Advent Day 17: Real or Not Real

A couple of weekends ago, I drove from the hospital where my mom is undergoing treatments to kill the silent cancer, to the luxury cinema on the south side of Cleveland to watch The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part Two.

When I walked into the theater, there sat LeeAnn and Jillian who bounded up with hugs. “You’re here! I’m so excited!” one squealed.

“Look, we’re being friends!” said another.

Out on the town in 2013 (we aren’t the best at taking photos of ourselves. Usually we take photos of our drinks instead.

I slipped into the fantasy world of Peeta and Katniss while sitting in a reclining chair sipping hard cider with my girlfriends, an afternoon with two of my closest friends finally here. After the movie we ate a late lunch at Rockne’s where we caught up on all things big and small in our lives. As we sat down, they gave me a care package for this season with all of the deliciousness they know I’d enjoy, a bottle of red wine and dark chocolate especially front and center.

Throughout our lunch, we referenced Peeta’s line from the movie over and over: The Browns are losing. Real or not real. We’re eating lunch together. Real or not real.

realYou love me. Real or not real? – Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay

We left our lunch with laughter and hugs and promises to see each other again soon, like at least once a month, and I drove home listening to a playlist I’ve named “Roar” for the Katy Perry tune and its related I-can-conquer-anything songs I’ve added over the months to motivate me to keep going.

This last Sunday, I listened instead to my “Sunday Worship” playlist on my way to meet Lisa at an Applebee’s. As I drove, Lady Antebellum sang, “Sometimes I feel cold as steel, broken like I’m never gonna heal…” and tears started to roll. What can I say, it’s just that kind of a season.

By the time I got to Applebee’s I felt just plain haggard. Weary. I needed to see my girlfriend. We ordered drinks and appetizers.

Also from 2013.

“So, how are you?” Lisa asked.

“How about you start?” I replied, not ready to unload all of my minor and major griefs. So she updated me on her latest relationship woes, school news, and job status. And then it was my turn. Bolstered by laughter and multiple Meg Ryan, French Kiss references, I could say all of the things that have been bottled up inside.

I’m very close with my husband, and we’re decent at communicating openly, but still there’s something about friends that is other. Friends fill a different, deep need.

Friends listen to the heart vomit and affirm or deny, “Real or not real?” As I blathered out all of the sadness and the emotions, Lisa would nod, yes, yes, that’s normal, that’s real, or no, that one is a lie, don’t believe that. The process of speaking and confessing clarifies thought and emotion, it brings perspective and insights. Speaking the thing drags it out of the darkness and into the light to be scrutinized and measured. Real. Not real.

I cling to these friends of mine, bearers of light and truth, mirrors of reality and reminders of God’s mercy. They are load lighteners. I left no longer singing with choking sobs, “Broken like I’m never gonna heal,” but raising my voice instead with Natalie Grant, “This is what it is to be loved and to know | that the promise was that when everything fell | we’d be held.”

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 

James 1:17

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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