just a brief journal on old memories

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States, and I find myself sipping moscato and trying to think of all the Thanksgivings I can remember as a child. Unfortunately, I don’t remember very many Thanksgivings before my mom died almost thirteen years go. That period of my life all feels like a blur sometimes. I’d like to take a little bit of time right now to reflect on one Thanksgiving that I do remember…

We had just moved to California — my dad, my mom, and I — and we were living in my older brother and now sister-in-law’s tiny apartment. I remember my parents slept on the futon in the living room and I slept on a cot of some sort not too far from them. I was only twelve and hadn’t lived with my brother for three years, so it was nice to me, those cozy moments piled together in one place.

I only remember snippets from that day…

One snippet is about how my obsessive compulsive disorder came out in full swing. I don’t remember what I was compulsively doing, but I do remember my mother getting frustrated with me. My compulsions were really bad at that time in my life.

On a happier note, I remember watching television. We didn’t really have a dining room or a table, so we all sat in the living room with our Thanksgiving plates and watched TV. It was right around the release of the second Harry Potter movie, and the three child actors were on Oprah or something… I just remember them talking about Dobby, who must’ve been cutting-edge CGI at the time. Oprah kept saying, “You mean Dobby was just a tennis ball on a stick?” “I mean, what was it like talking to a tennis ball on a stick?” At one point, my mom exclaimed, to the laughter of the rest of us, “We get it! He’s a tennis ball on a stick.”

I’m not sure if it was that day or some time before or afterwards, but we all gathered to watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first movie. I remember running away from the TV and freaking out. I think it was my dad who followed. I kept trying to say that I couldn’t watch that movie, that it was bad, that people from our old church in South Carolina told me it was bad.

My dad (or my mom, or both) told me that it was just a movie, that it wasn’t bad at all, that it was fun and there was no sin in watching it. I am so grateful to my parents for that moment, for their attitudes, for introducing me to a rich and life-changing world.

I am so grateful to them for not forcing religion and rules upon me, for only taking me to church when I asked them to do so. (I remember one kid in my Sunday school class was there as a punishment for something he did the day before). I am so grateful to my parents for showing me that God existed outside of church buildings and that he wasn’t mad at me for “sinning.” I’m grateful to them for challenging the rules I came home from Sunday school spouting — like when they told me love was what really mattered in a relationship, not gender. I love my mom and dad so much.

I was too young to really grasp it then, and I wish (not for the first time) that they were here now to talk to me about my questions, to tell me about their own experiences with faith now that I’m old enough to listen.

I want to watch movies with them. I want them to see their granddaughter’s excitement over reading Harry Potter. I want them to know the incredible man in my life who, coincidentally, is also currently reading Harry Potter for the first time. I want them to glimpse Grey Havens YA, a group that I know they would love. I know it would make them proud.

More than that, I just want to know them. I feel like I hardly knew my mother. Twelve years was too short a time. But then again, twenty-three years was too short a time with my dad, and I want to know him more too. I am thankful for that time, I’m thankful for what I do know, I just wish it could’ve been longer, I wish their could’ve been more.

I miss you, Mom. I miss you, Dad.
I’m thankful that I’m here with my brother and his wife who became my sister, with my two little nieces… but we all miss you.

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Two.

IMG_1193A lot has happened over the past two years

I caught myself saying it had been “three” years the other day, I suppose that’s how much time blurs after grief burrows inside your heart and settles down for the long haul. I used to meticulously count the months, now I imagined I’ve been living without my dad a whole year longer than was really true. I guess that means I’ve resigned myself to this fate, that this life has to keep going now, without him.

And yet, I can still clearly remember the details of that day:

It was overcast, rainy, much it like it was on June 10, 2015 when I started this post. In 2013, I was at work when I got the call that my dad was in the ER…. I couldn’t focus and I asked to go home. I wandered around the house, I cuddled my cat, I watched episodes of Total Drama Action to distract myself from the wait. I told friends and they prayed with me. The friends I lived with made dinner. I was just about to attempt to sit down and eat –it was a sausage biscuit, breakfast for dinner– when the call came. I remember kneeling on the wood floor of my bedroom. I remember our pastor coming over. I remember sitting with a pillow clenched to my chest, trying and failing to sip a smoothie so that at least I could take in some nutrients.

