Monday, May 25, 2015

The Mourning Doves

I love birds. One of my most favorites is the Mourning Dove. My neighborhood is loaded with them, and their lonesome coos ring outside my bedroom window each morning. They are aptly named. Their calls do sound distinctly, like they are sighing again and again in grief.

Grief, is a funny thing. It is not linear. I kept thinking that if I took one step then another, that it would progress predictably - in a pattern of less then less each day until it was gone. But it hasn't. Neither is it circular, because it comes irregularly and each time it feels oddly new and unexpected. There are all kinds of grief, so much that I guess you could say it comes in 31 flavors. But despite the differences, it is all made from the same raw material: severed connection. What varies is intensity and duration. No, one can't compare the loss of my niece Harper to the loss of a marriage to the loss of a job, but it all stings in that same visceral way, making us feel naked, vulnerable, and adrift: "it's gone it's gone it's gone".

I have been divorcing in heart, mind, and legal documents for about 20 months now. At first I lay in bed for hours every night unable to sleep, breathe, blink from the absolute terror, utter sadness, and incomprehensible decision I was forcing us to make. I'd quit. I'd tried so hard for so long, and then, like that - I just quit. But no matter how many ways I turned it over in my head, quitting was the only answer. So what right have I to be grieved? And how, after all this time, could it still be happening?

We have muddled through almost a year of legalities in the same home, and are within 2 weeks of signing our marriage away. My husband and I get along as much as we need to, which isn't much. You can keep a home functioning surprisingly well with a minimal amount of communication, actually. And though we will always be family, because of the way our daughters unite us, our relationship is well and truly over. There is clearly nothing there for one another in the feelings department anymore. So I was shocked on Friday when grief showed up like that annoying neighbor who sees your lights on and pops over because he is just dying to ask what you paid for your new lawn mower.

He had decided to go to the mountains for an impromptu overnight. Something we usually did together. Something that, at the very least, I always planned and packed for. So when he came home looking to go, I did what a wife normally would do: I mothered him. I scooted around the house opening cupboard doors and closets. Packing emergency supplies and food - compass, toilet paper, extra water. Admonishing him to hang his food to keep it safe from bears and use the map. Putting fresh batteries into the headlamp. And as I am dumping all this at his feet for him to stow in his pack, I am suddenly struck with the absolute absurdity of the situation. Maybe he was too. It made me terribly sad and I had to excuse myself. What I have learned is that grief isn't just for the person you've lost, but for the future you had planned, your dreams and hopes, and even silly day to day rituals. He comes home and puts his coffee cups on the counter to be washed, and I come over and throw them in the sink. He brushed my car off in the morning this past winter, just like the 11 winters before that. I still cook foods that he likes and slide it in front of him with a selection of his beloved condiments. If the kids talk back to one of us, the other says "what did Daddy/ Mommy say?" in defense of our spouse. When he left for those big bad mountains, I almost wanted to hug him. I settled for a text later on: "have fun. don't die." "Thanks. U 2", he replied. It was the nicest thing we'd said to each other in over a year.

It's not only old habits die hard, it's old lives. I have wanted to make my own decisions for so long now, with nobody to answer to. But it suddenly feels overwhelming. Paralyzing. Sad. No, we weren't good together. Not by a long shot. But we weren't alone. And godknows there is safety in numbers. I have learned that when you think you are done hurting, you are really just on hurt hiatus. Sometimes I will be struck all over again by my niece Harper's death and I'll double over and howl like a wounded animal. That's to say nothing of how it still affects her parents. And always always will. Grief doesn't go away. The time in between it's visits becomes extended. And when it comes you know how to bear it. But, it'll never stop. I will always, in some way, mourn the loss of this little family unit we have made. Things will never be the same for any of us. In many ways that is an opportunity for so much more and better, yet in other ways it is a great loss. But, I just summed up the condition of being human, didn't I?

