Why *More* is Never Enough

PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID THOMAS

PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID THOMAS

I ran into a girl I used to lead through a recovery class at the church my husband and I attended together. The 12-step recovery group was all about getting to the root of problems like people-pleasing, codependency, addictions, and anxiety. I would describe this girl as one of my "wild-child," she came in every week shared and encouraged other girls but was never satisfied with what God was doing in her life. "I just have never seen him be faithful to me," was her constant cry. She is young, pretty but has a shaky relationship with her parents and her love life was nothing to brag about. 

She wanted to see significant changes in her life, which included a husband, and each week she let myself and her group members know it.

Yesterday, she was different. 

I first noticed a classic emerald cut diamond ring on a young girls finger. Her head was down as she flipped through wedding magazines. She laid the hand that boosted the wedding ring on each page as if she was auditioning for a hand model position. When she looked up and smiled at me it did not register at first, but I knew, I knew the girl from somewhere. Immediately, it came to me as she said hello.

Getting ALL You Want

After exchanging hello's, she told me about her life now and that she was two weeks into her engagement. She shared how she was so frustrated with the group and never really enjoyed the oversharing. She also took issue with group leaders after I left. Today, she is engaged to an engineer who lives in another state, and they are getting married in May. 

"Everything worked out," she mentioned to me while showing off the ring. I was happy to see that she got what she wanted – a new job in interior design, a husband, and a chance for a better life then what she saw growing up. 

The only problem, she wanted more. "I can't believe this is it" and "this is what I wanted but I still see other stuff I want," were statements she made. At the same time, she understood why the recovery program was so important, because after getting what we want our faith is the only thing that sustains us. It was the same lesson I learned in my early twenties after landing a high-paying job, a condo in a prestigious part of town, and my perfect doggy companion, Jack. 

All I could do was smile and agree. She had the nugget that only life and experience teaches. I was happy to see how far she had come. 

Find Your Center

 

I noticed an older man teaching a young girl how to ride her bike on the walking trail yesterday. He firmly held the seat, the other hand gently on her back, while she peddled. She could not comprehend the up-down peddling motion and how to center her torso to stay upright. He gave it all he had. 

When my father and his new girlfriend bought my sisters and me new red bikes one Christmas, I don't remember him behind me, one had placed firmly on the bike the other gently on my back. I remember peddling, feet slipping, chain burns, stubbed fingers, frustration. I was learning to ride a bike the best way I knew how, through practice. 

The day is burned into my memory because I knew what he was doing. He was preparing his triple daughters for a world without him. He was doing what a man with conflicting views about family life, love, and commitment does; he watched from a distance. 

I learned to fly that day. I learned to steady my center, focus my attention, and ride the line.  I learned that in this life the most significant lessons come from what you learn on your own, lessons learned through practice, trial-and-error. My father provided the vehicle for exploration. 

 

Conversations With The Dominant Class 

 

What would conversations with the dominant class in American look like? What questions would the rest of us ask? What would we say?

How would we self-justify our position in the world against theirs? 

Would we talk about needing better schools for our children and better jobs for our families? What would be the response to this? 

Would we discuss politics in a way that encouraged them to take our side and reason against capitalism? 

Having to resort to theatrics, what If I took out a blade and cut open my hand to show that we indeed bleed the same blood would that make a difference in how we relate to each other? 

Who would I have to become to speak the language?  

Hospital Visits

 
photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@daanstevens

photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@daanstevens

You learn a lot about yourself in a hospital, like what the end of life looks like, how to exist in a space where death is breathable, what comforting the sick and injured feels like, and how to accept that this life, like everything in it, is fleeting.

My father-in-law had no idea what he was getting into when a caramel girl, who loves books, art, and the insides of people decided to marry his son. It's not like I knew I was gaining a father who loves cookies, spending time at his car shop, having the backs of his oldest friends, and a man who would not leave Cleveland, Ohio if you told him the world was ending exactly where his house sits. We got each other. A decent exchange.

This past weekend, my father-in-law of one year and ten months lay still in a hospital bed at the Cleveland Clinic. He looked tired. I guess triple heart bypass surgery will do that to you. All I could do is stare at the man my husband loves with all his heart. The room was dark, except for the dancing medical machine lights. I sat in a chair next to his bed. He heard us come in and said, ''oh, I'm not sleep" as if he wanted and needed the company.

