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PILGRIM

I have traveled to many different places in my life but my solo journey to South Africa in August of 2005, was the only genuine pilgrimage I’ve ever undertaken.

It was a sacred journey for me, one that at the age of thirty-six, I had waited my whole life to embark on.

From my journal, August 2005:

…I am about to board my flight. Why does it feel like I am going home when I am traveling to the other side of the world, to a place I’ve never been?

The week before I left, I cut off my shoulder length hair and gave myself a buzz cut. It was also something I had always wanted to do, so the timing felt perfect.

When I arrived, I was a pilgrim on the other side of the planet.

Leo, making me feel right at home.

When I then met all of the other volunteers, I immediately felt like I belonged.

“We want to belong as we travel.” – David Whyte Consolations

My entire trip was a genuine pleasure. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more.

Daily drives before dawn and again every evening around sunset to find and track the lions were the highlight of my time there, as was seeing all the other magnificent creatures running free across the vast wilderness.

But it wasn’t until I boarded a bus for my return home that my real African adventure began.

…My last night here has arrived. Full blood red moon. Jesus, this is going to be hard tomorrow. I’ve got nothing left to distract me from feeling my feelings and that terrifies me. I don’t want to leave this place yet. I don’t ever want to leave. How on earth will I? Africa is the missing piece of the puzzle called my life…

It’s my last morning in Africa. I just watched the sunrise for the last time (well hopefully not for the last time haha), then I said my sad tearful goodbyes before setting off for the bus station in Tzaneen with Hendrick and Janine…

It became apparent pretty quickly that Hendrick (one of our guides at camp who was charged with dropping me off since everyone else on the reserve had that Sunday off), had no idea where he was going, and it didn’t help matters that the low gas light came on about a minute or so into our drive.

I was starting to get pretty nervous, but we eventually found a petrol station that was open, topped off the tank and were once again on our way.

By the time the three of us arrived at the bus station, my bladder was about to burst. There was no terminal there, so Janine (my fellow volunteer and bunkmate for the week) and I, set out to see if we could find a public restroom somewhere in town.

What we found was a communal open pit tucked behind one of the buildings. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I did what I had to do.

A few minutes later we were back at the bus where I said my final goodbyes and watched the two of them drive away, then hauled my bags over to the luggage compartment on the side of the bus, and boarded.

The exact moment I stepped on, something didn’t feel right. Jesus was on the radio, that was my first clue. My second was the looks I was getting from the all-male occupants scowling at me.

Before I knew what was happening, the bus driver made his way back to confront me, demanding that he see my ticket.

When I hear him say, “No, no, no, no, lady, you’re on the wrong bus,” my heart sinks, I break out in sweat and begin to panic because I have no good idea what to do.

I am quickly escorted off the bus where I see another man – a man that had been talking with Hendrick moments earlier – approach me. He exchanges words with the bus driver as the driver roughly tosses my bags out of the compartment and onto the rich red earth, then turns to me, takes my arm gently and says, “No worries,” (a phrase I was well accustomed to hearing from every South African, by then).

“I know where your bus is,” he says. “It’s at the Translux station not far from here. I’m sure it hasn’t left yet. I’ll take you there. No worries.”

I don’t have time to think. Henrick and Janine were the only ones left at base camp for the day, and it will be almost an hour before they make it back. This kind man is offering his help to me and is the only other person near as I can tell in the whole town who also speaks English, so I accept his offer to drive me there.

When we arrive at the station, there isn’t a single bus in sight. I have missed my ride to Johannesburg airport which is still more than seven hours away from where I am.

When he turns to look at me, he asks what’s wrong with my eyes. Asks why they are leaking. Hot tears are pouring down my cheeks. Technically I am not crying, but I am powerless to stop the flow now that the dam has let go.

He asks me where my husband is. I tell him I am trying to get home to see him. He tells me everything will be OK. He tells me he is going to help me. “No worries,” he says.

