::Mother::

You could say I had three mothers. She was a doting mother to the babies. She was a controlling mother to the children. She was a cruel mother to the teenagers. 

When I was a baby, then a toddler, she could be silly, loving, and fun. But the older I got, the more unhappy she became.

I was born happy. 

And she seemed to hate me for it.

I sometimes wonder if my mother thought she could give birth to her rescuer. At least I, as the oldest, felt somehow responsible for doing that. But there were five others. Did they ever feel what I did? Did they have the same mother(s) I did? 

Thinking about it now, it seems she wanted me, or us, to unring the cruel bells of her past. But she had shrouded them behind a curtain, and she refused to pull it back, to let us see. To know. To understand. Consequently, we had no clue what we were responsible for. But I, for one, wanted desperately to fix it for her. For us. Because the life we were living hovered above the deep end. At any moment it could drop and drown us all. 

But what were my mother’s dreams? What had she wanted to be, if anything, before marriage and children entered her life? I often wondered, and from a very young age, whether or not I was conscious I was doing it, I watched for clues. Who, really, was this person who carried me for nine months in her belly? 

She often sang softly to the radio, and her voice was beautiful. 

In the early years she and Daddy would turn on the radio, scoot back the furniture in the dining room and dance to the music. They were amazing. 

My mother was a singer.

My mother was a dancer.

She often would say that my first word was “pencil.” I remember her drawing for me when I was very small, and just learning to master putting lines on paper. Her drawings were charming.

My mother was an artist.

I can remember being very young, a toddler, and watching her put on her red lipstick and fix her hair every work day before Daddy came home . I was in awe. In my mind she was a movie star. A queen. She slayed me with her black hair and hazel eyes, her flirty grin when she looked at my Daddy. 

As a teenager, I wondered if any of her talents pulled at her, if that was what kept her in such a dark place. But my mother was someone I could not talk to about deep things. I tried once, and her only response, between drags on her cigarette, was,
“If you keep thinking about things like that you’ll drive yourself crazy.”

Had she driven herself crazy? I remember a time, back when we lived on North Marion Street, that things were very rocky. I was about four.

Mother had a controlling friend who must have been incredibly overbearing. One day, this friend came into our house and rearranged my mother’s kitchen, without asking her. I think my mother was gobsmacked, had no clue how to handle the invasion, and had no idea how to stop it. 

She resented this woman, knew she needed to break free, but felt trapped. Mother seemed to take it as if she was not smart enough, capable enough, to do anything. She fell apart. In the end, it seems it was a nervous breakdown.

The priest came to the house several times, and counseled my mother. Things got quiet for weeks, as if someone was sick, or had died. I was so young that the memories are sketchy, but Mother was either put to bed, or had gone away. 

When she was ‘back,’ she brought a new normal with her. And things were never the same.
Even now I wonder what happened, exactly, during those months, that caused the shift. Whatever it was, it marks the time when the singing stopped. The dancing stopped. The laughter stopped.

The drinking started.

Mother is gone now. Daddy too. I can’t ask them anything. All I can do, or try to do, is write myself to a place where I find peace. 

By writing it down, I sort through the wreckage of the past.  I do what I can to organize the broken pieces. I hope to find some pattern, or even beauty, that illuminates like a stained glass window. Beauty from ashes. Magic from shards. 

It happens. It happens all the time. And if it exists here in this life, I will find it. 

If mother is watching, I pray she’ll help guide me to it. She no longer has anything to lose, if she ever did, by revealing her story. And it is so intrinsically tied to mine, that my story can barely be told, without knowing hers. 

::All The Pieces::

When I first started counseling after the divorce, Dr. Runyeon began working with me on boundaries. 

He likened my heart and soul to a castle.

He pointed out that there is an outer courtyard, and there is the inner vestibule. There are rooms on the rising floors, and there is a tower at the very top. 

He also made serious mention of the mote and drawbridge. These, he said, will become important as you begin to clarify for yourself who does, and – he emphasized – who does not, belong in your life.

With this tool I began recognizing relationship dynamics, and boundaries which, as an adult child of alcoholic parents, had never been clear to me. I didn’t even know they existed. But I was ready to understand, and to do the work required to see clearly, and to know what’s true. 

These sessions were twenty five years ago, and they serve me still. Through the years I have reconnected with parts of myself that I unconsciously discarded in an effort to appease others. I now know to listen to my intuitive self without ignoring what it tells me. As a result, my life today looks very different than it did before. 

I am on the path back to who God created me to be. And the people who are in my life support the authentic me as passionately as I support them.

In thinking about this process, and the intersecting pieces, I’m reminded of the gimmel ring. A gimmel ring is a ring with two or three hoops or links that fit together to form one complete ring. The name gimmel comes from Latin gemellus, twin, via Old French. They were known as joint rings in Elizabethan England.

These separate but united rings remind me of the pieces of myself that are designed by our Creator to fit together perfectly. Remove one section, and I am not “all here.”

But link them together as they are designed, and the one ring is perfectly complete. 

My goal is to be wholly present and as complete as the beautiful gimmel ring.

And I shall wear it from the courtyard to the tower in the castle of my heart

::Grateful::

Gratitude. People usually say thankful. Like, 

“I’m thankful it didn’t rain today, we’da missed our last game.” 

Or, “I’m thankful they started using skim milk in my latte, last thing I need is the extra calories.”

Being thankful is good, of course. I’ve been thankful most of my life … ever since, I guess, the Methodist minister’s wife picked me up at the gas station where she found me. I’d run away from kindergarten after daddy dropped me off, I was so afraid of being late again.

But now, in my dotage, I’m pretty much always grateful. 

Grateful I can hobble to the bathroom in the morning. 

Grateful I can plant my foot against the shovel, and heave piles of dirt in the garden. 

Grateful for clarity of mind, and the continuing passion for learning more, about everything.

Grateful for friends who take me, love me, and support me as I am.

Grateful for sunshine, and rain, and every season under God’s heaven — even this week in February, 2021, when we’re iced-and-snowed in. At this point, they all have a poignancy I’ve never experienced before. 

We never know when our last breath will be drawn, our last hugs given to those we care about, our last expression of love, however large or small. 

My most recent experience of love expression was the cleaning out of my garage. My son and grands helped, and we filled a dumpster with stuff that, had I not done it then, they’d have had to face it when all my “lasts” were done. 

I think about that a lot. My home, which I’m grateful for, is an estate sale in waiting. I know that, and it helps me take things a little lighter. 

We’re all in this big parler game called life, waiting for our number to be called. And while we play this game, let’s be grateful for the brilliant, heartbreaking, surprising, messy, beautiful life we’re living.

And may we never forget … there’s a last time for everything. 

::Helpers::

Mr. Rogers used to share something his mother told him when he was a boy: “If you are ever in a situation where you’re lost, or in danger, look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

If he were a boy in need of help, he would be looking for me. I am a helper.

The interesting thing about helpers is, their first instinct is to step up; to take care of things. They jump in, exhibit calm, do what needs to be done, and try to make sure everyone is taken care of.

In seminary, we had a course about the different types of people. I learned that these people are, in a way, saviors. They don’t do it for themselves, or for praise; they are naturally service-oriented. 

And the downside of that is, “nobody saves the savior.”

When I went to the emergency room earlier this year, I was on my last thread of a nerve. My pain tolerance is almost dangerously high. There are several reason for that, which is a different essay entirely. But that Wednesday, I was in tremendous pain. My left abdomen was bulging, and the pain was so intense I could barely breathe. 

My son called that morning … his sister had called him. — apparently with a “check on Mom” alert; I’d told her I might need to head to the ER. He insisted he come and take me. “Mom, you are NOT taking an Uber to the hospital! I’ll be there in about an hour.”  

Yes. I would have taken an Uber. But was so happy to have my big, strapping son coming to go with me. 

We arrived at Saint Thomas Rutherford and I was quickly admitted. [Ed note: this was before the Covid. No masks were required]

I received the standard issue hospital bracelets and was shown to a room. My nurse, Sam, was a beautiful young girl. She clucked over me, took my vitals, we joked around a bit … when I’m nervous my first go-to is to try and make others laugh. I had Sam laughing. 

Lying on that bed in that room in that hospital, I was not the helper. Everyone else was a helper. I was the one being helped. The gravity of that reverse was so ‘opposite,’ I could barely handle it. My eyes teared up several times. The kindness of my son, of Sam, of Dr. Steinberg, of Don the guy who wheeled me down the hall for the CT scan … was almost too much to take. In spite of the pain I was in, the helper in me felt like I should be fixing them all dinner, giving them a haircut, making them an outfit.

I got my CT pictures taken, got my belly poked and prodded, and the diagnosis was, once again, “undetermined.” But that’s good, right? They’d have seen the bad stuff, if there was any. That’s what I’m thinking, anyway.

And I wasn’t there very long, maybe a couple of hours. Chris brought me home, and urged me to come stay with them in Franklin. I declined. I was perfectly fine, except for the undiagnosed pain. And as we continued to rule out the scary possibilities, I was more and more inclined to just roll with it.

But after my son left, and as I looked through the file of papers they sent me home with, I couldn’t help it. I cried. I was feeling pretty fragile, and deeply humbled; so overwhelmed by the kindness everyone had shown me. A helper is not used to being helped and, quite frankly, is not altogether comfortable with it. But I knew God’s hand was in all of it. I could see it.

And I heard one of the messages being given to me: “Let others attend to you.” 

It’s been months since then, and the problem seems to have gone away on its own. I’m back to climbing on ladders and taking on projects that are generally bigger than I am.

But I’ll never forget that Wednesday in January, when my daughter, my son, the hospital attendants … they were my helpers.

::PERFECT::

The Perfect

When I was very young, maybe three or four, I remember waking up each day a little breathless. I was so excited to be here. Thinking back, I wonder how I knew. What was that excitement about?
Going a little deeper, it’s almost like I’d been here before. I’m not sure about any of that, but I remember I had a “knowing” that life here could be terrific, and who wouldn’t want to be in it?

As I grew older, I started discovering that there was a thing called perfection. It was defined as something different than what I saw.

Perfection, I was told, could be found in the hospital corners on a freshly made bed. Everything on square. Pristine. Unsullied. Untouched.

I spent a lot of years trying to live up – or down – to whatever that was. But then, in the later years of adult life, I had an epiphany. Really, it was a sort of ‘going back’ to what I knew at three or four. I began to see perfection everywhere. In the torn edges of an old photograph; the way the table cloth was just slightly askew; The lipstick on Mrs. Flanagan’s teeth when she smiled.

Isn’t there a bit of heartbreaking perfection in all of it? It just seems like we all try so hard to be the perfect thing. And yet, when we step back and look, the perfection is always right there, at the center of our authenticity.

There’s a sweetness in the toddler’s bed head. There’s nostalgia in the old man’s dropping suspender. And a beautiful humanness in the failed loaf of bread.

It’s all good. The good stuff of us. We’ve only to live it, and not judge it. Our loving Father is looking down, and — in human terms — he likely gets a bit misty as He watches us try so hard to correct that which needs no correction at all.

The perfect is already here.

::Higher Ground::

Separate together

Common new phrases: ‘shelter in place’; ‘isolate together’; ‘curbside dining room’; ‘together separately’ … and the list will, no doubt, grow as days go by. I’m always happy to expand my vocabulary. Now is no exception.

It’s interesting, the way people are responding to the current unrest. On the one hand, there are guys who bought up all the TP with plans to sell it at premium prices.

I can’t knock free enterprise, but in the midst of a declared national disaster, ‘this’ is not ‘that’. It’s called price gouging, and it’s illegal.

On the other hand, there are those who – when they get an inkling that you might have a need, will throw open their trunk and ask, “How many can I give you? No problem, ma’am, I’m on my way to the church with this stuff and if you need any, I”m happy to share.”
These people … angels on earth. The hands, feet and heart of Jesus. That’s what they are.

They are the ones who help lift our gaze to the road before us, and the higher ground ahead.

I’m a grown woman. Really grown. I mean, I’ve been here awhile. I rarely remember that, and when I get the message to “check on the elderly in your neighborhood,” I start thinking of the ladies down the street. Then I start laughing, when I realize: I’m older than they are. WHAT?! Yes. Yes, I am. But I’ll check on them anyway. Because that’s what neighbors do.

In the main, I’m a hermit. I love being, living, creating alone. I cowrite weekly, via Skype. But I rarely come face to face in person. Rarely in the energy field of other people, rarely experience their scent or the texture of their sweater when I hug them.

Those things I do miss from time to time. But what I realize is, my lifestyle has prepared me for *this*. The need-and-the-call for everyone to, basically, live as I have lived for the past twenty years.

But we are a creative people. We Skype, and Zoom, and Facetime, and text, and call … we will always find a way.

The connective tissue between those who love each other cannot be destroyed.

::BETRAYAL::

Betrayal

Betrayal is a wicked … a wicked tool. It’s sharp as a razor, with jagged edges. It tears to shreds every good and trusting thing. It comes like a thief in the night … a thief who has carefully studied the landscape of your heart; ferreted the aching parts, the harbored parts. Made note of where deep cuts will do the most damage.

It’s filed away every hidden secret. The betrayer has convinced the trusting that they are free from danger.

Betrayal is a liar. The worst liar. The lie is, “You are safe with me. Your private truths, your woundedness … all of it is guarded here. Lean in, lean on me. Tell me all. I’ll hold it close.”

A person can only be betrayed when they have opened themselves up … they have taken a chance. Surrendered it all. Trusted.

Then, once all is sure, it comes.

The betrayer deliberately ravages the trusting.

I’m struck by what Jordan Peterson says about betrayal:

“The people I’ve seen who have been really hurt, have been hurt mostly by deceit …”

“I’ve thought for a long time that maybe people can handle earthquakes, and cancer, and even death … but they can’t handle betrayal. And they can’t handle deception. They can’t handle having the rug pulled out from underneath them by people that they love and trust. That just does them in.

“It makes them ill, but it does, it hurts them … psychophysiologically, it damages them. But more than that, it makes them cynical, and bitter, and vicious and resentful. And then they also start to act all that out in the world … and that makes it worse.”

Truth … real truth … can heal it.

Peterson is correct.

The most damaging thing a person can experience is the deliberate devastation of their heart, by the one who said “Trust me.”

God, help the healing happen in we who have been betrayed. Help it start. Please take those broken pieces, make them whole, heal them in us all.

As for me, please find the little girl inside who held the lie of trust, thinking it was truth. It is she who has been destroyed, and is hiding.

Please, Lord, bring her back. Bring her home to me. Help her know I will never let her get hurt again.

Amen.

::TOO SOON::

GRIEF

Even in the face of death, “life goes on.” It’ll break your heart, it’ll piss you off. But it does. It goes on.

When we suffer a heart shattering loss, one that comes suddenly and too soon, it’s enough to make us scream … at the sky, at the mirror, at God … at the birds, so arrogantly singing in the trees, as if nothing has happened. What are they doing? Don’t they know?

Part of the heartbreak is that we’re still alive. And there’s a part of us that wishes we weren’t.

But time passes. We cope, as we must. And Faith … which is a comfort most days … becomes a sharp-edged action word. A word we’ll grip in our hands with the tears streaming. With our teeth gritted. Holding onto it, almost in spite of ourselves. Letting it cut us till we bleed. Wishing it would.

Because how else will we hold onto it at all?

When someone is suddenly taken from us, it’s so confusing. In an instant, life itself explodes to the surface. It’s impossible to know which step to take. It’s everything, all at once. And it’s nothing at all.

We try to think how to move from this day to the next. But thinking is impossible. So we just try to find our feet.

When, after many months, we’re starting to have snippets of time when we feel okay, we’re quickly plunged into guilt and grief, because what right do we have to feel “okay?” We don’t even want to! This all needs to stop!

But the world keeps turning. And we keep moving forward. It’s not easy. One day, far into the future, we will have beautiful memories to look back on. Memories that will warm our hearts, and make us smile.

But today we are in the wreckage, not wanting to leave it if it means leaving her, but trying to find our way out because nothing is the same. And it never will be.

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one. You will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around what you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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