Tag Archives: new life

vulnerability-grief-hope

Moving on

Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a regular part of my spiritual life. Reviewing my thoughts, words and actions, looking at where I need to make changes and admitting my shortcomings to another human being helps me live more intentionally.

One transgression I don’t ever remember confessing is envy—because I tend to be quite content with my life.

Recently, though, I heard myself saying words I regretted the moment they out of my mouth. I knew I needed to apologize, but before I did, I wanted to understand what had prompted this comment.

I prayed for insight.

Pondering the situation, I realized I envied the woman I had spoken to; I was envious of a part of her life that reminded me of what I used to have but have lost.

Five years ago, I moved “home” after having lived away for almost forty years. That move changed my proximity to some friends and the things we used to do together. I hadn’t realized how much I missed that part of my old life until I heard this woman talking about a trip she had recently taken with her friends.

I was happy for her and the fun she had, but a week later—and not even thinking or talking about her trip—I said something totally irrelevant and rude. I was speaking out of the past, a past I have lost and apparently still mourn.vulnerability-grief-hopeUnderstanding doesn’t change or fix what is wrong, but it helps me to apologize sincerely and to figure out what adjustments I need to make to act differently in the future.

In this situation, my words led me to reflect on developing more friends in my new home—or perhaps initiating more with my family and the friends I do have.

When I moved home, I decided that I would not expect people to accommodate me—to make space for me in their lives—because I did not want to have unrealistic expectations. I knew that their lives had gone on without me while I chose to live away.

Developing realistic expectations can be tricky because expectations that are too high can lead to disappointment and expectations that are too low can lead to—well, I think in this situation, loneliness.

I realized that a fear of disappointment or rejection led me to develop extremely low expectations.

As I look back on the five years since my move, I can see that some of my attempts at initiating have been rejected and I have been disappointed on occasion. But more often, family and friends have embraced me and responded positively to my suggested activities.

Building a new life has been a challenge, and even though I am deeply grateful to be living near my family, my rude comment tells me that I still have a ways to go before I am totally content with my new life. Admitting that is the first step toward changing it. Letting go of what was also helps.vulnerability-grief-hope

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Living in Technicolor

I have heard grief described in different ways. For example, it is like the ocean, coming in waves; or like a stone you carry around that feels heavy at first, but then you get used to it.

The image that resonated with me, though, was that grief was like fog. Some days the fog would be dense and I could barely see, and others it would be more of a mist. For the past few years, whether dense fog or light mist, I have been seeing the world through a haze. I tried to keep my grief from impacting my day-to-day activities—no sobbing in public for me—but grief has been with me, coloring my world a dull grey.

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Grief has been a good teacher, though. It has taught me to be more patient and compassionate, and reminded me how little I know of others’ sufferings. Grief has softened me and helped me be more comfortable with my vulnerability. Grief allowed me to feel what I was feeling without needing to explain.

Another gift of grief is that I seem to be more in tune with nature and the natural rhythms of life; clock time and calendars matter less to me.

Grief has taught me to live smaller and appreciate more.

About a month ago, though, I had a dream that my past was holding me hostage. It was a wake-up call: I could stay with the past or I could move on.

I understand why people adapt the past to the present, to rework memories so that they seem current. Memories offer great comfort, with their familiar people, places and events. It is easy to get lost in memories, in the certainty of the past.

Leaving the familiarity of the past and stepping into the unknown future can be scary. The future seems like a dark abyss, a great risk. But my dream was a clear invitation to let go and move on.

I suppose it had been happening slowly all along, that the days of dense fog were becoming fewer as days of wispy mist became more frequent–only now I am more aware of it. I am choosing to step into the unknown future. The fog has lifted.

I am noticing things and appreciating them in ways I had not for the past few years. Flowers, birds, stars, laughing children, colorful clothes—I can see them again and enjoy them. I am living in Technicolor.

Now, I am planning my future. I am training for a half-marathon in September, and I have started studying Polish again (I dream of living in Poland). I am looking into volunteer opportunities and anticipating concerts and plays this fall.

I am ready to stop talking about the experiences of the past few years and live more fully the lessons of that time—be grateful and let go are my mantras.

I know everything can change in a minute, and so I am appreciating every minute all the more.

Crossing Over

My dog loves to cross the street, any and every street. At driveways or corners, she often pauses and looks longingly toward the other side. The wider the street, the more wistfully she seems to eye it. “Do you want to cross?” I will ask, and then follow as she merrily runs across.

