The Little Flame

I went to my friend’s house on Friday night. I was surrounded by women who are my neighbors and friends. As we chatted and laughed and drank beer, we huddled in the cold darkness around the bright embers of a little gaslit fire pit. Instinctively, we all reached out for it, holding our hands above the flames to warm them. The orange light illuminated our faces as we leaned over it. We talked about coyotes and gun control and periods and lawn mowers and raising our children to be kind. We talked about the big houses across the street and our smaller ones in this neighborhood: about gratitude and oneupmanship and many other things. We giggled and laughed and shared serious moments too.

At one point, to be funny, one friend messed with the flame control on the fire pit and it caused the flames to go all the way down and almost extinguish. And every time the bright light nearly went out, more than one of us would gasp at the suddenness and the extent of the cold and darkness. It closed in on us immediately and horribly. We were desperate for her to turn the flames back up, and she did. And we would lean in again like our lives depended on it. Those dancing flames have been in my head ever since.

Because light in the darkness is what we all seek. Sometimes that light is bright and bold and strong and sometimes it’s weak and small and fragile.

In all of our hearts is a glowing flame.

Mine has been burning so low that it was nearly extinguished. It has been truly valiant, this little ember, glowing stubbornly, if weakly, against all the wind and the dark and the cold.

Picturing that small flame in my heart has filled me with love. It has filled me with tenderness, and given me the overpowering urge to shelter the ember, to fan the flame gently and lovingly, until it is burning bright again.

When I think of myself as a human, a flawed person, a depressed or sad person, I am overwhelmed. I don’t want to try. How can I get back to that place of happiness?

But when I think of a tender little glowing ember that needs to be sheltered and tended, guarded and teased back out into its correct shape, I can suddenly picture warmth and hope and a light in the darkness.

The flame for me, in some way, becomes a baby to be cared for, not a needy flawed and sad 37 year old woman. The flame to me, somehow, is worth saving, worth protecting, worth sheltering.

It has been burning so low my soul has been gasping in the cold, leaning in for warmth.

So in my mind’s eye I see a sweet little bright flame, deserving of love and protection.

And I am doing my damnedest to bring it back, doing my damnedest to shield it from the wind and the cold and the dark, to keep it glowing. And eventually the heat it will cast will be stronger than it ever was. It needs to be tended.

Because once it’s out, it’s out. And the darkness closes in.

So these past few days, I have been picturing a flame.

And I have been reminding myself to shelter this dancing, valiant, flickering, delicate little flame.

It warms me in the cold, and lights up the darkness.

It must be sheltered, loved, protected.

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Dilute the Salt

My therapist told me to broaden my world.  A teaspoon of salt in one cup of water, she said,  makes the water too salty to drink.  A teaspoon of salt in a gallon of water is not discernible.  Dilute the salt, she told me.  So I have spent 6 weeks trying to do that.  I have been reading quite a bit, and going out with my friends as much as I can.  I have walked so many miles around North Park that I injured myself.  But I keep walking anyhow.

I’ve been watching documentaries, and I’ve been listening to podcasts.  TED talks have been a salve for me: a reminder of the great world that lies beyond the confines of my own.

Dinosaurs, resilience, outer space and depression.  How to spot a liar.  Talks on courage, on Autism, on the brains of fruit flies.  They suck me in as I sit at my kitchen table, and they take me far away.  I forget my sadness for just a bit, and learn something new.

There is a world out there.

In my haze, I have met three other women in my exact circumstance.  We are all going out on Friday.

I am trying to step out on my wobbly, woozy feet.   I am injured.  But I keep walking anyhow.  Even when I think I can’t.  Even when I think I’m not.  I am.

I am still caught off guard by moments of profound sorrow.  They creep up on me when I least expect them, and I find myself crying in the grocery store parking lot with no warning at all.  A sudden memory, or a realization.  A song.  These things can derail me completely.

But really, these are all just steps in grappling with what has happened, and steps in diluting the salt.  Really, everything dilutes the salt.  Time, effort, tears, sleep, friends….and my salty water is starting to taste better.  A little.

Today I went to Starbucks to grab a coffee.  As I was walking in I turned and looked, and there was the most *handsome* stranger looking right at me.  He was talking on the phone but he was staring at me.  When our eyes met he gave me the biggest and sweetest smile– I nearly fell over I was so surprised.  That smile was very clearly meant for me.  This, in and of itself, is not that big of a deal.  But it caught my attention.  It made me realize in an instant that there is this whole big world out there.  And  it made me realize I was in it.  That I am in it.  That I am diluting the salt.  And that some day, even though I’ll know it’s there, I won’t be able to taste it.

