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The definition of insanity is repeating a series of actions again and again and expecting different results. I guess that means we’re all a little insane. Because nothing changes if nothing changes, and if I keep doing what I’ve always done, I’ll get what I’ve always gotten, and I’ll feel as I’ve always felt.

Well, just yucko to that.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t sit down and make out a list on December 31st with intentions of immediate implementation the following morning. I tried it a couple of times, and it didn’t really work out for me. Instead, I tend to reach this tipping-point, where there is this eternal scream of “ENOUGH!” resonating from deep within my bones, and I get off my duff and do something about it – no matter what day of the year it happens to fall on.

Coincidentally, I reached one of those tipping points as 2010 drew to a close, and 2011’s arrival was imminent. I reached a tipping-point in just about every stinking area of my life for which it is possible to attain that level of weariness and disgust.

And so I started making some mental lists. And then I made some written lists. And then I made some more written lists, expanded with more details this time and more concrete goals. Then I divided my lists into various schools of goal-setting (because I am a sick and twisted list-lusting individual who could probably benefit from professional help). And then I wrote a series of entries in my journal focusing on the areas where I intended to focus my newfound intentions. And then I had a series of conversations with a series of friends, relatives and acquaintances regarding my intention to set intentions and the existence of these gloriously promising lists.

It’s sick. It really is sick. I know this. It’s like the series of false starts I take before finally plunging off the high dive (or would, that is, if I weren’t paralytically terrified of heights, and especially of heights in combination with aquatic conditions, so it’s a metaphorical imaginary high dive experience).

A friend once pointed out that I was a risk taker – but only once I’d what-if’ed and how-to’ed and plotted and planned and provided for every possible permutation of result and accounted for pretty much every exigency. She was right. It comes naturally to me. I should have been some kind of strategist – oh, wait! I am a strategist – of my own life. And yes, I tend to go through this process more quickly than others (though less quickly than some), but I’m finding that skipping that step just doesn’t work out so well for me.

So, back to it – Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes. So I’ve done a bunch of processing and scheming. And this time, I’m heading for sweeping changes, the magnitude of which are kind of freaking me out a little bit. Because I’m sick of “changing” a situation or a pattern or a behavior, and then realizing that all I’d really done was tell myself a really good story about how doing it that way would be different….and then finding out later that it wasn’t so different, after all.

I’m trying not to focus on the freaked out feeling, though. I’m looking at this phrase – Nothing Changes if NOTHING CHANGES – as a call to bravery. One of the friends I sat down with to verbally hash all this out was my move-a-body-friend Char, who can always be counted upon to say something equal parts pithy and wise. She didn’t fail. She told me that while there was nothing wrong with it, I’d always arranged my life so that I had both an umbrella over my head and a net beneath my feet – safe. But without the umbrella looming above me, I might finally see the clear blue of sky…and without the net, I might finally feel the cool green grass beneath my feet.

So, I’m swallowing nausea, and taking chances, and hoping to God I’m right, but not at all sure if I am, and waiting for the changes I’m implementing to alter my landscape. Because I am the only one who hears that resounding cry echoing off the ridges of my soul – “ENOUGH!” And I am the only one I can point to as the reason for its existence, its continuation, its abolition.

Wish me luck people.

 

 

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I’ve been M.I.A. for about a month now. Big things and big changes have been sweeping through my life, and most of what I’ve been writing has been in my journal (home for all the news that’s not fit to print).

One of the big things I’ve been dealing with is this:

At about five in the morning on December 21st, my dad collapsed (a couple of times), and they took him to the emergency room. After about seven hours of running every conceivable test that you can run on a body, they finally pinpointed what was causing the trouble – he had 80% blockage in his ‘widow-maker’ artery (runs along the front of the heart – and isn’t it nice that it’s named that & that the doctors and nurses actually call it that in front of you? Neat. Thanks. We weren’t scared enough) and 60-70% blockage in one of the arteries that runs alongside his heart.

He went from feeling fine and fit the day before, to facing open heart surgery the next morning. My dad is a 57 year old non-smoking, non-drinking, daily bran-eating, daily walker with a physique that could be featured in medical texts as ideal for the male of the species.

He also has a family history of high cholesterol that is unaffected by diet or exercise (as in, didn’t matter how many bran muffins my dad snarfed down, or how many miles he walked, he was going to have to deal with this anyway). His father died of a major heart attack at age 65, again somewhat unexpectedly – a fact which was forefront in all of our minds during this.

