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CRISIS

My mémère died at home in her bed surrounded by many of the people who loved her, early in the evening of my thirty-fourth birthday.

She was my mother’s mother, a fiercely independent French Canadian woman with twelve siblings, which must be why she related to her twelve grandchildren so well because we all had a very close, loving relationship with her.

My mémère was the epitome of health her whole life, devoted to taking her multiple daily vitamins, and even more devoted to caring for her family. But in the years before her death, she suffered from heart problems that almost took her life, before cancer eventually would.

I wasn’t there when she died. I had just returned home after begrudgingly allowing my husband to take me out for dinner since our kids would be spending the night with their cousins. I regret that. I don’t know why, but I just wasn’t expecting her to die on my birthday. I was under the naive impression that the universe could not possibly be that cruel, but I should have known better. I had been taught that lesson before. I knew her death was drawing nearer every day, she was being cared for by angels disguised as hospice nurses and could no longer speak. But when I left her that night, I really didn’t think that would be my last goodbye.

Just two months before, my husband and kids and I had said goodbye to our dog of more than fourteen years. She was our baby before we had babies and it was excruciating to watch him break down after lowering her into her grave while trying to console our heartbroken children who were eight and ten and experiencing death for the first time.

I suppose in some ways having our dog die first, made us all better prepared in a sense for when my mémère passed two short months later. We had just gone through an intensely difficult time, so when we were thrown back into the deep end, we were at least a little more apt at keeping our heads above the water. But nothing prepared me to have another dog die just two months after her.

Our first dog was euthanized to end her suffering, but this dog died in my arms.

Her health began deteriorating almost immediately after our first dog died, so we knew the day was fast approaching for us to make that gut wrenching decision again of when to responsibly end her suffering. She was twelve and already had quite a difficult time of it getting around. But in the end, it happened so fast, too fast for me to get her to the vets in time.

I was alone and unlike both the peaceful, painless deaths I had just experienced, her death was gruesome and violent. Just when I believed it to finally be over, and had allowed our third and only remaining dog into the room to be near her, her lifeless body began jerking one last time, and I thought I would lose my mind.

After that, she was gone. After that, I grabbed our German Shepard’s face and began howling in pain. It was guttural. It was explosive. It didn’t frighten him, but it frightened me. All the pain I had tried to bury during the previous four months, rose to the surface and I erupted.

First one dog, then my beloved grandmother, then another dog. It was a dark, difficult time and with two heartbroken young kids who I felt helpless to console, I felt like I was entering crisis mode and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it.

“Crisis is unavoidable.” -David Whyte Consolations

Throughout my life death has been a frequent visitor on my doorstep, but only just softly knocking, only serving as an annoying, incessant reminder that I too have an expiration date. It was kind of a weird obsession with me. I found myself thinking about it a lot.

But thinking about it and experiencing it firsthand are two very different things.

Eventually, I would learn that those world-weary days were preparing me for more intense heartbreak to come. The next crisis would take ten years and forty-four days to arrive, but when it did, it kicked down my door and crushed me.

The call came late one otherwise ordinary Sunday night. My husband answered the phone from his side of the bed and tried to make sense of what he was hearing. We had both been asleep for only a short time, so it took a few moments for us to come to.

I remember instinctively knowing it was something bad. When he said to whoever was on the other end, “Hold on, here, you better talk to Amy,” I recoiled as if the receiver were a serpent about to strike.

My sister was on the other end. She wasn’t making any sense. She kept repeating the same thing over and over, my sister, Karen was gone. “We lost her,” she kept saying. “She’s gone, Amy. Karen is gone.”

I remember thinking, what the hell are you talking about, where has she gone, and if she’s lost why isn’t anyone trying to find her?

But in my heart, I knew what she was saying. That my sister, Karen, was dead.

She was pleading with me to go to the house to comfort her son and his new wife who were the ones to find her, as well as my parents who were already there.

“Mom and Dad need you,” she said. “Go now,” she said. It was the last thing I heard before throwing the phone across the room.

Bile rose in my throat. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. And I couldn’t scream because my children were sleeping and I knew if I started screaming I would never stop.

