With our voices, we wield power. With our words we draw out hope. We crush dreams. We give direction, build identities with a’s and b’s. With words or arms we wrap our whole selves around another in embrace. Or we give silence and space.
My Grandma used to say “I’m through.” when she was done. With her meal, with a chore, with someone who was bothersome. It was the way she said finished—and she must have used it often, made it part of her normal vocabulary, because when I hear the word used out of typical context, I can hear her voice with finality, even after all these years.
I’m through, and plates clatter on their way to sink and the dishwasher.
I’m through, the dustcloth is tossed to the bottom of the stairs, the paper towel finds the trash can, the bottles of cleaning liquid rattle atop the washing machine.
I’m through, even with people. When my Aunt—a grown-up, but still her daughter, wasn’t thinking logically, and giving Gram a hard time—Gram wouldn’t waste he time “talking to a wall,” she said. She’d wait until folks came around and made some sense with their words.
As Gram used to say, then, I’m through. I’m through with this judgment, with these archaic black and whites. I’m through with these shadows of love, with ignorance and arrogance. I’m through with the silence, the stares, the exclusion, the pain. I’m through with the thick black line you’ve drawn between us and all. The cold hellos, the dry goodbyes. I’m through with how you use religion to make us feel this way.
I’m always the one doing the cutting off. I don’t know why, exactly. I’m not necessarily the type. I’m a pretty likeable person, they say. Unless no one tells the truth around here. I love to have fun, love to love–sometimes too much. But I tend to see my weaknessess and hesitate to step in too far where I’ll falter. That’s where I find myself cutting off. You’d say I cut you off, right? Or, tried. It was the way I thought things should go.
I try to be clear. I use my words. I remember to never make promises, because that’s not fair. I sit at kitchen tables, in parked cars on the street, on the steps of some church down the street from your place, all to explain why I think this way will be better. You fight it, you don’t hear me, only I understand.
Memories and loneliness make me turn the choice over and over, make me make sure it’s right, in the months that follow. We write letters because I said we could. I frown when you call. And when you send messages meant to make me laugh. You are breaking the rules we made, but really only I made them. I’m the one cutting off because only I understand.
Your words are as clear as these months are long. You’re stuck on me, which is not good. So to be clearer still, I tell you about the man I fell in love with years ago. Whose salvation I involuntarily wait on. Not because it has anything to do with you and me, but because the way I wait on him is the way you’re waiting on me. And I can’t figure who’s the bigger fool. You don’t see what I’m saying, but you see something else. Something more. Because you love me, you see the way I’m stuck on this stubborn man and you see how it’s crushing me. In the end, because of it all, you cut me off.
I’ve never been cut off before. Not really. Not unless I was the one building the wall between us. I’m stunned at your finality. I will not expect a letter from you, you say. I do not think it’s a good idea to see you–and you underline do not. The ball’s in my court, you tell me, but only if I want to love you. And I can’t make myself love you.
The stiff arm you give me is bold and sure. You’ve not spoken to me with such confidence before. With such assurance. With such leadership. When I asked you for leadership–and I asked you for leadership–you never gave me this. But I ask you not to wait on me, and you give me a man of God that I could fall for. The distance of being cut off feels so isolated. And isolation is not a feeling with which I am well-acquainted.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve found ways, mostly foolish, to mark my growth via penmanship. Looking back, I suppose it’s clear that, even in the early years, that pencil was practically growing out of my fat little hand. Always writing, doodling, playing with words, even if it was just sliding the magnetic letters on the fridge around and upside down. My penmanship has never been stable, only on temporary plateaus. And, yet again, it’s on the move.
