Keith and I went to the PX last weekend- hoping he might get a haircut before going back to work. However, the base's entire population of recruits had been given the day off and flocks of the fledging soldiers had descended to the echoing halls of the shopping center, all of them also, seemingly, in pursuit of a haircut.
We took one look at the rows of very young men in bucket chairs with aprons up to their ears, and rows more spilling out into the hallway awaiting their turn, and turned around.
We walked into the food court and yet more bands of the young soldiers were gathered around tables, their newly shaved heads pale and bristly at the sides.
Beside me, my husband was tall and broad and battered, his muscled arms covered with curling golden hair, a cheap watch on one wrist. He held my hand firmly, his eyes scanning the room; he is always scanning, on high alert- two deployments on the front lines and being blown up out of a tank will do that to a person.
I remembered my first trip to the food court at the PX, five years ago. I was skinny enough to fit into a pair of lovely white cotton trousers. They still hang on a rack in my closet; I have no idea what for. It was June in Colorado, the Rockies towered over the low brick building and in the park behind us, the cottonwood leaves shimmered in the sun.
I remember clinging to Keith's hand then as much to retain my balance as from affection. I was thirty years old. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I didn't care. I always threw myself head over heels into love.
Last weekend, instead of a haircut, we did some window shopping. My husband is on the hunt for a new grill. The old one has lived under the eves of this house and has gotten poured on for three summers now and its insides have sadly decayed.
On the way to the grills, we passed by some patio furniture, including a swing with a canopy. Keith sat down and stretched his legs out.
"Sit down," he sat, patting the seat beside him with a welcoming smile.
Myself, I always feel that furniture set out on display are meant to be Seen and Not Touched, but how could I resist?
It was so comfortable. We swung back and forth in the middle of the shopping center as if it was our own back yard.
"Looks like it was made for you!" joked a passerby.
"Let's go get a blanket from the home goods department, throw it over the top and make a tent," Keith suggested, with a playful grin.
When we got up, I could hear my joints creaking.
"We're getting old, kitten," Keith remarked, pulling me up.
"We really are," I agreed.
People older than us will laugh, but I do feel age creeping up a bit more than in past years.
I'm turning thirty six this fall. Thirty six seems so much older, somehow, than thirty five, as if more than one year separates those ages.
I remember when we were first married, how we joked about our future children, so secure that we would have them, that they would exist. We were prepared for the possibility of my getting pregnant over his leave during deployment- I hoped that I would.
When that did not happen, I was disappointed but certainly not alarmed. I was sure it would happen when he returned.
Then he returned and we did not get pregnant and I thought, it will certainly happen when we've had time to relax after we're settled down in Kentucky.
Then we were settled down in Kentucky and we were not getting pregnant and I thought, holy crap, I'm in my thirties and time is suddenly running out and I'm not getting pregnant, what on earth is going on?
I was so angry at God. "What more, exactly, do You want to do to me?" I asked Him. "Am I Your personal punching bag? Was being sexually abused not enough suffering, now You want to make me infertile? Awesome. Thanks. Thanks for this. First my body is used like some one's dirty rag, now it's broken. Why don't You give me some sort of horrible wasting disease while You're at it? You should just give me some horrible disease that will eventually kill me and have done."
Clearly I was not stopping to consider deep theological reasons for suffering; I was beginning to give myself permission to be emotionally authentic.
Suffering is a profound mystery to me and sometimes I want to blame it all on God, dump the blame on Him so that I can have Him to shadowbox with, to be angry at. Sometimes I just want to know that He's suffering with me and not worry about why or where from.
I was angry and depressed for about a year- for the year and a half that we were in Kentucky. I went back to therapy to try and deal with my plunging self esteem.
Family members had children- each time, it was devastating and then I would be ashamed of being devastated. I felt like I was raining on every one's parade.
I felt like everyone else was passing on into the warm, meaningful realms of life while I was stuck on the rocky ledges where all the other broken people get left, the people that don't fit in. I still feel that way a lot of the time, actually.
I went for a long time without speaking to God, which is unusual for me. Sometimes I would forget that I was maintaining this stony silence and would talk to Him and then stop and glare at Him, remembering.
My religious fear was alive and well. I had learned that being angry at God was incredibly wrong, inviting judgment, punishment- I was being stiff necked! He would surely whack me down, hit me over the head, shatter me like pottery- I grew up hearing a lot of the old testament.
My father encouraged me to believe that being angry at God was an act of profound trust in Him and I held onto this possibility.
How plastic could God be, I wondered, how small was His ego? Did He only want a surface relationship, all the hard, intense emotions stamped down, swallowed back, leaving only the brittle shell of rigid outer performance?
I thought this could not be. I thought if God was real, He could not be that small. If He was real, than He filled everything- if He was real, than He was living, expansive, seeing from all angles, sunk down into the heart of things, not content with the surface.
And I knew He was real- I had felt His love poured out all through me. From that point, I couldn't ever un-know Him.
So for the first time, I had the clear opportunity to sort through my religious teachings of god and the Living God. That was what my anger did for me, it drew a line in my own personal sand and I had to start tossing things to one side or the other, to clear a space.
Either God was loving and knew me and my life from the heart outward and was large enough to sustain all that I was or he was a small god, wanting the surface performance, the sacrifice of heart on the alter of his demands.
Looking back now, I can see that taking that huge emotional risk with Him was the beginning of a much deeper relationship with God, one that began unfolding almost as soon as we arrived in Georgia.
I think it was our first Christmas here and we'd traveled back up to Indiana to celebrate it with family. There was yet another new family member on the way and it hit Keith and I pretty hard. The entire trip up I ignored the subject with Jesus, worried that I might disturb the peace that I felt in His presence and knowing that I would need it in the emotionally charged atmosphere of Christmas, family and babies.
Eventually I found a quiet moment while wrapping Christmas gifts and I let the emotions and questions rise up to Him. I used pretty stark language, reverting to childhood concepts as I spoke to Him.
"Why are You making me a barren woman?" I asked.
His response was a wordless understanding poured into me, along with His strong love and reassurance. I understood that He did not see me as barren. He saw me as someone overflowing with spiritual life- someone whose inner life was overflowing with a deep, fully present relationship with Him.
I had a hard time grasping everything that He was saying to me at the time, but I understood one thing perfectly well: that I had Him. My love for Him rose up and along with it, the joy of knowing Him the way that I did. This joy filled my heart.
"I choose You," I said joyfully, though He hadn't really presented it as a choice. This answer just rose up out of me. I just let go of the longing for my life to be another way and consciously choose it as it was. "Let my life be what it must and let me have You," I said. "So be it."
I still don't understand suffering- where it comes from, why it is, ultimately. I have hopes about what it means, in the end- but it's a hope, not a certainty. I'm just more comfortable now living in the question.