The important thing, the reason I am writing, is that despite the phantom nature of “control” in this life, I believe that “calm” is a real and attainable goal. So is balance.
I am honored that you have asked me to help once more with your annual charity project. The need for the help you are offering to people who live in deep poverty is keen, and I have always felt called to give what I have to those who are lacking.
I want to help, and I will, but I am haunted by your casual reference to me as “Suzy Sunshine” By which I am well aware that you meant that I am not, categorically, a “go-along-get-along” type in the midst of chaos.
The past two years with this project have involved a whorl of chaos, last-minute changes, and an almost gleeful unwillingness to make plans and stick to them. Some folks thrive on the edge, hell, I myself have been known to feel more alive, more vibrant when my body courses with adrenaline and it seems that I am razor-sharp, alert to every change in the wind and prepared to strategize and start over if it’s necessary to get the job done.
These days, “living on the edge” is so unappealing as to be repulsive to me. I have lost so much in the past two years that my life feels post-apocalyptic on a good day. I have seen both of my parents die. I have cared for my father as he grew weaker and died. I have emptied the house in which they lived, in which I grew up, in four short months and then turned it over to strangers. I am so very, very tired.
I’ve lived long enough to understand that control is an illusion. I could not prevent my parents’ illnesses, or their deaths. I could not save their house. I could not prevent a tree from falling on my own house, or compel a parade of contractors to keep their word and fix our dangling gutters or the gaping hole in our roof. I have, with what I consider to be fairly good grace, soldiered on, doing my job, seeing my friends, and making a comfortable and loving home for my husband and my son.
Although there are days of bottomless grief, and mornings of waking from dreams of my father so real that I forget he is lost to me, I am living my life.
The important thing, the reason I am writing, is that despite the phantom nature of “control” in this life, I believe that “calm” is a real and attainable goal. So is balance. Long before The Great Losses I was an introvert, a specter of Irish melancholy incapable of saying “no” to any request without pangs of guilt. I allowed everyone’s opinions, needs and imperatives to engulf me in waves that kept me perpetually off balance, knocking me down again and again as I struggled to reach the smooth shore of respite and renewal. If other people could live on adrenaline, I reasoned, my inability to sustain such an existence was proof of my laziness, my inadequacy, my weakness.
Also, I kept reading memes on Facebook that said things like “say yes to life!”
If I said “no,” because I was worn out, or needed some time to bake bread and listen to music alone in my house, I was clearly missing out on something. Other People knew the secret, and the secret clearly involved jumping in without hesitation, even when everything inside of me urged restraint.
My own, private apocalypse has taught me this: right now I am healing, and although I cannot hide from the daily ups and downs of living in the world, I can choose not to add unnecessary craziness. I am finding a way to be in this new world, connecting again with the people I love, and with the healing and awesome power of nature.
I know that weeks of frantic texts, calls, last-minute changes and inconsistency related to this project will leave me first anxious, then angry, and finally numb and disconnected. I crave calm. If there was a legitimate reason to live in crisis mode (like a zombie attack or a flood) I would make it work. The fact that your organization is happiest in the midst of chaos does not fall into that category.
I don’t have to do it. I can say “no” to the things that are crazy-making, and offer the help that I am physically, mentally and spiritually able to give freely, lovingly without pain. I don’t have to turn into “Suzy Sunshine,” and it doesn’t make me” unreasonable,” “grumpy,”” difficult” or any other negative thing if I know my limits and require that they are respected.
It’s not healthy to hide from life, to shut down and miss what is lively and beautiful. It is also true that some of the best healing comes from helping someone else.
I want to help, and I will help. This year, though, I ask that my own deep need for calm, for balance and for respite be respected. Those are my medicines, my talismans against the unnecessary opening of wounds only beginning to knit.
I need them. And if you want me, if, as you say, I am invaluable to this work, then I am also worth cherishing and preserving.
Even if I’m grumpy.
Even if I set limits on how many times I will re-jigger everything for no really good reason.
Even if that means leaving me out of the chaos,
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: James Jordan on Flickr