Poof by Ryan Masters

I spent most of my time at Diarmaid Funeral Home operating the crematory, a hulking metal box big with an iron body the size of a bailing machine, but that could also set itself on fire. When you turned a key, the machine would suck in a heavy breath and its red lights would pop on like it had woken up suddenly, and in a bad mood. In five minutes it was hot enough to burn up to 400 lbs. of human down to his/her densest bones in about an hour, and it did so in remarkable quiet, like a man chewing stale tobacco who is not inclined to small talk.

Debbie taught me how to use it, a thick southern woman who spoke loudly and with a smirk. She had a heart like a good truck, made of steel and combustion, reliable, aggressive. She embalmed her own mother because she didn’t trust anyone else to do a better job. Her gestures, as she taught me how to cremate a human body, were as quick and stoic as if she was teaching me how to feed a Gila monster.

These were my instructions:

  1. When the temperature’s 1600, open the crematory door and wheel the box in front (the machine, you observe, is blinking and groaning madly by now, hungry, its belly on fire).
  2. Roll the box from the hydraulic cart, making sure to kind of center it (inside, walls of human soot-covered brick).
  3. Remember that the metal ID coin goes on the box, if you forget, just slide it in, inside of the crematory as far as you can get it (the heat licked your knuckles clean of all their hair and oil).
  4. Close door, set to “process,” set timer (the great metallic monster brooded and grumbled like an obese teenager at a buffet, seemingly, wickedly, pleased).
  5. In about an hour, come back, scrape remains into center where the machine is hottest, (this rendered the human-seeming skeletal structure without shape, just a fiery heap).
  6. Let cool, scrape remains into metal bin at front of machine, bring to processor (a smaller machine made of metal teeth that garbage-disposaled man into dust.

This, she told me, would probably be my main task, “bein’ the new guy and all.” I took notes.

She taught me one other thing during Step 5, when she opened the crematory door too early. The lesson was a sort of live visualization of ashes to ashes, or from dust you came, or another one bites the dust. Debbie thrust the long metal scraper into the machine, the long sharp claw of it reaching into the blazing chamber of fire and shadows and the metal bit into what was once flesh, and when she raked the scraper across the body’s chest, it sounded like a barbecue being cleaned.  Ashes leapt out of the fire like panicked crickets. Then she shut the metal door and looked at the timer.

Well. Maybe oughta give it more time.

Don’t get squeamish now.

                I swallowed hard. I blinked and there was an imprint of a burning skull grinning. Oh yeah, I was just thinking. Like, does it need to be cleaned regularly?

On nice days I would keep the garage door open and sit next to the crematory and read Thomas Lynch’s The Undertaking. I would set my feet and my coffee on the desk. I could hear the muffled roar of the fire. Outside, dogwoods were shedding their blooms.

Writes Lynch:

The themes for me were and remain sex and love and grief and death – the things that make us and undo us, create and destroy, how we breed and disappear.

I sipped my coffee and breathed deeply. The sperm-like dogwood smell mingled with the faint eau-de-toilette of burning human remains. “Life-in-death image” I muttered aloud, nodded, went deep into thought.

I was surrounded by the urgency of life ending throughout our city. I wrapped bodies in bedsheets and wheeled them quietly through their living rooms at midnight, gently greeting the newly widowed. Yet I kept getting lost on the way to homes, and I couldn’t embalm worth a crap. I sat around bored and burned bodies and wrote about it in my Comp books, wishing I didn’t have to wake up to pick up the next sad sack that died at midnight (they always died at midnight) and that I could just do something I liked and was good at.

People worked every day, then slept, and sometimes they died.  In between, they wondered if they were well compensated. I thought: How am I not inspired by this? Why do I feel like I am still working at Target, only the shelves are stocked with the dead, the air filled with their ashes?

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, moaned MacBeth. In the crematory the women come and go, leaving as thin white snow.