I also couldn’t drive, or more to the point my husband and daughter wouldn’t let me. I don’t remember if my daughter was already awake or if my husband woke her, but she was old enough to drive, and she insisted on taking me while my husband stayed home with my son.

My sister lived about fifteen minutes away. It was the longest fifteen minutes of my life. It was a struggle the entire way to resist telling my daughter to pull over; I was that sure I would vomit.

The first thing I saw when I rounded the last corner to her house was a cruiser, which had anything but a settling effect on me.

I didn’t want to get out of my truck. If I didn’t go in and see for myself, then none of it could possibly be true. Sensing this, my daughter took my hand then wrapped her arms around me giving me the strength I would need to walk through the door.

It is surreal to try and write about one of the most painful experiences I have ever had in my life. Even as I type this, five years since she passed, in many ways it still doesn’t feel real to me.

I can still feel each embrace from every single person in the room that night.

My sister had suffered from multiple sclerosis since her early thirties. She was forty-seven years old when she died from it, unexpectedly in her home.

She was a single mother to a single son who had come by with his new wife to show her pictures from their wedding, taken just four months before.

We both shook our heads in disbelief as I approached him, both of our faces disfigured in anguish and pain, tears coming too fast for any tissues to keep up. When we hugged he let go, and it felt like a privilege to support the weight of his grief. It is a moment in time that I will never forget.

I asked to see her. I needed to see her. I would not take no for an answer despite everyone in the room pleading with me not to.

I made it as far as the bottom of the stairs, but when I started up the first steps, I was stopped by a uniformed police officer blocking my way.

I could hear my family pleading with me from behind me, urging me to listen to this stranger who was now apparently the one in charge. I could feel my anger rising. He was treating my sister’s death like a crime scene, but I remained calm and tried to reason with him, making it clear I was unwilling to take no for an answer.

I was sharply rebuked and warned that if I tried to go into her bedroom, I would be arrested.

I could not see my mother standing behind me, but I heard her gasp. At that moment I knew I could not do this to her. I could not and would not inflict any more pain on anyone in the room, so I fled and left my daughter scrambling to catch up to me.

The rest of that night is a blur. The next several days were the hardest days my family has ever had to endure. We were a family in crisis. Sobbing uncontrollably one minute, laughing the next, waiting for another sister to fly in from out of town, greeting people no one wished to see but were grateful for their support once there.

Every moment of every day was gutwrenching. I feared we would not make it through her death and her burial and all remain in one piece.

“Every human life seems to be drawn eventually, as if by some unspoken parallel, some total flow or underground magnetic field, toward the raw, dynamic essentials of its existence, as if everything up to that point had been a preparation for a meeting, for a confrontation in an elemental form with our essential flaw, and with what an individual could until then, only receive stepped down, interpreted or diluted.” -David Whyte Consolations

We were confronted by life’s one true eventually, and we weren’t ready. Our essential flaw had been exposed, and we were raw. We were the walking wounded. And I questioned if we would ever heal.

 

PART I of III

NEXT WEEK: DENIAL

 

COURAGE

I was thirty-six years old when I shaved my head and announced I was going to South Africa, alone.

Some called me a hot shit, others called me nuts, but most if not all remarked that they admired my courage on both counts.

I grew up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and visiting Benson’s Wild Animal Farm – a short car trip away, so the seed of my desire to see Africa someday, was planted very early. The older I got, the more this desire grew.

But like a bonsai tree, the seed was planted in too small a container. It was cared for and nurtured, but its roots were stunted and its branches were pruned, so it never had a chance to reach its full potential.

Until one otherwise ordinary day in early summer two thousand and five.

For whatever reason, that was the day something shifted and split my stunted tree of desire down the middle like a peach tree overbearing fruit, collapsing under its own weight. Something was telling me it was do or die time, and I couldn’t bear to watch my lifelong dream lay there dying still ripe with possibilities.

I made up my mind and committed to making it happen. I was determined to do something worthwhile somewhere in Africa, so I got to work researching volunteering opportunities. I’d been saving my Christmas bonuses for ten years, and I finally had the funds. I was as ready as I would ever be.

