Culture Chat: Persuasion & My Big Mistake

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I finally gave the Netflix Persuasion a chance.

I was filled with rage. How could they do this to my favourite book?

Instead of writing about it, though, I waited to see what other Jane Austen fans would say.

And that was when I realized my big mistake.

There are so many other Janeites in the world. They have written books on her, love to dress up in Regency era clothing at events, and will defend Jane Austen with every breath. When they gear up for battle against a common foe, they are not unlike the Janeites of Rudolph Kipling’s short story, standing shoulder to shoulder in the trenches of a great war with Jane Austen’s England behind them.

I forgot about them. I forgot about the other Janeites. There was some comfort in realizing that I wasn’t alone. As the weeks went by and more and more people wrote about why they loved Persuasion and disliked the Netflix adaptation (disliked in this instance is a calm, quiet word to express vengeful vitriol), I found myself able to bear it all much more cheerfully.

My predictions and actual reactions were not so different. See for yourself.

1. Yell about the sheer stupidity of casting an American as a Brit.

Ah, yes. I did. And while I hold no ill will towards Dakota Johnson, I do disagree with her casting. She has a very modern look, and I don’t think that it suits the time period. The same could be said for several of her costars.

2. Throw things across the room while declaring, “Anne is soft spoken and nuanced, NOT quirky and blunt! Read the novel!”

There wasn’t anything to throw…because I punched a pillow instead.

3. Bemoan the lack of respect for proper costuming and hair styles and wonder how Anne Elliot managed to get a blow out done in Regency era England.

Indeed. T’was so.

4. Wonder aloud why Anne is worried about Wentworth being “hangry” (see minute 1:47). Maybe give him a scone?

I leaned forward in expectation for this scene, but the editing was slightly different. Alas, no hangriness to be had. Also, there was a shocking lack of scones in this film. But they did have chocolate chip cookies.

5. Feel annoyed about how often people in period dramas speak in half-whispers, as if that somehow makes them more romantic.

Surprisingly, there wasn’t as much of that this time around. Yay.

6. Wish that someone would take the time to read this novel thoroughly.

I wish this every day. The movie only made me wish it more.

7. Ask the spirit of Jane Austen to forgive me for watching.

I think she did. Probably got a good laugh out of it, too.

8. Read the book again to better remember why I loved it in the first place.

Reading it now. And it is perfection.

If you do nothing else this week, don’t watch this adaptation. It isn’t worth your time. Please read the book. Then watch the 1995 film and the 2007 film. Compare those two beautiful versions. That is worth your time.

And when you’ve done all of that, write a letter to someone you love, or care about, or saw across the street. Fill it with everything you want to say and then deliver it in person, or send it in the mail with fun stickers on the envelope. (in the case of the person you saw across the street, maybe just keep it as a writing exercise)

And then sit and remember the power of words and the beauty of a well written letter. Salute Jane Austen because her book turns on a well written letter and the love it conveys. I am sure she would be proud of us for trying.

And to all the other Janeites….Thank you.

Me At The Gym

During my third year in Wisconsin, I finally felt well enough to start going to the gym regularly. I practiced yoga at home and went for short, freezing cold walks, but I wanted to feel more strong.

Granted, I felt nervous about working out in front of so many people, so I decided that the gym would be a place of entertainment for me. I was there to heal, and have fun amidst the sweat stained carpets and endlessly churning bicycles.

The thing that intimidated me the most were all of the strong, intense looking men. I could handle the women, but the the gym rats grunting in front of the many mirrors while they lifted their body weight and then some made me want to hide in the changing room. I didn’t quite know what to do whenever we stood side by side at the mirrors. Should I be making weird grunting sounds too? Should I be frowning that much at my body? It seemed counter intuitive, particularly given how beautiful I was becoming. Everyone always seemed to be assessing my pale, sickly skin and the bags under my eyes with a certain amount of envy. (Or was it pity?)

My trainer was a woman named Charity. She wore tie-dye, loved to text me about different recipes involving natural peanut butter and gluten free flours, and asked if I had thought about buying a mat to do grounding exercises on during the winter. She was, in a word, “crunchy.” And I adored her.

One day, I went back to my Charity’s locker to borrow some bright pink gloves for weight lifting. Another trainer named Mitch asked me what I was up to.

“Oh, you know, just going to lift my tiny weights,” I said. And they were tiny. I was on ten pounds.

“Hey, remember, any amount of weight is good. You’re just starting. You’ll get stronger,” Mitch told me with a smile. I decided he was the most gorgeous man I had ever encountered.

After that, I made it my ambition to make those intense weight lifters break. They had to have smiles locked away somewhere. And they would seem less scary if I could conquer those tough exteriors.

One day, Jeff, the toughest, scariest looking trainer, checked me in. We had had an enormous snowfall the night before, unusual for late April, and the roads were lined with a foot of the powdery stuff. Jeff scanned my card, arm muscles rippling, his face a silent mask of dangerous intensity.

I swallowed. I could do this. “Uh, Merry Christmas!” I said, gesturing to the snow at the door.

Jeff out a loud, surprised laugh, and that scary mask vanished. I floated through weight training that day. I had conquered the toughest gym rat of them all.

Charity asked if she could work on my shoulders one day. She proceeded to have me lie down in one of the gym hallways, and began pinching specific nerves alongside my neck. It was one of the most painful things I had ever experienced. But at the end of it, I was lighter and a little less squeamish about her doing her “crunchy stuff” to my body.

Charity had me doing very basic exercises at first, but I was soon putting in time on the ellipticals and the bikes. Frequently, I glanced as nonchalantly as possible down the rows of other gym goers for people I could be friends with, and imagined what I would say.

“Hi. I’ve noticed you like to read books while riding the bike, and that seems like something I would like to do, too. Would you maybe want to do that sometime together? I don’t have to talk. I can actually be really quiet.” This seemed a bit desperate. “Hello. Is that book you’re reading any good?” Oh dear. That was nosy. Wisconsin people hate people who are nosy, or more chatty than them. (Granted, I kind of do, too) Maybe something casual to start it off? Like, “Hey.” Or I could go with something even more chill. Just glance at them and then glance away. Yes. Perfect. This said it all.

Honestly, I wanted friends so badly, I would have sat and worked out alongside someone in silence as long as I knew they would say “Hello” and “Goodbye” to me each day.

The TVs sort of worked. I could never get the sound to come through my headphones, but since I was always there at the same time of day, they were usually playing silent, non-captioned episodes of the same show: Supernatural. If you’ve never seen it, the show revolves around the adventures of two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who hunt demons and magical creatures. I was forever confused by all of the women throwing themselves at Dean on the show when Sam was clearly more intelligent, sensitive, levelheaded, and (swoon) wearing glasses. Dean’s leather jacket clearly had magical pheromones. 

I made up the lines for the characters based on what I could figure out from the silent images. My favorite went like this:

Dean: (wearing a leather jacket to convey angst, begins poking around in a very suspicious looking cabinet with a flashlight) I wonder what’s in here.

Sam: (slowly takes in the scene with his thoughtful, bespectacled gaze) Didn’t the people tell us not to look in the cabinet, Dean? I think it might be better for us to come back during the day-

Dean: (with a self-assured shake of his dimwitted head) Sam, I want to know what’s in this cabinet! Stop being such a nerd and let me look inside!

Sam: (reaching out a hand to stop him) No, Dean! Don’t do it! (the cabinet bursts open with a strange mystical light and a demon most foul cackles into the world) Dean, why do you always have to open the cabinets?!

I learned a lot of things in that gym.

1. People will usually smile back at you if you smile at them. It’s a good idea to do this to the same gender, though, unless you’re really interested in getting hit on by older men or gym rats who grunt when they lift.

