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{When the Truth Hurts: “Being Broken” is Not My Life’s Metanarrative}

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Rilke says to celebrate the questions.

1.

A truth has circled me like a persistent fly, zooming in close and then away again. When I stare straight at it, it becomes momentarily clear. Then suddenly it’s gone disappearing into thin air.

The truth hurts almost as much as my perception of my Being Broken has wounded me, at least at first.  Perhaps that is why we sometimes stay stuck in a static and gray malaise.

Recently the fragments came together – swiftly, an epiphany—through the help of a friend.  What I had struggled for so long to understand now made perfect sense and then it was echoed by several other people reinforcing what I heard.

2.

There is a sacredness in tears…They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.  Washington Irving

The last decade has included repeated seasons of depression, ongoing recovery from addiction, and spiritual upheaval. These were all things I had to pass through to become who I am today. I am grateful.  Through it all I learned that I am resilient.

I have been stuck.

I’m finished with being stuck in regret, wishing that I had made different or better choices, and imagining who I might have become, and thinking of life with different parents or greater personal fortitude or less fear or more gumption. We don’t get to choose our parents or our family of origin with its dysfunctions and ghosts.  It’s all too easy to look back and wish, wonder or hope for something unattainable.

I have lived long enough in the shadows of my father‘s rigid control and in the murky, gloomy regret of my mom’s life. I love them both, but I don’t want to become either of them.  No matter how afraid I am, I will forge my own path.

Finally, I have admitted to myself that I am afraid of the future, of autonomy from children, and of a purpose greater than what I can plan or believe for myself.

3.

The years have left their mark on me with many gray hairs and furrowed facial lines. I turn 48 in September and we’ll be married twenty-one years in June; we have three teenaged children and an adult child, who are all learning to fly.  I love being a mother, but while my children learn to fly I will also grow some wings.  I will search for my voice. And find it.  This is frightening for me.

In 2001 I walked away from a PR & Marketing job I was proud of and was successful at by any standard; I was thirty-five years old with three babies under four.  I turned my back on my leadership and creative talents. I hid them away. Now I see that I have been like the servant in the Gospels who buried and “protected” her talent and waited.

I accepted a lie that “Being Broken” was the metanarrative of my life – the only narrative I have to offer others, as if it safeguarded me from the uneasiness of finally rising up afraid of my authority.  I began to believe the lie that I was broken beyond usefulness, because of the years I spent addicted to booze and healing from the illness of depression.

The hard truth is that my brokenness has consumed and side tracked me. I came to believe in my aching places that at forty-seven years old my life was over.

Every time I imagined otherwise or began to dream fear took over.

4.

Finally it’s time to kneel hard on my father’s grave and say: Daddy, I’m sorry for many things but most of all for how I wanted to hurt you. But this bitterness became a virus in my soul telling me I am the failure you were afraid I’d become.

Only this hasn’t hurt him. It’s become my self-fulfilling prophecy—an obnoxious, stench of a lie that I’ve been living. I’ve been scared to open my mouth. I’ve been too insecure to believe I have anything unique or worthwhile to say or give. I have been waiting for validation from my dead father that will obviously never come and that I don’t need.

I thought I was no longer trust worthy. I’ve written BROKEN on my body; a lasting tattoo reminding me that because daddy said or thought so, I wouldn’t amount to anything. My father has been the Puppeteer controlling me, even now his power looming though he’s been dead eleven years.

It’s time to find another image to prick and stain on my skin!  To mark myself with promise.  I am a blank canvas full of dreams. I want to believe in me again, to stand up and clear my voice and shout, even if it is shaky and quaking at first. This new thing has been a long time coming.

It is also true that I have used my words and my pictures, quietly seeking to tell a story to help others.  And in my little corner of the universe I have made beauty out of shards of my pain.

So I say out loud, I am worthy to speak and it matters little my pedigree or that more than a decade of my life seem to have disappeared like a vapor.

5.

“I think I need a job” I spoke hesitantly to my friend. She asked why, saying “you’re an incredibly gifted writer and a photographer.” “My life feels wrong.” I replied. “I want to contribute. Perhaps I want a paycheck. And I am lonely at home.” I added this as an afterthought.

This friend brings out the best in me. The ME she sees, I don’t see for myself.  I tell myself and out loud I tell her, “I am all these bad things.” And she gently laughs and tells me honestly who I am.