So, we were all thrown for the proverbial loop. And it called all sorts of things into question, made each of us face and deal with things that we’d been burying or looking away from. And I’m grateful.

I played the ‘what-if’ game about it all (I am the uncontested champion of this game), and no matter how I ran the scenarios through in my head, they did not turn out nearly as prettily as reality did. And so, I couldn’t be anything other than grateful. Grateful that it all happened, and grateful that it all went precisely the way that it did.

In the intervening weeks, dad’s done a lot of healing physically. I’d been more worried about his mental/emotional healing – when you discover the body’s ability to betray, you end up feeling whammied, and I was worried about how he’d handle the whammy. I shouldn’t have worried – I should have just trusted. Dad’s coping well – and he has a lot of time for introspection, since he’s in enforced low-activity for at least six weeks following the surgery.

I went over there this week to help them denude the house of all the Christmas hoopla, since pop can’t lift more than 5 to 10 pounds. And dad turns to me and says, “You still plan on taking me grocery shopping today?” And I, of course, said, “Absolutely!” when I was really thinking, “Hunh? Didn’t remember that…but okey dokey.”

I was probably the best one to bring – I let him have his way and do things his way…until he shouldn’t. I’m not shy about calling people out, and we all know it. So, I was the perfect policeman. We had a great talk the whole way there, and the whole time we were shopping.

And on the way home, the talk turned to how he was dealing with his recovery, and some of the things that were starting to glimmer in the murk for him. I mentioned that Dave (my brother) was probably having the hardest time with all of this. And dad, in typical understated fashion, said, “Well, he probably thought I was dying in his arms, so I suppose he would be.”

And I told him that wasn’t the reason. It was because when Dave was young, he hungered for my father’s attention (which for a variety of reasons, wasn’t available), and then when Dave got older, my dad hungered for more connection with his son…and now Dave is mulling all of it over, and wanting to deepen their relationship. But they’re both the stoic and stubborn products of our Austrian ancestry (which seems to cancel out the Irish in the worst possible ways…), and they don’t reach out well. So, I dropped my pebble into that still pond, and trusted that the ripples would wreak whatever changes to the shoreline that they were meant to – or not – and I let it go.

And then I turned to him and told him that I’d had a hard time with all of this, too, but not for the same reasons. I said that I just wasn’t ready to lose my father yet – I was greedy and wanted many more years together. He smiled. And I said that I felt like he and I were square, that we’d done all the reconnecting and that we had a good relationship, and that I didn’t have regrets – only the greedy desire for more of it. I asked him if he felt the same, and he smiled and said, “Yeah Carolyn, we’re good.”

I know how lucky I am to be able to have that conversation with my dad, and to know deeply that it’s true. I also know that I made my own luck there. I reached out to him in my typically tactless and blunt fashion when I was done being an angsty teen and told him I didn’t like the vibe we had and that I wanted more…and what I wanted it to look like. And then we built it.

In the course of our grocery shopping conversation/excursion, I told him that I regretted nothing about my life. It didn’t strike me until right now, that he’d looked at me kind of oddly, and said, “Really?” with the kind of incredulity that implies sincere and invested interest in the answer. No, dad, I regret nothing. Because all of it brought me here, made me who I am now in this moment. Even the worst stuff shaped me (and I’ve gone through some muddy and bloody trenches in my short life) – and is, perhaps, what I ended up being most grateful for since it affected the deepest and most lasting change.

I know he’s on his own road to reconciling his regrets and healing relationships. I know I can’t do it for him, and I wouldn’t if I could. All I can do is let him see me, and the way I’ve chosen to deal with life as a teacher, and rejoice that he still has the opportunity to choose to engage in it…or choose to let it fall away again.

It may appear that I am lackadaisical about all of this – I assure you I’m not. It’s more a matter of having put out the blaze, and looking at the smoldering foundation, and knowing that there’s both time and opportunity for the owner to build anew. And being grateful for it.

 


Hindsight provides new eyes. (Wayne W. Dyer)

One of my greatest downfalls has ever and always been being too future-oriented. In plain-speak, I think way too much about tomorrow, and not enough about where the heck I am right now, this minute. I’ve been making some headway on that lately, and it feels good.

I’ve been doing the ‘work’ of changing that way of thinking, and being consistent in it — when I catch myself in the act of robbing the joy of the moment in thought and deep contemplation of how much further I need to go, I take a breath. And then another. And I think, “You will not pass this way again, Carolyn. Enjoy the scenery. Smell the roses. Savor the moment.” And like a dreamer pulling away from the lingering tendrils of the dream, I look around and discover that right where I am, now, in that moment, is beautiful. Precious.

