Thanksgiving

I’m officially on Thanksgiving Break – minus the twenty research papers I need to grade and the hundred or so house tasks I need to accomplish. I stayed home with the kids on Monday, and now they are at their dad’s for a few days but get to return to me for Thanksgiving itself and the Sunday after.

We have a rhythm now with our weekend visitation schedule. I can handle two little nights alone, but the holiday breaks still feel weird to split it all 50/50. My empty house and me.

I had a student once who was falling behind, unable to focus and complete assignments. She cried big tears to me after class one day (after weeks of struggling) and told me that she was stressed and anxious and that she was raped the year prior and currently involved in the court proceedings about that incident. I remember stopping her just after she said that and holding her hand for a minute and telling her to take a deep breath and give herself some credit. She was getting out of bed everyday. She was coming to class. She was holding a part-time job outside of school. She was bearing so much more than anyone should ever have to. Stop being so hard on yourself and understand that this is a lot.

I cannot begin to know that pain, and I am not comparing my grief and trauma to hers. But I am comparing my resistance to admit that something is hard. Sometimes things are painful, and you just have to say this sucks. This is a lot. I’m doing the best I can.

The holidays are heavy sometimes. Even in their very best moments — wide-eyes walking down the stairs on Christmas morning or aging relatives around the table at Thanksgiving dinner — it is all tinted with that bittersweet, happy-sad feeling of nostalgia and transience. It’s like you already long for these seconds even though they haven’t left you yet. Or that’s how it is for me anyway. An awareness that this year, this moment, is not going to happen again.

Last year’s holidays were hard. I was in the middle of the hurricane, honestly unable to really see my way out at that point. I can remember arriving home from a grocery run all red and swollen in the eyes, unable to stop sobbing. The car time in the short ten minutes from the store was a little slice of solitude I had to feel what I felt without judgment and questions and demands from someone.

This year’s will be easier, I think. In ways at least. But it is painful, if I am being honest as I always am in this space. It’s still a lot. I am taking my own advice given to my student before and telling myself congratulations for getting out of bed on some days. For baking the pies and mixing the hot chocolate and pulling out the advent calendar and doing all the things I have always done even though I’m doing them alone now.

Sometimes I can’t look at a day or an occasion with too much significance. It feels much better to find the miracle moments in the everyday than to put an occasion on a pedestal and expect it to be perfect. I’m already finding myself focusing more on the mundane this season. Weeknight dinners around the table. Popcorn and a bedtime movie with the kids. Pajama cuddles on the couch. The little seconds are bringing healing more than the big milestones, I think.

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I saw someone at a little gathering recently, and I hadn’t seen her in over a year. She asked how I was, and I had a hard time answering that question in small talk. What about my life hasn’t changed in the past 12 months? Not much. Everything is different. Inside out and upside down and I’m still standing.

I have shed the comparison trap this year in that I no longer compare myself to other women or other mothers. I no longer compete for worthiness and perfection. I stand in my own truth in a way I never have – like I am with this post when I say this time of year is hard. But what I need to shed next, I think, is my constant bewilderment and comparison over how the other side has moved forward with such speed and excitement and intensity. There are no feelings, no remorse, no compassion. Instead of praying so hard for that situation to change, I am going to focus more on removing myself from it. I’m writing that here so that I can hold myself accountable.

I am a thinking and feeling person in the world. I refuse to apologize for that or be made to feel less than others who don’t appear to feel much at all. I don’t shut it off – not my own pain or my students’ stories or my kids’ perceptions. I let it all in and I let it pierce. I roll it over in my own mind and heart, and I let it change me and then use that change of perspective as fuel for my own actions and decisions. As I see this last piece that I need to shed, this confusion and comparison of how the other side has dealt with 2015, I see so clearly that I’m shamed for feeling pain and talking about that pain. It’s a game I need to remove myself from a bit to remember that I am not embarrassed to be a human. To act like a real living and breathing person with real imperfections and insecurities and hard moments.

There’s a Kate Light poem I know that says, “There comes the strangest moment in your life / when everything you thought before breaks free / what you relied upon as ground rule and rite / looks upside down from how it used to be. […] How many people thought you’d never change? / But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.”

It is beautiful and strange, right? All of it. Life is not hard all of the time, but it is all mixed up together. The good and the bad and the heavy and the light. This week is all about celebrating gratitude, and I’m thankful for so much in my life.  There have been some moments in 2015 that are nothing short of miraculous. Coincidences that are divinely orchestrated and moments that pierced me straight through. And in hindsight, even the other moments that felt like nothing but pain when I was in them have molded my heart and my character to emerge completely different than when I walked into the fire.

But I don’t feel like I am done, and I am grateful for that most of all. Thankful that my story doesn’t end here and that I am continuing to change and grow and move forward to a plan that I can feel unfolding in ways I never expected.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Prayers for peace and joy in these last few weeks of 2015.

 

 

 

increments

Last week crawled along at the slowest possible pace. We’ve had weeks and weeks of steady rain in Georgia, and I’d forgotten what the sun looks like. It’s back this week though, and I can hardly believe tomorrow is already Thursday. It’s amazing how many little factors can influence your outlook.

