I’ve got book club this afternoon…our selection for this month was “Until I Say Goodbye” by Susan Spencer-Wendel. It’s a memoir by a woman who was diagnosed at age 43 with ALS. A journalist, wife, and mom of 3 young children, she writes about her last year of relative good health following her diagnosis. The subtitle is “my year living with joy”, as she makes the most of the time she has left before the disease renders her incapable of doing…well, everything. She writes about the progression of the disease as it takes its toll on her body, and how, in spite of it all, she finds beauty and joy and laughter and things to be thankful for. By the time she wrote the book she essentially had control of one finger, and basically wrote the book on her iphone with that one finger.
I initially resisted reading the book after my friend Virginia suggested it. See, a lot of times I find life and its assorted dangers and pitfalls to be utterly terrifying. I stopped watching “The Today Show” several years ago because I couldn’t stand hearing about one more tragic story, giving me one more thing to worry about and obsess over in those dark hours when your brain travels to those scary places and you can’t reel it back in. The dad who lost his wife and kids to a drunk driver. The home invasion where everyone was brutally killed. The tragic accident that claimed a bride and her new husband. You don’t have to look too far to find stories like these. To keep myself from dwelling on them I just tried to avoid them. I couldn’t get rid of the fears I already had but I could sure try to prevent new ones.
See, its not the stories themselves even that got me so worked up. No…what really messes with my head is the idea that the survivors, those left behind, always talked about the things they learned the joy they found in spite of the sorrow the beauty that rose from the ashes. Even worse…as a person who (most of the time) professes faith in Christ, hearing other Christians tell their tragic stories…that “God taught me so much” and “changed me so much” and “used something terrible for his glory” is probably my biggest stumbling point with the Christian faith, with God himself. I was, am still, really, petrified at the thought that God will rip my family apart, destroy everything good in my life, ravage my heart or my health all in the name of teaching me some sort of lesson, of making me a better person…what the hell kind of God is that?? That God scares the crap out of me. No matter how many times the Bible says “do not fear!” and “there is no fear in love” I can not wrap my head around that God. I am terrified of that God. I don’t know who that God is, if I even want to, am even able to believe in him but I do out of fear that he will teach me some sort of lesson if I don’t. When I pray a lot of times my prayer is just a gasp of “God I don’t want that to be my story! Please don’t let that be my story!” I don’t want to learn that lesson. I don’t want to be that person on the Today show.
So I didn’t want to read this book. I didn’t want to have to worry about getting ALS right now at this stage in my life (although I already worry about any number of other diseases). I didn’t want to think about how getting ALS was so great in the long run because it taught her so many things and she was a better person for it. Up until last week I hadn’t even bothered to look up the book. I hung out with Virginia and Felicity (my other friend in book club) and they both said “No, really–its not sad! Trust us. Well, it’s sad but not how you think. Just read it.” And they didn’t even know about all my internal issues.
I picked up the book Thursday and had finished it by Friday night.
And they were right…the first chapter or so, as she started having health issues and struggled with finding a diagnosis, denying what she most feared was probably true, and then wrestling with the final diagnosis…yeah, that was sad. But the rest of the book was amazing. It was really inspiring, it was hopeful and funny and not tragic at all. Even though you know right this very moment she is in hospice and uses a special computer that she points her nose at to write and communicate with because every muscle in her body no longer works. Yes…there were “sad-ish” parts. But it wasn’t sad. She wasn’t sad. She was fiercely determined to not wallow in self pity, about what might have beens, about what she could no longer do, have, etc. She just lived in each moment, each day and fought to find joy in those things. By the end of the book I found myself feeling like I too, could get through just about anything.
