a letter to myself

This was a way that she seemed to understand herself, the way that words felt their meaning, the way that they communicated to her her pain, her struggle, without destroying her, without taking it away from her and making it part of themselves – without taking her self away from her self. She found that she was always trying, never really understanding what it meant to really learn who she was, that she found giving away easier than receiving, that promises were hard to keep when they were not written. She was afraid but then again she had always been afraid, and that fear had saved her as many times as it had destroyed her, had given to her as much as it had taken away, and she did not know what to do without the fear. It was as much a part of her as her hands, her feet, her heartbeat, and the ones who wanted to take it away did not understand that to take away her fear was to take away most of who she was. So she stopped. She tried. She cried and she wondered. She prayed but only in small pieces, as if God could not handle her if she offered everything up at once; as if she could not handle it if she lost all of herself at once. She tried but she never really knew. She hoped but she never really understood.

But she heard it said once: “You can love completely without complete understanding.” And those words never really left her, even when she didn’t know if she agreed or understood, even when she didn’t want to remember them. Because the possibility that one could love something else – completely, wholeheartedly, without fear of self or hurt or death – without understanding the object of that love was deeply beautiful to her, more beautiful than anything she had ever heard before. It saved her, in the moments when it seemed like nothing could. It made her human when the world tried its hardest to dehumanize her. It made her okay despite not being okay – okay despite everything that would never be.

maybe someone else can tell me what it means

This is my attempt at writing a poem that is not free verse – in other words, a poem that actually has some semblance of rhyme, rhythm, and stanza. I relied a lot on Robert Frost for this one.

The day remains but spoiled it rots
be’twixt said word and hidden thought.
Falls inside the wedge of sunlight;
and while approaches threat of night,
falls outside the hope I brought.

Out there the dark folds on itself
But in me darkness deeper sits.
Whispers words of trying truths,
trying truths with lying roots,
and of my heart, seizing, twists.

Where once I saw the face of God,
in fragments now I recognize
a deeper gaze, a quiet solemnity,
a mask of ambiguity -
glimpses of love and death in His eyes.

I am the juxtaposition
of faith and doubt, humanity
and the absence of. I stumble
when I try, speak in infant cries,
and worship fullest when I bleed.

“We have survived, you and I. Maybe that is at the heart of our remembering. After twenty years, forty years, sixty years or eighty, we have made it to this year, this day. We needn’t have made it. There were times we never thought we would and nearly didn’t. There were times we almost hoped we wouldn’t, were ready to give the whole thing up. Each must speak for himself, for herself, but I can say for myself that I have seen sorrow and pain enough to turn the heart to stone. Who hasn’t? Many times I have chosen the wrong road, or the right road for the wrong reason. Many times I have loved the people I love too much for either their good or mine, and others I might have loved I have missed loving and lost. I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart, as the old prayer goes, yet often when my heart called out to me to be brave, to be kind, to be honest, I have not followed at all.

To remember my life is to remember countless times when I might have given up, gone under, when humanly speaking I might have gotten lost beyond the power of any to find me. But I didn’t. I have not given up. And each of you, with all the memories you have and the tales you could tell, you also have not given up. You also are survivors and are here. And what does that tell us, our surviving? It tells us that weak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far, at least to this day. Foolish as we are, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us if not to the right path through the forest, at least to a path that leads forward, that is bearable. Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive.”

-Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember, pp.17-18

 

 

 

Truth is (a poem) (practicing honesty)

The truth is, sometimes people tell me that I am emotionless.
My sister used to half-jokingly say to me, “Rachel, you have no heart.”

I used to believe them.
Used to terrify myself with wondering what had happened
to my humanity, why I didn’t cry like other people,
why every single time somebody asked me if I was okay,
I could not help but answer, “I’m fine,” – even when I felt like someone was doing surgery on my lungs, even when loneliness
was my closest friend, even when everything I wrote
felt like a suicide note.

What I have come to realize is that I am not emotionless;
I am a poet, and that means you can’t find
my heart in the same places as everybody else. The truth is, you can’t look for
tears in my eyes, a smile on my face,
laughter swing-dancing its way
out of my throat. You have to look in the crevices of my rib cage,
that furnace where poetry spews
out like magma – you have to look for it in the hundreds of files on
my laptop bearing names like “A Helium Conversation”
and “The Grapes in Our Lungs”,
and “When the Light Spills Over.”

My pain does not manifest itself in screams, shouts, or steam,
it manifests itself in simile and linguistic symmetry and the silence of a heart bleeding itself out onto a white piece of paper, and
truth is – there is an underwater symphony that only comes out to play
when ink drenches a clean sheet of paper for the first time.

I know now that I don’t feel things
less than other people, I feel things differently.
My regrets are frequently visited self-portraits
in the making; my joys and triumphs are haikus limited to
a total of seventeen syllables;
my humanity is the English language crucified onto
a wooden stake made of splinted metaphors.
You cannot separate a writer from her words. Believe me.
I have tried.

The truth is, my poems are a lifeline.
Even on the nights when I want to sever the rope
tied to my waist, the poems don’t let me. They cling to my skin
like the prayers of a widow – scraped knees,
aching wrists, trust that refuses to shatter.
The poems, they cleanse me like rain,
they wet my hands that are trying so hard to evaporate,
they tell me stories with happy endings – the ones that you have to go
searching the world to find.
They tell me that I am one of those stories,
and that I can be beautiful
If only I give God enough time to write my conclusion -
they remind me that there is a difference between an epilogue
and an epitaph.