We discovered a little trail in the woods behind our neighborhood yesterday, and Jude wanted to go for a quick walk again today the minute we walked in the door. I ignored any other nagging responsibilities, and we took off. Norah and I followed behind him, and he felt proud to lead the way. We ended up at a little pond before turning around to head back home just before sunset.

UntitledLittle gifts are stored for me along the way when I have eyes to see them. I listen to Rob Bell’s podcast every week, and the episode I heard this week was titled “Increments and Explosions.” He discussed the secrets of people who, as he put it, grow younger instead of older. Grow lighter instead of heavier, softer instead of harder. The key as he sees it, and I agree, is personal growth. And this growth sometimes happens in increments when we create the little habits that shape our perspectives and lend us room to grow. It’s the result of daily work. Then, of course, we have the explosions – the moments life explodes the experiences set forth to give us growth even if they are painful and we don’t quite feel ready for them.

November is a big month for me, a huge marker in 2015. The first year following any tragedy or hardship is rough, as anyone will tell you. And when you can pass all of those reminders, watch the four seasons come and go again, and know that you survived, it feels like you’re finally able to exhale. I’ve still got a few markers and reminders left in front of me in the weeks ahead, but I am almost there. I’ve almost arrived at the clean slate marking a full year alone.

I look back at this entry from last November and cry a little for that person. I felt so scared of what was ahead. I had no idea how bright the sun was shining on the other side.

I’ve grown in explosions since the night I wrote that entry – the initial one, of course, plus some other big moments. But so much of it has been in little increments, too. I’m so glad, as I near the end of this instrumental year for me, that I have this journal to look back on. I think gratitude (as a true daily practice, not just the concept) has been the driving force behind my incremental expansion. And also pause and insight. And truly feeling the painful discomfort that has unfolded sometimes as I’ve broken in this new skin, no matter how much I wanted to numb it. All of those things have lended me growth.

And most of all, writing has become such a guidepost for me. I’m not certain how I would have survived the year with clarity if I didn’t have this space and this practice of putting words together without an aim or destination.

I feel fearless in a way I never have. I think that’s what happens when you spend time in “no man’s land” as Pema Chodron calls it. What you previously thought was the worst thing that could happen has already happened, and you survived. Not only survived but grew bigger. I’m not scared of much of anything now. Life ahead is a vast empty space, and I have no idea where I will go or what I will do, but as I look back at the past year of my life and increments and explosions that landed me here, I think I’m meant for something that could only happen on this path.

Life. This week.

I’m not sure where I am going with this tonight – only that it has been more than a week since I’ve last written here, and I like to stay current in my journaling right now, so I want to check in for a moment and reflect.

The daily activities that make up my days leave so little room for breathing space. I’m not alone in this as so many working parents are in the same position. But it seems especially challenging in this past week when academic papers are flowing in and stacking up faster than I can grade them.  Tuesday had us at the ENT for Jude’s appointment and Wednesday had Norah and I home for her school’s teacher work day, so I’ve missed desk time and the week has become disjointed and overwhelming. All the little things. They feel big this week.

We did make it to Jude’s school for lunch yesterday though. He was excited to see us, and they place you on the stage when parents come to eat with you. He felt special, I think. And Norah was fascinated with the experience of eating at “kindergarten school.” She walked in carrying her Frozen lunchbox and wearing a dress she chose for the occasion. Little things go a long way at these ages. I’m so grateful for that at a time when little things are all I can muster sometimes.

UntitledI’m fighting hard to rest in the good enoughs right now and stop demanding more more more of myself. But to be honest, I am failing miserably. I’m nearing the one year mark of when things changed for me, and things are finally settling in and smoothing out around here, and I’m feeling itchy. Feeling like I should be doing more than I am. I’m dancing on that line of comparison we all feel drawn to, and I need to work harder to fight that.  I’m so tired of working hard though. I’ve learned immeasurable lessons and grown so much in this past year, but I’m tired. I’m ready for something to be easier, and I’m mostly talking about my relationship with that inner critic. I’m ready for her to quiet down for good. But I think maybe she never does for some of us. This is just life. Working hard to simply determine when to demand more of yourself and when to say you’ve done enough and rest in that for a while. It’s hard, right? To figure out when I need to push forward and when I need to take a seat.

I’m not sure this is making any sense at all tonight. But it’s been hard week. It’s been a hard year. I’m tired of hard. I know I’m not starting from scratch, but sometimes it feels like I am, and I’m exhausted at the notion that I am alone. I’m worried that the scars are too thick for anyone to see past them and I’ll be alone forever. Wouldn’t that be his final accomplishment to be proud of? I not only left you to begin again with two kids and married my new soulmate immediately, but I screwed you up so profoundly that you are too broken with self-doubt for someone else to deal with.

I’ve read that Rumi quote a thousand times The wound is the place where the Light enters you. I’ve felt the Light and I’ve seen it, and I know from the voices of my friends that I’ve illuminated that Light, too. That other people have seen it in me. But sometimes it just feels like a wound. This week it’s a wound, and it’s more dark than light. The smallest stabs still ache sometimes, and I want to know when that stops. When that skin thickens and the scars fade.