It’s funny how I always seem to end up saying to someone else just what I need to hear most. Tonight I facilitated another awesome Reiki Share (that’s not me tooting my own horn — it’s me touting the benefits of Reiki Share *smile*). At the conclusion, we were all talking to a newer traveler about her impatience to get somewhere else on her path.

I turned to her, and seeing myself, I told her that I did truly know exactly how that felt. But having trudged a bit longer, I’d discovered something. That, yes, we do continue to long for some greener pasture, some benchmark that we set for ourselves, no matter how stringently we attempt to live in the moment. That’s part of being human — the desire for more, to be more, to have more, to grow more, to feel more.

But that there would come a point for her, when she’d reached her own self-imposed benchmark and looked backward. That someday, she would look back at this self, this now self, and she would be nearly unrecognizable to who she had striven to become, who she had become. And that even though in the doing it felt like it was taking forever, it would happen in a blink of an eye. A moment.

I am my own worst critic — like most people. I am my own nasty whip-wielding slave-driver — like most people. But I had that moment, and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given. I had that moment, where I looked backward down the path I’d been walking and saw myself at the start of the journey, and felt who I was at this point in the journey. And the self I sprung from felt like a fond stranger.

Meeting myself this way, through time and distance, had an unexpected effect. It let me relax. I could finally look at myself and realize that all of that change and growth happened, and I almost didn’t know it. All that way traveled, and me so intent on where I had yet to go, that I didn’t even see how far I’d come, how much I’d changed.

It made me think about all the selves I’ve had. It made me think about myself at, say, nineteen. (I’ve gotten a new perspective on the nineteen-year-old lately, since I’ve been working with some of them, and the proximity has driven home a few interesting lessons about the gifts of time, age, and challenge.) At nineteen, I had the temerity, the naiveté, and the rose-colored glasses to see the world as this big realm of possibility. Overwhelming, boundless possibility.

In some ways, I still do. But the naiveté has been tempered with wisdom, and the temerity with patience and compassion. I’ve traded in the rose-colored glasses for something with a little clearer outlook, and find that I like the view just fine.

The biggest gift? Knowing myself. Knowing myself so, so much better and deeper than I ever could at nineteen. Loving myself enough to stand up for myself in the way that almost none of us can manage to do well or consistently at nineteen. Respecting myself. Having compassion for myself.

Knowing that it starts right there, with me. I didn’t know that at nineteen — that before you strap on that cape and well-meaning smile, and set forth to save the world from itself, you’d better have saved yourself first.

Walking the path of mastery isn’t for the timid. Not if they want to stay timid. For every flat, even stretch of smooth sailing, there are periods of rocky, uphill climbs. Parts where you fall. Times when you crawl. And the whole time, you’re being given a gift — the one you asked for. To be made new. To be formed by life so that you can shape your life.

I’ve got a lot of affection for that wide-eyed gal I was. I love her to pieces. She was so full of illusion and romance, strutting along with a swing in her step and a chip on her shoulder. A saunter and a smile and the godawful hubris to think that she knew so darn much about so darn much.

Without her, I wouldn’t be standing here, right where I am now. And I love now. I love the possibilities I see from this vantage point, which that girl could hardly have dreamed of. I love that instead of thinking I know so much about so much, I realize how little I do know. That I can accept that it isn’t always necessary to know.

Looking back helped me embrace my now, which in turn, will make my future a whole lot brighter. Funny that it seems to have to work that way.

That’s where I’ve been lately – in the trenches, digging, digging, digging. So much of what I’ve been up to lately isn’t exactly “blogworthy.” I’ve been doing a lot of writing in my journal – a sign for me that what I’m dealing with and muddling through isn’t ready for public consumption, or is about as clear as mud to me and even harder for someone not inside my head and heart to figure out.

I continue to wade through the piles and piles of books in our apartment, assessing, logging, discarding. I am trying to return our living space to pre-Hoarders-esque status. It’s slow going, and there have been days when I haven’t felt up to doing battle with this self-imposed behemoth. The past few days, I’ve been able to “keep my eye on the prize” and keep thinking about what it will be like when it’s finally finished, and I’m grown up enough to be able to admit that the times when I stall out are really because I don’t want to have to make the decision to part with some of it. That’s not a good time to get going, anyhow. I need to be in a clutter-clearing mood, or I won’t purge enough of it to matter. I’ve realized that even under the most optimistic of circumstances, I’ll still need to add at least two more tall bookshelves – and even then, that means getting rid of half of my books.

