the trash tells the story
A month ago I ran into a friend as we were both rushing into church from the whipping winter wind. She held the door for me, and I sprinted inside, breathing steam. As we shivered in the entryway, trying to warm up, she said, “Oh! I meant to tell you – I read your book. I liked it!”
“And wow, it was really personal.”
I stumbled through an awkward thank you and mumbled some self-deprecating snark about hope my kids won’t sue me for those stories. But as we kept talking and wound our way down the hallway, my stomach slunk a little lower.
Because I’ve heard comments like hers before, and I know what they mean.
You’re telling stories I’m not used to hearing.
You’re writing words I’m not used to reading.
. . .
There are plenty of topics I’ve written about – in my book or on this blog or elsewhere – that could make people blush. Sex, pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility, depression, death, and grieving.
(To say nothing of everyday stories of lost tempers, harsh words, parenting fails.)
All of this is part of “parenting as spiritual practice,” in the way I understand parenting, faith, and spirituality. Writing, too. Truth-telling is hard and holy work. Honesty is rough, but essential. Because beauty only blooms when barriers come down and we see each other, face to face.
Sometimes I envy novelists. Fiction is the highest form of writing’s art, in my opinion: not only to tell a story well, but to create characters and craft a whole world. But that’s not the kind of writing I’m called to do. It’s not the story I want to tell.
I’m steeped in narrative theology. When I started reading about it in graduate school, it felt so obvious. Wasn’t it precisely in our lives and our experiences that we came to know God? This is the way I have always understood faith. So I loved finding a body of theology to back up my hunch – that we can find our way to the universal through the personal. That we can find our way to the divine through the human.
I’m still wary of sharing too much. My beloved ones become characters in a book when I write about them. I worry about this.
I try to stick to my own story, but lives inevitably intersect – family, friends, strangers. I have to proceed with prayer and care in the ways that I tell a tale authentically, so that I don’t cause pain or betray trust or cross a line.
All in the name of telling a good and true and – yes – personal story.
. . .
My first essay was recently published at Mamalode. It tells a story of the most mundane subject: the trash.
We’ve all got trash, heaps of it. The clinking spill of wine bottles in the recycling bin after a party. The cardboard box bonanza following Christmas cleanup. The Kleenex mountains during cold season, the gift wrap crumbles during birthday week, the pious piles of de-hoarding inspired by spring cleaning.
We empty baskets and drag bins out to the curb once a week. But when do we stop to see what story the trash tells about our lives?
When I finally dragged the whole mess out to the garbage can, sweltering in the August sun, I cried as I dumped its contents into the gaping mouth of the dark brown bin. That was the story of our baby. Gone.
While cramping with cruel empty labor on the cold bathroom floor, I had yanked the wastebasket over toward me so I could throw up. In my panicked haste, I had chipped the smooth curve of its bottom rim on our bathroom tile. Every morning since that day, I have stared at the wastebasket’s chipped edge.
A jagged reminder of the baby that died.
The only way I know how to write is to tell my own story.
It will be personal. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it might be yours. And you, the ones who read, you are the reason I keep going.
You are the reason I sit down here and try to tell some small truth about what I’m learning on this long walk – of parenting, of faith, of the spiritual life.
You are the reason I’m not afraid to get personal.
Because if something I tell in a story might touch your own life, might help you feel less alone, might let light in through the cracks, then we will change each other for the better. We will help each other become more human.