But I’m seeing – when I have the clarity to look without my distorted view – that I offer others so much more kindness than I offer myself. I’ll see the best in others, and never in myself. I give them the benefit of the doubt and not myself. I need to get better at this. It’s like the imposter syndrome I wrote about before, except worse because I inflate others and see the very best in them so much so that I often give them more credit than is due. And by contrast, I refuse to see myself without the faults screaming loudest.

I can learn so much from my kids sometimes. The way they don’t really care what others think unless you are in that circle they’ve come to trust and cherish. They don’t have an inner critic to silence yet. Past experiences haven’t given them a soundtrack of criticism on loop. They see only what is right in front of them. The start of a new day and all the chances that it brings to practice the very best of ourselves.

Norah was singing some song of her own Tuesday morning as I brushed her pigtails at the start of the day. It cracked me up, and I snapped a quick picture.

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I’m so tired all the time – 5:30 am alarm, kids, work, life. All of it alone. It’s a lot. Some weeks it feels like more than others. But these little faces –  their little stories and smiles and quirks – I can learn a lot from them. And I just want to see myself the way they see me, without the scars and baggage and doubts. Everyday new and worthy.

bodhichitta

It’s the final full week of summer vacation as Jude starts kindergarten in ten days. (I can’t believe it!) I’m wrapping up my summer reading, and I’m feeling grateful that I’ve read more of my own choosing this summer than I have in probably the past six years or so. It’s hard enough to find the time to read as a mom, but then add the fact that my job requires some intense reading as well, and I rarely get to immerse myself in my own books.

I’ve read all kinds of things in the past few months, and it amazes me how all of these seemingly different works are connecting into one big mural of meaning for me.  There is so much power in the written word because of the immense power of human connection.  It’s a concept I try to relay to my students as the central thread of why I’m teaching them to read analytically and to write clearly.  As C.S. Lewis says, “We read to know we are not alone.” We learn through each other, and I have no doubt that God speaks to us through one another as well. In Christianity they call it The Holy Spirit.  In other religions, they call it by a different name, but it is the same idea.  I feel as though it’s only through the past few years of my life, and especially the past few months, that seeing the divine in all of us is made real and clear for me. Namaste in the truest sense.

Looking back again as the dust settles, I can see this was an element responsible for the disconnect in my marriage as well.  Motherhood changed me at my core in a million ways, but namely it made me more spiritual, more grateful, more aware of the big picture.  I always felt that everything happened for a reason, but after having children I felt the presence of the divine more than ever and could see that hand orchestrating elements of my life and reflected in even my small daily experiences. I don’t think that philosophy was matched in my partner at all – actually I know for certain it wasn’t because this is something we talked about in the final days. And that is okay.  My path is not the same as everyone else’s. But in hindsight, I’m not sure that I could grow spiritually the way I have in these past months with such a mismatched mirror in my own home. I see that clearly now.

Everyone’s path is different, and mine is my own. Spirituality means nothing if you don’t hold it close, and it takes holding it up to the light, trying it on for size, and seeing what feels right to make it real.  I was flipping through albums at a family reunion recently, and I found a beautiful image of an old baptism.  This is the way of my family for generations, and I know Southern Baptists get a bad reputation sometimes for some things that are neither here nor there on this specific post of mine (for another time), but what I love about that blend of faith is that it is held close and personal.  The idea of being born again into something new only happens if you believe it from the inside outward and do the work yourself to maintain a connection to God. Baptism in the water is meant to outwardly mark a change in who you are.  You are emptied of the old and washed clean again by your relationship with the divine, and now the divine resides in you.

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And sometimes those sacred waters of baptism aren’t reflected as a literal pool of water but a threshold in your life and your own experiences. A crossroads when you are out with the old and in with the new, so to speak. My path is separating from people I’ve known, not just from my former spouse.  And I’m learning to be okay with that. There are lots of complicated reasons for some of these separations; divorce always changes your peer group.  My core of closest friends is just the same, and I can’t explain how incredibly grateful I am for their help and encouragement. But there are a few on the outside of my close circle who have fallen away. They are another example of the things I’m letting go – as I’ve alluded to before.  David Whyte has a poem that states, “Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” And I think that sounds insulting somehow – implying I am bigger than someone else. But sometimes I think “too small” can just mean they are not what I need right now where I am on my own journey. And to be fair, I am likely not what they need either.

When thinking about how I am changing, who has fallen away and who hasn’t, who is “bringing me alive” and who isn’t, I didn’t really have words for how this separation has happened or why. But when I read Pema Chodron’s work I wrote about before, she has a chapter on the Buddhist concept of bodhichitta which is a Sanskrit word meaning a “noble or awakened heart” – or as she explains, “this kinship with the suffering of others, this inability to be able to observe it from afar” or “the discovery of our soft spot.” I’ve rolled that one around in my head often these past few weeks, and it illuminated a lot for me.