I ask her, “How do you have the courage to do something new? What do you do with your fear?” Changing the direction of our conversation completely, she asked the question that changed everything.

“Melody, what do you have that’s uniquely you?” Her question forced me to peel away truth from my regrets, self-doubt and fear.

It came quickly and quietly: “I have my words and my way of thinking. That’s what I have to offer. That I know is true.”

We all get stuck or believe in our own mediocrity.  Perhaps your life isn’t quite as ambiguous as mine.  But I believe this is true for everyone.  As we face our daily challenges, we have to keep believing that there’s a greater and enduring purpose to our life.  It may not be a grand opus we’ll compose. It may be much more humble and much less exciting. But whatever it is, it is important for each of us to discover.

It’s never too late.  None of us are too broken.  We only have today.  What will we do with this day and days ahead, together they become our life..

6

Deep into that darkness peering,
long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting,
dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

Edgar Allan Poe

Today has been a long time coming—growing out of distress, blunders, and discomfort. I still have a lot of spiritual work to do, but I accept that embarrassment and shame will be a part of the past and the future is a blank canvas.  The uncertainty of tomorrow forces me to deliberate, knowing that life can be snatched away in a moment.

I’m uncomfortable with generalizations about gender but I wonder if this is a particularly female instinct? To have a proclivity toward self-doubt, a desire for external validation, (for me especially) a Daddy hole the size of the universe, to imagine that your life could serve no purpose and to believe that you don’t have anything unique to contribute.   Male or female, I know all people experience these doubts at one time or another, Perhaps it is middle age that bring a wondering if your life could be over, when it could be just starting again.

Taking a decade long break from a career is a frightening proposition that is traditional to women.  Combine that with my particulars, the idea of believing in my future takes faith.

I believe, help my unbelief.

I’m taking the first shaky steps toward a future still unwritten. My life isn’t over.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that I’m only forty-seven years old. It is time to dream.  I have a unique voice and a way with words.

I intend to use them.

MOTHER [a poem about a parent aging]


Something shifted in the cosmos today as I became a giver, her One.

The one who thinks like a pastor, fondly listening inside to her heart which is lonely.
The one who touches like a nurse, open to the clues, simple hints about pain.
The one who creates food to share, serving the body and soul.

Daughter became caregiver to Mother.

And altered who I am.

Only, she isn’t frail, broken down or helpless — not just yet but it’s coming.  Even so she asks and I answer, and I tag along.  In case something is missed, she says.

Even so she still bails me out and listens as my heart bursts open, pooling over the edges of my day.  The “middle school” years, I am tender, raw with anguish.

Oh yes, she is still Mother, but today something in the cosmos shifted, and I became a Giver.

I became her One.

MHH

Other Poems.

Today I Said No

Today I said no.

I said no to something that might have been sweet and good, something that I would enjoy and that would make me feel good about myself – helping other people.  It was something that was even noble.  Can I be honest and tell you that I need some things to do that make me feel good about myself?  The recent Stations of the Cross exhibit, which I was a part of, was profound for me in that it was a thing that I did, for me.

Today I said no.

No because there are other good things, needs, jobs for me to do.  And I have to be careful as an addict, to not feed that need to help others.

Things are going on in my family, screaming out to me, which need resolution and clarity and my time.  My children are of the age that they need my daily prayer, daily.  My attention, fully.  My love and affirmations, honestly.  This takes the kind of attention that I haven’t had for them as of yet.  My widowed mother living alone needs more of my attention, care and to be blunt she needs errands accomplished.  My sisters each deserve my love and attention in a way that I haven’t ever had the courage to give them.  My marriage isn’t perfect; it has holes that need patching even though, after eighteen years together, we know it’s for life.  We’re in the boat together but we’ve sprung a few leaks.  No one’s sinking but we deserve to give the time that a good marriage requires.

So, today I said no – no to something good.  So that I could say yes to being a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife and more than anything I said yes to be a writer.

Today I said yes.

At Some Point (A poem) This is an old old poem, from 2008.

At Some Point

(May 15, 2008)

Anxious, chaotic thoughts
My fears unexplained by logic or even a specific memory.
I am caught in the tangle of what happened long ago.
This story is about what didn’t happen.

Undetected was your love.
Like a puzzle missing pieces,
a puzzle that can’t
be finished.