That day was awful, but it was the days that followed that were worse. I fell asleep hugging my cat and I remember waking up early for my plane ride and wishing that it had all been a bad dream. I remember sobbing on the plane. I remember a panic attack in Colorado when the high mountain air fled from my lungs and the stress of making funeral plans became too much. I remember beer and sandwiches. I remember stepping outside DIA as I waited to fly back to Maryland and wanting to collapse on the sidewalk and never get up again.

I remember music. Manic Depression is touching my soul… So keep your head up, love. And the landslide’ll bring it down.

But still, a lot has happened in these past two years…

wpid-20150602_165350.jpgI’ve gotten to live alongside my family, the brother who went off to college when I was only nine years old. I get to live with him and his wife now, I get to watch them be parents to my nieces, I get to sit with them and be, and feel at home with them. I get to stop my writing, dry my tears, and go watch a documentary about music with them… which is exactly what happened in the middle of this post.

Not only that, but I’ve started chasing a new dream, a community of nerds, a friend and partner to tend this garden with, something that fits.

I’ve stumbled upon a job with consistent hours and a service I feel good about. I’ve been adopted into a work family who truly cares about me.

I’ve found another friend, one who reached out to me, one who grabbed my hand as the darkness closed in– and he steadily became more, so much more…

But yes, there was still plenty of darkness… In these past two years, I had to decide to say goodbye to my cat, because I couldn’t take her with me. She was a gift from my mom, and she’d been with me through both losses, it really sucked having to lose her too. I also reached the point in my life when I’ve been alive longer on this earth without my mother than I’ve been alive with her. She died when I was twelve, and I’ve been living with her absence for thirteen years, and the years will keep adding and adding now. I miss her. I don’t really like this math, but I’m compelled to focus on it. Grief does strange things to you.

Grief messes with your faith. I don’t know where I am anymore, and I don’t know how much of it was sparked by grief or if this was just something I was bound to encounter eventually. (I’m sure it doesn’t help that when I lost my dad, I also lost my church community.) As I look back on the posts I’ve written since June 10, 2013, I see small glimpses of hope and light– not too much, but just enough to have kept me afloat. I read them now and I sink. I feel bitter and doubtful and cynical about the words I once clung to to keep from becoming bitter and doubtful and cynical. O Lord, help my unbelief. Actually, I don’t know if it really is unbelief or if it’s just pain. I can’t hold to faith anymore because I can’t trust God anymore, because I’m hurt; I still don’t think I’ve fully recovered from the blow. I had to fill out a questionnaire recently that asked me to rate how much I agreed with the following statement: “I have beliefs that sustain me.” Two years ago, I would’ve given that statement top marks, but I didn’t know how to score it this year. I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do about that.

Deep breath. Okay, back to the good things:

In these past two years, I’ve traveled a little, visited the Great Sand Dunes, attended two concerts by my favorite musicians, spoken at an academic conference, won an award for working with youth in my community, taken up yoga, read widely, and fallen in love.

I truly wish that my dad could’ve been a part of it all. I know that would probably mean that most of these good events wouldn’t have happened, and I suppose knowing that his death has at least brought about a glimpse of beauty helps a little… but I miss him. I just miss him. Two years, Dad. I hope you and mom have been watching.

on death, prayer, and phoneixes

I’m trying hard to write. I’m trying hard not to write. When the grieving thoughts strike me during my lunch break, I ache for the cathartic process of creating beauty from ashes. Then break’s over, a happy face returns, and by the time I get home, I decide I’d rather escape into Harry Potter‘s world of ashes and phoenix songs than focus on my own.

Where’s my phoenix?

