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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.
When I was at Mount Mary College studying and learning and growing and climbing Mount Everest-like peaks of educational heights, I met some truly interesting and influential people. I’ve always wanted to write a series of blogs honoring them, and the gifts that they gave me. I will, someday.
Today, though, I started thinking about one particular gal who I met and became friends with on that leg of the journey. I met Jen (her name’s common enough, so I’m not changing it – names have power & I prefer to use real ones whenever possible…) in one of our mutual English classes. We had a LOT in common, and hit it off fast and famously.
Speedy chats before and after class quickly segued into the two of us perched into the wee hours on the wooden Adirondack chairs, weathered and worn smooth with age and use, tucked beneath the sheltering eaves of a hidden nook near the back of the college.
We laughed until our faces hurt and our sides ached. We mused and pondered and what-if-ed our lives. We solved the world’s problems, and railed against its injustices.
We formed a sisterhood. In the long shadow of an edifice built for permanency, we transformed for flight. The chill of fall gave way to winter’s bite, and winter relaxed its iron fist and softened into the sultriness of spring. We sat, young and strong and foolhardy, full of our own beauty and importance and invulnerability, and dreamt and talked and worried and ranted.
And Jen graduated, and fell into doing what new graduates do – wonder if they’ve made the right choices, look for gainful employ, and rediscover reading for pleasure. And I continued to run up that hill and take classes and bury my nose in books, while the ashes of my failing marriage swirled around me. And days bled into weeks and weeks into months, and I missed the sister I’d discovered.
One day, I went out to the mailbox, and there, hidden amongst the dross of bills and residential mailers was a sparkling gem – a letter from Jen. She wrote to tell me that she was leaving, shaking the dust from her boots and the Wisconsin chill from her bones, to go to film school in California. Because of me, because of what I’d said to her.
I sat at my kitchen table, the epicenter of my volatile life, and held that note before me for a long time – an unlooked for beam of light in an otherwise gray day. And I thought, “But, what did I say?”
To this day, I have no idea what it was that I said in the long, continuing conversation of that friendship that lit a fire in her belly and whetted both her longing and resolve for fulfillment. I remember wishing that day, that someone would say something like that to me – something that would eat at my complacency and vault me into action. Eventually, many someones did – eventually, I was able to tell myself the right things in the right moments, too, spurring me to action.
The power of that experience stayed with me. I remain in awe of it – that something I didn’t even clearly remember saying could burrow into another person’s mind, effecting changes I could never have foreseen.
And it makes me wonder how many intrepid souls set out to sea, or crossed mountain ranges, or slayed dragons – literally or figuratively – because someone, somewhere, said something to them. Something that captured their imagination, something that seized them, that caught hold of them and wouldn’t shake loose.
And it made me realize how powerfully we affect one another without ever being aware of it. It made me realize the power of the ideas we share, the power of longing and passion to infect the human heart with desire.
I wonder about her now and again, whether she went on to glory in California, or disaster. I wonder if she’d recognize me now – a phoenix risen many times over from the ashes of the life I light ablaze and burn to cinders around me.
And I’m grateful to her – because while something I said sent her haring off in search of her destiny – something she said taught me a lesson: We are each more important than we can ever know, and that while our legacies are often unseen, intangible, and unheralded, they change the landscape, raze mountains, and alter the course of rivers – with only a word spoken gently into the ear ripe to hear it.
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.
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
Separation, W. S. Merwin
I am watching someone go through a hard time. Except, I have always been watching this someone go through a hard time. She is the best architect of her own downfall, time and again. What do I do with that, when I love her?
I watch, and I stand back, and when advice rushes up my throat and bites at the back of my teeth, begging for expulsion, I swallow it bitterly down again. Because advice does not help. Guidance does not heal. Suggestions do not bridge the crevasse opening at our feet.
So I stay silent, and I hear her story. Again, and again, and again. The facts of the story change, and the faces in it come and go, shift, depart, return. But the story? That stays the same.
