A little delayed for the season, but I couldn’t make this one happen before October 31st . . .
I enjoy the season of autumn as the cooling air calls people in to warm soup, hot chocolate, blankets, and fires on the hearth.
What I do not enjoy so much about the season is the ugly side of Halloween. My children are less effected as they grow up, but they generally haven’t enjoyed the store and yard decorations, though they can’t seem to stop looking at them. In this season I’ve dealt with night-time fears over something ugly and I’ve been in a fight for the right imagination in them. Still, I’m intrigued by Halloween. I’ve seen and heard of traditions similar to “All Souls Eve” in Japan and Mexico (sans the costumes and candy), and I’m sure there are more elsewhere; essentially, days of the dead. I’ve spent a little time searching out the beginnings and beliefs behind these traditions, and frankly it’s confusing. In the end, it’s obvious, they have to do with death and souls of the departed and the belief of living on after the shriveling of their shells.
At some point, a church holy day collided with the dark side and some of us aren’t sure what to do with this “holiday.” Some boycott Halloween altogether and don’t do costumes or trick-or-treating. There are harvest parties meant to be an alternative, either to protect our children from nightmares or to free our consciences from somehow associating with the wrong father, worshiping the very one we’ve been rescued from. A harvest party sounds better; non-creepy, kid-friendly . . . a celebration of abundance (maybe of candy more than corn and squash these days). I admit, I would rather have pumpkins and squash lining my mantle and porch steps to celebrate harvest than skulls and spooky things. But have we overlooked something on the safe side of the season?
I have a picture on my wall of my girls one past autumn. They were sitting in a pile of orange, brown, red, and yellow leaves we had just gathered. As they sat centered in shriveling colors, death was the backdrop behind their youthful faces. Every leaf that falls, every squash and gourd picked, is severed from its life source in this lovely season of harvest. Life has ended, yet their colors decorate our lives for a while. The squash finds its way to our tables in soups, breads, and pies and their dying pulp feeds our flesh for a season. Call it Harvest, not Halloween, but it’s still a season of dying.
Only a world which knows death can keep walking without surprise at what is happening to the leaves. It has become normal. Things are supposed to die. But really? We don’t really believe that. Maybe the gore is there to remind us of how ugly death really is. It’s the ugliest, smelliest thing there is . . . when it is final and hopeless.
And only a world that knows hope can admire the colors which come in the process. Harvest shows us a death that gives life. The leaf returns to the earth, but the tree lives on. The seed must die to produce the next yield. I must die to myself to find where my life really is. There is dryness, crackling, pain, and in the end, beauty and new life.
We live and move in a world of death every single day. One doesn’t have to look far, even if you don’t watch the news. We buried a tiny mouse in our back yard three weeks ago. It was sad and ugly (the experience, not the mouse). It mattered because nothing is supposed to die. Death is ugly and no one will argue but death itself. And just as crazy as believing in the living on of souls, is a crazy promise to which I cling:
“Since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead . . . and . . . The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” *
“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” ” **
Death has been collecting the debt of this world from the time we fell from the world that knew death not. But it has already been severed. Its colors of dark and ugly are simply lingering as it dies slowly and surely. The One who bought our victory has plunged to its depths and awaits for all to see what He has done . . . given us victory.
So with a clear conscience, my children wear costumes and we move among the world that has come to know death, collecting candy in jack-o-lantern buckets . . . because we have the light of life and nothing to fear. We walk along with neighbors present and neighbors past, knowing that any light, however small, will always overcome the darkness.
I cannot spend my life worrying about the obscure ways holy days might collide with the darkness because I am meant to be a light in it. And if the few images of death scattered around the beautiful colors are scary now . . . wait until death dies and the ground can no longer contain those who have shriveled before. They won’t be walking like zombies, but rather fully alive like we’ve not yet seen; in the world that knew not death. This is the imagination I instill in my children. And that, my friends, is possibly the creepiest, most colorful thing death will ever see as it breathes its very last.
*I Corinthians 15:21
**I Corinthians 5:54,55
I lay staring at the ceiling I couldn’t see through the dark. Lying next to him, not a sniffle escaped as my face crinkled and tears ran silent down around my ears. I thought to myself, “I’m not supposed to let the sun go down on my anger . . . but I’m not angry, I’m ashamed.” Can I let the sun go down on that?”
Covered with blankets, but exposed to the skin, I wasn’t ready to apologize or ask forgiveness. I liked it better under the covers. While I wondered what to do with my shame, sleep snuck in unnoticed.
The next morning I arose, and my heart groped for the bed. All my life was in question. I felt silly for all I write about the Tale. “Is it true? Why can’t I keep my head up? Why do I feel hopeless and alone?”
“Why have you forsaken me?”
The question surprised me. I’d heard those words before.
For an unloving comment made to my husband, the weight was more than I could bear. For the weight of a whole world’s error, the same question was begged long ago. It feels far removed until its words, spoken by the Savior, swell up in a forlorn soul in her suburban shower.