I’m currently reading three books at the moment:

1) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (I just finished Goblet of Fire) by J.K. Rowling
2) Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr
3) American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning by Kate Sweeney

You wouldn’t think those three fit together very well, but they mingle beautifully in my head.

For example, Rohr writes, “Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, transformation, and necessary hibernation. Yet this sacred space is the very space we avoid. When we avoid darkness, we avoid tension, spiritual creativity, and finally transformation. We avoid God, who works in the darkness — where we are not in control. Maybe that is the secret: relinquishing control.”

Sweeney writes of Victorian mourning customs, “However, while strides were taking place in the name of modernity and expedience in other realms … mourning was designed to be hard. You had buried your brother; you would stay up nights over a candle sweating over the thinnest pins wrapped in his hair. You would wear scratchy clothes and mourning veils for months. It would not be convenient or subtle, and you would not be comfortable.”

Rowling writes many of her great quotes in the voice of Professor Dumbledore. When I stumbled over this passage in Goblet of Fire in which Dumbledore speaks to Harry about witnessing a tragic death, I cried. She writes, “‘If I thought I could help you,’ Dumbledore said gently, ‘by the putting you in an enchanted sleep and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it. You have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you. I ask you to demonstrate your courage one more time. I ask you to tell us what happened.'”

I remember that. I remember wanting nothing more than to sleep… to sleep and wake up and find that it had all been only a nightmare. Even though I know now that no amount of sleep will reverse what happened, I welcome a deep, enchanted sleep to escape for a bit.

Have I been sleeping too long now? Have I avoided telling my story? Have I been avoiding the darkness, or have I just been letting myself stay comfortably numb in the twilight?

Rowling goes on to say that the sweet song of Dumbledore’s phoenix “warms” Harry’s insides, giving him hope. I ache for a phoenix. Am I really going to be transformed, as Rohr claims… or have I already passed the incubation period? Sometimes I wish we still honored a Victorian mindset about death, where mourning was public, prolonged, accepted, where our outside appearance reflected the turmoil of our hearts. But what happens after the designated “mourning period” has ended? What happens to widow after her year of wearing nothing but black ends abruptly and she is expected to wear color again? Does that mean she no longer grieves? Does that mean she’s “over” it?

I don’t want to talk about how long it’s been.

I returned wpid-20150114_161158.jpgto my walking lake today. I didn’t walk it, because it was chilly and I wasn’t wearing the right shoes, but I just felt the urge to see it. I hadn’t been to the water in months because of the bitter cold. I’ve been hearing the geese, though, the cacophony of life that inhabits this frozen wasteland. It’s as though they’ve been calling to me, beckoning me. So I went back today, just to look. I found light again, a beauty reminiscent of the one that saved me during those toughest months of my life… Is it wrong that I haven’t been walking there? Is it bad that I haven’t journaled?

I still just want to read Harry Potter and forget — No, forget is not the right word. I do escape, that much is true, but I also find a part of myself in those books, my grief, my childhood, my fear, my hope…

Sometimes all I want to do is fall inside those pages and never come out, so I’m breaking up the wizarding world with a book about death and a book about prayer… It’s a strange little collection, I know, but I hope it will awaken me slowly, allow me to breath a bit deeper, and lead me even closer to resurrection…

thoughts on enduring.

wpid-20140829_152842.jpgI don’t want to write this.

I don’t want to write about how I left work today because I felt too wrapped in semi-conscious grief to function.

I don’t want to write about how it’s been sixteen months, and I suddenly now feel as raw and broken as I did sixteen months ago.

I think Fall is triggering something. Last Fall was pretty bad, and even though circumstances have changed and I have happier things in my life, I still have this one overarching sorrowful thing that screams inside my head.

This can’t be happening. I have to be able to function. I have a good job. I have love in my life. I get to spend time with my family. How can I still get lost in the darkness?

I don’t want to write about it because I’m afraid it will suck me back into the vortex.

If I write about how much I miss them, about all the other losses that come with it, I’m afraid I’ll go down a spiral that I can’t climb back up. But I’ve been told I need to focus on it, allow the grief to wash over me, and it will—it’ll wash over me and pass. That’s what they say anyway, but it doesn’t feel like it’s passing.

