What Amy Coney Barrett Could Mean for the Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett claims to be a Constitutional Originalist, which she explained as meaning she believes the Constitution should be legally interpreted in the way that the writers of the Constitution originally intended. 

For the sake of time, let’s acknowledge but not explore the fact that language and its usage changes over time, and Barrett is not a linguist or historian who focuses on late 18th century legal or political documents or language evolution. Let’s also not get into the fact that the writers of the Constitution designed it for the country they were building, not the country they could never imagine which exists now, over 250 years later. And, of course, we don’t have time to get into how many of these contributors owned slaves, even their own Black children. 

Let’s also not dwell on the well-documented hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers pushing Barrett’s nomination hearing through mere weeks before the election, despite refusing one for Merrick Garland over 200 days before the 2016 election. Or the dangers of holding these hearings when multiple committee members have recently tested positive for COVID-19 and there is little ventilation and no COVID tests on the premises.

Now then.

Barrett’s Originalist stance means that anyone who isn’t a white male who owns land should not be allowed to vote. Indeed, most of the Bill of Rights don’t apply to anyone outside of this group. It also means that Barrett believes that she herself, as a woman, should not have the right to vote. One would assume that, believing she shouldn’t have that right, she does not exercise it. Also, in 1789 women could not be judges. Therefore Barrett is living in violation of her Originalist beliefs by serving as a federal judge now. She certainly would be in violation of these by becoming a Supreme Court justice. And yet she has not refused the nomination.

It’s baffling that Barrett wants to uphold the strictest possible interpretation of the Constitution despite all the ways doing so would destroy her career.

Although, her behavior during the nomination hearing over the past three days does suggest to me that she must not want the position particularly badly. She certainly doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously. 

Let’s remember, Barrett has been nominated by the president, but it is up the Congress to decide if she is fit to serve in that position. It is the job of the Congressional Judiciary Committee to learn how she would perform in that role and if she is qualified to take it. It’s a job interview.

So why is Barrett repeatedly refusing to answer the committee members’ questions? And why does she say it would “not be appropriate” to speculate on the hypothetical legal situations they propose? Every first year law student must speculate in exactly this manner to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency in applying the law to real-life situations. By refusing to speculate, Barrett is refusing to demonstrate proficiency. Law students cannot practice law or be invited to return for a second year of law school without doing so. She must be aware of this universal requirement of law students, as she herself has been a law professor at Notre Dame, which didn’t accept female students until 1972.

Barrett has been nominated to help interpret laws in the highest court in the country. She’s supposed to be doing so now as a federal judge, a position she was appointed to a scant 3 years ago, and not without complaints of misconduct from her colleagues. These hypotheticals are entirely reasonable and it’s wild that she’s just…refusing to answer. Repeatedly. If I refused to answer questions during a job interview, I wouldn’t expect to get that job. So I wonder why Barrett has bothered to show up at all. 

Someone said to me recently that they don’t actually care if Justice Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Ford, so long as he votes on the Supreme Court in the conservative manner they want, primarily about abortion. Kavanaugh’s doing so, in their mind, will justify their voting for Trump in 2016 because of abortion, though they were deeply upset to vote that way at the time.

I have neither the time nor the energy to get into why breaking a law by assaulting another person should disqualify someone for the upholding of and interpretation of this country’s laws. Nor do I have space in this blog to discuss why doubling down on a damaging decision just to make yourself feel better is a terrible stance.

But let’s say that’s your stance too—if not about Kavanaugh then about Barrett. So long as she votes in the way you desire, against abortion for example, you don’t care if she refuses to answer questions during the hearing or claims beliefs that she clearly doesn’t live by.

What would a repeal of Roe V. Wade actually do?

As Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote, wealthy women will always have a choice regarding abortion. They can pay for the plane tickets required to get them to a state of country where abortion is legal. Poor women, marginalized women will not have that choice. And that isn’t fair.

But let’s say you don’t care that it isn’t fair. You feel completely confident that you would never, under any circumstances seek an abortion for yourself or your spouse. However, you cannot guarantee that no one you love will not suffer a miscarriage. 

One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s the reality. 

Imagine yourself, or your spouse or daughter or best friend, has just suffered a miscarriage. Perhaps this has really happened to you or a loved one before.

You have just endured a miscarriage. Perhaps you have had to go to the hospital for treatment because of it. But if both you and your family don’t perform grief enough, you could be accused of actually having had an abortion. And as that would be illegal with Roe V. Wade repealed, you could be arrested for it. Even if you aren’t convicted, you would be stripped from your family at a physically and emotionally devastating time and locked behind bars. Your family would be forced to scrape together enough cash for you to post bail. You would probably lose your job if your family couldn’t post bail within a day or two. And whether you are forced to stay in jail or not, it isn’t as though you will receive great physical or any mental health care during that time, the medical effects of which could last years.

