Sunday, November 16, 2008


A month ago, my step-grandmother died. Now normally, I don’t bother putting the term “step” in front of how I define my relationships with my various family members—many, or maybe most, of those I surround myself regularly and have grown up with since the age of 5, have been related to me by these social bonds rather than blood. For those who may not know, my parents divorced when I was 5, and by the age of 8, I was living in two families (complete with two brand-new siblings each), every other week. And every other week, I adjusted to a different family, and tried to find my place in it.

But, back to my step-grandmother. She was a good woman, strong and proud, and knew every single person in her county’s business. She developed early-onset Alzheimer’s, and even though she may ask you over and over and over again who you are, her first question would always be what your last name was, so she could figure out which “ridge” you were from. I never really knew her, beyond those simple and quick childhood interactions, but she was a good woman and will be missed by many.

My relationship on that side of the family has been strained as of late, due to misplaced hurts and anger that has either side solidly convinced that each is right. The details are not such that I will delve into on this blog—it would probably take all night to walk you back through those years that have led up to this inevitable break on my part to certain parts of my past. But there are three parts of that piece of my life that I can’t seem to break with—my two nieces and nephew, who are 13, 11 and 10. But, to me, they are all forever three years old =)

The funeral was a few weeks ago, and was held on a Sunday morning. It was the first time in about six months that I had seen any of these family members, and I sat there in the funeral parlor feeling overwhelmed by the sight of so many familiar people and amazed by how much time has marched across all our faces. All my old insecurities came flooding back within the first few minutes of walking in the door, and I was trying very hard to ignore my shaky hands, take deep breaths and remember why I was there and remind myself that today was not all about me.

I got word that my oldest niece was going to be singing—which made me panic in the way that a stage mother might panic, or in this case, a stage aunt. She is 13—an age in which I was terribly awkward, but she is not. She is steady and confident, but not in a conceited way that 13 year olds tend to be. I am desperately proud of her, but was worried at the same time that she might mess up and be forever scarred, or that she would freeze, only to grow up to document the entire incident in a best-selling memoir someday =)

It is so like me to get hysterical over things in my mind, while I sit calmly in my seat.

It was a country funeral, not unlike a country church service, where the eulogy turns out to be a sermon calling folks to accept Jesus and eternal life, should you ever want to see your loved one again. It was at the same time comforting and frightening, to hear familiar words spoken but seemingly out of context—there wasn’t so much spoken about her life, her family, the things and people she loved. It was a message of one simple hope—to see our loved one again, and to have eternal life ourselves—we must find God.

While I don’t disagree with these statements, and know that I have in fact found God myself, I’m going through a period in my life where I don’t go to church and find myself with many questions that maybe I’m not ready to have answered for me. I think spirituality is an on-going journey of enlightenment, and sometimes along that journey, you take a turn into the wilderness. And sometimes, that’s where you should be at that moment.

The service was almost over and my niece stood up to sing. She opened her mouth and proceeded to, a capella, sing an old gospel song I’ve heard only a handful of times in my life – “It Satisfies Me.” A million thoughts raced through my head during this song, and I know I’ll never hear it in the same way again.

“In the garden of Gethsemane, I can see our Savior there, as He talked to His Father in earnest prayer…He said if it by thy will, let this cup pass from me, but if not Lord, it satisfies me”

I prayed to God that she would get through this, simultaneously helping my other niece hold the video camera, while dimly noting how fantastic she sounded up there.

“Now if it satisfies you Lord, then it satisfies me.”

I couldn’t keep my eyes off her, her sweet and innocent face captivating everyone.

“If you’d have me on a mountain, or in a valley on my knees, either way Lord, it satisfies me”

Could I say the same for myself? Was I satisfied in any way?

“… if I go by the grave, or in the Rapture your face I see, either way Lord, you’ll satisfy me”

When I was 13, I think I figured the Rapture to be some sort of dinosaur.

“And if it satisfies you Lord, then it satisfies me. These few words may my prayer ever be.”

It was incredibly hot in the room and I could hardly breathe all of a sudden.

“If you’d have me on a mountain, or in a valley on my knees, either way Lord, it satisfies me.”

Deep, soothing breathes. I could get through this.

“And if it satisfies you Lord, then it satisfies me.”

I reached over and covered my niece’s trembly hands over the video camera, my own hands steady now.