So…why didn’t this story scare the heck out of me, like so many of those others do? I think because it didn’t come across as “God teaching me a lesson through ALS.” She claims a faith in God, a belief in heaven, a spirituality, yes. But nowhere does she claim that “God allowed me to go through this so I could be a better person.” She is NOT an evangelical by any stretch. Most American Christians would probably dismiss her story because of that (probably part of the reason I like it so much, ha!). I think though, it reinforced something I am beginning to believe is the way God works in the world. (Which I am PROBABLY WRONG ABOUT because anytime you think you’ve got God figured out you are more than likely TOTALLY OFF BASE. But I’m really comfortable being wrong so, what the heck.)
I’m not comfortable with the idea that God does or does not do something in a particular event. Like when we say “Oh, thank God I was home when our frozen pipe burst.” Like it’s some sort of miracle that God kept you from going out the door 5 minutes earlier. So…for the person who WASN’T home when their pipe burst…God wasn’t there? God just let them head to work so that when they got home there was tons of water damage from the burst pipe? People love to say that God allowed this or didn’t allow that to happen, and are thankful and “Oh God is so good!” But then when the opposite happens…the diagnosis is bad, the tumor keeps growing, the car crash isn’t avoided…where is God in that? He’s allowing that to happen? He allows things for some and not for others? That seems so arbitrary and well, cruel. I can’t wrap my head around that. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It brings up the age old question of “If God is so good why do bad things still happen??”
I’m more of the belief that God doesn’t intervene in events in the world. The world is fallen. The world is imperfect. We all have free will and things happen. Bad things happen. God didn’t cause that hurricane because he’s mad at someone. He didn’t stop you from crashing into that car because you pray a lot. Things just happen. Things are random. There really are coincidences.
But I still think God is in there. I think he is in the wreckage. Or in the excitement. Or the thankfulness. He is in our reactions to things. The way people step up and show love and support for one another. God didn’t cause AIDS but God is in the doctors working to find a cure, the people caring for sick AIDS babies, in people showing love to AIDS patients. God didn’t cause that pipe to burst in your house but he was there in the neighbor that let you use their shower. In the friend who brought you all dinner. In the plumber who came right over and fixed it. And in all of this, this is how I see God redeeming the world. Not by stopping events or by causing events…but by getting right in the middle of those events with us as we all muddle through the good and bad of our lives.
Ok. This is getting long, I need to quit rambling. Bottom line: I liked this book. It made me feel ok about life and all the possibilities, even the bad ones. That I don’t need to be scared of God doing something to me (or not) because it’s not God doing it…it’s just how life is. Good things. Bad things. Just life. But that God’s in the response. God’s in the reaction. Like I totally saw God in Susan Spencer-Wendel’s response to her ALS. God’s in the people who come in for the celebration or the rescue. Maybe that’s a cop out, maybe that’s just me making up something to make me feel better.
I’m ok with that. Maybe that’s what faith is in the first place. Something to make us feel better about the craziness that is life. I think God’s right there in that too. Our tiny, weak, pathetic attempts at faith.
*the opinions expressed in this blog are my own and only my own. I write this blog to hash things out. Not to espouse a certain mindset or belief system. if you agree, great. if you don’t, also great. i’m not interested in you bashing my beliefs and making me feel horrible, so just save that because i will not read nor approve your comments. Nor am I interested in your attempts to sway me in a different direction so again, save your breath. if you have a nice supportive thing to say great, go ahead. I’d love to hear that. Yes I am a wimp and yes I hate confrontation and argument and disagreement. So. That’s all. Just be nice. The end.
I wrote not too long ago about how I often seek the easy way out in friendships…don’t call, don’t set up times to meet, look for ways to avoid interaction…in spite of the fact that I know how good my friendships are for me, and how happy I am when I follow through on plans, etc. I realized yesterday that I do the same thing (and have been doing the same thing) in my work life.
When I was a teacher, I was always hoping for a snow day, an assembly, a fire drill, lots of absences…anything to avoid having to get up there and do my job.
When I worked in an office I hated when the phone rang, when people came to the sales window.
When I worked retail my heart always sank a bit when people walked into the door, walked into my department.
When I waited tables I wished for slow shifts, for people to not be sat in my section.