While sitting in that chair across from my father, I thought about his life, the many choices that led to this exact moment. This distress was what he had hoped to avoid after watching and caring for his mother. She died of a health-related disease.

My mother spoke of generational curses often growing up, and at this time the bad omen of diabetes has my older brother and older sister in its grip. We do unspeakable things to ourselves.

As I do to my husband nights when I can not sleep, in the dark, I rubbed the back of dad-in-law's head and whispered you're okay, its okay, you're safe now.

What I learned that day in the hospital is that family can comfort you in your darkest moments. They have the ability to whisper in your ear -- you're okay, its okay, you're safe now.

In those moments, you and I remember what we have in each other; we remember that in order not to labor in vain we need mission and purpose, we remember that what we have given, we will receive.

This piece was originally posted here as "You're Okay, Its Okay, You're Safe Now"

 

His Name Was Harris

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His name was Harris.

When I initially drove past him, I thought he was dead, but I realized that there was no way, in this fancy Downtown area, would anyone leave a dead man lying in the shade on a corner. Someone would have surely seen him and called for help. But given the recent killings of unarmed black men I could not be sure.

My iPhone read ninety-seven degrees outside, so maybe he was just hot and laid down, maybe he just needed some water. That’s it! He needs some water. As I got off the elevator, my fearful inner voice spoke, “what if he tries to attack you, touch you, or worse?”

"What if he tries to follow you home?" My mind performed laps, but I remembered that there's no place for fear in the midst of love.

As I approached the shaded corner where he laid I could see that he was emaciated, his bones clung to him as a wet t-shirt clings to a dry body, his belt undone, his feet were scarred and had several bruises on them. He had shoes, but those too looked tattered as they sat next to him. He laid flat on his back with his legs sprawled out. Harris, I would later learn of his name on my second trip, had not moved an inch.

“Sir”

“Hey, sir.”

“Sir, I brought you some water, sir.”

He looked at me annoyed that I would wake him from such a peaceful sleep.

“Sir, I brought you some water," I repeated.

He did not move, only opened his eyes to look at me and nodded that he understood. I placed the water down and walked away.  As I walked, I thought of his life and how he had ended up here. Who was he?  

I opened the door to my apartment, and it hit me, he could use some of the beans and rice I made for my husband and I the night before. I think I seasoned them pretty well and eating beans, even just a little, filled me up. We, vegetarians eat a lot of beans. 

After warming up the beans and rice, I scribbled ‘JESUS LOVES YOU” on a note card from my desk and marched back to my new friend.

“Sir, I brought you some food, sir.”

He opened his eyes a bit and rolled his head over to the other side.

“sir, sir.”

He looked in bad shape, and I was not sure what to do. I could stand there and continue to call out to him, but a thought crossed my mind to say a prayer for him. I thanked Jesus for giving Harris the strength to live. I thanked Jesus for his protection over him.

As I completed my prayer, Harris sat upright. His eyes were yellow, and he said that he was so thirsty. I motioned to the water, “look, I brought you some water!”

“It's so hot out here, that may help.”

Harris reached for the water and because he could not pull the cap off with his hands, and protested my help, he used his teeth.  I asked him what his name was and told him mine. He said, “My name is Harris.” I heard Aaron at first and said, “my brother’s name is Aaron!”

 “Not Aaron, H-A-R-R-I-S,” he shouted with a smile.

“I brought you some beans and rice. My husband likes them, and he says that I cook well so maybe you may like them.”

Harris tried to rip the container open. I grabbed his hand and helped him pop the sides off the lid off. He grabbed the fork I placed in the bag. “Ohhh, this is good. You know I’m black and black people love beans and rice.” Harris enjoyed my cooking, maybe more than my husband.

Harris and I spoke a few more minutes, and I told him to take care of himself, shook his hand gently and walked away. Before I made it to the corner, I turned around and waved bye to Harris, he waved back and shouted, “bye A-R-L-I-N-A.” 

Even he missed the "E" in my name. At least he enjoyed my cooking. 

This piece was orginally posted on July 12, 2016