He tells me he’s going to take me to a taxi service and explains how I can take a taxi to the next bus stop in Pietersburg where I will be able to intercept the bus I should have been on. He tells me it will cost me 35 rands. I tell him I have no more money. No more rands anyway, only American. He tells me to wait in the car while he goes into a small store next door. His friend works there he says. She will help me.

She does. She says she has never seen American money before, but she feels like I am trustworthy, so she exchanges my $10 for 60 rands.

He takes me to the taxi station, but before he leaves me there, he explains my predicament to the taxi driver who assures me (halfheartedly) that he will get me there in plenty of time. I thank him profusely for the kindness he has shown me, shake his hand and give him what is left of my money after I pay my fare, then say goodbye.

Now that I am on my own again, I realize there isn’t a single taxi in sight. I ask the driver how soon before the next taxi gets there. He points at an old, and I mean very old VW bus. My bags are crammed in as opposed to being tied to the top of the bus along with everyone else’s. All that is missing is a chicken strapped to the roof. I am asked to sign his book. Once again the driver is the only person who speaks English. An hour later we are finally on our way.

“No worries!” he shouts over the seventeen other passengers.

I am sandwiched in between two enormous old women; I secretly dub them the grandmothers. There is a small child sitting on one of their ample laps. I am sure this little boy has never seen a white person before. He is mesmerized with me. Every time I look over to smile at him, he shyly turns away. The engine sputters, threatens not to start, then backfires loudly, and we are off flying up and down and over and through lush green mountains. I can’t see the speedometer, but I know we are going fast. Very fast. Much to fast for these mountains.

Suddenly the bus slows, and I see everyone craning their necks to see out the tiny windows. We pass another VW bus laying on its side apparently having flipped over while navigating the narrow turn. The two grandmothers burst into laughter. Not surprisingly this does nothing to set my mind at ease.

By the time we arrive at the Translux station in Pietersburg, I cannot feel my arms or my hands and have to work hard to get my circulation going again as I watch the driver toss my bags to the curb and speed off.

I am in a daze as I wander around looking for the bus I was meant to be on. Another bus driver spots me and opens the door of her bus to ask if she can be of help. When I show her my ticket, she tells me my bus has already left but that as luck would have it, she is also driving to Pretoria and offers to take me to the next stop to catch my bus or continue on and take me there herself if I miss connecting with it again.

I thank her profusely and climb aboard. I am the only passenger on the bus which makes my heart sink. If I have to wait for this bus to be full, I will never make it to Johanseburg airport in time to make my flight. Sensing my panic and seeing that my waterworks have been turned back on, she laughs softly and explains that she’s ready to go when I am. She tells me that she was supposed to be transporting an entire football (soccer) team but that their game was canceled so I will be her solo passenger. “No worries!” she says.

As soon as she starts driving, she turns on some beautiful African music, and I lose it. I have gone from being crammed into an African taxi with sixteen other people to having an entire bus to myself. The music isn’t just pulling at my heartstrings; it is plucking them out violently one by one.

An hour or so later, we are at the next stop where I finally meet up with the right bus. My bags are transferred for what will be the last time as I make my way up the stairs and take my seat among the rest of the crowd. Unlike the last bus, on this bus, every other seat is spoken for. The bus is full to capacity, and we are soon on our way for what will be the last (bus) leg of my journey. When I finally arrive in Pretoria, I am met by someone from the volunteer organization who will be driving me the rest of the way to the airport.

When I get there I am told that the catering company that would normally be serving us a meal on the flight, is on strike, so I am given a voucher for food at the airport, but because I am vegetarian, I can find nothing being offered to eat with the exception of candy bars.

Since leaving the reserve early that morning, I have had a single orange and a peanut butter sandwich that I packed to take with me. I am ravenous and am forced to wander around the airport asking for help to find some real food.

Before long, I spot a large door on a lower floor that’s marked for British Airways passengers. I open it slowly and tentatively and am met with a friendly smile from a woman who appears to be in charge. She explains that I am in the first class lounge, so I apologize and am about to leave before she takes my arm and says, “No worries. I’ll make an exception for you but just this one time.”