“Have You forsaken me?” The water pouring over me, as I tried to wash down my embarrassment and escape my doings, could not do what those words could. Sometimes begging a question can instantly reveal the answer.
What began as a hiding place for tears became a megaphone for praise. I dried off and put my fig leaves on again, but my heart was free of its cage. Someone understood and felt my shame, all of it at once, and long before I did. Someone took my shame and covered it. I have a hiding place forever.
I was free to ask forgiveness and mean it. Not bound to the sheets or the shower, I am hiding free wherever I go.
As I went through the year many “somethings” brewed. The week before Thanksgiving found me curled up on my living room floor, sobbing. My girls were beside themselves. One, who would love any excuse to avoid school work, was telling me, “Mom, how will I get English done??” They ran around cleaning and making lunch, which I couldn’t figure out how to eat. Eventually, I reached the couch to stare at wall and window. I’d had tough days before, but not this tough. I worried, ”Will I always be like this?”
I was doing what I wanted. I was home with my children, learning all over again with them, but I wasn’t getting to all I wanted to. On top of that, I had the regular day to day keeping of a house that wasn’t getting done. The same story over and over again and I was tired.
It must’ve been my husband’s fault. That master of getting up early and achieving what he decides, unaquainted with or unaffected by stress. His expectations weighed me down. He was the reason why I had so much on my plate. That had to be it.
This melting lead to holidays full of conversation between us and even some friends, and revealed that much of the expectation I was living under was my own. The more we hashed, the more those “somethings” brewing all year crescendoed into one obvious issue: Fear.
Still?? Yes. Fear of disappointing others, fear of failure on many levels: loving my husband, educating my children, feeding them well, getting my house in order, friendships with women when you’re working full-time but not employed, making time to write what I think I’m supposed to.
So why have a word, or just a simple goal? To learn the smell of the beautiful place you’re caught; the hands with the craziest goal I’ve ever heard of . . . to save the souls of lowly man. It is secured and for this we wait, to see its final accomplishment. This is our hope; this year and every one to come.
So I’m 13 years older now and in the western hemisphere, standing at the kitchen sink where a lot of thinking happens. Back when January hit, I heard some buzzing on blogs about choosing a word for the year. A word to summarize a bunch of goals in one.
“I don’t have time to think of a word,” I thought. It seems complicated to sort through goals and dreams and get down to just one word. After all that effort, what if I get a few weeks into the year and decide it’s not the right word? Too much commitment!
Not purposely thinking about this one-word idea, it crossed my mind for a moment here and there. Then with my hands in suds, there it was, as if handed to me on a silver platter. A word was spelled out right before my eyes.
It was interesting . . . but could I have a different word please? Something is bound to happen this year that makes me afraid and am I really going to commit to being not? But the word kept following me, like the spot in your eye after staring at a light bulb.
Hiro and I were out for wings one night and I said the word out loud. I rambled about how this word was so amazing and made sense. I told him all my fears I could think of then.
What if its just bad and i don’t know it?
I told him I’ve been afraid to trust him, specifically to work with him to make a family vision statement we tried a few months back . . .
What if we come up with the wrong goals? . . .
What if we lead our children the wrong direction? . . . Heck, what if my fear is creating fear in the kids?
What will I do when I am afraid? I’m guessing I’ll hear a whisper from backstage, reminding me of my simple, yet hard to remember line, “Unafraid!”
It’s not about having arrived at the word. It’s a guide, a vision and without one we perish.
Have you heard if the one-word idea? Do you have a word for this year? Wanna be “unafraid” with me?
Our apartment in Tokyo was nestled in a residential area with quite a few houses crammed in around. The homes had gates in front, putting a few feet of yard between them and the narrow one lane road.
As I took my daily route to the train station or grocery store, sometimes out of the most traditional looking house she would be out sweeping the street, and would smile and bow to me. She was probably in her 60’s. I received so many kind gestures like this from people around me. The talk of the neighborhood, everyone knew there was a “gaijin” (guy-jean) in the hood. We lived out from the center of Tokyo so there weren’t a lot of foreigners on the block.
One warm, sunny day, I was on my bicycle to get groceries. No other pressing plan. To my surprise, she spoke to me as I passed. Before that we had exchanged a “konnichiwa” or “ohayou gozaimasu,” but this time I figured, by her gestures and the few words I could make out, she was inviting me in!
I didn’t want to go in. I wanted to say I had somewhere to get to, but couldn’t with my limited vocabulary. Rather than be rude, I was overcome by her generosity. I followed her through the gate and into her house. She asked if I liked green tea. Not just green tea but, matcha, the kind used for tea ceremony, thick, foamy, and bitter. I smiled and accepted to be polite. I watched her measure the green powder, adding in the hot water and stirring it with that cute little brush like that girl used in Karate Kid. I accepted the bowl of tea and chose the senbei she served over the dried crunchy fish she also had set out (There were certain things I have been able to avoid without being completely rude and that has been one of them).
