Friday, June 25, 2010

Survivor's Guilt

Sometimes it seems as though all the news is difficult. The oil in the Gulf of Mexico just won't stop spilling. A dear friend of mine who has been struggling with chronic pain for months had surgery a few weeks ago to relieve it and is healing much more slowly than she wants to be. Another friend's mother is dying, more quickly than they anticipated. I have family members who are struggling financially and when I turned NPR on this afternoon, they were interviewing a 55 year old woman who has been out of work for two years after being laid off of a job she had for 30. Still another family we know is struggling to understand what is wrong with their daughter after years of invasive testing, and coming to grips with the harsh reality that 'recovery' is not an option at this point.

When I open my email or check the news website I like the best, I often brace myself first, awaiting the body blow of a possible morsel of bad news. I feel incredibly impotent in the face of it all. From my perspective in the Pacific Northwest, the water I'm drinking is clear and the beaches tar-free. My family members are all in good health and we are lucky enough to have sufficient food on our table and enough money to pay the bills every month for now. I know that this could change without warning, but with every bit of difficulty I hear about for those I care for, my life stands out in stark comparison just a little more.

A therapist I once had reminded me that making comparisons is a dangerous business and she was right. When I look at strangers and imagine that they are infinitely more capable, intelligent, centered individuals than I and beat myself up for inviting drama and tragedy in by being useless, I am falling in to the comparison trap. But it occurs to me that I am doing the same when I look at my relatively stable, carefree life in comparison to those around me who are struggling. Do I wish we were struggling, too? Just to make it even? Just to not "rub it in" that we aren't dealing with illness and death? No, not really. Do I wish that my loved ones, friends and family and strangers in Louisiana and the other gulf states weren't dealing with these difficult times right now? Yup. Certainly, but there isn't really anything I can do to change that.

So for now I think I'll just gather up the extra love and light coming from my clan, scoop in the strength and resilience we are lucky enough to be enjoying right now, and offer it up to the Universe. I hope she directs it to the right places. I trust she will. Feeling guilty for my happiness right now isn't helping anyone. Maybe this gift, the only one I truly have to offer, will.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Musings from Hawaii, Part 2

Every morning in Hawaii, Bubba sets his alarm for 6:15, gets up and showers, throws the nearest t-shirt and swim trunks on, shakes Eve awake, and the two of them tiptoe out the door. They walk down the beach to the Hula Hut, grab Bubba a latte and Eve a cup of tea, and wander back to sit in lounge chairs and stare at the ocean until Lola and I stagger down around 7:30 for breakfast.

One morning, Lola decides she wants to walk, too. She thinks we should all walk together, and the prospect of getting a hot chocolate at the Hula Hut is the icing on the cake. The four of us head down in the elevator together but as soon as our flip flops hit the walkway we separate. Two-and-two. Bubba and Eve leading the way, Lola and I lagging behind. Talking. Looking for geckos. Making percussive beats with our feet.

By the time we hit the beach, those two are way ahead. Lola and I walk with our heads down, picking out bird tracks in the sand, finding holes where the crabs have dug themselves in so far you can't see anything but darkness, making patterns in the sand to confuse anyone who might be tracking us.

Bubba and Eve are on a mission. Drinks and then beach chairs. That is their sole focus. Lola fusses that they are missing all of the cool stuff we are seeing. I try to call them back, but it's not their way. They have a goal. A purpose. We are simply walking. And talking.

"I don't know why nobody wants to talk about what happens after you die. Some people just tell me that you go to Heaven and that's it, " Lola says. "But what if you don't? And even if you do, you have to feel something, right? People say you don't feel anything after you die because you're dead, but you're still something, right?"

She's not upset or angry, sad or timid. She is simply philosophical. She wants to have this discussion, to explore the possibilities, and so we talk. We talk about how some people believe in reincarnation and others believe in Heaven and Hell, and how there are probably even some out there who believe in some form of both. We wonder whether you get to choose what you get to be in your next life and if all living beings experience the same sensations and opportunities after death.

Lola picks out some tracks in the sand - someone was wearing flip flops with an interesting pattern and she stops to trace what she calls a 'puzzle piece' in the center of it. We collect bits of coral that have washed up on the beach and discover the tiny slashes in the sand where baby crabs have skittered from their safe holes to the sea.

We meet Bubba and Eve at the Hula Hut and order our drinks and when they head back to claim beach chairs, Lola and I resume our slow, meandering discovery of the day.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Musings from Hawaii

My sister is having a little girl today. Her first.

I sit in the open air, listening to the wind and the waterfall, waiting and resting. My girls are entertained and patient, having comfortably settled in to their Hawaiian vacation with the knowledge that many more days of sunshine and rest stretch before them.

An old Anne Murray song comes over the loudspeaker and I know all the words. It's one of the ones we used to listen to in Mom's old VW squareback on our way to Crater Lake. The four of us packed in to "blueberry", our gloves and hats and cross country skis piled in the way back, me sitting in the front seat belting out the words with Mom.

