summer in the south

I’m sitting on my porch, rocking gently back and forth while I write in the creaky swing whose screws I really hope don’t pull out of the ceiling, a bead of sweat rolling down the back of my neck while the gentle breeze flutters my hair into my eyes. My planters are spilling over with admittedly dry petunias, somehow still thriving and vibrant even in the face of not much rain and an absentminded plant mama who sometimes forgets to bring out the watering can.

I’m walking the dogs, the early morning dew budded on grass-blades, wet against toes that poke out of my sandals, cooling my feet against the already-hot air. Birds are chirping, neighbors wave, and the sun beats down on my bare shoulders as I circle the path in the park just seven blocks from our house. I pass the bluest hydrangea bushes I’ve ever seen.

I’m walking home from church. Life’s good when your pastor and his family are your neighbors, and life’s better when you have church at their house. The honeysuckle vines are in full bloom, reminding me of my grandma and home and childhood, and their sweet scent combined with the heady gardenias I pass hangs heavy in the air. I stop and speak with four different neighbors I don’t know, and I pause and listen for a moment to the plucking of guitar strings coming from another neighbor’s porch, the kind of music that can only happen on the laziest of Sundays.

It’s summertime in Alabama.

There’s something about summer in the South that reminds me where I’m rooted, reminds me why I stay in this tumultuous place. March comes and with it, the sun and the warmth, and I can feel my heart start to get fuller. By June, this feeling – intensity, love, joy – threatens to burst out of me in a fit of sweaty exuberance. Oh, how I love this place in the summer.

I don’t always love the South, admittedly. Not every day. Not even every warm, sunny day. I’ve lived in here my whole life, my time spent in an uneven split between Chattanooga and Birmingham, but there are days I wish with all my heart that all those blue states up north weren’t quite so cold, because sometimes I feel like giving up and packing up and moving up.

Alabama can be problematic. We’ve got a bad reputation with the rest of the country, mostly because we deserve it. Racism, both systemic and personal, runs rampant here. We have a ridiculously high incarceration rate. We have severe, debilitating poverty, and we’re the sixth poorest state in the US. Our education system, particularly in some counties, leaves a LOT to be desired. Our state and local leaders frequently become a laughingstock on national news, because seriously?? We have lots of very loud people who discriminate against those who are different – different colors, different religions, different political beliefs, different sexual orientations, different gender identities, different ideologies – and unfortunately they often drown out those of us who are shouting love.

But Alabama is also beautiful. (So is Tennessee, where I grew up.) Alabama has honeysuckle and gardenias and hydrangeas and azaleas. Alabama has green, green grass and lots of pretty trees and mountains and rivers and beaches and farms. Alabama has long summers and short winters and not very much snow (which is very important to my SAD-addled self.) Alabama has a LOT of VERY GOOD barbecue. Alabama houses my precious neighborhood that I love so dearly. Alabama has lots of people living in it who are passionate about racial equality and ending LGBTQ discrimination and creating community and ending poverty and mass incarceration. Alabama has lots of people passionate about local food movements and clean air and water and public health. Alabama has lots of people passionate about loving each other.

So here I stay. In the winter, I pray for the summer to come quickly, and until it does, I sit and I try to be intentionally thankful amidst a sea of conservatives who sometimes make it hard for us liberal folk, who make it feel like we’re swimming upstream, but who still have things to teach us, and who can still love us in spite of our differences. Here I stay, thankful, among some of the best neighbors I could ever ask for. In the middle of one of the most gorgeous places on this earth. In a church community that’s more amazing than I could’ve ever dreamed. In a house that Mark and I have made a home.

We may move, someday. If we do, there are some things might be rejoicing over – maybe we’ll finally live in a blue state! But if we do, we’ll also leave part of our hearts here, among the honeysuckle vines and the cracked sidewalks and our porch swing. And I will be grateful, then, that this paradoxical place will always feel like home.