When she pulls open the next set of double doors, I feel like Charlie in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. There are buffet tables on each side offering dozens of different dishes, hot rolls with butter, stacks of fancy desserts, more food than I am prepared to take in, visually or otherwise.

I am tentative and shy at first, but when I spot a mound of steaming hot rice and vegetables, I go for it and fill my plate. She laughs and instructs me that I am welcome to make myself at home. She tells me everything is free, the food, the bar, the stacks of ice cold water bottles, the spa.

The spa? Could I have heard her right? I’m told I have time to shower if I like, that there are robes in the adjoining dressing room.

I make my way over to a very comfortable couch and inhale my meal then chug down an entire bottle of water before heading to the spa. Once inside, I use the bathroom then splash cold water over my face and neck before quickly exiting. This is clearly not my world. I do not belong here. On my way out I stop to grab another bottle of water to take with me then thank the woman for her unexpected kindness before heading back upstairs and back into the chaos of the airport.

From the time I left the reserve that morning until I reached my final destination (my front door) the next day, I had been traveling for thirty-three hours.

Despite spending almost every day before that with wild lions and hyenas and dozens of other dangerous animals at our doorstep, my last day in Africa was more thrilling (and exhausting) by far.

“Most of all, a pilgrim is someone abroad in a world of impending revelation where something is about to happen, including, most fearfully, and as a part of their eventual arrival, their own disappearance.” – David Whyte Consolations

I was a pilgrim, all alone abroad, relying solely on the kindness of strangers.

I never asked the kind man who helped me, for his name. I will regret that always. But I will never regret one moment of my pilgrimage to Africa, and I will forever be grateful for the kindness extended to me by complete strangers. I’ve often wondered whether or not that kindness would be reciprocated in the states if our circumstances were reversed. They may say, “No worries!” but I do. I worry about that a lot.

From the end of the first page of my journal:

…My longing for Africa is my longing for the place that leads me back to myself, back to a sense of genuine pleasure to be alive.

When I opened my journal to refresh my memory before writing this post, I was reminded of this:

It’s 50 rands. More than enough to cover my taxi ride that day, but I never thought of it. It was safely tucked inside my journal, a treasured souvenir of my beloved lions to take home with me.

Africa has so many stories to tell. This one is mine, and I will treasure it – I will relish it – always.

 

NEXT WEEK: PROCRASTINATION

PARALLELS

What if?

It’s the first question I ask myself when developing a new story idea but it’s also a question I find myself asking as I prepare to write this post.

Like what if maybe somewhere, in a parallel universe, America has already taken action to save our home instead of destroying it.

Maybe in that parallel universe, actions were taken decades ago when the first alarm bells started to ring, and we were all wise enough to heed the dire warnings and do something about it so that future generations would inherit a planet healthy enough to sustain them.

“Parallels are not what we think. They do not really exist except in a mathematical sense and except as an idea to play off.” – David Whyte Consolations

While it might be fun to imagine a utopian parallel universe, the reality is this is our reality.

“In the human imagination a parallel world is not a world that replicates the one in which we live or its exact opposite, but one that turns and flows through many other possibilities and dimensionalities; all the while keeping company and somehow referencing the one it shadows.” – David Whyte Consolations

Thinking of parallels in this way makes me think about my dreams. How my dreams often parallel my waking life, often in some very strange ways.

No matter who we are or where we’re born, we all share one thing in common; we all dream.

Ever since I was a very young child, I have always enjoyed having a strong connection to my dreams. I can remember them in great detail, even dreams that dovetail from one into the next, and I can usually reliably recall them without much difficulty upon waking. Also, every night just as I’m about to fall asleep, I remember the last dream I had the night/morning before. Often, if it was a really good dream, I can crawl back inside of it, and if I wish for it to continue, I can sometimes pick up where I left off.

I can still remember many of the dreams I had when I was a child, especially every dream that I ever had that involved flying. Whether it be from a standing position at the top of the stairs and soaring down them and out the front door to go for a spin around my neighborhood or flying my helicopter over tornadoes simply by sitting down on the seat and saying “Up!”