I settled on volunteering at a private reserve in South Africa. My “job” would be to help monitor their lion population. I would be working alongside other volunteers from around the world gathering and reporting vital information for the protection and preservation of lions. My wildest dreams were about to come true. I envisioned myself a twenty-first century Joy Adamson who alongside Jane Goodall, was my idol and a role model for me from a very young age.

In these pictures, the vet had just darted the dominant male, Inkanya, so that he could attend to a potentially serious wound I had noticed the day before on our drive.

When I first arrived in Africa, I had an overwhelming inexplicable feeling I was coming home. On that day, while holding this wild lion’s paw in my hand, I had an overwhelming feeling of no longer being in my body. For the briefest of moments, I was this lion; his paw was my paw pounding the red earth, born free and running free.

When I then placed my hand on his side and felt the rise and fall of each inhale and exhale it became impossible for me to breathe. I only realized I was holding my breath when a few errant tears escaped flowing freely down my face, causing me to come back into my body to wipe them away.

I was moved to tears on a daily basis while there because I never wanted to leave. I was living my dream and I never wanted to wake up. I couldn’t bear the thought of knowing it would all be over too soon.

Weeks after returning home there would come a day when I would catch my husband staring at me and ask, “What?”

He would shake his head almost imperceptively and say, “Nothing. You’re just still not home yet are you?”

“To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.” -David Whyte Consolations

Maybe that’s why it never felt like my traveling alone to Africa was something that required courage. I was never afraid, so I didn’t think of myself as being brave. The only real courage it took was to return home knowing that I would most likely never return.

Same with me buzzing off all my hair before I left. I had shoulder length hair at the time so several people remarked on how much courage it must have taken to do something like that, but honestly, I just felt like it would be a cool thing to try at least once in my life. I figured what the hell, I was going to Africa, so the timing felt perfect. I knew it would grow back, so I wasn’t afraid. The only time I felt like I needed a little shot of courage was when I’d catch someone looking at me with pity, assuming I lost my hair to chemo, and I’d feel it my duty to let this stranger know that was not the case.

It wasn’t until recently when I started writing this blog, or more to the point when I started publishing this blog, that I ever felt the need to summon genuine courage.

I don’t read the words in David Whyte’s wonderful book until the prior week’s post is finished and published and I am free to move on and open the next invitation, letting the next word have its way with me.

“To be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made.” -David Whyte Consolations

I’m never more so than when diving into the deep end in search of sunken treasures, hauling long-buried stories to the surface for closer examination to see what if anything is of any value.

I am writing about things I fear, about things that disturb me, about things I’ve previously been unwilling to speak about knowing it will hurt, not just myself but perhaps others. But I am willing to risk it. I am willing to be split open if it means something I say might be of benefit to someone else.

When I imagine I’m only writing these essays for strangers to read, the fear evaporates, and the writing suddenly requires no more courage than pulling out a sliver. But knowing that my family and friends are reading what amounts to my diary, requires the kind of courage needed to jump out of a plane in a hail storm or run with the bulls wearing a red cape.

So far I haven’t had much feedback from strangers about my blog, but many people I know and love have expressed kind words of support and encouragement which must be replenishing my dwindling supply of it because right now it’s what’s keeping me going.

For some reason, I had it in my head that with each blog post I published I would become less afraid and feel less vulnerable, and to some degree I do. But since not everyone I know has been as encouraging, I’m still terrified every time I hit “publish” knowing once I do there’s no going back and I must live with the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.

My parents have known about my new blog for weeks now and either they have decided not to read them, or they have, and they decided not to reach out to me. I could easily find out, of course. All I have to do is pick up the phone and reach out to them instead. So now I find myself asking, then why haven’t I?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself every day, and I still have no good answer. Except to say that I feel so exposed and so vulnerable, too vulnerable, that I fear I may be hurt in the process.

As long as I don’t reach out to ask what they think about it, about me, then I can continue to supply acceptable excuses for them.

I’m sure they’ve just been too busy to check it out, or maybe the computer hasn’t been working right, or they can’t get the page to load, or maybe there are problems with the internet being down. Who knows?

