Help/For the Drowning

My eyes are shit.

Besides a fun little condition called congenital nystagmus, which renders my eyes vibratory little balls, I just have poor long-distance vision. I remember getting glasses as a child and seeing the leaves on trees for the first time on the way home from the ophthalmologist’s office, a miracle in broad daylight. I went to the optometrist last week and she put me somewhere on the middle of the visual spectrum: not that good, but not that bad either. The equivalent of tepid water.

This sort of offended me. I mean, without my contacts I feel like I’m in a fever dream. Not that bad?

It’s the same kind of offence I take when someone says that “God gives special kids to special people.” Or that God has allowed us to face our particular challenges to show how strong we are. Or–THE WORST OF ALL OF THEM–when a person dies and says that “God needed another angel in heaven.”

Who is this God people speak of? Because, to me, he sounds like an asshole, which is why he’s not the one I know. This God belongs on needlepoint pillows yet has a bullying problem. This God identifies his peeps by dropping them in the middle of minefields, by switching the weights on them at the gym before they do their dead lifts, by being so insecure as to pluck people from earth so he can have more friends in paradise.


Here’s the truth: my vision sucks. I’m not so special. And I’m definitely not strong. By the end of most days, I feel I’m drowning, and the only thing that can save me are red wine, a hot bath, and a raft called grace that scoops me up rather than requiring me to pull myself onboard.

That “Footprints” thing that I used to love? Gross again. There’s never not a day when I’m not being carried. What I’m saying is that strong…is overrated.

The other night I stood staring out the window after yet another day of failures, of shitty parenting, of not-so-consistent kindness to The Husband, and I felt the familiar urge to list it all out in my head, all the things I needed to do better tomorrow. I could live my whole life in lists and it would kill me. The weight of this particular set of to-dos approached me like a shadow in the growing night and then I remembered: we don’t do things that way anymore. God and me, his grace and my lack, that is not how we operate. I shut the self-salvation project down once again–turned off the lights in the office, put up the sign saying we’re no longer in business (I have to put it up daily; someone keeps taking it down)–and made space for the glorious freedom of being in need.

Years ago I heard a lifesaving expert recount how difficult it is to save a person who has just realised she’s drowning: how, when the initial panic sets in, the person flails and fights it so hard that, were an untrained person to intervene, both would likely go down. How people are more…well, save-able once they’ve given up. When their strength is gone and they have nothing left. This is when they are most likely to be carried to safety.

So the other night, at the window, I remembered how I don’t have to be a hero anymore. How I never did, how I never was anyway. I let the failures that so easily look like both accusations and future projects be, instead, exactly what they are: the things that expose my need for more, that drive me into a grace that saves me. Once again, I stopped fighting and found that I could breathe.

It’s not about not trying to do better. It’s about the freedom that comes with knowing that when I fail–every time–grace doesn’t. Which is the point.

We had a busy Easter weekend, full of chocolate and BBQs, swimming and sun, wine and wonderful friends. After four days of it, we were exhausted, and the time change (it’s autumn here) was working its black magic on us too. The boys and I rode home from their swim lesson last night with the sun beginning to set at its new time. As we turned the corner to our street, its orange glow pierced the windshield, and my song list shuffled to “Nessum Dorma” from the opera Turandot, because I’m fancy.

Actually, it’s because in 2008, I took a trip to Italy with my girlfriends and we booked a private wine tour. At one point, our tour guide/new friend cued up this very track and it blasted the van we rode in through the Tuscan countryside. It felt magical. I knew I needed the song for myself, even if it wouldn’t feel as Italian and wine-soaked ever again.

But the strains echoed through the car anyway, decidedly more quietly but still recognisable ten years later, and the water glimmered ahead of us, and I thought about all the places I’ve heard it: a van in Italy, from which I was scooped into a Honda in Atlanta, from which I was scooped into a Hyundai in Sydney, all by a grace that may change the surroundings but never the saving, set to a background music that always sounds the same.

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