Photo by my dear friend Heather
When my dad was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2012, my mom never left his side. I think that sometimes I say that to people and they think she must have been around a lot throughout the months of treatment and trepidation. And then, before we move on with the conversation I shake my head and say,
No, no, you don’t understand. She was always there. She slept in a chair in the hospital room for months straight. She had to walk up to the maternity floor every day to shower. She ate hospital food and breathed in illness and fear and hope. She had endless optimism and an understanding faith. She held his hand and his heart and in doing so, taught us how to do the same. She understood that sometimes in life we must stand sentinel over the ones we love as they face the very hard things that make us all very mortal. My dad’s last year on earth was fortified and sanctified by the strength of the woman he loved.
Her example didn’t go unnoticed and in the months during his brief remission, she was nominated by one of the nursing staff as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Woman of the Year. They said she was an example of courage for anyone involved in the care of a loved one with cancer. They said they hoped others would learn from her example. They said that when faced with the seemingly inevitable, the good hope of someone you love is the best thing.
They were right.
My dad died 8 weeks ago. We are all still slowly falling apart and wondering if the new parts of our hearts will land in the right place. It has been a rending, sacred, shocking kind of thing. And my mom, my lovely mom, is still nominated to be LLS Woman of the Year. Her role is to raise awareness and funds for Leukemia research. The campaign ends in a couple of weeks and I’d like us to gather together and help her stand sentinel one more time. All the money raised will go to research to find a cure for the disease that took her husband. If we raise enough, she gets to donate it in my dad’s name and give it to the branch of Leukemia research of her choice. This is important. My dad’s life was extended significantly by a new treatment that is not widely available. If she raises enough money, she’ll be able to help others gain access to the treatment that gave our family some of the most precious months of our lives.
Here’s the thing. Anything helps. Any little thing. Whether you donate this week’s diet coke money or something more sizable, I will be forever grateful that you helped my little mom do a very big thing.
You can donate dolla dolla bills here, Kim Conley Woman of The Year Page.
Want to eat and donate? Head to the Sonic in American Fork, mention this flyer and they will donate 20% of your order to LLS. (Also? There is another delicious fundraiser happening at Chick-Fil-A next week. Come on down!)
depressing posts call for happy pictures.
There are so many things I should be doing right now.
From the needs to the wants to the somedays to the right nows.
I am tired. I am without. I am really, really sad.
And so I wonder if it is sometimes alright to be still. And in the stillness, I wonder if my “sometimes” is turning into “too many times”.
I don’t have the answer. I hope it is enough, for right now, to have the question.
A good friend of mine emailed me about this article. She said, “I loved the essay, but your title was horrendous. Please re-post with a better title so that people feel compelled to read it.” I laughed, decided she was right and there you go.
We drove to California yesterday.
The drive went as most of our long excursions tend to go. Too many restroom breaks at bathrooms of ill repute. The kids watching the same movie in the back seat over and over and over again. Riley rolling his eyes every time I gasp because I am SURE that we almost hit that car in the other lane. You know, the usual.
By the time we got to Vegas, the kids had only made me turn around and angry whisper once. I stared out the window from our place of relative peace and contemplated our surroundings. The freeway through the heart of Vegas was busy, full of people rambling home after a weekend of food and drink. We all drove under billboards that advertised adult toy stores, cheap liquor and women in thigh highs with breasts the size of volkswagons.
Las Vegas is many things and there are several aspects of it that I enjoy when I find myself there. Good food, good shops, even a nod to the arts with a Da Vinci or Monet exhibit here or there. But in the end, the business of Vegas is gambling and sex. I’ve got thoughts on the gambling, but they are pretty short and sweet. You know, don’t do it. The sex thing is a little more nuanced. I think it is easy to look down on a place that sells the opportunity to have meaningless sex. I don’t think it is easy to explain all the looking down when you are asked to articulate the feeling.
