Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Juxtapositions, part deux

Last week I wrote about the surreal juxtapositions of life writ large, the disconnect between the horrific acts of terrorism in Paris with a night on the town, and the disconnect of rabid refugee fear by politicians who don’t see the need to protect US citizens from terrorists due to our obscenely loose gun control laws.
This week I experience juxtapositions of a more personal nature. Even as I gear up for Thanksgiving and the attendant joy that brings, I am reminded by the losses in life. November 20 was the National Transgender Day of Remembrance, and at our annual candle-light service commemorating those lives lost to gender violence, we spoke aloud the names of 71 individuals, ranging in age from 13-66; live cut short because of Transphobia.
On Sunday, during a service entitled “Imagine There’s No Gender,” our Story for All Ages focused on the true story of a child named Jazz and how her family finally understood that, despite biological appearances, Jazz is really a girl, and not a boy. The book ended with an image of a well-loved child, accepted for who she was. As I got up to preach following that story, I said to the congregation, “I don’t know about you, but I got a little verklempt listening to that story and thinking back on the transfolk whose names we called on Thursday, who never experienced that acceptance.” I had to pause to regain my composure as fresh tears gathered in my eyes.
Saturday, November 21, was International Suicide Survivor Day. A day for those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide to gather together for support. Of course, I carry this juxtaposition with me every day. Running the Disneyland Half Marathon in September, I was pulled out of my solitary focus on my breathing, on my sense of wonder as a great throng of us made our way through the streets of Fantasy Land when I pulled up to a woman with a t-shirt bearing a picture of a man on the back and the declaration that she was running in memory of this person-- her son, I think. Above that photo was the logo for the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide. It was a moment of connection, a tangible sense of recognition in a crowd of over 15,000 strangers.
I touched the runner softly on her shoulder as I passed her.
“Nice shirt,” I said. Then, on an impulse, showed her the tattoo on the inside of my left forearm, the
purple and teal Suicide Awareness ribbon plainly visible. “My brother,” I explained, and then ran on, the magic of the race still intact, maybe even more so for that moment of seeing and being seen.
As many of you know, I belong to a Sibling Survivors of Suicide group on Facebook. In this group, we all can share the bright and dark juxtapositions we encounter in our new realities.
On one particularly hard day, just a year shy of the first anniversary of my brother’s suicide I posted this on the wall of that support group:
July 3, 2014
For some reason, this week has been really hard for me. No anniversaries or triggers-- just one second away from crying, every second of the day. I feel like this page is a parallel universe for me. "Out there" in the "real" facebook world, everything is bright and sunny, and my posts are political or funny; then I sneak away and enter here-- it is a darkened room, or cave-- and am drawn to the circle of this group, where there are candles lit and our voices murmur words of anguish and comfort and hope. This is a universe no one knows, except for those of us who live in these shadowlands, and I hope there will be no one else who has to discover it, though I take comfort in knowing we will be there for them, when they stumble through this portal for the first time.
In that group, we can share the hidden juxtaposition of our losses, that the rest of the world, for the most part, doesn't see.
This International Suicide Survivors Day there was an event held locally, but I didn’t go; I chose
My brother, Erik, bib 1517
instead to run a 5K, in honor of my brother who was an avid runner in his young adulthood. I ran the best I’ve run in a long time. I was jubilantly happy, even as I felt the shadow of grief.

That afternoon, I gathered with a large multi-faith group from four downtown churches and we did a hymn-crawl, starting at one church, singing four songs of that particular faith tradition, and then going to the next in line, until we ended up at All Souls. The over-arching theme was “Healing,” and each church had a sub-theme. Those themes were peace, safety, community healing, and love. Each of the songs we sang seemed especially poignant in the wake of the Paris attacks, and each felt personally relevant to me, as well, as I tenderly explored the familiar trappings of grief.

Juxtapositions abound.

And next up is Thanksgiving. Certainly, there is much in my life for which I am grateful: a kind and tender son, my mom and sisters, and the extended family branching out from my particular family tree, chosen family who love and accept me just as I am, a hearth and home that provides shelter and a sense of grounding, possibilities that await me, as yet unseen, mirthfully waiting to jump out and yell, “Surprise!” just as I round the corner where they hide.

I will be preaching on “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” this Sunday, taking a look at how grace, mercy, hope show up in our lives.

Over the next few days I plan to eat too much, and drink wine, and laugh and laugh with friends, and tell stories and reminisce with family. I will raise a toast to my brother, Erik, gone almost 2 ½ years now, and to my step-dad, Jim, and Uncle By—this, our first Thanksgiving without these two men—and feel the sadness mix with joy, the grief with delight, the juxtapositions in this life we lead, knowing both exist fully present in my heart, in my body, and both have shaped me into the person I am today.

As (Saint) Mary Oliver wrote in her poem, We Shake with Joy:
We Shake with Joy

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two housed as
they are in the same body.
(from Evidence, Beacon Press, 2010)

The joy and the grief, we each hold them, tenderly juxtaposed in the chambers of our hearts. And here's what's also true: in the midst of the pleasure and pain, the sorrow and delight, we are, none of us, alone.Perhaps you're experiencing some of these juxtapositions, yourself: the gaiety of holiday parties and the grief of a loss. If this holiday season finds you spending too much time wandering the darkened corridors of despair or depression, if you can't seem to find the way back to the light, reach out; there is help. Here are a few numbers to get you started:

1 (800) 273-8255

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Languages: English, Spanish
Crisis Text line: Text START to 741-741

And I am here for you, too. Life is filled with juxtapositions; the trick is to remember, it's a dance.

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