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Monday, December 19, 2022

On Oil Changes...


I had every intention of working on a chapter of my dissertation, this morning… at the Dodge dealership… while I had my oil changed…. If you know me, it probably makes sense.  The truth is, I need to work on my dissertation.  I need to be “Ph.inisheD.”  I probably shouldn’t admit this, but the thing has pretty much been writing itself in bits and pieces I have texted to my own phone number over the course of several months.  That’s just ridiculous, and it is not my obsessively organized with lists and plans and charts and slideshows way.  It’s kind of how I imagine my academic life might have been, had I been an average student.  But I’m not sure I’ve ever been an average anything.  I’m used to being pretty much all in or all out, so writing the defining piece of my educational career in soundbites is actually fairly anxiety inducing, but that’s where I am today.


As has been the case time and time again in recent days, sometimes I start out to write one thing and then just find myself overwhelmed with thoughts of Seth… and grief… and whatever I was planning to write is overrun by an internal dialogue that may or may not be transformed into a mosaic of unrelated thoughts on a page.  There was a time in my life when this would have turned into a great blog post or sermon or magazine article or chapter in a book.  Over the past fifteen months and fifteen days, though, it’s just been words.  Not even full sentences.  Grief is certainly not publishable.


This is the third time I have sat in the cafĂ© at the Dodge dealership to have my oil changed, since Seth died.  The first time was hard, because I knew they were draining the very substance that kept my car running smoothly enough to drop him off.  I wish my car had died instead.  The second time I was angry, because it felt downright stupid that I hadn’t heard Seth’s voice in so many months that the oil had to be changed again.  Today it just feels unacceptable that this will happen over… and over… and over.  It’s too much time without him.  It’s just too much.


The very idea that time heals grief is a lie.  As we painfully limped across the one-year mark in September, a number of well-meaning people dared to ask things like, “Are you doing better?” I’m not, so mostly I just said, “No.” 


But there was something else I told a select few… people I love and trust… and I think today is as good a day as any to share it here.  If the question is, “Are you OK, now,” the answer to that is never going to change.  I am never really going to be OK again.  But if the question is, “Are you still on the floor, pounding your fists into the hardwood and screaming until your throat is filled with blood and you can no longer speak?” the answer is also, “No.”  I got up off the floor. I am not doing better, but I have developed coping mechanisms so I can keep living.  I suspect I’m good enough at it now that most people probably think I’m OK, and that’s a plus.  I’m functional.  For now, that has to be enough.


As you may know, last night was the first night of Hanukkah.  Traditionally, my favorite Hanukkah blessing is the third blessing, which is only sung on the first night, “Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.”  I could barely choke it out last year, because I was furious with God for not sustaining Seth’s life or enabling him to reach that occasion.  I’m still regularly asking God where he was when we needed him most, and I’m still angry.  God can take it.  But last night also hit differently, because as we sang and danced and ate jelly donuts and latkes with our Jewish neighbors, I could sing the blessing again, because I am thankful for those of us God has sustained.  And I know… I know it deep inside myself… that this attitude probably really isn’t enough, but I am nothing if not honest.


And so I’m thinking about another kind of oil today… the oil that burned for eight nights of Hanukkah and Elisha’s oil that filled every empty vessel in II Kings.  I’m thinking about how sometimes not enough becomes exactly what we need it to be, and I’m hoping it’s true.