Tag Archives: loss

an open letter to my students

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An Open Letter to My Students on the Eve of the Orlando Shooting.

June 12, 2016

Dear Students,

You likely woke up today as I did: late. You may or may not have turned on the news as is my morning wake-up custom, coffee in hand and multiple snoozes later. Within moments it became clear that there was yet another mass shooting while we were sleeping. This morning’s shooting at a gay night club in Orlando. Over 100 dead and injured.

I remember thinking ‘My soon-to-be godson is to be baptized today. My responsibilities seem yet-again larger now.’

I’m late to the service by a few minutes this morning; I know you’re not surprised. I stood too long at the television in my bedroom, clenching the wooden ledge on top of the dresser left in the room by my great, great-aunts who were the unusual of their era; they were highly educated, remarkably fashionable, and unusually independent women from a time where that was not allowed. No doubt they were recipients of both celebration and judgment. The dresser left in the bedroom of this house they used which I now sleep in has new fingernail marks as of this morning, left accidentally as I should have been dressing for a baptismal service but was instead being washed again in the blood of others.

“I also remember this, and wish I did not,” as Didion once said. I remember that I was not surprised.

Yet another killing, this time the largest mass shooting in our states’ history and the largest terrorist attack on US soil since my freshmen year of college when I sat in a lecture hall of Blanchard at Wheaton and watched the towers fall before my eyes.

I remember this morning thinking that I was surprised that morning as an 18-year-old hopeful, but that I am not surprised now as a 32-year-old hopeful. And it is the hopefulness of my better wiring which has been wanting to talk to all of you all day long today, even though you’ve managed to sneak away from me for the summer. I’ve managed to talk to you in one of our random, side conversations all day long in my head regardless. Then I decided that I hope you might hear it.

Many of you value your faith deeply; I do as well. Because of this, those who believe differently from you are owed your love and honor. The faith you claim has told you so; the faith leaders you are bothered by have challenged this. Follow your faith.

Many of you think
public policy,
issues of social policy and social welfare,
wealth and poverty,
emails to your governors and senators and representatives
(unanswered as most of them go…which you will remember),
childhood development and influence,
family structure and complexity,
group norms and roles,
mob mentalities and social capacities,
and research formulas and findings
aren’t connected in any real way
to your deep desire to help those who are in need.

The crimes of today should remind you that these things are all connected.

The language and now law signed in by Governor Bill Haslam in Tennessee that allow therapists to legally hate and discriminate by refusing counseling to those of the LGBTQ community affected by today’s mass shooting is an issue of policy, welfare, wealth and poverty, legislators who listen and those who ignore (and are paid to do so, which you will remember), legislation and its [silent] funders, biological development and its influences, structure, complexity, norms, roles, mob mentalities and social capacities, research and its findings…

This language and this legislation and these legislators and these voices are the authors of the men and women who will come into your offices and onto your caseloads wounded, orphans of those killed by this morning’s violence, orphans of those who had parents who lived lives of silence or submission to a norm, or stood silently in the back of your sanctuaries on mornings like these as you went to church and thought it was a regular Sunday morning.

I felt the need all day long today, now pushing the clock to make it honest, to let you know that I expect the world of you.

I am pretty sure I have told you this. You will be the best.

I expect a whole other kind of world from you. I expect you to wake up on days like today with the news of the moment and the heart of a saint that is both willing to break the rules and willing to break the norms to dig your fingernails into the wooden ledge on top of the dresser and be late for something planned and appropriate because you decided you had to stand up and speak out for something possibly inappropriate because it puts all of our humanity at risk.

So in class, when I hound you and harass you and rap at you and sing at you and yell at you and take points from you and even when I feed you in an effort to buy you, please know this: I do all these things so that some day, some Sunday morning when someone is waking up and committing to go to church and pledge gratefully to be a godfather for a young man or young woman who has not yet learned to distrust the world…

I do all these things so that you will remember that it will never be okay for us to not be surprised at this kind of hateful news that greeted us this morning.