They tell me that I have a home in them.
That even when my faith grows thin they,
they at least will never evict me.
They tell me
that it is alright to be afraid;
they get afraid too, sometimes – and maybe together
we can be trapeze artists
learning how to twist art into Truth.

 

 

 

 

  1. Not all secrets are supposed to be kept.
  2. You make everything else feel lighter.
  3. At least your ghosts are beautiful.
  4. The last time is not truly the last time – nor the time after that.
  5. You are afraid. And afraid. And afraid. And afraid. And afraid. And afra–
  6. You can stop being afraid.
  7. You are absolutely and terribly powerless.
  8. Sometimes, that is a good thing.
  9. “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us. We are wondering just how painful that best will turn out to be.” -C.S. Lewis.
  10. You are not the exception to the rule.
  11. You are the rule to Christ’s exception.
  12. Stop shaking your head.
  13. “How dear you will be to me then, you nights of anguish. Why didn’t I kneel more deeply to accept you?” -Rainer Maria Rilke.
  14. Sometimes, when I searched for you, I found saltwater in my pockets.
  15. Lists are comforting. They hold no crevices.
  16. Your heart is aching. Stop pretending. Your heart is aching.
  17. I would rather accept condemnation than grace.
  18.  Loneliness is Satan’s most devastating weapon.
  19. You do not have to be okay to be okay.
  20. If only you knew how beautiful everything will turn out to be.
  21. Not everybody is untrustworthy.
  22. “Thou foster child of silence and slow time.” Thou art… Thou art.
  23. Still you type, and still the truth runs from you.
  24. Strange thoughts awaken in the midnight darkness.
  25. “The prince of darkness is a gentlemen,” says the bard.
  26. Do not let yourself be courted.

Confessions (trying to drown the fear)

I went to the pool alone today. Usually Katie is with me, but today she decided not to go. I usually feel a little uncomfortable going to the clubhouse by myself; it can feel a bit eerie, being alone in a large, dimly lit room with only large windows and glittering water for company. But today it was a welcome kind of aloneness. I swam and in the other-worldly quiet you can only get underwater, I thought. I thought about why I’m afraid to go back to school – why, even in the midst of deep excitement, I am undeniably afraid. After about twenty laps, I decided that the thing I am afraid of is change. I am afraid that my relationships will change. And they inevitably will. While I’ll be living in the same hall as I lived in last year, a lot of my friends will be living in other dorms. I will have different classes, a different seat in chapel, different roommates and suitemates. It’s inevitable that some of my friendships are going to change – that even though I will most likely still hang out with a similar group of people, the dynamics of those relationships will be different now. A summer can be a long time. People will have made other friends, new friends – and that, if I’m honest with myself, is the essence of all my fear. I am afraid of being rejected. My greatest fear is that my friends will not like me anymore. That they will have found different people they want to hang out with, people who are more entertaining, louder, more extraverted… Crazier. It’s always been my deep, underlying fear. After nearly twenty years of fighting hard against feeling invisible, of being terrified that my soft voice will be drowned out by the inevitably louder people around me, that my not-even-five-foot frame will be blocked by the inevitably bigger people around me, that my deeply introspective personality will be overshadowed by the inevitably more social people around me, this fear is now nearly engraved inside of me.

It took perhaps another five laps for me to realize that in the end, I’m not really scared of other people’s cruelty, or insensitivity, or impatience, or unkindness. What I’m really scared of is my own capacity to be wounded. I wish I could choose not to feel, but I have learned that I don’t have that choice. I can’t harden my heart to pain – that’s not the way Jesus lived. As Frederick Buechner writes,

The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against be opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from. You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can even prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own.

The only other option, the only true way I can deal with all of my fears, is to dwell on the love of Jesus. To remember that though people change, “There is no shadow of turning with Thee.” To remember that His compassion is steadfast, that His grace is unfailing, that His affection is unwavering. And with the strength of this truth, the fear is not any less real, but it starts to become a little less true. A little less substantial. It’s hard to dwell on the love of Jesus and be afraid of other people. Something about perfect love seems indeed to cast out fear.

Sometimes you have to let the sadness be. Let it take a walk inside of you, let it linger far longer than you would desire. Sometimes you have to learn to give in to it without giving up to it.

There are people who would have you and I think that sadness is the opposite of faith. That if you have enough Jesus, you shouldn’t feel sadness, or fear, anxiety. Loneliness. I’ve come to realize over the years that I don’t think sadness is the opposite of faith at all. Sometimes I think it can be the twin of it, the product of it.

It is because of faith that I feel enough hope to also feel a glimmer of pain – because the two often come hand in hand. It is because of faith that I know things aren’t the way they should be. It is because of faith that I know this is not the end of the story, and so I can feel some measure of sadness as I wait for that good ending to come.

“I am lonely.”

And He knows. He knows. He sees me, when nobody else does and when nobody else cares. He loves me, when I’m still trying to decide whether or not I believe in love. And even though tonight I’m dying to see Jesus, dying to feel his hand on my face or my shoulder, I know that he is with me. Invisible but present; silent but listening. I believe it because what else can I do?

“And they will call him Emmanuel, “God with us.”