My new obsession with art has caused clutter, too. My dad brought over this awesome dresser from the 1800’s that he had as he was growing up. My parents willingly went through its contents (some of which had been in there since before they were married) in order to give me somewhere to go with all of it – not a small undertaking. It’s been helpful to know that I’ll have somewhere to go with some of this stuff.

I’ve been making lists and planning how I’m going to attack each area of clutter and disorganization in our apartment…in our lives. Getting it all down on paper helps me see the way through it, and makes the task seem manageable. First, the books. Then, the art stuff. Then the hall closet (eek). Then the bedroom closet. I want to live lighter, and move lighter. For now, the only one pleased with this arrangement has been the cat – because it gives her plenty of places to hide out and ponder all the mysteries that cats ponder.

All of that is just the physical disorganization of my life – and the home is the outward representation of what we feel inside. I’ve been giving serious thought to actually doing that exercise that we’ve all gotten email upon email about using the mason jar, the ping pong balls, the pebbles, the sand. I know that my tendency is to go all out in one direction, abandoning or letting slide the things in so many others. There’s something to be said for that kind of passionate pursuit of what’s on your plate, but it’s also out of balance.

So, the task before me is to create balance from the chaos I’ve created or allowed to grow unchecked. When I look at it all in one huge piece, it does feel kind of impossible. Then I sit down with pen and paper and write my way through it, list it out, create the feeling of the possible. I’m not sure why, but spring has never been my season to clean house – either physically or metaphorically (probably because I’m too busy sneezing my head off). It’s always been the fall. Maybe it’s because having grown up here in the Midwest, I have a keen sense of the fact that in a few short weeks, I’ll be mostly confined to the place where I nest, and I want that nest to feel welcoming.

I tend not to write a lot of posts about the stuff I’m actually doing. Not directly, anyway. I tend to write posts about how I’m feeling. And as I sat here in front of the blank screen this morning, I realized that at this moment, life has been more about doing than feeling lately and that’s good and appropriate. It means I’m coming out of the funk that moved in this summer, and getting on with things.

This summer has been about reassessment, about growing into things, about taking out and looking at the pile of emotions that amassed while I wasn’t looking. And what have I been doing? Cleaning house – both physically and emotionally.

I have undergone a whirlwind of transformation in the past two-plus years, but what I realized this summer as I was taking a look at all that’s happened and the way I feel about it, that transformation reaches further back. And in order for me to look at and appreciate the scope of what I’ve done, and chosen, and been through, I have to look back at least five years. That’s when the whirlwind kicked up, and the life that I’d laid so carefully before me was swept away in the gale.

And all this time, I’ve just been grateful that the winds of change swept through my life and helped me birth a life and a self that was far more in alignment with what I wanted. I never looked back and just felt the grief that came with the letting go of what I had thought I had wanted.

And this summer, all the feelings associated with that loss and that grief and the subsequent transformation came hurtling to the forefront, insistent. So that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing – dealing with grief over all the things I’ve lost or given away. It came as a kind of surprise to me, actually – I had thought that I’d dealt with all of this in the moment and in the immediate aftermath. And I did, but not in the way I’m dealing with it now.

In the immediate aftermath, I felt the sorrow and the grief as painfully as an open wound, and I processed it that way, with rawness and the hesitancy of someone first inspecting new stitches. And I kept moving, kept growing, kept changing, kept doing.

That initial emotional processing of all that happened to me and because of me did not go deep enough, though. What I realized this summer is that in order for me to go through all those feelings the rest of the way and clean house emotionally, I had to be able to say goodbye to all the ways that I’ve defined myself because of the wounds I’ve borne and hung onto. In order for me to take this down to the next layer, where it becomes more soft remembrance than harsh grief, I need to release some identities that I’ve hung onto.

When it all happened and was fresh and new, my grief was primal and raging and raw, and I allowed myself to feel that, briefly, way back when. Then, I got up and got on with my life, because life was insistent, and because at that time, I really did think I was over it.

This summer has been about revisiting, remembering, and reassessing. About going through and feeling all the feelings that I did not let myself have between then and now – and realizing that if I’d been ready to deal with this before, I would have, but I wasn’t – I was ready now, and so now is the perfect time to go through this layer. I feel lighter, and I’m grateful to know that maybe this won’t be the last time this surfaces for me, but having been to this dog and pony show a few times now, I know it gets easier each and every time.

