I first heard of UVa student Hannah Graham’s disappearance through friends on facebook who know her personally. Later Monday evening in the Women’s Prayer Group offered through my church, a couple of students who are acquainted with her spoke of the difficulty they were having processing the incident.
We lit candles as we prayed for her life and the lives of others. And that visual image of light – of lives alight with concern and hope – shattered the safety net I’d placed around Charlottesville and around my life even as it helped unite us. It hit me hard. I’m not sleeping very well.
It’s every feeling, all at once.
It’s the what-ifs of a young woman who vanished, it seemed at first, without a trace. The uncertainty of what dangers await every young woman in this quiet town. The realization that our houses and our buddy systems and our routines create only a semblance of control. We have so very little control.
It’s sheer terror mixed with anxiety mixed with the desperation of hoping for her safety and fearing the worst. I feel for her and her friends. I fear for myself living in a world where someone can somehow stop being so quickly.
The waiting times
to learn – so far
uncertainty is hard.
It wears at the
netting that holds us
Above that infinite
chasm of ultimate
I scribbled down the poem above in my journal a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to reflect on the ruthless anxiety that has spread out and seeped in over the past, seemingly endless few weeks. We were waiting to learn about job opportunities, grades, financial provisions, and family health concerns. We were waiting to see how much we’d have to change to accommodate all the changes we couldn’t control. And just as the pieces started falling into some sort of order, my car broke down – and we’re waiting for rides and parts and final bills.
Waiting is inconceivably difficult. You have no central control. You make decisions and ease transition by doing an awkward, breathless, side-stepping dance around the resolution itself.
I went through a period of waiting before where I practiced repeating:
Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.*
I don’t remember what I was waiting for. I only remember the verse. It’s a brilliant phrase for us, the waiting ones, because it gives us back a sliver of control: You have to actively respond to a command. You get to take a deep, heroic breath, hold your fist out in an intimidating pose toward the empty air in front of you and press on. You are legitimized in your struggle by the implication that waiting does take strength and willpower. Your internal voice that incessantly nags, “What are you whining about?” gets a hand held over its mouth and, for the second you’re reflecting, you feel strong again. You feel ok.
So you repeat it like an incantation. You redirect your waiting. You wait for the Lord to show up, God-willing, and work toward believing that the rest of it will show up, too.
I heard a homily lately that indicated that times of crisis or severe anxiety occur when our carefully curated identities – our senses of confidence – are broken down by life circumstances, by inescapable change. Sometimes the things that shape who we are can become all we consider ourselves to be. We’re more than that, and I think it helps to remember at the end of the day that we can let go of our advertised selves or supposed identities and still be alive and capable of enjoying the things that make our lives so rich.