Thursday, December 27, 2018

I Don't Belong Here

"Here's the thing... Home or shelter I have not on this side of eternity..."

Ten years (and a few days) ago you wrote that line to me. It began a flurry of e-mails in which you planned a visit to Michigan and Indiana. And you came! And then on this day ten years ago, you drove away in the spring-like rain. How was I to know that the next time I saw you would be nearly five years later? You would be so changed. Ten years ago when you arrived, you gave me the biggest bear hug. Five years ago you wouldn't look me in the eye, wouldn't let me too near. A hug was out of the question. . .

What happened to the fellow who wrote, "I love you like my wood stove right now!"? The one you stood in front of at midnight, having awakened your dad for a conversation. . . Home and shelter you had, with a wood stove to boot. And yet, I don't think you ever really were at home in this world. I come back to this realisation again and again. No matter how much you studied the world, you weren't really comfortably at home here. No matter how much you loved your wood stove, or me, or your other friends and family, it wasn't enough to hold you in a place you didn't belong.

In a world full of bitter pain and bitter doubt
I was trying so hard to fit in, fit in
Until I found out

That I don't belong here
I don't belong here
I will carry a cross and a song where I don't belong. . .

. . . I'm gonna set sight and set sail for the Kingdom come
Kingdom come

So you did. Like Reepicheep, you set sail for the Kingdom: “While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.” I think Semester was like sailing East in the Dawn Treader, with like-minded friends. Then you flew east to the 'coracle' of your family. Then you swam hard in the Air Force. . . And I believe the last nearly six years were your desperate treading water, your nose above the surface, looking toward the Utter East. 

Do you remember telling me you would be safe as long as the person you loved was? Turns out that promises are harder to keep than to make. Do you remember writing that you would be the last leaf to fall? Turns out you were the first. . .

I'll be the last leaf to fall when
The season comes to leave
Myopia owns me
Loathe to fall
Loading up on the view
Knowing I'll lose my way
When my grip gives way

You shared these lines with me and I didn't see the poetry then. . .but I did later. I do now. I thought it needed to rhyme. I wanted it to end happy. I wanted you to be happy. But life in the intervening years has taught me to appreciate the sadness-laced lyrics, the poems that end with losing grip. Not out of despair, but because reality is bittersweet. Sometimes it is a better thing to be broken and then redeemed. I have learned that 'happy' as I think of it is a curse—emptiness, devoid of the weight of glory.

Blessed is the man who's lost it all
Happy is a yuppie word. . .
I'm looking for a bridge I can't burn down
I don't believe the emptiness
I'm looking for the Kingdom coming down

There it is again: the coming Kingdom. When you've lost it all—love, sanity, the desire for companionship, hope of healing, etc—you cling to the hope of the coming King and His Kingdom. And sometimes, holding on is too hard. You lose your way and your grip. You run ahead to the King's own country—Aslan's Utter East—before it's time to go. But the King is waiting. He knows how long we can hold out and hold on. You, who swore fealty to the King, you have been welcomed in to the Kingdom, to learn its language and its ways. I think your eyes had always seen it. . .or always almost seen something, like Orual almost seeing Psyche's palace; like Reepicheep and Aslan's country. There is something there...the Kingdom is coming. Until then, none of us really have any home or shelter this side of eternity.

Let us "set sight and set sail for the kingdom come" on earth as it is in heaven.

— "The Beautiful Letdown" by Jon Foreman
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
"Birch Leaves" by Aaron Hennig
— "Happy is a Yuppie Word" by Jon Foreman

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

These Days Pass Me By

Ten years go by in a long hurry. . . I wish I could go back and relive this week in December a decade ago, knowing at least some of what I know now. Knowing what I knew up until September this year. It would be almost enough to make me hold on to those moments that I can't remember. Quite enough, really, though my Switchfoot knowledge would be much poorer. I think the urgency would be present, since I would know that our friendship would disappear in a very short time. 

Maybe I would have remembered to take photos at least once in those eight-ish days. Maybe I would have asked better questions about that girl you liked. Maybe I would have been present a little more. Maybe I would have listened differently, deeply, intently. Maybe I would have made sure I hugged you every day. Maybe I would have driven us to the park to wander in the woods. Maybe we would have read more together. Maybe I would have understood a little better all of those pauses when you were answering questions. Maybe I would remember if we went to Christmas Eve service with my grandma (and I would have hugged her extra, too).

But I can't go back ten years. 

