had’s and hadn’t’s

I generally try to follow advice. Even if it doesn’t seem to make perfect sense, or doesn’t really click, if somebody gives me advice, it’s usually from personal experience, and experience is (usually) a pretty good teacher. At least I give it a go, and if it doesn’t work out, then I learned something. Invariably, I’ll have learned more than I would have learned if I’d kept on doing things the way I normally do. One bit of advice I learned was, in summary, “At the end of your life, you’ll want to think ‘I wish I hadn’t’ more than you’ll want to think ‘I wish I had.’ “

I tried it out and realized it is completely and painfully true. And I can’t believe how long I’ve lived not acting like that’s true. The Bible says that the heart is deceitful, and there are so many times when I’m deciding between doing something and not doing something and I chose to not do because my heart crams my brain full of excuses like “I need to go home and sleep” or “that would be too awkward.”

[Excuse, noun. 1. Something that usually isn't true.]
Obviously, if the thing you’re debating doing is immoral, then don’t. But don’t look back and realize that you could have helped a friend not make a decision to do something incredibly stupid, or that you could have chosen to be kind to somebody who you later realized was going through a really hard time, or that you could have spent that extra hour with a friend you weren’t going to see anytime soon, or that you could have said goodbye and I love you to a family member you definitely weren’t going to see… ever again.
I have a lot of days, and you probably do too, where I’m just positive I’ve screwed up myself and everything in my life  (if it’s a really bad day, I’ve screwed up everybody else’s lives, too.) But I’m certain I will never regret loving others, loving God, snatching up opportunities, taking time for others, and most importantly, trying my best. Anyway, that’s my advice.

above waves

The second you’re gone, where am I again? Falling into my own gravity. Pulled back, square one, two steps back. Into myself, collapsing, imploding, barely standing. Structurally unsound. I live on my knees, head down, hands flat on the floor. Lungs pull hard. World spins. Where am I?
 
At the edge of the water, your fingers are mine. I feel your strength and believe I am strong. But I am weak and let go. I am heavy and fall deep. Plummeting. Going under. I sink beneath stormy waves and can barely see, and the undertow flows through me. I believe there is light at the top of the waves. I can feel it. It illuminates the dust in the water until the world around me sparkles and glows like a million fireflies in a summer night. But my reaching hand only blocks its shine.
 
Dark in the deep. Buried six feet deep in cold, heavy sand. I grasp. Gasp. Grope. 
 
UnderWater
 
Sun at the surface. I’m afraid of what I will find but the light must be where you are. Your words were the only ones I ever wanted to hear and I wrap them around me, holding them close like the last of my breath. You gave them for hope but I found them for peace. My eyes close, but then – your arms around my waist.
 
Your breath becomes mine. You rob me of myself and you have given me yourself and never, in the depths or deepness, will you let your heart go. I am nothing and everything. I may wither in the daylight but I would wither for so much less. And now I know that life is warm and bright, and the light above the waves is so much brighter and warmer then the fireflies beneath.

lanterns and skies

“When the prosperous man on a dark but starlit night drives comfortably in his carriage and has the lanterns lighted, aye, then he is safe, he fears no difficulty, he carries his light with him, and it is not dark close around him. But precisely because he has the lanterns lighted, and has a strong light close to him, precisely for this reason, he cannot see the stars. For his lights obscure the stars, which the poor peasant, driving without lights, can see gloriously in the dark but starry night. So those deceived ones live in the temporal existence: either, occupied with the necessities of life, they are too busy to avail themselves of the view, or in their prosperity and good days they have, as it were, lanterns lighted, and close about them everything is so satisfactory, so pleasant, so comfortable — but the view is lacking, the prospect, the view of the stars.”

-Søren Aabye Kierkegaard

stars

The painted white bricks were both smooth and bumpy to touch. My other hand was curled beneath my pillow and danced with sparkling galaxies of pain, but there was nothing I could do about it because the cost of relief was the energy required to move it and I wasn’t willing to spend what precious reserves I had. The stars shone with a bilious yellow light and I wanted them gone but I was almost in a trance and unable to do anything about them. My very thoughts were dull and muddy and I’m not sure if I could have moved even if I wanted to; I could have stayed up for hours and I never would’ve switched the stars off. I just lay there wondering why they had to be on all the time. It was the way they burned into my eyes beyond my eyelids, bathing the once-comforting blackness in a dull yellow glow that lingered in my brain like a headache. My brain was so sore. My thoughts had some aspiration; they tried to rise and escape, but they hit the white cinderblock ceiling and came plummeting, bruised and bewildered, down again. Spiraling up and down, tangled, discolored, battered, keeping me awake but sore enough to keep me from thinking clearly or even creatively. I couldn’t rest, and I couldn’t find comfort in even the darkness because of the obtuse, prickly light that left everything dripping and distended with its self-aware semi-brightness.