I was having lunch with a good friend and mentor last month and we were discussing privately one of these people I’m referring to and how hard it has been to regain footing in my life without someone who was once present often, and she revealed that she always perceived this individual to be “a lightweight” which I thought was a perfect description.  Someone who treads in shallow waters because it’s easier or because it’s comfortable – or maybe just because they aren’t there yet on the capacity to process something greater.  It’s far easier to distance ourselves from pain though, far easier to make it shameful and tell someone to hide it or move on quickly than to hold bodhichitta for a moment and let that pain penetrate your own heart. I can think of countless examples in my past where I listened to people shame others for showing pain and weakness or where I listened to others refuse empathy and compassion for someone else. These are things I’m now ashamed to even admit that I tolerated, and I simply don’t have the space or energy for that in my life anymore.

I think people awake to their own bodhichitta in their own time. I can keep people on the peripheral of my life when they see things through a lens of very little compassion, but I can’t maintain close connections with them anymore. And I’m seeing more and more each day that this idea has very little to do with our society’s concept of religion.  Many of these personalities that have fallen away from me are seated in a pew every single Sunday, but somehow they haven’t softened their hearts.  They don’t have eyes to see it.

And so often I think this relates to fear.  So many people want to be seen as perfect with the house and the kids and the prosperity that they think defines them. To admit that you feel fear or hurt or embarrassment, to admit wrongdoing, and to feel in your core that there is suffering in the world and a battle within each of us – all of those things are uncomfortable.  All of those things require admitting that you are not perfect and not always right. So few people are willing to step out of the skin they are wearing and own up to all of these things.

Chodron explains, “Because bodhichitta awakens tenderness, we can’t use it to distance ourselves.  Bodhichitta can’t be reduced to an abstraction about the emptiness of pain.  We can’t get away with saying, ‘There is nothing happening and nothing to do.’ … Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. … In the process of discovering bodhichitta, the journey goes down, not up. It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth, not the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward the turbulence and doubt… We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away.” The challenge is not pushing it away, not holding it distant from us because it makes us uncomfortable.  I’m finding that seeing another’s pain, whether that is a close friend or a stranger, is so hard for many people.

And the reason it is hard is because it turns a lens on our own selves.  It shows you where you are gripping too tightly, and it brings about the horrifying thought that the pain could be yours as well and that you are not safe from it.  I know this because I have done it in the past as well.  When you rationalize the million reasons that could never happen to you, it’s a way of trying so hard to convince yourself of a concept that is simply not true.

What I said before about these very different books working together to paint one big picture for me? I’m taking a big leap now from Pema Chodron to Amy Poehler which seems ridiculous, but bear with me. Poehler’s book (which you should read this very second if you haven’t yet) includes a chapter on friendship in your forties, and I am not quite there yet in age, but I related to her words so much in light of my changing landscape these days.  She says when you are forty and have gained life experience, “You can read people’s energies better, and this hopefully means you get stuck talking to less duds….Gone are the days (hopefully) when you take everything personally and internalize everyone’s behavior.  You get better at knowing what you want and need… Lastly, because you are a superhero, you are really good at putting together a good team. You can look around the room and notice the other superheroes because they are the ones noticing you.  The friends you have over forty are really juicy. They are highly emulsified and full of flavor.  Now that you’re starting to have a better sense of who you are, you know better what kind of friend you want and need….I am interested in people who swim in the deep end. I want to have conversations about real things with people who have experienced real things. I’m tired of talking about movies and gossiping about friends. Life is crunchy and complicated and all the more delicious.”

To me, these “superheroes” are those who are awake to the concept of bodhichitta, those who can drop the ego for a moment and let some discomfort set in. Those who have encountered past pain or disappointment or mistakes and aren’t afraid to talk about it. And as I form new friendships with people I am yet to meet and one day look at the prospect of future romantic relationships, that is my biggest test.  Are you awake to bodhichitta and all that entails?

Because here’s what I’m finding, friends.  Bodhichitta does not mean that you are sad and full of sorrow all the time as you reflect on the miseries around you and feel empathy for others. In fact, it brings quite the opposite.  It’s only when you let in the sorrow of the world, when you sink into empathy, and when you embrace imperfection that you can find true joy. Happiness is something else entirely, and though this may sound strange, I’m growing tired of “happy” people who are not joyful. True joy cannot depend on outside circumstances at all, and true joy can only come when you let it all in.

In his lengthy work “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”  Wordsworth writes that when “we are laid asleep in body, and become a living soul: while with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” He’s referring to transcendence through nature as that was his route to the divine, but I see those lines resonating in my own life as well. When we “are laid asleep in body” and strip down the ego and feel that harmony or kinship with someone else’s pain or imperfections, that’s when we see into the life of things.  And at this moment in my own life, this crossroads in the journey, so to speak, I simply can’t maintain connections with those who don’t see it. Looking back, I see how this past few months has worked like a sieve for me. All the hindrances fell away, and those left are the real gems – the ones who are helping me grow bigger and propel forward to a life that is so much richer than the one I’ve left behind.

