Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Perfect

I've written here before about my longing for family. That is no secret.
It's one thing to write something down, as if in the act of exposure and vulnerability through writing it is suddenly healed, as if the insight is the healing.
But that is not so. Last week, I met a very sweet family. It was one of those moments where you cannot explain it, but you felt it. I felt love in this house. I just KNEW that this was a house of love, of family, of arguments and fussing over dinner and glasses of wine after the kids are in bed and missing each other and birthdays and long hopeful talks and short irritated glances and the ever-present bedrock of glowing warmth, of devoted hearts, of myriad simple kindnesses braided into constant memory. Everyone welcome, everyone safe, everyone cared for.
Then earlier this week, a colleague showed me calendars students had made. In the calendars she showed me, the children had drawn pictures of their families, their intact families. Seeing those sweet second-grade crayon pictures of families was bittersweet. These children were having a happy life. They were experiencing the world as good and whole in the height of their innocence. I silently prayed they would always remember their innocence, and then I went home and cried.
This grieving and desire for a loving family of my own haunts me, haunts what I wanted for all of my children. Sometimes, I have compensated by loving too loudly, by shouting love when I also needed to be whispering it, letting it fill the room like a warm perfume, a sweetness of air, a knowing gleaned from atmosphere.
Compensation or not, this longing will haunt me for a long time. In reality, I can no longer look to that picture of a perfect, intact family, for that is just not how my life has gone. I have to distill this longing to its essence, over and over again, find out what it means. I keep coming back to love.
I thought love looked a certain way, performed a certain way. I thought love was a dance of what you do, what you give, how well you mastered the steps, how well you followed the rules, how much you guessed what is expected, how well you avoided treading on landmines; being perfect and proper and giving till you drop. I could never keep a perfect house. But I could keep a perfect spirit, a compliant spirit, a sincerely-trying spirit, and that eventually became a severely broken spirit, a taken-for-granted spirit.
None of that bullshit is love. None of that obsequious housewife routine, I'll-take-care-of-everything routine, I'll-do-whatever-you-say ritual is love. It is a coping mechanism for not being heard or having no reciprocity or not being treated like a human being, but it is not love. It wants to be love so badly, wants to have love. Yet no one can make themselves perfect enough to gain their mate's love, nor should they. It was, for me,  a way to distract myself from the obvious lack of love that was happening in my house. You can't heal that by performance, cooking, cleaning, or acquiescing. If no love is there in a person, then no love is there, and we who sincerely love can't do a damned thing about those who don't.
The perfection of love is what it is. You can't gild it with a clean house, and you can't fake it with a sharp mind. You can't put prescribed social elements in place and call it love. You can't enact a shallow charade and call it love. Love will not show up during a fit of pretense. Love is too real to fool with fakery.
 Love simply IS, and will act with all empathy and humility and generosity and humanity and presence just to be with you.
This is yet another layer of healing and it's awesome. It means now I know, now I can bring myself to what is real. Unpretentious Love: I welcome you, I embrace you, I strip you away of preconceived notions. I am here, filled and hopeful.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Softness of a Woman

We had our Goddess Girls group and spoke of our bodies, our beautiful girls' and women's bodies. I hoped to infuse in my  daughter a loving appreciation of her body and of valuing inner beauty, and her character...who she is inside, above externals.
And who am I kidding? I grew up hating my body. I hated my big belly. I hated my small breasts. I had stretch marks even before I had babies. I was the last one picked on the bench for kickball because I was so insecure and awkward in my movement. I couldn't dance.
I thought of these free-floating and ingrained messages about women's bodies: how a woman should look, how youth should be worshipped, how certain attributes are undesirable. So many women grow up hating their bodies. Tethered to the belief that there is a thinner, better, more beautiful person inside, they starve them, whip the into shape, and deprive them of sleep and proper nourishment.
Yet I have marveled at history's notions of beauty through art. I have looked on women's bodies depicted as soft and full, or at least what seems to me more "real" than the images I am presented with today.
There is of course Ruben:

And then photographs of women from the early 1900's from anonymous photographers:



Danae, a favorite Klimt:



 The softness and fullness of a woman is not a new concept, for it has been revered throughout history, many times a symbol of abundance and fertility. and oh, how beautiful! Those soft round bellies...those curvy lines, those fleshy rolls.
What if...what if it symbolized more? What if it symbolized the essence of what is female?
We live in a hard world. Every day we are given a roadblock, another "no!"It's a man's world in so many ways, and while there are times we need the strong masculine "no!"we cannot forget the soft, feminine, "yes": the parts that yield in their softness, the parts that embrace with comfort, the place that one can rest in acceptance, safety, and grace.
We starve that away and we deprive ourselves of something essentially human. Why does culture hold up and celebrate images of unhealthy women? To subconsciously deprecate and subjugate women only with more sophistication? Why would we want our young women to emulate this disappearing act...this diminishing of the fullness of who they are? Why would we want them weakened through starvation and looking like ghosts that haunt instead of living human beings? Why do we not accept a woman's body for what it is and what it is supposed to do?
And then there is thinspo:


Which leads to this:
Which really says, make me less...make me practically disappear. Jonatha gets it:




There are so many hard places in this world. There are people and situations and hearts that are hard and unyielding. There are disappointments for which there is no comfort or fixing. There is a world locked into intellectual pursuits at the expense of the human heart. And there are pseudo-intellectuals who explain away feelings, or call women irrational for having feelings, and will not accept any sort of influence since they are so hardened in their thinking.
It goes deeper than the current and ongoing love affair with thinness. It is about health and vibrance, the health and vibrance of all that is feminine in our culture.
I have days now, where at age 47, my body is doing things it didn't used to do, and it is softening in places and stiffening in places and strengthening in places, My body is a hard, dependable worker. And every once in awhile, I will actually go by a mirror and say "my body is good". "I love my body". "I feel beautiful". I give myself permission to feel this good, to ease into myself with love and not criticism. I've grown tired of beating up on my body...it is a weary, useless energy suck. Better to invest in self-care and love.
As I appreciate my own softness, and claim my mood of gentleness with myself, I think, we need this; the softness of a woman, to spoon us and shhhhhhhh deep into our hair, to tell us  it is going to  be alright. We need the softness of a woman as a symbol of vital strength, for it is only the strong who can stand against large grief. We need the softness of a woman; we need woman and all that she is. We need this for her health and for ours.
I need this.


Comfort with Emptiness

There are soundtracks for break-ups, singer-songwriters who become your best friend during a divorce because they express your pain and make it beautiful, whole albums that soundtrack a tie in your life.
One such album for me was "Angel in the House". One line from the title track keeps haunting me, even to this day: "my mother moved the furniture when she no longer moved the man"
My mother took on jobs. I took on projects and jobs. I put on a pretty face. I got craft projects published in a magazine. I knitted furiously.
But none of it changed my outer circumstances. Instead of healed, it just made me busy, and added to the noise of my life the noise I created, the whirlwind tunnel I wanted to hide myself in so I did not have to face the terrible truth.
The terrible truth began with me. I thought the terrible truth was that I was not good enough, not worthy, not loved. No wonder I tried to cover up those messages with white-noise whirlwinds. 
But the deeper truth was not about me. Oh sure, I chose unwisely, and I allowed myself to become my wounds, to bare them to people who only wanted to deepen them and see me bleed. The wider truth was that in my tight circle of daily life, someone had proclaimed themselves my enemy and set out to snuff out my basic human rights and live hatred towards me while shouting love. 
This realization has stuck with me for awhile. While on the surface I have now grown past the naive belief that people are, deep down, good in their hearts, part of me still behaves as if those very people who have shown me such vitriol are capable of change and goodness. They are not, I remind myself, and kick myself when I am once again duped. I see them laughing at the prospect of causing me yet another round of pain and I shake my head.
I shake my head and turn away. I am my own refuge now. I am refuge for my children. 
"My mother moved the furniture when she no longer moved the man"
The haunting emptiness of that phrase, the longing and sorrow, the resignation to a fate not wanted...this is what I latch on to some days.
And then I realize that emptiness is good. Instead of filling my hands with busy-ness, my head with overthinking, my heart with worry and sorrow, my minutes, days, and hours with words words words, I am growing closer to emptiness. Instead of an anxious flurry, I am learning to be still. Oh sure, the grief still comes and it hurts, but I can handle it now. 
I am cultivating emptiness, and stillness, and just shutting my damned mouth for a minute or two. I need to listen to what others have to say. 
For in the emptying out, in the calming stillness, I am convinced there is deeper connection with people and life. Pain and insecurity and self-consciousness and grief can be heavy-hearted clutter. It is important to let those pleading children have your assurance that they are cared for and loved just as they are. 
Let me be myself this year. Let me be present and ever so curious about the experience of the Other. Let the wisdom that flows into my emptiness guide me.