Counting on my Fingers

IMG_0352I count the months off on my fingers, like a small child waiting for a birthday. It’s not that I can’t mentally figure the time from early February to sometime in May. I can. There is something in feeling the months, each with a finger to itself, and as each month goes by, needing one less finger to make the count. It’s closer, I tell myself, as I click off only three.

In three months, spring will have fully arrived. In three months, seeds in the garden will be thinking of sprouting, the ones bringing hardy greens at least. In three months, the crocuses, the tulips, and the daffodils will have come and gone, or at least mostly gone. In three months, there will be dirt to turn over, weeds to pull, and grass to mow. In three months, I’ll be the parent of a seventeen year old, a high school senior. And in three months, plus a few weeks, I’ll be sharing this home with my partner.

It will be here before I blink. That’s how time goes now, in blinks and changes. Children grow up when you look away for a moment. Trees you planted just last spring, or so it seems, have leaves above the second-story bedroom window. But even at this age, when waiting for something so anticipated, so desired, the blink-and-change trick doesn’t seem to work so well. I’m reduced to counting on my fingers, waiting for the morning when I wake up with my beloved beside me, knowing that we have not just the day, or, more often, just a hours to drink up every detail each other’s faces, exchange a week’s worth of minutiae, and express a love so large it brings me to tears.

I’m irritated at my impatience and embarrassed by my inability to wait with equanimity. I’m anxious, even, that I’m missing part of the present, these last three months with just my children. They’re certainly not counting with the same impatience as I, or possibly counting with some concern about change or maybe (most likely) not counting at all. As much as they like him, watching a parent remarry results in mixed emotions, something I know from experience. I’ve no doubt their count and associated emotions are far different from mine.

And then it comes to me. I feel guilt at my impatience. These boys are settled with this change that comes in three fingers, but I know we have hard work and likely some challenging times ahead of us. It’s inevitable, the struggles that happen when families change size and shape. My memories of my father’s remarriage when I was seventeen are ones of profoundly extreme emotions. I was delighted to see him happy and partnered, a condition that suits him, and yet his dating and newfound love were awkward for me to watch, the way it is for all teens seeing their parents fall in love when they themselves are dabbling in the same strong emotion. It was also disorienting, the changes in the years before and after his second marriage. It was exhausting, moving from mom, dad, and me; to dad and me; to dad, stepmom, step-sister and me in just a span of two years, all while trying to figure out myself my world of teen relationships. It produced a slew of emotions that left me wrung out and desperate for stability. And, at the same time, his remarriage offered some of that stability, that sense of family, the happy kind.

It wasn’t that easy, of course, and we all blundered at points. I’d been, to some extent, impatient back then, wanting to be part of that new family because it seemed so normal and whole, wanting to belong to something before I left for college, needing to find my place in new family before I was only a summer and Christmas visitor in a house that wasn’t mine. It wasn’t, I found, that easy. Family doesn’t occur instantly, even when all involved want to be a family. Love doesn’t conquer all, it seems, and that year, the last one I spent at home, was hard in ways different from the ways the preceding two had been hard. When I look back, I recall very few bad moments but far more loneliness and loss than I’d known at any point earlier. Forming family isn’t easy.

And yet I’m so impatient now. It’s selfish, that impatience to share, in the same day, a morning coffee and an evening meal with my partner, with the time between dinner and the next coffee beginning with good night and not goodbye. I’m uncomfortable with that selfishness, especially knowing that no matter our intentions and efforts, this will be hard for my children, this change that they both say is fine and desirable, and, if they are like I was at seventeen, this change they also don’t entirely want and find somewhat disturbing. Wanting it, at least in my experience, feels like betrayal of the family you had before the new family. It betrays the vows made the first time, the ones that brought you into being, the ones that crumbled not because of you but while you watched. It betrays what you find after that, the profound intimacy between a solo parent and his or her children, an intimacy borne out of enduring pain of loss and some shift in relationships that shouldn’t likely occur but do. No matter how tightly boundaries are held, children become confidants and companions and take somewhat different roles when the parent number drops from two to one.

So remarriage shifts the roles again. A good deal of this shift is a relief, as part of being a child of a parent who’s experienced loss is seeing parental pain and having no power to fix it. Enter the new spouse, someone who, you learn later, can’t fix hurt either but can relieve some of your burden of noticing parental pain and feeling helpless. It’s no one’s fault, this pain borne to kids after divorce or death. It’s just part of the package, the helpless responsibility tinged with points of worry. I’ve parented this way, solo with short breaks each week, for nearly six years, and we have some sort of rhythm, the three of us. We have countless inside phrases and jokes along with ways of being, three to the house, one adult and two boys. And my children, especially my older, likely know this helplessness and sense of responsibility. They are, I imagine, of mixed minds about what happens in May.

Yes, it’s some guilt I feel as this deeply desired change approaches. I’ve this sense of betraying them and somehow negating what we’ve built these past six years while knowing neither are true. It’s more than countered by the joy of entering partnership with the man I love, a man who loves me fully and deeply while appreciating my children for who they are and respecting that our enthusiasm may not be mirrored by them. But it’s there, paired with my remembering of my own experience with my dad’s remarriage and the emotional challenges that surprised me in the year that followed.

Perhaps that’s where the tears come from, the tears that sometimes fall after our goodbyes as a weekend visit ends. (Distance compounded by snow prohibit more than weekend visits this winter.) They’re not perhaps as much about the missing (although, oh, I do so miss him through the week) as from the guilt over my impatience that the missing end sooner than it will.

But still I count on my fingers. Three months plus a bit. There are walls to paint, furniture to move, a kitchen to rearrange, and a new being to welcome. And there is so much more. I’m confident my partner and I are approaching this new road with sufficient love, friendship, and compassion to weather what will come our way. I’m certain we’ll blunder as we adjust to shared space and shifting roles. I’m hoping we find a sense of family, the four of us together, and a feeling that change can be good even when it is hard.

So I count on my fingers again.

One. Two. Three. Go.

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Vows

DSCN0349When I married who’d become my children’s father, I read my vows from an index card held by the priest. They weren’t my words or my first husband’s words. They were standard vows: love, honor, and cherish as long as we both may live, all the usual minus the “obey” lines. I’d written them out for both of us to avoid the stutter-step repetition of vows given line by line, which seemed awkward. It turns out reading them from an index card held by someone else when you’re a bit keyed up and a 100 people are watching is awkward. A few lines in, and I understood why people either just repeated vows, simply said “I do,” or held the darn card themselves.