I was too tired to move the blankets off. I laid in sticky apathy, so bedraggled that I was glad when you came into the room and turned on the heating because my breath was weak and still and the room was mind-bendingly stiller and the rush of hot, humid air forced itself into my weak lungs and provided a temporary escape from my asthmatic breaths. I wasn’t sure then whether you were cold or if you were trying to torment me because my mind was a broken clock that struggled to move forward but was caught in an endless loop of lunging forward and falling backwards, unable to truly process anything with any kind of clarity.

night_sky_by_sle375_photos

But now I am by myself again and the room is cool and my head rests into the familiar comfort of my own pillows and blankets. The stars are small and wintry now, and they don’t burn into my mind, they glitter austerely down at me. I am thinking clearly now and now I know you’re my sister and you wouldn’t have tried to hurt me. I know that you had just been cold because you had been out all night in the bleak and blurry world that lingered outside dorm windows, a planet that snapped and crackled with snow and excitement and Chicago air and college life. I didn’t think we could have been any further apart when I was semiconscious in the deathly heat of your room and you were wide awake and laughing under your crisp and frosty sky, but now that I am awake and cold and under your stars I feel further from you than ever before.

(not) saying goodbye

I said goodbye to some friends last week. Although the words “said goodbye” put the facts in a somewhat idealized light, because truth is, I didn’t actually say goodbye to them at all. Our relationship was, at one point, a speeding car. It was fast and crazy and beautiful. It was always brand new territory and a little bit dangerous, and at the same time, the most well-worn, familiar, comfortable old sweater you’ve ever laid eyes on. There was always a wall way off in the distance, but we chose to be oblivious to it. We rationalized away any whispers of what was waiting at the end of the road. We rationalized away the fact that there was an end to the road at all. But over this past year we’ve inescapably begun to come to our senses. We’ve been slowing down, and I’ve spent the past few weeks staring wide-eyed at what I’ve spent the past few years avoiding. Last week, I felt the final jolt and realized that we’d crashed for good. But the engine is still running. And how do I twist the car keys and shut down the entire system? It’d be like pulling the plug on a child on life support. That is why I can’t say goodbye. That’s why I, ostensibly, never will.

There is a frightening number of conversations that haunt me, not because they’re bad memories, but because they’re not proper memories at all. There are so many conversations I mean to have, and I plan them out in my head, but they build up and jam and never really leave, because when it comes to actually saying the words I’ve been rehearsing for ages, I see how close we are to the road block and realize that we’re almost stopped and it’d be too awkward to say it now. I’m a slave to maintaining our status quo, even though it’s almost nonexistent now, translucent and emaciated. We are both on tightropes, and I know that our time is almost up but never in a million years will I risk doing anything that will push us off. I don’t want to be the one to actually bring everything to a halt. If it has to end, I would much rather that we wander away. No risk, no push, no fall, no finality, and absolutely no acknowledgment. Just… driving… and then slowing… then, eventually, nothing.

I wish I was okay with this. But I will never not hate myself for it. My meager years don’t provide the experience I need to know as absolute fact that I will regret this inability to say goodbye, but I can identify it as a weakness nonetheless and, like all my other shortcomings, find it hard to forgive. I know that I don’t need to forgive myself, and am eternally wonderstruck and mindblown at the mere idea, but even with the knowledge that God forgives my shortcomings, I still beat myself up over them. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I’m not sure. Population of seven billion considered, there are very few lives that I’ll have an opportunity to positively affect, and I don’t want to waste what relationships I have making sure that we’re not anywhere near the edge. I know that couldn’t possibly be a good way to live.

But here I am, wondering what I am supposed to do next. I feel alone on this wire and paper thin. The slightest breeze could send me plummeting. One of the hardest parts of saying goodbye is not having the courage to actually say anything at all.

Storm

Wind-tossed shadows

cascade through a cashmere sky;

timorous grey and smoky sapphire

luminesce in a penumbra of twilight

and sweet nocturnal moon.

Sky billows like a maelstrom, clouds

splashing and rolling

and breaking, sky against sky,

crashing into tendrils of white foam and

spray. Damp

petrichor whips through roaring wake,

musty and mellifluous

sweet and somnolent.

Rolling and

beating,

roaring and pulsing,

fingerless mist beats a thousand drums

and voiceless sky screams, hot and jagged:

they collude. They hiss, and gush, and

mutter. Swelling

and swirling around an eye of serenity,

their breath rips the air

and their skin is torn asunder

and raging incandescence strokes the bitter earth.

