I need a break from Lent.
An acquaintance used that line on a friend’s post about preparing for Lent and it hit me like a load of bricks. I’m a baby Episcopalian without a lot of Lent background but I know enough to know that lasting till Ash Wednesday is not a very impressive record for waving the white flag. Bear with me. Although I didn’t grow up in the liturgical tradition, I see great value in its cyclical pattern and guided seasons. For such a time as this, etc. From my experience, Lent is about peeling back layers, about experiencing intentional discomfort to recenter yourself, and about loss.
I’ve been living in Lent. A period of time stretching back almost a year now of reorganizing my priorities and stripping back expectations that I once considered obvious and essential. I am so very hungry for Easter, for new birth. Today, crumpled on the couch, I confessed that all around me I see people in the “creation” stages of their life with baby showers, and due dates, new jobs, and exciting moves. I’m happy for them but I’m also crushed. I feel trapped in a long slow decomposition. Life hurts. I can hope that this decomposition sensation is also one of fertilization: that something richer and beautiful will grow out of it. In the moment, it just feels like an extended abrasion in which every moment stretches out another sore spot.
This week I was diagnosed with PTSD. That sounds shocking and dramatic and I want to acknowledge that there is a gigantic chasm of PTSD and I’m firmly convinced and grateful that I am in the shallow end of that riptide. Still, it’s there. It shows up when I’m driving, glance back to see my happy baby and freeze into an alternate reality in which it’s just the two of us, forever. I get nausea when my phone goes off at night and I can’t go back to sleep. I no longer have a mental setting of “I’m sure everything is fine” if I miss a phone call or can’t get a hold of Andrew. It’s exhausting. I struggle with anger because after so much it’s just not fair that I’m still hurting, I’m still scared, and I’m still so unsure.
Last week marked six months since Andrew’s last attempt. From a linear standpoint that should have been a celebratory milestone. Depression is not quite linear though and my discomfort and unease have been ratcheting up steadily for three weeks now. For most of the years of our marriage, we knew that late fall is when things started getting tough and the caution lights went on for our social interactions, our check-ins, and our speed of life in general. If we made it to spring break though, we were normally in the clear. Things would start easing up and by summer there would be a few glorious months of laughter and impulsiveness and easy connection. That pattern was significantly disrupted last year where spring break marked a steep downturn in Andrew’s depression and the spiral flew out of control throughout the summer. In my head, six months in is a halfway point but on the wheel of time it’s more like that horrible old riddle of “how far can you walk into a forest”. The answer of course is “only halfway because then you start going out”. In this case though, we’re trapped in a nightmare forest where there is no “getting out” and now there’s only a count down to the next traumatic breakdown.
To clarify, Andrew is doing really well. I’m so proud of how active and decisive he’s been about consistent medication and doctor appointments plus doing the nitty gritty self-care stuff that can be so easily overlooked when you feel bad. He’s doing much better than me at asking for help for example. :)
With political anger and abuse, mysterious medical bills, and the perpetual panic of “what-if”, I don’t have a lot of cushion right now. My students are experiencing pressure and pain in this racially charged environment and it’s showing up in behavior. I’ve lost more students to dropping out this year than I have in all my other years of teaching combined. My emotional grace and joy is at a rough low and I’m finding myself trapped in ugly cycles of apathy because I just can’t and desperation to be the best teacher ever because it’s so obvious the kids need it. A sentence I read this morning nails it perfectly. “Every day, a teacher has both succeeded and failed.” Every single day, I could tell you a beautiful moment, a breakthrough, a funny English error we learned about. Every same day I could tell you about a kid quitting, a student throwing a book, being called a whole range of things just under someone’s breath. Every day I feel a little closer and a whole lot farther away from the teacher I want to be. This week that wound got much much deeper.
*For those who are sensitive to descriptions of violence and assault, please stop here.*
This Friday, while this post paused in my drafts folder for me to contemplate if life was really hard enough to countenance sharing it, I received heartbreaking news. Before classes started I was paged over the intercom to go to the counselor’s office. Being in mid conversation with my team leader, I must have looked confused because he proceeded to tell me, in the middle of the hallway with shocking calmness, that one of my students had died. Not an accident, not a tragic coincidence that leaves us shaken in our grief. No, my fifteen year old chickadee, my student, one of mine, had been murdered. The details as they emerged between the counselor’s whispers and my Google searches revealed layer after layer of evil. Lord have mercy.
She had been missing for weeks. I sent email after email, was told that when she was marked a “runaway” that it was now the police’s business. I had asked her friends, they said she had a fight with her mom, was living with a friend. It’s not an uncommon story with my kids. I checked with them again, she was going to a new school, probably. I remember asking if I wrote her a note if they could take a picture and text it to her. Of course they could.
I never wrote the note.
Logically I know, it would have done nothing. It wouldn’t have protected her from the men who held her captive, who assaulted and raped her, who killed her as an appeasement to the Beast they feared and worshiped. In a world of evil, I am so weak and powerless. But I had a chance to send her love, to share that she was worth something. I missed my chance.
Job cried out, “I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, “when shall I arise” But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till dawn.” (7:3-4)
I cannot speak for her mother, for her friends, for her little brother that she wrote me papers about. I do not know their grief and their guilt, their fear and sorrow. I can only carry my heart. I only know that I am weary to my bones. I am drowning in sand that shifts and swallows me up. I am rocked with anger. I don’t want to talk to God.
She was a child. A good reader who sassed as good as she got in a morning class full of attitudes, she made friends and was kind to her seatmate who struggled with the simplest of questions. She laughed at my exaggerated faces and hated to see her class fall behind the reading competition. She told me about fights with her mom. She walked arm in arm with her friends in the mornings before class. She was a CHILD.
I have never hated the past tense more.
In all the storms of my life, and there have been dark and terrible storms, my narrative faith has stood me well. How great the triumph after the battle. Redemption requires a certain loss. The sovereignty of God is a mighty and mysterious thing. Yet I will confess in the throes of this, I can see no brightness. I see no hope. The law can promise retribution, but no justice. The dawn will not bring a miraculous call of celebration. Her body was left on the side of the road. Her story is ended.
Lent is a long forty days and Christ who loved us sweat blood before the tragedy that it culminates in. The suffering of this year has sapped me to the bone. I don’t know how to sweat blood. I can’t reach my hands out for grace when I picture Genesis afraid and without succor. I can’t pray for healing and strength without wondering where her Rescuer was. I don’t know how to receive the joy of Easter right now.