A Lesson in Anatomy

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I come in tonight from my walk, sweating and breathless, plagued by an unmet need. I am hungry.

Not for food. Whatever trials my life might include, I have never faced physical hunger of any significance. And, barring circumstances most unforeseen, I am not likely to know such hunger in the future. I will almost certainly always have a solid roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food on my plate.

Nor do I hunger for love. I’ve that in plenty. It is this, the affection of family and friends in abundance, which assures me that I’ll never starve or want for a place to lay my head.

And I certainly do not hunger for money. That isn’t to say that an extra dollar would come amiss—like most everyone else, we’ve loans to repay and future college tuition and orthodontics to fund—but ours are distinctly “first world problems.” If one is fed and sheltered and has a family in good health, then worry over money seems to me a touch obscene.

No, I hunger instead for something else. Something soul-deep and eternal. Not The Divine, though I suspect it’s most likely there if anywhere. To call it nature is trite and insufficient, and yet it is, I think, the best I’ve got. I hunger for places and things untouched. For the ancient and sustaining. For a breath of air and space that knows not the whir of machines or the stain of civilization. For the sense that I am not merely in a space, but of it.

I get a shadow of this on my walks. Though I move through a suburban neighborhood, on streets paved by machines, under electric lights and wiring, wearing shoes made of colorful plastics and foams, I am a part of the earth. I can almost imagine that this virgin space for which I hunger is only just out of reach, another realm layered over this one like a fine mist.

This mist hung cold and almost corporeal as I walked tonight. The moon was full, or very near, and it cast everything around me in crisp, blue twilight. I dissolved into the landscape, no more substantial than the mist that filled my lungs and chilled the sweat on my skin. I ceased to breathe and merely expanded, unbound for a time by either flesh or gravity. I simply was.

Thoreau set out to strip life to its bones, to remove not only the window dressing but the panes themselves, and lay bare the human experience. His is an exercise that bears repeating. It is only when we remove the countless layers of excess and worry and obligation that separate us from the marrow of life that we might find our place in it.

As I walk in the dark, the world mostly silent and sleeping around me, I am able to tune out enough, to strip away just enough of these layers to see the promise of whatever lay at life’s core. I am not close enough yet to suck the marrow, but in the blue light of the moon, I can see glimpses of bone. And I am determined.

This Body is Closed for Business (and no, that doesn’t mean what it sounds like)

Today I went for a walk. Twice. I had a PB&J for breakfast/lunch, a small snack, and a sensible dinner. I drank lots of water, and my midnight (er, 1:00 a.m.) snack is some hot tea and an apple. Yes, well, there was a minor indiscretion at Starbucks earlier, but I think the second walk took care of that.

All this healthy living comes courtesy of my otherwise lovely doctor who had the audacity last week to tell me that I have high cholesterol. Now there are at least two things wrong with this. First, high cholesterol is for old people. Working off the thirty-is-the-new-twenty model, however, I am barely old enough for a quarter-life crisis (What? I’ll only have to live to 132), much less a crisis my granny had to deal with. Second, and most importantly, I absolutely, positively, and rather vehemently REFUSE to have high cholesterol.

I already have rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, and possibly lupus, in addition to all the other more minor maladies, such as perpetually angry sinuses and a soupcon of short-term memory loss, that occasionally plague me. I take ten pills a day and sixteen on Fridays. I simply will not accept any more entries on my medical chart.

So I have an announcement to make to any potential illnesses, conditions, or nuisances that are considering taking up residence on, in, or anywhere near my person: I am OFF LIMITS. Closed for business. Go find a stable, ‘cause there’s no more room at the inn. And if that means I have to forego butter (I miss your warm, artery-clogging embrace already, old friend) and eat an apple instead, then pass the freakin’ bushel, ‘cause this chick holds no quarter for you and your misbegotten kind.

