Posts Tagged ‘moving on’

Nothing endures like helplessness.

Yup, helplessness just hangs in there and suffers, hopelessly, without taking any action, repeating the same narratives to explain the past, arguing for what happened, because helplessness believes it couldn’t and can’t change anything.

This morning I talked to a young woman trying to recover from her family’s bad choices —  substance abuse, addiction, divorce.

She said something like, “I am done with playing the victim.”

“Me too,” I told her. “I’m looking ahead not back, focusing on what I can do, not judging other people for what they did, or do. I’m done with judging people.”

She gave the “Amen” to that. I prayed for her. I believe God is all about moving on toward a good future.

But interestingly, last night I had a dream where I was trying to make clear to someone why a past relationship I had, failed, and I found myself explaining that in that particularly complicated version of bad blood — while I had clearly made mistakes — I had almost always been a positive force, an idea-crafter, a problem-at-hand-solver, a way-forward pointer, and that this was never, ever ungrudingly acknowledged by the other person. Instead it was turned to blame.

It’s a victim’s mantra, my explanation to someone else, my story retold, that narrative about what wasn’t acknowledged, what someone did to me or didn’t do for me or wouldn’t admit or hid so that they could villainize me.  My narrative may be true, (actually it is),  the damage done may have been real (it was), but it won’t help me much to tell it to that person.

I was reading in the Bible this morning and a verse stood out, “Do everything without arguing.” 

Bam!

I don’t have to stand toe-to-toe with those who have offended me and argue my perspective in order for me to be okay, for me to move on, for my story to be validated.  Neither do you. And that wouldn’t likely work anyway.  Head-to-head, we most likely wouldn’t be heard by the other side — the two differing stories would compete, there would only be noise. Loud voices only deepen divides. I know. I’ve stood by and watched people do this.

In other words, I don’t need to argue for my version of my past. I don’t need someone else to affirm this. If my story is true, then it is true, and if it helps me to see it, then it helps me, but I don’t need to convince anyone else of it. There is no vindication in that.

This is not to say that victims don’t need to tell their stories in court or confront their abusers. They do. But when court is impossible and victimizers won’t listen, at some point it becomes counterproductive to keep going over and over the same narrative and not moving forward

What I need is to be self-affirming, to know who I am, and to keep building on that. I have always been a leader, a problem solve, an idea sharer. I always have been that. That is who I am. This is who I always will be. I am a vision leader, a path finder, a good team player, and my current role at my job totally affirms that.

I help other people be successful by seeing what is possible for them, by seeing what is next, for them, by seeing what is next, for us.

What I need to do is just keep doing that.

While nothing endures like helplessness, it is also true that nothing endures like essential character, and not playing the victim, and hope and authenticity, and knowing oneself and moving on.

I’m not helpless. I am not stuck in the past.

I like myself like that.

P1020582“Sometimes I can’t stop crying at night,” she said to me.

I understand; I don’t at all. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a husband after a lifetime of having him.

Someone else, whose mom recently die, (her mom had lived with her and taken care of her for fifty years),  said to me recently, “I just feel so totally al0ne. I miss my mom. We used to sing together. Now she’s gone. I sing alone. I watch TV alone. She isn’t there to laugh with me, to tell her something that I’m thinking. I feel so all alone.”

I’ve felt alone —  not that alone. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a mom that took care of me for fifty years because my disability made me dependent on her, then to have her gone, vanished, never coming back, an empty apartment, everyday and every night. The silence. The utter aloneness.

We know; we don’t know. We know loss; we don’t know others loss if we haven’t experienced it. Empathy only goes part way up the steep path.

This week we finished cleaning out the old house that once served as the church office. It was a house, then an office, now it is going to be put on a truck, driven to a new lot, and become a house again. It is being repurposed.

Life is like that, here, gone, then something new.

I told one of my friends whose has experienced a huge loss, “Think of it as like moving to another country. You used to live in the country of  mutual dependence; now you live in the land of independence. In this new land you make your own decisions, and you take responsibility for yourself. It’s very different for you, it’s scary,  but gradually you’ll get more used to  your new country and it feels more familiar to you.”

I know what I’m talking about; I have no idea! Every person has a snowflake experience of life; every relationship is unique, every loss is unique too. And yet I’ve noticed of late that loss has a parallelism in it; my tracks run through territory not unlike that which others travel.

Loss has a tendency to have a kind of gain in it. Gain runs right there along side of loss.

The old house has that in it.  Things that happened in that old house that were vert good; people connected with each other there. Other things  dark, harmful and  wrong happened in that house. Peope were hurt there. I’m glad the house is moving. A bit of the ugly past  moves with it, and gone, the space opens up for something beautiful, and new.