Sunshine

Here’s a short story I wrote recently. Read and enjoy! :D Oh, and music helps. So here’s a pretty song.

Disclaimer — this story was for my creative writing class and was meant to be as angsty as possible. I don’t tend to write stories on this vein.

Sunshine

——

The first memory I have is sunshine.

It filtered down through the hazy air of a summer afternoon. It sparkled on the waves in the bay, glinted off the sand. Seagulls screeched, turning in lazy circles in the hazy summer air. Everything was quiet and peaceful. Unlike me. I had a water gun, and I was using it. I don’t remember Jay being there—not too well, at least—but I remember running, and I remember laughing, and the grass being slick and wet under my feet.

Next, I remember the beach. This is one of my most precious memories, even though I don’t know if I truly remember this day, or if my mind has simply fabricated the memories out of old Polaroid photographs and stories people have told me. But we were on a boat. We were standing at the prow; I was scared, so I held on to Jay in a way I would later jokingly refer to as “Jack and Rose” style. I was Jack, holding on for dear life; he was Rose, arms outstretched, facing the wind and the waves head-on, braver than I could ever be.

I have other recollections, too. Birthday parties. Movie nights. Field trips. I used to keep them with me and shuffle through them every so often, like a handful of old photographs. It all came together, one beautiful big scrapbook of dreams and memories that I called my life. Our life.

But now, they’re nothing more than dusty old photographs. I am like a widow who has hidden away all reminders of her late husband. I have locked up all our memories in a drawer, along with any and all vestiges of our friendship—letters, drawings, cardboard-tube swords; seashells, Jay’s guitar, and an old book of insects that we used to pore over for hours on end. I never want to look at any of them again.

All I want is to forget.

You would think that I was the one whose heart surgery had failed. You would think I was the one who was going to die. Because all I have done since he called me is sit in my room, knees drawn up to my chin, cradling myself and wishing the world would go away. I don’t think I’ve left my room once. Maybe I felt as if going outside, experiencing the world, living life—that that would all be unfair. Cheating him, somehow. Taking something that he couldn’t have and rubbing it in his face.

Dying isn’t something that is supposed to happen to friends, I think. It happens to strangers. It happens to people in wars. It happens for a reason. Heart failure is not a good enough reason for me.

Dying is not supposed to happen to Jamie.

It’s bright today. The sun is shining through my bedroom window, and I can tell it’s what people would generally call a beautiful day. But this day has given me nothing to call beautiful. Today, beauty is only a reminder of how much Jay is about to lose.

Part of me wants to go and see him.

But most of me wants to hide forever.

—–

It’s another day—one less day that Jay won’t have—before my dad gets back from his business trip to Minneapolis. When he enters the house, he doesn’t unpack, doesn’t grab a bite, anything. He comes into my bedroom and holds me.

I feel like I’m a little kid again. Because I not only find myself craving his strong arms and gruff, soothing voice, but it makes me cry harder.

We drive to the hospital that day. We tell the nurse at the front desk Jay’s name, and she points us in the right direction. When we arrive at the Coronary Care Unit, dad makes polite chitchat with Jay’s parents, who he’s known ever since grade school. Then my mom comes, a woman who couldn’t be bothered to keep her marriage but drove halfway across the country to see my friend die. She’s different from when I last saw her. She has a new hair color. She brought her boyfriend, too.

Dad and my mom go in to talk to Jay first. Well, I’m with them, but I might as well not be. I’m not doing any of the talking. I’m not even looking at Jay. But then my parents leave the room. I want to leave with them, but I know that I can’t. I can’t hurt Jay. Not now.

When I finally meet his gaze, I feel dazed. I can’t speak. My body is like a block of ice and my mouth is even number.

His grey eyes light up even more when he sees me walking towards him, and I can only hope that I don’t look as cold and emotionless as I feel. We fistbump, and Jay chuckles weakly. “We’re dorks,” he says.

I nod. I try to laugh along with him, but it’s not funny. Nothing is.

For the rest of my short visit, Jay and I are separated by a sheet of glass. We can touch. We can hear each other perfectly. When he reaches out to hug me, he can. But I feel nothing, and I know I must feel stony and lifeless to his touch. Even when I tell him, in a forced calm, how much I hope he’ll get better, and how awesome of a friend he is, there is nothing. No warmth. No anger. Not even pain. There is a wall between us, and I don’t try to shatter it. Breaking it would hurt, so I go ahead and leave it there.

Jay is the first to cry. It scares me, and I want him to stop, so, like an idiot, I ask him why he’s crying. It’s not because he’s scared, he says. It’s because he doesn’t want me to leave.

