Monday, July 12, 2010

Old friends, Old Memories

I'm thinking of old friends today. Today is the birthday of the first man I ever kissed. That was 30 years ago so it might seem strange I would even remember. But today also happens to be the birthday of a man I never kissed, but would have liked to. Ironically, the first man I ever kissed now lives where the man I never kissed is originally from. My life is full of strange coincidences.

Today is also a day of preparation. Tomorrow I cross a barrier and put old burdens permanently behind me. Tomorrow my life will begin anew and my efforts will no longer be a "scramble to survive" but instead will become "working toward a new future". Funny how a piece of paper can change everything.

While it is good to keep one's eyes fixed on the future, I think it's also important to remember the past, for a past that is forgotten is destined to be repeated.

And tomorrow when I turn my eyes to a new future, I wonder what that future will look like. I have stood at crossroads before, and each path set before me had something to offer, a potential "something" that I could see and choose, or not. But this time is different. All my hopes and dreams have been shattered into a million pieces. Shredded into confetti and burned in a firestorm of futility because I took a leap of faith and lost. The road ahead is a blank page, waiting to written upon. But I find I have nothing I want to write. Like a newborn baby, I have only this moment of "now" and the pure potential of "what might be". The possibilities are overwhelming bits of whimsy, fluttering in the winds of change, blinking on and off like a night sky filled with twinkling stars.

So I look to the past for guidance and search for those things I wanted to do but couldn't. And in the midst of my quest, I sift through old memories and find old friends, speaking to me across time, each in their own way.

Fare well old friends. And thank you for the moments we shared.....

Monday, April 26, 2010

Just Rip the Bandaid Off!

I've been thinking about something a friend said to me quite some time ago. He said "you'll end up wondering why you waited so long." That very wise observation inspires this post:

When I was young I drove my parents crazy with my tendency to just "Leap without looking". Time and again they would lecture me about being "impulsive" or "inconsiderate" or "foolish" or "selfish". They would point out how my actions affected others and "created difficulties for myself and other people".

Long suffering and not always patient with me, they would remind me over and over that I should, at those moments in my life, "step back and count to three". I should think about what I was about to do and consider the long-term repercussions. I should consider how it might impact my future; jobs, relationships, reputation, etc... and how my actions would affect others, and I should try to make things as painless as possible for them. I should wait for the "best time" or the "right time" or the "easiest time".

Of course, their opinion was based on their assumption that I was in fact, selfish, impulsive, and inconsiderate. But I wasn't. In fact, I was doing what I felt was the most humane for everyone involved. Nor was I as foolish as they believed; having grown up as the "class scapegoat", I had already figured out that those who would judge me, are not people I want in my life anyway. Let them talk. Small minds have small thoughts. Why should I arrange my life around their opinions?

For me, doing something difficult or painful is like removing a bandaide....

Put two bandaides on the hairy part of your arm. Okay, got them stuck on there good? Now, very carefully start peeling one of the bandaides off, one hair at a time. Take your time and be really, really careful to try to minimize the pain. Are you having fun yet? Are you enjoying holding your breath and anticipating the inevitable pain? Are your eyes watering? Do you find yourself pausing between each hair, catching your breath and waiting for your heart to stop pounding before tackling the next one? Is it tempting to just leave it on there and wait for it to fall off on it's own, like maybe 50 years from now?

Okay, now the other bandaide...grab the edge and just rip that sucker off as fast as you can. Hurt like hell, didn't it? But only for a few moments. Sharp, agonizing pain that lasts maybe 30 seconds and then you start to feel relief. Not like the other one where the agony was prolonged, where every hair was a fresh torture session.

Yes, at various points in my life I was faced with difficult decisions that I KNEW were going to be painful; both for myself and others. And I always opted for the "rip the bandaide off" option. It just made more sense to me. Rip it off, get it over with, start healing, move forward.

The thought of "waiting for it to fall off by itself" was just too ambiguous for me. I don't like the idea of waiting indefinitely for something to happen that I know needs to happen, that is GOING TO HAPPEN ANYWAY. Why postpone the inevitable? Why not just get it overwith?

My parents never agreed with my philosophy and they were quite vocal about it. So much so, that the last time I was faced with one of those difficult situations; ending a relationship, I decided to try to do it "their way". I tried to "think it through". I tried to minimize the disruption for others. I tried to "plan ahead to make the transition as smooth as possible". I tried to make "financial plans". And so on. And guess what? My parents were WRONG.

Doing things their way only prolonged the agony for us both, it made the transition more difficult financially, it caused us both to pass up opportunities we would have preferred to accept, and by the time it was over we were both completely drained and exhausted. And the outcome is the same: we are not together and everything that would have happened if I'd just "ripped the bandaide off," happened anyway. It was just turned into a torturously long and painful 2 year process filled with "analysis paralysis", instead of a major upheaval that would have lasted a few weeks and then settled down quickly once the dust settled.

