For those who are depressed

The Arnold Arboretum at Dust

The Arnold Arboretum at Dusk

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
~ T.S. Eliot

Come for a walk with me, my friend. I know you are tired. I know that sorrow has settled into your bones like the ache from an old war wound. Come with me anyway. Lean on my arm. It is only a few steps to the forest’s entrance, and a few more to a bench where we can rest. I know the colors have gone out of your life and you cannot rouse yourself to remember them. I know. In the twilight the colors of the world are muted, and it will not sting as much when you can only see grey.  We can turn back anytime. Your bed will be waiting for you. Just come out for a few minutes.

Come for a walk with me, dear one. I know that walking is hard, now, that your muscles ache and you feel a weariness that does not pass no matter how much you sleep. I know that talking feels impossible, and that you fear if you do speak you will be unable to stop, and will wear me out with your words, crying over and over of your pain and despair. It’s all right, my friend. You do not have to speak, and if you do there is space in my heart and in the woods for all your pain. There is space for you, my friend, believe me. There is a drought in the world that can only be quenched by your tears, the infinite tears inside you. Come and weep, or come and be silent. Just come.

Come for a walk with me, Beloved. I know you feel nothing but loneliness, and being with people makes you feel even more alone. I know you feel lost and left behind, abandoned by friends and by the God you once adored. I know you feel a betrayal so sharp and real that sometimes you cannot breathe. I know that when I call you God’s Beloved it rings hollow, that if I speak the words of scripture that you used to love they now taste like sand in your mouth. Come into the whispering darkness of the trees at twilight and listen to the scripture there. Come into the shadows of the oaks and lindens until the darkness outside matches the darkness in your soul. And then listen to how the dark speaks its own language, one you could not hear in the bright light of day. If you do not hear it tonight, that’s okay, too. I will walk you home, regardless. I will trust your soul regardless. Beloved, I will.

Come for a walk with me, little sister, little brother. I have been here before and am older than you by a year or two. Let me hold your hand as you learn to walk in this new world. You have been walking for years in the daylight, but this is new territory, this westering world where the shadows trip you as surely as the stones. It is hard to walk, I know, but you can do it. We can do it together, little one. Underneath your despair I can see that spark of strength. Not everyone will realize how much it took you to step outside for these few minutes, but I know. Even if you collapse back in bed for the next twenty-three and a half hours, I know that the courage and strength it took to face the world for those few moments is almost unimaginable. I know you feel so weak, little brother, little sister, but you are strong in ways few people will ever know.

Come for a walk with me, dear reader. I know you have questions I cannot answer, and things in your life I cannot understand. But let’s go for a walk together tonight, away from the cacophony of the city, of the daylight, of the world wide web. Let’s step into the dusky woods together, the quiet dappled evening where the trolls and other monsters cannot follow. Let’s find one of the Ten Thousand Places, one of the hidden places where it’s okay to be sad and unsure, where it’s okay to ask our overwhelming questions and okay to let the answer be that we don’t know. I know you’re tired, and the day has already been far too long. You can rest soon, dear one, I promise. Only first, come, come for a walk.

***

Come for a walk on Facebook, too, if  you’d like to keep in touch.

The color of the lake

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Once the lake was its own color, one that even the oldest animals have forgotten and people never named, neither blue nor green nor silver. But as she gazed upon the sky she grew jealous and thought to herself that she was low and weak and plain, while the sky was high and fierce and lovely. So the lake turned herself into a mirror and learned to imitate every cloud and color of the sky.

Then people came into the world and the animals never told them that the lake had changed, so the people thought this was the way of the world. But all the while the lake was unhappy, beautiful as it was, and missed its own color but was not brave enough to turn back. And then one day, the people came to the lake to fill their water jars, and found that the water was gone, the lake was gone, and in its place real clouds and sky filled the lake basin. Then the youngest child bent to drink and would have fallen away had not his mother snatched him back at the last moment.

No one ever found out where the lake had gone. But the sky, who had loved the lake’s imitation of her so much that she had accepted the flattery without ever returning it, was lonely. So every now and then, on days that sway from rain to sun and back again, you can catch a glimpse of the lake in the sky, just for a moment — that certain color neither blue nor green nor silver.

