Tag-Archive for » hope «

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015 | Author:

Note: These are just in the order I wrote them. I’m including all 12 for posterity, but 1, 4, 5, 10, and 12 are my favorites.

#1 10.26.14 Fear of Fragile

All of us are dying,

that’s the crux of life

Life weights you down

like a child on your knee

ticking off the beat of time.

The living are the breathing

and with our breaths

we cry “too few.”

 

Too few are the breaths and the minutes

and the life that’s spent with you.

For when your breaths are done —

done permanent and final —

we are left with the real

test of grief’s bereft confinement.

Too small will be our breaths

our lungs suddenly too shallow

to take in air to fill our chests

because death hurts our vitals.

 

Fragile is the life of men

where bones break

and flesh is scraped

and hearts stop

in one quick moment.

 

I fear the life that breaks us

the news that knocks on doors,

“Ma’am, your son is dead,”

“Sir, the cancer’s spread,” or the

“I just don’t love you anymore.”

 

I fear the things that shatters worlds

in one swift-kick moment.

It’s hard to live not knowing

how to handle it.

 

The grief that comes and straps you down

like a straight jacket in an asylum.

It holds you, molds you,

then leaves you stripped and done.

 

This fragility is an assault on our senses.

To watch the life leave a body

is to see the flower wither in the sun

to see the short transition

from life to death is so heavy

like watching your own eulogy.

 

Where does the life go? It just fades?

Does it wither or run away?

Does it just cease? How can we know?

How can we ease ourselves

away from this fear of being mortal?

 

Does it ever hurt less, to have

worlds shatter in an instant?

 

#2 12.11.14 Dear Death

(Written after reading an update on my old college chaplain’s wife’s cancer. She passed away soon after.)

Death, go away.

You’ve got the wrong doors.

Death, pack your bags.

You take what isn’t yours.

Death, leave us be.

What are you looking for?

 

Death, you bastard.

You rape us, leave us bleeding.

You take us, no retreating.

You beat us despite our pleading.

What are you looking for?

 

Death, you merciless villain.

You invade common places like the kitchen.

You flip the switch in the prison.

You take the shooter to classrooms with children.

What are you looking for?

 

Death, leave us be.

You strip our joy and bend our knee.

You knock us down, make us scream.

You leave a hole where wholeness should be.

What are you looking for?

 

Death, please, go away.

 

#3 May 4, 2015 Again Alone Written in flight to start a month of travel for the story project

Another airport

another city

another day of traveling alone.

Wandering, wading deeper into the unknown

where I am unknown, without a home.

My heart is a vagabond, a knapsack

to hold its pain, tied to a stick of hope

slung over my shoulder as I trail along.

I am adrift, tossed in the waves,

propelled by the wind, weathered by

the raging sun. And I am searching

for the shores of a home,

but the best I find are islands.

And it’s just not enough.

So I set sail again,

I wash away again,

and I tell myself maybe this will be the time

I’ll find what I’m searching for.

Maybe this time I’ll run aground.

Maybe this will be the time I am found.

Maybe this time I’ll find myself,

and find myself being known.

Maybe my feet will find fertile ground

and roots will shoot down

from the soles of my feet

planting me firmly in a new

somewhere.

 

But until then, it’s another airport.

Another road.

Another city where I will get

to hear the stories of the people.

And I’ll move on,

again alone.

 

#4 JessicaWritten for my sweet, unassuming friend who asked me to make one of my 12 poems about her and who would never normally ask for such a thing, but thought that I would appreciate the bold request. She was right. 

She is the silliness of a four year old

housed in an aging soul.

Her beauty is pure, not boastful

her blue eyes shine like gold.

 

Her heart — oh her heart! —

Her heart is where she lives.

She’s made a home in that

space in her chest.

She invites you to come in.

Her life says, “Come sit,

feel for a while,

Your pain can come in with you.

I’ll yell with your anger

I’ll shout with your joy

your sadness is welcome here, too.

Tell me, is the temperature ok in this room?”

 

Her friendship is lunar,

always present, even in distance.

Always beautiful, even in darkness.

She participates in life like an event.

Everything is to be remembered,

even this very moment.

 

Her words are soft,

her squeals are loud.

Her life is loving.

Her parents are proud.

 

She is a well of life

smiling at the world from behind sweet freckles.

 

#5 Let me hurt. (written after hearing Abandon Kansas’ Jeremy Spring describe their new album saying “I’m just gonna let it hurt for a while”)

Just let me hurt for a while.

Don’t choke me out

trying to tie a bow around it.

It’s a wound,

not a present.

I’m broken,

not wrapped.

I’m bleeding out and you

used a ribbon as a tourniquet.