If you think, “Oh that wouldn’t happen. No one would do that,” it’s happened already. 

It’s the ongoing reality for women in El Salvador

Brian Kemp’s 2019 “heartbeat bill” here in Georgia could put a woman in jail for up to 30 years for having a miscarriage.

And you know about Marshae Jones, don’t you? She was shot in the stomach, lost her unborn baby, and was charged with manslaughter. Her bond was $50,000. Most of us don’t have $50,000 laying around.

Marshae Jones didn’t shoot herself in the stomach, but she was charged as if she did. And if manslaughter is the charge with Roe v. Wade in place, what if it’s repealed?

What if a woman who doesn’t know she’s pregnant has a glass of wine, then suffers a miscarriage? Even if someone could find a doctor who’d testify that that glass of wine resulted in the miscarriage, should that accident result in prosecution? What if a woman doesn’t go to the doctor as soon as she learns she might be pregnant, and later has a miscarriage? She could be charged with reckless endangerment or manslaughter for not seeking prenatal care as soon as someone on a bench or behind a badge thinks she should. 

No one of childbearing years would be safe in a repeal of Roe V. Wade. But that’s what’s at stake with Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. She may refuse to speculate on hypotheticals, but it is entirely reasonable, even necessary for you and I to do so.

There is another possibility for why Barrett may be refusing to answer questions or go one record regarding how she would rule in certain instances. She doesn’t think she has to. She may have been assured that so long as she doesn’t go on record against Roe V. Wade or the Affordable Care Act (which yes, people still want repealed even during a pandemic), she will still be confirmed. If this is the case, these hearings are shams, a going through of the motions before the GOP pushes through whoever the president has nominated. If that’s the case, the game is rigged. That’s court packing. That’s a challenge to the prestige and power of the Supreme Court and ultimately a threat to our democracy because of the ways in which SCOTUS is designed to check and balance the power of the other two branches of government.

Maybe the game is rigged. Maybe she’ll be confirmed no matter what. But we can’t let her nomination move forward in silence. Hers or ours.

Therapy in an Election Year

I’m personally of the opinion that every single person could benefit from therapy at just about any point in their life. The trouble is, we wait until we’re basically having an emotional heart attack before we decide our pain or difficulty is bad enough to try therapy, before we decide that understanding why we respond to stressful situations the way we do is a worthwhile pursuit, before we’re willing to be vulnerable with a trained professional in order to become a healthier person for the people we love and ourselves. 

In 2014, I lost 8 people in my life in one year. And I mean they died. They didn’t all leave me by a combination of moving and dying and ghosting. They died. I hadn’t seen some of them in years, but all of their deaths affected me, and because so many came in such a relatively short period of time, I didn’t really deal with them. This was on top of moving to a new city and starting a new job the year before. I pushed them all down, compacting my grief for each person until it was all one huge boulder. I didn’t feel like I could engage safely with any one person’s death without feeling the full, devastating effects of all of their deaths. I kept this up for about six additional months, until my aunt died suddenly. I learned of it an hour before I had to leave for the airport for a week-long work trip. This was the same week as the sentencing for the two men who murdered my childhood nemesis. It was, in short, one of the worst weeks of my life. 

I had to push down my grief to function. I remember crying late at night, pacing in the hotel  bathroom while my coworker, who I shared a room with, slept.  Also in that tiny bathroom, after a 13 hour day on my feet being nice and helpful to customers and connecting with potential authors and not crying, I couldn’t sleep. So I wrote draft after draft of letters to the sentencing judge, sharing beloved memories of my nemesis, until I dropped into bed, exhausted in every way. I felt like I would never be able to accept my aunt’s death if I didn’t get to see her casket, so I called and adjusted to have my flight home moved up a day so I could go to the burial. I missed her actual funeral, but on Saturday I managed to be there with my family for her burial. 

When I finally got back to town and my usual routine, I wasn’t okay. I lived inches from tears. I felt exhausted all the time. My grief was immutable and huge and impossible. And I felt like I was bleeding from a thousand pricks in my heart every day. In this highly alarming state, I looked up the number for the only counseling service I knew of, the one where a friend had gone to therapy after ending a bad relationship and where a couple I knew had gone to premarital counseling. Simply telling the receptionist that I needed grief counseling, and no, I didn’t have anyone specific in mind, and yes that day would work, knocked apart my composure. I cried throughout this short exchange, heartily embarrassed, and continued crying for another five minutes until I managed to pull myself back together enough to get out of my car and go back to work.

