This is what it means to be alive

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Memoir, self help, short story

“Circe,” he says. “It will be all right”…”He does not mean that it does not hurt. He does not mean that we are not frightened. Only that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive.”

Circe, by Madeline Miller

Part I

I was on the Beltway skirting around Washington, DC when the answer fell out of the sky and landed on my head:

You’re going to need grace to get out of this.

I didn’t have a clear picture of what this grace would look like and no idea where I was going to find it but I did know it referred to the problem in the back of my mind I’d been wrestling with ever since graduation: the uncomfortable understanding that at some point I would find myself, just like Jude the Obscure, outside the gates of a world I would not have access to, a world where most of my closest comrades would be.

It was a money divide. Amy was on her way to med school, along with her husband — a dual doctor advantage. Patty was finishing up law school while Mike completed med school — a #1 and #2 sweep. Kaila was a business major which at least sounded like the promise of money, in addition to being married to an engineer headed for law school, while I had traveled to the suburbs of Washington, DC to teach high school drama. Thank god Christine was a teacher like me.

Part II

A long time ago I met a woman whose baby was born with a severe facial deformity. By the time we met, her son was grown — successful and in love, going after his dreams with enough passion and purpose to fill two lives.

When she told me about delivering her son my only thought went to her, feeling a wild sympathetic pain and panic for that post-delivery moment of reckoning and her life ahead. I couldn’t help myself. I asked what on earth that moment was like. She paused, gathering herself.

“They told me before they gave him to me. I took a few minutes to get my head around this then I held him in my arms, looked at him and thought it is a good thing you are my child. You are going to need someone like me on your team.

She said this with a fierceness, the force of something vital beating through her. I was stunned by the immense and immediate leap she took from herself to this baby, to the life this child had been personally given and what lay ahead for him. And her bone deep understanding of her own offerings.

It dawned on me what I was seeing. I was looking at grace.

Part III

When I went down that fall in 2008, broken by the work trauma that undid any grip I felt over myself and my footing in this world, I spent days, so many days laying on the floor while on medical leave, getting as close to solid ground as I possibly could.

Coming undone, face-to-face with the failing of the self to hold together is a serious situation. How do you get up? What on earth is there to gather together?

Part IV

Despite growing up the child of a father who had at one point been a minister, I had no faith. I could see faith so clearly on the faces and in the hearts of others, whether that faith was the quiet kind or the ecstatic. I, on the other hand felt nothing. Nothing except cheated. What they had was clearly glorious, giving them something that seemed highly useful, if nothing else.

I could fake it, but what would be the point. What I wanted to know was why hadn’t God tapped me on the shoulder? Why not me?

Part V

Then, as I lay on the ground that year when I was down, in my stillness god spoke to me, over and over, in a voice so clear I can hear it now.

“Child, you are perfect as you are.”

Child, you are exactly as you are meant to be.”

“Child, I am here. I have always been here.”

And so it was. Grace came through my wide-open, broken-down door to tell me truths I hadn’t understood.


Amy, Patty, Kaila & Christine
: my lifelong gang
Timeframe: 1984 – 2008

The stories in this blog are excerpts from my memoir, The Organization Project. While they are true to me and reflect how I see, I acknowledge there are multiple truths, including my own which change over time, even as the events themselves remain the same. What I make of an event 5 years out may not be what I make of it 10 years out or 50 years out.

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