Friday, December 18, 2009

Going Home

There are few things better than finishing my last final exam, handing it to the teacher, getting in my car and driving away. I'm well acquainted with that stretch of I-80, between Lincoln and Loveland; Nebraska and Colorado; school and home. With 8 hours of driving ahead of me, I'm pretty good at settling in, and enjoying the drive. This drive occurs usually at the beginning and ends of semesters, a good time to reflect, a new years of my own kind.

I have a tradition of looking through my planner of the last semester. I realize this sounds incredibly unsafe, it is. But so is driving and talking on your phone, driving and texting, so back off! (Really I do both of those things as well, so I shouldn't be talking. Either way, I set the cruise control o 82mph, put on the aviators, and just think.

Some planners may be different than mine, but I write nearly everything in my planner: social events with friends, personal affirmation, snippets of a meaningful conversation, little reminders, like, "BREATHE!"

As I sat cross legged behind the wheel, I passed a truck driver who was brushing his teeth. This seemed kind of odd to me, but we both looked at each other and nodded, like, "Long drive, huh?"

It may not be even slightly profound, but the thought occurred to me on my quite philosophical drive: Life is like a shoe store in which you don't choose the shoes, the shoes choose you. (I smiled happily to myself, quite proud of this wonderful metaphor as I cruised past farms, semi-trucks, and towns named, York, Grand Island, Maxwell, and North Platte.

I stopped in North Platte for gas and a drink. I was faced with a dilemma: Starbucks, or this caboose-looking thing with a giant sign reading, "ESPRESSO." I felt quite proud of myself for turning towards the caboose. They had chalk boards and marker boards haphazardly written on and added to. A friendly high-school student talked me through my options. I opted for the Pooh Bear (coffee with vanilla, cinnamon, and real honey). They don't have Pooh Bear's at Starbucks. They don't wear bright yellow shirts at Starbucks. They wear black and too much eye liner. I was feeling pretty high and mighty at this point, until I took a sip of my drink and yelled, "Damn that's hot." I was shaken out of my self-righteousness and continued driving.

The border of Colorado came quicker than I anticipated. I sang Natalie Merchant's rendition of "One Fine Day" and thought of my freshman year at Union. I had a crush on a boy and sang that song through tears. It makes me feel foolish now, but not for long, because I'm in love, and I didn't see that coming freshman year.

Ahead of me the hills of Colorado greeted me along with a bright orangey, pink grapefruity kind of color, which is mostly inescribable, but I hope you've seen something like it. If not, please come to Colorado. These bright canvased skies really do exist. I promise.

There are few things better than seeing, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" scrawled on a sign and sensing even more familiar roads and Colorado people who are just different. The sky had turned mostly black as I talked to Jeremy for awhile, then my friend Polly.

My eyes were slightly burning by the time I rode into Loveland. The roads well-traveled. My neighborhood mostly the same it has been the last 12 years, but I couldn't help slowing down and whispering a prayer as I drove past a particular house in our neighborhood. The same corner I've driven past for several years suddenly felt sacred, but heavy. About 3 blocks away from our house live some family friends. Now there lives one family friend. His wife commit suicide last Tuesday.

This is the same woman I've grown-up knowing. This is the same woman who drove us to school. This is the same woman who paid me to water her plants and mow their lawn while they were on vacation. All the trivial, mundane aspects of life suddenly become so important when someone dies.

A year-ish ago I came home for October break. I was struggling to make sense of the world around me and throwing up seemed to be my only option. So I did. I felt horrible, ashamed, worthless, and about 32 other adjectives for "crummy." I went for a walk and I met her there. We didn't go through the motions. We didn't dwell on shallow leveled exchanges. She exhaustedly shared her battle with depression. I tiredly shared my battle with bulimia. We connected. This mattered to me. We both felt so burdened and hopeless. It meant a lot to me to be able to say that outloud and see someone else struggling too.

I wrote a blog about it. I've re-read it three or four times since my dad called last week to tell me she commit suicide. I've known about her depression. Why didn't I check in with her? Why didn't I stop by to see her when I was home last summer? Why didn't I just send her an email and tell her how important it was to me that day that we met on the road? Why not? What if? And on and on and on...

But I didn't.
And I can't.
Life goes on.

I suppose death teaches us about living. Death has always been in the cards for us. No one gets out of this life alive, yet we always seem so suprised and jolted by it when we ask Why? Why? Why?

I wonder if living teaches us about death. I wonder if there is a way to live at peace with death, at peace with the fact that life will throw curve balls and flying daggers and hurricanes and paper airplanes, and through it all we can learn to die better. I'm not sure what dying better means, but I imagine it's much different than Dylan Thomas's poem, Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night. He wants to fight it. Fighting implies a battle and an enemy. If death is the enemy, I'm bound to lose, every time.

I don't wish for death. I don't look forward to it. But as death teaches about living, living can teach about death. Living can remind me of the life worth living and the life worth dying for.

There are few things better than walking into our candle-lit living room, where good people sit around a table sharing food and stories. The warmth, the smell of Christmas, and my puppy dogs who never forget me. Ashley and my parents sit around the table with our hurting family friend from down the block and his daughter, offering comfort and a warm meal. Sometimes that's enough.


Jim said...

Heather... thanks for the words. I spoke to a friend on the phone yesterday afternoon and he told me his step brother committed suicide. I sent him this post. I hope it helps. Keeping letting Jesus shine through your clay vessel!

Carley Brown said...

I think if you were to stop blogging a strong wave of sadness would probably overtake me.

It would leave soon enough I'm sure but I'm probably close to being your biggest blogging fan.

I learn things from you.

I always appreciate your writing style and your perfect flow of words.

And I thought it was cool that when you mentioned the blog you wrote last year about your meeting with your neighbor, I didn't even have to click on the link to know exactly what you were talking about because I remembered reading it.

My friend here at WSU committed suicide right before Thanksgiving break less than a month ago. His death threw off my whole week, and I was of course left wondering "Why" but its true

Life goes on.

I hope you have a great holiday break with your family.

I haven't been able to make it home for Christmas for the second year in a row. I think because of that fact, I don't care about Christmas that much.

I miss living in Colorado. I liked living in Loveland and always going to Campion's campus and goofing off with friends. We used to play roller blade hide and go seek at night. I also miss going to Estes Park, and hiking.

Anyways this comment is getting lengthy. btw..I laughed out loud with I read the coffee part.. haha