Another day I was heaving bone and ash out of the crematory with the heavy, awkward scraper, which was like trying to use a 15 foot broom to pull a lawn mower toward you. I was in a suit and the metallic, blood-iron hot smell getting on my clothes, and there was the ash of someone’s loved one was on my pants, and the sun was being merciless with the pavement outside. Two Haitian men that our manager had hired to clean the cars were there, and they had moved on to cleaning around the crematory. Their eyes orbited the grumbly machine like full moons, while their hands tried to keep busy.

One cowered far away, cleaning one spot over and over, while one cleaned up in a circular pattern around the metal beast, and made reverential noises.

He came up to me while the door was open, the heat and odor flowing out.

In deh? That where you put em?

Yep.

Ohhhhh. Put em in deh, come out like dat? –pointing at the remains, finger tentative—Where da rest go?

I don’t know. The sky I guess. There’s a chimney.Pointing up, vaguely.

Ohhhhh. How it wuhk?

Turn the key, push the button. Then—poof. –Shrug.

And just poof! In the sky like that, no? –He reached both hands suddenly into the air as if in worship, tossing up some invisible thing, a soul maybe, perhaps someone he loved he was throwing there to get him out of the brooding machine that lit itself on fire over and over again.

He opened his charcoal lips to smile for some reason, revealing a whole row of tall white teeth. He swayed his arms like a child wondering where to go next. We stood there for a second, in the whoof whoof of the machine’s exhaust fan.

And all I could feel was the sweat under my collar, and all I could smell were the ashes, and all I could say was Yes just like everything, poof into the sky.

Then he went away, shaking his head and innocently sweeping up the stray ashes as they spread everywhere.

Wish Me Well by Andrew Hahn

I had my first panic attack late September 2012 my senior year of college.  I forgot about Spanish homework until I got to class and my friend Kidder asked if I understood a question on the assignment.

“Um, what?” I said.

“We had homework,” she said with a little head nod and a little grace.

I frantically pulled out my course syllabus and flipped today’s date.  We did have homework.  I hated when the professor called on me and I stumbled through an answer, so I pulled out my textbook and flipped to the back where all the answers were.  I started to write the answer to question one, but my hand couldn’t make it past the first word without messing it up—ella.

My body tightened up.  My heart raced like I was running.

Ella.

I couldn’t breathe properly. My vision went in and out of focus like apertures.  My heart palpitated.  I thought it was going to explode.  My hands. armpits, and back started sweating.  I wiped my hands rhythmically on my thighs. 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and on top of my skinny jeans.  My sweat stains showed through my oxford shirt.  The room was spinning like I spun my head around on a bat, and I realized that I wasn’t okay to be sitting in a classroom for the next hour thinking I’m walking the balance beam of my body exploding.

My belongings thudded in my bag as I sloppily tossed them in.

“I’m skipping class,” I said.

My few friends in the class all scrunched their brows.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure,” I said picking up my bag and racing out of the classroom.

_____

I made a counseling appointment one day while I was on break at work, walking around the parking lot outside.  I kicked all the small sticks I came across to see how far I could send them.

“Thank you for calling Wishing You Well Counseling.  How can I help you today?”  She was happy and helpful like you’d expect someone at a counseling office to be.

“Hi,” I said.  “I’d like to make an appointment.”

“Okay, and have you visited our site to know who you’d like to meet with?”

“Uh, no,” I replied.  “Yes, I visited your site and read one of the bios, but no, I don’t know who I would want to be with.”

“Well that’s totally fine,” she said.  “Why would you like to make an appointment?”

“I’ve just been very anxious.  I’ve felt at the edge of myself for the month of July.”

“Well, I’m very sorry to hear that you’re going through that,” she said.  I could hear the threads of compassion in her voice.  “I know exactly who to set you up with.  How’s Wednesday at noon?”

“Sounds perfect.”  I smiled, feeling the pulses of hope beneath my ribs.

_____

The counseling office was in a quaint, brick house off one of Lynchburg’s busiest streets.  The house itself released an aura of kindness and rest, like I was being hugged by practiced arms.  It whispered softly, “Everything is going to be okay.  Please, come in.”

