catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 11 :: 2006.06.02 — 2006.06.16


Dragging my heels

One winter I lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, where the weather was mostly overcast. On a rare day with sun, I would sit bundled in a blanket in a particular bay window, watching the last rays hit the white trim of the Victorian house across the street, with a pink glow, and I would cry when the light was gone: too short. Whatever light was available was too, too short, and I hated to see it go.

This is the way I’ve been my entire life: the last kid to leave summer camp, the last one to exit the dorm at the end of the semester, the one dragging my heels. It’s not that I dislike change: in those years, especially, I ran at change with great enthusiasm. But I wanted to keep something from each experience, to keep a memory folded up in my pocket for a rainy day. Every good thing was too short. I pull memories out, now, like treasures. I can feel the texture of the stained glass window in the church I attended as a teenager. I can hear the cushiony silence of the chapel of my college, where I would rest sometimes when there was too much noise in the world.  I can feel the rough surface of the pew next to the window in the church I attend today, the place where the weather has worn grooves in the wood. I close my eyes while standing there, remembering every place I have ever worshipped, every pew I’ve ever gripped. Sometimes I lie in bed and think the same, how many places I have slept and called my own, in how many rooms in how many buildings, in how many states. I like how they all link together. I plan to construct a scrapbook, someday, for my children, describing places I have lived and things I have done, so they won’t think I was just twiddling my thumbs and waiting for them to come along.

Two weeks ago, a job I loved ended, without my permission. This abrupt ending does what all transitions do so well, which is to stir up every seemingly settled part of my life and set all the pieces to chasing me around the room. I am forty-four years old, working part-time to fit with my children’s schedules, and I’ve been through enough employment disappointment in the last fifteen years that I ought to know how the game goes. My husband reminds me that it wasn’t even a well-paid job, that it had no future anyway. I simply wanted that job to be there, an excuse to be in my busy downtown, an excuse to offer hospitality to people. I liked how all the little pieces of my life added up.

My church school class, also, is moving on without me, after four years with roughly the same group of kids. Two important friends are moving far away—we have lost whole circles of friends, again and again, as we’ve lived here. We’ve become the stable ones, the ones who don’t leave, so now it seems that things leave us. I don’t like it. What will I do now? How will I make money? Can I even bear to make new friends, again? How on earth will I adapt to an entirely new group of church school kids?

And I think back to that window in Erie: it’s not a place I chose. I was planning to be a waitress in Colorado, to hunker down someplace while I figured out the next thing, when someone walked up and asked if I wanted the perfect job for me, for that time. While there was not enough sunlight, it proved to be a pivotal year in surprising ways. I didn’t like the church I served, didn’t like the college I was assigned to, but they taught me more than anything I would have chosen. My co-worker told me not to expect to be friends, and within weeks we were laughing over that quote, every day over breakfast. That job and that life, that year, prepared me for the next leg of my journey.

I am thinking today, in fact thinking almost always, about strange turns of events and “ending up” somewhere unplanned and unexpectedly blessed. It becomes a spiritual discipline of sorts, asking, “Oh yeah, God? So what’s next? What’s up your sleeve?” and wondering, truly wondering if it might be something tremendous.

I will continue dragging my heels over change, I know, longing for something to last, just the way I like it. I think of Judith Viorst’s book Necessary Losses, and perhaps the better-known Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day, and I know jobs and church school classes are not like deaths or health crises, or breakups or stress over children. These smaller losses are just practice, in some ways, like poor Alexander’s frustrating problems that make him promise to move to Australia.

Once again, over the next few weeks, I will pull out the snapshots in my pockets of all the places I’ve ever been, all the strange blessings I’ve ever known, and I will look for signs, there, threads of hope and joy. I will hold these small evidences as I lean into the future. I will turn to those whirling pieces chasing me around the room, and I will speak to them firmly, and with a sense of humor. Perhaps it will all work out. And then, perhaps it will all work out again, after that, too. Every good thing is too short. I will love it as much as I can, while it lasts.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus