Death And The Narratives We Tell, Part II

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It’s funny how you can write something with one intent and it can be interpreted different ways, depending on the viewer’s filter.  My last post was not meant to be depressing or dark.  Despite how it may have appeared, I don’t actually spend too much time reliving sad memories–but reflecting on my past does shape how I carry myself in the present.

And the thing is, I do still think a lot about death, but in a totally different way.  I think about it as the end bracket to my story, and what to I want to put in there before it shows up?  Because the tomorrows do run out, and that’s not a bad thing or a good thing–it just is.  That’s what I think about.

When my grandmother died, it was a really good death.  A good death, because there was nothing left unsaid, nothing I regret about our relationship.  I got the memories of her house and sitting out on the back porch as the sun was setting, watching the bats fly around the giant tree in her backyard to the barn next door.  Memories so ingrained that they still show up in my dreams.  My ten-year-old self talking to her grandma-self, and it didn’t matter that there were 70 years between us.  The wheel of time shifts, and it is hard to say goodbye.  It’s hard accepting that nothing ever stays the same.  But here is my now, where I’m watching Shark Tank with Rowan on Friday nights, my 40-year self talking to her 10-year-old self, joking and discussing the businesses we would invest in.  This connection is just as wonderful, the love just as deep, even if the circumstances and characters change.

Our whole existence is tenuous.  Not just even that there are accidents and cancer and you know, always the minute chance that a giant asteroid will crash into earth.  It’s that the only thing that makes you you is the continuity of your perceived experiences, and even memories are less like a video recording and more like a play.  When you’re five, there aren’t many memories to even fall back upon, but as you acquire more data points of your life, you can’t possibly keep all of the relevant ones in your head at any one time.  I wonder if that’s why time seems to go faster the older you get, because you have to sift through more information and can only pay attention to so much.  And then add on that memories, like a play, change a bit in every reactment, so choosing which ones to even revisit changes you.  Then add on how each one supports your story – because it is not your brain or your body or even your atoms that make you the human you are, it is the wandering thread in the unknown tapestry that ties those experiences into you, into me.

And that’s why I am conscious of death, and it doesn’t fill me with fear or avoidance or make me unhappy.  I figure that when the time comes, it will be an experience you simply surrender to, like birth, because you have no control.  In the meantime, I have some big goals and small goals.  Really living each day like there’s no tomorrow, living only on whims is not sustainable–but big future plans have to be in balance with the here and now.

So for my thread, I want more of this.  More of having people over for dinner, talking late into the night.  More of enjoying early mornings, making tea, reading with a purring cat.  More of wrestling with my kids and doing food experiments.  More of lovemaking.  😉 More of keeping connections to old friends and always being open to the new.  More of new places, new friends, new tastes. More of enjoying lazy weekends with friends I’ve had for years.  More of making small steps to big dreams.  More of love and light, wherever I am.

Death And The Narratives We Tell

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I think a lot about death.  It’s one of my favorite topics, though one I don’t necessarily share frequently as it weirds people out.  I think it’s just because once you exist, it’s difficult to imagine not existing.  The idea does not scare me – though I have to admit, if someone stuck a gun in my face, I’m sure I would be terrified.  Something about the immediacy would be frightening.  But as far as the philosophical idea of non-existence goes, I think I have made my peace with it.  After all, I’ve been thinking about it since I was 11.

When I was a kid, I was very unhappy.  Sometime people underestimate the emotions a child could have, underestimate the pain someone who is not an adult could feel. From a young age, I always felt like a skinned knee, raw and vulnerable, the meat of my flesh exposed.  Always on the edge of tears, always trying to keep my feelings under control and not being able to.  I felt out of place, because just existing seemed so effortless for other kids.

Because make no mistake, I was weird.  Some days I just didn’t wash and didn’t bother to brush my hair, it all seemed so useless.  If people talked to me, I would often start crying uncontrollably, because I couldn’t tell if they were taking a piss at me, or even worse, actually cared.  My worldview had no place for people who cared about me.  All I knew is that there was something deeply flawed, deeply wrong with me.  But I didn’t know what it was.

My life sucked, and so, I made up a story for why it sucked.  It had to do with me, and something horrible about me. Perhaps I was ugly.  Truly and dreadfully.  And once I decided upon that as my hypothesis, my confirmation bias neatly fell into place.  I remembered every cruel remark:

“Are you a witch?  Because you have a really big nose.”

“Why do you follow us?  Don’t you know that nobody wants you around, nobody likes you?”

“Are you a bitch or a dude?  Hey, I’m talking to you.  ARE YOU a bitch or a dude?  Because no one can tell.”

Or my favorite – “Do you see a psychiatrist?  Because however often you go, it’s not often enough.”

I remember being so thankful that I got home before anyone else, so that I could go to my room and cry and clean up before anyone could see.

