This might get kinda long. Sorry. Something about conference season and the sudden upending of schedule and home life often catapults me into epiphanies. Being away from home makes one vulnerable to prolonged thought. I love, and dread this season. It comes every year, this round of travel and speaking, trips in hotels, trips in cars… a riotous wrangle of adventure, exhaustion, friendship, ministry, and probably, madness. This year, however, was remarkable for starting with a bang. Actually, it was more of a pop. And it came from the general direction of my knee.
I was in the house all alone just as dusk poured darkness in through all the windows on the eve of the conference. Upstairs, in my room, I was whirling about to very loud music, attempting to turn the exercise of packing my suitcase into an aerobic dance. To the blood-quickening uillean pipes of Rock Island, 1931, I put my foot down for a vigorous pirouette, but to my unbounded surprise felt my leg buckle and my knee give an astounding pop. Next thing I knew, I was on the floor, back against my blue wall, legs at odd angles, my right ankle twitching. It was ten minutes before I could move. I was stunned. I rubbed my knee. I tried to calm my ankle. I rocked back and forth as feeling came back and everything went sore. Finally, I decided that whatever popped out must have popped back in.
I also cried. I think the shock of it (and I hate to admit this, I hate to cry) brought the tears. The pain was low grade, but I was shaking, scared at what I might have done, and as I sat there, trying to straighten my leg and stand, watching my toes twitch, I almost wept. Big, babyish tears. I asked myself if I was two years old and my brain very calmly answered no. I asked myself if I intended to let a little knee drama cow me in future from daring rescues, hikes across the English moors, or relief work in a war-torn country (all of which I plan to do). Of course not. I gingerly hobbled my way to my red chair and sat there. I took deep, decisive breaths. But each strong, calming suck of air into my lungs came out shredded into a sob. I couldn’t stop.
I thought I was just being irrational. For whatever reason, physical pain is the hurt I am least able to philosophically bear. I feel slapped across the face by it. I am more of a wimp at being sick than I like to admit. I mentally rolled my eyes at my weakness and let the tears come. But then the worst pain died down, and I was pretty sure nothing was broken. I kept on crying. Harder. I couldn’t stop. My throat ached, but so did my heart and I was bewildered as to why. It took me ten more minutes to suddenly realize I wasn’t crying about the pain. I wasn’t even crying over the shock or the scare. I was crying about things that had happened two weeks ago.
I felt crazy, but as I sat there, hurt after hurt and struggle after struggle came to me. Every niggling battle of spirit or mind I had pushed away in the past busy month rose up clearly before me, holding out their hands for a share of the tears I had thus far denied them. Silly, small things, most of them. Loneliness, the old hurt of feeling on the outside that I have such trouble keeping away. Restlessness, the daily fight to be sane and at peace when ever fiber of me yearns to work and love and give and fight, and there is no thing, or cause, or person willing to take it. Little irritations, taxes and details and housework. Old hurts that will not die, the darkest figures, always there in the farthest corner. Crazy as it seems, my popped-out knee disarmed my resolve and opened up the room where I lock my sorrows. Those tears gave all the imprisoned hurts I hadn’t acknowledged permission to come out, blinking, into the light of my thought. I cried for a long time.
I think we all have that room. I think all of us bear this stone-walled place within us where we stash everything we can’t allow ourselves to cry about, or even the things, tiny and big, we just don’t have time to mourn. I don’t think we talk about it very often. Like the grief we stow there, it’s not a place where the human soul can dwell for long. I think though, that it can be dangerous to entirely ignore it. I was surprised by my grief the other night. I hadn’t been depressed of late, but I realized how much feeling and need I had pushed away as I ran around my crazy life.
It made me question how I handle what is broken in my life. I am such an idealist, and such a “feeler” as we say in my family (look up the MBTI personality system and it will make more sense), that I can tend to gloss away the very valid and real struggles in mine, and other’s lives. That push toward beauty which can be so redemptive, can also be deceptive, leading me to ignore the sort of grief that never leaves, but returns with a sudden vengeance. I am an explosive griever. (Sorry, mom.) When I finally do break down, it ain’t, as my sister says, pretty.
The other night was a strange and sudden freedom. Those tears released me to know how much I need to cry, to acknowledge my fear and disappointment. I need to be able to admit I’m a fallen woman living in a broken world.
Realizing that made me question my writing. I sat in my red chair that night for a good hour questioning just about everything, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what sort of story I tell in my blog, in my books, in my words. Am I honest? I tend to write about the idealistic and beautiful because it is what I hunger for. I think all artists are driven to create the thing they seek. That’s good. But I wonder if I have told truely. The good and transcendent are certainly half of my life, but the other, equally living half, is the struggle. Sin, the nettling acrobatics of living in a technological culture, the way I hunger for people, for approval, the restlessness that sometimes makes me feel I’d rather just be a martyr and have done with it. There’s also the fear of what other people will think. Can I admit that I watch TV? That I like rock music? That The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies? That I’m rarely at peace and usually in the throes of some desperate desire? Maybe its my ministry experience, but I worry that someone will be offended, or let down, by my admission that I am a very normal, workaday girl. Oh, heaven’s in my heart and all that, but I muck along and survive the best I can.
In Shakespeare’s tragic drama of King Lear, there is a line spoken near the end of the play that sums up most of what I felt on my knee-popping night and what I have felt in the days since as I pondered my writing. In the play, Lear has lost everything. There is no longer a kingship, or a throne, or a family, or wealth, or ease to disguise the person he truly is. He has to face his own heart. And this is what is spoken:
The weight of this sad time we must obey.
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
That’s what I’ve decided I want to do. In my writing and life, in my prayer and conversations, speak what is real, speak what is true about the adventurous and very painful journey through treacherous mountains that this life is. And part of that is admitting my frailty. The way I do so want to be creative and earth-centered, but end up on the couch in front of the TV. The way loneliness makes me defensive, sharp to my family. The way I can be close as breath to God one morning and the next, as far and distant from him as can be. Even the way that disappointment pads at my heels like a loyal dog. It’s not that I want to dwell on the darkness. Simply admit it. Watch how it is formed and defeated by the light.
And then, of course, of course, continue to celebrate this light, the Goodness that is constantly invading the stone-walled rooms of grief, the corners of anger that fill my heart. The light has come and it will prevail. That’s still the heart of who I am and what I will say. But I’m not in heaven yet. Neither is anyone else here on earth. So the words I speak and the stories I tell must be tales told from the broken place. I don’t want to bottle up my tears or my words anymore.
So. Confession completed. I know, it’s probably not as big a deal to anyone else as it is to me, but I feel very freed. Hopefully, I can live this out and no more knee-pops will be necessary. (It’s still sore.) And with this very wordy epiphany, I will add a further one for you… I will be moving my blog soon. It’s a combination of a desire for a bit more expanded creative space, a slightly new identity, but also, rather humorously, because the first thing anyone says when I tell them the name of my blog is:
“How in the world do you spell that?”
Life is so very humbling. Tears and unstable joints and a generally unliterary world. Oh well. If you need it, I wish you a knee-popping sort of day. It’s cathartic, if painful. But I hope you don’t. I hope instead, you are much further along than I and can watch the beauty around you with an honest, joyous heart. All for now.