relishyourstory.com

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WORK

I was twelve years old when I began babysitting other people’s children.

The work was demanding, but since I already had so many younger siblings, I was accustomed to it, so I didn’t complain. Besides, it was usually easier than mowing lawns for money (which I also did), and I liked having a few dollars in my pocket to show for it. And when I say a few, I mean a very few.

One particularly well-off miserly family (the mom used to laugh about how she couldn’t wait to go to work to get away from her two small children) saw fit to pay me a whopping twenty bucks to watch them five days a week for one whole summer, then had the nerve to complain about how much of their food I was eating when I had the nerve to eat the last Klondike bar I found hidden in their freezer the day before.

I was thirteen or fourteen at the time, had always been underweight for my age, and she made me feel ashamed. Made me feel like I was stealing food from their table.

For me, that was the last straw. I could handle watching her two young children, both still in diapers, but I could not handle her being as big a baby, so I quit.

When I think of how hard I worked, not just watching other peoples children, but cleaning their houses and even getting dinner started some nights for one family, I cringe at how badly I allowed myself to be taken advantage of back then.

I was fifteen when I finally landed my first real job, though barely above minimum wage it wasn’t much better than my babysitting gigs.

It was at a local family-owned pharmacy, the kind with a soda fountain where the construction workers who were erecting something or other nearby would come in most afternoons just as my shift started, and spin around on the swivel chairs at the counter and order coffee frappes while they flirted with me and another of my friends that worked there. I guess you could say I’d graduated from babies drooling on me to grown men drooling over me.

Most of the time I didn’t mind it, nor did I mind swiping makeup off the shelves when the boss wasn’t looking (not a very good Catholic girl I know) or stealing an occasional pack of butts while refilling the cigarette shelves when I was broke, which was basically all the time.

But when it began to feel as though I was a toy for those men to play with, when the innocent flirting began to take on sly, threatening tones, I quit and spent the rest of that summer ironically working in construction. I knew a friend of a friend that was looking for a couple of laborers to help them finish constructing a large stone wall for a property in a town nearby, so for the next several weeks that’s what I did, and I reveled in it.

When the wall was finished, I hung up my work boots and went to work at a local supermarket as a cashier.

By the time I was seventeen, I was living on my own and working full time to support myself.

During the years eight years that followed I held eight different jobs ranging from a bank teller, computer operations at said bank, a medical secretary, a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, an air traffic control student for the Federal Aviation Administration and other various office jobs in between.

My ninth, working from home as a fine art painter of collectible miniatures, I would continue to do for the next sixteen years while I raised my two kids and simultaneously homeschooled them.

When I stop painting exactly ten years ago, it wasn’t because any part of me wanted to quit. OK, maybe some part of me did; the part that woke at four in the morning every day to get the work done before the kids woke up. But the real reason was that the work was taking too great a physical toll on my body.

At that point, I was working seven days a week and making more money than I ever had in my life – even if most people would consider it small potatoes, so giving up the freedom of working from home was not an easy adjustment to make.

But after more than sixteen years of being hunched over at my desk, forehead pressed against a hot lamp set above my subject matter, my wrists held at unnatural angles for hours, my neck and shoulders strained and trained into repetitive movements that would take lying on the floor after a session to get to relax back to where I could move them again, I had no other choice than to give it up the same way I’d given up smoking: cold turkey.

It would take almost two years of physical therapy to get back to full mobility once I’d quit. Thankfully my husband was making enough money (for the most part) by then to cover my sudden lack of income, so I could remain at home and continue to teach my children while I kept clipping coupons and tried to find new ways to make every single dollar stretch.

In the ten years since I have had many other jobs, but not until very recently when I was hired by my son as his bookkeeper, was I ever paid for any of them.

My teacher’s salary was nonexistent, as was any salary for being a nurse, a veterinarian, a personal shopper, a housekeeper, a chef, a gardener, a household finance manager, a climber of laundry mountains, you get the idea.

During all that time, without an actual paying job, I always felt inadequate when compared to my husband, the breadwinner, since none of the work I was doing was held in as high a regard.

No matter how hard I worked the fact that I no longer contributed financially to our family, translated into me being on less than equal footing.

“Work is intimacy and discovery even through the boredom, even through the imprisoning necessities of toiling for another, even through the trauma of rejection and dissatisfaction, even through being badly recompensed. ” – David Whyte Consolations

The work I chose was just that, chosen. No one held a gun to my head forcing me to do any of it. I wanted children, and more importantly, I wanted to be the one to raise my children, so the isolation I felt being a stay-at-home mom, the work involved looking after everyone’s needs, even the lack of being paid a penny for any of it, I willingly signed up for.