2. Crunchy trainers are the best trainers. Charity remains one of my most favorite people from Wisconsin. (Wait. She was from California.)

3. Little old ladies at the gym will be chatty to you. Cherish them.

4. Saunas are great. So long as you don’t have to share them with men who want to talk about their lasagna recipes. (Long story)

Culture Chat: Persuasion Predictions

The trailer for the new adaptation of Persuasion arrived this past week. Persuasion is my favorite novel by Jane Austen, so I was very excited to see it. You can watch it below (or read my comments beforehand).

Not having seen this film, I cannot say what my full reaction to it will be (although I’m guessing it will involve abject hatred). After seeing this film, I predict that I will:

  1. Yell about the sheer stupidity of casting an American as a Brit.
  2. Throw things across the room while declaring, “Anne is soft spoken and nuanced, NOT quirky and blunt! Read the novel!”
  3. Bemoan the lack of respect for proper costuming and hair styles and wonder how Anne Elliot managed to get a blow out done in Regency era England.
  4. Wonder aloud why Anne is worried about Wentworth being “hangry” (see minute 1:47). Maybe give him a scone?
  5. Feel annoyed about how often people in period dramas speak in half-whispers, as if that somehow makes them more romantic.
  6. Wish that someone would take the time to read these novels thoroughly.
  7. Ask the spirit of Jane Austen to forgive me for watching.
  8. Read the book again to better remember why I loved it in the first place.

I suppose there’s always the chance that Netflix might release a film that honors the beauty and maturity of Jane Austen’s novel while encouraging its viewers to develop virtue. Maybe we will all watch this and seek to be more humble and honest like Anne.

But I doubt it.

2021 in Review

I remember wishing that 2020 would just end already.

I think I said something to that effect, too, more than once. 2021 has been a hard year, too. But much of it has been a reawakening of hope for me. Here, in non-chronological order, are some happenings that I want to remember.

Dates

I’ve been on a lot of dates, all with the same gentleman friend frequently mentioned below. Enough said.

(But if you really want to know, he’s amazing and I am glad he’s in my life).

The Lent Project

The Lent Project was something I had wanted to do for several years, ever since I first discovered the Biola Lent Project. It took a lot of email writing, organizing, editing, and copying and pasting. There were days when I wondered if anyone was even reading it or appreciating it (other than my parents who always left little comments on the posts they liked). The finished product, whether read by two or two hundred, is something I am very proud of, and may seek to replicate in the coming years. Being involved with that many creatives was very satisfying for me. I’d like to do a project like that again.

Link to part of the Project: https://villageanglican.church/village-blog-desmos?offset=1615114800588&reversePaginate=true&month=march-2021

Piano Lessons & Music Learning Theory

I have begun to read and study more about Music Learning Theory in the past year, and am delighted to say that it is changing the way I view music and music learning. I found a teacher to study with and have been taking lessons with her for almost six months. She lives in Mexico, so we do our lessons over Zoom. It’s a lot of fun, and I am learning a lot. Sometimes it’s overwhelming because it flies in the face of so much of what I have done in the past. But I’m excited about where it’s taking me: a deeper understanding of music.

Vacations

My gentleman friend and I traveled to Charleston. I love going there and discovering more history each time (and more good places to eat).

We also jumped in a sky van and got to sit very close to the front where the plush seats and entertainment are. It was my first time in this area of any sky van anywhere, and I posed for many classy photos near my seat. Wearing a face mask that I couldn’t peel off after 20 minutes to make my skin glow was a bit frustrating, but I endured…and endured…and endured all the way to California. It was worth it.

Spending time with my family (and gentleman friend) made me laugh a lot, a much needed thing after the difficulty of the previous year. We had long conversations about as many things as we could. I see my family maybe once a year, so this time is always very precious and not nearly long enough. I also got to see my niece who, up til now, mainly knew me just from Skype calls and video messages. She is really good at playing, finding rocks, and swinging, or, at least, she is good at sitting on the swing while I push her. We tried surfing, and took long walks on the beaches, staring at the deep blue water in amazement. Santa Barbara is truly magical.