Suffering the affliction of neglect.
Anguish is something difficult to define.
It hurts.
It brings toxic thoughts.

Why am I unclear? Do you love me?
Why is it that, continuously, it seems I return,
To anxious, chaotic thoughts.
Confusing, violent, soul-crushing dreams.

Undetected was your love.
Like a puzzle missing pieces,
a puzzle that can’t
be finished.

Again and again, year after year,
no matter how hard I work
Always back to this again,
Do you love me? Why am I unsure?

Boundaries crossed, again and again,
you take me places a child should never go.
And then, you push me away (that’s what it feels like) but it is
More like indifference.

Boundaries crossed, and you share
From your life things I was never meant to know.
Perhaps that is the only way to be your child;
The only open place in your heart.

I must go there, within my own discomfort.
Must I allow you to take me down those twisted paths
That only led to mortification.
Boundaries crossed. I am uneasy.

Distressed.
Nervous.
Unsettled.
Why that’s how I felt growing up!

Undetected was your love.
Like a puzzle missing pieces,
a puzzle that can’t
be finished.

No longer a child, when will I
let you go?
An anxious, chaotic life is no longer for me.
At some point, I must walk away

And find within
what I need to survive.
Acceptance of who I am,
lovable, genuine, predictable.

Moody, insecure, doubtful.
Pulled in two directions,
it is time to Become.
At some point, I must grow up.

Daily, I choose.
I choose the path I will journey down.
Will I walk the path of anxious, chaotic thoughts?
Or will I walk away?

Growing Old is so Uncool!

Over the last five years

my life story has been full of tension and some might say tragedy.  The process has been grueling and traumatic.  My parents have made a problematic imprint on my life.  I am working toward the days when I can celebrate again the good people that they are, but I must work through our family legacy, parts of which I must reject.

Often, I have found myself focused on the negative ways that my father especially has affected me.  I rarely talk about my mother, in part because she is still alive and that story is not complete.    Something happened recently between us that I feel is worth remembering here.

My mother

is a strange mix of strength and weakness that constantly perplexes me.  I have been devastated at times by our relationship, which is strange and erratic.  Both emotionally and  mentally agonizing, but at times we have moments of tremendous truthfulness.  I do not trust her and yet I deeply wish for her understanding.    I love her and yet I want to live my life without her (at times) because she has an uncanny way of being able to hurt me.  This frightens me.  It would be easier to walk away.  So far, I haven’t chosen that path.

My mother, seventy-two years old,  is the daughter of a southern philanderer for a father and a mother who raised five children by herself washing and ironing clothes.  She grew up in poverty, but my mother is bright, with a photographic memory to compensate for her dyslexia.  She was the first in her family to go to college where she trained to be teacher and supported my father through college and graduate studies.  They went to the mission field in 1966 to be teachers.

Today, sitting in her condo with the air conditioner running and the Red Sox playing, she is a far cry from the woman who trekked through the jungles of Papua New Guinea pregnant with me and holding a toddler.  She is a complicated person.

So Mom showed up the other day,

sitting, chatting about nothing important (something she hasn’t done for at least a year.)   I said “Stay and hang out while I feed the kids lunch.”  She was on a fast of some sort, or I would have offered her the PB&J I was feeding the children.

And she blurted out that she wanted to be my friend.

… Heavy    silence    ensued …

I felt in a moment, as she threw out those words, that time stood still.  And as she waited for my response it took

f o r e v e r.

She threw down her wishes as if everything, the past, had just magically disappeared.

A whirlwind of panic blew into my kitchen and was swirling around in my stomach, and heart, and head.   Many things were going through my head.  I am afraid of my mother —  that she’ll need me too much.  And I am afraid that she will reject me.  I am frightened by her power over me.  Should I be ecstatic that she wants to be my friend?  Remember the not small part of the equation where she is constantly forgetting important things?  Not telling me about a mother’s day lunch out with my sister.  Her calling and turning me down on one of the kid’s concerts at the last-minute.  Feeling too tired to come to my photography exhibit.  Forgetting the Artist Showcase at my church where I had things on display.  There are hundreds of occasions like these which I try to forget because it hurts.  Over and over it hurts and I tell myself  “Do not care.  Again.”  These things are unimportant in the larger scheme of life and yet they are a part of why I am so afraid of her.

I’m afraid and I somehow convey this to her as we sit there at my kitchen table.  Then tears slowly begin to slip down her face.  And as they start to really flow she says something that utterly blows me away.