~ Jessica Faith Kantrowitz

It’s been a rough summer here. My friend and housemate, Mark, and I were searching for a third housemate, I was job hunting, and the migraines were particularly bad. I’m not sure if it was the heat or stress or what, but the migraines haven’t been this bad in several years. I went for several long bike rides, but I got an awful headache after each one. There’s this weird phenomenon, which I’ve written about before, where I blame myself for the migraines, even though logically it doesn’t make sense. But I always have this feeling that I should have done something differently, should have slept more or less, eaten something different, exercised more — I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint it. It occurred to me the other day that it might somehow be connected with the guilt and shame I’ve always felt about eating and weight, that there was something wrong with me and I had only myself to blame. Ironically, the migraines make it impossible to exercise obsessively, something I’ve definitely done in the past. So even though I exercise as much as I can, and push myself to the point of a terrible headache, I still feel this vague sense of blame all the time. Mark keeps telling me, as I go over all the things I maybe could have done to prevent this latest migraine, that they seem to come no matter what I do or don’t do. So why do I blame myself? Does anyone else do that?

So anyway, the migraines have been bad, and I’ve been feeling burnt out in general. The other day I was having a particularly hard day — my car had been towed, I had a migraine, it was miserably hot and humid for the nth day this summer, and I’d just had a couple of the kind of random, awkward interactions that make me want even more to not have to leave the house. I was feeling exactly whatever the opposite of centered is — off balance, on edge, on the verge of breaking down — when I walked into Target and almost straight into a woman who I’d had a really difficult relationship with several years ago. She was looking the other way, so I had a couple of seconds to decide what to do. She was poised and put together, standing straight and tall, her blonde hair pulled into a casual ponytail, make up carefully applied and somehow not smeared with sweat like mine was. I knew if she saw me she would be smiley and confident. If she was thrown off by running into me she wouldn’t show it.

I wanted so much to be confident, too. Or, rather, I wanted my type of confidence to be as visible as her type. I wanted my outward demeanor to reflect the growth and healing I’d experienced in the several years since we’d last seen each other. These have been such years of peace and strength for me, and I wanted that strength to be enough to carry me in that situation. But it wasn’t enough, and I could feel it. So I turned, quickly, before she could see me, and walked out of the store.

Afterwards I felt so discouraged. When was I ever going to really heal? When was I going to be strong? But I realized that, actually, making the decision to walk out of a situation that felt unsafe to me was a strength. Choosing to spend my time and energy in ways that are life-giving and with people who build me up is wisdom and confidence. It just looks different than I wanted it to look.

I’ve been trying to write about this here, to share these thoughts with you, but I haven’t quite been able to figure out how to express them. But I wrote that fable about the lake a couple of days ago, and that contains some of what I wanted to say. So I’ll just leave you with this for now: You have your own color, your own beauty, strength, and gifts, and the world needs them. The world doesn’t need you to try to be beautiful and strong the way that other people are beautiful and strong. It needs your own particular, specific way of being. And sometimes — often, maybe — your particular strength and beauty come from the things that seem to you like weaknesses or flaws. That’s not a glitch in the system, that’s the way the system was designed. Your weakness is part of your strength. Your flaws are what make you uniquely beautiful. You will heal and grow, but that growth and healing will not make you someone else, it will make you more yourself — and that was the plan all along.

Love,
Jessica

 

 

 

All that I have and do not have

img_0445“One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.”
~Cheryl Strayed

I used to feel like an empty pit, a void of nothingness filled with all the things I wanted that I did not have. How can I explain? I wanted to be so many things, to have so many things, and the least reminder of the things I was not or had not would fill me with despair and bitterness. This bitterness was equally against myself for not living up to what I thought I should, and against the world, for not giving me what I thought it should.

Does that sound overly dramatic? Or does it sound like your own internal world, too? Or both? I wanted big things, like to be thin, to be graceful, to be consistently good at academics, to be creative in a productive way instead of a theoretical one, to have a boyfriend and eventually a husband, to have my own kids and my own house, to be wiser than those around me and yet to fit in and be one of the gang. That last one was big, maybe the biggest: I wanted a group of friends, a place to feel comfortable and to belong. I also wanted to be strong and self-confident, to be able to express myself well, to stand up to bullies and to be compassionate and gentle to those who were suffering.

And I wanted a myriad of small things. My craving for those seemed endless and impossible. I wanted one of those expensive colored pencil sets that come in tins, not cardboard. I wanted a nice winter coat. I wanted a purse that was stylish but big enough to fit a book or two. I wanted an orange scarf. I wanted red shoes. I wanted a wok to cook in. I wanted pretty throw pillows. I wanted enough jeans that fit so that I could wear a different pair every day of the week. I wanted a cell phone and, later, a Blackberry, back before iPhones when Blackberries were the thing.