And I am finally coming to a place where I can honor the fact that it is her story. That if I can only love her, and let her have her story, I will find peace with all of it.
I am finally coming to a place where I can accept that my advice is really like unasked-for editing of a story that she is comfortable living. I need to let her have her mixed metaphors and incorrect tenses, because this is her story and she its author.
I am finally coming to a place where I can recognize and act on the knowledge that the choice to read that story with her is mine. I do not have to pick up the phone and hear the next chapter and verse of a plot which never thickens, and characters who behave in ways I predicted on page two. I can let the phone go unanswered, and preserve my peace when it suits me.
I do not have to allow her thread to be the color I paint my emotions with, my reactions with, my mindset with. Her presence, for so long, has dictated climate, and I finally know how to move out of that weather pattern kindly and compassionately.
I am finally able to see the thread stringing boldly through her own story, and though I don’t care for the color or the pattern she’s choosing, I can just let it be hers. I pick up my own needle, choose my own thread and color my days in way that I prefer.
My mistake was always in believing that we wanted the same color thread. My mistake was in believing that it was natural that she would want to sew me into her heart and her life in the way that I delighted to sew her into mine. My mistake was in thinking that we wanted the same story, that we longed for the same thread to color our lives, that we looked out upon the world and saw the same things.
We don’t, and we won’t. And I am finally able to cut the thread that bound me up so tightly in what she wove, and be at peace with it. I can finally know that I can love the beauty of the one who weaves, even if what she’s weaving is discordant with what I choose to create.
And when, inevitably, I find myself snagged up and tangled up in the old habit of matching my stitching to hers, I am going to pull out this blog and read it again and remind myself of what I know is true.
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.
You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be. (Chuck Palahniuk)
As I write this, a family stands in a hospital waiting room, forced to make a decision — the hardest decision. As I write this, a young man who I knew lies in a hospital bed, his chest moving up and down only because of the air forced into his body by machinery. His heart beats because of that same machinery.
Last night, while Jeremy and I enjoyed a quiet dinner, a young man stood in his kitchen, faced his wife, and handed her a note. Apologizing. And then he put a nail gun to his head, and shot himself with it.
Today, they will unplug the machines which breathed for him, which beat his heart for him. Today, he will die by his own hand. His mother and father, his siblings, his nieces and nephews, his wife, will suffer and grieve. His children will suffer and grieve.
The only one whose suffering has ended (presumably — since I cannot know what follows this life), is him. For the rest, a new suffering has just begun.
This young man was troubled. He had a difficult childhood. The people who should have loved him and cared for him either could not or did not know how. He suffered abuse. He suffered. He went without — food, education, health care, love.
He carried this into the rest of his life. He took drugs — bad ones, and a lot of them. I saw him powder narcotic pain medication and snort it up his nose. He drank. He had affairs, recklessly and with the kind of abandon that tells you he’s using them as another way to drown all that hurts him.
He had trouble with the law. And then some more. He did time. He got out, and picked up where he left off. He chased oblivion with the determination of one who’s bent on getting there, come what may.
He fathered a son with one woman. He was not a good father to this son. He was not a good partner to the mother. He left them, and sired a daughter with another woman. Before her pregnancy even started to show, this woman left him, recognizing finally, the danger inherent in the relationship. He found another woman, one who already had three children. They married. And then yesterday, he put a nail gun to his head and killed himself in front of her.
I don’t know how to feel about this. Part of me feels relief. Part of me feels sorrow. Part of me pity, part of me compassion. Part of me condemnation, part of me understanding.
I suppose that my feelings about this should be simple, but they’re not. The daughter he never met, and the woman who left him before her pregnancy even started to show? I know them and love them both deeply — they have permanent reserve on some of the most tender parts of my heart.
There was always a shred of hope that one day, he might see what his choices were doing — to him, to everyone around him. Now that shred of hope is gone, and all that remains for the rest of us is the walking forward.
