You mustn’t wait for someone to rescue you. A girl expecting rescue never learns to save herself.
Kate Morton The Forgotten Garden
Maybe it was the Cadillac. Matt insisted its features would be wasted on me. Aside from being disappointed that it wasn’t pink, I think I made good use of it. I used it as my own personal time machine. And I thoroughly enjoyed the smooth, quiet ride as a I cruised solo down route 91 toward my childhood and the year 1993.
I was headed to my high school reunion. An event I’ve gladly blown off every five years since the 5th. Simply because it hurt too freakin’ much to go back. And every time I went into town, I felt small. Less than. Messed up. And pitiable. Far easier to avoid those emotions than confront them.
But this year was different. I was ready. I was excited. It had been a quarter of a century since I graduated and I wanted to revisit the ghosts of Christmas past. As I drove my big, black Caddy south, I welled up with tears of gratitude. Because I realized that my way of thinking has completely transformed itself.
For, I have finally learned to see beyond the losses to the blessings of what was and what remains. I have learned to hold the love I’ve received in my 43 years close to my heart. Right up close. So close that it bubbles out of me.
It doesn’t really matter what part of my life those who have loved me are from or where they are today, I feel them. And I am grateful for their love. It was always there. Buried under my insistence on feeling robbed, angry, isolated, “special and different” because of the losses I endured.
The losses keep coming. But love contains me like a riverbank. It won’t let me spillover into pity, sorrow, and victimhood. We know that I did years (decades really) without those retaining walls. And I looked (and felt) like mud plains after a vicious flood. I was flattened. Joyless. Dark. Messy. And littered with the garbage of my losses. But adept at faking it.
I knew without a shadow of a doubt that something big had changed in me when I heard of the loss of my summer cottage. Not only did I have to face the loss of the only home that still allowed me to pretend myself a girl, but I had to deal with the way it went down. To say it wasn’t pretty is an understatement. It was an outright slap across a cold, wind-chapped cheek. My brothers and I were informed of its loss with a centerfold advertisement in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror. Stating it was in foreclosure. And that is how I was welcomed home from nearly three years in Australia.
The old me thought about booking immediate passage back Down Under. The new me had trained for this exact scenario by spending hours practicing yoga asanas. Asanas are postures. And while you perform them with the body, they train the brain. To live in the present. To see the good. To deal with the difficult. Yoga, as BKS Iyengar says in Light on Life provides one with “the firmness to live with equanimity in the vicissitudes of the world’s hurly burly.”
It was the fact that I was able to throw one more piece of my childhood away with equanimity that tipped me off to the fact that I’d made it through the desert to The Promised Land. And I beat The Jews by 20 years. Because I only wandered from ages 19 to 39. And, yes, there were blessings in my desert. A marriage. Children. Dogs. But the background was dry. Brittle. And I was desperately thirsty. For equanimity. For love of self.
Was The Jews wandering literal? Or was it metaphorical? I haven’t yet figured out how to take my rented Caddy back to the preChrist Middle East. And much of the bible seems poetic and metaphorical to me as opposed to literal. As with my posts, I see a question in their wandering. It seems to ask each of us, How long will you wander?
How long will you kvetch, whine, pity yourself, and obsess on all that is wrong with your life? Because that’s exactly how long you’ll stay lost. Lonely. Stuck. And thirsty. It is only when we open our eyes and our hearts to the beauty before us that we are able to enter The Promised Land.
What if that’s it? What if The Promised Land is a state of mind? A state of abundance. Positivity. Joy. And gratitude. What if it’s there for each of us to grab hold of? What if we’re the only ones who can ensure we leave the darkness of operating as a single person who has had their heart broken? What if it’s when we see that each and every one of us has been Jesus? In the sense that we’ve been hurt. Misunderstood. Betrayed. And turned over to those who would do us harm.
What if in that realization we begin to see the courage in each of us? The spirit? The light that won’t go out? The mystery of it all? What if by choosing to see that eternal flame in everyone we begin to heal ourselves? What if we begin to heal those who have harmed us by seeing beyond their transgressions and the wounded human who committed them to the light that glows within?