When I would see something that I wanted, that someone else had, I would be overwhelmed with a sense of loss and with self-loathing, How can I explain? I was intelligent, creative, spiritual, wise, adventurous, brave, kind, and gentle. I traveled the world, met fascinating people, wrote passionate essays and papers on theology and missiology, earned a master’s degree, served in many different ministries, lived with international students, taught ESL and the Bible, wrote songs and performed them at coffee houses, and explored the city with my homeless friends. When I look back on my 20s and 30s I’m amazed and grateful at what a full life I had.

Yet all of these accomplishments and experiences would disappear in a split second into that endless void inside of me when I saw something I wanted but couldn’t have. A beautiful skirt in a store that I knew didn’t carry my size. A friend’s apartment with an herb garden in the kitchen window. I wanted my own herb garden, and as soon as I felt that desire I felt the correlating conviction that I would never have it. Such beautiful, simple things were never to be mine.

Of course, the small things I wanted that filled me with despair were all symbolic of the big things. The colored pencils were symbols of the disciplined creative life I wished I had. The herbs and throw pillows were symbols of the home I’d always wanted to make with a husband and kids. The cell phone and Blackberry were symbols of the friendships and community I craved. And the desire for material things in general was symbolic of my fears that I would never be responsible and accomplished enough to have a good job that let me buy nice things. All of them were symbolic of my deepest fear, that there was something wrong with me, that I had a fatal flaw that would prevent me — as bright, creative, wise, compassionate, adventurous, and gentle as I was — from ever being whole.

(By the way, if you strongly relate to everything I’ve just written, you, too, might be an Enneagram type four.)

These days, though, do you know what? I do feel whole. I’ve been thinking about this lately because I have many of the little things I’ve always wanted. I have one of those fancy tin pencil sets. I have pretty throw pillows. I have a house full of plants (perhaps I have gone overboard on the plants), and a pot full of peppermint growing on my front porch. I even have an orange scarf and red shoes. And these little things make me so happy. I don’t take them for granted, because I wanted them for so long, and because I’ve been careful and strategic about buying them, slowly, over the years, when I’ve paid my bills and have a little bit left over. Maybe it makes me a bit materialistic, but mostly, I think, it just makes me grateful, and I don’t think there can be much wrong with gratitude.

But it’s funny, because the big things that I always wanted, for the most part, I don’t have. I don’t have a husband, or kids of my own. I don’t have a house of my own. I don’t have a group of friends or a nearby community, and in fact I had to leave the community where I lived for seven years because I couldn’t make myself fit there. I’m not thin, though I’m not nearly as fat as I used to be. I’m not graceful or that certain type of strong I’d wanted to be. I don’t express myself well in conversation, or stand up well to people who intimidate me.

It’s funny because I would have thought that the life-lesson of my 40s would be that the small things don’t matter, and the big things do. But the fact is that the big things *do* matter the most, they just matter in the letting go. When I turned 37 and was still single, I went through a grieving process of realizing that my dream of a husband and kids was probably not going to happen. I don’t know why it happened at 37 instead of 40, except that maybe I needed it to. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, letting myself walk through that grief clear-eyed, but when I had walked through it I found that something deep inside of me had healed. I no longer defined myself by what I didn’t have, but by what I did.

And it struck me that I’ve gone through a similar grieving process with the other things as well — with my dreams of being thin and of finding community. Grieving them and then letting them go allowed me to feel a wholeness and fullness that I never could before. I still crave them now and then, I still get jealous of those who have those things, but that jealously isn’t the bottomless pit that it used to be. It is just a feeling that passes, like the clouds passing overhead; it does not define me. And I recognize this as a miracle.

As for my dream of having creative discipline, of dedicating myself to my craft, well, here I am at Starbucks writing this essay. I’ve been here many weekends over the past three years, and I’ve been on my couch many mornings and evenings, writing essays and poems, and even a story here and there. Three of my blog posts have gone viral, and I’ve had two essays and a story published. And I’ve met some wonderful women who are also writers, and we even have a community. It’s online, it’s not the in-person gathering I always dreamt of, but it is life-giving and good. It took letting go of the things I didn’t have in order to claim the things that were in my reach. I had to learn to not define myself by what was lacking in order to turn to the beautiful things that were being offered to me. And in the end I’ve found that all that I do not have is nothing compared to what I have.

