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Category: Writing

Or I Could Stay

I’ll be the first to admit I was driving a little bit fast. And the road was icy. But my sister didn’t have to keep complaining, asking me to please slow down. I’m a safe driver. Experienced.

That’s when a light blue Ford Tempo cut into our lane. His brake lights flashed. I couldn’t stop. Swerved to the right but clipped his bumper. And we were spinning.

Whatever it was, it would work out. I’ve been in so many accidents, and I’ve always walked away.

This time, I was walking along a driveway. Didn’t know where I’d left the car. Knew that my sister was fine. A man, standing in front of the garage, told me I had died. He seemed to sense my shock. Let down his guard and admitted that there might be a chance to go back. But there would be brain damage, memory loss, incoherent speech, no way that I’d ever live independently.

Or I could stay.

I couldn’t imagine staying. Missed so many people. Was willing to go back no matter the cost. Needed to go back. There were still so many things I had to do in life. Things I’d done before and wanted to do again.

So I went back, and I did them.

I went on all the slides. And had pillow fights. Ran in the park. Dug huge holes. Buried my legs in the dirt on a sunny day. And laughed. So much laughter.

There was joy in my innocence. And there was pain.

I saw people I knew. Recognized their faces. Sometimes remembered their names. But most didn’t know me. Didn’t say much. Smiled like they couldn’t think of anything else to do. Didn’t seem to like me. Some just never came. And I couldn’t understand where they were. No one would tell me.

It was just past 4 in the morning. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t keep my face dry. Kept on reminding myself that it had just been a dream.

I saw people I knew. Recognized their faces. Sometimes remembered their names. But most didn’t know me.

Accident

02

I was in an accident the Saturday before last. And it was bad.

A flash of water over the road, and we were spinning backwards and sideways. Crossed two lanes of traffic. Jumped the ditch. Plowed up a steep bank of grass, gravel, and dirt. The back end caught, whipping us back toward the interstate, where we flattened two aluminum reflectors before slowly settling to a rest on the road’s shoulder.

My sister and I – both wearing seatbelts – were rattled but healthy and whole. Her Kindle was under my feet. My camera was in her lap.

She let go of the door, handed me my camera and took back the proffered e-reader.

“Mom would have been mad if you’d let anything happen to me.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help feeling elated.

The engine was still running. The gauges looked good. I jumped out and checked the tires. A family in a Ford Explorer had stopped on the side of the road up ahead. A man ran toward us. Wanted to know if we were OK. Seemed surprised. No blood. No bruises. No broken glass. I shook his hand. Thanked him for his concern. Promised to stop at the next exit and take a look underneath. Then I climbed back in the car.

And I wanted to shout, “We’re alive!” But I used my inside voice.

We both could have died. But we didn’t. And I was overcome with gratitude. With relief. With adrenaline. With joy. We survived!

Then, almost two hours later, after dropping off my sister, I realized that I’d been going through all the what-ifs and that I couldn’t remember exactly how long I’d been stuck in that loop. Or when I’d started crying.

I was sad. Ashamed. Afraid. Angry. Exhausted. Tense. And I still wasn’t home because I was driving so slow.

On Monday. Roughly 48 hours after the accident. Some high school kids gathered at my house to read a chapter in Psalms and to pray for each other. I had lunch over at Friendsview with Charles and Jean Hanson, and Jean’s brother, Clynton. That night, Geraldine Willcuts invited me to speak to Friends Women about our upcoming mission to Mexico. And I wrote this essay.

I don’t understand the emotions I traveled on the day of the accident, let alone what I’m feeling right now. But I needed someone to know. And I trust you. And I hope – more than anything – that we can figure out each day how to face whatever happens together. Because it’s just too much for anyone to go through alone.

I don’t understand the emotions I traveled on the day of the accident, let alone what I’m feeling right now. But I needed someone to know. And I trust you.

