dinner plans

when my mom was 
dying 
you wanted to 
meet up 
with me 
for dinner
I was late
I was late
because I was on a walk
with my mom
I didn't cut the walk
short
so I could be 
on time
with you
you were so mad
at me
for being late
we argued and
if I had to do it
again
I wouldn't
I'd turn around
and leave
and then that time
would be with
my mom
not you
because you are a 
thief
you stole time from
me and
my mom and
I'm mad
I'm mad maybe
I'll never stop being mad
my mom and I
would have had
a lovely dinner together
at home instead she ate
alone
that night
I might never forgive you

you apologized ten years
later but it was
ten years too late and
ten words too late and
I've been thinking that
maybe you feel at peace
now
now that you've said your words
and good for you
but I can't get my time
back and
I'm mad that I didn't
leave
because mom left
she's gone
she's still
and you
you're still sorrying
and I'm 
done giving you time
time for me to turn
around
and leave
bye
bye
I'm
gone.

Listen: The Grief Episode

taking it back

taking it back
to my 6th grade class
and I was still a Steed
a boy named Jeremy
I think
died from cancer
the answer 
the school gave
was to hold a service
a remembrance
for Jeremy
and me I didn't go
I didn't go but I stayed 
in the classroom 
and took a study hall
I couldn't bear to haul 
myself to that service because before
he died
he was a 
total
jerk
a mean
and spiteful
person
and I
I didn't go to the service
people said it was
a mean
thing to do 
and spiteful
but I didn't go to the service
it would be disingenuous
and my name was 
Jen and being genuine was what
I wanted to do

and maybe that's what
you wanted to do
too
when five years later you wrote on the 
bathroom wall
Jen Steed is a fucking bitch
and that situation 
made me start
to think
to think about
who wouldn't go to my service

I
do not go gentle through this good life
and strife seems to find me
always has
but maybe it has always been me
me who has invited it in
to have a cup of hot coffee
me
I do that

When I yelled at Alisa in 5th grade to
Go faster on the monkey bars
you're too slow!
she invited the entire class to her birthday everyone
except me

In 7th grade I made
a couple cool girls 
Jessica
Danielle
so mad
they paid a sad 
boy named 
Danny
to pants me
to pants me in the middle of the quad

And in 11th grade the
writing was on the wall
you wanted to call
me out
and I
I don't think if I died
you'd go to my service 
because what purpose
would it serve is
maybe the question you'd ask
and I'd add
that I didn't go to Jeremy's service
either
and whether 
or not
you've forgiven me
for whatever it was I did
if I died before I said
I'm sorry 
I'm sorry

I take it back

but whoever you are
who marred 
that bathroom wall
that wake-up call
was what I needed
My name was Jen Steed and
I didn't go to the service
and I bet you won't go 
to mine
either.

everyone goes

hey
dad
it's been a 
minute
but I wanted to
talk about heaven
with you
and I think you're
there right now sitting on your lawn chair drinking hot coffee

I wanted to
talk about heaven
with you
and tell you that
I'm sorry
for all the times you told me
Everyone goes to heaven
and I 
scoffed
because I knew
I knew
you didn't understand
how
the 
gospel
works
you called me a princess
but it was an attack
and I hated you for it
but now looking back
I now can see
how that's
exactly
what 
I
was

I was a spoiled princess
How Dare you Defy Me Dad
Don't You Know I Know
more
than
you
about
life

you told me everyone goes to
heaven
how could a god allow people to
go
to
hell
how could he do that
and why
and I
scoffed
the royal princess that I was
and why should I listen
to someone who wakes waiting
to drink
every
day

I was so much better than that
but now I think I'd like to
talk about heaven
with you
and say
I'm 39
and not a day
goes by
that I don't think of you
and I don't think of you
in hell
but how you have a lawn-chair seat in heaven

and when we
talk about heaven
I want to tell you
that I wish I would have
been a better daughter
later after you died
I tried
I tried
I tried to understand your 
pain
in life
your pain
I think you numbed
you'd sink into
grayed and fuzzed and cotton-muffled brain

but we're talking about heaven
and I want to say
that even though you couldn't stay
to make your heaven
here
on
earth
you've got it now
and now
I know that
I 
don't 
know
all the things I thought
I knew
and you
and you are sitting on your
lawn chair
drinking coffee
restful and content
so proud of me
(you were always so proud of me)
I wish I could have been proud 
of you

but it came too late you couldn't wait
to leave
you 
could 
not
cancer decided
you
did 
not

so hey 
dad
it's been a
minute
but I wanted to 
talk about heaven 
with you
and tell you
that I am doing what I can
to make my heaven
here
on
earth
and when I drink
hot coffee
I think 
of you
of you
of how proud
I am
of you.

Listen: The Grief Episode

Mush! And Other Lessons From a Dog

“He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken.” –Jack London, The Call of the Wild

So many great “life quotes” in a book about a dog. I’ll be honest: I decided to read this book because when my husband handed it to me, he told me that it’s really good . . . and only 62 pages. I’m a little behind on my Goodreads reading challenge of 50 books a year, so a short book is right up my alley. I’ll tell you, it’s refreshing to read a book in a day. I definitely recommend it! And, wow — the vocabulary was on point. (I would recommend the book to humans who are serious about upping their vocabulary. And students: SAT test prep much?)

Interestingly, this sentence comes on page six of the book. Two great things about this: (1) London dives right into the action — already Buck has been stolen and handed over to greedy gold-diggers — and (2) the reader is under no illusion that this is going to be a happy story. I, for one, appreciate that.