 

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Follow Friday, or What I’m into these days

Follow FridayI’ve been wanting to do another Follow Friday post for awhile now, but I could never remember it on an actual Friday until today. And then, of course, I had to spend a considerable amount of time on Canva making a clever and pretty banner for the post (with elephants! do you like it?), so now Friday is almost over, but I think I can still squeeze it in.

Podcasts

Beautiful Writers Podcast

I discovered Linda Sivertsen and her Beautiful Writers podcast when Glennon Doyle Melton did an interview with Linda and Martha Beck. I was blown away by the peace, wisdom, and strength of those three women in their hour-long conversation. If you are a writer, a feminist, or just a lover of truth and beauty, I highly recommend that interview. And I can’t wait to check out more of Linda’s podcast.

This American Life Pandora station

I just got my first iPhone, after several years of the cheapest, non-smart phones I thought I’d done my time, and the new SE was only $299 through Virgin Mobile. It’s really fun having a new little toy, and one of my most exciting discoveries was that Pandora now has a This American Life station. If you’ve never listened to This America Life, it is basically the grown-up equivalent of asking your dad to tell you a story. You never know just what you are going to get — stories range from a 60yr old lifeguard suing the state of New York because he doesn’t want to wear a speedo, to stories of young people dating in a Greek refugee camp — but almost all of the stories are fascinating, and they’re narrated with a sense of humor and depth by Ira Glass.

Blogs

Ed Cyzewski

I’ve known vaguely about Ed for awhile –we have a lot of mutual friends and we follow each other on Twitter — but a couple of his recent posts have really stuck out to me. He is a Christian author who, like me, has an M.Div. but didn’t end up in ministry. Besides writing books, blogging, and doing freelance writing, he also hosts a website The Contemplative Writer which “provides daily prayer practices and soul care for writers.” I particularly enjoyed one of his recent posts on working through fear and anxiety, There is Life on the Other Side of Our Fears.

Facebook

Bunmi Laditan

Bunmi is the creator of The Honest Toddler, hilarious tweets and posts (and now a couple of books) from the perspective of a child. But when she writes as herself, on her Facebook page, she is even more hilarious, brutal, and profound. I love honesty, and it doesn’t get more honest than Bunmi’s vulnerable sharing about her anxiety and depression and how hard it is to be a mom of three young children. She shares the bare truth, but she does it with the skill and timing of a writer/comedienne, and the grace of one who has learned the hard way that the only way to make it through is to relentlessly love and forgive ourselves. And her responses to comments are filled with that fierce grace, as well.

Twitter

Dave Epstein

If you live in Maine or Boston, and are a bit of a weather nerd / obsessive compulsive like me, I highly recommend following meteorologist Dave Epstein on Twitter. He writes the weather blog for Boston dot com, and his twitter posts are full of additional information — like how this summer’s drought is affecting August’s temperatures — and often up-to-the-minute information about storm systems passing through. Dave also shares one of my biggest pet peeves about living in Boston: Why do all the good thunderstorms seem to fade into nothing before they hit us??

Me, too, that's where I live! Where are our thunderstorms??

Me, too, that’s where I live! Where are our thunderstorms??

Katie Mack

Katherine J Mack is an astrophysicist and freelance science writer from Melbourne, who already had a solid following when J.K. Rowling catapulted her to well-deserved fame by tweeting the best response to a mansplainer ever:

globalwarming

Obviously she is my new hero.

Instagram

Chase Photos

Until last week, I referred to Instagram as “that elitist social media site that won’t let you join unless you buy an expensive smart phone” and pretended I didn’t care that I wasn’t invited. But now I am in the club, and this first photographer is one of the main reasons I’m psyched to be there. Chase is the 13 year old son of a friend of mine, and his photographs are just gorgeous. I love seeing the things he captures, and seeing the world through his perspective. And last week he blew me away with this short essay:

I’m Chase. I’m a 13 year-old Asian/American boy who lives in a nice neighborhood. I have two parents who wholeheartedly love me and support me. I am lucky enough to attend a great school at which I mostly achieve good grades. I’m on the road to success. More likely than not, I will live a long, healthy, happy life, retire comfortably, and die in a hospital bed surrounded by my loving family and friends. I will be free to do whatever I want, whenever I want, within reason, of course. Pop quiz: which identity of mine allows me to have and keep these privileges? Is it because I’m a guy? Because I’m straight? Because I’m not black? It is hard to accept but the answers to these questions are YES YES YES. One of my good friends at my privileged, clean, SAFE school gets better grades than me and is one of the most humble, kind people I have ever met. It is saddening, but in this harsh world none of that counts. Certain police officers will pull him over, maybe if he’s speeding or even just “looking suspicious,” as so many of my dead fellow humans have, and in their eyes, in their heads, they will not see a kind, gentle young man with siblings he deeply cares for and a family that needs him. They will see his skin and he will be infinitely more likely to die than I would be if I was the one getting pulled over. My many queer/gay/trans friends who are so good to everyone they meet will be bullied and beaten and shunned and abused. Such is the way of things. Women, literally half of our population, are shamed every single day for how they look or eat or dress. Women are not objects. Gay people are not disgraces. Black people are not poison. Everyone is their own beautiful self. Yes, even the white supremacists and the homophobes and the anti-feminists / all-around jerks. You guys got some work to do, but still. If you feel a spark, go chase it. I’ve been told I’ll do great things when I grow up. How about now?