What I do know is once I make that call, once I know for sure, I fear I may be paralyzed by what I hear.

Maybe it’s better not to know. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Or maybe I need to dig a little deeper and find the courage to find out.

“On the inside we come to know who and what and how we love and what we can do to deepen that love; only from the outside and only looking back, does it look like courage.” -David Whyte Consolations

I know who I love, what I love and how I love. And I know what I can do to deepen that love – its the part that requires me to keep writing. Because it’s true, from the outside looking back, it does look like courage.

And, more importantly, it feels like courage. It feels like the first crucial step up the mountain, and I aim to get to the top no matter how hard and treacherous the climb.

I may stumble and fall, but I will get back up and keep getting back up until I make it to the summit. From there I’ll be able to look back at my life with pride.

A few weeks after I’d returned home, I learned that Inkanya had died. My new friend from England who was still in South Africa had written to tell me that he was killed while trying to escape the seventy-thousand plus acre reserve. He had broken his neck while attempting to jump the too high fence in his bid to be completely free.

Inkanya was no cowardly lion. He courageously followed his heart even as it ended his life.

I guess I will have to summon some of that same courage and pick up the phone.

 

NEXT WEEK: CRISIS

 

CONFESSION

Bless you father, for you have sinned. We have never heard your confession. Please tell us your sins.

For better or worse I am a product of twelve years of Catholic school, thirteen if you include kindergarten. If I were still a Catholic now, I would steel myself for the chance to step into a confessional again and anonymously pose the above question to not one, not two, but three priests that I knew personally, that have recently been defrocked for having sexually abused minors. One targeted little girls the other two preferred young men.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have made it through school (relatively) unscathed as opposed to being one of their victims because I know others who did not fare as well.

Recently, someone I’ve known for a long time confessed to me that she had been sexually abused as a child. In her case, it was a nun and not a priest that had repeatedly abused her over the course of two years, and the effects were devastating to her. She had never told anyone about it not even her husband in all the years they’d been married, so watching her still be in so much pain, so many years later was gutwrenching and heartbreaking.

Questioning my religion was unheard of when I was growing up. You went to mass when you were told even if you’d just been the day before and or the day before that. You did not speak while being forced to perform the stations of the cross on Good Friday or you were going straight to hell. You remained silent throughout mass as you were told and you completed your sacraments as you were told and you confessed your sins as you were told as often as you were told.

It didn’t matter if you made them up because rest assured you had committed at least some small sin by the end of every day. Surely you could think of something to confess even if it was to reveal that you had thought badly of your brother and said something unkind to him.

From a very young age, it was ingrained in me I’d been born with a sinister soul disease attached to the marrow in my bones. The disease was that of being a sinner and confession was the only known cure. No matter how hard I tried to be a good girl and be kind to others and treat them as I would want to be treated, the underlying unwavering feeling that shadowed me throughout my childhood was that of being profoundly unworthy of my life in the eyes of God.

It’s a tough feeling to shake even all these years later since it became part of my DNA, having attached itself to the building blocks of my life.

Yet somehow, many years later after I had given birth to my children, I found that it was possible to pick at the sickly strands and pry them loose. I could detach my feelings of inherent unworthiness from my story and run them through the shredder if I chose to. So I chose to.

It was gradual at first. My husband and I stopped bringing our then young kids to church on Sundays which had the immediate effect of encouraging my defiance. It felt like a tiny victory of sorts taking back control of how I wanted to spend a Sunday morning with my two young, very impressionable children, and a hike together followed by a picnic didn’t require pulling teeth the way going to church had.

It was important to me to instill in them a sense of wonder at the world in all its manifestations, so I worked in conversations about what their idea of God was. The important distinction being that I asked them, I didn’t tell them. I did not want them to be dependent on the words of others; I wanted to instill in them a natural spirituality based on their own experiences.

I remember walking through a field with them one perfect afternoon when they were still quite young and having my son stop me in my tracks to ask if God was inside a salamander.

We were all holding hands but not for safety.

It was one of the rare times the word God was used between us since I was no longer comfortable with the term. It conjured the vengeful old man with the long white beard for me no matter how hard I tried for it not to so I tried to avoid it altogether, instead referring to the unknown as just that – the unknowable force.