As soon as I read this sentence, I knew I wanted to use it as the inspiration for a blog post. It screams, Life advice! Take heed! Listen up! Being “beaten” isn’t exactly inspiring, and it’s certainly not a place people want to be. But when we look at the rest of the sentence, we can see that being “broken” is worse. Taking a quick look at structure, we see that the two clauses are joined in two ways: a semicolon and a coordinating conjunction (not recommended by The Literary Prude English Teachers of America). But I like it. There is a punctuation mark connecting the ideas. And there is a conjunction connecting the ideas.

Such a strong connection. Let’s dive in.

I think I can speak for most of us here when I say it’s not enjoyable to run a race just to be beaten. We want to win! Or at least we want to beat someone else! When I ran track in high school (my main event was the mile; occasionally I’d run the 800), I knew I wasn’t going to be the winner coming around that fourth lap, but I also knew I wasn’t going to be last. In fact, I’d probably beat most of the other girls running, and that was enough for me. There was a certain pleasure to burn past girls and leave them in my dust. (Some might say “It was a pleasure to burn.”) If I came in last every single time I ran the race, I might realize that perhaps the mile wasn’t my event. Maybe I should try triple jump. But even beating some of the runners, I realized that I wasn’t good enough to pursue track at the collegiate level. And so I moved on from my “track career.” Buck quickly realizes his limitations when it comes to a man with a club. He realizes that a man with a club is not beatable.

But I’ll say this: there is a unique perspective we get when we’re getting beaten. Maybe someone is ahead of us, or maybe someone is above us, but we see what it looks like and experience what it feels like in that position. And if we come out of it still alive, well, we’ve come out of a learning experience! Now we know some things:

  • When you see a fist descending down upon you, move.
  • When you see a spear hurling at you through the air, duck.
  • When you see someone about to grab the last Tickle-Me-Elmo on Black Friday, dive in front of her, throwing an elbow if needed.

You get the idea. Being in a “loser” position definitely helps us understand how to get into the “winner” position.

Ah, if only it were that easy. Just like Buck coming across a man with a club, there are certain situations where we’re going to be beaten. Every. Time. It doesn’t matter how hard we try or how much we work.

We will still fail. Someone or something will beat us.

And sometimes it’s life.

When I was 26 — happily married, happily working, happily living — I got a call from one of my mom’s friends telling me that my mom was in the hospital recovering from surgery. I knew my mom was going in for a colonoscopy, but I was really confused that all of a sudden she was recovering from surgery. And even more confused that she hadn’t called me (she lived in California; I lived in Florida). Come to find that doctors discovered cancer, and they had to act fast. I felt like a trap door had opened underneath me and that I was falling into darkness. Her prognosis was a year, give or take a few months.

14 months later, she died.

I remember telling my husband that my mom was like my anchor, and without her, I felt like I was floating farther and farther away into dark waters. Falling through darkness, floating in dark waters, I felt disoriented. Life was fuzzy, and everything seemed distorted.

I felt broken.

But I pulled myself up with God’s help (just another reason I believe in God — I don’t think I would have gotten through that experience without feeling loved by a good God). And I re-calibrated my life. I now had to figure out how to live (and be happy) without my mom. I was beaten (she was gone); but I wasn’t broken.

It took some time, but I got to a point of really loving life again. I knew it’s what she wanted for me, so I took it upon myself to take a disciplined approach to happiness. I focused on the blessings in my life, I took time to appreciate the people in my life, and I was mindful of the beauty in nature around me.

So when my dad died of cancer seven years later, I just became bitter. I felt broken again, but in a different way. I couldn’t understand how both of my parents were taken from me. And while my mom was my confidante, my anchor, my best friend, my dad was the one in my corner, yelling at me to beat the bastards (his language, not mine). He believed in me to a fault. He would take my side in all situations without knowing any details. If I disliked someone, he hated them. I remember in elementary school coming home and telling him about this girl who was annoying me, and he actually said that if it was really a problem, he’d have to beat her up. Luckily, my dad wasn’t actually violent and would never actually beat up a seven-year-old, but you better believe I felt like I could conquer the world with him on my side.

But now he was gone, too. I felt so alone. I didn’t have brothers or sisters to commiserate with me. It was just me.

It is amazing to me how resilient a human can be. I made it my mission once again to seek happiness in life. I realized once again that even though I felt broken, I wasn’t. I understood on a very practical level that dwelling on the sadness and unfairness of it all would make my life stagnate. And as our friend Einstein says, “It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.”

And moving through life is a privilege. Not everyone gets to do it. I like to remind myself that even when life is not going the way I’d like it to go, I’m alive. Walt Whitman’s poem “O Me! O Life!” touches on the concept of living through all the struggles of life because at the end of the day we all have a purpose. Do yourself a solid, and actually take time to read through the poem. Read it all, and read it slowly:

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

                                       Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

So we keep going — because we’re not broken, and because it’s our imperative to contribute something to this life. For Buck, it means to mush, or basically march through the snow. For us, it’s the same concept. Keep mushing, keep moving.

I am still sad about the loss of my parents. It’s something I deal with on a daily basis, and it’s especially painful when dealing with difficult people in life. I don’t have my mom saying, “It’s OK, honey; just hang in there; I’m sorry those people are treating you that way.” And I don’t have my dad yelling, “THOSE SHITHEADS! No one treats my daughter that way!”

I’ll end with this: to experience the heights, we must experience the depths. How much greater is the view on top of the mountain after we’ve done the work to climb up from the valley? It’s been a great reminder for me as I traverse the ups and downs of life. I hope it’s a good reminder for you, too.

We might be beaten. But we’re not broken.