An Iris in Remembrance.

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There’s a bed of purple irises in our backyard. A single blossom has unfurled, and it evokes warm memories of my mother, all those late spring days when she would weed the flower beds at the front of the house, and the irises seemed to multiply by hundreds every year, their heavy heads bowing in the May sun.

In many ways, I feel like I’m not in a place right now to be grateful for what happened to us. Time presses on, and the weight of meaning-making feels impossibly hard to bear.

And yet, these memories sprout up anyway. They both anchor and undo me, all at once. They are the leaves I grow and shed, over and over again, that feed the soul-soil of who I am. It’s an ongoing existence of death and rebirth. That’s what grief is to me – death and rebirth, death and rebirth. Some seasons are uglier and harder than others, and I’m sure I can never recover these winters. And some seasons I turn toward the sun, arms outstretched, like all those irises my mother planted, growing by the years.

So today, yes, I bow my head. Thank you, thank you.

Your Own Brand of Magic

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“Perfection Wasted” by John Updike

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.

//

My husband’s grandfather passed away on Tuesday morning. He took with him his own brand of magic that no one else will ever possess. Dirty jokes and toy trains and fishing trips. Card games and cigarettes. Raucous laughter and deep affection for his grandkids.

I sat on my porch after we heard the news and could almost hear his own disbelief that he died. I suspect he thought he’d live forever, or at least a hundred years more, sitting on his porch no matter the weather with his smokes and sudoku puzzles, fishing at Lake Shelbyville with Matt and Dad every spring. He and Matt talked about going down for a trip in May, when we saw him a month ago, the weekend we came home because we knew it was our last chance to see him. We knew it was a charade of nostalgia and grief and love for all of us.

This, though painful, is what we do at the end, because we hope that death is just a prolonged absence. We plan the fishing trip, and hope that when we too cross over to the other shore one day, that Grandpa will be standing there with his pole in hand, saying, “What took ya so long?”

I loved you dearly, you beautiful old man. Enjoy the fresh air.

Lenten Reflection: Of Stardust & Sacred Questions.

Rob Gendler-nebula-dying star flower ring

There is this word that I’ve always been afraid of, but which now feels like a gift to my faith:

Evolve.

It’s taking its place in a landscape of new language I’m developing for this season of my faith: Wholehearted. Sacred. Wilderness. Scarcity. Abundance. Justice. Grief. Change.

This word came to me a few nights ago while I was watching Cosmos on Netflix. I can’t fully explain the episode* because I’m terrible at science, but it was about stardust and ghosts and the space-time continuum and the edges of the universe.

From dust you came and to dust you shall return,” never felt more true or made more sense, and the fact that this marked the beginning of the Lenten season for me made it all the more sacred.

In Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss, he writes,

“Faith is not some hard, unchanging thing you cling to through the vicissitudes of life … Just as any sense of divinity that we have comes from the natural order of things – is in some sense *within* the natural order of things – so too faith is folded into change, is the mutable and messy process of our lives rather than any fixed mental product.”

This is the mutable, messy process of my evolving faith: searching for God in that fold between natural order and unexpected change, tucked away in a space I’ve never looked before. It might be found in the pages of a faith memoir, or in a Netflix binge-watch, or in the pages of my own journal, or a walk in the woods.

The truth is that I think more than I feel my faith at this point in my life.

The deep affection I have felt for God and the Church, once demonstrated through singing hymns and reading scripture and sitting in pews, is demonstrated through solitude and sacred questions right now.

Maybe you have experienced this too: that our love and our questions aren’t separate, but deeply connected. There are seasons when our questions are the fruit of our deep affection for God and the Church. Because we love, our questions matter. Asking these questions is an act of tending the soil – the sacred ground – of our faith. Some things that once marked our growth have ripened and fallen to the soil, fertilizing it for other seeds to take root and grow in the seasons to come.

” … it seemed as if the tiniest seed of belief had finally flowered in me, or, more accurately, as if I had happened upon some rare flower deep in the desert and had known, though I was just then discovering it, that it had been blooming impossibly year after parched year in me, surviving all the seasons of my unbelief.” – Wiman, My Bright Abyss

Maybe we are made of stardust. Maybe we look at the sky and see the ghosts of centuries past, lighting the darkness for us. Maybe we see the stars and unknowingly see the spirit of our mothers, gathering the universe unto themselves like they have since our birth. Maybe Mother Earth is that ineffable God-love I feel when I tend another sacred question.

Whatever, I still believe:

She makes everything beautiful in its time.

*Cosmos Episode 4: “A Sky Full of Ghosts,” for my curious readers.

[Post image source.]

Wholehearted 2015: #OneWord365

2015 started with a bang, quite literally.

On the second day of the new year, my housemate and I were in a car accident.

In the week since, my memory has already begun to edit itself into a highlight reel of moments surrounding the crash. I will always remember how it happened – with no warning, no screech of tires, no horns blaring, no crunch of metal as our vehicles collided. We were driving along in one moment, and in the next, an airbag punched me in the face and I screamed. The car filled with an acrid smoke as the airbags deflated. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” Caitlin gasped. We swiped the airbags out of the way and tried to comprehend what had transpired. It happened so fast.

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It’s taken me several days to get over the trauma of feeling like the universe had assaulted me somehow. The accident happened on the third anniversary of my mother’s death. Caitlin and I went out to dinner with our friend Emily, and then we were going to go home and watch a funny movie to try and live some modicum of normalcy and happiness on an otherwise dark day in my life. A day in which I already carry a heightened awareness of my mortality and life’s brutal, cruel unfairness. I did not need to be smacked in the face with it, thankyouverymuch. It’s a wound in and of itself that will take time to heal.

I laid around the whole weekend afterward in a sort of post-accident hangover. I wondered to myself: how am I supposed to embrace a new year, making resolutions and feeling hopeful about the future, when crap like this happens? Or, in other words:

How do I live and love in a world that scares the shit out of me, every single day?

Bethany Suckrow Blog_Wholehearted_OneWord365

The details of how and why we crashed don’t matter now, I guess. Caitlin’s car is totaled, and every day when I go out to toss the garbage or fetch the mail or run an errand, I see her poor Toyota Camri sitting in our driveway, folded at the front as though it were a piece of paper instead of a metal machine, and I’m reminded all over again: it was bad. And it could have been so much worse, but it wasn’t.

I’m taking it as a token reminder of my One Word for 2015: Wholehearted.

The word, inspired by Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, holds so much interpretive potential for the 353 days to come, but for today, it means this:

Keep living and loving anyway, even when life scares you.

Keep showing up.

Dare to be vulnerable, brave, and ambitious.

Don’t tie your self-worth to your circumstances. Don’t sabotage your own joy by dwelling in tragedy and shame.

Own your healing and your words with your whole heart.

This is my sacred ground.

Three Years.

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This morning I looked through a stack of photos. It’s a ritual of remembering I set aside for this day every year, to honor you. I pause and let myself feel fully the weight of your absence. I come to grips with the reality, searching through this stack of photos, that I’ll never find what I’m searching for: you, present tense. You, with me as I am now. A picture of you, age 53, and me, age 27, arms around each other, smiling. The stack of photos in my hand feels so finite. I’m holding a window of time, a fixed frame, a chapter in a book.

I miss you, mom. I always will.