How Not to Commit Suicide

Sometimes, late at night, I

understand how someone could make that choice.

i, myself, have been so

close, have walked that fine line between here and the hereafter, suicide note folded neatly

in my purse, while my inner

demons duked it out with my inner angels. “This life is intolerable” my demons argued. There is no way back, no way forward, no way out.” My inner angels

empathized with their brothers’ pain. “No one should ever have to feel this bad. Ever. But there’s something you don’t know. When you are in this dark place, you can see no way out. That does not mean it’s not there. It just means your vision is clouded. You need to update your eyeglass prescription, get rid of that mirror that distorts everything you see, minimizes your beauty and maximizes your flaws. Wash your windows. You’ll be able to see out, and know the world is bigger than this dungeon that holds your heart hostage.”

I listened to the parties continue their discourse. It lasted for weeks, as I hung on by a mere thread.

I was thirty-five, with three small children. They needed me, and yet that was not enough.

The demons were in desperate pain and threatened to take me down with them.

My will to live fought back as I angrily railed at life for throwing me into a perceived dead end, with no room to even turn around.

“You are not right,” my angels told me gently. “Your brain is not telling you the truth. There is a way out. You just can’t see it yet. But the choice is yours. There will be no divine intervention. Might we respectfully suggest you call a friend, ask for help, get a second opinion?”

I went to therapy one last time. I sat on the floor, couldn’t even look the therapist in the eye. She sent me to the hospital. Three weeks later, I discovered that the Dead End sign had been posted directly in front of a forest path. It was overgrown, and not well maintained, but it was a path, nevertheless. It was slow-going and challenging at first, but persistence, loyal companions, and many, many teachers brought me finally to a place where the going is easier, the sun often shines through, and where some days, I am even able to touch joy.

Two decades later, now happy and healthy, with grown-up children, I think about that suicide note. It was heartfelt and poetic, attempting to capture in three paragraphs all the lessons I wanted my children to learn, lessons that I wouldn’t be around to teach them. I eventually threw the letter out. The irony does not escape me that the only words I remember are: “Never give up.”

I give thanks every day that I decided to follow my own advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maternal GPS

I was struggling recently. You’re shocked, I know. Specifically, I was struggling with childhood issues stemming from uneven parenting. I prefer “uneven” to “dysfunctional”, because it allows for the good things that did seep through, speaks to the paradox of sometimes good, sometimes really bad that occurred during my formative years.

I have gotten to the point where I can hold two truths simultaneously, one in either hand: 1) My parents probably did the best they knew how, AND 2) I did not get what I needed.

I have been angry. I have been grieving. I have been astonished and awestruck, both to understand the extent of the damages to my psyche, and to acknowledge the inner strength I must possess to have become (at least on my good days) a (mostly) functional adult.

I am at the point where I need to choose how to move forward, both in grieving for my parent who has died, and in reassessing my relationship with the one who is still living, renegotiating something that will meet both my needs for connection and for self-protection.

In the midst of this painful process, I stumbled across a letter I wrote to one of my sons a couple of years ago, as he awaited acceptance/rejection letters from law school. As I reread it, I realized it could be easily applicable to any one of my children, and then, HOLY COW, it might even secretly be a letter to me, that older, wiser, inner parent part of me, speaking to the younger, tender, deeply wounded little person who still longs to hear that she is ok and worthy of love. I share it here in the hopes that it might resonate with those of my readers, my pseudo-siblings who got cheated out of a “normal” childhood (whatever that might look like) and are struggling to be adults without having the solid underpinnings of unconditional love that are our birthright. It’s kind of long, my apologies. I guess it’s just an example of what happens when I hand my pen to my heart and get out of the way.

“Dear Son,

Sorry the waiting is so hard. I know this will sound extremely dorky, but it can’t hurt, right? You can envision yourself opening letters of acceptance. In my mind’s eye I can see you walking to the mailbox, opening a letter, and it has big, red, felt-tipped handwriting that says “Yes!” (You may choose your own font.)

At the very least, it beats stressing about the possible noes. They may come, but that way you won’t be miserable until they do. I in no way mean to invalidate how hard this is for you. Truth be told, I am slightly anxious too, but more in a good way–wherever you land, it will be better than where you are now, and I am excited for you, for your next steps, for your new future, for the wonderful person you are and the amazing person you are continuing to evolve into. I know that the people you will champion in your new line of work will be deeply blessed by all that you bring to the table. Right now, it’s just a question of which table.

When I say I’m proud of you, I’m not proud in a “hey, look at me, I did a great job, and check out the result” kind of way. It’s more like: “Look at that man, and he’s so awesome that the love I feel won’t stay put quietly in my heart, and it’s too big to fit inside, and holy cow–that man’s my son!! and I’ve been blessed to witness his journey and sometimes be a guide, and even though he’s had to overcome so many obstacles, he still is kind, and thoughtful, and generous, and compassionate, and intelligent, and beautiful, and talented, and perservering, and loving. And that’s a miracle. And I am grateful for the blessing of you, to have had the privilege of sharing your life.

