“Oh Sweetie, feelings aren’t real! Silly girl!” John took a sip of his drink, his eyes sparkling with mischief as he tried to lure me into yet another intellectual debate on the subject. It was one of our favorite topics to spar over. Pretty funny coming from the guy who once explained the odd organization of my CD collection to a mutual friend. “It’s simple,” he announced as he triumphantly pointed out each break, “Good Mood, Bad Mood, Bitch, Psycho Bitch From Hell. After that, it’s just alphabetical by artist.” It was so damn infuriating that he knew me that well and yet it’s the same thing I miss most. That and his ability to drag me into a debate simply but staking out and defending the one position he knew I would never concede. “Feelings. Ha! Not real. Nope. Don’t exist.”
“What do you mean feelings aren’t real?! Don’t give me that crap. The average kindergartner can tell you that their whole day was ruined because their friend broke their favorite crayon, even if they don’t have the vocabulary to name sadness, anger, betrayal, and frustration.” I’d fire back at him and then we’d be off and running on that topic for hours.
It’s funny now how those late nights of debating came back to me. I made the annual Week of Guided Prayer retreat roughly three weeks ago. I’d missed it last year, yet another of the many losses of 2020. It threw the whole year out of whack – or more precisely, even more out of whack – which is saying something considering the year I had. I went into it this year saying I needed a reset. I was a mess and I knew it. I’d known since my retreat in January that I had been left shattered by the accumulation of losses. I’d managed to drag myself back to my feet but I was punch-drunk. I rarely wrote. My once daily journal entries were now months apart. Seminary papers and assignments that should have come easily to me were a struggle. At times, I felt like had to fight for every sentence and I was getting tired of fighting.
God and I? Well, that was every bit like being stuck in a car on a cross-country trip with someone I didn’t feel much like talking to. And yet… I decided to make this retreat. Why?
Because I’m an idiot. Because I couldn’t stand the silence anymore.
A lot of seemingly disconnected things came up during the course of the week. And yet, as disconnected as I wanted to think they were, there was a common thread: grief. And the messy feelings that come along with it. Oh Sweetie, feelings aren’t real! Damn it all. Feelings are very real and some of them are pretty ugly. There was no way around, only through the muck, exactly the way I really didn’t want to go. I asked God for a reset. What I got was a lesson in ‘be careful what you pray for.’ If you’ve ever had to reset your phone or computer, you know it takes time and patience and you don’t always know if everything you had is going to still be there when you’re done.
What started out as a week of sparsely worded journal entries from the Week has gone back to daily entries and at least some of them have to do with more than a run down of the things I need to accomplish in the days ahead or the annoyances of the previous day. I realized I was annoyed with myself for struggling. Not exactly an uncommon thing for me. When I had to spend four months on crutches, I threw them across the room more times than I care to remember. And had I not walked around on a fractured heel spur for two weeks before going to the doctor, I might not have needed the crutches for quite so long. But I digress…
I was able to start writing. Cool. But I’m definitely getting down on myself. Not cool. So being too lazy (sulky) to drag the box of journals out from under my bed and pick through them, I read back through my blog posts. I started with the posts of the past retreat weeks. Surprise! This is hardly the first time I’ve had a rough week. I read The Gremlin story again, which reminded me that it’s been a long time since I’ve taken a long ride by myself with the windows down and the radio up. It also reminded me that I hadn’t listened to the song Coma by Guns ‘N’ Roses or the album it came from in its entirety in years. A few days later, I found myself with an unexpectedly free afternoon and I took a long ride up the shoreline with the heavy metal of my youth blasting away. I’d forgotten how cathartic metal music can be when I’m mad at
the whole world, life in general, my dead friends, God. Especially Metallica’s black album with tracks like Through the Never, Sad but True, Nothing Else Matters, and The God That Failed. Songs I haven’t listened to in years but still know every chord, every drumbeat, every word, and every wail by heart. I came home from that drive rather hoarse but just a little less ragey. I’ve had a few more drives since. The soundtrack has shifted a bit. Heavy metal gave way to Tina Turner (Better Be Good to Me) , Aretha Franklin (Think, Chain of Fools, Respect), and Janis Joplin (Piece of My Heart, Me and Bobby McGee). My ladies gave way to the more melancholic sounds of The Smiths (Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now) and The Cure (Lovesong – I Will Always Love You).
John points to the breaks – Pyscho Bitch From Hell. Bitch. Bad Mood.
Yeah okay. I own that. God and I? Still riding in the car. I still didn’t have much to say but I might not smack him for singing along with me.
I decided last night that I could use a good cry of a movie. I stayed up late watching Robin Williams in What Dreams May Come. One of my friends has declared that movie traumatic. I love it. When the wife dies by suicide after some unspeakable losses, her soulmate of a husband leaves the joy of heaven and goes to find her, right down into the depths of the hell of her own making. And when she can’t see any way out, he chooses to stay with her rather than to abandon her in that hell of her shattered dreams. That ends up being the redemption of both of them. (I’m sure it’s no surprise that my favorite icon is one of the harrowing of Hell, with Jesus pulling Adam and Eve up from their graves.)
While I’ve struggled to write much of substance these last few months, some stuff still trickled through. I made a margin note in a book about Mary Magdalene: Jesus didn’t come because we’re bad. He came because we’re good and we’ve forgotten.
I’ve forgotten. I’ve forgotten it’s okay to be human, to have feelings, even the big, ugly, messy ones. I’ve forgotten that God can withstand my furious silences and angry accusations. I’ve forgotten that God isn’t waiting for me to find my own way out of the hell of my grief. I’ve forgotten that God has sat with me in hell before and God is sitting here with me now. I’ve forgotten that I’m not really stuck here, that there is another side to this, one that isn’t quite so dark or quite so broken or quite so terrifying.
I forgot. God did not.
RESETTING… PLEASE BE PATIENT…