I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Authenticity


My husband took this picture at my request. I wanted to show off the hat I had knit, my first knitting project in twenty years or so. I used to knit a lot. I airbrushed out most of the wrinkles. Not all of them, but enough to make me feel better about myself. You might think it's a funny expression, but I think it says a lot about who I am to myself.

I am naturally extroverted, I have been all my life. But I also am very unsure of myself, of who I am, of who I want to be. This may seem odd to hear from someone who is much closer to 70 than 60. I think of myself as a work in progress, but maybe everybody does.

When I retired from my job last year, I was sick of it: sick of giving everything, all my energy, to somebody else's vision. It's not that I didn't believe in it; I did and still do. But it was not my boogie. Since retirement meant that we (my husband and I) would no longer be covered under my medical insurance, I waited to retire until I turned 65 and could be covered, at least mostly, by Medicare. And I knew my boss well enough to know that I had to leave the region in order to become unavailable. After thirty years of working together, we had become a unit, and I knew Mickey would not find a replacement for what I provided him. I was right. The woman who was hired to take my place lasted less than six months.

When you leave your employment behind, your daily routine, it can be scary. Very scary. My husband, heretofore known as Smart Guy (he really is), researched places along the coast where we might retire. In the summer of 2006, we took a month to travel by car around the area we had found to be most likely. The non-negotiable criteria were: on the west coast, if possible; not a huge city but near enough for a day's travel; moderate climate; and with nearby mountains.

Our first pick was Bellingham, Washington, and that is where we are today. It's a good place. Our partnership leaves plenty of room for us to find our own path, and I knew without a doubt that the first thing I needed was to find a way to get exercise every day. My choice was to join the YMCA, which is a short bus ride into downtown Bellingham. A class every weekday morning at 9:00 am has become the center of each day. I have a reason to rise out of bed at my normal waking hour of 5:30 am. As a morning person married to a night person, we find ways to be ourselves and still have time together. This time can even take place early or late; although in close proximity to one another, we are often doing our own thing.

This rather rambling introduction is an attempt to find out who I really am. If I remove all the things that push and pull me in different directions, what is left over? If I look at life as a journey and I have almost arrived at my destination, is there something that didn't get expressed? My heart swells when I just ask the question. That's what I want to find out here, with these words.

There has been quite a bit of loss in my life: my two sons died before me; my parents are both gone and they died in their sixties; I have lost friends to illness and suicide and accidents. But even though many people in my situation would have gone under from these losses, that didn't happen to me. Sometimes I think it's because of an ability I have to turn away from loss and only let it in a little at a time. When your heart is broken, how do you patch it up? Some people grieve excessively; others turn to escapist activities. I think I just don't let it completely in, just enough to feel the crack but not enough to really believe it.

When I was 11 or 12, my dog Lassie, a beautiful collie, had to be given away, since we were moving to a new part of the country and my parents told me Lassie had to find a new home. We advertised and I remember her being taken to a nearby farm to live. I remember being in the car when we took her there, and she ran happily in the field and seemed happy enough. I don't remember being terribly upset. But my mother was. She could not understand why I wasn't grieving like she was. She cried and I didn't. She looked at me as if I were an alien from another planet. And then she said, "you are a monster, that's what you are!" A rift formed between us at that moment. I didn't know what she meant, but I believed it to be true. If I were supposed to grieve and didn't, couldn't, did that make me a monster?

Since that time, part of me has always believed that I am cruel and inhuman. I also didn't grieve for my old friends when I moved to a different town. My sister Norma Jean did, but I looked forward to a new start rather than backward. I was always happy to start fresh, to have another chance to be somebody else. To leave behind mistakes I'd made and people I'd hurt. Maybe this time, I'll be somebody better, more caring, more giving. More like other people who are not monsters. Maybe this time, nobody will find out about that ugly part of me.

9 comments:

Far Side of Fifty said...

I never thought of you as cruel and inhuman..sometimes people say things without thinking. Perhaps that is what happened with your Mother.

I think everyone grieves differently at different times in their lives. There is no right or wrong way to grieve..there is only your way. No one can grieve for you..you must do it alone..but you can hold the hand of a friend..:)

Buz said...

Monsters don't go out of their way to make sure all the little birds in the neighborhood have a nice heated birdbath from which to drink during the winter. Do they?

wendyytb said...

