Within Love

I’m a little hectic right now, though the Fall term hasn’t started yet: vaguely over-committed with just one too many writing projects, one too many side jobs, one too many email inboxes, one too many friends. Wait, no, that can’t be right—but I can’t find my spare car key right now. That’s the main thing. (No, no it’s not.)

Particularly when I feel like this, it is easy to forget. It is easy to forget the real main thing: to love the Lord your God. And when I realize I’ve forgotten—well, realizing somehow does not fix things. I say, Alright now, Alice, remedy the situation. Learn to love. Do it right, for God’s sake. And I come at the thing from the direction of my love instead of his, which is magnificently ineffective.

Then yesterday, I came across this in Lewis’ “Weight of Glory.” It was not a lightning-bolt, but instead a low, rumbling comfort, like thunder from the far side of the mountain.

How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us[…]to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

So it is. And so I’ve been remembering (the proper, continual remedy for spiritual forgetfulness.) I’ve been remembering the taste of things. I wrote a series of poems for a course I took on food last Fall about how the memories which are inevitably tied to certain foods for each of us can serve as a gateway into the transcendent. Predictably, a year later, I am actually learning that lesson for myself. A few times in the last few months, I have tasted something and “Oh!” to myself. All simple things, sometimes absurdly simple: raw garlic, plain olive oil, okra fried in cornmeal. All tastes of my childhood, of a hot kitchen with shiny pitted floorboards, of something sizzling and something boiling and then my mother’s cold, laughing hands on the back of my neck just to make me jump. These things are particular to my sensibilities and my past, of course, but though yours may be different, we all have them. These are the tastes of love, and not just its outer rim either. These savory-sweet, dizzying flashes are from the inner core of love, the part we are rarely ever brave enough to acknowledge, the heavy part, the honeyed part, the realm of holy delight.

And though I so often forget, I’m certain: this place we are shy of talking or even thinking about, this buoyant golden heart of God’s love, is where we came from in the first place, our actual homeland, the place we belong even now. Funny thing, but so it is.

Classes start in a couple weeks, so things will fall into place soon enough. The car key will turn up. The sun is out and the sun makes things grow.

Food, Health, and Other Things I’m Careless About

I intend this entry to be practical, so it might be more blunt than usual. I will be getting the sharp point of the spear here and you will be getting the blunt end.

I don’t eat enough. I’ve mentioned this before in an entry from last June, but there I mainly focused on my feelings, sweetly made other people responsible for them, and then turned the whole situation into a metaphor for parts of my life I’m more comfortable talking about. I don’t plan to do that today.

It’s true that I simply don’t have as big of an appetite as other people. It’s true that I’ve been thin since elementary school. It’s true that I find it uncomfortable and perhaps a little unfair that others (almost exclusively other women) feel so publicly free to comment on my size or my eating habits. It’s true that when someone tells me I need to eat more, instead of feeling cared-for I simply feel watched.

But it’s also true that they’re probably right. For years, I’ve told myself that they just don’t know, that I eat as much as I’m hungry for, that I’m fine, my body is fine, my health is fine. Over the last year or so, though, something has shifted. I’ve noticed things. My clothes don’t fit like I want them to anymore, and I can’t keep telling myself they’ve just all gone stretchy in the wash. I find myself serving very reasonable portions then struggling to finish them, spending twice as long over my plate as everyone else, always needing a to-go box at restaurants. And, perhaps most telling, I’ve started actually paying attention to how many meals I skip. I skip meals more often than I brush my hair.

I skip meals for reasons which have nothing to do with positive spiritual disciplines, or with the food itself or any effect it has on my body. I skip meals out of laziness, out of stinginess, or out of shyness. I train my body not to push itself, not to expend energy, but to conserve, go dormant, run on nearly-empty. I find nothing so much easier than something. There are metaphors to be drawn out here but, like I said, I’m not in the metaphor business today. Suffice to say, I have lived for going on twenty-seven years as if my activity or lack-thereof has no impact on my physical health, which is idiotic.

But at the end of December, while home in Greensboro, I blacked out and took a trip to the ER. My tendency is to joke about this, and in fact one of the first things I did when I got home from the hospital was write a poem making fun of my body, lodging a complaint with it for its inability to get me through the day. However, this is the fourth or fifth incident of this kind in the last few years, so perhaps at this point concern would be a better response than mockery.

And now I am writing this to you on a public blog which most of the people who care about me read on a sort-of regular basis. Like I said, I am almost inevitably defensive whenever anyone criticizes my eating habits or the way I take care of myself and posting these paragraphs to the internet will not magically change that gut response within me, but if I invite others in and ask for their help, I will know that I’m no longer allowed to complain if they give it.