Don’t do it.

Please, let me hurt for a while —

it’s all that I have left.

 

F*cks, hells, and shits

punctuate my language.

Pain leaks

into my sentences.

Because when I’m honest, sometimes

my brokenness still feels fresh.

I didn’t know grief could be

so violent without death.

Don’t demand a positive spin.

A silver lining won’t fix it.

So please, let me hurt for a while —

it’s all that I have left.

 

I wonder how long it will be

before I can breathe through the memory.

Because right now, to remember

still feels like drowning.

Because right now, in my hometown

I still feel like an enemy.

Someday there will be more, but

for now this is my story.

So just let me hurt for a while — I’m sorry.

It’s all that I have left.

 

I’ve barely started

to trust again.

But I’m afraid of myself

in the end.

I don’t totally know

how to get around this bend.

I don’t totally know

if I’m good at being a friend.

When I tell the truth,

I’m afraid I will offend.

I want vulnerability.

I want to mend.

But just let me hurt for a while —

it’s all that I have left.

 

#6 Close

Don’t get too close.

Don’t hold me tight.

My fear will lead me

straight to flight.

 

I’ll stay right here,

you stay right there,

or you’ll look for me and

I’ll disappear into thin air.

 

If you approach, do it slow.

Don’t try to take control.

If you do,

I’ll up and go.

 

But if you find your way,

If you become near, you see,

know that you’re dear to me.

 

If you ebb and flow

slowly gaining ground

don’t say it too loud.

 

It scares me when people know

that they are in my heart

it’s a power that could tear me apart.

 

#7 I Lie To Me

“I can’t do this”

I’ve breathed too many times.

I am quick to admit defeat to me,

But outwardly I claw and gnaw

at the challenge threatening to stop me.

I lie to myself

but it feels like the truth.

My words battle my will —

with each failure admission

I take a breath and try again.

“I can’t do this” is the mantra

on the way to my success.

Somehow my stubborn will

ignores my cries and tries and tries

until it is finished.

I am always surprised at

myself in the end.

Why do I still believe

I cannot do this?

Maybe some day I’ll believe in myself

the way my spirit does again.

 

#8 As It Happens (written upon moving to Wichita, June, 2015)

By happenstance I met a band,

their name: Abandon Kansas.

Once upon a time

they stopped through where I lived.

 

By happenstance I saw a band photo,

after many years had passed.

Facebook let us

become friends fast.

 

By happenstance I went on a road trip

and I stopped where the band lives.

I wandered downtown,

saw where the river splits.

 

By happenstance I fell in love

with the town on the plains and

I thought — “This feels like

what a hometown is.”

 

Two years later, on purpose,

I actually live in Kansas.

 

#9 — Our Father Who Art In Heaven

Our Father

Our. The peoples of the earth,

of all shapes and sizes

Our. The people from the dirt,

our colors pre-decided.

Our. Those around the town

neighbors to one another.

Our. Those spread apart who

don’t care about each other.

Our. The slave and the owner.

Our. The president and the lawn mower.

Our. The world that God so loved.

 

Who is

Is. Is there in our brokenness and weakness.

Is. Is Immanuel — God with us.

Is. Is familiar with our pain.

Is. Is the love that will not stain.

Is. Is the heart that won’t grow cold.

 

In heaven

Heaven. Where there’s no more pain.

Heaven. Where the racist is forced to change.

Heaven. Where the lightness reigns.

Heaven. Where death is illegal.

Heaven. Where we’re all equal people.

Heaven. Where brokenness is made whole.

Heaven. Where we are all loved and known.

Heaven. Here now when we bring love home.

 

#10 Break and Fall (written because it was the last day and I needed more poems)

Day break

When my heart breaks when I wake

I know thats a day break.

The day I break,

A day that acts

Just like you.

 

And heart break,

What does that mean?

My heart burns

But this isn’t heart burn

It’s heart break,

Like an earth quake,

It makes my chest shake,

But I’m from California,

I’ve done this before.

 

These walls are too thick

To let your pain score,

They won’t crack,

I’ll just be sore.

I know the drill,

Even if I don’t live there anymore.

 

Night fall.

When I fall into bed at

The end of the day

I know that I’ve failed again,

Fallen again into that trap

of routine where my days start

with breaking, end with falling

and its just you in between.

Grief, you dirty bastard,

you won’t ruin me.

 

#11 Just a day

Early morning dew rises and gives way

to the heat of the day.

The grass dries,

my eyelids rise,

my heart is full.

 

Coffee cup is emptied with the dawn long gone,

the day draws on.

My hunger paces,

my mind races,

my fingers type away.

