Loss

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This is a piece of a story I wrote in 1999.  I never went back and finished it, but as I was reading it tonight (looking through old writing, thinking about how to talk with my Bible class about prayer tomorrow), I was surprised.  This summarizes how I describe it still.

 

“Does it get better?”

“What?”

“Fuck you! You know what I’m talking about! Does it get better?”

His black eyes narrowed to slits. He looked ready to jump over the table and assault me if I tried to stall again. Does it get better? Of course it gets better; it has to get better. But I could not lie to him that directly. Sure, I could two-step around the truth and leave things unsaid, but…

“It doesn’t get better. You get different.”

“What?” The fire dimmed in his eyes. He would not punch me for being confusing.  Progress.

“You’re asking me if the pain goes away, if, after x number of weeks or months–”

“Years.”

“–Or years, whether the ache stops aching. That’s your question, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, the answer is not ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’ This pain just doesn’t work like that. Break your arm, the pain goes away, the bone mends, the cast comes off. Get pneumonia, your lungs heal, but they’re never as strong again. Sever a limb, and you can wear a prosthesis, but that new arm can’t be explained with, ‘yes, the pain went away.’ Oh, the pain’s gone, but only after they removed everything from the shoulder joint down.”

The anger had gone, replaced by fear.

“You still feel like a cripple? After eight years.”

I smiled, but not really. My face failed me.

“And six months. And thirteen days.”

“Shit,” he breathed. “You still count.”

“No. One day, in the first year, I spent a day that I felt like dying counting from every day of the calendar. It’s not tough math, and once you’ve run through it in your head, you never forget. Two-four-ninety-one. Simple subtraction in three columns.”

Damn! Why did I tell him that one? Helping. Focus on helping.

He nodded. I decided to take the lead before he asked another question for which he would not want the answer.

“Do you find it helps you more to talk about her or not talk about her?”

“’Helps?'” he repeated, “What does ‘helps’ mean in that sentence?”

“I guess ‘let you deal with your grief.’”

“No.” His eyes had gone lifeless, a salmon on display in

the market.

“I know, nothing helps in the sense of ‘makes better.’ I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about…well, when Rae died, I wanted to pin her picture to the front of my shirt, and set it on the table every time I sat down to talk with someone. That way, they would understand that she was part of every conscious moment, that my mind never left her.  People thought they were being polite, asking ‘do you want to talk about it,’ but that question pissed me off the most, as if I can’t handle having it brought up, as if I’m not thinking about her every waking moment of every pointless day.”

Pete nodded.

“So talking about her with others did not help much. I found that trips to the cemetery helped the most. Sitting in the grass, or walking aimlessly, reading the dates of birth and death. Being in cemeteries was the only time that my internal and external realities matched. Everywhere else, I felt dissonance.”

Pete nodded again. His eyes flooded, but he tried a wry smile.  I think it was supposed to be a smile.

“That’s why I like talking with you,” he said.

 

A Semi-Serious Discussion of New Year’s Resolutions

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So, did you make any?

Tis the season to make massive, life-changing pronouncements about the as yet unmarred calendar stretched out before us.

This year, I’m going to be good.

I’ve read a bunch of articles and blog posts mocking or dismissing New Year’s resolutions.  I get it.  Imagining we’re suddenly going to be different and fix all the things we dislike about ourselves because the page flipped from December to January is a bit of wishful thinking.  My friend Dan, who guest-wrote my last blog post, said this in a recent Facebook post:

“January 1st, 2016 has been an awesome day. I don’t believe in New Years Resolutions, in part because my first AA sponsor drilled in my head ‘one day at a time is all your little mind can handle Koenigs.’ Today was a great day, going to make tomorrow a great day when I wake up.”

I really like this approach, and everyone in recovery understands the wisdom implied.  Making big plans for the rest of the year–or the rest of my life–is often a super way to implement absolutely no change whatsoever.  Any of us who sin and repent have said, at least once, “I will never do that again!”  Uh-huh.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Just swear off that pesky sin and be done with it?  The only “never” I can accurately report from my experience is that this never works for me.  Taking life on a day at a time, seeking to make changes a day, an hour, a minute at a time, turns out to be as much as we can handle.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  –Jesus

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Knowing

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There are a lot of abusive men in our neighborhood.  We knew that, because there had to be.  You don’t have this level of poverty without also getting all the attendant symptoms and causes.  But there’s a difference between knowing about it and knowing it.  Recently, Kim has been developing deeper relationships in the community, and she is hearing the stories.

You don’t want to have to see this.  You don’t want to know it.

A little girl in our school broke both of her heels.  She said she tripped.  Our friend and teammate who is a nurse said it is basically impossible for her to have broken her heals by falling down.  So what happened?

One of the women told about her husband, who is now in jail.  She described a pattern of violence that has gone on for years. Nicaragua has very strict laws about hurting or even threatening women or girls.  If you are accused, the police will put you in jail and then decide whether you are guilty or innocent.  But most of the time no one is accusing.  Most of the time, it just happens.  Normal.

Our friend Bella preached at one of the churches in our barrio and talked about different issues for women.  She told some stories.  She described healing from abuse and recovery from years of destructive relationships.  After the service, she was surrounded by women who wanted to talk to her.  From that Sunday guest speaking appearance, a group called Mujeres de Shalom has sprung up.  It’s a recovery group for women, the second Bella has started here.  She teaches and encourages and prays with the women.  All of them, I mean every single one, has suffered abuse.

So I look around as I walk down our streets.  I look at the men sitting on the side of the road, drunk every day.  I look at the ones walking purposefully with Bibles in their hands to the big church on the corner.  I look at the thirty-something running the pulperia and the fifty-year-old returning home in his taxi.  I watch the 12- and 14-year-old boys, playing soccer in the street, shooting goals against the fence.  I watch the little boy who always comes running to greet me, filthy and snotty but with such a smile you can’t help but high five him and swing him around.

And I think, “What’s happening in your homes?”  Because I’m starting to know.