"This is not the life I planned or the life I recommend to others.
But it is the life that has turned out to be mine,
and the central revelation in it for me - that the call to serve God
is first and last the call to be fully human -
seems important enough to witness to on paper."
~ Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church
The call that made me jump out of my skin, that first set my skin on fire, was the call I groggily answered six August mornings ago. It sent me to pick my mom up from work, then to the emergency room at our local trauma hospital, where I saw my Papa in a coma on the operating table, and I was burning up from the inside out. The skin I'd spent twenty-seven years in and was feeling fairly certain of my life direction in, this skin burned for eight long days in the hospital, until all I could do to avoid burning altogether was jump out of it.
I never felt more naked.
For six years now, August has been more to me than the most beautiful month of summer in Seattle. It's beautiful, still, and rubbed in the ash of a just-long-enough-ago fire. Life has long since sprung up from the blackened earth and it is glory and it carries an air of the familiar and it feels almost unrecognizable from the landscape it once was.
The month of August is a month of ghosts of the past, hazy dreams mingling with nightmares, of kneeling at the gravestones of loss long enough to remember with gratitude, of tending the flowers that have sprung up around the graves. It's a month of celebrating that life does, in fact, go on - in and around and through and in spite of great loss.
* * * * *
This year, however, I sense a shift as August begins.
I have written and written and will continue to write, I'm sure, of the changing landscape of my heart, my faith, my life, in the aftermath of losing Papa - how it wasn't only the loss of him; his death was the catalyst for a trail of losses to follow. How, over time, even many losses can look different from a distance, from a different angle, until it's possible for some of them even to be gains. Endings giving way to beginnings.
I've written this, I've lived this, and I've wrestled with myself in the throes of this. I've come to terms with the reality that Papa is gone, even as he is also mysteriously near, that a space inside me will never cease to ache in his absence. And yet, I've never fully announced myself dead.
I've danced around it, said, "I've changed," and "My life looks so different," but when have I allowed myself to confess, "No, no. It's more than that. I've died."
I know it sounds dramatic, maybe even overstated, but all I can say is simply, it's true. Why else do I still feel compelled to justify these changes in myself, after six years, if not because a part, even a small part, of me still thinks I'm hooked up to life support and because of that, still technically alive?
It's time to pull the plug, dig the grave and say goodbye. It's time for her to rest in peace.
* * * * *
This month, I'm done wrestling with residual shame of who I no longer am, wondering if I shouldn't have, perhaps, allowed myself to be resuscitated, if I can't, still, be brought back. Not because I want to go back, but because I wonder if I wasn't a better, kinder, more passionate and visionary person then. Someone God and family and friends and the world, even, could be prouder of than the person I am today.
But no. I'm not going back, because I'm finally admitting what I've known all along: I died back there in August. I died, yes, shed my old burning skin, and it didn't end there. I've climbed into new skin.
It's been a journey, pulling on this new skin, learning the feel of it on my frame. I'm still getting used to it, and you know what? I love my new skin. It's not smooth and unwrinkled, nor do I cover it up with layers of makeup in hopes it looks flawless. It's got scars and rough patches and stretchmarks. But it's mine and it's real. And I think, in all honesty, I'm more at home in this skin than I ever was in my old skin.
* * * * *
Last night as I washed the dishes and the light from the edges of day filtered through the blinds into the kitchen, I listened to a song about Mary praying, Be born in me, after saying Yes to bearing the Son of God in her womb, and I wept there at the sink. And I sang, too, Jesus, be born anew in me. The me in this new skin that I'm in. I don't care what it looks like or how its changed or who approves or disapproves, only that the truest skin I'll ever be in is the skin that stretches to make space for you to be born into, every day, to the end of my days.
If that sink were a gravestone, it's there I knelt and wept and laid my old self to rest in the ground. And I stood up again, on shaky legs with a heart full of wonder, and I couldn't imagine feeling more grateful to be alive. To begin again.
Linking up with Lisa Jo for her last week of hosting Five-minute Friday. The prompt today is "Begin."