Those who can truly be accounted brave are those who best know the meaning of what is sweet in life and what is terrible, and then go out, undeterred, to meet what is to come.
I knew I would never fall in love again.
A little over a year and a half ago, a friend said this to me: You will be deeply loved by a good man. Write it down, lock it up, take it to the bank. Luckily, it was over Facebook, so she couldn’t see me roll my eyes. It’s not that I didn’t want to have someone in my life, per se- but I couldn’t see signing up for that again. I was, on my sunniest days, skeptimistic. (I think I just broke auto-correct. You’re welcome.)
I didn’t trust myself enough to even THINK about dating again. To have been so completely wrong about someone I loved for nearly half my life? It’s actually not about trusting another person going forward after something like that. It’s about trusting your own judgment.
My church back in Washington State has an amazing Divorce Recovery program. Every church should have one. It helped me in more ways than I can say.
They talked a fair amount about future relationships during the course of the program. And every time they did, I would struggle to maintain my well behaved church face. I may have said, out loud, That sounds AWESOME, when the subject of second marriages came up one time. Sometimes, the only filter I have is in my coffeemaker. It just seemed ridiculous that anyone could go through what we’d all just gone through and think that was good idea.
I know I just got run over by that there freight train- but I’m gonna just sit here on these tracks for a spell. What could go wrong?
They talked to us about non-negotiables. They asked us to think about what ours were when we got married, and whether or not they had changed. Looking back, I’m not actually sure I had any. I would have said, vehemently, that infidelity was one. That if my husband ever cheated on me I would leave, or kick him out. But then he did, and I didn’t. At least, not for a long time.
I‘ve learned that most things- not all, but most- are negotiable once you are inside them. That it is more than a little arrogant to say what you would do in a situation that you’ve not yet faced. Having said that, I did come up with a list of things I require: Kindness. Integrity. Faith- it doesn’t need to look exactly like mine, but it needs to exist. Joyfulness.
I’ve talked before about The Brene’s quote, “You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” I was a lifelong hustler, constantly going and doing so that I could prove that I deserved to be here. I didn’t want that anymore. I knew that I wanted to be with someone I could relax into. Be still with. And, obviously, someone who understands that when Scandal is on he must not talk to me.
We first met when I was seventeen, and we were both freshmen in college. Actually, the first day of freshman orientation. We were both wearing beanies. He became one of my really good friends. We’d not seen each other since a year or two after he graduated.
We reconnected over Facebook about two years ago. He posted something that didn’t really sound like him, so I messaged him and asked if he was okay. We found out that we’d both gotten divorced the previous year. Messages led to texts, texts led to phonecalls, which led to phonecalls every day…
When the school year was over, I flew back east. I left my daughter with her amazing grandparents and hopped on a train to Connecticut to visit him. About a half an hour before my stop, panic set it. So I started frantically texting my girlfriends. “whatthehellamidoing?” “thisiscrazyRIGHT?” “whatifitsweird?” “ohmyGodohmyGodohmyGod” “heeeelpmeeeee.” They were all reassuring, which made me wonder if I needed new friends.
The Jedi Council was far too calm.
As the train pulled into the station, I tried not to think about the fact that the last time he’d seen me I was 20 years younger. The train slowed, I moved to an exit door- I picked the one farther away from me to buy myself some time. When the doors opened up, he was standing directly in front of me. Understand- extremely long platform, many, many doors. And there he was, standing maybe six feet from me, smiling. If it was a movie, I’d have proclaimed it VERY bad writing.
I knew I was in love with him one beautiful summer day. We took a drive to this lovely little seaside town. We got coffee, and wandered down to a little park overlooking the bay. We sat on a bench. He knelt down, took off my sandals, sat next to me and pulled my feet into his lap. We sat in the sunshine, looking at the water and not really talking. We just sat there, for at least an hour. I didn’t feel like I should be doing something else. I didn’t feel like I needed to entertain him, or to be entertained. It was enough just to be with him. I was still. And just like that, I knew.
My friend was right. She’s a little annoying, that one.
I was right too, by the way. I really do enjoy being right. I didn’t fall in love. Falling sounds accidental, because it is. It’s pheromones, and timing. We walked into love, eyes wide open, bruised and with hard won wisdom. It helps that we’d already loved each other for 25 years. The love just changed. Grew.
There is a terrible beauty in love the second time around. You have two people who have known great loss, whose characters have been distilled by battle and grief. Two people who come to the relationship with scars and walls, and also with tender spots- wounds yet unhealed that trigger strong reactions.
Being in love is one thing, but trusting yourself to be in a relationship is another. I didn’t really trust myself until we had our first argument. I got hurt- I honestly don’t even remember over what- and my reaction was, Oh, HELL no! That sounds negative, but it is decidedly not. Even though I had that reaction, and honestly, it was likely disproportionate to what had actually happened, it reassured me that I had boundaries, and that I would stand up for myself.
The past few years have taught me that you cannot give away what you do not have. You need to look out for yourself and advocate for yourself, so that you can give of yourself to others. If it comes down to it, I pick me. That may sound selfish. I don’t think it is. I am the love of my life, in the end. And knowing that allows me to love him freely and without fear- because even if it all goes to hell in a handbasket, I know I will survive. And I won’t be alone. I’ll have ME.
It’s coming on Christmas,
They’re cutting down trees.