As I look forward to marrying my partner this June, I’ve thought a good deal about vows. I briefly entertained the idea that we’d write our own, an idea suggested by our celebrant but already on my mind. Conversation about variable feelings about saying that much in public (even a tiny public) has brought us to the more traditional “I do” path (nothing to memorize, forget, or read off of tiny index cards with older eyes). That’s fine. The wedding is a moment in time, something to ponder a bit and plan, but not the main dish — the rest of our lives. How we maneuver through that event has little bearing on what happens after the last “I do.”

When I read those vows nearly twenty years ago, I meant what I said. I don’t promise lightly, and I figured that commitment was binding. Fast forward thirteen years, and I found that they held nothing unless we both held to them. Holding to vows alone, which I did for the last painful years of that marriage, yielded nothing but disappointment, frustration, and tears. However, it was for the best, that divorce, the one I didn’t want and that felt like a personal failure (I’d committed, after all), the one that I needed to remember that I had worth and dignity, whether divorced or married.

Six years later, and I’ve long regained that worth and dignity as well as a far stronger sense of self. I like to think I have a better idea about how love works after receiving love in a way that preserves that worth and dignity. I like to believe I’ve found more of myself, uncovered more confidence that I’m whole on my own and yet more so when paired with one who loves and respects me in that wholeness. I’m ready to commit. I have committed. This wedding is a formality for an assortment of reasons, as we’ve made our vows aloud and in the silence between the spoken promises.

So given the partnership was sealed some time ago, what’s the fuss about vows? It’s likely the writer in me, or maybe just my predilection for finding words for all occasions, even when they’re not needed. Or maybe I just want to express a bit of what, when I think of loving this man for the rest of our days, brings joy tinged with tears. What follows won’t likely appear in our tiny, short ceremony in June. But they are, in part what will be bound up in the words that precede whatever “I do’s” I profess.

I promise to continue to love you even though I have only a sliver of an idea of how to do that well. It’s a lifetime’s work, learning how to love, and I commit to faithful study, learning from my errors and successes and asking for assistance when I’m not sure how to proceed. This will be my life’s work, loving you more completely. 

I promise to let you be you, and I’ll encourage you as you seek for what makes you whole and happy. I’ll grow, too, next to you, near you, wholly my own person and yet ever with you as well. 

I promise to be your companion and safe hold when life finds you sad, lonely, ill, or discouraged, knowing that I don’t fully comprehend the depth sorrow, loneliness, illness, or discouragement can reach and possess no balm of comfort other than love and presence. May that offering be sufficient. 

I promise you laughter, the low chuckles of a private joke in the dark and the rolling belly laughs of shared delight. Love is fun, and life is sometimes hilariously absurd, and I will be with you to laugh even when it’s only to bring us back from tears. 

I promise you tears, tears of joy and sadness, disappointment and hope. I promise to hold you through yours, offering my presence. I promise to trust you with mine, for sharing tears is an intimacy like little else. 

I promise to trust you, for without trust, we have nothing else. I will trust you to love me dearly, like me even more, and care for me without reservation. I’ll trust you to share your worries and fears as well as your joys and delights. I trust you to tell me what’s working and what’s not — what hurts or chafes — and I’ll trust you to hear my concerns, because that’s how we learn to love each other better. 

Today and for all our tomorrows, these are my promises. You and our love is sacred to me, something within and between and beyond us. With you, I belong and will ever reside. 

The Darkest Day

IMG_0144Today is the winter solstice. This means that the Northern Hemisphere has its shortest period of daylight today (nine hours, 4 minutes, and 23 seconds where I live), with the sun reaching its lowest altitude of the year. Starting tomorrow, our days become longer, with what often seems like imperceptible increases in our daily allotment of natural light. We gain three seconds of daylight tomorrow. I’ll take it.

Winter is the rebound season, cold in these northern climes but offering more light with every earlier sunrise and later sunset. Therefore, the start of winter should bring hope. Honestly, I find that hope hard to find. I struggle with the holiday season, finding the period from Halloween through New Year’s Day to be filled with reminders of the rifts in my family of origin and family of choice. Divorce times two resonates loudest during these last months of fall and first days of winter, as I juggle those families, anticipating their absences to the point of missing the time I have in their presence if I don’t watch myself.  Healing continues, but I’ve still not adjusted to having my children away for part of each holiday.

Holidays are hard on my younger son, whose autistic way of being in the world makes breaks in routine akin to tossing him overboard in a leaky dinghy. Just when I’m wrung out from a semester of teaching my own and the children of others, when I’m ready to curl up with a good book and a beverage appropriate to the time of day, he’s losing his moorings. Between the surprises, gatherings, and laxity of the holiday season, he’s forever struggling to find the safety of a schedule. I’d like to say I do my best to make that schedule, but I can’t find my own rhythm during this time, and, frankly, I enjoy the directionless days this time of year offers. I provide some support, of course, charting individual days as they come, discussing what social events he feels he can manage while seeking a bit of form to our general formlessness. I could be more helpful, but the darkness of these days sucks me under.

The hope of the solstice takes some seeking out. This time of year, from now until the warmth of the sun brings us to spring, are hard for me. It’s easy to pull into an existential darkness that comes more swiftly the older I grow. It’s somewhere between an anxiety and depression, helped by exercise, light therapy, and just the right balance of social contact and solitude. (Some days it’s hard to know which I crave more, such is the indecisiveness that lurks with my winter darkness.)

It’s heavy, the blanket of winter. While my residual sadness about family divisions fuels the intermittent funk of late October through Christmas, the pull toward introspection draws stronger during these long nights of deep winter. I don’t know how much is influenced by the increased darkness of late fall, but it seems the lack of light outside encourages much scouting about into my interior. The older I become, the more willing I am to dig around in there, but come winter, my ability to look with equanimity decreases. It’s all too easy to see only the shadows, the failings, the humanness that without the light seems full of flaws.

I see the hurts I’ve inflicted on others, the good I’ve failed to do, all while hearing the roar of the endless motion I maintain to keep away from the silence which makes these wrongs scream their loudest. I keep moving, busy even when there is no busy to really be had, avoiding even a moment of stillness for fear that the sadness that descends with I think too much will just be too much. It’s a restless feeling, that undercurrent, rarely affecting my day-to-day duties but undoubtedly coloring my encounters with loved ones and strangers.

