When Life Gets Out of Control

After some informal inquiries with many of my friends and acquaintances it would seem the consensus is… August suuuucked. In a time which is supposed to be of leisure and good weather – and in the past has meant birthdays and anniversaries and vacations for me –  for the first time in my life, I was barely hanging on.

I experienced a mass exodus of people from my life; some were tangential, some close friends, some romantic interests. But each week in August, just like the crashing waves against cliff sides came a fresh, powerful and unstoppable blow of loss. And each week, I sank deeper into the darkest of lonelinesses.

I remember sitting in the sunshine on my back deck – where I have sat in so many moments of pain and joy over the years – and being taken over by a shaking terror. This scared me most of all. I was so utterly confused (a state I do not function in well) and I was so utterly alone (another state I do not function in well) and I was asking, no begging, whomever or whatever listens in times like these… what have I done to deserve this pain?  Where did I go wrong? What is this life for anyway when I have no control over anything?!?

I have a tendency to blame myself when my life isn’t looking the way I think it should. And yes, it’s about control and believing that I am the captain of my ship. While this has its benefits in building the life you want and creating opportunity, it offers no solace when, as they say, shit happens.

Because that’s what August was mostly about… shit. just. happening. And I had little or no control over anything.

We can, however, control how we react – at least that is what I’m told –  and I’m a little ashamed to report that I did not react well a lot of the time. I was petulant, demanding, angry and blaming. I rattled off harsh texts, I wailed in agony and anger, I no longer wanted to care about anything or anyone. I shut myself off. Not my finest moments.

But at the end of the day, or the end of August, I slowly began to find my way back to myself. There were some days when I didn’t leave two rooms of my home. I read, I listened to music, I contemplated and meditated and sank so deep into my core just to get a foothold on one hour of my day. Other days, I went to yoga and made concerted efforts to focus on just one breath at a time. Because I have learned that when life feels like nothing but crashing waves over your head – one deep breath is the only thing to make you believe you’re not drowning. I did a lot of that… breathing and focusing.

If August had me hanging on for dear life, September has been me reconciling the losses and my actions. I realized a few important things about myself, others and this life.

Nothing in this world stays the same; not a rock, not a tree a continent or culture. It sounds a bit trite and obvious to say, but we fight against this idea on a daily basis. The comfy, cozy softness of tradition and continuity is like that warm fire waiting for you when it’s dark and cold and wet. We crave to be engulfed by the knowing and dependable glow of sunshine in August, of our lifelong friends, of the bonds of family and the relaxing familiarity and predictability of routines we know all too well. These are lovely and useful tools for setting the foundations of joy in our lives and helping us to understand what’s truly important.

But people can get really bent out of shape when you suggest a change in the status quo. Change is largely seen as an enemy, a forbearance of awful things to come, a harbinger of uncertainty and unknown entities.

And the comfort of well-worn dirt paths helps us forget that the crashing waves aren’t just there to lull us to sleep; they are powerful enough to reshape the solid ground on which we stand. And just under that surface are undertows at work. And just because we bury ourselves in the things which keep us dry and warm doesn’t mean these other parts of life don’t exist and won’t come to wreak havoc on us one day. Because nothing in this world stays the same, not a rock, not a tree a continent or culture. Not you, not me, not friendships and family. Time runs roughshod over all things both dark and lovely.

And when the waves overtake you, like they did me in August, so much of life becomes the simple act of hanging on, of coping and finding space to take one breath at a time as your head slips below the surface. And I know now that how we behave in these moments does not define us, but it can teach us if we take time to learn, if we refuse to bury our heads in the sand and we continue to assert ourselves as the captains of our ships.

We are simple humans attempting to reconcile a reality which is largely hidden from our understanding. Our simple minds have us clinging to the safety of land and simple ideas and illusions of permanence because the chaos of change is beyond our comprehension and largely, beyond our control. And that feeling can bring on a shaking terror.

But change doesn’t have to be bad. New ideas do not have to be rejected. Boundaries and relationships can be redrawn and it doesn’t spell doom. And judging ourselves too harshly for our humanity is an exercise in futility. It’s like judging a tree for losing its leaves.

It takes time and patience and stillness, but the reshaping of rock from the constant crashing of waves is a beautiful thing.

Reshaping of Rocks

Oprah and Scars and Trust Issues

If you know me in person, you know that Oprah is my spirit animal. Since I was a teenager, growing up in a home where nothing was really talked about, Oprah came on television everyday and talked about everything.  All the things I so desperately wanted to have conversations about, there she was, talking. That dialogue with life changed me. It continues to change me.

I was madly in love with a man my sophomore year in college. I was 20, he was 23.  He was goofy and inordinately tall, 6’8″ next to my 5’5″. I used to climb the furniture to kiss him. He had already graduated from college and was a 5th grade elementary teacher. He took me, a little broken, a little dirty, he dusted me off, and he showed me some things. We were together for an impossibly short 9 months. The one Christmas we spent together he bought me red, plaid pajamas and an unauthorized biography of Oprah. It was 1999.

This man saw me. For a little while anyway, he really saw me. He inspired me to pursue a second major in communications, he convinced me to stand up and have confidence in what I knew to be true about myself. He showed me how deeply flawed even the really good people can be. He taught me that, and then he was gone. I knew he cared for me back then, and in a strange way, I know he still does although we don’t speak. And what all these years have taken away in memory, I remember something about him quite vividly. He had this long worm-like scar that ran down the center of his left knee. It was from surgery to fix what basketball had broken. It was smooth and wrinkled and felt like a silky soft, well, worm. As I ran my finger down it from time to time he’d tell me to stop. It felt weird because the tissue surrounding the scar was numb. He knew I was touching him, but could not necessarily feel me. I loved him so much it took me over a decade, and well into my marriage, before I could bear to part with those thread-bare pajamas.

Right this minute I am crushed by losing someone else I love. He too, has a huge scar. It’s on his right shoulder. While going through the law enforcement academy he was injured in a take-down drill. He had to have surgery to fix what it had broken. After surgery he contracted a major staph infection which ate away at the incision site and left a deep indentation of missing bone and tissue and a pretty big scar. He almost died. This painful tragedy manifested in scar-form was one of my favorite parts of his body. Laying in bed, always, my fingers would work their way toward that scar, sometimes unconsciously. He’d ask me why I did that. “I guess I just like scars.” I’d say. “It means you’ve lived.” He said that was funny – but what I think he meant was ironic – because he said he was self-conscious about that scar. But now it was one of his lover’s most favorite things. Our only Christmas together he bought me a collector’s book which was actually signed by Oprah. But that wasn’t all he gave me. He taught me something, too. In losing him I finally knew how to trust myself.

Because when we met I was very broken, filthy, battered from head to toe. I was in the midst of nasty divorce, and on my way to trial. Snaking your way out of a toxic relationship there are always landmines just in the periphery of where you know you need to go. A lot of my landmines looked like trust-issues. I didn’t just not trust him, I didn’t trust me. How could I ever be sure of any decision I ever made when I’d made so many MAJORLY horrible ones thus far? I played this dance with him for 6 months where I’d push him away, skeptical and crazed with fear, and he’d pull me back just before I jumped. This happened so many times, the pushing, pulling. After 6 months the fulcrum on our relationship tipped. I was the one pulling, and he was the one wanting to jump. Then he did. It all took 9 impossibly short months.

But I saw him. I did. And I think I still do, although, as he fades away his outline gets fuzzier. It’s hard to tell where he ends, and where I have reshaped him in the hazy hindsight of lost love. And now, my only wish is that I taught him something, too. Because I do not want to take more from this life than was so generously given to me in the way of incredible, loving people. I have met so many. I have loved so many even if I didn’t know how to show it, or name it, or trust it.

