When You Weren't Enough to Keep Them Happy.
“You aren’t enough to keep me happy.”
That’s what they tell us when they cheat on us,
when they divorce us,
when they reject our submissions,
when they don’t ask us to join them,
when they don’t invite us out on a second date,
when they stop talking to us,
when they fire us from our jobs.
They are saying that there’s something about us that’s inadequate.
“You can’t cut it.”
“You’re not pretty enough.”
“You’re not alpha enough.”
“I just don’t like you enough. “
“I don’t need you enough.”
“I can find someone else somewhere else to be what you couldn’t be for me.”
And sometimes the news hurts worse than others.
The first month she was passed over while trying out an online dating service was a little discouraging. The third month of her third year enrolled, she knew something must be wrong with her. She stood in front of the mirror hanging on the back of her door, and she grabbed the extra flesh on her belly, and she pinched it and yelled, “No wonder they ignore you! You’re old, and you’re ugly, and nobody will ever want you!”
Not getting hired for the first job stung him, but being betrayed then asked to leave after a brutal decade of giving it everything he had can felt like he wasn’t the sort of man who could give much to anyone. He couldn’t even find the courage to make up a resume. How do you try again when you tried so hard and failed so big?
The first time she didn’t like the surprise date he’d planned for her, he thought maybe she just needed to find a different angle on love. After twenty years of looking into her drawn, irritated frown, they sat at the little Thai restaurant not talking. She was staring into her phone because she knew he couldn’t please her, and because he knew the same, he didn’t try to distract her.
There’s nothing like being completely vulnerable in a relationship (in a ministry, in a mad attempt to chase a dream) and having someone see deep enough not to want you. What do you do with that? How do you move on?
Two seed catalogs arrived yesterday. The slick pages were mailbox-cold, and a sharp blast of winter trapped in each seam swept over the end of my nose while I turned them.
With a brown Sharpie I drew neat little boxes around photos of snow peas and Asian eggplant. Even as I marked them I knew I wouldn’t pay $3.95 plus shipping (shipping is always so expensive). But as if I could catch a daydream by making a line, as if I were running a fence, I enclosed them.
I tried to catch them like I catch Silver-Laced Wyandotte chicks when the McMurray catalog arrives, and just like I save pictures of Nubian goats, and Wellies, and bee hives, and vineyards - for this is how I always survive the dark months.
February is the season of rejection, you know. That's why we all hate it so much. Crisp November and the pomander intoxication of Christmas are past. The hope and resolve of January have slid into the same bad habits. And here you are again. A little too out of shape. A little too lazy. A little too alone. A little too unwanted.
I wandered out to rummage about the dead garden, tugging at dried up stems. It is a graveyard now, apart from the Swiss chard, the onions, and a cheeky kohlrabi.
“Next year I will grow winter vegetables,” I tell myself for the thirty-second time.
I say it because I love the idea of growing things in winter.
Have you seen those huge glass containers they used in colonial Williamsburg that let in light and kept off snow? Tiny blown greenhouses that sheltered good food from the killing cold. I could get some of those. And there are winter-hardy vegetables like that blue Russian kale... I still have seeds.
"Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house," says Proverbs 24:27.
It’s a quirky little proverb that I take that to mean that we look big scale before we look small scale. We get the mighty machinery of our lives in order before we zoom in to the microscopic passions. We do the work of big faith, casting our bread on the surface of many waters, tending what is essential before coming back to that one favorite, that one pursuit, that one career, that one relationship that – if torn down - opens us up to being nothing at all.
But how do we do that? It seems so counter-intuitive. In whose arms will we sleep in the meanwhile? Where will we warm ourselves by the hearth?
Everything else that remains in my garden now is skeletal and gone to seed. I bend the great, standing okra bones to the earth and crush them down flat. Pull out five dried sunflower stalks. Tear a tomato vine out of a fence. All of last year’s doing must be undone.