 

Afternoon slinks in without warning

of the exit of the morning.

My thoughts slow,

heart rate low,

creativity’s around the corner.

 

Three o’clock comes and I don’t mind the sitting

now that it’s productivity city.

Here we go.

Here we go.

My brain chants silently.

 

Happy hour is just an hour

when happiness is a regular prowler.

The dusk dawns,

fireflies turn on,

I walk down by the river.

 

Evening brings the close of a day

normal in most ways.

I worked away,

played in spades,

and my heart is still full.

 

#12 “26.” (written on the back porch in the eve of my last day of being 25)

Tomorrow marks the anniversary

of 26 years spent here.

26 years since that August morning

that I came home gift baring,

as my eyes held newborn tears.

A slip and slide was my peace offering

to the boy and the girl — my siblings.

That’s the story I’ve been told.

 

26 years is long enough to hold enough pain,

and not nearly enough life.

My appetite for life is voracious,

so hand me my fork and my knife.

When I get to the end of it all,

I want to still hunger,

content, but not satisfied.

For as long as I live,

there’s always more that I want out of life.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015 | Author:

story of jo - Not OKphoto credit: i’m not okay. via photopin (license)

We were sitting in a smaller room in the back of the church and I had made fajitas for my volunteer staff of youth leaders for the middle school youth group I ran at the time.

It was during the students’ Christmas break, so we had put the youth group on hiatus for 2 weeks to give our volunteers a break. I’d made this dinner to thank them and to get together to just get some honest critical and uplifting feedback from one another about how the past semester had gone.

We went around the room and affirmed one another in what they brought to the table. I was caught of guard with a lump in my throat when one of the volunteers said about me, “You make them know that it’s OK to not be OK.”

I’d never thought of those words before, but that has been a life mission of mine since then in all that I do.  I want to be someone who affirms people that it’s OK to not be OK. It’s also OK to be OK, if you really are. But that night was the first night maybe in my life where I realized I was doing something right. I was being who I wanted to be to the world, even though my world at that time was only about 20 middle school students.

A few years ago, I was really good at being honest and open with my story about the grief and grappling after my older sister had died. I think, and hope, that I was able to be someone who could reach out to those in grief and let them know that very truth — it’s OK to not be OK.

But in the more recent couple of years, since my life has changed and truth has been revealed about those darker, secret, shameful parts of my story, it’s become a current part of my story. No longer a “my sister died, and for a long time I wasn’t OK,” past-tense thing.

I still have many moments and days where I am not OK. I am doing really well, comparatively.  I’m telling my story with more ease. I mostly enter social circles without trepidation. I have stopped apologizing to everyone I meet for parts of my story and for who I am. I have the freedom to be known and to know others again. And it’s actually fan-freaking-tastic.

But I still have days where I’ll see something and will text one of my trusted friends things like, “just came across this. Well, F—.”

I still have days where I’ll send out the cry for help.

I still cannot enter my home church building without being paralyzed with hyperventilation and uncontrollable sobbing (which is really not pretty or fun, FYI). Realizing this when I went there last, in November, made for a very not-OK Christmas Eve night as well, as I for the first time in my entire life did not attend the service there, and I sat at home being not OK as my family went (which they should do and I wanted them to do… don’t read weirdly into that).

I still am wary of new people. I still have trust and commitment issues.

In a lot of ways, I’m doing great. But in a lot of ways, I’m still not OK. And I’ve just not been willing to lie about that. I’ve not been willing to pretend to be OK when I wasn’t. Which is new for me.

And what’s happened in the broadening not-OKness of my journey is that it’s enabled me to lead by example, not just to people in grief, but to people in all sorts of not-OK areas of life.

And while maybe that’s a depressing thing to be able to lead by example in, I don’t care. Because sometimes life is hard. Sometimes things just suck. And yes, there can be hope, and growth, and newness, and OKness once again. But what I find in my own life is that I have to admit I’m not OK before any of the rest of that ever comes.

And that is something that most people are not comfortable with.

Positive spins are many people’s security blankets. I just can’t do it this time around. You won’t find me sprinkling glitter on the crap of life. Other people can do that.

But for me, I want to tell you who are hurting, you who are ashamed, you who feel trapped, you who feel depressed, you who feel anxious, you who feel stuck — it’s OK to not be OK. Sometimes, healing starts with letting yourself feel the pain.

__  __  __  __  __

One of the bands that I enjoy, Abandon Kansas, just released a new album that has a lot of that hurt and grappling, specifically with self-examination and questioning of the church and of pain, of addiction and seeing that we’re not as we want to be. When they were making the album, they did a kickstarter campaign and the main songwriter, Jeremy Spring, wrote, “I’m just going to let it hurt for a while.”

