Sometimes, its not the depth of the water, or even the speed of the current that is scary. Its the fact that we can’t see to the bottom, don’t know what lurks beneath, what lies just under the surface waiting for us.
Seeing the ones we count on to be “all knowing” slip and fall is scary. So scary that it can create a panic that is overwhelming, long after our hero has risen up laughing.
When the water is moving fast it is easy to enjoy the ride, easy to whoop and cry out and scream and recover. The parts when we are just drifting can be hardest, most fearful, most excruciating.
It always helps if someone is willing to float along side us and hold our hand. We can breathe easier and look toward the sky knowing that we are not alone.
It also always helps to keep the people who have traveled this river before in our sights. They are just a little ways ahead and while we cannot be sure the current, the wind or anything will be the same when we get to where they are, knowing that they have been there and are OK is comforting.
The hardest thing to do is NOT to give up, and to stay, floating, letting the river take us where it may. We can be faced with an overwhelming intense desire to stand up, throw our tube over our shoulder and walk to shore but actually, the walk to the shore is treacherous and slimy, the shore is full of brambles and branches and prickly things. Even though its scary, its far easier to float. The resistance is always harder.
At the end, there is tremendous reward for staying in our “discomfort zone” and not fleeing to the safer, smaller space. Not only do we arrive at the way-station, fine but often having grown an inch taller, more confident and full of joy. We can say that we have lived and that is always better than wishing we did.
For Max, the bravest boy I ever knew, who teaches me over and over again. I am so proud of you big boy for feeling the fear and riding the river any way. I can’t wait to go down it with you again.
I am a word girl. While I love visual art, can get lost in the movement of dance and revel in music, when it comes to making meaning of the world I find myself here. At a keyboard. Or with my nose buried in someone else’s poetry. My friend Jeff laughs at me. Whenever he is playing a new song he has written, I listen once or maybe twice and then demand to see his notes with the lyrics. Moved as I may be by the music, I need to take in the poetry of his words. I dive in there to open up more space so that the music can better seep in.
For the last few weeks, I have been exploring quiet places. Covering ground that seem ordinary and extraordinary all in one. It is impossible to articulate the wild ride I have been on. If they are paying attention, I think, many of my friends are confused. I am fine, life is good, and yet, I am so quick to well up, the shut down or to just grow quiet. Normally flowing over with affection, I am not so quick to rise and hug. I am ebbing a bit now. But its not a contraction. More like a centering, a stillness, a 40 day rest and coming home and being yin. I am moved, but not sad. I am grieving but am not lost. I know deep in my heart that everything is fine and have been trying to sink into the easiness of the world.
There is no way to explain what happens when you are growing while it is happening. Its a story that can only be told with a glance in the rear view mirror further up the road. Whenever I try and explain what shifts are happening in my heart right now, I find myself wordless. I stumble thinking that it seems both so big and so small all at once and that if I even tried I would sound so crazy it would defile this growth spurt. And in these moments I love that I can stop being a word girl, even if it makes me a bit wobbly.
This song is grounding me these days. While I have long loved it, I cannot tell you what the words are. Every time I hear it, I feel an expansion in my chest and feel a road roll out before me. Blue winter light filters in through snow dusted cedars and pine, the sun sinks low. I roll down my window and breathe in the crispness. The reaction is purely physical now matter how many times I hear it. Its a tingling expansion that moves from my chest out to my limbs. It is melancholy and joyful all at once. It is hopeful and content. It is not just grounding me. It raises me up above the trees, the weeds of words in my mind.
“Everything cuts against the tide, when you’re by my side” -Jeff Tweedy
Tonight, after dinner, I bundled up Max and his best buddy Jake and we headed to the ice rink. It was the last game of the summer season of the Mullet League, one of the many “old guy” hockey leagues that play late in the evenings. We were there to see a couple of friends, guys who love the game so much so that they ignore the aches and pains of middle age and keep playing.
We were the only three people in the stands. Max and Jake waved their handmade signs and cheered whenever Dan or Pierre came on the ice. Max ran the length of the rink with his sign over his head whenever Dan touched the puck and carried it toward the goal. And when Pierre scored a goal, we looked at each other with glee and said, “Did you see that? I saw that! We were here to see him score!”
One of my greatest joys is being a witness.
Being the one who goes, to who stands beside, who watches with wonder and cries because it is so beautiful. Who cheers or bows her head or simply looks on and says, “yes… I see you are strong, gorgeous, smart, amazing, daring, brave”. I am at my happiest when I am standing beside someone I care about and simply being there while they do something brilliant, terrifying or heartbreakingly difficult. And I can wave and say I am here. I saw you do it. It is true and real.