As Chase’s mom often says, the kids are all right.

Kelly Youngblood

My last follow is a photographer I just discovered today through Ed Cyzewski. She takes beautiful photos and pairs them with short reflections. Apparently there is a thing called visio divina, which is like lectio divina but instead of meditating on a short scripture verse you meditate on an image. I’m intrigued!

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Thanks for reading, everyone! And if you’re interested in following me, I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

What have you been into lately?

 

 

 

Claim your space

awomansjobWhen I first bought a bike as a grown up, I also bought a pamphlet about biking in the city, and there was a section entitled CLAIM YOUR SPACE. Bikers, the pamphlet said, have as much right to the streets as anyone. If it’s safe for you to ride on the edge of the road and let cars pass you, fine, but if the safest place is in the middle of the lane, even if you’re slowing down the cars behind you, you’re allowed to be there. And I hopped on my bike with those words ringing in my ears: CLAIM YOUR SPACE. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HERE, a right to your portion of the road, whether or not it is convenient for anybody else.

And if you still need incentive to claim your space, on the road and in this life, here is a poem by Naomi Replanski.

Housing Shortage

I tried to live small.
I took a narrow bed.
I held my elbows to my sides.
I tried to step carefully
And to think softly
And to breathe shallowly
In my portion of air
And to disturb no one.

Yet see how I spread out and I cannot help it.
I take to myself more and more, and I take nothing
That I do not need, but my needs grow like weeds,
All over and invading; I clutter this place
With all the apparatus of living.
You stumble over it daily.

And then my lungs take their fill.
And then you gasp for air.
Excuse me for living,
But, since I am living,
Given inches, I take yards,
Taking yards, dream of miles,
And a landscape, unbounded
And vast in abandon.

You too dreaming the same.

I wrote the paragraph above, about claiming your space, as a comment on a video Glennon Doyle Melton shared. And, guess what? Among the many people chiming in and saying they wanted to claim their space, too, was a man whose comment was something like, “Hey genius, the roads are for cars! Get off of them!!!”

As if we needed to be reminded that when we do take up the space we need to ride, to breathe, to live, there will be those who push us back, and try to shove us to the side. They try to scare us, because it’s a vulnerable position being on a bike, exposed, among steel-enclosed cars. But we have the right to be here. Our life itself is our passport. We are here and, incidentally, we are important. That space we take up is important space, in which we do work that no one else could do. If we shrink to the edge, that work will be lost, and the world will be the worse for its loss.

Your space is yours. Take it. Claim it. Inches, miles yards — as much as you need. I’ll be on the road with you, cheering you on.

Love,
Jessica

 

In which I blatantly steal Mary Oliver’s idea for a poem

You do not have to quit Facebook.
You do not have to turn off your computer and cell phone two hours before bed.
You do not have to fast from social media for a month,
read a Russian novel, meditate for an hour every day,
or wake up before dawn to go for a run.

All you have to do is close your eyes for a minute.
All you have to do is take a deep breath for a change, feel the oxygen flow to your
arms and feet and head.
All you have to do is step onto your porch and notice the sunset,
sleep in an extra ten minutes and
maybe put some real cream in your coffee for once.

Rilke wrote to his “neighbor God”
That the wall between them was very thin:
A cry from either of them would easily break it.

Why have you been doing nothing, out of fear that you cannot do everything?
Listen, all that stuff is lovely, good for you even,
But all that is required is a word.
One real word, spoken through the wall.
Or if you can’t think of anything to say,

Just take a moment to listen.
One moment. And maybe one the next day, too.
And even if you spend the rest of the evening binge-watching Netflix
I promise that moment will be enough to break down the wall.

***

Go to my Facebook page to read the original Mary Oliver poem and the Rainer Maria Rilke poem.