Tonight we sat cross-legged in the middle of a tile floor eating pizza from the box, listening to a woman preacher at the Black church across the way, her voice but not her words carrying to us through the open barred door. It’s Thursday, “family dinner night” at Beulah. But we are not at Beulah.
I fear putting to words too soon how all of this feels. I fear not putting the words while they’re still fresh, all of this present ache pressed somewhere back into memory where I can pretend to have felt nothing at all. I am anxious about being unkind and too raw. I am anxious that I will tell you lies, and neither of us will know it until later.
I think this is true. People somehow become more themselves, growing out of dreams and ideas they once needed to grow into.
I have thrashed from before day one, living in community here on Beulah. Not once has this felt like home, or have I felt settled, or have I had any sense that I’m doing something that means something outside of these four walls and these four people. I came here theologically high-strung post-Duke, thinking it would be one year, and then doctoral work. I came ready to suffer through the year and be gone. I came here defiant, making arguments on more than one occasion for why I didn’t believe in community as a concept or the need for it. I came here terrified of my neighbors and these streets and where in the world we live.
I came ready to leave. I am the leaver, the one who moves on, the season who changes; this is my role and I have lived with the guilt of this and the fear of this and at moments the shame of this.
Which is all a lead up to say her news that she wanted to live alone knocked the wind out of me. I didn’t know how to go on.
These weeks are hers. I can’t narrate them really except to offer the facts that it was her living room floor we ate pizza on this evening, the lease in her name now 24 or so hours. She seems happy, and I sincerely hope will be. I do understand, even if I still need to grieve and heal. Someday soon, I will wholeheartedly be behind the life she’s about to live. For now, it’s all still too present.
How to be honest that somehow this is both painful and beautiful, paradoxically a loss and a gift at once, the letting go, the sending? How to try to quantify what someone means to you? The words become heavy-laden under the weight of the gift.
I drove that first night until I couldn’t drive anymore and came back to the house, shattered. I went to bed and didn’t sleep much, her tossing and turning in the bunk above me. I moved to the couch to be alone. I woke too early to sit on the couch sobbing in the quiet of the morning while the house slept.
She may have tried for a week to change her own mind. I don’t know for sure. But the next Thursday, she told us again that she needed to go. We sat with her. I cried later once I was alone, and a day and a half later got in the car and went home to east Tennessee where I knew I would be seen and known and loved.
That Tuesday night in the dark church with the candles in the window-sill, my beloved friend stood over me, his hand on my head, praying over me as the tears drained out of my eyes in a steady river. No pause in the current, no sobbing, just pouring, his hand as if on a faucet letting my whole heart fill the sink of space between us.
He prayed for our household, that we would have wisdom and kindness for one another and direction. He prayed for my housemates and my kid. He prayed I would know my place here and that my life here matters. He prayed this again. He prayed it yet again, the last time most urgent. He prayed I would know my own belovedness, come what may. He prayed this again. He prayed it yet again, the last time most tender. He sent me back to Beulah, in love. I would have stayed with him and with our friends forever.
I got home on a Wednesday, late. Thursday she told us she’d found a place she was interested in.
And I, the one who argued ardently that community as a concept didn’t matter, that I didn’t believe in it, that it sounded like a romantic ideal and not a reality, watched it begin to slip away and found out that I do believe in it after all.
Saturday, my other housemate and I drove around and around our neighborhood, thinking together about options. This was the third or so serious conversation in a number of days, him being the sane and collected one while I thrash monstrously. My mind has been everywhere – applying for ministries, moving back to east Tennessee and becoming a teacher, maybe moving home to Michigan, doing something crazy and just picking a place on the map to move to. Striking out on my own, in other words. Finally leaving here.
But as we drove, he said, “Shannon, what I really want is for you to quit your job and just make things, write, do art, live into your creativity.” I told him he was crazy. I might have told him multiple times. I might have shed tears.
I was so moved, just undone. After a year of life together in community, he knows me deeply enough to name what has been the crux of my struggle here – namely the task of finding good work that gives life and doesn’t merely break me down.
After a few days of wrestling, I put in my notice at the animal hospital yesterday in what is a flying leap of faith toward another season of wilderness wandering as I try to make my way. There is also grief in this.
But beauty too.
Tonight on the floor at Anita St., I sat eating pizza and looking around at the white walls, the cool tile under me, new rooms. I remembered all my own transitions, the times I needed to leave though it broke me. I remembered the move to Durham from Johnson City, tears in the car on the way, my friends who fought me and eventually sent me in tender love, and who have so many times since welcomed me back when I’ve come homesick for them.
My own transition won’t give me new space. I have no blank walls and cool tile of my own. Instead it’ll take me deeper into a space I’ve lived for now a year and two months, a city I’ve existed in but have hardly lived in, and practices of faithfulness to my gifts and callings that I’ve only scratched the surface of.
I don’t disparage her. Not a bit. Instead I’m so proud of her courage. I remember what this leaving, this standing in my own integrity, is like. And maybe she herself gave me the courage to leap yesterday.
Yes, it’s still painful. But my heart will work itself out in time. The grief is proof that we loved. And we still do.
Our morning prayer liturgy, the one we pray each morning in our house together, ends with a blessing. The words this week have moved me deeply each time we’ve recited it. In some ways, it may have been preparing us for this moment all along. The words are these:
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever God may send you. May God guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm. May God bring you home rejoicing at the wonders God will show you. May God bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.