I’m counting on you.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

 

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we all will

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I watched my own mother file in, first in line of the four women. The two directly behind her I know well and have a heavy respect for as game-changers, rule-writers, integrity-definers, and culture-forgers. The fourth I’ve never met in person and somehow now in this moment feel embarrassed because I know her name and legacy well. These four women together are the honorary pallbearers for Ann Livingstone today, a funeral that is unwelcome and too early for her lifetime and her influence in our own. They are each dressed in black, of course, as they filed in St. Luke’s historic building, but with a sharp and intentional splash of red as Ann had instructed.

I picked up flowers later that afternoon for the tables and counters and surfaces at Mom and Dad’s house later that night. I was looking for all white blooms, and then remembered the instruction for a punch of red. So all white was chosen, and a punch of red per Ann’s request. A southern dinner for family and friends, and in Ann’s case…students, was held at Mom and Dad’s house the evening of the funeral.

The door I came home late through nearly two decades ago as a teenager I was now opening to one-time students who had become Ann’s students either officially in a classroom or practically in the world because she instilled in them this deep longing to work excellently and brilliantly and faithfully and daringly in their respective fields, whether political science or peacemaking or religion or community development or justice or healthcare or human rights. They were arriving on our from porch from California and Canada to who knows where paying respects and mourning the reality that Ann was now, whether she wanted to or not, offering the ultimate assignment: taking on the work that had now been stolen from her far too soon.

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A few days ago, a good friend of mine posted online an image of our high school English Lit teacher Lisa Kee. She was too crazy to categorize, and too sincere to discount. She was diagnosed with cancer before our eyes as we watched from the desks in her classroom. She proceeded to teach us new ways of being honest with our own humanity, our own fears, our own faith, and our own responsibilities to read and write. She instilled in us the responsibility that by doing so we were shaping the world around us. She told us about the horror of waking up to baldness because of chemo, the value of fresh air and moon beams when you’re trapped in a sterile hospital room, and the fear of knowing that death is closer than it had been invited.

For me, and for many, she was the first person who ever made it clear that my voice was worth using and worth being heard, and therefore worth being trained and challenged because our shared humanity was at stake.

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When Mrs. Kee died, her funeral was the biggest of any class reunion I’ve ever been to. To invoke her name shapes the conversation that follows, and raises the bar of what we expect among each of us. Ann was never my professor, but I’m the recipient of those she taught, both officially as students who are now my friends and colleagues, and unofficially as friends, like my parents, who have been shaped and challenged and pushed to live wholeheartedly because of what she has taught them.

Death is bullshit.
Unwelcome.
Unnatural.
Untimely.
Unreasonable.
Unacceptable.

But shots of red, unexpected and insistent fugues, the filing in of these four pallbearers, and images of the past wrestle hard against it, fighting honorably against grief in making way to the surface insisting the work must continue. To live with honesty, teach with integrity and urgency, and die with dignity are a sharp lesson and challenge.

Justice waits for us to fight for it. Peace waits for us to make it. Goodness waits for us live into it.

And in the loss of our larger-than-life teachers who have now been stolen by the fight, we find ourselves pushing a little harder to pass on the imperative of living in ways that are worthy of the human spirit.

To Lisa Kee and to Ann Livingstone, I will do my best. And I will push my students with all I have to do their bests.

We all will.

djordan
Pine Tree

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Lord willing, we won’t keep growing

Our Jackson Home posted a piece I wrote reflecting on this year’s Remember Me Walk for survivor’s of homicide loss. This group is astounding to me, and I’ve copied some of the post below with a link to read it in its entirety. And if you have not yet checked out Our Jackson Home, you should probably get on the ball.

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The crowd was larger this year than any crowd the past seven. The Carl Grant Events Center at Union University was filled with tables surrounded by people of all kinds, ages, colors, and worlds held together by the sad reality that someone they loved has been murdered—some of them fifty years ago and some five months ago. The reality that no one truly understands this grief is echoed in the camaraderie across the room. “Lord-willing,” they say, “we won’t keep growing. We don’t want other people to know what this feels like.”

Grief is breathtaking. All have experienced it, and we know the deep-down grumbling in our guts that must be an echo of the deep-down grumbling in our souls.

A life is lost. A story ends. …

Click here to keep reading on Our Jackson Home

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an end to preludes

boyond-preludes

There is a rumble of insistence for
an end to preludes without their symphonies.

