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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Why When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Over It

A story my Mom loves to tell on my older sister is that when she was a teenager and did something that made my parents angry (kind of her M.O. at the time, frankly), her response to my Mother’s admonitions was always, “You’ll get over it.”  OOOh, SASSY!  And BRAVE!  Let me advise you that my Mom was not much of one for backtalk when we were kids.  Still isn’t, come to think of it.

Of course my sister was right; as a parent, your “getting over it” skills become madly honed as you recover from your children’s misbehaviors and mishaps alike.  I’m thinking of the time my son shattered a beloved Christmas ornament on the kitchen floor.  And the time he somehow got ahold of the title for our car and went at it with his safety scissors.  Or the time he ruined our 10th anniversary trip by giving us both the most virulent stomach bug in the history of mankind the night before we left (turns out you can puke your guts out in fancy hotel bathrooms as well as anywhere!).
But you get over it.  What are the other options?  And as years pass you “get over it” quicker and quicker because you come to realize that NOT getting over it is a fool’s game.  It’s like contracting a horrible stomach bug and then actively CHOOSING not to recover.

I have recently been going through a very tough time—a lot of proverbial sh*t hit the proverbial fan at once—and I became so overwhelmed by negative input that I sank into a real depression for the first time in a decade.  So many situations were at crisis level at once, I couldn’t think of which way to turn.  Like the little boy with his finger in the dam watching hundreds of other leaks pop, I was in full-on panic mode.
William Shakespeare wrote, “Cowards die many times before their deaths” and I very much related to this as my panic spun out of control…not only was I worrying about all of the bad things that were ACTUALLY happening, my mind was inventing a lot of worst case scenario outcomes that would wake me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.  I felt neither brave nor well-equipped to handle all the things coming my way, both real and imagined.

I spent a few weeks “dying many times”.  I really don’t recommend it.
I even had a dream one night that I went to a big, dress-up event except when I showed up no one was there and when I tried to leave I realized my fancy clothes had (ala Cinderella) changed to rags and then my driver left without me, but took my purse and phone.  And left behind, dressed in rags with no money or mode of communication, I decided that my best option was to wander into the woods and disappear forever.

The universe was not being particularly helpful, either; after the initial wicked punches, it started delivering a series of VERY painful pinches to the point where I started vocalizing a belief that I have been somehow hexed.  Like in that “Brady Bunch” episode when Bobby finds the tiki idol and they start having a terrible run of bad luck, most memorably the tarantula on Peter’s chest.  But then something funny happened.
RIGHT AFTER I made the Brady Bunch comparison, my husband walked in the house from work one day with---you guessed it!---a GIANT wolf spider crawling on his chest.  After we disposed of the INCREDIBLY ENORMOUS arachnid, I’ll admit I had to laugh.  For something with such atrocious timing, the universe sure does have a good sense of humor.

This humorous out-picturing of my facetious fear (I am under a curse!) made me remember—fearing it is living it.  When we are fixated on what we FEAR will happen, we are essentially giving ourselves the experience of having it happen.  This is why “cowards die many times before their deaths”.
So I decided it was time, as my sister would suggest, for me to “get over it”.

Even though nothing has changed; even though nothing is “fixed”.  Even though there are no answers; even though the future right now looks bleak and uncertain at best.  Time to get over it or keep dying those many deaths.  Not much of a choice there.

Also:  when bad things happen, especially so many at once, there is the immediate response of “shock and awe”—how can this be?  Where am I to go?  What am I to do?  But after this very understandable phase passes, while we rarely have any concrete answers we do have a sense of those bedrocks in life:  family, friends, health, your sense of self.  Family and true friends tend to show up in force when the going gets tough; the security of being at home in your body and mind is no longer taken for granted.
We embrace the “real” and begin to parse out what is less important; priorities slowly begin to emerge and you take stock in all you have already survived in this life.  We humans are built for survival, after all.  Wired for it, actually.  So even though we need to allow ourselves time to process loss, trauma and pain, ultimately we are destined to rise again, like the phoenix from the ashes.  Our fears may cause us to die many deaths, but resurrection is inevitable.

Shakespeare also wrote, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”  Today I am over it.  Tomorrow my fears may resurge and cause me to suffer, because I am a fool who plays this fool’s game.  But I will get over it again.  Quicker and quicker each time.  And next time I sure as hell won’t be bringing that tike idol home from the construction site, am I right???


