Storm/Shelter

I see you there, sitting at your kitchen table in a rare quiet moment. One kid is asleep, another is playing at the neighbor’s down the street. You are summoning the energy to get up and clean those floors for the third time this week, wondering how much you can get done before nap time is over but wishing you could just have some nap time of your own. You are realistic about this–you know there would be no sleeping for you at 2 in the afternoon, but you could probably watch three “Friends” reruns, and maybe mindlessly beat that game level on your phone, and that book you’ve been meaning to start is gathering dust on your nightstand. But dust (and cat hair and dirty floors) will prevail, and you will speed clean until the baby wakes.

I see you there, behind the wheel on I-40, driving too fast and wishing you could just keep going, past your exit and past today’s schedule and past anyone knowing where on earth you end up, even for just a few hours. You hear your phone ringing and you stare at the screen until it says “Missed Call.” You can’t explain it, but you just…can’t. It’s like you’ve lost your ability to form words. Like the very idea of saying “hello” into the phone right now is unfathomably hard. Impossible, even. You have reached toward the radio a few times but stopped short. You cannot talk. You cannot listen.You are just moving forward at 80 miles an hour, and it’s all you can muster. You’re going to have to get out of that car and be functional in a few minutes, and you are using yourself up to make that possible.

I see you there, with your head down and your eyes averted, hiding behind the desk, the dim light of your office, the partly closed door, hoping no one will talk to you. You can hear the laughter from downstairs echoing in the mostly empty building. You think about going down there for lunch sometimes, but you don’t. Sometimes you just walk down and sit at a table with a few colleagues, but you are always late to the conversation and you don’t linger long, and even though they are friendly and kind, you find yourself thankful to walk away after a few minutes. I know you are glad to be here, working in a place that is welcoming and friendly, but something is holding you just out of reach of a connection, and for now you’re fine with that.

I see you there, at the pool with the kids, on the couch with your husband, in the kitchen fixing dinner. Your phone is blowing up, and you are mostly ignoring it. Unanswered texts, missed calls. “When do you want to get together?” You don’t know. “When are you coming to visit?” You can’t say. “What is wrong with you?” Nothing. Everything. Too many questions. Not enough questions.You need a set of instructions, a date, a place to show up and a time to be there. You need someone to give you the answer, to take the lead, because you are pretty busy fighting this vague, gray battle inside your head, and making sure your kids are okay, and getting out of bed and stuff, and even though you have done it a thousand times before, right now the simple thought of deciding where and when to meet for lunch makes you feel like you are in 4th grade again, and you are staring at a long division problem and it looks like another language on the paper and your teacher keeps saying, “What is the answer? Write down the answer now. Why aren’t you writing down the answer?”

I see you. I know you. I am you, and I am watching you from the safety of a good day, and I can assure you that this place you are in does not define your life. This is just a season. A bad day. A storm that will pass. You will wander and feel lost. You will battle the elements. You will stand inside the eye of the monster and watch the cyclone circle you, and you will dream of what you see in its belly: dirty courtrooms and illness and danger, sneering faces and that same white car driving up and down your street and empty beds where your kids are supposed to be, phone calls you cannot bear and funeral scenes and darkness so thick you can’t see your hands in front of your face. Everything you fear coming to pass. Everything you cannot bear. You will wake up and feel the weight of it–the real parts and the imagined ones–and you will tell yourself you can’t even get up. And then you will anyway.

You will live in this storm from time to time, but it won’t own you. It will take things from you, but not everything. It will rob you of people you cared about, friends you meant to cling to but couldn’t, but not all of them. There will be moments, days, seasons, when you look around you and that darkness with all its nightmares will be a blur in the distant background and the good, real things will come into focus. Your kids playing in the hammock in the front yard on a crisp fall day, healthy and laughing and happy despite the perpetual cold virus that apparently lives in your house and your occasional–okay, frequent–impatience. Your husband reaching for your hand, pulling you close and speaking love into your story every chance he gets. Your handful of friends who keep going and going and going the distance, meeting you where you are when you can’t find your way to them, coming to your door with a bottle of wine, or sending you flowers and filling your mailbox with notes and cards, baking you cakes, texting you the coordinates, the date, the time and welcoming you at the door when you finally arrive. Your home like a beacon of safety every afternoon, a workplace that isn’t hostile, a church that feeds your soul, soccer fields and preschool and fourth grade, a dependable car and a healthy body, going for a run, driving to the store, marking your life with destinations you can count on day after day.

I see you there, walking down the sidewalk with the morning sun on your face. A little boy bouncing a basketball walks past you, pauses his mad dribbling skills to say hello as he goes by, and you are moved to tears, because this boy and his basketball and the sun and all the goodness in your whole entire life is just too beautiful at this moment, and it overflows in you. I see you. I am you, on this good day, and there will be so many more days like this, and they will be your shelter, your ark, your green pastures and cool waters. They will be a promise fulfilled, so that when the darkness starts to swirl, you can remember me–you–waiting here for the storm to pass.


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