Too Many Guard rails.

Imagine a road.
Maybe it’s a curvy road. It’s a bit dangerous. So somebody sets up guard rails.
The guard rails help, some. They decrease the number of people who drive off the road, damage their car, injure themselves.
Yet sometimes, careless of sleepy drivers veer into the opposite lane. Occasionally, there are head-on collisions. Head on collisions are never good things. So they set up a guard rail running down the middle of the road. And it becomes even more safe.
But once in a while, cars are moving too fast or they are too heavy. They drive through the guard rail. And so they put a second set of rails inside the first.
But even two rails aren’t enough for the faster, heavier cars. So they put a third, a fourth, a fifth.
At the end of this process, the road is left so narrow that nearly every car is bouncing off of them. Some people (presumably those with out much interest in the appearance of their automobiles) even grow to depend on them; they are more careless on this heavily guarded rode than they otherwise would be, knowing that the rails will keep them from driving off.
A good chunk of the freedom people would have had, in the form of space, is just eaten up by the rails. Drivers are limited, now. Perhaps it used to be two lanes in each direction. Now, it is only one. Tempers flare because nobody can drive around slower people in front of them. The original goal is achieved: nobody drives off the road. But is it truly safer? Is it better?
We are handed rules all the time. Often they are good. With the best of intentions, we set up these guard rails. And sometimes, the first set, maybe even the second, these are good, too.
I see this in the church all the time.
The bible says that we shouldn’t get drunk. Good idea. People set up the first guard rails. Maybe don’t have 3 drinks. Also a good idea. (o.k. kind-of a good idea.) And then there is a second set of guard rails: don’t have 2 drinks. And then a third guard: Don’t drink at all.
It’s not a bad thing, not to drink. But when we treat the third guard rail, (don’t drink) as if it’s God’s idea, bad things can happen.
I realized, recently, that this is not new. In fact, it’s one of the first things that people ever did.

God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eve reports to the snake, ” God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or we will die.”
We don’t know where the miscommunication comes in. Or why. But it seems to me that the most likely thing is that Adam built a guard rail. To keep Eve away from the fruit he added the idea that they couldn’t even touch it. Who knows? Perhaps he even convinced himself of this.
I can understand why he might want to do this. It would be a pretty dangerous thing, to stand there, fondling and ogling fruit that you are not supposed to eat.
But to claim that the order comes from God that we can’t even touch it… I imagine that Eve stood there, in the garden, and when she touched the fruit and nothing happened, it might have motivated her to take that next step. It would be easy to think, “Well, I wasn’t supposed to touch this, and yet nothing happened when I did. So presumably when I eat it, nothing will happen either.”
I wonder how many people thought that God said we shouldn’t drink at all. And then they had a drink, and the world did not come crashing down around them. And it called into question everything they had been told about God, everything they believed about God. And they decided God didn’t have much to offer them, words that they thought were his turned out to be wrong.
I don’t believe that we are meant to Genesis literally. But I do believe we are meant to take it seriously. I think the whole book is seeped in layer upon layer of wisdom. This seemingly insignificant detail about Eve is just one tiny little nugget of that wisdom.


It is such an effort of will sometimes.
To remember that we will be together again.
In a place past the tears.

It is easier.
It is irresistable, sometimes.
To just long for my mom.
Who knew me like nobody else knows me.

Sometimes I fear that
There is a statuate of limitations on loss.
In everybodys head.
And my hurting, now. It is such bad form.

They didn’t tell me.
Maybe they didn’t know.
The ways it gets worse. Harder.

I never thought that pictures and keepsakes
would catalyze memories growing stale already
after these few months.
How do the memories fade

but not this hurt?

Seeing Her Again.

Sometimes, I think society views most of our emotions in the same way it views defecating. Sure, we can recognize that everybody poops. Similarly, we are allowed to have emotions. But we’d better not go too far in exploring them, discussing them, admitting to them. It is just… unseemly.
There is a positive to this. Wallowing is really not helpful.
But neither is denial.

I have been writing about my moms death, recently. I have been writing about it because it is on my mind and on my heart. I have been writing about it because I think it’s not good, how we want to just sweep everything under the rug. I have been writing about it because I guess maybe I am looking for some sympathy. But I am also looking to validate somebody out there. Society wants to give us a statuate of limations on our grief. But we deserve better than that.

I miss her.

She’s been gone for about 3 weeks now.
I have gone a lot longer than this with out seeing her. Some times, I have gone longer than this with out even talking to her.
But it’s funny and sad. When we know that somebody is there. Available. Reachable. Sometimes, that’s what we need. We don’t need to contact them. We just need to know that we could, if we wanted to.
I believe I will see her again.
She will be healthier and stronger than she’s been in years. And so will I. We will be at our best. Better than we will ever be in this world.
I have to work at reminding myself about this. Maybe it’s the not-knowing when this will be. Maybe it’s immaturity– some day, these short years I spend in this world will be such a tiny little preview of the eternity I will be living in.
In short, it helps some, to know that I will see her again.
But it doesn’t make it all the way better, to know this. It still hurts. I still miss her.
I guess what I can do is live in this hurt, some. Learn from it. Grow through it. I think that’s why we are here, in this broken world. To learn and grow.
I wish it were easier, sometimes.

