Death at a Gas Station

Like scattered toys, the firetrucks and ambulances were parked willy-nilly as if dropped from the hand of a careless child. We maneuvered our car in and out between them. All I wanted was a candy bar.

As I paid the yawning attendant with glazed-over eyes, I politely tried to sneak a peek at the scene unfolding out in the parking lot. Only the white pickup truck towing a trailer of lawnmowers was appropriately parked. That was the only vehicle that actually looked like someone had intended to park it that way, long and parallel to the curb. Maybe the landscapers had stopped to load up on snacks after a long day’s work. Or was a crew member already feeling poorly, and the gas station their intended point to connect with an ambulance?

Candy bar in hand, we exited the lot. There, on the sidewalk, a mound of brown flesh rose sharply from the earth — glistening and practically steaming in the heat of the setting sun. The man’s skin was pulled taut over his round belly like a too-small canvas stretched across a too-large frame. The circle of paramedics, uniformly dressed in navy, was frozen, disproportionately still — the only movement originating from a petite woman with shoulder-length, chestnut hair. Up, down, up, down. She thrust emphatically, her actions mirroring those of the surrounding pump jacks bobbing for oil. Both dipped and rose to an unheard beat. Both plunged with fervor — hoping, needing to extract.

To the right, a skinny Mexican interlaced fingers behind his head. As his arms lifted, so did his shirt, revealing a stick-thin torso — a stark juxtaposition to his rotund, motionless friend. When he turned from the scene, his eyes scanned the sky. Was he seeking a higher help or simply a much-needed distraction? Perhaps he was fighting off hot, shameful tears. I imagined his slow exhale. It seemed a fitting reaction — a young man’s feeble attempt to send despair whirling.

It had just been a typical day…until it wasn’t.

The circle of paramedics leaned farther back on their haunches, and even in our car, I sensed their deflated energy. An I.V. dangled limply from the fingertips of a lone extended arm. They had all been there a while. Long enough to insert an I.V., long enough to administer CPR. There had never even been a moment non-crucial enough to load the afflicted man on a gurney.

Still, the small woman dove with all the force she could muster — elbows locked, fingers entwined — again, and again, and again. Her efforts were admirable but futile, I suspected.

As our car pulled away, I broke off a piece of my KitKat bar and and chomped down through the flaky wafers. It was all I had really wanted.

Instantly, the sacredness of the moment collided with my profane. I closed my eyes and envisioned the man’s exposed belly. I felt in my body the resounding thud of palms pounding breaking ribs. I heard in my ears the crunch of a candy bar.

A soul had passed — departing our world like the waving heat of a mirage.

And all I could think to do was eat a candy bar.

You Are Enough.

13323703_1046851035408719_7118944347292993062_oTo my new friend…and for anyone else who is struggling to feel that they are “enough…”

I can see you have a hard time recognizing the beautiful person you are and all of the wonderful things that you do.  I shared that until you are able to see for yourself how amazing you are, you would have to learn to trust those who best know you.  I realize that I just met you and don’t yet qualify for that role.  But I have been where you are and my heart hurts because I understand how you feel.

You approached me because of our shared struggle in raising special needs kids.  My impression of you right off was that you live with gratitude (you didn’t have to come up to me to say thank you), and you are courageous (for being vulnerable with someone you just met).  I quickly realized that you are exceptionally amazing because you willingly chose to bring two struggling children (that are not yours by birth) into your practically empty-nest home.  I don’t know if you recognize the magnitude of this choice.  It doesn’t matter if you have been scared or have second guessed yourself…you willingly exchanged your life for theirs and there is no greater love than this.

And forgive me, but I Facebook stalked you tonight.  I looked at your pictures and I didn’t see irritability or failure or anything else that you mentioned.  What I did see was a strong woman fighting to give two children a normal life; children that would have otherwise been lost to the proverbial system.  I saw two children living in a house surrounded with beautifully tended flowers and attending church in a loving community.  I saw birthday parties, extravagant school projects, Halloween costumes…all things that these children would never know without you.  I saw your beautiful smile in many pictures.  How many forgotten children never receive a genuine smile?  Do you realize what normalcy, consistency and safety you are giving to these kids?