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace,
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
Almost two years ago, on December 21, 2012, my younger sister and I were Christmas shopping. You can imagine, given that it was four days before Christmas, the din at the mall. Are you familiar with the particular pitch which can only be reached by little girls when there is an American Girl store nearby? Y’know, the one that makes the baby Jesus cry? As we made our way through the crowds I got a call on my cell from our older sister Aimee. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear her, so I sent it to voice mail. She called once more as I was wrangling the bags into the house.
Inside, the home phone rang. I answered, laughing. I was just about to call you! I heard Aimee gasping for breath. Then she said, Tony killed himself.
Wait. WHAT? I said. She began sobbing.
Wait. Wait. Wait.
I couldn’t absorb it. I didn’t have any framework that supported this being true. I’d spoken to my brother in law just the week before. He sounded fine. People who are fine do not kill themselves, do they? I mean, they were planning to move up to Seattle to be near us. People planning suicide don’t make OTHER plans, do they?
I went into emergency mode. I spoke with the officer on the scene and the crisis counselor. I made calls. The only time I lost it was on the phone with the airline. My brother in law just committed suicide and I need to get to my sister. You need to FUCKING HELP ME! I slept with my phone, talking to Aimee throughout the night. I tried to integrate the FACT of it. I’m her sister. We talked every day. I would know if things were bad, right? Except I, of all people, knew that was fundamentally untrue.
My divorce had become final a few months earlier. For a long time, I’d had challenges in my marriage, and had confided in no one- not even my sisters. My ex-husband struggled for years with anxiety and depression. As much as I wanted and needed us not to be alone in it, I couldn’t bring myself to tell the people who could have helped, who could have supported us as a family. I was respecting his privacy. That’s what I told myself- but no one was well served by my not revealing what we were going through.
My ex-husband is a brilliant, funny guy with charm for days. When we were out with other people he had that kind of gravitational pull- he was the planet and we were all just moons. He was energetic, ambitious and highly successful. If you asked anyone who knew him at the time who was the last person they would think of as depressed, he’s likely the person they’d have named.
I think depression often doesn’t look the way we think it will, particularly in men.
About a year before my divorce, I finally had an honest conversation with Aimee about what I’d been going through. Looking back, I think of what that must have been like for her. What I was saying must have sounded so familiar- I know now that there were so many similarities to her experience with Tony. Hearing it must have seemed like an invitation and a threat entwined together. The thought of speaking her truth out loud probably filled her with dread. It’s a bell you can’t un-ring. The first time I spoke about it, I felt incredibly disloyal. I still struggle with that, to be honest. I had my ex-husband read this before I published it- because I am keenly aware this is not just my story- and he gave me his blessing. We have both learned the peril of shame and the silence it requires to exist.
When my brother in law died, I had my sister make me a list of people to call. She gave me twenty seven names. Of those twenty seven people I called, only one had any idea Tony ever struggled with depression. One. These were people who would have said they knew him well. You guys, that expression, leading lives of quiet desperation, is a REAL THING.
I brought my sister home with me on Christmas Eve. I had a conversation with my ex-husband. I told him no matter what, I would always love him and be here for him. I said if he felt he was headed toward that sort of despair again, to come to me and I would help. Always.
Tony’s death scared him too. He was already getting help, which was a hard and brave thing to do- and something for which I am extremely grateful. I think it prompted him to try and be more open about his experience. I think that part of it is so much more difficult for men. The way women communicate with one another is a gift, you know.
We talked to our son about it. He told us he’d struggled with depression in high school. Hearing my son, who is my heart and soul, tell me he was in such terrible pain and I didn’t know about it, was crushing. Looking back, he didn’t seem to care much about anything- which drove me bananas, but also seemed kind of normal. The truth is, he couldn’t care about anything. He felt so removed, so numb- he was observing life, not living it. Sort of, Oh, that happened. And, I should be happy about that. I guess I’ll turn up the corners of my mouth, and look happy about that. But feeling nothing.
That’s the thing about depression. It’s a dark, heavy coat and not everyone wears it the same way. I think there are more people struggling with it than we realize. We look at people’s lives from the outside, and decide who and what they are. And we, as a society, have DECIDED that mental illness is different. That it is a weakness, or a character flaw. I never noticed how much people joke about suicide until Tony died. Take one of those jokes and replace suicide with the word cancer. Still funny? No wonder so many people try and wrestle with it on their own.
My brother in law Tony was a smart, talented man. He had a wonderful wife, and a family who loved him. He was a beautiful writer, he loved animals and had a wicked sense of humor. He lost his battle with depression, the same way someone loses a battle with cancer. He had a disease, that for a variety of reasons went untreated, and it ultimately proved to be terminal. His cause of death is listed as suicide. That’s almost right. He died of depression.
The holidays have always been my favorite time of year. So many things that are integral to the person I am are wrapped up in the holiday season. Family. Faith. Music. Ritual. Cooking. Twinkle lights. Wonder. Will Ferrell in tights. I love it so much.
The past few years have given me a different perspective.
This time of year- with its emphasis on joy and hope, togetherness and gratitude- can be agonizing. If you are in a dark place, the pressure to feel what everyone else is seemingly feeling must be overwhelming. It must make the deep, dark hole even deeper and darker. If you are sitting in front of a screen in that bleak place, convinced that everyone else is happy? That you are alone in your despair? My God. Facebook must be a minefield of epic proportions.
I imagine you would feel forsaken. Like the whole world is celebrating, and you are the ONLY ONE who can’t.
Here is what I know. Depression is a beast and a liar. It is a systemic, chronic, family disease. You cannot happy talk your way out of it. It’s not a bad mood. Sad and depressed are not the same thing. Depression is a dark and slippery cliff, and the closer you get to the edge, the less likely you are to realize it.
If you are in a relationship, any relationship, with someone who is seriously depressed and you are helping to hold the mask in place, you are not respecting privacy. You are keeping secrets. Privacy and secrecy are not the same thing. Secrets are malignant and they metastasize, and not just within the person whose secrets are being kept.
And if you are reading this and battling depression, if you are in that shadowy and hopeless place, please, PLEASE know that you are not alone. There is help to be had, so please reach out for it. The first step is the hardest. Speak your truth. Talk to a friend, a family member, a pastor, a counselor, a doctor. Tell SOMEONE. If you don’t have someone in your life you feel like you can tell, call one of the numbers listed below.
It can get better. It can. You are loved, friend.
The world is better with you in it, I promise.
For those beloveds battling depression:
National Alliance on Mental Health
Suicide Prevention Hotline
Alliance of Hope
Sometimes I feel like
I’ve never been nothing but tired
And I’ll be walking
Till the day I expire
Sometimes I lay down
No more can I do
But then I go on again
Because you asked me to
I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately. Loss and grief. Some of that probably stems from the time of year, some from recent events, and some of it is having several people who are dear to my heart approaching significant anniversaries of loss.
I feel like there should be a better term for that. My beautiful sister’s blog, which was born largely out of grief, was almost called The Still Point. That seems more appropriate than the word anniversary to mark the passage of time since your world stopped turning, to mark the moment when everything other than your loss fell away. We are approaching a time of year that is laden with still points for me and mine.
I was talking to someone about grief the other day, and he likened it to a journey. Everything’s a journey, nowadays. It’s as good an analogy as any, I suppose, but I think it’s a vertical journey. I think it’s akin to climbing a mountain.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have never climbed a legit mountain, but I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer and that’s practically the same thing.
I imagine that standing at the base of the mountain, you have absolutely no perspective. The mountain is too big and too close. The same is true for grief.
I think you can train, and prepare, and plan for contingencies during your climb, and then get blindsided by the unforeseen. The same is true for grief.
I think at the beginning of your climb, there’s probably a fair amount of denial about how hard it will be.
I’m guessing that once you begin to tire, and look up at how much farther there still is to go, the task seems impossible. The same is true for grief.
I think you reach a point at which the air thins out, and it becomes difficult to breathe.
I think you can have a sherpa, a guide, a support system to which you are tethered, but I’m guessing you still feel as though you could free fall at any moment. The same is true for grief.
I think during the climb there’s a point at which every inch upward is excruciating, and a miracle in and of itself. When you stop even looking to the summit, because the work is so hard. When as large and as looming as the mountain is, your world gets incredibly small. It becomes about getting through the exact moment you are in, and nothing more. The same is true for grief.
The climb can bring out the very best, and the very worst in us. You will learn a tremendous amount about the people around you. The mountain distills your character. The same is true for grief.
On the mountain storms can come out of nowhere- they move in quickly and wreak havoc on those in their path. The same is true for grief.
I think when you get to the top of the mountain, and look back at where you came from, it looks completely different than it did before your climb. The same is true for grief.
I think summiting the mountain is necessary, but you can’t LIVE there. One of my favorite writers recently gave a speech about how life happens in the valley, not on the mountain top. I think that’s right. You still need to come back down to real, everyday life. You need to climb back down. More hard work, more peril. The same is true for grief.
Finally, no one travels in a straight line up the mountain. You need to find the path that works for you. The path that you can handle, on a particular day, given a specific set of circumstances, be it weather, fatigue- whatever. Well intentioned people can show you the route they took, what worked for them. That’s fine. They can tell you about their climb, they just can’t tell you about yours. The same is true for grief.
Grief is a long, grueling endeavor. It tests you physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s not linear, there are no real maps, and no matter how much support you may have, in the end it is a lonely pursuit. Reaching the summit doesn’t mean an end to the pain. It doesn’t mean the struggle is over. And you will be changed by it. You will not come down the mountain the same person you were before. You will be stronger and wiser for having made the climb.
During my three seasons at Mount Rainier I learned a lot about mountain climbing and rescues, about politics and camaraderie in the mountains, and about what being a woman climber means. Now I know in all certainty when to bring my toothbrush and when to leave it at home, and, all things considered, that kind of confidence is hard to come by. The greatest skill I ever had, though, was the one I started with: being able to suffer for long periods of time and not die. In exchange, I got to see some amazing things.
When the world feels loud, we must be quiet. When the world feels violent, we must be peaceful. When the world seems evil, we must be good.
Glennon Doyle Melton
I tried to pray last night, and I kept saying over and over again, I don’t even know what to pray for. I don’t even know what to pray for. I don’t even know what to pray for.
Ever since the grand jury returned with its decision in the Michael Brown case I have been trying to figure out a way to write about it. I started no less than twenty versions of this essay and scrapped every one of them. What can I say that hasn’t been said? What can I write that will comfort the devastated or touch those who wish it would just go away? The answer is likely, nothing. Smarter, more knowledgeable, more eloquent voices than mine have already weighed in.
I think that’s part of why I’ve struggled. Because it feels hopeless. And if it feels hopeless to me, a white woman living in middle class Connecticut, can you even begin to imagine the despair felt by the people of Ferguson? I can’t. If I feel this level of anger, I cannot even wrap my head around the all consuming rage felt by those mothers who must feel as though it is now open season on their sons.
Then Wednesday, Eric Garner. God help us.
I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with that, I truly don’t.
I’ve seen many comments on Facebook from people complaining about the protesters, wondering “what they think they’re accomplishing” and making derisive observations about how they are “destroying their own neighborhoods.”
I wrote a piece recently about sexual assault and the way we treat survivors. I mentioned the UVA situation. The reason I knew to write about it was because a woman I know through Facebook had written an open letter to UVA, her alma mater, in the wake of the Rolling Stone interview. It was powerful and eloquent, and in it, she made the statement that she would rather see her beloved school burn to the ground than have one more girl fall victim to violence and then be failed by the people who are supposed to protect her,
When I read that, it made perfect sense to me. No one, and I mean no one, reacted by taking her to task for saying she rather see her old school in flames than see injustice prevail one more time.
How is that different than Ferguson? Really, how?
And when I hear people say that, “a lot of those people aren’t even FROM Ferguson,” I think about the time after 9/11, when we were ALL New Yorkers. And I think about the March on Selma, and how many of those marchers weren’t even FROM Selma. How is that different? Why is that kind of solidarity admirable in one situation and the object of scorn in another?
When you have people living in despair; when they believe the very institutions that are supposed to protect them have become the enemy; when they lose hope that justice will ever be served, and that things will ever improve, they. will. break. Everyone, even the most law abiding citizen, has their tipping point.
I’ve been praying to find words that are powerful enough, or wise enough. As usual, I am not praying for the right thing. No one’s words, alone, will be enough. This is too big. We need everyone’s voices. No voice is too small. We need the voices of people who aren’t afraid when they get pulled over by the police, joined in unison with the voices of those who are filled with visceral fear when they see an officer. Benjamin Franklin famously said:
Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.
The truth is, there will be no justice for Michael. There will be no justice for Eric. There won’t. I pray they are at peace now. I believe they are. I pray their parents find their way through what I can only imagine is an unending sea of grief and outrage. I am praying HARD.
I pray the protesters will find a way to channel that energy and rage effectively. I pray we will find a leader, a voice, that can provide us with some hope. I believe the difference between Selma and Ferguson is hope. I truly believe it is that simple. The protesters in the March on Selma believed things could get better. I do not think the protesters in Ferguson believe that anymore.
I want to know what to DO. I want to know how to fight effectively for change. I pray to find the right words when I find myself in conversation with someone who thinks the protesters are “over-reacting.” I pray to have those conversations with grace. I pray for the ability to tune out the angry rhetoric, so that I can really hear what other people are saying to me. I pray I begin to hear more conversations about WE and US, rather than THEY and THEM.
I pray that I will remember that more is gained by listening than by talking- but when I do speak, I pray for that hard, hot lump in my throat to go away, so that I can speak clearly and with kindness. I pray that I keep enough righteous anger to compel me to work for change, but not so much that I am changed by it.
Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.
The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust.
Lawrence M. Krauss
This past weekend I went to see The Theory of Everything. It is a biopic about Stephen Hawking and his wife, Jane. The movie begins with the two of them meeting at Cambridge. Jane, a young woman studying French and Spanish, and Stephen, pursuing his PhD in Cosmology.
Theirs is an unlikely love story. He is an ardent atheist, she is a faithful member of the Church of England. Despite this, they are drawn to one another. She of the arts, he of the sciences. She of the heart, he of the head.
They begin dating, and Stephen starts to experience symptoms of what we now know to be Lou Gehrig’s disease. He is given the devastating diagnosis, and told he can expect to live no more than two years.
They are impossibly young. They are in love. Jane persuades him that they should make the most of whatever time they have. They marry, they have children. His physical condition deteriorates but his brilliant mind remains. He gains international recognition for his singular pursuit of a universal theory, one that will essentially explain the whole world- how it came to be, how it will end. Stars and black holes.
As time passes, the toll of caring for her husband and children begins to show on Jane’s face. She looks less open and joyful, more stressed and determined. The Jane she thought she would be has been shelved. Stephen, despite his challenges, seems happier than she does- more capable of enjoying life. His professional journey has surpassed any dream he might have had for himself, she’s not yet really embarked upon hers. Things are complicated. Aren’t they always?
Today, Stephen Hawking is 72 years old. He was diagnosed at 21. He has now outlived his initial prognosis by almost half a century.
That’s not what Jane signed up for.
It sounds harsh, but it’s true. She thought she was only going to have two years with this brilliant, wonderful man that she loved. She knew it would be difficult and heartbreaking. And it was, just in a different way than she expected.
But the thing that struck me, sitting there bearing witness to their story, is that none of us gets exactly what we signed up for in this life. That’s simply not the way it works. There is always the unforeseeable. People let us down, they break our hearts. They leave too soon, they stay too long. We get hurt. Every single one of us, by someone, at some point. No one escapes unscathed.
It can be difficult in the face of such disappointment not to paint the entirety of a relationship with a very broad brush. But nothing and no one is all one thing. Just because something ends badly doesn’t mean it wasn’t ever good.
Allowing yourself to remember that can be awfully painful.
There is a point in the movie when Stephen explains black holes. Black holes occur when a star burns through the last of its fuel. Something spectacularly bright and seemingly indestructible, collapses in on itself and becomes so heavy, so dark that no light can escape. That anything in reach of its gravitational pull is destroyed and consumed by the darkness.
