A few years ago, after losing the second job in a row, with a total lack of grace and high degree of humiliation, my ego took on a dramatic persona that felt distinctly separate, out of control, and constantly invading what I thought of as personal space (the place where I had always felt connected to the larger whole). It was like a big angry bully was jumping up and down in my face ranting and screaming at all hours of the day and night.
At times, I cowered in the presence of the force behind the large finger pointed at me, shouting with the volume button stuck on max, about all the things I had done wrong, that contributed to the ultimate “Failure”, that surely heralded the demise of my career.
At other times the voice was indignant, recounting all the years of professional service, raving – “After all I have given to the communities I have served. How dare THEY? Don’t THEY know who I am?” In some moments I was able to sooth the beast with memories of past, successfully navigated career challenges, or through the description of evidence about factors that contributed to the situation like the economic downturn or wrong place wrong time, that were outside of my control.
The truth was, I was scared. In fact, ‘my work’, no matter in which position, agency, or community had always been the anchor of my life and the one place I most often felt competent, confident, and worthy. It felt like all the branches of that mighty tree were amputated, and I could not reach out to what would come next. Outwardly the tree of me remained, standing naked and embarrassed, without benefit of branches, leaves, and fruit. Without them, it became difficult to stabilize in times of gale force weather, and the integrity of the root structure began to feel compromised.
Of course now three years later, it is obvious to me that a force larger than myself, some may say the creator, God, or invisible helping hands from the universe pushed me to take the step to become mom’s caretaker, by removing the only obstacle to my accepting the invitation. It would have been near impossible, or at least highly unlikely that I would have walked away from, (by social work standards) the large salary that accompanied ‘my identity’ without a pretty big reason.
The signs of mom’s decline had been pretty obvious for sometime, but denial and bargaining being what they were, I kept thinking there was some way to continue to care for her as I had always done from a safe distance, that honored my own autonomy.
The experience here in the day to day varies, but the outcome is fairly consistent. I am developing hard won beliefs about the abundance of life, the nature of happiness being a conscious choice, and the capacity to experience myself as loved, loving, and lovable without benefit of attachment to expectations about outcome.
Driving to Pilates this morning, brought me to the recognition that it is coming up on the one year anniversary of 2011’s hat trick, the latest round of life altering experiences. The combination of rowing a million meters last January, my first Crash B sprint in February, and the Fluoroucil 5% topical chemo treatments on my face spanning February – April, threw off the balance hard won in the months prior to their occurrence.
Yet here I am a year later, hopefully re-balanced with greater awareness of the joy in simple that is required to return me to that position after numerous and far from elegant falls. In fact, if anything, I would say these circumstances conspired to lead me exactly where I needed to go to evolve to the next incarnation in my quest for a fulfilling life.
The confidence that came from a hard month of repetitive days that involved little else beside erging, mom, and Molly care, led to a belief about my physical abilities that eventually translated into the initial solo voyage, and all subsequent sculling adventures on lake Cochichuate. Translation – the ability to glide gracefully with an over-riding feeling of peace in tact, even on the most trying days.
The race opened the door to a new understanding of determination and mettle, which inspired me to apply for a Community Rowing Inc. scholarship, that led directly to meeting Jimmy Joy (of Joy of Sculling) and the amazing experience of editing “Hanlan’s Spirit, Training with Flow” .
The face-off cleared the way for Pilates, which continues to change the dynamics of my strength, stamina, and core, while providing an additional place of breathing into peace in the new spaces that have been created in my elongated body.
Interestingly, these experiences have continued to reverberate and morph from what I initially thought of as set backs. Numerous, painful, and annoying, they have ultimately revealed themselves to be quite the opposite. And all that good readers, got me thinking about the notion of journey markings.
I recently re-read an article by Helen Coleman about the West African tradition of Facial Sacrifition. In it, she spoke about both the long painful process and also the purpose of deliberate, permanent, body modification. I am not here to debate such practices, merely to borrow a statement that seems relevant to this post: “Facial scarification (in West Africa) is used for identification of ethnic groups, families, individuals, but also to express personal beauty.”
Ok, as described above, buying into identity, social status, family check check and check but personal beauty? Now that really takes some shift of consciousness. While I’ll concede that I am now less inclined to cover my face with makeup, except for really special occasions, a far cry from the time in my life when I wouldn’t leave the house without it, I am doubtful that consideration of beauty, is what is being referred to. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a makeup free, fashion free, or glamour free life. I love larger than life, expressive, AND colorful. I am just re-thinking some of my shopworn vanities.
If sacrificition, due to the nature and extent of the transformation required, increases ones beauty or desirability then maybe, there is no shame or tragedy in the physical realities of aging. Is it possible, viewing life through the lens of transformation, to experience the inevitable losses of life as beautiful, including the loss of physical appearance or even presence?
Much as in nature during winter, the work continues here, beneath the surface of the earth, and in the innermost recesses of the tree. As I take the first few steps while awaiting promotion, through editing or writing efforts, and preparing to provide clinical supervision by phone, I do so with a new appreciation, and humility about all that I offer in ways that are both strong and beautiful.