Today I am rearranging my office, gearing up for a new phase, and noticing, much to my chagrin, how much it bothers my sensibilities when my books are not lined up by height. Sigh. I guess I couldn’t hope to be my parents’ daughter and come away unscathed. But, truth be told, also blessed–my eclectic vocabulary, organizing skills and above-average intellect are gifts, though, as my father once admitted to me, smart is fine, but isn’t as important in the long run as kind.

And you are both, and so many other things as well. I am crying now just thinking about what a treasure you have been and continue to be in my life, and even if you end up practicing law in Zanzibar with no internet or phone service, my heart will always find you, ’cause that’s just how it works when you have kids, and you love them, and you try hard, and you get some stuff really right, and you get some stuff really wrong, and a lot of stuff in-between, but you just hope that it was enough, and you’re proud because even though it was harder than anything you ever imagined you could do, you somehow managed to pull it together and never give up, give way better than you got, and you hope that if your kids can do the same, give better than they got, and their kids too, maybe in six more generations no one will need therapy anymore ’cause they’ll just know how to love each other and be caring, and loving, and kind, and fun, and responsible and consistent, and flexible and tenacious, and they’ll know from the get-go that they are already good enough, and they won’t have to spend so much time and energy trying to prove that to themselves and others.

So back to my original point of that unintentional run-on paragraph, which is that wherever you land, I will find you, my maternal GPS system will tell me which direction to stand so that my love will flow out and make its way to your heart, and course through your veins, and the sound of my voice will whisper softly in your ear–you are loved, you are blessed, you are enough.”

And I’m a little embarrassed, ’cause this is not the email I planned to write, and I thought about not sending it ’cause it might seem too corny or overly-emotional, but then I figured you get to decide what to take in, what fits, what feels right, and scrap the rest of it.

So, um, back to my to-do list, which is mostly the business about dealing with bad checks left over from December.

Ma Dukes”

 

 

 

Mending a Broken Heart

It’s a gloomy day in a gloomy spring. Rain is pouring non-stop in what appears to be our new local temperate rain forest.

I’m lying in bed, recovering from a leg injury, trying to “be have” myself, resting my leg on a pillow. I’m “supposed to” be paying bills and such, but my heart isn’t in it. My heart is in a lot of other places apparently.

My heart is with Anne, my mentor, teacher, wise woman and companion in the healing profession, who will undergo a bilateral mastectomy tomorrow, on her path to reclaim a long life of vibrant health. Something about this grips me to the core. Her courage, her spirit, her choice to embrace all the positive aspects of this experience, leave me awestruck. But I am railing about the unfairness. Why? Why her? Why anybody?

A mastectomy seems like such a maiming, such a violation, such a shattering of something so powerfully symbolic of the feminine—the first bloom of the path to womanhood, the seat of our ability to nurture new life.

According to legend, Amazon warriors used to cut off a breast to permit them to be better archers. And so it is that as we lose parts of ourselves, be they physical, emotional, or spiritual, the ensuing process of loss, grief and recovery, allow us to develop new skills, habits, attitudes, that will serve us better in the days to come.

Oh Anne, my prayer for you today is that your sacrifice will ultimately be worth the cost, and that when all is said and done, your arrows will fly true.

My heart is with Michelle, our pastor of the past six years, moving today to Mankato in the rain. She has served us well, and is called to move on. I am thankful for the crossing of our paths, for the miles we have walked together. We are at that crossroads where our ways must part, at least for the time being, that fork in the road marked “God be with ye”, the origin of today’s simpler “goodbye”.

My heart is with my artist son, bound today for Tennessee, for a gig doing airbrush tattoos for–as he put it–” hillbillies at NASCAR”. It’s the millennium, in what would some say is post-racial America, yet I worry  for his safety as a young man of color traveling in the South.

My heart is with the people of South Africa, as Nelson Mandela’s light begins to flicker. The man whose life has been a testament to persistence, forgiveness, hope, and freedom, will undoubtedly soon finish his earth’s journey. When we lose our leaders and teachers, our pastors, or parents, it’s a frightening prospect—the mantle has passed to our shoulders and we understand that carrying on the work is now up to us. We pray that the seeds they’ve planted have fallen on rich soil, and have had time to root deeply, so that we’ll be strong enough and equipped for the task at hand.

My heart is with a couple of little girls I met last week at the overflow shelter. I spent some time reading to them on a saggy couch in a church basement. They liked my earrings and told me I looked like a rock star, high praise from a four and a six year-old, (and music to the ears of one whose last birthday just made her eligible for the Goodwill’s senior discount).   One of them asked me if it was ok to take her shoes off. I said “of course”. “That’s ‘cause this is my house” she replied, then asked me, beaming “are you my auntie?” “I’m your auntie for tonight”, I said, but went home troubled, thinking about all our children, and how we can be better aunties.

