“How did you get through it?”

relax

Most everyone you meet carries a burden you don’t see.

You know this if you think about it because of what you yourself carry inwardly.

Plenty of travails are out in the open — health problems, break-ups, tumults large and small. Not as immediately visible are the scars and anxieties we take with us, the determinations we make in response.

This post has been percolating for a very long time. the result of thinking about how to shape a positive perspective from a buffeting past. I am grateful beyond description for the many wonders, good things and cherished people in my life. These are some momentary musings about the hurts in between. 

More than once in my life, slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have clustered together. Arrows from disparate bows — relational, financial, medical — shot straight into my peace of mind within a brief slot of time.

Early 2012 was one such period. I was let go from the most rewarding position i’d ever had (amicably but unexpectedly, due to funding issues). A long-term couplehood came to an end painfully, requiring me suddenly to set up a new residence. And more distressing than either of those, a person dear to my heart struggled with destructive substance issues — at the edge of the end several times in those few months.

People say you pick up the pieces. And that’s true. I did.

The reason ‘one day at a time’ has become so cliche through repetition is that it’s so useful and true — and in the hardest crises becomes one hour at a time.

I think 90% of getting through hard times is nothing more than just deciding to keep moving. Which is plenty — but not complicated.

A few years later, a new cluster of arrows hit. This time it started with a serious medical diagnosis, which led to the loss of the next job i’d landed — an even more satisfying position than the previous one, and which ended in a severely unjust way. In this grouping, the process of losing lasted longer, as the hope i’d clung to for returning to work despite repeated complications eroded over not months, but years, leaving me in uncharted territory outside of ‘the working world’ for good.

In the midst of the maelstrom (but not because of it), i lost two treasured relationships. One had been a friend from my teens, with whom i’d reunited only recently and then dated for nearly two years. The other was a woman-friend going back to our college days, with whom i shared many interests and enjoyed mutual confidences.

Though the reasons for the gradual wind-down of the first were not ultimately difficult to grasp, the process was deeply ache-filled.

The blow-up of the second blindsided me completely, and was shattering in a sharper way.

I mention these upheavals because, over the ensuing months and years, i keep coming back in my ponderings to the nature of transitions. To what it means to let go — and to thoughts of what can be both retrieved and newly discovered when i do.

I have been trying to come ashore on land that helps me face the present and future more peacefully.

Turns out it’s possible to transform these episodes in retrospect — from what felt like my little boat being tossed among the shore’s sharp rocks, into, instead, gently gliding it onto a sandy beach.

I suspect most of us can relate to having to make peace with things outside of our control. (In this regard, Niebuhr’s plea never gets old:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”)

As disruptive as health problems and job losses can be — i’ve said this sort of thing elsewhere on this blog — it’s the wounds from misunderstandings, differences, and betrayals among family and friendships that for me have always taken the most to work through.

I wrote here about decisions to make in dealing with personal injustice.

But in this case, as for ‘changing the things i can’,  i’m thinking more of internal attitudes i take with me. The conclusions i draw and outlooks i choose that affect my openness toward new friendships, as well as toward potential reconciliations of derailed ones.

This isn’t a disquisition on what to do with life’s troubles, relational or otherwise — just a few notions that have stayed with me from my experience.

  1. Breathe.

Wait and observe your inward reactions before directing them outward.

  1. Let it hurt.

Keep this separate from the impulse to express the hurt to the other.

  1. Give it time.

The urge to explain and analyze is often not productive in the short term.

  1. Speak for yourself, about yourself.

It rarely helps anything to tell the other what you think they’re doing wrong.

(This is a big one for me — i’ve blown this massively more than once.)

  1. Let go…

…of how it was before the rift. Take it from here, as calmly as possible.

…of what you think they think of you.

  1. Keep it simple.

Know your priorities. Tangents and sidetracks fruitlessly complicate.

Meet each other where possible, let go of the rest.

  1. Try to stay open…

…to the new data the incident is revealing. Acknowledge you are in new territory.

…to the other person’s perspective — even though you just know it’s their fault this happened (another thing to let go of, even if true).

…open, but not dependent on things being resolved, or on hearing what you want to hear from them.

There may be healing, there may not — but there can be acceptance either way. And perspective always takes time.