So I told my son, yes, I do believe God is in that salamander. Later that year as winter approached I remember him informing me one day, that the snow was God’s blanket for the earth and I thought, yes, this is the kind of God I want my children to believe in.

But as the years passed by it was becoming more difficult to duck some rather pointed questions. I was running out of excuses about why I couldn’t make it to mass with the rest of the family on Easter, or Christmas, etc.

By this time my daughter was approaching the age she would be expected to make her first communion, and I found myself holding my breath, waiting for the dreaded question to be asked of me as to when she would.

Eventually, I came to grips with the fact that I would have to “go there” not only with my parents but my extremely religious mémère as well. I had put it off for as long as possible but knew it was a dreaded conversation I would have to have, so I went to visit her alone one day to confess.

Both of my grandfathers had died before I was born, and my paternal grandmother had passed when I was five, so my mother’s mother, my mémère, was the only trusted elder I had in my life. I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing her, but I had to be true to myself and not betray my own soul.

“To confess is to declare oneself ready for a more courageous road, one in which a previously defended identity might not only be shorn away, but be seen to be irrelevant, a distraction, a working delusion that kept us busy over the years and held us unaccountable to the real question.” David Whyte Consolations

By the time I had finished explaining myself we were hugging and laughing without a single tear shed. She was the epitome of grace as she sat quietly allowing me to speak my truth, occasionally nodding her head while keeping her lovely tan hands folded in her lap.

She knew I was in need of reassuring, so she told me it was okay. That everything would be okay. That who was she to question how I wanted to raise my kids and besides I was doing a wonderful job so far in her opinion. She explained how hard it was for her when her own son, my mother’s brother, left the church. She was devastated but in hindsight regretted that she had let his decision come between them and she wished she had it to do over. She assured me she would not make the same mistake again.

The relief I felt was instant, the fear I held in my heart evaporated like a puddle exposed to the hot sun while I was reduced to a puddle of tears the moment I left her.

It had gone so well that I decided to strike while the iron was hot. Next came telling my parents but regrettably, it did not go nearly as well.

“Freedom from deception may be the goal but no confession is without consequences.” David Whyte Consolations

This time the consequences of my confession were swift and cut to the bone. I essentially felt kicked out of the tribe. I was looked at with suspicion, urged to see the error of my ways and instructed to keep my children on the path of righteousness.

But it was too late.

We worshipped in the woods now.

Our cathedral was made of pines and hemlocks and mighty old oaks.

We were anointed by streams and rivers.

Our silent confessions were echoed by birdsong.

And the jack-in-the-pulpit now delivered our sermon.

It’s a sermon I wish more people would be open to hearing for it not only reminds us of who we are but who we are meant to be. There is nothing inherently better than another in nature; the bee doesn’t think itself better than the flower it is nourished by. Their relationship is reciprocal, a delicate dance of give and take, and it’s one we’d all do well to remember.

Not long after I had confessed to my parents, I had a dream. It was vivid and unusually easy to interpret, and its message was received loud and clear.

I was in a boat filled to capacity with my entire family, and all around us, there were hundreds of snakes in the water. I was excitedly pointing them out to everyone but quickly realized they were all too terrified to look.

So I jumped in. I didn’t hesitate. I waved at them all and dove in.

Once in the water, I urged them all to join me assuring everyone that there was nothing to be afraid of, but no one budged.

When I woke up, I was laughing, not from the joy I felt from swimming with so many snakes though it did feel pretty damn cool, but for the overwhelming welcoming feeling I had of being free.

“Confession implicitly calls for carrying on the journey newly alone, unaccompanied by the familiar company you have kept until now.” David Whyte Consolations

I have carried on with my journey, no longer alone but in the company of nature in all its glorious manifestations, grateful every day to be alive.

 

NEXT WEEK: COURAGE

 

BESIEGED

Aren’t we all every day in every way?

As a child, I often felt besieged around my siblings. Surrounded, bombarded, and near constantly overwhelmed by the sheer number of us when gathered together. We were like a gaggle of geese fighting over chunks of bread around the dinner table every night, all clamoring to speak and talking over each other which meant none of us were ever really heard.