I’m happy. I am happy for what will replace the house. The little piece of earth it has squatted on will now become a beautiful church courtyard, a patio garden, a place where lovers will marry, where children will chase each other, where people will sit and eat and talk and be not so alone anymore at all.

We drew the plans for the new courtyard on paper this week. Very soon it won’t be on paper. I’ll walk on new; I’ll celebrate on it! I’ll walk on an epiphany, a vision, a dream — a sacred space will itself contain new paths that will lead to new relationships.

Loss can be so very painful;  we won’t have what we once had, ever again, and that really sucks.  And yet, when something is gone, then there is new space for something else to begin. Loss creates new open space, to run in and new experience to play with,  and new places to be a different person in. Change offers a different country to find new friends to sit with, to cry with and to talk a little to and maybe sing together with.

I’m looking forward to seeing that old house on a truck, flying down the street to its new home.  I’m looking forward to a new garden to sit in with new friends, especially those friends who have losses and need a new space to recover in, and places, just perhaps, to laugh in, once again.

I don’t like loss, but I like new places.

Let it come.

Renewal is stubborn, especially at the fringes and edges and the corners of the former. Think of what it takes to restore a classic car or a classic church.

A while back, I was in room 5 at my church, which is a classic,  and there it was, where the tile met the wall —  clean! I remember when it wasn’t.

When I took the job as the pastor of the church four years ago, a nice herd of children attended the private, Christian preschool that operated there.  I loved coming to work to children.  I loved being surrounded by those precious, diminutive, destructive monsters. While I could see that they were vectors (the runny noses and coughs) and carried diseases, I’d had my shots and they were super cute and said funny stuff and gave me chances to tell stories and laugh and get hugs and comfort them when they cried for their mothers, which they did a lot, especially late in the day.

I tend to like the generic noises children make,  the hum that they collectively emanate, punctuated with the yelling, laughing and crying. I especially like it when I’m not immediately responsible for it.

But there was a problem with the school, and so we said a prayer over it — and buried it. It was a private day care operation that was leaking money in the recession, threatening the financial solvency of the church. It had been in existence for forty years. It had thrived, filled the patio with children, helped parents who were working, cared for the children of the church, but it was done, (no children from the church even attended anymore),  and so were we.

The church board discussed it, discussed it again, and again, made the decision, grieved the loss and let it go. We paid the director and the teachers severance and vacation pay, told the parents and children about why we were quitting and closed the doors — at Christmas — on a huge mess. Four big rooms and an office complex of mess.

The preschool classrooms hadn’t had an update in 20 years. They were full of over-painted children’s furniture — red and blue and white paint-encrusted wooden benches, bookshelves and cubes for backpacks. This inexpensive, even homemade furniture, was all paint-chipped, kid scratched and dirty. And so was the floor —  filthy.

We trashed, sold and gave away the school — except a few nice tables and chairs. We gutted the rooms. Huge truck loads went to other schools, and  to the dump. We sold a ton of stuff at a garage sale.  Through this we saw how it is at the end of the end of things institutional.  At the end of visions, dream and institutional successes is a junk yards and a dump. Dumps are full of the ends of schools and businesses and homes and lives. It’s sad, and it’s necessary, and it allows something new to begin.

Once the rooms were almost empty, we painted the walls, scraped paint off the windows,  and tackled the floors.  The floors were the worst. The piles of furniture, the weight of time, the tendency not to see the familiar, the lack of funds — all  this had left the floors layered with filth.

We removed the base boards, and we got on our knees at church, not to worship, but to clean, which is a form of worship, and with our heads bumping the walls, we confronted the spaces where the universes had overly accumulated. I remember it well. I remember the night we employed every means known to man and woman to scrub wax, grime, grit, gunk, hair, insect body parts, dust, paint and whatever disgusting residue human children leave behind them  —  off the floor.

We ran an old buffer with a massive yellow, electrical umbilical cord (we found it lurking in an old closet) over the floors, grinding away at the dirt embedded in the tile. The buffer was wild and could get away from you and clobber the wall,  or your leg, so we let one person run it while the rest stood back and laughed. Once I got on it and rode it, to increase its wieght, and another guy ran it on a spot that just wouldn’t come clean. It did. Then  we got out scrapers and razor blades and scrub pads and attacked the edges and corners. I remember telling the volunteer crew stuff like, “Let’s hit that spot again,” or “I want it better than that.” I remember being fanatical about getting the dirt up, even coming back on my own over the next few weeks with a razor blade, scraping yellow wax and brown grime.

Then I paid to have the carpeted areas cleaned, twice!

Why?