After reassessment comes a new outlook, a new plan – all done with more clarity (hopefully). Having sloughed off another layer of my own story, I’m ready to write a new chapter. That’s what I’m doing this week, and I’m excited.

A room without books is like a body without a soul. (Cicero)

I am a bookaholic. There should be support groups and 12-step meetings for people like me. I’ve always taken Cicero’s adage to heart – the result being, that there is no room in our apartment that doesn’t have at least one book in it.

When we moved in, I did what I always tend to do: get them on the shelves, without really worrying about what goes where. This past week, the apartment has felt small (it’s not), and confining. I’ve been going out onto the roof to breathe and feel space around me.

I didn’t want to feel driven out of the apartment – it’s supposed to be our sanctuary from the outside world, not something that drives us out into the outside world.

I decided that some ‘restructuring’ was in order – and I started with the books. I have never actually gone through my entire book collection – I didn’t want anyone to point out that I had three copies of a title or that some of them looked fit for the trash heap. I didn’t want to have to part with a single, solitary volume. I can tell you (pretty much) where I got each one, and why I bought it. I can tell you which ones were gifts and from who. I can tell you where I was when I read most of them, and what I first thought as I turned those pages or closed the covers at the end.

So, on Saturday night (notice that it is Wednesday already), at about a quarter to midnight, I got up off the couch and started denuding our bookshelves and piling them in the front room. I started categorizing, and dividing. I took a moment with each one, rubbing my hand over the cover or opening to a page and reading a sentence or two.

I wasn’t really intending to do this on the sneak, but I also didn’t announce my intention, and this is why: at some point, Jeremy became cognizant of what I was doing (he’d been wearing his headphones and working on his computer), and with a look of dismay said, “Um…babe…whatcha doin’?” I said, “Do you really want to know?” and he just shook his head and affixed his earmuffs back over his ears. He hates clutter and disarray – well, in this case, I needed to make a mess in order to clean one up (seems to be the way it always goes, doesn’t it?), and it was just better if he didn’t watch (go to your happy place Jeremy).

The piles of books in the picture amount to about one quarter of my entire “library.” I was still pulling books off shelves when I took it, and was only about halfway done with what’s in our apartment. The others are still at my parents’ house, languishing.

And that is what drove me off the couch at nearly midnight – the fact that I am tired of not knowing what I do or don’t have, that I’m tired of having things scattered to hell and gone in storage and whatnot. I want to surround myself with the things I treasure and shed the rest. I want there to be some kind of purpose behind the way that my books are displayed. I want, for perhaps the first time ever, to be able to look around and know what I’ve got, and where it is, and to be surrounded by them the way I’ve always wanted to be.

This may sound a bit psycho, but it’s been a little emotional for me – giving away a book is hard for me. In fact, if a friend would ask to borrow one, I’d tell them I wasn’t quite through with it, and the next time I saw them, I’d have purchased a copy to give them instead of loaning them a treasure that they might never return. Yeah, I know how sick that is.

When I was ten or twelve, my mom bought me a bookmark with that quote from Cicero on it. Even at that age, I got it. Now, I want to live it – differently. If a room without books is a body without soul, then a room with books is a room with soul – and for the first time in my life, I am starting to think about what kind of soul I want my rooms to have. For the first time in my life, I am feeling okay with shedding what I’ve outgrown or moved past. I feel okay with shedding the multiple copies of things. I feel okay with passing these treasures onto others.

Because if I can’t let go of what no longer fits, there is no room to gather in what does.

When we moved, I purged a LOT of things, and it felt good. I felt less burdened. I never made it to the books, because I didn’t want to face that part of it yet. And now, the books feel like the beginning. Once I’m through with them, I’ll sweep through the rest of the house again, letting go of all the things that I’ve hung onto, afraid to let them go.

And when I’m done, I’ll sit in the middle of our rooms, and enjoy the soul that fills them.

My niece Abby and me, July 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Once upon a time, I was a high school English teacher, and in that life, there was something that I sought out eagerly each day, attempted to create, and leapt upon like a tigress when it appeared – the teachable moment. That happy circumstance when I had attention, interest, engagement, and most importantly, opportunity.

The funny thing is, that when you’re a teacher down to your bones, from the moment of your birth, the way that I am, finding the teachable moment is actually a kind of sixth sense – one that (to the dismay, and eye-rolls, of many of my associates), I can identify and take advantage of no matter the circumstance. I kind of can’t help it – I see the perfect moment to provide illumination, and I take it. I’m a teacher – and I can no more let the opportunity pass by, than I could stop being who I am.