That is all.  Carry on…

All Irons and No Fire

We’ve all heard the expression “All hat and no cattle.” It’s a great phrase. Every time I hear it, I think of Texas and picture a little man in a giant, Arby’s-style hat. The little man looks like Ross Perot–probably just because he’s small and from Texas, since I’m sure he could have plenty of cattle if he wanted them and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him in a hat.

That particular phrase means that someone is pretending to be something they aren’t (or at least I think it does; I’m guessing, being rather short on both hats and cattle myself). Or maybe just that someone’s rocking a touch too much swagger. Y’know, like when Adam Levine sings that he’s got the moves like Jagger (no rhyme intended).

My granny liked to tell me I kept too many irons in the fire. I was always running around from one place to the next, juggling choirs and theatre and church and friends and boys. I was a busy teenager, which is when I remember my granny dispensing most of her wisdom.

I was comparatively lazy in my twenties and early thirties. Well, as lazy as a law school student, philosophy grad, realtor, and mom can be. Lately, though, I’ve found myself juggling again. This time it’s choirs and work and church and friends and boys (in the form of a son and a husband and cub scouts). I’m loving every second of it, but I’m “wore plum out” (to borrow another Grannyism) much of the time.

But that isn’t what I wanted to write about. That’s the normal stuff. Every mom is eyeballs-deep in kids’ activities and dinner plans and laundry. And if they’re smart, they’ll balance that out with selfish, grown-up stuff like frequent coffee with friends and singing in a choir (or three).

No, the irons that I’m talking about–and the lack of a fire to heat them–are in the form of my gajillion-and-one unfinished home improvement and/or otherwise domestic projects. I’m like a junkie, and Lowe’s and Hobby Lobby are where I get my fix.

Rhyan and I are currently trying to get our house organized. Now, if you know us at all and have been to our house, you know what a gargantuan (and arguably laughable) task this is. We aren’t TLC-worthy hoarders, but we have entirely too much of everything and have a tendency to leave it all lying about willy-nilly.

I’ve read that the trick is to take one room at a time, but in addition to being disorganized and in possession of an obscene amount of stuff, I am also a furniture juggler. I like to move things around, and my vision of a perfectly organized house involves a furniture plan that requires the removal and replacement of at least one piece of furniture from every room in the house. Currently, toward this end, there is a mattress in the laundry room (and on the porch), a shelf and a small chest of drawers in the middle of my bedroom floor, a dresser in the bathroom, and a whole family of desks and side tables in various places awaiting their final destination.

In addition to all of this, I have a half-demolished vanity in my bathroom; built–in bookshelves in the living room that are currently lacking actual shelves (which have yet to be stained and cut, not to mention installed); kitchen cabinets in need of crown moulding; and a closet full of flooring that will be put down whenever we can get around to ripping out the carpet in the master bedroom. Oh, and I’m knitting hats and scarves for the holidays, and planning some new sewing projects, and writing two books.  You see, it’s the planning and beginning of projects that I love; the actual follow-through not so much (with the exception of the books–I’m proud to say I’ve actually finished one of those).

I think I’m considerably beyond having too many irons in the fire. I ran out of irons a long time ago and now I’m just shoving in whatever I can get my hands on (which I told my husband could be the solution to our organization woes). No wonder I’m tired all the time.

If my granny were still alive, she would probably just shake her head at me in hopeless bewilderment. Then she’d feed me some biscuits and sweet tea and we’d watch Wheel of Fortune.

I miss my granny.

The Holy Book

For someone who doesn’t particularly believe in the thing, I own an inordinate number of bibles. I just counted six on my bookshelf downstairs, and I’m pretty sure at least two or three made it into a recent “Donate” pile.

Two of them are student bibles, the non-KJVs that are actually readable. I used those back before I was a heathen, or now when I want to look something up. The rest have some sentimental value. There is the one my grandparents got me when I was “saved” (we went to a Southern Baptist Church where the moment when my soul was no longer doomed for eternal damnation was really a big deal). That one has my name engraved on the cover in gold and still looks brand new…which probably says something about my current spiritual status.