What does the term “meaningless sex” even, you know, mean?
As I drove under those huge knockers and legs apart, I shook my head at the transient nature of the pleasure they sold. But isn’t all pleasure, even my pleasure, transient? Surely, that is the nature of all things in this life. The meal that made you tip your head back with delight. The night of laughter with friends from your childhood. Watching a sunset with sand in your hair and a little burn on your skin. Every single thing we do in this life leaves us or is left behind.
So what is the difference between the afternoon spent with your spouse under covers and out of all your inhibitions and a passionate encounter with someone you’ll never see again?
What makes sex in marriage more meaningful than sex out of it?
As we headed out of the city, our car was surrounded by mid size cars holding men a little younger than me and men a little older. Always the driver stared straight ahead and the others in the car slumped against windows and into each other in sleep. They had all had a big weekend. I thought about the people in the city that had come to find a night of lights, a willing stranger, a room and a bed.I felt a little sorry for my imaginary sub-group of pleasure seekers and then felt ashamed. The feeling of pity comes from a place of superiority and surely, I am not superior to anyone. Ask any living person that has spent even two minutes with me and they will happily attest to that fact. I think every one of those imagined tourists would have taken my sorry and thrown it in my face. As well they should. Those emotions do not have a place in a discussion about sexuality.
Riley weaved in and out of lanes and I tried to navigate my feelings. So what if one has to go back to regular life in a sedan after a weekend of relative debauchery? Again, don’t we all go back to life after our escapes? Every time Riley and I escape to a hotel we eat food in bed, tear each others clothes off and then wake up in the morning to go home to a mortgage and cheerios on the floor. And on the drive home, I am usually slumped over in the car asleep having been exhausted after our various, ahem, exertions.
The girls chattered in the back seat and I shook my head. Zuzu piped up,
“Mom, why are you shaking your head?”
“I am trying to figure out how to explain something important to you girls. I want you to have everything you deserve, but sometimes you need to know why you deserve something before you can understand why you want it. I can feel what I want to say, but I haven’t found the right words for when you ask about it.”
I looked out the window again and tried to remove myself from preconceived notions and the talk of sunday school teachers from my youth.
And then the words came.
Hello daughters in the not so distant future. I am so glad you asked me why we encourage you stay celibate until marriage. You should always ask questions. I hope you never do as you are told simply because you were, you know, told. You know our religious beliefs and how they guide us in all things, including this issue. But even if we didn’t believe what we believe, I would still sit down and tell you I hope you wait. It isn’t because I think having sex before marriage makes you less pure or takes away from your value. Honey, we are all smudged by mortality. Purity as derived from Old French means “unalloyed”, metal that has not been mixed. Baby girl, you’re made of stuff much finer than any metal and there isn’t a thing you could do to change that fact. That is a truth of both science and spirituality. As to your value, it was determined and set for eternity the moment you were created. You are helpless to detract from it. Girls, that is the kind of helplessness you can and should revel in.
It is really the only kind.
I hope you wait to have sex until you meet a man worthy of you, because, in so many ways, sex is the power to create. I am not just talking about procreation, although heaven knows that is a divine thing. I am also talking about the creation that comes from speaking the language of sex with someone that walks with you through life. The creation of a space where time doesn’t seem to touch. A place that is forgiving and forthright and takes every mark mortality has given you both and acknowledges and consecrates them. A refuge that is only built after time and trust and love above each other.
The act of sex is at once vulnerable and empowering. It is a place where you can be fulfilled and act to fulfill. It is an opportunity to acknowledge and validate desire. It is a time when you can be stripped down to your core until it seems there is nothing left. It is a way to express just a portion of the force that makes you up, the steel and fire that compose you. It is something you give and something you take.
