Monday, January 19, 2015

Life is hard. Grab a broom.

"To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for the world's sake - even when the world bores and sickens and scares you half to death - that little by little we start to come alive.”
― Frederick Buechner

I have been seeing it all wrong.

Aurora, Marco's amazing cousin, and I were discussing marriage. She stated that after the first three years, as long as the romantic "honeymoon" stage will take you, marriage and loving someone becomes a choice, sometimes daily, sometimes minute by minute. Life is the same.

We're told, marketed, this idea that our lives all deserve certain things:

A tremendous romance
A passionate vocation
Delicious food
To be young and beautiful

We think that if we don't have that, life is dissatisfying. We think that when we've lost one, our identity ceases to be what it was.

Who am I?

Does my body matter?

Does it matter if I am romanced the way I see in movies?

Does every meal have to be what I want?

Is it even good to have comfort all the time?

What makes me feel stable and can I be stable without those things?

Can I find joy, stability and a sense of being completely okay with me if my house is a mess, I fail at my job, my husband is angry with me, I put on 20+ pounds?

Is me the woman in the photos?

Is me the woman on the phone with a friend?

Is me the woman that one person despises?

Is me the fun person who brings life to the party?

Is being a party girl me?

Is being a stable mom me?

Is being hardworking me?

Is getting back into bed me?

And do I even have a right to know? Aren't there enough needs in the world that perhaps I ought to drop the baggage of this self-obsession and get on with the business of helping the world?

I don't DESERVE anything. I am just another human on Earth, built for survival, reckoning with the brevity of life. There's no schwag bag that comes with the life party! Your gift is this: you get to fucking live here on Earth. Have you seen it? Have you tasted the water that falls from the sky? Pretty amazing. Have you felt the warm sun on your face? Stupefyingly brilliant.

You're not owed a damn thing. Now quit whining and grab a fucking broom. Start helping.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Goodbye to Love

I wonder, how much of love is just being known?

It's 4:20 am. We're on our way to Ohio to say goodbye, to pay respects, to bury, to hug, to try to wrap our heads around the idea that Eddy, Marco's sister's husband, is really gone.

We've done this trip so many times that now we can basically prep with very little discussion. I know what he'll want to wear in the car, I know to remind him of his wallet. He suggests I use the bathroom one more time. We do a sort of dreamy dance, setting the lights, feeding the fish, loading the car. And so many little things I take for granted. He knows I will need my pillow. I know we'll stop for gas, and I will automatically get him a Gatorade. And this time is no different, although perhaps it's been done more quietly. Everything between us has been done quietly lately. I didn't know how much of grief would be vacant silence.

I thought I was prepared for his death. We knew it was coming. Sixteen months of a grueling battle with stomach cancer leaves one mindful of the coming end. But when that call came that they thought he'd die within hours, I crumpled to the floor. Everything I had been worried about doing that day just dissipated, leaving only sadness, impatience, regret, and desperation. I can't quite tell how much is my own pain and how much is the pain of knowing others are suffering. And not just others. Marco's family is my family. His sister is my sister. Her children, part of the fabric of my heart.

It's no secret that this last year was fraught with difficulty and frustration. Eddy's gradual withdrawal from life left a vacuum, both in the family and in our company. You see, not only are they family, but they are my coworkers. Our lives are tied by daily conversations, negotiations, emails, texts. We run a small home health agency where all but one of the admin team is a family member. It was intense before he got sick, but when the COO is going through chemo and then surgery to remove organs, all life lurches in fits and starts. It is painful. It is complicated. It is exhausting. It's filled with equal parts empathy and frustration. And for him, I can't imagine. He cared deeply about the company, the patients, the employees. He had poured himself into making things better, and he had to let go and watch us flounder and shift and try to make it all work.

And now? How do we all keep going, keep working, keep the company and each other going through this grief? How do we manage without the person who knows? He was the keeper of stories, the rememberer of old events, the guy with all the inside jokes. He knew us. And he was known.

I can't pretend that my grief is anything compared to what my sister-in-law is feeling, missing her other half, the man who really knew her. And the kids? How do we even begin to be there for them when we have no idea what part of them he knew, what secrets of loving them he held, what jokes they shared? Only they carry those mysteries. Only they know what part of them is lost in a memory we can never retrieve.

So, I packed cookie dough and sprinkles and bags of icing...for new memories, for new ways for them to be known, for all of us to gather and share the pieces we know are now missing. And I got them journals, so they can begin the process of capturing the part of him they have locked away, and the part of themselves they lost with him. His memory was great, we all have a lot of empty space now.

