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Temptations, Resolutions

I shall address this to you, DD, because I need to feel I am writing to a woman friend this time, and you have proved to be someone who allows our friendship to survive, even thrive, on truth telling. Like when I told you that I am filled with frivolous, selfish desires after the death of my husband, rather than weighty, somber pearls of wisdom won through suffering. How although I had been growing through the demands of loving service, now, with the whole horizon there open before me, and no one of whom to ask leave, I feel giddy, and eager to plunge into any number of endeavors. Such as choosing my home decor, expanding the garden, traveling, organizing my business and publication ideas, and hosting bonfires with strung lights and guitar playing.

I told you I want to keep growing, not descend into a second adolescence. So help me God, I said, I might need to suffer more, because other than mourning my husband, whom I loved, and mourning for our children, who will no longer have a father, I have it easy. He provided well for us, I have a meaningful job that suits me, a nice little house, good friends, family, and interesting prospects. I have lots of time, relatively, to write, could join a book or writer’s group, could do my Master’s degree, could try that business dream.

You told me I could do no wrong, because I am the grieving widow. Though I appreciated the grace extended, I objected on the basis that one’s duty is always to consider others, even in difficult circumstances. No excuses. I made the same argument to a friend who told my husband to disregard others’ needs and focus on his own as a man with a terminal diagnosis. I told him he still had to be nice, at least in order get better care. People have to feel appreciated. He accepted that, as it fit into his life-long drive to grow and become more like Christ. He had visitor after visitor, and nurses and physicians assistants, go away feeling appreciated and encouraged. They told me so. It was a pleasure and an privilege to be his caregiver in the last months, he was so tender and kind.

I want to honor Mark’s memory, spend time properly aware of the loss of his life with us, and the hope that he is continuing some kind of even more meaningful existence in another dimension. I sense he has been lingering in some way with the family he loves, and even checking on us. In my case, through visitations from hummingbirds, and in dreams. My daughter also dreams in that way.

I have been warned that grief takes many forms and happens on different time tables, and the fact that I feel peace, calm, and even happiness, not despair, depression, anger, or a sense of loss and loneliness, does not mean something more intense won’t arise in my emotions and/or body. I want to stay in tune, and allow the process to unfold, as well as be a support to my kids as they walk this road.

So I will do my best to resist these worldly temptations. I asked my kids to keep an eye on me in case I move to make any big decisions this year, as some kind of distraction, release, or suppression of feelings. Though I release myself to be creative with my hands and words on a small scale, to stay physically fit, to build my relationships, to have fun with my kids and extended family.

Early on, I researched houses I could buy and fix up, ways I could add on to my house, and car sales (I would trade in two for one to consolidate–maybe a small truck or VW Westfalia for the trips I wanted to take?). I bought a few new clothes. I started having a nightcap some evenings. I watched two to three episodes of Grand Hotel a night in bed. And I looked up my first love on FaceBook. He’s still the same handsome, smiling guy I fell in love with my second year of college.

I was surprised at myself—usually, in my own estimation, a level headed person. It’s not that I have felt needy; it’s been a rich time of connection with friends, and with my husband, albeit in a new way. He and I related more as friends, without the pressure of other duties. And it was a relief, not a disappointment, to not be pursued sexually by him for a while. A story related to that: He was in his wheelchair in preparation for going to the hospital for a procedure, and I was bent down putting his slippers on, and showing a lot of my cleavage (such as  it is). His cancer was advanced month, and his high potassium levels were beginning to cause some delirium and odd thought patterns. As he sat, He looked down my top, as he had always done, but this time said, “I don’t know what it was about breasts–why they were so popular…”. And we shared a laugh. He also said, “Women smell so nice.”

I’ll work, come home at a reasonable time, take it easy. See how things go, behave myself. I do feel the seasons changing, and that things will be getting stormy soon.

 

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Initial stages of melting

Yes I know what you mean. And that, if true, is a miracle in itself.

Yesterday my daughter showed me a photo of address that apparently is going viral, because when people view it, apparently about half see it as blue with black trim, and the other half as white with gold. (link here) No in between, no convincing either it’s any other shade, at any angle. Which leads into the subject of nominal aspect of color. I remember realizing with wonder as a young person that one can’t ever know what colors another person sees, only the common names for them. How does each one experience and interpret color, and, extrapolating, any stimulus of the mind or body?

What I meant was, I know what you mean about the danger of pursuing euphoric experiences. Not the usual danger such as death or injury from extreme sports, because life and limb were never our most important assets. I mean the danger of becoming mediocre, not much good to anyone, even oneself.

I remember climbing the stairs to my dorm room in Cochrane Bay at King’s, up a half flight, turn, up another, turn, alternately feeling proud of myself for something, then ashamed of my pride, then proud of my humility, and so on. I decided that laughing was the best cure, and getting back to work. I was also at that time immersed in the Christian teaching that we are here to bring glory to God, and also that our “success” is because of yielding to and participating with the divine will. Living in the paradox of individual insignificance and belonging to the royal priesthood, reflecting God’s glory just by being a created being, and becoming more like the Creator by grace and choice. “Not by works, so that no one may boast.” Yes, one ought to laugh and get back to work. Or rest, whatever is the plan. A favorite Bruce Cockburn song, “Laughter,” here.

What would it be like if humans could accomplish all the good of which we’re capable, due to our self consciousness, yet ditch the self consciousness at those crucial moments where one risks catching that virus of conceit, as I was experiencing on those stairs. I see this struggle being played out in interviews with great people, who continually divert compliments, who become less so that others may become more, who shun attention, sometimes vehemently, as a threat to their sense of purpose and identity. We all know of people who came to public light and never recovered from the glory lavished on them. They were tested and found wanting, whether scorned for their self aggrandizement or pitied for their failure of character..