That’s what it takes sometimes. I read that sentence from him, and thought about all the times and ways I’ve had to just let it hurt for a while — all the times I’ve said, I’m going to be OK with not being OK right now — over the past two years, and I wrote this poem.

Let me hurt. (April, 2015.)

Just let me hurt for a while.

Don’t choke me out

trying to tie a bow around it.

It’s a wound, 

not a present.

I’m broken,

not wrapped.

I’m bleeding out and you

used a ribbon as a tourniquet.

Don’t do it.

Please, let me hurt for a while —

it’s all that I have left.

F*cks, hells, and shits

punctuate my language.

Pain leaks

into my sentences.

Because when I’m honest, sometimes

my brokenness still feels fresh.

I didn’t know grief could be

so violent without death.

Don’t demand a positive spin.

A silver lining won’t fix it.

So please, let me hurt for a while —

it’s all that I have left. 

I wonder how long it will be 

before I can breathe through the memory.

Because right now, to remember

still feels like drowning.

Because right now, in my hometown

I still feel like an enemy.

Someday there will be more, but

for now this is my story.

So just let me hurt for a while — I’m sorry.

It’s all that I have left.

I’ve barely started 

to trust again.

But I’m afraid of myself 

in the end.

I don’t totally know

how to get around this bend.

I don’t totally know

if I’m good at being a friend.

When I tell the truth,

I’m afraid I will offend.

I want vulnerability.

I want to mend.

But just let me hurt for a while —

it’s all that I have left.

If you’re not OK, I hope you can find the freedom and the safety to know that that’s OK.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 07th, 2015 | Author:

“We need to talk,” she said to me in a serious yet conspiring tone.

We walked with rushing feet to our personal conference room — the Children’s Church room at the back of the church where we’d hang out before church. We were two rambunctious 8-year-old girls who got to church early with our parents when they had to do something or another for the service.

Once within the confines of our private scheme-building room, we stood in the middle of the room, near the wall with the old piano that I’d play for us sometimes.

We stood facing each other, and I was not nervous as adults are when someone says to them, “we need to talk.” — I was eager to hear what was so important.

“Did you hear that his parents are getting a divorce?”

“I know,” I said, looking down, not knowing what that really meant or entailed, but knowing it was bad. “My mom told me.”

He was a boy in our grade who we’d known for the past few years. He was our number one enemy. His life goal was to annoy us. And our lives’ goals were to make him look like a fool by pulling pranks and such. This was the essence of most of our friendships with kids of the opposite sex, as seems to be the norm. But he and one other boy were our particular enemies and we paid each other more mutual attention than we paid the other kids.

medium_301168593photo credit: rolands.lakis via photopin cc

“I think we need to be his friend now,” she said to me, the decision already made.

“Yeah. I think you’re right. That would be good,” I replied. I hadn’t thought of that, or realized it was needed until she said it. But once she did, it was decided. Third-grader conference of the year over.

It was one of the most important, efficient, and impactful conferences I’ve ever been a part of, and the decision stuck. We started that day at church. We didn’t drop the enemy act, but we had changed our heart toward him, and he changed his toward us. We continued to be frenemies all through high school.

When we were in junior high, he gave me one of the best christmas gifts I’ve ever received — he bought, with his own money, the movie Princess Diaries for me on VHS. He knew I loved it, and that was far above the $1-5 gifts we had sometimes exchanged in the past. He told me I couldn’t tell anyone he had gotten it for me because that would show that we were friends, so I didn’t, but we watched it together nearly weekly for about a year until we moved onto other fixations.

I’ve seen him a couple times this past year, and each time, I’ve thought how much I enjoy him as a person and a friend. But I may not have been friends with him had she not pulled me into that children’s church room and presented her idea for what we needed to do.

She saw disaster on the horizon and proposed a plan of action. I just followed.

We were in high school when her parents divorced as well. I was still friends with her, but in the of-course-we’re-friends way, not in the I-am-here-for-you-in-daily-life way. Our paths had started to take us in different directions, and I’m sad that I didn’t have a conference with anyone, declaring “we need to be friends with her.”

The truth is, a lot of people stepped away from her in that painful time. The girl who intentionally stepped in at 8. The girl who recognized the severity of the pain of divorce before she’d ever felt it. The girl who put aside sacred cooty-laws and annoyance-wars to be a friend. She was pushed to the outskirts and left alone in her time of pain.

It is a hard thing to see and recognize that you do not always reap what you sow. Mean people sometimes prosper and good people sometimes get left. At least it feels that way sometimes.

