For The Someday Book

No Stopping

Posted on: May 29, 2017

The last post I wrote–not counting the eulogy for my dad–happened all the way back in January, just before surgery. In that reflection, I talked about how I kept moving forward, forward, forward, but my emotional and spiritual healing would require time to stop moving and even look backward, reflecting on all that I have been through. I had been too busy coping with the physical work of healing to attend to other matters. My silence here reveals I still haven’t managed to do that yet.

Since that last post, I had surgery, and discovered that the muscles for typing were the exact muscles that needed to rest during my recovery. My computer use was limited to the bare minimum. Then, before I was fully recovered, my father died, and the world began to spin again. I went home to Virginia for ten days, and returned to the start of Lent and the start of daily radiotherapy, which ran for nearly the same 40 days until Easter. Each day was truncated by radiotherapy, which sent me home to sleep immediately after, and my desire to honor holy week in my new church took all my working energy.

After Easter, I had planned to slow down and let the feelings come. I made intentional efforts to carve out spacious days with time to write. I had a trip to a seven-day conference in Vienna and Bratislava, and told everyone (including myself) that I planned to spend hours alone, writing and praying and processing.

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Regents Park, on one of my long walks in London

Instead, I kept moving. Literally. One day in Bratislava, I planned to sit in a cafe and write. Instead, walked around town for nearly five hours, never even stopping for water. Here in London, I set out to walk to a coffee shop to sit and write, and end up walking and walking instead, until my feet are blistered and I’m too tired to shape thoughts and feelings into words. It has happened over and over. Yesterday, I cleaned all the things. Since starting this post, I have paid bills and started laundry and dealt with a pile of unread e-mail. I have to meet my guys at the baseball field this afternoon, and I just learned I could walk there in less than 90 minutes. I considered stopping this post so I could do that instead.

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During that epic walk in Bratislava, I stopped at the Coronation Church to pray, and shed a few tears for my Dad. This guy walked in wearing a Rotary backpack. Being a Rotarian was a huge part of my dad’s life. This stranger felt heaven sent, and I wept some more.

I think I have been a bit starved for seeing things, after treatment left my world so small for so long. My walks have always been full of interesting things to see—beauty and humanity and energy. But I am the kind of person who needs to move beyond so many stimuli and process all that my senses encounter. Rather than pause to reflect, I have been walking myself so much that I come home too tired to do anything beyond watching TV and scrolling through Facebook—an exact replica of all the nights I’ve had through cancer treatments. Numb and exhausted, unable to concentrate and focus.

It’s probably good for my physical health to be walking so much, and I am using the time to think and pray, but I also feel like I just don’t know how to stop moving. I want to rest, to dig deeper, to feel my feelings and write my story again–but my feet keep moving.

I first realized the pattern after that day in Bratislava, but I didn’t know how to stop. For well more than a year now, since we first knew we were moving to London, life has been lived in a rush. There were visa applications and a house to sell, goodbyes to make and a church to transition. Then, just when I thought I could rest, a cancer diagnosis. What followed has been a crush of a new church, new job and new culture amidst chemo, surgery, radiotherapy and all the rest. Then the sudden death of my father.

Through it all, I knew I had to keep moving forward, and I did. Now my feet–and with them my mind and heart–don’t know how to rest anymore. I’ve lost my habits of reflection, my patterns of withdrawal, my mental space for writing more than sermons (and even concentrating on those has been a struggle). In order to renew them, I am starting writing by talking about how hard it is to write. It’s all I can manage right now.

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Inside the Karlskirche, awaiting the Requiem

I am aware, too, that my feet may be in motion to run away from some of these feelings, because grief is big and deep and scary sometimes. But I have been allowing space for lots of feelings, especially for my dad. In Vienna, I attended a concert of Mozart’s Requiem in the Karlskirche. The Requiem has always been a piece that opened my heart to grief. As soon as I saw it advertised, the tears came. I knew I needed to go, and to use the music to let the feelings flow. I wept for the entire concert, and it was just what I needed. I pause for tears on a regular basis, so I don’t feel like my feelings are locked away from me.

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I found these (very old) tissues in my dad’s briefcase, which had always been sacred space off-limits to the rest of us. I held on to them, along with some terribly old Altoids. I took them with me to Vienna, and to the Requiem, and it felt like my dad was there to catch my tears for him.