“It is so difficult to get old.”  She continues that it’s frightening.  It’s unpredictable.  It’s simply hard to face going places alone, not knowing if she’ll find handicapped parking and be forced to walk a long distance.  And at times this completely overwhelms her and she can’t face it.  So she cancels.

I cannot express adequately to you now how huge this is for me. I have taken her actions as personal rejection of me, as her daughter.  Her absences.  Cancellations and no shows.  And rather than tell me the truth she’s used sickness and fatigue as the excuse.   Why?  Why do these things ever happen?  We are all a strange mixture of motives, fears and desires.   She hates that she’s getting old.  She’s afraid.  She lives alone and what if we decide she can’t handle that any more.  What if she decides she can’t?  What will it mean for her independence?  For all of us?  As she sits in her condo, comfortable and safe it’s just easier to not go out.

Growing old is hard on one’s ego.  And so uncool don’t you think?  The loss of privacy.  Dignity.  Independence.  God help us all as we walk toward this with our parents.  May we love them and listen well.  Take enough time to ask the right questions and have discernment as we move ahead.

I have felt that my mom doesn’t want to me in her life, not really.  This comes out of my dysfunction certainly but has been based on actual events.

And it turns out that she just needs a ride. This is a  new place for us to travel to in our relationship — a place of dependence and fragility — but a step closer to one another.

Splintered Truth


Originally uploaded by M e l o d y

This is not the end.

It is just another day.

A bitter clutching.

Somehow she will love, enough.

And will continue to speak truth.

Their voices are her voices

which hold power for her, only

if she listens

to the clutch of their ancient lies.

Murky in message, mighty in corruption.

She will not surrender to their splintered truths.

This is just another day

to hold on to her children’s laughter,

to their questions, to their need.

These she grabs on to fiercely

and holds on another day;

telling herself the truth found in wanting

[laughter, questions, need]

more than ancient lies and madness.

She is strong.

As she speaks there is found a certainty

in the granules of this goodness, pure and sweet.

this epic grief

this Epic Grief

September 13, 2009


Minutes tick.  Limbs twitch.  Covers are tangled & awry.  I think I am almost under, when I realize that I have been awake for hours.

It is too late.  Sleep eludes me.

In the darkness I lay back again.  And again.  And  again.

My mind full of  shadows; ripples of awareness & memory.  Weariness.  Need. Needing anything besides my irrational, wild, anxious thoughts. Have I always felt so lonely?  Have I always had this epic grief?

It seems as if I was born lonely, afraid, ashamed. distrusting.  My heart in pieces.   One of my strongest childhood memories.

But hold on.  Pain must have a beginning.

Was it there before I was?  There in the hearts of my mother and father?

Was it as real to them? The waking dream.  The dreamless sleep.  A quiet pulse, ever present.

Did they pass this madness on to me, through blood and tears of a generational grief?

I am sleepless and crazy with sadness that in times past I would have gladly drowned with alcohol, or any other intoxicant.

But dry, I am left with this epic grief.

Days and years. Years and days of working at sobriety.

Because dry, without the work, I am simply left amongst my dreams.

Left

with this epic grief.


Writing poetry helps me feel something to its extreme.  To go as far as the madness allows and still remain sane.  And then — somehow — come back to a place of semi-sanity.  It helps me to write.  And I hope that it helps someone else as well.  I think that is why I share though some would say “A cry for help.” Ha, ha.  That is so.

Phantom Love

You can’t just say you love me. Love isn’t words.
Love is time — spent over the span of a life.
Words are a phantom love.

I can’t mend your hurting heart.
I don’t even know why I should try.
Empty, adrift. You are searching for something.
Crying out, and I hear you.
But I cannot help.

You can’t just say I’m sorry.

Love is known through a lifetime of being, searching, knowing.
Love is acceptance. Endurance. Forgiveness.
Each of these is evident — if you love.

What is it that I am to you?
Do you feel you cannot provide for me the things I crave?
I am fully aware and accepting, that I am the woman you both shaped over time.
Strong. Capable. Faithful.
Afraid. Careful. Wounded.

You don’t have to heal me, that task is all mine.
All you have to do is BE,
with me,
in my life.

You can’t just say you love me – show me, you don’t regret, that I am.

Show me.
Just be.
With me.

 

 

(May 21, 2008)