I scoured the counseling center’s website for instructions. I used Google maps’ street view to figure out exactly where I’d be going. A couple days before my appointment, I physically drove to the center and circled the parking lot so I’d see where I’d be, where I’d park, where the door was. And then I got off work early, citing a doctor’s appointment, and went inside.

I’d been to counseling before. As a child, I had one particularly hard and miserable year. My parents were worried there might be more to my pain than the bullying, and were concerned they weren’t doing enough to help me cope, so I had 4 sessions with a licensed child psychologist in a room at my pediatrician’s office. I remember one session where he let me just tell him all the things I was interested in and excited about, including Hua Mei, the panda recently born at the San Diego Zoo. A person who just listened the whole time and engaged with what I liked and didn’t judge or tease me was wonderful, and absolutely not what I was getting at school. 

I think, in these 4 sessions, my parents were getting a second opinion by a professional about how I was doing during a miserable year. And, perhaps because of that early introduction and how he’d reassured my mother that yes, I was well adjusted, and yes, she and my dad were supporting me in the ways I needed, as an adult I didn’t feel much of the stigma seeking out therapy that many others feel. Still, my grief was hemorrhaging before I admitted to myself that I needed counseling, and then made time for it. 

I’ve since described therapy as calling in the fire department. Maybe you just smell smoke, and you want to be sure things don’t get out of hand. More often, your house is on fire and you know it and you’ve been running the garden hose for hours already, thinking you can muscle through it by yourself without the neighbors noticing. But even if you could, why would you? Cost of therapy and access are real concerns, disproportionately limiting low-income people of color from health care services. But when the cost of a few sessions is not limiting, this is what fire fighters and therapists are trained to do. Why not go?

There’s no dishonor is needing some professional guidance to search out and put out any fires. Because really—and here’s where my metaphor breaks down—you’re doing all the work anyway. No therapist can change your life just by talking at you, or by listening. You do that. And if you’re doing all the work yourself anyway, why not get a professional to help point out the hot spots and help you adjust your grip on the hoses so your arms don’t grow too weak?

I friend recently tweeted that he’s gone ahead and scheduled his counseling sessions for the rest of 2020, including extra sessions around the election. He isn’t the only person who anticipates needing them, and I’m not waiting around to see if my social media boundaries will help preserve my mental health. I’m planning for regular mental health check-ups and check-ins right now.

2020 is a great year for us to do so together. 

If you’d like some more information on starting therapy, I liked this article from NPR, and it’s assorted links to resources.

A Plant Named Vera

Last year, I thought only as far as our engagement (March). Then I thought only as far as our wedding (October). Then as far as Christmas (December). There was too much to do to think beyond those milestones. So, once 2018 was over and the dust had begun to settle, I looked around at my life, which looked so different than it had the year before, and made some intentional choices. 

I’d been crafting, wildly and compulsively, because I’d gone so long with the driving need to be constantly productive, to get everything done in time for the wedding, then in time for Christmas. So in January, I chose to set aside my crocheting and ornament making, to give myself room to do other things, and to slow down. In some ways I’ve merely exchanged wedding planning and crafting with reading (I’ve finished 54 books so far this year), but I also let myself just lay on the sofa or sit by the window. Doing so last year made my insides vibrate until I leapt out of my skin to DO something. 

In late January, I noticed that one of my succulents, which a coworker had given me last summer and I had repotted in a Bulbasaur planter, was growing a stem. I took such joy in checking on it daily, propping up the stem when it grew longer than its structure could support, checking its soil for moisture, touching its pink blossoms, nimbly removing the shriveled blooms before they fell onto the carpet. Then my orchid at work put forth 18 gorgeous blooms for the second time in a year. My other succulent, codename Hedgy, also hit a growth spurt. I felt so accomplished. After such a chaotic, survival-focused year, here was proof that I was doing something right. I was nurturing life. 

So I decided to nurture a little more. I bought a pretty watering can and a packet of zinnia seeds. Tyler bought me a hanging window box last fall, and once the last cold snap was over in March, I planted my seeds in a new bag of potting soil just so I could watch them grow. I read and read about zinnias, their planting and care and watering and deadheading. I spent one breezy Saturday morning doing the initial work and watering. I tend my zinnias twice a day, fretting over the leaves holed by bugs, and sitting with them until I almost believe they’re growing before my eyes. 

While acquainting myself with Lowe’s garden section this spring, I discovered their succulents and bought two. I would have bought more, but on that particular day I already had an 10 lb. bag of potting soil perched on one shoulder, steadied by one hand, and my other hand could only hold two little pots at a time. When I got home, I added them to my window with Bulba and Hedgy. 

