Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Great Concrete Divide

I have spent the past month and a half since my last blog trying to come up with something important to say; and today I realized that I do not, as a matter of fact, have many important things to say right now.

One of the few important things I want to say is THANK YOU to everyone who has sent books and prayers and notes. Jason's classroom library is blossoming and wonderful. We have been so humbled by the response we got! And we are excited to pick up some more boxes when we go back to Fort Wayne for a brief visit this weekend. Jason's day-to-day is surviving by little victories, baby steps in the right direction, tiny breaths and glimpses of hope. You all know as much as I do what a gifted teacher and loving person he is; the students are starting to see it as well.

When I was in high school and hopelessly devoted to blogging every single day, I was obsessed with thinking and dreaming up some really funny story to open with, a really passionate argument, a twist to tie the story and argument together, and then a witty, compassionate ending.

I'm afraid my days of such writing have come to an end, and I came to that conclusion today.

I tried to re-evaluate my motive for surging back in to the blog world, and I think that more than anything right now, I need an outlet to express myself (as cliche and lame as that is); and a reminder to myself that yes, I do, in fact, love to write. Even if no one reads it.

With that being said, here is my life, currently. Mostly questions; not so many statements. Certainly not profound, probably not very clear...but the result of my brain having a lot of time to turn over on itself lately.

The past month and a half have been very quiet days. Jason leaves at approximately 6:20am every weekday, and returns sometime between 4:15 and 6pm...which leaves quite a gaping hole in my day. In a way this isn't entirely true, because I spent from 8am-12pm in classes everyday; but, the afternoons have a very distinct quiet and isolation to them. Time that previously was filled with almost-daily meals with my family, being lazy with J, running around with my brother, planning a wedding, and hanging out with wonderful teenagers has now left me to my own devices.

I am really enjoying being back at school. My mind has missed the challenge and responsibility to learn, grow, and be stretched. I am also glad that online classes didn't work out; because I really enjoy some of the interesting people I have had the chance to meet. Many students at my school come from all over the world---Romania, Russia, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Spain, South Africa. This has provided for great conversation in the classroom, but I have been slow to make any real friends seeing as they are all a little apprehensive of a white, 20-something, married girl from some weird Indiana city in their classroom who always happens to be reading a book for 'fun'. I suppose it is a curious situation. It has slightly stifled my ache for companionship during the day and greatly satisfied my need to be productive, but I still feel like an outsider in many ways.

Something I am learning about the city is this: it is full of bodies, and full of strangers. Such a big place is the perfect location for anyone who desires to live in anonymity. There seem to be, as Sylvia Plath might say, little bell jars over every resident.

Walking down the street, riding the train, living in a building with hundreds of other people--all of these are very, very solitary actions. No one speaks, no one makes eye contact. Concrete: The Great Divide. People are apprehensive of one another, moving past each other without speaking, personal, silent. I haven't quite gathered a solid thesis on it yet; but I am working hard on some theories.

I have caught myself submitting to the proverbial 'rising of the walls' around myself . After a couple of experiences of having frightening-looking men make dirty comments to you on the street or stare at you on the train, hearing gun shots late a night, and witnessing homeless people do wild and obscene things, one starts to adapt their behavior. Don't look people in the eyes but walk with your head high and shoulders straight. Don't flinch or look when they say things. Don't be too nice or say very much.

It's unhuman.

And one starts to understand why the prophets went to the desert, the wilderness, the outskirts. Why God removed his people out of the chaos for seasons...to save them and save the world.

I'm learning a lot about the differences between life in Fort Wayne and life in Chicago. Jason can smile at people, be kind and gracious and warm, dress as nice as he wants to--without the fear of being misinterpreted. As a woman, I am learning how this plays out entirely different for me. I can't smile at people or they will think I mean something more. If I am kind or complimentary, it is, again, taken as something more. I have caught myself being weary of wearing makeup or anything more than sweatpants to school because of the looks I get. So, what do I do? Go on the defensive; making cunning replies to comments and turning stone-cold to strangers? Or try to hide and blend in to avoid the uncomfortable situations? I'm not stating this to create a platform for feminism or to claim things are unfair for women; its just something I have observed and felt. It's not right, and it's not true everywhere.

I know I run the risk that I am potentially behind melodramatic, but these have been my almost-daily experiences out and about in the city. And the biggest question of all has been how to live out my faith--being kind, being patient, being loving, giving my life away---in a place where everyone just wants to be left alone. The mother-hen in me is crying out for people to love on, and people for Jason and me to live life with.

There have been little victories. Two different girls have separately sought me out after class this week; and after just a couple minutes of small talk started to tell me all the struggles and situations in life and asking my advice without even knowing my name...two beautiful chances to share the love of God; two tiny cracks in the bell jar of private worlds.

The city is chaotic, solitary, busy,exciting rustling, enchanting and terrifying all at once. I love that we are spending our first two years of marriage here because of how much Jason and I get to depend only on each other; our trust of each other and God is strengthened in little and big ways. We get to explore and learn and get lost and find our way and find each other all over again everyday. We get to learn how to make each other laugh in new ways, to help each other remember to feel deeply and breathe and take it one day at a time. It is a new world, a new life, a new mystery. So until I unravel the secrets, until I find the answers, I am learning to follow the advice of Anne Lamott:

Be brave, be kind. Breathe.


...and wait and pray for the bell jars to break.

7 comments:

Betsy King said...

You are the sweetest thing.

We are all here in your strange little home town cheering for you two in the big city!! Go C & J!

Jennifer said...

i love you cassie beer!! i know that God is going to use you and J for some amazing things in Chicago! I can't wait to see what happens!

Marc said...

1. Still in need of books? I have a few I've meant to send and (obviously) haven't yet.

2. Even in brief visits to Chicago I've definitely picked up on the closed-off nature of so many people (now your everyday experience). However I think the city (and cities) need people who don't fit that mold. People that will be the weird ones that say hello and smile at the wrong times and to the wrong people.

I know that culture is important and context can mean everything, but I'm also struck by the idea that god's intention for Love, is that it exists universally. So smile, connect, even intrude if needed. I hope that people, even city people, still respond to love, even if they don't advertise that they're in the market for it.

rachel said...

i'm glad you're back in the blog-world. if high school was foundational to your blogging career, college was to mine. it's been much less frequent ... or, at best, more sporadic than ever before. i've also found myself to be more personal and real, and less concerned about putting forth some clever theological/life argument. and yet, sometimes that's where i end up anyway ;)

about chicago: i actually feel the opposite about it! chicago is a big city, and it comes with all the cold shoulders that are bound to happen -- but compared to my experiences in new york, st. louis, minneapolis, seattle, milwaukee, and san fran ... chicago is the only one that felt a little like home. that good ol' midwestern touch. look for it, it's there ... maybe it's just a bit buried under the crusty big-city facade.

i'm excited to read about your and jason's adventures!! and i love the title of your blog .... so, in good form:

go under the mercy.

-rachel-

Cherith said...

Cassie, I am so happy that you posted this. You are such an amazing writer and I look forward to many more blogs from you! I know what you mean about Chicago. We were there for only a few short days and you do put up that wall. I know, like others have said, you two are going to be such an awesome tool in Chicago!! Continue to write... we love you both so much!

Alicia said...

Even the smallest glimpses of light in such a dark place are used by God :) Your vulnerability is humbling and inspiring - "Greater is He who lives in you than he who lives in the world" I will pray for you and Jason! :)

amber said...

Can you tell me reasons you are voting for obama? I'm so inbetween right now.