Sunday, September 15, 2013

spiritual autobiography

This is my homework for the other of my activities:  Build Your Own Theology class at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick.  I figured I might as well put it here since this blog is my journey and my attempt to make sense of my life during and after John's cancer....

The moments with meaning in my life are spread mostly across New England;  from Dover, Delaware to West Hartford CT, Orono ME, Newburg MD, Frederick MD.  But it also dances across continents, to moments in various countries in Europe, to the east coast of Australia, and to the Galapagos Islands.

My parents divorced when I was six years old, leaving my mother and grandmother (Nanna) to raise me and my brother.  The primary issue here was that my grandmother was a survivor of many things.  The way she got through them was to harden herself and her heart.  So she was strong through stiffness and solitude and independence and distance.  When I was around 15 or 16 years old, I remember walking around my block, crying because of another fight we had had.  People used to tell me that I reminded them of her.  I absolutely HATED that idea.  Until I realized that if I tried really hard, I could perhaps embrace the stubborn strength we both seemed to have, but I would fight to get through whatever life threw at me WITHOUT becoming walled off and hardened and stoic like her.  So since that tender age, I have willed myself to feel everything, to keep the walls I wear as soft as possible, to allow for flow, hope, love. 

I moved out of my mother's house when I was not mature enough or responsible enough to manage on my own, in the hopes that not being bound to her would save our relationship for the future.  Her alcoholism, by the time I was in college, had become an overwhelming embarrassment.  She would call the dorm pay phone to find me, and when I didn't answer, she would drunkenly moan and cry and lament to whomever answered the phone, asking what she had done wrong with me, cursing me, and generally making no sense.  So I confronted her about her drinking.  She would have nothing to do with an open discussion.  So I moved out.  For a year, I lived in New Haven CT, waiting tables at Atticus Cafe and Bookstore, taking classes at Southern Connecticut State University, and making many poor choices about how to deal with my life.  When it became apparent that this city and my life there were not going to give me the correct environment to thrive, I packed my cat and her new kittens, my three rooms of stuff, and my fear, excitement, and hope into my crappy little Ford Escort and moved to Orono Maine.

For the four summers spanning my time there, I canvassed for Maine People's Alliance, the largest Nonprofit Citizens Action group in the state.  I knocked on doors from Portland, to Fort Kent, Frenchville, and Presque Isle.  I learned to deeply discuss my beliefs, I learned that you rarely change anyone's mind, I learned how to set up a tent, I got to meet incredible people (both in good ways and bad), I got to dance in more rain that I would have thought was good for me (and it turned out to be great), I learned to be HONEST was better than being seen as right.  I learned to believe in my intelligence and integrity and determination.  I learned a lot about connection.  During that time, I lost my best friend to selfish, disbelieving abandonment.  I made friends with a woman who was ritualistically abused and who carried in her perhaps dozens, perhaps closer to hundreds, of split personalities.  I volunteered at the battered women's shelter that gave her a home.  I worked in a nursery school as an aide for kids with autism, seizure disorders, mental retardation, and ADHD.  I learned to deeply believe that there are no bad kids and that choices do not end things, because you always have chances to make new ones.  There are bad choices.  We all make them from time to time.  They do not have to define us.  We do that ourselves.

When I graduated from the University of Maine with my Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing, I applied to the Peace Corps.  I was honest with them about a suicide attempt from my first year of college.  I knew even back in 1992 when it happened, that I was more hoping someone would take me seriously and get me help than I was hoping I would die.  But I was pretty okay with either outcome because I was tired of reaching out and searching for help and finding not enough.  I told them the truth on the application because I had come so far.  I had lived alone and thrived in a cabin in the woods of Maine, graduated with a 4.0, proved myself to be an accomplished activist, a talented poet, a caring teacher...I figured I knew my buttons, I knew ways to care for myself now in extreme situations.  They rejected me just the same.  So I moved to Richmond for a year and learned to love my father.

There, I was trained to work with children in the extremes.  By this I mean kids who were violent, sold drugs or guns, and had been kicked out of public schools.  By far, this population touched my heart.  I wanted to save them, to love them, to be strong beside them, to teach them that no matter what others said or society showed them, that they could do anything.  This was the hardest job I ever had.  I had to chase a child who ran on a daily basis, use the passive restraint method we were trained in multiple times a day.  I spent a night being attacked with a broom, verbally assaulted, and still got the rest of the kids fed and to bed.  And I decided that teaching was the right place for me.  So I left to get my Master's Degree.

The joy of having my own class, my very first group of fifth graders to listen to, to encourage, to help shape.  That joy was huge and pure and strong.  My travels through Europe were under my belt- I had visited many places for very little time on a whirlwind tour.  Not exactly the back packing through the continent I might have preferred, but it was more than I had ever dreamed I would be able to do.  And that joy, the joy of traveling and seeing things from other places, of seeing ancient pieces of our world, that was a nugget of strength and connection that seeded many things for me.  And deciding to travel to Australia, even though I didn't actually have the money- I realized life is about change and growth and experience more than anything else.  I was still fighting to remain soft enough to enable pass through, to accept love.  I was learning to be like the buildings and bridges that sway in the wind:  strong and flexible, somewhat fluid yet sturdy, solid..  I knew (and know) my story is hard, but there are other stories that are harder.  Yet, at the same time, I also know there isn't one story that actually is "harder" than someone else's, but each of us fight the battle from where we are.  We are each facing the hardest thing we have ever gone through at any given moment.  You can't compare "hard" because each story is so different.

Sadness has defined me as well.  Sadness from verbal abuse, from date rape, from rape, from losing several friendships I thought would be there forever.  Sadness that comes from watching your mother kill herself slowly, from knowing your grandmother raised you, but left you knowing virtually nothing at all about her or her life.  I know the sadness of unrequited love- three years as a good friend to the man I would have given and done anything for.  I know the sadness that comes from losing the future you thought was yours.  When I lost John, something in me broke.  And I still lean on the pattern of refusing to become hardened.  I want to embraced the pain, to enable me to learn from it.  I don't know how or when that will happen, so I will try to say "abracadabra" a few times a week, and look around closely to see if anything happened.

From my few high school years of friendship with my brother, I know that self reflection and playful spontaneity are a part of my core.  From my friend Scott, I learned that I am far smarter than I ever believed and that I can love more deeply than I ever knew, even if it is not returned to me.  From my Nanna, I know I am strong, and I know I don't have to let my strength make me hard.  And from John, I know that I can be loved.

I believe that life is an adventure filled with a myriad of moments to reach others, to inspire them, to allow yourself to be inspired by them, if you listen well.  And that these connections, the compassion they create, the humor they inspire, are the most important things that exist.  Life is change, and embracing it is your best choice.  Allow yourself to grow, to open to the chance to connect to others, allow compassion to flow through everything you are and everything you hope for.  Strength does not always look like you thought it would.  In fact, sometimes you can be strong and not even realize it.  And if you allow yourself to love, and to be loved, for real, there is nothing you can't do, nothing you cannot be.