Distance

amywink April 12th, 2018

“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” John 13: 12

The first Sunday after Easter, I came face to face with the slow transformational change I have experienced in the last year as I attempted to return a little cushioning distance between myself and the overwhelming energies I experience in large groups of people.

God laughed, and I may have heard, “you’re kidding, right?”

And I had to laugh too because there was no way not to recognize I was not going to get distance, though God did allow me to connect in the way that I am, instead of the ways that others are. And my Lenten practice revealed how deeply true my understanding of what I let go in those forty days as I moved closer to being my whole and complete self.

Last week, for Easter Sunday, I came down from the balcony to sit with the members of my Disciple class, to whom I have grown very close in the last 24 weeks. We have engaged in the challenging questions of our faith and how we live our lives as people of faith, what we understand about how God speaks to each of us and calls us to be who we are has built a loving community as we continue to learn together. I have enjoyed their company and I wanted to enjoy their company on Easter and deliberately chose to move closer to all of them.

It was glorious.

And overpowering.

As Easter should be.

But I was very glad I had done it. This experience of standing in the middle of more than 850 voices singing is not one I will forget and I was deep in the sound because I am about a foot shorter than everyone who stood around me. I could not hear myself and gave up singing just to be filled instead by sound.

This week, I moved forward into this changed life. I said yes to something big I had been asked to do, and stated my boundaries for yes. I was moving into a new stage for the Bolder than the State of Texas project, one which required a lot more public connection with everyone–which I want to do and am able to do. But I looked at my Sunday schedule and thought, “this is too much.” I asked myself what I needed to be able to do these bigger things? I decided to ask for help so I wouldn’t have to usher at the 11:00 service.

It’s a small thing, and some people might not think it’s such a hard thing. And it’s true, it is not at all difficult. Except, for a Sunday when I was doing something that would take some of my most concentrated energy before and after the service, I knew I needed the service. I needed not to be doing something during that service. I needed to be renewed by the experience of it instead. So I asked for a substitute saying I had a lot on my plate and could someone sub for me and someone stepped right up.

I went on about my week, preparing for Sunday, doing my regular life, taking care of my Dad, managing his Medicaid application, teaching my classes, and taking a few risks as I kept moving toward Sunday and an anniversary I had forgotten kept coming closer too. But my body remembered. With the memory, the experience of every risk I had ever taken and been punished for came with it as well as everything I’d ever had to take on alone when I was supposed to be helped.

Grief is a weird and terrible thing, triggered by odd incidents that seem to pass unnoticed and suddenly like water pouring from shattered dam, it is overpowering and I was deep into it before I understood what was happening. C. S. Lewis wrote “no one ever told me grief felt so much like fear” and he was writing truth. By Saturday, I was deeply in the grip of bone-shattering fear. I did not understand why. When I finally recognized the fear, I spoke it. I sat with it. I felt it. It wasn’t great. It was terrible. But one thing I have learned is that anything I refuse to feel doesn’t go away, it just keeps coming, waiting to be felt, gaining strength in my resistance to it. If I am going to have feelings, I must have all the feelings, even the ones we think are uncomfortable and dangerous.

In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, as the character Amy treats the deep wounds on Sethe’s body, she says “It’s gonna hurt, now. . . anything coming back to life hurts.” I have been coming back to life and there is hurt and it has to be felt. But I didn’t understand why exactly. The week had been lovely. So many beautiful things, why such fear? I knew a couple of possible triggers but it wasn’t until I thought of C. S. Lewis that I understood. We had held my mother’s memorial service the Sunday after Easter two years earlier. I had completed a lifetime duty that I had felt I had to do mostly alone. I had carried the weight of that duty until the day of her service, when I finally finished the work, from which I was completely exhausted, but I had not failed to complete and God had been with me.

And God was with me Saturday, as the burden of memory broke me again.

God was with me Sunday in the voice and face of every one who welcomed me into church and celebrated seeing me. Everyone I encountered seemed to light up when they saw me. People had assumed I wasn’t coming to church when I asked for help with ushering. I just needed the service (even more than I thought I would by Sunday). They greeted me with joyous surprise. I stopped to tell my Disciple class downstairs that I’d be retreating to the introvert’s balcony and they begged me to stay, but I explained what I needed and they understood (I think). But when I got to my balcony, someone had offered my presence to someone who knew no one at church. There was no way to refuse. Another new member saw me and I invited her to sit by me as well so we could talk about books. I explained I was trying to be an introvert and she rightly said “I bet that is hard for you” and later she invited me to dinner at her new house. I was greeted so warmly by everyone I knew in the balcony (we people of the balcony) and I could not help but laugh because everyone was close. There was no way I could have any distance.

And God was laughing, “You thought I was kidding. Do you know what I have done to you?”

I am just beginning to find out.

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