Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Grace (over the long haul)

I used to not like Anne Lamott. One of us was too whiny. But we've both matured and fallen in love with Jesus, so I'm reading Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith just now, between the required stuff and Harry Potter #6. At this point in our lives I read myself in her. Or into her, which may be what all excellent writers achieve in their readers. I've never fought alcohol or drugs, but have raised great armies against binge eating and bulimia since I was a child. Read into that whatever you like. When Lamott writes about body image and soul holes and Safeway's apple fritters, I feel her pain. The two sides of my battle are health, strength, and slimness, vs. disappearing into the safety of fat or simply not being seen, and avoiding the piercing bodily attention of the worst of men. The battle has been pretty quiet for a while, and this year I've been consciously eating healthfully and intentionally, the way normal people do. I've lost some weight, and look and feel better. Or did, for a while.

A couple of months ago, right after our puppy arrived, my wonderful husband went on a men's weekend with guys from his men's group. They were going out of town, so he was hitching a ride with another guy. That guy came to pick him up, and came into our kitchen where puppy and I were sitting.

I had met this guy once before, when they met at our house. Maybe one other time at a big event. I'm not sure I'd recognize him on the street today. The first time we met, he was a little overexuberant with the hug and kiss; I chalked it up to personal style.

So he came in. My husband went up to get his stuff, and I took puppy to a tree outside our kitchen to pee and the guy follows me out. He makes friendly conversation about the puppy, and then comes to where I am and leans in close.

If you've ever had a new puppy, you know that the rituals of housebreaking are rigorous and precise. You want the puppy to learn to pee in one spot, outside, every time you take him there. So as this guy leans in, I am impaled on a cypress tree. Suddenly he starts massaging my shoulders, firmly, as he leans in to speak to me.

One of the things you may not know about me is that my boundaries are pretty high. I have layers of armor that serve me well, and though I've worked hard to make it more permeable, there's still quite a bit there naturally. (When I was younger and less healthy, people would cross the street in order not to walk past me, the dark heat was so intense. I kid you not.) No one casually touches me; it just doesn't happen.

This guy, this stranger, slimed right through the holes in the armor and handled me. I thought: I've got to keep puppy safe. I felt: waves of revulsion and bile course through me. I acted: by stepping away as far as I could without disturbing the peeing ritual. Words sticking in my throat. Husband came out, guy looked friendly, and off they went.

Me? I spent the evening in front of the tv with puppy and cat, staving off both nausea and shame. A month later I told my husband, and he confronted the guy, and wound up leaving the small group they shared.

So it's two months later. I think I've mentioned before here that this was a hard summer -- not busy, but a lot of emotional stuff in our church community. I've been tired, and kicking myself for being tired. Yesterday I spent an hour on the phone with a clear borderline personality, and then another 15 minutes standing on line next to a chatty old man who kept touching my arm (and talking about how he could sure use a wife like me). And the waves came over me, and the shame.

In her essay "The Last Story of Spring", Lamott tells how her dog goes missing in the woods on a mountain near a crevass, and the fear and grief that overcomes her. A friend happens along, and wants to help. Lamott writes, "My enchanted woods had turned into the dark forests of fairy tales. But looking at Amanda out of the corners of my eyes, I remembered what happens in fairy tales: The helper always appears in a form that doesn't look very helpful, yet that's who's going to get you out of the woods."

Sometimes I realize later that I've been in the woods and hadn't seen the darkness fall.

Husband comes home from work yesterday, and I tell him I just want to have a quiet evening and be close. No sooner does he put his arm around me than I start weeping, my body shuddering. It doesn't stop all night. I put words to the stuff I can, and watch Frasier during the rest. Husband is attentive, gentle, quiet, and protective. By the end of the evening, I'm cried out, and safe from my own wars.

"Telling helped a little. It felt as if maybe the worst was over. 'But why didn't my faith protect me?' I asked one friend. 'It did... You found your way out of danger -- and disgust -- through humility, and even confession -- to the love of safe people. Now you are safe again" Lamott writes in "The Muddling Glory of God".

Sometimes grace is simply the truth, leaking out in all its pain and sorrow and grief, then flowing to someone who can catch it up for you.

Sometimes Jesus is the blanket that someone gently covers you with in love.

May your truth and blankets come.

1 comment:

Mother Laura said...

I don't know the details of your story but it is so moving and tragic how you describe the aftereffects. Healing graces to you from another survivor....And admiration for your courage in feeling, fighting, speaking about it....