Inspired, I ordered a llama mug with a drainage hole drilled into the bottom from Etsy and was gifted a small purple succulent from the Etsy seller. I planted the cabbage-shaped succulent and bought a large, flowering version of Hedgy for the llama mug, which I gave to my future sister-in-law as an engagement present.

In total, at work I tend 2 thriving vine plants and a blossoming orchid. At home, I tend 5 succulents and 6 zinnias. And I love it. I love everything about organizing their watering schedule (and researching to make sure I’m not overwatering them), wondering if this one isn’t a bit taller than it was a few days ago, and noting the dew on the zinnia’s leaves in the early mornings. I want to name my 3 newest succulents and get a couple more. I have a few more empty pots, after all. But I also don’t want to overdo it. I want to know I’m properly caring for the increased volume of plants before I take on more. In short, I want to be a responsible plant owner. 

All this dirt on my fingers reminds me of my late grandmother. I loved her porch because she had little pots of flowers everywhere. Tons of African violets, as well as many other kinds. I grew African violets with my mother as a child, and sometimes my grandmother would send a leaf she’d rooted home with me when I’d visit.

One summer not long before she died, I went to her house for a visit, and she enlisted my help in adding some annuals to a planter in the yard that she could no longer stoop to reach. She handed me her trowel to dig out each hole and supervised me step-by-step as she sat beside me on the shady patio. I love that memory. I love how we shared 10 minutes of something we both enjoyed, something I hadn’t done in a long time and that she was enjoying for one of the last times. 

I think of her as I pick up my watering can, touch the zinnia and vine leaves, hum in the sunlight, think about plant names, make a deal with my aunt to exchange plants next time we have lunch. I miss her, and I grieve that I’m unable to call her and tell her about them and send her photos. But it’s okay to miss her while enjoying something she would have enjoyed. It’s okay to wish I could have had one afternoon watching a Braves game with her and my husband, who loves the Braves. One inning, if I could have my grandfather there, too. A single at bat to have my baby cousin on the couch beside me.

Maybe one day I’ll name a plant after my grandmother. Something beautiful and stubborn and funny and full of secrets and occasionally prone to cursing. Vera is a good name for a person or plant like that.

Mary Oliver

Yesterday we learned of the death of Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. I enjoyed seeing her work filling my Twitter feed, including poems I’d never read and many familiar verses.

I can’t articulate well why Mary Oliver was one of my favorite poets. I read her poetry collections slowly, alone, with a pencil to underline beautiful lines, but I inevitably failed to use it because each line is so visceral and enrapturing. Mary Oliver came with honesty in her hands and I floated in her words, comforted. And now she is resting. I pray it is peaceful.

In an earlier version of this post, I quoted six of my favorite Mary Oliver poems. However, a friend rightly point out that Mary Oliver’s works are all under copyright. I don’t want to keep anyone from paying for her art by supplying her words here, so I’ve replaced the poems with links to some of my favorite collections of her works. If you haven’t invested in one of her collections, or if (like me) you’re wanting to get another one, I heartily recommend these three.

A Thousand Mornings
Dog Songs
Owls and Other Fantasies

What Do I Thirst for this Christmas?

A friend recently pointed me toward Mary Oliver’s poem “Thirst” and encouraged me to consider what I am yearning for in the coming season. I’ve been reflecting on this all month, both because it’s Advent and because I’ve been in the habit this year of writing in my One-Line-a-Day journal. I’ve found it supremely helpful to spend a few minutes summarizing the day, good and bad, before bed. However, it’s rather different to look back on a single day than to look forward several weeks toward a day seeped in so much expectation and attention and baggage.

I have been looking forward, however, with the help of a one-page-a-day Advent journal. Each day of December, the journal prompts you to answer a question about your upcoming Christmas and provides space for you to record the festive things you did that day. Many of my entries thus far include passages processing my younger cousin Santee’s death, as well as notes about what gifts I’m looking forward to giving, what traditions are new for Tyler and I, the movies we watched, the shopping I did, and the flavors I’m experiencing (like gingerbread cookies and peppermint hot chocolate).

So what do I thirst for as Christmas approaches?

Comfort for Santee’s friends, girlfriend, sister, and niblings. I yearn for comfort as well for our extended family, including conversation about Santee’s life and death. A death so near Christmas, as well as experiencing the first holiday without a loved one, is it’s own unique brand of pain. Worse because your grief is in direct tension with calls to be jolly and joyful and the insistence that all is merry and bright. Our family has experienced this before, but many of Santee’s friends won’t have.

Time to rest and enjoy the season. That means time to read a fluffy Christmas romance and watch a ton of movies. That means time to bake and make ornaments. Time to run errands without feeling rushed. I’d love to get my wedding photos organized and printed but I’m concentrating on enjoying the season, not bogging myself down with something I can do any time of the year.