Many of the themes in this parallel universe are universal, occurring across cultures and genders. Like an inability to find a toilet when desperate, or discovering a new, beautiful room full of floor to ceiling windows in a house I’ve lived in for years but had somehow never noticed it was there before. Or another universal favorite, dreaming about water.

As a child, I often dreamt that I lived underwater among huge sea creatures that I had no fear of, and upon waking, be disappointed that this parallel universe didn’t really exist.

Other times when dreaming about water, a pleasant day at the beach might suddenly turn into a nightmare when out of nowhere an enormous tidal wave heads straight for me. I might wake up feeling panicked just as I am being tossed under then feel relieved that I was able to come up for air.

Then there are the dreams where I am driving from the back seat. Usually, in dreams such as these, I am driving very fast around treacherous winding roads and have no idea where I am going and no ability to slow down or pull over. These are the dreams that most closely parallel my life during times when I’ve given over control to someone or something else.

I also dream about animals, a lot.

When I was very young, I used to have a recurring dream about a polar bear that would come to our back door when everyone else was still asleep, and I would climb on its back and off we’d go for a jaunt around my neighborhood.

But the older I got, the more my dreams about bears changed.

Instead of riding my polar bear around the block I was now being chased by grizzlies and black bears. I would be outside playing at my childhood home (even though I had long since moved out) and would spot an enormous bear coming towards me in the distance. Before I could even register what was happening I’d be running for the door, the bear hot on my heels, somehow making it inside just in the nick of time, but always having to fumble with the lock first.

In another dream about a grizzly, I am in a huge plastic hamster wheel/ball and am the size of a hamster, and I am trying to roll the ball towards the front door of my childhood home without drawing attention to myself from a giant grizzly bear that is sleeping in the middle of the road right next to me.

Every time I try to make a “run” for it and roll myself over to the door, the bear wakes and starts batting me around inside this plastic ball, toying with me. In the dream, this goes on for what feels like hours until something finally wakes me, though even after I’m awake, the panicked feeling resides in my body a little too long.

It’s not unusual for me to feel panicked in this parallel universe. For whatever reason, every time I dream that I’m urgently calling 911, I can never get through. Never.

It is also not unusual to experience pain there either. Emotional as well as physical.

Like when I dream that I’ve just watched someone I love die and wake up feeling broken as if I’ve been sobbing for hours.

Other times, I realize that I’m dreaming – while I’m dreaming. In a recent dream, I picked up what I believed to be a small empty wasp’s nest. Only it wasn’t empty. A wasp flew out and straight into my face. When I pulled it from my cheek, I was aware that I didn’t feel any pain which in turn made me aware (inside the dream) that I was dreaming, so I shrugged it off.

But the worst dream I have ever had in my life was when I dreamt I was someone else.

I had just returned home (early) from a five-day silent meditation retreat. It was late afternoon on the last day when we were permitted to speak again that I decided to call home and check in. When I did, I learned that a dear friend of mine had just died.

After meditating for ten or more hours every day for five days, I was empty. Scrubbed clean of any and all thoughts if you will. I remember hanging up with my husband and nearly bursting into tears in front of everybody. But I somehow kept my composure and excused myself telling everyone I needed to take one last walk in the woods alone before we’d all be leaving the next morning.

As soon as I reached my favorite spot (above) and sat down on the bench, I began sobbing uncontrollably. The shock of her death felt like I’d been hit by a truck and before I knew it, I was hyperventilating and had to put my head between my legs.

By the time I made my way out of the woods, the bell calling us to our last group mediation had already rung, so everyone should have already been inside, but I saw that my very concerned roommate (whom I had only just spoken to for the first time in almost a week) was standing outside the doors waiting for me. She knew something was wrong and wanted to be sure that I was okay.

I was not okay. I asked if she could find the course manager, which she did, then said my goodbyes, knowing that I couldn’t stay another minute. I needed to go home. I needed very much to be with my family.

That night I had a dream unlike any I’ve ever had before or since.

After returning home and having another good cry after seeing everyone again, my kids went out for the night, and my husband and his cousin went out to have a few beers, so I had the house to myself and was thankful for the time alone to decompress.