People will tell you that sex is sacred and they are right, but the act does not stand apart from you. Sex is sacred because YOU are sacred. If you decide to wait, I hope it is a decision that you reach because you understand who you are. You do not abstain because some man hopes to marry a virgin. This act of consecration has nothing to do with the desires of the opposite sex. You are not made to bend for the wants of men. No, rather, that choice has everything to do with an acknowledgement of your true self.
When you do get married, expect – no, demand – marriage in its fullest sense. Marriage is a commitment, not just to be faithful to each other and pay the mortgage together. It is a commitment to build, a commitment to pioneer, a commitment to breathe for one another through the depths and shout out in happiness when you have touched the sky. Sex is the language you speak when words have no hold on the experience of a shared existence. It is the expression of the inexpressible. It is funny and passionate and starbursts and slow and fast. And sometimes, it is the warmth that sustains you through the cold. When you have sex with someone who doesn’t know you, doesn’t cherish you, isn’t beloved by you, it is like speaking Greek in a place that doesn’t know the difference between alpha and omega. An interesting exercise, but without much point beyond the moment.
But isn’t life just a series of moments? Why does it matter what one contains when it will just be followed by another and another and another?
Here’s the thing. I think we get to leave the dross of this existence behind when we leave it. I do not believe in a reality in which we are haunted by the missteps of a mortal life. I do believe that when we live well and powerfully here, we are able to glimpse our true nature and gleaming truth of a reality beyond our current comprehension.Your heart will break in mortality, you will endure loss that claws and regret that eats. I can’t keep you from those things. But we are bigger than this experience and there are moments we create here that echo eternity back to us. Moments that build upon one another in the circle of those who share them with us. I cannot tell you how comforting those bright bits of insight are when tears seem ready to drown my heart. I want as much of that truth, and that seeking of truth, for you in this life as is humanly possible. I’ve found more opportunity for that shining sight in the arms of your father and in the life we have built together between all the “in the arms” business than I can ever tell.
And, darling girls, that is just the beginning of what you deserve.
And guess what? If you don’t “wait”, everything will be okay. Because every day is new. If one morning you wake up and decide that you want all the things I’ve wanted for you since you were born, you can have them. We are all bungling along here the best we can and this life is not a zero sum game. You get to change your mind and get to go out and find what you want. But, “Mom!” You say, “What if I never wake up wanting the things you hope for me? What if I don’t seek for truth the way you seek for it? What if I am happy differently?”
Oh, sugar babies, that is alright, too. I will love you no matter what space in this life you occupy and I will always hold you up to the light so that I can see better through you.
Because you will always be so much more than I deserve.
We’re back in my hometown this week.
Hometowns are funny things. In mine, there is a playground that still holds the swings that helped me touch the sky. The streets are worn with the tire tracks of my hurting and happy teenage self. It’s the place that I survived school, fell in love with Riley and learned to say goodbye. A simple little suburb with too many gas stations and not enough bookstores. I didn’t think it was special when it contained my whole entire world.
I guess I still don’t.
I’ve been back many times since that morning I drove away from home for good. Every return has held nostalgia and the kind of ache you feel for Christmas mornings with presents that appeared from nowhere. This trip is different. I knew the first time back to the topography of my childhood after Dad’s death would be hard. I expected the memories and the low lying ache. I didn’t know the sidewalks would be full of ghosts.
Not real apparitions, although in my heart hurt state, I’d nearly welcome that kind of thing. No, rather it is a feeling of time meeting time. Today, I drove my girls past our family favorite breakfast spot. I had to gather my breath and hold my words out to keep them from shaking.
“This is where Papa took me to breakfast every time he let me skip first period of high school. We both always got bacon and eggs. He sopped up his egg yolk with sourdough toast. Did you know he called egg yolk ‘liquid gold’? That always made regular eggs seem so special. It isn’t everyday you get to eat gold.”
And both girls laughed and asked more questions. I answered them but the words I spoke were different than the ones my heart thumped out.