But I do now. Or at least I’m much closer than before. And even if I never see him again, I know that I am capable of trusting. Because he taught me that, and I will forever be grateful. I’m sure it will take me many years before I bring myself to put that collector’s book away, where it’s not always on my shelf, in my periphery, continuing to remind me to listen to that still, small voice, the one that urges me to keep talking about everything even when I’m afraid. To keep loving the scars more than the memory of the hurt that caused them.

 

Lessons on Loneliness, Translations and Bedtime Stories

Because of shared custody, full-day Kindergarten, and a busy schedule, my daughter and I usually, truly connect during the week on the nights I get to put her to bed; which is approximately 53% of the time. That’s what happens in divorce, you only get a percentage of your child’s life.

I lay with her before she falls asleep, and her inner thoughts and worries come bubbling to the surface like secrets. She tells me as much as she is able to understand, and I translate the feelings she does not have the words to say. Two nights ago she cried big, heaving tears about a recent birthday party where two girls, whom she’s been friends with for about three years, wouldn’t “follow her.”

These three girls spend a lot of time together because I’m also friends with their moms, and we like spending time together, too. These two friends of mine are two big reasons I was able to survive this last year of divorce. They supported me, included me, made me feel like I was not alone in this city where the only family I knew stopped speaking to me the day I filed for divorce.

But lately, I haven’t felt so included. For a variety of reasons I feel a rift between me and these two friends. They are both married. They have two children who are the same ages, and all their kids are friends. They aren’t limited in their plans by shared custody and “weekends off” and the ability to pass the kids off to a husband for an impromptu shopping trip on a Saturday afternoon. When we get together their husbands idle off to the side with their beers and talk about husbandy things. I watch. I listen. I see the updates on Facebook when they go on “date nights” and I have no plus one anymore.

I’ve been feeling this distance and the accompanying loneliness and it hurts pretty bad. So when my daughter cried to me two nights ago about not being “followed,” I cried with her, because I knew she was trying to say she felt alone, and left out. Usually, I’m not at a loss for wise words of motherly advice translated into 5-year-old speak, but I was this night. I just layed there and said, “I know, baby. Me too. Feeling lonely and left out is miserable and it’s okay to cry. I’ll cry with you. Okay? Because I’m feeling pretty left out too.”

Then I remembered this book I bought a couple of weeks ago at a spiritual bookstore. It is a book for kids called, On My Way To A Happy Life by Deepak Chopra. I love this book. I gush over this book. Because I gush, they groan when I try to read it at night, but I read it anyway. And by the end, they are always rapt with attention. It’s one of my favorite things right now.

Deepak Chopra On My Way to a Happy Life

As we lay there crying I asked her if she remembered what the book said about getting the things we want in life? I reminded her that it said she needed to give away the things she wants. If she wants her friends to “follow” her, she’s got to follow them, first. If she wants to be heard and seen and included, she’s got to hear, see and include others. And the best way to do these things, is with a giving spirit, and a happy heart. It was truly advice for us both.

I think I might be a professional loner. I move away from people, I alienate them, I build walls and hide behind them every single day. I choose people who are cold and distant so that I don’t have to thaw my icy exterior. Truthfully, this blog is my alter ego. My everyday self only understands so much, and the voice in my head that writes here is my wiser self that translates what I do not have the words to say outloud.

I justify these things easily. Because life has not been kind to me in the ways of love and so I have grown a heart of thorns. I have been told (more than once) that I am not easy to love. And I’m not. So scared am I of the pain that seems to always follow the fall. So terrified of the vulernability and weakness I’ve laid on the table the moment it all goes to shit. It seems a thousand times easier to stay walled up in my self-imposed cage. This is the part of my disintigrated marriage that I own. I am not easy to love.

But I know I’m not impossible. I did try really hard in my marriage. But sadly, that was a lost cause for many reasons. And I am all the more frightened from it. But I can’t give up, right? I have to keep trying. Somehow, I have to find the wisdom to keep turning toward the light. I know this now. This blog helps.

But it’s too late to change what has already happened. It is too late to go back and impart this wisdom on my 23 year old self, my 27 year old self and my 36 year old self. But it’s not too late today. Today I will choose to do the scary things, like trying to give away pieces of me without being frightened how they might be treated. And I will do this by taking the pieces that others give me, and caring for them like they were my own. I will give away what I so desperately need. To be seen.

We always hear that our children mirror our emotions. My daughter and I crying together over our shared loneliness of these same friends in our lives has never illuminated this more clearly for me, and thus, it has never been more clear what I must do.

There are only two people on this planet I have never held back from loving. They have had all of me from the moment they were conceived, and I hope they always will. These two are my greatest translators in this crazy world about the meaning of love, and if for no one else, (actually, I can’t think of better people) I will try for them. I will do the scariest things just to show them what happens when you’re brave enough to expose your heart.

And so, even though everytime I open this page I’m scared, I will continue to open it. Even though I am terrified of loving another again, I will try. Even though my unwisest self pulls me into the shadows behind my walls and thorns, I will continue to step out into the sunlight. Because they need to know a world with that kind of warmth. And we will be each other’s translators of that kind of love.

The Hero’s Journey: You Will Survive

The Hero's JourneyI open this page a lot. I write some words. I erase them. I try again. I close the page.

When I first filed for divorce about a year ago I was still taking night classes at The University of Washington. It was my last semester of my two-year certificate program. I pulled my professor aside and told him what I was going through, and that I may not be able to complete the weekly assignments. He said something that stuck with me, “Don’t worry. The writing will come back. Just keep showing up and coming to class, the writing will come back in time.” 

It’s not that I have nothing to say. Actually, I have SO MUCH to say. I just can’t find the right words to say it right now. I have been disconnected from that part of me that knows how to express what’s deep, that part that can sort out the pieces of truth lying in weight on my heart, that thing that spins sadness into meaning.

Did you know that only 5% of divorces make it all the way to trial? So, chances are, if you’re getting a divorce, you’re going to “settle” before you see the inside of a courtroom. Both parties are going to put the hurt and anger aside, perhaps agree to disagree, and make plans for the next phase of life; hopefully putting the children’s needs first.

Not in my case. Nope. No such luck. And I have a lot to say about accepting your circumstances.

The last two months I’ve been through mediation, trial prep, and yes, a three-day trial. I’ve sat next to a judge for several hours and plead my case under oath and threat of perjury. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, and countless hours in preparation and hand-wringing. It has been other-wordly. It has taken a deep reserve of strength I did not know I possessed. And I have a lot to say about strength.

I never wanted to be in this position. In fact, I tried really, really hard not to get to this point. I tried to compromise. I tried to look the other direction as someone stole from me and my children. I tried to get along for the greater good. But each time I gave a mile, they wanted a hundred more. And part of the reason I filed for divorce was because I was determined NOT to be bullied into one more wrong decision. So, I ended up in court. And I have a lot to say about forgiveness.

The claims I’ve had to fight are nothing short of outrageous; from abuse, to mental-illness, to alcoholism, to neglect. Everything has been thrown against my wall to see what sticks. So far, none of it has… because none of it is true. This is what happens when you divorce a bully. It’s the same variety you see on the playground; angry, insecure, unable to process their emotions by any other means than abuse. And I have a lot to say about standing up for yourself.

But all of these things are precisely the reason why I can’t write. Each time I open this page, I start to write something meaningful, and a few paragraphs in, I drop into the overwhelming injustice and fear. My ability to see the bigger picture is clouded in fear. And I have a lot to say about fear.