Today, I had tears stuck in my eyes. They were literally stuck at the edge of my vision, making it unable to focus on anything else, blurring my sight and fracturing it with rainbow colors. And they wouldn’t go away.

They’ve gone now. If I write about it, I’m afraid they’ll come back. If I don’t write about it, I’m afraid they’ll come back tomorrow at the most inconvenient moment.

Even in tears you can see a rainbow…. Is that supposed to mean something? Even the dying leaves are beautiful…

I know, I know, I wrote a lot about Autumn last year. I can’t help it, it’s a bit of an obsession. It’s the one time of year where the Earth joins us in our dying, where we find joy in the dying.

I can’t escape this poetry. Maybe that’s what’s triggering the “relapse” of grief, I don’t know.
Maybe it also has to do with the upcoming holidays. The first round was terrible, and I know the second won’t be much easier.

Recently I saw a play based on The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s memoir which I’ve quoted here before. In the play, the actor playing Didion talked about geology… about the lessons of science. The earth is in a state of constant change, but it always continues.

Today I wrote on my arm: “Endures.”  I do that sometimes when I need a reminder to get me through the day. Endures. His love endures forever. God endures forever. I endure, here, in this moment. Despite it all, I have endured. I will endure. He holds me close. A dying star leaves behind the perfect conditions for new ones to glow. Life finds a way.

Substance.

It has been almost a year now since my dad died.

It sucks. It is painful. I miss him, and I am trying not to think about it too much. Strangely enough, though, I feel similar now to how I felt last year, just before it happened: hopeful. This tragedy has led me to a place I never thought I’d be, and I think I am finally starting to settle into that place, to find the hope in it. God has blessed me with a joy I never thought I’d find. …And I am terrified of losing it all again (just as I had lost my hope last year).

One day, one breath at a time. Manna today, what is it? I cannot comprehend it, but I can choose to accept it, this mystery, and I can trust that God will provide this inexplicably satisfying mystery daily. Today the manna brings delight to my soul. Tomorrow it may not be so joyful, but it will still fill me, as my God promises never to leave me nor forsake me.

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Against my ruins

My sense of smell is intricately (and sometimes quite inconveniently) linked to my memory.

The other day I caught a whiff of new-carpet smell, and I nearly burst into tears. (My dad used to work in a carpet store. That smell clung to his being all of my childhood life.)

And yet another day, the air was warm and heavy. We opened the windows. As I walked down to my room at the end of the night, I caught the smell, that outdoorsy, windows-open, fresh air, summer smell. I can’t handle that smell, the smell of summer…

Because my last summer was so awful. Daunting. Oppressive. Dark. Suffocating.
It can’t be summer yet. It’s too soon.

T.S. Eliot says,
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Did winter keep me warm? Winter was awful too at times. But the cold was so long and permeating that perhaps I forgot about the passage of time. And now it is April.

More Eliot,
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

I never agreed with Eliot’s description here before. Who could call ever call the breath of April cruel? But now I think I am beginning to see what he means. Yes, spring is the season of the poets, but in the joy of new life, there is also sorrow. It is this very juxtaposition of the blooming April against the decaying winter that makes it so cruel.

The world is still slow, silent, dead, when spring tries to grab hold of us and thrust us into the life.

Pablo Neruda,
How do the seasons know
they must change their shirt?

Why so slowly in winter
and later with such a rapid shudder?

What will it be like this time around? Can I handle that rapid shudder?

And how do the roots know
they must climb toward the light?

And then greet the air
with so many flowers and colors? -Neruda.

Am I climbing towards the light? I need it so desperately.
But when my dried roots reach that light, will there be any flowers to bloom?

I have lost my train of thought. Eliot: These fragments I have shored against my ruins… What does it mean? What will it bring? I need to climb towards the light. Lilacs, I want lilacs. I cling to the promise of the lilacs, of the spring rain. This dead land, this waste land, needs water to quench it and color to save it.

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)
-Eliot.

Landslide

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Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides,
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Oh, I don’t know.

Well I’ve been afraid of changing,
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you.
But time makes you bolder, even children get older,
And I’m getting older too.

Take my love, take it down
I climbed a mountain and I turned around…
And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills,
Well the landslide’ll bring it down.

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My Dad really loved the song “Landslide,” written by Stevie Nicks. We played it during the slideshow at his funeral, and even my little niece knew it. She said, “This is Pop-pop’s favorite song.” I have memories of hearing him hum it in the next room, in the car, on a walk. Sometimes I sing it now, at the top of my lungs, and I hope he hears me.

Blossom in all seasons…

I’ve been thinking again about the change in seasons. I don’t know what to make of this winter/spring mix. As I was looking back through summer photos of the mountains to find aspen pictures for this post, and I was struck by how luscious and green everything looked. I found myself wondering if I’d even seen these photos before, because everything looked so new and beautiful. (I had seen them, I gone through them and uploaded them to Facebook, but that was right after I had taken them, in the middle of summer.) In the dry and dreary winter, I saw summer’s beauty and bounty and remembered that life would renew again.

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I want to remember the aspens throughout the seasons. The papery leaves, brilliant green in the summer, yellow in the autumn, crumbled and lost in the winter.

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March has been a strange season… Still no resolution. This month has left me feeling unclear about what to write here, but I know I must write something. I cannot let the time go unrecorded.

Sometimes I can go for days without thinking about my dad, or at least without despair. I can have days where I accept joy, and it does not come mingled in tears. Just the other day, I participated in an event that I had been working on and driving towards for weeks… It was a lovely day, and I had a lot of fun, but my dad never knew anything about it. He didn’t meet the people of Grey Havens. He didn’t know I had found a group of young adults to lead even nerdier than I am. He didn’t get to see their hilarious skit. All of these things happened after he died, part of the life I live now without his presence. But here’s the thing that scares me: I haven’t grieved about it. At least, it doesn’t seem like I have yet, anyway.

I do not know if I am numb, blinded by temporary happiness, or just reaching a new stage in the grieving process. I do not want it to be any of those things. I do not know what to make of this. What will spring bring to me? What will the tenth month bring? What will happen when I reach the anniversary date of the last time I saw him?

Lately I have been distracted from thinking about grief because I have been looking at the new blessings of my life. (Why do I feel bad about that?) I have a new job, praise God. I am getting to know new friends. I am growing closer to my nieces. I am finding things to enjoy in Colorado… And my dad won’t see it. Well, hopefully he will, but it won’t be in a way that I can interact with him about it. And it scares me that I haven’t broken down about it yet. I worry about what may be coming. (I suppose that’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I should be careful. I need to stop overanalyzing. Grief is grief, there is no formula.)

There are some days that still pierce me. I am struggling with churches and questions of faith right now, and I can’t talk to my dad about it. I know he would have listened. I know he would’ve held me when I felt so confused and alone. I miss singing next to him. I miss the way he loved to worship. I also miss learning from him. I miss hearing him tell me stories about our family, his childhood, about mom.

The white flowers on the tombs of the kings of Rohan blossom in all the seasons of the year, that is why they are called evermind, simbelmynë. They grow where dead men rest, and I am the simbelmynë. I am the aspen tree. I stand rooted through winter, spring, summer, and fall, with my scarred bark and my papery leaves, but still I stand, silver and golden in the sunlight. Because there is always sun.

I am the evermind. I grow where death has overtaken, and I bloom there bright and beautiful, a white eye in the grass, ever seeing, ever remembering. 

February Fragments

Sometimes, when I read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, the writing is so true, the experience of death so familiar that I feel shivery and sick. I remember a similar feeling of sitting outside the Denver airport in July and wanting to fall down and never get up, to melt into the sidewalk, to crumble into the stones…

There is a new advertisement on our carts at work for some random real estate company with smiling photos of either a man or a woman looking right at you… The man, from far away, with his greying mustache and his big grin, looks like him. I don’t think I can handle seeing it, even a glimpse was almost too much today. He’s not here. Nobody here knows him. He will never be here again.

