We Are The Adults
At coffee with my pastor, I said something about realizing that I’ve been counting on the “older people” to always take care of things. “We are the old people,” he said, rightly so. We are the adults.
I was looking forward to considering this quandary of adulthood and how one truly arrives while on my first ever plane-ride weekend away with my friend, Blythe. She had a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I, a West Texas girl, spent many happy family vacations in Northern New Mexico. It just made sense that I should meet her and take us both an hour north to play in Santa Fe for a few days. I even hoped I might somehow see my parents who live about 4.5 hours away in Amarillo, Texas. The parental visit didn’t work out, but shockingly the rest of the plan materialized beautifully! Family friends who babysat me often even as a baby live in Santa Fe now, and they offered to share their home and artist life with us for a couple of nights. I was anxious to leave my children, not out of any fear for them or my husband but out of knowledge that leaving half my heart half a country away is no small thing. Yet, when I touched down in my connecting airport in Orange County only to be greeted by a wine tasting bar, I quickly let myself fully expand in the thrill of being alone and ready to enjoy it!
The next day after the beautiful, familiar drive up to Santa Fe, Blythe and I settled into a coffee shop (ok, it was just a Starbucks) on the square, and I whipped out my notebook to get writing. There were two helpful contexts in my heart as I sat in a town I hadn’t been to for 10 years. 1) The last time I’d been there, I had just lost my first baby, and Brendan’s and my 4 closest friends had just made cross-global and cross-country moves. I was lonely in a way I’d never been before. Of course, I think about that baby often, but I was suddenly missing Speck (as we called him or her) so intensely. The buildings and smells triggered all the sadness I felt 10 years prior wandering the city wondering if I ever would have children to bring there. 2) Santa Fe always makes me feel like a little girl because of the many earlier memories I have there. Certainly, if college graduation and my wedding hadn’t done it, miscarriage made me feel very grown-up, so I had spent that one adult day in town. But now I looked forward to seeing if I’d feel different inside, 4 kids later.
First, I eagerly wrote to capture an idea that had opened up some new possibilities in my mind. The previous weekend I’d been on my church’s women’s retreat, and though I received many prompts for thought, even new ones, from my friends and our speaker, it was one line from the oldest hymn we sang that really opened up for me. “Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above.” I am primed to look for hidden instructions for how to be myself, and particularly for how to be an artist (and give myself credit as such). I regularly ask God to open my eyes for the clues I know are everywhere. Upon singing that line an entire scenario displayed itself for me, and I instantly felt sure of it’s reality. I pictured the writer of “Come, Thou Fount,” Robert Robinson of the late 1700s, seated by candlelight with the hymn’s words being heard for the first time ever in his head. He, with prayerful, overflowing heart, gave himself permission to presume to write words down for God and for others, and he asks, “teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above!” (Exclamation point mine.) And right then, ink wet on the page, God, knowing this writer, loving this writer, granted the request. The writer literally wrote down a song that now thousands of Christian saints (that means all believers in Jesus in my theological tradition) have sung. I imagined the courts of Heaven full of people from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. Some of them, with their eternal souls that learned that praise of “Come, Thou Fount” while on earth, have surely sung it to Jesus directly. Do you think that the art and words we make on Earth disappear when we die? I don’t. I think they are parts of us, and some day in the New Kingdom, the perfected, real selves we’ll finally have will include perfected, real versions of everything we’ve ever thought, made, or said. So, I’m sure that many a flaming tongue has sung that melodious song.
The idea that in the act of asking, attempting, we actually can receive the very thing or title that we dream of is revelatory to me. You want to be a fill-in-the-blank? Start by asking and trying. The idea that what we say, make, or do can have lasting impact on ourselves but also on others is not new, but it has been important to remember.
When Tom Petty died last week, I learned that I really loved his work. As I listened to “Wildflowers” over and over (driving my kids nuts), enjoyed all the tributes on the radio, and listened to Terry Gross’ interview with him, I was struck by how blessed we all are that he presumed to write things down. When I read my friend Amy Peterson’s book, Dangerous Territory, I felt grateful that she presumed to write things down too. Reading her memoir I kept thinking, “wow, some people can get away with behaving like they have something to teach us. I’m so glad she feels free to offer what she has to give.”
Contrastly, I struggle to presume to write things down. “Why do you think that is?” I was asked. Well, my best guess is that youth and naivete are our friends when it comes to presuming just about anything. I never wondered whether or not I should be a ballet dancer or about whether people wanted to watch me. I plunged ahead back then with the courage that just my wanting to do it really was enough excuse to throw myself in. Now, though, my first dream knocked out of me, I’m slow to really breathe in the next one. Amy isn’t young or naive, but I’m probably not wrong in understanding that she formed the writer dream, like Tom Petty forming a rockstar dream, when she was young. Curiously, I think it’s in the youthful passion (no matter what your body’s age) of new interest that the process of maturity begins. To be adult is to be mature.
In Santa Fe, I was excited to pick my host Mike’s brain about his own life as an artist (a professional painter and teacher). When I was little kid, he ran a photo and film processing store and business. “How did you decide to give yourself permission to be a full-time artist?” I asked.
