Archive for the 'loss' Category

There’s (always) something wrong

February 13, 2015

I’ve probably written about this before, but I have been thinking about it recently, in part because of the challenges our weather in the Boston area has been bringing.

The difficulties are real, from finding parking at the supermarket because of the snow piles to water damage in the house from ice dams to delays in transportation and communication and to just being able to get stuff done.

So I try to see these difficulties objectively, and when I find part of my mind wanting to see them as more existentially threatening than they are, I start wondering what lies behind that.

For me, it’s the legacy of the Holocaust as my family of origin seemed to process (or not process) it.  “There is always something terribly wrong, threatening, and dangerous, perhaps it is obvious, perhaps it is lurking in the shadows,” was the message.  I think that fundamental attitude results in that part of me trying to tie any new challenge to existential issues.

I didn’t see things this way until I heard of a similar issue in another context.  It was about families struggling with a member’s alcoholism who are pressured to subscribe to the idea that no one can be happy until the alcoholic is happy.  Something like that.  Anyway, it got me thinking about family habits of mind about how to handle the very real suffering of some members.  Putting everyone in an emotional prison does not seem to be a helpful answer to the suffering or to the needs of the others.

The Holocaust issue in my family included the more obvious factors, but it also included a sense of betrayal, and not just by gentiles.  My dad never got over his sense that the rabbis, at the very least, let down their communities, by not adequately reading the writing on the wall and guiding their congregants to plan and take steps while there was still time.  So I grew up with a sense that it could be around the next corner again, something that we are not prepared for and is an existential threat.

I’ve had many personal losses that came quickly and as a shock to me, that were surprising and devastating on that account as well as in their own right.  Some of them also involved people who in the structure of the situation would be thought to know better but dismissed my concerns.  Ultimately what I took from this is that the universe will guide me through these experiences, I may get dinged up, or worse, but if I open myself to the universe, I get through (and I learn, as a consequence, how to mesh with the universe in a way I probably wouldn’t otherwise).  A lot of it for me is learning compassionate detachment and a lot of it is learning to reframe.

On the reframing front, since I wrote my fairly recent post about lava, it occurred to me that my struggle with feeling slimed by others dumping their stuff on me and my having to process it (kind of like cleaning up somebody else’s mess) could be reframed so that I take such episodes as indications that I am doing my job and things are going well — if water ends up in my “sump hole,” so to speak and my pump is working, maybe this is evidence that things are in order, not that something is amiss.  If I take it that way, that I am just doing my part, and being given opportunities to do so, my resistance diminishes; it has seemed to me that resistance usually is a large part of the problem, even if the underlying situation is painful and unpleasant and I don’t like it in some way.

I don’t see who it serves, even the innocent who have been slaughtered, if the living are paralyzed and miserable, or angry and belligerent, or bitter and ego-centric, or anything else that cuts us off from the universe and each other — I don’t think that can be the response to which we are called.


It turned up in the morning

May 6, 2014

I was looking for something last night, an oval polished stone disc on which is lightly carved someone or other.  I had put it in my pocket yesterday before I went out walking to pick up my car at the service station and go food shopping. The disc wasn’t in my pocket when I started emptying them out before I got ready to go to bed.

My jeans have shallow pockets, I also fidget with things while I am on the phone, and I know myself to put things down somewhere without focusing on what I am doing.  So it could have fallen out of my pocket, especially in my car, I could have put it down somewhere in my house, I could have left it on a counter somewhere (less likely — out of the house, I tend to leave such things in my pocket) — many possibilities.

I looked around the house to find it, using my best thinking and recollection.  For example, where do I stand when I am on the phone with my mother?  I looked on the horizontal surfaces in that area.  Where was I in Jordan’s room when we were talking, and did I put the object down on his bureau when I handed him an object from his bureau?  When I came back from an errand last night, did I put it down on my bed along with some other items?  I even patted the patterned coverlet on the bed, in addition to looking at the fabric from an angle in case that would make the object more visible to me.

It was late, I went around the house turning on lights and looking in different rooms.  I thought about how it would feel if I had actually lost the disc outside the house.  I thought about what I would make of it if I had, how I would interpret it.  (I thought about the rules I’ve come up with for myself about putting down my glasses — I limit myself to a couple of particular places to leave them when I take them off.)  I didn’t feel moved to go out to the car and look.  I figured that if it was in the house, eventually I would come across it.

