Breaking

I’ve had my share of youthful indiscretions. (Mom, please exit here and look at some of my baby pictures instead.)

Not least among these was that time in college when my roommate Marie and I finished finals early. The cumulative stress from the completed semester was palpable. So we let loose like any other restless 19-year-olds would living a handful of “L” stops from Chicago’s clubs: We stayed in our dorm room, wet and wadded up clumps of toilet paper, and tossed them at the ceiling. We did this because . . . they stuck. It was beautiful. And then we left for break.

We later discovered, per our third roommate, something about a fire code. Lora was detained until she’d scraped every last wad off the ceiling. This was cheerfully done after her last final in organic chemistry. I lost no sleep over this development. Neither did Marie. Because, really, how difficult a task was this after a test that didn’t even cover pesticides? She eventually forgave us.

I think.

***

Fast-forward a few years. A world-halting pandemic finds me once more eyeing toilet paper rolls. I’m not worried about running out or musing over the complexities of supply chains, though.

No.

I just want to lay on my back, with wet wads of it at the ready. I want to send them skyward and watch them stick to my grown-up ceiling. I want to laugh out the past two months of pent-up emotion with a person that doesn’t share my last name, or intuitively know which bathroom to find me in. I want let go of all that’s swelling up inside of me, just for a moment.

I miss Marie. We’ve learned a thing or two in the ellipsis of 20 years. We’ve tasted our fair share of life, love, loss—and the joy and pain of each being inextricably tied. We’ve seen first-hand how organic chemistry has revolutionized fruits and vegetables. (See Lora, we didn’t sleep through environmental science as you suspected.)

“In this quarantine, whatever our things are, they are coming up.”

I think of Marie and the Marco Polo exchange we had last week. I remember it because she said the ONLY thing that has made any sense to me these past few months:

“In this quarantine, whatever our things are, they are coming up.”

Marie, as I’ve found repeatedly in life, is right. They’re coming up. Like bad takeout. Or that expletive that escaped inner exasperation before you could close your lips. The one your kids bring up with dutiful regularity. (“Remember that time you swore in the train station, when you got us lost for two hours, Mom?”) Every other day.

Add to this the plot thickener that many of us are sharing space—physically and emotionally with others. They too have their things coming up. To use an apropos adjective, the fun to be had here is . . . exponential.

It turns out, I have a lot more things than I thought. It’s been a rather rude awakening from slumbering denial. They were hiding fathoms below—so far down that only a crisis could send them upward. Over the past 40-plus days (be jealous, Noah), I’ve found myself untangling from this truth:

The broken things in me are indeed breaking.

Breaking to my surface like torpedoes from the depths.

Breaking the illusion of a life lived in calm waters.

Breaking me all over again.

I’ll spare you my full list of things. It’s a safe bet that you’ve already gone a few rounds with your own. Since I’ve already coughed up a past college confession—I’m compelled to offer up some present vulnerability.

Among others, here’s my thing:

In the past six weeks, I’ve stepped outside of my yard only a handful of times. It’s not because I’m an introvert, antisocial or a “home-body” (even if I prefer the occasional dorm room to a night club). It’s because I have a thing called mental illness.  

I realize that I am breaking all over again. Perhaps I’m in good company.

I’m aware (painfully) at how casually “OCD” gets tossed around. Society employs it as an adjective, blending humorous self-deprecation with praise. We playfully exclaim, “I’m OCD about my house!” What we’re really trying to communicate is, “It’s orderly, immaculate—and I have all my ducks in a row.” That’s not me, ever. Just one peek into my dwelling would convince you of this truth. (Much to my husband’s dismay.)

I have the real Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’m the lucky one in about every 200ish that wins this golden ticket at birth. As any person contending with a mental illness will tell you, the fun is . . . exponential. But after years of hard work, support from loved ones, much medication, even more prayer, and a brilliant therapist—I was actually thriving. I had OCD, but it felt like it didn’t have me.  

Until, this thing.

While Obsessive Compulsive Disorder manifests differently for different people, I can tell you that mine does not play well with pandemics (or ducks inside my house, even if they are all in a row).

So I stand at the edge of my yard and cringe at the prospect of crossing our property line. I lean forward and feel the potential of a million invisible pathogens lying in wait. I feel this thing inside rising—breaking my fragile surface as my heart simultaneously sinks. I think of the long road ahead. A road I can’t even step onto, yet.

I realize that I am breaking all over again.

***

Perhaps I’m in good company.

Scripture, after all, is painted with a broken brush. Writers, settings, storylines and themes reveal a world and its inhabitants in pieces.

Consider Jesus’s disciple, Simon Peter. If anything, his was a life defined by breaking things:

The wind storm,

the tiny boat,

the waves.

His faith.

His promise at Passover,

his sleep in the garden,

his heart, with the rooster’s third crow.

His faithfulness. All of it, broken.

And yet, there is more to this story; and more to this breaking.

There is the hand of One who is, at the same time, making—fashioning, creating in the midst of a million broken pieces.

To the man sinking between gales and breaking waves came this One, hand extended. This same One broke bread and his body at Passover. And later, as morning light broke on Galilee’s shore, his nail-scarred hands again offered bread and forgiveness to the disciple who denied him.

To this man, Simon—one so prone to breaking—he gave the name Peter, translated “Rock,” and the legacy to further his Kingdom.

***

Marie said one last thing in our conversation that I remember. They were the last words I expected to hear, and the only ones I really needed. As she had many times before, she asked of this same Jesus that I would know his peace. To her surprise, he seemed to counter with this answer: “I want her to know my pleasure in her.”  

Pleasure? In a grown woman who can barely get past her own yard; who gained so much ground over anxiety only to lose it; whose life seems so in sync with all that is breaking?

Pleasure? In this storm of things swirling around her. Pleasure in the sinking?

Yes.

I feel the wind, see the waves, and shiver at the prospect of a million things breaking. I remember the hands of the Potter who makes all things new. I think of his love for the broken man he named “Rock.”

I wait until my husband is out of sight to tear off some toilet paper. I drench it with water and toss it up. It sticks, just like before.

And, yes, it’s beautiful.

 

Image Credit: Jachan DeVol on Unsplash

Nichole Woo
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