But at the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s not about every slight or allegation tossed my way. It’s about something bigger. It’s about the human condition. It’s about what it takes to overcome life’s seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And that is the lesson in all this mess. And I have a lot to say about that.

Because life isn’t about what happens to you. It’s about how you rise to the occasion. It’s about how much grace, how much faith, how much perseverance and the unfathomable strength of the human spirit to overcome what’s been laid upon its doorstep. Because we are no victims of this world. We are witnesses. And we need to stay aware, awake, and determined to stand inside the fire, be burned, and live to tell the story. And I have a lot to say about stories. 

I’ve grieved buckets over this loss in my life. I’ve grieved oceans for the loss in my children’s lives. I have disconnected from my tether to this world, and I have lived so that I can tell you what it feels like to come back from there. And the lessons are the ones you’ve seen a hundred times in what Joseph Campbell laid out as… THE HERO’S JOURNEY.

1. Every one of us will pass through a door. Many of us will be pushed, some of us will choose, but we will all pass through this door. The door is labeled, “The Path of No Return.”  It is a one-way trip. Once you step passed the threshold, there is no going back. The life you knew is gone and the one before you is unknown. Beyond the door is solid black. You cannot see an inch in front of your face. There is no sound, no smell, no way of knowing what lies beyond. This is your own, personal, hero’s journey. Don’t think for a moment it isn’t.

2. If you are not pushed through, the first thing you must do is choose to pass. But before you do, muster up as much faith as you can. It may not be a lot, but you’ll be surprised how little you need. Faith will be your only armor, your only ally. It will be the drop of water in a desert, and the crumb of food which will sustain you for days. Pack it in whatever you can find; a pocket, a purse, a knapsack on a stick. You will need nothing, BUT this going forward. Don’t worry about how much you have. Faith is like marshmallow, it expands the more you use it.

3. No matter what (and I can’t stress this enough) you must pass through this door. If you were pushed, this is not your choice, but accept it as though it were. It will be one of the hardest steps you take in your life, and if you only have to do it once, count yourself as one of the blessed. But you must pass. You can’t say no to this journey. The life behind you has already changed, and the only way to grow into yourself is to walk through this black hole and into the unknown. Walk slowly.

4. It’s okay to be afraid. If you’re not afraid, you’re not doing it right. Gather your loved ones. It is now that you will find out who these people are. Hint: Sometimes they’re not who you think. 

5. Then begins the gauntlet. It feels like one of those pitched black, rollercoaster tunnels at an amusement park that goes on for days; it’s chaotic, unsteady, frightening, nausiating. In fact, you will probably throw up a few times. You’ll feel like you’re falling forever and there will be no guarantee of safe landing. Just breathe. That’s your only job right now.

6. Then you will fail. Miserably. And it will hurt. A lot. But know that this is part of the journey, and wrong turns in the dark are a part of the deal. Keep moving.

7. You may drink a fifth of vodka, smoke a pack of cigarettes, go on a bender in Vegas or yell at your mother… ask for forgiveness as soon as possible. Most importantly, forgive yourself. You will need to do this a lot. You should try to get used to it. (Ask me how I know.)

8. Test your faith. Submerge it in water for three days, hold it up to flames, put it in the dryer on high heat. All it will do is get stronger but you won’t know this until you test it. This is a good thing, a hard thing, but a good thing.

9. Then keep moving. Keep trying. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TRYING. Again. And again. And again. 

10. You’ll make progress. It will feel like moving a mountain with a teaspoon. But keep moving. Keep breathing. Keep trying.

11. Then one day, probably when you least expect it, there will be  pin-prick of light in the blackness. This light is the “other” side. It will always come no matter how much you think it won’t. It’s called hope.

12. Right about now you will feel accustomed to the dark, but you’re not, don’t let the dark fool you. You were never meant to live there, you’ve just forgotten about the light. It’s okay, that’s what the faith was for, pull a little from your pocket and forgive yourself for doubting. Keep moving.

13. When you see the light expand from a tiny dot, into a ray of sunshine, now is the time pause, look behind you, take stock of all the stumbles. Then turn around and face the light again. Pull out a little faith for sustenance on the last stretch. Keep moving.

14. There will be no ticker-tape parade or crape paper finish line to burst through. You will not win a medal for surviving. Stepping into the light is more like a gradual stroll. One day, you’ll turn around, and that darkness will seem a hundred miles away. Now is the time to stop moving. Stand still. Empty your pockets and marvel at all the things found in the darkness – self-worth, perseverance, real relationships, insurmountable faith – turn these things over in your hands like precious gems. Hold them close. Know that they are yours and no one can ever take them away. Be proud. Be humbled. Say thank you.

15. Now you’re ready to tell anyone who will listen about your story. Tell them it was painful and scary and you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. Then tell them you lived. And they will too.

That is the message I keep trying to tell. That is the message I will probably tell for the rest of my life. Stay tuned. These precious gems have so much to say.

Learning to Breathe Again: On Being a Divorcee Cliche

I’ve been studying writing and literary fiction at the University of Washington for the last two years. I’ve learned oodles about the craft of writing and story telling and I love it so. It makes my brain hurt and my heart soar and my soul sigh in sweet relief. One of the first things I learned about is the dreaded hallmark of bad writing… the cliché. Never, ever, EVER use clichés. Clichés are lazy; a sign of immaturity and lack of creativity and originality on the author’s part. Clichés are the death of good writing!

But right now, my WHOLE LIFE is a cliché.

henna tattoo feather

Don’t worry Mom, it’s henna.

Mid…okay LATE… thirties female, newly divorced with two small kids seeks red wine for comfort. Also, lurks on dating websites, dives head-long into yoga, buys vibrators off infomercials and contemplates getting tattooed. Up next, attempts her best impression of Mrs. Robinson.

See. Cliché.

Going through a divorce (my kind of contentious divorce, anyway) is a trauma. It’s a grenade exploding in the middle of your life. There is a shell-shocked aftermath. A time when your ears ring so loudly you cannot hear the world; all its messages lost in translation. The air is so heavy and thick with acrid, poisonous smoke that you choke, then panic for fear of asphyxiating. You spend weeks, months even in this state trying to find one safe place to take one clean breath. Just one. If you can breathe, maybe you’ll live.

Then, after the imminent danger has passed, you begin the cleanup process. You sweep up the cracked and blackened picture frames of smiling faces from a bygone time. It knocks the wind out of you instantly. You clean out closets stuffed with mementos from “before” and your hands shake with anger and fear. One day you get a wild hair to organize the detritus in a corner of the garage and you find some dusty snorkel gear. That snorkel gear puts you right back into the blast on a rolling tide of emotions so violent you have to sit down right there on the garage floor to steady yourself. Breathe, just breathe.

And all of this happens below the surface. In the murky depths so filled with pain and sorrow you’re too afraid to take anyone down there with you. You leave the world and its people up on the surface along with the easiness of your anger and sarcasm because at least up there, up there there’s air. Like trauma, divorce carries with it a kind of PTSD. In this deep, dark, personal space, a space as intimate as your previous marriage, is where you, and you alone reside. Just trying to breathe.

After the blast, and in the early phases of post divorce, this empty, airless place and it’s shrapnel are always somewhere on the edges of your life; in back of junk drawers, at Costco in the frozen aisle, at the beach in the summer, in the curve of your son’s face after a growth spurt… in your daughter’s toes. When you see these things, it steals your breath again and again leaving the taste of smoke in your mouth. And then you must remind yourself again to breathe. Just breathe.