I did think about why I wasn’t asking for help in finding the thing, and eventually I did pray on it, let it go, and go to bed.

In the morning, there it was, on the other side of the bed, on the coverlet.  My eye was drawn directly to it.

I’ve put the disc back where I had had it, on my night table, before I put it in my pocket yesterday.

I haven’t decided whether to carry it around with me again.

I also don’t have a clear idea of how to interpret the experience.  I figure it will eventually come to me, what to make of it — random middle-aged distraction or a reflection of something else perhaps.  My inclination at this point is to see it as saying something about risk aversion.

Feathers in wings

October 29, 2013

The line in the Leslie Smith song “Words of a Kind” is actually about “tattered wings,” not directly about tattered feathers.  It goes, “Our wings are older now and tattered.”  Just wanted to correct what I wrote in my last post.

I thought to do that earlier, but I forgot about it.  Until I was walking home again through the woods this afternoon.

I was studying the area where there are steps down to the ball field for the middle school.  Used to be a large tree there, then it fell, then it was cut into pieces and they lay across from where it had stood.  Now it’s all gone and the area is much more open.  I was also looking at the stonework near those stairs and wondering, yet again, if the stones ever were the foundation for something beyond what can be seen now — they look like what you see in an archaeological dig, foundations to a structure long gone.

Anyway, I was contemplating all this and saw a motion in the sky at the edge of my field of vision, which I assumed would turn out to be an airplane, but no, it was a hawk.  It was gliding in circles, they looked as if they were overlapping, like you’d make with a spirograph.  Maybe that’s how hawks scan sectors for prey.  Don’t know, but it struck me that the feathers are much better on a live bird sailing through the sky than scattered on the ground.

I guess I also liked the idea of the feathers sailing up high because this was Willy’s birthday, and there’s that section at the end of “Reunion Hill,” by Richard Shindell, about the hawk “spiral[ing] higher still / As if from such an altitude / He might just keep our love in view.”

I’m sure there’s a story out there somewhere about how the husband sails off as the hawk himself, up to the higher reaches, after he dies.  That’s actually how I hear the Richard Shindell song, but I suspect that’s my overlay.


October 11, 2013

Well, of course we wouldn’t try to fill up a black hole in a galaxy as if it were a pot hole.  Why do we try to fill up holes in our hearts as if they were, too?

We want to close the hole.

I was reading yesterday this piece about pressure on cracks in a metal actually producing the counter-intuitive result of closing them.

My own personal experience has been that the hole in the heart gets resolved by projecting our positive emotions outwards.

I felt a hole in my heart open after a particularly difficult pregnancy loss, but I also realized that what I needed was a child to nurture, and what I didn’t need was to become angry and bitter.  It wasn’t a reasoned decision, or one set on achieving a particular positive result for myself, it was just a little self-awareness about next steps and avoiding something unpleasant (becoming angry and bitter).

One of the other things I had going for me, apparently, is an ability to stay on emotional pitch and not slide flat or sharp — I could hold a note of hurt or disappointment without its becoming anger or resentment.

Anyway, we found children to nurture.

I think, in retrospect, that it was kind of like throwing up a rope and then climbing it.  I ended up filling the hole through that (nurturing children) — like Harold with his Purple Crayon in the Crockett Johnson children’s books, drawing staircases to go down or go up in order to make his journey.  It’s kind of like faith, only it feels much more concrete than faith in God.  It’s a move on the physical plane that allows one to make a profit by giving something away — giving love to another closes the hole.

There are steps that come after, I think, at least in my own journey, but they are not the subject of this post.  Nor is my encounter with someone whose perceived hole in her heart was woven over through our working through enough imagery and emotional steps, at a very deep level, to allow her to feel the hole had been closed.

Opportunities or losses?

October 3, 2013

Clearly, both.  A loss is painful, but it is also, often, an opportunity to reach further into ourselves and the divinity within us (or out to the divinity outside us).  It can be the proverbial broken eggs needed to make an omelette, a spiritual omelette.

(These are my thoughts after reading today’s Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr.)

