Sometimes, when I know my children are stretched taut with their own very real troubles, I give them a pass on school. We call it a personal day. I don't care if they're in elementary school, when they need it, I grant it. Even little people need a personal day to rest a bit, collect themselves, and shore up to face the next day.
I'm taking a personal day today.
I have four stories in this powerful anthology (most of them appeared on this blog when a book deal was still a sparkle in my eye). Some of the contributors are my friends, one is my beloved sibling and big sister extraordinaire, Carly. As I read I nodded, cried, smiled, affirmed, and related, and Lord, have mercy, I remembered. By the time I'd read three of the four of mine, I had come undone. With my voice still broken from sobbing I called my brother, and though I'd said it before, I thanked him for saving my life, getting me out of Washington D.C. before Raphael (not his real name) killed me. We didn't talk long, but I needed to say it again.
Who are the people who spread their cloak around you and covered you when you were most vulnerable? Who were the souls on your personal underground railroad who made haste to steal you away to freedom in the night? Maybe some are long gone from your life, or even from this world. Pour their names out of your mouth like a libation. Give thanks for them, and after you've done that, take a moment to remember those who are still bound, even if that person is you. And pray once again.
On this chilly Monday during Lent, I am sitting in my version of sackcloth and ashes: I'm in the bed, in sheets and blankets. I am remembering the girl who loved a boy, the naked pregnant lady in the yard, and the skinny little wisp of me who sliced a razor blade into the tender flesh of her wrists because for a moment, I didn't think I could bear another aching moment. And you know what is so surprising? What may even qualify as a miracle? I'm not hungry. I'm not running into the kitchen to keep that woman down. She's here in bed with me, staring at me with her mournful eyes, and I'm going to lie with her, hold her close, kiss her on the top of her head and whisper into her hair, "There, there. I've got you."
Most of Lent is about a cross that looms so much heavier than our own, and the innocent man who was God who hung on it. And rightfully so.
Some of Lent is about the crosses that we shoulder right now: our obsessions; our mental illnesses; our eating disorders; our secret shame and sorrow. But make no mistake about it, some of the crosses Lent gives us pause to revisit are the ones we've staked in the ground of our pasts. These crosses say, "Something perished here, something precious and important, and we remember."
When memories so painful they spear you like giant icicles freezing your soft soul innards, it's okay to take a personal day, pull the sheets and blankets of mourning over you, rest a bit, collect yourself, and shore yourself up for tomorrow.