Monday, January 26, 2009

Heavy

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
has His/Her hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
"it's not the weight you carry

but how you carry it -
books, bricks, grief -
it's all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down."
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled -
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

poem by Mary Oliver

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My mother's hands


Sometimes I think I have my mother's hands. While hers are remarkably soft and white, mine are calloused, tan and rough. But we both share the wrinkles that come from age, in addition to burns, cuts, scrapes and bruises, from cooking, cleaning (and in my case gardening...my mother hates to garden). But more often now I think I'm not a whole lot like my mother. I'm not a mother nor a wife. I've never had to sacrifice the things she has for her husband and children. I've never been forced to choose between those two and live with that decision for quite some time. I wish I was more like her. I wish I shared her grace, poise, patience, and hope. These days, I work to make my mother proud of me, if only she could see herself in me just a little bit.

I wondered what she thinks when people ask about her daughters. What does she say about me? Does she say "I have 2 lovely daughters, both are married to handsome men and have beautiful, amazingly gifted children. Oh, and there's my middle one. No, she's not married. No, no kids either. Yes, I know she's too old now. No, not a lesbian either, thank God. She's the odd one, you know. She left home thinking she knew better. One day she'll find the right man. We pray for her every day." Does she say that? Is there shame or embarrassment?

So, I decided to ask her the other day. Instead of the above response, my mom tells me I'm nuts. She says, of course she's proud of me and would never be embarrassed by me. "Why would I?" she says. "Embarrassed of what? That you're not married? That's nonsense!" "I'd feel bad for you only if you weren't happy." That is followed by the expected: "if God wants that in your life, you'd have it. But you're happy, so why should I be ashamed?" Good answer, mom. Thanks.

I've never been someone to fit into traditional norms or expectations, God knows I've tried. I grew up just like my sisters, dreaming of the post-college life: college, career, marriage, kids. But instead of subscribing to those norms, I seem to be running in the complete opposite direction. Those who know me well know that I've spent much of my adult life challenging norms, expectations and rules that should govern me and women like me. Starting 12 years ago with a life-moving decision and onward, my life has been my own. I've been told I was selfish when I want to do something that makes me happy, I've been told to grow up and get married, stop playing around, stop traveling, stop helping, stop, stop, stop.

These days, my differences are very obvious. At least to me. I look around and most women I know are not like me. At times, I wish I could be different. But my life experiences and places I've been and things I've seen prevents it. Not that I wish it, either. It's just a lonely place sometimes, that's all.

My mom asked me if I had to choose between my life's work and finding a man, getting married and having children, what would I pick? I choose both. Why can't I have both? But I won't settle. The one thing that brings me the most peace and utter happiness is when I'm working, traveling, hiking, walking, exploring the desert, playing with friends, and helping those around me.

I have definitely worked way too hard and lost way too much to compromise, at this point in my life. Settling for someone, or something, only out of fear of not having it later is one thing I told myself I'd never do. I'm tremendously blessed/fortunate/lucky to have had lovers and friends who I could share my life with. And they enrich today and I am better for having them in my life.

I'm really not procrastinating this forgiveness exercise, this is the preview. You see, I've been close to settling. I've been in situations where I was this close to settling, to not questioning when my intuition told me otherwise. Just when I thought I had both, when I could trust someone and share my life fully and completely with them, they pull the rug out from underneath me. Forgiveness after being betrayed and deceived is a hard thing to do. And, unfortunately, I don't have my mother's grace to do it well. I only have the satisfaction of knowing that I'm still whole, complete, only a bit tattered and worn from all of it.

I really don't know what 2009 will look like. I know that it will include forgiveness, openness, as well as continuing to explore the (at times) crazy and nonsensical path my life seems to be on. It will be a year of leaping head-first into whatever comes; I'm going to travel and eat and read and write and drink tea and red wine; I'm going to open my heart even if it gets a little bruised; I'm going to walk along the desert and sit on mountain tops and take more chances. I'm going to indulge in life.

