This existence of mine is a present one, a living in the here-and-now that involves tears as well as smiles. I have plenty of both. Grief and I, we are old friends, but laughter and I are what you could call heart friends. We know that no matter how hard life seems, whether my friends are coming over twice a week for tea and talk until three in the morning or whether I am curled up in bed by ten-thirty, no matter if tears fall generously or smiles spread graciously — we will meet again, my dear, and be stronger for the parting.
I stand tall some days, a smile on my face and laughter in my voice. I sink low some days, too, ending with cold hands clutching a steaming mug of tea as I curl into a cozy blanket and wipe, weary, at the salty water streaming down my face. I value each; the goods do not negate the bads, but neither do the bad days invalidate the good. Life is a myriad of things, I think, and smiles and tears and laughter and crying — they are all part of that bundle I can’t quite describe that constitutes this daily life.
A while back I realized that I lived by a list of if only. I spent my days waiting for sleep and my nights dreaming of weekends and my weekends longing for vacation and if I just do this one thing, if I just get past this deadline, if I just survive this class, finish this paper, get a second interview, if I just make it through this week, this month, this semester, this year then maybe, maybe I would be okay and maybe, maybe I could relax.
I don’t live like that any more.
It’s a dreadful way to live, actually: a constant anticipation of if this happens, things will be better. Living by if only means waiting for something to change, waiting for something to happen before relaxing and enjoying life when joy and happiness and peace and calm cannot, will not be found in the no man’s land of passive living, a space where things happen instead of being done.
Mama often tells me that God gives manna for the day, Connor, not for the week. Strength for today. One day at a time, love– one day at a time. Wise woman that she is, she knows this is true. Stubborn as I am, I have tried walking with my mind three days ahead of my feet and always, inevitably, every time I do so I trip myself up and end up on my back, staring dizzily above me. It doesn’t work. Well, I think to myself, maybe mama was right about this. You know, like she is about almost everything — remember swim team?
I stand up again. Breathe deep. I try living in the present: to breathe and laugh and cry and read and sleep and cook and eat and remember that like Maya Angelou wrote, The ship of my life may or may not be sailing on calm and amiable seas. The challenging days of my existence may or may not be bright and promising. Stormy or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If I insist on being pessimistic, there is always tomorrow. Today I am blessed.
I live in a world of oxymorons: a place where I am broken but healing, breaking but helping, and always, always hoping. I live in this city called brotherly love, but seems so often revealed as a city of brotherly hate. My own brother has been mugged more than once. He knows the broken reality of this place, a city where darkness seems to lurk in many places and that song by the Black Eyed Peas resonates with me, their voices questioning over and over where is the love?
Remember that scene in Return of the King when Frodo has left Sam behind, been deserted by Gollum, and finds himself lost in slimy caves, facing off with Shelob? He remembers this one gift he has left, the light of Eärendil. His remembrance of Galadriel’s warm presence and gentle, strengthening words interrupts the cold and fear enough to — quite literally in the movie, at least — pull him back to his feet. May it be a light to you when all other lights go out.
Hope-filled, hope-giving light — that’s what I see in that same brother of mine and that sister of ours. I see them take what is broken, grab the brotherly hate with both their hands and overwhelm it with their sheer generosity and stubbornness and quirky sense of humor. I observe from a distance. I watch them transform the broken, breaking places they encounter into places of laughter and love and light. They make these genuine expressions shine throughout in a brotherly love that humbles me, makes me wonder why I don’t do the same. They do not know the effects of these movements of grace, but they remind me of that old saying: actions speak louder than words.
Light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden — words, though, they are all I have to offer.
So I live in the breaking. I live in a conundrum of aching: heart-sore and saddened, joyous and hopeful. It’s these sprouts of life, the smiles and walks in the sunshine and the little green seedlings that pop out of the most unexpected places (I’m looking at you, cracks in the concrete) with promises of a coming spring and thank goodness for these mugs of tea and these roommates of mine, for these friends that are to me as family. It is these that remind me to hope as we live in the sidewalk cracks and potholes of these broken place. I may live in a city that seems more hate than love, where schools are closed and people lose their jobs and homes (and our river? Let’s not even talk about how nasty that thing is. It could give the Hudson a run for its money). The catch, then, is that breaking can lead to wholeness. It can lead to growth and healing and isn’t breaking part of love, that whole idea of sacrifice? I see it everyday; am I truly that forgetful? This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
All adds up — grace upon grace — and reminds me that I believe in the breaking of bread, too. The communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting: weekly reminders that while I live in the breaking, it is being made new.