Peace for all people. The peace I refer to comes from a Hebrew word, shalom, referring not only to a cessation of violence and vehemence but also the wholeness and wellness of the entire community. This won’t happen on the scale I want, maybe not even in my family, so I’ve chosen several ways to work toward providing a more peaceful holiday for others.

What do you thirst for as December trots on? Silence? Solitude? Companionship? Rest? Understanding? Shortbread? I’d love to hear the desire that sings for you.

Finding Comfort

The wedding is planned. We have a few odds and ends to put together, but the main thing we have left is just confirming the number of attendees for the chair rentals and caterer. (Have you sent in your RSVP yet? We really need those.)

Now, we’re focused on packing up my things from the house where I’ve lived for 5 years and moving them into Tyler’s apartment. We’re doing so gradually but making large strides. All my books and two bookshelves are already set up. My winter clothes, scarves, blankets, and boots have been sitting in Tyler’s guest bedroom for months.

Along the way, we’re doing our best to clean out clothes we don’t wear or that don’t fit anymore, books we aren’t enjoying, and knick-knacks that no longer spark joy. I find myself most prone to doing so when I first get up and at the end of the day, putting off going to bed in favor of closing up one more box.

My late grandmother and I are nostalgic and sentimental and have a talent for squirreling away letters, cards, bookmarks, and “dust catchers” as my dad calls them. This weekend, I rediscovered several birthday and Christmas cards from her. I found one my late aunt had also written in. And my late great-aunt. And friends I’ve long ago lost touch with. I’m getting rid of a lot, but I’m also grateful to have squirreled away so much. Like photos in frames that I can now use to reserve tables at my wedding reception. And a set of 4 hand-crank music boxes I bought in Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid almost ten years ago.

In college, I displayed them on my bookshelf and desk, ever ready for my fingers when I felt sad or lonely. I would take one—maybe the one whose box featured a detail from Klimt’s “The Kiss”—and sit on the edge of my bed, slowly winding the cool silver crank. At some point, perhaps when I moved in five years ago, I lined them up in a padded bag and tucked them behind the journals on the shelf in my bedroom to be organized later. And there they stayed. No batteries to corrode. No dust to taint. Just waiting, their location sliding out of memory.

Saturday night, I carried the bag to the sofa and drew them out, one at a time, keeping them in the order I’d originally packed them in. I turned each crank, remembering the tune as the notes sounded in the dark room. Then I played each again. The same solace soothed my heart as the first time I’d ever heard them, in noisy, echoing gift shops at the Palace of Versailles and the Prado Museum and the Gaudi Museum.

I had also listened to them the day I dropped my first college class. And the morning I started drafting my first book. And the afternoon I realized one of my best friends found me dispensable. And the night before the first day of my internship. And the evening my grandfather died. They were lost by the time my grandmother, and then my aunt, passed. So I played them again with those women in my mind.

Because today is September 11, I think it’s a fine day to take comfort as I remember.

Several years ago, I discovered “Boatlift,” a 12-minute documentary about the hundreds of ordinary people who brought their boats to evacuate lower Manhattan after the first tower fell. It was the largest maritime evacuation in human history.

The story reminds. It draws one in. And it focuses on goodness and courage and our shared humanity. If you haven’t yet seen it, today may be a good day to do so.

I also recommend the Broadway musical Come From Away, which tells the story of Gander, the small Canadian town that hosted thousands of passengers who were stranded when the US airspace was closed. I saw the musical in New York more than a year ago and have listened to the soundtrack countless times since. A performance of the first song, “Welcome to the Rock,” is here:

If you aren’t sure how deeply you want to wade into the painful waters today, I hope you find the comfort you need.

4 Years After Loss

I have a theory that you don’t really know people are gone until they’ve been dead for about 4 years. That’s the recommended length of college and of high school. It’s two Martian years and a quarter of a year on Jupiter. Not a long time, but still plenty of time. Plenty of time for the not-right-ness to settle into your bones, for you to get used to this new normal, an alternative universe where the one you love isn’t dead, just away. Right up until the illusion can’t hold anymore. Not when I didn’t see them daily anyway. Not when I stay so busy, even when I’m home, to avoid visiting their empty house.

One autumn day, 4 years and a couple months after my grandfather passed away, I was sitting at my desk at work watching the red and gold leaves fall and twirl in the wind. I suddenly missed my grandfather so deeply, with such a long-suffered ache, that I stood up to walk into an empty office so I could call him. I couldn’t, of course. And that was the moment I knew he was gone forever. And I grieved, silently, viscerally, until I had to get up and walk into an empty office to ensure privacy for my tears.