She was nailing it, and people were starting to sing along, clutching Kleenex and programs in their fists. The minister closed the message, and everyone filed out, leaving just immediate family, of which I was counted among. Everyone was crying and I felt strangely numb and disconnected, but my tear-free face led my nephew to creep back to me and hold my hand, probably feeling out of place himself since he wasn’t also dissolving into hysterics.

We drove the thirty minutes through rural roads to the burial site, where we watched as Granny was placed where she longed to be—beside her husband again, four years to the day since he was buried. Being in the bright sunshine and cool air changed the mood, and it was almost jovial as we walked back to the cars. I spent the rest of the afternoon eating too much dessert and supervising the kids as they picked wild grapes off the vine and we stuffed them into our mouths, spitting out the seeds.

For a moment, for an afternoon, the tension had gone. I’m not na├»ve enough to think it over, no, just more appreciative of the moments—whatever the occasion—that prompt a truce. I drove home that night and watched the sunset become a mosaic of colors through the sky and wondered about the future. Would our family dynamics ever shift and change, or would old habits win out in the end? What role would I play in their lives going forward and what role would they continue to play in mine?

Will I ever know the answers to any of my questions, or will life continue to be a mystery to me until that day when I’m on a mountain, or in a valley on my knees?

Either way, it satisfies me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Embracing the Gray

What a fantastic weekend this was. I've had a lot of good weekends lately, filled with family and friends, both new and old, and I'm grateful for it. I crave both alone time and 'not alone' time, in equal amounts, and to have balance in my life, I have to find balance with others and also with myself. When one outweighs the other, I start to feel restless and/or confined, and need the perspective check that the other brings.

This weekend I went to my parent's house--by that I mean my Dad and step-mother's house, in the county where I grew up half-time (as children of divorce do). It's the first weekend of deer gun season, and all the men in my family flocked to our family cabin to do the manly ritual of killing things, drinking beer and grilling up steaks. And cursing. There was probably lots of cursing. So the guys did their manly things, meanwhile my sisters (both step-sisters to me, that I have known since the age of 7 (they were 6 and 3) and their babies came over to my parents house, and we had a magical time.

My parents loved it. They absolutely love it when they have all their "girls" at home, with all three babies, and no one else to share us with. One of my sisters has a 2.5 year old daughter and a 1 year old daughter, and the other has a 1 year old son, so it was baby central at our house. We rocked, watched Disney movies, filled sippy cups and bottles, lost and located passies, got a lot of kisses and dealt with a lot of tears and temper tantrums. By 10pm, everyone under the age of 3 was asleep, my parents called it a night and my sisters and I cracked open some beers and talked. And talked, and talked and talked. Sneaked outside for cigarettes and whispered like teenagers outside in the cold and stared at the stars while we exhaled slowly.

3am came too fast.

This morning we went to church. My old childhood church, that I haven't stepped foot in since I was around 10 years old. We sat with my grandmother in the same pews we had sat in almost 20 years before; the same pews she sits in every Sunday. The hymnals were the same; the people were different. The same picture of Jesus - a white man with light brown hair :) - above the wasn't hard to feel 8 years old again, putting pennies in the "Birthday Bank" for offering and running up and down those same aisles.

When I got home, my parents were sitting on the couch, withequally somber faces and told me that my little gray kitten Charlie (newly acquired from the humane society) couldn't be found. I've had him for about 6 weeks now, and I brought him with me this weekend because my little neice is in love with him and keeps a running commentary to anyone she meets about him - "I love Charlie. Charlie loves me so much. I love to hold him. He is so fuzzy. He lots of fuzz all over. I love Charlie. Charlie loves me so much...." You get the picture.

Long story short, we found him. My little gray kitten, found on this gray but radiant day, is sitting in my lap right now in my own little apartment, watching me type. He's probably thinking of the little girl that accidentally got maple syrup in his fur this morning. I'm thinking about her too. I love those little ones and I am so grateful that I get to be in their lives here and now. And for 3am beers with sisters on the porch, talking about when we were girls not much older than the ones inside asleep.

Sometimes I get so restless here. The beauty of these rolling Kentucky hills is clouded by the fact that McCain won by 17 points, and the simple easy way of life often lends to my own yearning to have more pavement under my feet. But weekends like I just had reinforce the feeling of peace that I have for being here right now. This isn't forever, but for now, my little neices and nephews know who I am and that I love them. They never doubt that I will catch them coming down the slide and I will bring them little gray kittens to play with on a cold Saturday.

They will know this, and will hold it against them as they grow, and as life changes and rearranges. As we all move on.

And I will too.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008