I’m in Hawaii, sitting next to an olive-green painted stucco wall on the concrete deck of the Kona Brewing Company drinking a half Lavaman Lager / half Hula Hefeweizen overlooking a Chevron gas station. The ocean is on the other side of the highway somewhere — probably — and my beer is nearly gone, very warm, and totally flat. Still delicious, though, because low standards for the win!
I don’t know why it always feels important to tell you where I am when I write to you. Maybe because I’m always asking myself that question both literally and figuratively; where the hell am I? Am I where I want to be? Where I meant to be? Is where I am OK anyway, even if I’ve veered off track or didn’t have a well-mapped plan?
We’re here on Oahu dropping our oldest baby off for college which is impossible to believe and still true, and, from the articles I see online, I notice I’m supposed to be doing things I haven’t done — like prepare for drop-off day with a measuring tape and garbage bags and a tool kit — and feeling things strongly instead of not being able to make sense of my feelings at all. I see I’m supposed to want to make her bed and unpack her stuff and we’re supposed to argue about that — her staking out her turf and me trying to “help” without asking how — and I wonder whether this is another Mom Thing I’m Doing Wrong because I have no real need to do any of those things, nor to wash her new sheets or worry whether she’ll do well in this new life. I don’t know whether I’m cocky, but I feel like I already know; she’ll do well in this new life and she won’t, like all of the humans throughout history — happy and well-adjusted, and also struggling and wondering where she fits. Where the hell is she, anyway? Is she where she wants to be? Where she meant to be? Is this place OK, even if she veers off track or doesn’t have a well-mapped plan?
This is a strange season, and I know that’s not true just for me or for our family. This is a Strange Season, friends.
- Our kids are getting older and the Parenting Game changes its rules constantly these days. We practice flexibility like it’s our profession, the way doctors practice medicine; years of study, followed by internship, followed by residency which nearly kills us with its dangerous lack of sleep, followed by either actively working or being on call 24/7. Relentless, right? Relentless.
- Our church denomination is trying to decide whether there’s room for LGBTQ people at the table, and we had more meetings this summer with no decisions again, which were agonizing to everyone and which make all of us on all the sides wonder whether there’s a place for us here.
- Our oldest boy-child is suffering. We’re seeking more help for him (always), and we don’t know if we’re doing enough (also always).
- And our U.S. presidential election … just… what the holy ever-loving fuck, friends?? I know I should put that differently, but OH DEAR GOD, HELP US, and, honestly, given the number of times I’ve prayed using the words “what the ever-loving fuck,” I trust Jesus to know that’s a sincere prayer.
This is just a Really Strange Season, is my point. Very Strange. Exceedingly Strange. Like standing on shifting sand. Or on what we thought was solid ground which turns out to be a thin crust of earth on top of a giant sinkhole that gives way so we freefall in perpetuity like Alice headed to Wonderland. DUDE; where the hell am I? Am I where I want to be? Where I meant to be? Is where I am OK anyway, even if I’ve veered off track or didn’t have a well-mapped plan or am in utter freefall??
In recent years, I’ve claimed St. Jude as my family’s patron saint. He is, after all, the patron saint of Chaos and Impossible Causes and Things Almost Despaired Of. I could think of no better fit. We’re not Catholic, except in the sense that we believe in a Universal Church that unifies, rather than divides, us. And I had no theology of saints or sainthood except to notice that American Protestants reject them as idols. So I have no idea how many good Christian people I’m offending in claiming a patron saint for our family, but I find that with age I’m less and less inclined to pay attention to who’s being offended and more inclined to pay attention to the things which seem Deeply True and lead me to Love God, who’s other name is Love, and Love My Neighbors As Myself. The saints, it turns out, aren’t idols but advocates who intercede with God on our behalf, and, while I can why see this is offensive to protestants, believing, as we do, that we need no intercessor between ourselves and Love since that’s what Jesus (aka, Love Incarnate) came specifically to change, I find the concept not at all offensive that I may dialogue directly with Love and ask a saint to intercede alongside me.
