A Journey Back to A Loving Life.
Losing things and the ones you love, sucks.
Getting over the trauma of losing a home, a husband, a job, a friend, a sister, a daughter, can take someone the rest of their life. For sure, it changes the way you look at and value what you have left. For a long time, my losses didn’t really register, some I just didn’t give any thought to. I didn’t dare spend time there.
A miscarriage, being raped, losing my first pet, giving up my children. These losses, and this is just a small sample, the mistakes and tragedies, I put out of my mind, I thought I moved on. For a long time, I moved, but not on.
Slowly, over the last year, my focus really shifted, twice, once in a good way, and then in the totally opposite way of good. Losing my husband, my best friend, my home, my job, and so much more than just those physical things, all in less than a years time, these are the losses I focused on, and grieved. They brought all the rest of those significant losses to the surface again.
Grief, hate, anger, ungratefulness, pride and darkness stole my principles, my moral compass, my compassion. I became angry, mean, and unforgiving.
I got sucked into every negative thing I read or saw. I lost my hearts music, my joy, my love for this life, and my compassion for humans. I forgot how to be happy, to find joy in a moment, to trust that there could always be joy in my life, if I just let it back into my heart. My heart was the one that really suffered. I made it suffer. I punished it for the love it felt, for the compassion it displayed, for the foolish gifts it gave to undeserving people. For the trust it gave to those who were evil. For its gullibility. My heart had ruled my life, for all of my life, and I punished it for that, tried to change that about me. I hated the hurt that allowing it to rule me, caused me to be able to feel, and have to live with. I can’t unsee the things I have seen, and I cant unfeel the hurt and despair I have felt, at the hate and cruelty I have seen and experienced, because I have a heart that projects me in to those situations. I cannot undo the last 20 years of lost time. But it’s not really all that black and white.
Artwork courtesy of Patrick Johnson, my talented, loving, older brother. I love you, Pat!
I also can’t make my heart believe that one person can’t make a change, a difference, start a chain of change that leads to better things, less cruelty, new ways of seeing, a better world to live in. I have always believed that change starts with me.
Believe me, I have tried, diligently, for the last 7 years to bash that out of my heart, that need to help, to make a difference, to be the change I wanted to see. My choice was always to help animals, to find a way, to see unspeakable things , so that I could speak about them factually, emotionally, and with passion to bring about about the changes that needed to happen. That could happen, if only they opened their hearts to another way, a change, a less cruel way. I spent years trying to help them see the love, and joy that an animal could bring to your life, or that just saving one, could bring to your heart. Some saw. Not all, but some. It finally dawned on me, years later, that while I was helping all these animals, and trying to change the little part of the world I lived in, my heart was taking a different path. It was shutting down, protecting itself against the certain failure it was going to feel when not everyone had the same ideas, ways of working, moral attitude, or sense of right and wrong. That fight against the always present “this is how we do it here” good ole boys club of KY, wore my hearts joy and light out. It literally sucked it out of my chest. I let it.
So, what does this all have to do with living with a grateful heart, you ask?
Well…last year I made my first retreat to Our Lady of Gethsemani, in Trappist, KY. I had been convinced, by those around me that it was going to be hard for “me” because silence was the first order of business. The sign at the head of the entrance made it clear as we walked in, that talking was frowned upon. Well, I guess the me that they knew, was not the strong silent type. I was the loud and proud advocate. Keep your eye on that word “proud”, its key.
I walked into this place, I had never been, and such a foreign sense of peace and joy washed over me that at first I couldn’t define it. It was like coming home. Really, home, not just in the comfy, homey sense of that word. But in the my heart found home, finally, sense of the word home. All of that loud, proud me, disappeared, dramatically, totally, when I crossed the threshold of that holy place in the hills of Kentucky. All of the distance I had put between myself and God would, over the course of the weekend, burn out like the dousing of a candle. I had lost not only my faith, but the core belief that there was a living, loving God. And if there was such a God, I was certainly not one of his favorite people. Over the weekend I rediscovered his healing touch. I found my heart opening to joy, a little, again. I saw the beauty in the gift that my camera is. I became a little grateful, and when the weekend came to a close I was sad to leave. I wanted to try to take the peace, quiet and serenity of that place, back to civilization. I was determined to stay in a place of gratefulness, and kindness. I was a bit of a softer me, for a time. I tried to keep that peaceful place and tuck it in a safe place in my heart. I didn’t know how hard I would have to work to do that.