So I stepped into the foyer of an old house with a charming staircase in the entryway.  To the left was the waiting room with two chairs and a door in view of the foyer and as I stepped in, I saw a sofa and a table with a checkerboard.  There was a woman sitting in one of the chairs, so I sank in the chair cushion next to her on the opposite side of a box of magazines that looked like it was from Pier 1.

I browsed Twitter on my phone as I waited.  Nothing but rap critiques and quippy rap puns, desperate passive aggressive pleas for love, and a t-rex who can’t do things like wave down a cab and shuffle playing cards.  I flipped through pictures of the poor trying t-rex and chuckled to myself.  The lady next to me kept glancing over until her counselor called her to her appointment.  I signed off Twitter.

The door next to my chair creaks open and a kind-faced, blond haired woman says, “George?”

“Must be me, right?” I say.

“Come on in.”  She smiles.  Her blue dress brings out the blue calm in her eyes.

There are two brown suede sofas—one along the near wall and one facing the entryway.  Each has colorful pillows tucked into the corners like rainbow sprinkles on a chocolate cone.

“Sit anywhere you like,” she says.

I sit in the far corner of the nearest sofa and face the chair in the middle of the room that I assume is where she’ll sit.

“First,” she says, “before we move on, do you go by George?”  She shuts the door behind her and takes a few steps toward her chair.

“No,” I say.  “I go by Andrew most of the time.”

“Okay. I want to make sure that this is as comfortable a place for you by calling you something familiar.”  She takes a seat in the chair and writes notes on a sheet—my “file.”  She lovingly brings her hands together like reuniting best friends.  “So, what brings you in today?”

“I am anxious,” I say.  “For the past month, I haven’t been able to take a full breath.  I feel like I’m teetering at the edge of a breakdown all the time.  I panic at the most random times, and then I’m on the phone for hours with my grandmother and aunt.”

“Hmm.  You find a sense of security in them?”

“My grandmother helped raise me, so I would definitely say I do.”

She scribbles notes.  “What else?”

I gaze out the window into the field behind her and thought of how to turn my feelings into words like connecting the dots without the numbers.

“Last week, my friend asked me if I loved myself.”

“And what did you say?”  She never looks away from me.  And she nods her head and listens with affirming yeahs.

“I said that I do, but she said she didn’t believe me.  I spend so much time taking care of other people and making sure their needs are met that I don’t know how to spend time with myself.”

“Do you believe your answer?”  She tilts her head like a puppy who’s heard a strange noise.

I shut my eyes.  “No.”

“No what, Andrew?”

“No,” I take a deep breath.  “No, I don’t love myself.”

“And why is that?”

“I don’t like what’s happening to me and how it makes me.  I hate being alone all the time and I hate that I have to spend all of my time with me.  And I hate feeling like what I want for my life isn’t good enough for my family, and I hate that I spend all my time talking about how anxious I’m feeling or if I feel safe and not doing things or eating things that have suddenly become triggers for all of it.  And I hate feeling like people are annoyed with me because I give so much to meet my friends’ needs and it feels like no one is willing to care for me the way I need to be cared for.”  I wipe my eyes.  There’s a difference between knowing something about me and speaking it out, but when I say something, it’s true.  It’s looking at your feelings saying, “I know you exist.”

“Wow,” she says.

“One more question before we move on if that’s okay.”  She leans forward.  “Do you feel like there’s something wrong with you?”

I look out at the window again and watch a little girl with a balloon tied to her wrist run around and around in circles.

“Yes, I do.”

“Andrew, let me tell you something.  This anxiety you’re experiencing doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you.  It’s just your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong.  Your brain’s function is to keep you alive and do it well.  Your brain doesn’t understand that anything would be going wrong inside of your body, so it equips you to handle conflict externally.  Does that make sense?”

“So far, yes,” I say.

“The blood rushes to your fingertips in tingles.  Your heart beats hard and your breath tightens to get the blood to your feet quicker so you can run away from the danger.  The important thing to remember is this—It is not that type of fear.”