Today I went to my folks’ house to do laundry and hang out with my three-year-old niece, Abby. She’s both the best and most important ‘student’ I’ve ever had, and the best and most important ‘teacher’ I’ve ever had.

We had a great time today – she loves her Auntie, and we have all sorts of adventures together when I’m there. She has an incredibly rich inner world, which she’s pleased as punch to draw me (and anyone else who’s handy) into.

Today, we had one of those unexpected teachable moments. I was in the laundry room folding a load, and she grabbed what she calls her ‘Jesus book’ – a children’s book of Bible stories – and her duckie, and planted herself next to the washer. I sank down onto the floor next to her, and asked her if she’d like me to tell her the stories in her book.

With the dryer humming in the background, and the washer swishing away behind us, we went through the entire book – a rare thing with that three-year-old attention span. I didn’t read what was on the pages, but told her the stories from memory. I pointed out all the major players, and gave her the gist of each tale in a few sentences.

The last story in the book was the one about Jesus and the little children – the one where the man tries to shag off the kids who’ve gathered around Jesus, and Jesus stops him and tells him to let the children stay. Abby was really tuned in, and I could just feel all of the tumblers working in her quick little mind.

She’s had a kind of rough time of things for being only three – nothing horrid, but not a whole lot of stability. I told her that she could talk to Jesus anytime she wanted to, and He would always listen to her, always. I asked her if she wanted me to show her how – she nodded and then got to her feet to stand in front of me. I held my hands in prayer in front of my heart, and I started, “Dear Jesus, I had a hard time today…” She mirrored my every movement, repeated each word, on her own.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19: 14)

I am her godmother. Once upon a time, when my sister was pregnant, she debated whether, with my unconventional spirituality, I would be a suitable godmother for her child. That was like a dagger in my heart – and I’ve had a hard time healing it. No matter my own personal spirituality, I told her, that God-forbid, if something happened to her, I would do everything in my power to do all that I thought she would have done, and more.

So, I became Abby’s godmother – a role I take seriously, despite my distance from the faith I was raised with. No matter how far away I get from Catholicism, it’s never gone – it’s just become a part of the broad and deep pool of spiritual knowing and experience I’ve built for myself. Every child needs spiritual teachers, no matter what tradition.

Today, I taught my niece to pray. I told her that she did have someone to take all her troubles to – that when she has a hard day, and things feel crummy, she had someone to talk to in every moment. Someone who, though they may not answer back, would hear everything that she told them. She seemed to really take it in. She paused. She was quiet and thoughtful.

Today, I was more grateful for my innate teacher habits than I’ve ever been – today, I had a golden moment with my niece, my goddaughter. Today, I was able to act as her spiritual teacher, the role I was given when she was born, and one I cherish the opportunity to fulfill.

It was especially poignant, because they will be moving in a few weeks, and I know she’s not terribly pleased about it. It will be her third move in as many years. I wanted her to have somewhere to go with all that she will feel about it.

I totally realize that she’s three, and that there’s a whole lot more to prayer than what I was able to tell her today, but this was an important moment. It was the first of many to come.

Dear Makenna,

I know that you said that you hate this picture of yourself. But you are eight.

I will keep it for you, so that when you are sixteen, I can give it to you to remind you that you were once totally free and did not care what other people thought.

When you are twenty-five, let it remind you that there is more to life than getting your life in order – that once, you only cared about which garden path’s hiding places looked most appealing.

When you are thirty-five, look at it, and remember, that once you knew exactly who you were without having to question everything. That once, you knew how to play, effortlessly.

When you are forty-five, look at it and see how you used to be able to cross dimensions so easily – make-believe, reality, make-believe – and that you knew there was a time and a place for each of them.

When you are sixty-five, you will look at this picture, and your heart will sing, because you will have realized that this little nymph still lives somewhere inside of you, and that when the house is quiet and the television is turned off, you can almost feel what it was like to wear pigtails and flowers and run into the sun.

When you are old, and your body has started to betray you, and the feeling of running has become more of a dream than something remembered, look at this picture and be reminded that you came here to live out loud, to dream in real time. That once, you gathered in a garden and played, that you wore a fairy’s regalia, not knowing the queen you were then, or that you would become.

I will keep it for you, since you can’t know how important it really is. I will keep it for me, too, to remind me that some things in life only become holy relics with time, and change, and distance.

I will keep it for you, and when the time is right, I will hand it to you and watch memory, and knowing, wash over your face.

