Gifts

It was a friend’s birthday party, and she was one of the few who continued to extend branches of human kindness to me throughout the devastation of my divorce. And so, alone, I went to the party.  A year and a half prior I was at another party with all the same people.  But I had been married then.  This time, I was not.

Her greeting to me when I sheepishly (in retrospect COURAGEOUSLY) walked into the party alone was, “Oh my gosh!! I’m so glad you decided to come!!! This must be SO WEIRD for you to be the ONLY single person at this party!!!!  I invited a super hot single guy, he wears glasses and he’s so, so hot!  But he couldn’t make it! This just must be so WEIRD for you but I’m SO glad you came.  I’m gonna CALL him and see if he changes his mind and decides he can come!!!”

I can’t describe the humiliation of that moment.  How lower than dirt it made me feel.

But nonetheless I persisted.  I tend to do that.

I entered that party and made friends with strangers.  Couples who were simply kind.  Old friends who were happy to talk to me.  And then, she again approached me at the bar.

“So, tell me about the divorce!”

“No,” I said, “It’s your birthday.  I am not gonna talk to you about my divorce at your birthday party.”

“No, I really wanna hear!  I wanna know how it’s going I am so WORRIED about you!!”

“No, I really don’t wanna talk about it, the truth is that it’s ugly and I’m not doing well, and I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“But I’m here for you, and it’s important to me.”

And so I relented because, see, I didn’t wanna be rude.  I permitted someone to pressure me into speaking about private matters.  And I started telling her a little.  Not two moments later, another friend came up to us.  And my worried friend turned to the third party and said, “See?  See how I’m talking about my friend’s divorce at my birthday party? See what a good friend I am?”

I can’t describe the sorrow of that night, the pit in my stomach, how I left crying, and went home to bed alone.  I would like to say that what happened to me is unusual for recently separated or divorced women, but it simply isn’t.

Tonight a friend texted me and told me that none of her friends will talk to her since her recent divorce.  Knowing she was going into this, I prayed, quite literally, that she wouldn’t suffer the losses I did.  I prayed that her friends would be different, that they would stand by her and help her to feel less alone.

Through no fault of our own, divorced and separated women can become—pariahs.  We are feared.  Disrespected–publicly and privately.  Thrown under the bus, insulted, evaluated, gossiped about, while we grope with a level of devastation that is pretty hard to articulate.  While some of us become so depressed we literally don’t know if we will survive it, our friends pull away because they don’t know how to be there.  Or they feel they gave too much time to us and now they resent us.  Or we drag them down.  Or we want their men.  Or life is no longer in couples for us, and it is for them, and they don’t know what to do.  Or, they just….fade away, as friends do.

But. Some people stand by us.  And those precious and beloved folks that remain at the end–I’m smiling as I think of them– they are the gold.  They don’t see what we are, but WHO we are.  And we see who THEY are.  More than they can know.

In all this loss, I have narrowed my focus to all the people and things that bring me joy– and as a result I am finding joy in the littlest of places, in the smallest of things.  Every day I am surprised to find myself smiling at how much I am smiling.  Loss illuminates our gifts–so starkly and profoundly.  I don’t deny the loss, the sorrow, the desperation, it was always there.  But walking through all of that darkness, you sure notice when the sun rises.  And I find myself, despite it all, in a state of gratitude.

Friends who leave us, treat us badly, push us away and hurt us, actually help us.  They sever unhealthy and toxic ties, they show themselves as they truly are, and give us room to bring that which delights.  It’s a slow painful road but it’s such a gift.  We all fear such losses–of spouses, friends, family, but sometimes you have to let them go, and accept the gift that is handed to you.  What is left standing in the wake is simply beautiful.

Maybe, deep down, the FACT that I’m still standing is what is beautiful, and therefore everything I see has become so wonderful.  I’m still HERE.

Of course, my friend already possesses a wisdom that I had to learn the hard way.

“I’m viewing this as a second chance that most people don’t get.”

That was her last sentence to me tonight.  What a badass.

Funny how many people are infinitely more wise than I.  But I sure am glad to know them.

❤ ❤ ❤

 

 

 

 

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When I Grow Up

Tonight, my kids and I watched a Harry Potter movie.  I cried so hard when Dumbledore died.  It made me remember that 2 1/2 years ago, when I read the book aloud to my children, I also cried.  I couldn’t even read it out loud: I had to stop because I was crying too hard.