And that’s how I got to considering suicide at age 11.  I’m told that’s fairly early.  Actually, to me, if the age of reason is 7, it seems fairly late.  Eleven is old enough to see the bullshit in the world.  To think and to feel that it will never get better.  To go through enough isolation and bullying to not want to go through anything more.  The thing I remember most about 5th grade, besides math, was thinking about how I would hang myself outside the school.  There was a bunch of young trees outside, young enough to climb.  It would be easy.

But obviously, I never did, because I am here, writing this blog 30 years later.  It took me a good decade to really get out of the throes of depression.  It took me a long time to learn how to be a friend and to accept friendship.  It was probably one of the most healing lessons I have ever learned.  That I–gawky, big-footed, big-nosed, and with glasses to boot–could actually be someone other people cared about.  In all my imperfections, in all my hangups, the more I reveal my open soul, the more people let me into theirs.

That was the second lesson.  Everyone has suffered, no one gets a monopoly on that.  Some people definitely have a different level of grit – I must admit that I am a little embarrassed that I had no outside trauma to deal with.  My worst obstacle has always been myself. I have heard many stories.  Rape, being molested as a child, cutting, having rocks thrown at them, suicide – I have been a listening witness to many cruelties that were not my personal experience.  And I am grateful to be so trusted.  People know they can tell me anything.

After all, though, you finally get to a point where you let it go.  All of it.  If you’re going to end your life, or if you’re not, you make your peace with that decision.  Then you move on, because the limbo state isn’t sustainable.  Somewhere around 16, I decided that I probably wasn’t going to end it.  I still had fantasies of course; the note, the way I would end it — but it was a daydream of not having to suffer anymore.  It took me another 5-6 years to finally get rid of that fantasy for good and really embrace the fact that I was going to live.

What is funny is that as the years have gone by and I decided to have children, I worry about it more.  Not because I fear death, but because I know my kids love me.  If I died now, they would be fucked up.  Though I have warned them that if I’m 98 and have incurable cancer, I’m probably going to jump out of a plane and “forget” to pull the parachute.  Just so they know.

So the strange thing is–the thing I can’t let go of–is being insignificant or unimportant.  I don’t expect to win a Nobel Prize or anything, but I would very much like to have some good impact in the world.  I don’t know what, however–and I’m in my official 40s now, so the pressure is on.  I remember someone telling me that in the Hindu worldview, you have kids and then as they grow older, you can devote yourself to spiritual pursuits.  Everything in its own good time.  I feel a bit like that.  I enjoy having kids – it’s great fun and awe to experience the world through young eyes – and yet, it’s not everything I want to experience.  I love my kids, but I can’t say that they complete me.  Just like a lover or a friend, I don’t know the trajectory of their lives.  Will it be in parallel to mine?  Will it only intersect and then diverge?  Sometimes the people who have the most influence on us are not the people we’re destined to have Sunday dinners with.

That is, of course, the strangeness of [our] Time.  We remember the past, but know nothing of the future.  But if it doesn’t matter anyway (and I mean that in both the positive and negative sense), then the meaning is in the traveling, the experience of life.  If Death is the equalizer of us all, then enjoying our personal journey, and helping others to enjoy theirs, is all that really matters.  Maybe our stories will last for a generation or two, our DNA longer, but eventually it all fades and disappears into the noise of a billion lives.  Somehow this makes me feel better and not worse–but then again, I always was an iconoclast.

Gratitude

It has been a little crazy around here, and frankly I’ve been up and down about a situation that will soon be resolved.  Let’s just say my ego has been through the shredder.  But spring and change are coming, and the end to this difficult situation will soon be here.   I can’t wait!

I have had a lot of sychronicities and pings coming back, letting me know I’m on the right track.   But it’s been hard.   I’ve been yanked through a door, blundering around in the dark, but every time I get low something comes along to cheer me up:  an email from a friend, a timely article, even some recurring numbers (which may sound a bit too New Age, but it works for me).  And though it’s been tough, both my husband and I are in proximity to a very sad situation of one of our acquaintances, which shows me how much worse it could be.

I was thinking the other day, If I were someone else that wanted to help me, what would help the most? The thing that has helped me the most is encouragement, faith, and confidence that it will all turn out all right.  So to all my friends, and to my husband and daughter especially, thank you so much in the past few weeks for all your words of encouragement.  I have been needy and insecure, and I am grateful for the wonderful people that are part of my life.

And if you, who is reading this now, feels sad, uncertain, anxious, and afraid, I just want to say it will get better.  It’s been a hard winter and sometimes our personal life lessons are tough–but things change.  Winter changes to spring, snow melts, the sun comes back.  Though sometimes life seems pointless and empty, there is so much more.  Turn off the t.v., put down the fantasy novel, and stop eating crap–then feel a moment of silent peace grow within your heart.  If you’re afraid of what will come up if you don’t keep occupying your mind, believe that you can work through it.   I know you can.  We all are capable of great things, you and I.  And we are all together on this earth.