Even before he knew what it was that he attempted to do, he was working to kill himself, in bits and pieces. Even as a child not yet in middle school. He had a nice smile, warm chocolate brown eyes and rich dark hair. And a hole inside him that no amount of pills, or booze, or sex, or danger could ever quite fill.
And someday, I will sit with the woman and the girl. I will try to explain why this man, who should have been a father to her, was not. Where he went. Why he chose what he chose. Why she will never have the chance to know this part of her ancestry, this part of her beginnings. I will try to help explain the unexplainable.
All of that is yet before me, before them. Today, all I can do is pray. That he feels the peace that eluded him his entire life, at last. That he is at rest. That he is finally cradled by someone who feels nothing but unconditional love for him. That he can finally lay down his burdened heart, and know that no matter what has happened to him or because of him, he is beautiful and precious and always was.
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.
Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” (President George W. Bush, September 11, 2001)
Today marks the ninth anniversary of the attacks on September 11th. Growing up, I had listened with a kind of awe and wonder to the stories of my parents and grandparents when they recounted where they were when they’d heard that JFK had been shot. I couldn’t imagine an event that would embed itself so indelibly in my memory that way. Now, my generation knows what that feels like, to know with utter clarity where you were and what you were doing the moment you heard about what was happening the morning of September 11, 2001.
I was at home, a young college student sleeping in on a morning when I only had afternoon classes. I was relishing the empty and quiet house. I was lounging around in my favorite pajamas – a humongous slate blue Levis shirt that belonged to my younger (but much bigger) brother until I appropriated it for my own use, and a pair of Disney Grumpy Dwarf flannel pajama pants that I’d worn so many times that they were as soft as a kiss. My comfort clothes. I’d need them that morning.
My mother called me from work, confused and upset. She and my sister both worked for the same company, and they were having a hard time getting information about what was happening. They asked me to go turn on the television. I did.
I remember sitting there a moment. My hand covering my mouth, as though by doing that, I could just keep it from being real. Confusion, disbelief. How could this be happening? Was it even real? What a horrible, horrible accident. And then the second plane hit. I called my mom to update her, and she spread the news through their office.
The awful truth sinking in further and further as the authorities got a clearer picture of what was really going on. Terrorists. Attacks. On purpose. Killing on purpose. I sat there, on our couch in our living room. Safe – but feeling my world tilt off of its axis for the first time in my young life.
I called my grandfather – he was my moral compass. Somewhere, I felt that if anyone could put this into perspective for me, he could. He could make sense of it for me. Explain it in a way that I could understand. Tell me why. Make it safe again.
For the first time in my life, my grandfather – a member of the Greatest Generation, a self made man, a seaman in World War II, a spiritual man devoted to God – failed to do what he had done for me so many times before. He could not make it right. He could not make sense of it. He himself was reeling, the same as I, and after telling me that I would be okay, asked if he could call me back later. I said ‘okay,’ and hung up, more bereft than before.
I continued to watch the perpetual newscasts, finding out about things as they were happening and relaying the information to my mom.
And then, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t breathe. I will forever remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the moment that they announced that in order to escape the climbing flames, people were jumping off the top of the towers. One, after another, after another. I remember sitting there, poised on the edge of the couch, each muscle tensed, one hand covering my mouth, covering my sobs, and the other over my heart as if by doing that, I could hold all that pain inside. And I watched them fall.
That was the moment when I first understood what horror meant. What it felt like. In a real way.
At that moment, I lost my innocence in a way that nothing before and nothing since have managed.
And that is why, as people harangue one another over the possible construction of a mosque blocks from Ground Zero, I sigh, and I take a deep breath. That is why when some preacher starts banging on about burning the Quran, I sigh, and I take a deep breath, and I close my eyes. And I pray. I pray for all the people who threw themselves to certain death to escape the worse fate of burning alive. I pray for all those who rebelled on Flight 93, sacrificing themselves so that others might live. I pray for all those men and women who entered the Twin Towers that day, hoping to help people get out, who never got out. I pray for all those who went to work or got on a plane that morning, expecting normalcy. I pray for all the families who will never hold their loved ones again.
