Thursday, March 26, 2020

Shakespeare Silly and Sad, and Something More

It's funny. In a matter of days, life has changed so completely for so many of us throughout the world that we will never be the same as we were just one week or two ago. I see this as a good thing, though I can understand the terrors of those who don't.

In so many of Shakespeare's plays, characters turn on a dime, especially in his comedies. It can seem silly or unbelievable at times, but is it really?

I remember being in college at a dance. A friend of mine who was unused to being asked to dance was swept onto the dance floor by a guy who she had thought looked dreamy. He was better than that. He turned out to be kind and thoughtful and charming too- and she returned to us flush with exhilaration and delight. He was so wonderful and he LIKED her. I had never seen her happier. But almost immediately, doubts crashed in. Why would he like her? Why did he ask her to dance in the first place? He probably just felt sorry for her and was only being kind to her because he was kind. He had deceived her. He hadn't really liked her. When he came to her again, just a few minutes later, eager to dance with her once more, she fled- and avoided him for the rest of the night. She had talked herself out of him in a matter of seconds without a single offense. 

For decades I have struggled with believing men. I could have believed in a supremely happy marriage for myself at 17, at 18- even at 21- but experiences ended that belief for me before I graduated from college. That loss of belief hurt me more in the ensuing years than the men in my life ever did. Eventually I would try again, but only two of those relationships would near a depth in me that reached the outer rim of my heart. Still, it hurt... these ghosts of relationships that multiplied over the years and would haunt me.

I was done.

And then after one date that I didn't really want to go on years later, I wasn't.

It was that simple, and that complicated.

It wasn't love at first sight, but it was sight as a result of real love, and as I allowed myself to love and be loved in a variety of circumstances and a variety of ways, things shifted inside me in ways that I couldn't have believed a few days, weeks, months, and years before.

Three years later it continues to. It's not been easy, nor has it been a steady climb upwards. Sometimes we descend in order to rise. It's these changes in elevation that expand our vision- not just of others- but of our surroundings, our history, and ourselves.

The crucial switch for me that led me to marry my husband was not one glorious moment of happiness, it was a series of small kindnesses and, ultimately, coming to terms with two deaths: my first love at 17, and the death of my cousin who had cared about and watched out for me and my family with tenderness and love after the death of my father years before. 

All the good men in my life die.

The wound of my cousin's death was fresh- he died fifteen minutes after I had purchased tickets to a Shakespeare festival the following week in a little town hours south of me; something that had required some bravery on my part at the time. I spent those days at the festival quite differently than I had intended, but it gave me a place removed from my life where I could grieve in anonymity and relative peace. And in that grieving came the crucial key to future healing and happiness. In that grieving, I felt that I would know the man that I should marry because he would be kind, like the cousin that I had decided if I ever married, I would ask to take my father's place in the ceremony.

I was married without him, which three years later still makes me weep, but grieving for his death is what helped me to leap into life- a new life- and, ultimately, the best one for me.

These moments that turn our lives upside-down, disorienting and frightening us, can also be the moments that, ultimately, can help us to set ourselves to rights. These experiences that break us, can break us open, giving space within us for greater light and love to come.

Silly? Unbelievable? Life-changing?


May this time ultimately change us all for the better, is my hope for each and every one of us.



Thursday, February 20, 2020

2019: The Year of Grace

While I am looking forward to 2020 being a year of vision, for me, looking back, 2019 was a year of grace. 

What did grace look like? Not getting what I wanted, the vast majority of things in my life not working out, touching the far edges of my sanity and living there for an extended period of time.

I told my friends that they say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. For me, the definition of insanity became doing things differently and getting the same result. Again, and again, and again.

It was heartbreaking, and it was life changing, but pretty much only on the inside.

There was no home of our own, no career breakthroughs, no miraculous leap into health and well-being despite patience, and work, and major surgery. There were, however, a lot of doors that closed.

After 27 years of preparing, and working, and adjusting medical treatments for the best possible chance- with finality- there would be no miracle baby. For the little girl still inside of me who used to walk around with a pillow under her shirt in excitement and anticipation for what she dreamed would one day come, it was devastating. The intervening years- hard, traumatic, and discouraging as they had been- had not inoculated me to the pain of never being able to have the life I had hoped for and seen all around me.