Every morning and evening I walk my dog around the block, and listen to the lonely sound of the doves:  "hoo-oo, oo oo oo", as they call to their mates. Sometimes those calls sounds an awful lot like what I have in my heart. But most days it just sounds like sweet music from a beautiful animal. What I know is that we are all visited by grief - some larger, some smaller. And we suffer for it. And that pain, along with the opposing joy is what unites us as humans. The only way it is bearable, is if we help one another bear it. What I am learning from this season of life will be put to good use in future seasons, and in support of others. And that is the point to suffering if ever there was one. To build a bridge between me and you, and you and him, and him and her. And on and on and on.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

"The Turn" : Mind The Ducks 2015 Race Report

"Keep walking, though there's no place to get to,
Don't try to see through the distances,
That's not for human beings. Move within,
but don't move the way fear makes you move."

What is it like for the former race director to run the race she started? It's a little bit like being a guest at a party someone is throwing at your house. But it is also a bit prophetic, because if you've been here longer than five minutes, you'll know that when I dreamed of this race in August of 2009, I didn't see myself directing it. I saw myself racing it. 

I wore club colors with pride for an hour, until it got too dang hot and the tank top came out. With the plaid skirt and compression socks, I had a bit of a Catholic school girl look going on...if you are into that sort of thing. ;-)

There was a lot of clowning around in the early moments as me and my girlfriend Kathy, who procured a couple of the race director Gil's old dress shirts, silly pins with his 1980s passport picture, and mustaches fashioned after that throwback look, started the race in costume.

"I stand up, and this one of me
turns into a hundred of me.
They say I circle around you,
Nonsense, I circle around me."

There was just a small problem in that it was about 7000 degrees outside today. (Or 90, but you felt like more because less than 2 1/2 weeks ago, it was snowing in Rochester. So we aren't EXACTLY acclimatized yet.) The good news is there was a stiff breeze. The bad news is that most of the day, it just felt like a hot hairdryer in the face. 

Surrounded by my best ultra running friends, I did the things one normally does in these situations. I ran and walked and sunscreened and poured ice in my bra and ate ate ate. This report isn't about my mediocre performance of 45 laps (or about 46 miles), or the sun beating down on my shoulders, or the will to keep going. Though it was and it did and I had it. It is really about going within and living this very moment. 

I reflected on the years I directed, and on the faces I've seen running year after year, and the pride in accomplishment. How good the new RD has done, and how he has turned it into something kind of major locally. I am proud of my hand in that, satisfied with the transition over the last couple of years, and grateful it is no longer my work. 

"A secret turning in us
makes the universe turn.
Head unaware of feet,
and feet head. Neither cares.
They keep turning."

I chatted with dear friends as the miles racked up. I spent way too much time hanging around at the aid tent, but I didn't care so much because it's not like I was going to win or anything. The goal was fun and release and transcendence and that goal was admirably reached. It felt good to get out there and turn my feet into hamburger and do the death march in the final two hours. It felt right. It felt like home.

I was inspired by Rumi, a Sufi mystic poet from the 13th century, if it's news. His poem "The Turn: Dance in the Blood" fell open as I shifted my book of poems around this week. I thought it was so fitting. Running in circles, making circles, is my favorite way to run. It is meditative..with no traffic or decisions to concern yourself with, it is easy to unplug from your life. It becomes a moving meditation. Just like the subject of the poem, the whirling dervishes.

I went inside myself with the aid of my music and the beautiful day, and didn't give one iota of thought to my school work or my troubles...joyfully detaching from them and letting the wind carry them off. In the end, though the mileage was meager and the dead bugs sticking to the 1/2 inch of sunscreen on my skin were plentiful, it was an incredible day. Brought to you by good vibes and some very spicy ginger beer. I am sincerely grateful for the help, support, and cheer of all who had a hand in putting the race on.