But when I was forced to stop painting, or more to the point when I stopped bringing home a paycheck, I no longer felt like all the rest of the work I was still doing was enough.

I had to prove myself, didn’t I?

I had to have an answer when asked, “So what do you do for work, Amy?” since answering, “I’m a stay-at-home mom” never felt like a good enough answer.

So I began writing. I had written two children’s books years before, that despite my many attempts, were never published, so this time I decided I would write a novel, something I’d always believed I was meant to do. After all, I had the financial and emotional support of my husband, had some great ideas, and had the proper motivation to do the work.

I’ve written three novels in the last ten years, but since none of them have ever been given an audience outside of a very select few, I’ve never felt the satisfaction that comes with being published. Of being paid for my labor. Of finally having my literary voice heard.

Writing, I discovered very quickly, was hard work. Maybe the hardest work I’d ever set out to do aside from raising my children, but not for the obvious reasons. Not because educating myself about story structure and plot and themes and so on was any more difficult than any other thing I’d done that took hard work and dedication, say like designing and helping to build our home.

For me, the hardest part about writing has been returning to the blank page day after day despite knowing I may always be my only audience.

It’s a feeling that until I began writing this blog, has never gone away.

This blog has been a year-long labor of love. It required hard work to keep pushing through the resistance I felt writing a new essay every week.

To move forward, I had to remember where I had been and who I was then, compared to who I am now, even when it meant ripping open old wounds to do so.

In the process, I found something in each of my stories to relish, even the most painful ones, even if that something was that each story is uniquely mine and I’m still alive to tell it.

A gift from my sister for my fiftieth birthday.

“I write to balance the teeter-totter of my childhood.” – Screenwriter and novelist, William Goldman, once said.

I would add, I write because I was sick of giving power to my pain.

The often invisible child I was, has been seen.

The story of my future is no longer the story of my past.

I’ve spent my life feeling like I didn’t deserve to be happy, and felt guilty whenever I was.

I kept some of the best parts of myself locked away in a self-imposed prison. Over the years I became very comfortable there. So much so that I no longer noticed the bars on the windows or that the door was locked from the inside.

At the risk of upsetting and or alienating people very close to me, or instilling disbelief in others who have expressed doubt about the accuracy of my memory, with every story I have bravely shared here, I’ve taken one more step towards freedom.

“Are the stories we tell ourselves true?” Was never meant to imply that mine or anyone else’s memories and stories are not accurate or factual – only our very one-sided interpretation of them.

To my audience – every single reader who took the time to read any or all of what took me a lifetime to write –  I hope you feel your time was well spent. I will forever be grateful to you all. And to those of you close to me who reached out – always when I seemed to need kind words of encouragement the most – thank you for your unwavering support. I love you.

And I will forever be grateful to the poet extraordinaire, David Whyte, whose poem, Sweet Darkness, I clipped from a magazine and hung above my bed many years ago, never knowing that our paths would cross one day.

https://soundcloud.com/onbeing/sweet-darkness-by-david-whyte

His wise words have been a gift and an invitation for my inner child to come out and play.

I am a big believer in not wasting time having learned that lesson the hard way by wasting so much precious time in the past.

My hard work has paid off. As the year draws to a close I don’t feel the need to make any resolutions; I have the resolution I have longed for.

All that is left is love.

I have gifted myself with something no one else could have given me — tabula rasa – a clean slate.

“With the right work, the right relationship to that work and the mystery of what is continually being revealed to us through our endeavors, we find a home in the world that eventually does not need debilitating stress, does not need our exhausted will and does not need enormous amounts of outside energy constantly fed in to sustain it.” – David Whyte Consolations

I have found my home in writing. It feels like the right work. It feels like both a mystery and a dear friend.

Anyone that knows me well knows that when I start something, I finish it; preferably as soon as possible.

I am glad to have stuck with this blog. As many times as I thought about quitting, I knew I never would. I made a promise to myself and kept it.

I plan to keep writing here, on my blog when I can, and I’m anxious to get back to work – whether that turns out to be something brand new or not I can’t yet say, and that’s okay.

I don’t need to know.

I rather like not knowing.

Dare I say I relish it?

 

WITHDRAWAL

A couple of years ago I began reading the book this blog was based on but did so only sporadically.