I’m six months post blast, and I’m learning over and over again how to just breathe. I’m still cleaning up the pieces, still getting the wind knocked out of me. But as I grow stronger I’m also taking the frayed threads of my new reality and spinning them into something brighter. More beautiful. Something full of sunlight and the smell of lilacs and daydreams that make me giddy with possibility. It’s not easy though. It’s actually very, very hard work. In fact, I get tired a lot. I lose my creativity and inspiration and that’s when I turn to my overwrought clichés.

The other night, at 1am, wine glass in hand I sat on my back porch and sang sad songs alone, to no one. Actually, not to no one because my neighbor heard me, and called me out the next day. “I heard you last night, singing.” I didn’t know what to say. For a brief second I was mortified. I was busted being this predictable cliché of a sad, lonely woman. But then I realized that I didn’t care.

Because nothing in my world is easy right now. There’s not one damn thing that’s simple, including breathing, and while the whole world is being hard I’m going to take the path of least resistance. I’m going to be an immature, simple, mindless cliché, and I’m going to embrace that shit like the spare pillow on the empty side of my king-sized bed. Because while I’m floundering around in the dark, murky waters of divorce PTSD, I might as well have a nice glass of red, an expensive vibrator and a playlist of Sam Smith to keep me company.

Keep your windows closed neighbors… I have a feeling it’s going to be a long summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Loneliness of Post Divorce

I’m adrift right now, and I know it. It’s been almost three months since I filed for divorce and the loneliness has begun to wrap around me like a wet, dense fog.

During the day, I have no shortage of things to do. I have two small children who live with me most of the time. I have a job. I go to night school. I potty train my youngest, do the grocery shopping and mow the lawn. If an uncomfortable feeling creeps in during the daylight hours, I get busy.

It’s mostly at night when it comes. When my daily work is done and I’m settled into my couch or bed; that’s when I feel the thick haze descend. So I pick up my phone, pour a glass of wine, return to my computer; anything to stop what I know is my current reality and immediate future. Alone.

I’m an independent person. I like solitude. I like to be alone with my thoughts. Maybe I like it more than most, but no one likes it exclusively. We all need personal, often times physical connections. I’m in a place right now where I’m all over the map as to how much connection I want or need. I keep drawing it to me, and then pushing it away afraid of the fire and heat it brings. If I’m being honest, I don’t trust myself to handle it well.

For a month I’ve been riding this rollercoaster of surplus and deprivation of connections.  My emergence from the pain of my divorce began on a business trip to Vegas (of all places), and it was there my eyes were opened toward the future and all the possibility it holds. Since then, I’ve been reaching for that same feeling. I brush up against it every now and again. The constant, hopeful reminder that we’re on the edge of spring helps a great deal. The bright yellow daffodils blooming in my yard make me smile, and when I see them, I feel the rush of possibility all over again.

Duality of LifeThese daffodils were transplanted from my grandmother’s garden three years ago. My grandmother passed away four years ago, and after she died, my mom and I dug up some bulbs to plant as yearly, living keepsakes. They sprouted green shoots for two years, but no flowers. I was beginning to wonder if they would ever show their happy faces. But this year, they finally did.

Today, I sat down in front of those daffodils. I admired their daintiness and beauty but I also felt the sadness of loss. I sat in quiet reflection on those sweet, little flower faces and I let the loneliness fill me to tears. It felt good to embrace this duality of life.

There is no regret. There is no wanting things to be different or going back. I’m here, and I’m okay with being here. But here holds a lot of unanswered questions; a lot of fear of the unknown, a lot of solitude, and sometimes, even scary heat.

Over a month I’ve realized that if companionship is something I want, I could have it, and it wouldn’t even take that much effort. But right now, I feel like this loneliness has lessons I need to learn. Lessons I need to lean into and embrace even though I can’t see two feet in front of my face. I need to learn to trust that even when I’m surrounded by fog, the landscape is still there. The potential for daffodils still exist.

These miniature flowers took their sweet time showing their shining faces, and I think I need to, too. These keepsakes from my wise and loving grandmother sat dormant for two years; gathering roots, growing slowly under the surface before they decided it was the right time to bloom, and now… I will too.

I will gather my roots. I will sit below the surface, fighting back the fear of the cold season to come, and I will bloom when the time is right.

Because hope springs eternal.

Hope Springs Eternal

 

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

The kids’ toys have invaded every room of my house and it’s making me little crazy. Right now, there are three rooms in desperate need of painting, a brigade of dandelions invading my garden, and stacks of papers that have built up over a dreary, rainy season. I sigh heavily each time I look at them. For the last week I have been slightly obsessed with getting my home organized. Call it Spring cleaning, or whatever, but it has suddenly become of paramount importance that each these issues be rectified and a semblance of order restored to my living space before I can think of doing anything else.

In the last week I have been on a singular mission to create a playroom in a spare bedroom and reclaim my living room as “adult space.” I have made trips to IKEA, Target and Goodwill for donations. I have searched for more than an hour online for the just-so-perfect-paper-organizing-charging-station (which I have yet to find). If I’m being honest, I can think of hardly anything else until this project is complete. I know when I get so focused on one task that there is something larger, deeper at play, and this new zeal for cleaning and purging is no exception.

For four months I have been walking a razor’s edge. I’ve been balancing knives on a high wire and holding my breath 1000 feet under water. I’ve felt the heaviness of the unknown resting on my chest while dragging the past behind me strapped to my neck like a noose. It has been a long, hard winter for all the relationships in my life.

But today, like the tulips and daffodils that are pushing their yellow petals toward the sun from the previously frozen ground (a miracle each time) there has been a transition toward the light in my own life. Some friends have emerged as life preservers. Some family relations have been clarified, deconstructed, ready to build anew, perhaps in a healthier way. Most importantly, my marriage has shifted onto more solid ground and it too is rebuilding with a stronger foundation than ever before. At this moment everything feels like a miracle, from the flowers to my faith.

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt this assured about the future and my sole motivation to organize my home is my way of trying to hold onto that feeling; gain control of it, slap a fresh coat of paint on it and force it to stick around for a while. I believe this much is true.

I have learned a great deal about myself and relationships in the past four months by means of therapy, reading and introspection. In the midst of it, I have swung from one side of the sanity pendulum to the other, sometimes in the very same day. I know more about who I am, a knowledge that came at a high price. I have confronted my anger, my anxiety, my ideas about marriage and family, motherhood and faith. My convictions have never been stronger or more flexible and neither has my body as a direct result of deepening my yoga practice. All of these are good things that have helped me grow, and yet, my compulsions remain.

life is a practiceThis is the lesson standing out to me on this clear, crisp Spring day–that like my yoga practice, life is never mastered. Life is a continuing practice because there is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is an illusion we portray to keep the deeper, larger things at arm’s length; to avoid eye-contact with the ugliness and unexpectedness that lays on the periphery of every thing we hold close.

As deep as my tendencies for obsessions and compulsions run, somewhere else deep, lies the knowledge that there is no promise of ever getting it right, of having it all, of writing the perfect blog post, bending into the epitomous expression of downward dog or even another clear, crisp Spring day.

Even though I want to finish this post so that I can paint trim, I will remind myself in the midst of it that there is no such thing as the just-so-perfect-paper-organizing-charging-station (believed me, I’ve looked) or seemless, knick-free walls that do not hold with them the immediate threat of a toddler’s permanent marker adornments… or relationships without the promise of future disappointments.

My recent quest to organize my house is about me, once again, fighting this reality. In the light of this more hopeful, brighter place in my life, I am already starting to fear of the unknown, the chaotic, the foreboding season I just left, one that I know will come again because… such is life. My need to categorize my papers is me trying to hold onto something instead of slipping into the flow of life, of letting everything be “perfect” the way it is and trusting that everything is already as it should be… a miracle.

