I hope they speak to you.
The glory of writing what the moment inspires is both a blessing and a curse, one that often leads to idle fancy. It is a curse in that the subject matter of life is so vast, it’s often hard to land on just one topic. It is a blessing in that here, at least, I'm under no editorial control except my own. As a lifelong writer-for-hire, that freedom is intoxicating.
I write because I have to write. It is what I was put on this earth to do. I also write to understand myself, and by so doing, understand you, the world, and all who live in it.
Yet this Thursday—today—I would like to offer a recipe for living.
Whatever you are going through right now, you are—and are not—alone. Every wound has a gift for you, if you are willing to receive it. Sometimes that gift is long in coming. Sometimes we get so mired down in our pain, we fail to see it until years later, if ever. But it’s there, even if you feel far from equal to it.
Pain is the shell that contains your understanding. I believe that pain is the only way we ever change, which is its own gift. What other motivation is strong enough to move a psychological mountain? If there’s enough pain, we have no choice but to do whatever is necessary to relieve it.
That can include what I call “student path” behaviors like drugs, alcohol, addiction. Those behaviors are borne of pain, yes, but mostly the pain of loneliness. We are all lonely. At times, that loneliness feels unbearable. Being with others distracts from that loneliness, but it doesn’t cure it. The only way to “cure it” isn’t to dodge and distract, but to sink into it. To stop running.
The way in is the only way out, to stop running from your monsters and to face them.
When I feel strong emotion (and boy, has that ever been the case lately), I have found it helpful to just sit with it. I close my eyes. I follow my breath in, I follow my breath out. I try very earnestly not to “run the story” on an endless loop of the incident that incited the emotion. Instead, I let myself sink into the emotion itself.
Sometimes, it takes me into deeper understanding. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Whatever happens, happens. I accept the “is-ness” of the moment.
All pain is a refusal to accept the “is-ness” of what is. I’m not saying we should, merely stating that as a fact.
What works for me might not work for you. You may be so overwhelmed by work, relationships, family, kids, that the idea of taking a moment for personal reflection is a joke. But even you might be able to find five minutes in your day to do a little self-maintenance.
At some point in your journey, you might find that the grief, the sorrow, the loneliness and the rage were a lot more frightening when you were actively running from them. The strange irony is that standing your ground, turning and facing the thing that scares you, is often the only cure for the fear.
Several hundred lives ago when I was with my kids’ dad, I used to lie in bed next to him at night, consumed with loneliness. Since I was younger and had far less life experience, it baffled me how I could feel this way when my life was so full. Now, of course, I see. We were strangers to one another, he and I. Ours was an affection-less, sexless union. We hadn’t necessarily grown apart because we had never been together. Not in the essential healthy way of love. He wasn’t, and isn’t, capable of it, and I had plenty of my own issues. My response (this is a uniquely female response) was to blame myself. Clearly, he didn’t love me because I wasn’t lovable.
And that’s how so many of my friends feel right now, especially my single friends: unlovable. My friends who are grieving a loss—they, too, feel alone and blame themselves for being alone, as though this were something they brought on themselves through personal defect. I can tell them that’s not true, and it isn’t, but knowing a truth and feeling a truth are two different things. We have to walk the whole damn path to come into right relationship with that. No shortcuts.
The wisdom I brought away from my partnership with my kids’ dad is too vast in scope for one article, but here is part of it: women, myself included, constantly look to other people to make them feel good about themselves. Maybe it’s a “chick thing.” Maybe it stems from being a second-class citizen in society, from needing the approval of men in order to literally survive. I never had a father, so that probably contributed to this quenchless thirst I once had. It took a lot of years and a lot of soul-searching to end that war with myself. I had to take the long way around to get here.
Yet, all the self-acceptance in the world won’t shield you from pain. The Buddha was right when he said that “Life is suffering.”
What then is the point of living?
I’m going to take a crack at that.
Not the love you receive, although it can be wonderful. It’s the love you feel. That love can be for your work, your hobbies, your pets, your friends, your family, your lovers, maybe even yourself. Love asks nothing for itself. It just is. It flows endlessly in one direction. It is the path to understanding. It is unconditional.
We love not because the object is worthy. We love because we are capable of love. It must be in us to love. When love is withheld from us, that isn’t a reflection of our worth. In a way, it’s none of our business whether someone loves us or not. That’s not the point.
We may mistakenly believe that we love achievement or the glory of recognition, but those are “false friends.” If only it were that easy. Love is the humanity in you that recognizes the humanity in someone else. It’s the piece that’s missing in bigotry and bigots. Most haven’t found the path to even start on it. Many will go their whole lives without experiencing that closeness and die bewildered in their loneliness.
Our grief feels so lonely, is so lonely, we sometimes fail to remember that we are, in fact, not alone. Yes, people are disappointing. Yes, they are prone to human frailty. But so are we. By recognizing that we are hardly blameless, that we make mistakes, too, we re-balance the scales between victim and aggressor, sinner and sinned-against. There is strength in that.
Thank you for letting me speak to you on this cold, fog-bound Thursday night when the world around us seems to have lost its center. In the coming months, we will be drawing on that strength, perhaps even collectively. Please know that I believe in you. I truly, honestly, genuinely do.
You are stronger than you know. You can do this.