In other words, I’m probably mucking it all up.
No doubt, the Catholics and the Protestants are both dismayed at this point.
Nevertheless, I’ve claimed St. Jude for our own.
Patron Saint of Chaos and Impossible Causes and Woolseys and Things Nearly Dispaired Of.
In the midst of impossible darkness, when I can no longer pray on my own because I have no words left and despair has nearly overtaken me, I can hand my prayer to another who will bear them on my behalf.
I found my pendant, finally, in a stall in the middle of a market in Mexico, and it doesn’t matter that I don’t know whether I believe St. Jude is real. It matters that he might be. And it matters that there’s a symbol for carrying what’s impossible and jumbled and full of despair to a Love that’s bigger than us all.
I found my pendant, finally, and I snapped it up along with 4 more for you, though I wish I could’ve bought EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US a pendant and a necklace to put it on and a respite trip to Mexico with sun and sand and sympathy, which, FOR THE LOVE, we all need. Still, like I keep reminding myself, I did what I could when I could do it, and, at the time, it was buying 5 pendants — one for me and 4 for 4 of you — in the hope you’ll know to the depth of your bones I meant them for all of us, with our prayers sent on St. Jude’s wings regardless of who hangs the metal around his/her neck.
Friends, if you’d like one of the pendants, I’ll do a drawing eventually, picking randomly from the comments on this post using a random number generator. In the meantime, I’m praying, along with St. Jude, that Love will attend us during the Strange Season, and befriend us in the Chaos, and make our Impossible Causes possible, and lend us some of what it takes to not despair.
With love to every one of you,
P.P.S. Here — FINALLY (now that it’s DECEMBER) — are the four winners of the St. Jude pendants, chosen by the Random Number Generator:
- Stefanie who wrote: “I could not agree more Beth! Dear GOD “what the ever-loving fuck,” and please intervene for the sake of us all! Prayers to you and your children during this season, and all others. Thank you for keeping it mucky and messy. xoxox”
- Kathy who wrote: “Beth, you have a better understanding of Saints than many Catholics do! Saints with a capital S are canonized, officially deemed to be holy. But like one reader said, they were regular human beings, who screwed up a lot, and just kept trying. Like all of us. We are all called to be saints with a little s, when we die and meet the Divine, who is Love. I just got my Masters in Theology from a Cathloic University, and when someone asks me what I have learned, I say this: “God is Love.” I like your personal theology and philosophy. And, well, just love you. Your stories and honesty are inspiring and oh so real.”
- Ellen Murphy who wrote: “Upon reading this post, I thought that as a mother of three loud boys, all born in a span of 3 years and 10 months that St. Jude should be my family’s patron saint as well. Then I read the comments and random number generator be damned the mother of 5 with the refrigerated kindle needs this medal. As a Baptist in Texas, I would approach the St. Jude medal in a similar way- it could be true and it seems helpful, asking for St. Jude’s prayer is probably the spiritual version of people asking for a selfie with a celebrity. I hope you are basking in the tropical, exotic beauty of Hawaii while you are there.”
- Melissa D who wrote: “I, too, am in need of a patron saint of chaos, for myself and my family. Tomorrow I am supposed to be bringing oldest child back to college to begin her junior year. But she is sick – as in, got blood work for mono this morning sick – and her college is 3 hours away, so I am trying to do as much as I can to help her while she is still here for me to help. And hubby is in search of a cardiologist who takes our insurance and will do the procedure that he needs instead of only giving him meds and telling him to lose weight. And the house is a mess and the kids need school supplies and things like sneakers and underwear and I don’t know how I am going to take care of all of that. So, yes. I am all cool with asking St. Jude, to intercede for me and my family (and you and yours!) and to help me find my sanity, which I seem to have misplaced, and my floors, which I could swear were around here somewhere. PS. As someone who worships in a Catholic church, I also like to turn to Mary. One of the many names that the church has for her is “Mother of Perpetual Help”. I figure her life as a mom was pretty chaotic, and so she knows a thing or two about that. And I really do need “perpetual help”.”