Memories, Narrative, Reflection

Kelly Clarkson’s Prophesies

It was Wednesday the 23rd of June. I donned my white lab-coat, plastic sleeves sealed at the wrist with medical-grade gloves (blue), N95 mask, and safety glasses. ‘I worked in a COVID19 test laboratory’, is what I’ll say at sunset. Our stream of samples dwindled in the past three weeks and it was only a matter of time before there wasn’t work for me.

Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” started playing on the radio next to one of the anti-contamination hoods (I’ve enjoyed juxtapositions like that). Kelly’s words were my reassurance, or as close as I could get. My supervisor had just delivered the news: corporate is downsizing her team, my last day would be the 25th. That’s today. I wasn’t surprised, but still subtly stunned and slow to speak. “I’ve followed the news; I didn’t know if we would be retained until, you know, another wave or—”, I trailed-off and she nodded assent. She understood. The pandemic is supposed to be over, even though it isn’t, and I didn’t want to continue on 2nd shift forever, even though I still wanted to see my coworkers every day. Kelly sang reassurances a few minutes later.

Reassurances from whom?

Stronger” played on the radio when the alternator on my Pontiac started to fail three years ago. I wore steel-toed boots, a billed cap, and safety glasses; I aerated lawns in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
stand a little taller
doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone

What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter
footsteps even lighter
doesn’t mean I’m over ‘cause you’re gone.’

Then, “you” felt specific to somebody. Yet I wasn’t “over” then, nor now, and I don’t regret rising early on an Autumn morning to clock-in behind the wheel of a flat-faced truck, smelling like turf. Manual labor outdoors triaged my funk in a way an entry-level office job probably couldn’t. Triaging COVID19 samples is another chapter — these chapters seem more remarkable because they’re part of a single, strange story (mine).

I’ve kept the meaning of “Reverse Exiled” fluid for days like today:

“Reverse Exiled” isn’t only my politically-tinged quarantine in Jordan nor only wrapping myself in a black-and-white kefia to walk the streets of Bethlehem. It’s also the time I fixed the chain on “daeodon” (my favorite aerator) because I couldn’t drag it up the steep hill between me and the truck; I needed the tines to turn with me. I forgot to chain and padlock daeodon the day I put my Pontiac in the shop, so another technician filched it. The series of lesser “hogs” that followed is part of “Reverse Exiled” too, as was being laid-off because our season ended.

“Reverse Exiled” was sitting through a Senate hearing on Guantanamo Bay but also when I walked out of a job at a poorly-run Montessori Preschool, in the same city; I wasn’t going to work one more day with so much liability on my shoulders.

“Reverse Exiled” was leaving Grand Rapids in 2011 and seeing glimpses of New York City, Limerick, Hong Kong, Davao City, Geneva, Washington, bottoming-out at my Dad’s house in Holland (Michigan) and returning to Grand Rapids because I didn’t want to live with my Dad and his girlfriend anymore.

“Reverse Exiled” was also starting the pandemic as a factory machinist (wearing safety glasses), not knowing if I would get sick. As the plague tapers, “Reverse Exiled” has been submitting a saliva sample every weekday knowing it will be negative — it’s knowing that negative COVID19 tests are why I can have a life but will lose this job. I’m losing it right now: I cued this to post as my last scheduled cooler of samples arrives.

2018, again — my Pontiac Sunfire revived as if Willed to last long enough. Kelly finished her message, the car died, and I coasted into my parking spot at work — being SO luckily unlucky is “Reverse Exiled” magnifique. Even as my most valuable possession crumbled under my butt, Maryland’s idyllic October atmosphere soaked into my memories. The air was delicious. I hadn’t come full circle when “Stronger” played but it was reassurance I wouldn’t stall-out in 2018 forever. Even though I’ve returned to Michigan, “Breakaway” assures 2021 isn’t a loop. I can still aspire.

We recover to become better.

'...So I prayed (I would pray)
I could breakaway

I'll spread my wings and I'll learn how to fly
I'll do what it takes 'til I touch the sky
And I'll make a wish, take a chance, make a change
And breakaway
Out of the darkness and into the sun
But I won't forget all the ones that I love
I'll take a risk, take a chance, make a change
And breakaway'

Whose reassurance?

I’m reluctant to look behind that curtain, to think and talk publicly about What Lies Beyond. I say less about cosmology, spirituality and (especially) religion than I would’ve ten years ago, before I left Michigan. Tangents erupted from me as I drafted this entry. I notice I want to distinguish myself from Evangelical Christians — my dating profile now says I’m “spiritual, not religious”. The idea of that category was once irritating but now I’m glad to slough Western Christian culture. As Gandhi noted (with more diplomacy and eloquence than me), Christians are too often unlike Jesus. It’s so “Reverse Exiled” of me to mention this but Jesus noticed problems arising when people confused cultural expectations with The Will of What Lies Beyond*; peek at Mark chapter 7 to see what I mean.

There’s a vast delta of topics at the end of this stream of consciousness.

I’m reluctant to detract from the completeness of the two radio prophesies: Kelly Clarkson came through just as something I relied upon fell away. I choose to assign significance to confluences like these. Yet I’ve aspired to an apologetics that can work for every possible, intelligent reader; it’s not realistic. Someone is going to think I’m an idiot, or rude, or whatever; I must ‘pick my poison’.

The Kelly Clarkson prophesies present a simple, deep question: do I want to practice Faith? Not “what is my Faith?” No, simpler: will I lean into The Inevitable Mysteries ahead of me or will I spend precious life trying to build more perfect scaffolds?

Paraphrased, can I adopt the attitude of someone with the Power and Light to be “stronger” and “break away” or will I invent stipulations that stall and loop me? When hope is a verb, what am I doing to make it so?

~I do want to feel reassured. Yes. Thank you, Kelly.

*I like this idea: The Will of What Lies Beyond ~ what could that possibly mean?

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