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ramblings on love and marriage

As I’m looking at the last few weeks of summer, I’m seeing that I’ve focused most of my reading efforts on non-fiction this summer. That’s a change from what I used to read, but I’ve gained a better appreciation for it in the past few years as I’ve been teaching composition classes.  In addition to that, it helps me to write better as well, I think.  And of course it encourages me beyond measure to read about someone’s life challenges and how he/she overcomes it and evolves to be better and stronger.

This week, I’ve read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed — which is part love story and part history of the institution of marriage.  I found myself underlining so many passages and nodding in agreement. I feel some guilt for saying this, and I am fully aware that it casts a shadow on my former marriage, but I was just telling some friends days ago that I know with all certainty that my life is easier now than it was a year ago. Easier.  Think about that.  I am a single mother, the only adult in the house with two children under six years old. It’s the dreaded outcome for so many, and there are things that are undoubtedly heavier – finances, the lack of security in reference to my future as I have no idea what lies ahead – but speaking strictly in terms of my day-to-day life, it is easier without a husband.

I can’t believe I just wrote that aloud here, but that’s the truth as I’m experiencing it right now.

I’ve been rolling this realization over and over in my head trying to make sense of it. I mean all relationships (and especially marriage) are work, right? So is it a bad thing that it was more work when I was with him? Do all wives feel this way and if I remarry, I just have to get used to that?  But as I’m reading this book and talking with friends about their own experiences, I’m seeing that the answer to those questions is an undoubted NO.  A relationship is work, certainly. But it should not be a constant demand for more work and effort on your part with little payoff for emotional connection and happiness. That’s the hard truth of it as I reflect on the past few years of my life.

I know many people think it doesn’t really matter if the child-rearing and domestic chores are unbalanced in a relationship, and to be honest, I didn’t used to think that mattered either. It makes it even more complicated for me because I love so many aspects of domesticity – I love to cook, I love making a home, I love tending to sick kids (well better than the alternative of having someone else tend to my sick kid).  But in hindsight, I established this pattern in my former life when I did every single one of those tasks every single day along with other things that became my” duty.”  It began with the insistence that these things were my “job” because I was choosing to quit work and stay at home with my son, but of course as a whole new person was added in the mix with a second child and then a full-time job was added as well, no responsibilities changed at all. They just grew and grew. Combine this with some very heavy work travel for the other adult in the house, and I can’t believe I made it as long as I did, frankly, and with my mental fortitude somewhat in tact.  If I am being honest here about some things I have never written about before, my mental fortitude was hanging by a thread.

My anxiety had slowly increased in the last two years of my marriage, and it would flare and subside with no easily identifiable pattern. I thought it was because I was a mom of two small children and every mother must feel that way.  I countered it with healthy approaches like meditation tracks on my podcast queue and natural supplements and unhealthy approaches like trying to control my food to an almost extreme obsession which I can even see here in my archived posts as I look back. It came to a head last fall when I ended up with a mild (as ulcers go) stomach ulcer and an almost constant quivering in my belly that made food hard to keep in for long. I was up at night unable to sleep, crying in the bathroom at 2am.   Or crying to my spouse on the phone at 7:30 am as he was states away in a hotel with the woman he’s now set to marry, and I was driving to work and looking at another string of days caring for kids alone and trying to do all the things I was expected to do.  It felt like living in a vacuum.

It ramped up so severely and so quickly that I sometimes feel like perhaps my body and intuition were warning me early last fall of what was set to explode in November, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s not that mystical, and I was just a nervous wreck.

But here’s the weird thing: I am not a nervous wreck now. Our bodies talk to us and the brain manifests itself in a physical manner often, and if you don’t respond to a whisper, the universe sends you a scream. I had whispers for years I never responded to. That’s the honest truth.

So friends and family are sometimes commenting recently –and especially back in the spring –that  they can’t believe I am doing so well in my current situation and seeming to adjust quickly, and the missing piece that answers that puzzle is that I cannot think of a single daily activity that I do now that I didn’t do before. Not one. [Emotionally I am a different story; I’ve had to paddle my way through some deep waters to start the process of figuring it all out and healing.] But in regards to the simple daily routines? It’s exactly the same. And maybe even easier because I get the occasional weekend to reboot and catch-up when my kids are gone, and I don’t have to satisfy someone else’s demands for what he wants me to be on top of the motherhood tasks and domestic lists.

I don’t want to come across as pointing fingers or blaming all of this on my former spouse either. I take full responsibility for establishing that pattern and allowing it to leave a trail of stress and emptiness behind it without seeing it as the issue it was. Writing something down always grants it power, and I’m giving that weight by saying it here. I hold myself accountable for not seeing and addressing that the little things were crushing me, and in all honesty and in hindsight, they were making me feel less valued and appreciated and increasingly disrespected in my own home. It was my job to show up for my own life and address it, and I didn’t.