I explained to Maya that his body is gone but that who he was, the only part of him we ever actually had, is in our memories of him. And that's the afterlife, or the only part of living after death that we know for sure. Heaven is not awaiting. Heaven is here. We make it by sharing ourselves, leaving behind a legacy of memory, made in our lifetime. It sure makes you think about how you want to spend your day. For , "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." (Annie Dillard)

"The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It's the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared."
Lois Lowry, The Giver

We will all miss the man who knew us, the sharer of our memories. When someone dies, we miss them. Nothing can replace their physical form, their jokes and hugs and antics. But the memories of who they were we get to keep. He lives on in us. The part that's gone is the part of us that was in him. Eddy knew me. He knew all of us. And those pieces, those memories, those parts of us that only he kept, they're gone. And that radio silence is what lets the sadness in, like an air raid on your mind.

Love is being known. And today we begin to say goodbye to love, goodbye to memory, goodbye to shared moments, goodbye to inappropriate jokes, long phone calls, silly texts and too long hugs. We say goodbye to a man and goodbye to who we were with him. There are memories of myself, a harsh word, rolled eyes, that are best put to rest. But I will forever miss the part of me he held dear, the partner in-law who hopefully showed him respect and love and patience, who knew me as my best self and who shared a space and a family we would never have known had we not both stumbled upon these people we so love, people by whom we are known.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mind the Gap

We had a Rilke reading at our wedding that I often go back to when I get frustrated about our differences and the difficulties that come with being married to someone who is so vastly different than me.

“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances continue to exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

Marco and I are, indeed, vastly different. We were discussing this the other night. I was making the argument that perhaps he’s not as smart as he thinks he is because he chose me as a partner - not because I am bad but because I provide for him so much difficulty (and vice versa). Let’s put it this way, I don’t think we’d be matched on eHarmony. But he made the argument that perhaps we are even smarter than we realize because we chose partners who push us and make us grow. We sought out that which challenges us. I’ll have to remember that the next time we’re arguing and I get overwhelmed by his lack of empathy and ability to manipulate emotions and think I may have married the worst person in the entire world and he’s frustrated by my torrent of emotions and inability to converse reasonably. No, I married the right person to guard my solitude and the right person to yank me out of my comfort and make me see the world in a new light. It’s terrible and amazing.

But the gap can be so great sometimes, with him and with others in my life. And it’s hard to determine when my attempts to close the gap between me and another person have become too dangerous for me and for them. Sometimes a gap becomes a chasm and the reaching across becomes treacherous. Marco and I have managed to find a nice gap to live with, one that doesn’t trip us up too much, but I haven’t found that balance with everyone.

Distance can make a chasm. Lack of effort can make a chasm. Life events can make a chasm. Emotions can make a chasm. Mental illness can make a chasm. Schedules can make a chasm. Work can make a chasm.

And sometimes we utterly fail. We choose the wrong way to communicate. We say the wrong words. We get the wrong timing. We let too much time pass. We forget. And suddenly, the train has left the station, and we’re falling. And it’s too late.

And sometimes others fail us. And they cling too tightly. Or they push us too hard. They expect us to make all the effort. They don’t meet us halfway. Or they mistake our struggle for abandonment. Or they misunderstand our words. Or they take everything the wrong way. And suddenly we’re on the train alone, wondering what happened.

For true friendship, for the healthy, moon-viewing, expansive sky, loving space, we need real compassion. But so often we (and I mean me now mostly), confuse more dangerous qualities with compassion.

  1. We pity, which puts us in a place of superiority and not a place of empathy.
  2. We enmesh, which puts us in a place of codependency and guilt.

One separates, and one hems us in. I tend toward the second. I let fear of confrontation, fear of separation, fear of abandonment, keep me from speaking truth appropriately and setting appropriate boundaries. I take others suffering and make it my own, which is really just selfish. I want them to feel better so that I feel better, and, instead of hastening comfort, I just postpone discomfort, making it much, much worse.

But the first can be just as dangerous. Pity can cause us, thinking we are cultivating an attitude of acceptance, to curdle compassion into resignation or indifference. Pity is a wedge where codependency is a choking bind. And both are entirely self-centered instead of other-centered, which is what compassion is in essence.

The gap is there for a reason. The train cannot run without the gap. But we can’t ignore its existence. And sometimes, the train has derailed and all attempts to leap the chasm have left both parties injured and apart. It happens. And it hurts.

And we feel angry with ourselves. We feel angry with others. We are resentful. We get hooked by anger.

