The Glorious Debris

“There was no way to go back, to make it stay. There was never that.”

Cheryl Strayed, “Wild”

“You’ll be fine,” my beloved would say.

“It will be the end of the world,” I would reply.

Then silence would settle in again. We would simply go on.

How many times did we say those very words over the last years once his body was clearly losing its strength and vitality? It became our way of whispering the inevitable, the impossible. Some day. Just not today.

The impossible did arrive eight years ago, December 3rd, shortly after midnight. In just five days, this poor, thin body with the heart of a warrior faded away, in a place that was not home.

“You’ll be fine.”

“But it’s the end of the world.”

They would both be true.


Each year’s anniversary has been different. There is no such thing as finding a common thread. Each year, the end of the world changes, and yet I am also fine in new ways.

In the beginning, a woman older than my 72 years came to me in church and pressed a small, wrapped package into my hands. She held her hand there, looked up at me and quietly said, “You have joined the family that none of us wanted to join. And it will be hard. But the sisters will take care of you.” In the package was a beautiful lace angel. I bring it out every year now.

A few weeks later, on a Sunday when I had preached, another woman with pure white hair looked up at me as she took my hand after worship and softly said, “My husband died two years ago.” Our eyes locked, and we knew. One of the sisters was taking care of me and would do just that until dementia forced her to moved away.

Those of us who have suffered the same kinds of great loss, most deeply and intuitively understand what we are experiencing. There is a quiet and sustaining comfort in that. The sisters and some brothers, too, have been a big part of why I have often been able to say “I am fine.” Even when I sometimes lose my footing.


“Everyone of us is called upon, perhaps many times, to start a new life…And onward full-tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another – that is surely basic instinct…Crying out: High tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.”

Barbara Kingsolver, excerpt from “High Tide in Tucson”

Dwight believed in me more than I believed in myself. He always cheered me on. So every year, when faced with the world coming to an end again, I make a promise to him: I promise that I will make him proud of me.

Each of the past 8 years has been a new beginning. A chance to be absurdly resolute, to “…make good on a new shore.” To wade through some more of that “glorious debris” I haven’t seen before.

Last year on this day, lying in a hospital bed, my immune system crashed, I was crawling my way back to going home. A recovery from cancer still lay ahead. The new shore would not look the same as the old one. It never does, of course. I would have to build a new world on my own again.

And I had a promise to fulfill. To make my beloved proud of me.

This year, I have promised him that I will take the terrifying step of writing something good enough to submit for publication somewhere and to figure out where the heck to send it.

I hear his voice, urging me on: “Do it! You have to do it!”

“It could be the end of the world,” I’ll say.

“You’ll be fine,” he’ll say.

I’ll hear my own voice whispering, “Okay. If you think so…”

Of course, it will be what it will be. And I will be fine. Again. Amidst this year’s glorious debris.

And I’m okay with that.

26 thoughts on “The Glorious Debris

  1. In between the lines of your beautiful and meaningful prose, Martha, your strength of spirit shines brightly. I agree with Liz G. above: a collection of your memoir/based essays would make a compelling book!

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  2. I wish you blessings in all that you do!!! You are a bright spirit and that is reflected in your writing. I agree with Liz above…essays might make the memoir writing easier. Your essays here are wonderful.

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  3. I inevitably cry as I read each one of your posts.
    Your words claw into my deepest fears yet promise a soothing balm of hope.
    The world will be honored to have your memoir, no matter what form it takes. I can’t wait to buy my copy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can honestly say that you already write things good enough for publication….. I am in awe of your ability to share your experiences in such a touching and relatable way. I have shared some of your posts with my husband and with friends who have also dealt with profound loss, and your posts spoke to them just as deeply as they did me. Thank you, seriously, for sharing your writing with the rest of us!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ann, thank you so much. If what I write can resonate with someone else, especially our mutual dismay at loss and change and grief, then it has all been worth the doing. I continue to be grateful for our connection and for your beautiful, authentic writing as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. When I lost my son, I also became part of the family of survivors of loss. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of that family but the goodness of people became a salve to my broken heart. I learned I would smile again but just never the same way.

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    1. “…I would smile again but just never the same way.” That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? I’m so glad to know that you found the grace of others who could help the mending. Those bonds are indeed salvific! Holding you close.

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  6. Words can’t really explain how much this blog post inspired me. I suppose the tears streaming down my face are better than words! If you write your memoir, please save me an autographed copy. Sometimes the best way to attack a large writing project is to dedicate 10 minutes a day, every day. Dedicating small amounts of time consistently each day can equal big rewards down the line!

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    1. I just spent some time reading your more recent posts on your blog and shared some tears with you as well. If my words had some inspiration for you now, I am so grateful. And if a memoir winds up completed, I will set aside a special copy just for you. I have not yet tackled the advice that I read from every successful writer that I need to write something every day, but your advice has shown up at just the right time. I start tomorrow!! Thank you so much for your beautiful words.

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    1. Thank you, Liz! My memoir has had lots of preparation…copious notes and memories…but I haven’t got a focus yet that seems to work. I’m hoping that my new promise will build a fire under me and help me get down to brass tacks. Meanwhile, I’m reading memoirs and finding them helpful, especially noting their individual structures. We’ll see how long it will take me to actually “finish” it, if I ever do.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re welcome, Martha. As I read your comments, the thought occurred to me that if the blog posts you’ve shared from the work in progress are representative of your memories, they could stand alone as personal essays and be curated as a collection, rather than a book-length narrative.

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    1. Yessss!!! Thank you, my dear, dear friend! I’ll keep you posted, but don’t hold your breath. This could take a while, but I’m committed to the journey, so that’s a good beginning. Meanwhile, soak up some of that life-giving Hawaiian sun for me!

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    1. A favorite book from my 30’s by Scott Peck begins, “Life is difficult.” I’ve never found a reason to disagree with that. That it is measurably more difficult for some than for others is, sadly – even tragically – true. So every story of overcoming and finding our way through has the possibility of lifting up hope. I’ve seen that in your blog. So as sister writers, I see you as one of the brave ones. And we wait together for those high tides…Thank you for showing up and for your kindness.

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    1. Thanks so much, Wynne! It took me a while to believe that I’d really be okay, but time has a way of settling things down and teaching us what we need to learn when we’re open to being taught.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Amen, Martha!

        My dad (who like you was also a pastor) used to say to me all the time, “It’s going to be great, Kid!” When he died suddenly in a bike accident, it took me a while to be able to say that same phrase to myself. Now I do and I feel him in my corner, just beyond the veil, urging me on and it brings both confidence and comfort.

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