This time next Thursday, I’ll be walking the streets of Toronto. Am I ready? Hardly. I feel like there is a year between now and then. I feel like I’m supposed to have been a different person by now. I should have grown, should have learned how to be better, should be anything other than this. And I try to tell myself that it’s all lies, but it’s hard to believe when it seems the whole world is proving them right.
Tomorrow brings all the so-called celebrations of the 4th. I’m quite sure I will spend most if not all of it feeling depressed, on edge, and stressed out. Because that’s what always happens when everyone is supposed to be having a good time, when there’s reason to celebrate. Saturday and Sunday I’ll be in Michigan, visiting family for the last time before I go back to school and my parents move. Monday my parents leave to work and go house hunting out of state. And then Thursday will come.
I’ve gone on this trip before, and it changed my life. And, maybe it even gave me life. I think it did. But…this time, I feel like I’m not ready. With the way things have been going around here lately, I feel like I’m already running on fumes. Even the slightest deviation from my precautions sets me off. The smallest things crawl into me, eat away, stuff me with other’s feelings till I feel like my skin is constantly crawling, tingling, buzzing, and all I want is to be free. But the only way for that to happen is a knife or pills or sleep. I don’t want more scars, I can’t afford to make myself sick, and my dreams terrify me.
I had a meeting of sorts tonight with the team I’m going with. Nothing major–just introducing ourselves to each other, answering basic questions any of us had, that type of stuff. But I knew immediately that this trip was going to be next to impossible. The people I’m going with, they’re more familiar than the ones I went with before, although the leader is the same. But there is so much personality, so much energy, so much fun… And then there was me. The quiet, reserved kid who didn’t say anything except her name and favorite ice cream because that’s how we introduced ourselves.
It took nearly everything I had to keep myself together. I kept my eyes down, my lip between my teeth. I knew I was different. I knew that I wasn’t like them, couldn’t make jokes or say interesting things. And for as long as I can remember, that only meant one thing. There was something wrong with me. I was damaged. These were good people, and me? Well, I don’t matter. I’ve never mattered, really. And there’s plenty of people who will say plenty of things to try to get me to think otherwise, but when it comes down to it, they only prove themselves as liars. There’s only one person who doesn’t.
I never believed Jesus loved me. Well, until last year, that is. I’ve grown up in the church, I’ve heard the stories and sermons and songs. It didn’t match, though. Jesus loved pretty people, white rich people with perfect lives and unshakable enthusiasm. He didn’t love people who were scared all the time. He didn’t love people who were dirty like me. He didn’t love depressed and damaged people, with scars and faults as wide as craters. No, He loved everyone else. He didn’t love me.
The first night in Toronto, my eyes were opened to the streets. I had a good awareness of marginalization, of the walls people liked to put up to keep certain kinds of people in and make “others” of everyone else. I’d seen it done in church and in school, in the name of God and in the name of fairness, in standing on traditions and in tearing others down for jest. But on the streets in Toronto, what I knew was happening everywhere else I went was tangible. I could point to a park bench with an arm rest in the middle and say that is was a wall erected to shove people under the rug. It might be comfortable when you’re sitting, soaking int he afternoon sun, but you can’t lay on that bench. You can’t sleep there without hanging off the edge, without cramping your already sore and tired muscles. In Toronto, I could point to a gate around church steps, steps that the least of these slept on–but no longer. Woe to you who haven’t the heart to provide your brothers and sisters with respect and dignity, shelter and bread.
As you can guess, living on the fringes my whole life and seeing the magnitude that it reached in so many places, I was furious. Here were people, living breathing flesh and blood, sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and brothers and cousins–here they were, treated like nothing. An outrage flooded me for much of that first night, and I had to wrestle with it for the remaining days of the trip. God loves each and every person and Jesus died for them. And even if you didn’t believe that, how did it ever become acceptable to marginalize someone or groups of people for the smallest of differences? So what if they look or sound different? So what if they love different people in different ways? So what if they had made their mistakes? Didn’t they deserve respect and dignity? Hadn’t they suffered enough with their own guilt and remorse?
I was taxed, trying to work through these things. And it took me, perhaps until the last day, to realize that God felt the same outrage, the same frustration. Moreover, God felt the same way about me. He loved me. He died for me. Because I mattered to Him–as much as every homeless person I met, as much as every addict and handicapped person and passed out drunk. He loved me just as much. I knew what was dawning on me, but I never said the words out loud. I never let myself think them. And then on the last day, debriefing and giving out rounds of hugs, Patrick said it. “Jesus loves you, you know that? He just fucking adores you.”
And that was it. That was the first moment I ever believed that God loved me, the first time I ever believed that I mattered. And more than that, I was cared for. I was treasured. Beloved, as I call her. The girl who I have always been, the woman I am becoming. She is who I am now and also who I will be. This time next week, she will be a year old. I have learned a lot from her, and she has inspired me to live, to love, as her Great Father and Gentle Mother do. I long for it–to satisfy her passionate desire to love others fully, to fulfill her purpose of embracing each moment given by offering it back to the Giver. I want to breathe in and out eucharisteo, fill my lungs with light and love, let my eyes be opened and my legs give way so that I can kneel in the one place I want to reach before I die, the place of seeing God.
When I started this post, I didn’t think I was ready. And honestly, I’m still not sure how well I will hold up. But I do know this–I have been growing and learning for this moment. I have been given a fire, a longing, a craving, to put into practice everything that I learned when I went the fist time. Bit by bit, I’ve been able to do so. And maybe the place it all comes together is the end–because this is more than likely the last time I’ll be able to go on this trip. It comes full circle. The end is where we begin, and maybe–just maybe–I’m running on empty and completely exhausted so that I will be filled once more with the love and grace and mercy that God has to offer. Maybe all there is to do now is let go.