 

In the next two weeks, I am facing some time alone. Starting this morning, while the guys are at baseball. Then, three days, two nights home alone for the first time in more than a year. Then four days for a wedding in France, where I won’t know anyone apart from the bride, groom and rabbi. All those days fall around the one year anniversary of both leaving my church and home in Jeffersonville, and finding my cancer.

Normally, I would be fiercely protective of this time, with a long list of writing and thinking projects to tackle and a great eagerness for being alone. Not this time. I am nervous, because I won’t have any distractions or excuses. I think all my loneliness from the last year might catch up to me. My fear is that I’ll just keep busy, keep moving, keep walking—and spend all that precious time alone watching TV and scrolling Facebook again.

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After the Requiem, I went out with friends and ordered an Old Granddad, my dad’s choice for bourbon when out to eat. He was also called Granddaddy by his grandchildren. Sipping bourbon is a slow burn, exactly the right speed for what I need right now.

But now I’ve managed to make it almost to the end of my first reflective writing in nearly six months. It’s nothing much, but I’m hoping it relieves the pressure to make way for some more writing to come, and reminds me of how much I miss it.

I want to go back to being myself again—and I don’t. I want to be changed by this experience—and I don’t. I should be different, shouldn’t I? Aren’t I? I’m only beginning to understand how my new country, new pastoral role and new status as cancer survivor will change me, and that’s all happening at the exact same time that I am finally feeling well enough to get back to being myself again. Only “myself” isn’t quite there anymore. I believe it’s writing that will help me find my footing again.

I am so glad to be through the worst of the cancer treatment, to feel my strength returning and exhaustion lifting. I look forward to slowing down my feet and the rest of me, so that I can also return to creativity, reflection and concentration. In all this, God has never felt far away, and for that I am most grateful. I hope it’s five days, not five months, until I am able to write again.

 

 

 

 

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7 Responses to "No Stopping"

I look nearly everyday for a new entry. Surprised today! On a day we remember those who served our military, and died. I am glad that you are in the motion forward! Be it your feet, or your Heart;Painful for both. Not forgetting what you have been thru, but always willing to face tomorrow. You continue to inspire. God is leading you. Love and Peace Always

Sometimes we have to just be and just do. I know how important reflection is to you (me too), but there are those times where there is just too much… Glad you are feeling well and are back to reflection, as your posts and insights mean a lot to many of us. Be well, old friend!

I so identify with your continual motion…it is exactly how I have been and I cannot help it. I know I need to summer to slow down, but in some ways I fear the coming time alone with no real responsibilities to distract me. My grief has been well-contained at times, but is beginning to leak out a little at a time and it is not pretty. I will love him forever. I will be praying for you in the coming weeks that peace will settle in and allow you to write, pray and concentrate again. Love you so much and wish I could remove your pain. Mom

Happy to hear that you are over and survived your chemotherapy and radiation. One wonders, when going through it all, if it is worth it.

Life is precious and it always will take effort to enjoy it. Prayer is part of the effort but is really only an adverb. (something that defines or adds to a verb.)

Hang it there. Things will get better. This is the time to keep a log of ideas that you do not have the time or energy to do.

AVP from the Hills

Beautifully honest writing. Be gentle with yourself, dear Jennifer. You have come so far. The journey is unfolding in its own time. Glad you are honoring your grief when it washes over you and finding purposeful opportunities to embrace it. I think of you in my daily walks past St. Luke’s. Look forward to reading more if/when you are ready.

Dearest Jennifer, Like a toddler who crawls and then walks to grow into childhood and more maturity, you are in the baby steps stage of recovery. Both Dad and Mom said that after crucial life experiences that they learned to pray with their feet before they could repeat their earlier worship experiences. I think that may be the stage you are in. Linda asked me to tell you that your walking is like your journaling. You are still thinking and contemplating, it’s just not time for it to go down on paper yet. Give God and time the chance to further heal your spirit. Use this time and your walks to open your eyes to new ways of living and serving. We still hold you in our hearts whether you blog or not.

So glad to hear your voice in this space! I have wondered how you were. It sounds a difficult time, both physically and emotionally. It also sounds like you are being gentle with yourself and respecting your own needs,even when those needs are different than what you expect them to be.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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