But the thing is, the girl who has heart enough to decide to be friends with a hurting enemy at 8 years old, she will be a woman who will live life well. She will be the type of woman who has deep friendships with people she’s met in passing. She will be a friend even when she is in pain. And some of those relationships will give back to her as well. The humility that lets her put aside childhood feuds also strengthens her to reach out to people who need a second chance in her life.

And that gives me hope about life and about the world. Because, almost two decades later, I still remember her as the girl who decided to be a friend when she didn’t have to be, and she got me to do so too. And the woman I know her as now still has that same understanding, supportive, caring heart.

I don’t know about the whole reap what you sow thing, because life has dealt her a crappy and painful hand several times.

But I am confident that when you have that goodness inside that she does, that everything will be okay. That you will continue to make a life worth living. That you will continue to build friendships worth having. That you will continue to find your way, and choose your path. That while life may be ugly and painful and hard, you will be the type of person that responds, that works through it, and that decides to love life again.

And that is really what matters above all else. You don’t always get to choose what happens to you or those around you in life, but you do get to choose how to respond. When pain shows up, will you step in? Will you give up or keep trying. Will you choose to love life again and again and again?

Life may not always be easier for good people, but it is more beautiful and more worth loving when you’re the type of person who steps in.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Monday, October 20th, 2014 | Author:

Tackling myths & cliches: Everything Happens for a Reason

“She’s not going to die,” she said to me, her eyes wide, her hands on both of my upper arms, desperation and edge in her voice.

“What are you going to say to me when she does?” I wondered silently.

My sister passed away the next day.

That was just the first of the misguided things people said to me in the wake of her death. But my absolute least favorite thing that anyone could ever say in the wake of death or disaster is this: Everything happens for a reason.

The reasons are that pain and sickness and sin and death exist in our world. Not because it was part of God’s plan. Not because God needed another angel. Not because this was something that me or my family had to go through for us to where we ended up. Not that our story needed this plot-twist.

When my older sister died, I was 14 and I was devastated, but I remember daring God on the day she died, thinking he wouldn’t be able to come through: “If you can, show me one good thing that comes from this.”

That was my deal, my plea to God. One good thing. I didn’t believe that even one good thing could come from such tragedy.

I realize now how naive I was, because God is big, and good, and the way the world works, redemption can come forth, and when you press into pain it changes you and reveals you in ways that would’ve taken years otherwise.

I don’t even know who I’d be today if my sister hadn’t died. I can see how much things changed because of her death, and I can see all kinds of growth and beauty that has come forth in my life as a result of walking through that valley of grief and loss.

large_774419510photo credit: Jimmy_Joe via photopin cc

So why do I still want to give people nose bleeds when they say everything happens for a reason? Because it’s too easy. It’s too easy to minimize the devastation of tragedy if we choose to believe that it was somehow some part of a divine or cosmic plan. The puppet master at work again, killing off characters for character development of another player. No.

There is a very real aspect to tragedy that demands the admittance that this was never supposed to be this way. That is what our souls cry out, and that is what we silence when we do not let that truth breathe, but try to console ourselves with cheap consolation of the cliche’s “it’s Ok. It’s in God’s plan. It’s supposed to be this way for some unknown reason.”

No. I know a God who cries out the same thing. IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE THIS

WAY. I know a God who weeps with me over the loss of life, over the breaking of hearts, over the destruction of what was good, over the abuse of the innocent.

And while my naive dare to God was really a “F— you, God” challenge, He was faithful. He has shown me how much good he can bring forth from the things that were never supposed to be this way. He has proven faithful to bring beauty of our ruins. But I don’t for a moment believe that it had to go this way. He could’ve developed me another way. I could’ve had other paths in life that were different, perhaps better than this one. There were other ways.  I don’t believe my sister’s death had to happen for a reason.

I don’t believe that death, divorce, abuse, disaster, devastation happen for a reason other that this world is not always good. But I have come to trust that God is good when the world isn’t. God weeps with me while trying to make beauty rise out of the ruins. That’s what people confuse — they think that everything has to burn so beauty can come from the ashes. Which is as nonsensical as saying that fires happen so that firefighters can be heroes. We see the result and we call it the reason.

I am heavily shaped by my experience with grief. I grew up much sooner, and knew grief much deeper than I would wish on any teenager. And the good is that it has deepened my spirituality, my emotional capacity, and my maturity in mounds, I am positive.

But I would give all of that to have my sister back. To have my family whole again. To know what it’s like to experience 9th and 10th grade without the devastation of pain and depression. To not know that gut-wrenching acid of grief in the back of my throat, to not know the loss that weights you like lead in your bones.