I know you don’t understand this, because I am out here with you in this car full of crumbs and cupholders. But I am in there, too. I am fourteen and my dad is telling me about a book he just read on the golden ratio and I am pretending to understand even though I’ve never even thought about the concept one day in my life. The bacon is crisp and I am sipping my soda slowly so that I can be just a little later to school. Even then I knew there was nothing they could teach me that I couldn’t learn better over breakfast with my dad. I think if I slow the car down just enough, I’ll see the two of us in there. His black hair meeting silver and my frizzy pony tail against a striped cotton shirt.
Instead, I turn my head to the road.
A few stoplights and then the two lanes up to the home that holds the years that changed me. It is smaller than I remember and the yard is a little less green. Zuzu wants to go in and I tell her we can’t. Really, I won’t. Stepping into a memory is a bruising business and my black and blue heart can’t stand up to the pummeling.
If you go back down the hill past a dozen houses that look the same and turn right, you can drive until the road ends. The pavement and trees planted by committee stop at the edge of valley that is all green hills and blue sky. A windmill moves with the breeze and cows walk under trees the color of picture book pages. Two different worlds held apart by a brown fence.
It felt right, so I stopped the car.
“Girls, I’m getting out for just a second.”
I walked the few feet out to the beginning of the dirt and touched the lock on the fence. It was warming to the hot day and the “No Trespassing” sign to its right had been rusted by the rain.
And then I cried.
I am from a green place with windmills that twirl out peace and stories that bring shine. I can feel its softness against my face and its flowers under my feet. I can see it in the bright places of my heart and know I am supposed to read under the shade of its trees. But I can’t get back there. It has been locked against my return. And so I am left to try to explain it in words that will not give.
I damned that place to hell and then gathered the thing back up against my soul to keep safe and freshly handled.
Tears drying, I walked back to the car.
Zuzu was asleep and Viola squeaked in back,
“Mama, you cry? Don’t be sad.”
“Oh honey, it’s alright to be sad. Don’t worry. Sometimes tears help me to remember. And I need to remember everything so I can give you a green place to miss, too.”
She didn’t understand what I meant. But someday, some heartbreaking, sun spotted day, she will. And I hope to God she feels me in the place where the road meets the world she’s had to leave behind.
Because heaven knows that if I have one damn thing to do about it, I will be there.
Ansel Adams liked New Mexico
Yesterday, a good portion of my family piled into my parent’s excursion and drove the fourteen hours from Utah to Las Cruces, New Mexico. By “good portion” you may think I may mean a couple of grandkids and an adult or two. In this instance, that phrase really means one great grandparent, two grandparents, Riley, me, two grandkids and one 12 year old tea cup poodle. The inside of the car looked like an ad for a bad family comedy…but it actually worked. The girls watched movies. Riley and I read. My grandpa talked when he could hear us and sometimes when he couldn’t. My parents teased and bantered and bought hamburgers for everyone. It was nice.
If you’ve never been to New Mexico, I encourage you to make the trip someday. The light is different down here. I must not be the only one that feels that way as this little state has played host to so many big artists. A different moon is waiting for me here. It stands apart from the inked out sky in a way that my moon in Utah can’t seem to understand. Tonight as we motored along two lane highways I looked out the window and felt reassured by that soft bright curve in the sky. At one point, I turned to Viola to show her its shine, but she was already asleep. I wanted to cup the luminescence in my hands and give it to her when she woke up. Instead, I had to settle for the little bit that played across her cheek through the window.
When the car was so quiet and there was only an hour left to drive, the radio started playing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”. I whispered the words in between my sleeping girls, Riley hummed along and my parents sang together in the front seats. The lyrics floated across the inside of our car and I wondered if Ms. Cline knew her voice would live on so much longer than the body made it ring. That voice and the moon and the people around me I would not lose for even an instant, not if I could find a way.
It was a little moment, small enough to fit in my pocket. But I fell into it and blessed the stars for allowing me the pleasure. And one more verse to sing all together.