Monday, January 7, 2019

Known

Three times, I typed up the story. Three times, I deleted it when I went through my file of essays saved up for blog material or set aside for future nonfiction projects.

This only matters to you, I told myself. No one is really going to get this.

But today I read a chapter of The Ministry of Ordinary Places that stopped me in my tracks. Shannan Martin was cleaning up after a church event of some kind, a potluck or a party I suppose. A woman cleaning up beside her asked if she’d like to take home some of the baked beans and then a split second later corrected herself, remembering that Shannan’s husband doesn’t like beans. There was something about it that touched her soul because it just feels so good to be known.

I wrote that very same thing on three different occasions.

My heart was beating too fast, setting off alarms at every midwife appointment and making me gasp for breath in the night. I felt dizzy and faint at the drop of a hat so I spent most of my days lying on my left side on the couch, closing my eyes and bracing myself against the feelings of lightheadedness, halfheartedly talking to my children but again and again telling them I felt too dizzy to read stories or play horsey or go for a walk. My belly kept growing, my baby’s numbers kept looking good, but my blood pressure kept dropping and my heart rate kept rising. I was afraid I might die, and take our baby with me. I wondered at times just how much the human heart could truly take. How long can a fetus survive if its mother has had a heart attack? There was talk of admitting me to the hospital for a week and Ryan’s aunt showed up. She brought a favorite book to read to our children and she sat down at the table to make a list of our favorite meals. She planned to make lasagna, chili, tacos. I told her my family had been liking barbecue chicken served with broccoli and baked sweet potatoes and she paused in the middle of her list. “But you don’t like chicken,” she said. “I’ll make you Italian sausage. You love sausage.”

I hadn’t seen her in four years but still she remembered not only that I didn’t like chicken, but also that I love Italian sausage. It touched my soul to somehow still be known after all that time.
It would pop up in my mind on so many occasions and remind me of how much each of us wants to be known. It feels so good when Ryan orders mine with spinach without my asking him to, when my mom comes to visit and hands me a chai tea or when my mother-in-law sends me the gray or navy one without needing to ask me my favorite colors. It’s when my cousin Sabrina tells me I remind her of the very character I think I’m most like, or when Nicole texts me the perfect quote at the exact right time. 

Shannan Martin’s chapter was referring to the way we tend to care for the poor, the way we tend to throw them barbecues with bounce houses and feel we’ve done our part instead of having them over for dinner and simply doing life together. In fact, she said at one point that she thinks we’d all be better off if we’d stop inviting people to join us at church if we haven’t yet invited them to join us for a meal.

I agree with her. I do. But you know, the same concept applies to the loved ones in front of us, too. We don’t need to just like social media posts and offer up a grand gesture on birthdays and Christmases. We need to be there. We need to know them. We need to know how they like their eggs and how they take their coffee, to know what soup they want when they’re sick and what chore they like less than all the others. We need to know their favorite colors and their favorite books, their favorite songs and their favorite places.

We need to practice knowing our people. We need to practice knowing our spouses and our children, our parents and our siblings, our friends and neighbors and acquaintances. We need to put down our phones and hush the inner to-do-list monologues and pay attention to the people right in front of us. We need to make them feel heard, understood, known.

I wonder how much of our hurts and insecurities stem from the exact opposite of that, from the lack of being known?

I desperately miss my brother, whom I haven’t seen in almost five years and rarely get to talk to. It is not so much the general concept of being in the same room that I miss, although I do miss that, but it’s simply knowing each other that I miss. I don’t know him and he does not know me. My only brother, my only sibling, doesn’t know me at all. It stings. He doesn’t know what books are on my shelves or what kind of food I keep in my refrigerator. The walk we so frequently take to the end of our property? He has no idea what that looks like. He doesn’t know what my shampoo smells like or what I exclaim when I drop something or what voices I use when I play with my children. There are three construction workers from a few towns over who know all those things… but my own brother doesn’t and that aches. And I haven’t a clue about him, either. I don’t know what he listens to when he drives to work or what he reads—or if he’s even still the reader he was all those years ago—and I don’t know what he says when he can’t find his keys. I don’t know what can always be found in his freezer or what he watches on NetFlix. I don’t know if he still wears Old Spice deodorant or where he would go on a dream vacation. I knew him better than nearly anyone for the first fifteen years of his life but now I don’t know him at all. I hate it.

I want not only to be known, but also to know. I pride myself on knowing my children well enough to surprise them with the perfect gift and to intuit just why this one is so grumpy today. I love knowing Ryan’s heart so well and learning all the intricate details of it a little more each year. I love that I know whether or not I should recommend a book to a particular friend and whether or not to recommend a movie to my dad.

Sometimes we share interests and sometimes we don’t… but that’s okay. It isn’t about being the same; it’s about knowing each other. It’s about choosing to know the people around us, even when we don’t always see eye-to-eye and don’t always appear to have anything in common. It’s about allowing ourselves to be known, choosing to move beyond coexisting on planet Earth and instead to living a life that is rich with the love and laughter of others.


This week I will practice knowing and I will allow myself to be known. I will remember that all of us desire little more out of our lives than to love and be loved, to know and be known. Will you join me?

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