I would pick it up every now and again, and choose which essay to read based on my curiosity to certain words listed in the table of contents.

But when I picked it up again late last fall, something felt different. What had changed I really can’t say, but the first thing I noticed was the four essays I had dog-eared earlier: Haunted, Honesty, Vulnerability, and Withdrawal, so I decided to reread each of them.

“We stick to the wrong things quite often, not because it will come to fruition by further effort, but because we cannot let go of the way we decided to tell the story and we become further enmeshed even by trying to make sense of what entraps us, when what is needed is a simple, clean breaking away.” – David Whyte Consolations

I was gearing up to begin the third rewrite of my third novel and was already several years into the writing of it, and when I read this one powerful sentence again, the truth of his words hit home for me in a very big way.

After all of my hard work and focus, I wasn’t keen on letting go of the way I had decided to tell the story, even though I knew in my gut it wasn’t working. I felt trapped and was aching for a clean break from it all.

Not only that, but I realized the same could be said about the stories I’d been telling myself my entire life, which is why this one sentence had such a powerful effect on me and made me want to cry when I read it again.

I was at that point, inching ever closer to the fifty-year mark of my life and was aware that I had spent so many of those years enmeshed in my stories trying to make sense of how trapped they often made me feel.

I wanted a clean break from them; a clean slate from which to start over.

Relish, was the working title of the novel I was still laboring over. It was the story of a young woman who despite having an incredibly challenging childhood and painful relationships with most of the people in her life, over time, and with the help of her beloved grandmother (that’s where Grandma’s relish comes in) she comes to see that life is meant to be savored, that she can always find something about it to be relished.

And that’s the moment when the seed for – Relish Your Story, the blog – was planted.

I reached out to David Whyte’s publicist the very next day to ask for permission to base my blog on each of his essays and was surprised to hear back from someone by the following morning. I was told David was out of the country, but that they’d approach him about it when he returned home in a few weeks.

By the end of the following month, I was excited to learn he had given my blog his blessing.

After the initial shock wore off, the panic set it. I had no idea how to go about setting up a blog but the new year was fast approaching (I wanted to time all fifty-two essays to coincide with the start of the new year), so I wasted no time getting to work.

It would be the break from my novel I felt I so desperately needed, though not quite the break I had anticipated as far as my workload was concerned.

I decided early on not to read Consolations in its entirety before beginning. I wanted the work to be spontaneous, wanted to allow each word to have its way with me just before writing about it.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I was ready to get real. It would make me vulnerable. I would need to be honest about all the things that still haunted me from my past, and I would need to withdraw from the world every week to do it.

Holding off on reading all the essays beforehand added to my overall vulnerability and anxiety and proved to be much more of a challenge than I’d anticipated, but I felt it was vital to my process.

So when I reached this week’s word – Withdrawal – again, the first thing I noticed was that turned down corner of the page that started it all.

Once I had a chance to reread it, I understood why the word withdrawal was a catalyst for getting me to share my stories; withdrawing from the world has always been my modus operandi. It’s what has kept me sane in this often insane world. The downside is that it keeps me even more isolated than I already am.

I’ve worked from home (including homeschooling both my kids) for the last twenty-five years – which amounts to half of my life, so I saw this blog as a unique opportunity for more connection.

“We withdraw not to disappear, but to find another ground from which to see; a solid ground from which to step, and from which to speak again, in a different way, a clear, rested, embodied voice, our life suddenly an emphatic statement and one from which we don’t want to withdraw.”  – David Whyte Consolations

If I could change my perception of my past – find another way in which to see my stories and solid ground from which to speak about them in a different more honest way than I ever had before, maybe I would stop feeling the constant need to withdraw.

This blog has given me a new embodied voice to speak with. As I write this, almost an entire year has passed since I began.

In typical fashion, I have withdrawn from the world to celebrate my birthday alone on a chilly beach.

I slept for twelve hours the first night I arrived, and when I walked the beach alone the next morning – on my birthday, I thought about my mémère who died on that day sixteen years before, and about the innocent lives that were violently taken from their loved ones in Newtown, Connecticut, six years before, and about my sister who never got to see her fiftieth birthday, and all I could feel was gratitude to be alive and free as tears poured down my face, and I walked one foot in front of the other into the future.

My husband, who joined me later for the rest of my stay, never once made me feel bad for my wanting to be alone the first couple of days.

He has, over the years, always supported me whenever I’ve felt the need to withdraw from the world.