I recently had a dream about crossing a street—a very wide street like Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. In some spots, Roosevelt Boulevard has five lanes in each direction, broken up into outer service drives of two lanes, and the main road of three lanes each way. Crossing it can take a long time and can be very dangerous.

In my dream, I was aware of how wide the road was and how dangerous. I approached the crossing in segments—first the service drive, then three lanes in one direction, three in the other and the other service drive. I was relieved when I made it to the curb on the other side.

Walking Detroit this morning and watching her eye the street for possible places to cross reminded me of the dream and the potential dangers in crossing to another side.

The past few years have had a number of crossing-over experiences for me in terms of relationships, jobs and where I live. Each time I reach a plateau, some sense of familiarity and comfort, I have a sense of accomplishment—I experience it as having crossed over. I am no longer on that side, but now I am on this side. The difference is tangible.

Recently, the crossings have felt like they are bringing me closer and closer to myself, to the “me” I used to be before Jim got sick and everything turned upside down—but with a twist. All that I have been through these past few years has changed me so that my new self is somehow a bit different from my old.

I now have a clearer sense of my inner strength, of what I am capable of doing and of what really matters to me. I am more aware of the importance of being centered and staying centered; and I think I catch myself more quickly when I am veering away from my true north.

I can look back to how life used to be and where I once was, and remember it with fondness. But now I live on the other side of the street. The grass is not any greener, but I did not expect it would be. What is different is that I am becoming more comfortable, more familiar with what is on this side of the street, and it is feeling more like home.

 

Outer Manifestation

Every time I shovel snow, which has been quite often this winter, the same phrase pops into my head: the outer manifestation of my interior life.

Some people deal with their grief by creating order and neatening things up; in my grief, I became more scattered.

Last year at about this time, I was preparing to move to Michigan, purging and packing my things, boxes stacked all around the house. Stuff waiting to be packed filled in empty spaces. The house was a mess, but I did not really notice; I was too immersed in my grief.

I was also going to Paris, France, for a long weekend; travel was one way I dealt with my grief.

A friend stopped by to drop off her Paris guidebooks. I invited her in, but she declined and apologized for not having called ahead. She stood at the door, looking shocked or horrified. I did not really understand her look until I closed the door when she left and turned around. Then I saw what she saw—utter chaos. The stacks of boxes, the stuff, the disarray. I broke down in tears.

This, I thought, is the outer manifestation of my interior life. I was a mess.

But the outside world did not see that. Every day, I got up and dressed and went to work. Outwardly, I seemed to be coping. People commented on how well I was doing, considering what I had been through.

But, the reality was undeniable. My life was in shambles. What I hid from the public was in full view inside my house.

I am reminded of all this because of the way I shovel snow. I can’t seem to develop a system. Instead, I move randomly from area to area. It is a reminder that I am not quite finished grieving.

We all grieve in different ways. In addition to travel and moving, last February I started this blog. I was thinking of my “new life” and wanted writing to be part of it. I pledged to post weekly, something I thought would help instill order and discipline into my life. This is my fifty-second posting, a personal victory.

My new life is unfolding slowly and order is returning. In many ways, I feel like my old self again.

Hopefully by next winter, I will have moved far enough beyond my grief that I can shovel snow in some sort of systematic way.

Until then, I will be gentle with myself—and I will keep writing.

 

 

Welcome to the Midwest

“Jesus was not a Midwesterner,” began the homily at Mass the other day. The Gospel was from Luke 11:42-46, “Woe to you Pharisees…” I got it.

Having moved two states west (from Pennsylvania to Michigan), I have learned a lot about being a Midwesterner and how different that is from living out east. Some of the differences are minor. In Pennsylvania, people say “soda” and in Michigan it is called “pop,” and “hoagies” in Pennsylvania are called “subs” in Michigan. But other differences touch deeper issues of cultural identity.

During the years I lived out east, friends would often share their reflections after trips to the Midwest. They would talk about how friendly people are in the Midwest, how even cashiers and other people in line at stores would chat. “Everyone is so polite and friendly,” the traveler would report. Although I grew up in Detroit, I had been away so long I was not sure I knew what they meant.

Having been back here a few months, I now understand.

Life here seems to move at a slower pace, and people tend to make more time for one another—whether it is family, friends or strangers.

In visits to the bank, I have heard about tellers’ children and vacations. At stores, sales people go out of their way to be helpful. When people learn I recently moved here, I get a genuine “welcome to Michigan” and then often some questions about Pennsylvania. I have had to adjust to the fact that business transactions here are also social transactions and that people are downright friendly.

