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What to do When the Tree hits the Van


People don't think it be like that sometimes...

I took a couple of apps off my phone the other day, then logged off Facebook for awhile, because I wanted to shake up my connectivity habits. I did pretty good for a day and a half, til I found myself scrolling the laptop screen again while watching TV. So much for breaking free. It’s a been such a struggle to sit down and work this week. I’ve felt pressure to do all the other things I’m “supposed” to be doing. I’ve felt fear that people who’ve been supportive will suddenly decide they don’t like me anymore, or else they’ll just forget about me since I’m not creating new content. But I don’t want to make a bowl of cereal that’s eaten in five minutes. I want to labor over a meal that’s worth remembering. I want a plate I can hold in my hands, to wash and reuse, not a napkin that gets tossed after one snack.


It feels like the world is saying that the formula for success is to be prolific and busy and loud, but I just want to sit in the corner and sing softly to myself.


So do that, I think. But who benefits from that? I wonder. And the only answer I can come up with is “me.” Even though I know I’m happier when I take time to write, and that in turn makes me a better, wife, friend, and mother, there’s still something about this private act that feels selfish. Like I should be doing dishes, or folding laundry, or buying groceries, or planning our next meal, instead of staring at a grey screen and deciding which groups of black letters to fill it up with.


But I breathe better when I do this. I feel more like me, instead of someone pretending to be me.


I remember a conversation from several years ago with a writer friend who said something like this, “writing about writing: everyone’s favorite thing to read!” That sarcasm has stuck with me. It haunts me every time I sit down and come up with a post like this. But that’s half my life right now, getting up the gumption to face this screen everyday and write like it still matters. And I don’t have the energy to act like it’s not.


Because life kicked my ass last week. There’s no other way to say it. Monday night I read an essay that not only convinced me God was real, but that he also heard, and answered, prayer. But by Friday night I was literally on my knees with my face to the ground, sobbing into the bathroom rug. Was I overreacting? Possibly. I mean, it’s not my place right now to tell you what happened to make me feel like such a hopeless failure, but I think the friends who prayed for me on Sunday night would tell you my reaction was appropriate.


I guess you can’t try to write a book about grief without experiencing some of it now and again, huh?


I keep questioning my approach to this book, asking myself what it is I want to tell the world about grief, why it’s necessary and even good. Maybe there’s no story here, I often think, maybe you just need to suck it up and move on. But then I remember how that very attitude is what kept me so quiet for the first half of my life, and possibly what led to the depression I still struggle with today. “Life is freaking hard!” I want to stand up and scream to this neatly ordered coffee shop where I’m currently sitting, and I don’t want to use the sanitized version of the third word. But the freshly made faces and perfectly coifed hair surrounding them keep me in my seat.


Other times I think people want a formula or some sort of example for the best way to grieve, but I know I don’t have that kind of solution to offer anyone. In the last forty-two years, I think I’ve gotten it right about five times, but even on those occasions it’s not like there are sure fire results I can point to and say, “See how healthy and resolved everything turned out to be, because of how well I reacted to this sad thing?” No, life doesn’t work like that, and I won’t pretend that it does.


I can’t help but notice that I’ve used that word “pretend” twice now, and I think I had it in another sentence before my first revision. Maybe there’s a reason. Maybe my subconscious wishes we could get away with that. That I could just type out a witty anecdote and be on my way, but my heart knows the sadness will still be there.


I guess that’s why I left the happy coffee shop and drove to this parking lot where my car spent almost three hours last week. Why I’m looking out at the grey sky and mostly green trees and wondering where my help actually comes from. Is it from the medical professionals inside this building or the magical bottles of pharmaceuticals they give out? Or is it from the One who made this chilly season and the falling leaves and that little tuft of dandelion cotton still caught in the freshly mowed grass?


Is it too idealistic to imagine him here in the corner with me while I work on my words? Is it self centered to wonder if he sees me crying now and again when I contemplate how hard life is? Is it naive and simplistic to ask him to sing over me for a little while, til I have enough energy to carry my sad heart back out into the world again?


I sure hope it’s not, because today I’m feeling very tired. Too tired to pretend I’m not weary anymore. Too tired to keep typing sentences and connecting thoughts and figuring out where the next comma and period should go. So maybe this time, just this once, I’ll let him do that for me


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©2018 by Janna Barber

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Author photos taken by Lori Douthat