It sort of took my breath away.
At the end of the film I was in tears. Some of it was even about the movie.
It made me think about the upcoming holidays and about how bitter I’ve been feeling at the idea of not having my children with me. I’ve been wondering how I will manage to remain civil when I am feeling so resentful. This is the one area where I still carry around so much anger.
This movie actually helped me with that, I think. In a perfect world, where I could actually say what I want in the moment- where the impassable mountains of hurt, and the uncrossable oceans of grief don’t exist, this is what I would like to say to the father of my children:
In the end, let’s set aside the hurt. Let’s set aside the anger, and disappointment, and heartbreak. Let us put down those dark and heavy things. Let’s choose to focus on the things that still shine brightly- these two miraculous human beings that exist because WE did. Because once upon a time, before the collapse, before the darkness and destruction- there was an US. Let us stand side by side and marvel at these two amazing creatures who, whether it be by nature or nurture, are made up of bits and pieces of you, and bits and pieces of me.
Your logic, my creativity. Your charm, my way with words. Your drive, my resilience. Your knack for silliness and seizing joyful moments, my desire to connect with people. Please, God, your sense of direction. Please, God, my sense of occasion. Our smarts. Our humor. Our curly hair. A little of you, a little of me. A lot of stardust.
Maybe, if I can say anything at all, I will just quote the last line of the movie – uttered by Stephen as he and Jane watch their children run and play,
“Look what we made.”
Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism – it’s my least favorite quality, and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.
Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.
You. Yes, YOU! Right there, thinking you’re the only one.
You. Yes, YOU! The one who is muscling through. That’s such hard work.
You. Yes, YOU! The one putting on her makeup and white knuckling it through PTA meetings. I see you, sister.
You. Yes, YOU! The one who everyone thinks has it all together, and you- Yes, YOU! The one who everyone sees falling apart. You are the same.
You. Yes, YOU! Looking at Facebook and thinking that your life doesn’t measure up.
You. Yes, YOU! The one trying SO HARD to be all things to all people.
You. Yes, YOU! The one pretending to be small so others can feel big.
You. Yes, YOU! The one deciding her dreams are less important than everyone else’s.
You. Yes, YOU! The one who deflects every compliment given to her. The one who hands off credit to everyone else.
You. Yes, YOU! The one who will do just about anything not to feel the feelings.
You. Yes, YOU! The one with the pretty house, filled with pretty things, living a pretty life- the one who knows that pretty is paper thin, and worth exactly nothing.
You. Yes, YOU! The one hustling, hustling, hustling- not because there is so much to do, but because stillness is excruciating. Because you feel as though you need to earn your place in this world, every second of every day.
You. Yes, YOU! The one who gives with abandon, but doesn’t take the time to fill back up. The one who forgets that you cannot give away what you do not have.
YOU. I see you. I’ve been you- each and every one of you.
You have gifts to give this world. You ARE a gift to this world.
You showed up, on your first day here on earth, already enough. The world got a little better, a little more beautiful with your arrival.
You’ve got the part, you can stop auditioning.
For some reason, during this season of what SHOULD feel like abundance, should be filled with gratitude and wonder- during this season when everything around you should be reminding you of the miracle of life, that you are a beloved child of God- for some reason it is all HARDER. And it’s not just you. I need you to remember that, friend. It is not just you.
You are seen. You are loved. You are HERE.
Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.
Last year I went to an art museum by myself for the very first time. I’d been as a kid. I’d been on field trips as both a student and then a chaperone. I’d been with friends and countless times with my children. Never alone, though.
It. Was. Glorious.
Obviously, when you do something like that with kids your experience is secondary to theirs. They typically do not have the attention span to spend too long looking at any one piece, and having a child tug on you and whine will tend to take away from your ability to lose yourself in a work of art, no matter how amazing it is.
My first solo experience was at the Seattle Art Museum. It’s a good museum. Having grown up with Boston’s exquisite Museum of Fine Arts, the bar is admittedly really high. They do get some great exhibits passing through (most notably the stunning Picasso exhibit a few years ago) and they have some beautiful indigenous artwork exhibits.
On that particular day, the traveling exhibit was The European Masters- Rembrandt in particular. I’ll be honest, Rembrandt is one of those artists that just kind of doesn’t do it for me. His work is something I admire rather than love. He doesn’t move me, with the exception of his gorgeous Portrait of the Artist.
Amazing selfie, no?
Most of the paintings in the exhibit left me pretty cold. I can only look at so many extravagantly dressed women holding fans, looking bored, leaning (somewhat inexplicably) on crumbling Greek columns before I start to feel a little stabby. We all have our things.
I admire the technique, the use of color- I acknowledge the prodigious SKILL. It just doesn’t move me, and I want to be moved by art. I want to feel something. I don’t care if it is beautiful. I don’t need to “understand” it. I want art to stop me in my tracks, to make me think, to change me in some way.
I breezed through the exhibit fairly quickly, pausing only for a moment or two in front of each painting. I decided to head downstairs and find one of my favorite pieces in the SAM permanent collection- a piece called Buzzards Bay by Helen Frankenthaler.
On my way back downstairs I walked through an exhibit featuring chiaroscuro works. Chiaroscuro is a style of painting, popular during the Renaissance, that is characterized by extremely dramatic use of light and shadow. It is the Lifetime movie of art styles.