Last week I went into room 5 on a Wednesday evening. It is the church’s new vision, “The Connection,” a place for children and their parents to learn, to recover, to renew.  The room was full of children, so many they were spilling out the back door. Four or five adults hovered over them. There was a quiet hum of voices with a background track of sandpaper running over wood. The children, all who attend the church, were making pine box derby cars.

I walked toward the end of the room where we had attacked the tile floors. They shone. Curtains covered the beautifully clean windows at the end.  I looked back at the children and walked  back through them, just for fun. They showed me their cars. One gave me a hug. She always does. She’s my friend. She used to attend the preschool.

As I left for the evening, I glanced along the wall where we had confronted the most stubborn layers of dirt — good, clean, repurposed.

There is something about a vision, about a church,  about God, about an old room, about scraping up the past, about making a clean space for something new.

I like it; I like the good that exists at the scraped corners and at the clean edges of the present and the future.

In the National Gallery in London Pierre-August Renoir’s “The Skiff” lights up the room. I am falling in love with it a little more every minute, and I can’t understand why someone  put it in a small corner.

It overwhelms the space it is in. The green grass jumping up out of the lake in the foreground, the sparkling blues blue water grabbing the sunshine out of the sky, the women in the white dresses calm in the middle of the burning orange skiff.

It is the orange that gets to me, the orange, very, very orange skiff, I can’t get over the orange skiff – all that warmth absolutely dominating the blue lake, leaking off the canvass and banishing the picture frame, the museum wall, the museum floor, and the whole of the room we sit in. I can’t see anything but orange. I am totally smitten by incandescent orange paint. I can’t stop ogling it.

The women in the painting are so calm. One is reading, the other is sitting and rowing so casually. They seem so un-startled, so undisturbed,  much like the people around me in the museum, shockingly respectful and settled.

But I am not so calm!  I don’t know what to do. Perhaps I should stay right here on this bench for a long time looking and pulsating. I will; I am deciding  right now to eat here tonight, and then sleep here. Now I am deciding not to. It won’t work; this Renoir won’t stop glowing, like a fire, and it won’t go down, like the sun. If I stay, it will be too bright to get any rest at all.

I won’t stay, but I will stare. At the bottom edge of the skiff I can see that the orange is coming off of the wood, and it is getting in the blue water. Renoir let it can away from him. The orange paint is jumping around in the ripples of the water that are coming off of the boat. The orange paint is getting all over the blue paint, taking over the gap between the boat and the lake. I can’t stop smiling. I like it that the orange has taken this step, has crossed over, has created an interface, has made this transition.

We leave the National Gallery. We get on the tube to ride through London to our refuge in West Finchley, our suburban home away from home that is housing our stay. We stand in the isle of the train because there isn’t enough room to sit down. A bell rings. The electric doors whoosh closed, and off we whir into the tunnel, rushing madly beneath the streets of London. We come to another station, we slow, then stop. The train doors open, and a woman’s voice, very British, says, “Mind the gap between the train and the platform.” We get off.

We mind the gap.

We always do, or not, depending on how well we are doing.

I love the gap. I love the people in the gap. I love young people crossing the gap between their immaturity and their maturity. I love me, crossing the gap into the next stage of life.

The spaces that exist between are always the most interesting, where the boat meets the water, where the blue meets the orange, where the train meets the platform – interesting, disturbing, transitional, difficult, formative, painfully beautiful.

Take the gap between childhood and adulthood — wow and superwow! This transition shapes the rest of life.  To get out of the boat, to step across gap, to bring one’s babyhood, ones adolescence, ones teenafication, one’s “becoming” into ones “I have become, “  to splash the colors from one place into another, this is at the core of the very core of every rippling and  transforming identity.

What is this thing,  this growing up? What are the paint strokes that get us across the gap? How do we paint the immature past into the mature present?

I’m not always sure, but here are a few of the brush stokes that may need to be mastered to paint across the gap:

We must overcome the fear that makes us not want move our brushes beyond what we have known before, or beyond what others like us have done.

We must come to  relate to the people in the boat, wisely, and not sit when they are sitting if standing is what we really want to do, or we must just jump, out of the boat, and into the orange water if really that is the only thing to be done when we are  so ready for change that sitting doesn’t work for us anymore.

We must learn, must we not, when not to judge but still to discern what is right and what is flat-out, dead wrong for us, even if not for everyone else.

We must try, and test and test again, our limits, when one more, or one is less,  or one is one too many, or too few or just right, if you know what I mean.

We must grow in confidence, to splash paint, from the boat to the water and on to the sky.

And what else?

What else must we do to get across the gap?

Tell me, so at the very least it is out here, on the canvass, to deal with, to face, to enjoy, to revel in.