Life under the mercy begins with a howl.
It was August. I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, watching traffic creep by my window and stifling the urge to upturn everything for no reason: the laundry bin, the bed covers, the clothing baskets. I had just found a regular babysitting job and was planning on settling into a new rhythm. I had told myself, I could do this. I could freelance-and-side-hustle. Told myself that I was tough. That I could make it if I just worked harder. So I worked harder. Then I woke up one morning and realized how hard it was to get out of bed, how I could barely bring myself to write. How everything felt heavy and weary.
Maybe this was a mid-life crisis.
I swallowed down the angst for a week, but nothing changed. Questions ran through my mind like toddlers on the loose: What was important? What was I chasing? Who did I want to be? Why? When you start asking these questions, everything changes. It’s like someone pulls the plug on your favorite song at a dance party and that’s when you realize that you’ve been dancing alone. Stunned, you start to see how all the things you wanted are hollow and wanting. You find yourself standing alone with empty hands, feeling gutted and ashamed.
Your head hurts, hurts badly because it’s hard to fit anger and relief and grief in there all at one time. Most of the time, I don’t know which feeling is which. I try to name them, but my words come out muffled and contorted. I spent too much time asking questions, mostly “Why?” and “What the hell?” and “Where was my amazing post-graduate job?” and “What is happening?” There was only silence. A weighty, summer storm kind of silence. The kind that keeps you up at night because you know it won’t be long before you hear a clap of thunder.
It takes a long time to see mercy as mercy. It takes a long time to realize that God speaks in silence. He speaks in subtle tones and melodies. He speaks in a voice that you hear when you are sitting at your kitchen table in Brooklyn. It’s June, you’re wearing your jean shorts from last summer, listening to the city outside your window. He will visit you then with a half sentence spoken in a voice He designed especially for the brokenhearted and desperate.
He shows you what you can’t see about your own story and what it has cost you. Eight years since you left home, love. Your hands have been so busy. Busy trying to put everything together, busy trying to make a space for yourself in this crowded world, busy fighting for friends and family, busy fighting for your space in this loud city.
Where are your hands now?
I woke up one morning in September and realized my hands were tired, that I could not hold this city anymore, could not type another resumé, could not find another word to write. I climbed out of bed questioning all of my priorities. I thought life after graduation would involve working hard, becoming a real writer, proving that I was somebody. I had been chasing that for five months. It had left me hollowed from the inside out and terrified.
There are the prayers that no one teaches you how to pray. These are the prayers that use very few words or postures, the prayers that consume all of living. When you pray like this, everything becomes dialogue and punctuation. Everything: babysitting for four families at once, shopping the clearance rack at Old Navy, baking muffins on a Sunday afternoon, writing cover letters at midnight, trying to Salsa dance at Chelsea Piers, buying new plants, getting a new haircut, running over the Manhattan Bridge to Chinatown…
He will answer in hues of amber and blue. He will answer on the subway, He will answer while you’re driving kids to the zoo, while you’re dashing out of a summer rainstorm, while you’re curled up on the phone, crying hot tears to your mom on the other line. Like a surgeon, He’ll strap you down and plug you in. And when you finally stop squirming, He’ll reach in with two gentle hands and rearrange priorities. What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose His soul?
When mercy sinks you, you finally relent. You go limp, but not weak. You stop fighting the ocean and let it carry you. You tear up your notebooks, the ones full of your desperate life plans and to do lists. Life under the mercy is light like the air of a midsummer morning. It’s 1:38 on a Tuesday afternoon. I’m walking in the park, head tilted upwards, trying to take in the way the colors are changing. Life under the mercy means permission to stop drafting cover letters, permission to stop beating myself up about the words I haven’t been writing and the projects I haven’t started. Life under the mercy is a walk around Brooklyn under a full moon. It’s a bike ride to Williamsburg on a Sunday morning and cutting your own wildflowers in Jersey.
Life under the mercy is dancing with your best friends in Providence and deciding that this place with these people is where I should be. Here, in this little ocean city I found three years ago, where I have friends who make me laugh until my stomach hurt. Where it’s never too late to make runs for Thai food, where dancing is always in order, where you stay up late just to sit on an overstuffed couch singing Christmas carols out of tune. Life under the mercy is paying your last month of Brooklyn rent and picking two bags to pack. It’s pg. 220 in Toni Morrison’s Jazz:
I ought to get out of this place. Avoid the window; leave the hole I cut through the door to get in lives instead of having one of my own. It was loving the City that distracted me and gave me ideas. Made me think I could speak its loud voice and make that sound sound human. I missed the people altogether.
I’ll buy my ticket to Providence at some point in the next twenty days. It’s been seven years since I came to the city, eight years since I left home. They say there’s something about seven and also about eight. Every seven years, you’re supposed to let the land rest. Every seven days you’re supposed to let your hands rest. Eight they say is about restoration. I don’t know much about numbers, don’t know what it is about seven or eight, but I think it’s here and if you were to ask me, I think it has something to do with mercy.