Of course I know that there is more to meet the eye than what is portrayed on social media.  I know that you rage and cry and scream and want to drive off in your car and never look back.  But I also know WHY you feel this way.  It is NOT because of who YOU are.  It is because of the situation you are in and the ways you are being stretched and pushed beyond your capacity.  You are strong day in and day out.  You can’t even truly rest while you sleep because of the dreams and nightmares.  You are trying to love two children as your own, even though you missed out on the essential bonding years of infancy.  Not only that, but you work full time!!  In my book, this certainly qualifies you for some kind of major award! 

I can see that you truly want the best for these kids.  You really love them.  But I can also see that you’re tired, you’re depleted and you’re running on fumes.  You are human and you have a limited amount of time and energy.  So you have to, for everyone’s sake, eliminate all the needless junk in your life.  By this, I mean get rid of the self-imposed guilt.  Expel the hovering, vicious thoughts telling you that you’re failing.  And especially, eliminate (as you are able) all of the self-doubt that pushes you to believe that you’re not good enough, patient enough, loving enough, whatever enough.  You are you and that is enough.  At the end of every day you are empty.  This is because you have given everything so that they might want for nothing .  It will never feel like enough because they are bottomless pits at this point (regarding their neediness).  But with time, maybe their special needs will be less because of the backbreaking work you are putting forth now. 

Above all, try to look at yourself and everything around you with soft eyes.  Pursue beauty and that which feeds your soul.  Your face lit up when you talked about books…maybe you could make yourself a cozy reading niche?  Perhaps gardening or photography are undiscovered talents?  Regardless, figure out how to love, cherish, and respect yourself.  It is not selfish…it is survival.  Celebrate the small things, turn your morning coffee into a  sacred ritual.  Give yourself permission to sit and do nothing without judgment.  Fight for joy and pray for the eyes to see light and beauty. 

quotes_creator_20161219_090518And though I don’t know you well, know that I love you.  We are connected through our struggles and sufferings and I understand.  I understand that you sometimes feel trapped in your own life.  I recognize that you constantly feel as if you are on the verge of a mental breakdown and I am all too acutely aware of the guilt that has become your constant unwanted companion.  But I also see that you are strong enough.  You will have to work hard at resting, strive to surround yourself with love, and be a continual advocate for yourself and your family.  But I know that you can do it.  Hang in there and believe me when I say that you are amazing.  Good strength!

The Nakedness of Suffering

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The Prodigal by Emile Salome

Our little town prematurely lost a teenager to suicide yesterday.  Everyone is feeling the weight of something like this happening so close to home.   And the fact of the matter is that there are no words to offer, nothing to be said that can alleviate or comfort anyone who is truly suffering.  Suffering is pure blackness.  It is a deep, dark pit with room for only one.  Meals can be made, words of consolation spoken, but at the end of the day, no one can help carry the pain.  No one can make time pass more quickly.  The only way through suffering is right down the middle…there is no bypass.

However for those standing on the outside looking in, tragedy and suffering act like a flash forest fire.  In an instant, everything superfluous gets burned away like dross.  We are stripped of all pretenses and become aware of our mortality, the shortness of life and what we are living for that truly matters. We become painstakingly aware of how our priorities have gotten off-kilter, how busyness is running our life, and how unappreciative we have become.  We see with clarity (if only temporarily) what is important in life.

In other countries where monasteries still play a major part in daily life, the first thing that a monk often does is to dig the grave that he will one day be buried in.  This is not due to a morbid fascination with death, but rather as a reminder to live well so as to be prepared for death. What would life look like if we could preserve the somberness, the softness and the vulnerability of suffering?  What if we could more consistently expose our weaknesses, our pain and our naked self without fear of condemnation?  What if we all dared to live a more authentic life?

There is nothing that will lighten the load of the tragedy that has taken place.  Nothing will comfort a grieving mother struggling to survive her first day without her son.  But perhaps through our response, we can redeem what has been lost and live longer in this gift that suffering has to offer.  Love and prayers for anyone who is suffering today…