Love,

Carolyn

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

My path has been winding lately, with bends and switchbacks that leave me unable to see the coming terrain. It’s been uphill, and I’m scampering, fighting to keep the progress I’ve made. The pock-marked dirt is littered with rocks that poke through the soles of my shoes. Uncomfortable. I want to get past this part of things, and there’s a part of me that wants to rush through this, and just get it done. There’s another part of me that knows that I need to sink into the discomfort, and BE IN IT.

Every single one of my relationships has been undergoing shift and change – and I know it’s for the best. I know that following this time in my life, I will have found my tribe. I know that I will feel surrounded by people who ‘get’ me and appreciate who I am and what I have to offer – and what they have to offer me. I feel like I have no one to fly to in the night, when I am all alone, and the pressure of everything that I hold up is crushing me to death.

I am seeing everyone around me with new eyes – I misplaced the rose colored glasses that held them all in soft reflection. I see all of their hard edges, all of their faults, all of the places where they take and do not give back. And in seeing it, and taking it in, I cannot return to the time when I chose not to know this about them.

I am making decisions – can I continue the relationships, now that I know what I know, and see what I see? And moreover, do I want to?? Implementing change starts with defining what you DO NOT WANT, so I am doing that. I have a mental list forming, a collection of behaviors that I do not want to put up with anymore. I am trying to be careful not to toss out the baby with the bathwater – a fresh start with something doesn’t require you to throw out all that has come before. It requires you to step forward onto the pebbly path with care and certainty, bearing with you the resolve born out of your growing pains and your fumbles.

I acknowledge that I am not perfect. I admit that there are things about me that become obnoxious, or require understanding, patience, or forbearance. I acknowledge that I tend to hold people to high expectations – I have faith in people, I see their potential, I see the ideal of them. It’s always a little tough when they tumble off the pedestal and turn into the real person that they were all along.

I am actively engaging in the process of excavating my own bullshit and stories to try to figure out the places where I fail others and myself. I am seeking the ways that I could be a better friend, partner, and compatriot. I am trudging along that rock-strewn path because I said to the Universe, “I want to walk the path of mastery,” and that means that you need to get intimate with your inner workings, and pull the wool from your eyes – about yourself and about what it means to be human. So, I’m doing the work – I asked for the work. It’s borne fruit – both bitter and sweet.

I know that I teach people how to treat me – so, I’ve decided to be a better teacher. I’ve identified some of the things that are huge, glowing, red button issues for me. And, I’ve come to realize that just because someone wants a relationship with me, it doesn’t mean I am obligated to return the sentiment – I can be compassionate, and be discerning. They are not mutually exclusive.

For the past few months, I have been trying to get to a place where I could feel good about the evolving nature of my relationships – and I think that I’ve gotten there, but not by the road I thought I’d take. I thought that I would get to a place where I would stop feeling bad for wanting to “prune my friend garden.” That’s not what happened – I got okay with feeling crappy about it, and still being able to step forward and do it anyway – because that was what was good for me. I got to a place where I cared less about ‘what kind of person it made me’ to want to walk away from others – and I got to a place where I realized that self interest is not selfishness, although this society would have me believe otherwise.

So, what follows is partly a wish list for friendship, and partly a manifesto on what it means to be a crummy friend (I do take into account bad days, and humanness – I know that no one can maintain all of this all of the time – it’s a majority thing: can they do this the majority of the time?):

  • Do what you say you will do! This is the hugest, glowingest, reddest button issue for me. Talk is cheap – if your actions and your way of walking in the world doesn’t match what you say and how you advertise yourself, I am not interested.
  • I am not a free counselor. I am not a sage on the hill, to be sought out to heal your drama, and then to be left alone in the cave again when you don’t need me to straighten out all your crooked thinking.
  • I am not a priest – stop coming to me for absolution. I cannot give it. Some things are inexcusable. Some things are wrong, no matter which brush you paint it with.
  • I am not a garbage receptacle – stop bringing me all of your emotional effluvia and leaving it in my lap. It doesn’t make me feel kindly towards you. Deal with your own stuff. Sit in your own discomfort, and leave me to sit in mine.
  • I am not a fool – stop announcing things about yourself in the effort to get people to not call you on your obnoxiousness. Pulling the curtain off of it doesn’t make it more acceptable – it just exposes it in the effort to appear as though you’re actually dealing with it (I can actually see what you’re trying to do here, and if I can, so can everyone else).
  • I am not an indentured servant – stop mistaking my natural helpfulness. I owe you nothing. I do things for others out of a heart-centered desire to be of help – when this is taken for granted, I take it back.
  • I do not exist in a vacuum – stop neglecting the relationship, and believing that it will exist there, as you left it. Relationships cannot be sealed neatly into time capsules. If you think your neglect of me makes you a bad friend, it does.
  • I am not dull-witted – stop peeing on my leg and telling me that it’s raining. I am a frigging writer. I am intimate with stories – the ones I tell myself, the ones I tell others, and the ones I try to live out. The difference? I know, or try to figure out, which of my stories serve the highest good, and which ones I just tell myself to decrease my own discomfort. Why are you telling them?
  • I am not blind, deaf, or dumb – I see you, no matter what you choose to clothe yourself with. I hear you – what you do say, and what you don’t. Circle-speak, double-speak, and non-speak – I am really good at hearing it when you say a bunch of stuff that really doesn’t say anything at all.

