My old Jeep Cherokee sits forlorn, hunkered among the gleam and glitz of models who glare new-ness in the afternoon sun. My old Jeep served us well. Never mind leather worn seats, a nick or two on her body. Never mind I’ve put money into her since Bob died, me on yet another learning curve called “car maintenance”.
I loved his hands. Neat, square and strong. Nails clipped, slightly callused. Capable hands. Hands that gripped an ax, chopped wood, built a fire with finesse. Hands that tinkered. Hands that produced a distinctive, legible cursive. Hands that raked an acre of land with 20 odd oaks every autumn for 44 years.
Transitions are challenging. As we let go of the holiday season and enter a new year, we may feel a pending sense of uncertainty, of being “off stride”. Often we negate or don’t recognize a nagging discontent for what it might portend. Questions may arise. We may feel a bit sad, sadder that we “should” feel under the circumstances.
And some challenges are more daunting than others. The first child off to college (or kindergarten!) or the coming empty nest are big transitions. I remember when we moved from one town to another, literally five miles apart. Our youngest child was in first grade and up until that time had come home for lunch every day. We were in a new home in the same state and yet these venues were miles apart in many ways. In addition I developed a painful case of pleurisy which was difficult to shake. I didn’t understand why my sadness was increasing and why I was falling into a situational depression.
Years later, in my capacity as a social worker I gave a workshop at a Wellness Day. The topic of the workshop was Grief and Loss. In preparation and to illustrate, I made a chart of the losses I had experienced (large and small) throughout each decade of my life up until that time. I gave the attendees paper and pens to document their own losses decade by decade. The “aha” moment for me came when I looked at what had led up to my depression in the two decades which preceded it. The most significant loss was the death of my father at age 48 when I was 21.But even as an early adolescent and then as a senior in high school my mother had nearly died of severe kidney disease. In addition I had moved from the Midwest to California and attended a boarding school during my high school years. My father’s early death was a profoundly sad experience for me and for my young mother and younger brothers. I could recognize that for what it was and still is one of the most significant losses of my life. But why was I depressed when I had a house with the room we had been needing, three healthy kids, a husband who loved me? I believe I was experiencing “secondary losses”. The loss of a familiar home room by room. The loss of a neighborhood with neighbors who were friends as well. The loss of the daily routines of fixing lunch for and enjoying the pleasure of being with my little boy. Secondary losses are sorrows that add up and sometimes they contribute to a vague sadness that we do not recognize and may need help to acknowledge. I value highly the privilege of walking through, sorting through and working through the transitions my clients are facing.
The city pool closes today. Summer swimming in our pool is ending. I lay prone on a lounge chair, my first and last day at the pool this year. It’s a Sunday afternoon and my eyes are closed to the partly cloudy sky, the pale sunshine. My book lays unopened. Pool sounds take me back to all the beach days and pool days of my life. I was a “water baby”, loved to swim.
They sit in various configurations outside in the blue wonder of an early summer evening. In twos, fours, and sixes. At metal patio tables, flowers spilling nearby, breezes ruffling hair, wine glasses in hand. They hover closer amid traffic noises, accompanying music, others’ conversations. Their heads nearly touch. They dip their crusty bread into olive oil and parmesan cheese.
Today I stretch the contour sheet from our bed between two deck chairs, lay the pillowcases on the others and drape the top sheet on a lounge. The wind blows mightily and the bottom sheet billows and balloons. Sun warms the pillowcases and the flat sheet and barely three hours later I gather them up, fold them carefully and press my nose into their air-dried creases. And I think about how I no longer iron sheets.
I will turn their mourning into gladness and I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13
Everywhere I look the world is coming alive. A wall of green nearly obscures the homes at the back of our property. Two days from now those houses will be invisible, the underbrush, celadon, will be in full leaf as if I alone live here. As if our one acre is a never-ending wood.
I live a “feast or famine life”. Nothing new really, but exacerbated by the absence of my best friend. Today I hover under the comforter reading the Scriptures, Anne Lamott’s latest, Hallelujah, Anyway, and try to find the courage to face the world. This is a weekend when I have few plans. Neither have I reached out to make any of my own, to be “social” to pack seeds for Feed my Starving Children at our church. To call a friend, to do something kind for someone I love.
Not long ago I was struggling with a challenging relationship. I had surmised a number of possible (though hypothetical) intentions to the person in this relationship which allowed little room for the fact that I could be wrong. While I was mulling my hypotheses I began to think that I was creating a story, a case if you will without the benefit of having enough information/ background. And I remembered something I had read in scripture: James 2:13. “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”