Five years ago, in the first winter of our relationship, I knit my lover a pair of mittens.
They were perfect.
I bought the wool, hand-spun, from a vendor at our Farmer’s Market on Broadway in New York City. It was a blustery October day, and I bought more of that grey yarn than I needed. And so began the meticulous process of crafting something for the one you love: Edging the gloves with a simple ribbing, two by two. Making them fingerless, with a top that flipped down. Fastening on antique leather buttons. Inside one of the flaps, I sewed a tag, upon which was neatly printed, “Handmade by Alison J. Killeen.”
He loved them, and even better, he used them. Over the years, predictably, they began to wear. The neat little slit in the thumbs, meant for texting and for pulling out his metro card, was the first to go. And so I unraveled the tops of the thumbs and re-knit them, reinforcing them with a stronger thread. But it was an impermanent solution. The palms wore thin, first from grasping at railings on the train, and later, the steering wheel of the car. Moths munched on their edges while they sat idle in summer. Last winter, they found their final days as the thumb slits tore again and unraveled before I took care to mend them, my lover’s triangle-tipped thumbs exposed to the cold.
This fall, five years later, using what was left of the hardy grey wool, I knit him a second pair of mittens, almost identical to the first. Perhaps it was sentimental, but before we discarded them, we held a little ritual for the first pair in our kitchen. I held the mittens in my hands, and my lover held my hands in his. Together, we spoke of the warmth they had provided to the wearer, of what objects they had held between their palms, of all the coffee spills they had endured. As we examined the wear and tear the years had brought to these woolen miracles, they began to whisper of all that has lapsed since we first found one another.
It seems to me that time passes so illegibly. Despite our best attempts to keep things just as they are, in the end, we are helpless to the powers of the universe: to gravity, to change, to chaos, to love.
Most years in November I settle in for the long winter, reveling in my double-pointed needles and indigo-blue dusks. I cut the nights with candlelight, quell the snow with stardust, calm the cold with steaming hot tea.
But this year has been different. This year not only have the nights been long, but my heart is long as well, stretched low as an anchor grazing the bottom of the sea. For whatever reason, though no one close to me has been in danger, I am feeling the losses around me more keenly. A friend’s husband dies, then another, and another. Yet another friend’s mother is slowly losing her battle with cancer. A loved one struggles with addiction. Relationships around me disintegrate and break. And the dark blue night thickens, exposing a bruised and ashen world.
Then last Friday, in Newtown, Connecticut, a gunman overtook sweet Sandy Hook Elementary School, and like the rest of the country I am blindsided. I am struck dumb by the absence of mercy, by the presence of carnage, by the hot iron of an expired rifle, the tiny bodies riddled with bullets, the silence and the sobs, the blood, the innocence, the flesh, the grief.
Time trods on. The night expands. A star moves across the deep. Our hearts break, our worlds implode, and we are left to ask: what will come of this?
Part of the pain of tragedy is the need we humans have to seek out the meaning in suffering. As one who finds little existential comfort in “eternal life”, I look for a way to make meaning of what is happening in the here and the now. Even a father who believes his child will live on in paradise might not be comforted by his belief. The child is still gone, and he is still left to sift through what to make of a world in which 20-year-old men kill six-year-old girls, and nineteen other children, besides.
In the face of such tragedy, even hope at times is too much to ask. It is too much to petition grief to turn about so sharply, to reverse the path of mourning, to wait for hope, to hope for life.
No, I want mending of a more earthly kind. As a knitter darns a tear, as a physician sutures a wound, so must we go about the process of grief. Slowly and methodically we go, taking care to don the thimble and pin the fabric. Perhaps we set down our work for a time and come back another day. Perhaps we rip it out and start again. We work, knowing our piece will never be as whole as it was when it was new. We work, knowing that it will be prone to tearing again, even in the same spot in which we mend. But the thread and needle must keep working, ever tenderly, slowly onwards, if our hearts are ever to beat again.
The deepest, bluest night of the year is but days away. With the winter solstice will come the shifting of our planet’s tilt, a change so incremental we will hardly notice it, but it will be massive in its power. Such a tiny step lengthens the day by mere minutes, but it has the power to alter the seasons, to melt ice and ignite fire, turn branch to leaf, seed to sprout. Yes, we will hardly notice it. But its shift will lay the groundwork for our whole world to change.
