See with me, in your mind, a soft white towel, scented with lemon, sopping with warm water, beautiful and clean. Now see, if you will, that same towel twisted, twisted, twisted until all the clean, sweet smelling water is wrung out of it, dripping down the drain. See what’s left behind, a wrinkled damp thing with whatever stuff from the day that was on your hands all over it, something at the bottom of the hamper, something sort of unpleasant.
The other day after repeatedly sending the same email with specific personalizations to thirty different recipients at my unpaid job, I told my boss, who really is a decent person, that I felt sort of “wrung out like a towel.” I even made the motion with my hands that goes with the image, the two fists held side by side and twisting in different directions, my eyes wide, and sort of needy. I thought he understood, until less than ten minutes later he asked if my towel was back to a state of readiness, or something like that, a question that made me feel guilty, that made me go back to work before I was ready, with glassy eyes and low blood sugar and a sinking feeling.
Friends, I’m feeling wrung out, and not in a way where it’s just a momentary lapse before rejuvenation. No, this is bottom-of-the-hamper wrung, slightly mildew-y wrung, tired all the time wrung out. The warmth of me has been expressed, most of the sweet things down the drain, the water at my core a moist remnant of the abundance of before. I’m not at all beyond repair, I’m just wrung out and I need my water back.
What I’m missing is time to regroup, a chance to start it all over, to retreat with my most loved people to somewhere green and quiet, to ask the questions I need to ask with space to wait for answers, to spend some time kneading bread, to hold a baby, to sing some songs.
But, that’s not possible, at least not right now. No one is giving me space. The world has not yet drastically opened its arms to me. No, people don’t really get space to be wrung out in this world. In this world, bosses don’t let you go home for the day when your face shades over and you need hug someone who loves you. Coffee shifts are bound to start whether you’re ready for them to at 6:30 am or not. And when you sign up to volunteer for something, you’re supposed to show up no matter what seed of secret bitterness is hidden in your heart. And, after all of it, you still have to walk the mile back home once you’re done.
I don’t know how to tell all the people that need things from me that I’m a little bit at a loss, that I’m not capable of as much right now as I was before, that most of my good stuff is floating in Lake Michigan somewhere with the other drainage. It will come back, but I don’t quite know how, and I’m afraid that it will require a string of magic tasks from me, some decision I’m not prepared to make, a move toward warmth and realness some way, some how, without the space to make it.
I don’t know how to tell people, but I’m trying. I’m pretty proud of myself, actually, for telling my boss when I was feeling wrung out, for trying to communicate that there is something lacking, that I’m not quite all the way okay. But people who aren’t wrung out aren’t always ready to receive that information from me and about me, aren’t ready to stop what they’re doing to accommodate my needs, and I don’t really want to ask them to slow down on my account. I’ll tell a friend at a party that I’m feeling a little downtrodden and stuck, and they’ll look at me and say, “Really? You seem to be doing so well!” This response catches me off guard, reminds me that people don’t already know how I’m feeling unless I tell them, and that even telling is actually not going to change anything all that much. But it’s still telling. It’s good enough, sometimes just for me to be honest. I’m proud of myself when I say how I feel, for not pretending I’m firing all cylinders and happily hustling my way through my days. My feet are dragging a bit. I can hardly see six inches in front of me.
I feel wary about writing like this, and also about dwelling on downward-facing things, because I do not want to let my feelings define me. But I also don’t want to be a person who promenades a spotless life on social media or who does not ask for help. It’s a fine line I’m walking, and I feel it. So I’m trying to stand in honesty, and in community, and in hope. I’m saying how I feel in the most true and uninflated ways that I can, I’m spending time with people who don’t mind a slightly soggy me at their table, and I’m remembering that there is grace unending for me and a land over yonder where I’m bound someday (thanks Carole King).
But how I’m feeling right now, my wrung-outedness, is affecting the way I write and what I write in this space too. I’ve lost some of my spaciousness, my imagination. Ideas don’t fly to mind as easily. I wonder if you’ve noticed. I’m noticing, and it makes me feel sad that writing, a thing that has tethered me to what is real for the past year, is one of the things first swept under the rug when life spins too fast and I empty out. I’m here, though. I’m writing because I think it is important and I know that it is good for me.
I have things that I’m excited about besides the unending span of my long, full days, things that feel like they can’t happen now but must, must, must! Things that make me feel interested and valuable, things that return to me a few drops of what is essential, things of which even just the idea ministers to me, things that literally, actually nourish my soul. These things will happen in fullness some how some day! Things like really digging in at church and what I could do there, dancing in a class with other people, knitting this winter and attempting to make something a little more elaborate than a straight scarf, continuing to come home to my husband who I love more every single day, the dream of someday, somehow writing a book, Ferdinand, the Bornman family dog who is living in our little apartment with us for three months, words written by Annie Dillard, godmother to me, adopted just now, unceremoniously because I realized that she ought to be for all she teaches me (And Madeleine L’Engle too.). Little, little things all stacked up, a pitcher of water waiting to be poured, I can see it. Not now, but soon? Soon?
It makes me want to quit everything, to somehow magically live a life doing nothing but reading and writing and knitting and baking bread, to live a prairie life somehow, or a typewriter life, to never have had the idea of working in the theater, of never having had an ambition or idea of how I should be beyond the things that delight me. Of a life, small but personally grand near a body of water, with green overhead and not so many fears lurking all around. Way over yonder, I suppose.
For now, I must find the anointing oil in the murky water of my days. In finally making it home after walking all that way, in podcasts, in yogurt, in coworkers playing Minecraft music at the coffee shop, in lowering my weary body into a hot bath, in stealing minutes to read books, in sitting at the table with other people, in Sufjan Steven’s songs about God, in my husband’s eyes and the way he looks at me like there is so much in me to see. These things replenish me just enough, warm me up, pour into me clear water, simple and real. I don’t notice them, but they do. Thank goodness that they do. Thank God, actually.
There’s a lot that I’m waiting for right now, and a lot that I’m trying to get through. I’ll try to keep being honest about when I’m feeling wrung out, especially when it feels like I’m down to my last drop, because I get there. Oh, I get there. But that’s life on earth. We all get there. We don’t get to go through it beautifully sopping in goodness. We are sort of more empty than full here in the world, this world that has been strained of light since the garden got locked, and that’s a sad part about being alive and growing up that takes the forever-sort of learning. That makes us afraid every time we feel it. But I believe that there is a fountain. I believe that my pitcher is full and ready. I believe that I am not dry yet.