"Dance when you are broken open.
Dance if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you're perfectly free."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The 3 Most Important Phrases in the English Language

"Help me, please."
In eastern cultures, which are largely collectivist, the idea that that this phrase gets stuck on the end of western tongues or lodged in the back of throats is very likely absurd. But here in the land of John Wayne, self-made-men (and women), and a culture that values competition (of the physical, economic, mental, and even spiritual self) above virtually all else, the idea that needing help..or admitting you need help is almost unthinkable. Embarrassing. Demoralizing. "I need help" is akin to saying "I failed". In this country we teach children from a young age, in a myriad of ways, that it is superior to do things on your own - solve your own problems, dig yourself out of your own hole, and succeed without the assistance of others. We love those rags to riches, under-dog stories so much - and that they permeate our literature, our mass media, our consciousness. But our rates of unhappiness speak for themselves. The isolationism that we practice in our families, neighborhoods and in all areas of our lives is to our great detriment. We need one another. To create, to grow, to thrive we need support...and not just one, but like a whole team. An inner circle who has your back implicitly. It is in relationship that hurdles can be surmounted, battles won. We outsource and institutionalize our ill, our elderly, and our needy because we don't want to deal with them. But one day, "them", will be all of "us". Reaching out for help in shouldering a burden is not weak, it takes incredible bravery...especially in 21st century America. Nothing will humble you, make you more grateful, or teach you about reciprocity faster than being on the receiving end of a person or persons on your team showing up for you in the clutch. Learning how to ask for it and accept help is one of our greatest tasks to master in this life. Don't blow it.

"You got this."
There are not nearly enough encouraging people in the world. The fact is we've all had hecklers, and been hecklers. But what we really need is a cheerleader: someone who believes in your strength to face a problem, slay a dragon..even if they aren't sure you can...the saying so can make the difference. But it seems as if there are not enough of them to go around. Yes, I know, our inherent sense of value and worthiness has to come from ourselves - from knowing we are valuable as a part of creation, as a unique soul. But what skin is it off your nose to walk by someone in the hallway and say "I like your haircut"? or "I noticed the really good job you did parallel parking" or "Congratulations for getting out of bed and getting dressed today." You laugh but, excuse me, this shit is HARD. Right? Sometimes it's less hard, but every day is a challenge in some way. I believe in karma. And of course I want to ensure that I am rewarded in some way for doing good work here. But as a core motivation, that is pretty selfish. Really this is more about just not being shitty. Being a person who feeds the machine, instead of exclusively taking from it. It literally costs nothing to change the dialogue from "haha, look at how sucky that sucky loser is" to "hey, good job on the kick-ass pie you made. I believe you can do it again. And I would be happy to taste it for you." You never know what is going on inside of someone...what they need. Why not try to figure it out and be that for five seconds? You don't have to be some martyr, laying down your life for a cause. This is a simple act that can occur multiple times a day. Watch, I'll start with you: "I know today/ yesterday/ tomorrow is tough. But I believe in you. You got this." See how nice it is to hear?

"I see you"
To me, these are the three most important words in the English language, when uttered in that particular order. This is a culmination of the importance of the other two phrases. It is virtually impossible to be happy when you are anonymous. As evidence: facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat, youtube. We all want to be stars, to be recognized for our unique us-ness. But the reasons these mediums fail is because we keep needing a bigger hit, like drugs, because they never satisfy the craving to be recognized. Because the recognition you get is for your public self: when your hair and makeup are looking good, when you are being witty or brilliant or winning at croquet. For real, when was the last time you went on facebook and admitted that you offended a friend, that you have a persistent fear of tall grass, or that you forgot your mother's birthday. And those don't even rank compared to your real darkest dark and scary demons. Like "I am afraid I am unlovable" or "I can't forgive myself for fill-in-the-blank awful thing." To be satisfied in life, we all need unconditional love and acceptance. Someone to let us know that they see all the sucky ways that we suck and fail and mess up on the daily, but that they still like us. And we're acceptable. And it's going to be okay. And you aren't alone. It is the deepest cry of the human spirit - to feel safe, accepted, loved, forgiven, and supported. It is why we DO all this crappy stuff - search for relationships, coupleup, get married, put up with someone else's dirty underwear on our floor. Because we need to be known. And I would argue that we need to know others, and learn to accept who they are as well. Try this. Listen to someone who is having a rough time. Look them in the eye. Tell them "I see you." And witness as their heart opens like a flower and they are filled with peace and awe. Friend, I pray that someone will say it back to you someday. I bet you deserve it.

