It’s been nearly seven months since I last wrote on this blog. One thing, far more than anything else, far more powerful than I realized, has been keeping me from posting here: Fear.
My God, was it ever overwhelming to realize that something I wrote resonated with so many of you. I’ve always written just really for myself, as a way of processing emotions and ideas and notions and hopes and so on. When so many of you responded, in such strong ways, I became just a bit paralyzed.
First of all, where does one go from such a post? What if the next thing I wrote was absolute bunk? Every time I sat down to write about something that I cared about, I hated the words that emerged on the screen. They felt so flat, so pointless.
I worried, too. I worried that I would be too shallow (I am SO NOT below posting multiple photos of my cat here), or too political (because I didn’t mention it in my post on Newtown, but I DO have very strong opinions about gun laws, gun violence, and gun control), or too religious (I am an ordained minister, after all) or that my writing would just be plain bad.
All these things served to quiet this space into such a painful silence. Because I do have things to say, and I do want to share them. And more than that, you all deserve my deepest thanks. And I should have said thank you a long time ago.
Last December, I wrote about a deep, deep sorrow I felt, and your responses taught me that I was not alone in my grief. The kind and beautiful ways you all responded helped me to heal – that is, as much as one does heal from such a tragedy. (After all, at some point, we simply pick up and move about with our scars within us and trailing behind us. Because life is life, and it is for the living.)
So this is what I’ve decided. I’m going to start writing here again, or at least I’m going to try. Sometimes I might be really silly and post a picture of my cat, and sometimes I might mention that I think Stand Your Ground gun laws are absolute shit, and sometimes I (clearly) might curse (despite being a minister), and sometimes I might talk about God. Worst of all, sometimes the writing might be bad.
But this space is about connecting, and before all of you came along it was also about simply expressing myself. So, you are welcome here if you want to be. Thank you for spending a little time in my little corner of the internet. Hopefully I’ll have something relevant to say again soon.
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.