But I’m scared. And I want to leave. Until now, I was piecing together lies in my fragile reality, trying to make myself believe that maybe this is all just a dream. Maybe he is going to be alright after all. Maybe this isn’t really happening. But Jay never cries. And being forced to accept the fact that he’s sobbing shatters all the pathetic defenses I had put up to protect myself from the truth.

Part of me wants nothing more than to break this glass wall and stay with him forever, but instead I turn and leave the hospital room without saying goodbye. I only allow myself to break down when I’m in the elevator, far away from my mom and dad and Jay’s mom and dad, and most important, far away from where Jay can hear me.

I have a spare key to my dad’s car, so I get inside and pull out of the parking garage. He can get a ride with my mom and her boyfriend. Or he can go with Jay’s parents. I don’t care how he gets home. I just need to go.

The moment I get back, I change into shorts and a t-shirt and hit the road. I don’t know how long I run for; I think it must be a while, but there’s no way of telling. My legs are numb, true, and my breath is coming hard and fast, but that was all true before I even changed into my workout clothes.

I want to be in a world where he never existed. I want all this to be a dream.

How can I face a world like this?

I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m on the ground now, leaning against the back of a palm tree, my face in my hands.

“I can’t do it,” I choke. “I can’t do it…”

I’m still lying there when my parents drive by. They carry me into the car, and we drive home.

—–

“Remember the time we were at the beach?” Jamie asks. He’s lying on a gurney-type bed on the inside of an ambulance. I was volunteered to join him by our parents. I didn’t really have a choice. I’ve been realizing more and more life doesn’t often give you a choice.

I swallow. I know exactly what he’s talking about. Jack and Rose, I think. “We live on the beach,” I say. “There were a lot of times.”

I can’t tell if he’s shaking his head, or if we hit a bump in the road.

“No, I mean the day on the boat,” he says. “Remember? When we were standing at the prow…”

“I don’t remember that,” I interrupt.

There’s a long silence. He knows I’m lying, but he doesn’t say so. Instead, he does the one thing in the world that I wouldn’t expect somebody in his situation to: he smiles.

“I just thought of something,” he says. “I get to plan out every single day of my life. I mean, like, even every hour. Now that’s a bragging right.”

But you won’t be around to brag about it, I want to say. “Good point,” is what I say instead. And, to keep the conversation going, add, “So, what are you planning on doing? Any last wishes?”

“Hmm… yeah. I think I’ll be at the beach.”

“I think you’ll be getting a haircut,” I reply, impulsively reaching forward and flicking away an overgrown lock of hair from his eyes.

“Aww, I like it like this.” He gives me his best puppy dog eyes, and I grin at him.

“All right,” I say, like I thought long and hard about it. “Just this once.”

—–

When we get home, Jay goes off to talk to his grandparents and spends most of his time messing around on his guitar. I spend all my time not talking to Jay. Doing anything but talking to Jay.

But he finds me instead.

I’m standing by the waves. The water splashes against my legs as it crashes on the sand, and above me, seagulls are screaming. I feel like joining them. But the wind is soothing and peaceful, and the sand is cool between my toes. And I hear Jay walking towards me, and I decide to keep calm. For him.

His fingers brush against my arm, and his chin finds my shoulder. We stand there, for a long time, unable to find words. There’s not really anything to say.

“I’m sorry,” I finally mutter, staring at the ground.

“For what?”

What do you think? I want to say, but am instead silent while I struggle to find the right words. “For leaving you.”

“You mean back at the hospital?”

My voice is flat. “I mean forever.”

“Oh.” There’s a silence, and then I can feel him shrug. “Well, it’s okay. I can’t exactly blame you.” His hand is still on my arm, but he turns, and now he’s facing me. He’s still grinning like a two year-old, but there is something raw behind his eyes as he says, “Promise you’ll miss me.”

I nod, but have to duck my head to hide the emotion pricking at my eyes. “I always thought that there would be you,” I whisper. I didn’t know I felt that way until I hear the words coming from my mouth, but I know it’s true. It’s truer than anything I’ve ever felt before.

“Me too,” he replies, and the smile falls from his face. He makes a half-hearted attempt to recover it, but can’t seem to force it back on. “You asked me yesterday what my final wish was.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, I thought of it.”

“And?”

He doesn’t miss a beat as he replies: “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

My heart begins to crack. Like a hammer hitting a concrete wall. I can feel the fissure, snaking across my heart. “Jay, don’t.” My throat is almost too tight to force out the words. “You know that you…”

“No.” He shakes his head. He repeats the words, with more strength this time. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

I’m still confused. It takes me a moment to grasp his meaning. But when I do, I break. Everything in me completely and utterly breaks. I have been shattering, slowly, silently, over the past week, and now every piece of me is undone.