I think one of the reasons this reaching is done within the structure of an organized religion is that, without that context, we are left as individuals to counter other people’s negative interpretations of us and our lives when we develop a spiritual approach to our temporal lives and make progress in our spiritual lives.  Not only can that negative feedback be painful in itself, it can also have a negative impact on our ability to maintain our new perspective and continue to enjoy its gifts.  The advantage to doing it as an individual, however, may be that we can expand even secular people’s sense of consensus reality — if they don’t write us off as daft, or worse, first.

The other thing I would add in addition to the traps of self-pity and resentment is the trap of feeling like a victim and entering the cul-de-sac of feeling more virtuous than others, of lording it over perceived perpetrators.  I think that, too, cuts us off from ourselves, God, and others, and is an impediment to our own progress.

Hawk’s gotta eat

October 3, 2013

So there was a smallish hawk in the tree above my compost heap this morning.  I think it was squawking, it might have been a juvenile, it didn’t have a very broadly developed tail.

There were small birds flying around near it, maybe trying to get it to leave or distract it from a nest?  Then I saw a small critter up in the tree, it looked black in the early morning light, and it seemed confused.  It tried climbing different ways in the tree.  I think its movement may have attracted the hawk’s attention, and the hawk went after it and, I think, got it.  I went inside, reminding myself that hawks have to eat.

I also found myself thinking about the Ralph McTell song “Heron Song,” in which he sings about wishing he had the heron’s wings, as a suggestion for how to rewrite the story I linked to in my post last night.  I think the girl needed to grow her own “spiritual wings” in order to get down safely from where she had inadvertently ended up in a spiritual quest gone awry.


July 19, 2013

My younger son is a big fan of the deli counter.  On the other hand, while I like cold cuts, I really dislike going up to the counter, even with a number in hand, because I so often get overlooked, even when my number is called and I respond.

My son has figured out that I especially like sliced roast beef, and now, even when he’s just going on a deli run for himself, he buys the roast beef and makes sure I’m aware it’s there for me in the fridge.

This may sound small, but it’s not.  After their dad died, my younger son and my older son lost faith in the idea of family, especially as reflected in the act of eating the same food together — I came to see it as almost a statement of faith lost.  They each maintained a relationship with me, but they could not make that emotional investment in being a family again.  Their having lost their original families (they are adopted) was a factor, and so, too, has been the attitude of extended family towards them (which, from my perspective, basically created a self-fulfilling prophecy that things would not go well for them).  My younger son articulated this to a family therapist shortly after the death, and his brother agreed.

So this roast beef supply is a significant thing in this context.  I say “Boys,” because it’s my experience of boys that most of them show you rather than tell you about their emotional state.


March 2, 2013

My dad always did his taxes himself, and they were not simple.  He resisted the idea of getting an accountant.  He was one of the smartest people I’ve known and he was good at math, so his doing his own tax returns even for his level of investment sophistication was feasible.

During the last period of his life, while he was cycling in and out of the hospital with kidney blockage and failure, he told me how he and I were going to go over his tax returns together “line by line” this year, because he realized he would need to have them double-checked by somebody else.

The package of material for my parents’ 2012 tax return arrived today at the accountant’s office.  Jordan and I figured out how to send my mother a box with a prepaid UPS label and how to schedule a pick-up from her house, to get the material from there to the accountant.  And today the box was delivered to the accountant’s office.

I don’t know what my dad would have thought of this — that we’ve engaged an accountant — disappointment?  anger?  I am pretty sure he expected I would learn to prepare his tax returns myself, and that I would have time to do them, too.

I just find the whole situation incredibly sad.

Maybe it’s a portal through which to express my grief.

Tensing up

January 7, 2013

Faced with an unknown dog or a bee on the arm, if we remain quiet and relaxed, we don’t escalate the likelihood of harm.  When we want to float in the water, relaxing our muscles and ourselves allows us to.  When we encounter hurt within a human relationship, if we stay with the initial emotion of hurt and don’t transform it into a defensive (tense) posture, we can also remain in an open (here, emotional) posture.  It’s about, I think, being able to tolerate feeling the hurt.  And that, paradoxically, both allows us to pass through the situation (and to let it pass through us) and also not to become more (and more permanently) damaged.

There are times when we cannot tolerate the hurt, and when that happens, I think we use a coping device to attenuate it.  The coping device has its own cost.  Here’s an extreme example:  my boyfriend breaks up with me and I swear off dating altogether.  Maybe for some people this is a stage they have to go through, putting up an impermeable protective wall to assure themselves they won’t be hurt again.  But that impermeable barrier also, obviously, cuts them off from the possibility of a (healthy) new relationship that does work out.