Then there’s Cinderella. She is abandoned. First, by her mother who up and dies on her in the first scene. And then by her father. She is left to live with crumbs. And cruelty. In a cold, drafty attic. But Cinderella experiences magic. The Promised Land if you will.
And I have come to believe it’s because she looks for the good. She holds the love of her mother and father close to her. So close that it bubbles out of her. She loves her mice and she receives their love. She loves her dusty, cold, garret of a room. She loves her gardens. She loves making her own dress and singing her sweet songs. She sees the best of what’s around her. She never allows herself to slip the riverbanks into full blown depression.
Or maybe she did and they cut that scene. The point is, it is because she retains her joy in the midst of darkness that she is visited by magic. That she experiences her fairy God mother. And a happy ending. She doesn’t get the fairytale ending and then find her joy. She finds her joy and then gets the fairytale ending.
It’s as if the Spirit World tests us. Then watches to see how we will do. Do we wallow? Weep? Wring our hands and gnash our teeth? Maybe. And, for a time, I think that’s okay. But, we must pick ourselves up and look for the beauty that surrounds us. We must open our hearts and take that beauty in and let it transform us. We must hold the love we have received within us. Even if those who gave it are long gone. Because their love isn’t. It lives on. Inside us. Like a balm, it will soothe us, calm us, and remind us we are, indeed, enough.
At 17, I had a dream. A dark, scary, vivid, color dream. It was so bad that I had to reenact it. Play it out to try and get it out of my system. I’ve never forgotten it and I never will. I didn’t know it at the time but I think it was a warning.
Here’s what happened. I was in my hometown. Driving my old Jeep to the church where I attended Sunday School, was confirmed, and played Mary in a living nativity. The church was hosting an open house for homeless men. And my older brother was volunteering there. I needed to drop something off. I don’t remember what it was. I pulled up by the side doors, ran in, dropped the “thing” off, and hustled back out to my running car.
I hopped in, chucked a u-ey, and started back down Longmeadow Street toward home. A block or so away, in front of the town library, I was hit with a smell. The smell of an unwashed, unclean, person. And, intuitively, I knew this person meant me harm. In the next instant, I see a dark figure in my rearview mirror. The person is coming for me from the backseat. And as they lean in a heavy, dreadlock falls across my cheek.
That’s it. That’s the dream. There was no fairytale ending in the dream. There was no ending at all. There was a sense of foreboding. A feeling of fear. A dread in the pit of my stomach about things to come. Older and wiser, I believe the message came from beyond as a warning. A hint that something dark and dreadful was going to come up from behind me and scare the bejeezus out of me. After I reenacted the dream with a girlfriend and scared the pants off a guy friend, I let it go.
But it wouldn’t let me go. I’ve never forgotten it. And I believe some dreams have power. They carry messages. From the future. From The Spirit World. From our body. From somewhere. This one came to warn me. The spell was broken. My cushy, easy, charmed life was over.
Less than two years later my parents split. Abruptly. Five years later, my mom was diagnosed. And, just like that, I went from the magic of a well-to-do life to a black cloud I couldn’t get out from under. I let it swallow me for a long time.
Until I thought I might actually lose my spark. Or extinguish it myself. And that is when I begged for help. My fairy God mother showed up in the form of a time out in Australia. Or maybe my mom picked me up like a chess piece and set me down as far from home as she could in a warm, sunny country. So I could get my head on straight. Practice yoga. Open my heart. And rediscover all the love that was already in me.
There’s power in love. Enough power to contain you. Enough power to help you choose your ending. I don’t know what my ending looks like but I’ve had dreams that give me clues. In the meantime, I practice seeing what is right. Good. And true. Around me. And in those who surround me. There’s magic and power in that too.
As for the 25th, how comforting to realize you weren’t “special and different” after all. You just got hit earlier. Harder. More regularly. As my hostess drove me around town, she regaled me with countless stories of heartache and heartbreak. Black clouds. And sorrow. And while I can’t do the work of those still in pain, I can point out that maybe, just maybe, we get a say in how it all ends. Maybe by choosing love, giving love, being love, we will get it back. We will cross with Cinderella and the wandering Jews to The Promised Land.