This is not how it was supposed to be. It didn’t happen for a reason. There have been some beautiful results that have come of it. But at the end of the day, I am accepting of the way life has been, not accepting that it’s the way it had to go.

This is not how it should be, but this is how it is, and once I grieve that I can begin to see the ways that life can be beautiful again.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 | Author:

About a year and a half ago, my world shattered. Today is not the day for those details. Just know that I don’t use the word “shattered” lightly. I lost people, places, calling. I used the word “decimated” a lot.

I walked around in a fog of grief: The heaviness that weights you, making every single task a deliberating, exhausting undertaking. I wasn’t even sure of how I was spending my days. Time got away from me a lot as I sat in my thoughts and memories and questions.

At the beginning, right when everything shattered, a friend sent me a quote from George Matheson that has kept me going like a light at the end of a very very long, very very dark tunnel: “Waiting with hope is very difficult, but true patience is expressed when we must even wait for hope. I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope.”

This has been a season of waiting for hope. When the word “decimated” describes your life, it’s hard to have hope. I didn’t. I was hopeful for hope. And that’s a hard distinction to make, and a hard thing to admit.

This is part of a poem I wrote on January 29, 2013 in the midst of my heavy, empty season.

…Yearning for a new life, a new land, for some hope.

I can see it on the horizon, but the horizon is far away.
I hope I’ll someday get there, but it won’t be today.

I want the joy of healing, i just haven’t found it yet.
Today I’m still alone,  my companions heartache and regret.

Soon I’ll trade them in, trade them new, for hope of better things,
But today I’m lost. I cry. I grieve.

Here are some lines from a bit later in the journey:

I want to have hope
right now I have none
(I want to be done).
But I am hopeful for hope
— I believe it will come.

I have not known hope in 19 months. That is, until a few weeks ago.

The logic in my head said that things would progress in life. That I could rebuild. That in time, with effort, it wouldn’t always be like this. But my heart could not feel it, could not believe it.

But after 19 months of my heart being earnestly on the lookout for hope, I found it.

I’m like Kevin in Home Alone, having the revelation and yelling at the furnace “I’m not afraid anymore!”

DO YOU HEAR ME? I HAVE HOPE!! I FOUND IT!

My soul feels like a broken jar that leaks, but enough has run into my broken heart for long enough that what is being poured in is overcompensating for what the cracks are leaking out. It’s taken a while to fill up because of those cracks. But I’m full again, and filling still.

And I believe part the reason is that in the last few months I’ve begun to take the hard, painful, intimidating step of telling my story — to people I have known for my whole life, to people who I’m just meeting. I’m telling my painful story, again and again, and in the telling, I feel myself getting fuller. I feel the cracks in my heart and my life decreasing in their gaping size.

I believe this is the stage of grief that they call “acceptance.” I had accepted it for myself a while back. But this step of accepting my loss, accepting my story out loud, is different. It is scary and powerful and freeing.  And, it turns out, in the breathing out of the painful story, hope is breathed in.

Last week, I found myself thinking, unfiltered, “I love my life” as I went to bed. And it was true. It’s not even a great life. But I love it and the people in it. And it’s because I’m in love with life again. I’m full of hope again. I’m excited again.

large_127012194photo credit: fanz via photopin cc

Like walking down a dark tunnel toward the light at the end, I could see hope ahead of me this whole journey. My eyes were on it. My focus was toward it. But that night last week was that moment when you finally realize, you not just see the light, you are in the light. Under it. Surrounded by it. You may still be in the tunnel, but you are engulfed in the light of day ahead.

I laugh easily now. Often too loud. The loss doesn’t seem as heavy on most days. The broken pieces don’t feel so “decimated” anymore. The effort it takes to breathe is unnoticeable, as it’s meant to be. I know how I spend my days, and I spend them doing things I love, things that bring me back to life.

I am engulfed in hope.

And I’m giddy like a little kid on Christmas about the whole thing.

And to you who have walked with me through the tunnel, who have assured me that the light of day at the end is real when it felt like it was just an illusion — thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Let’s celebrate. You were right!

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, April 08th, 2014 | Author:

*Note: There are no spoilers in this post if you know the gist of the Noah story from the Bible or the movie trailer or general knowledge.

Here’s my caveat. This is not a movie review. I loved the movie. If you didn’t, you can still read this, though.

There’s one part of the movie that is totally biblically accurate, or, in non-christian-speak, it’s true to the book, and it’s the part that caught me off guard and has had me thinking about it ever since.

Noah got drunk.

This is after the climax of the movie. But it’s odd, because where we’d expect easy resolution to the tension of the plot line, all the sudden it just kind of fades into a weird side note about Noah getting drunk. Because Noah is a real guy, and in real life, when the storm ends and the rainbow comes, you still have to live the rest of your life.