A couple of my bibles belonged to my Papaw. They’re big and leather-bound and falling apart because he actually read them. And since my Papaw was the nearest thing to God I knew as a kid, there’s a certain symmetry in my hanging onto them as an adult. I know now that he was just a man, with all the attendant complications and flaws that accompany folks of the human persuasion, but he loved me unconditionally and served as my soft place to fall until the day he died, and so he remains my reference point for divinity. I think his bibles might have been his soft place to fall, so, irrational as it is, my keeping them makes me feel like he’s still around for me.

The one that struck an unexpected chord with me recently, however, and the one which prompted this entry, was not my Papaw’s.  It was my dad’s.  For those who don’t know, my dad passed away a couple of years ago (he and my mom divorced when I was a baby), and like the human condition itself, our relationship was both complicated and flawed.  He was a good man, though, at his core, and if my Papaw remains my reference point for divinity, my dad will forever be my reference point for unrealized potential and promise.  And he pressed that promise between the pages of his bible.

I won’t get into the details of his tragic life and death, but it is enough to know that they were tragic.  He was bright and talented and troubled and, like my Papaw, he loved unconditionally and completely.  The bible that I inherited from him is a sparse testament to all of these.

It’s an unwieldy thing, the book itself.  One of those heirloom bibles that is meant to serve as a repository for family record rather than a thing to read.  Its front cover reveals that it was a wedding gift, given way back in 1976.  In it, he told of his siblings, including his beloved little brother Larry, who died too soon–at the age of eleven–in 1970.  My dad was fourteen at the time.  I think my young, unknown uncle’s death set in motion the events that would ultimately lead to Dad’s own untimely end.  Dad’s entry in the bible of his little brother’s birth and death, under the stark heading “Deaths,” was written in large, uneven letters.  In marker, rather than ink, as though he wanted the record of his brother to seep into the pages more completely, unfading and unerasable.

My own birth is in there, too.  It was likely entered sometime later, since he got the year wrong, but it’s there, in the same untidy scrawl that immortalized his brother.  With it, scattered amidst the pages, are pictures of me.  A photo he took, a newspaper clipping from an article about my eighth-grade drama team.  He didn’t see me often, but he kept watch, recording my various moments of being and doing in his sacred book.

What struck me most, however, weren’t the images of me, however touched I was to find them.  No, it was evidence of his own being and doing, of his hoping and searching and remembering, that made my chest ache and my fingers turn to keys with a need to keep my own record.  It was the pictures from his baptism, looking young and nervous.  An editorial asking simply, “Can I go to Heaven?”.  A note from a preacher thanking him for his gift, which I’m sure he couldn’t really afford.  The tabbed pages and highlighted passages that spoke of love and heart and peace and hope.

And, finally, amidst all this paper and ink were the broken remains of a laurel leaf, a perfectly pressed carnation, and a crumbling rose.  Mementos, no doubt, of happier times.  Of unrealized potential.  Of promises, withered and broken.  Pieces of his life that reflect all too accurately the man he was and the life he led.

I will keep Dad’s bible with a full and heavy heart.  I might even continue the family tree and insert my own mementos into its pages.  I think he’d like that.  My son, Ephraim, will inherit the book someday and, while he might doubt the sacredness of the book itself, he will hopefully understand that between its faded leather cover lies a sacredness of another sort.  It is a place where love was poured, where troubles and hopes alike were pressed into the pages as surely as the carnation and the rose.  Where family was remembered and preserved and held, as hallowed and soul-feeding as the text was ever meant to be.

But I will not add any more flowers to the book–their inevitable darkening and decay too perfect a symbol for the tragic side of life.  I’ll focus on the hope, and hope that my inclusions reflect my life back to my son someday as poignantly as my father’s do to me.