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March 9th, 2013

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10:27 pm - Memento Mori
I meant to try and write some contemplative posts for Lent again this year, but real life sort of put a stop to that for a while. Nevertheless, it also gave me ample opportunity to actually be contemplative. Hence this post.

I take Lent fairly seriously. It's a time of year when I intentionally set aside something I enjoy to make more room for God in my life—room for him to speak to me, to wake me up from my self-induced complacency. I always try to choose something real. Something that will remind me every time I think of it, every time I long for it, that my deepest longing is for God. That I should be doing something about that.

This year, I couldn't decide what to give up. My husband chose a difficult fast, and I felt like a slacker when I decided to give up coffee. Not caffeine, although it works out to be a severe cutback by extension. Just coffee itself. The smell, the taste, the sheer comfort of it.

I had tea instead of coffee the morning of Ash Wednesday. Everything at work went surprisingly well. I did not get a headache, and I felt focused and on task.

Until I received an e-mail from mrizh telling me to call him at once.

I took my phone into the break room. Apparently, our apartment building had caught fire that morning. No one had been seriously hurt, but how severe the damage to the building might be was unknown.

The rest of the day was a blur. We attended a meeting for tenants at the Red Cross shelter and heard the first real news: that not only could we not go home that night, it might be a while before anyone would be allowed into the building.

We were homeless, for the time being.

mrizh said to me, “It's like God said, 'You thought you were giving up Facebook for Lent. Nope! You're giving up your apartment!'”

We had our cars and a backpack full of smoky-smelling clothes that the firemen allowed my husband to retrieve from our intact apartment. We talked, squishing down our unsettled emotions as we tried to decide where to spend the night. I left the tenant's meeting part way through to drive over the Hollywood hills to Ash Wednesday service.

On the drive to church, I couldn't stop thinking about the fire. I'd watched videos of it on YouTube; our neighbors filmed and uploaded some, reporters got more. Columns of black smoke, visible flames.

Someone in the building lost her cat. I nearly lost control while driving when it hit me that the poor thing had died in a fire. Had burned to ash and bones. The visercal horror of that image kept returning to me all night.

Talk about being reminded that “from dust we are, and to dust we shall return.”

The dust on the clothes I pulled from the backpack, the soot... It was the ashes of books, bedding, clothes, kitchen tables, TVs, CDs, carpet, artwork, shampoo. All things that we use to create ourselves, to create a peaceful space around us, to create a home and a family and a life. Particles of those destroyed things made my shirt, my jeans, my underwear stink like death.

After the service (at least the cross of wood ashes on my forehead didn't stink), I went to get dinner at the hotel restaurant. mrizh had already eaten, so I dined alone. I had a cocktail, because I felt I needed a treat. I mean, really—what a day.

But then, although I knew better, I also ordered wine with dinner. And it was an enormous pour—more like 2 1/2 glasses than one. I drank all of it in less than an hour. I normally have one to two drinks when I drink, so I was closer to drunk than I had been for some time.

When I realized this, I began to think: how is it that our sense of self is so bound up in what we have? Not necessarily in rich possessions, or many possessions, but in the fact that we have things at all? In the fact that we can make a place to retreat from the world and find shelter? Make shelter for others?

Cut off from home, from my quiet space, and even from coffee, I sought out something to make me feel better. And I sought out an excess of it.

If there is anything I learned as I began this season of Lent, it is that we are needy creatures. If we do not know how to let God in, we simply fill the void with whatever comes to hand.

May you be blessed with the ability to discern between desire and need; and to take both of them to the One who created you, who knows exactly what you need and how and when.

Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

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[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2013 09:22 am (UTC)

I hope you'll be able to return home before too long.
[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2013 04:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you; yes, we think another 3 or 4 weeks and we'll be able to go back.
[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2013 10:44 am (UTC)
If we do not know how to let God in, we simply fill the void with whatever comes to hand.

Well put. That has been a lesson for me this Lent also, though nothing like so wrenching as your situation.

May He grant you peace and Himself in recompense.
[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2013 04:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you. He is indeed granting me peace and Himself; there are other things I've been learning this Lent, but this lesson came first. (I think probably it had to.)
[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2013 11:17 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2013 04:24 pm (UTC)
*hugs back*

p.s. I was just thinking about you yesterday. I promise I will finish that fic for you in the next couple of months. It's so close to done! :)
[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2013 02:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this reminder of what matters.

I pray that you will be able to return home.
[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2013 04:27 pm (UTC)
You're welcome.

Thank you for your prayers; they are most welcome. We hope to move back in shortly after Easter, but haven't gotten an update since the first estimate. So God knows.
Date:March 10th, 2013 03:10 pm (UTC)
My experience has been that the Beloved seems to use events in our lives as teaching tools.... or as a flashlight that helps us to see our shadows more easily.

I hope you will be able to be in your own home again soon.
[User Picture]
Date:March 10th, 2013 04:26 pm (UTC)
As a flashlight, yes, I like that. :)

We hope to be back home shortly after Easter, which just makes the timing of this whole thing even more entertaining (if that's the word). Heh.
Date:March 10th, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC)

It's an awful situation to be in, and I'm sorry you've been put in it, but I'm grateful for this reflection.
[User Picture]
Date:March 11th, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you. :)

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