February 25, 2014

Bending, Not Breaking.


So yesterday, I hit bottom, in a shiny, white hospital bathroom with a sign that said “Ever-Kleen!”, I found my brain scanning frantically for a source of help or comfort.

I have, lately, been on a path to strengthen my roots and make myself solid. It felt, in that white, artificially-scented room like I was a million miles away from anything safe, sturdy or capable of sustaining life.

Most of the time it doesn’t bother me that I don’t believe in a deity who is watching over me, waiting to swoop in and lift me up in some incandescent blaze of faith and love. I understand the appeal of that kind of belief, and I absolutely don’t judge anyone who can sustain it; I just couldn’t.

I believe in lots of “things unseen.” I believe in miracles, I believe there are many things that science doesn’t know, and I believe in the efficacy of prayer. I can’t look at this world and see any evidence that there is some being who hangs around waiting to intervene on my behalf (or, frankly, anyone else’s).

Because if there was such a being, how would it decide who to help, or when? Would it only help its own people? Would only help its own people if they were “good,” and if they followed all the rules—The Holy Bible, The Old Testament, The Qur’an? Would it take petitions like Santa Claus, doling out cancer cures, marriage proposals and job offers based on requests?

If there were such a being, and it helped people based on some kind of justice, it would help me. I think. It would come to me in a dream or some kind of vision and say “you’ve done a great job, but you can relax now because the reinforcements have arrived!”

It’s been 14 months since my mother died. Last month my husband lost his job. My father, who was already depressed and having financial problems found a lump where his cancer had been. Yesterday, he had a biopsy.

It’s not looking very good. It’s looking possible that I will, in the space of two years, lose both of my parents. Which would devastate me because while I am doing the work of establishing my own roots, stabilizing myself and learning to stand on my own two feet, the people who gave me life were my foundation and support for a long, long time.

And after the biopsy, I lost it. In that exceptionally clean bathroom.

I see no “good” solutions or outcomes. I can’t make him well, or make my mother come back to life. I could help with the financial stuff if took a full time job tomorrow, but if I did that, who would be with my father on this final journey?

I survived the loss of my mother partly because I knew that I had been there every time it mattered. I had driven her to appointments, indulged her whims, and tried to show her every day how very much I loved her. I don’t know that I can not do the same for my father.

Even if it is the objectively smart thing to do, I don’t know that I can take away physical love and presence in exchange for more money. Because at the end of the day, love and presence are the things I believe in, the things that really have the power to transform and to heal.

In the bathroom, I thought about Pema Chodron talking about our frantic need for “ground,” and how that ground is an illusion. Then I thought really awful things about how refreshing it would be if I actually had a psychotic break, and could just go to the hospital for a while and wear a bathrobe and take tranquilizers and watch TV in the Day Room.

But that would just the shift burden of suffering onto the people I love—which is totally not okay with me.

So there on the tile floor, I found myself wishing desperately for a savior. Or, more accurately, wishing I believed in a savior who could, even hypothetically join me there and zap me back into wholeness. You know, like “Shazam! You go, girl!!”

My mind filled with a kaleidoscope of prayers and chants, everything from the Lord being my Shepard and walking with me through the “valley of the shadows” to kirtan invocations of Ganesh, Shiva and Krishna. I remembered hymns, and the words of the Passover Haggadah thanking God for leading the Israelites to safety. I remembered Rodgers & Hammerstein, for God’s sakes— “You Never Walk Alone.”

All that faith, and trust and hope, and none of it for me.

No one was watching. No one had his or her eye on this particular sparrow. It was all me, in the cleanest bathroom in the Midwest, seeing no solutions and feeling no roots or even the illusion of “ground.”

I had to do something, because people were waiting for me. I did not magically “grow a pair” (of roots, that is) or buck myself up and take on the world. I did the only thing I had left: I bent so that I would not break.

I will admit right here and now, maybe like a crazy person, that I started chanting “Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha.” It made me feel connected, not to a shiny deity but to other humans, and to the universe. I was not calling on Ganesh to appear between the toilet and the changing table, not standing on imaginary “ground” but summoning the strength I needed from my bonds with all humans, past and present, and the power of their concerted energy. Holding me there. Seeing me through.

My breath slowed, my tears stopped, I bent.

Today, I am taking care of myself, maintaining my body and soul with healthy food and lots of rest until I’m ready to start growing again. Curried carrot soup and Rumi. A nap with a dog or two.

I’m riding this out one storm, one day,one chant, one breath at a time, bent but alive.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: James Yardley


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