“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. “  Buddha

The other day at the gym I was complaining that my hip continues to hurt and that every attempt to do my normal workouts is resulting in more pain. My friend asked if I’ve been doing what the doctor told me to do. I looked sheepish. I complained, “But I don’t want to. I want to just get back to normal.” She said, “If you want to get better then you have to do the work. It’s YOUR life.”

Minding the gap in a healthy way means a new normal. There’s no going back. That is the way of pain. Sit with the damn feelings. Do the damn exercises. Let go of the resentment. Love people with true compassion. Love the expanse. And mind the damn gap! It's YOUR life.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A little better

“I sometimes react to making a mistake as if I have betrayed myself. My fear of making a mistake seems to be based on the hidden assumption that I am potentially perfect and that if I can just be very careful I will not fall from heaven.”
Hugh Prather

I have to continually remind myself that there is no heaven. There is not big punishment waiting for me for any of the absurd things I have come to believe are “wrong.” Sure, there are consequences. But often, if not always, my perception of what the consequences will be is grossly misjudged. What, for instance, is the consequence of eating chips before bed? Well, if you could read my thoughts, you’d know that in my brain, the consequence is being a fat, worthless piece of crap who will never amount to anything (I am rather harsh). I will try and tell myself that I didn't eat a big dinner, or I should love myself as I am. I try and do the cognitive dissonance dance of figuring out a way to live with the shame of having done something I believe/perceive/know to be “wrong.” But I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. The consequence for eating chips before bed is probably thirst, which leads to drinking more water, which leads to peeing more often and sleeping less. This then results in a grumpy mom, a disgruntled household, and low productivity. It is added calories. And it might make me heavier. But I’ve even got that wrong too. Being heavier is not a moral wrong. There are consequences, sure. My knees might suffer. I might feel worse.

And that’s really what I’ve got to work with, isn’t it? How do my actions affect me and affect others? Am I making things better, or am I potentially making things worse?

“By approaching my problems with “What might make things a little better?” rather than “What is the solution?” I avoid setting myself up for certain frustration. My experience has show me that I am not going to solve anything in one stroke; at best I am only going to chip away at it.”
Hugh Prather

I have been pushing my feelings around lately - scooting them aside with food and alcohol and social engagements and phone use. I haven't wanted to take a good hard look at things. That’s a lot of pressure - going through rather than passing over. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be an excellent person. I fail, obviously, and then feel bad all the time. Well, this morning I took a little of Mr. Prather’s advice. What might make things a little better? That seemed doable.

I got up a little earlier. Not a lot but a little.
I meditated for five minutes. Nothing more.
I started the laundry before sitting down at the computer. Simple.

As I sat down at my computer I heard the voice in my head say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” I felt this overwhelming sense of gratitude toward myself and gave myself a little pat on the proverbial back.

That phrase is part of a verse from the Bible. I looked it up to try and remember its context.  It continues with, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21)
Wow. Well done, Minter. Well done. Share in the happiness that comes in the faithfulness of small things.

“To live for results would be to sentence myself to continuous frustration. My only sure reward is in my actions and not from them.”
Hugh Prather

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Good Company

If I had not bottomed out and dropped out of college and gotten that job through my cousin at that engineering company and if Marco had not switched to a different middle school and met his friend and if he had not come to the States for college and gotten that job and if his friend had not moved to Arizona and met his wife and then moved to Maine and then gotten divorced and if another woman had not gotten divorced and if she had not rented that apartment in the mill, I would not have gotten to be with these three amazing people.

Life is twisted.

One woman’s struggle to give her kids up for adoption is another person’s dream of having children. We come together and we fall apart.

The hard part, the essential core of getting through this life, is to wake to each time, each moment, whether horrible pain and grief or immense joy and relief, and embrace it.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. it’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” - Pema Chodron

Ah, but I don’t like knowing I’ve hurt someone.

I think that is the worst feeling for me. I will do anything to get out of it. I will apologize even when I know I am doing the right thing. I will drink or eat or have sex to avoid feeling guilty and awful.

But the truth is, I am guilty. I fail at friendships. I fail at marriage. I fail at motherhood. Every. Single. Day. But that is because I am human, it turns out.

“I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.” - Edna St. Vincent Millay

This past week I got to spend time with some of the most amazing humans. How grateful I am for all of their valuable mistakes that led to all of us being there together.

Today, as I sit with my feelings of regret, I will try to also hold gratitude. They walk hand-in-hand. When Pandora had regrettably let out all of the nasty vices, she was grateful to find hope at the bottom of the box. It didn't take away the horror she had let into the world, just as gratitude will not wash away my achy feelings of sadness and regret, but it will keep my pain good company.

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