the fear of it, all the accusations I make toward God because of it. 

We have to feel this. If my husband touches my skin, and I recoil for fear of giving in to the soft still goodness of this world, I know it is time to let myself break down, to be both terrified and not afraid at once. How can I feel the good or even ecstasy of life if I don’t fight the malaise, the fog, the masks, and the control I’ve gathered up around me? 

Today I choose to be awake and alive. I fight the malaise and unclench my fists. I’ll probably cry again, choosing to not detach at the thought of what passes over this way. I’ll make peanut butter cookies. I’ll set the butter out to room temperature before I add the sugar. I’ll touch the soft dough and lick it straight from my finger. I came here to break the rules: Hallelujah. I came here to tell you Easter still comes, even when we don’t feel it. Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna down to the bones. Already they click together. Already my skin is forming soft around my brick of a heart. 

an update on my story

I’m grateful for all the questions you sent me about my last newsletter. I had given you vague writing and used particular words on purpose. I will be sharing more and answering your questions, but for now it feels inappropriate to keep going here during this season - just for a time. That being said, I want to you to know that time will only improve my ability to share it in a healthy way and in a way that brings about the most good. Ultimately, my goal is that my story doesn’t happen again. So in the meantime, if you suspect you’re in a situation, particularly at church, where a leader seems to perpetrate confusion and tends to blur or ignore your clear boundaries, a good place to start may be in reading Chuck DeGroat’s When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse.

Peace to you during this crazy time. So much love to you. In a few days, I’ll be sending a survey to my very small group of paid subscribers. I’m wondering if there might be room for that to be a more interactive group, possibly centered on sharing our art together no matter what that may be. Subscribe to be part of that conversation here.

As always, thank you for being here and thank you for sharing my work.

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