Although, we did discover that the city bears little to no resemblance to the Santa Barbara of Shawn Spencer and his trusty sidekick, Gus. I guess they really Psyched us out in the end.

Weddings

There’s a wedding venue near my house, and I have to confess I’ve driven by there frequently in the past year just to get a glimpse of people celebrating. It’s very hard to do this without looking creepy so I don’t stay long, just gaze wistfully at their fairy lights, hors d’oeuvres, and dancing from my car. I miss that and hope it becomes more normal in 2022 (the big social gatherings, not the wistful gazing).

In the spring, a friend invited me to play the piano for her wedding. It was a much needed reminder of joyful gatherings. There was no dancing, but the music and speeches reminded me how wonderful it is when two faithful people join lives. And it was the first wedding I’ve been to at my church here in South Carolina. The Anglican wedding liturgy did not disappoint.

In late summer, my sister Grace made the trek from Arizona to North Carolina and we drove to Virginia together for the wedding of a dear friend. There’s nothing like a long roadtrip with your sister, her sweet baby boy, and Mat Kearney’s voice serenading you down the highway. Again, every moment with them felt so precious and hard won.

The wedding took place in a field on a farm, and the reception was under a nearby oak tree. It was under this tree, as the stars came out and the lamps were lit, that I was reminded of the sacred and the ordinary coming together in beautiful ways. Incidentally, this was also an Anglican wedding, and the liturgy was just as good and true in an open field as it was beneath the stained glass windows of my church. There were several Anglicans there who had taken part in my Lent Project back in the spring, including the bride and groom. It was life giving to meet many of them in person for the first time and thank them again for being a part of that project.

Many of the people in attendance were missionary kids I had grown up with, and it gave me hope to see them with their families. Covid didn’t finish us, or God’s work in our lives.

Adventuring Birthday

I went on several adventures with my adventure partner. One of the highlights was for my birthday in November. We went to a place called The Gorge in North Carolina and zip-lined our way into a new year of life. Zipping down a mountainside attached to a wire is by far one of the best birthday celebrations I’ve ever experienced. Brunch and presents afterwards were also wonderful. My family conspired with said gentleman, and all of my presents appeared in the back of his car. There was some crying involved. (Mine, not his)

Writing Trio

A friend at church told me that there were two other women in our congregation who were writers. We finally tracked down a good time to meet up with each other, and then began meeting regularly during NaNoWriMo. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, people sit hunched over their keyboards for hours at a time, typing furiously to meet a 50K word deadline (this is the typical length of a novel). We all set goals for the month and met up each week to discuss what we had accomplished. For those of you who have never attempted to write a book, it’s a lonely process and you need people around who understand. It’s even better if those same people are attempting the same thing.

I remember praying very specifically last year during NaNoWriMo that God would provide people to make things with. Lord, please help me find other creatives. That’s what I prayed. And He helped me find them. It’s wonderful to have people to write with now.

Leaf Fellowship

I was raised with a lot of conversations about missionaries and mission work. The unspoken agreement seemed to be that people left their regular jobs, which were meaningless, to do mission work, which meant so much more. Last year, I had the privilege of being a part of a book club where we read Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. This book challenged the ideas I’ve had about work and helped me see that my own profession of teaching music is not meaningless, even if I compare it with my friends who are overseas doing mission work. We are called to share the Gospel where we are, and my attitude and habits within my profession testify to my beliefs about God, the world, truth, goodness, beauty, everything.

When I came to Greenville, I heard about a fellowship run by the Leaf Institute. It is a fellowship designed to help people talk about how work and faith can intersect and inform the other. My church offered to pay for the entire program, and I have so loved getting to read books and discuss them with all of the other fellows each week. More posts on that to come!

