The hospital seems distant now, two weeks after my brother’s admittance. Spring break offers a time of healing for all of us, even as my twin nieces play doctor to their recovering father at home. It’s good to have Mom around P.J.’s table too, especially now that he’s hesitantly venturing on to solid foods. And while he heals from his bleeding ulcer, I heal from a wound rather self-inflicted.
The mountains of the last two weeks were a distraction from any other obstacle on the horizon. Those evenings and planning blocks I spent on the surgical floor instead of grading persuasive essays pushed them over to Spring Break’s To Do list. I forgot to complete my post-conference evaluation form for my principal. I’d been processing the death of my psychologist, Dr. Bogin, intending to send my post about him to his wife perhaps as some encouragement. That’s on this week’s To Do List, too.
Cinderella made an appearance again to my students last week at their fairy tale celebration, but I’d never bothered ordering her glass slippers. I donned the costume, but my heart wasn’t in it this year. The kids loved her visit, and they kept trying to make me break character, but for those three blocks they gave me enough energy to give them a clever Cinderella while they shared their team fairy tales.
In their unit post-evaluations, many students upheld that what they most loved about writing fairy tales was that anything was possible. Their characters could have the magical powers they only wish they had themselves. Good always overcomes evil. Talking animals help heroes on their quests. Morals like beauty is more than skin deep or true love conquers all give them all hope, faith, and unwavering trust in the governing power of fairy tales – anything is possible.
For the last year and a half, I’ve been writing a fairy tale myself. I’m the protagonist, of course, adventuring on a quest to secure my treasure and achieve my personal destiny. My leading man is Charming who entered the scene where this tale begins, after my fruitless summer of online dating which found me giving up on the prospect of love altogether to focus on my career.
Having remembered him as a cute collegiate back in my Wheaton College days, I was surprised and somewhat pleased to see a Facebook message in my inbox two Septembers ago citing that he’d resonated with a few of my blog posts, could relate to some of my experiences, and wanted to meet for coffee and conversation. Soon after, in the annals of my blog, he became Charming. Much of my weekly writing nights thereafter catalogued a romance reminiscent of a Hallmark movie.
Or a fairy tale. Where anything was possible. We’ve attended military balls, taken a cruise to the Bahamas, road tripped to Wheaton, enjoyed countless nights in Old Town Alexandria, and shared holidays with our families. At a time where I’d abandoned my quest for a family of my own, Charming’s arrival opened the floodgates of hope, faith, and trust. When a colleague called me “wildly optimistic” last year, it surprised me.
She was right. I had started writing a different story. These weekly blogs are my therapy, a time to reflect, reevaluate, and redirect. I’d processed the heartbreaks and losses of my divorce, the season of shame in its wake, the betrayal of a boyfriend after it, and the struggles of starting over in my thirties. What my kids loved about fairy tales I loved about the story I was writing with Charming. Sure, he was always a step behind, always hesitant, always pulling on the reigns, but I was enchanted. Anything was possible. Love could conquer all.
After all, Charming met every item on my “Uncompromisable Qualities for a Future Mate” list. I thought. Until we had our first relationship defining talk in which he noted there was one item that didn’t describe him: ready for a wife and family. And a year ago, our relationship continued on quite well after that admission. Long story short, I turned thirty-four, and that changed.
The vacancy in my life where children of my own should be, the numbing silence inside my little rented house, the complete inability to change my circumstances without artificial insemination, the incessant tick-tick-tick of my biological clock warning me that I’m running out of time… I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, but I stopped writing a fairy tale. Before P.J. was hospitalized, Charming and I were coming off a near-break-up weekend where we were supposed to be thinking and praying, then we’d talk. That had to wait until Spring Break, too.
So this weekend, I drove up to DC for a few days with Charming. We walked around Old Town, hitting our favorite dinner and brunch spots. We talked about everything but us. Saturday afternoon, before his sister’s birthday party, I broached the topic. Nothing had changed. Until he’s 1000% sure, we’re not moving forward. He’s not. So do I keep waiting? How long do you wait for someone if you believe they are your true love? Or maybe I need to reevaluate if he is, in fact, my true love.
Regardless, the conversation bottomed out quickly. My emotions took over. It was April 1st. There was no hope or faith or trust remaining from the fairy tale celebration at school just twenty-four hours earlier. I convinced myself that Charming was the biggest April Fool’s joke I’d ever played on myself. I hurled revealing strings of words at him in the mental fog of my frustration that I never intended to say aloud.
