Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Stretch.

The sky can be sliced, can be serrated. When we fly, clouds pull apart, the first heaven reconfigures, an unblemished celestial landscape forever alters with exhaust. It has become commonplace, flying. We view it not as an enchantment, but an inconvenience. We are not awed by the height we reach nor the speed with which we may exit one icy clime and find ourselves in the warm embrace of another. We forget that this is only possible — earbuds stuffed into auricles, pillows plumped under our heads — because someone stretched.

Someone enacted an idea with a reach that exceeded his grasp. With a pounding heart and a galloping mind, he sketched, he planned, he fashioned and tested and failed. He had help. He was lifted, both by those whose ideas dovetailed with his own and those who doubted his ability to ever reach higher than they could. He s t r e t c h e d, and in so doing, built something that serrates the sky.

I have gone whole days without stretching, gone full weeks, many years, a lifetime lifting toward spots much lower than those I could reach. I’ve been meek. Once my nana accused me of shrinking: you’re too young to be losing height and too old not to stand like you know you’re tall. Stretch.

Her mother was diminutive. She lived to be 95 and in her final years, when you entered any room where she stood, it felt hallowed. After decades of curling down, she felt close to heaven. My great-grandma trained as a teacher then married a factory man-turned-preacher and raised 10 children, quietly. Old photographs show her sitting, stoic and adolescent, amid her sassier sisters who would grow up to buy land, write poems, perform monologues, ride camels in Egypt.

I like to believe she was content. Perhaps family was her reach. Perhaps her laborious, love-glazed meals were all she needed to grasp. But it was only when her husband passed and left her with a decade alone that I saw her s t r e t c h. She ventured a joke, a smile, a risque repetition, and basked in the laughter that followed. She tested opinions on her tongue, rolled advice around her molars, conjured a voice more confident than I’d ever heard her use. By then, the bones in her back had calcified; her spine, not unlike a comma, separated her new and independent will from years of dependent clauses: if the children are well, if my husband allows, if the weather lets up, if the grandbabies need me. If I can.

Stretch.

My posture is not what it should be, nor is my opinion of myself. This, like my talents, desires, and eyes, is an inheritance. But so are long arms, a galloping mind, an appreciation of aircrafts and their ability to serrate the sky.

Stretch.

This year has been one of reaching, of fingertips pushing past practical possibility. I have stretched my perceptions. Stretched the confines of an INFJ personality. Stretched my patience till it was pulled thin and pliable as taffy. Stretched writing past entertainment, past preciousness, past secrecy till I reached activism. Stretched a dollar till it hollered, forgot its diminished value, and yielded to my will. Stretched beyond my agenda to help others reach an apex. This year has felt like a rack, like I was not so much the agent of my reach than a slave to it.

Stretching is rarely triumphal. It is born of discomfort, desperation. It is born of disgust and necessity. It comes from dangling: yours from the end of a rope and that of the thing you most desire, within sight but just above the air you can touch.

It aches, makes you painfully aware of the parts of yourself you neglect. Stretching intensifies your accountability: the stronger it makes you, the more you can carry.

I am carrying so much more than I ever believed I would.

S  t  r  e  t  c  h.

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Nonfiction

The Jesus Year.

At 33, she was no longer appalled by herself. She had taken self-inventory, considered her broken parts, set about mending them. For her opinions and decisions, she was beyond apology. She knew leanness, empty pantries, the anesthesizing tartness of liquor. She knew when to laugh. She did not quite recall the electric pulse of new lips against hers. She still had very little idea how to comport herself in the company of men; they were still hunting her gaze and trying to hold it, still asking with concern if she was all right. She still worried that her large, imploring eyes were an undertow: if she looked at men full on, she would drown them.

She was losing her taste for grease-soaked potatoes. Only certain pizza seemed palatable now. She understood the purpose of bicarbonate and Tums. Cold weather was beginning to set her joints ablaze. On occasion, the prospect of death, which she had never feared, began to unsettle her now. Breath caught in her throat whenever she imagined her daughter muddling through menstruation, sifting through racks of prom gowns, tackling FAFSA and early admissions applications, or readying her wedding without her. Death was no longer an abstraction; it had measurable consequence.

At 33, she began to pray a bit more for a longer life. She began to pray a bit more in general. She knew that most people who were raised in an insular faith, then ambled into a larger, less devout world, redoubled their belief as new parents. But hers was an inching back, rather than running. She wanted to be careful, discerning conjecture from catechism. She wanted a faith that felt self-possessed; she did not want her place in eternity determined by anyone else’s fears or cliches or convictions. She did not want to waffle.

If this was the year when her life would most fully parallel her Savior’s, she would spend it empathizing. How would she feel if she knew her fate was sealed, was clearly marked, was imminent? How well would she sleep, if she were apportioned — every day of this year– a greater measure of mankind’s fickleness and suffering? What would it mean to know that thousands of years after she shed this sinew and bone and skin, the streets she had once tread would be filled with the discarded bodies of others, that the sky which God had opened to receive her spirit, would be filled with the endless din of missiles and drones? How would she reconcile the selflessness being asked of her with the selfishness that would consume every corner of the earth later? Would she feel the injustice of it all, the colossal affront? Would she understand how very young she still was?

Since she was not Him, not without sin or fill with preternatural wisdom and unable to prostrate herself in humanity’s stead, what would she be able to do about it?

This is the mystery she’d spend the year solving, the question she’d spend her life answering.

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