“It’s not that type of fear,” I repeat.  “I love that.”

“Yeah,” she says nodding and smiling.  “And anxiety is fear of something unknown.  And right now you don’t know yourself.”

“That’s beautiful.”  I feel the cushions beneath me.  Feel the air from the vents.  Look out across the expanse of the field.  I’m grinning, knowing that my anxiety comes from a lack of love and misinformation about my body, my feelings, and what my brain has learned to believe, and all this can be cured with a little love for myself.

She notices me smiling and she bares her teeth and cocks her head.  “You love that, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I say.  “I really do.”

I have problems, but it’s nice to know they’re not the kind of problems I thought.  I am a house that’s a little messy in all the hidden places.  Anne Lamott, in Bird By Bird, says, “[C]lutter and mess show us that life is being lived.  Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground—you can still discover treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.”  I am a house that’s been dusted and vacuumed, but it’s been cleaned like a man’s cleaned it.  What it feels like my counselor and I are doing is lifting up the sofa cushions, pulling the sofa away from the wall and collecting the trash and vacuuming up the dust bunnies.  With each particle we pull from between and underneath the cushions, we examine it and remember how it got there and also try our best to not let it happen again.  And we do this in every room, in every cabinet, in every drawer, until I love myself for who I am.

Results and Re-reading

By Roni Olson

I am a results-oriented person. I have a really hard time following through with something if I don’t see the point. I’ve never been into scrapbooking, leaf-blowing, or most of the crafty activities on Pinterest. On the other hand, there are few things I enjoy more than seeing tangible results for my efforts, whether that is a picture-perfect pumpkin pie, checking a book off my reading list, or having a student take my advice. I find it ironic that I am this way—that I function based so much on whether I believe something is worthwhile or not—because I wouldn’t describe myself as the pragmatic type at all. I’m much more of a romantic. And although I suffered through hours of mandatory “fun,” “girly,” or “crafty” activities in middle school, high school, and even college, I enjoy running in the rain, watching old cartoons, and driving just to drive.

There are no learning objectives from these activities. The very thought of saddling such activities with a learning objective is an oxymoron. But it made me realize, everyone has some activity(ies) which they enjoy doing for no overarching, purposeful, profound reason. We do things like this every day. Why do we set our beds? (As my boyfriend says, what’s the point, you’re just going to mess it up again that night). Dust the tops of shelves? Organize our closets? I think it speaks to the creative aspects of being human. It’s comforting to know that we don’t always have to have a clear objective—sometimes we do things because we are more than programmed robots. Because we have souls. Because we are whimsical. Because we want to.

Re-reading books is one of those kinds of things for me. When I read books for assignments (which I generally also enjoy), I am usually reading them for the first time, but when I pick up a book that is already an old friend sitting patiently on my bookshelf, it is an entirely different experience. I pick that book up again because I enjoyed it the first time. I am coming to that story with a lot of preconceived notions—funny bits of dialogue, tense points in the plot, memorable descriptions—but oftentimes rather than coming away with more of these aspects of the book, I find that the story has become a mirror in which I realize how much I myself have changed.

For example, I just began re-reading A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I first read this book in high school—my junior year, I think. It was over my head at the time, but it is good literature, and instinctually I realized this, so it drew me—because it is good literature and because of the unique storyline, the author’s writing style, and the vivid sense of setting and character. But now, upon re-reading it, I find myself being so much more aware—of the book’s aspects (character, writing style, vivid descriptions, themes), but also of myself. I already know basically what happens with the plot, but the book still captivates me because it shows me, for one thing, that I have come a very long way in appreciating and understanding literature since I was sixteen.

A lot of people who enjoy reading make reading lists. I do this too. I even have the Goodreads App. I enjoy chronicling my progress through books and checking them off my list. However, I recently realized that reading, particularly in terms of literature, should not be a one and done kind of deal. Reading does have a purpose—many purposes: to learn, study, be amused, entertained, enlightened, etc.—but I am realizing more and more that re-reading is really just as valuable, perhaps more so. In our fast-paced 21st century, small-attention-span-society, however, we often tend to miss the value of re-reading.

