On Going Nuclear

I was driving to Trader Joes yesterday, taking my life in my own hands. Not because the drive is particularly treacherous, but because for the Greater Nashville population there is one Trader Joes. The parking lot is an utter disaster. The aisles are crowded like it’s Black Friday, even if it’s just Ordinary Sunday Morning. 

But then I started to cry. Hot tears percolated in my eyes, my throat, my chest, and I found myself driving along, crying to a Ryan Adams song on my way to Trader Joes like the darn Nashville millennial that I am.

It’s been a hard summer. A long summer. It’s broken and built us in myriad ways, and I thought that maybe it would gently fade into a beautiful and redemptive and soft fall.

But then we got one phone call, and then two, and then a few texts and finally Ryan Adams pulsing through my stereo on Sunday morning hit me with these words -

This is where the summer ends.

In a flash of pure destruction, no one wins. 

Go nuclear. Nuclear.

And so after a summer of slow and sudden diagnoses, of late nights with too much wine and early mornings with too much coffee, of more moving boxes, of new schedules and old stubbornness, I’m tired. 

Somewhere along the way I read a Mary Oliver poem, and it screwed me up. What is it, she asked, What is it that you will do with your one wild and precious life?

Her poem The Summer Day has been a refrain of sorts for me this summer, the question mark at the end of a months-long conversation with a kindred friend, the class I took about Christian calling, the new Shauna Niequist book I just read.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I read those words, and they spark all kinds of fires in me. I don’t know how to pray. But I also don’t know how to be idle and blessed.

For me, it’s the last 4 lines that stir up the volcano inside. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? There was an Old Melanie, and a New/Now Melanie, and I don’t always see the congruity between them. I long to live out a wholeness that is me, instead of piecing together a puzzle every morning between “mom” and “wife” and “employee” and “friend” and “daughter” and “sister.”

When I put my puzzle together, can you still see the lines? Or do I click together, seamlessly, and present to you a whole and healthy me?

These are the questions I’m asking, the questions with no answers, the questions that have peppered a summer full of heartache and wonder.

But yesterday, when I drove those back roads to Trader Joes, and I saw a teeny tiny ponytail bobbing in the back seat, I thought - this is my one wild and precious life.

These piles of laundry. These dinners to be cooked. These people to be loved. These wines to be poured. These eyes to be looked into and seen and loved. This teething toddler, this steadfast husband, this needy cat. This is my one wild and precious life.

This summer was nuclear, in the best and worst ways.

I think about Jason Isbell, singing You thought God was an architect, now you know - he’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow, and everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames.

God has been a bit of a pipe bomb this summer. A nuclear pipe bomb.

And what’s left in the mess, the rubble? A stronger, warmer, softer heart. Tired eyes. Lots of laundry. A bobbing ponytail in the backseat. A lot of pending tragedy, but a lot of hope.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?