I’m devouring Michelle DeRusha’s book, Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith.Seriously hoping MD
writes a hundred more memoirs for me to laugh my way through and reflect upon.
I love the way Michelle writes. (More on this another day.)
In Spiritual Misfit
Michelle depicts some grocery story accounts that hit close to home. I’m
talking baseball ball cracking the window to smithereens close to home.
Michelle shares of a run in with an intrusive woman at the grocery store she’s
dubbed Owl Spectacles. Good ole OS has a thing or two to say about Michelle’s
Man, have I been there.
Picture this. I’m hustling my youngest (three at the time)
into Stop & Shop to buy lettuce. Yup, that’s all I needed. I agreed to
bring a salad to a get together in T minus two hours. It had been months since
my husband and I had done anything considered social. I was desperate to get out
of the house sans children.
Of course I allotted myself the smallest window of time to
purchase the one item I couldn’t find in my fridge, the item essential to a
Let us go, then, I said to the young skipping child. Not two
feet into the store, right near the shiny apples, young skipping child turned
on me. Feel free to imagine the spinning head from The Exorcist. I know I was. Flailing. Low guttural noises spewing.
Well, not quite. But you get the gist.
Along comes a spider (scratch that) a cheerful elderly woman
who apparently wanted to do nothing but help assist me with my little “problem
child.” I briefly explained my predicament, already frayed (or couldn’t you
tell by I HAD TO GET OUT OF MY HOUSE comment above) to the Mother Teresa lady.
She gleefully offered to watch young swinging one while I
dashed to snatch up a bag of lettuce. I hesitated, then thought, If only there were more women like her in
the world. I reasoned, they’d remain within eyesight the entire time. I
grabbed the greens, watching Mother Goose calm my child with Julie Andrews
attentiveness. As I prepared to bolt, I thanked the woman profusely, gushing
over her unexpected kindness. Meanwhile, I worked to grasp young slippery one
in the same breath.
I must have thanked her too profusely because this is when
she got all passive aggressive on me. I’m warning you, it isn’t pretty.
“Well,” she huffed, “You’re certainly not going to win the
mother of the year award.” She stared me down as though I’d dropped my child to
the bottom of a well instead of spontaneously deciding to put my faith in the Mother
Teresa kindness of a stranger.
Then I did what most women would want to do at this moment.
I slammed my fist into her . . . Okay, so no, I didn’t. I cried. That’s what I
did. I tackled my child, somehow made my way to the checkout aisle, and whipped
out my credit card with tears streaming down my cheeks. The checkout clerk said
something nice, but of course that didn’t
stay with me.
Fake Mother T’s words did. I internalized what she said. And
I felt small. I could have recited the following lines from Spiritual Misfit word for word four
years ago standing outside of Stop & Shop.
“But it was people—people with their comments and their
judgments and their good intentions—who taxed my ability to behave as I should.
My fellow human beings made the whole Christian attitude thing very, very
difficult to achieve.”
I hated that I let Fake Mother T’s words sink so deep, hated
that I’d handed over that power, hated how I was so skilled at internalizing
everything—even the lies and things that sliced into me.
After reading Michelle’s grocery store tribulation it hit me.
This Stop & Shop slaughter was an opportunity for me to grant grace, not
only to Fake Mother T, but also to grant myself some grace.
2.Beware of Fake Mother T’s trolling the produce
aisle at the grocery store.
3.Know that every interaction, every hurt, every
lingering sadness presents an opportunity to grant grace and to finally let go.
So tell me, do you have any grace-filled grocery store
“Grace does not make sense. It’s not supposed to make sense.
Grace cannot be calculated or formulated…it is all grace. It is all a gift.
Life itself is grace. And when it comes to grace, the word deserve isn’t even
part of the equation.” ~ Spiritual
Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith
“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story,
the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and
what God's grace means.” ~ Brennan Manning
Two days ago I came across an article with the words “Wish .
. . Had Never Been Born” in the title. I immediately flashed back to my preteen
years, hearing these words shouted at me an incalculable number of my times by
my strung out, mentally ill older sister. She wishes I’d never been born.
Ingrained in me. Wrestled through. Words that stuck.
More than twenty years later, The New Yorker releases an article with a similar statement from
Adam Lanza’s father regarding his son. Peter wishes Adam, his son, had never
And while the sight of those words pierced me to my core, I
can attest to how heartrending it is to be related to someone with a destructive
mental illness. The embarrassing arrests. The suicide attempts. The lashing out
I feared would or could one day lead to murder. As shocking as they sound, I
will not judge Peter for his words.