After a couple of hours of this, I called Chuck, my gym mentor, and I asked him to speak to Charming. While they talked, I stepped outside and thought about all the ways in which this was clearly an April Fool’s joke. Who was I kidding? Did I think I could write a blog of redemption and speak life into reality? Believing Charming would be my husband one day did not make him my husband at all.
We paused our discussion and celebrated his sister’s birthday the rest of the evening, unclear whether we were still a couple at all. Chuck texted me a scripture. It was Ezekiel 37, one of those obscure prophesies I’d heard before but never given much attention to. While Charming ate birthday cake with his family, I googled biblical commentaries on the Valley of Dry Bones.
Hope and faith and trust are not new. The Israelites had them, lost them, regained them. Biblical history is filled with alternating periods of faithfulness and doubt, loyalty and wandering. When Ezekiel is given this vision, the Israelites were in captivity, and this analogy is a response to the people’s cry, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are clean cut-off” (v. 11). One site I found told me to imagine The Lion King’s elephant graveyard.
I understood why Chuck would share this passage with me. That’s exactly where I was, though with perhaps far less cause than the Israelites. Charming asked me to stay for church the next day where the featured Old Testament passage was Ezekiel 37. Seriously, I don’t remember studying this passage before. I thought Lauren Daigle’s “Come Alive” song was inspired by David and the Psalms. Two days in a row? Chuck said it should be my prophesy, but I didn’t really understand it.
Not until today. Not until I’d toiled in my gardens for seven hours, thinking and working, on my knees. I’d decided to double the size of my vegetable garden, and it was far more labor intensive than I’d realized. No one told the roots that the tree they belonged to had died two years ago. I cut into the grass, shoveling, raking, hoeing, and tilling. The roots were a formidable foe.
Then I remembered the pick ax Chuck left on my back steps last week. I wielded it with power. It was incredibly effective. The silver head chopped through the roots, ripping them out. I’d swing it up over my head, then swiftly down into the ground, and finally back through the soil. I could fling a whole cubic feet of grass and soil onto what will be the watermelon hill soon enough. I thought about how the pick ax was my weapon of choice in arguments with Charming, too, that I’ve got more power in words than I do my upper body, and when I swing that pick ax with him, I do some damage. How effective is it there?
When I decided to start from seedlings a few weeks ago, I wondered if the seeds would grow. Can these seeds live? I sowed them. I watered them. Today, I finally planted them in the vegetable garden. As I transplanted the seedlings, I had to wonder again: can these seedlings live? It was a similar question that Ezekiel had asked God in his vision: Can these bones live?
And, I see it’s the question I have with Charming, too. Can this relationship live? And when we talking about living, Ezekiel’s prophesying about taking back the Holy Lands. That’s not surviving; that’s thriving. God tells him to prophesy over the dry bones, to tell them to come alive. Ezekiel does this, and the bones take formation, develop flesh and skin, and finally, breath enters their bodies and the bones stand up as a great army. It was to symbolize the Israelites would be revived, despite having lost their hope. They would be restored, resurrected like these dry bones.
In seven hours in the garden, I could be a very minor prophet, speaking life into these plants simply by following laws of nature. I honored the timing, the light requirements, the water needs, the soil depth, the distance apart. I wielded the pick ax and secured my treasure, finishing both the vegetable gardens and flower beds in a single day. I can anticipate growth and expect a harvest. My gardens were resurrected today. If only the outcomes were so clear and visible with Charming.
I could be dry bones or bones covered by flesh and skin. Neither is particularly appealing, though borrowing Ezekiel’s analogy for myself seems fitting. I’m not really living. And if I’m not really living, then once again, I’ve abandoned that quest for my own personal treasure, the fulfillment of my personal legacy… a family of my own.
Charming can’t breathe life into me. He’s not the answer. I want to see a growth in my life like the harvest in my back yard is sure to produce. Can these bones live? My bones? I hope Charming and I find a happy ending someday in that fairy tale I was writing, but this story is about me. In Ezekiel’s vision, he recognizes the supernatural potential for the valley of dry bones to be resurrected. Working in the garden, thinking as I worked the soil, I saw how similar it was to a fairy tale. In the garden, anything is possible, too.
It was a long day, planting and thinking, daring to hope again for a resurrection of my own. Before I sat down to write tonight, I looked back in my journal on my notes about Ezekiel’s vision. Inscribed by its designer, at the top of my penned words, stood a Bible verse I hadn’t noticed in my dry bones, hazy cloud. It was Mathew 19:26: “With God, all things are possible.”
Sounds a lot like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?