It’s always a challenge coming back to reality after being in silent meditation for days, so my choice to go online and catch up on the news was not a good one. I should have known better. I should have grabbed a good book and taken a bath then gone to bed.

Instead, I watched in horror as Lara Logan relived her violent sexual assault during a 60 Minutes interview. https://youtu.be/bO12X1nhzzk

I remembered hearing about what had happened to her while reporting from Eygpt, but to hear her speak and watch her live through it all over again, was a devastatingly hard to do. By the time it was over I was emotionally and physically spent and wanted nothing more than for the day to be over, so I went to bed.

At some point in the middle of the night, I woke up screaming at the top of my lungs while crying out for help, scaring my husband half to death in the process.

I remember him trying desperately to console me as I described what I’d been dreaming about to him in detail.

In my dream, I was Lara, and I was the one being assaulted in precisely the same way she was. It was terrifying and felt terrifyingly real.

After a few minutes, once I could accept that it was only a nightmare paralleling what I had just watched earlier that night, I was able to calm down, until seconds later another wave of grief washed over me, this time taking me under with more force than any tidal wave I’d ever dreamt of.

My husband held me in his arms as I cried my eyes out, for Lara and what she had experienced and somehow survived, but also for every single woman on this planet who has ever experienced rape or sexual assault. Their overwhelming pain and suffering was all I could think about, all I could feel, and being that I felt so open after emptying my mind in meditation, it allowed me to feel their pain in every square inch of my body.

It is a dream that I suspect will stay with me forever and turned out to be a catalyst for me becoming more involved with women’s rights and speaking out about violence against women.

This parallel universe of my dreams has been telling me stories for as long as I’ve been alive. I am grateful to have always paid attention to them.

 

NEXT WEEK: PILGRIM

PAIN

There are two things I know about pain. One is that no matter how long it takes, it demands to be felt. The other is that to know pain is to want it to end.

I was born a pain. A. Paine, technically, but definitely a pain, too. But only towards people who abused their authority. Like the nuns at my Catholic elementary school and high school, or the adults that ran the United Church of Christ Christian summer camp that I attended for all of July and August every year from the age of seven until I stopped attending in my late teens.

In the eyes of the nuns, I guess I was never a good enough Catholic, so I was often made an example of by way of humiliation. As for the adults running the Protestant UCC Christian camp, I would never be good enough for them precisely because I was a Catholic. They resented the fact that as a family, we were allowed to attend in the first place, so they often took it out on my siblings and me.

Over the course of many years, the cumulative effect of both situations made me feel small and weak and inherently worthless. And being that I was still a child, I was powerless to do much about it.

I still have the scars to prove it; you just can’t see them. And I know that I’m not unique in that regard.

We all carry invisible scars from hard-fought battles inflicted by demons that don’t always make themselves known to us, at least not right away.

That is the nature of pain.

Emotional pain is almost always invisible to others. If someone breaks their leg and needs the aid of crutches to get around, just looking at them allows us to feel empathy for them. We can imagine how much pain they must have felt the moment their limb snapped in two.

But our emotional pain may only become visible to outsiders when we no longer care who sees us using other kinds of crutches. When we keep eating even though we’re full or we no longer care who sees us drinking every day.

Whatever it is, we don’t want to feel it. We want to be numb.

That’s pretty much how I felt every day by the time I graduated from high school.

Graduation night, age seventeen, drinking champagne straight from the bottle. I wasn’t thrown a party, so I partied with friends, polishing off an entire bottle of Kahlúa that night on my own.

I was already drinking most weekends at the start of my junior year. I was fifteen years old. I was beyond painfully shy throughout my entire childhood. I had one best friend, so I was known and referred to as her shadow. Everything and everyone around me was a perceived threat to my wellbeing, so I did my best to hide.

Over time, I discovered that drinking took the edge off during certain situations where I felt like I was walking around without skin. Over time, it became my pain medicine.

