Day 221 “The Soft Overcomes the Hard”

I learned about love from movies, and novels, and my parents’ marriage.

Love Story etched in my heart the message that true love endures hardship, and illness, and even death.

Wuthering Heights taught me that love can be dark and punishing, but it is inevitable: not to be ignored.

These were stories of passion and romance, and I yearned for that feeling from the age of eleven.

My parents taught me about the kind of love I wanted to avoid: love born of convenience, fraught with oppression, fear, and denial. “He loves me in his own way,” my mother would say, and I despised her for being weak.

“You are waiting for your white knight to come and rescue you,” one of my high school friends told me. “It’s never going to happen.” Her words stung. I was too young to see the faults in my own brand of idealism.

I married the first chance I got. He was classically handsome, loved to dance, and girls flocked to be around him. I couldn’t believe he was mine. We were nineteen. When the pale pinks and blues of our wedding day faded, reality set in. Unable to hold down a job, my charmer slept till two o’clock each afternoon, then moved from bed to couch, where he consumed packs of cigarettes and watched television. He seldom came to the marital bed, but when he did, he made it clear that it was my fault he stayed away – he despised me. “Life is so easy for you,” he would lament. Working two jobs and running our household did not feel easy to me, and I told him so. The marriage was over before our second wedding anniversary.

“You couldn’t keep it up,” my friend told me. “You were burning out.”

My second husband swept me off my feet with sweet talk and limousine rides. “I don’t want to just live with somebody,” he told me. I interpreted that as a proposal, although he never actually said the words: Marry Me. We’d stay awake for hours and talk about our dreams, and before I could blink we were living together, then married, and having children. He was in a hurry, you see, to ‘have it all’ before he turned thirty. I didn’t see just how convenient I was.

The courtship ended once we were married, and I soon felt very alone, tending house and children. “At least he’s not abusive,” I’d tell myself. “Could be worse.” Even though I couldn’t see it, I was doing the dance my mother taught me, denying that something was missing. I wanted so much for love to work, to be a real thing, that I was a part of, and he played on that, telling me how “if I’d been more loving”, I would be something that I was not. In the end, when he left me, I was convinced that I was not good enough for love.

“You were dying inside,” my friend kindly told me. “I watched your spirit dwindle away.”

I grieved, then raged, but eventually found level ground, where, for the first time in my life I considered loving myself. It was a broken relationship, for sure, and I had to start with simple things, such as: What did I like to eat?

Through therapy, I realized that in trying to avoid my parents relationship, I had actually just recreated a different version. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck!

Loving myself, I decided would be the opening for true love to enter my life. So I played a game with myself, a game I called: What would it feel like?
I bought myself flowers, and allowed myself to feel the simple pleasure that such a gesture offered. When responsibility and obligation started to wear me down, I’d draw a bubble bath and pour myself a glass of wine, imagining that this is what love would do: offer solace rather than complaints. I even went as far as to visualize what it would feel like to be truly loved, not for what I could do for another, but because I am.

Accepting myself, just the way I am, and my life along with it, brought a sense of inner peace and I stopped longing for more. Maybe, I thought, this was the love I was looking for all along.

When Thor showed up in my life, it was already full, and his presence threw me off balance. I allowed the excitement for a couple of weeks, and then, to quote him, ” I kicked him to the curb.” I didn’t need this.

And yet I did.

Curiousity got the better of me, and so I invited him back in.

“These are the ground rules,” I told him at the beginning. “We will hang out for a year and see how it goes. There will be no talk of ‘us’, and no plans for the future. After a year, we’ll see how it goes.”

“What you see, is what you get.” Thor shrugged. “I am afraid I’m pretty vanilla.”

With Thor’s compliance, a friendship began to take shape, as well as a genuine, mutual, fondness. Most importantly, with Thor, I felt appreciated and acknowledged.

We married in a small, personal ceremony, exchanging our own, heartfelt vows. And on our honeymoon night, as I crawled into his open arms, he uttered the words that summed up all my years of searching:

“Let me be your soft place to land. No matter what life throws at you, or how harsh life can be, know that coming home will always be safe.”

Day 219 “Return to Emptiness”

“We’ll give him a few more minutes, shall we?” The kindly old man seated across from me, crossed one leg over the other and sat back as if he had all the time in the world to wait.