But the good news is that life is a practice, and part of that practice is reminding myself again and again that there is no such thing as the perfectly organized playroom and clutterless countertops. They do not exist.

If I have learned anything over the last four months, it is that life is unpredictable and precarious and the only thing we have is the present moment, whatever that beautiful mess might be, and miraculously that it is always enough. I know now that there is no such things as the perfect marriage, the perfect mother, the perfect life… that we are all just practicing at doing our best each day. Something we should learn to be more forgiving with, for, to, of.

I have changed the way I think about these things, and that new thought takes practice too. Instead of saying I am a writer, I say, I practice writing; same goes for yoga. I also practice being wife, a mother and a daughter. I practice patience and gratitude and staying present. Always practicing, never perfecting because I have also learned you can never master anything in life. (Much to my love-of-lists-and-checked-boxes dismay.)

But perhaps with diligence of effort, commitment to the cause, and a willingness to be vulnerable and take risks, I’ll get better at all of them? Maybe?

I don’t believe happiness, serenity and forgiveness comes naturally for anyone. Life is difficult and testing for even the most enlightened and faithful among us. But I believe the more we commit to practicing gratitude, being present, forgiving and loving thy neighbor, the less harsh the winters may seem.

My tendencies are for control and perfection and certainty, but today, on this rainy, shiny, Spring-filled day, with its Chartreuse leaves twisting in the wind and bright tulips unfurling to the sunshine, I know that practice does not make perfect, but I am CERTAIN it will make good enough.

Because there is no such thing as a garden without weeds, relationships without falter, children without messes… and would we ever want it any other way?

How the Life of Pi Changed My Life

*Spoiler Alert for those who have not yet seen the movie, The Life of Pi.

Last Saturday was a tough day. It rained. Hard. I fought. Harder. I cried. Hardest.

I replied to a text sent by one of my best friend’s asking me how I was doing. I told her the truth. I wrote that I’d just spent three hours lying on the floor like an infant begging for God’s grace and that now I was going to a movie by myself for sweet mercy.

I haven’t been eating lately. After those emotionally draining hours, I was suddenly starved. I felt like a wet rag; limp, red-eyed, tear-soaked and heavy with pain. All I wanted was something light and soothing to fill my empty stomach. Something soft; and kind and easy in my senses. There’s a popular Chinese restaurant next to the movie theater that serves these amazing dumplings and steamed buns. There’s a window right in front where you can watch a staff of Asian men dressed in white prepare these delicate morsels.The wait is always over an hour, but I thought if I hung out in the bar, I’d snag a lone seat and be out in time for my movie which started in an hour. I waited awhile. I was going to miss my movie if I waited any longer, so I left and found the first place that could serve me warm food, quickly and allow me to be done in time to see my movie.

I was not supposed to see The Life of Pi on this night. I was supposed to see The Life of Pi last weekend, but as I approached the ticket counter two weeks ago I changed my mind at the very last second (for I don’t know what reason) and saw Silver Linings Playbook instead. SLP was a great movie, and just what I needed that night. But last Saturday, I was definitely going to see The Life of Pi.

I read the bestselling book by Yann Martel many years ago. I remembered the premise. I remembered being impressed by the ending, but I wasn’t ecstatic overall. I wasn’t ready for all the layers of meaning and messages about God when I was 25. But now, I was more than ready.

I ended up at an Indian restaurant eating a creamy, soothing  Tikki Masala with a slight hint of curry and a side of warm garlic naan. I sat at the bar staring in a daze. My eye happened upon a lotus flower. I’d been thinking of lotus flowers lately and this reminded me, once again, that I must call my friend, the wise yoga teacher who wears a lotus flower around her neck, so that she could explain to me the meaning.

I ate in a hurry and literally ran to the theater. The only seats left were the seats way up front, or the single seats in between couples. I didn’t want to crane my neck at a 3-D movie so I sat in between strangers. How fitting, I thought. I’d spent the day feeling so lonely I might as well sit in this theater surrounded by couples with nowhere to lean.

Soon after the movie started there was a scene of the writer and the adult version of the protagonist, Pi, beginning to tell the story over a lunch of curry and naan bread. I was still tasting the warmth of my Indian dish on my lips and this made me smile. Not only was the movie adapted to be about a writer trying to capture a story, but they were eating what I still tasted. I settled into the thought; that I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment. I’m sure this was a result of my emotions being raw as white bone because I was ready to receive whatever was coming to me.

The year, God has been trying to teach me to surrender. I know this. Just look over the body of work here and it is clear how I keep coming back to one simple theme… letting go. My trip to Nicaragua was a pinnacle of this message, and while I was there a month ago, I picked up this postcard that now sits wedged on the edge of my bathroom mirror. It’s my daily reminder of what I know I must do.

shakti cards

Even though I am fully aware that this is the message Life/ God/ The Universe is trying to relay to me, I have not fully understood, until last Saturday night. I am finding that even when you understand a thing about life, it’s not the same things as knowing it.

The protagonist in The Life of Pi, is about an Indian boy and his journey in faith. As a child, and in present day as he’s relaying this story, he claims himself to be a Hindu, Muslim and Catholic. His parents each believed differently, his father, the eternal pragmatist, put his faith in science; his mother is a devout Hindu. Pi’s family owns a zoo in India that has fallen on hard times. They are now transporting all the zoo animals to North America on a Japanese shipping boat and Pi and his family are along for the ride toward a new life in Canada.

The writer whom the adult Pi is relaying the story to, does not believe in God. When the writer asks him how it is possible that he believes in so many different religions, Pi says, “Faith is a house with many rooms.”

The writer says, “Then there’s plenty of room for doubt.”

And the adult Pi says, “Yes, on every floor.”

This metaphor reminds me of a Halloween house party I went to in college. It was in one of the large, old, craftsman style houses. The kind that are more tall than wide. When you enter, it feels like a maze of small rooms and corridors. There were so many rooms that it was hard to figure out where you wanted to be. To add to the confusion, everyone was in costume. In the basement there was a loud DJ playing techno music. In the kitchen, a bunch of fraternity boys holding cups around a keg. In another room, dread-locks sticking out of knit caps surrounding a hookah. I found some rooms that seemed empty, but in the darkness I heard moans. There where rooms where the only girls congregated and still others that were merely functional and of course there’s always that one guy in the corner playing acoustic guitar. Even the front porch had its own feel packed with the claustrophobic and smokers. This is how I view faith, as one big party.

In my life, Jesus invited me to this house party for the purpose of introducing me to God. Of course, God and I, we hit it off smashingly. To this day, I can sit for hours talking to God, just him and me. But sometimes, I must admit, when the music is too loud I can’t quite hear what he’s saying. There are often miscommunications.  It’s just like when you’re at a loud party and someone is smiling at you while talking, but you have no clue what they are saying so you just nod your head and smile back.

Sometimes God is saying, “We need to leave, the house is on fire!” And I’d sit there with a big smile on my face nodding like I know exactly what’s happening. Then I smell smoke and all the sudden I’m really interested in knowing what God is saying to me. That’s usually when Jesus steps in to translate over the noise. When I finally understand what God was trying to tell me via Jesus, I look to God for confirmation. He always gives me this knowing nod. I do as he asked and then ask for forgiveness for not listening the first time. Of course, God always forgives. He’s a gracious host.

I often stay in the room where Jesus is the DJ because he plays some sweet beats that I really love. But sometimes, I’m not in the mood for those tunes. Sometimes I want to chill out with some Bob Marley or I need to talk to my best girlfriends and I have found peace and happiness and wisdom in those rooms as well, because God, he loves Rastafarians, too… and frat boys, and claustrophobics and even the dark, empty rooms where no one seems to be. So I call myself a Christian. I certainly believe in God and I believe in Jesus. I do not, however, believe that Jesus is the only way to meet God.

