May 26, 2014 § 22 Comments
If I were out at sea, I’d want to know someone was waiting for me, wouldn’t you? – from “Seating Arrangements” by Maggie Shipstead
When I first read The Odyssey, in ninth grade, I thought that Penelope was a bit of a drag with her weeping and begging to be put out of her misery. I smugly thought I knew what she was doing, spending her nights unraveling the shroud she had been weaving all day in order to keep her suitors at bay. There didn’t seem to be anything more to it. The only reason I even remember the class at all is because it was where I first learned about symbolism, which felt a bit like opening a secret door.
Now, I see Penelope’s sabotaged weaving as something much different. I see the unraveling as something that happens when a person physically leaves a marriage, no matter how much love or faith remains. Until Scott left for Bahrain, I hadn’t realized how much a marriage depends on both threads, woven together in words and shared experiences and in presence. I had taken for granted the way Scott and I can look at each other and smile (or grimace) at something Oliver or Gus says, however innocuous, because it conjures up a shared, but private history. Frankly, I am surprised by this, by how I have allowed myself to become so entwined in another person’s life. For 32 years I was single, and mostly unattached. Naively, I had thought I could be in a marriage but keep my solitude and independence, that I could create a life with someone but not miss them too much if they went away.
Scott works long hours normally, and during April and May, he was gone before sunrise and often came home after dark. While I knew the weekends would be difficult, I didn’t think this deployment would make much of a change to my weeks. I had thought I was stronger than I am and I am completely caught off guard by how much I miss Scott, how much I depend on his steadiness, his sense of humor, and the ways he allows me to completely fall apart.
Now, he is living in a hotel room in Manama (it might be months before an apartment can be obtained because of security clearances) and he can Facetime with us in a computer lounge on base. He calls in the mornings or in the afternoons here, which in Bahrain, is after 10 pm. He sends beautiful emails detailing the delicious shawarma dishes he eats, the fresh fruit juices on the menu instead of cocktails, the rug shops that are open until late at night. “When you visit,” he says, “We can pick one out.” I think of those thick and colorful tapestries, and I feel myself coming undone.
Scott told me that the international school where we would have sent the boys is on the edge of a Shia village, or a black zone, forbidden to Americans because of sectarian violence. He told me about the big fence around the school and the graffiti on the walls, the armed guards who ride on the school buses. On one of his first nights there, the street with American restaurants was closed because protesters were burning tires. Scott also sent beautiful photos of the Manama skyline sparkling at night, of the tan and empty desert, and the twin spires of the Grand Mosque, which my mother accurately pointed out, “look so much more interesting and exotic when they are in your own email box instead of in a magazine.” When I talk to him, I can almost feel the heat he describes or smell the bahji puri, but mostly, I just feel so far away.
My neighbor’s husband is in Guantanamo Bay for nine months, and the other day, while she was walking her dog, she warned me the weekends are the worst, and this holiday weekend proved her right. Oliver has been extremely difficult lately, both needy and angry, and I am trying to be understanding while also holding the line that must be held for him. Of course, I am flooded with doubt over every decision. Oliver loves boundaries even as he rails against them, making faces at me, talking back, telling me he doesn’t care that he has lost his screen time. In a single day, I am both the meanest mom on the planet and the best mom in the world.
Today, we drove 90 minutes to Wilmington, mostly because I couldn’t stand the sight of one more father firing up a grill and because I was feeling angry and needy myself. We went to a historical, working plantation and then to a children’s museum. “I know you’re having a hard time,” I told Oliver, after I made him sit down because he wouldn’t leave his brother alone. He looked at me with his father’s eyes and said, “It feels like a piece of my heart fell down into my stomach.”
Jason Crandell, the yoga teacher, recently posted this on Facebook: “Your edge is the threshold in a pose—or moment in seated meditation—where physical, mental, and emotional resistance comes rushing to the foreground. Reaching your edge is like applying an enzyme that ignites a reaction and magnifies your physical, mental and emotional patterns.”
This leaving has revealed a jagged edge I didn’t even know was there. I didn’t realize my husband’s journey across an ocean would dredge up all the other times I had been left, and even worse, the magnification of all the ways I abandon myself. I hadn’t known this fact about myself, which is that my constant doing might become my own undoing, that I don’t really know how to stop, how to be still, how to let go. I know how to fill a space with yoga or reading or meditation or watching TV, but this is wildly different from doing nothing or becoming empty.
For the first few nights Scott was gone, I didn’t really sleep. As another dawn began to leak through the night, I felt as though vines were wrapping themselves tighter and tighter around my chest. Already, I was thinking of cleaning the house, going on another cleanse, doing a 40-day meditation sadhana. I know how to tighten and how to restrict. I know how to take away and how to cleave at the messiness until I am clean and sharp. But as I lay there, listening to the buzzing satin of the dawn, it became clear that while I know how to fall apart, I have no idea how to unravel.
Images have been in my mind and heart lately: kelp fronds waving in cold oceans, wind chimes untwisting in the wind, the line from the Tao te Ching that reminds me to have faith in the way things are. I don’t yet have enough faith to believe that everything happens for a reason. There is too much darkness in the world for me to believe in both this and a benevolent god. But I have a sense that in my own good life, I am getting lessons I need to learn. Today, in the plantation, we peered into a weaving studio with a spinning wheel and a loom. Outside, sheep grazed and inside the wool was carded. Fabric was woven together and dyed and sewn into something that can be worn. And yet, I was focused on the undoing of it all, the unweaving, and the unraveling, and what it might feel like, when I too learn how to twist and untwist in the wind.