Mastermind Group

Today was the first meeting of our mastermind group.   I had been inspired by some posts on Erin Pavlina’s site and decided to form one of my own.  I guess typical Mastermind Groups are often set up by entrepreneurs in order to grow their business–my focus is to lead a better life.  It is so easy to get caught up in the minutiae of life that we lose the big picture–until we get dropped on our ass.

Well, I got dropped on my ass last summer and the beta dropping on the ass came a few weeks ago.  And the irony is that I have been anxious for months, “What should I be doing, should I be doing this or this or this?”  There’s a quote by Teddy Roosevelt, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”  So now I am doing things, and we’ll see where my little adventures lead.

I invited some ladies over and we started with a gratitude exercise, and then did a little rate your life activity.  And after that we formed some intentions and set some goals for the next month.  I think it went pretty well.  I would like us to grow as people and work through the blockages in our life.  So here’s to a better vibration!  🙂

And the Dam Broke

So I’ve been doing well overall, but the past week I’ve been pretty emotional.  In fact, in talking with my boss I have decided to decline being a supervisor for now.  It’s not that the job has changed, it’s that I’ve changed.  And I’m have a crisis of career right now.  I’m not sure this is what I want or where I want to be.  I’m not sure I could grow in a meaningful way at the company I’m at now.  There are challenges, sure, but it still seems like a lot of bullshit to me.  How exactly am I helping anyone, anyone at all at this point?  I don’t want to waste my life doing something that does not contribute to society.   This is important to me.

God, all my life is so imperfect, so far from where I want it to be.  And changing one’s self is an arduous job.

Pure Energy

Yesterday I went to the Saturday bootcamp at Elver Park.  I’ve been trying to go every Saturday, because I don’t know what’s going to happen when the weather gets too cold to workout outside.  Plus, on Thursday Dustin (my trainer) was at a fitness conference, so one of the other trainers stepped in to lead the small group.  Well, she was too easy on us.  Cardio wasn’t too bad, but we needed a lot more weights for the strength portion.

Apparently I was not the only one who felt this way.  On Sat, we had a small PPD contigent to get in their “tough” workout.   They did not disappoint.  I was sweaty and completely disgusting by the end of it.  (And I went grocery shopping afterwards–ha!)  After it was done and people started leaving, Dayna mentioned she would almost like a short jog afterwards to cool down.  “You want to?”  I said, “Let’s do it!”  So we went for a short jog.  Then we got back and decided to go glute exercises just to finish off.  And part of me is just looking at myself, saying “Who are you?”  I felt great.

Maybe I’m just running on addiction to endorphins, because last night, even though I had already worked out, I threw some more cardio and dance for another half hour.  And I’m going dancing tonight!  hee hee.

So here are the little things that for so long have bugged me and yet to change them felt so monumental:

At night, I have been choosing my clothes for the next day, because it saves me time.

At night, I have been packing my lunch for the next day, same reason above.

I have been getting up at 6:00 am so I’m not always running out the door late.

I have been better at making meals that utilizes my vegetables using my crop share.

I have been trying to make sure there are no dishes lingering in the sink by the end of the night.  (This one is particularly hard for me)

If you are not a lazy person, the above things may seem self-evident and exceedingly simple.  But for me, I don’t why I had such resistance to them.  In general, I have not been the greatest at the planning ahead thing.  But I’m getting better, and the difference now is that I am not fighting myself anymore.  The dishes thing–you know, I would always think, “Why can’t Leif do that?  He should be doing that.”  Well, the truth is is that it is an issue that’s important to me.  So why don’t I stop my grumbling and take responsibility for it?

My further goals are to get up early and workout every morning (belly dance, yoga, or even Tae Bo :)) and to meditate every night.  I found some incense I really like, and it’s so peaceful, in the silence after everyone has gone to bed, to just watch the stream of smoke as it curls up.  And there’s a lot of spiritual work I’ve been doing.  I bought a daytimer, and I just keep writing all the ideas that come into my head.  I almost feel like it’s getting rid of some of my fog in my mind when I don’t have to keep track of stuff.  Sort of like a low-tech Pensieve, if you will.  🙂

Change

So in case you’ve been worried about me, you don’t need to be.  I am in a strange place right now, happy but quiet about it.  Some days I’ve been intensely happy.  In fact, today was kind of a letdown because I felt kind of normal.  For the past three days I’ve been euphoric, yet it would be strange to run outside yelling, “I love everybody!  Life is the coolest thing ever!” even though that’s pretty much the way I feel.

I am on a path that may lead me far, far from where I’m starting.  I don’t really want to talk about it, because it deals with my dreams and being authentic to myself.  Until my outside life reflects it, it seems silly to even discuss it.

Every day is full of such new experiences.  I am so happy to be alive.  And yet, there is so much I want to change in my life and I finally feel resistance crumbling.  Because it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, in the end it is just me and my choices.  I have come to embrace all my so-called kooky beliefs, even if other people would laugh at me.  It’s all good.