I love wholeheartedly. I reach out to others. My natural instinct is to comfort. I am faithful, and I have faith in people. I am giving. I am trusting. I want to live a vibrant life. I want to live each day of my life as deeply as I can. I take chances – on people, in life.

Once I’ve held someone in my heart – no matter how we part ways – I tend to hold them there forever. I am an elephant: I never forget – but as time passes, no matter the indiscretion, I let it get fuzzy so that I can wish you well on your journey.

One of my dear, dear, heart-friends said something the other day that twanged my heart’s deepest corners: “where are all the people who were supposed to love me forever?” I second that. Where are you? I threw my hat in the ring, I showed up, ready to play – where are all of you?

I want to be able to love the distance between us. I want to be able to look at you whole and unbroken, cast upon the skies that span our outstretched hands.

When I was in the second grade, my best friend was Paul W. We hung out each and every day. We talked – we didn’t play on the playground: Paul, Holly, and I would take her boombox (which dates me right there) out into the field beyond the jungle gym and the swings and the running children and sit there and listen to music and talk. We were eight. I was an odd child – and Paul was a bit odd with me: we were old inside young bodies. The next year, he and his family moved to Indiana. I was crushed, devastated – I bought him some trinkets to remember me by, and I cried every night. It was horrid.

After that, I had a series of girl friends, but none of them matched that relationship. On into high school, I formed friendships within a group of girls that lasted into my mid-twenties. They had jobs and babies: I was in college. At get togethers, they’d sit around the table man-bashing while their men stood in the garage drinking beer and having man talk. I played with the kids – I found the conversation more stimulating. As time wore on, I just didn’t fit there anymore. When I got divorced, inexplicably, all those friendships came to a screeching halt – and I suppose I should have mourned them. In a way, I did – a part of me mourned the fact that I took a different path, and had to wave goodbye to the companions I’d had for such a long time on my journey. I think of them and our times together fondly. I wonder how they are. I hope that they’re doing well.

Preceding my divorce (from my ex-husband and soon-to-be ex-friends), I started forming friendships with girls in my college classes – some were fleeting meetings of the mind and heart, others sank deeper roots and continue to grow.

In the past two years, even those relationships have shifted and changed. I’ve discontinued association with wide swaths of people, and I’ve welcomed newer friends into my life and heart.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – all these shifts and changes, all these goodbyes and welcomes. Today, I bid adieu to a friend who’s going off and away on a grand adventure – I said goodbye with joy for her new horizons, and a small dollop of the bittersweet, because she’s leaving. Later, I gathered with newer (and wonderful friends who I’ve been blessed to have come into my life), and we got to talking about this. One of them called it “pruning the friend garden,” and said that it’s sometimes necessary. I’ve talked to Dani about this, too – and she says that really, “the struggle is that there’s no struggle [in letting them go], and that this makes us wonder what kind of people we are to let go so easily.” They’re both right (totally unsurprised by that).

I’m grateful for all the companions that life and fate has seen fit to bring my way, to all those who walked down any stretch of my path with me. I find myself deeply grateful for the newest group who’ve entered my life – my relationships with them remind me of my friendship with Paul. That I can just sit there and be. That we can say so much without saying a lot. That I can speak pretty freely, and they get it. That they ask me how I am, and actually want to know (instead of asking to ask, and then hurrying to what’s going on for them … and staying with that for the duration).

I wonder about Paul. Is he married now? Does he have kids? If we lay side by side in a field and gazed at the sky, would we have the communion that we once did? I’m sentimental tonight, and while letting go of things that no longer fit feels good, there’s a little bit of grief sneaking in there, too.

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)