Tonight, as I tried to hide the tears again streaming down my face, I laughed, and my kids laughed: they circled me and hugged me.  The death of Dumbledore.  Why does it make me cry so much?  Simply stated, I cry over what he represents: the belief that there are real grown-ups in this world who stand up and fight for all that is good: grown-ups who have attained peace, wisdom and perspective, who have survived the fray and come out the other side with levity and love in their hearts.

Dumbledore has courage, and no real sense of self-preservation.  He has a firm and unshakeable belief in what is right and good.  He represents those who want to go out swinging because it no longer matters what happens to them as individuals, but what happens to those he leaves behind.

I have had the privilege of meeting many such people in my life.  In fact, every Wednesday, when I work at the hospital, I always meet such people.  I remember one patient a few weeks ago.  He was so, so very sick.  I went to help him put his socks on and I asked him before I did it, if I could.  “Let’s get these rules out of the way,” he said to me, short of breath and perspiring because of his pain.  “Don’t ask me.  Just tell me.  Don’t apologize.  Just do. I know you’re not trying to hurt me, you’re just doing your job.  So have courage.  And do it.”

He knew I was a new student.  And all of my elderly patients have treated me with the same compassion.  They advocate for me and teach me, while they are in pain and recovering.  One woman who had been diagnosed with cancer of the bowel, who had a colostomy and total hysterectomy, said to me, “Sweetie, never let anyone tell you that you can’t learn something new every day.”  She then told me that she had spent the last 5 years being treated at a pain clinic for her back, and that she needed to get home to care for her husband who was recently diagnosed with cancer.  She wasn’t worried about her.  She was worried about going home to care for her husband.  And she was giving me life lessons while she was at it.  She was a grown-up.

We all have a warrior buried in our heart, who will stand up strong despite the fear.  Courage in the face of adversity, strength in the face of fear, the power of choice in moments of darkness–these are the things that turn us into adults.

Every single one of us has the right to learn, to grow, to change, and to stand by what we feel is right, until the day we leave this earth.  We always, always have a choice.  Dumbledore represents courage, faith and the power of choice.  He died to protect the innocence of a foolish child.  He paid the ultimate price to protect what he cherished.  Dumbledore is the grown-up I want to be, and the grown-up who makes me believe that grown-ups can exist.

From The Order of the Phoenix:

“There is a room in the Department of Mysteries,… that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that resides there. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all. That power took you to save Sirius tonight. That power saved you from possession by Voldemort, because he could not bear to reside in a body so full for the force he detests. In the end, it mattered not that you could close your mind. It was your heart that saved you.”

When I grow up I want to be the kind of grown-up that makes people believe in grown-ups.  I think that is why I cry so hard.  I want the good guys to win, and even in the face of death and loss, to go out swinging.  Because that’s how good guys never die.

Thank You

It was two years ago on September 26th that my world plunged into sudden darkness.  Well, truth be told, I was living in darkness already.  I knew the problems.  I confronted them head on.  I asked over and over.  I was denied the truth every time.  I suffered, doubted, wondered, and did my best to raise my children and do right by me, knowing full well that in the shadows lurked an ugly, undeniable truth.

In those days, I had this recurring plane crash dream.  At least once a month I would find myself, yet again, traveling in a low-flying airplane, riding 10-20 feet above sky scrapers, the wings tipping precariously left and right.  I would grab the armrests and cling to them with all my might and then my seat would drop from beneath me and I would be in a terrifying free-fall plunging toward certain death.  Often I would feel the plane tip upside-down.  I was on a ride, it was out of my control.  And there was nothing I could do.  I was powerless to stop the crash and before we hit, I always woke up.  Sweating, crying, shaking.

Since September 26th, 2015, I haven’t had the airplane dream.  Not even when I cried myself to sleep, curled in a tiny ball.  When I swallowed the bitter ugly pills of undiluted truth over and over and over.  When the truth felt it would break me right in half.  When my world fell apart, my universe split open and fault lines shifted.  I still never had the crash dream.

And here I am two years later.  And the landing hasn’t been a crash.  Bumpy, topsy turvy, but I landed.  In a new home.  Now I am in nursing school, learning to heal the wounds of others.  I am making new friends who see me not as a sob story, but as Sarah a friend and classmate.  I am watching my children thrive and play and laugh and make friends.  I have become the captain of my voyage once again.