Monday, August 15, 2016

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

I am just coming off of one of the worst weeks I have had in the last 7 years.  It literally felt like the universe had this great long TO-DO list of atrocity that it decided to dump into my “IN” box all at once.  And it wasn’t just me; several people I love were dealing with some serious loss and trauma as well.  So I am not writing this from a place of Zen, calm, knowing or assuredness.  I am writing from a shell-shocked place of fear, panic and pain.

There is only one time in my life before that I felt this frightened and unsure of what to do—when my son was a baby and he was going through some scary medical testing that took weeks for results.  It was like living in a perpetual earthquake; when will the world stop shaking and what kind of aftermath of destruction will I have to deal with when it does?  At that time, however, my “Mother Bear” instincts were in full force and fighting for my son was my only focus.  Things are different now.
Now the earthquake is threatening all of the structures in my life and to be perfectly honest it is the “flee” instinct that is kicking in.  I want to run away, hide; find a cave in the wilderness, go inside and roll a rock in front of it until everything is over.  I don’t want to be present for this.  I want to collapse into a heap and stay there until a magical solution to all of my problems drops down from the sky.  I feel incapable; I feel weak.

In spite of all of this, I took a road trip to the Philly area this weekend for a family wedding.  I am calling it a “family” wedding even though I am not related to the family involved; but they have been a constant in my life since the day I was born and were such an intrinsic and important part of my childhood that I feel much closer to them than some of the people who are genetic relations.  The matriarch and my Mother have known each other since grade school; her youngest daughter was my dearest, closest friend growing up and I spent more time in their house than probably any other but my own.
Shaken and out-of-sorts as I am, it was very moving to come together to celebrate this first marriage of the next generation.  Sitting in the church, seeing all of these people I love so much looking happy and healthy reminded me of all of the difficult times they had gone through, both individually and as a clan.  I remembered all of the bad things that have happened to these good people and wanted to weep at seeing everybody so well and celebrating an event so full of optimism for the future and joy.

I won’t pretend it made me feel better about my life in that moment; it did not.  But it did make me feel grateful and connected to grace in a way I hadn’t in many days.  On my way home from this beautiful event, I stopped to visit with another dear friend of many years.  She is the ultimate embodiment of the “Mother Bear” and fate has forced her down to the mat on her kids’ behalf ad naseum; like most parents, her greatest fear is always that the challenges her children face will somehow “ruin their lives”.  I am always quick to contradict her when she vocalizes these sorts of thoughts, even as I myself am wondering if my own life is going to ruin.
We went out to dinner with her son and daughter, both of whom I have known and loved since birth; she and I somehow got to reminiscing about my parents and the home my family lived in when she and I met.  In describing it to her children she said, “When you walked in the door, you felt the love.  You felt loved.”  Her daughter’s response was this:  “Well, I can believe that, because that’s how Aunt Kara’s house is now”.

Sometimes in life you have a moment that takes your breath away; this was such a moment.  I had been so caught up in my anxiety and fear and wretchedness that I had completely lost sight of myself and the premises upon which I have built my life.  It took this beautiful girl who I have known and loved for all 16 years of her life to remind me of a critical fact:  I am a good person.  And just because bad things are happening, I can’t let them change who I am.
Even the Bible offers no special protection to anyone trying to live a good life; in the book of Matthew it says that God “makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust”.  Same goes for earthquakes; the earth is shaking for me right now and will continue to shake for the foreseeable future.  But I cannot process this as a judgment; I cannot accept this as a final verdict on my soul.

Bad things happen to good people.  We all know this and understand it is a part of life.  I have no idea where I will be standing when the shaking stops, but I do know I will still be standing.  When I went through that scary time with my son I stood up because I had to; this time I will keep standing because I want to…I want to continue to love and work and become myself, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.  I want to commit to myself the same way I just watched two young people do with each other on a grand altar.

Just like them, I have no idea what comes next; but I know it won’t be the same as before and I won’t be the same as before.  Unlike them, I don’t feel excited or optimistic or full of plans.  I don’t even feel brave.  I just feel like a little kid who is waiting for the shaking to stop and wishing someone would pick me up and carry me until it does.  But I will not let the bad things convince me that I am bad, or life is bad.  I will wait for the shaking to stop and believe that maybe, just maybe, I can find treasure that was previously buried in the rubble.