Out of the Ruts

IMG_0906Michigan weather and a county with little remaining plowing budget have found me driving in ruts. My street, a narrow slip that, with a car parked at the edge, allows only single-file traffic, is covered with several inches of ice. Two tire-sized ruts provide the only path, and transferring a vehicle from those ruts to a driveway or the other way ’round takes intention and precision if one doesn’t want to skate into another car or simply spin one’s wheels. Those ruts hold the car tight, however, albeit with a fair amount of jostling within them. There’s safety in the ruts, even with the daily morning glaze of ice. The nausea-inducing ride in them is far from pleasant, but while in these ruts, you’re not apt to end up sideswiping a car or ending up in a snow bank.

Driving in these physical ruts led me to think about the metaphorical type, the kind that we say we want out of yet not badly enough to risk the leap; the one that may leave us skidding into the unknown or simply spinning our wheels in frustration. There can be an odd comfort in even our most painful ruts, perhaps because we know the jostling they bring, which can sometimes seem more comforting than whatever road might lay beyond those well-worn grooves.

Six years ago tonight, my rather messy disaster of a marriage turned far more chaotic. Years of worsening arguments and other insanity came to a head, and by the end of March 2, 2008, I lived alone with two children. I’d like to say that I never looked back after that day. The episodes that led to the shrinking of our household should likely never open one’s mind to reconciliation, and I’m still uncertain why, that for almost another year, I fought for that chance to return to healthy married life. It was, as they say, likely desired for the children, although children are always better off away from violence and deception. It took me almost a year for me to realize that the loss on March 2nd was best accepted and better for all.

Every February since, starting somewhere in the middle of the month, I feel the downward pull. It’s a tug towards some wintery mix of sadness and anger, tinged with a bit of guilt and touched with disbelief that the whole nightmare — years of it — was mine. I don’t blink at our anniversary and can’t even recall the date of our divorce, but that Sunday night in March, along with the weeks preceding it, are still hard to bear. While my grief takes different forms different years, at some point, I find myself in the ruts of revisiting that past — the day itself, then the weeks around it, then the years that came before. It’s a nausea-inducing ride of pain and sadness, yet I fall into those grooves each winter.

Last year, happily enjoying the first year of love with the peaceful, honest, and faithful man whom I’ll soon call my husband, I almost missed it. Mid-February found me thinking about the date, but little emotion came. For the first time, I felt some detachment, some ability to not let those memories play over and over, with all the emotions returning during the reruns. The actual date caught me off guard. I’d actually forgotten, until, at some point near the end of the day, I remembered. Into the ruts I fell.  I cried with company, and the sorrow left more quickly. I started to think those ruts had passed for good or at least that their hold on me had loosened.

This year, the heaviness started over a week before the date. I felt the familiar grooves after landing with a thud, and drove along their familiar path. It’s been a long season, and, like many of us who are suffering cabin fever in what is truly the worst winter many of us have ever seen, I’ve had some dip of mood. Perhaps my upcoming nuptials contributed to my mind’s unexpected plunge into the darkness of six years earlier. While I’ve largely concluded I’m capable of being part of a healthy marriage, of loving someone deeply without losing myself (a self only really found in the past dozen years), of being loved deeply and without reservation, I’m prone to worry that at points borders on panic.

I don’t question whether I had a role in my marriage’s slide into disaster. I know myself when I’m anxious — grasping, afraid, demanding of answers to all that confuses and scares me, angry, wordy — and those last years found me anxious beyond what I’d known previously. I also know what most of us know about making relationships better: I could have listened more and talked less. I could have sat with my anxieties before throwing them at another. I could have let go just when I most want to grasp tightly. In a million ways, I  know I could have loved better. Couldn’t we all?  I don’t, however, take all the blame for the nightmare that was the years before that particular March 2nd, nor any for what happened that night. I did many things over many years that didn’t help, but ultimately, we are responsible only for what we choose to do with our hands and hearts. We are sovereign that way.

Somewhere in the past few days, the dread and deafening doubts tiptoed away enough to let me get through some days without crying. The relief, similar to when the ice finally starts to melt, was barely perceptible until I looked back and saw I hadn’t cried that particular day. I scheduled a massage for Saturday, washing myself in tender and healing touch. I mentioned my blues to my massage therapist, telling her the date that had been bothering me. Her response made little impact at the time: Do something special that day, something that rewrites that day in my memory. Fat chance, I silently figured. What could happen that could push away that darkness of that single and dreadful day? How could I escape those ruts?

The answer came hours later, after the mail had failed (again!) to bring my copy of UUWorld, the quarterly print and online publication of the Unitarian Universalist Association. By no effort of my own, I had a piece in both editions, a piece I’d written last fall — Questions of Comfort, a musing about the need for meaning in tragedy. An editor at UU World contacted me, a writer who rarely submits anything to anyone anywhere since that keeps the rejection monster from visiting too often. He asked if they could use the piece, and I, eager to be in print, elatedly agreed. While I’d seen the piece online, my copy had yet to arrive. Over the previous days, friends send messages saying theirs had arrived, one kindly sending a picture of the first page, providing the proof I needed that this was real. But I wanted my own.

