My niece, Susannah, found an archived Decatur, Illinois newspaper article about an accident my mother was in at the age of 22. The name of the driver was a man my mother would marry the following year. Another article revealed that man drowned in Vegas at the age of forty-eight. My brother was sixteen when this stranger died. He wouldn’t know the man was his father until years later.
The info triggered an uncomfortable realization; I didn’t give my mother enough credit for her difficult life.
Or, my brother for his disjointed life.
Or, so many others for the painfully broken roads they have traveled.
Maybe the realization will help me be nicer to my fellow screwed-up traveling partners.
How calloused of me to expect human beings to be “normal” when most of us have gone through debilitating pain.
How naïve of me to expect people to be “mature” when most of us were raised by flawed and confused adults.
How short-sighted of me to be intolerant of people who are trying their hardest to make sense of their own crazy circumstances.
This morning, in my meditation, I listened to the soundtrack of Johnny Cash’s story, Walk the Line. Never a country music fan, I am surprised that the movie was so inspiring and that the lessons in his story still brought a big smile to my soul.
A few of the lessons I learned from Walk the Line (Johnny Cash University):
- childhoods are filled with tragic loses that are sometimes very difficult to unearth and process
- our untutored coping methods are usually destructive
- messy lives still tell the truth
- if we sing the song no one else is singing we will bring hope to others
- hang on ’til the end
This is funny…except when sticking to our story keeps us stuck in a punishing rut.
After speaking to a group of people about changing their lives for good, inevitably, someone always tells me how their situation is different and they cannot be held accountable for using the techniques I have offered. Although disappointed, I am not surprised. For decades, I was that person.
How easily I let myself off the hook! And how easily I told the story that stole the relief I desperately needed.
All the more reason for regularly examining my stories.
There are days.
There are days when I come face to face with the ugly side of life; when my heart asks, “So where is your God now?”
In order to survive, I have to do a quick tour of the inexplicable things that have happened to me over the years: times when…
- resources have come out of nowhere
- people were extraordinarily generous
- pain-relief came in the nick of time
- I was miraculously rescued from threatening circumstances
- life was overwhelmingly beautiful
Then, I can relax into what I don’t understand.
“If change doesn’t feel uncomfortable, it probably isn’t really change.” – John Maxwell
I had the unfortunate habit of challenging and resisting anyone who even hinted that I might need to change something. It was so insulting and painful. Maxwell suggests that the best way to avoid this discomfort is to repeat the following mantra:
- Change is personal: I need to change.
- Change is positive: I’m able to change.
- Change is profitable: I will be rewarded by change.
These words have changed the way I think about the pain associated with change.
And thinking differently is always the first step to relief.
It took me decades to forgive myself for not being perfect.
During those decades, I rode a roller-coaster operated by conditional self-love: plunging to painfully low lows when I didn’t approve of myself, then, climbing to unsustainably high highs when I did.
Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements reminded me to “be impeccable with my word.” But, it wasn’t until recently that I applied that to the words I spoke to myself, understanding that talking badly about myself, to myself, was an act of self-betrayal.
The image below has inspired me to sit still long enough each day to find the unconditional love necessary for staying off of a “roller-coaster life.”
Happy Friday the 13th.
No fear. You are in control of the ride.
Today, a women working in a bakery saw me. She saw me as a valuable being and not just another customer in a long line of customers, or another obligation in a long line of obligations. It was a rare and special treat…sweeter than the cake she helped prepare.
There are a few things in life that refresh our souls in a manner that nothing else can. I had two of them today: the first crisp and cloudless day of Autumn, and an encounter with a remarkable human being in an unremarkable place.
When things are bad in our lives, we have this choice: we can fix it or live with it. Or, we can poison everyone else with it.
That term, “sweet poison of self-pity,” came from Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy. The personification of Philosophy comes to him in his lament over his unjust imprisonment saying, “let me now wipe his eyes that are clouded with a mist of mortal things,” reminds him of the fates of Seneca, Socrates, and other noble sufferers, then inspires Boethius to live above his circumstances.
English author, Neil Gaiman, has a prescription for getting through anything; Make Good Art. (If you haven’t listened to his funny graduation speech, Google it.) Ultimately, the message is…we can take charge of our lives wherever they are…and actually enjoy doing it.
Or, we can drink more sweet poison and succumb to misery.
Be aware, though, we are poisoning people we love in the process.