 

where does the good go?

I surprised myself yesterday morning.

I’d started writing this post at about 5:30 AM when I couldn’t go back to sleep, about tragedy and the forces of good and evil, and was interrupted by a mini-fight with Mark revolving around a misunderstanding about a certain scary thing I had to do that day. Bolt came into our bedroom and got in my lap, all 75 pounds of him, and I bent and laid my head on his, mainly because he’s soft and gives good hugs. Then a noise startled him and he popped his head up into my jaw and made me bite my lip, which hurt, but was nothing compared to the intense pain that slowly spread through the opposite side of my jaw that he hit. Ouch ouch ouch.

I have TMJ (temporomandibular joint) Syndrome, and I’m prone to inflammation anyway, but it’s been particularly irritable since my last trip to the dentist, and that knock to the jaw just pushed me over the edge. The internal swelling was so intense that I couldn’t clench my teeth for several minutes after, and got sick to my stomach from the pain. Tears sprang to my eyes, and then for some reason unbeknownst to me, they wouldn’t stop, not as the pain began to subside, not as it was gone, not when Mark sat and rubbed my head, not when I got up to get ready for the day. It dawned on me that I was having a delayed, very visceral reaction to reading and writing about the traumas that have shaken Orlando to its core this last week. I was a little shocked, to be honest. I don’t have visceral reactions, at least not with any frequency. I process, I am sad, I move on. But yesterday morning, I escaped into the bathroom and sobbed in the shower for a good fifteen minutes over the atrocities of this world, because that’s the best place to do things like that when your in-laws are in town and you don’t want to make them worry that you’re losing your mind or getting a divorce or something equally terrible.

It was nothing like that. It’s just that my heart is broken. The world has broken it. Keeps breaking it.

I stole the title of this particular post from a Tegan and Sara song. I almost decided to go with something else, because that song is about love lost, and the anger and frustration that go with it, and I thought that wouldn’t be quite appropriate for a topic with so much weight. And yet, isn’t that exactly what the topic is about? How best to deal with a broken heart?

Where does the good go?

Last week was a brutal week for Orlando, and by extension, our country. First the death of Christina Grimmie, shot while signing autographs after a show, then 49 people dead and 50 injured in a mass shooting at a night club, then a toddler attacked by an alligator in a freak accident at Disney World of all places. All horrific traumas that I can’t even wrap my head around. On the internet, I read the over-stimulating overshare of information that social media offers, which literally causes our brains to process things differently than they once did and spawns comments which leave me either sitting in wonder at humanity’s perseverance and strength in the face of tragedy or just plain make me want to pull my hair out. And also curse a lot, which I do.

Where does the good go?

Where is the good when people get gunned down at a church service? Or at a movie theater? Or at an elementary school?

Where is the good when the cancer kills, or the baby dies, or the medicine just isn’t working?

Where is the good when words of hostility are thrown out instead of words of comfort, of hope?

Where is the good when people, particularly people that we love, disappoint us so immensely that we feel we might not be able to recover?

I have officially given up on humanity more times than I can count this year. I literally utter those words, usually when I’m reading Facebook comments, or about Donald Trump, neither of which I should do because they are not good for my mental health. Or probably my blood pressure, which is not typically high, but Lord, if anything will do it, that will.

In my darkest moments, when everything feels completely hopeless, sometimes I wish that the world would just really be that terrible so I could bring fulfillment to my promise. So I could give up on humanity, and mean it, and stop getting my heart broken over and over again. (Those of you that know me at all know that this is wholly against everything I fundamentally believe about people and humanity and that my heart would have to be forcefully ripped from my body for that to happen, honestly.) But this world is a fickle world, and every time I get so mad I can’t see straight, something always turns me around, gives me some glimmer of hope.