“Just persist,” they say. "Five more minutes. You’re almost there. Tomorrow's gonna be a brighter day." And sometimes that’s the best advice in the world, but sometimes persistence is nothing but foolishness or fear. Sometimes it is even cowardice.
I see now we should have let that one job go five years before we did. And her husband was not just difficult, he broke her nose twice with his fist. That friendship wasn't just unusual, it was corrosive. That investment keeps going further and further south. Sometimes you’ve got to cut bait so you can fish. But still, loyalty is beautiful, and people give up so easily nowadays. Maybe things will turn around. How are we supposed to know what to do?
Do you see what I mean? The world is hard to read sometimes. That doesn't make reality relative, but it does leave us terribly dependent.
So, I'm not an expert on persistence, either, but I do know how easy it can sometimes be to disengage true death from cold earth once the decision has been made. Once the weeping, and the falling, and the terror subside, when roots have relinquished their will, you can do with two fingers what would have taken all your strength in September.
Here is the basil. A zip up the stem releases a handful of dried bits into my hand. I rough them between my palms, watching brown dust pull away from tiny black seed. Infant packages of life! Eternity bound in a serif. In a pixel. Lowering my nose to hands, all breath is spiced and darling. It skips hope across my waters.
And tomatoes! Why didn’t I bring in these tomatoes? What I would give for a fresh tomato in February! Such carelessness seems a mortal sin, now. Six, sad, sagging bags of red hang low, yielding to gravity, forgotten like ornaments after Christmas.
So here is regret, besides. It points a bony finger in our faces: "Maybe some of this was my fault. Maybe I was sloppy. They all keep telling me no divorce is one-sided. Maybe I could have pleased him, her, them, it, if I had only __________. Maybe I was reckless. Maybe I didn't make the most of it. Maybe I didn’t understand what was at stake."
In the spaces birds leave when they fly South with their songs, self-accusation writes a requiem. We damn ourselves, forgetting that August was full of soccer practices, and homework assignments, and friends in need. We forget it was so sticky out, and that the mosquitoes were relentless. We forget that we work out there ten minutes and then feel sick from scratching the whelks for a week.
That doesn't mean whatever it was shouldn't have been done, but maybe it was harder than we remember. And maybe we can be a little gentler with ourselves, because confession is one thing and condemnation is another, and only the first of those two comes from humility.
And besides, we can't see clearly even if we try. They say hindsight is 20/20, but at the top of my game the best I can get is about 20/43. I am subject to a truth I cannot create which means I must be carried by a forgiveness I cannot earn.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me (and there are so many) and lead me in the way everlasting.
Because none are righteous. Not one.
Stepping over withered peppers, I notice the tomatillos. They were new to the garden this year, so I’ve never watched them full circle before.
A hundred perfect lace balls. All flesh is gone. There remains only a gilded heart bearing twelve seeds. I want you to see it, because you are glorious, and sometimes I am afraid that rejection and regret have led you to forget the truth about your value. I don't mean the small truths have been lost to you, because those are easiest to remember. We go over and over our failures in our sleep. Our scars are why we barely have any courage left to try again. You know all of that as well as anything. But I am talking about a deeper truth still.
You were bought by a price. Therefore you are not your own. That doesn't just make you a servant, it makes you wanted. It makes you chased down and caught. It means you are enough to be adored.
So I try to balance this thing I have found on a post and catch a photograph of body making a temple for spirit. The problem is, life inside death has become weightless, and the slightest breeze makes it dance.
The thought of that tight, little sour green flesh makes my mouth water like opportunities missed. (See how I am tempted, too?) I start to despise myself: "I should have. I should have. If I could only do that over... now nobody will ever want me. I missed my chance."
But here in my palm are seeds to plant from all that was wasted.
The winter has seasoned those seeds, and they have slept, and now they will wake like new wisdom rattling around inside of a discarded soul, now reclaimed as a bride.
Love, have you heard how those little things grow like weeds?