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Sackcloth and Ashes

Sunlight shines through to-the-ceiling windows onto wooden tables, bouncing  from table to table to wall, spilling down, oozing life into cracks and crannies, no spot unturned, no piece missed. I stare at it in wonder, reminiscing. I used to be like that. I used to spill down to the floor, oozing into people’s lives, cracking out smiles and laughter before they even understood what they found funny. Used to. The operative word there is “used to”.

I stare in the mirror and tired eyes look back at me. When did those eyes get tired? When did they start to age?  When did the soul start to? The thing about aging is you don’t realize it is happening. You only realize after it has. One day you feel an ache, or you can’t make as deep a stretch, or joints suddenly crack and skin suddenly has lines. You didn’t notice it happening, you only notice once it has. And it is the same for the soul. One day you look inside and see the lines in your soul that were never there before, you feel the aches, and realize that the stretch that used to be so easy somehow isn’t. You didn’t notice it happening, you only notice once it has.  

I remember driving home from Indiana on that first trip in September. The first time we saw Dad after he got sick. I remember how loud the silence was. I remember how tired our minds were. It was not just a trip to see Dad and driving home we knew time was forever changed. We felt the exhaustion that came with change. We felt the trauma of it. And suddenly, as if my heart were a wall, trauma led to trauma and I could feel each brick crumble and tumble and fall into a heap. I didn’t cry then. I haven’t really cried since. The feeler stopped feeling. And life became still. Not everyone’s life stopped, but mine did. I was no longer revolving with the others. I was simply still as I watched others carry on. I used to spin with them. Like planets, we were spinning and revolving and living. And then one day the trauma set in and I instead stood still. And others went on revolving and spinning but I? I stood still.

Friday morning I woke up crying, my mind already reacting to the pain inflicted by my stomach. And oh the pain. It was so strong, so real. We hear the word breathtaking and we think of fairytales and fantasy. We think of sunsets and love stories and far off places. It’s ok when moments steal our breath, as long as it is in the name of beauty. But what about those other breathtaking moments. The ones that don’t just take our breaths they steal them with every bit the delinquency that you would expect from such an act. The ones that take each breath, leaving you desperate, desperate, desperate! for relief, for just one moment when the pain isn’t so bad, just one moment you can grapple with until another comes along.

I laid in bed at 4 AM working through the pain, realizing that if I didn’t get to the pharmacy down the street the pain would only continue. I thought through all the possibilities of people I could call, realizing with each name called to mind that they were indeed soft asleep in their beds and no call would rouse them. I couldn’t do that to them, I wouldn’t do that to them.  At 4:30 I knew I wasn’t going to get the medicine if I didn’t get it myself. At 5 AM I told myself the pain wasn’t that bad. That I was merely overreacting. I could stand up if I really wanted to. Walking was simply putting one foot in front of the other. A child could do it, and so could I. At 5:40 I put one foot in front of the other, stepping through the pain and down my deck to get to my car. I drove to the pharmacy, chose the medication off the counter, and started walking to the register. Only I didn’t make it there. I woke up on the floor with an employee standing over me. I tried to stand up, but my body refused to hold my weight, sending me back, again, to the floor. I laid on the floor, trying so hard to act casual, pushing back tears. I handed him money and let him walk back to the register while I continued to lay there. He came back to me with my receipt and bag of goods. He scraped me off the floor and walked me to my car. I sat in my car and watched him walk back inside as I felt the retching working up from my stomach to my throat. Over and over I retched, but nothing came up. And finally after what was only 10 minutes but felt like forever, I climbed into my car and began the drive home. I had to get home. I had to get home and give myself the medicine or none of it would stop. I had to get home, and it was just pain, I told myself. But as soon as I pulled onto the road, the retching started again, and this time it was not just the motions. Mess was all over my car. Mess was all over me. And finally after what had been so long, I cried. I cried and I retched and I cried. It was the lowest of the low. Alone, in my mess, I cried.

I don’t have happy words to give you right now. I want to. I want to bring you the words that will inspire and create. I want to give you words that will stir your soul back to its youth, and reminisce with you with childhood abandon while we dream of places over the rainbow. I want to give you happy words, but I have none to give. I only have honest words to give. And those honest words? They are made up of the emotions that I don’t like. The emotions that I don’t want to talk about. Emotions like anger, and grief, and confusion. Emotions that feel like a dead end, no way out destination. And what happens if I start to talk to you about them and they are all I ever talk about? What if I give you these words, honest as they may be, and they are the only thing I am ever able to give? I don’t know if or when I will have happy words to give you. I don’t know if these honest words I abhor so much will ever bring about more than what they are. I don’t know. But I do know this, if I can’t be my most vulnerable self than who can I ever be?

The Hebrews were a people unafraid of vulnerability. They knew grief and they knew suffering. And they were never afraid to share their grief. With sackcloth and ashes they wailed. Wearing their tears in a bottle round their necks, a visible exchange to the truth of their heart.  We are not like these Hebrews. We are not so candid with our grief. Nor do we see the value in such a poetic and vulnerable display. No, we are not like these Hebrews. And in a world full of access and immediacy, we fail to understand process and time. We fail to see the beauty in anything that does not advertise for glamour. Thus, we villainize grief and all its familial emotions.
Sunlight shines through to-the-ceiling windows onto wooden tables. It is noon, now. And that morning sun has thickened into afternoon sun so gooey that shades are drawn to counter the stickiness. And still the sunshine finds way between shades, seeping and pooling onto the floor. And still I stare, and still I wonder, and still I reminisce. I used to be like that. I used to spill down to the floor, oozing. And in my most vulnerable self I could bounce light off those also in the room, giving way to see life within every crook and cranny. And it was beautiful. But for now? I will draw the shades, and I will sit in the after effect. Letting go of what could or should be, I will accept what is. It may be the lowest of the low. It may feel lonely and messy. And I may or may not catch tears in a bottle worn round my heart. But I will not be afraid of this grief. Yes, for now I will draw the shades, and it will still be beautiful.

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One thought on “Sackcloth and Ashes

  1. Donna Holland says:

    Bethany….I’m so sorry you continue to suffer but plow forward. I know you just scratch the surface of your trials and difficulties of each day and each hour of each day when you update your friends in your blogs. My heart breaks because of your pain….your terrible trip to the store and getting so sick. Being alone, living by yourself, being sick, hungry, weak, tired is just hard. Please know I pray for you, for your healing, for strength and endurance. I wish I could do more but I send love. I plea, God please touch Bethany and relieve her of her pain and struggles. Amen. Hugs, Donna

    bethanyobani

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