Even when I went to get my driver’s license, the clerk welcomed me and asked how I was settling in. She made the discovery that she had once worked with one of my sisters. As I stood at that counter, I realized I had been braced to be treated rudely, and I had been greeted with kindness. Welcome to the Midwest.

I have rarely heard a horn honk since I moved here, and when I have, it has usually been mine. Other drivers seem to wait patiently for an errant driver to self-correct; I try to be a polite Midwesterner, but sometimes I just have to honk.

Almost every day presents me with revelations of cultural differences. I find myself noting the differences and thinking of how my cultural identity is changing as I adapt to living in the Midwest.

Jesus might not have been a Midwesterner and he did not care that he was offending the Scribes and Pharisees, but I am trying a little harder to fit in. I want to be a Midwesterner. I am even trying to lay off the horn.

Two Lists

The past two years have been very stress-filled for me, and I have often felt “not myself.” I have lost track of the number of times I have said, “I am just not myself.” Sometimes it is connected to daily activities, like being almost incapable of parallel parking (something I used to do so well I often thought it could be my “talent” in a contest). Other times it is the absence that I notice.

For example, I have long been faithful at sending cards to family and friends for birthdays and other occasions. I love the whole experience of browsing the racks of cards, sometimes laughing out loud and ultimately finding the perfect card. But, over the past two years, I have rarely entered a card store or even remembered many of the occasions that once filled my calendar. When I realize I have missed someone’s birthday, I think, “That is not like me”—and then I forgive myself. I have had other things on my mind.

Baking is another thing I love to do, and I would usually have chocolate-chip cookies on hand at all times. I would bake banana muffins year-round, zucchini bread in summer and my Christmas baking would begin on Thanksgiving weekend. But my cookie sheets, muffin tins and bread pans have not seen the inside of the oven for a very long time. I have settled for store-bought cookies for the past two years, which is definitely not like me.

At some point recently, I realized that I have been keeping two lists in my head: One was titled “like me” and the other, “not like me.”

For the better part of the last two years, the scales have tipped in favor of “not like me.” Every missed birthday and store-bought cookie reminded me that I was not myself. The list also includes my lack of exercise, knitting, gardening—all those hobbies and habits that shape my daily life and give expression to who I am. I don’t even take my daily vitamins any more.
I have not been myself.

So, when I not only remembered three birthdays in July, but actually bought cards and sent them (and on time), I noted how “like me” that felt. Two of the birthday people even received gifts (ok, so they were gift cards I bought on-line, but still…).

I moved into my new house a few days ago and went shopping to stock my pantry. I walked down the baking aisle and optimistically picked up basic supplies, thinking of the day when the aroma of fresh-baked cookies fills my new home. On that day I will know that the scales are tipping and I am becoming myself again.

Rearview Mirror

Every year, I go on a week-long retreat. I take my journal and Bible, but no other reading materials. I usually spend a lot of my retreat time writing in my journal.

One time, the retreat director suggested I spend my retreat trying to express myself through a medium other than writing. She explained that the retreat center had a large art room and I was welcome to use any of their materials.

I felt an involuntary shudder. No writing? How could I go for a whole week, and a retreat week at that, without writing?

I write almost every day. I started keeping a diary when I was ten years old, and I have been faithfully journaling ever since. At times, I have had stacks and stacks of journals, the piles only kept manageable by moves from apartment to apartment and city to city; at moving times, I would reread old journals, save anything significant and discard the rest.

So the suggestion that I spend a whole week without writing caused me some distress. But, I moved against my resistance, put away my journal and went to the art room.

I first tried watercolors, with limited success. I fared a bit better with pastel pencils, mostly filling blank sheets of construction paper with bands of color. I did notice that as the days passed, my drawings went from darker to lighter colors, which I took as a good sign.

By the middle of the week, though, I found my voice through collage. I scanned dozens of magazines and catalogs, cutting out pictures that caught my eye and then assembling them in ways that revealed my inner thoughts. By week’s end, I had created a huge collage that tracked my spiritual journey over the past year.

One image from my collage that still stands out for me was from a car advertisement—a picture of a windshield and rearview mirror taken from the driver’s seat. Through the wide windshield lay an open vista—the future; in the rearview mirror was the receding past.

I am in a time of transition now and feeling somewhat disoriented and vulnerable as I start to build a new life in a new place. I can easily get stuck looking in the rearview mirror, remembering wistfully what I left behind.

This image from my collage is a reminder to “consider not the things of the past” as the Prophet Isaiah says, but to look ahead, to keep my eye on the vista that is opening up before me.