A Rogers Park bystander killed, a Malaysian flight downed and I can’t relax…do you blame me?

A Rogers Park bystander killed, a Malaysian flight downed and I can’t relax…do you blame me?

I’m on vacation this week, or as I like to call it, “the forced march of relaxation.”

Don’t get me wrong. I want to relax, I really do. Or at least a part of me does. Kind of. And I love vacations. I love not being in the office under the hum of the florescent lights and the tightrope of tension. I love hanging out in a beautiful place with people I care about. And I am so grateful that I have a life in which being bad at relaxing is my biggest issue of the moment, versus a thousand other things.

Plus, I want to be clear, I’m not one of those crazy workaholics who thinks about her job every waking hour. (I have only checked work emails once or twice -- ok, maybe 3 or 4 times -- a day since I’ve been gone. And only 5 min or less, when my family isn’t looking. And then only because I think I should, not because I really want to, you know? That doesn’t seem so workaholicky, does it? Workaholic lite, perhaps?)

Before I left town I put a message on Facebook about being relaxation challenged. And immediately started getting a lot of comments. Mostly a lot of advice:

“Get off Facebook”

“Take walks”

“Rum drinks”



“Think Happy Thoughts”


“Plant something.”

Two things popped out at me, in particular, on that list. “Massages.” because that sounded like a great idea, since my middle name is “slather on the oil and rub my body all day long, thank you very much,” and “Meditation” because to me meditation sounds about as relaxing as being strapped to an examination chair in the middle of a dental hygienist training convention. The wonderful young man who suggested it on my FB page doesn’t really know me all that well, and I don’t know him all that well, so perhaps I’ve mistakenly given the impression that I’m a “Be still and know that I am God,” sort of Christiany person, perhaps I seem like someone who could take measured breaths and clear her mind and sit still for more than 3 seconds at a time, while getting in touch with the beauty and power and majesty and general awesomeness of God.

To be perfectly clear, I’m not.

Of course I feel a little ashamed of myself for this.

It’s just that I’m a doer. And a thinker. My brain is like a kitten being tortured by one of those laser light toys. It doesn’t quit running easily. I’m always alert, always ON.  I find it hard to calm down, sit still, do nothing, breathe deeply…without deeply resenting it. Or cracking myself up at the absurdity of it.

The woman who is the senior pastor at our church, who is also a Type A personality with a lot of doing/thinking tendencies, goes on solo silent retreats once a year or so, without any screens, any electronic accouterments of any kind, and simply meditates and prays and possibly eats locusts, who knows … while listening for the voice of God. Which she usually ends up hearing, by the way.

I have great respect for the fact that she can do this.

And no wish to try to be that holy.

But at the same time, I think, if I want to be more spiritual, shouldn’t I be able to meditate, go into a state of Zen-like calm, heck, maybe even kick an “Ohm” or two here and there? Shouldn’t I, at the least, be able to sit for a few moments in prayerful silence, and get the kitty to stop chasing the damn red light?

But, I’ve been this way my whole life. A physical kid, always actively DOING something. A kid with lots of questions, always THINKING something.  An overly responsible kid who possibly felt the world rested on her shoulders, who wouldn’t let herself fall asleep at night in the car on family vacations for fear the driver (usually my dad) would go to sleep too, if I did.

Plus as the youngest child, I was constantly worried I was missing out on something, and I never, ever wanted to do that.

I’ve also always had this feeling that there’s not enough time. Like life is so short that I don’t want to miss a minute of it, sitting under a tree in a deep trance-like state of bliss.

But I thought, you know, maybe I could try it on this vacation. The whole “breathe in peace, breathe out joy,” “be still and know that I am God” kind of deal. Wouldn’t that be nice?

The first problem I ran into was that I realized I didn’t want to be still. “Be still…” was a command I used to get, when I was a kid being overly active or inattentive. “Be still, Lenora.” “Can’t you just be still. “Just sit there for a while and be still, young lady.” Being still feels like an accusation and a punishment. (Except when I’m being still on a massage table and someone is rubbing my body with fragrant oils, of course.)

My second problem was I checked my work email.

In the midst of the usual stuff there was a note about how the husband of one of the art directors at our agency was killed over the weekend, while waiting for a bus in the middle of the afternoon, in Rogers Park, an innocent bystander, shot as a part of some random gang retaliation, another victim of gun violence in Chicago. His name was Wil. An aspiring photographer, he had just landed a new job that was to begin this week and he and his wife, Maria, would have been celebrating their second wedding anniversary on August 18.

