Remember to Breathe: Sharks, faith and other things with teeth

Speaking of forgetting, last night we were sitting in bed, scrolling through Netflix, as you do, and Hunky ran across a new BBC documentary. Sharks. I cannot overemphasize how much I love sharks. Jaws is my secret favorite movie. For my 34th birthday, Hunky gave me an hour in the shark tank at Sea World for my birthday, arguably the greatest gift ever. When we still had cable, I treated Shark Week like a liturgical holy week.

Sadly, it’s been awhile since I watched or listened or paid attention to anything, really, about sharks. If asked, I will passionately exclaim, I LOVE SHARKS! And I’ll be telling the truth, even if my passion is more dry and dusty ancient knowledge than hands on, heart on, messy, wet, toothsome experience.

But last night, I remembered. As I watched the ragged-tooth shark on my TV screen, I remembered, ghostly forms swimming towards me in a shark cage. Oxygen sighed loudly in my ears as my very breath flowed into me, rather than being excessively available. I remembered the echoing, ghostly quiet as I watched a world in which I was completely foreign carrying on beneath and around me, entranced as living dinosaurs examined me, possibly a bit more hungrily than I examined them.

I can’t remember the last time I experienced something so visceral and full of wonder.

In the safety of my bedroom, I listened to the narrator talk about eons of time, 400 million years, as light slanted through the water and mysterious, alien landscapes burst forth on screen. Not too long ago, I fought so hard against those numbers, needing to be certain, desperate to be right.  I’m not that person anymore, but stepping away from certainty and those prescribed faith tracks is a bit like stepping into a cage over shark infested water.

More than a few decades ago, I earned my scuba license in a highly-chlorinated, basement, college swimming pool. The highlight of this experience would be diving the Crystal River during a weekend trip to Florida.  I remember squeezing into my farmer johns and lowering myself into the water, spitting into my mask and finally, adjusting the regulator, the thing tethering me to life when I enter the unknown.

The first time you lower yourself into the water you think, I can’t believe all of this is here, all the time. All this beauty and miracle going on all around me, and I didn’t even know it.  The next thing you think is Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe. Keep breathing. In and out.  Because while you are swept up in this utterly novel and foreign universe, your mind is yelling. You are in a place you don’t belong and cannot survive. It’s desperately trying to convince you if you breathe in, you will die.

During this dive in the Crystal River an alligator gar decided he wanted my mask for himself. He tried to take it from my face using only his teeth. In the moment I was terrified. Now I remember it as one of the most thrilling and unexpected moments in my life.

Faith is like this sometimes, too, entirely beautiful and safe inside the boat. You can go places you’ve never been and see things you’ve never seen before. It’s all completely safe as long as you stay inside the boat.  But underneath is completely different, beautiful and ancient, and mostly hidden beneath the surface.  Always there, as real as air and sunlight and flotation devices in case of emergency.  We can enter into it if we wish and see other, deeper things we’ve never seen. It feels lonely at first, but soon hosts of living creatures swim around us, as curious of us as we are of them. Some of them, maybe, a little dangerous.

It’s an experience both visceral and full of wonder. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok to breathe.

I hate everything: Writing my way out of the funk

Lately, I’ve been in a funk. I’m commonly heard saying, “I hate everything.” And it’s true. I sort of do. Current events, nationally, internationally, and personally all are fairly rotten right now. I’m in a season of letting go, and my life is in a holding pattern…things are ending but the next steps aren’t clear yet.  I like a plan; I’m a plan girl. Waiting is hard, waiting in a stressful environment is harder. My mind keeps circling around the word depression, but for now, I’m certain it’s more situational depression than clinical depression. I’m keeping my finger on my mental and emotional health pulse though, just in case.

In the meantime, though, I need to fight back against the funk, reframe the narrative that everything is hard and hopeless and crazy, and I’m not doing anything right in the midst of it. I need to push back against this crazy fear of being seen and heard. People keep speaking into my life: “sit down and be quiet. Your voice isn’t wanted here,” which ignites a desire to be consumed by a crack in the earth, whisked away never to be seen or heard from again. I know, my confrontational skills are the envy of many.

I’m making my circles small, smaller, smallest lately, but isolation isn’t a great situation for someone whose mind keeps riffing around the word depression, and it’s pretty obvious something has to be done to break the cycle I currently inhabit.

When you don’t know what to do, go back to the things you know well, the comfort spots, well-worn and familiar, as safe as physical safe spaces we’ve created when everything inside us yells, “RETREAT!” Writing is that thing for me. I spent most of the last three weeks writing a curriculum for community care, and every day as I sat down at the keyboard, my soul sang, “Home, home, home! Let’s play in all the words, words, words!” (does your soul sing like this? I hope so or I sound even crazier than I already am.)

I love words, both the writing and reading variety, and I love that over the next eight weeks, a group of people will dissect and discuss those same words my soul poured out here in the safe space.

Words and conversation. I crave it. I miss it. I fear it. And for a little while, I lost sight of it.

I haven’t really written in over a year. Before that I was writing regularly, but I was also trying to conform to a model, and we all know how great a conformist I am.  I was bogging down over a lot of things: pictures and Pinterest, SEO and link backs and clickability. You probably don’t know what any of those things are (except maybe Pinterest-which everyone loves and I, of course, hate) which is fine. You aren’t missing anything.

And I’m not throwing shade on people who love SEO and Pinterest. Everyone gets to love what they love. The thing is that I do not, and focusing on those things and trying to make my words conform to certain models became more draining than enjoyable. Eventually, I just forgot…forgot what I loved and why I loved it. I lost myself in someone else’s ideal, which is a behavior pattern I continue to encounter in my life.

Stupid co-dependency.

But I remembered over the past month as I wrote and thought about the words, only the words. How they played together or how they set themselves apart for emphasis. How I feel more wholly me when I am feeding myself with them. How I communicate best and most clearly when my mouth is closed and my fingers are busy. How pouring my heart into words helps me understand my own heart better.

Then yesterday I ran across the 100-day project.  And of course, a sucker for projects, plans and things with numbers, I had to find out more. I hunted out websites and podcasts and Instagram accounts.  I stopped and considered and told my fear, “shut up for just ten minutes. PLEASE.”  I remembered the sweetness of just having a conversation with a piece of paper (or a computer screen), when it really is ok if I am the only person who comes to the conversation.  Even alone, I can be good company.

I didn’t hate the idea. In fact, I was kind of inspired by it.

There is so much about this world I can’t fix: elections and wars and refugees and sarin gas and economic depression and employment issues and my dogs refusing to get along and whether or not people like me. All these things are far out of my control, beyond my reach.  But I can carve out thirty minutes a day for 100 days and just have a conversation about life and fear and having a voice and deconstruction and reconstruction. What I’m reading, how I’m feeling, why I can’t stop eating triscuits and tuna fish.  Even if no one comes to the party but me, I’m an introvert and I kind of like it like that anyway.

What am I going to do here in the middle of hating everything? I’m writing my way out. I’m going to remember who I am when I am fully me. Whatever comes to mind, day by day. Sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, without bells or whistles or pins.

Just me and words, and an empty chair or two at the table in case you come along to.

I don’t hate that idea at all.