But for as full as our house always was, and for as fun as it usually was, at times I felt profound loneliness even when we were all together. It was a constant struggle to find a balance between wanting to be with everyone and wanting to be left alone.

The older I got, the more it felt like the walls were closing in.

The outside world began intruding on my inside world, and I was growing more and more uncomfortable with the idea of becoming an adult.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I became interested in politics at a very young age.

I was seven when Jimmy Carter was elected. He was the first president I remember ever paying attention to since he had a daughter around my age whose name was also Amy. I remember being fascinated by the whole family. Jimmy, the peanut farmer who seemed kind and modest and principled much like my father. Rosalynn, who I would later learn, wasn’t afraid to lend her voice in support of ratifying the ERA. But it was Amy, a regular kid just like me who happened to live in the White House, and had her own tree house there to boot, that really drew me in.

I was ten when I learned about the Iran hostage crisis in school and had my name and picture published in the local paper for writing letters to the hostages as a show of support to let them know that we as Americans, cared. But when Reagan was elected later that fall I was crushed. I couldn’t hold back the tears at recess the day after the election and had to retreat to the safety of the laboratory where I hid in a stall crying until I heard the bell ring calling us back inside.

I remained involved in politics throughout the rest of my formal education to present day, but by the age of thirteen, my focus shifted from the politicians in Washington to the politics of being female.

Once I “became a woman” it gradually dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one vying for control over my body. I started getting into heated arguments about abortion rights and equality  – or lack thereof – with trusted girlfriends and was graffitiing the covers of all my school books with the words, “who cares” and “nothing matters” and “why bother.”

By then I understood that regardless of how hard I worked I would never be treated as an equal when compared to a man. The signposts were everywhere and impossible to ignore. I felt besieged from every angle, so I did what I had learned by watching others, I started drinking.

At first, it was strictly for the thrill of it usually done on a dare. But it quickly became a slippery slope and a reliable means of escape. I was overwhelmed by the world on a daily basis and alcohol allowed me to still care while not caring at all. It was the best of both worlds when the world I found myself living in no longer felt tolerable anymore.

I have struggled off and on with that desired means of escape ever since. It was effortless not to drink each time I was pregnant; I wasn’t doing it for myself, I was doing it for them. But once they were born and the permanent demands of motherhood set in, it got more and more tempting at the end of a long hard day.

This feeling besieged all the time may very well be at the root of many addictions as a way to regulate stress. Whether we attempt to soothe ourselves with shopping or eating or any other myriad of ways we numb ourselves, it can stem from feeling so overwhelmed by the world that we’ll do anything to escape the pain.

There are days when I can’t bring myself to turn on the television because I am so world-weary. Our country has never been more divided (in my lifetime anyway) than it is right now.

I cried for three days straight when our current president was elected because I knew exactly what it meant. I knew what we had in store for us though sadly he has exceeded my dire expectations.

In many ways, I felt then and still feel now that we as a nation are in mourning. We worked so hard and had come so far under the leadership of President Obama that despite my everpresent concern for the health of the planet, I felt optimistic about our future and I was even more optimistic at the prospect of seeing what a woman could do to keep our momentum going.

Instead, every day we see more and more hard fought for accomplishments being stripped away. The planet itself is under siege, and despite intensifying natural disasters we are weakening our protection of it instead of fighting even harder to avert a crisis. We are bombarded by hatred and intolerance and injustice on a daily basis, not to mention twenty-four-hour news channels and social media which leave me feeling defeated and deflated, desperate to find the exit. Except there is nowhere to escape. Not at the bottom of a bottle or a bag of chips or in a shopping mall. Nowhere. Which leaves us with only one option: navigation.

“To feel crowded, set upon, blocked by circumstances, in defeat or victory, is not only the daily experience of most human beings in most contemporary societies; it has been an abiding dynamic of individual life since the dawn of human consciousness.” -David Whyte Consolations

Somehow we must chart a course and follow it regardless of the neverending storms that threaten to sink us.

