Saturday, August 31, 2013

Worship in the water

We start off in the morning with clouds hovering overhead and wind kicking up the waters along the shore, me in the water and two friends escorting on paddle boards.  We point ourselves to Mercer Island, one mile and a half away, following the floating bridge, the one I passed over twice a day last year in a car on my way to and from work.  The sun soon overpowers and clouds melt to the sidelines of sky, leaving us in a sandwich of blue. 

I seek to find a rhythm that will carry me the whole distance without stopping. 

My arms slice through the water that stretches before me like a big bowl of glass and lake folds around me smooth as jello.  For an hour and a half, I breathe and stroke, stealing glances at the sky, the distant shore and my two companions.  No longer am I thirty-two, but all the ages I've been since my first faded memory of being in the water.  

I'm somewhere around four years old, frogging my way underwater with eyes wide open, from one end of our pool to the other.  Born in Phoenix, I can't remember a time when I couldn't swim.  The sun scorches and browns my skin and my bare feet nearly singe on pavement, then walking tenderly through pokey dead grass.  The best place to be, I learn early, is in the water.  

I'm eight or nine years old, trekking once or twice a day to the public pool, down the street from our home in Richland.  I've reached the highest level of swim classes, just below life-guarding, but I'm more interested in how far I can swim with one breath than I am in sitting high up in a chair with a life preserver.  Mom times me on her watch while my fingers grasp the side of the pool and plunge my head below water with a deep breath for as long as I can before I emerge with lungs screaming.  In the deep end, I dive down the twelve feet to touch the bottom, my ears beginning to fill with pressure.  In the shallow end, I push off the bottom and dive head first through the air as I've seen the Little Mermaid do many times.  Some days I'm a seal; others a dolphin.  I go the whole summer with perpetually blood shot eyes, still preferring my naked eyes to goggles.

We're at the Oregon Coast and I'm eleven and fifteen and twenty, running high knees into the salty waters, up to my waist and then diving headlong into a crashing wave.  It's June and August and November - season barely matters - and I can't stay away from the water.  The ocean calls to me, a friend I can't wrap my arms around or see its beginning or end, but here it is, right where I always left it.  I swim along the shoreline and fight the water's powerful pull inward, to the heart of the sea, and I stay in until my body shakes and I can no longer feel my limbs. 

I'm sixteen, in our high school's pool for water polo tryouts, and my stomach is a ball of nerves.  I've been swimming for so long, but never here, and I soon learn what it feels like to sweat in the water.   We swim length after length, climbing out to do push ups in between sets, and my heart is pounding hard, my arms shaky.  We tread water and I try to learn the water polo kick - the mixer - and we hold bricks above our heads.  I endure for a week, coming home exhausted and on the verge of tears each night.  This is a side of swimming I have never done and it feels harsh, the joy of being in the water funneling down the drain with each day that passes, until I make my decision.  I don't want to lose my love of the water, so I don't come back to tryouts, and I take up running instead.

I'm thirty-one and I'm passing the summer on crutches.  For months, I watch with longing as runners, walkers and bikers enjoy the outdoors, and I sit on the beach near our home staring out at the lake and all the swimmers.  As soon as the doctor says I'm cleared to be in the water, I swim with just my arms back and forth in the roped off portion of lake, and it's like finally eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after hours of hiking with a growling stomach and thinking food has never tasted so good.  I swim the end of July through mid September, gradually able to kick my legs and increase my distance.  The lake welcomes me each time with open arms and I plunge in happy and free and bathed in wonder.

I hear my friends say we're on the home stretch now and follow through the final choppy underpass, to where my husband waits with a huge smile beneath the bridge.  I'm in no hurry to leave the water and squint back at Seattle, like looking back on my life, and wonder how I've made it from there to here.  My husband shakes his head and tells me I'm crazy, hands me my faded purple towel and I wrap myself in the same Little Mermaid that has dried me since I was ten.  She smiles at me, her cotton face silently celebrating my victory, as she has all these twenty-two years.  

We wave to our friends as they turn their paddle boards back, walking hand in hand on the bridge, back across the water I just crossed, the wind whipping my crazy hair in pieces.  My heart is full as the land that holds this lake.  

This crossing is my morning worship.

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Joining with Lisa-Jo to the prompt of "Worship." 

Monday, August 26, 2013

In the last light

In the last light of the day, I kiss Mom’s cheek and board the bus with a bag of groceries in each hand.  The bus lurches and winds through lazy Sunday streets and I rest with my gaze bobbing along the pages of a book.  From somewhere or someone on the bus, the acrid scent of beer and body odor curls inside my nostrils, settling all the way down where my stomach begins a surge of revolt.  I read until I have to close my eyes.

In the last light of the day, I rise from my seat with two heavy weights and I, the unbalanced scale, now disembark downtown.  On an escalator I descend, beneath the city streets, amidst soccer fans with blue and green scarves on their way to the stadium.  University Street, Pioneer Square and Chinatown, we pass through tunnel to fading light, through the near deserted backbone of industrial streets and muraled backs of buildings with their painted frozen stares.   Past the towering red and white Franz bread sign and the empty hub of lightrail train cars. 