Ironically, perhaps, peace and hope can only be found in those silences. That’s the hope of the solstice. I spent much of this last semester feeling bombarded with busyness. What quiet I had I squandered with online Scrabble, Facebook, tasks that didn’t need doing, at least at that time, and other purposeless pursuits. I’ve rarely ever just been doing one thing, which is undoubtedly part of the problem. I model multitasking and the poor outcomes it produces. Mindfulness? Not even when I brush my teeth.

In an attempt to escape my daily patter, I scoured my bookshelves for some light fiction. Not wanting to reread, given the phenomenal number of unread books around here, I reached into my closet to a shelf holding marginal fiction that I might someday be desperate enough to read. (Yes, my shelving habits are that specific.) And thus Breakfast with Buddha, by Roland Merullo, came to bed with me several weeks back. This is not an amazing read. It is an easy read, however, about a man who takes a cross-country trip with a monk and the changes in that man as he makes that journey. He’s flawed, humans always are, and initially resistant to change. As he journeys, he finds awareness of that something is missing and discovers that stillness — meditation and mindfulness — fill what he did not previously know was empty.

Predictable? Yes. But it reminded me that I’d once tried to reach a more mindful way of being. Some years back, when I was more actively searching for meaning and solace, I reached toward a number of authors on meditation and Buddhist thought, including Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, and others. After a scene where Otto, the ordinary man, attempts to meditate with Rinpoche, his traveling monk companion, I returned to my closet. This time, I reached for Pema Chödrön ‘s When Things Fall Apart, a book I’d read years back during my separation. This collection of talks explores, from a Buddhist perspective, how we tend to miss happiness in our rush to escape pain and suffering. Chödrön advocates staying in those fearful places rather than backing away, learning from them while being compassionate to one’s self. Of course, she advocates meditation as a tool to this end.

And so I started, in the darkness of my quietest time of day, that point just before sleep. I read some of Otto’s path and a chapter of When Things Fall Apart.  Or I reread the previous chapter, as Chödrön’s words sometimes need more time to seep in to my distracted mind. And then one night I tried what I’d not really tried for years: meditation. I’m embarrassed to say how unwilling I was to try again what I’ve often felt I’ve failed so miserably in the past. Yes, I know one doesn’t fail meditation, but I’m harder on no one than myself, and I’d left the practice I’d barely begun because I felt I’d failed at it. Starting again, watching my mind wander after a single breath, the greatest challenge has been not giving up at the first hint of perceived failure. It’s hard. It’s a noisy place, up there in my head, filled with ideas, judgements, plans, worries, desires, joys, passions, fears, anger, disappointment, and a good deal of random noise. The silent seconds (nanoseconds?) where it all silences are rare at this point, but I’m hopeful that they will gradually lengthen and become more frequent.

So I’ve started to use the darkness of winter to find some hope. I will sit in its silence and listen to my breath, letting thoughts go and finding what it is just to be. I’ll read from what feeds me and seek out a bit more mindfulness in my day, decreasing the chatter I’ve been using to push away my darkness within. Perhaps there I’ll find the light promised by the solstice.

Fragmented

Mom. Homeschooling parent. Physician Assistant. Teacher. Friend. Companion. Housecleaner. Ombudsman. Taxi driver. Cook. Handy(wo)man. Obtainer of All Things Needed. Finder of What is Misplaced, Gardener. Problem solver.

I feel fragmented.

Perhaps it’s the change in weather. The days are shorter. Many are cold and wet. It’s dark when I used to take my walks, the walks that assured me time to regroup and recoup.

Perhaps it’s the season. Holidays loom large. I’m starting to flounder with these days needing preparation: shopping, cooking, decorations, plans. Thanksgiving, just a month away, and this year the kind of Thanksgiving that doesn’t include my boys, a reminder that divorce splits families for good. They are, after all, what I’m most thankful for. And Christmas. With my Christianity gone, I’m struggling with the celebration we continue to do, which I say is for the boys but is really for all of us, ritual we need and want while wondering what means what.

Perhaps it’s struggles of my younger. He’s having a hard time, what with oncoming puberty stacked atop his Aspergers and plenty of anxiety on the side. I’ve been pulled in closer as support and stability, jobs a mom expects, yet to a level not anticipated at this age. And to see a child in such a state of hurt… It pulls me in and under, leaving me gasping for breath and wondering where that oxygen mask is. I can’t put it on if I can’t find it.

Perhaps it’s time, cut in too many tiny pieces to do anything but play Scrabble online, check Facebook, read the shortest articles in the New York Times (days after it comes), answer another question about another math problem, watch my younger closely –again or still — for signs of stress, check my email, and make lists of things that will never get done.

I like my jobs, both paid and unpaid. I feel generally competent at them, and I enjoy the interaction with my children, other people’s children, and the adults whom make up my friends and co-workers. I feel respected professionally, cared for by friends, and often appreciated by my children.  I’m less enamored with the tasks that keep us in food, clothing, and a relatively clean house, of course. But each task is entirely manageable. Together, they seem impossible. 

It’s not just the tasks at hand. It’s all the ones that need attention but aren’t getting it, little and big. The call to the university my older son likes, the one to schedule a day-long visit complete with classes. The presentation for church that will happen in just over two weeks whether it’s written or not. The writing that just isn’t happening because I’m never sure when I’ll be interrupted or because I can’t maintain concentration for more than a few minutes. The books on my nightstand that go unread because I can’t pay attention to them, either. The book that I’m trying to assemble, the one that requires a few hours — or even just an hour — each day of undivided attention I just don’t seem to be able to find.

I’m in pieces. I’m not depressed or anxious or otherwise suffering from existential despair. I’m just in pieces. And most of the pieces are good in themselves. While it’s a hard job, homeschooling my sons is a choice I’m glad to have made, to have continued to make, year after year. I enjoy (most parts) of my relationships with them, and while the stakes seem astronomically high when homeschooling an eleventh grader on the cusp of full-time college, it’s overall a good ride to share.

My professional endeavors — medicine and teaching/editing — feed me deeply. Some of that food is straight ego-stroking — the patient who tells me I am the one who truly listens to her or the young student who stops me mid-class to thank me for teaching him to write, noting he really likes our time together. But some of the professional satisfaction is the challenges of the work itself. Both require close attention to the person I’m with at the time. Both require dropping my own agenda at points, attuning to the patient or student and letting the rest drop away.