It began when our children were still children. I would withdraw from the demands of my family as a means of self-preservation and spend time alone hiking in the woods or at the beach or a meditation or breathwork or creativity retreat, as a way of recharging my batteries while he took over caring for the kids. We both knew that if I’d reached the point of needing time alone away from everyone, it was for a good reason and time spent away from everyone would end up benefiting everyone.

He even backed me immediately, without reservation, when I told him I wanted to volunteer for a couple of weeks alone in South Africa.

And he has supported me every step of the way while writing this blog, which often required me to withdraw from family life and lock myself away in my room to write.

“Withdrawal is often not what it looks like – a disappearance – no, to withdraw from entanglement can be to appear again in the world in a very real way and begin the process of renewing the primary, essential invitation again.” – David Whyte Consolations

I will forever be grateful that he understands this about me – that I need to periodically withdraw from the world so that I can come back better in every respect than when I left.

For me, that is vitally important, but I think it’s also a universal feeling we all share.

Sometimes you just need to get away from it all. Withdraw from your family and friends and coworkers, withdraw from the demands of life that never completely go away.

“To remove ourselves entirely and absolutely, abruptly and at times un-compromisingly is often the real and radically courageous break for freedom.” – David Whyte Consolations

I am of the mind that it would require much more courage from me to stay put when every fiber of my being is telling me to take some time for myself and go – withdraw from the world and follow my heart wherever it leads me for a time.

To me, radical courage is required only when fear is a factor, and I’ve never been afraid to be alone.

Quite the opposite; I relish it.

 

NEXT WEEK: WORK

VULNERABILITY

To be human is to be vulnerable.

“Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state.” – David Whyte Consolations

As an infant, the first emotion I likely ever felt was distress. Wholly vulnerable and utterly helpless, I relied on the adults in my life to protect me and take care of me until I was old enough to take care of myself.

As a young kid, I may not have been as physically helpless anymore, but I was still largely powerless, especially being that I was born female, which only added to my ever-increasing vulnerability in relation to the rest of the world.

By the time I entered my teens, my vulnerability lived in my body like a separate entity. Walking down the street grown men would shout lewd comments that made my heart race and my face flush and my knees weak from the fear I felt settling in my bones.

That particular vulnerability still lives in my marrow.

But as I grew into adulthood, my understanding of vulnerability grew along with me. I was keenly aware of the tender, vulnerable spots in my body and my psyche that needed constant protection.

Every time I felt an arrow pierce my armor, I understood I had two choices. I could remain reluctant and afraid to ever put myself in a position of being hurt again, or I could remain in the battle with the courage to fight another day.

“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through that door.” – David Whyte Consolations

After I was forced to leave my home at the age of seventeen, I had two choices. I could refuse the considerable risk of being on my own at such a young age and beg and plead with my parents to allow me to come home again, or I could inhabit my vulnerability and fight to make a new life for myself by going to work full time and finding a new place to live.

I chose the later.

After I was thrown from my horse at full gallop, I laid in the field where I landed, unsure if I might die before the paramedics finally reached me almost an hour later. When I returned home from the hospital a week later, I had two choices. I could refuse to risk being hurt again and sell my beloved horse, or as they say, I could get my ass back in the saddle.

I chose the later and was riding again five weeks later.

When my first pregnancy ended abruptly at fourteen weeks, I could have easily let my fear to take over and never try again. The same can be said when I suffered my second miscarriage only a short time later. But both times, as intensely vulnerable as I was, I risked it. I became a citizen of loss and swore an oath to life the day I finally became a mother.

And that is where my greatest vulnerability will always lie – with my children.

They are an extension of me, and I will always feel an acute vulnerability where they are concerned.

My son, who moved into his first home last year, now feels a like a phantom limb that’s still attached to me. I know that no matter how much physical distance there is between us, he, like my daughter when she leaves home to strike out on her own, will always remain a part of me no matter how far apart we may be.

They are in large part why I began this blog in the first place.

I had already written three novels that went nowhere and was at a crossroads.

I had two choices. I could give up entirely on the idea of ever being taken seriously as a writer. I could burn my last two novels like I had the first. I could throw them into the fire and watch the flames consume the blood sweat and tears that marked every page. Or I could embrace this blog as a rare opportunity to look back at my life and share my stories not just with my children but with others in the hopes that they too, might find something in their own stories to relish.

I chose the later.

From the moment I began reading ConsolationsThe Solace, Nourishment & Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, David Whyte’s words strongly resonated with me and then began to haunt me. Each word was like a scalpel slicing straight to the heart of the matter – to the heart of what matters, in life, in love, in a family.