Over the years through a lot of trial and error, I have learned that what seems to help me most when I am feeling besieged is for me to be alone.

In early fall of two thousand sixteen just before the election, I had reached a breaking point. The stress I was feeling about what I saw on the news every night, threatened to do me in.

My at home meditation practice wasn’t cutting it anymore; I needed to immerse myself in silence. I had twice attended silent meditation retreats at a Dharma center nearby to where I lived, the first lasting ten days, the second five. But for as grateful as I was each of those times, this time I felt strongly that I needed an opportunity to give back.

I checked their website and saw that they were offering old students a chance to come to the center to serve for a short three-day course being offered to preteens as an introduction to meditation. While there I would also be expected to help prepare the women’s side of the building by cleaning over one hundred private rooms before the next ten-day course for adults which would begin a few days later. I would also have the opportunity to join the group meditations lasting a total of about four hours a day.

I jumped at the chance but was somewhat disappointed after arriving when I learned that as servers we would be allowed to speak. In the past, the silence was what had saved me. I couldn’t hear the word’s Trump or Hillary even one more time fearing I may throw myself off a bridge.

My previous experience of remaining silent for ten days while meditating ten hours a day with more than a hundred other strangers living in close quarters had resulted in a strange shared intimacy between us, that’s never been easy to describe or forget. By the end of ten days I felt so close to those people, people I had never even spoken to, due to an invisible shared intimacy. That was the feeling I was attempting to tap into, so I feared being able to speak would inhibit that.

I was wrong. We did not talk about the election. We talked about our lives, our children, the experiences that brought us there and our shared love of humanity. We tossed around ideas about how each of us might contribute to the betterment of the world.

It was the first time I gave voice to my idea for starting this blog, and it was met with support and encouragement from these lovely women who were complete strangers to me just days before. I was learning another way to be in the world at a time when I felt the world needed me the most.

I had always been called upon to clean at home; it was a duty that fell squarely on my shoulders as another one of my unpaid jobs that I almost always resented. But somehow, cleaning over one hundred rooms from top to bottom, scrubbing over a hundred toilets and showers and laundering over one hundred towels, etc. filled me with a powerful sense of purpose.

I was giving myself to the service of others, but I was the one receiving everything I never knew I longed for in return.

It’s always hard for me to reenter the world after being safely tucked away for a time, and this time proved to be no different. But as difficult as it was to come home to the continued division and hateful speeches, somehow I was able to hold my center, that is until reality set in.

With the swearing in of our new president, I began swearing at the television or the computer or to any jackass that had the nerve to wave a MAGA hat in my face, literally or figuratively. I have lost friends over it and have watched in horror as Americans tear each other apart.

“If the world will not go away then the great discipline seems to be the ability to make an identity that can live in the midst of everything without feeling beset.” -David Whyte Consolations

It is a discipline that requires determination, patience, and persistence but rewards you with a sense of equanimity. The brief bit of peace I would seek from a few drinks now feels like cheating, having finally understood that the real reward comes from finding and living in balance. Now I find that a walk in the woods works just as well. It is its own reward for it brings me a sense of composure and psychological stability allowing for some time in a busy day that is undisturbed by my emotions, my pain, or anything else that forces me to lose my balance.

Balance. It’s another one of my tattoos, written in my own handwriting on the inside of my left wrist. Instead of checking the time it serves as a reminder to check in and to be kind to myself and others who I know are all struggling to do the same.

These days, when I’m feeling besieged by the world, I try harder to remember that this too shall pass. I may still reach for a drink, but I do so with an awareness that I never had before, and the result is one more of pleasure for pleasure itself instead of a means of escape.

Nel mezzo, in the midst of everything, as Dante said, to be besieged – but beautifully, because we have made a place to stand – in the people and the places and the perplexities we have grown to love, seeing them not now as enemies or forces laying siege, but as if for the first time, as participants in the drama, both familiar and strangely surprising.”  -David Whyte Consolations

I will never grow to love this president, that much I am sure of. But I do love the promise of us all coming together in the future, without all the drama, guided by real leadership, ready and willing to mend what has been broken.

 

NEXT WEEK: CONFESSION