In grade school, I played with the presentation of my name, even on the heading of my papers in school. Striving for uniqueness and searching for identity from behind my rotund, dented, red, wire spectacle frames in middle school, I twisted my name around until it sounded like something fresh and different and “cool.” Atop my papers, teachers would see “Lin-Duh” and know that I wasn’t trying to be impossible or self-deprecating; I was only trying to distinguish myself as someone of worth and status. I wrote my name with smiley faces, with huge obnoxious dots over the “i,” with all capital letters, or with tails that swirled all over the top of the page. Sometimes my dad still calls me “Lin-Duh”, and the “Duh” trails behind him, through the kitchen, down the hall, around the corner, for years and years until I can barely hear the silent “h” any longer.
Through most of high school I doodled. I played with ink and symbol in margins and white space. I drew the names of boys I said I loved and my best friends that would, of course, be my best friends forever, in big, block fonts. I added color and design, drew people and pictures in with flowery something or others and pasted it all on the fronts and backs and inside outs of my notebooks and binders.
When I began to sign checks, I panicked because my signature was inconsistent and messy. They’d never know if it was me or my identity-stealing bank robber signing Linda A. Sullivan. Or should I only sign L. Sullivan? Some folks I knew signed with letters and lines, like, L scribble, S scribble. Should I do that, too? I practiced on sheets of paper, like girls do when they want to marry a man and they replace hers with his last name, to see how Mrs. Linda whomever would look and sound. Fantasy. Pages and pages of capital L’s, A’s, S’s, trying to find a tilt and size and style that looked on paper like my personality felt.
And even now, as a teacher, I’m finding myself a new font for writing on the marker board with those fat Expo markers, most of which are dry yet sit stealthily on the ledge of the board, mysteriously without ink. The CAPS LOCK seems to be working well. It’s hard to write on the board in a straight line, CAPS or no caps, but the letters seems to stay legible when they’re all capital.
On paper, I’m finding my hand comfortable, again, with a pencil, getting used to changes and mistakes in my lesson plan book. I enjoy the rough feel that resonates in my fingers and wrist when the pencil scrapes unwillingly against the paper, leaving graphite shavings and often, erasure crumbles behind. I feel older as I write in cursive, like I haven’t in years. The pace slows my words, makes me patient and I finish the “s” with dainty curvature before beginning the next word.
My writing takes a new slant, literally, as my penmanship changes with this season and that. This penmanship defines and redefines me.
“Hey!” I don’t make eye contact. My head is buried in socks and underwear. I stand in socks and underwear in the lamped cove between my rickety bunk and the wall. Sarah’s over in her space, the same. I speak in commands disguised as questions which doesn’t make any sense because Sarah’s my friend. “You gon’ play your guitar tonight?”
I don’t treat Sarah the way I should but no one tells me so. We counsel teenage gals at a youth camp. Roommates of the strangest kind. She’s a musician of the most moving variety; writes lyrics embedded in melody lines that will melt your heart out of your body right through your very pores. And I respect her gifts like you wouldn’t believe. Which is the thing, you wouldn’t believe it because I hardly act in such a way.
The authority in our cabin is up for grabs. Sarah’s in charge, responsible for the soul care of seven nine year-olds for these five days in the Hiawatha National Forest. I hold their lives in my hand, but only while their little prepubescent bodies splash and flop around in the water and sit sandy butts on the beach. Sarah never sets her alarm, I squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom and roll it up when it gets low; Sarah swing girls upside down, making them laugh, without covering the corner of the dresser with her hand, I double-knot my gym shoes when we play kickball. Sarah’s in charge, but I pretend to be.
I love Sarah at this point in knowing her, but I don’t know her all that well. I’m too bold, with a deep capacity to hurt her, especially with my words. She thinks I’m out of reach, even risks hatred in misunderstanding me. Or maybe one day she’ll just give up. I always think I’m the better friend to her and soon I’m going to find out how I crush her with that arrogance. I wear my sunglasses inside when there’s something I don’t want to share. I tend to hide. Sarah hates that.