Music I’ve Loved:

The Arcadian Wild

Fanny Mendelssohn

Jacob Collier

Marilyn Lowe

Andrew Peterson

Alma Deutscher

Joe Hisaishi

Mat Kearney

Alanna Boudreau

Scott Mulvahill

Maria Szymanowska

Too many beautiful pieces in the Lent Project!

I thought I would say something about the books I read this year…but that deserves it’s own post!

May I reread the lessons I’ve learned and let them grow strong roots in my heart,

May I refuse to exist in the shallow end of my life and follow my Lord out into the deep,

May I remember that all good music, all true words, come down as gifts from God, who is ever present, ever near, ever powerful and kind.

May I live in the knowledge and comfort of His return never forgetting the hope He has given me this year.

Thank You for 2021, Lord!

Grandma Charlotte

It’s been two weeks, and I still have so many memories of her that come floating up, unbidden.

She arrived when I was in the third grade. What I knew of her then was that she could do anything: paint, sew, tell funny stories, and bake amazing cookies. Also, she came from a place that I’d only ever seen on maps: Alabama. Her love shone around like sunshine, warm and meant for everyone. Our boarding school family embraced her as one of our own very quickly, and when we asked her what she wanted us kids to call her, she drawled, “Grandma Charlotte.” Her real magic lay in the ability to hug me as though I really was her grandchild.

Grandma Charlotte was afforded every honor by the kids at our missionary boarding school. Very few adults were specifically invited to our forts, but Grandma Charlotte had an open invitation to all of them. She used to play Mafia with us, too, even though she sometimes got confused, leading to a lot of giggling.

I remember something from all her trips. She cut my hair when I was eleven. She made me a green page costume with tights and pointy shoes when I was 9. She taught me sign language in high school, and I can still picture those graceful hands signing “popcorn” during a quiz. I always had trouble sleeping as a child, but Grandma Charlotte could give me an arm and hand massage that sent me straight to sleep. She brought down some black licorice from the States one time, and let me eat a bunch of it because I was the only one who liked it. In high school, as I tried on a dress she’d helped with, she took a step back and said, “You look beautiful.”

She left pieces of her beauty on each visit. There are layers and layers of paint on the back of our cafeteria wall all laid down by her brushes for our annual Spring Banquets. She and I stayed up late working on my own Banquet wall (Merry Olde England) and, in grandmotherly fashion, she kept checking to make sure I’d eaten something. If a costume needed to be made, she made it. If someone’s kid needed to be looked after, she looked after them. If something crazy needed to be figured out, she’d do it. Whenever we’d ascend the attic stairs to bring down drama or camping equipment, we’d stop for a moment to stare at the huge, life-sized cloth cow stored beneath the rafters. “Yeah, Grandma Charlotte made that.”

Our base had Brasilians and Americans, which led to most church services being bilingual. A staff member would always volunteer to translate for any visiting Americans who shared their testimony. One night, Grandma Charlotte was asked to share, and Mr. Emsheimer translated. For those of us who grew up with him, Mr. Emsheimer has a fantastic sense of humor, but he can come off as more reserved. Grandma Charlotte told us several jokes, with plenty of chuckles from the audience. Then, she told us about how she’d been diagnosed with some old age problems that would require medication. “The doctor told me I’d have to take medication to treat the problem, and then more medication for the side effects, and more medication for those side effects, and I just took his face in my hands”, here she actually took Mr. Emsheimer’s face in her hands, “and I told him ‘That’s all right, sweetheart. I don’t need those meds.'” I had never seen Mr. Emsheimer turn that red. The entire audience laughed more at that one little action than any other joke.

She was a woman who lost a lot in life, but she never stopped giving. She had every right to be bitter about her losses, and yet I never heard her complain. She would just keep telling us, “God is good,” even after she lost her husband, her son, and her grandson.