“The thing is…I mean…,” I hung my head in shame. “I don’t think he’s coming.”

“Ah, yes.” He picked up his note pad, uncrossed and leaned forward. “I suspected as much.”

“He went away for the weekend, you see, and he hasn’t returned yet.” How could I tell him that my husband left on Friday, and this was Monday, and I hadn’t heard a word from him? “He knew about the appointment,” I scrambled to make an excuse, “he just wasn’t sure if he’d make it back on time.”

“Do you think he wanted to be here?”

The question hit me hard. Tears caught in my throat and the best I could muster was a silent shake of the head.

“I’ve been doing this job for a long time, and I really don’t see any point of beating about the bush,” the psychiatrist said reaching for a tissue. “The fact is you and I both know he never had any intention of coming here today. He’s left it in my lap to tell you the marriage is over.”

It was the first of December, and when my partner of seventeen years did return home, he confirmed the doctor’s conclusion.

“We’ll wait till after Christmas,” he declared matter-of-factly. “That way we won’t ruin the children’s holiday.”

I hadn’t seen it coming. The shock was replaced with a overwhelming numbness that spurred me into robotic overdrive. Maintain a semblance of normalcy, I kept telling myself. No one must know! Secretly, I think I was hoping that if I acted like nothing was happening, then nothing would happen.

Inside, I was a mess. I had built all my hopes and dreams around this man. Seventeen years is a long time to commit your life to another, and frankly, I didn’t know what else to do.

The days passed, and in a fog, I trudged through, looking for meaning to the madness that surrounded me.

I just want some joy in my life, I prayed. How do I feel alive again?

The answer came during an ordinary outing with my children to the local library. I loved the library, because after I’d settled the kids in with some books of their own, I could search for myself. “Read; it will help keep you distracted,” my psychiatrist had advised. No arguments there.

Abandoned on a partially empty shelf, a little book caught my eye. “Everyday Sacred” was the title and the picture was of a large, red, earthenware bowl. I picked it up and flipped to the preface. It read:

bowl

I scooped the book up, then my children, and waited anxiously for the moment to explore Sue Bender’s words.

My soul resonated with the analogy of the bowl. My bowl had suddenly been emptied, and I would have to create a whole new beginning. Bender described the spiritual act associated with a begging bowl, in which the bearers would have to go into the streets and beg for their daily meals. The lesson: to learn to accept what we are given, each day, and to cherish all offerings. (My simplified version.)

Something inside me sang. I wanted to learn to live with gratitude and the joy of beholding the sacred in everyday.

Plans for the move started to take shape. As my husband worked from home, the children and I would move out. We found a townhouse not far from their school, and I ran into an old friend who was in the process of downsizing – she furnished the house for us. It was almost as if the Universe was stepping forward to buffer the blow. While my heart still ached, and I could barely manage to eat for the stress of it all, I also felt strangely comforted. My proverbial bowl continued to flow with abundance, and I just kept giving thanks.

Moving day was drawing near and the last thing I had to do was to arrange for a new home phone. Something in that act felt final, and as I hung up from the customer service rep, I put my head down on the table before me and felt the full weight of grief. There would be no going back. My life as I’d known it was over.

Look at what it spells. I swear a little voice whispered in my ear. “What what spells?” I spoke aloud, looking around for the source, but no answer came. Convinced I had really lost it, I turned my attention back to my new phone number. I would have to memorize it.

2 – 6 – 9 – 5 were the last four digits. 2, 6, 9, 5, I repeated in my head. 2695. Could this spell something?
I checked my keypad. And there it was:

b – o- w- l.

With no steady income and three mouths to feed, I had live with what each day brought, sometimes hardship, and sometimes blessings. It was a humbling, yet soul inspiring time of my life.

* * *

It’s been seventeen years since Susan Bender’s writings came into my life, but the concept still resides with me, bringing me comfort.

Now learning to live with chronic illness, my life has been once again emptied of the sense of purpose and routine that I had become so attached to.

I have returned to emptiness, and because of it, I now have a whole vessel waiting to be filled, and each day, I take what I’ve been given, and give thanks – for once again the simplest of things have become – every day –  sacred.

(Sue Bender’s book is available on Amazon. Click here for a copy.)