It’s a strange thing to pay someone to be a safe listener. And yet I frequently recommend that people do just that. I cannot overstate the work of gifted and learned therapists–to be sure, it is not only being a … Continue reading
I have a half-written grant proposal collecting dust in my computer. It talks about the dream of sitting under someone much farther along, who is not emotionally invested in your identity and protection in the way that your mother, or even grandmother, is, and should be. But she is someone who still knows, and who, because of her completed steps, can guide or understand or cushion your own. The brewing idea is one of intergenerational community of sisterhood, that debunks the mommyblogs and echo chambers we fall into, because like tends to like, and our technological toys silo us as much as they can connect. She is the see-er. The voice missing in our confounding mental loads as women doing it all, fighting competition, pushing justice, weighing obligations and avoiding high fructose corn syrup.
I have this idea of learning from older women, not in spurts but in rhythm, and making it more possible for others, because of the incredible women who are already a part of my life. But in practice, I’ve struggled to do this.
Because the ladies in the shallow end at swimming lessons have also recently given birth. The women in my grad classes were career-minded, seeking first mortgages, internships, and noble peace prizes. The ladies on my feed are in the trenches, reaching out in the nano seconds of alone time our thirties give us for a like, a laugh, a lunch break. And it’s hard to stop and visit with my senior neighbor when the whining pulls. It’s hard to interview and take long walks and listen to senior women when I am chasing, scrambling, and budgeting every minute and dollar.
There is another voice I have missed, in addition to the one far in front of me. It is my own. To a lesser degree, to a smaller detriment, but still. Interruption is my norm. Bending and adjusting is the plan. I forget things when I only have to think about myself at this point; I am more awkward and uncertain the fewer moods rely on my preparation. I have sought the help of professionals and brutal/beautiful friends to help remember me before us.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but women throughout history have traded their very lives for the idea that there is nothing more important than nurturing others. In some ways, I believe that. In other ways, I know that idea, unexamined, threatens my sanity and health. –Courtney Martin
I promote solitude in theory, primarily as a mode through which we hear God’s heart, not just our own. Not to brag but I have exercised it in 90-120 minute parcels irregularly over the past 11 years of adulthood/marriage/motherhood. The last time I had solitude that was not measured in minutes, but days, in which I was not completely anxious, was probably when I was 20. I am soon turning 33. I tried taking an overnight solitude retreat a few years ago. An alarm kept going off and there were no curtains in the sweet cottage nestled in the woods. I was officially citified by that point and completely distracted and edgy. Barely slept. When I was 20, I had 48 hour of solitude on a rock face, with a clif bar, a journal and bible, a sleeping bag, a headlamp, a water pump and bottle, and some sunscreen. It was one of the best things of college.
Tomorrow I embark on both a time of sitting for extended times with a woman much farther along than me, and being alone with my self and God, for not a matter of hours, but days. And I have no idea what to expect. It is a completely different situation than the past, oh, all my years, and I’m so grateful and humbled in advance, but also have trepidation. What does a day look like without a deadline and nap schedule and bell system? What DO I want to eat for breakfast, that meal that always eludes me? What will God show me as I sit, awkwardly quiet and un-needed? How will my life of planning, devoting, working, fighting for causes, and connecting with friends leave me to be, or inform who I am, away?
This summer has left some scars and presented good gifts. The school year is in full swing now. I remember that feeling of September, up in Oregon when we’d start school after Labor Day. Excitement. Unknowns. Courage and nerves, holding hands. Tiredness from that summer still on our shoes. This kind of feels like all of that. September is about diving in, and stepping out, and back to school. This year, me too.
It was a startling and somehow calming thing to see our therapist cry when he heard about our past year.
We had made the appointment with him after a long hiatus, knowing that we would be facing some big life decisions and wanting a trusted, third, outside party to help us, the not-marriage-experts, maneuver the new waters. Little did we know when we set up the date that we would soon be thrown into a battle that would mean losing her in the least ideal way, losing trust in two powerful systems in our city, and losing our energy for the initial discernment process that had led us to this new round of counseling.
At this particular meeting, we were about a month and a half into the new reality. Since we had seen him, we had lost a dear friend suddenly, our organization had gone through major shifts, we had lost another dear friend after a long battle, we had completed the foster licensing process, become a family of five, participated extensively with reunification services, and lost our first placement after over 8 months in the middle of the night due to an abuse allegation that was never substantiated by anyone or anything but that we would never be able to overthrow. Yes, it was like a bad run-on sentence.
We had never seen him cry before.
Appropriately enough, we felt like crazy people sitting there in the therapist’s office. The stories and accounts of the last two months, as abbreviated and clear as we tried to make them, were just too fantastic, too ridiculous to assume the listener’s full belief. And yet the stories, as is the case for many people, were all we had; they were all we ever had, even beyond that point in time. His tears suggested that he might just believe us, even if he didn’t understand all the details, and we were surprised and quieted when over and over, other people believed us too…just like he did.
Looking back, I think that even our official accuser believed us more than his original informant. I think that the majority of the folks in the department who wrote up neutral, shrug-of-the-shoulders-type reports about us believed us. I think that there were only a few people whose judgment and wounds and defensiveness about God-knows-what were for whatever reason allowed to drive everything into the shit hole we found ourselves in. Paranoia, fear, and vindictive constructs carry much farther than the majority of the reporting people’s well-wishes, friendly asides, and personal opinions. This came in to play again and again when professionals from top to bottom would tell us that something went very wrong but they could do absolutely nothing to help right it. That old saying, “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” (Burke) became a lot less inspiring and a lot more painful.
As the months rolled by and we continued to fight for the truth at every opportunity, the battle never died out. We thought many times, this week, the outcome of this event, this correspondence, will determine if there’s a way through or if the door is shut completely on truth or if we are completely done with this. And None of the Above would happen. There would always be some unbelievable (usually bad) development, a way to challenge, a person to write, or a returned piece of mail…something. It was an incredibly drawn out journey of disappointment. And so the stories continued.
Along this journey we became different people. It was the brand of pain and wondering and futile fighting that leaves you grappling with a new self and a new orientation for a long time; it would take a long time to get acquainted with Who Are We Now in the wake of this tale. What meaning could be gained, what stones could now be turned, what scars were incurred as a result of withstanding (surviving?), this mysterious suffering.
She was never far from our minds even when the battle went beyond any hope of her return, however temporary the return would be. In the middle of all the paperwork for truth, I worked on her baby book so I could send it on a hopeful journey to its rightful owner: her. I remember writing on one page about how her biological mother loved her, shown first by carrying her and giving birth to her—something my own mom has told me about mine. Childbirth is so messy, so violent and private and so terribly long, no matter how short it is. The process can literally and figuratively scar you for life. The product is unknown and scary—a new person who will definitely not meet everyone’s expectations, a stranger who will now rule your life.
Eventually, I found the strength to look at this injustice through a lens of re-birth—of change and new and now what. I had to crawl back to that looking glass many many times as the aftershocks of the ordeal continued throughout our family.
I think this crawling was possible because our therapist cried.
Because people believed us, in our own circles and beyond. People believed the accounts of injustice, the ludicrous pain and the asinine journey. When we felt crazy and we wished we were making it all up, they knew we were not. They bore witness to it, they knew we were wronged, that she was wronged, and that it was not the end of the story. Resurrection people waited for what would come next and we were allowed not only our stories but our slow, changing rebirth.
There must not be a better way to suffer.