Category: Writing

Dear Andi,

This morning, I began cleaning the top of the bookshelf that sits beside Jim’s favorite chair in our living room. He had loose papers with bagpipe notes on them, books on golf, an old bow for one day playing your grandfather’s cello and the book your dad made after you passed, Updates on Andi.

I have read this book before, just a month or two after moving in with Jim, back in 2011. I remember reading it in bed, and being moved to tears at the way you shared yourself with courage and honesty during the most difficult time of your life. It wasn’t just that the book was compiled after you died, and reading your words meant an unhappy ending was on the way. It was that you were so very human, thoughtful, compassionate and brave, at a time that could have been filled with fear and darkness. Also, you were a mother.

I read the book again, today, now 8 years after your father died, and 11 years after you died. You were 35 when you died, with an almost 3 year old and an almost 5 year old. I am 38 with a 5 year old and a 6 year old. Your loss is all too real to me, and it was much harder to read your email updates on your diagnosis, prognosis and continued treatment. I ached for your 4 year old daughter, my niece, because I have a daughter who is very much like her. I wept for your 2 year old son, my nephew, because my own son was once 2 and oblivious to his mother’s challenges and pain.

I so desperately wish that we could have known each other, and after reading your words, I am sure we would have been fast friends. I married your brother 4 years after you died, almost to the day, and I would have loved sharing family life with you.

I walked around my house for an hour after reading your father’s book filled with your words. I thought about good luck and bad luck, coincidences and everything having meaning. I thought about God and fate and life and death. And Andi, I thought a lot about you.

Because even in death, you came to me this morning, and you reminded me to have faith, to have gratitude and to turn toward the light, always and again. Since my chronic injuries and pain began, I have lived with so much fear and anger. I have resented and blamed God, my choices and most of all, myself. I have felt unforgivable, and I have believed myself incapable of healing. I have been a victim and a survivor and a martyr and a warrior. I sometimes get lost in these identities; in these roles. But you came to me this morning, and you delivered to me a very important message, which I do hear loud and clear:

Be filled with love.

I so often forget to be thankful for this life I have been given. I so often forget that death is inevitable, and that the present moment contains everything I need. I take for granted my existence. I take for granted my very real ability to still heal and to still grow. I forget to say thank you.

Thank you, Andi. I needed this reminder, and I’m certain you were determined to give it to me. Even though we never met, I feel your love around my family, and your compassion for my husband, your brother. We have had our challenges in our marriage, and it has been hard to see the forest through those burly and overgrown trees. You would tell me to have faith. You would tell me to listen to my intuition. You would remind me to be filled with love. You would encourage me to pour my anger and grief into God. You would tell me to love and to be loved.

I wish we could have met, but somehow, I believe we know each other. Thank you for loving my husband, and for having so much compassion and empathy for him (I am very aware that you definitely did). Thank you for being his little sister. Thank you for being kind and loving and generous. Thank you for Reagan and Luke. Thank you for Peter. Thank you for living a life that leaves the kind of marks behind that cannot be erased, that can never be covered over.

I will do a better job of watching over our family, and I thank you deeply for watching over mine. We are mothers, and you are my sister. I will take care of your brother, and I will make sure he takes very good care of me.

With love and faith,

Mira

To My Readers

One of the things I love about writing is having written. The process of writing itself? Often, it’s a pain or even ugly. I sit down with high hopes and big dreams, maybe even an outline and a plan, and after an hour and a lot of “freewriting,” all I have is what Anne Lamott likes to call a shitty first draft.

Sometimes, I can embrace the mess, but many times I cannot. I get into my feelings too fast and start drawing up hard and fast GENERALIZATIONS about who I am and who I am not. For example:

Who I am? A LOUSY WRITER.

Who I am not? GOOD AT THINGS.

Who I am? CLUMSY.

Who I am not? SOPHISTICATED SOUNDING AND LOOKING AND FEELING.

This goes on. I carry the burden of being beneath my own ridiculous expectations with zero grace and tenderness. I walk away, pretend I never wanted anything I ever wanted anyway, guard my heart with hardened fists and give up.

Until the next time the call comes in to sit and put the words down, for the love of everything. Then, I put myself back out there and try again. Maybe this time I give myself more room to spread out and suck a little. Maybe this time I allow myself just to get the words out, without editing or refining or whining. I leave it as is, walk away and think, “Maybe there’s something to this calling? Maybe I’ve got a path to walk here. Maybe?”

This is the moment when I have to tether myself to process over perfection like a mother. It’s the time when I have to choose to protect my call to express with unwavering devotion. This is when the work gets interesting and the writing becomes an entryway to wholeness versus an open door to romance, looking good and easy, breezy times. This is when I see that to write, I have to stay open, and to stay open, I have to be kind. Being kind requires me to start with myself, and starting with myself means taking responsibility for my own healing and care.

Lord, how did I get this tangled? I tell you what-it didn’t happen at me or to me. I walked directly into this dumpster fire with my eyes closed (ON PURPOSE) and my hands tied behind my back (I’M MAGIC-I TIED THEM MY OWN DAMN SELF). Nobody told grown up me that to live is to sacrifice ONLY. I did that, y’all. Why? That’s part of my long walk home.

In any event, I have had to take a break from publishing my writing or even sharing it in any kind of regular way, because I needed, desperately, to be messy and complicated and incoherent and not fully formed for a while. I have needed to roll around inside 743 shitty first drafts and have zero pressure to edit, refine and make shiny. I still need this, and that’s why I journal. That’s why I teach and share the practice of journaling-because it gives me that SPACE (that I believe everyone needs) to spread out and be whole all by myself. It acts like an incubator, and it gives me the conditions I need to grow. I haven’t been hiding out-I’ve been spreading out, and I have more spreading out left to do.

I had a dream last night where I stood up at a no-name conference to talk about journaling and why it’s important. I was supposed to lead a group on writing and why to write and then how to write. I hadn’t prepared, and an hour before my talk was to begin, I put notes together quickly and wondered if I was about to have the bomb of my life. But when I stepped on stage, all the pieces came together. I started by telling a story about my own experiences in writing, and this is how it mostly went:

I grew up in Virginia Beach-a city filled with beaches and coastlines. When I think of that place, I think of the ocean, and how I used to love to stand in front of it or wade out into it and feel myself spread out into the vast expanse. If you look out across the ocean, all that’s left to see is more ocean and, of course, the horizon. There’s no next thing. There’s nothing to do about it. It’s all just there, spreading out, taking up space, being deep and wide and miraculous and itself. When I write, I write to be like the ocean. I write to be more of myself set against the backdrop of whatever I’m becoming. I write to take up space, to spread out, to be deep and wide and miraculous and large. I don’t write to sound nice or look fine or be good. I don’t write to get somewhere really good where everything is elegant and easy. I write because I am.

Writers everywhere can tell you that the way forward is sometimes just the slimey way through. The path to the story that’s relentlessly calling is laid with weeds and tangles and slippery stones. It’s not our job to hate on the way. It’s our responsibility to simply be on the way, and to give ourselves fully to the work we’ve been called to do.

Do not abandon yourself along the way (I repeat this to myself almost daily). Do not sabotage or deny yourself your purpose. Be afraid or embarrassed or uncomfortable, and then, be on your way.

Miss you. Mean it.

xo,

M

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