But it’s okay.

It’s all right.

He’s telling me it is. His arms are around me and he’s telling me going to be okay.

He is the strong one, I think. He always was.

“I’m sorry,” I gasp, burying my face in his shirt. “I’m sorry…”

He holds me tighter for a moment, and then pulls back a little, looking me over.

“Don’t be.”

I swipe under my eyes with the bottom of my shirt. “I know.”

“It’s okay,” he whispers, and pulls me close again. “It’s okay…”

“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had,” I choke.

“I know. I know…”

We stay like that—him holding me, him comforting me—until the sun sets, and his parents call us back inside.

But I wished we could have had that moment for eternity.

—–

The next few days slip by, in their quiet way. They are too short, but they are perfect. They are the rest of Jay’s life, and we are spending them together, and they are perfect. I never realized how breathtaking a sunset could be, or how fascinating sea shells are. Like little kids, we catch jars of fireflies and splash eachother in the waves and set off fireworks on the beach. Jay and I make lemonade and s’mores, and they have never tasted so sweet. And I never thought before of lying on a rooftop and watching the sun rise, but now that we’ve done it, I can’t believe I’ve never thought of it before.

The only thing that ruins this time is the knowledge that these days will have to end. I’m like a little kid, trying to get the most out of summer vacation, trying his hardest to forget the first day of school looming in front of him, like a storm cloud on a sunny day.

I try my hardest to forget. But one day, something happens that jolts me back to reality. I bring out the water guns. We’re running, and laughing, and both soaking wet, and I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun. Everything in me is telling me to put the guns away, to stop running and laughing, because deep inside, I know that I’m trying to relive that memory. That day. That memory was supposed to be locked away, and all of me is saying that this is wrong.

And I was right to say that.

Because when I turn around, breathless and laughing, to look at Jay, he’s gone.

At first, I’m just mildly confused. And then my heart stops.

I don’t allow myself to panic—not yet. I retrace my steps, and call out his name. I do find him. It takes me an agonizing two minutes, but I find him. He’s face down on the grass, clutching his heart, gasping for breath. When I turn him over, his lips are blue, and he’s shaking all over.

I freak out and call 911. We bring him back inside, and he’s put to bed while we wait for the ambulance to arrive. I stay with him—I sit by his bed and try to pray, but words don’t come to my mind. All I want is a week longer. A day longer. But I can’t ask for it, because nothing comes. Not even tears. I’m just numb all over. And eventually, my dad picks me up and carries me to bed. I’m too tired to resist, and when he tucks me in and kisses my forehead, I doze off immediately.

Sometime when I was asleep, the ambulance did come. Because when I walk back into the room, Jay’s hooked up to dozens of tubes and machines that I’ve never even seen before and don’t want to know what they do. An IV feeds liquid into his body with each steady drip. My heart lurches, and I stumble backwards, crying out. The sound wakes him up. He opens his mouth, but starts coughing and can’t say anything. Blood speckles the front of his pale blue pajamas, and when I see it, I think I’m going to throw up. It’s all I can do to hold myself steady. Flecks of crimson dot his chin, accentuating the ghostly pallor of the face that used to be almost brown with sun.

I can’t take it. I turn and run from the room.

I tried, I think. I tried so hard to believe you were going to be okay.

But it was just a lie, after all.

I hide in my bedroom. Rocking back and forth on my haunches, I start to cry, pressing my shirt into my face, trying to muffle the sobs racking my body. I ball up the fabric, cramming it against my mouth, digging my fingernails into it, screaming until my throat is raw and my heart is empty and I can’t scream any longer.

—–

Time passes. Nurses come and go out of the bedroom, but I know there’s no point. Maybe they can extend his life one more day. One more hour. It doesn’t really matter in the end. Sickening resignation curls inside of my gut, and I want to be sick. But there would be no point. I have nothing to do but sit next to him and wait. For what? I’m not sure. But I know I’m not leaving him.

The next day, the nurses say he’s allowed to get up—probably because they know there’s absolutely nothing they can do, and he might as well enjoy his last hours— but he doesn’t.  I try to cajole him into going down to the beach, but he shakes his head. I manage to coax a few spoonfuls of pudding into him, and the nurses say that’s a sign of improvement, but I don’t believe them. What improvement? I want to scream. He’s dying! But instead I put on a fake smile that matches theirs perfectly. That day, I stay in his bedroom all day and talk. Read to him. Tell him stories. I’m talking even when he’s asleep, and most of the time, I think he is. When he’s awake, he asks me to tell him about back then. That is the one thing I won’t tell him. Memories only hurt both of us. And then he falls back asleep.