I believe, some say foolishly, that most people in this world will do the right thing if given the choice. I really do. And I will tell you why: we are all made in God’s image. Every person on this earth. God breathes life into us from the beginning, and while I do very much know and feel that this world is broken and our bodies are broken and we are all imperfect, I also believe that everything light and good and holy and right in this world will triumph over the dark and the bad and the evil and the wrong. That is the joy and the hope in the resurrection. And, believing that, I can’t help but believe that parts of us that look like God will push their way to the surface when the rubber hits the road.

Obviously that’s not true of everybody. That’s not always true of anybody. Sometimes the darkness wins for a moment, or a day, or even a lifetime, and what havoc it wreaks, killing people, shaming people, making people doubt themselves and each other, beating people down. But we are a tenacious breed, we humans, and we always do manage to stand back up, to find the best parts of ourselves with which to move forward, and if we can’t, we usually at least try.

So where does the good go?

It doesn’t go anywhere.

The presence of good doesn’t erase the bad, but the presence of evil doesn’t drive away the good, either. In Orlando on Friday, Christina Grimmie’s brother tackled her killer to the ground, placing his own body in between the gunman and the crowd. On Sunday, in the midst of too many gunshots and too many people falling, an Indian man, a former Marine, kept his head and opened a door in the back of the club so people could get away from the gunfire. A nursing student put aside his own fear to save a man’s life, using t-shirts as tourniquets and his own hands to stop the bleeding. I’m sure there were others performing courageous and comforting acts that we will never hear about. That’s where the good went.

The good came in the form of half-day waits in the hot Florida sun to donate blood. The good came when even more people donated food and water to the blood bank staff and the donors waiting in line. The good was there in the tears and sweat of the hospital staff that cared for the injured, both Christina Grimmie and the many, many victims of the Pulse shooting. The good came in a sixteen hour search for a little boy’s body so his family would not go home entirely empty-handed.

The good comes in the hugs and tears of friends comforting each other in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. It comes in the form of an Ecumenical service where clergy offered prayers and silence both, where someone read the names of every person killed in the Pulse shooting on continuous loop, where artwork was done and letters written in honor of the victims and their families. It comes in the form of perfect strangers holding hands while singing hymns about unity, about needing each other to survive.

For my part, I can’t make the bad go away and I can’t keep the world from breaking my heart, but I can cultivate as much love as my individual body, my single soul will allow. I can participate in community, I can take care of my body and my soul, and the bodies and souls of others.

And I can hope. Hope springs eternal, they say, even in the midst of such horrid tragedy, even when you know there will be heartbreak before any kind of victory. I can choose to march on anyway.

So where does the good go?

The good shows up wherever love grows. May we all tend fruitful gardens.

 

On This, the Occasion of the Anniversary of my Ninth Year of Marriage: A Study of Haiku

awake. i roll o’er,

amidst a sea of covers,

and see your bare skin.

 

you say i steal the

blankets. after nine years, you’d

think i’d learn to share.

 

into the kitchen.

chips, open on the counter,

and i roll my eyes.

 

lights left on, glasses

left for dogs to spill, asking:

“are you mad at me?”

 

a million ways to

irritate each other, and

yet: we’re still standing

 

leaning on the love

that outlasts fights and ire and

everything but us.

 

nine years ago, my

best friend became my husband.

a ceremony,

 

vows, a kiss, a dance.

what god joined then, let

none put asunder.

 

nine years ago, a

white dress and a tux and some

promises we made

 

equal a life, in

spite of open bags, stolen

sheets and rolling eyes.

 

thanks be to god for

the little things: hugs, meals shared,

peace won, books read, trips,

 

a mowed lawn, our dogs,

dinner on the porch at dusk,

a brush of our hands.

 

this is what marriage

should feel like: simplicity,

fullness, joy, honor.

 

the gratefulness for

a life well-lived overwhelms,

and i sit in awe

 

at how two people

become more like one each day;

a miracle, really.

 

and here stands my truth:

my life is better because

you, love, are in it.