Your turn.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Scholar's Day and Twelve Years as a Wife and Christian

I went to stub out my stick of Dragon's Blood incense, and stopped in front of the mirror for a moment. The smoke wreathed around me, circled my head like a halo, curled over my shoulder, dissipated in the still air of my closed bedroom. I was up early. Not because I needed to practice my presentation again, but to center myself...somehow calm the terrible beast of fear that had been throwing cars and stomping on pedestrians and toppling condominiums in my stomach all week. I woke at 5:00 and circled the neighborhood in my parka as the sun rose, then it was back to my room for Tibetan meditation music and yoga...visualizing myself standing in front of a room full of people, confident instead of vulnerable, calm and smooth instead of stumbling. I convinced myself that I had information that they needed. That my research was going to break something open for them, or at least teach them something they hadn't known. I stared at my reflection. This woman. Able, terrified, but willing. I had a vivid flashback to 9 years ago at this time. I was stunned.

I was sitting in our living room in sweats, exhausted from another night of up twice with the baby. The chubby cherub played on the floor nearby while I watched daytime television dazedly. I thought vaguely about making dinner later, about the laundry that I should fold. I did not think about what I should have been thinking about. About how my life was wall to wall nothing. A blank. I had a beautiful daughter. A painful marriage. A nice home. Not much else. I had one friend in the world, and she didn't like me too much since I had become Christian, gotten married. I couldn't blame her. I didn't like me either.

I hadn't read a book in 2 years. Nor written a word that wasn't in my prayer journal. "Isn't God great?" (He is. But. Come on.) I didn't challenge my body. Or sing. Or create. Or listen to the music. I didn't do anything besides wifeandmother. I didn't know who I was anymore. At occasional social gatherings, I had become a stepford. I swapped recipes, and told lies about how great my husband was with all the other nice ladies. We smiled serenely at them from across the room. I listened to worship music because everything else was poison. When I felt the pressure build revisit myself, to let her out of prison, I prayed her away. Here's how it went: I got saved. I got married. All in the matter of 3 months. Somehow what God wanted and what my husband wanted all got twisted up together. My husband was god. God was God. And what they told me in the church and in the books and on the radio was that I had to be. Be. Be. Blameless. Spotless. Better. Careful. That I had to stop it. Cleanse my eyes, my ears, my environment, my soul. Crucify the old. Or God can't be pleased. My husband can't be pleased. The church will not be pleased. And so. I killed her. But my reflection this morning told else-wise: my strong body and mind, obscured by smoke, ready to conquer - like a super hero. No. She didn't die. She was merely gone for a time. She took an extended break. She's back.

It started with the first step I ran. It started the first time I said "No, you can't" or "I won't" or "That's not right". It started with the first book I read (it was about giant pumpkin growing). It started when I went to church and instead of nodding along, said "But...?" It started when I walked out of a prayer group and decided I'd never spend another Wednesday evening lying through my teeth and eating brownies again. It started when I pulled out a Tori Amos album, that wicked atheist, and sang my heart out...waiting for lightning to strike me, and not really caring anymore if it did. It started when I accepted volunteer, to create relationships, to write again. I didn't burst out of my tomb...I crawled, shifting one speck of dirt at a time. It took 12 years. And I stood there unearthed this morning: exuberant in my fear, living on the edge of my ability, barely remembering what it felt like to be so trapped, so terrified, so very very dead and empty inside. I'd say restored, but I am not. I am better.