 

Suffering

When I step out into the world I feel like my suffering is showing.  Like toilet paper stuck to my shoe or my skirt tucked into my underwear.

They can see my suffering.

They can see it on my face like a wart, or a boil or an open oozing sore.  Maybe they wonder to themselves, what’d she do?  That’s gross.  Cover it up.

Not only is it ugly, it’s so profoundly isolating, this sorrow.

The more I reach out and speak, the more isolated I feel.

They don’t want to hear about it.  It’s too much.  They don’t know what to say.

I am tired of being the one to need.

I feel shame.  I feel weak.  The sadness in my heart is just a pit sometimes, that has no bottom at all.

Everyone has the same advice: time heals.  Perspective is good.  Take care of you.

I am tired.  So tired.  I have endured so very much in the past 7 months, I can’t believe it.  I get the constant reminder to be grateful for the health of my children, and my own.

I am.

But friends, as it turns out, gratitude does not erase sorrow.

Gratitude does not heal.  They are two such separate and distinct things.

Focusing on the positive is an ideal thing to do.  But it doesn’t remove the negative, nor does it lessen the pain.

These things, as it turns out, must be faced head on.

The new bar for me is simply survival.  If something makes me smile, it’s a bonus.  If I feel a fleeting moment of freedom, peace, or hope, I notice.

There is so much heaviness and darkness in my heart.  So much sadness.  And, now, the thing I was most afraid of: anger.

I am afraid of anger, because I am afraid of bitterness.  And I am not sure how to separate those two things.

But here is where meditation helps.

I will not put a head on my head.  I will simply say, I am feeling Anger.  This is part of me.

I don’t need to feel grateful, or focus on the positive.

I need to feel all the feels with loving compassion.

So do we all.

Can’t go over it, can’t go under it.

Nope.  Gotta go through it.

The End

The end came and went.  And of course.  I’m devastated.  I haven’t heard from the man who was my closest friend for many months of the most intense time of my life.  Just like that, no communication, no friendship, no nothing.  My kids talk about him because we all often played together.  They don’t know what happened.  They don’t miss him or ask when he’s coming back.  But they have lost here too.

My stomach hurts when I think about it, about quiet shared moments, about friendship, and the potential road that could have lay ahead, if it had been permitted.  And now, it has just fallen off the cliff.  There is no future.  No summer days or cookouts–no little road trips or funny shared moments.  I won’t get to know his little girl anymore who was quirky and silly and kind and deep and strange.  She loved dancing.  She was phenomenally active, a sharp bright mind, quick to anger, quick to forgive.  A darling little girl.

She liked me.  I cared for her very much.

All these relationships just cut short.  I cannot understand that.  A bomb dropped so that they all blew up, desperately careful though I was to protect little hearts, and my own.

Many have said to me that there will be no closure.  No neat and tidy little package to place in my closet.  There’s just a mess strewn out all over my mind and heart and body.  And I can’t tidy it up.  Nothing to say oh, that’s why that happened, or here’s where that goes.  Which was all I was seeking when the communication stopped completely.

Life is unfair.

Two loves lost.

Karen Maezen Miller said she wishes she could protect every tender heart.  But then, they wouldn’t be tender anymore.  Though my pain is deep, bottomless, profound, I have not lost my tenderness.  One thing can be certain.  I never will.  And maybe some day, someone will come along who wants and deserves it.

The end of this is the beginning of something else.  I don’t know what that is.  But one thing is for sure.  I’m in it.  Both the end, and the beginning.

 

Abandonment

It would appear that this relationship that I poured myself into, with this man who popped up somewhat out of nowhere, is over.  I asked him if it was, and he said no.  But I think he and I both know it is done.  I wish he would just say so.  But he won’t.  Because he won’t, I begin to ask myself if it is really just me, bringing all my issues from my previous relationship into this one.  Is it that I’m afraid he’ll abandon me too, so I act accordingly?

Am I sabotaging a relationship with someone I am deeply in love with, or is he stringing me along?

In my marriage I feared abandonment.  But not until I felt it might happen.  And for that reason I closed myself off to my ex husband profoundly.  When I shut the door permanently, he left.  I shut it because something told me I should.  My gut told me something was wrong.  And it is telling me the same now.

But is my gut a liar?  For 2 years I convinced myself that my gut was a liar.  And then I lived in lies.

I am trying to ignore my gut.  Trying to hang onto the rails of the Titanic.  All the while I am questioning whether or not I’m crazy, is the ship really sinking, and if it is am I causing it to do so?

There is a storm in my head.  It hurts so much.