She asked me many questions and I struggled to respond. I understood that her daughter was married and living in France. I managed to say I was from the middle of the United States but probably not much else. We finished our tea and crackers and she must have figured I couldn’t handle much more. She lead me back out the front gate, insisting that I come back again. I never did.
I was too scared. Scared of what, I’m not sure. Perhaps of making more mistakes, not knowing what to say. . . of being known, eventually able to share more that just the superficials. Afraid of being asked my opinions of things which I had a lot of in those days living in a foreign land . . .
. . . to be continued!
My kids are home every day. They learn reading, math, and history in the dining room. When I heard about the tragedy in Connecticut I wondered what to do with it. If they were at a school, they would know.
Though I’m often tempted, I don’t like to live according to “If” and the fact “Is” they’re not at a school so I wondered, “Should I tell them?” I decided that waiting wouldn’t hurt. Being behind is not always bad. I wanted to ask my husband what he thought first.
Before I got around to discussing with him, it was Monday and I had an appointment. On the way, my observant daughter disrupted her quiet in the back seat by asking, “Mommy, why are all the flags only half way up?”
The time had come. I started off slow.
“The flags are at “half mast” when someone important has died or when there is a day of mourning for something bad that’s happened . . .” Inviting the next question.
“Did something bad happen?”
“Yes honey, some children and teachers died and” . . . I told her the story as much as I knew it.
“That’s so sad . . .” and “why . . .” and all kinds of questions you would expect from a child.
The rest of the day she came intermittently with more questions and at least once it was something like, “what if that happens at my school?” ( they attend a class once a week)
In the van again later in the day she was asking about and planning a way of escape should she ever be faced with such a dreadful situation. But there is always a point in your plan that you come to realize, it might not work. She said to me, “What if I can’t find a place to hide? What if I can’t get away?” This is the time for “If,” I think.
“Honey . . .
” . . . That’s why it’s so important to remember that this is not your only life. You have a whole other life waiting for you after this one.”
“Yeah . . .” she said in a whisper, sounding like it was breathed out of hope.
She asked no more questions after that. It wasn’t my goal to end her questions, I just think she got all the answers she needed just then. She wanted to know “If,” and I don’t know of or believe in any bigger, “Then,” to tell her.
Here I sit in the lamp-lit living room, girls in bed, Hiro sleeping on the couch across from me. I have so much I want to say, or at least should. Why is it so hard to say words sometimes?
For the first 4 years of our marriage we never had a fight, and even after that, I would say we had just a few disagreements, not fights. I know this because there wasn’t even much discussion. I’ve been quite agreeable. Besides, fight is a strong word. I don’t know what my friends mean when they say they “had a fight last night,” or “they’re fighting.” In my mind a fight involves raised voices. Perhaps a disagreement dealt with by cold shoulders is considered a fight for some. So call it a fight or not, I do know that we have had more difficult conversations in the last year than all of the previous 12 put together.
I’m not good at this, . . . having words that need saying and actually saying them. Aren’t my feelings just selfishness, ungratefulness? It’s dawned on me though, that most of my unwillingness to “go there” has nothing to do with loving my husband. It has everything to do with loving myself. I find myself doing whatever I can to keep peace, not for his, or even our sake, but to protect myself from disapproval or rejection or the possibility of simply being wrong.
I used to be so glad, even prideful of the fact we didn’t fight. Where I’m at now, I see danger looming in that place. After a while you can’t keep the truth down. It’s like trying to keep a beach ball under water. You start living a lie. All of a sudden one day, that beach ball comes flying back up, the only thing it can do, and it earns shocks and gasps from all around watching. “Everything seemed so good with them!” they say. “If they couldn’t keep it together, who can?” they wonder.
Here I sit in my comfy spot, not wanting him to wake just yet. I’m not ready to talk. This time I’ve at least learned that though I don’t know how to say the words, I must say them. It would be so much easier if we’d never come to this place, the beach ball bopping us in the nose . . . but what story without a struggle is worth reading?
“ . . . like in the Great Stories, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
I’m on another brink of darkness and danger. I don’t want to say the words. I don’t want to know how it ends because how could it be happy? How can we go back to the way we were if we keep going to conflict?
I’ve had a lot of chances of turning back and took a lot of them. Turned from the conflict, back to my corner, like a cozy little Hobbit holed up with tea and cookies, the dangerous world shut behind my cute little round door. “No thank you” for an adventure. Timed out, not really in the game of marriage. Not exactly quitting, but it’s a subtle snare, a hidden dragon.
So what’s gonna make me go there? You never keep going if you look at the darkness around and think it’s here to stay. A new day will come, and it will shine clearer even, . . . imagine that. I’m holding onto something, I think it’s worth fighting for. I’m loving only myself and in the end it will hurt worse for me to stay here wrapped up and lying to both of us. I will spill words and they won’t come out right, but I think that might be the adventure that brings us not back to the way we were, but closer to love we’ve not yet known. I’ll jump into that one.