The personal encounters — those with my friends and fiancé — feed and sustain me when I’m struggling the most. But even these meetings seem smashed between What Comes Next — classes, cleaning, cooking, calming, driving duty, bills, calls, and chaos management. Too often, they are the punctuation marks more than the paragraphs in my daily essay. This fragmentation (repaired somewhat come next spring, when my dearest companion becomes my spouse) is perhaps the most painful. I love my children, and I enjoy and appreciate their company. But a homeschooling mom in her forties who also teaches the children of others starts to get a bit twitchy when days go by without substantive contact with those over the age of 30. I want conversation about things other than Minecraft, computers, comma placement, and tropical fish. (The last is interesting for a while, until the lists of fish are repeated.)  I love my children, and my older is learning to be a somewhat empathetic listener who actually asks how I am and listens for the answer. But still…

So tonight I’m writing, (almost) alone in my home, enjoying the peace sustained attention brings. The presentation/sermon is nearly done, needing only an hour or so of polishing and (likely) shortening. This cathartic piece, almost complete, reminds me of the threads upon which the beads of my life rest connect what can seem broken and unbound.  When I can connect those pieces and roles, seeing them as cohesive wholes and not tiny pieces of me, I’m more settled and more likely to find the time to finish the book, edit the essays, or even veg in front of a show (scandalous!). This sense of quiet and wholeness may not last even another half-hour, but for now, it is here. So I sit with it, feel the connections, and just breathe.

What I’m Thinking

IMG_0600“What are you thinking?” you asked, breaking our silence.

My mind had wandered during the previous minutes of mental solitude. Close enough to feel each other’s breath, eye to eye, my mind had time traveled forward and backward through time.

We are not children nor even young adults. We’re in the middle of life, or, more likely, a bit past the middle.  Still, we let out only occasional groans and grimaces when sitting too oddly for too long. Our hair still has more color than grey, although the ratio is moving in only one direction. Our faces are gently lined,  more from smiling than from tears, although we’ve both been washed in sorrow and concerns enough to know deep sadness.

“I was thinking about growing old with you,” I replied.

My right eye caught your right eye, holding contact briefly before I returned my gaze to a picture of my sons from either ten years or a lifetime ago. Given the changes from then to now, it could be either. Ten years back I was married to my children’s father, sure I’d grow old with him. My older son went to school each day, and I was certain his brother would do the same, so I’d return to work part-time like people do. I was Catholic, or at least still Christian, praying for peace, for my children, for my world, and somewhat certain that someone was listening.

Aside from those two boys and this house, very little seems the same. The boys’ father is a million miles away, or six block, depending on your math.  I’m at home, working two tiny part-time jobs, educating my children, and trying to build a writer’s life. My supplications are cries to a universe that isn’t going hear or answer, but I can’t stop making them when the going gets tough.

And then there is you.

I’m thinking about growing old with you. I am hoping to know you when our hair turns white and our faces are etched with decades more love and laughter and, because this is life, sorrow. My father says all marriages end. Whether by divorce or death, they end. He’s not generally the gloomy type, but the Eeyore-esque comment reminds me of the impermanence of our day-to-day lives as well as our very existence as well. Marriage ends. Life ends. And still, I think about growing old with you.

The boys. My eye shifts to their picture. Young boys don’t grow grey and wrinkly in ten years. Instead they grow adult teeth, larger and smellier bodies, fears and anxieties, and more ingrained ways of being in the world. These boys endured the pains of parents arguing, a mother crying, a father leaving, and a new family quickly reforming. I’ve been their rock through these changes, albeit a rock that sometimes yells and weeps and makes countless mistakes in the most important job she could ever hold. Growing old with you, even a year older, is not a journey we’ll make without passengers. They’re willing passengers, but this is not the journey they’d have chosen. But that’s the lot of children, to be passengers on their parent’s journeys.

My boys. The loves of my life. At my lowest times, the reasons I get out of bed in the morning. Most days, the source of my smiles and laughter. They are also often the nidus of my worry, these boys who’ve suffered through the mistakes of their parents. I want to grow old with you, and I want my boys to be okay along the way. Supplication to the universe brings the usual deafening silence followed by a whisper from my depths that they are stronger than I know, that loving you does not betray them.

And you. You’ve had your own seasons of darkness and pain, and you’ve had your own loss. It’s etched into you (as  greatest loves and losses are for all of us), evident only sometimes, but indelibly stamped on your being. My loss is etched on me, too, but it’s less pure, my fading scar of sadness mixed with anger and tinged with resentment. Yours seems all sadness, all love. And that’s sometimes my undoing. It is never far from my mind that I’d not know your love but for those losses, yours and mine. I ascribe no purpose to either of our losses nor divine plan for our uniting. It’s how life moves, I suppose. We live, we love, we suffer, we lose, and when we can bear the thought of repeating the cycle, we start again, accumulating what wisdom we can from what we’ve loved and lost.

You. Me. My boys.  I dare to think about growing old with you. I let my heart wander decades down the road, wondering at the gift of your presence over time while sitting with the truth that all unions end because our lives are finite, and that endings can be messy. I don’t know the path from here to there. I don’t know how our two passengers will fare as we walk together. What I don’t know astounds me.

So I meet your eye again. I don’t find answers, but I do find courage, compassion, and love. I find commitment and honesty. I find pain and sorrow, joy and hope. I find the willingness to forgive and humility to admit mistakes. I find wisdom and trust. I find room for my two fellow passengers. I find a partner with whom to share this journey.

That’s what I’m thinking.

Beach Grass and the Shifting Sands

2013-09-14 13.56.42The beach grass set me thinking. My dear friend and companion waded into Lake Michigan, an expanse of water with no visible opposite shore, which allows the watcher to lose oneself in the watching. Waves lapping his ankles, he watched the water. It was a moment too private to join, and my own thoughts needed a privacy of their own, so I investigated the flip side of the shoreline, where sand meets flora.

Beach grass, specifically Ammophilia breviligulta, covers the shifting, unsettled sands of the shores of the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a deceptively sturdy grass that prefers the physical stresses of wind and water to the peace it would find just a bit further inland. I’d grown up seeing the grass but giving it little thought. On public beaches it’s often behind a rope of fence, accompanied by a sign telling visitors to stay off, since the grass slows the erosion of the sand, and thousands of feet trampling it would quickly undo this valiant dune preservation act. Because of the signs, or because for the last sixteen years, my beach-going has been filled with carrying young children and their belongings and keeping my eyes water-ward, counting heads and wondering if more sunscreen needed to be applied. It’s not been the type of beach-going that allowed for botanical study or metaphorical musings.