I am teaching Max that 90% of being a part of a community is simply that, bearing witness to each other’s lives. Listening to each others stories with wonder and awe and compassion. Being there for each other as we bloom and wilt and breakdown only to breakthrough over and over again. Its not about doing the right thing, or saying the right thing but simply about being there–steadfast.
Being there seems to be my skill. In fact, I am beginning to believe its my purpose. To hold space, to witness. To see people, as they are–amazingly strong, utterly resilient, brave and bold and sometimes broken but unbelievably gorgeous in their being. To stand there and say, “I see you. I see your dreams, your fears. I see you, not the pretend plastic coating that you put on but you, with your messiness and your struggles and I love you. Its all going to be ok.”
Isn’t that why we all come here, this community of writers who come to bear witness to each other’s writing, lives, stories poured out on the page? We come to hold the space so something beautiful and healing and new and centering can be born. We take leaps, we soar, we sometimes fail, but above all we bear witness.
For you, who come here, or sit in my living room. For those of you who have commented, or who have held me while I cried, who played me music so I could dance or simple said, “I am here”. You are my witness to this messy and full life, spilling over with happiness and grief and fear. This is for you.
Circle back round. To yourself. To the place you know so well. To the places that scare you. Go back to your heart and listen closely to what you hear. Is this simply treading over old familiar ground or is it rather a mantra, a remembering, a learning to love yourself again and again? Of needing to return until you know how strong, smart, rich, beautiful and full you are?
In the end, when the lights go out, when the rug gets pulled when it all falls apart that love will keep you hovering. Is it real yet? Do you know it? Do you know you are enough?
I feel I am walking in circles tracing old pathways and discovering them anew this week. It is good, to walk this way again. It is hard sometimes too. And in all this spiraling motion I am seeing that there is no getting over, under or out from who I am. I am, who I am broken and powerful and perfect and messy all at once.
I am seeing that even as I walk there is no forward or backward or even sideways. There is only here. Where I am right now. Sometimes familiar, sometimes strange–but always just right here centered in myself. Can I open my eyes and see that I am balanced here? That I always was–that I just needed to discover it?
Is it that easy?
I have been in a bit of a funk lately. I have been banging around and grouchy and feeling stuck and unsure and not quite clear on what’s next. I have been feeling so powerless.
For so so long, after Juan left and I became a single parent, the goal has been simple: Survive. Just get through it.
And then, the goal was different, but simple still: Get through it with joy. And great love. And gratitude. And peace of mind.
Learning to do both of these things rearranged the furniture in my soul quite a bit. I learned a lot about relinquishing control, riding the waves of life as it came at me, going with the flow and acceptance. I learned to breathe through whatever came and to not focus too far into the future. I have learned to let go of control and to appreciate the unexpected gifts that come when it all goes wrong. These have all been good lessons. I am happier for having learned them.
But something else happened in that healing from the divorce. An unintentional consequence of my exuberance to let go. If you would have told me even 6 months ago that I would be saying this now, I would have told you you were crazy. But now in the light of day that comes when life is stable and normal and calm I can see it plain as day. I got used so used to giving in I somehow crossed a magic line. Somehow I equated acceptance with feeling powerless and I got so used to the feeling, I actually started to believe it was true.
As anyone who has been through a divorce can tell you, it is an exercise at realizing the limits of one’s power–or to be more accurate one’s power to control the outcome. Slowly but surely I woke up to the bitter truth that I was powerless to save my marriage and my vision of how it would all be. I could try and try, but no matter what I did, we had no happy ending. No matter what I did, or what I said, this horrible thing was rolling along anyway. I felt deflated by the process. Over the course of the next several years there would be financial problems I couldn’t solve, because they required my ex-husband to do something he didn’t want or couldn’t do. There were these moments when Juan promised to come spend time with Max but didn’t show and no matter how I flung my mama bear body, I couldn’t stop the waves of grief and hurt that crashed over the tiny boy’s heart. So much has come at us, Max and me, so much that we couldn’t control, I just stopped believing that I had any power to do anything other than react. We lived in the moment, breathed, did the best we could and we survived, laughed and loved.
I have spent the better part of the last 4-5 years reacting. Riding the waves and rolling with the punches. I have done it with grace if I must say so myself but I somehow lost touch with the confidence I once had–the confidence that I could actually make something I want to happen…well…happen.
The fact that I would ever allow myself to drift in this direction is shocking to me. I am honestly baffled. I am confused about how a woman such as me would arrive in this place of feeling so unable to do more than get through each day. I had no idea it was happening and yet, here I am, with eyes wide open, realizing that all this time that in an effort to save my sanity I lost my sense of power. Perhaps I even willingly let it go.
There is a fine balance, I am learning, between feeling I need to be in control and feeling powerful. There is a difference that is subtle but critical. Needing to be in control attaches to outcomes. Power however derives from the deep knowing that what you do matters, even if it doesn’t lead to the outcome you had hoped.