I like to view it this way: when I read a book for the first time, I’m reading it “normally”—to understand it itself: to be immersed in the plot, to get to know the characters, to discern the themes, but when I re-read a book I read it in order to get to know more about myself, because it is only after you have begun the journey of reading a book for a second or third time that you begin to see that the story starts to become a reflection of your own growth. It’s not that the story seems to be changing, the plot unfolding, the characters developing, as they did upon a first read, but that you realize you have changed—are changing—precisely because of the fact that you know the book has not—the book is a fixed mark, like the foot of the compass such as in Donne’s apt analogy. Upon a first reading of a book, we stretch to reach a level of understanding of the story, but upon a re-reading, the story seems to stretch to reach us on our new level of understanding.

And that’s why I love books so much. They are filled with stories that make impressions on us—change us and show us how we have changed. And that is why I re-read. So perhaps I do have a reason, after all.

Tout Exeunt by Doug Stephens IV

The bare ruin of the alders behind

Lend analogue to our bent heads,

Quiet in the flannel-soft night.  It

Was always in the cards for us,

Waiting, a policeman behind the billboard.

The fault was in my scholarships.

 

We are in the autumn of our days, my love.

Spring and summer mixed the year I pulled

Down the evening star and placed it on your hand,

A rarified azimuth for our wandering ships.

Blooming and heat were at once ours, but now

The slowing cool of the cosmos takes a chill sway.  The fire

We lent to the trees they ill kept, letting fall their

Rose and chrysid leaves, and love, we are in

The autumn of our days.  The winter comes swift

When you will leave me—I do not accuse.  You

Leave to lastly mourn the unhomeliness of your

Parents’ house, how transient it grew as the

Heart’s anchor sought another port.

 

But for now, standing outside the doors that hold

Our separate beds, we offer requiem to another day.

Another day of vagrancy, of mingled joy and

Sorrow, as the limits on our agency permit.

Ache for me.  Poor bedfellow absence, but better

Pangs of absence than a lonely satisfaction.

Abstract Fall Color Leaves Swirl, Big South Fork National Recreation Area, Tennessee

LAMP Poetry Contest!

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What it is: We’re having a poetry contest for all LU students and alumni who’d like to submit.

The challenge: Write a poem about fall, your take on it. Consider questions like, “Where is autumn?” “What signifies autumn, but is not too cliché?” “What are your fall memories?” “What is the process of fall?” Maybe you need to take a walk down by the James to get inspired.

When it’s due: Midnight- Sunday, October 12

Where to send it: lampmagazine.lu@gmail.com (Note: if you put it in an attachment like word or PDF, it’s less likely to change format as opposed to just in the body of the email).

What you’ll get if you win: Publication on the LAMP blog (that means you get credited in our print magazine as being a blogger), along with some honor, prestige, and the distinct privilege of knowing your fall poem is really impressive.

Get writing.

A Trip to the Name Wizard Adam Snavely

Going to a conservative Evangelical Christian university in the South is always sure to lead you into conversations that are about as far away from kosher as eating a bacon-wrapped hot dog while filling out late business reports in your local synagogue on a Saturday. Apparently, Jesus dying on the cross guaranteed us justification for our sins but missed the “saving us from our complete lack of recognition of social norms” thing. An example: My girlfriend and I, as all couples do, went on our first date several years ago. The date itself was pretty standard fare, coffee and conversation[1]. The day after, several girls living on her dorm were excited about said date and asked her several normal questions, such as “How was it?” “Is he romantic?” and “Who is he again?”

“His name is Adam Snavely.”

“Wait. Are you ok with your last name being that?”