This trip allowed for both. Intermittent conversation on our walk down the shoreline permitted plenty of time for the privacy of thought, and his look out encouraged my look in. The grass struck me as absurd. Sure, grass reduces erosion. Roots hold soil into place, thus preserving the substrate and the plant itself. It’s mutualism of a sort, with both benefiting each other. But this grass, so scattered, seemed woefully insufficient for the job of holding tons of sand in place. Sure, it’s a sturdy blade, but it’s hardly a densely packed plant, like the grass of a prairie. How could this work?

Closer inspection revealed a web of roots just below the surface of the plants on flat ground and above ground in the wind-worn spots. Thick and tangled and deeply fixed, these roots told a story of strength and permanence that the blades had not revealed. I pushed at pockets of sand around the roots, watching the sand flow a bit then stop when contained by a knot of roots. Again and again I pushed and watched. Burying my hands into the sand, I felt the depth of these roots, holding blades to land and sand to shore with a silent and hidden ferocity.2013-09-14 13.58.29

Breviligulata can tolerate being buried under three feet of sand with no ill effects. Instead of killing the plant, burial encourages the rhizomes (runners, by which the plant propagates itself) to reach upward. Being buried alive make the plant stronger and increases growth. And those delicate appearing blades? They are well-adapted to the wind and drying conditions of dune life, managing to stay sturdy in conditions where other plants would perish. Strength under stress above and below ground. More than strength. Growth.

Watching the sand run and stop in the tangle of roots, feeling the strength of the  blades and roots between my fingers, I thought about my kids. While parents are hopefully always their kids’ strength and stability source, that job comes to center during upheaval and trauma. When life runs evenly, this is a largely unconscious job, since the mere presence of a relatively sane and kind figure in the normal breezes of life is enough to center most children. But when the winds pick up and blow the sand beneath their feet, the work of steadying a child becomes a full-time preoccupation. During the too-many years of the disintegration of my marriage and changes on their other home front, the sands shifted, and my children needed overt stabilization from me.

I realized I was their beach grass. I did it overtly, keeping existing routines in place and creating new ones for our changed family. I did it silently, sleeping next to children weary of change. And like the beach grass, when I, too, was covered in sand and sorrow, three feet under, I survived, and so did they. The ground held, or most of it did. And I, like the beach grass, grew stronger, reaching vertically from the roots that held the ground in place.

I don’t know how the beach grass feels about it, but being a constant source of stability is straining. I mean, I manage the sane and kind part fairly well, but since those hardest years, I find myself on guard for storms and wondering when I can let some sand shift under their growing feet. Sure, some shifts on its own. Friends move away. Scores on tests aren’t as hoped. Big brothers grow into grown-up interests, and little brothers approach the hormonal storms of puberty. Through it all, I’ve tried to remain steady, keeping routines in place and bringing a deep stability to our family system.

But a mom can shift the sands, too, working more, encouraging independence, and even finding love beyond her offspring. I’ve introduced change with hesitant steps, often fearing the reactions of kids who do not like one grain of sand to move. So while watching the grass sway and the sand stay still, I contemplated the changes ahead and the sands that would most likely skid out of place as a result.

2013-09-14 13.56.33Feeling the catch in my throat telling me tears were coming, I returned my eyes to the water. My dear companion reached down to the water and watched it run through his fingers before returning to the shore. The catch relaxed, and I felt the stabilizing presence he offers to me, his roots meeting my roots as we move forward together. We’ve both been buried, and we’ve both come out stronger. My boys, too, have begun to grow their own deep roots and can more often stabilize themselves. So the winds will blow. I’m betting we’ve enough beach grass among us to hold our ground in place.

Grief Without a Timetable

DSCN0669“Every childhood has its trauma. This will just be theirs,” said my therapist who helped me through the separation that led to my divorce some five years back. I nodded, holding back the tears. What had transpired in the previous two to three years seemed too traumatic for me to bear in my last thirties. How were my boys, only 10 and 6 at the time — babies, for goodness sake–supposed to weather this trauma? Shouldn’t their greatest traumas at these ages be skinned knees and dropped ice cream cones?

My greatest trauma prior to the slow, agonizing end of my own marriage was my parents’ separation when I was 15. The divorce, a year later, and subsequent remarriages were brief showers of grief compared to the devastating hurricane of my 15th year that followed the (to me) shocking announcement of their separation.

Around that time, I took a religion class in my Catholic high school about death and dying, and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief were a focal point of the class. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Presented as a linear progression of grieving for the dying and bereaved, I don’t recall relating those stages to the depressive fury that filled that next year of my life. Acceptance actually came quickly after a brief period of denial I kept to myself. I was to live with my dad for the rest of high school, visiting my mom a few times a week. That wasn’t going to change, and I had not one fantasy about parents reunited and family restored. But mine wasn’t a peaceful acceptance, but rather a resigned one punctuated with an anger so deep I couldn’t speak it or even acknowledge its existence, and depression that, while not incapacitating me, sucked a light out that had burned brightly before. At once I was accepting, angry, sad, and, come each holiday and all its dilemmas, incredulous that I was in balancing act forever. Over the years, after I could touch more of the anger without retreating in pain, all of those feelings softened, but they’ve never remained entirely away. It’s grief without a timetable.

Our human condition and resulting emotions are messy and chaotic, but our human brains prefer organization. We like logical progression, moving from A to B to C over days or weeks or years. We like to categorize people and feelings and ways of being in the world. Consider Erikson’s stages of development, the DSM’s divisions of mental illness, the Enneagram and Myers Briggs personality categories, and even astrology’s assignments of traits and fates. We sort and order our belongings and ourselves, desperate for the comfort of order. So ordering grief? Why not?

Because it doesn’t work. Mark Epstein, psychiatrist and author of “The Trauma of Being Alive” (New York Times, August 3, 2013) says it well:

Mourning, however, has no timetable. Grief is not the same for everyone. And it does not always go away. The closest one can find to a consensus about it among today’s therapists is the conviction that the healthiest way to deal with trauma is to lean into it, rather than try to keep it at bay.

Dr. Epstein goes on to describe his mother’s grieving of her first husband’s death, a long process never entirely resolving. His mother goes on to marry again and live a full life, albeit with the occasional nagging doubt, “Shouldn’t I be over this by now?” His answer? Trauma never goes away completely.