Beyond announcements and proclamations,
beyond ceremonies and unveilings,
crowds of regular people gather
who are still working and sweating
to raise their families
to help their neighbors
to reimagine their surroundings
to dream their futures
and to build into their communities
into something a little more whole.

Beyond the prelude
the people are still waiting
for the movement to begin.

Beyond the prelude
we are waiting and clamoring,
we have become restless waiting and clamoring,
for the movement to begin.

There is no longer an acceptance of only preludes;
we’ve learned the movement is supposed to follow.

We don’t expect it to be played for us;
we’ve been learning to play for quite some time now.
We expect to add our own music to the work.
We don’t expect it to ring without error;
we’ve been learning from our errors for quite some time now.
We expect to mess up, tell the truth about it, and continue to play.
We don’t expect to hear it immediately;
we’ve been learning how long it takes for good music to be born.
We expect to see it both in small pieces and suddenly in finished products.

But let us be clear;
we will no longer accept the preludes without their symphonies.
If there is intent to impose again
an acceptance of the status quo
of all prelude and no movement
of all proclamation and no production
of all appeasing and no activity
of all explanation and no substance,
hear this:
We do not accept your offer.

We’ve waited.
We’ve traveled.
We’ve worked.
We’ve trained.
We’ve sweat.

You will not scare us into silence.
You will not threaten us into acceptance.
You will not bully us into appeasement.

We know that the prelude is only the prelude;
there’s music to be heard.
And we know that while terrifying,
it is the music of the kingdom.
And we will play it together.
And we will hear it together.

And whether or not you join us,
we will move beyond the preludes.
There’s music to be heard.

djordan
Chicago, IL

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the era at hand

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At about a hundred miles an hour it came crashing into my chest this morning, moving up quickly to my throat where it stole my breath and then my eyes which began to pour. In the wind, behind sunglasses and under one of my grandfather’s many straw fishing hats, I was skimming quickly to our next drop in spot with three buddies as the sun was coming up over the gulf where we’ve been staying these last few days. The boat’s captain letting us know how far in to drop and what was likely on our line before it ever came into site was scouting out our next most likely location.

The four-word refrain came to mind. I followed it just under my breath to see what song it was connected to, and then, the crashing. First chest. Then throat. Then eyes.

sad fruitful broken true
sad fruitful broken true

I didn’t realize until this morning out there on the dramamine-calmed water that this is the first trip to the beach I’ve been on since losing both grandparents who taught me to love traveling here, feeding the birds, chasing the fish, eating out, cooking in, and laughing hard. As time passed, so did their health, but the beach would still happen. Moves from porch to den to restaurant  became slower and slower, but each still an important move worth taking the time to make.

This morning, out there on the water, still burning by the sun under his straw fishing hat, I realized that it has been the years and years of family and storytelling and value-passing that makes me fight, over and beyond fighting for meaningful work and meaningful impact, for meaningful friendship and meaningful experiences. To see and to feel and to taste the holiness in clinking glasses in my own home or half a world away. To honor and to savor the time spent with and the time spent where.

And in the hurricane of memories that stormed perfectly over and into me this morning, I was at once overwhelmingly grateful and overwhelmingly heartbroken. To have the privilege of three decades filled with enough love and honor and legacy to miss so deeply all at once left me exceedingly grateful and sad. The era of those kinds of gifts has passed. Forever. It’s almost too much to take in.

There is, however, the era at hand. It is in these days, then, that reveal the ways in which I choose to remember all these good things that have in no way been withheld from me. It is in this era that I will either wake up before the sun and meet my buddies to fish deep in the ocean, or I will only mourn the loss of the days that have already passed. To truly mourn, to truly grieve and to truly honor all that is lost must, in the truest of ways, involve making deep and rich meaning of all that is ahead.

And must acknowledge the ripe and possible realities of the present moment. Crashing in and all.

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The words I found after chasing the refrain are from the Sara Groves’ song This House are listed below:

it took me by surprise
this old house and these old feelings
walked round and looked inside
familiar walls and halls and ceilings

where I’d dream and plan
every moment of sunshine
this was my whole world
it was all I knew
like the hull of a seed
this old house cracked wide open
as I grew

hadn’t given it much thought
hadn’t been back here for a while
everything looks so small
seen through the memories of a child

who would dream and stare
from that second story window
that was my whole world
it was all I knew
like the hull the of a seed
this old house cracked wide open
and I flew

sad fruitful broken true
sad fruitful broken true

memories for miles and miles
summers falls winters and springs
Ruby you take it in
see he’s withheld no good thing

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djordan
723 Whiskey Bravo
Seagrove Beach, FL

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the funeral laugh

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You know it.