******namewizard

I’ve long been aware that I don’t have the most attractive-sounding last name in the world[2]. And while conversations on what my girlfriend’s last name may or may not be seemed wholly unwarranted at the time, it was a little funny that how a last name sounds figured into the mate-selection process of this white girl[3]. I get it. I’m not getting JC Penney clothing lines named after me. There will not be hot-sounding models throatily whispering “Snaaaaavelyyyyyy” over black and white montages of waves cresting while Giorgio Armani’s new fragrance hovers in the foreground, gracing the skin of a shirtless man with a rock wall for a stomach like blessed rain from the heavens dripping down his childishly smooth torso, clean and fresh and smelling of pure victory[4]. “Snavely” does not get whispered, at least not like “Giorgio,” “Olivier,” or even “Seacrest” does. “Snavely” gets whispered mostly by authority figures or English 101 students, with a healthy balance of amusement and annoyance.

It doesn’t help that I’m a pretty regular dude, thus having no excess of fame or glamour I can gold-leaf my surname in. There is, however, a certain level of sexiness appropriated to the names of the wildly rich and famous, regardless of how sexy their name actually is[5]. Take Brad Pitt. This guy has a top-five least desirable body area as a namesake. But nobody is thinking “armpit” when he steps out with his cute adopted children, and no one is thinking about his name even when he’s growing some truly awful facial hair. It’s Brad Pitt. Short, staccato, and to the point, like a model/waiter serving you chocolate cake and leaving his number on the check. Kellie Pickler also falls into this category. Even if you are one of the crazy people who likes pickles, you’ve got to admit that if you have a last name labeling you quite literally as “one who pickles things,” you’re not winning any phonetic beauty contests. In fact, just try saying “pickle” ten times in a row without getting the shivers. But “Kellie Pickler” does not sound gross. Kellie Pickler sounds cute, sassy, and snappy, like biting into a crispy Vlasic on a hot summer day. Generally, a celebrity’s fame and attractiveness are directly proportional to how far we as the adoring public can excuse away their ugly names, and they do not even need both of those things to get very far. Donald Trump sounds like prestige and success, and he looks like he got left in the microwave for about three minutes longer than his directions specified. But we’re only willing to take this so far, and pity almost never factors into these decisions[6].

******

Let me be perfectly clear: I do not hate my last name. In fact, I’m quite fond of it. It’s just an objectively poor-sounding name, same as “Jagielka” or “Snodgrass.”[7] But it’s unique and it’s mine, and if I had the chance to change it to a different name, I wouldn’t do it. Besides, legally attempting to change my name sounds like too stressful of a process to even begin. First, I’d need to go to some courthouse, I assume, or whatever other government building the internet points me to. I would walk through the metal detectors, bypassing the security guard that has that dead-eyed look you see in sharks and Captain D’s employees, and wander through the yellowing hallways until finally finding the clerk/officer/justice/sorting hat that is responsible for knowing all of our names and any changes that might be occurring therein. Then I would wait in line behind some obnoxiously cute couple that are getting married in a month, the ones that have gradually morphed into one person over the course of their relationship and now have the same sensible haircut and LL Bean catalog sweaters[8], who cannot stop talking about the paint swatches they picked up from Home Depot on the way over and whether they want the “Wild Salmon” or “Caribbean Coral” for the molding in their bedroom, or if they’ve made up their minds far too quickly on the pastel red-orange family and if they should really give “Seafoam Green” another look, before finally making it to the front of the line. And then I would need to tell this haggard, pock-faced, bag-eyed name wizard what I want my name to be. How do I even begin to decide that? With the entire realm of real and non-real words and letter combinations in the infinite universe open to me, what do I pick as the sole marker that I would theretofore be referred to as? A Greek god? Some forgotten Nepalese Sherpa? An Italian fashion magnate or gorgeous French soccer player? And then I’m afraid I’ll just panic at the last second, and look at the Overseer of Names, and whimper:

“Kanye.”

[1] And readings of twisted, old fairytales. So, normal for us.

[2] Let’s be real, it sounds like someone saw the words “snivel” and “navel” and decided they didn’t sound gross enough on their own.

[3] You read the part about “Evangelical university in the South,” right?

[4] Try not to think about how long I had to consider that scenario.