There was family drama, new medical debt that quickly replaced the old we had diligently been paying off, old health issues coupled with new ones as I lost more of my body once again. Talks and tests for cancer. Shift work for my husband that makes it pretty impossible to have a routine of any kind other than adapting every day and making the best of it that we can. Hope and discouragement, goal posts being moved further down the field as we approached them, over and over again.

As a teenager I had believed that nothing in my life could approach the years of fear and hurt being hunted and harassed by the people who were trying to prevent my parents from testifying in a horrifically brutal murder case. As I lost, and nearly lost, a number of loved ones to deaths sudden and slow, as I added stepmother to stepdaughter and the other roles I have filled in my life, along with second wife, my soul hollowed out with my weeping, and the distinction between the hurting and the struggles and the fear then, and now, diminished until they became extremely close. It's been horrible and it's been wonderful, and I got through it both times on an astonishing amount of grace.

Because there came a point in time when there was nothing more I could do and nothing more I wanted to do. Always before, the times I lost people I have loved to suicide kept me from approaching there. Last year those pains, those remembrances were no longer enough. I had to turn to my husband often, telling him what was in my head because as Mister Rogers had wisely taught, "what is mentionable is manageable." Except that this time, it wasn't. I couldn't do it anymore.

We prayed. We prayed a lot. Minute by minute, sometimes second to second, grace trickled into my life.

It wasn't the grace that changed our circumstances, it was the grace that gave us the strength to outlast whatever was, whatever was to come. A lot of times I hated it- I so wanted to give up. But there it was: keeping me alive when I didn't want to be, keeping me moving when the growth of oaks would have been faster and more visible.

I've been triggered on every traumatic time of my life these last three years. Slowly I've been given vision, slowly I've been given the circumstances that have prepared my heart and soul to let go of what no longer is and what is no longer serving me.  The worst hurts were the scissors that cut the strings to the old ones that, like a marionette, were moving me in ways I did not want to go or be. The truths I faced wrenched my soul, but in my honest wrestling with and acceptance of them, they eventually set me free.

I look back on the past three years with wonder. I wonder how I was as kind as I was under the circumstances, how I was able to endure what I sometimes continue to believe cannot be endured, but that, with Heavenly Father's grace, I continue to. 

I still have seizures, dramatic and otherwise. I continue to have heart problems. I continue to lose my sight. I hurt every day. Sometimes I cannot speak or walk or be still enough to sleep. When I have seizures, sometimes I can't think properly for hours afterwards. Sometimes my words are syllables that make no sense to me or those around me. It hurts my husband and my mother to watch me. It hurts me to watch them watch me. And yet, my soul twinkles every day with hope. Hope that when it's knocked out, flutters around my head like the stars above the recently bumped heads in the old school mayhem cartoons.

I've become better at receiving grace; not batting it back because I haven't earned it, can't earn it, feel unworthy of it- you name it. That's the beauty of grace. It's pure love. I haven't just received it from God, but it always originates with him. Because of that it has strengthened the trust and the love that I share and develop with my husband and with my Father in Heaven. It has helped my husband and I to be more optimistic about the future- especially when our steps to a better one do not work out. Because it means there is another way, a truer source of strength to nudge us along through the despair, and somewhere, a deeper purpose and meaning to the suffering. It's also a gift of small but daily joys, almost imperceptible changes of thought, sudden tenderness in an interaction with another, the opportunity to forgive and to be forgiven, to make changes, to get up one more time than you've been thrust to the ground, to walk when your legs are too weary, to live when you want to die, and in that living, to find you have blessed another or that they have blessed you. It's flowers pushing up through concrete towards the sun. It's the love of someone long gone maturing in your adulthood, when you need it, coming back to your memory at a critical moment- one of heaven's hugs.

It's why loving each other now is always a good investment. Different people receive the dividends of those efforts at different times, in different ways. We don't get to decide how or when or if a person we love will receive that love; but in giving it, it's there. Real and forever. It may not ever reach the soul of the intended recipient, but unselfish love sanctifies the giver and the ground they walk on. I challenge you to think of a time when watching someone else be kind to a stranger made you want to be kinder too. It's beautiful. It's healing. It's a form of grace.