Though i’m thinking primarily about difficulties between people, going back over these points, i’d say with a little tweaking that most of them can be applied in one form or another as well to other kinds of losses i’ve mentioned.

It’s commonly noted that our experiences shape who we become — in combination with how we choose to process them.

We carry our pasts differently.

My hope is to keep learning, to refuse bitterness, and to keep getting better at being there for others, whatever they carry and however they carry it.

A little yarn…

yarn skein

Sometimes the most mundane of experiences has a way of crystallizing a larger thought.

Recently i needed to purchase new contact lenses with an updated prescription.

Bear with me, this does get more interesting than that…

I’d become accustomed to seeing gradually less well with the older prescription, but after a recent eye exam i began to really look forward to seeing better again.

The new contacts arrived in time for me to pop them in on a special day — for an annual family gathering. The moment they were in, however, it was obvious the prescription was wildly off; they were completely unusable.

Checking over the paperwork from both the eye care provider and the online business i’d purchased from, i couldn’t immediately find an explanation. I set it all aside and went to the picnic wearing the old contacts.

Seeing a bit less well that day was insignificant, but the irritability and sense of defeat i felt over the conundrum wasn’t. I usually prefer to confront such problems as they arise — because i usually feel capable of getting it figured out.

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Things spring brings…

spring flowers

Tired of being tricked, the spring flowers on this bright and breezy Wisconsin morning seem to be turning toward the sun and asking, “You mean it this time?”

Or maybe that’s me asking.

As is typical in these parts, spring announced itself early with some pleasant warm days, then taunted us with a few chilly snaps before agreeing to stay for good.  

Nature’s spring tantalizing sent me looking for a prior spring-themed post i’d written. I was surprised to find — in the way that the passing of time is nearly always surprising — that it has already been three years since that post (It’s the Thaw That Counts).

I was also startled at the contrast between that spring’s perspective and this one’s. That one had come during a period when i was still dealing with repercussions of a life-altering personal crisis.

As pleasant as today’s gentle breeze is, even more so is this reminder of how far behind me that particular storm is.

As i’ve said in the context of other transitions, for me one of the most important factors of confronting any challenging experience is determining to do so with complete honesty.

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The Side Door…

Time for another short fable, for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

It’s been a while since i’ve done one of these. (See previous ones under Allegory.) I find that the brevity and symbolism have a unique way of getting at something i’m feeling or experiencing.

Most times when i write these, i have an interpretation in mind, although some meanings come about in the process that i didn’t consider at the outset. (This one began with the first few lines given as a writing exercise, but soon took on a life of its own. Alternate title: Beyond Doubt.)

Please do let me know ideas or meanings that come to you from this story. I also invite you to write your own continuations of the story in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading.

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The Side Door

Out for her daily walk, lovely Dubia blinked twice and looked again. Could it be?… Yes, definitely, it was Paul — walking toward her. It had been several years since their last contact. Her hands trembled as she drew her jacket tighter against the cold wind. What was he doing here?

Here on the boardwalk along the river, where she had long ago tried in vain to connect with Paul, the odorless cold now hinted at the coming snow storm.

The present light dusting had not yet made her steps uncertain, but would soon.

Away from the elements and close to her body, she carried a shivering kitten. Pausing momentarily to unbutton her jacket, she reached in and reassured the tiny creature, then bundled up tightly again to protect them both from the bluster as she strolled.   

Fishing shanties dotted one side of the wood-plank walkway. On the other was the river, lined with idle fishing boats waiting for their owners to take them to their winter storage places.

Most of the diminutive old buildings had been restored, now housing cafes and other shops. Just past midday, the clinking of cafe dishes paired pleasantly with the muffled clanking of chains that moored the few remaining vessels.

Just one shanty was shabby and still, apparently abandoned. The door facing the walkway was padlocked, but there was a side door someone had left ajar.    Continue reading

Celebrating all relationships…

“A true soulmate is a mirror, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.”

(Elizabeth Gilbert)

I would add that any healthy relationship can provide a mirror that reflects as well the best of who we already are. Attention to both — to our underlying dignity, and to areas where we could become our better selves — can arouse in us the desire for personal growth.

heart cat tails