While my trauma from my parents’ divorce nearly three decades ago has largely receded from my thoughts, the unwinding of my own marriage, a long and messy process, brought fresh grief that has yet to mellow to an occasional wistful sigh. Far wiser at 38 than at 15, I knew from the start I had to acknowledge those feelings that churned up without bidding and with little respect to time or place rather than deny them, as I had done as a teen.  As the separation morphed into divorce, I could usually tuck the tears of fear and anger and resentment away at least until I made it up to my room and shut the door. There, alone or with a friend on the other end of the phone line, I could let the feelings rise then ebb, like some unpredictable and cruel tide.

But grief wasn’t always that neat and manageable. Grief resists containment, corroding the container if bottled up and exploding out when the lid is just slightly loosened. But sometimes I shoved a particularly painful emotion inside, finding it ugly or just inconvenient. Sometimes it spilled out at church or in the car or while cleaning the garage or when talking to my then husband turning ex-husband or parenting my children. I know at points I have deepened their trauma by poorly managing my own grief.

After a few years, the grief surfaced less often and with far less intensity. Too many times I’ve asked myself what Dr. Epstein’s mother asked: Shouldn’t this be over by now? Recent events and revelations have again brought me back too often to a place of deep sadness and hot anger. They come so fast and hit so hard they threaten to knock me out of the tenuous equilibrium I thought I’d reached. I’m floored by their ability to render me incapable of right speech, right action, right view, or any other peaceful way of being in the world. It is, in one sense, a new trauma to add onto the pain of five years back. It is also far more manageable, since it is really just another chapter of the old trauma. I know this pain, and I know that my best response is to do as Epstein says: Lean in. It works. And the pain passes, whatever expression of emotion it has taken, at least for the time being.

The first Buddhist truth says it well: Life is suffering. That’s not too far from my therapist’s wise words about every childhood having its trauma. We will experience trauma. We will suffer. It’s inevitable. And grieving? That’s what inevitably follows trauma, or at least the traumas that aren’t our own deaths. Everything ends. That’s the promise of life, after all.

So is it depressing that grief with no timetable will follow inevitable trauma? A bit, but it’s a truth worth accepting. Perhaps that’s the acceptance we should really strive to find: Not an acceptance that ends to our disbelief, anger, sadness, and pain but rather an acceptance that these feelings may just not ever evaporate entirely and that it’s okay that our minds and hearts work that way. It’s still unsettling, and grief brought to one’s own children is a trauma all its own. It’s life, though, so I’ll lean in, wait out each round, and watch their tides and ride my own.

Peace.

Conflict Acceptance

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Oh, to land this gently during conflict, without sending petals dropping to the ground but yet having spoken my heart.

I’m a bit conflict-avoidant. Not avoidant of what I perceive as low-risk conflict. I rather enjoy debates about a host of issues and semantic questions. That’s mental stimulation that keeps me thinking and searching for more information while honing my argumentative skills. Not the hostile kind of argument. The persuasive sort requiring a blend of quick wit, precise vocabulary, and the ability to reason. Ethos, logos, and pathos. Those are the conflicts that feed by brain, hone my debate skills, and stir my blood.

I don’t like the kind of conflict that makes me sweat, my heart race, and my stomach to flip. I doubt many people do, although I understand that some people like adrenaline rushes, like the kind that come from bungee jumping or climbing to the top of the monkey bars. Those rushes just make me feel sick. It’s not just the physiological effects of conflict bother me. It scares me and just doesn’t fit well with my general tendency to want people not to hate me or just not to talk about me with nasty words behind my back. Cowardly? Maybe.

But conflict happens. Sometimes it’s heat-of-the-moment conflict, the kind more likely to occur with the ones you love the most. In the perceived safety of family, it’s easy to behave badly. I know. I’ve done it. Today. And earlier this week. Other times, it’s conflict with a bit more distance, the kind that occurs over the meeting table at work or church or in an online discussion with friends or acquaintances.  It’s reasonable and even preferable to avoid the low-stakes squabbles that can open rifts in these communities or our own homes. But sometimes, introducing conflict — or even potential conflict — is necessary for growth, change, and even deeper love.

In my over forty years on this journey of life, I’ve been in conflict with more people than I care to count. Too many times, the conflict was a waste of emotion and time while being damaging to the relationship and to myself. Too often I’ve sacrificed my principles in the heat of a conflict-turned-argument (and not the fun kind). In no particular order, I’ve misassigned blame, name-called, brought up old wrongs,  argued from misunderstanding another, and committed a thousand other disagreement sins. Oh, I can go on and on and on… And every time — every single time — the process shreds me. The adrenaline that carried me through my diatribe leaves me sick and sad, shameful of my loss of control and ready to slink under a rock.

I do get it right sometimes. Most of the time, I can raise my concerns in a peaceful, productive way. I tend to forget about these non-events where I say what I need to say in a way that respects the other’s dignity and worth since they don’t leave me either giddy with success nor depleted and sick of my own voice. But they happen. And that’s where I’m stuck. Why does it work so well sometimes, my ability to enter conflict — or perceived conflict? Why other times does it utterly fail?

A recent explosion at someone I love set me thinking about this. Or more precisely, our conversation after my return to sanity set me thinking. It’s far to easy for me to ignore the build up to serious conflict. While I’m generally fairly emotionally attuned to others, I’m not always so attuned with my own heart. Conflict bothers me. Perceived conflict, genuine conflict, the idea of conflict. It all undoes me. So I’ve become pretty skilled at denying I’m starting to feel it. That works at times. Most differences, after all, don’t matter and don’t really need mentioning.

At some points, though, in some circumstances, it rushes up though, unbidden and unwelcome, surprising me and, likely, whomever is suddenly in the role of opponent. And I’m off. Now, this only happens with those to whom are closest to me, the very people I want least to be in conflict with. And that’s likely the key. I’d rather pass off those first nudges of irritation as misplaced since, after all, this is someone I love. How could I be irritated? Or more to the point, how could I ever tell them that I’m irritated?

When I explode at my children — the very people whom I love the most — it sometimes is borne out of this lack of awareness. More often, it’s borne out of fear. These are the beings whom I brought into the world, and they are my responsibility. While I’m not vain enough to think how they turn out is under my control, I’m also aware that what happens as they grow has at least something to do with how they are raised, and I’m the one doing the bulk of the raising. And educating. That all weighs heavily on my shoulders, especially as my older reaches for 16. What if I’ve done it wrong? How many poor choices did I make? Why didn’t I do this…or not do that? And in that questioning whirling upstairs, something small can suddenly seem very big. Fear over the future and my own competence can make a normal tween or teen issue loom large. Kaboom.