“Well, in my 20s, I thought, ‘In my thirties, I’ll really get serious about painting.’ Then in my thirties, we had little children, and I thought, ‘well, in my forties, then I’ll do it.’ Then, in my 50s, I thought, ‘I’m running out of decades; we’d better just do this if we’re going to do it!’”
He had a young dream that stayed with him, and now he and his wonderful wife, Cynthia, are living it out. “Here’s one mistake I made,” he told me. “I wish I had started sooner to make connections. I should’ve been trying to find ways to engage it all and the other people who do it sooner.”
Note to self made.
When we presume to be the ones with something to give and we begin to give it, I think that makes us adults. For those who want it, I think that’s what begins to make you a writer, artist, musician, etc. Of course, there are many tangents from there. Children are fantastic at presuming to give, and I think our adult selves do our best when we maintain that child-like excitement and desire to give and to produce. Not everyone is built to give in the same way, thank God! We need so many different types of gifts. Too, not everyone gets to fully realize all the parts of who they are that could feed the world. I won’t ever be a ballet dancer, and my mother will never be a horse trainer. Still, desires and dreams like those do inform who we are and enrich lives.
All of these dreamy, abstract concepts floated through my head as Blythe and I drank margaritas, shopped for dream catchers, and ordered green chilies to our hearts’ content. I felt like an adult when I forgot to haggle on the price of the slippers I bought from a Mexican shopkeeper. Child Jesky would never have paid what was asked! I felt like an adult when I ate my sweet, moist cake from The French Pastry Shop at La Fonda hotel, and it was so sweet I couldn’t finish it. Young Jesky would never have left cake on a plate. I felt like an adult when I worried about where to park. Talking with our artist hosts and choosing to buy an original painting (that young Jesky could never have afforded), I felt like a grown-up even though Mike and Cynthia have every right to always see me as a fuzzy-haired girl. I felt like an adult when I pictured sitting with my laptop to write this all down for you, reader.
Then at 4am on the day Blythe and I were to drive back to Albuquerque and fly home, I became ill. I woke up in a panic, boiling hot. I spent the next 3 hours riding waves of adrenaline that would not stop. My first thought? “Did I get drunk last night?!” A little math proved that theory wrong, but I sort of had that terrible, hangover kind of feeling, minus the headache. I knew, of course, that this was my chronic illness flaring up, and I knew that the only thing that could make it better was to lie down until all the dysautonomia symptoms quieted. My symptoms first started manifesting on my second day in New Mexico, but I just kept pushing. I’ve felt so well (at home) lately, that I sort of disbelieved that it was POTS. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through the day of travel I had planned. I could hardly stand. I wanted to push through, to do my best to fake wellness, but as it began to get light outside, I knew I had no choice but to ask for help.
Cynthia brought me gatorade, pepto, and extra pillows. Blythe got on the phone for me and talked to Brendan, to my mom, and to the airline. She spoke like a school nurse, talking to me as much as she was talking to them. “She didn’t do anything wrong, and she just can’t help it. But, we need to make a plan…” And the plan formed: my mom and dad would drive the 4.5 hours to pick me up, take me home to their house, help me recover, and book me a new flight out. In spite of Blythe’s consoling, I asked myself, “How could I have let this happen? What did I do wrong?” I had screwed up the timing on one of my pills, but this was extreme! I felt like a disappointed, sick, scared child, and I started crying. While my friend talked to my mom on the phone and my old babysitter piled up water bottles, I laid in the bottom bunk and snotty cried.
When things calmed down, Blythe looked at me and said, “When your parents get here, don’t apologize over and over. Just let them take care of you. God must have wanted for you all to see each other anyway, and you just need to go with it.” She knows me well. Not many of my friends have been very exposed to my illness, and even as I wrestled with feeling frustrated and ashamed (knowing full well that those were not helpful feelings), I was glad that she was seeing me like that. I was gladder that she knew what to say, not that I was at all surprised.
I realized that my only option was to be loved. If my child was that sick and only 4.5 hours away, you better believe I’d be there in 4 with blanket, pillow, water, and every drug known to man like my parents were. If I was traveling with a friend, you better believe I’d sit on her bed and pat her while I kicked butt on the phone with Alaska Airlines and got her cancellation fee waived. If a child I cradled and taught in Sunday School lay sick in my bunk bed, you better believe I’d skip church to stay home and keep watch. I was forced to presume to be needy. Children in emotionally healthy families feel totally free to need love and care. For me to behave like a child, though, required maturity. I couldn’t figure it out (though I have lots of theories involving altitude, late nights, and ill-timed medication); I had to accept that I needed help; I had to accept that my plan needed to change. Kind of like how I wanted to be a ballerina but am now writing.
I’m sitting now in the Las Vegas airport having slept well last night in my parents’ house. Sifting through the last very eventful few days and all the thoughts they held, I’m trying to sum it all up, to make one perfect little package. Part of adulthood, though, is complexity. There is so much to consider at every turn, but if I had to derive one lesson from my weekend it would be this: Love, be loved, and don’t be ashamed of either. Maybe being an adult includes finally seeing for yourself the things all the other adults have always said! In which case, I’d better keep writing things down.