My grandmother passed away 4 years ago last month. I thought of her often in the snowy day we had recently. A few days ago, her last sister passed away as well. Yesterday, a friend texted to ask when we could get together, as she had a present for me. It would be another week before we were able, and she confessed that she’s always impatient to give people their gifts. “I’m terrible at it,” I told her. And thought, I get that from Grandmother. And just like that, I realized anew that she is gone. I will never hear her voice, hold her hand, feel her love, receive her gifts or smiles again.

It’s been building. Someone asked about the small tablecloth my grandmother’s sister crocheted for me in the 11 months between her sister’s passing and her own; blue because it was my grandmother’s favorite color. The pendant my grandmother gave me when I was in middle school, which my mom bought a chain for and gave to me this Christmas; the pendant I wore this week after my last great-aunt passed away.

I’ve been calling the dog “Babe,” my grandmother’s nickname for me, even though I didn’t like it at the time. (To be fair, my mom was “Babe,” I was “Little Babe”.) I dream, sometimes, that I’m back at her house. She and my grandfather are in their armchairs. I’m sitting on the floor listening to a conversation I don’t grasp any of. Or I’m racing around the pool table with my cousins, a small metal grocery cart full of our toys. I picture the house the way it was before the remodel. Dark wood panels and old brown carpet. My grandparents in their places. Me in mine. Our family around us. When last this happened, I woke up knowing my grandfather is gone, but had forgotten my grandmother is. After this week, I suspect that will change.

For my cousins, I am so sorry. Your loss is fresh and deep. Many of you saw your grandmother and aunt and mother much more often than I saw my grandparents in those last few years of college and travels and work. Maybe you’ll experience the knowing just once, and soon.

I love you. I’m so sorry. She worked so hard, loved so well. I know you will miss her. And I am sorry.

Snowy Days

In my day, [grumble grumble] we didn’t have snow days. We didn’t have snow! I remember exactly 4 times in my childhood when I saw snow at my home on the southern coast of South Carolina.

We did have hurricane days. We built them into the school schedule because the Atlantic was pretty active in those years. One season, we evacuated five separate times. We could not wait for October! And we barely unpacked in between. Still, we didn’t suffer a direct hit. And we had minimal damage. Not so in the past two years. But I’m not here to talk about hurricanes.

I’m here talk about snow.

The first time I saw snow fall and stick, I was in college. It was also the first time I saw accumulation. I don’t even know that we got a full inch, but it felt like two or three. Statesboro hadn’t had snow since the last time my hometown had snow, which had been the year I was born: a 21 year gap. I made my first snow angel and built my first snow person. I got to witness my Bajan friend experience snow for the first time in the coat that I helped him buy.

I had seen more snow than that before, but it was at Snowshoe, West Virginia on a church youth group trip, and there was no beautiful powder to learn to ski on. Snowshoe’s fresh snow had iced over several days earlier, and only the snow machines were keeping a semblance of dust on the trails. Which dropped off into mud and trees. I know, because I careened off of one. But I’m not here to talk about that either.

The last time it snowed in Macon, my grandmother died. Not exactly at the same time.

Four years ago, it snowed. During every cold snap that winter, a friend stayed with my roommate and I because the house she was renting was crowded and poorly insulated and notoriously frigid. We refused to let her sleep at home in four layers and hat, so our spare bedroom became hers for much of the winter. The night it snowed, we three went out front with the dog, throwing snowballs and laughing in the driveway and stomping designs in the snow. Then we all came in for hot chocolate and warm, dry clothes.

The next day, the office was closed so I stayed in with my friend, crocheting and knitting and watching a little TV curled up on the couch with the dog. Morgan had to go to work, but when she came home we watched movies and ate chili in the coziness, after playing in the snow a bit more.

It took something like an hour to clean enough snow and ice off my car the next day that I could go to work. I was an hour or two late, and by that afternoon my grandmother was dead. She’d been in and out of the hospital for a while, so I didn’t realize this one was different. I didn’t know she was in ICU until we were under several inches of snow. There was no opportunity to get to her.

Her sister has been in the hospital for over a week now. This is my grandmother’s last sister.

I’ve been looking forward to the snow all winter. I was thrilled to wake up early to see it fall. My roommate’s dog from the previous snow has passed away, so this dog experienced snow for the first time. Watching her joy and confusion were my greatest joys of the day.

The roads are dry now, I’m back at work, and I’m trying not to be superstitious about things, but I’m also wondering if I’m going to get a call from my aunt or my mom. I’m wondering if I’m going to know even before I answer. I wonder if I’m going to rush out of the office and into a spare room, surrounded by discarded and antiquated computer parts to sit and listen to what I already know.

