Bad words and damnation and playing with light…..

To remove from my body both lymph nodes and splintered wood took a minute.
I spent a wakeful night in the hospital afterwards tripping on pain meds that didn’t agree with me,
my forty-three-year-old body also balking at the antibiotic in my line.
The list of drugs I could no longer safely take kept growing
and I hobbled a gimpy pace about it while
looking down on the lights of Elizabeth Street in Charlotte,
my room overlooking a part of the city where I’d ventured a few times for art supplies.
I wanted to be okay in the worst sort of way,
wondering if I’d ever again sling paint or make a garden or cradle my guitar.
The thick painful ham that seemed to dangle from my right shoulder felt
useless and vulnerable.

But what pricked me restless more during that long night was the unnerving fear
that this seeming trainwreck of a health crisis
was somehow a sign.
A deserved consequence.
A bed I’d made and now would need to lie down in
or figure out how to escape.

Hmmm.
So,
in trying to upgrade my experience as a woman, I’d gone into some gray territory
and made some decisions that ended up making me pretty sick,
Did something crappy happen as a result?
Yes.
Could I have known this would be my outcome?  No.
And wasn’t grace wide and strong enough for this?
Was the suffering of this sorry situation some sort of severe punishment?
Like Karma?  Like some twisted take on the judgement of God?
What exactly was I afraid that I’d set into motion with my mistake,
and what was this chill of a feeling that dogged me each time?

I remember vivid the first time I felt that same sickly stomach drop.
In kindergarten and home after lunch
I was supposed to be taking a nap.
Instead of ticking that box,
I’d slipped to the floor, playing happily with my paperdolls.
For some reason I got frustrated, likely because of the flimsy paper tabs.
I called something stupid.  Out loud.
“Stupid” was the heinous word I uttered.
Just then a siren pierced the quiet afternoon
and a fear shot through me that sent me quick into a panic.
They were coming for me, I was sure of it.   Because I’d “cursed”.

I cannot even tell you where this ridiculous idea originated.
But fear of punishment seized me with a hefty slam
and I ran sobbing to my mother,  apologizing over and over again.
She assured and reassured that no one was coming to haul me off,
reminded me again not to “use bad words,”  and sent me back to my room for a restless nap.

Now here I was almost forty years later utterly unnerved by the sirens in my body,
signs calling out simply that something needed tending.
The fear all of this flushed up was unconscious,
likely generations deep.
The healing that found me during the dark days after
seemed also unlikely.
A knowing settled soft on my anxious mind,  like a holy nudge,
and I began to play.

It was September in the South and the trees were still hugging their leaves.
I watched them linger in the last of their greens
knowing they would soon begin their bright dance of letting go.
Leaves.  Healing things.
I pulled out old paints and began brushing glistening paint across the tops of leaves
I plucked from the dogwood tree outside my window.
Setting paint-side down on paper,  I ran my right hand gently across the folded paper towel
I pressed on top and then pulled up the leaf to delight in the print.
Painting and pressing,  playing with colors,  mixing and marveling
at the sweet kiss of veins and ridges and exquisite shapes
each leaf gifted.
Nothing to accomplish, no one else to satisfy,  slow and easy movement,
taking easy joy in the little song each leaf left behind
in color for my eyes to keep.

Kind of like Kindergarten for my old soul and bones,
only without the pressure for performance that I felt so keenly
all those years ago.
(to be continued…..)

“Who am I to deserve such sights,  to witness such splendor?
Who am I to be the recipient of such excess?  Thank you
for trusting me with this colocr,  this light.  Thank you
for reminding me,  always,  what lives behind the dark.”
– Tyler Knott Gregson

Thank you for coming around again as I dig out one more bite of this story
that I have to say is setting me free again in some places
where the weeds had grown thick again.
(Isn’t that just the way with gardens:
you cultivate and tend and water and wait
and when life knocks you down
you go back,  clear it out,  and go again.)

I’m thinking I’ll wrap up this story next post?
Eager to share what I’ve discovered growing in this garden
since I came out and started pulling the weeds:)

And congrats to Susan Ferris – your name came up in the drawing;
I’m super-glad to send you a copy of my book,  Volume 2
of Tell Me Something Good.
She’ll be headed your way tomorrow!

Leave a comment and into the drawing for another
you go!

9 Comments

  1. Elephants Child on June 16, 2022 at 3:49 pm

    And a gardeners work is never done. Never, ever.
    So we need to delight in the work while we hope for results – which may or may not be the ones we envisage.
    As always, thanks for sharing your journey, some of which is new and or alien to me. Not the emotions though. Never those.

  2. Eva on June 17, 2022 at 9:16 am

    You had me at PLAY! And Kindergarten! My two passions…thankful you found play again within the work and the hard stuff. A beautiful, yet heartbreaking AND hopeful story you are sharing. You are amazing, my old friend.
    P.S. Your artwork and your photography are stunning…just as powerful as your words.

    • jennifer on June 27, 2022 at 7:34 pm

      Play:) So potent and healing.
      (I love that you fight to help give kids a childhood!)
      Big respect for your wisdom and willingness to make space
      for the messy-ness of childlike children:)
      Oh for us all to grow up to be childlike!
      Thanks for your kind encouragement, Eva,
      Jennifer

  3. Julia on June 17, 2022 at 4:58 pm

    I had fears when I was a kid but they were about dead people. lol. I had visited a dead neighbor at his wake and was a bit traumatized about the whole thing.. I had nightmares for a long time after taht.
    I think that it comes from stories the people would recount and my imagination would take over.

    I had dreams of climbing the church steps and I could see souls under the steps trying to catch my feet as I climbed, lol. Other dreams of arriving at school without being properly dressed always missing some important piece of clothing.. I grew out of those fears with no permanent damage. Childhood can be a rough time for some.

    I like that you played with colors and shapes to do your art and are still doing it. Good stuff.
    Hugs,
    Julia

    • jennifer on June 27, 2022 at 7:29 pm

      Thanks for sharing some of your childhood fears, Julia.
      Good stuff, indeed:)
      – Jennifer

  4. jeanie on June 18, 2022 at 8:11 am

    Before I reached the part about your pulling out the paints and printing the leaves, I was thinking about your art and how I see so much of your story — not the outer facts but the inner emotions — in so much of your work and this series has explained much of that work to me. Not so much the lush florals but those with words of affirmation and indeed, hope.

    We are our own worst enemies, aren’t we? Doing such a head number on ourselves. You’re far from the only one, as I know you know. Especially those of us who want to please, be good — and sometimes forget we are normal everyday people who sometimes do or say or think things that we feel ashamed of and that punishment will come in one form or another. It’s hard to get around that if-then thing, no matter how old we grow. But we can. And we can heal.

    I am grateful you are taking the deep journey to be able to share this with us — and I hope in doing so, it is indeed helping to heal.

    • jennifer on June 27, 2022 at 7:28 pm

      So true, and yes, this experience nudged me into a deep dive
      that is so very, very much life to me. So much joy from so much pain.
      In some very real ways, play has been a healing thing for me.
      I still can’t seem to call it my “work”:)
      Thanks for coming by to share,
      Jennifer

  5. Lisa Moreland on June 18, 2022 at 11:48 am

    Blessed, once again, to journey through the wisdom within your artfully crafted words and view the mystical images that catch my breath.

    • jennifer on June 27, 2022 at 7:26 pm

      I love your comment – thanks for the sweet inspire:)
      – Jennifer

Leave a Comment