My presentation was about a miraculous journey. And I delivered it better than I had any right to. It was an amazing morning. I feel like I have been on my own miraculous journey as well. It was twelve years ago this month that I reconnected with God, and married both he and my husband. My understanding of, and relationship to God is no longer confining...suffocating, but joyous and open. And my marriage has mercifully almost reached it's end. Sometimes I have to pinch myself . I am utterly stunned that I get to live life as I was. Say and be what I want without fear of retribution. It feels like an impossible gift. Each day that I get up and think independent thoughts, that are free from the fear of judgement - God or man's, is an incredible day. The captive has been set free.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Certainty of Uncertainty

The girls are outside playing with their neighbor friends in the sunshine, while I study for a test coming up this week. I took a break, looked around my room for a moment and wondered if I hadn't better start thinking about packing? Maybe, less like thinking about it, and more like actually doing it? But pack what? And when will it be moved? And where will it go?

I am supposed to be divorced next month. Should be. Ought to be. Finally. Or so they tell me, but we'll see. You know how these things go. I'll believe it when they slide the papers in front of me and I am scrawling my name. I have gotten a lot of questions in the last year - like how we can stand to live together, and when are things going to change and what will they change into and how can I, in light of the history and the current situation, not be quite ready to be admitted to the psychiatric ward?

Living with uncertainty is hard, but doing it when you are just a tiny bit of a hysterical control freak feels impossible. Except it's not. It only felt that way before I did it, then once I started doing it, I kind of became an expert at it. It is the ultimate exercise in mindfulness - there is nothing but this present moment. There can't be. There is no room for the future in my mind, unless I want to succumb to levels of anxiety that threaten sleep, health, mental acuity, physical well being, and the safety of everyone within a 1 block radius.

The girls and I have nowhere to live when this is over. Nor anything to drive. And it'll likely end quite suddenly. I don't know what I will materially or financially have to work with. I don't know if I will be able to stay in school and if all my hard work has been a giant waste of time. I don't know if my kids will be happy or adjust right or if their little futures are as good as garbage. I don't know if we will settle in 2 weeks, have it settled in court for us in 5, or if the judge will postpone us for months. I don't know how my future-exhusband and I will work out childcare and co-parenting. And, we don't need to mention those other larger uncertainties of: will I achieve my goals, be able to travel and retire someday, be found by a kind man who doesn't make me crazy that I don't make crazy either?

My life right now is one giant question mark. But yours are too, if you think about it. Really. We sort of have this unspoken agreement with the universe don't we? "Let's pretend that I am in charge of my own life and that all of my precious little plans are going to go just like they do in my daydreams." Hahahaha. Aren't we cute? Ask the woman who's child died suddenly, or the athlete who got some rare cancer out of the blue, or the person with the indestructible career who has been laid off for 2 years. We don't know. You can make promises to yourself, your mate, your kids, your boss but you don't know for certain that you will keep a goddang one of them. If we get through the day, and the biggest surprise is being 10 minutes late for work due to a traffic jam, or that you can't make the soup you'd planned to because someone ate the chicken, consider yourself lucky. Really lucky. Tomorrow, you may not be so lucky.

I get to manage all this right now. Good learning taking place over here. Good trust and surrender. Good living in and for the present. What I do is think exclusively about today, or maybe a few hours of tomorrow. But that's it. I'm reminded of an object lesson I learned backpacking in the Alleghenies. Lost, and then alone for 10 hours, not having seen another soul, and without a cell signal - I was forced to trust in what hikers call "trail magic". Something would come up. Help is provided somehow when you least expect it. I went through a few hours of panic and praying, before I realized all I could do was to keep walking in the direction I thought was the right, and hope the way out is clear. As night was falling and I was facing a second 40 degree night of exposed camping, I came to an abandoned dirt road crossing and saw a car. Of course they gave me a ride 40 miles to my car, because of course they were heading that way, and of course they were just about to drive away when I came stumbling out of the woods in the growing dusk. Of course. Of course. On the way back to my car, I pondered the likelihood of running into them. If I had stopped for a 5 minute break to adjust my shoes or eat a snack during my 35 mile wandering, I would have missed them. I'd have survived; I had enough gear and skills to make it, certainly. But I wanted out, and out I was ferried. It was then that I realized that "trail magic" is real. But it's not trail magic. It is life magic. Serendipity. Benevolence. A way will be provided. Here's how it goes: when you are done learning, the proctor takes your test, gives you an "A" and buys you dinner. Do you see that? I know you have experienced it.