And then, when I checked Facebook a couple minutes later, I learned about the Malaysian Airlines plane that was shot down over the Ukraine, 298 people on board. 298 people whose lives are gone, just like that.


Why do we humans keep doing this shit to each other? I don’t understand any of it. And I don’t know how to fix any of it.

The Psalmist’s advice “Be still and know that I am God,” even to me, as a person of faith, seems ridiculous in the face of it all.

“Know that I am God…” What do I do with that, when good people like Maria lose their husbands to a bullet released from a gun a kid should never have had in the first place, a kid who was caught up in a system of poverty and social injustice himself, in which a gun seems like the only possible way to have power? What do I do with that when 100 of the people who died in that plane were AIDs researchers, on their way to a conference, people who had devoted their lives to finding a cure for this devastating disease?

I know you’re God, I want to scream, but what does that even mean? What’s the plan here? From where I sit, it doesn’t look like you’ve got this whole thing in your hands. It really doesn’t.

And I’m right, aren’t I -- Life IS too short.  Things come crashing down, randomly, changing everything in an instant. How can I relax and be still in the midst of that crap? I have to remain on alert, be vigilant…

The band The Fray, wrote a song called “Be still,” loosely based on that verse from Psalm 46:10, a few years ago. I remember when I first heard it, the song was so beautiful it made the words “be still” seem less like a slap and more like a caress. My daughter Hannah discovered it and played it for me...Hannah, who is a lot like I was as a kid, a lot like me now, a thinker, a doer, a little too anxious, perhaps, a little too alert, not a child who does yoga without coercion.  She was 16 when she found it and it was a song she needed in her life then, and a song that has gotten her through some rough times since, I suspect.

She sang that song in our church one Sunday, 2 and 1/2 years ago, and I played it again just now, and maybe it’s simply because music is the one of those things that can actually soothe me, or maybe it's because the lyrics speak so truthfully of the loss that’s woven into our days, speak so eloquently of the terror that stalks us, even on our relaxing vacations, along with the sadness and confusion and unanswered questions…but somehow, it made me feel better, calmer, more relaxed, too.





"Be Still"

Be still and know that I'm with you

Be still and know that I am here

Be still and know that I'm with you

Be still, be still, and know

When darkness comes upon you

And covers you with fear and shame

Be still and know that I'm with you

And I will say your name

If terror falls upon your bed

And sleep no longer comes

Remember all the words I said

Be still, be still, and know

And when you go through the valley

And the shadow comes down from the hill

If morning never comes to be

Be still, be still, be still

If you forget the way to go

And lose where you came from

If no one is standing beside you

Be still and know I am

 Be still and know that I'm with you

Be still and know I am


Listening to it today I started wondering what might happen if I could start hearing “Be still…” not as a command and an accusation, and a judgment, but as words of love, words you might say to the kitty to draw her attention away from the laser light toy for a moment, as you petted her and held her in your lap. Or words you might say to your child who’s too worried to get to sleep, as you rub her back. Or words you might say to someone weeping inconsolably, like Maria, like the loved ones of the people on that Malaysian Airlines flight…be still, baby, it’s gonna be all right, you’re not alone.

I don’t know if I can become a person who will ever force myself to settle down, be still, be silent and meditate. I don’t know if I will ever reach a time in my life when it doesn’t feel like torture to move away from the electronic devices, assume a cross-legged position and focus on the breath coming in and out of my nose.

But today, I am going to remind myself that the whole world isn’t on my shoulders, I’m going to try to believe that it’s in God’s hands, someway, somehow, and I’m going to practice unclenching my fist now and then, looking around me at the blue sky, the trees so still and stately, with branches reaching toward heaven as if in a Pentecostal prayer meeting, I’m going to be grateful for this day, however short it is in this too short life, I’m going to say a pray here and there, for all those whose lives have been sliced up into tiny pieces this week, the ones who’ve died in Chicago, in the Ukraine, in all the places around the world that didn’t make as much news, and I’m going to say a prayer for all those who loved them,  and I’m going to ask God to be with us all and not abandon us, even in the mess we seem to be making of things here on earth.

I might even venture two or three deep cleansing breaths, and if that makes me laugh at myself, so be it. No one put "self-directed laughter" on my list, but I think it might be the beginning of all wisdom… and possibly even relaxation.


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