So, sweet folks, here is what I plan to do. First, I’m going to make a doctor’s appointment and ask about my fainting spells: Am I anemic? Can we do lab-work again? Is there anything else we can check? Can I stop this from happening again? Second, I’m going to take every opportunity to eat with others rather than alone. And last, perhaps most shamefully difficult: I’m going to eat three meals a day. If this requires spending more money on take-out, or putting more time and effort into planning, shopping, and cooking, I will do it. I am going to prioritize this because it’s foolish to deprive my body. It’s been given to me as a good gift and I should treat it with more responsibility and gentleness.

I’m not looking to be bossed or managed, but I am asking to be reminded, encouraged, and occasionally nudged. Sometimes watching is care. So thanks to those of you who already have been. You officially have my permission now.

On Eating It All Up

Once a student asked me what my ideal birthday gift would be, and I told him I’d just like to have dinner at a restaurant with really, really good food. I love good food, and I’ve always been an adventurous eater. Anyone who knows me well knows this. Good food is the one thing I have no sales resistance against.

Except. When I get anxious, I physically lose my appetite. When I am in a period of transition, or stress, or just general upset, my desire to eat shrinks and shrinks, and sometimes disappears entirely into a general guilty nausea anytime food is set in front of me. (This is compounded by the fact that I am hyper-conscious of being a thin person who sometimes eats less than she should, but who doesn’t want people to worry about her needlessly. So I fret over other people’s perception of my eating habits. Which makes me more stressed. Which shrinks my appetite even more. It’s all very silly.) So I love food, but when I am discontent, I lose the love I had at first, and the thing which I relished, which was the joyful fulfillment of a need, becomes a chore, a strange, sharp little reminder of my inability to do something so simple as cleaning my plate.

In case you hadn’t caught on, this entry isn’t really about food at all.

It’s about abundance. I think.

I realized about a week ago that my summer is just not going to be very restful in the conventional sense of the word. I packed up my classroom last week, and I’m packing up my apartment this week. A few days after moving back in with my parents, we are heading to Minnesota for a family wedding, and then I will spend a few days with one of my best friends in Minneapolis. I’ll drive home from there, with a quick stop in Indiana, and have a couple weeks to get my affairs in order, before visiting friends in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida in rapid succession. When I get home again, I will have only a week or so before another family wedding, and then I will blink, and it will be August 16th, and I will be sitting alone on a plane, soaring towards a bright, blank new life.

This summer is so full of good things. I won’t have much time to watch Netflix, or even as much as usual to read and write, but instead my effort is going towards spending time with a few of my very favorite people, people who encourage me and calm me and make me feel most whole, some of whom I haven’t seen in years. Seeing them will be like sitting down hungry, after a long, full day, to an enormous meal. It will be like real rest, like letting out a breath I’ve been needlessly holding.

And these people and travels are not the only reminders of the abundance spilling out around me. I am in the midst of packing up my life into boxes and bags. I joked to a few friends that I am perfectly capable of throwing things out–I just have to eulogize them first. In one notable case last week, a eulogy wasn’t enough, and I brought a piece of student work down the hall to a teacher friend, and asked her to discard it for me. I hate to get rid of these shabby treasures, not because they have any value in and of themselves, but because they are tangible reminders of the bounty of the last few years.

When I am anxious and sad, I tend to tie myself up in knots, which puts a kink in the line, stops the good things from coming in. But sorting through these papers and odds and ends (among them medical gauze, water guns, a child’s pioneer bonnet, a blacklight, an incomplete Candyland set, and a topographical map of Knoxville) is reminding me. I am literally, unavoidably counting my blessings. My appetite is coming back in more ways than one. The world is so full of good things–my world is so full of good things–I must have, get, before it cloy.

Last night, when there were several more practical, logical, or even just normal things I could have been doing, I spent a couple hours drawing up a floor plan for a house. It’s not as if I really believe I will ever build a house, least of all one with three stories, a conservatory, and sliding stained-glass windows, but if I am dreaming, then I am hungry, and if I am hungry, I am able to glory in the wonder of food, along with company, and poetry, and every good thing.

If wide-eyed hunger drives me, I can pick myself up and dust myself off, and run with the faith of my seventeen-year-old self towards the divine eucatastrophe, the happy ending. God’s blessings are proclaiming that it is coming, the King is coming. Therefore, let us keep the feast.