"But. . ." That word is often the volta, the hope in a dark plot. This time it isn't. It is the thud back to earth after soaring on wishes soap-bubble-thin and as transparent.
Th[o]se days pass[ed] me by I dream with open eyes Nightmares haunt my days Visions blur my nights I'm so confused What's true or false What's fact or fiction after all

Is it Christmas time? I can't tell. Am I happy (a yuppy word, I know) since I'm not wasting my eyes with grief? Or have I just been too steadily busy to know the sorrow that leaks out through my eyes so often? Recently I told my nephew that the only dreams I remember when I wake up are the ones that scare me to tears. The nightmares where someone I care about dies. But I don't dream about you. I wake up to find that I'm living the nightmare. I can't reach you. Can't even find you. I can't remember chunks of time I spent with you. Days upon days at Semester. Even days you were at my house. Why can't I remember?!

I want you to be here. I want to hear you telling me: But you haven't lost me yet. . . I'll sing until my heart caves in No, you haven't lost me yet

I feel like I'm someone else when I am at my parents' home. I feel distant from my self. I feel mixed up, like a dependent early-twenty-something mixed together with an independent and interdependent thirty-something. It's hard to process my own thoughts, to separate my thoughts from the here and now of my family. Maybe that's good. But maybe I'm just putting my real thoughts and self on hold until I get home. But when I'm home I miss my family. Is it simply impossible to be fully present, fully myself, and fully appreciative of those I love in the very moment of being together? Is that why I can't remember large portions of times that I spent with you? Was it just too normal, too every day, that I forgot to pay attention? Did I forget that it mattered—all the life we lived together?

Life is short; I wanna live it well One life, one story to tell Life is short; I wanna live it well And You're the one I'm living for Awaken all my soul Every breath that you take is a miracle Life is short; I wanna live it well, yeah

That miracle-breath I take for granted (until I can't suck another in and I choke on fear), it is sweet. Life is short, I wanna live it well. And here is how:

Instructions for living a life: 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.
—Mary Oliver

So I'm telling. . . That the sunset over the farm fields was crimson-orange tonight. That wiggly kiddos with high-pitched squeals might annoy you while you're trying to do something...but you'd give anything to keep them little and trusting and putting their cheek up against yours. That slow-to-speak, blond-haired, elven-friends don't grow on trees—pay attention, visit them, listen, be astonished.


"Yet" Written By Tim Foreman & Jon Foreman
"Live it Well" Written By Tim Foreman & Jon Foreman

Thursday, December 13, 2018

This Skin and Bones is a Rental

Pondering on a Switchfoot song with you in mind. . .
(If that were a poem title, it would have been penned by Wordsworth)

This air feels strange to me
Feeling like a tragedy
I take a deep breath and close my eyes
One last time

Do I even need to say my thoughts here? These lines seem to describe so much of your life, not just the last six years. Did these lines go through your mind before you closed your eyes that final time? I can't know. Do you have any idea how hard it is that we don't get to know what you were thinking?

Storms on the wasteland
Dark clouds on the plains again
We were born into the fight

But I'm not sentimental
This skin and bones is a rental
And no one makes it out alive . . .

The first time I listened to this song in all its newness in sound and lyric, I choked. I choked on this line. This fallen body is a rental, a shadow of our real bodies to come. Sometimes we get stuck in the Wasteland, but we can't forget that we were born into the fight. We might not have caused the fight, the struggle, the dark, consuming clouds. . .but we have both been through them. In some ways, I think we both contributed to one another's sorrow, though it was not intentional at the disparate times it happened.

Until I die I'll singe these songs 
on the shores of Babylon 
still looking for a home 
in a world where I belong

Where the weak are finally strong
Where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong
A world where I belong

This is another set of lines that seem to sum up years. . . So often it seemed like you were looking for a home, a world where you belonged. Where you fit. This world didn't seem to be the right shape for you in many ways. But I know that you fit in and are fit for the Kingdom.

This body's not my home
This world is not my own
But I still can hear the sound
Of my heart beating out

This flimsy earth body is not our Home—Home is the Kingdom. And the King will clothe us in the wedding garments of the Kingdom when we arrive. We? No. . . I only mean myself. You are already clothed in the real body of the Kingdom. And, oh! How I wish I could hear your heart beating out its tattoo as I am enfolded in your hug. 

And on that final day I die
I want to hold my head up high
I want to tell you that I tried
To live it like a song

I know you did. I know you tried. You lived it like a song, my friend.