In one small room there was a painting of two boys blowing bubbles by candlelight. The way you do. Beautiful technique, but not something that would normally draw my attention.
There was this elderly couple sitting on a bench in front of the painting. The woman was holding both of the man’s hands in hers, and he was openly weeping. He was looking at the painting, she was looking at him.
I don’t know what the artist’s intention was. I don’t know what the couple’s story was. I don’t know what that painting meant to them, or why it triggered such a response in him. I only know that in that moment that painting became extraordinary to me.
That’s when the magic happens, you know. It’s not on the canvas. It’s not in the artist’s hands, or on his or her brush. It doesn’t happen in the studio, and it is not contained in a gilded frame on a museum wall.
It happens on the bench.
It’s that moment, when the artist’s gift and the viewer’s life experience and state of mind collide. You and I never look at the same painting, even if we are standing right next to one another.
Isn’t that amazing?
When I finally made it downstairs, I sat on a bench in front of my painting for about a half an hour. I can’t tell you what Frankenthaler’s inspiration or intention was. I’m honestly not sure why I find it so compelling- but that’s the beauty of it, I don’t *have* to know why. I love it. I just DO. As I am fond of saying to my students, there are no wrong answers- it’s art, not math.
A few months later I was at Church, and by Church I mean the MFA in Boston. BY MYSELF. I was in the contemporary wing and came across this painting.
That photograph doesn’t do it justice. It spanned nearly the entire length of the room that housed it. Standing there looking at it, I felt every hair on the back of my neck rise. I don’t know how long I stood, rooted in place, staring at it. Eventually, I stepped closer and read the placard on the wall next to it.
The artist’s name is Annette Lemieux, the painting’s title is Pacing. She created the piece by walking back and forth across the canvas with black paint on her feet.
I could try for a thousand years to capture the last year of my marriage on canvas and not do a better job than this. It had such dark energy. It made me so anxious just looking at it that I started to sweat. And all around me people walked by, most pausing only for a moment or two before moving on. We were not looking at the same painting, those people and I.
If there had been a bench, I’d have sat down and wept.
Art and life are subjective. Not everybody’s gonna dig what I dig, but I reserve the right to dig it.
Does one deserve to have evil done to her by consequence of putting herself where evil can reach her?
Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
We like to think our society has evolved in the way we deal with these things, we like to believe we’re enlightened. We use terms like survivor, we talk about it on Oprah. Hell, we even have a whole tv show dedicated to the stories of rape victims, which is… interesting. Anyway, it’s true, we’ve come a long way. But make no mistake, ladies- for all the progress we seem to have made in the way we deal with victims of sexual assault, they are still asking us what we could have done to prevent it, how much we had to drink, why we were walking alone at night. They are still measuring the length of our skirts.
There are approximately 240,000 sexual assaults every year in the US. That is one every 2 minutes- and that is only victims over the age of twelve. That doesn’t include child sexual abuse, which is an epidemic in and of itself.
When only 3 out of every 100 rapists will serve time- they are measuring our skirts.
When the desire to enjoy a beloved sitcom and pudding pops outweighs more than a dozen accusations spanning decades- they’re still measuring our skirts.
When a daylong FB debate can rage on over whether a woman could really have been raped if she sought her attacker’s company the following day- they’re still measuring our skirts.
When a college anti-sexual assault campaign poster is aimed only at the girls’ conduct; when a father, who sees it while dropping his daughter off at school, asks the question Where is the poster telling boys not to rape? and is met with a genuinely confused, blank stare from his child’s RA- they are still measuring our skirts.
When college administrators place a higher premium on preserving a rapist’s athletic career than on seeking justice for his victims; when a student is more likely to be expelled from college for plagiarism or theft than for rape, they are still measuring our skirts.
When university administrators in charge of supporting and advocating for victims of sexual assault gently nudge girls toward not filing formal complaints under the guise of being understanding and supportive, they are still measuring our skirts. Those “victim advocates?” They work for the school, not the victims.
When a Columbia student resorts to dragging her mattress, the very mattress on which she was assaulted, around campus with her EVERY DAY because the university- her university- declined to protect her from her assailant, a young man who had been accused of rape two times previously, they are still measuring our skirts.
When a victim doesn’t act exactly the way society thinks she should in the aftermath of her rape, and they decide that it can’t have been all that bad, or it didn’t happen- they’re still measuring our skirts.
When a celebrated writer about to speak at a university refers to being a rape victim on a college campus as a “coveted status,” he is measuring our skirts.
When an anchor on a major news outlet helpfully reminds us there are “ways not to perform” certain sex acts “if you don’t want to,” he is measuring our skirts.
When those same voices that tell you not to provoke or put yourselves in harm’s way, are telling you to SMILE, Beautiful– and you have to decide whether to smile and have it be seen as encouragement, or ignore it and be berated or worse- MAKE NO MISTAKE- they are measuring your skirt.
When one of the determinants of a sexual assault case going to trial is whether or not the prosecutor has a good victim; when a woman is responsible for preventing herself from being raped, but if God forbid she is- she needs to both have led a blameless life beforehand, and react “appropriately” afterward in order for justice to be served. MAYBE. They are STILL MEASURING our goddamned skirts.
I have been seeing more and more focus on rape convictions- unfortunately the people being convicted of rape are the victims, not the perpetrators. More and more women and girls are being found guilty. Guilty of having been raped.