The Newtown tragedy hit close to home for me for other
reasons. It occurred in my native state the year all three of my girls were attending
elementary school. Adam murdered twenty-six people.
Just as with the shootings at Columbine, everyone scuttles
about what the parents did wrong. What could have been done to prevent these
heinous acts? Good questions to ask. But sometimes more problematic to answer
than it might originally seem.
A year or so ago I read an article listing all the ways a
troubled actress had been acting out. Toward the end of the article the
reporter wrote she just wished the actress’s family would be more involved,
would help her straighten up. When I set the magazine down, I was overcome with
a mixture of anger and guilt.
Don’t people get it? Don’t they see that we’ve done
everything we possibly can? This is an illness! There are some situations that
don’t have simplistic remedies. Some causes that can’t be pinpointed adequately
enough—satisfying the need for someone to blame.
This brings to mind Defending
Jacob, an excellent book club choice, portraying a father having to come to
terms with what he believes about his own son’s guilt in a local murder case.
And it challenges my thoughts about how we as a culture need
to continue to get more honest about mental illness. We need to be mindful
enough to know that most people struggling with mental illnesses won’t walk
into a school and mow down dozens of children. However, also be conscious
enough to realize how haunting and disturbing it can be to live with someone
whose mind is sick.
We need to stop blaming, work harder to understand, engage
in honest dialogue, seek help when or perhaps even before necessary, and
empathize more than we judge.
One of my book groups recently discussed Still Alice, a novel about a successful
Harvard professor who begins to demonstrate early onset signs of Alzheimer’s.
In one scene Alice expresses her shame about what she’s dealing with, how if
she had cancer people wouldn’t be afraid to sit next to her as though it were
I wish I could fix my sister’s illness. Wish I could bring
her back to the vibrant young teenager I remember her as before all kinds of
chaos infiltrated and shattered her mental understanding of the world.
Sometimes I wish I could slide into her shoes to fight her
demons off for her. But I can’t. And there is no easy fix, no easy cure for
her. This breaks my heart every second I’m alive.
It is with unending gratitude that I can say I’m thankful I
was born. And I’m grateful my sister was born, too.
I may not understand
why our roads are paved so differently. But I don’t have to understand.
I just have to do as Bono My Bono sings, “Walk on, walk on.”
*I realize Alzheimer’s disease isn’t a mental illness, but
included the Still Alice point
because people often treat anything influencing the brain, as opposed to the
As writers we tap into our inner child more often than we
think. Every time we sit to write we act out a rendition of the beloved, “Head,
Shoulders, Knees, & Toes.” Don’t believe me? Read on to see how.
We use our HEAD when
we. . .
Let our imaginations run wild. There’s no brain like a
writer’s brain. We’re constantly absorbing. Loved ones doubt we’re listening,
but in actuality we’re not only listening, we’re taking mental notes about
every facet of the environment around us. When we bang out words on the
keyboard we’re transferring splices of these notes from brain to page. Synapses
We use our SHOULDERS
when we. . .
Use those painful experiences that have made us feel like
we’ve carried the weight of the world on our backs. We’re more equipped to
empathize with our characters when we’re honest about what has triggered royal
cricks in our own necks.
We use our KNEES when
we. . .
Walk the walk. When we practice our craft.
Knees are one of the largest, most complex joints in the
body. There are ligaments in the knee that keep bones from sliding backward,
forward, or from side to side.
Writers get physiological in the knees when we refuse to go
BACKWARD with our work and our careers. We push on. We develop skills. We learn
during every committed writing session.
We also take care not to shift awkwardly FORWARD. We don’t
rush the process. By taking needed time we honor the story. We don’t simply
throw in a quick fix or a convenient save. We respect the organic evolution of
Writers are knee-conscious as our ligaments keep us from
crunching from SIDE TO SIDE. We do this when we focus on our own craft. Avoiding
the comparison trap keeps us from rubbing others the wrong way.
Knees also have cartilage that works as shock absorbers. In
the current publishing climate we need a lot of shock absorbers.
We use our TOES when we. . .
Take what we’ve learned out in the world and incorporate it
into our manuscripts. Our toes enable us to use life experiences—the miles and
missteps our shoes have tromped. Each step or misstep offers ripe material. Oh,
the tales our toes could tell. Bunions, hammertoes, warts & all.
When is the last time you got physiological as a writer?