My heart is in so many places today, it feels splintered, if not shattered, and I struggle to hold onto enough of it for myself. I hold these people in my heart, and perhaps they hold me in theirs as well, but does that mean that a part of my heart goes with them, and a part of their hearts get left behind? Is that why people end up being heartless, because they get spread too thin? Or is it part of the mystery of life that the heart continually replenishes itself, that as much as we give away and share, more grows to replace it?

The Bible tells us that “God hardened Pharoah’s heart”, which has always seemed a dirty trick, a heartless play by God, if you will, which I have never understood. Dr. Suess, on the other hand, tells us that the Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes that day”. This gives me hope that, given the blessing of a non-judgmental, loving community, small-heartedness is something from which we can ultimately recover.

And how does the heart work, I wonder? I don’t mean the physical, blood-pumping, life-sustaining heart with which we are all too familiar. I mean the metaphorical heart, the one the Bible tells us to guard since “it is the wellspring of life”.   The ancients understood the heart, rather than the mind, to be the seat of the soul, and they may well have been right. Besides, theres just no poetic ring to “I love you with all of my brain” or “I hold you in my cranium.”

And my dreams, oh those dreams. They just keep on a’comin’, wave after wave after wave—I need some dreamless nights to catch up and incorporate the lessons they bring:

Little girls that need tending, girls bitten by tigers, or riding camels, or afraid that they are not beautiful enough.

A young man, driving erratically (I hope he at least has his permit)–I am riding in the backseat, leaning forward, calmly speaking into his right ear as he careens the wrong way down a divided road, coaxing him past obstacles until he can get back on the right side of traffic, making sure he slows down before he goes over a big bump.

 A woman I meet at a retreat house tells me she was at the funeral of a mother of three children—I don’t recognize the dead woman’s name. I wonder–did I know her? Her partner has already remarried; I think that seems a little quick, and hope she’s taken time to do her grieving.

As I heated my coffee this morning and the haze of sleep finally started to lift, I was startled to recognize that the dead woman was me, as was her remarried partner, as was the young driver, as were the little girls–pieces of my psyche that have separated or gotten left behind along the way. I understand that I have to be kind and gentle to myself, to invite back and incorporate these missing pieces of me, honor their journey, tend their wounds, embrace them back into my current life. I need to take good care of myself and pace myself, and make space for the frightened little girls, for the young man who’s driving through scary territory, to grieve for that young woman who died, and rejoice for that somewhat older, slightly wiser woman, who’s still taking a chance on life.

Bearing Witness

IMG_1338The more we can bear witness to another’s sacred story, the more we can heal each other and the world.” –Nicole Duenow, Healing House

It was a dark and gloomy night (not outside, but in the very depths of my soul). In the back seat of a car, abducted by strangers with my three-year old daughter, my mind raced to process what was happening and what would become of us. I engaged my captor in conversation to try and discern his motives, our destination, our chances. I knew our lives were on the line. As much as I had faith in God, I knew that many others, far more worthy than we, had perished without divine intervention. Oscar Romero came to mind. If God had not stepped in to save such a saint, I knew we had no guarantee.

Blindfolded, I could not look deeply into my captor’s eyes, read his face, his fears, his intentions, so I searched deeply in my heart, reached depths deeper than I knew existed, and found that place where we are all equals, divine creatures, that place called namaste. From that place I could see my captor through God’s eyes, listen deeply to his own story of woundedness and unexpectedly find these words: “I know why God allowed this to happen to us—it’s because He wanted you to know how much he loves you.” The spell was broken. I had stumbled upon the key that ultimately set us free from our would-be prison. At that moment, my captor’s motivation faltered, and together we began to plan how he could release us.

That experience forever changed me, in ways both powerful and devastating. When it mattered, I was able to connect deeply with love. In the ensuing years, I have also had to contend with panic, terror, fury and depression, all different facets of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. My journey to recapture the pieces of my spirit that were injured in that assault has taken over twenty years, and is not yet complete. My daughter, now a son, struggles with demons of his own, as do his brothers, who have been indirectly impacted by that event through my struggles with mental illness.

And yet we are so blessed. Life continues, and is full and good. My grandson, now four, son of that sweet little child who survived the unthinkable alongside me, is at that stage where he’s trying out new superheroes on a daily basis. He is endowed with infinite superpowers, and is forever engaged in galactic battles, sword fights and other impressive adventures.

“Grandma, what’s your superpower?” he asks me one day as we play together. It takes me a while to find my answer—I don’t usually think of myself as a superhero gifted with magical powers. After a moment it comes to me: “Love”, I tell him, a little bit surprised at my answer.  “My superpower is love.” In a rather disgusted, somewhat condescending voice he replies: “Grandma, you can’t kill with love.”

And suddenly I am transported back to that unforgettable night and remember. Remember and understand. That key that opened the door to set us free? Its name was love. It was love that saved our lives. It has always been my prayer that love may, in some unknown way, have saved our captor’s life too. And it is my greatest hope that love will eventually help my wounded spirit find its way back home.

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