I hope not. But I don’t begrudge her rest and healing, whatever that looks like. She’s had a very hard life, and her sisters are gone.

I pray for her children. I pray for our family. I pray for everyone who suffers in the cold like this: those without heat, those without enough insulation, those with no home, those with disabilities that make cold especially difficult, those who are lonely. I pray for those who are more prone to slipping and breaking in this snow and ice. I pray for the families, friends, and coworkers of those who have died since the storm began.

Oh God, I am sorry

My childhood nemesis was murdered.

I don’t mean that exactly how it sounds. For one, I had several childhood nemeses, our relationships growing progressively hostile as we grew older. But this was an early one, my second. And for another, he wasn’t murdered when we were children. It was many years later, when we were adults and living in different cities—from our hometown and from one another—and hadn’t seen or spoken to each another in over 8 years.

So why did I care so much when he died?

Maybe because I always had, or try to have, compassion. Even for my enemies. Not that we were really enemies.

Maybe it’s because he was alive, and now he’s dead.

Maybe it’s because murder is terrible.

We had a lot of fun times together, actually. But only when it was just the two of us, waiting for our moms to pick us up or working on a project together or sitting at the same art table.

I remember once asking my mom why he and I couldn’t get along except when we were alone. She told me that when we were older, maybe in high school, things would be different and maybe we could be friends. I moved to a different school a couple years later and we never got that chance, but the optimism of what our future relationship could have been colored my memories until I saw him through the lens of that never-realized friendship. I don’t know if I still harbored any bitterness toward him when I left that school at age twelve, but I know I’d long-since lost it when I got the email from my mother, his name as the subject line.

It might have been something innocuous. Mom had bumped into old friends and even other nemeses of mine at the grocery store, and spoken with their parents in the store where she works. I expected a fun update from him or his mom about how he was doing, all the more welcome because it’d been so long.

I had to read the article’s opening paragraph four or five times before I began to understand.

It was October. I’d been for a walk at some trails and was catching up on emails in my car before driving to Bible study. I felt closed up, insulated and alone but exposed, realizing how terrible a thing had been done to him.

And my next thought was of his mother. His kind, loving, hardworking mother. His mother who had already lost her husband in another act of violence.

If you think about famous nemeses, you might think about Joker to Batman or Moriarty to Sherlock. You’ll think about dastardly villains on the wrong side, foils in specific ways to the protagonist, but also compliments in vital ways. The Joker and Batman live their lives by similar but polar principles. Joker believes that anyone could become what he is—the worst of villains—if their circumstances were bad enough. And Batman believes that no matter how bad your circumstances, you too can become a hero. (Or, at least choose not to be a villain.) They work so well as nemeses because they are determined to prove themselves right to the other, but neither can destroy the other without abandoning their defining principles.

Moriarty and Sherlock are fantastic nemeses because they are so well-matched in intelligence and skill, and have similar enough vices that you can see how they very easily could be the same person or even best friends. But their moralities are just different enough that they have chosen to use their intelligence and vices and needs in entirely opposing ways.

Where Joker and Batman cannot destroy each other because of the nature of their ideological battle, Sherlock and Moriarty fear how they will cope if one should kill the other. We admire Sherlock not for the murder he commits, or believes he commits, but for his willingness to finally end this dangerous feud. He does so for everyone else’s sake, since doing so poses a real risk to his happiness and well-being.

Alex and I were good nemeses in part because we were so similar. We were both smart, analytical, logical, sassy. We enjoyed arguing and bantering. And we were both proud. When no one else was around, the pride wasn’t much of an issue so we very rarely fought. Our similarities aligned and we had a great time. But allow even one other person into our proximity and we begin to compete, to spar, and to wound. I don’t think we really meant to hurt each other, just to avoid being on the receiving end. But I remember feeling hurt, so I know I hurt him. And that, I regret almost the most.

I probably should regret inflicting pain the most, and yet children are cruel. That was the duel and the deal until I bowed out and went to another school.

I didn’t reach out to him after his father died. I regret that the most.

He didn’t need me, but I wish I hadn’t withheld my offer of support and comfort. We were similar, had history, and had been connected. I told myself I didn’t know how to reach him but I did. I just didn’t try. I repeated, “He doesn’t need you” and didn’t dwell on “But what if it could help him?”

And, oh God, I am sorry. I am sorry for inflicting pain. I am sorry for withhold support. I am sorry for his fear and his death. I am sorry for his mother, his friends.