[5] Quick note to the reader – If you’ve read this far looking for a capital-T “truth” life application, one where I go all Malcolm Gladwell on your mind and pull a perfect analogy out of thin air like manna from the sky, props to you for sticking it out. But you’re in the wrong place my friend..

[6] Apologies, Gary Busey and Bob Saget.

[7] Shouts to all my Snodgrasses, though. Keep doin’ you.

[8] The cable-knit ones, with the brown elbow patches.

On Fall

by Andrew Hahn

I step out onto my brick stoop on the corner of the city block and shut the door behind me. The sun has been rising for about an hour, but it’s cloudy and the world seems grayscale except for the mountain scape behind Lynchburg that’s hugged by thin fog. I sit down on the cool brick and take a few deep breaths like a yoga exercise, careful to expand my diaphragm and exhale completely.  The calm is like IV fluids—I can feel it inside me.  I inhale again, this time taking in the tree bark and leaves, petrichor, soil, the spirits of earth that wane with the coming of the season. This autumnal perfume is one I can’t live without.

But in my peace, I realize that this smell I love so much, that everyone loves so much, is the scent of earth dying.

I think as spirit beings, we have an innate sense of nature’s workings. We can smell when the seasons are changing. We can hear it as the birdsong fades, see it in the sky and celestial bodies, feel it on our skin.  We know that one day, the things of earth will resuscitate and be beautiful in a different way that feels fresh every time.

I am uneasy when fall approaches.  In fall 2012, I attempted to come to terms with parts of me I’ve been rejecting for years.  I was battered by the emotional tension of wanting to accept myself but denying my spirit the right.  After a day of hating myself, I trudged home, defeated. I collapsed into my roommate’s girlfriend’s arms and cried over the sadness mingled with gratitude as she rubbed my back and shushed me softly.  When she held me, the steady pulses behind her chest calmed me.  So when we sat on the stairs and she told me everything was going to be okay, that I am honored and precious and irreplaceable to God, I believed her.  To believe means “to have confidence or faith in, and consequently rely on or trust” a person or god.  I knew that God loved me.  I’ve been told that my whole life.  The music I listened to told me too, but I found myself slipping into the loneliness of fall and the dead cold of winter.

The following year, I loved anyone who liked me.  I loved poisonous people, and we rode through fall like reckless teens in convertibles.  After coming home one night, I made myself a cup of herbal tea with a little honey, sat on my front porch, and tried to look up at the veins of stars I knew were out there.  I couldn’t see them.  I began to think that God couldn’t see me just like I couldn’t see the stars, and I thought God could never love me because I am ugly and I am unworthy.  But Anne Lamott rejected the notion that we are undeserving.  In Help, Thanks, Wow, she says, “[Take] a chance that against all odds and past history, that [you] are loved and chose, and do not have to get it together before [you] show up.”  She chose God because she already knew that He chose her.  Just because I couldn’t see the stars doesn’t mean they weren’t up there and weren’t beautiful.  I sighed in that warm blanket of truth at the close of fall 2013.

Again, I find myself sitting down in front of my home at the dawn of fall.  This time, I don’t look for the stars.  Instead, I notice the dead remnants of a sapling that pokes from the squared-off soil on the city block. It looks like a witch’s wand, and I think it should be cut at the base because it’s not beautiful how the other dying trees are beautiful.  As I think of ways to rid the city of this tree, a butterfly flits past and glides like flower petals swept in gusts. It lands gently on the sapling and flaps its wings un-rhythmically—the patterns on its wings are intricate paintings I do not comprehend. I think of Anne Lamott again as the breeze carries more of autumn’s aroma: “I do not understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”  The young, ugly tree did not expect for a butterfly to perch on its tip, to be touched by the grace of Picasso wings, to be loved by its gentle, curling tongue.

And now, I get up to leave because that dead stick poking from the soil is no longer the ugly sapling that should be cut at the roots. It is where the butterfly came, touched down, and was lifted by the suggestion that it was needed somewhere else.