Stalked mail carriers rarely deliver, however, and Saturday’s delivery was notably without my copy of the magazine. As I headed to bed after a marvelous day with my intended, it came to me that perhaps I’d found a way out of the ruts March 2nd had held for me these past six years. March 2nd fell on Sunday again this year, and friends, knowing I’d not yet held the magazine that contained proof that I was indeed a published writer, promised to bring that proof to church. Sunday, I’d see my words published in a small yet not invisible magazine that often contains pieces on the hardest parts of life as well as the seemingly small wonders it brings every day.

And so I find myself on a new road, one where March 2nd isn’t a day of recalling pain and reliving disaster and returning to thoughts of failure. March 2nd can be the day I first saw my work in print in a made-of-paper, read-by-people-who-aren’t-obligated-to-do-so magazine. It’s small, this success, but it’s a start down a road I’ve yearned to travel: The road of the published writer.

I don’t know what will happen come the end of February 2015. Habits are hard to break, and some memories are more challenging to manage than others. It’s not in the remembering that the ruts wreak their havoc, however. It’s in the emotions and thought patterns that we dig deeply, either by intention or accident, and it’s what we miss by assuming that once we fall in that we can’t find our way out. There’s nothing wrong with remembering and learning from our most painful memories, but when they steal so much of our present, they need some adjusting. They are ruts to ride over and out of, in search of more open road. Who knows where that might lead?

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Sharing Friendship, Sharing Religion

The piece  “The ‘it’ Church”  in the Spring 2010 UU World  led me to think about a dear friend and neighbor.  The article, by Peter Morales,  UUA president, focuses on the role of having ‘religion’ in a church versus the not having it, his description of friendship brought my thoughts away from my church and closer to home to my neighbor and friend.

I’m blessed with a number of friends I can call on when in tears of sorrow or joy.  Without these people, I’m not sure how I’d have weathered a failing marriage and subsequent divorce.  Most of those friends developed from my La Leche League leadership, church, and homeschooling.  With most, I share similar political and religious values.  Our lawn signs (Democrats)and radio station (NPR) are the same.  We can discuss politics, social issues, and spiritual issues without contention (not too much, anyway).

And then there’s my dear neighbor friend.  We share quite a bit in common.  We  homeschool our kids, and our children are friends.  We borrow needed ingredients from each other, care for each other’s pets and flowers when the other leaves town, and watch each other’s children on occasion. We count on each other as an ear for concerns and joys.  I can cry in her presence without shame and with assurance of support.  However, our politics and religious affiliation differ greatly.  Once, when borrowing a conservative Catholic publication from her to read an article on breastfeeding, her husband declared the magazine might burst into flames upon reaching my property.  I laughed, and the article survived the trip to our liberal, Unitarian Universalist home without so much as a scorch mark.  He and I exchange similar friendly barbs, often about media choices and the like.

But his wife and I don’t go there.  Not, I believe, because of fear of conflict.   As many of my friends can attest, I’m often a fan of informal debate.  While I can’t speak for her, I know I avoid those topics because they don’t enhance our friendship or our understanding of each other.  Beyond the names of our respective religious affiliations, beneath the different politics, we share the same religion, at least according the Peter Morales’ description.

Religion, our religion, is what we truly care about, what we want to preserve, embrace, and create.    . . . when we ask one another what we truly love, what we truly value, what we care about more than anything else in life, something amazing happens. We don’t argue. We listen. We connect. We discover that we love and want the same things. We care about one another.  We want honesty, depth, and intimacy in our relationships.  We want enduring friendships. We also discover that we realize that we are all in this life together. We want to help heal the world. We want compassion, understanding, and justice to guide our actions and our governments. We want to work together, hand in hand, to build a world beyond exploitation and violence.   (Morales )

We share love for our children and families along with a desire to preserve our children’s hearts and spirits, allowing them time to be young.  We believe in holding our small ones close, meeting their needs day and night, respecting the voice they bring to our families.  We share values of kindness, love, and peace in our lives.   While we call it by different names and nurture it in different ways, we share a belief in a force greater than ourselves, something that calls us to go beyond our immediate desires and concerns.    Morales says, ‘”Religion is much more about what we love than about what we think”  (Morales).   I like that definition and its emphasis on the heart rather than the head (and I’m a thinker to the end), and as a seeker of connection, I appreciate it’s focus on our shared loves. 

I shared the Morales piece with my friend, along with a rather awkward bit about what I felt we shared and why I appreciated her in my life.  In part, this post is a somewhat more elegant statement to her.  It’s also an invitation to broaden your definition of religion and connect to one another.  As always, feedback and thoughts are appreciated.

Source:

Morales, Peter. “The ‘it’ Church.”  UU World. N. p., 15  Feb. 2010.  Web.