If you are living in uncertainty now, comrade, I salute you. We can do this. If you are not, good for you, but don't get cocky because you will be soon. Maybe you'll never be as deep in the water as I am now and treading for dear life, and in that case you are lucky. This lesson is extra-special: tailor made for a planner and worrier like me. And when the growth experience is over, I am eagerly expecting that dose of benevolence in reward for my patience. Of course it was supposed to work out this way. Of course. All I had to do, is trust and wait.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

At Hospice on Easter, She Snaps Open Her Wings and Floats Away

She is lying on her side. She affirmed her comfort from the drawn sunkeness of her toothless and slack mouth, though it barely seems possible as her bones are covered only with skin, the padding of muscle and fat burned up for her body's survival. She is 97. Sometimes, it is hard here..when the patients are in their 40s or 50s, in fear or bad humor...out of it, their minds as wasted as their bodies. When it is good is when there is happiness and lightness and passive anticipation of the imminent river crossing.

I have come here as often as time allows, which is not much when you are in the honors program of a science heavy degree, the mother of two kids, operating a charity..a house and dog and life to tend to. But, it turns out that with nothing to do on the holidays with absentee family and the kids with their father, that this is as good a place as any to come. Maybe, a better place. First for Thanksgiving, when a patient's life partner cooked a beautiful chicken and stuffing. Then for Christmas, when an affectionate, involved and gregarious family took the place over and stuffed me with cookies. And today on Easter. The family made a ham, offered us some, and I brought my extra Easter basket chocolate for the volunteers so I wouldn't eat myself into diabetes this week. I do my homework and listen like a hawk for the sounds of regular breathing coming from both rooms: in-out. No one has died on my watch yet. It will happen someday. My worst thought is not that it will, but that I'd miss it. That a patient would die alone, with me five feet away.

I don't know what's wrong with me. Why do I come here? People ask how I can handle it, all the time they ask, but I have no answer. It's how I was made. I think if you are made for this you know. And you are sort of obligated to do it. I am not from here. Neither are they. It is a privelege to wait on them as they prepare to return home. I have a lot of beliefs. One of them is: gentle in, gentle out. And this place is gentle; there is an ease in transitioning to the invisible, shedding the human shell. The ghosts of the hundreds of souls who've passed through here, out of here, are not stuck. If they are, I can't feel them. This place is a waiting room. A tunnel of light. I like to think that we are like doormen: holding the door open, bowing low, averting our eyes as they choose to walk through. It is, despite the impossiblity, quite a happy place to be.

I wonder what difference does it make to change diapers and dispense pills and pat hands. But I know it's everything. If it were me there, lying and waiting, it'd be everything. A human who doesn't belong to me, who could have just put my socks on my feet, but took the time to massage them with rich lotion first. If that's not a spiritual act, I don't know what the hell is.

It is free to be here. Did you know that? The residents don't pay. Niether does insurance. We have cable and internet and a fully stocked fridge, guest beds, every feasible comfort and neccesity. And it all runs on the "we hope there'll be enough donations this year" program. Nineteen years, somehow there has always been enough. It is good insurance companies aren't involved, that we can be off the grid, that we can be humans caring for humans. But I cannot imagine the stress of the brave women in charge. What do they need more - caretakers or cash? The answer is different every week.

The patients have stories, that go beyond the medical. And we get to hear them. Look at pictures of grandchildren, talk about a love of birds, a special blanket, a late spouse they are anxious to be renited with. Sometimes they cry quietly. Sometimes there is an undercurrent of fear in their voices. Sometimes they want to pretend they are just on holiday. And we meet them in their truth or their delusion and agree. Agree with all of it. You would like a milkshake from McDonalds for dinner? Yes. Yes, you may. We will go get you one. A martini with your morphine? Point me towards the vermouth. This is their show, they direct and star. We are merely stagehands and ushers.

