Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Keep knocking, and the Joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who's there.- Rumi

Everytime I look at this picture of my beautiful little niece post para-sail ride, rising up from the waters of the French Riveria, I think, joy... pure joy. Now, she could care less that she is on a beach in Nice, France. That is not what has etched the look of bliss on her face. She’s joyful because she took a risk, overcame a fear and is savoring the by-product of it. Courage, faith, and accomplishment. Pre-parasail adventure, as she was being strapped into the harness, her little hands were shaking and I am sure her mind was whirling with “what if’s”. This picture is a great reminder for me. If I want to experience that kind of joy, I have to be willing to welcome change, keep an open mind, and put “myself out there”.

My life story consists of decades of abandonment, in many forms... parental, emotional unavailability, infidelity, and death. Scary stuff for me to allow someone to touch my heart and let them enter. But, thanks be to the blessed gift of a 12- step program many years ago, I have learned to take the chance and invite some folks in. Unfortunately, I am still learning discernment in WHO I allow to share my generous spirit and joy.

It is excruciating to have your heart broken into a million pieces by a man you have loved and trusted, only to have him tell you he doesn’t love you or want to be married to you any longer, after 28 years. Watching the melt-down of a dear friend, upon hearing that news most recently, left me few words of comfort in reassuring her that she would survive, and likely come out the other side of that dark tunnel, stronger, more assured and able to trust again. First, I cannot even begin to identify with the long-term commitment part. My track record in intimate relationships is pitiful at best. I am the “good for seven years gal”. My most enduring relationships (really) have been seven years... tops. In kabbalah, they have a term for your Achilles heel of sorts, parts of your life that you return to in future lifetimes to correct or change direction. It’s called your Tikune. I sense, as embedded as my cluelessness with the opposite sex is, this lifetime isn’t my first go around at correcting! I am hopeful this time, God packed an instruction manual in my soul in the hopes I would actually pick it up and read it someday. You know, a black and yellow study guide, Healthy Relationships for Dummies. I don’t know if I could tolerate another lifetime of repetition with my conflicting behaviors of neediness, false Independence, emotional unavailability, or excessive tolerance for the unacceptable. Or, the most damaging of all, settling for sloppy seconds. Basically, this is what I told my dear friend in the potential loss of her marriage. I said, “I can be there for you, love you, show you how to take care of you, but I am not equipped to pass out any advice on healing a relationship. Talk to someone who has been married for 25 years if you are trying to figure it out.” Clueless here...

What I can identify with are her feelings of devastation. I do know the icy shock of having your trust betrayed. That, I can share with her. I also know what it feels like in every one of my life challenges, to move beyond control, accept powerlessness, and surrender. The serenity that comes with not having to be in charge, is a welcome breeze sweeping through your soul. I know what it feels like to wake up one morning months after a loss and actually see the sun streaming in the window. I know the beauty and relief in finally viewing one who has hurt you so badly, as a wounded soul rather than an evil person, and being able then, to truly forgive. I can share all that with her too. Although, it’s sad watching my friend hurt, I know that sometimes those who bring us the most joy, will ultimately cause us the most suffering. So, what’s the trade-off? A life shut down from others, lacking intimacy, engagement, and love? I think not.. Not for me. Not anymore.

One of my favorite movies of all times is City of Angels. I discovered it after my husband’s death and watched it over and over again while wallowing in my grief and self-pity. The message it contained has stuck with me. Nicholas Cage plays the part of a guardian angel who happens to fall in love with a beautiful doctor (Meg Ryan). He wants desperately to be with her, as a human. He is told that God will grant this request, but he must recognize he will then possess the fallibility and the range of emotion that plague humans. He agrees to this and is happy beyond imagining, sharing with Meg Ryan the pleasures of being mortal. One morning, while riding her bicycle, she is hit by a truck and killed. The intensity of his grief and pain is unbearable and he is now experiencing the deepest anguish imaginable, questioning his decision to become a part of the human race. The final scene in the movie, Nicholas Cage is lying on the beach, a dismantled man. You see him surrounded by many guardian angels, the sunlight beginning to filter into the deep, dark places of his despair. He slowly rises and runs, full clothed, into the sea. As he splashes in the waves, he raises his face towards the sun, and a smile begins to tug at his cheeks. Feeling awe and delight, once again, savoring the memories and the moment, he raises his arms to the sky and laughs joyfully. He has evolved through the human experience. We cannot and will not ever fully experience joy without walking through some fear and putting ourselves out there, making a change, connecting with others, falling in love, trusting and welcoming whatever life holds for us. Joy precedes pain and pain precedes joy. Seems we can’t have one without the other. Great joy, involves great risk and being brave enough to open up the window again, and see what is there.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