I had more than one close call with alcohol. The first was at a graduation beach party in late spring of my junior year. I was now sixteen and was drinking vodka – by the end of the night, straight from the bottle. I woke up the next morning, the sun hot on my face, covered in sand, my head resting on a frisbee. I have no recollection of how I ended up there.

The second happened later that same summer when my girlfriend and I were partying and decided it would be great fun to run down the street in our underwear. I was close to polishing off a whole bottle of vodka by this time, so not surprisingly I only made it about a hundred feet down the street before I came crashing down on my face. (Thankfully I had not taken any of my clothes off yet.) I was too drunk to brace my fall, so the pavement split my upper lip open. I was carried inside and put to bed. I have only a vague memory of people later dragging me into the bathtub and turning the shower on me to wash away the vomit. I was lucky not to have choked on it. I remember very little of any of this. Major gaps needed filling in. I do, however, remember waking up the next morning with someone else’s (thankfully) clean clothes on, an ugly, purple, swollen upper lip and several of my teeth being loose.

My parents were oblivious to my drinking. If I’m wrong about that and they had any inclining, then they remained silent about it.

There would be other close calls but thankfully none quite as bad. It wasn’t until I was forced to move out at seventeen and find an apartment and a full-time job, that I began to sense I had a problem with the way I managed my pain.

There are times I still reach for that particular form of liquid painkiller, times that have nothing to do with just wanting to relax and celebrate with friends. Old habits are hard to break even when there’s nothing you try harder at. Maybe I should try harder to be kinder to myself instead.

The only time I can remember being able to kill the pain with kindness instead of alcohol was after each time I miscarried. My husband took time off from work and never left my side. His kindness and love was what saw me through the roller coaster of emotional and physical pain I felt in every square inch of my body and my soul every moment of every day.

But when my mémère died on my birthday, and after my sister died unexpectedly at the age of forty-seven, there was no amount of alcohol that could take away that kind of pain. I know because I tried.

In the days following my sister’s death the only thing that moved the needle in the pain department was laughter.

Somehow, as a family, we would all be sobbing uncontrollably one minute, and without warning, a funny memory of her would spontaneously trigger someone’s laughter and instantly ripple through us, providing us with a brief moment of exquisite relief from the pain.

“With the grand perspective real pain is never far from real laughter – at ourself or for another watching that self – laughter at the predicament or the physical absurdity that has become a daily experience.” – David Whyte Consolations

We’ve all been in that situation before. We witness someone hurting themselves, wait a couple of seconds (if we can control ourselves) to make sure they’re alright, then burst out in a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

I once walked straight into a tree while vacationing with my family in Aruba.

My husband and kids were walking in front of me, and I asked them to stop and pose for a picture in front of a divi-divi tree. After I had taken it, I paused to look at it in my camera as I began walking again. When I looked up – a moment too late – I walked smack into the same tree I had just photographed.

My family thought this was hilarious. As we continued walking (to the liquor store go figure) my daughter could not contain herself. By the time we got there I had blood dripping from a gash in my forehead which only made her laugh even harder.

I was standing there in a good amount of pain and serious embarrassment, but her laughter was so contagious before I could stop myself I was laughing at myself right along with her. Her laughter eased my pain to the degree that I even posed for the above picture afterward to prove I could be a good sport about it.

Other times when I’ve been more seriously injured I’ve had a hard time finding anything to laugh about.

Second and third degree burns on my chest, arm, and leg, as a result of a boiling pot of water tipping onto me. A car accident that sent my head crashing into the windshield, shattering it. Another, a rollover, sprained my neck, did a number on my back and kept me out of work for a year. A bone bruise to the shin after being kicked by a horse, required two types of crutches: six weeks of hobbling around on the wooden ones along with a new addiction to Percocet thanks to a very liberally prescribing doctor.

Years later I would be thrown from my horse when he started bucking and rearing while at a full gallop, which landed me in the hospital for a week. Broken ribs and torn muscles in my back resulted in my not being able to move my legs. When the physical therapist that was assigned to me became impatient and picked them up roughly, swinging them back up on the hospital bed after I told her I couldn’t move them, the pain was so intense that my mother still remembers the way I screamed to this day.

