On Being Where We Are

The words that come to me when I am seeking deep wisdom are always the same: BE HERE NOW. It sounds deceptively simple. To just be. To be present. To leave enough space in our lives so that we are not hurtling from one day to the next without ever feeling anything.

I had a week where melancholy was haunting me. A few things happened that made me uneasy, and that made me want to not feel anything. 
In the past, I had some pretty intense traumas and seemed to sail right through them. No drama, no breakdowns, no bottles of vodka. It was only in hindsight that I realized my coping mechanism for pain was to bypass it completely by any means possible. To be numb, to not feel it at all.

It’s the trick of the mind to divest itself of misery, to speed past it, or to distract oneself long enough to get to the next mountaintop. But that approach doesn’t help to process things and it leaves the aches from long ago lingering for far too long. I have slowly come to accept that being alive encompasses seasons of grief and longing and bitter disappointment. Things that need to be felt and even understood, on some level, so they don’t poison the body.

This week I happened to get a cellphone bill that was for my ex, although I didn’t realize it until I had opened the envelope. There was his name in big letters at the top of the page and there was my address just underneath. The bill was astronomical, for 5 new cellphone lines, and suddenly the unsettling feelings I had when we were together came flooding back.

I don’t even have his phone number so I had to send a Facebook message to a guy who used to be my husband. Awkward.

Turns out his identity had been stolen and someone 3,000 miles away was buying phones for their whole family. Several Facebook messages were sent back and forth, and he said all the “right” things: I think about you every day and wonder how you are doing and if you even need anything, all you have to do is call and I will be there in a heartbeat. I was nice in my reply but not overly so.

The whole exchange lasted just a few minutes, but it reminded me of so much. Some of it was good and some not so good. The sweetness and the selfishness. The litany of complaints I had talked about for way too long. I thought I had processed all that junk a long time ago.

There was a mix of warm thoughts that made me wistful, juxtaposed with the darkly percussive memories that made me wish I had just thrown the bill in the garbage. This is how it feels when love and disappointment crash into a perfectly good Wednesday morning.

And while those emotions rose and fell within me, I bumped into an acquaintance at the doctor’s office where I was waiting to get vials of iron pumped into my anemic veins. She said “Hi” and I couldn’t even figure out who she was because the context was so unfamiliar. Then I remembered she was the mother of one of my daughter’s friends.

“What are you doing here?” I asked with a smile.

“I’ve got cancer,” she whispered as the nurse began to draw her blood.

I smiled bigger and more urgently and told her she was going to be fine. I told her about the most amazing site that had alternative treatments that she could do while she was getting chemo and then I tried to change the subject by complimenting her new haircut.

“It’s a wig,” she confided.

“No way,” I said. “It looks just like your hair!”

I was animated and energetic and was trying to emanate a force field of hopefulness all around her. On the drive home, I felt grateful and awful at the same time. She is so nice and has two kids and a wonderful husband. She’s young…how could this happen to her? And then I felt so grateful that we had bumped into each other and I could share the site with her and it made me aware of how lucky I am to only need iron treatments and not the dreaded chemo.
It was gloomy outside and traffic was bad and the raindrops pelted the windshield and then got swept away, only to have them reappear with each swish of the wipers. What a metaphor for life, I thought. What a metaphor for life.

This week felt so full of ennui. Rife with melancholy and a few teeny tiny moments of quiet joy. None of it seemed within my control. But if I try, I can summon a slightly bewildered gratitude for phone bills that get delivered to the wrong address and for a chance meeting on a rainy afternoon. They allow me to be here now, to enter into the pain of life, to commune with parts of myself I didn’t know existed, and to be close to the sorrow of others.

The things that happened weren’t monumental tragedies in my own life, but a brushing up against the lives of others that caused my heart to stir in a deep and painful way. And I know I’m not alone in this; several of the people I care most about in this world are suffering right now. Really suffering. To see them crushed in spirit crushes me as well. I’m learning that certain experiences demand the right to grieve. I’m learning to open myself and feel the weighty ache of imperfect love, the sting of lost loyalty, and the misery of human frailty. I taste the tear-stained sorrow in air that surrounds us all. I hold on to the edge of things that are too much to bear. I let my soul sing a hymn of humility and confusion, of an aching hope in the midst of despair.