In the movie, little boy Pi comes upon a priest and the priest explains that Christ is God’s only son and God loved the world that he allowed his only son to suffer so that we might understand God’s love for us. Little boy Pi questions this fact. It doesn’t make sense to him. Frankly, for a long time it didn’t make sense to me either. Like little boy Pi, that logic didn’t sound very good to my little girl self.

The Japanese ship wrecks and Pi is the only survivor stranded on a life boat with a zebra, a orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal Tiger. From here, everything is a profound metaphor for life and our relationship to ourselves, adversity, and God.

Soon, it is just Pi and the Tiger on the life boat. All the others suffered and were killed and eaten by one another in fear and hunger. Pi is a vegetarian so he did not eat these animals. The tiger, whose name is Richard Parker, did.

It is clear to me that Richard Parker is a representation of Pi’s ego and/or adversity. He must now face down this force in order to survive. The entire journey is a test of his faith in God.

His situation seems insurmountable at first. The tiger is fierce, relentless, wild, veracious and a strong carnivore that can easily over-power a skinny, vegetarian, Indian boy. Pi works hard and builds a raft outside the life boat to put distance between himself and Richard Parker. He obtains some supplies and a booklet on survival from the life boat’s hull. The booklet is a metaphor for any sacred text, such as the Bible. He uses the information in this booklet not only to survive, but to devise a plan to outsmart the tiger by making him sea sick. When the tiger stumbles and gets weary, Pi tries to over power the tiger with aggressive behavior. The result of this has only angered the tiger more. Pi realizes that this strategy does not work; that adding anger to anger does not produce the desired result. He realizes that the booklet, although it has much practical information that ultimately contributes to his survival, does not contain precise instructions for exactly what to do when you’re trapped on a life boat in the middle of the Pacific with a hungry Bengal Tiger.

Pi then decides to win Richard Parker over by giving him what he craves most, food. Pi reasons that if he gives Richard Parker food, the tiger will see no need to eat him. Pi is unable to keep up with the demands of a tiger’s appetite and soon, the tiger gets greedy. Not only does he want Pi’s portion of the food, but he wants Pi. The tiger jumps into the water to catch his own fish and comes after Pi on his raft. It doesn’t matter that Pi has fed him, he doesn’t discern Pi’s generosity from his need to survive. Pi then climbs onto the boat and the tiger is left clinging to the side unable to get himself over the edge and back into the boat. Pi learns that you cannot stand up to adversity by being 100% passive and submissive.

Now, Pi could be rid of the tiger if he just lets Richard Parker get tired enough and drown. Pi would no longer have to battle this demon. But then Pi must watch this beautiful creature suffer, and in turn, Pi will suffer with the pain of watching him die. Richard Parker does not deserve to die, he is merely doing what tigers do. Pi realizes that if he allows the tiger to die, a part of him will die, too. Pi understands that sitting by and watching another living thing die just so you can survive, is not the answer, either. Pi works hard all day and prepares his raft with more supplies for survival and then helps Richard Parker back into the boat.

Pi finally comes to the conclusion that he must learn to tame Richard Parker. Not with aggression and hostility, but with love and respect. Respect for the tiger, and respect for himself. He uses fish and a stick. He pokes Richard Parker and yells at him when he over-steps his bounds, but still feeds him and allows him space on the boat. He creates boundaries using love and respect. This works.

When you think his problems are solved, at least in terms of the tiger, a whale breeches next to the boat and all his vital supplies are lost. Pi reaches a point of hopelessness. He has no food, no water, no supplies and is still living with a hungry Bengal Tiger on a life boat in the Pacific Ocean. He says, “Okay God, I surrender. I just want to know what’s next.”

Of course, the surrender part is correct, but we can never know God’s plan. We will never know, “what’s next.” It is not a matter of Pi just accepting God as a powerful force and the determiner of his fate. Now he must know the meaning of letting go of fear and expectations.

Just as Pi and Richard Parker are both at a pinnacle of suffering, they wake up on the shores of a magical floating island. It is inhabited by edible roots, Mere Cats and pools of fresh water. Both Pi and Richard Parker have all they need to live. One night, Pi finds a human tooth inside a flower that resembles a lotus flower. As he becomes fully aware of his surroundings, he realizes that the island is carnivorous. Sure, the island would give him and Richard Parker everything they would need to survive, but it would also eat them. This island is a metaphor for the many ways in which we ignore and numb our lives; the panaceas such as drugs, alcohol, sex, food, gambling, you name it. They will let us live comfortable, we can manage our hunger and pain, but they will kill us.

Pi realizes he must leave the island, or die. He works hard and prepares his boat, yet again, and then sets off onto the ocean to face down his greatest fears again. This is Life.

Next, they are hit by another storm and all is truly lost. There is no hope. Pi says in the midst of the storm, “God, I surrendered, I have done everything, what do you want from me?” Then, Pi finally accepts his fate. He knows he is going to die, he is seemingly no longer afraid of the tiger because he sits and takes Richard Parker’s large head onto his lap stroking it in an act of compassion, camaraderie and pure love. He has given up the need to know what’s next.

Lastly, they wash up on the Mexican shore, barely alive. Richard Parker disappears into the jungle without looking back and Pi is taken to the hospital. When they ask him what happened to the ship and everyone in it, he tells them the story of him and Richard Parker the hungry Bengal Tiger.

Of course they do not believe him. Who would believe this fantastical story of carnivorous islands and surviving on a boat for so 247 days with a hungry, Bengal Tiger? They say he is lying and crazy so he tells them a different story. He tells them a story of tyranny, cannibalism and murder. This is the story they believe as truth.

So the question to us the audience becomes, do we believe in the God we cannot see that is filled with magic and light and signs and wonder?  A God that is around us always, speaking to us, warning us, loving us, wanting us to trust him without question? The same God that brought me to see this movie about an Indian boy in existential crisis, after spending three hours myself begging for grace and mercy, with serendipitous curry on my breath? Or do you believe in the God of tyranny, cannibalism and murder? I left that theater knowing exactly what I believe and what God had been trying to tell me. I also had an idea of what I was supposed to do next.

The very next day, while sitting in a room where I have placed much of my hopes for my future, my eyes filled with tears again. I stared off into the corner. My gaze landed on the back of a wooden chair. The design was lotus flower. I still didn’t know what that meant. I looked it up, because at this point, I am sure it is vitally important sign from God. This is what I found: Lotus flowers represent rebirth. They represent hope. The represent magic and possibility. They take three days to bloom up through muddy, murky waters and when they do, they are pristine, untouched and beautiful, still.

By the time I left that room something had changed.

Since the moment I was lying on the floor on Saturday in the fetal position while the heavens opened up around me, while I begged for grace and mercy, then was given signs that I must not only surrender to His will, but I must give up the very thing I was hoping to find on Friday afternoon… hope, something profoundly shifted inside me. Come Saturday night, I gave up that wish for hope. I realized that hope comes tethered to the idea that you know what you want. That you are holding out for some kind of solution to your situation that makes you happy and fulfilled. I realized that hope is a panacea.

God sat me in that theater with naan bread in my stomach with no direction to lean because he wanted me to lean on him, without hope, without questions, without expectations. But he clearly told me I must still work. I must still prepare. I must not give up doing the hard things, but I must give up the expectation that they will bring me closer to what I want because there is only one person who knows what I truly want… and it’s not me.

If I can surrender, truly surrender and live without fear or hope for what I want, he will lead to the shores of salvation and they will never be what I imagine them to be… they will be better.