Thankfully during that stay, I was given morphine at the push of a button. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take it home with me. I was also not allowed any Percocet to take home with me since, upon arrival at the hospital by ambulance and thinking I might die, apparently I instructed them not to give me any, explaining to them how I’d been had addicted to it in the past.

The only time I ever laughed (which made it hurt even more when I did) was when I attempted to sleep in my own bed for the first time after sleeping on a futon in our living room for more than a week. My husband had to prop me up with so many pillows in our bed that night in an attempt to alleviate my pain, that once I was finally settled in we realized we could no longer see each other which was really quite comical.

Having to ask for help every time I was in pain was almost as painful as the injury that caused the pain in the first place. Each time all I had to give back was my gratitude.

“Pain’s beautiful humiliations make us naturally humble and force us to put aside the guise of pretense. In real pain we have no other choice but to learn to ask for help and on a daily basis. Pain tells us we belong and cannot live forever alone or in isolation.” – David Whyte Consolations

Physical pain demands that we ask for help when we need it. Emotional pain not so much.

With emotional pain, we develop coping mechanisms like I did. We find ways to numb our pain and sadly, we may spend our entire lives doing everything in our power not to feel it. Instead, we bury it. And when you bury something that’s still alive you will be haunted by it your entire life and every single time it haunts you, you will feel that pain and when you feel that pain you will do whatever it takes not to feel that pain. Not to feel, period. It’s a vicious cycle.

But, “Pain is the doorway to the here and now….pain is a way in.” – David Whyte Consolations

As excruciating as that may be, the only way out is in.

I wrote (almost all) of this post in one sitting. As I typed each word, I could feel the long-buried pain rising to the surface demanding to be felt. It hurt like hell and had me questioning whether or not to publish it. Although I was still a child when I first began drinking, it’s humiliating to tell those stories now. But throughout my life no matter how painful my experiences have been, whether physical or emotional, I am always reminded that someone, somewhere, is in much greater pain than I am. Knowing this makes me appreciate my otherwise healthy life that much more.

Bearing witness to the events of my life that shaped me into who I am is often times painful, but like the Soloflex poster I had above my bed when I was a teenager states: “No pain, no gain.”

NEXT WEEK: PARALLELS

NOSTALGIA

In this new age of sophisticated technology and social media, I often find myself feeling nostalgic for the past.

I spent as much time as I could outdoors when I was a kid, immersing myself in nature whenever and wherever possible. But I remember also spending countless hours watching TV.

With so many kids in our house, it wasn’t always easy coming to a consensus as to which shows or cartoons to watch on a Saturday morning, or any other day for that matter, but some of my favorites back then were The Banana SplitsUnderdog, Hong Kong Phooey, The Grape Ape Show, The Electric Company, H.R. Pufnstuf, Schoolhouse Rock, New Zoo Revue, and Jabberwocky. Not to mention, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and Captin Kangaroo, and Zoom, and of course, The Romper Room, when my sisters and I would wait with bated breath to see if the host would see one of us through her magic mirror.

That was the extent of our social media back then.

But getting to watch your favorite TV show was never guaranteed. With so many siblings and only one television set at the time, which was old and often required a call to the television repair man to come out and replace a tube or two, there was a pecking order that for the most part was strictly adhered to.

There were occasional battles of course. Arguments over what to watch that ended with the knob being ripped off the set, or worse when my mother, sick of the bickering, marched into the room and shut it off without saying a word. She didn’t have to. We all knew that was her way of saying go find something (else) to do.

Thankfully, with so many siblings, finding something else to do was never terribly difficult.

There were kickball games that lasted until it was too dark to see the ball, and water fights, one of which took place during a family reunion of sorts and was so large it involved almost thirty people.

On rainy days we’d sometimes put on plays or play card games like war and contract rummy, games that would often take hours to play. Or if we were really bored we’d build forts out of paper cups or lick the backs of all the S & H Green Stamps that were accumulating in the drawer then adhere them to the pages of the quick saver book so we could “shop” for something like a Sunbeam mist stick curling iron or a new set of hot rollers.