There was God, and there was Grandma Charlotte. In my child’s mind, the two were a pair, always out on adventures together. She told the best stories about everywhere she’d been: Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe. I can still see her standing in her kitchen telling me about how she’d messed up a tea gathering in China. “We were supposed to serve only green tea. How was I supposed to know that?” One of her favorite stories was about how one African lady grabbed her hand during Sunday services and made her dance in the aisles. Grandma Charlotte always looked so happy when she told that one.

I was supposed to see her in two weeks. Honestly, I’d imagined spotting her in the airport and running over for one of those amazing hugs. I’d envisioned dancing with her and my family at my sister’s wedding. She was always so spry. Six months ago, she was in Africa, still serving and helping like she always has. But COVID-19 took her. It’s hard to imagine a life that bright leaving us, but she has. I’m sure God couldn’t help smiling when she stood before the throne “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thank you for everything, Grandma Charlotte.

All My Thanks

All my thanks for this half finished room, 

for the way the white plaster jars my gaze

as it sits so ill at ease against the beige. 

All my thanks for this season of unfinished paint jobs, 

and smelly laundry that stays in the hamper. 

All my thanks for this weak body that will not do my bidding. 

I cannot celebrate any golden achievements, 

but I can celebrate Your voice. 

“Look. Do you see?” You say, 

And I see all the holes I have papered over, 

old wounds that I did not bring to You, 

still ragged, unwashed, and stinging. 

All my thanks for these memories that I need not keep 

covered up with happy posters and pithy phrases. 

As plaster fills the holes so does Your love 

bind up all wounds, new and old. 

The white won’t stay white, 

And no one can keep me in the beige, 

Never, never, never. 

Together, we bring the ocean to my room, 

closing in on islands of sandy sadness,

long beaches of brittle loneliness 

until all that remains is the blue calm of Your love. 

All my thanks for Your help with the plaster. 

All my thanks for Your wounds that heal. 

Blessing: My Backyard and John O’Donohue

My backyard calls to me at the end of a long week, the space beloved after these past months of quarantine. I’ve practiced yoga under these trees, discovered wild onions and sorrel, and planted a small garden, this one resembling a township more than the front yard fortress, with pots and boxes stuffed with soil and seeds. My eye keeps straying to the mint cuttings and sweet potato slips, wondering when they will be healthy and flourishing.

My companion today is the Irish priest and philosopher John O’Donohue, a man famous for penning books that guide readers into the Irish imagination and spiritual tradition. O’Donohue’s book, To Bless the Space Between Us, was a gift from a my dear friend, Laura. I have read it slowly, relishing his recognition of my need for blessing, and my ability to bless others. As he asserts, “A blessing is a difficult form to render”, but “in the parched deserts of postmodernity, a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well.”

O’Donohue writes of several types of blessings: beginnings, desires, thresholds, homecomings, states of heart, callings, and beyond endings. On first examination, I was confused by the many different types, and thought back over my own history of blessings. My friend Jewel sent me off with an Irish blessing and a hug before I left for Korea, the words spilling out of her, part prayer, part poetry. My family said blessings over me one December night the year I turned twenty, celebrating the beginning of a new decade. After my Lyme diagnosis, a friend prayed as he anointed me, his words blessing the beginning of my healing. These were all blessings of beginnings. What surprised me in O’Donohue was the exploration of the other categories, particularly the area of thresholds.

A threshold is a beginning of a sort, but for O’Donohue, and now for me, it is something much deeper. As he describes, “A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres….It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds; to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward.”

green trees
Photo by Tobias Bju00f8rkli on Pexels.com

Growing up, I saw gracious women around me who served and blessed from the deepest parts of themselves no matter their status. Single or married, they loved God, and they wanted to love others well. Despite their example, I still came to see womanhood as something that I would cross into only by being married. It was this rite of passage that would prove womanhood in my mind. Did completing a four year degree make me a woman? No. Did moving across the world on my own make me a woman? No. What about running a successful piano studio? No. It had to be marriage, and why was this? Sex. I associated womanhood with the sexual act, as though married women with their non-virgin bodies carried with them a secret knowledge that I could not possess until I too was married. Womanhood seemed something I could not cross over into without sex.

