Imagine carrying a massive rock on our shoulders—not for 10 minutes, but for our whole life.
We do, in fact, haul such a “boulder” around willingly—believing that it will protect us from struggle. We take it for granted that we have to carry it. Over the years, we strengthen some muscles and strain others. When colleagues or friends become aware of it, some praise us for carrying such a burden, admiring our fortitude.
Others question us: “you might want to put that down?” But feeling like a martyr is part of our identity, now. We wonder what it would actually be like to put down this burden—after all, our life is accustomed and defined by our rock and its weight.
We ponder whether all of the stuff we teach others on the subjects of forgiveness, surrender, reconciliation, healing, miracles and recovery have any meaning or if it is all a bunch of cosmic foo foo.
I had written an article earlier in the year for The Good Men Project called The Mixed Blessings of A Paradoxical Marriage which explained the dynamics that existed in my nearly 12 year union that legally ended when my husband took his last breath on December 21, 1998.
I believe that relationships never do actually end; they just morph into another form.
In this case, we continued the conversation. Sometimes while going about my daily activities, he would chime in with commentary.
He still shows up in my dreams and not once has he actually acknowledged that he is dead. There were moments when in exasperation with picking up the fragmented pieces his death had left in my life and that of our then 11 year old son, I would scream “Being dead doesn’t let you off the hook, you know!”
I would look at photos of the two of us and wonder what soul contract we had signed that allowed us to do a dance that was sometimes graceful and also had us treading on each others’ toes.
I would celebrate what we had created together in the form of a magazine that launched me on my writing career, even while I complained about the demands it placed on me. Back then, I didn’t have the skills to run a business that I have since acquired.
I marvel at the turn of events that brought us together and the Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail that led to much that I have gratefully become as a result of taking on the roles of widow, minister, single parent, bereavement counselor, organ donor educator, free-lance journalist and author, following Michael’s transition.
There are times when I wonder how my life would have turned out had we not met and gone head to head and heart to heart over the years. More introspection than I had ever thought possible.
Because of some of the darker aspects of our relationship, I had harbored bitterness that seared right through my seemingly sweet façade, melting it into putrid puddles of burned rubber. I painted over the pain with glitter and gloss. I became The Bliss Mistress…the living, breathing emanation of unrestrained joy, denying that sometimes even The Bliss Mistress gets the blues.
Wanting to keep up appearances made the rock even heavier. The longer I carried it, the more I fused into it. I also used it as justification for staying single all these years. The fear of re-creating the challenges was stronger than the desire to have a relationship, even though, ironically, the majority of my professional life centers around human interaction.
A myriad of emotions swirled about, calling to mind the game Barrel of Monkeys. You know how it is when you try to pick up one monkey with the tail of the other and you sometimes grab two or three at a time? Love was connected to loss, was linked to pain, was attached to regret, was tethered to fear.
The ripples continue to impact my life and that of my son who is now 27. He has encouraged letting go and forgiving what I can’t change. He has, in his wisdom, reframed his father’s attitudes and behaviors, attributing them to his childhood experiences that he feels molded him. He does, however, hold me to a higher standard, since my own formative years in no way resembled those of my husband. We are still working on that one.
On December 21st, symbolic as the Winter Solstice, the darkest and longest night of the year, in addition to heralding the return of the light, as well as the 16th anniversary of Michael’s passing, I found myself finally willing to lay it down.
Not only was it becoming far too cumbersome, it was robbing me of my ability to allow love to enter. A certain numbness had settled in and had rendered me unable to feel fully alive. You know how some people say that they are sick and tired of being sick and tired? It was like that.
Most Sunday mornings, I attend services at an interfaith community called Circle of Miracles. I have been going there since 2001 and feel a sense of family among those who walk through the doors. Many people perceive me as the rock itself that others can lean on. They see the shiny mask, because it had become part of my chosen identity.
A precious few have peered behind it.
Yesterday, it came off, melted away by the drenching and cleansing tears that followed my declaring that enough was enough. I asked them for their support in revealing the real and reminding me that self forgiveness needs to precede forgiveness for another. Making either one of us the bad guy for the choices we made all those years ago, only causes further damage.
It’s like having a hot coal hurled in your direction, catching it and then clutching it to your chest and saying to another “See what you’ve done to me?,” rather than just getting the hell out of the way, when you see it heading in your direction.
Not only were they not shocked by my confession, but many expressed gratitude that I had finally come clean and that it gave them permission to embrace authenticity in their own lives. As I am typing these words, I know that what I call my Holy Shift moment has already opened doors that I may now more easily fit through, absent the cumbersome, bulky boulder.
I am grateful that the rock is crumbling and can be sculpted into an exquisite work of art, rather than an impediment to my happiness.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum