Oh, The Places We Go

In one week I am informed that two of my friends have cancer.  Another has died.  I’m at that age when really tough things happen at an increasing frequency – divorce, illness, death.  It’s happening all around me, but not currently to me.  So instead of the drama of utter despair, I have the luxury of a more detached melancholy.   A friend’s cancer reality will not change my day to day life, but it does change my view of the world.

Allowing myself to go to ‘that place’ – the deep fear place where the world is unsafe – is a slippery slope.  I fear I will be swallowed up by demons of all kinds and never climb out.  But go, I do, because it pulls me in.

I see myself sitting before God with childlike eyes and grown-up concerns.  I throw no tantrum, nor even ask for help.  I simply sit.  No questions come.  Perhaps because I know there is no answer – at least not one that I will understand or agree with.

All of my beliefs and convictions about life are pulled out of me and laid on a virtual table before me.  I sort through them, easily discarding those that suddenly, no longer have value.  Like the one that makes me floss every day and fret over the dirt on the floor.  The rest of the pieces I re-arrange, trying to make them fit together.  These trinkets are an awkward excuse for a belief system.

My child sitting beside me calls to me from what seems like a distance.  I catch myself daydreaming and scoop up the pieces scattered in my mind, tucking them away in a safe place.  I will examine them again, perhaps later, when the kids are in bed and my confidant comes home.

For now, I will continue my superfluous day wearing a new set of glasses.  Not the rose-colored ones, nor the sunglasses.  Today, I see clearly, almost too clearly – like when the eye doctor adds drops to your eyes that dilate them.  If only I could block out the light.  This new vision is just too much.

One week later, I return to a more comfortably numb state of being.  The “meaning of Life and Death” is not in every sip of coffee anymore.  My normal, slightly cloudy, vision is back.  I walk down the street called “My Life”.  It is flat terrain for now.  But I can’t help looking  back to see what it was that I kept tripping on.  And to be sure that whatever it was, is not following me.

I. Need. Help.

(Dedicated to ShaZam)

In my twenties, I practiced extreme independence and self-sufficiency.  I didn’t need anyone.  I could handle myself, thank-you-very-much.  From changing the oil in my car, to teaching myself how to sew, there was nothing I wouldn’t take on.

This fierce ‘hear me roar’ persona is one of the qualities that attracted my husband, I’m told.  Looking back, I must have appeared to be quite a catch – a girl who wants to be with a man but has no intention of depending on him.  Husband, bless his thick skin, wasn’t even put off by my frequent declarations of independence.  Me: “I don’t need you, you know.”  Husband: “Yes, dear.  You’ve made that clear.”

To my husband’s amusement, I would throw my 110 pounds into impossible tasks like loosening lug nuts on a tire or carrying roofing shingles up a ladder, refusing to accept help.  He only offered unsolicited help once.  His genuine concern over my safety was met with a Hulk-like reaction.  I didn’t quite sprout muscles or turn green, but my voice did deepen as I spit venom in my husband’s direction.

It’s comical now – my staunch opposition to assistance.   I naively equated dependence with weakness.  My black and white thinking saw no middle ground between complete independence and helplessness.  I wouldn’t let anyone help me for fear that I would be surrendering my power to them.

This supremely invulnerable alter ego continued into motherhood.  I tried to do it all – with a smile.  When number two baby came along seventeen months after number one,  and husband left for a business trip one week later, I finally fell off the scaffolding.  Cradling a colicky baby and a screaming toddler I cried into the phone, “I can’t do it.  I. Need. Help.” …..and the walls of the city crumbled.

The image of invincibility that I had built up was, ironically, as delicate as glass.  What looked like strength was actually weakness.   An attempt to cover up fear.

These days, I hand my husband a jar before I try to open it.  I take my car to the mechanic for an oil change.  I ask a child for help with the computer.   And yet, I feel stronger than ever.

I’ve learned that I do need people to help me through life.  And they need me.  We are inter-dependent.  Us people, we are gifts to each other.  When we wall ourselves off, we do so at our own peril.  And we rob each other of the gift of being able to help.

I still pride myself on my ability to care for myself.  I like being independent.  But I also enjoy knowing that I can ask for, and accept, the love and kindness that others have to give.

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