(While the idea of gaining the knowledge outside of marriage did occur to me, it was not something I wanted to pursue.)

This idea of womanhood being beyond my grasp remained unvoiced until encountering O’Donohue’s blessing At The Threshold of Womanhood. I recognized this desire for crossing over the threshold he described. “The lightness of being a girl is leaving/ And your thoughts too are taking you/ To places you have never known before.” I left the lightness of girlhood a long time ago, I realized, but had never allowed myself to fully grasp the change, even to celebrate it. There are no rites of passage that celebrate it, really, aside from marriage. “May you enter beautifully into the feminine/ Learning to trust the world of feeling you inherit/ Finding ease and elegance in all you are.” He showed me what I want: to know that I respect my own intelligence and beauty, and can hold myself with dignity in the world. “May you feel life as an irresistible invitation/ to discover and develop your talents/ Each day bringing something new to birth.” I wept when I read this, feeling an intense thankfulness that O’Donohue could express the longing I have for bringing beauty into the world. He had given me words for a threshold I wanted to cross, and showed me that I have crossed it, that I am in the territory of womanhood. No sex required.

If recognizing my own threshold and celebrating it awoke something in me, recognizing it in someone else’s life can bring about the same healing, the same joy. O’Donohue writes of how we can bless others, “When blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plentitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness. In the light and reverence of blessing, a person or situation becomes illuminated in a completely new way. In a dead wall, a new window opens, in dense darkness a path starts to glimmer, and into a broken heart healing falls like morning dew.”

Barefoot now in the late afternoon light, I read the last section of blessings out loud to myself and the blackberry bushes.

Now is the time to free the heart, 

Let all intentions and worries stop, 

Free the joy inside the self, 

Awaken to the wonder of your life. 

I find myself fingering the burst blisters on my hands, remembering the pain that comes from embracing the challenges of my thresholds. They need to be crossed, and there are things that I will have to give up on the way, old ideas that I cannot carry into the new frontier. My eyes find the hard, green berries clustered on thorny limbs beside me, each holding the promise of future delight.

Rejection

dog beside chain link wall
Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com

I spent every day of the 2012 summer working as a door to door salesperson. The state of Wisconsin hadn’t had a summer that hot in two decades. By the end of those three months, my hair was honey gold from sun exposure. A lanyard tan hung about my neck like delicate noose.

Door to sales is a game of constant optimism in the face of constant rejection. Most people will say no to you, usually in painful ways. They assume you’re a terrible person. They hate you because you’re standing on their porch. They think you’re a nosey jerk who’s trying to steal their money. The sound of rejection is the KA-DONG! of little yap-yap dogs banging their heads on a glass door, teeth bared in hostility. “Begone! Begone! Begone!” I learned to take a certain amount of joy in the way they fell off to the side of the door and then pretended they hadn’t fallen.

Experiencing this kind of rejection actually set me up to recognize what often happens to people with chronic illness. While the sentiments and responses are not exactly the same, (people never threw me out of a house for claiming to have Lyme), the sound of rejection is still in the subtext.

I tried to explain my illness to a family friend once. I told him about my many different symptoms: brain fog, aching joints, insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety, crippling depression, fevers, unending colds, and strange coughing fits.

“But, Rachel, don’t you think all of that could be psychosomatic?” he asked. He said it with concern, as though he was suggesting something I should have heard and taken into account a long time ago.

“I was experiencing a great deal of personal success at the time, so no, I don’t.” I tried to explain to him that I had a lot of friends who had been supporting me, that I had done a lot of counseling work, that I loved my jobs and was not experiencing any amount of stress that was not manageable. “I still had those symptoms, and they got worse, so I went to see a Lyme doctor and he diagnosed me as having Lyme, and a lot of other things.”

“Ah, but a lot of that could still just be in your head,” he said.