This past Valentines Day didn’t make me sad because I was single. It made me sad because it was another holiday in which I had to face the absence of my dad. For as long as I can remember, my dad would always give me cheesy valentines gifts, even after I turned twenty-two. I remember often worrying about it because I could never stop him from buying a box of chocolates here, a little stuffed animal there, a mug with hearts painted on it, and I worried about our expenses. Still, it was nice to know I could always count a little gift or card each Valentines day, even after my dad moved away.

My friend wants to take me to a Rockies game this spring, but I don’t know how that will go for me. Baseball was such a special activity that I got to share almost always solely with my dad and my grandpa, both of whom are gone now. I don’t know if it will be better or worse that I’ll be in a new city, watching a new team, instead of the beloved Orioles of my childhood, my dad’s childhood, my grandfather’s hometown. I miss Baltimore now more than I ever thought I would.

In Didion’s account of the year following her husband’s death, she meticulously records the details of the night he died… Do I have to do that now, before I lose it? I can’t even face writing it down, some of the memories are still too raw. Since she keeps dates in the book, I try to place my grief own timeline beside hers (which, when you think about it, is kind of absurd). …Should I be writing more? Should I be able to face the specifics now? What if I forget? What will I forget?

“…We [cannot] know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” -Didion, emphasis mine.

Sometimes I wish he had been a writer, so that I, like Didion, could sit and reread the words of the one I had lost. Or so that I, like Christopher Tolkien, could be left with an entire world of my father’s thoughts in published novels, half-finished manuscripts, and fragments of verse and story.

What did he leave behind so that I could find him again?

I think one of the ways I feel closer to my dad is through the music I know he loved. I forgot to mention in my last post another aspect of Tolkien’s world that connects to my grief journey, the music. I suppose I didn’t bring it up before because it’s not exactly Tolkien, but it is Tolkien-inspired. My dad loved listening to the soundtracks to the movies. He really loved the song from the credits of The Return of the King, “Into the West,” by Annie Lennox, Fran Walsh, and Howard Shore. As I mentioned in the post, my mom passed away recently after The Two Towers came out in theaters. I think my dad and I both escaped through these movies, and when we first heard the song in that next year, it was a almost form of catharsis. I’m sure it made him think about my mom. I like to think it gave him hope…

We used the lyrics, amended a little, in the memorial booklet made for his funeral:

Don’t say, “We have come now to the end.”
White shores are calling,
You and I will meet again.

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea,
A pale moon rises;
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn
To silver glass,
A light on the water,
All souls pass
Into the West.

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I don’t know what else to say. I’ve lost my momentum, and I’ve used up all my concentration. If I wait to think of something else, I’ll never hit publish. So, I will simply quote Didion again as she expresses the emotions surrounding the end of her account of the year after her husband died:
“The craziness is receding, but no clarity is taking its place. I look for resolution and find none.”

Grey Havens

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, or even if you read one of my posts from December, or checked out the meaning behind my username, you’d know that I really love The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

I found Tolkien around late 2001/early 2002, after my friend dragged me to see The Fellowship of the Ring movie. I remember being really upset because I didn’t know she was taking me to see it, and the previews had really frightened eleven-year-old me. However, I fell in love at the cinema that day, and even though I still turned away during the Moria scenes out of fear, I wanted to learn everything I could about this strange new world called Middle Earth. I started reading and devouring the trilogy, and by the time The Two Towers movie came out, I was a bit obsessed.

As you may remember from the poem I published a few months ago, my mother died not long after The Two Towers was released. In fact, the last time I saw her awake and breathing without a machine to do it for her was before my dad and I left the hospital to go see the movie.

