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Posts Tagged ‘pain’

my daughter maggie loves birds, among many things.  we have a few bird feeders near our window in the living room and even though she sees birds all day, everyday, she still gets so excited when she sees one.  she looks at me and does that surprised gasp…like a child seeing the gifts under the christmas tree for the first time…wide eyes, face filled with joy, hands over her mouth.  then she’ll whisper “mommy look!” and point at the window.  i find it so endearing and sweet.  she’s my muffin.

another thing she loves is taking our dog gracie for a walk…so last night we did just that.  maggies always wants to hold the leash and walk her, and she’s getting very good at it.  at one point, while walking gracie, maggie saw a bird.  she got very excited and gasped, yelling, “mommy!  a robin!” and she took off running with gracie.  after about two steps, she tripped over her little four year old feet and feel down, skinning her shin pretty badly.  as i ran to her i could see the pain in her face…the look of terror…as she started to sob.  i’ve seen this look on my kids faces before.  it looks like they are shocked…shocked something could hurt so much…like they are realizing something about life they didn’t know before.  she was crying so hard that she wasn’t making much noise.  i scooped her up and held her, making my “shhhh, shhhhh, shhhh” sound and holding her close.  there was nothing else i could do.  all i could do was be there with her and love her.  i couldn’t make the pain go away for her.

this has been my least favorite part of being a parent…realizing my kids will feel pain that i can do nothing about…pain that i can’t prevent.  at times that idea fills me with desperation…desperate to protect them, to keep them safe, to keep them from ever being hurt.  my son quincy is 10 now and i have watched as he has learned the things about life i would rather he doesn’t…pain, death, war, cruelty.   i have not enjoyed this one bit.

i remember the first time it dawned on me that he would soon learn things i didn’t want him to know.  we had just exited the highway and were at the end of the exit ramp…the place some people mindlessly throw garbage…garbage we all get to look at.  he was so little…and as we stopped he said “look mommy.  a man must have lost his cup.”  he was noticing the cups on the side of the road.  he had no idea what liter was.  it never dawned on him that someone might throw their garbage there…so it must have been a mistake.  my heart ached in that moment for all the things he would learn…things i didn’t want him to know.  things i didn’t want to exist.  i wanted the world to always look to him as it did that day.  the man must have lost his cup.  my eyes filled with tears as i said to him “maybe he did sweetheart.”

i have learned a lot since that day.  i have accepted a lot.  i can’t keep things from them forever.  i can’t take their pain away.  they have their own lives to life…things to learn.  i can be a protective parent, let them have their childhood.  i keep the news off in our house.  we speak kindly to each other.  but over the years i have slowly shifted the way i think about all this, the way i handle it with my kids.  i think this shift has come from me being able to deal with the pain in my life better.  i have learned for myself to try not to put big judgements on these things…the pain of life.  it is just part of life.  and i have found in doing so, the pain is much more tolerable and temporary.

in his book “breathe, you are alive”, thich nhat hanh writes:

There is a crack in everything.  Life is broken, and it is its brokenness that makes it livable.  But we are somehow of the mind-set that cracks have to be patched.  patching the cracks is trying to control life, rather than engage it.  To engage life we have to find the cracks and enter them, rather than deny or patch them. 

 it’s the holding on to the pain that really hurts…that really creates suffering in our lives.  if we feel the pain without judging it, it will pass.  if we accept it as just another part of life, it seems less menacing.   life isn’t supposed to be painless.  holding this belief, trying desperately to avoid the pain, robs us of our life.

i want more than anything for my children to live their lives…i want them to live their lives out loud.   is that easy for me?  no.  i cringed when i bought maggie a bike, thinking of ingrid’s death, but i bought it anyways…i actually suggested it.  it’s still so hard for me to think of them riding bikes, being out in the world with so many uncontrollable variables…but that’s where life is.  so i can worry and feel anxious about it, and i do, but i don’t show them that.  i do my best to just love them and be here for them.  i have realized that is all i can ever do.  in doing that, hopefully they will feel they have a safe “nest” to launch from.  i want them to spend their time thinking about all the things they want to do in life, not how i will feel about it.  i want them to fly.