If the rain quit before dark (or even after dark with the aid of flashlights), we’d run outside and collect nightcrawlers out of the flooded grass, then deposit them in the drawer of an old bureau down in the cellar where my sister kept her worm farm going. She would set up a stand at the corner of our street and sell nightcrawlers by the dozen to passersby as they made their way to the large lake less than a mile down the road to fish.

This same lake was adjacent to Whalom Park, an old amusement park with one hell of a scary wooden roller coaster as well as a drive-in-theatre and a roller skating rink. http://www.drawbridgepuppets.com/WhalomParkMemories.html

After begging and pleading with my mother, I saw my first R rated movie – Blue Lagoon, at that drive-in when I was thirteen years old. And I took my own kids to the park before it shut down for good so they could both experience a taste of what I’d grown up with.

Because we lived so close to that lake, it was where I spent most of my time every winter.

Every afternoon, as soon as I got off the bus, I’d run and grab my skates and wouldn’t come home until dark, often walking all the way home with my skates still on, too exhausted to take the time to remove them.

That’s me with the pink pom-pom hat and the old wooden roller coaster in the background.

Of course in the winter there was also sledding. A short car trip to the local hospital that sat atop the most perfect sledding hill one was ever likely to find, and we’d be flying down the hill on our toboggans so damn fast it’s a wonder none of us ever got seriously injured. I guess the fact that the hospital was in such close proximity meant we were allowed to take chances we wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to take. (They have since planted dozens of trees on that hill so sadly you can no longer sled down it.)

Winter also meant building forts and giving and getting whitewashes and huge snowball fights, one of which was so epic it involved our entire neighborhood and lasted for hours.

Another winter, February of seventy-eight, was when the blizzard hit, and I remember it feeling like the whole world had stopped and gone silent. This feeling only lasted a few days, but it was magical.

Christmas was also magical for me back then in a way that it never would be again.

Each year as soon as the Sears catalog would come out, we would fight over who got to look through it first, and I remember spending hours pouring over its glossy pages making wish lists. Being that I was a December baby, I would divide the list into two columns titled: BIRTHDAY/CHRISTMAS, and by the time I was finished it usually took up both sides of the paper. I did this year after year despite that fact that I rarely if ever got anything from either list, I think because the ritual itself was so much fun.

When my birthday finally arrived the whole family including aunts and uncles and cousins would gather around for a party. My cousin (who is two days younger than me) and I, always shared a cake which was always decorated in a way that revolved around Christmas or winter.

When it came time to bring it out and sing, the sibling or parent with the next closest birthday would have the honor of carrying the cake, but before that, all the lights would be turned out, so all you saw was flames coming towards you.

What I see coming towards me now is another birthday, this time a milestone one.

Approaching fifty already had me taking stock in my life so the timing of me writing this blog couldn’t have been more perfect.

At times it’s been quite a painful undertaking, but I’m learning more about myself then perhaps I could any other way.

“Nostalgia tells us we are in the presence of imminent revelation, about to break through the present structures held together by the way we have remembered: something we thought we understood but that we are now about to fully understand, something already lived but not fully lived, issuing not from our future but from something already experienced; something that was important, but something to which we did not grant importance enough, something now wanting to be lived again, at the depth to which it first invited us but which we originally refused.” – David Whyte Consolations

All of these memories are important to me and make me feel nostalgic for a time when the world seemed a whole lot less complicated.

Reliving my past has taught me things about myself and my life that I would likely never know had I not undertaken this project.

“Nostalgia is not an immersion in the past, nostalgia is the first annunciation that the past as we know it is coming to an end.” – David Whyte Consolations

By year’s end, I will be fifty. I will be starting a new chapter in my life, but I will always have these pages that tell the story of who I am. Of where I came from and what the world was like back then.

The only story that has remained constant my entire life that has never changed is my love and connection to nature and my family.

The rise of social media is evidence of the longing people have to feel connected, but ironically we can now be in the same room with each other and be miles apart.

 

NEXT WEEK: PAIN