I'm going to do this because it's the only way I know how, and I do it with my mother's hands and blessings.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

10 Steps to Achieving Forgiveness

Step 1: document what you believe has happened and what you need to forgive
Step 2: Acknowledge the way the incident made you feel
Step 3: Recognize who is being hurt by your unforgiveness
Step 4: Acknowledge the part, if any, you played in the incident
Step 5: Acknowledge both positive and negative parts of the relationship
Step 6: Write a letter to the person who has wronged you. THIS LETTER IS NOT GIVEN TO THE PERPETRATOR (okay, that's the "official" thing to say, but if it's not incredible hurtful, mail it)
Step 7: Crate a ceremony to rid yourself of the letter, symbolizing the end of your hurt (like hitting 'send' on an e-mail, or putting a stamp on the envelope...that should do it)
Step 8: Understand that forgiveness is a process and some of the feelings may manifest themselves again. This is not unusual, but creating a method of reducing your anger is helpful (and drinking should not be one of your healthy methods, as much as you like your red wine)
Step 9: Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. You can still forgive the person without excusing the hurtful act.
Step 10: Remember forgiveness is all about personal power.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

On forgiveness

First of all, I'm the first to say that I make a very bad therapist. I'm a pretty good social worker, but as far as therapy goes...I stink. Here are some reasons:

Some would say it's good to write a letter to someone you hate and tell them all that's on your mind/in your heart; but don't mail it! But I say, mail it! What's the point in writing it if you don't get the satisfaction of knowing they've read it and know exactly how you feel? Now, I know that it won't mean much and not to expect anything from them, but it does feel good knowing they've heard your feelings.

Some say it's not healthy to check the voice mail messages of your ex's, follow them, sneak up on them, or check their computer history. I say, how else would you know what they've been up to? I mean, really. You can't trust people these days, especially an ex or a "soon to be" ex. It helps to be aware of their habits because when there's a break-up you'll know why.

And finally, some will say Forgiveness is good. Forgiveness will free you to be open to other relationships. Forgiveness brings you closer to living in peace. I say Forgiveness is for the birds. So, you see, I make a rotten therapist.

Just to clear things up. I don't do these things anymore and like to think I've evolved into a healthier person, but the ideas and beliefs are still there. I understand the true fundamentals of what it means to move on or forgive, only I don't do a great job at it. This is where the title comes in. I know that forgiveness is right and probably a good idea. I know that the things I do aren't healthy. But I do, and did, them anyway. I really think most people have, only they won't admit it to anyone.

The way I see it, my life is not much different either way. I don't spend hours or energy thinking negative thoughts about someone I dislike. I don't waste time talking about them. My new relationships aren't affected by my lack of forgiving someone from my past. At least I didn't think so. The problem with not forgiving is that the person is still in your life in some way. Their presence, their memory, their history is still in your heart somewhere. If I want it gone, then I have to forgive. If I forgive, then the memories just become stories...nothing but a story from some moment in my life. Nothing personal, with no hurt or bitterness attached to it. If I forgive, then they no longer have power over me.

I have lots of experiences with not forgiving...of not being forgiven by others. I know what it's like to be begrudged by someone. And how it can destroy that person who holds the grudge. I don't want to be like him, not in that way. There are lots of qualities that he and I share, but I don't want this to be one of our commonalities. So, I'm going to work on forgiveness. I'm choosing to make this a public post only because I want to be transparent in my work and I want others to hold me accountable and give me feedback. Plus, if it's any good then others might want to try it with me! I went to this conference on Girl Fighting(!) and I received a handout of the "10 Steps to Achieving Forgiveness" to share with my girls. I think I should try it first...so stay tuned.

Forgiveness: overcoming the negative affects and judgment toward a person by viewing the offender with compassion, benevolence, and love while recognizing that he or she has abandoned the right to them.

"Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge our future." Hmmm, we'll see.