At the Science Center I’m always hoping for a slow day, for fewer students and families, for people to walk by my explainer and go on to something else.
All of this in spite of the fact that:
1) When work is busy it goes by WAY faster.
2) When work is busy (most obviously in waiting tables) I make more money.
3) When work is busy I feel good about myself and what I am doing and leave feeling energized.
Here’s the thing too: I am GOOD at interacting with people. I don’t mean to sound cocky. But I am personable. I am polite. I am NICE. I can talk to anyone…old, young, male, female. I am friendly and knowledgeable. Deep down inside I believe I am a damn good teacher. I can do all of the jobs I have ever had and do them well. I have always had success in the jobs I have had, even though teaching was hard as hell and I often felt like a failure…I know that if I had kept it up and not quit to stay home I would be a really excellent teacher by now. Does that sound over the top?? I don’t mean it to, because believe me I am well aware of all my faults and would be more than happy to tick them off for you here, but perhaps in another post. The bottom line is that I make a great extrovert, even if there’s a part of me that wants to be an introvert. I may not always BE a nice person but I damn sure know how to ACT like a nice person and I’m pretty darn good at it.
So…what’s my problem?? Why do I let that introvert part of me often control how I feel/react/plan out my days? Am I really that lazy that I just don’t feel like bothering to interact with other human beings???
I’m sure that’s a part of it. I have some measure of self-control, I don’t eat everything I want to all the time, I run and exercise most of the time, I don’t call in sick, I still do what needs to be done for the most part even when I don’t feel like it. But I definitely have that lazy bone. That part that whines “But I don’t WANT to…” even when it comes to friendships and relationships, casual or otherwise.
But I don’t think that’s all of it. I know that a lot of it is fear. Fear that I won’t measure up. That my lesson will flop. My friend won’t get it. I’ll screw up the transaction. Drop a bowl of soup in someone’s lap. The science experiment bombs and the kids are all staring at me like I’m the village idiot. Fear that my performance will suck and everyone will then think I suck. I don’t want to screw up and it’s so much easier to avoid screwing up if you just don’t do anything at all.
And some of it too is the frustration that comes with dealing with other people. Human interaction is messy. It gets ugly. Your friend hurts your feelings. Your wife is a bitch. Your father-in-law is hyper-critical. Your mother is a total mess. That customer is rude and demanding and makes you feel like shit because you accidentally shorted them what, 6 cents?? The students are rowdy and naughty and misbehaving. And you have to deal with all of that, deal with all THOSE PEOPLE and THEIR ISSUES because you are in some sort of relationship with them and good god wouldn’t it just be easier to not call, not talk to them, not have lunch, not teach because then you don’t have to deal with all of THEM.
Because of course you have no issues yourself that would make you difficult for anyone else to deal with…
Work was busy yesterday. I fought with myself internally over the desire to have people come up to my explainers which of course they did because the science center was full and busy. And the day went by fast. And Felicity’s son Colton (who I think is probably WAY smarter than me) thought my silly demonstration with the Drawdios was cool (I’m telling you that made my day right there), and those two African-American ladies were hilarious as they laughed doing my Smell challenge and high fived me when they got it all right, and a friend came for my lunch break and we talked and encouraged each other. And I went home feeling that high, that energy you get that only comes from interacting with OTHER PEOPLE that you can never, NEVER get from isolating yourself.
So. Am I going to be the lone wolf? Or make myself part of the pack?
The pack might be messy. But it’s safe too. It’s more fun. It keeps you alive.
That’s not to say I don’t need my alone time. Of course everyone does. But I think you’ve always got to come back. Join the others. Slog through the messy parts because the only way to get to the fun, exciting, life-bringing parts.
*Sorry I got all “wolfy” on you here. I’m not like someone wearing a t-shirt with a giant wolf howling at the moon on it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not my thing but for some reason the wolf metaphor seemed to work 🙂 If it doesn’t work for you go listen to “I Am A Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel. Was going to incorporate that in here somehow but instead I got all wolfy. Forgive me.