I tried very hard over the last year to try to keep that with me. Eventually, like all things of that nature, if not nurtured, they fall away like fog, drifting out to sea, until you wake up and realize you are right back in the world you wanted to leave, and you can’t find your way back to the silence and peace. I was not as hateful, or nasty. But I was right back to the abyss with my heart. The joy was gone, again. I took a new job, where fitting in was, again, hard, people didn’t understand me, and they didn’t have to or want to. They still don’t. I tried to just keep my head down, and my mouth shut, keeping my eye on the strategic reasons I shifted jobs in the first place. I had goals, and I was trying hard to achieve them so I could someday make a new life for myself. I lost my gratefulness, gradually, too. My heart it seemed, had other ideas about how I was going to live the rest of my life. It looked black to me, again, lying on the cold, marble floor of my chest, just doing its day to day job of keeping me alive. It didn’t reach out, it couldn’t. It was trapped in that ungrateful place that Satan loves to see us go. That selfish, self-protective, falsely compassionate, place of ungratefulness and closure. It had shut tighter than hell’s door once you’re through it.
Again I found myself isolating myself, spending most of my time on the computer, not interacting with people, or family. There was a wedge of distance between my true self and who I wanted to be. I was irritable, and hateful when crossed, I watched TV for hours on end, watching things I would normally give zero credence or time to. If you know me, you know I have never had time for TV. I didn’t pick up my camera for months, and the creativity I so loved, fled, leaving a shell of wasted space in its path. I felt unloved, unlovable, ugly, fat, aging, helpless and useless. Flailing. I had no purpose, no joy, getting out of bed was painful, every day. I went to work, came home ate and slept.
Weekends held no particular joy for me, nothing was ever different. I take mom to do her weekly errands; we usually have some sort of disagreement before we even get out the door. I take her to church on Sunday, and then we usually go to another store or 2 before she wants to go home. She goes her way and I mine, its safer that way.
We were living together, separately.
Mom loves to be a part of the solution.
I didn’t have to try to have a conversation that would inevitably turn ugly. We had no common ground, my mother and I. I was so wrapped up in that negative, ungrateful spirit, that I had once again allowed in, I couldn’t see that we had so much in common. My relationship with her has always been hard, and we’re always both so defensive with each other. It’s like this pattern we can’t break. I try to help, maybe too much, and she is angry, all the time. I don’t think it’s at me, I just think she has been so angry, for so long, its habit and that she is too old to change that. But she made me angry too.
Anger is a dangerously addictive emotion. I am pretty sure that we both are addicted to it. It’s not healthy for either of us, and my body began to develop telltale signs that it had had enough. I needed to get the hell off that angry, emotional roller-coaster on a merry go round. It was spinning out of control, again. I just could not find that place, that peace, solitude, quiet, I had found at Gethsemani. It was gone, like fog.
Every year my sister, Sara, makes a retreat to Gethsemani, and takes Mom. A family retreat. And now she takes me too. She always invites all of her sister’s. It’s their choice, to go or not. For her, it’s about priorities, whats important in her life. She plans it, and lets us know the dates, because, well, she is the planner. She has a calendar, in her purse, with her plans for the year, her appointments. I have actually been critical of this, heartlessly thinking that she had no spontaneity. Ridiculing that. Ungrateful. That she was afraid to deviate, to have any kind of disorder in her life that wasn’t on her calendar. I was cruel in both my thoughts and my words with regard to that. Here it comes, remember that word “Proud”? I was so proud of my ability to be spontaneous, and not have to live by a calendar, and to just be able to throw down whenever the whim took me to throw down, that I hurt someone so deeply that it’s affected our relationship, our whole lives. She was the perfect child, the golden child, was what we called her, cruelly. She heard. She has had some very cruel things she has had to deal with. Mostly at the hands of her family. And she isn’t the only one, its kind of a pervasive vice we all share.
Not so fast.
I didn’t know jack.
My sister, has lived through a hell most people only read about. She is strong and beautiful, both inside and out. She has, as have several of us, paid dearly for being born into a family so full of pride and selfishness. I know things about her, from our trip to Gethsemani last year, which I would have never known if I had not made the trip.
She talked me into it, “Just try it, Mary, it can change your life!” she said, and I am so grateful she did. I know now, that she gave up her desire for a vocation, to marry, have kids she never got to have, and struggle through problems in that marriage that made her leave it at one time. I saw her go back, and work her ass off to make that marriage work. It is a long hard road. I truly met the person that is my sister, on our first trip to Gethsemani together. My wish is that our whole family could go, to find what I have found, and the we could heal, as a family. But I will take the healing with my sister.
I had to open my heart and embrace the person she is, instead of the person we perceived her to be, in our pride filled hearts. We were jealous. I am so proud of her accomplishments. My heart finally thawed through enough of the deeply frozen pride to open a little door of humility, and ask her for forgiveness for being such a shitty sister. She was just a little girl, that day in my arms, and I was her big sister again, finally. For a while.
Grateful, for a while.
End of Part 1…..