I like my way better. If there's something you know is going to happen eventually anyway, just do it. Let 'er rip. Go for it. Get it overwith.

When you peel the bandaide off one hair at a time, people get a little hurt....for a very long time. They sense it. They get tense. They fret and worry. They wonder what's happening, they wonder what, if anything, they should do. That's exhausting. Everybody's balanced on a high-wire wondering which way they're going to fall. It's like picking at a wound and not letting it heal. It's like; about the time they recover from the sting of peeling off that one hair, you peel off another one. It just goes on and on.

But if you just "rip the bandaide off", it hurts like hell and everyone scurries around in a panic for awhile, trying to figure out what they're supposed to do....and then they start healing. Really healing. They can heal because you're not picking at the wound, not peeling off another hair. There's no doubt about what has happened. Everyone can take steps to recover, heal, and move forward. And one other thing I noticed: when you just "rip the bandaide off", there's a flurry of friends who come to help you through it. When you peel it off slowly, you're on your own. No one comes to help.

My friend was right. I did end up wondering why I waited so long. Not because there was ever any doubt about what needed to happen. That part I was certain about. The handwriting was on the wall. I'm smart enough to recognize when the connection is irreparably broken. I'd spent most of my adult life working very hard at a relationship that was never quite "right" to begin with, and I had a hard time accepting the idea that I'd been wasting my time; that it wasn't "fixable", it felt like failure and I have a hard time with that. But once I accepted it, that was it for me.

Let's face it, anyone who's ever been faced with the decision to stay or go, has already tried everything they can think of to "fix it". And if you're still standing there wondering about it....well, the question is the answer. A person who wants to stay, doesn't think about going....What I wonder about is why I ever doubted my own instincts in the first place? But I guess that's a subject for a different post.

I think I'll go back to just "ripping the bandaid off".  In the long run, it's the more compassionate choice. Life is too short to waste it looking for the "right time", the "best time", or the "easiest time". There is no such thing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Leap of Faith/Life is Change

I woke up this morning thinking about how taking a "leap of faith" must be like doing a cannonball into the pool; plunge gleefully into the water, safe in the knowledge that God won't let you drown. Without that big "let go" of control, it wouldn't be a leap of faith.

I took a leap of faith this year, I jumped out into the unknown without any kind of parachute at all. And I'm still waiting for the landing. It seems the plunge just goes on and on. And I'm okay with that. It seems odd to me that I'm okay with that. It's as if on some level, I know that I must "hit bottom" before I can start the journey back up, so I'm just going with it. Watching my finances deteriorate to the same level as when I was in my early 20's and still economically "stupid". Discovering who my real friends are....and aren't. Moving into a residence that seems such a giant step down that I am still having a bit of "culture shock". And yet, I am oddly cheerful. Or perhaps I am just "punchy".  You be the judge.

Life is change. Without change, there is no life. Think about that a moment. A rock doesn't move or change, therefore we say it is "lifeless".  Sit as still as you can for awhile, be like a rock, and then move your arm. The motion of your arm moving is "change" and indicates "signs of life" in it's most rudimentary form. And yet it is interesting how much we, as humans, resist change. We like to feel safe and secure, it is our nature to seek the comfort of the familiar. And yet, in doing so--in resisting change, we are resisting Life. We will go to great lengths to maintain the status-quo. Even when what we have is making us miserable. We will turn ourselves inside-out in our efforts to make "what we have" feel "okay", rather than acknowledge that what we have is no longer functionally "healthy" for us and it's time to let it go and embrace something new or different. And we have a long list of reasons "why" maintaining the status quo is "the right thing to do". If that list ceases to be convincing, we fall back on things such as "honor" or "integrity" or "duty" or "responsibility". Whatever it takes to convince ourselves that we are where we are in life by choice, rather than acknowledge we've slipped into a rut and have become stuck; all but the most basic motion ceasing, thus life reduced to the minimum. Our days become filled with routines that no longer satisfy, but are so familiar they provide a certain comfort; a sense of stability that doesn't fulfill us, but doesn't rattle our cages either. The life of quiet and futile desperation. It is difficult to see that perhaps "where we are" was meant to be merely a leg of the journey, but not the destination.

Why do we do this? Quite simply, we avoid pain. Change very often brings with it pain. Pain is that something that must be avoided if we are to feel safe and secure. Whether it's our own pain, or the pain we may cause others. And yet pain can be the one thing that will push us to make a change. When the pain of being "stuck in a rut" exceeds the comfort we find in the familiarity of the rut, we make a change. It is at that point that we embrace change, and all of the pain that goes with it, in the hope of creating something that will ultimately be "better", and will bring some sense of relief. We reach the point where motion in any direction is better than no motion at all. And with that Motion; Life begins again. We stop trying to "fix" what we have and instead leap into the unknown, finally acknowledging to ourselves that what we have just "is what it is" and can't be fixed. It can only be chosen or replaced. What great pain we cause ourselves in our efforts to avoid pain, never realizing that the only way to relieve the pain is to accept and embrace change.