May 9, 2014 § 3 Comments
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. – Pema Chodron
Thank you so much for all of your comments about what self-care means to you. I learned more from your comments than from any self-help book. If you haven’t read them, you can find them here.
I am bolting in a different and good kind of way today and am in Chicago where I am meeting two of my oldest and dearest friends, both of whom live in the chilly Midwest. Since it’s already been in the 90’s in North Carolina, I have been surprised by the trees here, with their small and early leaves. As the cab left the airport and lurched into traffic, the new green here slayed me for a moment with its lesson of vulnerability that lately, seems to be at the heart of everything.
There is only one way to fly out of Jacksonville, North Carolina, and it is on the tiniest of airplanes. Today it was me and about one hundred Marines, all of us walking across the tarmac and squinting our eyes against the wind of the engines. Once I was on board in my miniature seat, it was clear that there was a mix-up with some tickets, as two people were claiming a single seat as their own. The Marine next to me calmly stood up (ducking his head) and said, “Why don’t you move, sir,” to the man who had taken someone’s seat because someone else was in his. When the man ignored him, the Marine tapped him on the shoulder, his tattooed bicep just inches from my face. “Sir, it started with you, why don’t you go back to your seat and let’s figure this out.”
The man in the black suit looked startled and then annoyed and then after the Marine calmly blinked at him, the man in the suit walked back to his seat. The Marine reminded me of my husband, of the way he can diffuse a situation without raising his voice, which is a special kind of power in this world.
“Nice work,” I said to the Marine next to me and he smiled.
“Just sorting out problems,” he said, as if he did this every day, which he probably does. He held my gaze in a way that unnerved me. Usually I face forward in airplanes. When flying, I do not make eye contact with anyone. Ever. And this sudden intimacy with a stranger was both unsettling and comforting. He had the same color eyes as me and for an instant, I wondered if we had met previously. And then, I realized that what I was experiencing was simply the recognition of our shared human contract, both of us alive to do something in the world.
This is the same feeling I had as I read your comments on what self-care means to you. Although I have not met most of you in person, I had the feeling that there is something deeply known in each of you, something deeply familiar and comforting and shared.
I will announce the winner of the giveaway on Mother’s Day.
May 8, 2014 § 43 Comments
You too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine – Mary Oliver, from “When I Am Among The Trees”
The last few weeks were big ones in our house. Scott finished his job (which has the best title in the world) as the Officer in Charge of Construction at the Office in Charge of Construction. (And who said the military has no imagination?) On Tuesday, they had a ceremony to disestablish the OICC, as the majority of work has been completed. What they did in a few years was outstanding. Roads, highways, and bridges, barracks, and fitness centers were built, totaling over three billion dollars. Scott’s family came out to visit from Oregon, his brother came from Texas, and my parents came from Pennsylvania. We rented a house by the beach, where the five cousins dug in the sand and hunted for sharks’ teeth.
The ceremony was surprisingly emotional for me, and I couldn’t help but appreciate how the military commemorates the endings and beginnings of things. Now you are here. Next you will be there. There is no ambiguity.
During the past few weeks I have been filled with ambiguity, while at the same time, without my own usual rituals of yoga and meditation and walks by the water. I even stopped using my neti pot and drinking lemon water. It’s not surprising that I felt groundless for many days despite the joy of being with family.
I am participating in Renee Trudeau’s Year of Self Care Mother’s Day Giveaway, which is amazing (see below!). The invitation to participate came at a time when I was already thinking about self-care. I get the basics of self-care: eat well, sleep enough, exercise, and do things you love – even if I don’t always do those things.
What challenges me, are the more subtle aspects of self-care. I have been working with Alana Sheeren, and her energy work has been a transformational experience (I will write more about this later), and as a result, I am thinking more about how I talk to myself, what I believe about the world, and what I allow myself to have. I have been really struck by the fact that I can drink all the green smoothies in the world, but if I have no faith in myself, I will be miserable.
I have also been thinking of the ways we (of course, by we, I mean I) handle the hard things. Pema Chodron says, “Never underestimate the inclination to bolt,” and I have been well-aware of how I bolt. (More to come on this too).
I guess what I am wrestling with really, is how do we take care of ourselves when we don’t want to? How do we be gentle with ourselves when we don’t believe we deserve it? How do we speak kindly to ourselves after we have snapped at our children or let a friend down? How do we make time for ourselves when so many other people have bigger, more pressing problems than we do?
I would love to hear your comments about this, as I think we have all been in these places of wanting to crawl under the covers with a trashy magazine/bottle of wine/Clooney/pint of ice cream/other personal escape vehicle.
This giveaway is really amazing. I wrote a review about Renee Trudeau’s first book, “Nurturing the Soul of Your Family” here .
To participate in this giveaway, leave a comment below by May 10th on what self-care means to you, and you could receive a Self-Renewal Package which includes a copy of the beautifully illustrated, award winning books, The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal orNurturing the Soul of the Family and free registration to the Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal Online Telecourse (a $125 total value) from nationally recognized life balance teacher, Renee Peterson Trudeau and Hopeful World Publishing. Additionally they¹ll be entered to win the $2700 Year-of-Self-Care Mother’s Day Giveaway. The giveaway is a week-long self-renewal retreat at the Omega Institute. I will pick the winner at random.
I am sorry I haven’t given you more time to enter. (I was also looking for shark’s teeth. And maybe I was bolting a bit too).