If awareness if the first step, I’ve been standing on it firmly for a while. The next is increasing my awareness of that building of tension, the feeling I push down because it isn’t an “appropriate” feeling. My dear friend reminds me that, in any relationship, conflict is inevitable. We are just simply too different from each other to avoid it. Well, that blows my first choice — just ignoring those differences or trying to accommodate them all on my own. It seems a wiser path would be acknowledging those issues earlier. Rats.

Despite my disappointment about the inevitability of conflict between humans with differing minds and hearts, I know he’s right. Even when I don’t enter a conflict, I’m dragged down by the unpleasant sensation of feeling upset about a situation while feeling that I’m a rat of a friend/coworker/relative for just having the feeling. While I’m often called assertive, I find it hard to be so in these close situations, at least when I feel out of sorts about something between me and the other. I’ve committed to trying, and while its unlikely anyone will burst into flames if I raise a small concern, the whole idea of disagreeing about something personal that matters brings a sheen to my forehead.

And so I’ll try. I doubt I’m alone in my desire to avoid gut-wrenching (or just briefly awkward) conflict, and I’d love to hear with others about how they manage this with aplomb and peace, or just without wanting take to bed. And if you’re avoiding and exploding too, share that. I’d like to know I’m not alone in that less-than-healthy trend. And if we disagree? Hey, I hear that’s just what happens sometimes. I’m sure we can handle it.

Namaste

Love, Laws, and Sex

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For more information about marriage equality, visit The Human Rights Campaign.

While the Supreme Court of the United States ponders questions about marriage equality, human rights, and states’ rights, I’ve been thinking about love. For those who support the right of two consenting adults to choose to marry, the question is fundamentally, after all, about love. It’s about the freedom to love whom we were wired to love and to covenant with that person. Yes, it’s also about the receiving all the privileges and accepting all the responsibilities that accompany that covenant. It’s about that covenant being seen as equal in the eyes of the government, regardless of the make-up of the 23rd set of chromosomes each person brings. But when it comes down to it, marriage is about love.

And that’s why I’m flummoxed. While my first thoughts about love revolve around family and those whom are dearest to me, my next ones, thanks to my upbringing and positive church experiences, turn to religion. God, it is said, is love. Jesus spoke of love throughout the Gospels. While I’ve lost in faith in God and in the divinity of Jesus, I’ve retained a respect for love — a reverence for the power of love, in fact — and a soft spot for the teachings attributed to the historical Jesus.

News flash. There’s no place in those Gospels where Jesus says anything negative about gays or lesbians. Nothing. Nada. Jesus does say plenty about love: Love your neighbor as yourself, love one another, and so on. He stands by the outcasts of the turn-of-that ancient-millenium society — lepers, prostitutes, the poor, and plenty of other regular folks. He encourages compassion, love’s active sidekick, to just about everyone, regardless of social position, life choices, or circumstance. We simply never hear about the homosexuals, possibly suggesting either they just weren’t the top of the outcast hit parade or at least that they didn’t make the cut when the Gospels were written. In short, it doesn’t seem that’s what was terribly important to Jesus or at least to those who wrote about Jesus decades and centuries later.

So why, tell me why, do some Christians –not all — not nearly — froth at the mouth at the thought of marriage between same-sex partners? As I’ve wandered the web today, I’m distressed by the vitriol by the Religious Right, both Protestant and Catholic. Reading through articles calling the equality sign above “The Sign of the Beast” and extolling teens that God “loves the person but hates the sin (of homosexual sex).” It turns out, at least in the eyes of those social conservatives, marriage isn’t really about two people committing to each other, either in a religious community or a secular ceremony, with the rights and protections that affords. It’s not even about love.

It’s about sex.

Isn’t it always? The funny thing is, most of heterosexual marriage isn’t about sex, so I’m not sure how it manages to be for homosexuals. Sure, both parties able and willing, sex is present in marriages. It can be an exceptionally good part of marriage, although it can get a short shrift when life gets busy.  And, if children are desired, the procreative end of sex is one way to bring them into the family.   But most of marriage, most of the time, isn’t about sex. Now, I’m divorced, so maybe I was doing something wrong during those 14 years of marriage, completely missing something, but I doubt it.

Much of marriage is about partnership. We generally marry to partner, to share our lives with someone we love and with whom we share values, desires, and maybe a few dreams. If we’re pragmatic about it, we may consider our future partner’s goals and approach to hard times as well as the legal benefits such union afford. Heck, we may look at credit ratings. But primarily, we marry because we love someone. We love so deeply and completely that we covenant with one another in the presence of others and share that commitment publicly.

Can that all be done outside of marriage? Sure, but in the eyes of the law, it’s not nearly the same. Those legal benefits of union — over 1,000 on the federal level — aren’t small details. Those benefits may include partner access to employer-provided medical insurance, tax benefits (or liabilities), exemptions from estate and gift taxes upon the death of a spouse, social security benefits for a surviving spouse, the ability of a partner to take family leave when the other is ill, visiting rights at hospitals, decreased costs on auto and housing insurance, and even child support should divorce occur. Yes, there are legal means to set up some of those outside of marriage, but many of those benefits only are realized for those in a federal government sanctioned marriage.

So let me get this right. As a nation, we’re denying same-sex partners a host of legal protections, many which better a family’s ability to care for those within it, even if a marriage is dissolved, because some of us are focused on sex? I’m not naive. I know religion is behind this as well. Not the religion I grew up with, one focused on love and social justice. This one is based on judgement and rules. Many people marry within a church because their belief system supports or even demands that way of partnering (and that’s often about sex and when to have it, too). Over eighteen years ago, I married in the Catholic Church, with marriage as sacrament as well as a legal contract. I married because I loved my then-fiance and wanted to partner with him. I then realized, in material terms, the benefits that people with the right to marry take for granted, building an appreciation for the legal end of marriage as soon as our first joint tax return occurred and when we discovered my company offered far better health insurance than his.

But love and legal arguments don’t work if you’re wrapped up in what happens in the bedroom some nights a week (more or less – no judgement here). In discussions with the religious right, it comes down to sex rather than love and stability.  And I don’t understand this. Jesus doesn’t have too much to say about sex, aside from some lines about adultery and lust. He never mentions the details, nor does he say that partners must be male and female. Jesus leaves out a host of details about other issues of life, such as dietary restrictions, fabric content of clothing, and menstrual regulations. I’m still stymied.