Myth

02

Back when I taught introductory high school courses in literature, every year started with a lesson in myth. American literature classes read Columbus’s 1493 Letter to King Ferdinand of Spain Describing the First Voyage. World literature classes considered the Yoruba story of The Golden Chain. In freshman classes, we looked at the first two chapters of Genesis.

I taught at a Christian school. And by their junior year, most students had been through this unit two or three times. They knew in a general way where I was headed. But in my other classes, things didn’t go so well.

I persisted.

In the first weeks of school, students still have good intentions, so for the most part they listen with intent. As I ran through the initial outline, smiles would inevitably spread as it became clear that I was probably going to hell. (There’s nothing like a teaching train wreck to lighten the day of your average high school student, and every kid knows a certifiably crazy teacher will ruin the year for some and provide limitless conversational fodder for the rest.) But by the end of the first few minutes, those smiles would be fading. Fast.

That’s when I could count on some volume.

Interruptions, urgent questions, waves of murmuring. Students shouting. Students covering their ears. There were always tears.

I persisted.

Myth, I proposed, is any story of origin. If it’s a story – and if it tells of a beginning – it’s a myth. Myths answer questions of identity, purpose and morality. Myths are how a culture – all cultures – encode the answers to life’s most important questions for the shaping of future generations. A culture’s best literature, then, is always built on myth.

Other literature may be commercial or educational or transactional or technical.

But good literature – the stuff that lasts, the stuff that gets passed from generation to generation, the stuff that we’re expected to have read and to know – it all contains myth or is built on myth or is myth. Together, that body of literature contributes to a culture’s mythos, its best answers to life’s big questions.

Romeo & Juliet is built on myth. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn challenges myth. The Bible contains myth. It also comments on myth, questions myth, compares myths, challenges some competing myths and provides space for the acceptance of others. Genesis 1 and 2, for instance, are separate myths, and in some important ways, they disagree. Theologians would probably argue that they’re not so much in competition as they are in conversation. Which seems – considering that the two accounts have been placed side by side at the start of the Bible, not to mention the fact that they both lay a foundation for the same culture – a pretty strong point.

I recognize that for some readers, this conversation might be covering new ground. Or creating a bit of cognitive dissonance.

Yet I persist.

Here’s the problem: many of my students were raised in a religious culture that is anti-myth. A culture that doesn’t know how to value the Bible (let alone the myths it contains).

It’s a culture that thinks Genesis is an incomplete history. It’s a culture that thinks Exodus is an unfinished travelogue. It’s a culture that thinks Leviticus is an obsolete legal code. It’s a culture that thinks Numbers is a sloppy census. It’s a culture that thinks Deuteronomy is an abbreviated repetition of all those other Bible bits. It’s a culture that reads all the gospels as a conflated Jesus story – one with wise men and shepherds; Anna, Simeon, and the Egyptians; 8-day-old Jesus, 12-year-old Jesus, a metaphysical Word-and-Light show, and the real Jesus.

It’s a culture that fervently wants for the Bible to be commercial or educational or transactional or technical.

And this, too, is my culture. I was raised in it. I live and work in it. More times than I can count, I’ve felt suffocated in it. Frustrated by it. Angry with it.

But I persist.

And I find that my people mostly know that the Bible – if it’s going to mean anything at all – must be something more than a commercial. It must be something more than a primer. It must be something more than a medium of truth exchange. It must be more than a collection of basic instructions before leaving earth.

And I find that my people – especially those that are spiritual but not religious – need the kind of mythos the Bible already offers.

And I find my people wondering whether the myths in other cultures might teach us something about our own.

In the meantime, I expect the volume to rise. I expect shouted interruptions, urgent questions, waves of murmuring. And tears.

In my life as a teacher, discomfort almost always led to growth.

So I persist.

Here’s the problem: many of my students were raised in a religious culture that is anti-myth. A culture that doesn’t know how to value the Bible (let alone the myths it contains).

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