Angels and God

"O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”

--Walt Whitman

When I was five years old-or was I six? I might have been seven even, but I was definitely no older than seven because at eight years old we moved to our smithfield canyon home where we lived until after I graduated high school, and that is how I know that when I was somewhere between five and seven, my family lived in an old apartment with blue siding just a few blocks from our elementary school. I was young, but I do remember bits and pieces of my life then. I remember my best friend Cassie and her bobbing blonde hair, how she was made fun of in class because she cried so easily, how we watched 'My Best Friend's Wedding' and pretended we were Julia Roberts, how we tried to break into the Guinness book of world records by drawing the biggest side walk chalk flower. (We did not break any records.)

I remember a neighbor girl named Karen, a Jehovah's Witness who we didn't like to play with because she was strange, who gave us real tea while we played tea party one afternoon and caused an uproar with our Mormon Moms, whose Dad spanked her with a wooden board when he caught her watching Saturday morning cartoons, how she came downstairs crying after her beating and told us that we had to leave.

I remember throwing up blood in our bathroom sink after I had my tonsils removed. I remember when my older brother learned to "flip the bird" at school, and I remember sitting on the stairs while my mom taught both of us why we should not do this new thing of "flipping the bird". I remember one day on the playground, running to a woman wearing a pink and white stripped sweater that matched my mom's identically, wrapping my little arms around her legs, and feeling utterly mortified when a woman who was not my mother looked down at me and laughed.

A big memory I have from this stage of my life, one that has stuck with me alongside all of these other pieces, was when I saw an Angel.

I slept in a bedroom upstairs next to our kitchen. I remember that I was sleeping soundly, laying flat on my back, when, in the middle of the dark night, I suddenly woke up and opened my eyes. Standing there next to my bed, emanating a muted white radiating glow, was a man. He leaned over and smiled at me softly. I don't remember great details as to what he looked like, but I do remember his kind eyes. And I plainly remember the feeling. Happiness, and peace. I smiled back at him, as if he were a dear friend who I knew well, one who made me feel loved and protected, and I closed my eyes to drift back into a dreamy slumber.

The next morning when I woke up I immediately recalled what had happened in the night, and I distinctly remember feeling appalled and extremely confused. Not just as to the fact that there had been a ghost in my room, but especially because there had been a ghost in my room and I hadn't been scared at all. I remember that being my biggest confusion as a five to seven year old girl, the question of why hadn't that scared me, waking up to that man in my room? I remembered the feeling of peace and in my child mind, the kind of mind that should be given much more credit than it is ever given, the kind of mind that tends to surprise thirty-year-olds with how much knowledge it holds, I knew something remarkable had happened.

I didn't tell anyone about that night, not even my mom, not until I was much older and I realized that maybe we should talk about angels, that maybe we should tell each other when we see them.

Now that James is gone I find myself looking for angels and signs. I first started noticing stars. In the weeks after we lost him, at nights I would sit on the back patio and look at the mountains on the horizon while the chorus of Linkin Park's 'Shadow of the Day' would repeat over and over in my head, one of James' favorite bands and the song that we had playing in the background of his remembrance video in the foyer at his funeral. It was on nights such as these that I started to notice something: there would be one star shining brightly in the sky, just one, every single time. Once I noticed this it became an obsession. I would see the one star and I would scan the sky, wandering around the backyard, looking for any other stars in the sky, trying so very hard to convince myself that I was absolutely silly and naïve to believe this would be a sign.

I finally gave up on feeling silly and I let myself believe. I let myself imagine that I mattered so much that it would even be possible, in a world filled with billions of people, to have one star shine as a symbol to little old me. I started talking to this lone star, watching it burning and shining and imagining that it was James listening to me while I told the sky that I was so sorry and that I missed him so much.

I also see signs in birds and butterflies. I have had once shy robins hop right up to my feet and make eye contact with me, daggers into my soul, daring me to believe that they were something more. I have seen an overabundance of yellow butterflies, the kind that find me, that dance and flutter around me at all of the times when I most need to see one.

When it comes to life and death, I don't claim to know much. I hope, and I believe. But I do not know.

At this point in my life I feel strongly that the ability to doubt, the facet of humble admittance that we do not actually "know" for a certainty, is a submissive door into a world filled with truer humility and compassion, a nonjudgmental and unprejudiced mindset . I have found for myself that recognizing doubts and exercising skepticism can be a strength and not a weakness, the recognition of which is the gateway to an open mind, the capacity to change and learn and grow in ideas, which is what life is, really. Experience. Progress. Change. Acceptance. Humanity. Intellect. Discovery.

Jaggi Vasudev, an Indian yogi and author, once said: “The sign of intelligence is that you are constantly wondering. Idiots are always dead sure about every damn thing they are doing in their life.”

Do you believe in God? I do. I am naturally an optimist in life, and so I always have hope. And more than that, I have unexplained experiences that have felt like God to me.

But the truth is, I have never been a stout and devout religious guru. Not even growing up, when I attended church each Sunday, read scriptures daily, prayed on my knees by my bed three times a day, fasted humbly once or twice a month. Not even then. I tried to be, and while the social aspects of a childhood at church were wonderful, I never did fit in to the beliefs and the testimonies of it. No matter how I tried, it never did resonate with my soul.