On this night God brought me inside the room of two artists, Yann Martel and Ang Lee, so that they could show me what I could not hear through Jesus’s sweet melodies or the words inside my booklet on survival. This is why I want to be a writer; because I know that stories change the world.

I know that many will be tempted to tell me I’m wrong. Anytime I talk about God I get those emails. People will point to Bible verses that speak of this truth, and I will tell them that I have read those same verses. But MY truth is, those words did not speak to me the way this movie did. I am not naive to think that everyone will enjoy this film and get out of it the same things I did. I was meant to walk into that theater last Saturday night and I was meant to sit alone and see the world this way. It was perfect for me but others may not have the same experience and that is okay because art is a subjective thing… but so is religion.

Faith, however, is a house with many rooms and God is the only host.

Amen.

Now scroll back up and look at what the woman in the postcard is holding… and the miracles continue to abound.

The name of the Indian restaurant I went to was MokSHA. I went to their website to see if I could get a picture of the lotus flower that I saw while there. This is what the name means: MokSHA-A Sanskrit term used to describe the attaining of eternal bliss or “highest happiness” by the soul… it’s a magical world, people. 

I Do Not Want To Be A Lie

As much as I would like to be the kind of person who hears lines of poetry narrating their day-to-day life… I am not. I like poetry, I do.  I even write a rhyming poem for my Christmas card every year (although I hardly think that counts as “serious” poetry). As much as the self-proclaimed “serious” writer in me crumples in shame, I must admit that there is a lot of poetry that I simply do not understand.

I heard a saying once that goes something like this: a failed poet is a short story writer, and a failed short story writer is a novelist. In other words, the sentiments and potentiality for beauty and Truth in the art form of the written word is most distilled, potent, and most difficult to achieve in its most succinct form… a poem. Poetry is difficult to do well because it requires a mastery of language, imagery, and a penetrating sense of the world. It is why the great poets are pure genius. Perhaps this is also the reason I do not understand most of it?

But there are some poems, that when I run across them, feel like I’m looking at someone else’s heart on a page. And although it’s someone else’s heart, they have shown me mine as well. It’s the same with a song. Whenever I am moved to tears by music, inevitably, I will think of an off-handed line spoken by Vince Vaughn’s character in Ron Howard’s comedy The Dilemma. I’ve seen that movie only once. I can’t even tell you the plot, but I have never forgotten the simple truth in this line. Vaughn, in a spurt of nervous banter says,

“People say music is the highest art form. It can go the furthest, the fastest, emotionally.”

What is great music but poetry with an accompaniment? Now I’m just musing on art form. Let’s reign this in. Everyone has recognized good art in their life. A moment of pure emotion brought on my the words, sights, sounds of another human being’s creative powers. Poetry, it all its precision and depth, is thought by many, to be at the top of these creative endeavors.

In middle school I memorized Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Raven, on my own and not as an assignment.  I was enamored by Poe and his dark, brooding rhythms. I loved the way that new word “Nevermore, Nevermore” came after me line after line in increasing terror just like the caw of that raven. After hearing Maya Angelou recite On The Pulse of Morning at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, I sought out a copy and kept it folded in a blue treasure box under lock and key. I don’t know why really, much of it flew right over my head, but I knew it was something beautiful that deserved to be kept somewhere safe. There are certain poems that speak to me in that way. I will not say that I understand them all, but they are beautiful and feel like tiny miracles. I ran across one such poem by Ranier Marie Rilke just this week:

RilkeI can’t make every minute holy.
I don’t want to stand before you
like a thing, shrewd, secretive.
I want my own will, and I want
simply to be with my will,
as it goes toward action.
And in the silent, sometimes hardly moving times,
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know
secret things or else alone.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to be folded anywhere,
because where I am folded,
there I am a lie.

~Ranier Marie Rilke

This is what I felt inside as I took up a pen and started to write:

I can’t live every moment fully aware. I can’t take the high road in every conversation. I can’t be holy, benevolent, pious, contented and non-reactive in each minute of every day no matter how hard I try. I want to. I want patience to rival Gandhi and compassion to make Mother Theresa proud, but I just can’t. I can not. At least not now. But I don’t want to be ashamed of myself either for not possessing those things. I don’t want hang my head low and beat myself up because I am not perfect and happy and well-behaved in every minute of everyday. I do not. I want to know what I want from this life, and I want to seek out those experiences and the highest Truths with all I have and all that I am. At times when those Truths draws near, when I am pious and benevolent and can quiet my mind long enough to feel the pulse of my life and the holiness in my breath, I want to be  surrounded by wisdom, by goodness and Love. If I cannot have that, I want to be alone. I want to be open. I never want to shut a piece of myself off because it is in the dark places where fear lives. I know that much. And I know that when I am afraid, I am a lie.

I’ve certainly heard of Rilke. When I hear a poem that strikes me as certain and wise, often times, it is Rumi or Rilke who wrote it. I looked around for more on Rilke and found this gem from one of his most famous works, Letters to a Young Poet written in 1908:

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. ~Ranier Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

And that right there is what this blog seems to be about. Letting go and living in Love and Truth because anything else would be a lie.

The Gift of Six Minutes In Hell

A fuse that led to the fate of the rest of my life was lit and burned for five helpless minutes. In the sixty seconds that followed those five minutes, it reached its target and detonated my heart inside my chest. Now, I will never not know what that feels like.

As mothers, (which is the only side of the parental equation I can speak from) we have a thousand fears for our children. Some speak to us louder than others and they are different for everyone. I’ve got  two specific mother-fears that bully themselves into my brain when I’m preoccupied by how fleeting and fragile this life can be. They are my loudest fears because they render me helpless. I have a hard time feeling helpless.

The first of these fears is witnessing my child get hit by a car. The second, is my daughter being abducted by a pedophile. It’s horrible to write and horrible to think and in my most frightened moments I imagine these two scenarios coming true and just with the thought of it I am ripped down the middle like the pain of a never-ending childbirth. When I think these things, which is usually while I’m trying to fall asleep, I have to stop my thoughts, remind myself to breathe, and push those thoughts from my consciousness for fear that I will summon them into my life with the energy I put forth thinking about them.

As I write this, I am in the midst of one of life’s chaotic transitions. It’s a stressful time and everything is a jumble of confusing, painful circumstances that are out of my hands and that helpless feeling that I hate so much is all around me. I am in transition because I am learning powerful lessons about acceptance and control and I am spending my precious mental energy trying to learn them. At the risk of sounding  new-agey… I’m working hard to stay centered; to find my zen amidst the chaos that is unfolding and to focus only on what I can control which are my own thoughts and emotions. Simply put, I am trying to find joy and peace within.

Yesterday, I took both my kids to the mall. There is a play area on the third floor dedicated to families. The businesses include a well-situated cupcake stand, a Gymboree Gym and a children’s hair salon. Most of the space is an open play area with various things for young kids to climb which is all encircled by a half wall. There is only one way in, and one way out of this encircled play space. On the outskirts are the businesses and there is one back hallway with restrooms, a service elevator, and emergency exit stairs. Standing at any place on this floor, you can see everything else except the back hallway. It’s a petri dish, nice, safe place for kids to play where mothers and fathers can relax a bit. Naturally, we’ve been here dozens of times.

Prior to taking my children to this place, one of those personal issues triggered an emotional reaction in me. I wanted to talk to someone about what was happening because that is how I process, I talk to friends and/or, I write. Since the latter was not an option, I phoned some friends on my drive. Unfortunately, none of them were available.