And so to him, I say, thank you.  From the bottom of my heart.  Surviving this has been the most extraordinary voyage of my life.  I have learned what I can stand, how much I can take, how beauty can come from pain, and I have witnessed the power of choice.  When the ground fell away, my plane lifted into the sky.  The wings stabilized and the nightmares stopped.  We choose every single day.  Every day and in every moment, we choose what we are — who we are, and what we would like to become.

I have become intimately acquainted with my own power and strength.  I learned to love myself again.  I can’t seem to stop smiling these days, the smallest things bring me joy.  So with love in my heart and gratitude too, I will keep on keeping on, fucking up and learning, and loving in my own way.  What an extraordinary freedom.  It puts joy in my heart.

Bridging the Gap

My Facebook feed is filled with images of protestors who have rallied against our new President: who have rallied for women’s rights, gay rights, environmental protection, and every other platform that people fear will be threatened by the new administration.

I have mixed feelings about these protests for a variety of reasons.  But one thing is for certain.  Ours is a country that allows us all the freedom to voice our concerns and opinions.  There is a tremendous amount of fear in this country right now.  It’s palpable.  It is what has driven people out in droves–in the hundreds of thousands–to protest and ask that their voices be heard.

There is a part of my brain that says: just wait.  We don’t know anything yet.  I am not a protestor.  I am waiting, watching, hoping, listening.

The response from others is: yes but this is what he has stated in the campaign, this is the cabinet he’s forming, the writing is on the wall.  Everything he stands for, we don’t believe in so we will stand up and say so.

I have spent a great deal of time looking at fear, thinking about it, ditching it, embracing it, deciding that it is foolish….  So what is to be made of this fear that has created thousands of protestors?  Can fear create something constructive?  Is this constructive?  Or does it drive a wedge even deeper between the sides in this country?  Maybe both?

But one thing I see here is that the voices of these protestors are a comfort to each other.  And they are just that–voices.  They are reaching across the nation, holding each other close, and saying, “don’t be afraid.  We are here too.  We are all here.  You are not alone.”  And that’s a beautiful thing.  What can we do in the darkness but try to shed some light? For most of us, besides voting, there is nothing else to be done.

So yes, perhaps in this case fear has created something beautiful.  Perhaps fear has been the thing to help squash itself.  Fear created all those voices gathering together to say: Don’t be afraid, and you are not alone.

And that’s a lovely thought to me.

 

 

2017

This chilly morning, we welcome 2017.

What is 2017 really?  Here in Mars, PA it’s a mild morning, begun with a whimpering 12 year old Newfoundland.  He keeps crying, and I can’t figure out what he needs.  I have given him water, he’s been outside, every time I come out and offer to take him outside he stops whimpering and stares at me.  Then I sit down to write and he whimpers again.

There are lavender streaks across the sky, backlighting the black outline of trees behind my house.  One child is stirring, two are sleeping.

I ask myself what I most want from 2017.  The answer to that must be based on what happened in 2016: the view I find as I look out my current window–figuratively and literally.  This view determines what I hope to see one year from now.  But what is my state of mind as I look out?  Peaceful?  Angry?  Determined?  Grateful?  All of the above?  How might this same view look to me when I wake up tomorrow?  The same exact view might look drastically different if my mood changes to hungry or sad or elated.

So much of what we resolve to do in the upcoming year is based off of what we think we failed to do, or didn’t do well enough in the previous one.  So our resolutions are nothing more than mirrors, really.  Or mirrors of how we mirror ourselves.

What is the truth of it, really?

Will our lives be better if we just this…..or …..that?

It would be nice to believe that to be true.

Throughout the past few years of my life I have made that error time, and time again.  If I this, then maybe that.

This type of thinking helps us believe it’s somehow under our control.  That perhaps the truth isn’t what it is–Maybe resolutions are our way of attempting to know the unknowable or control the uncontrollable.

Last year the “if I just….then….” thoughts were nothing more than fictions I told myself in an attempt to avoid the reality I wished wasn’t there.

Yearnings and wishes, hurts and heartbreaks, successes and failures, what are they really? Nothing more than snapshots of ourselves taking snapshots of ourselves.