I don’t know how the parents and children of Newtown will fare in the coming days and years, and what awaits our country in the coming months is yet to be seen. What I do know is that our first task must be to tend to our grief, for by threading the needle, by tilting a twirling planet, we act out our trust that hope will return to us one day. Perhaps hope is found just in putting down that very first stitch.
So I turned 30 this year.
It was a lovely day. I slept in, kissed an apple-cheeked baby, ate good food, and spent the evening with friends. But after sleeping in, and before holding my best friend’s beautiful daughter, I walked out to my front porch with a cup of coffee, sat down to greet the morning rain, and I cried.
My tears confused me, because as far as I can tell, I’m not sad about getting older. I greet my thirties with mostly enthusiasm, knowing many undiscovered things await me in the next decade. But as the dawn of my life breaks to late-morning sunshine, I’m left to wonder: as new opportunities open up, which opportunities are closing to me?
Never again will I have the opportunity to be fascinated by fireflies, to turn cartwheels without turning my stomach, to live unconsciously in wonder of the world around me.
Childhood used to feel near at hand. Now it is more of a feeling than a memory.
That morning on the porch, I made a mental list of Things I Should Have By Now–now that I’ve breached the cusp of that 3-0 barrier. When I was 20, for example, I assumed that at 30, my life would have all the benefits of being A Real Adult. Of course I would have a husband, a house, a garden, perhaps even an apple-cheeked baby of my own.
But I don’t have any of those things. My life looks nothing like I would have expected it to at 20. I have a Master in Divinity and a churchy career. I rent a two-bedroom apartment. I hardly ever drink martinis (and they’re never dirty). But I do have a sweetly loving partner, a bright blue front porch, and a very cranky, very hilarious cat.
The last decade of my life I have lived in Quito and New York City, and I have visited Barcelona, Hong Kong, and Tromso. I have lived accomplishments and blunders, awkward encounters and transcendent moments. Life has provided me with a dramatic and privileged opportunity to glean all I possibly can from this world. How could I be disappointed by all that I have learned and experienced?
And yet, how could I not feel grief at the conclusion of such a decade of opulent discovery and reckless joy?
I do not fear the future, but I do mourn the loss of the present, of each moment as it passes. It skirts our grasp as we hold it.
(Perhaps the reason we have so much trouble staying in the present is because it is always leaving us, and because it takes so long to arrive.)
At the center of realizing that I am now 30 is the understanding that I will never be 12 again. And even though I am happy, sometimes all I want is to stare into the belly of a firefly and have no idea how it works, or how any of it works, and to be captured by the wonder of life
without consciously knowing that is it already passing me by.
I recently went to a bridal shower and snapped some photos while I was there. While editing the photos later, I particularly enjoyed the progression that emerged as the bride opened a particularly lovely-colored gift.
We had a blast at a day-long party this last Saturday, even if it did take the steam out of Sunday! Below, some of my favorite photos to share with you.
This whole meal (save the lemon) is so fresh and so local, I could eat it a million times. But there are too many other amazing things to eat!
And there is just so much joy to be found in preparing a seasonal, local meal. So I’ll tell you a little about what I did, and you can play from there with your own creations!
1. Bring a deep pot of water to a boil with 2-3 ears of corn.
2. While the water heats up, slice onions, and fry until translucent. Add two sliced zucchinis, and salt and pepper to taste.
2. Begin a browned butter sauce (about 4 tbsp) in another pan. Add fresh minced garlic, green onions, and parsley, coarsely chopped.
3. Chop rainbow or swiss chard into ribbons. Briefly (30-60 seconds!) saute chard in the brown butter sauce and remove from heat. Remove cooked corn from water, slice the corn from the cob and add to chard mixture.
4. Spoon zucchini medallions and onions on to a plate. Top with chard mixture. Sprinkle with feta cheese and serve with a wedge of lemon.
Prep time: 30 minutes. Serves two hungry adults.
Because I am in a male-female relationship, you’re probably wondering what’s going on with the title of this post. Possibly even Shannon, my friend who called me to this synchroblog on queer theology, might being wondering where I’m going with this. I’ll get there: just hang around, k?