I leave.

I go back to my bedroom and sit on the edge of my bed. I sit with my arms crossed, elbows on my knees, staring at the cracks in the wood flooring as if they constituted some giant puzzle that I could figure out if I just looked long enough. I sit there for a long, long time. Not doing anything. Just hurting.

I can’t remember the last time I felt so hopeless.

When I got the call, I was just empty. Empty and numb and scared. But now, I can’t help but feel that we were so close. And even though I would have never admitted it, I think I’ve spent these last couple of days hoping…hoping that there could be something more… more time…more dreams… more memories. I don’t know. Something. But now I know that I am too late.

Biting my lip, I gingerly raise Jay’s guitar off my bedroom wall and begin to strum. I go through all our old favorite songs. I hope he can hear me. I like to think that I’m singing both of us to sleep.

—–

I’m woken up a few hours later by the sound of him knocking on my bedroom door. When I open up, he doesn’t say anything, but when I see him, I know that it’s time.

I pull on my hoodie and step out into the night air, and we began to walk. It’s not exactly walking—I’m almost carrying him—but we get by. I don’t know if we have a destination. I don’t think that we do. But when we turn into the backyard, and I see the curl of sand right in front of us, it feels right, like we had been planning this all along.

He’s too weak to walk any further, even with me supporting his every step, so we stop. I put my arm around him, and we stand at the edge of the waves. My free hand finds his, and without looking at me, he grips mine so hard I think it’s going to break. And then harder, as a spasm of pain clenches over him.

“I—” he gasps, and takes a staggering step forward.

I reach forward and catch him. I hold him from behind and support him. I hold him like I am never going to let go.

I feel his limbs loosening, but I just hold on tighter, keeping him tall and upright and standing tall against the wind and the rolling waves. And I am struck with an image. Jack and Rose. Him and me. Standing at the prow of the boat. We have come full circle.

We are at the end.

“Please,” he says, and the word is slurred. “Don’t go.”

I shift him around in my arms until we’re face to face, and I slowly guide him down to the dark, wet sand. His eyes flick over my face, and I think he’s trying to memorize the way I look; perhaps he’s just trying to recognize me. “Keep your eyes on me,” I tell him, and am surprised at the calm in my own voice.

In the light of the fading moon, I can see him clearly. His face is slack, and I can tell he’s fighting for every breath. I want to tell him to hold on, but I don’t. Instead, I say, “It’s okay. Let go.”

I put my palm against the side of his face, and can feel some of his tension sag. His eyelids are flickering now. He slumps backward, but my arm is around his shoulders, and I don’t let him fall. His left hand gropes for me and holds on to my shirt, like it’s some kind of lifeline; his right hand fumbles for mine, but the movement takes more energy than he has, so I take his instead. I repeat the words, and hope he can’t hear the tremble in my voice.

“Let go,” I murmur, as soothingly as I can.

A brief look flits across his eyes. What is it? Relief? Gratitude? I can’t tell. Maybe both. It doesn’t really matter. And then the look is gone, replaced with something I can only call peace. His other hand slowly unclenches from my shirt as his beautiful eyes glaze; he looks, past me, up at something I can’t see.

I feel like I am the only thing out of place here. How can those stars shine so peacefully, those moonlit waves lap so calmly? How can he lay there, looking so tranquil, when everything in my existence is screaming louder than a million police sirens?

And then I know: he’s trying to hold on to me. He’s trying to be Jack, holding Rose, keeping me tall and strong as we face this wind and these waves. So I squeeze his hand and I hold his gaze, as steady as I can, and try to be brave for both of us. It’s getting harder to see, and every moment tears into me like shards of broken glass, but I’m not looking away. I’m not leaving him.

Time passes, slow and steady, like the beat of a heart. I’m not sure how much, and it doesn’t matter; this moment is too sacred. Time is irrelevant. All I know is that morning light is peeking out from behind the grey clouds, and to my red, worn-out eyes, everything is blurry and shimmering. I can see his face more clearly now, and I know that he is sleeping and that it won’t be long now.

My throat is tight. My face is wet. My breath is shallow, limited to shivering sobs. I don’t know how I can even speak, and I know that he can’t hear, but some part of me wants to believe that he can, and so it it’s now that I tell him.

I tell him about sunshine. About running through slick, wet grass, water gun in hand.

I tell him about the day at the beach, and how I don’t remember if it was all real or if it was just a memory I got from old photographs.

I tell him about birthday parties and movie nights and field trips.

I tell him that I don’t want to forget.

