Recently I’ve had a lot of trouble in my life, and if you’re anywhere near my age, you probably can relate. Stuff happens. Kids get hurt inside, which it turns out feels worse than all the cuts and bruises and even the surgery. Grownups can be cruel too. You get in trouble for something like forgetting to punch your ticket on the train or your poorly behaved dog, or for not signing a tax form on time. Presidents turn out to be insane. Schools disappoint. Fatigue sets in. And Illness. Family. Well I won’t say anything negative about family, since I know better than to create more trouble. But... family.
Jobs become hard or the lack of them becomes impossible. People die. Money is lost or you become consumed by too much of it. Kids start swearing or caring about brand names or getting into social media or video games or if they aren’t into any of that, then they might actually be kind of lonely. Injuries happen. Parents get sick. People decide to rebuild everything around you and so there is dust and noise and no privacy. Church gets phony or weird or empty-feeling. The garden starts to become overrun by weeds or even if you’ve been weeding, the tomato plant contracts a fungus and all the tomatoes turn brown overnight, shrivel up and die. I know this from experience, of course.
Oh and the dogs. If you have one or two like I do, then at least one must get stomach trouble and I’ll spare you the details of the messes that follow. And the cats are bothering the neighbor to the point where you no longer answer the doorbell. You can’t handle her rants, you can’t control cats, you see. In fact there isn’t much you can control. You are sure of this now. You get the story.
So what do you do? Do you fall into a heap on the bed and stop driving the kids to school, stop cooking, cleaning and trying to work? Do you begin to spit at people, swear at the garden, punch the TV set when you watch the president drivel out stories more ridiculous than those of your teenager? No. No.
If you're like me, you begin to find ways to retreat in the midst of the madness. You locate solace in places you never found before. If you’re like me, you start to see every bit of a tree, the dew jeweling the fence, and you savor the silence at sunrise. You see grace in your friend’s honesty, in your husband’s weakness, in your boy who trusts you enough to ask you for help. You watch the edges of your daughter’s eyes, and you feel glad. Glad because you can only imagine what your friend who passed away, whom you didn't have time to properly mourn, would give to watch her daughter’s eyes. They gleam, especially in the morning, you see. If you’re like me, then you paint your child’s eyes and you decide with each stroke that maybe the things in your life that are good, are worthy of all the hours of trouble.
Eventually you find ways to feed yourself on hope. You work to look away from the things that you cannot bear. You stop seeing the children and mothers and teachers who hurt your child. You forget the tomatoes and become glad for the time to plant something new. You stop noticing the songs in church you dislike but you hear the messages you desperately need. You run on the day your ankle doesn’t ache and become satisfied, even with a shorter distance. You spend time with the people who fill you; and you dump the space you allowed for the others.
You do not deny reality. You do not stop caring about things that matter. You do not stop speaking when the time is right. You don't stop challenging the people, the things that harm. But you protect yourself so that you have the ability to speak, to act, to love.
I have learned that if you allow the horrible stuff to fatigue you, to speak into you, to fill you, it will fill you. It will pitch a whole city in you, steal your desire to do everything that makes you, you. Rotten tomatoes will pile into you, infiltrate the space within your being, meant for better fruit.
Now when I see trouble coming, I will guard the things about me that are mine. I'll take my love, my strengths and put them away for safe-keeping. I'll deal with problems swiftly or store them for a while, and then go find the window. I'll feed there on the sky. I'll gobble all that is flowering, that is full of life, so that i can live.