Stop Calling Me Names

I have been thinking about identity, lately. Identity, and names. And death. And probably some other random stuff too.
My mom’s death has freed me, in a way that feels kind-of terrible. The person I was to her died with her. If I was a secretive, manipulative person who reserved a separate mask for each person dear to me, this loss would be devastating. If I was totally honest, open, transparent, consistent, true to myself, this loss would mean nothing at all.
I am, probably like you, somewhere between those extremes.
If nothing else, the names we have are a symbol, even a sort-of short hand for how people view us. We might go by our full name to family. A shortened version to aquiantances. A nick name to old friends. Maybe we earned an honorific and in the work place people call us Dr. so and so.
The details are important to us. Have you ever corrected some one at a restaurant, when they were writing your name down? Or corrected there spelling? Presumably, the host will never see us again. Probably they don’t care whether or not there is a silent ‘P’ in the middle of our last name. And yet we make sure they get it all right.
When people call us the wrong name for a situation, it gets awkward and uncomfortable. Some of this is about power dynamics. Officer Jones won’t appreciate it if we call him Jimmy, perhaps. But sometimes it’s not that. Family calls me by full name; friends call me by the short version. Maybe I am just picky. But I find it irritating when somebody uses the other group’s name for me.
Names are the sumnation of whole little pockets of ourselves. For me, Jeff is a person just a little different than Jeffrey. Jeffrey is the accumulation of all the views of me of family. And it shifted, some, when my mom left this world. Because that accumulation of views lost her contributions.
All the names that we have, taken together, in some way, they constitute all the ways that everybody sees us.
It would be terrifying and sad to leave all these behind. But also… it would be liberating.
In some way, all the names, all the identities, that people have for me… they came built in with limits. A ceiling. A set of expectations:
“This is who Jeff is.” “This is who Jeffrey is.” “This is who dad is.” etc…
There is value and wisdom in the council of others. They see things in myself that I do not. But sometimes, those things are for them. Sometimes those things are what they want to see. They are what they need to see.
To accept the names that people give me is to accept the limitations they would place on me.

I get the chills when I think about this promise in the bible. It says that I will receive a stone with a name on it. A true name. A name that Jesus alone has for me.
This is the antidote to the all the names I have been given and even all the names I have earned. Because it is not rooted in what people expected of me. It is not rooted in people want for me. It is not rooted in there fears, or my fears.
The name on that stone encapsulates my truest potential. And so there is also some fear, along with the chills. When I am presented with that stone, will I be overwhelemed at the idea I am really so much? Or will I be paralyzed at how far I fell short of what I might have been?

Just What Exactly Is in a Name?

My name is Jeffrey Mark Campbell.
There was a time in my teens that I kind of loved the idea that my first name means “Divinely Peaceful.” I was a member of maybe the original retro generation, that time in the 80’s when the 60’s seemed like they were going to come back from the dead. So I spent some years in tie dye, long haired, listening to the last album recorded by The Grateful Dead.
As I got older, I thought about how my middle name is derived of Mars, the God of War. I never tried to embrace this meaning by itself. But I saw that my hippie self (like most hippies) lived in this fairy tale that denied shadow and anger.
To this day, I think I’m a pretty paradoxical guy; possessed of an unflappable optimism and a dark cynicism, holy enough to fast and profane enough to watch South Park, idealist enough to hope the Green Party is right, realist enough to stop throwing my vote away; I fancy myself both a romantic and an intellectual and… this is just going to get irritating, I suspect, if I keep going. You see am also rather full of myself and also blindingly insecure.

It’s not the case that I discovered what my name means, and then I sought to live this out. It is probably partial coincidence, and partially that I am seeing who I am through the lenses of what my first and middle name mean.
They are funny things, names.
Summer camps and street gangs and college fraternities and military groups and “primitive” tribes all assign people names specific to the group. The bible is full of stories about people who change their names to reflect their new outlook, stories about the importance of names in possession and exorcism, stories about the importance of the name of the one true God.
In just a few sounds, names are supposes to capture who we are right now, and who we want to be; they are meant to encapsulate the aspects of ourselves under our own control, and also the legacies we have inherited quite independent of our desires.
Consider the fact that our parents choose our first and middle names. That sometimes these are ruled by family tradition. And that regardless of what anybody wants, we are also given a surname, that last name. A reminder, perhaps that there we are the recpients of good and bad things that accumulate from all those who came before us.
I am bothered, some, at the idea that a women marries a man and her family name is most often just erased and replaced. It is as if whatever legacies, whatever curses and blessings she inherited from her forebears are wiped out entirely and replaced with the husbands.
I suppose, the whole idea, that we bare the name of our male ancestors is the flip side of this. There are countless women across countless generations whose actions impact who I am.
On a practical level, I don’t know how to fix this. And for the second blog post in a row, I have managed to babble on about things only tangentially related to what I wanted to say.
I am all written out for the night. But I think this will all pull together. Bare with me.