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i remember about twenty years ago being in a bookstore looking at cards.  i came across a card that had the poem “risk” by anais nin on the front.  it read:

“and then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

i remember the moment i read that…being blown away.  her words really spoke to me…it was just what i needed to hear at that point in my life.  what a  validating idea…that there is risk either way.

blossoming takes courage, self love, self acceptance.  you have to be willing to open up…you have to be willing to be vulnerable.  everyone will “see” who i really am…what if they hurt me?  what if they reject me?  what if i’m not good enough?  i think, earlier in life, i had it backwards.  i felt i would come to a place in which i would know i am good enough, know that no one can really hurt me…that no one can touch who i really am, that some might reject me, but i won’t and there will always be some who don’t.  i felt i would know all these things first…then blossom.  that way i would feel safe to blossom…there would be no risk.  what i was realizing back then, after doing a lot of “work” on myself already, was there would be no time when i felt all those things until i blossomed…and that would involve risk.  there would be no safety net that i could see.  i would just have to free fall into myself…and trust i could fly.

or i could choose to remain “tight in a bud”, which might seem comfortable and familiar, but i don’t think it’s a sustainable way to live your life…i think it eventually becomes too painful.  choosing to remain “closed up” can lead to a life full of pain and confusion…never seeing ourselves or the world clearly, never showing ourselves,  or the world, the beauty of who we really are. what a shame it is to never let the world, and people who love you, see who you are inside…see your light.  what a shame it is when someone never sees the value of who  they really are.  unfortunately i think many of us think our value comes from what we “do”…what we can “do” for others.  but the truth is, we are here to be who we are…who we really are…and do what we love…what we really love.  and by being brave enough to embrace our truth and live our lives authentically…we inadvertently “give” others the courage to do the same.

i have heard some people talk about taking the steps to grow, or live authentically, because they had to…it was that or literally die.  that in a way, it wasn’t a choice, but a necessity if they were to keep living.   i feel i can relate to that idea…in my own way.  i feel like, in a way, i never made a choice.  this is who i am.  i have this drive to grow, to keep searching, keep looking for the truth.  i am very grateful that is who i am.  it hasn’t been the easiest road, but so very necessary for me.  what choice did i have?  i refuse to die or live in shadows.  i refuse to not try.  i refuse to believe that life and people are anything but good.  it is really what i believe.  and i also know, that while both choices involve risk and pain, the choice of not growing, in the end, would be much more painful for me then the risk and pain of choosing to grow or blossom.   growth can be painful…but i know i would have never had room for all the joy, peace, beauty and love that i see in life had i not made room for them.  if i would have never looked at the hard painful stuff, so i could feel it and let it go, i would have missed out on the beauty that is this life…and it is so beautiful.

of course i am not done.  there will be more things to look at…more pain, more blossoms, more growth…but i see now that my life is so much more fluid.  i almost never loose sight of the bigger picture anymore….the pain comes, i don’t own it, i look at it, feel it…and then it goes…all pretty quickly…in contrast to how i used to feel…i felt i lived in the pain…now i feel like i live in the joy, and experience pain.  and what could be more wonderful then that?  

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the other day while my husband and kids were eating lunch,  my husband and  my son were joking around about something…at one point my husband said to him “well, i’m not going to send you to siberia.”  my son asked what siberia is so we started to explain.  we explained where it was and the climate…and then i explained a bit about the labor camps.  i told him that my grandfather was sent there from latvia, that he died in the camps.  my 4 year old daughter had been listening to all of this and had a question.

“can you make snow angels in siberia mommy?”

i was taken aback by her question but told her that you can make snow angels anywhere that there is snow.  i imagined my grandfather making a snow angel in siberia.  did he?  did he find joy in the camps?  did he find meaning in his life?  i can only imagine what he endured.  i know many of his friends and fellow latvian officers were killed.  i know he was brought to trail by the russians and sent to a labor camp.  i know he never heard from or saw his family again.  i know he never made it out of the camp.

in the book, “man’s search for meaning”, victor frankl writes of his experience in a concentration camp during the second world war.  he explains why he wrote the book in the preface, saying, “I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of a concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones.”  he explains some of the horrors they experienced in the camps…but also that the prisoners found bits of joy, humor, love, connectedness, meaning, in spite of their horrific situation.  he did not say it was easy, or that everyone could connect to that which is greater, that which connects us…the beauty of life…but some did.  he tells a story of a fellow prisoner rushing into his hut one evening to ask them to come outside and watch a beautiful sunset.  he tells of art and humor…sacrifice and hope.

“The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action.  There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed.  Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

what made these few different?  were they just better people?  stronger people?  i would argue no.  i think they just knew something that perhaps the others didn’t…that we are more then our situation, more then the circumstances of our lives, and they were able to remember that truth in the most difficult of circumstances…it’s during the most difficult times that most of us forget the thing that is most important…we are spiritual beings having a human experience…life is full of pain and suffering…the pain that we can experience in this life can feel at times unbearable…and it is real…but that is not who we are.  we are not our pain.  we are our light, and that light is in all of us.

so did my grandfather make snow angels in siberia?  probably not.  but i hope that for one moment he watched a sunset or listened to a bird and remembered that he was more then anything that would ever happen to him.

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