{This Sacred Everyday} Enuma Okoro

I can’t tell you what a Great Big Ol’ Deal it is to have Enuma Okoro here today. She is a fellow Patheos blogger, a lovely thinker, and has one of those smiles that makes you want to forget whatever you were just complaining about. (After you finish this post, I hope you’ll read her books.) I’m thankful she’s willing to spend some time with us.


 

Breakfast at Gretchen’s

We lived on the same apartment floor in Paris. For weeks we passed one another with casual greetings in the elevator or in the downstairs lobby. She was old enough to be my grandmother. We both spoke English and not the best of French. I assumed that was all we had in common. Until the week I lost my fridge.

She stopped me almost hesitantly one morning in the lobby.

“Enuma, hi.”

“Oh hi Gretchen, how are you?”

“I’m fine. I’ve been meaning to talk to you…”

Her pause made me anticipate something negative. I quickly wondered if I had forgotten some recent faux pas. Did I leave my trash out by my apartment door to long?

“Sure, about what?” I try to sound unassuming and innocent.

“Well, your fridge…what do you do for meals?”

“Yeah.  It’s just for a week or so. I’m mostly having to eat out.”

“Well, I was wondering, would you want to come over for breakfast in the mornings?”

I am instantly touched by her kindness. “Oh Gretchen, that is sooo sweet of you. Really you don’t have to do that.”

“I know, but I can’t stand the thought of you having to go out for meals everyday. Especially first thing in the morning!”

“Oh, thank you so much. I may take you up on that.”

“Well, it would be our pleasure. Anytime from 8am-10am. Just ring our doorbell. Nothing fancy. Probably just croissants or cereal or yogurt. I don’t know.”

*

We sit across from one another at her beautiful wooden dining table. Early summer rain slips down the slanted windowpanes in her delicately furnished apartment. Her husband has left for work. She offers a quick morning prayer and we both begin to eat our bowls of muesli.

That first morning I learn she and her husband John are from Nevada. I learn they have been married for 45 years.  I learn they have no children.

The second morning, I learn about her love of needlepoint.

The third morning, I ask the question I’ve been curious about since day one.

 

“So did you and John just decide you didn’t want children?”

I catch a flicker of change across her face, something I cannot fully name.

“We wanted them.” A split second pause. “We had two miscarriages and then we buried Timothy and Silas.” A voice quiver.

 

The small room has grown large and full of old sorrow and fresh memory.

 

“Oh Gretchen. I. Am. So. Sorry.”

 

Tears well. Eyes shift focus. A few seconds and she regains composure.

“It’s okay.” She says it practiced and quiet.

 

“You lost four children.” I say it aloud. I try it grasp it. I wilt under the weight of quadrupled grief.

“Yes. I guess we did.” Timothy died twelve hours after he was born. Silas lived for 3 days.”

 

Silence.

 

“I didn’t get to hold Timothy. They took him right away to ICU.”

Tears well. Freely. Things shift into focus.

“John asked me what he should do, and I said, ‘Go. Go with him. Stay with him.’ And he did, until Timothy died.”

 

Silence.

 

“Were you angry?” I ask the obvious.

“With God? Oh yeah.” She says. “I was angry. I cried and yelled and I kept saying, ‘You made promises. Why would you do this? Why would you do this?’”

I listen.  My heart grows large and full with fresh sorrow and old recognition.

She continues, “You know, we all have unmet desires we have to learn to live with.”

“I know,” I say.

“But I couldn’t stay angry forever. I didn’t know how to live my life without God.”

I listen. I nod. Tears well up in my own eyes. I know.

“I said to God, ‘This is so painful. So hard. But I don’t know how to live without you. I don’t want to live without you.’”

I hear the sigh rise from somewhere deep within me. Maybe tomorrow I will tell her my own story.

 

We children of God, who imagine we are strangers to one another. We, with our deep and often untamable sorrows and hungers that take root somewhere along the cracked path of our individual lives. Don’t we all face the challenge of how to graft the steady root into the expanding and flowering labyrinth of time?