And please.
Don’t act like you don’t know it.

Don’t act like you don’t know what the funeral laugh is. If you pretend that you don’t know it, I’ll know you’re lying and that’s an entirely different thing to address. We’re together here, you and me.

We all know what the funeral laugh is.
And we’re all guilty.

That inappropriate laugh in the moment where we are faced with the reality that the clock stops ticking one day. The clock stops ticking and the reality rushes in that we are more time-limited than we are prepared to admit. And we don’t know why things happen the way they do, why pain and progress get shaped and honored and forgotten the way they do; why pain lasts and hope lasts; why the possibility of something different for the future can operate with larger and stronger and broader strength than the reality of the way things have been in the past.

That completely inappropriate laugh that surprised us as much as anyone who heard it before we muffled it with a cough or choke or some other lame cover.

We can pretend as though we are wired for money or wired for sex or wired for love or wired for prestige.
But we can’t pretend for long.
Because once we catch anything we chase,
it sheds its skin
and we realize that we are naked and selfish,
insecure,
hopeful,
and powerless in more ways we care to consider.

And that’s when in stings.
It’s gonna be the funeral laugh or the funeral wail. One is coming out and we can’t help it.
We are at the funeral. We know that the person in the casket is highlighted by a story that now has defined lines of what was and wasn’t accomplished.
And we are terrified.
And rightly so, because we are afraid of what the present reality means for us when we shove it up against the reality of the future.

But, it’s that laugh that comes out. And in the same way it’s poorly timed and poorly placed, it’s also unexpected and sends a surge to the abdomen which sends a surge to the brain. And the surges remind us that we are, today, in this moment, alive. And we are alive in a place that is filled with people on the edge of laughter or tears, people ourselves included, who are still making the little choices one after another because our clock is still ticking. Our story still has options.

So we remember our inside jokes and laughs.
So we send cards to the mailbox with stamps and seals that say thanks again for everything.
So we let the other person in front of us in traffic, in line, in thought.
So we pause and raise a glass to make a toast that’s more a prayer than the blessing would have been.
So we make a decision to risk admitting we are powerless and hope that something rises to catch us.
So we wear party hats when making grown-up decisions that aren’t fun because we are alive and here to make them.

So we decide to choose the laugh at that inappropriate time that’s marked by real and gritty silence and seriousness. We know that we will wail again in a moment, and we know that both are actually fine.

But right this second, we choose the laugh. And then it won’t stop. We can’t stop it.

At this funeral, in this thin space where we are asked again that huge question about what it means to move forward in the world we will stop moving in, for a time, one day, we choose the funeral laugh. Because we can. And because we must.

djordan
Pine Tree

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moving forward. always.

It’s all a mess, of course.
We run into it knowing that we have a plan
We run into it knowing that we have the knowledge
to fix it
to solve it
to make it better
We burn to fix it, to solve it, to make it better
So the fact the we have the change to
put the plan into action
and use our knowledge to make it better
must mean that all will be well
because
we are ready
to make it well.

But then,
we wake up to the news of
all gone wrong.
all unexpected.
all that is against all we’d hoped for
worked for
longed for
waited for
prayed for.

It’s in that moment
of course,
that we realize it’s all a mess
and we begin to wonder if plans and knowledge
and we begin to wonder if the burn to solve it, to fix it
are an existential mocking of sorts.

And yet
even waking up to the news of
loss
death
murder
backward
pointlessness

we can’t help but rub our eyes and
do our best to face forward
and look upward
and work to put our plans and knowledge
back to work
knowing that we may not actually ever get what we hope for
but knowing even more that
we are not willing to hope for less.
Even in the mess.
So we move
forward.

always.

and so we are bold to pray.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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more than our sorrow

we-are-more-than-our-sorrow
He sat down at the table with me briefly while I ate and he waited on food to go from the cafe. Since he knew of the chaos raging, not much had to be said. I looked up and tried to squint in the way we try to squint when working to hold back tears that we are tired of.