Power is the belief that its worth trying. Worth doing. No matter what happens.
It took having a dream, and deciding to make it true to bring it all to the surface.
And so now, there is some more rearranging of soul furniture to do. I need to touch that power again, and practice feeling powerful, even as I stay rooted in a non-attachment to outcomes. This feels like tricky spiritual gymnastics, a subtle dance I am not sure how to master. I suppose it’s an exercise of swinging between the extremes, practicing, until the balance is found.
I am not yet sure about how to reclaim my power. What do you do to claim yours?
Five years ago, I found the pattern for this sweater in a magazine. It was a new construction, essentially knit all in one piece–I had never done anything like it. It is slightly felted and fuzzy. It looked so incredibly cozy.
It was a man’s size.
I wanted to knit it. I put it in the lineup. I would make it for my husband.
Before I got to it, Juan told me he was leaving me.
The thought of knitting a man’s sweater was more than I could bear. I put the pattern aside. I knit socks and slippers and things that would ground me. I knit long scarves to wrap around me and keep out the cold. I knit myself mittens so that someone, even if that someone was made of wool, would hold my hand.
After awhile, when the loss of Juan stopped stinging–that sweater pattern kept calling to me. I thought about it at the strangest times. I would sigh and say…'”Oh its too bad I have no one to knit that sweater for… Maybe one day.”
This spring, I was going through my yarn and I found 3 large hanks of Irish wool, the most beautiful color green. The hue was deep and complex. I had bought the yarn in a special place in the west of Ireland, at a place I felt almost magical. I knew immediately it was the yarn for my sweater.
I decided that I couldn’t wait until the owner of the sweater came into my life. I figured if I knit the sweater, the owner would become apparent when the sweater was done. I have never knit this way. I always start a project with the owner in mind–and I lovingly think of him or her as I knit. It keeps me focused and going. It gives me deep pleasure to think of them enjoying my creation.
It was a leap of faith, a metaphor really for where I was in my life. Use the beautiful yarn, start the sweater and see what happens. There is no need to have a plan lined up–start and see where it leads.
As I sat knitting this spring, on the porch of my dear friend Jen, she giggled with delight. She loved the idea that I was knitting sweaters for a future lover. “Oh Jen…” I sighed, “It doesn’t have to be a lover…Maybe its a teacher, a friend, a man on the street…Maybe the need to define someone who is worthy of such a complicated sweater is part of the problem. Maybe I will be free to give it away so much more easily having made it with love for no one in particular.
“I think the owner of that sweater will be the great love of your life,” she smiled. I loved that she believed that with all her might. When Jen believes things they sparkle somewhat as though dusted in fairy magic and you believe that maybe they might come true.
As I was about halfway through the body of the sweater it dawned on me that I might not have enough yarn. I almost despaired and ripped it out but kept going. I thought it would be my fishes and loaves project. I kept telling myself that if I just kept knitting I would have enough yarn–and if not, a solution would present itself. And just when I thought I would indeed run out–I found the smallish manufacturer on line. I have yet to connect with them by telephone in Ireland but they claim they will ship to the US. The dye lot may be off, but it will be close enough.
Having crossed that bridge with momentum and spunk, I suddenly hit a brick wall. One day, I just stopped. I have put the project aside for now. Sweltering mid-Atlantic July days don’t mix with heavy Irish wool. But also, if I am honest, I am not sure I am ready to finish. Its as though having leapt I am now kind of wondering, “What the heck is this about? Complicated sweaters made with great great love for no one in particular? REALLY? REALLY? What’s that about?’
And I’ve stumbled upon another metaphor–a metaphor that is all too familiar right now from where I stand. The moment that comes when you are in the thick of slogging away for a dream. When you far enough from the beginning but the end is so far away, so fuzzy, so completely unformed and unknowable that you suddenly wonder if you were crazy for having started. When its too hot and too hard and you are not sure what comes next so maybe you should just go to the pool and read a book.
Its been weeks, dare I say it months, that this sweater has sat in a bag on the corner of the bench in my living room. I know pretty soon, that it will just go into a deep dark closet, a good idea, a possibility that never was to be, a funny story. I have looked at it with a sigh lately, so sorry for the fate I know is coming–the closet of unrealized dreams.
But I won’t let it happen. While to be honest, I am not sure what to do next about this dream, I know I can move forward with this sweater. I will call the yarn manufacturer in Ireland and I will order what I need to finish and I will pick up the needles and the yarn I have left and I will keep going. Not because I am attached to any of the stories Jen, Odette and I have made up about this magical sweater, but because it needs to get done. It was started and it wants to be finished. It needs to be born.
For five years I have wanted to make this sweater.
Its time is now.