Here it is from the book: “Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent” (Genesis 9:20-21 NIV).

This is the part that hit me hard. I had always read that at face value. Noah got drunk. I always saw it as humorous, like it was something that had never happened before. Like if your sweet, goody-two-shoes grandma had too much to drink one time.

But in the movie, it portrays Noah alone, apart from his family, spending time in a cave on the shore getting drunk. Getting wasted. Until he’s face-down, passed out in the sand, and naked.

It’s heart breaking. It’s a man who, despite the symbols of peace and hope we use to this day being delivered to his door step — a dove with an olive branch, and the rainbow of promise — he’s left alone in a new world being told it has to all start again with him.  And he goes through the long process of planting a vineyard. Waiting for it to grow. Cultivating and fermenting the grapes to make wine. So finally, finally, he can have something to numb the ache. Something to drown out the screams of the drowning world that weigh so heavily on his shoulders.

Because God, in sparing Noah, pulled a merciful, jerk move. He left Noah in a place that he was never meant to be. A new Adam, so to speak. Facing a new world knowing how humans messed it up the last time, and knowing deep down that it will happen again, and that this time it will start with him and his family line.

This passage doesn’t talk about avoiding drunkenness.

It just tells it like it is.  Noah got drunk.

But it took the movie to show me why. It wasn’t celebration or carelessness like I had always assumed. Noah — despite being spared from destruction, despite the promise of the almighty Creator that He would never destroy like this again — is left having lost everything. Having to rebuild. It takes him months of preparation to get drunk. Those vineyards had to be an intentional decision.

I know what it is to start over on a minor scale — to see people in my wake drowning — to be hurt by where my choices, other people’s choices, and God’s path have taken me. And I know that at the end of the day, the rainbow doesn’t just take all that away. We’re still left with a muddy, barren world. And a God who seems so merciful and loving through the storm, but who feels so distant in the rebuilding. He is there. I am sure of it. But while we’ve been rescued, we’re still reeling from everything that was lost.

If Noah was the most righteous guy out there, if he was God’s go-to, start-over-with-him guy, and the pressures of the path turned him into a hopeless drunk, what will become of me?

We don’t hear about him after that. We’re told: “After the flood Noah lived 350 years. Altogether, Noah lived 950 years, and then he died.”

Did he spend 350 years blacking out to avoid the pain? I don’t know. Did God use him again in unrecorded ways? I don’t know. Did God ever work in his life and his heart to the point where he didn’t hear the screams at night anymore? I so desperately hope so. Did he get to the point where doves, olive trees, and rainbows really did give him hope for the work God was doing in the world? The part of me that begs for resolution says: I’m certain he did. But to be honest, the Bible does not say.

Assuming we both end up in heaven, I’m going to find Noah, and I’m going to buy him a drink. Not a sad drink. It will be a drink to celebrate that the hope has been fulfilled and that the ache is no more.
It’ll also give me a chance to teach him about umbrellas (since they’ll be in our drinks, obviously).

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Thursday, March 06th, 2014 | Author:

Dear Julie,
Its been 10 years. How can that be? 10 years of life without you. 10 years of this ache in my heart and stinging sensation in my eyes and nose when people speak of loss. When they experience grief, my heart breaks for them, because I still know the feeling of my heart breaking over you. 10 years of thinking of you in those moments.

10 years of answering how many siblings do you havewith a different answer every time.

10 years to figure out who I am apart from you. Without your influence or your example.

10 years to figure out how different from you I am.

And 10 years to figure out how similar we are, after all.

10 years of seeing things about sister loveand feeling that hollow pang, knowing I dont have a sister anymore.

10 years of trying to establish a new normal.

And after 10 years, its clear that we have developed new rhythms, but that we still dont feel whole. Were still trying to figure out who we are as a family. And thats a really hard thing to admit. Because its admitting that this is not the way things were meant to be, even after all the healing, and coping and growing, and changing and redeveloping.

We have adapted, and while we have found joy again, we have entered back into life again, part of us still knows that there was another way this story couldve gone. And I am starting to see that that knowledge will never go away completely.

Walking into this, I never knew just how long death takes its toll. Never realized how deeply woven into our stories the threads of grief would be.

Here is the truth that no one says out loud.

I dont think about you every day anymore. 10 years ago I wouldve been appalled at myself for this being true, for admitting it. I thought about you every day for years. For the whole first year I didnt want to move on. But my soul began to die, to suffocate from unobserved grief after a year of it. Grieving and finding joy again felt like betraying you at first. I was 15, but I imagine it must feel similar even to adults who walk through that valley.