But back to my original direction with this post, Gilbert’s book left me feeling validated on my feelings about the role of the little things in a household and the effect it can have on marriage and happiness. As Gilbert sadly concedes, “To get anywhere close to unraveling this subject – women and marriage – we have to start with the cold, ugly fact that marriage does not benefit women as much as it benefits men. I didn’t invent this fact, and I don’t like saying it, but it is a sad truth, backed up by study after study” (166). She then goes on to explain that married men accumulate more wealth, report themselves as happier, suffer less from depression, and even live longer than single men. Married women? The reverse is true…. They accumulate less wealth and do not thrive in their careers as much as their single counterparts, are more likely to suffer depression than single women are, and are less healthy and do not live longer than single women. All of this is supported by research and sociologists even have a name for it: The Marriage Benefit Imbalance. And if you think this research shows grim results in other god-forsaken places, but not in modern America, you are wrong.

Ladies!  Can we think about that for a minute?  Am I saying marriage is terrible and I never want to do it again? Absolutely not. But as a societal institution, even in the modern world in these modern times, it is not beneficial for us in the traditional model. And maybe you are okay with poorer health and less happiness and a greater propensity for anxiety and depression because you are blinded by love for that incredible husband and will do anything to make him happy. I am not in that position at all.

It seems as though when you are young, or when I was young anyhow, I was blinded more by youth and idealism than anything else. The thought that if you love one another, the marriage will never falter and that someone will never betray you and you will never betray yourself by getting lost in all of it. Truthfully, I think there are couples who go on like this for eternity. They are either the lucky ones or the blissfully ignorant ones – I’m not certain which way I see it yet. Or maybe they don’t exist, and these women lie in bed at night counting the ways they threw away their own fulfillment on that particular day and turned themselves inside out to make others happy. I am not talking so much about career vs children here (the debate that gets all the attention), but about true partnership and true equal ground that allows another adult to see you as you really are and value your contributions to the world and to your own household. It felt like infidelity issued some unforeseen blow on my marriage like a sledgehammer with no warning, but now as the dust settles and I look back, I see I had no partnership. Nobody to talk to everyday who saw me for what I really was and weathered the little moments with me. Much of this was circumstantial as I was the lone adult much of the time and had no one to talk to everyday about anything at all for that matter.  But circumstantial or not, it is what it is.

So where does this leave me on the prospect of marriage again? I don’t know. I know I won’t take it lightly or impulsively, and I won’t enter into a partnership with someone who does not contribute daily to all the million tiny things it takes to run a family. I guess you can never say never, but it would shock me beyond all belief if I ever embarked on a marriage again with someone who traveled regularly for work. Marriage is not the highs and the holidays; it’s the Tuesday night dinners and the Thursday morning coffee, and the million tiny moments that happen in daily life. And to be frank and hold myself accountable for the past few years, let me say without question that by that definition, I had no marriage at all.

It’s a fine line taking responsibility for your role in something yet refusing to beat yourself up about it. Should I have been clearer in my cries for help and been honest that I was drowning under the weight of someone’s expectations and feeling unseen and disrespected? Absolutely. Does that justify all the injustices done to me? Probably not. But both sides of the committed sins have illuminated lessons for me.

In Committed, Gilbert states, “To ask a twenty-year-old girl to automatically know things about life that most forty-year-old women needed decades to understand is expecting an awful lot of wisdom from very young person” (105).  Or as Maya Angelou said so famously, “When you know better, you do better.” And next time I will. Next time I will show up for my own life from the very beginning and expect someone who sees and respects me for who I am and what I do and helps me pull the weight of life because he wants to, not just because I ask it.

Some lessons take time, I think. And Gilbert alludes to this as well when she explains falling in love with her second husband and how that was different from her marriage at 25 years old. …. “It was not an infatuation and here’s how I can tell: because I did not demand that he become my Great Emancipator or my Source of All Life, nor did I immediately vanish into that man’s chest cavity like a twisted, unrecognizable, parasitical homunculus. During our long period of courtship, I remained intact with my own personality and allowed myself to meet Fellipe for who he was….To this day, I refuse to burden Fellipe with the tremendous responsibility of somehow completing me.  By this point in my life, I have figured out that he cannot complete me, even if he wanted to. I’ve faced enough of my own incompletions to recognize that they belong solely to me. Having learned this essential truth, I can now tell where I end and where someone else begins” (106).

There are so many things I am learning for sure in my current season. First is that you cannot learn and grow in the truest sense without time alone to reflect. And secondly, you cannot love someone else or even be loved in return in a way that truly fulfills you when you don’t recognize where you end and where that person begins. It’s my responsibility to see myself for what I truly am, call it what it is (even if those words are ugly like anxiety and unhappiness), and show up for myself in the truest sense.

waking up

My kids are home with me after a week away.  For once, the time without them did not drag by slowly last week.  I took dance class two nights in a row (sore muscles to say the least), finished up an editing project I’d taken on for extra income, and did a little reading and writing of my own choosing as well. I got some incredibly encouraging news on the freelance writing front with a submission that was accepted quickly, and I hope to expand on the details for that when it is published.  It’s been a goal of mine to submit some personal essays to a few publications for quite some time, so this gives me the motivation to keep writing and keep submitting.  On the whole, it was a really great week.