What I have learned about death from taking care of the dying is that it comes too fast and too damn slow. That it hurts and it is painless. That it is terrifying and peaceful. That there is nothing nothing nothing nothing that can stop it. It is an out of control freight train, and we are all tied to the tracks. I could tell you to get right with God but it doesn't matter, because you'll die anyway. And I am quite certain he'll be happy to see you when you do.

What strikes me is how, even for the very old, they will tell you life went by in a blink. We can measure our days out in the events: the weddings and births, losses, crisis, moves and shifts and it sounds like so much. So so much is happening, has happened, will change. So many stories that we could write hefty novels. But it's really just a nothing. A little bit of a nothing, a drop of time in the cosmic expanse of it all. But in the moment, its everything. And in the end, it's all we had.

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Monday, March 9, 2015

A letter to my younger self

Dear 20 year old Shel,

I have a secret to tell you. It doesn't get easier...actually it gets worse. I know that's scary because it feels like you are drowning now. But though circumstances will get tougher, YOU will get stronger. The pain ahead hardens you like forged steel, and softens you like a flower. You'll learn to adsorb punches. Not like a heavy bag that sways with each blow, but like a boulder on the beach, taking the crushing waves placidly and with resigned determination. You'll learn to surrender to life, and find refinement in the pain.

I know you are afraid to leave the house and lonely. Longing to try things but unable to move off the couch. I know right now you are waiting for your miracle. But that will change. In the future you'll realize that the miracle doesn't come. That YOU are the miracle. You stop playing dead. You stop settling for survival. You find out that you're steering the ship, and make it go where you want. Because God's on Team Shel, and even if you aren't sure, nothing scares you anymore except wasting time.

You are going to know grief. Real grief. You think you have stories now? Just wait, you'll have better ones. You'll suppress and squash and cram yourself into a closet for a good...oh, 13 years. But no matter how you try to run from it, you'll still be you. Yea, you'll be locked up for a long time...but eventually, you get back out..blinking hard in the light of day. And then - peace.

You'll still curse your lot sometimes: your body, your nervous nature, the tendency to rush and panic. But you learn to appreciate it for what it can do: carry you on adventures, calculate risks, get shit done. You'll stop shaking your head and denying it when someone pays you a compliment...most of the time. The tapes that play on repeat in your head, the ones that say: "You can't, you shouldn't, you aren't worth it"? You'll learn to silence them mostly. Instead you'll hear things like "why not?" and "just try" and "I'm valuable". That was worked hard for that. So be proud. And don't quit.

You learn to stop saying everything that's on your mind every damn second. That having a big mouth is power, and you'll mostly use your powers for good. Except when you forget, because that happens too. But you learn grace for yourself when you do. You have amazing children who make demands of you that you feel inadequate to meet. But they'll be okay. And you'll reassure yourself that they'll work it out in therapy in their 20s. You'll accept yourself for doing your best. And others for doing theirs. Most of the time.

You'll have everything you ever thought you wanted. And be miserable for most every second of it. But then you'll find new things to dream for, and that's so much better. You feel mostly alone here now, but in the future you aren't. The Universe is going to bring you people...giiiirl! I can't even tell you the characters He has lined up for you! It's all the proof you need that He's watching and He cares. You are going to have such fun, like you never dreamed. Really. Never. Because right now you don't have the courage to even acknowledge what you could have. But buckle up, because you're going to get it. See and do and be what you could have never imagined. And be grateful. And maybe even a little proud.

There is so so much to look forward to. First you have to go through that bad stuff. Then some more bad stuff. Then you'll get here: living with joy and freedom in between the bad stuff that's sure to descend again, and realize that its actually the bad stuff that made it so damn good. Godspeed.
Future Shel