On the road to our purpose, their are many blockades, detours and dead-ends. They remind us; it's not about the destination, it's the journey- Me

While dusting the fireplace mantel today in my bedroom, I picked up a porcelain figurine given to me in the first year of my painful journey navigating widowhood. At the time, I was working for the administrative offices of a school district. I had obtained this job after a 17 year career with a locally owned company that had been acquired by a large corporation, based in another state. As often happens with business acquistions, the old regime is put out to pasture to make way for the younger, less jaded and expensive labor. This period of my life, I optimistically, (through gritted teeth) called my year of change. This was the year, my daughter graduated from college AND got married, my husband was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer, and I was downsized from a job I was accomplished at and compensated for. On the psychiatric scale measuring the impact of certain life stressors, I had hit on the top four. Although the School district job itself provided little intellectual stimulation or challenge, when held in comparison to my previous headache producer, it provided me with a comfortable little nest to snuggle into and begin the healing process. Additionally, the health coverage that came along with the new employment, took care of some really expensive medical bills incurred in my husband’s final days. I recognized that blessing later, and was grateful.

After his death, and the overload of the previous year, my brain wasn’t operating at full capacity, and emotional intelligence was about at the level of a two year old toddler. Collegues were understanding, empathetic, responsive and generous; traits that weren’t present with my previous corporate blood-suckers. Once, again, much later, I saw that God really placed me exactly where I needed to be. As instructed by grief counselors, good friends and a stack of recovery literature, I stayed put, no major changes for at least a year they said. I knew at some point this job wouldn’t provide me with enough to fill the void left by the loss of not only my husband, but all of those things that came with being a busy, social butterfly, married to a like minded adventurer. A year into my grief, I felt like I was walking in quick sand, and if I didn’t do something, make a change, try something new, I would be buried alive by pain and mediocrity. The real fear was that I just might find myself quite comfortable there. Sometimes, when we are in situations that agonizingly twist us into limp dish rags, we don't have enough energy to do much more than get complacent with the misery. I knew I needed to stick my baby toe into the overwhelming project of rebuilding a life for myself.

I made several significant decisions. One, to leave the comfort of my current job. Second, to go back to school, and third, to work part time in a venue that would challenge my grief process on a daily basis, but also, perhaps, aid in my healing. An intuitive and kind friend from the school district, bought the figurine for me as a farewell gift. This “Precious Moment” statue was a wide-eyed little explorer, carpet bag at her feet, lettered with the sentiment, “On My Way.” Hoovering above her head, many signs pointed in random directions; This Way...That Way.... Over Pass.... Under Pass. Sitting on the edge of my bed, holding her in my hand and studying her today, my mind spun back to when I first got her, ten years ago. All I saw then, was the message, “On My Way.” And, it was true, I was. Venturing forward into the unknown, yet with a clear vision and projected outcome. It was not until today, really looking at this treasured gift, that I recognized these past ten years have not been what I planned when I received her.

My life today does not come close to resembling what I saw back when I was “on my way”. It has been a bumpy road of fits and starts and do-overs. It’s been trial and error, emotionally, spiritually, professionally, and romantically. I thought I saw the sign post pointing this way, and when I arrived, a new crossroad, and the best I could do was pray and hope that I was headed in the right direction. Often, I got lost. Sometimes just long enough to resynch my internal GPS and take the overpass. Other times, wandering deep into parts of me, yet unknown for rather long stretches. And, sometimes, arriving at places of the purest, sweetest serenity, adventure and love. Essentially, when I look at the life I have today, with it’s many changes, losses, sweet surprises and pleasures, I am glad all I knew those years ago, was that I was on my way. I don’t need the arrows and signs to point me in a straight line. Wonderful adventures often await when we get lost. For, it’s been in losing my way, that I am finding my way, and learning to savor it, moment by moment.