It is ironic that we avoid doing this; sometimes because we fear the unknown, sometimes because we feel a strong desire to protect others and don't want our choices to cause pain for our loved ones, sometimes because we feel a sense of duty and obligation toward committments we made under a certain set of circumstances that at the time we believed would continue forever, thus making us believe we could keep that committment, even when those circumstances no longer exist. And yet, the mere act of embracing change can be liberating, not only to ourselves, but to others as well. Sometimes we can become so wrapped up in being protective toward others that we fail to notice our "protectiveness" is keeping them stuck as well. Our efforts to "make the best of it" keep them caught in the same cycle we ourselves are caught in. I can look back now and see how our efforts to make our relationship work not only stopped me from doing some of the things I really wanted to do, it also stopped him from doing some of the things he really wanted to do. If only one of us had had the courage sooner to say "Time out! This isn't working for either of us!" we both would have been free to pursue some of the opportunities that came our way. I have to wonder if those opportunities were in fact; God sending opportunities to get "unstuck". God inviting us to move forward, to embrace Life again. God saying "I have heard your pleas and what you want cannot be achieved where you are, but it can be achieved over here!" God must scratch his head in puzzlement when we reject the opportunities he sends us and instead choose to continue beating our heads on an impermeable wall. He must wonder why we think we can change his creation into what we want it to be when it would be so much simpler to just choose something or someone that already is that way.

Janis Joplin sang "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose..."  I think about those lyrics alot. There are so many different ways a person can interpret that statement. The most obvious is to envision a person who has lost all their material possessions. Without "things" to take care of, maintain, make payments on, come home to...a person has "nothing to lose" and therefore acquires the freedom to come and go as they please. But I think it goes much deeper than that. I think a person can reach a point where they realize that what they have isn't what they want, and therefore they "have nothing to lose". It doesn't mean that what they have is bad or wrong, it only means that what they have isn't want they want anymore, or turned out to not be what they thought it was, so why fight so hard to keep it, or worse; why fight so hard to try to change it into what they want, when it clearly isn't that by nature? Isn't it better and more loving to acknowledge it for what it is and then make a choice based on that recognition of what it is?

I spent most of my adult life trying to make a relationship work with someone who clearly had different ideas about what a relationship should be. When I look back now, I can see how hard we both tried to change ourselves and eachother in an effort to "fix" our relationship. Most people call it negotiating and compromising. We could have saved ourselves decades of pain and frustration if we had merely stepped back and acknowledged that we simply didn't want the same things out of a relationship and our ideas of how a relationship "should be" were so different that the best we could hope for was to reach that point of apathy which would bring the peace of "settling". Fortunately for us both, we're a couple of knuckleheads who were determined to NOT just "settle", so we battled on until we finally recognized that while we care deeply for eachother, each in our own way; we just want different things and it's more loving for us to part company on good terms and go our separate ways;  freeing ourselves to once again seek the relationship we want, but with someone who's ideas of a relationship more closely match our own. In doing so we are able to remain friends and wish eachother the best as we go our separate ways. It was not easy to arrive at that agreement. In fact, it was incredibly difficult because for some reason, it is "normal" for couples to part on angry, hurtful terms. The process of parting company took nearly 2 years. But it was worth it, because we are now able to cross paths and behave as "friends" toward eachother, without anger, without resentment. We have achieved that level of appreciation for eachother that only comes from having spent many years together and shared many experiences; both good and bad. We understand eachother as no other friend possibly can, but also understand that we can't live together and be happy because we just can't give eachother what each of us needs and still be true to ourselves.

So here I am. Plunging in my "leap of faith", waiting and watching to see where it is going to take me. Scary? Sometimes. But it also has an unexpected side-effect: Hope. Being "out here on my own" allows me to feel hope for the future again, instead of feeling the sense of frustration and futility and disappointment I had when I was still "there". I do not know what the future holds for me other than that life is going to be a struggle for awhile. But at least now I have Hope to keep me going, to keep me "trying", to keep me moving and changing and growing. I now look to an unknown future that could go any number of possible directions instead of looking to a future of "more of the same old, same old" that never quite seemed right and was contigent on the cooperation of someone who didn't want the same things out of Life or a relationship that I do.

Like a leaf in the wind I will go wherever life takes me. I will embrace change and take each moment as it comes without judgement and without expectation. I trust that wherever Life takes me, is where Life meant for me to go, for I don't need to understand God's plan to be able to trust God's plan. It is clear to me now that mankind's understanding of what is "right and wrong" is not necessarily a reflection of God's version of what is right and wrong for each of us as individuals. I believe that God wants each and every one of us to be happy in life and if the path to happiness takes me down paths I would have never chosen for myself, so be it.

It's a Leap of Faith.