Some people don’t, to use the example above, actually foreswear the dating market, but rather re-enter it using a detached persona, a self separated from their heart.  This looks like a strategy that allows for both relationship and protection, but I think it is actually much worse than withdrawing.  For one thing, without having one’s heart in the game, one is hugely likely to do real damage to other people, because the ability to generalize empathetic feeling I think resides in the heart; if a person is trying to understand other people’s perspective through the intellect and not the heart, I think that understanding will be piecemeal, like particles instead of waves.  It will likely fail to be accurate in a new situation it has not yet encountered, and hence will not be a helpful guide for what to do and will instead be more likely to give rise to behavior that damages.

But walled-off people do conduct relationships that endure, and what about them?  I think they wobble, less so when the other partner knows how to compensate for the missteps taken by the protagonist.  There are some people who are emotionally willing and limber enough to try to compensate in their part of the partner dance for extreme missteps by the protagonist.  Not only are these dances and relationships painful for others to watch, but they often end in the collapse of the compensating partner.  Here’s an example:  primary person doesn’t want partner to have outside secondary relationships (of the platonic sort) and/or makes it difficult for them to have them, and then the primary person complains that the partner has become too emotionally dependent on them.

My main point here, though, is about trying to stay with the initial feeling of hurt and not transform it into something else.  In its original form it can be completely processed, I think, whereas in a transformed state, there will be a residue that clogs up the heart and weighs us down.   If we stay with the original hurt with an open emotional stance, the feeling will pass through us and we through that stage of feeling.  It may take time, but I think it is far preferable to do than to wrap the hurt up in anger and bitterness, for example, and be left with a foreign object within us, or rather, with an outer shell walling us off.

Who reaches out

December 17, 2012

I was going to write a post about “Fear, pain, and damage” and what seems to me to be going on when people perceive “evil.” I would have talked about how it’s all perfectly fine energy, it’s just that some of it is difficult to process if a person has not sanded down enough of their “flaws,” enough of their humanness.  I would have tried to show how we can get rid of the dualism of “good” and “evil” by realizing that evil is in the eye of the beholder and by subsuming both under “energy.”  I might have talked about destruction being part of the cycle of creation, and that we are better off seeing destruction as just that, and shy away from distinctions like accident, tort, and crime.  I was going to talk about including everybody in our community, and finding a way to mourn for Nancy Lanza and Adam Lanza, too.  (I think, almost paradoxically, that until we maintain a compassionate connection to everybody, we will not resolve the problem of our safety.)  I was going to talk about attachments getting in the way of our clearer perception, about my reaction to watching President Obama reflect his strong attachment to his children in his remarks in Newtown last night.  I was thinking of making the case for celibacy in leadership positions.

And then, as I was crossing the street, I was reminded (because I suspect I’ve had this understanding before) that we need to reach out to God affirmatively because that is the posture in which we are open to receiving God.  Without our having that posture, nothing terribly helpful will happen even if God reaches out to us.  And I thought, trying to communicate that message is probably a more constructive thing to do, rather than trying to get people to see what I see.

Because part of what I see is that we’re not going to reduce the problem of gun massacres by the “mentally ill” by demonizing them, their caretakers, the people who love them (who are able to love them because they connect with something not diseased within them).  We’re not going to resolve the problem by doubling down on our attachment to our children.  I think we need, rather, to spread out more evenly our love and caring to all.  Gun control is fine with me, but I think if we improve our mental hygiene, people’s desire for guns may decrease, so I would include coaching people in general to improved mental hygiene (through teaching coping skills and how to become more self-aware, for example), so I would include that in a broad effort to reduce the presence of guns in our society.

I think I see myself a little like a bleating sheep, or maybe like that cow in the Richard Shindell song “Stray Cow Blues”  — I keep repeating what I perceive and hope it helps.  If people don’t want to hear, I accept that, even if I’m disappointed or frustrated.  I can see my reaction as a form of impatience, maybe even with a little fear mixed in (fear that not enough people will ever perceive clearly), and those are things I can work on.  I think I’ve developed enough detachment to keep doing what I do regardless of its reception.