KA-DONG! I was standing in front of him pale, exhausted, and very thin. He still rejected my diagnosis by a leading Lyme researcher and doctor.

I spent time with a friend a while ago who also had Lyme. We were trying to explain to her roommate about our symptoms and diagnosis because we had very similar stories.

“Oh, this is caused by stress. It is in your mind,” the roommate said.

I nodded, ready to explain. “Well, stress can definitely make it all a lot worse, yes-

“No, this is in your mind,” she insisted. “It is something you are calling Lyme, but it isn’t that. In this culture, this American culture, everyone thinks they are sick, but it is just stress.”

KA-DONG! She thought it was psychosomatic, too. My own experience was overlooked because her degree and life experience could not support its existence.

I realize this a complex issue, and that a lot of people can and do misdiagnosis themselves. However, by and large, my experience and what I’ve read consistently shows that people reject those with Lyme, even those diagnosed by several specialists, as being crazy, or even dramatic because there is so little public understanding of it. I have to confess to being jealous of cancer patients over the past few years because people acknowledge their illness and know to some extent what it looks like. They understand and are kind when the cancer patient is tired. We have a ton of cultural understanding surrounding cancer, but nowhere near the same level when it comes to Lyme or many other chronic illnesses.

When I think about the rejection my friends with chronic illness face, I am prone to settle into despair and frustration. I have to remind myself that excellence is what I should strive for in doing research, in explaining how Lyme affects the body, and in discussing my diet and supplement decisions in the firm belief that my friends and I know what we are experiencing and can fight it together. Spoonies, unite. We can help people understand chronic illness, and they’re going to need us as Lyme disease and other maladies spread.

Little Deaths

At the beginning of quarantine, my friend Hessy helped me put in a 4×4 garden plot, the size of a small coffin. It was a big undertaking, requiring the help of our tallest, strongest male friends. The plot itself is framed by big logs because Hessy wanted it to be sturdy and cost effective. I love the way it looks. Other people have little gardens to putter about in. I have a fortress garden to rule over.

Planting began the next day, in the evening. Hessy told me to read a few things, but to also trust my instincts. I think about burials as I slip the seeds into their shallow graves. Really, the only difference between this plot and a cemetery is what’s being planted: life vs. toxicity. How different the world would be if we gave up coffins, and commemorated death by scattering ashes in the soil of young trees.

John O’Donahue writes of the “slow coaxing” we must go through as we face death. I feel it every day as I look at my own ugliness. Since the madness of quarantine started, I’ve grown disillusioned with myself and “the wonders of technology”. My hands clutch at my selfishness, my worry, my grumpiness, all rooted in me, me, me. These weeds are familiar. I don’t see what will happen if I give up control, if I uproot what I perceive to be me, me, me. I need to die a hundred little deaths each day, but can’t always see that it makes much of a difference. “If I really let this die, will something even grow?”

My little fortress garden is sprouting. I decide to plant a few more corn seeds. The damp earth spilling through my fingers reminds me of home, and I find myself humming a Brasilian worship song, the familiar melody pulling up memories of vibrant life and golden twilights. I sing to my seeds as I plant them, placing them gently into their little graves. Seeds of worry have sown themselves in my soul, and I push them beneath the dirt as well, believing that trust and peace can grow from them. I just have to let them die.

Rest Well

There’s a storm on your mountain, 

You struggle to see, to climb, to find sense.  

From my place near my peak, 

I know what you feel: 

sadness, confusion, the deep pull from below. 

We face mountains of different shapes, 

it is true, 

But the Climb is the Climb

And I want to help you through. 

Let me throw you a rope bridge, the sturdiest kind, 

We’ll meet in the middle of your mountain and mine. 

I have stories of storms, and a blanket to share. 

You can rest for a while, dangle your feet in the air. 

And when we are finished, 

lean your head on my shoulder for this final blessing: 

The mountains are wild. The storms will rage. 

But He has us here. Rest well, dear heart.

Rest well.