Throughout it all, in these times of deep and bottomless loneliness, I try to be my own companion.  I picture myself putting my arms around myself.  I’m afraid to talk to people about this sadness.  Afraid people will think I am crazy.  And in these times of fear, I try to be there for myself, to let the rest fall way, and enjoy my children.

I did that yesterday, with the help of one of my best friends who simply showed up when I needed her.  I was painting the garage when she came with her kids, and I was planning to just be done at that point but she picked up a roller, the kids went in to play, and we painted and talked for an hour.  She carried my load for me that day, showed up so completely, so lovingly, so openly and so kindly.  She sat in the sun with me, listened and laughed and was that same source of steady kindness and comfort and humor that she has always been.

I have not been abandoned.  I was not enough for myself yesterday.  I just wasn’t.  My kids weren’t enough.  But she was.  And she was there.  So this week I am going to stop questioning myself, and simply focus on what is here, what is good, what is right in front of my face.  This week, and every week, I will be grateful.  And that will bring me back home.

In the Quiet

Life is incredibly hectic as I navigate its murky waters.  I still can’t see, but I’m trying to.

I’m squinting through the twilight.  Light has permeated the dark skies and I’ve grown accustomed to the weight of my tragedy.  It doesn’t feel as heavy anymore.

I am always slightly sad.  Always confused, overwhelmed, hopeful and dejected, and it’s often all at once.  I still run on the treadmill and I feel my soul creep to the back of my brain and rest there.  She hides or sleeps or just takes a break while my body takes over–heart and feet pounding in symphony.

When I’m done running, my soul tiptoes back out to join the world again.

She is timid and shy and uncertain, but she shouldn’t be.

She told me something in a moment of deep stillness.  And it has stayed in my heart and my mind ever since.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t the truth that crushed us.

It was the lies.

The truth is nowhere near as scary as the lies were.

Every person who hears the story goes through a process.  And what I see them grapple with the most, the thing that brings out visible fear and devastation, are the lies.

The truth as a stand alone thing is difficult.

But what no one can understand, the thing that leaves a dark cold hole in the heart, is the deceit.

And as awful as it can sometimes be, I have been liberated from the lies.

As I move through this process of squinting through the haze, my soul reminds me every day to seek the truth.  My truth.  God only knows what that is.

May we all be free of the lies we tell others, or tell ourselves.  They do nothing but harm.  And the truth we are trying to cover up is the only thing that will set us free.

 

 

 

 

 

Walls

It’s such a strange thing, these walls we build up around ourselves.  As I think back on my life I see all the times I made up reasons for not being able to do something.

As trite as it sounds, fear, self-doubt, guilt, these are all ways of imprisoning ourselves, and stopping ourselves from moving forward.  Maybe it’s out of loyalty to someone, or maybe it’s out of a fear of the unknown and so we use that fear to separate us from what could be.  And all of a sudden there is an enormous and insurmountable wall that exists only in our heads and nowhere else.

Why do we do that?  So often in my life when talking with my loved ones they would say, “why don’t you do it then?”  “Why not?” “Kids are resilient” “You need to do something for you” and my response was always, no.  I’m afraid.  I can’t.  They can’t.

I gave such deference to these imagined obstacles.  I coddled them and nurtured them without ever questioning their purpose in the first place.

Women spend so much time building up these walls.  They burden themselves with the heaviest of loads.  Some men do it too, I’m sure.  But every woman I know puts herself in a box.  When she’s accomplished one thing, she feels she has fallen short elsewhere.  And the victory of the moment is lost in a waterfall of self doubt and worry.  Why can’t we allow ourselves VICTORY, pure and simple?  Why must we always temper our happiness with our imagined failings?  And who are we helping by doing so?

Somewhere, inside most of is, is a voice that says we do not deserve to be happy.  We are not good enough to be happy.  We need to punish ourselves and bring ourselves down so that we don’t offend people with the light we radiate.

We need to let our lights shine.

How much better could our lives be if we dismantle these walls we have created for ourselves?   What if instead of limiting ourselves by guilt, self flagellation, self doubt, we chose to stand up tall?  What if we laid down all the reasons why not?

Perhaps we DO know our own power and we limit it because the spectacular shape our lives could take is too scary.  Change is scary.  Limitless potential is scary.  What would we be if we had no limits?  How would our lives change if we said YES instead of NO?

The walls you think are there are not.

So many people benefit from our willingness to imprison ourselves.  But so many *more* would benefit (ourselves included) if we tore down the prison walls.  And it turns out, it’s easy to do, as soon as we realize that those walls were never anything more than our own fear.

Those walls never existed but to the extent that I was willing to permit them to stay.

Praying for all the people who have trapped themselves in their own self doubt.  May we see through it.  May we choose to knock down the walls of our self-imposed prison and let our light shine.