This morning I wake around 6:30am and practice meditating for fifteen minutes. I try to concentrate on Love. I am Loved. You Love me. LOVE. But even in my groggy early-morning mind-fog, my thoughts are all over the place. I follow meditation with a walk around the college campus nearby, intending to offer prayer to God for the entire 40-minute stroll. But by then, my monkey mind is even more alert, a stream of consciousness straight out of a William Faulkner novel. My prayer lasts about 40 seconds, overridden by the conversation I’m having with myself in my head. Could all that talking-to-myself qualify as talking to GOD too? Maybe it does.
Back home, I eat a breakfast of eggs, apple with almond butter, and – no tea today – water with drops of iodine. I prompt my 7yo to start writing thank you notes for birthday gifts. I start a load of laundry. My 3yo wanders into my room pleading to watch a movie; I say no and ignore her continued whining. She turns away, dejected, and my heart breaks a little. I sit on the edge of my bed and say, “Larkin, come here.” She walks her sad face back to me, and I gather her up in my arms and lay back on the bed with her. She snuggles into my chest willingly and I run my fingers through her brunette curls. My spirit calms with her little body next to mine. I think about last night as I was tucking her in at bedtime, lying next to her, watching her run a matchbox car over her blanketed chest. She noticed me observing her, grinned a bashful smile, and asked “Why you lookin’ at me?” I replied, “Because I love you.” And then I pondered how we humans do that: gaze at what we love. We pay attention to the objects of our affection. I find myself watching – just because I love – my children, the sun setting, people extending kindness to others, the food bar at Central Market. This morning I wonder if the reverse is true: can we grow our love for someone if we fix our gaze on them steadily? Can we end up having affection for whoever or whatever is always in front of us? Does it work that way?
I head to a dental appointment. After I sign myself in, a magazine practically leaps into my hands from the coffee table. It’s an April issue of TIME; the cover story is titled ”Finding God in the Dark”. The article highlights preacher/professor Barbara Brown Taylor’s new memoir Learning to Walk in the Dark. My eyes settle on these words: “…new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” This resonates. Hugely. Because I feel like I’m in the dark right now. Like there’s a thick fog in front of me, obscuring the different paths I could take. It’s not clear to me how I should move forward. That kind of dark.
My pearlie-whites look good, the toothy professionals say. The dentist admits that the tiny cavity they took x-rays of three years ago looks…smaller? How is that possible? They say it’s because I floss. I like to think it’s because I’ve cut down on sugar.
I drive directly to the downtown library and check out BBT’s book. A title in the children’s section – A Lonely Book – intrigues me so I snag that too. I come home, move clothes from washer to dryer, and start a second load. I notice a splinter I’ve had in my thumb for almost two weeks has disappeared. The skin has quietly opened to let out the foreign object. I’ve been aware of its presence ever since it slid in, but at some point, unbeknownst to me, my body pushed it out. I’m intrigued by this thought: how our bodies reject invaders, how forces unseen to our eye gather and send away that which doesn’t belong. It makes me think about how this translates to splinters in our spiritual selves: resentment, rage, shame. And how our spirits do everything to push out those splinters too.
Lunch finds me at a local sandwich shop themed around Humphrey Bogart. Listening to The Andrews Sisters’ trill “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”, I devour the buttery patty melt while staring at a lifesize cardboard cut-out of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, a.k.a. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. Were Rhett and Scarlett happy with the way things shook out between them? I wonder. Did Rhett ever regret leaving? Did Scarlett ever realize her foolishness?
I walk across the street to a bakery and begin Learning to Walk in the Dark. An out-of-town college friend strolls in with her daughter; while we chat, I mention that I’ve just started reading BBT’s new memoir and my friend reminds me that she is coming to Abilene to speak in September (thrilling!!!). After awhile, I run home, pick up my crew and we return to the library. I have such fond childhood memories of the downtown library in my Louisiana hometown. Those reflections, along with my desire to be that bookish, studious-even-in-the-summer mom, prompt this visit. We find a table and the girls start talking loudly, debating about who gets to hold Rapunzel, and the firstborn grumps about not being able to locate a certain Lego book. It’s not quite the relaxing, low-key afternoon I had envisioned. The husband looks across the table at me and says “You look like you’re about to cry.” I feel that way. It’s kind of my modus operandi these days.
We come home. I make dinner. Exhaustion sets in. All the weariness, non-stop kid commentary, and feeling-taken-for-granted crashes into each other and barrels into my chest. Someone’s tone of voice sets me off and and I excuse myself to the bedroom. When I hear someone ask “why is mom frustrated?”, I decide I need to enlighten them. Then I’m yelling and the husband is suggesting I stick with my original plan of retiring to the bedroom. So I do, and slam the door as hard as I can behind me. He follows me in and I rage. At some point I spit out, “I feel alone! I feel so ALONE!” Because I do. (I share this because it’s just a matter of fact, not because I need anyone sending me flowers or serenading me with MJ’s “You Are Not Alone” at midnight.)
I scribble my inner junk into my journal, as fast as my fingers will fly. Around 9:15, I go for a walk. In the dark. Reflecting on the title of Taylor’s book, I decide to take her suggestion literally. My walk in the dark isn’t quite as dark as I’d like it to be. I’m in a city with streetlights, headlights, traffic lights, porch lights. But that’s not stopping me. I walk up to campus bare-footed, listening to the cicadas, trying to follow the darkest path. As I stroll through the century-old buildings and pecan trees, I hear the faint sound of singing. My step quickens in the direction of the amphitheater, the most likely spot to track down the sort of chorus I’m hearing. And there they are, about 200 teenagers singing “Nothing But the Blood”. It’s beautiful…BEAUTIFUL. I park myself in the shadow of a tree to listen and a friggin’ fire ant bites my ankle. But my spirit still soaks in the sweet voices of those high schoolers:
“Now by this I’ll overcome—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Now by this I’ll reach my home—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
I walk home. In the dark.