Tuesday, May 22, 2012

365 Days Later

Any writer will tell you that there are paragraphs that write themselves. I can attest to this occurrence. It happens quite regularly, actually. It’s not bragging. No, it can’t be bragging because prose like that is unplanned and seldom controlled. But in these flashes of clarity, the thoughts are so free flowing that you are convinced you could take your hands off of the keys and the words would still line up on the page.

This is not one of these moments. This is the hard kind of writing. It’s the kind where you pull and lure words out from the depths. Kicking and screaming, they come to the page. This very well could be the type of writing that doesn’t make sense a week from now. The kind that causes you to look back on your words like they were written by a stranger. So tonight I’m writing, not because I feel inspired but because I feel like I owe it to myself.

And in some way, I owe it to you too. Yeah, real nice of me, huh? Here I sit, exactly a year after a tornado tumbled through Joplin and destroyed my house. And since you have asked, in several different ways, how we are dealing with the anniversary of the tornado, I figure that you deserve for me to bring the words up to the surface. Oddly, I have felt a parade of emotions in the last 24 hours that I didn’t expect. Thoughts and feelings have crossed my mind that I haven’t felt in 365 days. At least I think.

If there is a little doubt in my voice it is because honestly, I couldn’t write in the days that followed the tornado. God knows that I tried. But when I slid my journal from my backpack, the pen didn’t move across the page like it had been trained.  I don’t know why it betrayed me. And now, a year later, I feel like I cheated myself by not pulling these words out from the abyss. But they wouldn’t emerge. To this day, my journal, as full of scribbles and random thoughts as it is, only contains two paragraphs about the events on May 22.

There was numbness to the experience that was paralyzing. I know that now. In some respects, I really am tired of talking about it. And I assume that you are tired of hearing about it. Moving on and remembering make strange bedfellows. But before we move on, let me say this. Last May was a defining moment in my life. And the things I learned, recorded in the moment or not, will continue to shape me throughout every May 22nd from here on.

First and foremost, I have come to accept conflict. I used to be afraid that things would never change, that I would somehow stop growing and learning unless I acted and forced fate in my favor. But the reality is that sometimes a spring wind converges on the west side of town and changes everything.

You want a life lesson? Here it is. We have a tendency to shield ourselves from conflict, to resist that which is difficult. But ask any storyteller from a Hollywood boardroom or high school locker room and they will tell you that conflict is the device that moves the story forward. Without conflict, you never get the chance to defeat the dragon, the princess doesn’t need to be saved, and you never get to see what you’re made of. Or how much your friends love you. This year has taught me to embrace both joy and sorrow. We are people who should drink deeply from each cup, knowing that both the good and the bad shape the people we want to become.

If it sounds paradoxical, it’s because it is. In a sense, paradox has been the theme of my year. I’ve been both grateful and bitter. At times, I’ve isolated myself and I’ve collapsed into community. I know God is faithful. He saved my family. But scars are still scars. The friends who showed up the day after to help us dig out were lifesavers. And those who gave me space to speak feelings still unedited in December were life sustainers. Both sets hold a special place in my heart.

Now, a year later, I still drive past the vacant lot of land where my house used to sit on a regular basis. Currently, a handwritten FOR SALE sign sways in the breeze. Soon, this pile of dirt and broken concrete will belong to someone else. In the meantime, I’m not sure why I keep circling back. It is a little out of the way from my semi-daily commute to the YMCA and back. But perhaps I do so to remind myself of what I found in the wreckage beneath grey skies.

In the process of losing everything, I gained a dependence that was so real it was frightening. But it was good. Most of our existence is somewhat of a mirage. We buy security through hardwood floors and two car garages. But those things evaporate quickly in 200-mile winds. I knew I was rich when I had nothing. Something felt right about needing people, really needing people.

Yet I fought against that dependence. We bought new (nicer) furniture and moved out of Chase’s spare bedroom. We became self-reliant again. I’ve been reflecting on the days that followed the storm. The time I spent picking through my damp belongings. In a way, I could do nothing for myself. I was helpless.

Today, I mourned the loss of this dependence. Not because I cling to enablers but because I realized that I’d always been dependent on others. The dependency was always there under the surface. I just spent most of my life trying to convince myself otherwise. There is so much freedom in our helplessness. That's the good stuff in life. So, if it’s alright with you, I’d like to still need you.

We're still here a year later. I'm glad you are too.


Brennan Conklin said...

Eric this is one of the best articles that I have ever read. Thank you for writing, my spirit needed this today.

Anonymous said...

Eric, I'd like to still need you too. Still sorry for your loss and glad you're here. Good word, brother.

Wrote a post of a different color today as well. Curious for your thoughts.

- Lancelot