Two Reasons Why it Sucks When Somebody You Love Dies

I am still walking through this time of learning what it means to have lost my mom. I guess I will for a while.
The thing I am thinking about is how everybody in our lives knows, in a way a different part of us. There are intersections, parts of us that everybody knows. For example, lots of people– pretty much every body in my life– know my deep and abiding love for really bad puns.
But there are sides of us that only certain people of us see. In some cases, maybe they knew us way back when, so they have this different perspective of how we came to be who we are today. My mom, for example, might see my love of nature having arisen from my years as a boy scout. This is not a piece of my history I often divulge, so others might not get it. In other cases, they just might be equipped to know us on some deep level. I inherited stuff from mom. She formed me in all kinds of figurative and literal ways. And then again, there are shared experiences. Massachusetts’ blizzard of 1977, for example. I have only vague memories of that. And yet, they shaped me, they shaped her, and if you weren’t in Massachusetts, then, you were shaped by things that are different.
This realization that the ‘Jeff’ she new is dead, in a way, shames me. Because gone with mom are all kinds of things that had nothing to do with me. A friend of hers from her earliest years (through now) sat with us at the celebration afterward. She had all these great stories about their childhood. I was able to grasp on to some of them.
But for every story of a person we can put to words… there are things that we know about them that can’t be expressed. I set out wanting to write about something entirely different. But this is a place I needed to start, I guess.
One of the ways we die along with our loved ones is that the way they knew and loved us goes with them.
One of the tragedies of dying is that there is so much wisdom and knowledge that goes with the person that is bigger than us.
I believe we will be together again. But until then, I am sad.

I Would Not Have Been Smart Enough to Learn From This. I Hope You Will.

I am reeling from my moms death last Friday.
It was not a surprise. She has suffered from Pancreatic Cancer for over a year. Somehow, I guess, I never believed it. I thought I did. But it turns out I didn’t.
I am describing my days to my wife by whatever emotion I am feeling at the time. I have had sad days and regretful days. A little bit of peace. Most of the feelings have been recurring characters in my drama. There was a new guy introduced today. His name is anger.
I am angry about a lot of stupid things. One thing among many: I am angry at how utterly I conform to the whole bargaining/denial/anger/acceptance thing. I am quite angry that my feelings aren’t uniquely mine. I know it’s dumb. And the fact that it’s dumb, at this particular moment, that makes me angry too.
There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently. That’s more of a regretful day feeling than an angry day feeling. But I don’t care, right now. Because I am, after all, angry, too. And if you wanna start a fight with me right now about that I’d kind of enjoy that.
Anyway… There are things I wish I had done differently. If somebody had warned me about them I don’t know if I would have listened to them. So I hope your smarter than me.

I wish I had believed them when they told me she was terminal. In a way, we are all terminal. All of our interactions could be our last. I squandered some of mine with my mom. I wish I found more reasons to spend more time with her when I still could.
We hugged a lot in those last couple months and we said I love you a lot. But I wish we had started so many years before.
Mom was a do-er. She was a sacrficer. I let her give so much. I took so much. She was such an incredible support. Her genouroisty never seemed to end. I wish I had returned the favor more often than I did. I wish I more consistently valued her for the amazing person she was. I wish I spent less time on the incredible things she was always doing for us.
I wish, maybe most of all, that I hadn’t trusted the movies. In the movies, when somebody dies, even if they have been all catonic and slowly drifting away, there is this dramatic moment where the patient returns to almost their former self. The main character gets their just in time for this sudden, last gasp of clarity. They get that last chance to say all the things they wanted to say.

They upped the pain meds for mom and I thank God for pain meds, around Mother’s day. She got a little forgetful, and then a little disoriented. And then confused, and then paranoid.
It took work to convince her that she was in her house. She thought we had already shipped her off to somewhere. She couldn’t keep track of why she was sick. She didn’t always know that she was dying.
She would wander around, not doing anything we could quite figure out. She saw a cat, and a little girl in her home.
Eventually it was time to move her to the hospice facility. And she pretty much fell asleep. She would open her eyes, sometimes. Eventually, I think she was able to figure out who we were. But these little moments didn’t last long enough for a teary conversation. They lasted 2, 3 seconds at most.
I was literally walking out to the car when I got the first call last Friday night. Mom wasn’t doing well. It would be good to get there in a few hours. I was halfway there, maybe 15 minutes away, when I got the second call. She had just died.
I didn’t get to be with my mom when she left this world. I didn’t get to watch the clouds in her eyes clear away and have a heart-to-heart talk. I don’t know why I assumed it wouldn’t go down that way. But it just seemed like it couldn’t happen in a way which would feel so random and meaningless.
Oh, Lord. I miss my mom. I got these little tastes of God’s love through her- undemanding, all-encompassing, available on so many different levels… I wish she was her to go through this with me.