I tell him I don’t want the memories of now, of our lives, to be pieced together from old Polaroid photographs. I don’t want this to become something distant and faraway, that I try not to think of as much as possible. I want this to be real. I want this to be ours. I want this forever.

I tell him that I want him to be here. With me. For as long as I live.

And that nothing is going to change.

My voice has given out by now, so I just hold him as close as I can and wipe away my tears from ours faces.

He is in my arms. There is a soft smile on his lips. I can almost believe that he is only sleeping. And the dream feels just real enough, just enough to believe that we are watching the sun rise over the bay together.

This Is Home

Rosy dawn to sunset glorious
Ghosts of birdsong
silver sings
From dark midnight’s final teardrop -
Starlight, chanterelle ring.

Tall pines breaking breach of moonlight
As their sisters touch the stars…
From the stormlight to the last light
It is here
I’m never
far.

Image

This is home.
The wonder starlight
I can touch
from where I am
Through the ocean, through the moonlight
I see you
from where I am.

As the Last Tree shines above us,
Pleiades, Alderbaran
Dark moon sunset,
star of evening
Long-lost sunlight, long-lost land.

Come to me.
A ship is waiting
Deep with shades of moonlit gold.
Through a sea of stars eternal,
I am waiting,
time
unfolds.

Time

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This is a paper I recently wrote for my literature class. (I thought I would add that, just so you know that I’m  not dying in a hospital room or anything.)

——–

You never know what you have until it’s gone.

That’s what they say, anyway.

But I think they’re wrong. I think you never know what you have until it’s about to be gone. It’s in those last few hours when you see it—that pause right before the end, when everything you’ve said and done flashes before your eyes. And yet, it doesn’t just happen—not all in one moment. It doesn’t hit you like a tidal wave, or crash over you like a waterfall. It slowly seeps over you, so quietly you almost don’t feel it, like trickles from a water fountain—all those beautiful sunsets on the beach, glittering skylines and cold city breezes, trees waving their branches in the night sky. I remember them all: the mornings when the sun was shining so brilliantly on the snow that it hurt my eyes just to look. Looking out over the big blue ocean and feeling something so beautiful, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe it. The evenings when the gold and red leaves drifted slowly in the crisp autumn wind, carried on the breeze, along with the scent of campfires and apples and burning leaves.

I can see the world more clearly now, too. When a young man killed 26 people in a school in Connecticut, most of whom were children, everybody was asking You, “Why? Why did You let that happen?” And I could imagine You replying, “Why did you let that happen?” And they wouldn’t have any excuse. No excuse other than that they just didn’t care. They didn’t care enough to get him away from violent video games and movies. They didn’t care enough to ask the parents to preserve their marriage. They didn’t care enough to teach him it’s wrong that 3,000 babies are being killed in America every day.

It’s apathy.

We say we want a better country, better kids, better lives, but the problem is that we don’t care enough to fight for it. It reminds me of the verse, Revelation 3:16— “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot! But because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” It took me years to realize how true Your words were. Like so many people here in Your world, I was lukewarm and I didn’t even know it. I spent years telling myself that I truly wanted a better relationship with You, but when it came down to it, I wasn’t willing to go through what that would mean; I wasn’t willing to give what it would take. Being hot or cold would be too uncomfortable; I was lukewarm and completely fine with it.

It’s called apathy.

You try to teach us—I know that now. And looking back over my entire life, I can see how every moment—even the days when I wished that I could just fall asleep and never have to wake up—was all one big lesson. It was all leading towards something. I was too blinded by pain to realize it then, but now I know that You put suffering in our lives to teach us. And do we see the lessons? Most of the time, we probably don’t. You bring suffering into our lives to break our sinful habits, to rid us of sin—You even died so that you could rid us of sin—but we ignore it. Maybe You let that young man shoot 26 people at school to remind us that 125,000 babies were killed the same day, and that we need to get our priorities straight. But maybe we’ll never see it. Maybe we’ll continue our lives. Raising more and more children like him. We’ll live on, blind. Doing nothing but waiting.

It’s like in that book, the Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri. I remember Canto 7 of the Inferno, where the poet Virgil points out to Dante that beneath the River Styx there are people, buried alive. They are people that refused to welcome the light of the sun, a light we would call sanctification, and are now buried forever beneath the filthy waters. And I think that’s where we are. We’re trapped beneath our own dreams and fears and identities. We want to break through the surface—our lungs pull and scream for air—but we just can’t be bothered to climb out. And then in Canto 13 of the Purgatorio, there were the envious, on the mountain of Purgatory. Like those trapped beneath the River Styx, they didn’t love the light of the sun; they loved all the wrong things, and because of it, they were blinded. They had their eyes sown shut with iron thread and could do nothing but stumble and fall. Is that chapter about us, too? Do we want the wrong things, and the wrong things end up tying our eyes shut, so that we can’t see anything at all?

