Do you know what I suck at?
Keeping in touch.
No, really. If I don’t run into you on a regular basis (as in, you live in my house) and you don’t own a piece of my soul (as in, I gave birth to you), chances are, I don’t call you enough.
Facebook is a boon for people like me. Half of the people I have ever met are just sitting here in my computer, which is in my house. So that helps.
Jorene does not live in my house, nor did I give birth to her. That means we don’t talk much, but I love her. Big. So I’m going to tell you about her.
Well, not about her exactly, because that would be rude, like an unauthorized biography which has got to piss people off, right? No, I’m going to tell you what she taught me.
When I met Jorene, I was just eighteen years old, still very much a child but (like most 18 year olds) I thought of myself as all grown up.
And I was one messed up kid; fearful, hurting, confused, and lost. It was the late 1980s and the self-help and new age movements were taking over the world, and I was caught up in some of that. Not completely; I’m pretty cynical by nature and I’m not one to run with the herd just because I’m a buffalo, but I was seeking.
I was living in Prescott, Arizona, and I was seeking God. As a symbolic exercise, I would go out into the hills near town and look for God.
Like, under rocks and behind trees and shit.
Like God and I were playing cosmic peek-a-boo.
Where I came up with this idea, I have no idea, but that kind of stuff was almost in the air back then. Everyone was nurturing their inner child, saying affirmations, and wearing crystals. (The crystal thing? I never did that, but I did talk to a guy who helped me identify my animal spirit guide.*)
I grew up in a conservative branch of the Presbyterian church and had internalized a punishment/reward (heavy emphasis on punishment) conception of the way God operates in the world. The sermon I remember best from my childhood was about how Jesus was going to stand on my neck to make me behave myself.
Yeah, so I may have misunderstood, but in general, the doctrine I learned and understood was this: hate the right things (homosexuality, abortion, Mormons, secular humanism, people who don’t love America, cussing, and rock music), love the right things (hand-made Bible covers, waiting to have sex until you get married, capitalism, dressing up on Sunday mornings, fish symbols on the backs of cars, and People Who Agree With Us Because We Are Right), and you can go to heaven when you die.
Pretty damn empty if you ask me. Just God, sucking all the fun out of life so I can earn my golden ticket.
Anyway, I was grown up (ish) and out in the world, trying to find my place. I didn’t want to turn my back on God, or even Christianity, but I thought there must be more to it than just avoiding fun stuff, hating the right things, and making casseroles so I could go to heaven at the end. In other words, I chucked the stupid, quilted Bible cover with the ruffle around the edges, but I didn’t quite know what to do next.
Jorene took me under her wing and asked about my search for God. I told her all about it, about how I didn’t know where God was, and how I’d been hunting and trying to pray and oh no, WHERE IS GOD?!?
I wasn’t even done talking, hadn’t even finished telling my Very Sad Story, when she broke in, all frustrated and bristly. “What the fuck are you doing all that for? You’re like some kind of stoned-out-of-its-head fish swimming around asking, ‘Where’s this thing called water? I can’t find the water! WHERE IS THE WATER?!?’ God is under those rocks and behind those trees. Duh. God is everywhere else, too. Open your damn eyes!”
I like my spiritual direction a little bit rough.
From that moment, I never wondered if she thought I was an idiot or an asshole because I knew if she thought that? She would say so.
She used to come to my house and write on my mirrors and tape little notes all over the place: integrity. “Is that what you really think?” she would ask me, eyebrows raised. “Is that how you feel? Is that what you want? Is that who you are?”
Not easy questions for an eighteen year old to answer. As it turns out? I was rarely successful at answering them at all, but I have continually asked them across my adult life. More and more, I know the answers. More and more I can say, “Yes, for now.”
She has a love of aphorisms and a couple of her favorites have remained with me all these years.
“Don’t do battle with God. God doesn’t fight fair and God always wins.”
I’m a fighter, and I don’t mean in the good way (I’m a fighter in the good way, too, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Quit distracting me!); no, I waste lots of time and emotional energy flailing against things that aren’t going to change just because I insist that they do so.
Forever and ever amen I will be grateful that Jorene helped me start to learn this lesson before Carter entered my life. I have learned it in a million new ways since his birth, but if I had never learned it at all, had not begun the work of learning how to lay down my battle armor and stop fighting, I would have destroyed myself.
She told me never to drink the Kool-Aid. “Am I full of shit? Tell me if you think I’m full of shit! Don’t drink anyone’s Kool-Aid, not even mine. I don’t give a shit about how smart someone seems; you think for your own damn self!”
That whole painful year, she listened to me. Heard and understood me. She taught me (by example and by smacking me upside my head) that it is possible for a person to be rigorously honest and also deeply kind.
And fierce. When I met Jorene I was a Very Nice Girl. Not really, of course; I had done many things of which I was ashamed, things I hope and pray that my own children don’t need to do to learn the lessons that I learned. But out in the world, on the surface? Nice.
In spite of all that was going on inside me, my mercurial personality, all my passion and rage and pain and love, I was, as far as most people could see, nothing but a nice girl.
Jorene is kind. She loves deeply. I would not, however, describe her as nice. There’s too much fire in her for that.
Speaking the truth in love is not necessarily nice.
So fucking proud to say that I wouldn’t describe myself as nice anymore, either. I don’t know exactly how people perceive me (I’m a little blind that way.), but I’m pretty sure most people would use a descriptor stronger than nice.
I’m not nominating Jorene for sainthood (or guru status); I know that plenty of people have very different stories of her in their lives. This business of living? Messy as hell. Jorene knows as well as anyone on planet earth that there are no points for style.
For me? She was this person, this most right, powerful, loving person. So much about the person I am today – strong, fierce, true to myself – is thanks to Jorene pointing me in that direction.
I eventually found my way back to my Christian faith, but in a new way that doesn’t require me to hate anything (except I hate fish symbols on the backs of cars just a little bit), a faith that is lush and warm and inviting. I’ve never owned another Bible cover since that ridiculous quilted, ruffly thing.
Turns out, if my Bible gets all old and sad and wrecked because it’s uncovered? I can buy myself a new one. Who knew?
Hey, Jorene? In lieu of a hundred or a thousand phone calls I didn’t make? Just this.
I love you. Big.