The same way we squint that usually fails when someone knows of the raging chaos.

As tears began to crack and run down the edge of my runny nose, he said, “It’s like a bomb got dropped in the backyard.”

More tears. Nods. Then conversation about weather, salads, and other things neither of us cared about.

I’ve noticed a sense of being caught between surveying the damage and trying to move. The quote housed about my desk that refrains often in my own mind and heart when things seems unbelievably devastating felt a little out of reach at this point. To quote it, even to myself, felt like cheating the grief and confusion and fury and loss that was gripping everything inside of me:

We fill the craters left by the bombs
And once again we sing
And once again we sow
Because life never surrenders. 

– Anonymous Vietnamese poem

I could not imagine myself filling the craters yet, much less singing and sowing because I could not yet fathom or feel the extent of the damage, I could not sense the size of the crater left by the bomb in our backyards. I could only survey the damage. And with every glance, its complexity became deeper and harder to wrap my hands around. I would find myself staring into the crater and disappearing in my thoughts. I was beginning even to have trouble remembering what used to be in it’s place. All I could sense and see was a crater. Impossible to fill.

But somewhere, a sense that we, in community, always fill the craters, kept me from jumping in completely to the loss. Phone calls to friends and mentors. Visits to kitchen counters and living room floors. Weeping and asking and not answering.

And then, somewhere, even while still surveying the damage left by the bombs, something somewhere insists that we are our sorrow, but we are also more than our sorrow. We are also our hopes and dreams and work and errands and children and families and lives and friends and promises of the future. “We are more than our sorrow” Thich Nhat Hanh says, and so we enter into the reality that is the only thing stranger than the reality of the chaos. We enter into the reality that we are all of these things at once, in our humanity, and we must be all of them at once to find a way to move.

And so we move.
Because we are more than our sorrow, even as real as the sorrow may be.

djordan
Michigan Ave, Chicago

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i ironed every shirt today

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I ironed every shirt I ever actually wear today. I stood in the den ironing and hanging one after another on the pull up bar connected to the door frame.

I’ve noticed my own ironing habit over the last twelve months. It’s often after a long day at the office where people allow me the chance to journey with them through their personal, familial and communal junk as we work to find what good can be uncovered in its midst. While some days it’s an archeological journey worth photo-ops, full of good findings and the perfect blue skies to offer backdrop to their discoveries, many days end after journeying together where we don’t actually find anything.

We may have found better questions, or better ways to let go of bad questions, or better standards by which to gauge ourselves and others, but we end without any picture-perfect discoveries. We end without the pain and the mess being over. We end, after having given it all we know to give and finding that there wasn’t light at the end of the tunnel. Not yet, at least. Not today.

I often come home on those days, pull out the ironing board, and start working on a task that I know will begin and end well in one try. It helps me suspend hope, if just until the sun rises again, that some things get settled, some things end up making sense, and some things work out before the sun goes down.

Today was not a day of counseling, but a culmination of multiple days of reminders that many good people holding out great faith can’t make the pain stop and the heartache end. We can’t hope our way to the phone call giving us the news we were begging for. Today began with the news of loss. The loss of a man whose personality and gestures were in themselves reminders that there is another world buried under this one that creation itself can hardly wait to see break through. The loss of a man who made it clear, even on the day of his murder, that there is something rumbling underneath the cracking present age that speaks of a kingdom of light and a community of icons of God himself.

And we can hardly wait either, you know. We can hardly wait especially on days like today where we know what is good, but we don’t know how to get there and we feel powerless to bring it here. So we iron ourselves into some kind of sanity, so we can see something finished and something in order like all of our button-up shirts hanging on pull-up bars.

But night falls and morning rises, and we realize that as much as we would like to settle ourselves with tasks that we can see from beginning to end, neatly pleated and orderly hung, we also realize that our hearts are only truly alive in the tasks that leave us with great heartbreak, for now. And so, while they are too big to carry, we can’t help but doing our best to pick them up again. And, in the words of the pastor calling us to move toward the kingdom, it’s in picking up the things that are too heavy to carry that we realize we are actually on our way home.

djordan
Pine Tree

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