Saturday, March 14, 2009

Little Deaths; or, Beating At Life With A Big Stick

I have been attempting to beat away life with a big stick.

When I was about three, my dad recorded me "reading" a Bible story book to him. I was an early reader; I wasn't that early. So my "reading" was essentially creative interpretation of the pictures. I still remember the shapes of the illustrations, the smell of the book, the early 80's color scheme of the printed page.

On this tape, you can hear an amused male voice asking a pipsqueak little girl questions. "What's happening, Elizabeth?"

I said something about a bear and Jesus and turned the page.

"What's going on, now?"

"That's Jesus, and he's poking the whale with a pointy stick."

My exegesis needed some work.

But ever since, my family has occasionally laughed about me telling stories about Jesus, and how he poked an animal with a pointy stick.

I've been poking life with a pointy stick. In this scenario, life is a dead animal on the side of the road, or a raging animal charging me. In either case, I've been wielding a pointy stick.

Things haven't been good.

There are many little deaths in life. Lent, of course, is a season of little deaths. Death to desires, death to self-will, death to one's ownership of time, or food, or choice.

A little longer than a week ago, I died a little death. It wasn't over fasting, or "giving something up" for Lent. No, those little deaths are chosen. This wasn't a chosen little death. It was an endured one.

I wore black; not out of melodramatic sensationalism, or melancholic odes to a bygone Victorian era. It was simply because I like tangible expressions of invisible realities, and my reality was one of mourning.

For two years, I have labored at projects I love; for causes I believe in; with people for whom I have deep fondness and respect. What began to build last fall, came to fruition last week. My position at my beloved nonprofit workplace fell victim to institutional fiscal crisis and economic meltdown. I was notified of this on a Monday.

Two days later, I boxed up some of my workplace detritus and mournfully brought it home. Then Friday I did Last Things; the last time I did this task, the last time I signed correspondence, the last time I did that task. I boxed up the remainder of my home away from home. I left instructions about things I did that my editor will now have to do; I explained things, hung things on walls, in duplicate - like lists for the babysitter. It was surreal: I felt as if I would wake up, or they would say "surprise! just kidding."

All the regret in the world on the part of those who had to Make Difficult Decisions didn't change the Difficult Decision they had to make. We're sorry; in an ideal world, we'd be giving you a promotion. You'll have excellent references; we'll do what we can to keep you involved; we'll even compensate you through the end of the month.

But at the end of the day, it was still my last day. I tidied. I organized. I tried to remember if there was anything I was forgetting. I ate farewell pizza. I was in a daze. And all week, I hadn't cried.

But then it was time to go. And Art Director Bob puddled up, and it all went downhill from there.

Since then, I have feverishly sent resumes and CVs, drafted cover letters and searched online employment resources til, bleary-eyed, I was shuffled away from the computer and off to bed.

Since then, I have dropped a record number of dishes. I have ironed with vigor. I have crocheted frantically.

A voice broke in over the past couple of days: quieter than the tinkle of swept-up broken china, more still than the gentle hush of steam issuing from a hot iron, more comforting than soft threads of yarn being twisted into an afghan. It whispered through words on the phone, counseling that perhaps fevered inquiry might give way occasionally to hours of solitude, rest, repose, writing. It nudged through a simple article title about waiting on a God who is never late - see Jesus tarrying when Lazarus died. It rocked to sleep when a kindly note carried words of prayer over my bent head - not abandoned; not alone - with; loved. It gestured when a writer wished her readers an enjoyment of prayer, pointing toward reflection on the Christian mysteries.

And then I discover that I am not the one poking and prodding life effectively; my big stick is nothing more than a twig in the breeze. But I am the one being poked and prodded, nudged and carried. My voice crying against the wind is not the one that needs to be heard. There is a voice quieter, more still. Listen to that one.