I don’t care what the memorial looks like. I don’t care where or if they build a frigging mosque. I don’t care about some ignoramus who insists on riling people up so he can have his 15 minutes of fame over the prejudicial burning of a book. I don’t care about it.
I care about the fact that I watched people dying that day. No one can ever bring those people back. No memorial will ever change the fact that they are gone, and that their families have suffered. No one can ever change the fact that my innocence is gone, in its place a knowledge of horror and hatred that I’d never thought to have.
Please, don’t forget what a day of remembrance is meant to be about. Remembering. Honoring. Praying.
My grandfather died on December 28th, 2001. From September 11th to the day he died, he apologized to me each and every time he saw me, saying, “I should have come to you. I should have come and gotten you so that you didn’t have to be alone.” I told him that it was fine, that I was okay, each and every time he said it. What I couldn’t say then, but I could now is – “It’s okay Grandpa. What I wanted you to do was fix it. And what I know now is that no one could.”
All we can do is remember, pray, and look forward in hope.
To all the victims of the September 11th attacks, may you rest in peace and may the hearts of your families be eased and comforted, I pray.
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.
The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself. (Alan Alda)
Today, I had the opportunity to be a part of something grand and rare and fine – a group of women who came together to celebrate, explore, and rediscover their creative selves. A group of women who were unwilling to play small anymore. A group of women who were unwilling to make the artists within them play second fiddle to duty for one moment longer.
Today was the first meeting of HeART & Soul, a women’s art journaling group that Dani and Martina devised, at Three Sisters’ where I work. I loved watching everyone walk into the back room, art kits in hand – looks of excitement and trepidation on their faces. Art is not for the meek, people. And maybe, the trepidation was appropriate – for some of us, declaring ourselves ‘artist’ feels like stating that we’ve become something dangerous and sketchy (haha) and to be looked at askance. Because, honestly, society says so.
It is a brave thing to open a dialogue with your own beautifully messy soul – because when you open that door, you know that what comes through might not be ‘neat’ or ‘acceptable’ or ‘proper’ – and because you know that in order to do this thing right, to go all the way…you need to, well, go all the way – and that means you need to not care if it’s messy or imperfect or ‘unacceptable’ to anyone but you.
Today, these women were a part of a guerrilla art movement (and not like the surreptitious knitted coverings of trees or murals that appear overnight, which is its own thing) – guerrilla forces move among us, unnoticed. They look like you and me, but they’re agents in a revolution. Today, I had the chance to be a part of that revolution – of women awakening to their own innate creative power.
I do tend to think of things kind of militaristically – I’ve noticed that I tend to return to combat metaphors a lot in my blogs. I do see myself as warrior. I see each and every one of those women as warriors. Gentle ones, fighting the hardest battle they’ll ever fight against the most wily opponent they’ll ever face: themselves.
We are our own worst enemies. We are the ones who tell ourselves how wrong we are, how broken, how strange, how unacceptable. We are also the ones who have the supreme power to end it. To stop lying down and taking it. To place a flower in the barrel of the guns leveled at us by the inner critic. To scream at the top of our lungs, “ENOUGH!”
We are the only ones who have the power to claim our own beauty, our own majesty. We are the only ones who have the power to claim our own strength, our own imaginative prowess, our own unique vision. No one can give it to you. And no one can take that away, unless you let them. Today, thirteen women came in testament to their unwillingness to go to bed feeling as though a piece of them had gone missing, like a sock lost somewhere between the washing machine and the dryer. They arrived in testament to their unwillingness to move through another day with this part of themselves left unexplored.
It was a beautiful thing to be part of – I am grateful to have had the opportunity to act as witness. Any time someone stands up to an oppressor (even if that oppressor is within), there should be someone to bear witness, to honor them and their experience. Thank you everyone, for sharing yourselves today. Thank you for coming – thank you for choosing to explore the unmapped depths within you. I look forward to the next time when we stand together on the line, and face down our worst critics: ourselves.
There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. (Martha Graham)