Back to Shannon, aka the Anarchist Reverend. In response to the frustration he’s been feeling about having the same tired conversations on queerness with Christians,
I am calling for a synchroblog on Wednesday August 10, 2011. On that day I want people to blog about what queer theology means to them. I want you to share your story of how reading the Bible queerly has changed your life. I want you to talk about how your sexuality or your gender identity has brought you deeper into relationship with God. If you’re straight and interested in solidarity I want you to share how being in relationship with queer people has deepened your faith and spiritual practice. [Emphasis mine.]
In my typical “better late than never” fashion, I’m hopping on the bandwagon just slightly late, writing this post ON rather than BEFORE August 10, but hopefully within enough time to still be on time. So with no further delay, I give you my thoughts on queer theology, on being bodily and gendered people, and maybe even throwing God into that whole mess.
In seminary, I related more to queer theology than any other. Growing up in a Lutheran church that ignored sexuality more than anything else, and then attending an evangelical high school which treated sexuality as best only when it was heteronormative and non-existant pre-marriage, by the time I arrived in college I was thoroughly confused. Hook, line, and sinker, I believed I would go to hell if I had sex before I was married. Forget caring for the least of these, following Jesus was about purity, and purity was about (the lack of) sex.
In college I had the sense to realize that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I didn’t have access to many (really, any) resources that helped me to reconstruct what a faithful sexuality might look like. Enter Seminary. And into my life traipsed all kinds of amazing, amazingly queer theologians who didn’t apologize for being gay; who exegeted the Bible in interesting, innovative, and honest ways; who helped me to understand that my sexuality as a source of strength, beauty, and love.
It may sound strange to some, but I was able to accept myself as a sexual (and therefore whole) person only because I found solidarity in the struggle represented in the writings of queer theologians.
God is not only gender-neutral; God is amply and ambiguously gendered. It is still in vogue for liberal congregations to remove any gendered reference to God in their liturgies and litanies. This is all well and good, and it is true that God is neither male nor female. What is MORE interesting to me, MORE liberating, are all the multiplicities of ways that God is portrayed in the bible as being masculine, feminine, or quixotically neutered.
In seminary my concentration was in the exegesis (interpretation) of biblical texts, and so I want to share with you the many-gendered ways in which theologians uncovered God behaving in the bible.
God is portrayed in that protective, fatherly, strong-shouldered fortress mentality in which his masculinity seems inevitable. God is a bulwark. We all need a little more bulwark in our lives, and we will all at one point or another be called to be a bulwark to a neighbor in need. God is also a wise woman in proverbs, portrayed as instrumental in creating the world at the beginning of time, and nurturing her children into health and well-being. God is our mother as well as our father.
And God is also neuter. One of my favorite stories in the bible is the Annunciation story. You know the text–in the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her how the Holy Spirit will overshadow and impregnate her. You can’t tell in English, but interestingly enough, the pronoun for Holy Spirit in Koine (biblical) Greek is neuter. Meaning, not only is God impregnating Mary with Jesus, but God does it completely devoid of God’s masculine identity. That Jesus is the result of a queer pairing certainly opened me up to the opportunities and joys we might all experience if only we embraced whatever queer plans God has for us and for the world.
My queer friends taught me how to be an ally by not being one. I’m going to go ahead and wait while you click through that link and listen to Shannon explain why the term “ally” is simply not that helpful. (While you’re at it, check out his list of resources for allies, too.)
The number one thing I have learned from queer theologians and from my queer friends is that while we’re not all the same, we’re not all that different, either. My experience of sex, sexuality, privilege, etc., is of course different from Shannon’s, Kim’s, Lissa’s, Erik’s, Justin’s, Abby’s, Jane’s, Maggie’s, or any host of “straight” people’s experiences. But my sense of the erotic, as defined by Audre Lorde, is wildly, radically similar to theirs: in the awe-some discomfort of entwining one’s soul with another’s; in the banality of long-term relationships; in the power of love to pull each of us outside of our selves and to work for justice.
We are all quite different from one another, and that is how we are the same. No one’s sexuality is the same as anyone else’s. We’re all queer. And because of our shared queerness (one might say “our shared humanity”), we will work for justice together.
I know that this is not necessarily a statement that will be all-around well-received, and I’m okay with that. Labels and names are good and useful, and I understand their function and even their necessity. I will listen and understand your reasons for using them (or not), and then I will employ them happily and with gusto. But when it comes down to it, I will work for justice because you and I? We’re different, and thus we are the same.