Sarah doesn’t have me figured out today, but she’s waiting for me to ask her to play. She will. She’ll close her eyes and fill our cabin with music that she wrote. She brought her guitar back to the cabin, I see. Does she think I don’t see?
While she shuffles around the room, I sit in wait by her bunk, my journal an extension of my own hand. I’m taking notes, recording our movements, writing the memoir of our lives down as we create it. Every breath, every tear. Each awkward moment. Sarah sits across from me like we’re waiting for still something else.
“Uh, I don’t like to face you when I sing.” I’m uncomfortable as she says so, but unoffended. Unwillingly, I part from my notebook, pages and pages of this life in scenes, to show Sarah something about the beach.
Every day, I sit for four hours on a lifeguard stand made of four by four’s. Just me, my swimsuit, and pair of basketball shorts, saving lives in Jesus’ name. My job is like kinetic energy: holding this world as we’ve always and ever known it in the balance, trained to breathe life back into bodies fading to gray, but spending most of my time kicking back behind sunscreen and shades on summer afternoons. I don’t do a lot in the day-to-day, but I’m equipped to change the world in a big way, and quickly.
When the clouds roll in and the kids run up to the Sweet Shop to play games and get cavities, folks climb up the ladder to the lifeguard stand and we’re all equal. We bury authority in the sand. Without chairs or cushions, the staffers and I, we create furniture out of everything on the lifeguard stand and on the lifeguard stand there are only bodies. We lean and lay and listen to the lake hit the wet sand. We all look at the sunset or the storm creep across the thunderclouded sky.
And because there is love in this mess of limbs on the lifeguard stand, when Sarah is uncomfortable looking at me, I become the place where she leans or lays and plays. And so with her guitar against her chest, and her to me, and my back flat on the beam holding up this cabin, we sing broken lyrics about broken people and nothing is hidden behind shades or shadows.
Life is a learning process. We all have a different curve. You’ve learned things I’ll never know, or never figure out until I’m old and gross. Maybe I’ve already learned a thing or two that you’re not so sure about or that you don’t care about…yet. This is something I’m learning about language and the like.
I’m the type of person that tries to use my words carefully. I value language and what it’s meant to communicate. I believe it should be wielded carefully and well. Still, I’m as subject as anyone to speak out of turn, out of ignorance, or out of line.
But as far as the language coming out of my mouth, things are not gay to me anymore.
Nicole Wick, a popular blogger, recently interviewed my friend Andy and reviewed his book. Andy’s ministry was the beginning of my curiosity about the GLBT community. And the end of gay as a slang term in my vocabulary. I’m not too familiar with Nicole, but her review reminded me of how I began to further investigate my call to be a Christ-one as a result of knowing Andy as my peer and learning how he was living out this call.
It’s my Biblical responsibility to stand behind an honest and developed vocabulary that tries to communicate, as clearly as possible, what I most desperately want to say. I should always speak in order to be understood, and for this standard of clear communication, I believe I am accountable. It’s my responsibility to lift up others, namely the Body of Christ, to encourage and affirm them so that they feel loved and supported. It’s my responsibility to regularly re-evaluate the way I speak to ensure that no one is embarrassed, ashamed, insulted, put off, or hurt by the words I use and the way in which I use them. Yep, I sure do believe I am accountable for those around me in this way. Words are not there for me to use as insults or in ignorance. I cannot justify the negative connotation of how our culture uses gay. It’s not inconsequential; I’ve started to see the consequences myself and I’m beginning to find it quite unacceptable.
Herein lies my cessation of gay as slang. I guess I just wanted you to know.
On a night I was stuck inside, a night when I couldn’t see, I had a friend tell me of the glory in the night sky:
It’s so crisp, the way the shape bends and ends. There’s just enough crescent-ness for the arc to be seen clearly and the shadow of the rest rests beside. Ah, so sweet.
Thanks to my sister. The Body shares beauty in this way. Have you shared beauty today?
Which ones are story-worthy? Compelling? Curious?
