Inside the Ampersand

My mind is a cage for chaos lately. Nothing gets in. Nothing gets out. And my quiet, unclaimed moments are spent trying to make the chaos fall in line. Or join hands with another piece.

So that it all makes sense.

I need it to make sense.

When things aren’t connected and when they aren’t making sense, I need a connector that helps it make sense. This very thought was on my mind on Saturday morning when I went for a run in my neighborhood. I was only .3 into it when I passed a clean, organized pile at the end of a neighbor’s driveway. There was a box of Christmas ornaments, a couple of wreaths, and a sizable wooden ampersand.

&

I kept running, because if I even entertained the thought of stopping, I would never get started again. If it’s still there when I get back, I thought, I’ll take it home.

Of course it was still there when I came back around. People in my neighborhood are not looking for wall-mountable conjunctions before 10 a.m. on a Saturday. By this point in my run, I was walking. It’s easier to walk home with a large ampersand than it is to run with one.

Since then, I’ve been staring at that ampersand, answering my family’s questions about it, and thinking about what it all means.

The ampersand is an ancient symbol, which can be proven at least as far back as Pompeii. It was a flamboyant shorthand way of writing the Latin word, ‘et ‘. I don’t speak Latin, because I have a thing against dead languages, but research tells me that ‘et’ means ‘and.’ And until the 1800s, the ampersand was recited as the 27th letter of our alphabet. Maybe it was something like Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z and, per se, and. Say that last part fast, and you have ‘ampersand.’ We probably cut it from the alphabet to make way for a catchy ABC song.

But whatever. None of that matters. It’s just interesting information. What’s important is the functionality of the ampersand. It serves as a connector between two ideas, whether similar or contrasting. Or between two time periods. Or people or places or things. It is before & after. Cause & effect. You & me. This & that. Peas & Carrots. Grace & mercy. Math & migraines.

Sometimes, though, that second thing is slow to show up. Sometimes the before is there and the after gets delayed. Sometimes you are there and I am not. Sometimes the carrots leave the peas hanging. In those moments, I walk home, holding a trash pile ampersand and wondering what comes next. What comes next?

I’ve been waiting inside the ampersand for longer than feels natural. I’ve found myself here lately more than I want to be here.
I want to know what comes next.
I want to face what comes next.
And, if I’m being honest, I want to control what comes next.

My dearest friend from college is fighting Covid in an ICU room in Kentucky. She’s been in the hospital going on 2 weeks now. She’s been on a ventilator since Saturday. Her body is tired, but her soul has been running the show since at least 2008.  I’ve never seen tenacity like hers. She loves her people fiercely and will fight like a lion to provide what they need, whether it’s a bag of flavor-blasted goldfish, or a hug, or a text about why she loves them so much. Or just her presence. She seems to understand that simply by staying, she is serving. I understand why she continues to fight.  

Her people need her & she knows it.

Her people are still evolving & she wants to participate and witness.

Life is beautiful & she’s willing to endure the painful straightjacket she’s been wearing for decades.

I have thought about my friend, Jen, pretty much non-stop for weeks now. Non-stop since I read the text, “Well, I tested positive.” I have been praying for what’s on the other side of the ampersand. For what I want on the other side of the ampersand. I have been thinking about all of the things that go with Jen. That are on the other end of her ampersand. Her husband. Her kids. Her sister. Her mom. Her friends. Her sweetness. Her strength. Her perseverance. Her fight. Her faith. Her Savior. Her God.

Her absolute determination.

The only thing I don’t know, and what I so badly wish I knew, is what the after is to her before.

So I will continue to wait.

I will not know & be at peace.
I will lose my words & continue to pray.
I will remember the lessons I’ve learned from her & do my best to live them.
I will work here & walk home, where my city is.
Where nobody has pneumonia or back pain or cancer.
And where the ampersand is never needed. It’s just there for added flair.