 

I sit across our half eaten bowls of muesli. I marvel at the strength of a woman, this woman, who braved the audacity of hope four times and counted her losses just as many. I marvel at God, whose love for us is so stubbornly resilient, whose intimacy with us is so overwhelming that in response our own longing for God can chaff through our deepest sorrows, until we find numbing solace in the very heart of the one we feared betrayed us.

 

“We buried Silas next to Timothy. And on his tombstone I just wrote, ‘Hi Timothy, we’re together now.’”

 

 

Enuma writes from Durham, NC until she can relocate to Paris full-time! Her spiritual memoir, Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community (Fresh Air Books, 2010) was a winning finalist in the 2010 USA Best Books Award and received the 2011 National Indie Excellent Book Awards Winning Finalist in “Spirituality and African-American Non-Fiction.” She is also co-author with Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, (Zondervan, 2010). Enuma’s writing has been featured on ABC’s Good Morning America, The Huffington Post, Sojourners, Her.meneutics, the Christian Century and more. Her next book , Silence, will be released in fall 2012. Follow at Tweetenuma and visit her website at www.enumaokoro.com

 

 

 

 

  • http://www.angelictroiblemaker.me Rev. Andy Oliver

    “…finding numbing solace in the very heart of the one we feared betrayed us.” Jesus modeled this. Beautiful seeing it put in words. Thank you Enuma!

  • Kim Waggoner

    It’s so true! I’ve just had my third miscarriage and I feel the same: I don’t know how to live without God, whose love is so stubbornly resilient, even when I fear that God has betrayed me. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!

    • michaboyett

      Kim, I once heard someone describe his longing to be an atheist but his acceptance that even to try to take that step of faith he’d have to ask God to help him. That’s what I thought of when I read Gretchen’s words: “I don’t know how to live without you…” Thanks for sharing a little about your loss with us…Peace to you, friend.

  • http://annieathome.com Annie

    I don’t know what words to write here, but “thank you.” Thank you for inviting us into this conversation over breakfast, into the ache and numbing solace.

  • http://www.sarahbessey.com Sarah Bessey

    This is so beautiful and sad, Enuma. I love everything you write (as you know) but this is incredible. This —> “We, with our deep and often untamable sorrows and hungers that take root somewhere along the cracked path of our individual lives.” YES.

  • http://motheringspirit.wordpress.com/ mothering spirit

    This is heart-breakingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing this sacred story – it will haunt me.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    Beautiful, Enuma. So poignant. This line especially spoke to me today: “we all have unmet desires we have to learn to live with.”

    Thank you for gracing us with your words.

  • http://atrudel.wordpress.com Anne

    Darn you, Enuma, you made my eyes tear up and touched my heart with this story. Thank you for taking the time to listen to and reflect on Gretchen’s story. I can’t imagine the pain of losing four babies. You are spot-on with this comment: “We children of God, who imagine we are strangers to one another. We, with our deep and often untamable sorrows and hungers that take root somewhere along the cracked path of our individual lives. ”
    Thank you for your insightful writing.

  • http://www.logicandimagination.com Melody Hanson

    So much pain, in everyone. How do we imagine we can bear it without “one another?” A beautiful reminder of how much we need one another, even strangers, the family of God.

  • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    Ah. I know this. Tears of recognition spring up, and sighs too deep for words. I don’t know how to live without God, either – even when the pain overwhelms and feelings of betrayal seem the norm. Thank you for these lovely words, this true story. And thank God for the Gretchens of this world.

  • http://fionalynne.com/blog/ fiona lynne

    I lost our first two weeks ago. Right now it is hard to even comprehend how hard it would be add to that one lost one. But I love your phrase, “braved the audacity of hope”. I chose this year to pick brave as my one word, and right now it takes a lot of courage to keep hoping. Stories like this one help.

  • Enuma

    You have all humbled me with your responses. How powerful it is to hear of so many who can resonate with bits and pieces of the story. I am always awed by how suffering can somehow still leak out light. It is only by God’s grace and by the amazing tenacity of the human spirit. Fiona, my deepest sympathy for your recent lost. You must believe that God aches with you…I pray you permit yourself the freedom to embrace all your feelings, and that at times like this you surround yourself with those who can hope for you, when it seems too heavy a thing to hold.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X