Each word is a meditation on meaning, and each has brought me solace and nourishment as promised. They have also, with David’s kind permission, served as a springboard from which to dive from, back into the waters of my childhood, back into the strong and at times turbulent current that runs through my life.

In many ways, I feel like I’ve been holding my breath ever since.

Owning my story has been hard but not nearly as difficult as spending the last fifty years running from it.

My vulnerability lies with my willingness to express my truth no matter what. Not just in this blog but in all aspects of my life.

Sharing my stories with strangers, and harder still with the people I know and love, has at times been terrifying but it was very important to me. It was something I felt I needed to do with my one precious life. To tell the truth of who I am and the paths I’ve chosen and open my soul so that others might see themselves and interpret their own stories in a new and more forgiving light.

However, unlike the characters in my novels, the people I write about here are real.

And therein lies the difficulty and the vulnerability.

My sibling’s stories, though they have been entwined with mine since my birth, are very different from my own and are not my stories to tell. We all had the same parents, but none of us were ever parented the same. This has been a difficult truth for some of them to accept but it doesn’t make it any less true. I have understood this from the beginning, so I did my best to respect their privacy.

Regrettably, I was not always able to do the same for my parents since they, more than anyone else in my life, are who shaped me. They are the bedrock from which my story sprang. I have tremendous love and respect for them both. I quite literally would be nothing without them and would have no stories to tell if I could not include them. But since they also have their own unique backstories, the stories I’ve shared here, all fifty so far, have not been the whole story.

I’m sure their stories might help explain some of their actions, but I was not able to build them into the backdrop of my own to give the necessary context as to why they raised me the way the did. I regret that because I know their own parents shaped them every bit as much. I know enough to know that their lives were far from easy and knowing this gives me enormous empathy for them and makes it easy for me to forgive them.

I started this project because I knew in my heart and in my soul that I could never heal the pain if I kept on refusing to feel it.

Recently, I came across a quote that felt like one of those daggers piercing my armor.

It said, “Pain gets passed down through families until someone is ready to feel it.” – Steph Wagner.

I guess I was that someone and I’m glad for it. As hard as this blog has been for me to write, it was necessary. Infected wounds only fester and grow more painful.

Using David Whyte’s words as my scalpel, I’ve done my best to excise the full thickness of my injuries. In the process of doing so, I may have inadvertently injured others by cutting open and exposing things no one asked to see or had any desire to look at.

By allowing myself to feel the full extent of my pain and my vulnerabilities, I inadvertently forced other people in my family to feel their own vulnerabilities as well – namely their unconditional love for my parents who we now all understand on some level, are living out the last chapter of their lives.

My willingness to be vulnerable and share my stories with the world was looked at as a betrayal of them by some. I was seen as their judge and jury and determined guilty for sentencing them to what some thought was too harsh a punishment.

Knowing all of this, I suddenly had two choices. I could quit, apologize profusely, and let my stories be quietly buried again along with my pain. Or I could keep going and risk being rejected by my family entirely.

I chose the later.

“To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others.” – David Whyte Consolations

After my sister died, I spent hours and hours alone grieving for her while contemplating the meaning of life – of her life as well as my own.

I, like the rest of my family, felt unbearably vulnerable when forced to accept the reality of her unexpected death.

And with her death, my sister taught me how important it was not to run from my vulnerability but rather turn and face it and embrace it.

Because of her, as morbid as it sounds, I began grieving for my parents years ago, knowing as I do that their lives, like mine, are finite. Sharing these stories about my life (and by default, theirs) has been a unique opportunity for me to say all the things I’ve wanted to say but couldn’t bring myself to for so many years, despite not knowing if they’ll ever read them and despite not knowing if the doorway to understanding between us was already closed to my grief long ago.

Yes, that makes me feel vulnerable, but finally feeling my feelings after trying to numb myself from them for all these years was necessary and has been worth it.

Now that I have let myself feel my pain, I can more fully feel my joy.

I can spend the rest of my life (and theirs) choosing to remember the good times, and there were most definitely plenty of good times.

I will always remember my mother gathering all of us together on special occasions to tell us the funny story of Herman the Pet Mountain Lion. She would push her tongue against her bottom lip while reciting it which always made the telling of it funnier. And my father, sharing with us the sad story of The Lightning Express so authentically that for a long time I thought he was telling us a story about his own mother.

Where would we be and who would we be without our stories?