I’ve heard of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart for years, and a good friend of mine mentioned it yet again recently, so I decided to pick it up this weekend.  It’s a quick read, and I settled in one afternoon to read most of it in one sitting and then finished it up Sunday morning.  I’m getting better at enjoying the perks of solitude.  A quiet house, cooking a solo dinner of my own choosing, reading for pleasure more than I have in ages, or even small gems like having a house relatively clean and listening to music at my own whim.  These things don’t make up for the kids being gone, and I am happiest for certain when we are together, but I’m finding that recognizing the positives of my situation is helping me to ease into it a little deeper and not long for this season to be over.  This summer is also affording me so much time to think and reflect on the past decade of my life, and I can’t begin to describe the difference that is making in my ability to process things positively and move forward to make things better.

This recent change of perspective relates to Chodron’s book as well.  It’s hard – especially now with social networking to let us know what others are up to – to rest in your own imperfections and your own transitions and not feel lame or worthless.  People are in performance mode almost always, and I know that.  But I fall for it everyday and have to shield its impact a bit from myself if I can.  I see it with friends and acquaintances – and yes even strangers – on the internet.  I see it with my children’s father who is excitedly planning a wedding that is only three months away and relishing in a lot of happiness right now. I see it everywhere.  But the point Chodron makes so well in this book is that change is the only constant in life and that suffering serves a purpose in the grand scheme of things.  When you rest in your discomfort and use stillness to do that, you truly evolve from your pain or experience.

She explains near the beginning of the book that “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy” (8).  Allowing space is the hard part for sure. I’m working hard in my current life to include fun experiences that take my mind off things for a while. Dinner with girlfriends, fun outings with the kids, trips to the bookstore, late night Netflix, weekends away, and lots of other things.  But these past few weeks, I’m also letting myself sink into the loneliness and the feeling of being completely not in control, completely clueless about what lies ahead for me. Before I read this book and could give a name to it, I could feel what Pema Chodron is talking about already – the healing that only comes from allowing space for it all to be felt in the truest sense.

This idea of admitting and feeling suffering without fighting it is contrary to our nature. Chodron speaks at length about our culture’s tendency to avoid pain and suffering by covering it up with a multitude of things – alcohol, excessive spending and a desire for worldly attention, new romantic relationships – and more specifically, she explains how ineffective those distractions are if we really want to grow from our pain and become fuller and richer as a result; “We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated … When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.  We do everything we can not to feel anything threatening … When we breathe in pain, somehow it penetrates that armor. The way we guard ourselves is getting softened up” (89).  I’ve seen this firsthand with friends of mine who have suffered unimaginable losses or pain or disappointment. They have emerged as completely different people than they were before. Life softens and deepens you if you let it, but only when you allow yourself the time to sink into your suffering a little and learn your way around what it all means.  And though it is really inconvenient, I’m seeing more and more that you really can’t do that at all when you try to fill up the pain with something else.

I’ve let go of so many things this past few months.  Material things – my car and house and leisure space in our family budget.  But also I’ve lost so many assumptions about people and about life and about myself.  It’s crazy to look back at the first post I wrote six months ago when I finally explained what had been happening for me, and even then I alluded to this act of letting go and the things I was still clinging to. And though that was only about six months ago, I feel like I’ve changed so much at my core. It’s like being completely emptied of everything you had and everything you assumed only to start filling yourself up again in a totally new way.

I wish there were other ways in life to experience this groundlessness as Pema Chodron calls it, but it usually only comes in these painful experiences of loss or profound disappointment. As she says, “We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure because sooner or later, we are going to have an experience we can’t control. … We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest. Trying to run away is never the answer to being a full human being. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life (72).  There are so many ways we “run away from the immediacy of our experience,” and they seldom look like running. They often look like distractions or like “moving on,” “staying busy,” or “having it all together” as I hear people say from time to time.

The biggest change that has happened for me is that I’m done with that. I don’t have it all together. I am not starting some brand new life that will align perfectly by my expectations and look just like my old life but with a different person. The perfection veil was pulled away for me. I didn’t choose the actions that began that avalanche.  But in the aftermath of all of that, it feels so liberating to have it removed and simply be in a moment in my life when I have no master plan and no grand storyline I’m trying to write. All there is in front of me is the here and now.  I worried so much in these past few months that I was missing life with my kids because I was so overwhelmed and busy with life tasks and cleaning the mess in front of me.  But now, in a weird way, I feel like I am missing less than ever because I have no idea what is ahead and I have nobody to answer to but my own calling and these two little people. That’s it. I woke up to that new lens as I finally reached the other side of all that has happened.  I’m here, right now. I don’t know about the rest, but the rest doesn’t matter.

Untitled

And I feel as though it has taken a lot of internal work to get to this statement, but I am finally beginning to feel genuinely grateful for it all – every moment and where I am now. I’m starting to look less at my current situation as a stepping stone to something else and see it as simply life and what I am. Yes, it is all part of who I will be and where I will go and forever changes the way I see the world, but really it’s just the path I’m on to learn what I am meant to learn in the only way I could learn it. I am exactly what I feared when I made decisions seven months ago – alone and completely unsure where I am headed next. But ironically, now I don’t fear where I am at all.  I’m almost beginning to fear the other end because I don’t want to lose this lens if I move forward to something else.