I clung to Tolkien’s works during that tumultuous time. I clung to Jesus too, and I don’t think the two need to be separate. Yes, The Lord of the Rings helped me to escape, but it also helped me to see God in a different and deeper way. I researched into Tolkien’s life and his faith, and I found hope in the same Power that was dear to him. I did a project on the making of the films for my seventh grade English class. In eighth grade, I led a workshop for my church youth group on finding spiritual truths in The Lord of the Rings. As a freshman in drama class, I had to write and perform a monologue while portraying a famous person from history, and of course I chose good old J.R.R. I wish I had the transcript of the monologue somewhere… but I remember I wrote it as John talking to his wife Edith about his mother. (He too had lost a mother around the same age as I did.) I also remember that my British accent often strayed off course as I kept turning into a southern belle… but that is neither here nor there. In my senior year, I titled my college admissions essay “Hobbitry in Heart,” after some encouragement Tolkien wrote to his son in one of his letters.

If the kids at my middle school knew me at all, they knew me as the girl obsessed with The Lord of the Rings, the one who wore the One Ring around her neck and decided that instead of doing a peace sign or a thumbs-up in photographs, she would hold up nine fingers, the right ring finger missing, as if she were Frodo or something… Yeah, I was that kid. God bless my friends at the time. I love that about nerds, we look out for each other.

And that’s what brings me to the present moment. (Yes, I know I skipped a few years.) I wanted to write about a group I found here, a group of nerds, a group of scholars, a group of loving and compassionate people, The Grey Havens Group. I moved to Colorado after my dad died last summer, and I have struggled to find new friends, new community, and new hope. I’ve clung to Tolkien (and Jesus) during this time too. I remember needing to watch the films right after it happened, putting them on as I tried and failed to sleep. I returned to the books and read them over again, and I started reading The Hobbit to my little niece. I am grateful that I got to share The Lord of the Rings with my dad before he died. He was the one who actually shared it with me, since he read it back in the day and would watch it with me and tell me it’s not scary. He would always point out to me the lines I should pay attention to before I knew the whole story. For example, he would repeat Gandalf when he tells Frodo in the mines that “Gollum has some part to play yet,” and then make this humming noise that always meant he knew something I didn’t. I love remembering how my dad would get excited about movies, stories, and foreshadowing.

It was during this mourning season that I randomly came across a Tolkien Society not too far away from me in Boulder County. I decided to show up to one of the meetings, and I instantly felt welcomed, cared about, and accepted. I had been struggling to find a church community at the time, and when I walked into Grey Havens, I felt more accepted there than at any church I had yet found. I’m sorry to say that about church, but it’s how I truly felt. Here was a group of people from all different backgrounds, all different ages, careers, beliefs, life stories, but we had one thing in common: a love for Tolkien, for the Inklings, for fantasy and imagination. I am so grateful for that bond, and for a group that will sit around a table in the back of a bookshop to discuss fantasy, history, comedy, and spirituality while respecting each other even amidst disagreements. We spur one another on to think deeper, and I love that.

I haven’t been able to make many Grey Havens meetings, but with its online presence, I never feel as though I’ve left the community. Grey Havens has also started a young adult chapter (the blog is now LIVE!), and I’ve been able to get involved there. Watching young adults come alive while discussing literature makes me so happy inside, I can’t even describe it to you. We host monthly events at the library and a biweekly book discussion. These young adults have such passion, and they are not afraid to be themselves, to love what they love, and to respect others for what they love too, even if it’s different. (We stole our slogan from Wil Wheaton: “Being a nerd is not about what you love, it’s about how you love it.”) I am so blessed to have come across the Grey Havens during this time in my life.

Tolkien people are good people, and I am grateful to have found a community of them right in my neighborhood. If you’re in the Boulder area, check us out. If you’re a Tolkien fan, but haven’t told me yet, let me know. (You’ll be my new best friend!) And if a work of literature or film has helped you through a dark time, I’d love to hear about it.

I’ll leave you with the quote I used for my essay. It’s from one of Tolkien’s letters to his son Christopher while he was in the army during World War II: “Well there you are: a hobbit amongst the Urukhai. Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that when you are in them. You are inside a very great story!”