December 12, 2014

I cried all the way there, attempting to dry up 10 miles out so no one would know. Growing older has a way of teaching you to put feelings in their place, to be able to do what is needed at the moment. They still live side by side with the to do lists and everyday demands. So 10 miles out I organized my soul and then pulled my old car into the parking lot of the church.

Smiles, songs, intense conversation over theological matters, that internal cringing that happens in many of us at particular phrases that don’t fit right, the warmth of seeing human interaction blossom into love. For me, it is the regular inner whiplash of being part of this group of friends and colleagues one moment, and then not being part of them the next moment. I text my husband and then message with a friend, realizing my multi-tasking skills have grown exponentially with age but thinking I really shouldn’t be multi-tasking at all. And I decide silently that I am not up for lunch today after the meeting, pining instead for the safe and lonely confines of my car seat and the open interstate ahead of me.

The conversation dwindles and the clock tells us it’s time to break for the month. Except… he turns to me. This kind weathered face that has wept tears of his own when burying a child. This gentle voice, the man who runs these meetings- the man who tenderly loves the pastors in his region and under his care, the man who restored my faith in church authorities- turns to me. And I outwardly cringe, because I know he will ask. He will peek through the professional exterior and ask what I don’t want him to ask today. “How are you?”

I’m asked those questions so much. Because we are trained to ask “How are you?” in this culture. I ask them too. But we are not trained to hear the answers. And we are not trained to always give the answers. The real ones. There’s something incredibly safe about not having to answer that question in any sort of way that betrays how weak, broken, sad, scared, enraged, aching, closed-minded, frightened, indifferent we really are. In some ways, the formality of asking it protects us from the realities of having to share our lives. 

“How are you?”

How am I? I’m scattered and broken. I’m aching and I’m content. I’m hopeful and I’m scared to hope. I’m thankful and I’m discontent. I’m struggling for peace and fighting to see tomorrow. I’m living in the moment of a young smile and terrified of next year. I’m afraid of tomorrow and eager to see what new things might occur. I’m tired of praying and yet can’t stop speaking “Jesus” at every turn.

How am I? It’s too big to answer. How do you encapsulate the wideness of a human experience in one response? So I speak a few words and fight tears with a smile, and then these kind faces of friends soften as I break before them. And then they come. Close and hot and pressed in around me. And their hands, laid heavy and sweaty on my back, arm, shoulder. Words spoken over me in prayer as I shift uncomfortable in my seat. And the words that matter most are the ones who come from those who had bled. Those who had been split open in the past, weathered tones of agony in tender voice. Praying few that know the emptiness of words and the power of being closely present and willing to breathe in the stench of someone’s pain and not choke on it. Those words wrap closer.

I leave to drive home, the expanse of the interstate my new companion and the quiet of the car as my closest friend for that moment. And I realize halfway home, that that is what it feels like to be held.

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