Love. Laws. Sex. Let’s embrace the first, allowing two people, DNA aside, enter the covenant of marriage. Let’s make the second equal across all consenting couples, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or shoe size. And as for the third? It’s not really my business, is it? Let’s keep it that way.

On Being a Compassionate People

DSCN1000A few weeks back, my younger son was having a hard time. He was anxious for reasons he couldn’t entirely identify, and when anxious, he acts irritable and stubborn with frequent outbursts. I know this about him. I have known if for years. I know that under that prickly, grouchy exterior is a kid who is worried, scared, and simply out of sorts. But two weeks back, as he became more prickly and grouchy, I responded with stubborn adherence to rules and withdrawal of computer privileges. Not surprisingly, this increased his anxiety, making him more prickly and grouchy. I suppose on some level I knew he was in distress, that he was worried or concerned about something, but I was focused on only my desire to have less opposition and conflict in the house and more sense of  control over the workings of our family.

In short, I felt his distress but overrode it with my own discomfort. Yes, I eventually broke through that override and comforted my son, working with him to find the source of his distress, the very process of which brought his anxiety down several notches. It was then that I expressed what Merriam-Webster calls compassion: Sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

As humans, we are at out best when we are compassionate. Compassion occurs when we recognize and then respond to our shared situation of being human, namely being prone to suffering. We all suffer. We all watch others suffer. And, like it or not, we all contribute to the suffering of others. When my son was lashing out and melting down because he was suffering, I added to his suffering initially out of lack of awareness followed by a desire to maintain control of the status quo.  I didn’t act with malice. But I added to his suffering by reacting to his behavior without thought the cause. When I found compassion, his suffering decreased simply by the acting on my desire to alleviate his suffering. He knows as well as I that I can’t rid him of his anxiety, and yet knowing I would want to makes a difference.

I belong to a faith tradition that operates from a place of compassion. According to our second principle, Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote “justice, equity, and compassion in human relationships.” Compassionate people are whom we proclaim to be. Not compassionate to just some. To everyone.

Compassion can come easily. It is easy feel compassion for the injured child, the oppressed worker, and the abused woman. We generally express this compassion at a distance, with words, signatures, and financial contributions, hopefully also finding opportunities to work with our hands to ameliorate some of the suffering this world metes on its weakest and most disadvantaged. This is, however, the easy sort of compassion. While the world’s problems can bring us to despair, question the purpose of our lives, they can also bring us to our compassionate selves.

Compassion finds its voice in the UUA-sponsored Standing on the Side of Love campaign, “an interfaith public advocacy campaign that seeks to harness love’s power to stop oppression”. “Standing on the Side of Compassion” doesn’t roll of the tongue so easily, but the sentiment is the same. This organization advocates for those who are suffering at the hands of others for simply being themselves, whether GBLT, immigrants, or the otherwise oppressed. Immigrate rights and GBLT rights are close to the hearts of many Unitarian Universalists, receiving time from the pulpit, discussion from pews, and action from congregations. This sort of organized compassion also comes fairly easily, with these issues resonating with UUs, since they speak to fundamental equity principles we as those of a liberal religion find compelling, important, and immediate. In short, we see them and feel them and feel for those oppressed.

Compassion is harder when it’s more personal, especially when we feel injustice has been done to us. When we feel a sense of being the victim, we’re apt to struggle with the very human responses of anger, hurt, and even vengeance. To some degree, this is what I experienced with my son. It was easy to take his irritability and stubbornness as intentional actions to subvert my authority as the adult of the house. It was easy to forget that, like all of us, he wants to be good, to do right, and to be thought well of. Behaviors come from somewhere, and objectionable behaviors are no exception. Few people desire to be mean, thoughtless, hurtful, careless, or just annoying.  We do, however, become just that when we’re afraid, tired, overwhelmed, or simply because we’ve always done them and don’t know how to do otherwise.  All of us fall into that. It’s human

So back to compassion with those who sit closest to us, those in our homes and most imitate communities — our families, our workplaces, our churches, and our friendship circles. If these behaviors that look so intentional and therefore, well, mean and hateful, really come from fear, fatigue, and full plates, then what we are seeing in “bad behavior” is someone suffering. And the recognition of suffering calls for the desire to alleviate (and often first to understand the cause of) that suffering.  Therefore, we’re called to compassion in the face of bad behavior.

This is hard. Hurts can run deep if not addressed swiftly, and it can be hard to feel compassion for the person who seems to wrong you over and over. Towards its end, my marriage suffered, among other ailments, a loss of compassion. I imagine that’s true of many ended love relationships, although I don’t think it is a mandatory part of the finale. I’d like to have been able, during those failing years, to have been more compassionate to my now-ex-husband. Not because it would have saved the marriage but simply because I’d likely alleviated some of both of our suffering.

Holding grudges and refusing to look at the causes behind a person’s suffering cause more suffering. When we deny the suffering of others, we deny the other the chance to be seen as simply a fallible human. When we compound that suffering with our actions, often on the grounds that they’ve wrongs us so we can wrong them, we increase the suffering for all parties. When I’m looking at suffering with a sneer and a swear, I suffer, too. I lose some of the tender part of humanity that accepts that none of us behave perfectly. I gain a gritty, tough exterior that places more distance between me and the other person, thus dampening my ability to see the person as a suffering human.

Being compassionate doesn’t mean being a marshmallow or doormat. It doesn’t mean allowing injustice to continue or wrongs to go unanswered. My compassionate response to my son’s underlying compassion didn’t reverse the consequence we have for tantrums, but it did make it less likely that the next tantrum would come, simply because the true cause — his suffering — was somewhat reduced simply by my caring. No, in the adult world it isn’t all that easy. Sometimes, as in my marriage, divorce is the most compassionate answer. Often, it means having challenging conversations and risking feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable. Consequences can come along with compassion, but we must take great care to let the compassion lead us to those consequences, with our eyes wide open to the process by which we hand down those consequences.

My younger son’s anxiety has lessened as of late. It’s not gone, but he is more comfortable.  During our rediscovered peace, I’m better able to listen to his words and actions, noting when the anxiety rises a bit. Knowing I’m attuned, he’s better able to check himself and ask for assistance, knowing a compassionate response complete with hugs, advice, and sometimes firm reminders are available from someone who understands that he, like all humans, suffers and who wants to reduce just a bit of his suffering.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, he’s acting more compassionate himself.