I think of the story Mom told me a few months ago when I was considering giving in to depression once more. She left the three of us kids at home with a babysitter and drove to the overlook point of the lake. She sat there in the driver's seat, crying and looking out and trying to decide whether or not to push on the gas and disappear over the edge. I wonder how she did it. How did she go from that to putting the cassette of Anne Murray in the tape deck, packing lunch and driving us all up to the snow, singing and laughing? How did she go from that to patiently teaching us to ski, spending the day with us, cold, wet, and tired?

I think about my 30s, marked with episodes of depression like black shoe scuffs along my kitchen's hardwood floor. I turn slightly to look at my strong, centered, lovely daughters and I wonder whether they will find pockets of black. Moments of overwhelming despair. Will these times come for them in their 30s, too?

Altogether without fear, I first think that I hope they don't. I hope they never know what that feels like and can't possibly begin to comprehend the stark aloneness of those emotions. But then, looking out into the blue sky, watching cotton-candy clouds push past as the breeze rustles through the palms, I change my mind.

I look at my strong, centered, lovely daughters and realize how full my life is. How the fear and sadness has pushed at the interior boundaries of my soul to make room for these peaceful, glorious moments. How the rounded sides allow for more. Of everything.

And while I don't wish for harm or pain to come to my girls, I know their lives can't be full enough or real enough without it. And so instead, I hope that they have each other. And me. And that we can see each other through the pain until that moment when we see each other again in a pure, full moment of love.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Lola Strikes Again

Thank God for teachers with a sense of humor! Or else Lola would be forced to be home-schooled by now...

Yesterday Eve and I went in to get Lola from her classroom at the end of the day. Her teacher had written "New Hampshire" up on the white board and asked the students to find as many words as they could using those letters. By the time Eve and I arrived, there were about ten kids left waiting to be picked up and close to 75 words on the board. Mrs. G. enlisted our help and the group of us pushed it to 102 words. Silence fell over the room as we all squinted our eyes and peered at the letters, desperate to make more words. Nothing.

All of a sudden, Lola shouts out, "Weiner!"

Mrs. G turns slowly, gazes at Lola over the top of her wire rims, pen hovering over the white board and says, "You mean...like...hot dog?"

"Yeah, sure." Lola's face was still but her eyes were twinkling madly.

It's up there. It's valid. And it's all Lola.

The little weiner.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Heading for Home


Three times a week or so, I find myself out and about, running errands, and trying to decide which route to take home. From the downtown area of the nearest town, there are at least three different ways I can take, each of them no more than five miles from my house, all equally valid depending on the day and time.

One of them involves going through a residential neighborhood, so the speed limit is 25 MPH, but the traffic there during off-hours is generally light and there is only one stoplight between downtown and my house.

Another route is along a busier road, but unless you're heading North between 4:30 and 6:30 PM, you won't generally see much traffic, and I can drive 40 MPH.

The third route is the one Bubba invariably takes. You can drive along a four lane road and, although there are several stoplights, the traffic generally moves better going North in the afternoon than on any of the other routes. Despite that, I don't often choose that one because it means that, from downtown, I have to drive South several blocks before turning onto the road to head North towards home and it bothers me to go so obviously in the 'wrong' direction, even if it means I'll get to eventually go in the 'right' one.

I often make the decision about which way to head for home as I'm sitting at the same stoplight, pondering all of the variables. Occasionally, if Bubba and I have met for dinner downtown, we purposely take different routes and see which one of us arrives home first.

As I sat at the light yesterday, looking at the clouds to determine how soon the rain would begin and thinking about why it matters which way I take home, it occurred to me that while I consider my options every time, I feel 'safe' taking any of the routes because the end point is the same no matter what. I know that even if it means I arrive home a few minutes later, it's not a big deal. There is no bad choice. I'll still be home.

Hmmm. I wonder if there is a way I can start thinking about my life in the same way. Some of my decisions will lead me in the opposite direction to begin with, but I can always turn and eventually be heading in the direction I need to go. Others will mean that I'm stuck behind others going slower than I'd like, but so long as I get where I'm going, does it matter? Maybe that slower route will mean that I get to have a different conversation with my girls in the car, or I miss seeing a nasty accident, or I get home just in time to meet the neighbor I haven't seen in weeks out by the mailboxes.

Even if, in my life, I don't necessarily know what my end point is, can I trust that I'll get there one way or another?

My dad was famous for finding 'shortcuts.' He loved driving and would often load us all up in the car on a Sunday afternoon to get lost in the country. He always maintained that he knew exactly where he was, but we kids (and my mom) knew better. He would go these crazy circuitous routes that never ended up being shortcuts at all, but he was so happy to just be driving around looking at the things we flew past.

Maybe he knew that we would always end up at home, too. Maybe, despite making a wrong turn or two along the way, he knew that we would eventually find our way back to our garage, safe at home for another Sunday night.
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