There’s one more verse I remember: 2 Corinthians 4:3b-4. That verse says that “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” We are so blinded by our sin and selfish desires that we can’t see the light—the true light of You. It makes me think of Saint Patrick, who was brought to Ireland as a slave from Wales and spent six years suffering far away from home. When he finally escaped and ran back to Wales, he could have never come back. Instead, he chose to return. He didn’t want the wrong things. The “god of this world” hadn’t blinded him; his lust for the darkness hadn’t tied his eyes with iron thread. Because he cared—because he accepted Your light—he could see the need of the Irish and became one of the most incredible men who ever lived.

Saint Patrick didn’t become like You by accident. But somewhere along the way, we got the idea that we somehow will. We want to believe that it can just happen, because we’re too scared of being hot or cold; we fool ourselves, because we want to think it’s okay to be lukewarm and blind to what you’re trying to teach us. Even when we’re assured in Matthew 11:30 that “His yoke is easy, his burden is light,” we’re scared by the thought of having opened eyes and back off. When all we need to do is let go of ourselves and strive to be like You, we chose not to. We decide not to care. We live, waiting, ignoring our real needs, ignoring other’s real needs—just waiting. We just wait for the day when everything will magically come together.

And we’re wasting time—precious time.

There are so many beautiful things in our lives that we just close our eyes to. All those millions of tiny fragments and moments that seem so every day, but are so precious when you finally see them, really see them: hot cocoa and warm fires; reading books; singing carols around the piano. Muddling around the house in that comfy, Saturday morning sort of way. Hot cups of coffee held in gloved fingers. Tire swings. Walking barefoot for the first time in spring. Fried eggs, sunny-side up. Waiting for the traffic lights to change, and looking both ways before you cross. Our entire lives are giant scrapbooks of color and beauty and joy, but we’ve ignored the scrapbooks completely because we see the scraps and not the books, because we’re waiting for the plaques and the crowds and we want the pictures to be halls of fame instead. We’re blind to the beauty, because we’re waiting for that moment when everything just magically gets better.

It’s because of apathy. It’s because we don’t care; we just don’t care enough to change. The only thing we care about are dreams that will never happen and hopes that will never come true, and even if they did come true they would never satisfy us. You are the only thing that can ever, ever satisfy us. You are the only true Light, the only true Way; You are our happiness and joy and everything that matters in this world. But we don’t fight to have You; we don’t fight to be like You; we simply don’t have the determination and the dedication and the discipline, and it’s all because we want to be blind, and we’re okay with being blind because simply don’t care. Even when 1 Peter 2:24 says that “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed,” and we see that Jesus died so that we could be sanctified, we still don’t care. We don’t want sanctification. Like Thomas, we want to doubt. We just want to be blind.

Romans 8:7 says that “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” And that’s what apathy’s done to us: we’re born hostile to you, and our laziness and apathy nurtures our hostility. We’re blind, lazy, and hostile. The only way that we can get better and to be like You is to work, but that would be too much trouble.

So why did a 20 year old man kill 26 people last Friday?

Because we didn’t care.

The only way we can stop that from happening again is to care, to surrender, to fight, to learn, to grow, to give everything we have to You and that’s the only way that patterns of sin can be broken. But I know we won’t, because apathy is always there, chasing after us, and we’re more than happy to give in.

And I’m sorry, God. I wish I could go back. I wish I could reach back into the past, into every single moment, and forget about my stupid dreams and breathe in the air around me, feeling every heartbeat, glorifying You instead of dreaming about glorifying myself. And I wish I had more time.

Time. That’s the one thing we’ll never have enough of, isn’t it?

They’ve given me four days to live. For weeks I stayed hooked up to miles of tubes and drips and face masks, all in some desperate effort to prolong my life for a few more years, but they’ve finally sent me home. It’s not because I’m getting better that they sent me home. It’s because I’m getting worse. I suppose they just gave up and decided it would be better for me to live out my last few days with the people I love most.

They tried so hard to comfort me. They pitied me so much. But I’m not scared at all. When I think back to that book, the Purgatorio, I know that all of those people went through all of that, all those trials, so that they would be ready for Heaven. Even if I don’t believe in the mountain of Purgatory, I do believe that the process of sanctification, and I know everything that happened was You getting me ready for Heaven.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American Christian who pioneered the idea of the five stages of grief, once said that, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

I know that becoming like You doesn’t happen. It takes time. It takes caring. It takes determination. But You’ve done it.

I’m not scared. Instead, I’m through waiting.

I’m ready.