After Bible study the night I learned of his murder and the finding of his body, I stayed up for hours in the dark writing every memory I had of him. Most I hadn’t revisited in years, but they were still there, once I let my brain sift through its back rooms. My personal pain from those years of the bullying was gone in the echo of his taken life. Late, late, late, sifting and writing and sitting and grieving. The next night, I wrote more, wrote them all out, and now I have them. And I will keep those memories on paper, a back-up for my mind.

A year and a half later, the week my aunt passed suddenly of a heart attack, I wrote to the judge so he would know the man who’d been taken before passing sentence on the murderers. I sat in the dark of a Dallas hotel, my coworker/roommate asleep behind me, too far to comfort my family or be comforted by them. But I could speak for my childhood nemesis. I could advocate for his memory. And I could pray, for the thousandth time, for his mother.

His name was Alex. He was aware, so he must have been afraid when he died. I hate fear.

I tried and tried to find a way to reach his mother, to tell her how sorry I am and to share my memories of her son and husband, but she retreated and I respect her boundaries. I’m sharing about this now because, with one gunshot, October was smeared with gunpowder. Even though Alex’s birthday was in summer and I first met him in January, I think of him in October. I remember him in October.

Not only in October. Also in sunlit pools and when I see a figure through the rain and when I feel spattered paint under my fingers and when I see a pale blue polo over broad shoulders and when I hear a football being caught.

Oh God, I am sorry. I am sorry for Alex. Please comfort his mother.

7 Ways to Care for the Grieving

I’ve alluded to this before, but I’ll say it point blank: from January 2014 to June 2015, 9 people in my life passed away. They died of heart failure, blood clots, burns, young and old age. Plus the murderers of a childhood friend were sentenced. And a tree died. Some of my dreams died. My roommate’s dog started to die but we didn’t know it yet. It was kind of a lot.

Over that year and a half, I got pretty good at telling people why I’d be out of town again, at hiding that I was still grieving (or grieving again), at visitation small talk, at selecting photos for slide shows, at giving warm hugs without sobbing, and at thanking strangers for coming.

Lately, I’ve watched various people in my life experience intense loss. So here are 7 ways to care for a grieving person, learned from being the one grieving.

Say something. More to the point, don’t say nothing. Avoid platitudes, but a platitude is better than nothing. Say you’re sorry. Ask me about a favorite memory of the person. Don’t ignore it because you’re nervous or uncomfortable. That’s horribly selfish. Don’t be afraid to bring up my loved one or say their name. Even if it just happened. Even if it was two weeks ago and you just found out. Even if it’s been months.

Listen. Listen to what I say. Listen to what I don’t say. Let me guide the tone and topic for a week or so, especially when the funeral or death comes up. And if you conveyed your sympathy, I thanked you, then I started talking about work or asking about you, don’t keep dragging our conversation back to my grief. Maybe I really don’t want to delve those depths right now.

Don’t harp. I’m not the only person who has lost someone and neither are you. Mention that a family member died but don’t tell me the whole saga of your grandmother’s slow demise unless I ask multiple questions. Your harping makes me feel like I should be comforting you. Your grief is no less legitimate than mine, but mine is also quite new. Please don’t make my pain about you.

Do something tangible. What you’ll do will depend on how well you know me. My roommate would vacuum and tidy up while I was gone and be available when I got home in case I wanted company or a distraction. When I did want to talk, she asked how my family was doing, if the service went okay, if everyone behaved well. (That could be it’s own tip: don’t cause drama. Pity it ever needs saying.) The day we had to put the dog to sleep, a friend texted and said he wanted to bring us KFC for lunch.

Take initiative. Saying, “Can I bring dinner by tomorrow? I’ll leave it on your porch” is way better than “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” A dozen other people have said the same thing to me, and I don’t know that they all meant it. Assuming you did mean it, no matter what I need or how much I need it, I don’t want to inconvenience you. But if you take the initiative, I can either say “Thank you” or “Would you mind waiting until next week?” or “I really appreciate that, but I’d rather get coffee with you and talk. Could we do that instead?”

Pain is pain. My friend told me this nine years ago. Her fiance had just called off their wedding and she couldn’t understand why a lady in her church, who had recently suffered a miscarriage, had reached out to her to offer encouragement. “Your loss is so much greater than mine,” my friend had said to the woman. And the woman had answered, “Pain is pain.” All pain is not the same, and maybe you don’t understand why I’m grieving so much over the death of my roommate’s dog or the falling of that tree. Just know it was important to me, and so the loss is painful.

Don’t tell me I’m grieving wrong. You aren’t helping by criticizing how much or little you saw me cry. Maybe I’m much better at acting okay than you think. Maybe this is my third funeral in two weeks and I’m a bit numb. Maybe I wanted the woman in the casket to hold my babies and I just saw how much yours have grown. I’m working through this is my own way. You don’t have to understand to respect it.