In the last light of the day, I straddle a bag on each shoulder down the stretch of stairs, taking in shallow breaths of marijuana around still queasy stomach.  I pass a lone man doubled over sleeping with his head in hands on the rounded concrete bench, his outdoor living room eerily quiet, littered with empty wrappers, bottles and packages.  I climb the ramp that winds above the place where he rests, above the stench of urine stained sidewalks.  On the other side of the street, a black fireman pokes his head out of the station and flashes white teeth and a friendly greeting, and I smile.  With each block behind me, the air feels less heavy, the homes with less windows barred, plots of earth overflowing with vegetables and flowers and tangled vines of fading blackberries. 

In the last light of the day, I reach our darkened, quiet apartment, greet the plants outside with water from an old milk jug.  I empty grocery sacks and arrange food for tomorrow’s lunch and peel soft bananas for a batch of hearty cookies, the recipe from an index card in my sister’s handwriting.  My stomach slowly settles as the kitchen fills with baked bananas, oats, cinnamon and almond butter.  And I sit down in the quiet with a glass of milk, a warm cookie and a Mexican cookbook open to pollo enchilado, my thoughts at last settling in this space of quiet.

In the lamplight, when all the day’s light is gone, I lay in bed with a book and listen - to the mournful howl of a dog, an engine revving, the creaking floorboards above, an airplane thundering through darkened skies, the rustle of a gentle breeze, the inner gurgles of my stomach.  And I wait for God, only to see that he’s already been here, the last rays of light surging through the cracks of this day - this journey home - glowing embers through the night till morning births again.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . 

The prompt to write about "last" this past Five-minute Friday over at Lisa-Jo's inspired this post, and though it (as usual lately) does not fit within five minutes, here it is.   

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Five-minute Friday: Small

photo credit

Most days, I feel I'm sloshing through stormy waves, rain blowing in my eyes, and I'm squinting to focus on him.  The one who stands somewhere out here on top of the waters, reaching out a hand for me.  And most days, I feel the waves are so big and I am so small, and he drops from my sight, behind the waves, and I am sinking.  Sinking fast and desperate.  And I can almost hear his voice, though not audible, and he's asking why.

Why is your faith in me so small?

It's the same question I ask myself.  This faith walk is not new to me, but the terrain of these particular waves in this particular season, they are entirely new to me.  And they seem hell bent on taking me down.  

I feel the smallness in the ways I doubt who I have known him to be, ways I pay lip service to trust and in the next rocky moment, am sobbing before him, "Don't you see all this?  Don't you care?"  

I feel the smallness in my lack of strength, my weariness, my inability to love him well or love others well or juggle everything with grace and immovable faith.

And how much of this smallness, I wonder, is exactly where he wants me to be?  Because it's honest.  I am small.  I am weak.  I am not him.

And how much of this smallness is because I can't stay focused on him as the waves come crashing, as my emotions come crushing, and I lose sight of how huge and limitless he is in the midst of these waves.

I am small.  But these waves that seem to overwhelm?  They are even smaller, insignificant in his company, tamed beneath his feet.  

Lord, have mercy on me.  Have mercy on my smallness, my small faith.  Train my eyes to see everything else as so small in light of the reality of who you are, the one who tames the wild seas.
photo credit

Joining Lisa-Jo and the whole community at FMF today for the prompt of "small." 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lonely: Honoring Papa (Five-Minute Friday)

Inside my blue chest painted with red and white flowers, the aged air hangs lonely above its treasures.

Your weathered lefty baseball glove.  Green sweatshirt printed “Still Waters Bookstore & Cafe.”  Cannister of African red tea with a single bag remaining, as it has for five years.  Thick stack of homemade birthday and Father’s day cards scribbled with little girl adulations and colorful drawings; another stack of Hallmark and collage-style cards stuffed with words of love from a young adult daughter.  Your reading glasses with their limp, folded stems.  A book inscribed with your beautiful lettering inside its cover, echoes of a Papa’s eternal love from distant shores.  The program of your memorial service, your laughing form sitting on the fireplace ledge of the bookstore, black and white and faded.

Faded.  It’s all faded and backlit, quiet and pulsing.

Five years it’s been.  Five times walking down this August road - from the sixth when you fell to the thirteenth when you died to the twenty-fourth when we crowded into the church and I sang for you with my guitar - of living and breaking and grieving and healing.  Of remembering.   

Every August the loneliness sets in, my companion, peeling back the void.  My world rent open when you died, now pieced together with scar and tissue, leaves me limping still.  And life goes on, as the saying goes, but I fight cliche and the relegating of you to the foggy world of memory. 

I hate that you are now a piece of my past and not my flesh-and-blood present, for memories alone are lonely.

And yes, your life threads across my pages of story as another year turns without you.  But I see it, too, in photos of our family, with faces older and alive, how we huddle close to cover the empty space and smile - and how it tips, lopsided. 

You were my Papa and you are my Papa and you always will be my Papa, and in my heart there will always be that space where your memory echoes and warms and fades into lonely shadow.

Joining Lisa-Jo and the Five-minute Friday community for this week’s prompt, “Lonely.”