Everything is at its most essential and distilled moment.  Everything is immediate right now.  It’s like waking up, and I want to remember these lessons and these moments – even the hard ones – in my years ahead. In hindsight, I had years and years of ease and happiness, and I was asleep for so much of it. As Chodron says, “When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone without exception, even you and me” (54).  I’m awake to all of it now, it seems.  Awake to the bravery and the kindness and the softness and all of it. I’m seeing it all in a way I haven’t witnessed when things were easy. I’m becoming grateful for the hard part, and I guess what I am trying to say – if this makes any sense at all – is that I’m enjoying the middle way as Chodron calls it.  There’s so much good I’m uncovering, and even more waiting down the road if I can keep these eyes to see it.

solitary

The kids have been gone for three nights. Three little nights; that’s it. It weirdly feels like a long time in ways, and I have a to-do list a mile long, but it’s hard to focus and get it done.  Truthfully, I think the lists and the busy tasks are all to keep my mind off the idea of solitude and the quiet house.

I play music all the time. I’m going to the gym every day and staying for an hour or more. My friends have been great about checking up on me, and my usually relaxed social schedule is actually mostly full for the rest of the week. I’m going to a concert with a friend tonight, watching the kids on Thursday during the day as their father needed help with childcare, and then I have plans on both Friday and Saturday night.  Which is not normal for me at all.  But I don’t even know what normal me is anymore.

Normal me used to be busy with work and kids and then happily on the couch with wine or knitting and Netflix at 8:30 every night. I’ve always been someone who was not scared of solitude, but I can’t explain it. A quiet house just feels so itchy and unnatural right now.

I fell off the train on Parenthood, a show I once adored, and I have picked it back up again thanks to Netlfix. Just two nights ago, I got to that episode where a recently separated Julia has to spend the first night alone in her house without her two kids, and it resonated with me so much. She’s tossing and turning and not sleeping at all and eventually moves to her daughter’s bed. The next morning, she’s up with the sun and going for a run which is pretty much my mode of operation this week as well. Her sister on the show has been a single mom for a decade and tells her it will get easier. Everyone says that, and I know it will. But I’m ready for easier. I am impatient for an easier time to be here already. But I know that’s not how it works.

I’m doing so much better than I was in November when I couldn’t eat or sleep or even talk about my life without anxious tears.  As I said before in this space, I am not sorry anymore. I know I have the core to push through this.  And I can’t explain it, but I even know somehow that there is something really good down the road waiting for me. I wish I could see it more clearly, wish I knew the time and place and had the foresight to see exactly how things will unfold for me. I don’t, of course.  And I can’t see the future. But I have this tiniest space of peace inside me, and it’s covered often by a yearning and a list of worries.  But sometimes in the still moments, I can feel it just the littlest bit.

I have a sign hanging on my wall in the kitchen, just next to my coffee maker so that I see it as I begin each day.  I found it for cheap the week I moved in this house, and I hung it immediately. It says simply “Joy comes in the morning.”  It’s a reference to Psalm 30:5 which says “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”  There is an echo of this concept in every major religion.  Yin and yang, life and death, pain and rebirth. I know my morning is coming, and that, more importantly, you don’t grow in the easy seasons of your life. It’s the trials that give us substance. I know that transitions are important, and when you skip them and move straight forward to some false kind of happy or distraction immediately, you have a major price to pay years later.  I know the internal work is the most important part. I know all of this.  But just when I think I am moving forward and making major strides on any internal wreckage, so to speak, I see that the kids have shielded me a bit from the loneliness that people experience after divorce.

And I have so many friends checking on me all the time. (A huge THANK YOU to you guys if you are reading this.) I had lunch with a good friend yesterday followed by book shopping and a sunny stroll. And so many fun plans are lined up for me this summer to fill my time away from the kids. But this is work, y’all. The knowing yourself, the moving forward with real purpose and intention and thought so that the next chapter will be the bright morning light I know it can be.  It’s just hard. That’s the simple truth as I’m feeling it now, so I’ll just say it.

I’m listening to lots of good new (to me) music to fill the time and the silence in my house. Redbird has been an obsession lately, and there’s a particular Gospel Whiskey Runners song that has been on repeat a lot.  Isn’t it weird how art – whether it’s visual or literary or musical – can echo your own thoughts sometimes?  It’s that human moment of “Wait, you feel that, too? I thought I was the only one?”  And that’s why I write, friends. You get it out and write it down and see it on a page or screen and know that it’s the human experience. Pain and joy, crying and smiling, death and rebirth, dark and light.  It’s all here for us, and at least when you’re in a season that stings, you know the next one is around the corner.

Anyway, here’s a little listen for you if you want.  “My bones are tired but they’re still shaking, and my heart is torn but it’s done breaking, and my hope is set on things unseen”  Amen and amen and amen.