So in 2017 here is my wish: clear sight, open ears, open heart.  Courage to see things as they are, courage in understanding that no amount of ifs or thens will change the unchangeable.

Life is what it is.

All we can do is our best. That is more than good enough.  Happy New Year.

A Shift

When I think about the past 12 months I immediately feel a dragging, nagging sense of loss.  I feel anger and helplessness, and for teensy seconds here and there, I feel like a victim.  I *know* my children were victims.  I know that no one asked any of us what we thought or how we felt about…any of this.

Things were taken from us–ruthlessly.  Viciously.  Selfishly.  Horribly.  We continue to be subjected to powerlessness every day.  We are all accommodating a life we never chose.  We have lost hours of our lives in the car– afternoons in the sun playing with friends, hours of drawing with chalk and playing at the park, hours of sleep, hours of peace.  Gone.

There has been a loss of innocence.  A loss of security and predictability.  A loss of a single family in a single home.

I have lost men that I loved.  I have lost everything I thought I knew.  And the loss feels heavy; it bends my knees and bows my neck.  I can feel it weigh me down.

But then just yesterday, as I tried to incorporate the advice of friends and the teachings of Zen, I had a thought.  What is loss?  What is gain?  Can there be loss without gain?  Or gain without loss?

Perhaps I have gained my loss.

I have gained my freedom.

If I examine this more closely, have I actually been released from a great burden rather than burdened with a great loss?

I am feeling the weight of my freedom.  Like a chained animal who refuses to run because they think they are still chained.  I feel the weight of what is no longer there.  Ghost weight.  I’m still carrying it.

As I dig deeper, I picture the ocean.  I am swimming with the men who have held my company in the last 12 months.  In my mind’s eye I am sinking.  They push me down as they gasp for air, their hands on my shoulders, I sink deeper as they rise higher.

When I am alone in this ocean, I float.  No one is pulling me under.  No one is using my power, my strength, my love, my time, my attention to hold themselves above the fray.

So is that a loss or a gain?

This is a shift, that much can be certain.

How do we frame our losses and our gains? Is there a way to squeeze in between the cracks and see it all from a different perspective?

The weight has lifted.  I am free.

I know that I am.

I’m just not used to it is all.

Sending deep love to all.  May we all strive to bring peace to ourselves: may we seek to reframe our perspectives, comfort ourselves when no one else can, and float freely in the wide open water.

 

 

The Sky

On our drive to dinner on Wednesday night the strangest weather was happening in front of us.  Lightning split the sky and thunder boomed.  The rain poured, the wiper blades were flying.  And I was wearing my sunglasses and squinting through the blinding sun.  And off in the distance was a rainbow.

And as we drove through the blinding sunshine pouring rain thunderstorm I listened to the cheerful chatter of my babies and felt joy in my heart.

And I felt fear–for my future.  Fear for theirs.

Confusion loss sorrow joy peace gratitude integrity pride excitement anxiety anger humility forgiveness swirling around in the unsettled vortex.

And here it was in front of me: clouds and sun and storm and rainbow.  Darkness, light, fury, power, renewal, peace.  All at once.  All in me.  All around me.

To abide in this place of deep uncertainty with no answers.  To sit in the rain while facing the blinding sun.  This is what we all do, really.

A messy sticky ball of life.

I am reminded of Pema Chodron’s words in her book The Places That Scare You:

Becoming intimate with the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender.  When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously.  By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength….

…When we stand at the crossroads not knowing which way to go, we abide in prajna-paramita.  The crossroads is an important place in the training of a warrior.  …The fact is that we spend a lot of time in the middle.  This juicy spot is a fruitful place to be.  Resting here completely–steadfastedly experiencing the clarity of the present moment–is called enlightenment.  (pg 122.)

So I am sitting very much at a crossroads.  Mourning what has passed, squinting at what is to come, afraid but in awe of the uncertainty, sad but hopeful, all of these things.

Rain, sun, thunder, lightning, rainbows.

It’s like that.

The sky and my heart were in a crossroads.

The beauty and power of that sky made my jaw drop.  So maybe that’s true of these crossroads we all endure in life.  Maybe they are as beautiful as a sunny thunderstorm.  I am going to try to sit peacefully in my crossroads.  Not go left, nor right.  Up nor down.  Just sit.  Right here.  And live it.