the leaving.

“Burn it all.”

That’s what I keep saying to people. Burn all of it. I’ll leave tomorrow with the clothes on my back and the books in my car if it means I don’t have to decide anything about another possession again. But I guess tomorrow is closer than I think even though I’ve been saying that for months. My Waco-days are dwindling– I count about seven left across the next few weeks of traveling.

I hate packing.

I hate that I have accumulated so much stuff, brought on by my distraction of being, but mostly I hate that I am faced with it. That I am faced with the leaving at all. That I have more worthless things than icons of the ones that really matter. 

And I hate that I cannot remember the exact thing the prof said in class that day–

Getting rid of all your crap doesn’t mean anything unless you are willing to do something about the shit that encrusts your heart.

Something like that. I really don’t know where to start with either.

I am angry that I am stuffing in another scarf and not one more hurried-but-sweet friend-lunch between classes, or folding another damn V-neck T-shirt and not a thousand heart-talks passed over our cups as the sprinkles melt into the ice cream. I’m packing books I should have read this summer, and dates I should have made with people I love along with them. The books I can read later. The rest I am unsure of. Do I make long-distance promises to people I forgot to call when they were down the street? The question itself breaks my heart.

And then there’s the muscle memory to release, the ten thousand past selves playing scenes over and over in that one coffeeshop, in that one corner of campus I swore I’d never forget, in that one tree that accosts me even though I made it no such vow.

I know I am not the only one to have ever left a place I really love, but God, it’s the first time I’ve had to.

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About a year ago, I bought a library stamp for all my books. It seemed very important at the time to do this, to not only mark possession, but also place in the sum of parts. Somehow the composite collection was to make a sort of home. It seems pathetic at the end of the day, because it’s just a little front of control, I suppose. In truth, those books are ultimately not a monument to the information I have accumulated, but to the transformation that they offered. They mark the distance from one point to the next. They are almost as good as diaries.

But still, I find myself wanting to take another library, of memories, to take with me, to stamp my name in them. Maybe then I won’t lose them. And even if I do, at least the person who finds them will know to return them to me.

With every stamp, I yell, “MINE,” like the child.

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I grew up with only one recurring dream (if you don’t count the ocean-of-cats motif that somehow found its way into other nightmares).

I am on a field trip, and considering I was homeschooled for a long while, it’s a mystery as to how the images of a farmyard full of children and a yellow school bus with cracking plastic seats so vividly play out in my sleep. I am so happy to be at the farm (this is a true part– I will never remember my grandfather without thinking of sheep and cows). We laugh at the squealy pigs, we name them. We feed the goats.

But the chickens enrapture me. There are scads of newly hatched chicks, so fluffy you could die, and so when no one is looking, I stuff one into my jeans. 

I want the farm to be with me forever.

Somehow, I make it all the way back to the bus and halfway home with the chick undetected. I finally decide to release the little thing once I decide the bus has gone past the point of no return, and suddenly realize that I have instead.

I find the chick to be crushed and suffocated in my pocket.

And then I’d wake up.

I think that’s what I’m most afraid of. The leaving is hard, but I am more afraid of holding what I love most too closely, and that it will all die because of it.

I am afraid you will find me months from now sitting on a dirt road, with muck in my hair and mangled treasured things between all my fingers.

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a saint, a stray, & starting over.

We mused together once (coffee cups cooling between us, or road stretched ahead—-the soul-talks blur), that to miss someone, to say it out loud, might be the most vulnerable thing.

What did we say? It means–

Your presence means something to me. Something important. You’re gone, and I feel that.

We giggled over our own stilted definition, but hmmming along knowing that saying so points to our chipped paint.

“I miss you,” means I’m missing something. It means admitting that I am somehow without.

I wrote out those words slow and scripty in a letter to a friend. I’m not sure I knew how much I meant it, how much like an eggshell edge it made me feel. That was almost a week ago, and I’ve been finding fragile pieces everywhere, in everything, since then. I’m anticipating upheaval, the turnover, the emptiness clothed in fulness of life that’s coming in four months when I move away.

Four months–a lifetime, a breath. I’m feeling it already. I mourn loss too soon or too late.

I think I’m starting to miss people while they are standing in front of me–scraping food off the plate, or handing me the phone–close enough to touch, to hold.

But I think, too, I’m starting to miss parts of myself.

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I think I’ve been missing God for a while now, and I realized the other day when I was doing the dishes that I’m not quite sure if or when we said goodbye. 

Maybe this is the axle.

Maybe I’m at the wall (to quote Lauren Winner for the thousandth time), but mostly I’m pretty sure I’m running around trying to make noise in every other room of the house, refusing to slow down enough to acknowledge it’s there.

To slow down enough to say, I’m without.

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I ask, all frustration and self-chastising,

Why can’t I just get over this?

Why can’t I stop poking pouty sticks around in the dirt, like a child?

It’s Eastertide–why can’t I stand upright like the Resurrected?

She stops me, firmly,

This isn’t nothing. This is real.

I have this conversation again with another on the phone–the same why-can’t-I-tear-this-out-of-myself.

She tells me, soft,

Honey. You’re leaving your Camelot. You’re going this alone. It’s okay to feel it.

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The head-nod was important for calling out some of the shadows, the rattling echoes: to point and say, “I see it too, I hear it too.”

The anxiety, the dark is not made up.

And then the knowing that whispers,

but you have to do the work of starting over, love. Even if you start over every day.

These things do come without invitation, like a mean stray cat; but there’s a difference between watching it lurk on your stoop and letting it in the front door, feeding it your best.

I’ve learned that acedia, the restless-sadness-heaviness-sluggishness that comes to visit mind-body-spirit is edged out in the ways that don’t seem brave, or even faithful–like small acts of love, like listening, like seeking the things that once taught grace.

St. Thomas Aquinas writes that there are two paths for facing it, the sorrow in particular. The first we expect from the cerebral Doctor–we overcome the vice through grace with caritas, with virtue, with prayer, with perspective on our own troubles. Good counsel, if hard to grasp at times.

The second is more surprising–

A good night of sleep. A warm bath. A glass of wine.

Before I even take his advice, it catches in my throat.

It sounds silly, but here the saint points me to the Incarnated God, closer than my skin.

Bodily remedies for us as embodied souls, ensouled bodies.

Surely, He is not far from any one of us.

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The thing is, there aren’t any formulas, not really. We simply begin the work of starting over. Starting over every day.

to you on the brink of things [a handwritten exhortation.]

Today, another handwritten post, written to a past version of myself, perhaps. [Perhaps to a future one as well.]

Some of this is particular to, say, a graduating senior, but I hope you find something for yourself here, too.

I suspect this might go better for you if you click through each image.

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