The sweatshirt I wore that night must’ve gotten mixed in with a box of old winter clothes. For years, I’d thought it was gone. Or maybe I’d hoped it was so I wouldn’t have to show you all my scars.
Truth is, I’d rather wait tables.
It was because I fell in love with a man from Fort Collins, Colorado. Though, the story I tell is that I used to have a friend and we used to live baseball lives together. Both are true in their own regard.
I know today’s the day you drive West.
I’m hiding in the woods on this Northern Michigan lake, but your letter found me yesterday.
Vegas is flashing lights and fountains. It’s selling myself on the strip. Vegas is America’s cardboard cut-out for fun. And I’m fun only about sixty percent of the time.
A beautiful girl can make you dizzy, like you’ve been drinking jack + coke all morning. She can make you feel high, full of the single greatest commodity known to man: promise. Promise of a better day, promise of a greater hope, promise of a new tomorrow. This particular aura can be found in the gate of a beautiful girl; in her smile, in her soul, and in the way she makes every rotten little thing about life seem like it’s gonna be okay.
There are a thousand quotations from books I love and lyrics from songs I adore that could better unveil the depth-potential we have with our words. I have yet to find someone who doesn’t, in some way or another, connect with music. People love music. It has everything we desire to stir our souls, leaving ripples on the surface. And so, even though I don’t listen to Taking Back Sunday anymore, I saw these words the other day and they struck me.
I’m the type of person who is reminded of a time or place or person when just about anything happens. If the kitchen smells like marinara sauce, there’s Grandma cooking manicotti. Everywhere there’s a cactus, I’m rewound back to a bustling Tijuana kitchen, eating it for the first time. When it thunderstorms in the suburbs, I’m playing hockey with my new stick in the parking lot by my house in the rain. I listened to a lot of alternative punk rock when I was in high school. For a bit, I dated a boy who did too. He was a sweet kid, if a touch overly sentimental; I’m almost certain that this band was his influence.
I’m not as much bent to relive a high school fling because of the memories that this song returns as I am to stand by the truth of this little intro nugget. The song’s about losing a girl, more or less, and this paragraph is a speaking introduction that lays over the rhythm bass and a simple guitar riff. The song begins immediately after “okay”, leaving no time to reflect on these thoughts – which always troubled me because there’s quite a bit to chew on.
The way this beautiful girl makes him feel, that’s real isn’t it? He tells it like it’s a buzz during the part of the day you’d never expect to feel that way. He says that man’s most precious asset is promise. Is it? I’d never thought of it like that, but how different is promise than what I hang my hat every single day. Jesus Christ promised to die for my mess, and He came through. Everything hinges on the fact that He came through. Promise of a better day, promise of a greater hope, promise of a new tomorrow. No person can promise that in good conscience. Jesus did and people were all wha? because it was crazy to even think. The offer of that kind of promise turns heads, it should be appealing, but every good idea has its haters.
I’m caught wondering how often I’ve been swept up in his smile, in the details of his character, his intentions, in his soul. Because on days when I think someone, anyone, can patch up my wounds with this kind of promise, I’ve lost sight of the truth. That said, Taking Back Sunday may be old news in my music scene, but I think they have a point about loss. He’s lost this girl, whatever the situation, and he’s realizing how much she made his day. Every day. He doesn’t feel like he used to feel, he’s lost hope on some level, he misses the way she used to turn it all upside-down for him. The obvious is that he needs a Savior, not a girl for that kind of transformation. But the hidden truth in it is that people can have a deep and severe impact on our lives, and what is our problem that we can’t figure it out until it’s over? Why can’t we use our words to paint such beautiful images before we’re singing about how wonderful she was? Words can say a lot, sometimes more than we’d planned. They have such power to speak to a lot of topics that we don’t want to touch. And as far as words go, this punk rock paragraph is as much right on the real-life-money as it is far off in left field.