I am constantly searching and learning. Not for this big huge truth persae, because it is my firm belief through experience that there isn't this one and only truth. It doesn't make any sense that there would be. We as individuals can't even fathom how large the world really is, and how different we all really are. The way we all perceive can be so conflicting. God, however you choose to see Him or Her, tells us all such different things, and why is that do you think? Why is it, that one person receives what they perceive as a confirmation of truth for something vastly different than another person? God is telling them all that YES, you have the truth! What you have is truth! Confirmation, confirmation, confirmation! And who are we to say, well God is telling me correctly but not you. I know the answers to my prayers are the real thing, but I don't believe that your answers are real. Who are we to pretend we know what another person is feeling or hearing or experiencing? We are nothing, because we can not know.

When I left the path of my childhood church to find a new path, that was one of the harder and scarier things I have done in my entire life. I have never felt so hopeless and alone as I did then. I knew it would have been easier to pretend, to stay comfortable in the masses surrounding me, but I found that I couldn't do the pretending anymore. So against the odds, in what pressed hardships on a new marriage and all of my relationships with family and friends, everyone who I loved and respected most in this world, I left.

In retrospect, I can see that it was an incredibly brave and courageous time of my life, in the same way you jump from a fifty foot cliff with only faith that the water below will catch you safely. You shake nervously and shuffle your feet, you try to talk yourself out of jumping, you imagine the worst. You don't feel brave at all. But then you jump, and the water does catch you safely. You rise to the surface and gulp that fresh air and then you are left with that amazing satisfaction that comes from taking action, from doing something so bold and fearless, even against the scary scenarios that you made up in your head.

I found what I had thought to be absolute truth was not absolute truth, and not only that but I found it to be terribly contradicting to the good I once thought it to be, and so I decided to stop blindly following a group of people and start intentionally following my heart.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Well you see. Since going through the loss of my brother, one thing that I have realized alongside the truth that life is too short, is that what we need more of in this world is people who are candid and honest and open about the things that matter in life. I think we as a society do a lot of pretending. We like our conversations and voices, our images and representations of our lives, to be in pretty little packages with a big shiny bow. No one wants the brown cardboard packages that are smashed and ripped and torn and tattered. No one wants the reality.

But that isn't what God looks like to me. He doesn't look like a brand new neatly wrapped package.

To me, God looks like that tattooed disabled vet on the corner of the Sportsman who limps to our car and is genuinely grateful when we hand him five one-dollar bills that we happened to have stuffed away in our wallet. To me, God is the woman from Alberta who barely had any hair, who had won her battle with cancer just to turn the fight to her husband's battle with Alzheimer's Disease, who had two children, one son and one daughter, but whose son had been killed in a car crash when he was twenty-two years old. To me, God looks like the dozen men on motorcycles who were complete strangers to my family, who showed up to James' funeral, who followed us the two hours to salt lake city to be at the burial, who stood in a line to salute us while we walked behind his casket crying, who each took a turn at the end of the burial to salute his casket and thank him for his service and for his life. To me, God looks like a friend who lives far away, who packages two heart shaped rocks she stumbled upon and mails them all the way to me because they made her think of James.

To me, God looks like my kid brother, who had a heart the size of Texas and wanted everyone to be happy and have what they needed in life, even while he suffered inside. The boy who was sweet and shy, who was bullied and beat up and left out in middle school, the boy who watched his parents divorce twice, the boy who joined the army all on his own and left for Afghanistan by himself when he was only 21 years old. The boy who was quiet and reserved and kept everything inside, the boy who was the most loyal and giving friend anyone could have asked for. The boy who was taken for granted and then missed most once he was gone.

To me, God is the smashed and ripped and torn and tattered packages.

I am searching for angels and signs, and I am finding a lot of God in my life these days. I think most everyone would be amazed at how often you can find Him, and at the places you can find Him, if you are searching hard enough with a torn open and vulnerable heart.

So I am here. I am here and I am telling you this, because I am working on telling my story and being candid and open and honest about the things that really matter. I can't tell you how many times I have written a post, bled my heart into words, and then saved it in a draft where it collected dust and was never heard from again because it was possibly too sensitive a thing to publish. I am done with that, with worrying that I might be writing about something too real. I am done with that because another place that I find God, probably one of my favorite places of all, is in places where we can find people who are different than us, yet we can still have genuine love and kindness and respect, even openness to their beliefs, while we all live side by side.

"Love is not a victory march, it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah."
--Leonard Coehn

1 comment:

  1. This post and your letter to the void sum up so many things perfectly. I'm so sorry you are going through this, but you're helping others, too. You help those who can't put into words what you can. I remember last year there was a point where I broke because I felt I didn't have a place to be mad or really, really sad. It wasn't like I wanted to be angry at anyone necessarily, but I felt like I was faking every day because I was expected to be happy in many situations. I mean, I couldn't go to work sad every day, and some people in my new job had no idea about my past anyway. And even at home I didn't feel like I could let everything out in the way I wanted to sometimes. So I had to fake it, and it was exhausting. I'm telling you this so you know you're not alone either, and that all the emotions rise and fall, and that is OK. Our situations are not the same, but many of the feelings are. And when you talk about seeing butterflies and stars and these lovely things - those are the better parts of all this heartbreak. I never want to feel the same again after experiencing loss. Every time I see myself sneaking into petty ways, I try to hold my breath and remember that life is too short. You are a beautiful soul and I hope you always know that.