WHAT is UP with all of these banks? I mean, over 5,000 of them get robbed annually. When are they going to LEARN and stop getting themselves robbed? I mean, they’re just sitting there, flaunting their money in broad daylight. And some of these banks are in dicey neighborhoods. I mean, honestly. They let ANYONE walk right in. The thieves stroll up to the counter, and the tellers smile at them, and ask them what they want- what do they THINK is going to happen? They really should not put themselves in that position. Then, after they’ve totally let themselves be held up, they turn around, unlock the front doors and open up again the NEXT DAY. Have they learned nothing? I mean, there’re ways to not get yourself robbed. At a certain point, these banks need to show some good judgment and PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.
And that, my friends, is the difference in the way we treat rape versus other crimes in this country.
The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done were less real and important than they had been hours before.
John Green, The Fault in our Stars
There is very little I miss about my marriage. That probably sounds a little harsh. It may even be a little harsh, and perhaps in ten years I will be able to look back and remember moments and experiences linked to my relationship with my ex-husband with something other than cynicism. Unfortunately, when you find out your life is not what you believed it to be, you tend to second guess your memories.
That used to be brutally difficult. That was hard when I was trying to accept the FACT of what was happening. When I couldn’t believe it. When trying not to believe it was my full time job. Over the course of a year, I saw our future destroyed and our past dismantled, cheapened, invalidated. I felt like such an idiot.
I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t feel pain when I think of those things- those memories of us as a couple. I feel removed from it. It isn’t hard to remember what I thought my marriage was, and it isn’t hard to think about what I now know to be the truth. Eventually you realize that mourning something fictional is not time well spent. Eventually, you lay down that anger and hurt simply because they are too heavy to carry around every day.
What I do struggle with are our family memories and traditions. What I do miss, keenly, is having someone else who shares all of those memories of the kids. The one person who knows the stories, and gets all the references, is gone. To reminisce about those things with him feels disingenuous. One of the kids will say or do something, and I can no longer lock eyes with the one other person on the planet who gets why something is funny, or maddening or sentimental. I feel that loss deeply. I mourn that as though it were a death. Maybe it was.
I honestly don’t know if that will ever go away.
I feel it even more acutely at this time of year.
I don’t feel bitterness over the way things went down in my marriage and divorce. I don’t see the point. I’ve never been hardwired to hold on to anger. I am in such a good place now, and even during the worst of it I was never as angry as everyone around me seemed to think I should be. I was never as angry as everyone else was on my behalf. I do have an area where I get stuck, though. Where I dig in at the unfairness.
I’ve been told we need to find our new normal. We have yet to have a new normal holiday. The year we were separated but tried to give the kids one last holiday season together as a family was a sham. Awful. Fifth circle of hell awful. The holidays just after the divorce were a blur due to a family tragedy. Last year nothing went as planned, our polite agreement and Parenting Plan got tossed aside. The kids were bummed.
I keep waiting for holidays that don’t feel like a first. I miss our dog eared holidays. I miss the familiarity and comfort. I miss the way those traditions make you feel as though you belong.
This will be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas back on the east coast. Thanksgiving will just be me and my daughter, as my son is in college on the west coast. And Christmas. This will be my first Christmas without the kids. At all.
I’ll be honest, it enrages me. I don’t think I should have to give up a single holiday. Ever. I didn’t choose to be a single parent- that decision was made for me. I didn’t sign up for that. Now that my kids are older, I am very much aware of how few Christmases I am guaranteed with them. To give up even one seems brutally unfair.
I am so damned angry about it.
And I know the kids love him, and want to be with him. I want their relationship with him to be strong. I know it wouldn’t be fair to them to not ever get to enjoy the holidays with him. It’s not even about punishing him- it’s truly not. It just feels like ONE MORE THING lost. One more thing taken.
I love the holidays. One of my favorite things about being an adult has been the opportunity to craft our family traditions. We, like most families, had our rituals for this time of year. The food, the music, the movies. Christmas Eve was the same every year. Those things are sacred to me.
I’ve had people tell me that I can still do what we’ve always done. I suppose that’s true. I mean, the whole point of tradition is doing what you’ve always done. It’s the backstory of your family life. It’s about memories, inside jokes, family shorthand, warmth and familiarity. Part of me would love that, if I could find a way to make it feel authentic. It doesn’t. It feels uncomfortable. So do the new ones I’ve tried to introduce. Nothing quite fits. Nothing feels natural.
I’m in a great relationship, and I know I can, and likely will, be part of his family’s celebrations. I’ll learn about their holiday rituals, hear their stories. But they’re not mine. They’re not ours. Not yet. And the answer to feeling this way won’t be found by being absorbed into someone else’s traditions.
I’m sure that the answer lies in time passing. In new memories. In distance from Christmases Past. In embracing Christmas Present. In looking forward to Christmases Yet to Come.
And they will come. I know this. I know, just as surely as I can now look back on painful things and see the gifts held within, that someday I will be able to enjoy traditions new and old within the wonderful life I am building for myself and my kids. I know I will be able to remember Christmases past with perspective and affection. I also know those memories, the ones that are too raw to revisit just yet, will likely always cause a pang.
Memories, without someone who shares them, feel much more distant and ephemeral, and are tinged- even the merriest ones- with a little sadness.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
It’s funny the way the Universe works. You know how once you notice something, you start to see it everywhere? I wonder about that particular phenomenon. Is it that it is part of the zeitgeist, and everyone is kind of noticing it in that moment, and so therefore it really is everywhere? Or is it this? You are supposed to learn something, so it is in your subconscious and then you keep noticing those little taps on your shoulder. It’s here, it’s there. And it is not, perhaps, more prevalent than it has ever been, you’re just suddenly open to hearing it and seeing it.