But at some point I did establish new rhythms of life. I gradually stopped having those moments where I expected to see you somewhere, expected you to be at dinner that night, thought of something to tell you only to remember that you were no longer there to tell.

At some point, I began to be able to tell people that I had a sister, but that you had died, and I began to be able to do it without my throat tightening, without tears falling too easily from my eyes. The statement stopped being a reminder, and started being a fact.

Eventually, people stopped calling me by your name accidentally. That was both a helpful thing yet a sad realization a few years in. It meant that you had been gone long enough that even acquaintances had made the mental shift to know your name should no longer be in their name bankfor the OHanlons.

People stopped comparing me to you altogether by the time I graduated high school. I had already begun to blaze my own trail. And of course by the time that I graduated college, I had surpassed the point in life that youd lived through, so the mention of your name didnt even come up.

I thought of you, though. I thought about the picture we took together at my 8th grade graduation. The only graduation of mine youd get to attend. I hope youd be proud of me, and happy for me for the happy things of my life, and sad with me for the heart-breaking ones. I trust that that would be the case. You were always really compassionate like that, deep down.

This is what makes me saddest. How much youve missed, and how much weve missed that wouldve come in your life. So much has changed for us in 10 years, Im sure life wouldve changed for you, too.

Ive met a few people in life who remind me a lot of you.  They are people that others sometimes have a hard time getting close to, but they feel so familiar to me, because its like seeing a glimpse of you.  It is comfortable to be near them, just as I was always comfortable around you.

Heres another painful confession. I dont remember what your voice sounded like anymore. I wish we had had digital cameras and video cameras back then, but I didnt yet. I got my first one the Christmas after you died. I haven’t heard your voice in a decade.

I havent heard you play piano in just as long.

I know from memory what you looked like still but the details of your face, or your person, theyre starting to get a little fuzzy. I have static images of you in mind, from the pictures, but I dont remember how you moved.

There are, of course, lots of pictures of you at mom and dads house, but I only have a couple of my own. I have a picture frame collage with 2 in it of you I have taken it with me everywhere Ive lived even in another country.

It is a very weird thing to look at pictures of you from the end, and to know that you are only 20 years old. You are 4 years younger than I am now. Which is so strange because you were always so much older and cooler. How could you be younger than me?

I remember what you smelled like still, vaguely, because I still have one of your shirts. Ive washed it a bunch of times (because Ive worn it), but sometimes, on the occasions that I did wear it, I would catch a whiff of you.  I stopped wearing it because I was afraid that eventually, after too many washes, the smell would leave. Thats the last piece of your clothing I have. I just cant get rid of it. I got rid of the rest though which was much harder than getting rid of clothes should ever be. I blame you, and grief, for me staying out of current style for so long.

Heres another confession. While I have gone to the cemetery a lot over the past 10 years, I have visited your grave only a dozen or less times. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that your body is there. But I like to visit the cemetery in general, because I feel close to you there I know that was a place you used to go when you ditched school, or just to get away from things. It is because of that, not because of your grave, that I go.

I always think of you when someone makes a comment about red heads being feisty.

I always think of you when I see one of those pens that you always used. Youre right, they really are the best pens.

I always think of you when I watch Ever After, Sweet Home Alabama (I still have your burned copy), Gattaca,  and Finding Forrester (which I watched yesterday, and yesI cried when he talks about his brother). I watched Monsters University the other day finally (sequel to Monsters Inc.) and I remembered you really liked the original. The sequel is pretty cute, too.

I always think of you when I see something or hear something about the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I remember all of those afternoons of all three of us watching some combination of that, Sister Sister, The Nanny, and Arthur that added up to an hour of our TV time. I love that we all watched all of those together.

And of course, anywhere that they sell cheap, gas station, soft-serve ice creams makes me think of the times you got Jason and I to pay for yours if you drove us there and back.

Whenever a phone book is delivered to my door step I think of that summer, and the fact that the dress you bought me was not NEAR enough payment for the hours I put in, but I had no idea at the time. I thought you were being so gracious. I wish I could rag on you now about that.

After 10 years without you, the pain has lessened, the heaviness of the sadness has lifted, but the fact is that the loss remains. Weve lost you and life will never be the same.

And while we have to make peace with that, and we have, we do, and we willwe still miss you. We still love you. And it seems that time will not wash that away. Nor should it, I suppose.

P.S. This picture, this is how I remember you. No wonder I know how to make a splash. I got that from you, I think. (Julie, age 17, after a Mock Trial competition. Those are boxers.)

Julie

Category: Everyday Stories  | Tags: , , , , ,  | 8 Comments