When I got off the elevator to this play place in the mall, my 3-year-old ran immediately to climb on her favorite things and make friends. My 1-year-old son has just learned to walk so my primary focus was to follow him while he toddled from thing to thing making sure other children didn’t plow him over in the process. Every few minutes I looked up to make sure my daughter was playing nice and being safe. After ten or fifteen minutes of this I looked at my phone and realized that I missed a call from one my friends. I called her back at 1:28pm. During this call my son walked out of the encircled play place toward the cupcake stand, around the half wall, and toward the elevators. I followed behind him with my phone to my ear. I was on the phone with my friend for seven minutes and I had spotted my daughter once during that time. Today she was wearing a bright teal dress with a matching teal bow in her hair. She was easy to see in the sea of children on this busy Saturday.

On the seventh minute of my call I looked up to spot her again, only this time, I did not find her. I picked up my son and walked back into the encircled play area with him on my hip. I hung up with my friend to focus on my search. First, looked behind every climbing apparatus and inside every cubby hole. I moved on to the half walls then outside the walls to the cupcake stand, the hair place and inside the Gymboree Gym. I asked the ladies at the desk if a little girl in a teal dress walked in there and they said no. I asked them what I should do if I can’t find my kid and they dialed security. Five more minutes I looked for her and the panic was rising in me. The fuse was sparking and burning brighter with each passing second. By the end of the fifth minute I have checked the restrooms, over the ledges to the atrium and the elevators. Two security guards in black and white uniforms have arrived and they are asking me questions–How tall? How old? What color this? What color that? Name? I can barely think of those answers, but I get them out.

I know I need to call my husband but I can’t remember how to use my phone. I start to yell her name louder and louder. Brooke! Brooke! People are staring, but I do not care. As I turn to face the security guards again a man is walking up behind them. On the sixth minute he reaches out his hand and in them are my daughter’s silver and pink sandals. He says, “Ma’am, are these her’s?” I think I say yes but I can’t remember. The look on my face conveys that they are her sandals and the look on his face conveys something worse. His brows are furrowed in fear and concern. The next thing he says quakes my world and a bomb explodes inside me gutting me completely.

“I found them in a stall in the men’s restroom.”

I think I screamed. I’m pretty sure I screamed. Everything melted around me. Faces contorted into shock and I couldn’t tell if it was because I screamed or because they are processing what I am processing. My heart was beating from every cell in my body before this minute, but now the whole world pulsed. My body tingled like a limb that’s gone numb. I was holding my one year old son, but I could not feel him on my hip because I was feeling the weight of the world caving in on my head. I felt nothing and everything at the same time. It was both more real than any reality I’ve ever known and a complete out-of-body experience.

Details were flung at me and seared into my brain, things I never wanted to hear were flooding my ears and I was trying to make sense of this sudden sensitivity to chaos while trying to move by body in its numbness.  I remember wanting so badly for the world to just stop for a minute. STOP TURNING SO I CAN FIND MY DAUGHTER! PLEASE GOD FREEZE TIME UNTIL I CAN FIGURE OUT WHAT’S REAL AND WHERE MY BABY GIRL HAS GONE!

I don’t remember how I got there but I was headed to the men’s room. Before that, I figured out how to dial my phone and my husband was on the line but I couldn’t communicate to him exactly what was happening. All I could scream was “Someone’s taken Brooke!” A security guard reminded me that she’s not taken “she’s just missing” so I repeat those words to my husband hoping that his version is the right one.

Suddenly, I am surrounded by a million people and they were all in my way as I tried to make to the men’s bathroom in the back hallway. Now, there were not just two security guards, but what feels like a hundred. Black and white flashes were running here and there. They were asking me basic questions that I can not answer. As I pushed my way through or maybe they were letting me, I don’t know, my brain registers the service elevator, the emergency stairs. I fight back vomit that’s been inched its way up my throat the whole time. My husband is on the phone listening to my screams when all the sudden… there she is.

She bounds through the back door of the Gymboree Gym that leads into another hidden, back hallway with a woman I do not know. At the sight of that teal dress and her round, smiling face my body collapses against the wall and I fall to my knees with my son still in my arms. I’m scream-sobbing. I don’t want to touch her, I’m too scared. She comes to me, she hugs me, not the other way around. My son cries out of fear and my daughter wipes my face of tears saying, “Stop crying Mommy. It’s okay Mommy. You don’t need to be sad, Mommy. I went potty by myself and then I got trapped in that room!” She says trapped in an exaggerated, joyful way, like it’s a fun game she just played. The woman at Gymboree that called the security guards is trying to hand me a glass of water and my daughter says, “Here Mommy, you need some fluids,” and she pushes the glass to my face.

Isn’t that ridiculous!? In that moment my 3-year-old tells me I need some fluids?!? I want to laugh at the absurdity of the thing but I still can’t stop the tears and sobs so I just say, “Yes, baby, yes, you’re right, Mommy needs some fluids”

It took me an hour to stop shaking. It has taken me a day to wrap my head around this event and what God is not-so-subtly trying to tell me because if you’re me… that is the question that runs like an undercurrent through everything that happens in my life. For hours the one thing preoccupied my thoughts. I couldn’t stop thinking about the moment I was handed her shoes. I became obsessed with trying to articulate that moment and what my body went through. I wanted to label that pain, define it, put words to it and understand the power it had over my world in that moment. You would think a normal instinct would be to run from that horror, to numb it. In fact, that is exactly what I did when I got home with a bottle of wine and a pill or two.

In the wee hours of the next morning when I am prone to wake without reasons, when everything around me is quiet once more and my head was clear of booze and medication, something whispered from that space between things and told me that what happened was a gift… a blessing. Huh? Whatevs stupid, quiet, space, shut the ef up before I punch you in the throat you “space between.” That was my first reaction, but I think maybe there was some leftover wine in my liver doing the talking. When I calmed myself and began to drift off again, and the quietness returned, I came to understand what I was being told.

I was preoccupied with understanding the intense pain because it is a feeling I have never known, and now, will never forget. That feeling of white-lightening terror is a part of me now. I will forever know what my worst fear feels like because of those minutes.  I will never not know the sound of my life ripping in two. What a rare gift that is to be given? What an amazing experience to know this level of Hell and then come back from it unharmed? It’s nothing short of a blessing, really.

Just like there can be no light without dark, no tall without short, no here, without there, there can be no joy without pain. This dichotomy is one of life’s grandest Truths.

Because of the depth of pain in these minutes, the joy in my life will always be rimmed with that memory. Like a halo, it will amplify, expand, make brighter, more accessible, more plentiful–it will make my joy more ethereal than before this day, the day I was given the knowledge of how deeply painful life can really be.

I can already feel all of this after just one day. I look at her with new eyes. I look at the chaos that is still unfurling in my personal life with a new perspective. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks, but I know definitively just how much worse it could be, and with that knowledge, I know I can bear the things I think I cannot bear. I know that I can find inner peace among broken pieces.

I was shown through my worst nightmare realized, the meaning, value and accessibility of my joy and I was shown that it is always right here, right now, if only I choose it. It was the lesson I have been trying to learn all along on a grand God scale.

Also, I know that in those five minutes of burning fuse panic and those 60 seconds of soul-crushing explosion inside my chest, there are Life Lessons that I will be deciphering for years to come; good lessons, essential lessons, gifts yet to unwrap. There will be lessons that I don’t even know exist that will come rushing toward me years from now when I see a little girl in a teal dress or spot some lonely toddler sandals on the floor. Depths of empathy, layers of gratitude, rivers of joyful tears and mountains of meaning topped with uncrushable strength will forever flow from these six minutes when my world exploded, disappeared and then returned to me through a hidden back door telling me to drink my fluids.

But today, today my lesson is joy. Real, simple, abundant joy… if only I choose it. That is what I learned today. Today. Today.

And fluids. I will remember to drink my fluids.