When I was young, I tried to imagine happiness. Even in chaos, in strife. Myself: bright, healthy. Whole. Belonging. Out from under the dark cloud that surrounded me and made me feel helpless.
You see, in childhood, I learned to think negatively, when things went sour, not realizing that there is only today. Not knowing that we create our happiness, or not. By what we do. Or think. Or not.
I’d get my hopes up, hopes for peace in our home. then something out of my control would bring it all crashing down. My father’s binge-drinking, my parent’s struggle because he’d spent all the money, and creditors howled at our door. My mother’s difficulty coping, with a disease that is truly cunning, baffling, powerful. And yet what was most powerful was my love for them, always.
Then would come their separations, trips southward to stay with Grandma, followed by reconciliation and renewed attempts to “start out fresh,” until the next time. Until finally a divorce, and hard times that followed when Mother went to work and became a single mom.
I learned to think: Yes, I feel good now, but just wait, something bad will happen. It will never get better. It will always be awful. I’ll never be loved. I’ll always be alone. I can’t trust anyone. People will not be there for me.
Never, always. Dysfunctional thinking. Stinkin’ thinkin’.
I learned never to ask for anything, even if I was hungry. Even if my shoes felt tight, and my hair was tangled, and my class- mates called me ugly. I learned to watch my mother to see what mood she was in before I approached her. I learned to surrender to my father’s playfulness and giggle with anxiety because in the next hour he could be throwing something across the room.
I once said to Mother, “Maybe he’s dead,” when he didn’t arrive yet again. She hollered at me, “Don’t ever say that!”
I learned to listen for the crunch of gravel on the driveway at 3 am which meant Dad had gotten home safely. That he wasn’t dead.
I didn’t know that the way I was thinking was only that: a way of thinking. I only knew that I felt like a leaf in the wind. I felt that others knew something I did not: how to be happy. I came to the false conclusion that I was unlucky, flawed, and of course that life could only be harsh.
And yet, also, if I listened, came an inner voice – my soul? – telling me to keep going. And as an adult, when I did try to do things differently, there was a sense that I was trying to do what I’d never seen being done. Reaching out into space, with nothing beneath me. Inventing another way to live.
Many told me that my thinking was destructive. But how to renew one’s thoughts?
Asking for help was not in my nature; yet that is exactly what I needed to do.
I was taught to be self-sufficient, unto myself. And, paradoxically, when I did – keep to myself – I felt lonely, left out.
I told myself: If I ask for help, I ‘ll be rejected. If I ask for help, I’ll be ridiculed, or shamed. And yet, if I didn’t, I’d plunge further into darkness.
I can’t tell you exactly when the turning point happened. It wasn’t a straight line: you do this and everything else will be fine.
One step at a time I took the journey. I fell and regained some balance. Wise people told me, “Yes, it was awful then. But that was then, and this is now. You didn’t have choices then, but you do now. How do you want to live?”
Wise people told me: Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides. Everyone is struggling with something.
Until one day at a time I realized I could do anything I set out to do. I could be happy just for today. I could try to live according to my values. I could identify what those were. I could make amends wherever possible. I could do what a good mother does, for myself, and for my children. I could make choices when I thought I had none. I could take baby steps until I felt that I could take bolder ones.
I tell myself, still, (good mother that I am), even though I’m now almost old, to get up, to go walk, to brush my teeth, comb my hair ( in the back as well as the front). I tell myself, on bad days, to function. And it works. On good days I don’t need self talk. On good days, and even on bad days, I give thanks.
I tell myself to go swim, while I can, recoiling from the initial shock of cold, but finding gratitude as I glide over the water. Thanks that I can kick out and in and arms forward, glide on the sparkling blue.
To my front door, to two gurgling fountains, and inside, to two aging cats.
Sometime, I must find time again to help others. After all, I’ve always cared about people who need something: help in an emergency (I volunteered at a hospital during the 1994 earthquake); in a crisis (I volunteered with the Red Cross, delivering food in burned-out areas of civil unrest in LA, 1991). I’ve assisted in feeding people on holidays at soup kitchens in Los Angeles, in Albuquerque. I’ve helped give warm clothing to street people in Albuquerque during our coldest of winters.
I have never belonged to groups, only provided assistance as needed.
One of these days, something else will call. And I’ll show up, because this impulse is in my blood.
As a nurse, I saw everything. After years of giving at full- tilt, I burned out from the daily relentless need. I needed to replenish, and I did, in waves. Rest, work, rest, work. So created an uneven pattern which sustained me into a kind of stability. I say a kind of stability because life itself does not remain the same, day in, day out.
Stagnation impedes the flow of life. And yet, things grow from stillness, from darkness. Even from sorrow.
“In sorrow, there is Holy Ground,”said Oscar Wilde.* Just when we feel the most frightened, feel our worst, we are closest to divine energy.
For now, I am resting, in twilight. Tomorrow is on the way.
For now, I walk, I swim, I give thanks, for tomorrow is today.
Suzanne copyright 2016
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*Oscar Wilde- De Profundis