 

NEXT WEEK: WITHDRAWAL

UNREQUITED

If the love that human beings experience is almost always unrequited why do we risk loving anyone or anything at all?

Why did I say, “I do” when sometimes I don’t.

Often, I need to remind myself that I will never be loved back in precisely the same way as my love is given, and as hard as that may be to accept, and it is, that’s okay.

“Human beings live in disappointment and a self-appointed imprisonment when they refuse to love unless they are loved in the same selfless way in return.” – David Whyte Consolations

When we are young, and we don’t know any better, we have unrealistic expectations about what true love means.

I was twenty years old when I got married. On my own since the age of seventeen, what the hell did I know about true love?

We met when I was sixteen, and were engaged just two short years later. When I think about that now, especially when viewing it through the lens of my now adult children, I still ask myself what the hell were we thinking?

Yet here we are thirty-three years later, still together and still in love, at least most of the time anyway.

“Men and women have always had difficulty with the way a love returned hardly ever resembles a love given, but unrequited love may be the form that love mostly takes; for what affection is ever returned over time in the same measure or quality with which it is given?… What other human being could ever love us as we need to be loved?” – David Whyte Consolations

Many of us, myself included, can’t even love ourselves the way we need to be loved.

We set conditions on ourselves that must be met then strictly adhered to first.

For most of my life, I’ve felt that nothing I’ve ever done was enough.

It’s a strange ache that’s never been satisfied and is one that, for a long time, kept me from fully loving myself for exactly who I am.

So it comes as no surprise to me that my husband will never love me exactly the way I want him to or expect he should, and that’s impossibly difficult to accept, but ultimately that’s okay because it has to be. It’s the price of admission on this crazy roller coaster ride called love.

Over time, and it does take time, I came to realize that I had to be willing to give up wanting to control the manner in which my love is reciprocated or risk being habitually miserable.

I had to somehow keep my heart open when I was lied to, or dismissed, or taken advantage of, or hurt by unkind words.

It hurts like hell when the person we depend on the most to love us for who we are, doesn’t, or does not show it in the way we would like them to or expect they should.

We could easily view this as a failure and use it as an excuse to never allow ourselves to be hurt again.

During her inspiring commencement speech at Harvard, J.K. Rowling once said, “…Failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

In all fairness, I know I am not the easiest person to live with either.

I’m an introvert. I am highly sensitive by nature. I am highly attuned to the injustices in the world that many others turn a blind eye to. I care so much about everything and everyone else that sometimes I neglect the people right in front of me.

I sometimes keep my feelings bottled up inside until someone or something lights my fuse, and I explode, then apologize to my loved ones as I try and pick up the pieces and put things back to together again.

I feel pain, my own and other’s, exquisitely, which often leaves me too raw to be touched.

I am an artist that has spent her whole life, up until this point, too afraid to express herself and everyone around me has had to suffer the consequences of my acute frustration.

My husband knows all of this about me and still loves me, just as I know things about him, and I still love him.

We work hard to do the best with what we’ve been given and work even harder to keep loving each other when all we want to give each other is grief.

It’s not easy.

It’s never been easy.

But as the brilliant philosopher, Alan Watts once said, “The whole point of the dancing is the dance.”

My parents, who set an excellent example for me, have been dancing together for almost sixty years.

Growing up I saw firsthand how their love for each other was never perfect, but when you got right down to it, it didn’t matter.

Underneath all the bickering and the yelling, I knew they loved each other for better or worse.

I knew that meant something.

I knew that meant everything.

Like them, my husband and I have done our fair share of fighting, and like them when everything is said and done, the deep love we have for each other has always saved us.

Repeatedly.

Every time I’ve ever been tempted to withhold my love for whatever reason, even if it’s a very good reason, in the end I know it’s no use. I only end up hurting myself.

As a result, I’m forced to do the impossible; let go of the pain, let go of the expectation that things will be different, and let go of my stubborn refusal to love him when he doesn’t deserve it.

“We seem to have been born into a world where love, except for brilliant, exceptional moments, seems to exist from one side only, ours – and that may be the difficulty and the revelation and the gift – to see love as the ultimate letting go and through the doorway of that attention, make the most difficult sacrifice of all, giving away the very thing we want to hold forever.” – David Whyte Consolations

I cannot force anyone to love me; they must be given the freedom to choose. Only then will that love be real, and whether or not it’s unconditional or unrequited makes little difference.

Love is love.

I have loved and been loved. It is something I will be forever grateful for.

It is something I will always relish.

 

NEXT WEEK: VULNERABILITY