And when I reach the other side
I want to look you in the eye
And know that I've arrived
In a world where I belong

You got to go first. . . It's not right, you know. You're younger. I should be teaching you the way of the Kingdom, but it will be you teaching me. Even though I can't look you in the eyes yet, I know that you have arrived. You belong. 


"Where I Belong" by Jon Foreman / Michael Elizondo / Tim Foreman

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

My world is a lie that's come true

"The presence of [your] absence is everywhere." 

—Edna St Vincent Millay

Is it irony that the first big holiday without you is Thanksgiving? The season of gratitude feels hollow. After all, I can give thanks for things, but they will all disintegrate at some point. I can give thanks for other people...people that I know now because of you. But underneath the gratitude there is the painful knowledge that every person for whom I can and do give thanks will one day die. At some point, my heart will bleed like this again for someone else. And someone else. Your mom tried to tell me that it was like adding new rooms in my heart...and it is, but all I can see is that it will drain my heart dry of blood to lose these souls some day. Lord have mercy, may it not be soon!

This visit was far harder than I anticipated. I felt your absence so strongly, as if the emptiness were a sort of presence itself. Having never visited you in your home, on my first visit it didn't seem too odd not to have you in the house... Over Thanksgiving I kept feeling like you should walk around the corner, be sitting at the fourth side of the game table, playing the other colour in Settlers of Catan.

The worst moment came when I went ambling through the woods with your persevering parents. There was a stream with a rock and trees in a nook by the bank. I instinctively knew that it was a place that should have had memories made in it. Memories made by us in some other year. We would have packed biscuits and a thermos of tea, our favourite poetry books, and perhaps your walking stick. We would have tromped through the leaves to plant ourselves in golden autumn light, reading aloud to one another until we ran out of pages or daylight. We would have scampered home under the bare boughs sprinkled with stars. I felt the loss of this unmade memory so strongly that I was almost sick. It felt so like a place you would have visited that the unmade memory seemed more real than other memories I carry with me.

When I returned home a few days later, I discovered these lines that may as well have been written about that unmade—alas! never to 
be made—memory:

Where is the sun?
Feel like a ghost this time
Where have you gone?
I need your breath in my lungs tonight 

I'm holding on to You
My world is wrong
My world is a lie that's come true
And I fall in love with the ones that run me through
When all along, all I need is You

My world is wrong—because you aren't in it. My world is a lie that's come true. Lies whispered you away. The not-quite-six-feet of space you used to fill is achingly, noticeably empty. Those unmade memories will stay unmade. There is no hope that you will 'get better'—whatever I hoped that would mean. There's no going back to my twenty-three-ish-year-old self and urging her to go visit you. The ghosts of unmade memories haunted me along my every step at Fort Barton tower, among the trees by the river, and beside your woodstove. They taunted me as I looked through your bookshelves and saw your handwriting on the bathroom mirror. There was all the evidence of you, but no presence. Everything was all wrong and I could only think, Where have you gone? You should have been right there, right there with us—laughing, capering, drinking in the cold Beauty.

But somewhere in the intervening years—years that froze our friendship (in my memory) in its happier days—something changed. You changed. You became a living ghost; where had you gone, my friend? You became the living epitome of these lines:

All of my days are spent
Within this skin
Within this cage that I'm in 

Nowhere feels safe to me
Nowhere feels home
Even in crowds I'm alone

Tonight my eyes are red. Red from lack of sleep. Red from a profusion of salt-laced liquid streaming out.

What are you waiting for,
The day is gone?
I said I'm waiting for dawn

What are you aiming for
Out here alone?
I said I'm aiming for home

Home. In my vernacular that word applies to a little terracotta brick house in the Midwest and the people in it. It refers to the lodge in Pagosa, to the cloisters in Oxford, to the Mountain, to my cabin, to my friends. But now, more than ever, home means the Kingdom. The place I am longing for—and have been longing for all of my life; though I have never yet been there. You can long for home even if you've never been there. It is a remembering forward that I feel for the Kingdom. But did I say I had not been? No, but inhabiting the Kingdom is a well-loved part of home that I do remember—you. And so I long to go Home. I long for the perpetually bleeding wound to be healed. I long for the hopes that have died and died and died to resurrect into their true, redeemed, glorious selves.
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from—my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” 

― C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces


—Switchfoot, Sing it Out

—Switchfoot, Red Eyes