I think it’s the latter. Or maybe both. Probably both.
I have been hearing about jealousy a lot lately. From different people, with different views, and in unlikely places. But it’s THERE. Tap, tap, tap.
First, you should probably watch something. This is my friend Glennon on the topic. G’head. For real. I’ll wait.
I know. Great, right?
I recently attended the Storyline Conference and I was lucky enough to hear Bob Goff speak. He said, “On the seventh day, when God rested, Satan created comparison.” And then, because Bob is delightful, he added, “And candy corn.”
What is jealousy but comparison? Comparing what you have, your skills and talents, your life circumstances, with someone else, and feeling as though you come up short. That’s it, isn’t it? Why do we do it? Why are we jealous? Why do we envy? What causes us to covet?
I have created my own definitions of what these words mean to me, and they are as follows:
Jealousy = I wish I had that
Envy = I wish I WAS that
Covetousness = I want that, and I want her not to have it. Covetousness is Schadenfreude in action. Part of the appeal of ME having that is HER not having that.
Jealousy, for me, is about tangible stuff and experiences. Jealousy tends to be fleeting. Really, just a pang. I see someone’s photos from a month long trip to Italy and think, Oh-I’d love to do that. Or I see a gorgeous outfit and wish I had it. I find out someone I know met someone I really admire, and think, Well THAT wouldn’t suck. But it’s never me begrudging the other person having the thing or the experience, and it’s usually cured by looking around at all the amazing things I do have.
Gratitude is the cure for jealousy.
Envy, for me, is more challenging. It’s about attributes or character traits that I wish I had. Frankly, many of them are things I could work on if I chose to push myself. It’s the one I struggle with the most.
I recently saw a photo on Facebook (social media is to jealousy and envy what a dark, damp place is to mold and mildew- ideal breeding conditions) of one of my college roommates doing a headstand, in a bikini, on a paddle board. In the ACTUAL WATER.
Very upsetting. Her body looked phenomenal. I felt a wave of envy looking at her. The reality is that I was not envying her body, I was envying her discipline. In your 40’s you aren’t handed that body. EVER. She worked long, and hard, and consistently to be in that kind of shape. I envy those qualities when it comes to exercise. That’s just an area where I’ve always struggled. Envy, channeled correctly, can be tremendous motivation.
Also, what Glennon said is true. My first reaction to that photo was DANG! REALLY? And my second was to message her and tell her she looks amazeballs. It really does dissipate the feeling- and envy does not feel good. I would love to tell you the third thing I did was to go to the gym. Yep, I really would love to tell you that… Carrying on.
Expressing admiration is the cure for envy.
I’ll be honest. I don’t have a ton of experience with covetousness. I have many, many character flaws, this just doesn’t happen to be one of them. I’m not a big begrudger. Well, except for when Bruce Springsteen pulled Courtney Cox on stage in the Dancing in the Dark video. I has a hater in 1984.
I have given this a fair amount of thought. There really are people out there that covet what other people have. To be clear, they don’t want something similar for themselves, they want the ACTUAL thing/person/whatever the other person has. It’s the difference between, I wish I had a husband like hers and I want HER husband. Big. Honking. Difference.
I think covetousness, the ugliest and most harmful of the three, is where jealousy and envy meet perceived scarcity. So, where is this perception coming from?
Have you ever noticed how much society encourages these traits in women? We are encouraged to envy each other. Our covetousness is nurtured- our jealousy, stoked. There is a cosmetics ad campaign right now whose tagline is “Be Envied.” Not admired. Envied. That’s the GOAL. Being envied is the end game. Yuck.
Our Green-Eyed Monster is well fed.
I think the ad world, and society in general, bombards women with two messages- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
You are not enough.
There is not enough.
Advertisers seldom use those tactics with men. I’ve been thinking about that.
As Glennon touched on in the video, there really are still arenas where there are fewer seats at the table for women, and so in those circumstances there’s a certain amount of validity to feeling as though someone else’s having something comes at your expense. In those cases, unfortunately, there is actual competition. Actual scarcity.
But, friends, there are ENOUGH shoes. There is ENOUGH nail polish. There are ENOUGH husbands. Your beauty and your success takes exactly nothing away from me. Not one damned thing. We are being sold the lie that beauty and success and even happiness are finite resources. That is complete nonsense, but it is nonsense that we are buying.
And of course, it doesn’t have anything to do with shoes or nail polish. It doesn’t even have anything to do with husbands. It has to do with women’s relationships with one another. It has to do with how we view each other. Too often we see each other as competitors, sometimes even enemies- rather than sisters. Rather than foxhole buddies- all fighting the same battles.
I am sitting here getting pissed thinking about it.
Keep us fighting about stupid stuff, world. Keep us seeing each other as the enemy. Keep us distracted by shiny things, and imagined shortcomings. Keep me thinking my glass is half empty because hers is half full. Keep me believing that her win is somehow a loss for me.
That way we don’t so much notice the fewer seats at the table. That way we lose sight of 77 cents on the dollar. That way we don’t stop infighting long enough to get angry and then get ORGANIZED. God help you if we get organized.
We are more than half the world. We should stop envying each other’s shiny things and ACT like it.