Of course I am so far from the honor of being selected by the evil powers that be for that kind of test, and if it should ever come about that I am, having passed the daily smaller ones that would eat away at my God-given potential to bring more love and justice to this world, you won’t hear much from me. Wondering at your silence, you who are being tested, and suffer for the harvest of joy you have glimpsed beyond the curtain.

I have read very few spiritual classics, either Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, or Confucian. Nor have I attended spiritual retreats, conducted purifying fasts, or gone vision questing. So this is an experiment so far in seeing what I can learn from everyday experience and the people around me, as I am in my writing. But think victory in this realm  is less a consequence of concentrated effort, self flagellation and that kind of reflection that makes two vertical lines form between one’s eyes, though these things are certainly sometimes necessary, but in the kind of movement of the soul that generates spontaneous laughter up and out. So, as Bruce Cockburn says in this song, let us go laughing.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2015 in Personal Growth, Religion & Spirituality

 

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Emerging from the rose leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams, for a while tripping and slogging along a rocky, muddy road, toward oneness in the end

Emerging from the rose leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams, for a while tripping and slogging along a rocky, muddy road, toward oneness in the end

“While one is yet only in love, the real person lies covered with the rose leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams, and through them come to the dreamer but the barest hints of the real person. A thousand fancies fly out, approach and cross, but never meet. The man and the woman are pleased, not with each other, but each with the fancied other. The merest common likings are taken for signs of a wonderful sympathy, of a radical unity. But though at a hundred points their souls seem to touch, their contact points are the merest brushings, as of insect antennae. The real man, the real woman, is all the time asleep under the rose leaves. Happy is the rare fate of the true . . . to wake and come forth and meet in the majesty of the truth, in the image of God, in their very being, in the power of that love which alone is being! They love, not this and that about each other, but each the very other. Where such love is, let the differences of taste, the unfitness of temperament, be what they may, the two must by and by be thoroughly one.”  – George MacDonald

I think it was when he was about the age I am now that my father was propositioned by a woman at a writer’s conference. Just came to his door, and offered to stay, he said. They had talked, perhaps had known one another in other from writing circles, I don’t remember. He managed to turn her away, and so told his wife and even his grown daughter the tale. It made me feel strange. Yes, I knew those were years of tension and conflict between him and Mom, but I didn’t like to hear about other women being in the picture. But I think he wanted us to know that his faithfulness was a commitment, a choice not based on whether one feels one’s needs are being met in marriage. It was a kind of dying to self that he hoped would bear fruit. And I believe it has, and will. It gave me a sense of security in the possibilities of covenant love, and a perseverance in difficult times that would have had to create out of pure conviction (and regard for the children) if I didn’t have it by example.

My Dad would win admirers. He is good to talk to, thoughtful, intelligent, able to help a person figure out what they want to say, and create a space of mutual learning and discovery. Bearded, fit, distinguished in an approachable way, he is not a flirt as such, does not exude male virility, but is very attractive to women longing to be listened to, respected, understood. And perhaps being a family man made him feel even safer to talk to. So they would respond, and he had to learn to deal with that. As well as the attraction he felt to those who seemed easier to be with than my mother at the time, less familiar, more mysterious.

Mom told me after the fact that he was partly in love with an artist friend for several years. My father and I paid her and her husband a social call once, and I liked her too. She found out I enjoyed sewing, and gave me a book about how to make soft toys, one I used many times and still own. Was it her of whom my father spent weeks painting a portrait? I can’t remember. An exorcism, my mother said. During that stage he listened to Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen a lot, maybe to explore some similar longings and the angst that accompanies that kind of poetic but desire-driven lifestyle.

Dad told me something he’s learned from seeing others go from relationship to relationship, that they always came to the same issues, the same relational dysfunctions in themselves, and would mistakenly try to solve them by starting fresh. This was part of my education about the nature of marriage, as one of the means God provides for us to get past get past ourselves and break through to something beautiful and until then mysterious.

What about my mother? I have tended to think of her as not having the opportunity to be tempted to be unfaithful, and it is true that the life of a homemaker did protect one from certain relational opportunities. She also lost her youthful figure in her childbearing years; after giving birth to and rearing seven children, she never really got it back. But I know no one is immune to unfaithfulness, at least in thought. There were signals–“crushes” she would confess to with a grin, a certain way she would speak of a fellow she admired, someone in my parents circle of friends or connections from our lives. She gave herself license to speak of these men even to us, who had no idea it had any real substance. And when some time in the late ’70s we finally got a television, she enjoyed the escape into the romances of the soaps, against her better judgment and the way she had helped bring us up. She longed for romance, closeness, attention, and love.

I watched my parents for signs that they loved each other, was always relieved when I saw signs of affection, reconciliation, companionship, mutual help. I could also see it was a lot of work figuring out how to love and accept another person so local, so specific, so imperfect, and to let go of the expectation that they meet all one’s needs. Even the sight of them doing dishes together would foster an inner sigh of relief for me. I saw one and then the other trying new ways to show love, and persist at it when the other would test it for sincerity, as people will. They were making their way to a new stage, a rebuilding of the fortress of love in stronger stuff. So they made it past the empty nest, I hope past the “Do you love me?” “I suppose I do” stage. But even that can be called an accomplishment these days.

I’m thinking of all this as I move into my upper 40’s. Thinking of it, hoping to make some use of the observations I’ve made, hoping my interpretations are good and will be useful as my husband and I press on, are tested and tried by difficulties and temptations, and purpose to grow less self-centered, more loving, more accepting, more mature. We’ve made breakthroughs throughout the years, and by God, we’ll make some more before we’re done.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Ethics, Personal Growth, Relationships

 

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