I think that kids who grow up in homes where they move about a lot get used to losses. (Dad gets transferred...there is yet one more loss...loss of friends, home and all that is familiar.) It is not that you feel a loss any less...You just learn how to turn off the feelings. It is called self-preservation.

I agree with Buz. He said it well.

Norma Jean said...

Another one of my favorite sayings certainly pertains to you..."Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending." Carl Bard.

I have always and will always admire your ability to look at things in your life as new adventures-to be experienced to the fullest.

Remember things Mom said were just opinions of Mom. Don't give them more power than they deserve (easy to say, hard to do).

Whitney Lee said...

Your descriptions of yourself make me think of my sister. You could be describing her. I've always admired her bold spirit and her continued optimism in the face of so much loss. It sounds as though you are the same.

Isn't it amazing how one memory can shape how you view yourself? I doubt that you weren't grieving over Lassie; it's more likely that you had, even then, found a way to compartmentalize your emotions. It sounds as though that ability has served you well considering all that you have endured. Many people would not have been able to function while going through that, and it sounds as if being able to compartmentalize allowed you to carry on.

I am enjoying this new blog; I know it's difficult sometimes to 'bare all.' I applaud you.

I read somewhere that we should not judge ourselves but rather examine each trait and question whether it serves us well anymore. If not, we should endeavor to let it go without having termed it (or ourselves) as bad.

Janean said...

first (((hugs)))).
second, i like your transparency.
thirdly, we've all said things when we're upset that we regretted terribly - sometimes the rest of our lives.
my initial take is that you're one of those individuals who focuses elsewhere instead of the loss. you grieve, just in tiny steps.

charmine. said...

D-Jan,I didn't know this blog was up & running....but I'm reading it now!Frankly,what people say to us when we are young,has an impact that lasts a lifetime.It either ruins us or we strive to prove them wrong.

I'm quite a strong girl too...always positive.I like who you are today.

The Retired One said...

I believe I have buried similar pain, because I also don't show sadness as often as I probably should or could.
I think it started when I was a child. Two things.
My dad was an Air Force lifer and that meant moving. A lot. My only other sibling was my older brother (3 1/2 years older than me). We are close, but I grew up not really being super close with him, like sisters do. I think the age difference was just enough to make us separate, almost like an only child feels.
Then, I had a strange experience when I was about 7 or 8. A Priest tried (unsuccessfully) to molest me. I ran away in time and told my parents, and it was all hushed up. They never spoke to me about it again, nor I to them. I think I learned early. Don't talk about feelings or show them.
We moved a few more times and my mother began to work outside the home. I was alone a lot as a child at home. My folks developed a drinking problem and went to bars a lot to socialize. They were never abusive, and I never wanted for anything, but I was lonely. To this day, I believe I developed a weight problem because of this. They were sometimes not home for dinner, so I would eat whatever junk food was in the house, and more than I probably should, due to loneliness.
But when life continued on and I lost friends and also eventually my parents, when sadness welled up in me, I would only let out a bare minimum of it. I know someday an eruption will happen of shocking proportions. It will probably be something I need to explore to help me lose the rest of the weight I want to lose.
I have reached my goal weight a few times,but end up putting some back on. I realize that I turn to food for comfort when I am sad, lonely or stressed and that it directly relates to some of what happened in my childhood.
Introspection like this is good for us.
Don't be surprised if something finally pushes you over the edge one last time (when you least expect it) and all the stuffed down feelings (that you pushed down, especially since that experience with your Mom saying that to you) finally DOES spill out...
and that really won't be such a bad thing,will it?
Because it will be real when it happens....

Grandma Nina said...

First of all, I love the hat you knit. You know how I love knitting! Good job.
I can't believe your mother would call you a monster. Look how one sentence can change a person's life. I think I can understand how and why you deal with loss the way you do. I really have only lost one grandmother and one grandfather in my life. But I saw my grandmother go through the loss of her son at a very young age along with her daughter in law and newborn grandson. Grandma, of course, fell apart. I remember doctors coming to her house giving her shots and pills to calm her down. But you know, I have always taken note to myself that in the last 44 years since then I have never seen her cry about any loss she's experienced since then. I always knew this was how she protected herself from the pain. I know some people even would describe her as being "cold". But I knew that she is the warmest most loving person I know. Now that she is dying at age 93 I've seen her cry a few times when she tells us that she wants to die. Life is so interesting, isn't it?