Spring and Fall: to a Young Child
“Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.” (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
Ah, Mr. Hopkins. A poet ahead of your time, with your sprung rhythms and convoluted structures. I love to read this poem out loud, just for the magic and melody of the words. I understand exactly what it is that Margaret is grieving.
Fall. A blaze of color, in my part of the world. The tamaracks are cones of flame set in amongst the still green cedar and fir. Driving down into town I pass trees golden or scarlet, leaves drifting onto sidewalks and lawns. I remember the child pleasure of walking through piles of leaves – the swish crunch of leaves beneath my feet, the damp smell of the earth, the amazing blue of an autumn sky.
I thought today how amazing it is that we are gifted with this display of color in the fall. In death the trees are perhaps more dramatically beautiful than in the spring, when they are in full blossom. A manifestation of life – a reminder that the joy and sorrow are tied up together so that if you don’t allow yourself to feel the hurt, you are also numbed to the beauty and the wonder of it all.
Sadness tends to strike me this time of year, memories of my beloved dead crowd closer, and yet at the same time my soul soars and I breathe more deeply, enchanted by the brilliant colors everywhere I turn.
Consider this from the very wise Kahlil Gibran:
“Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”
The trick is in being open in the moment to whatever emotion – or combination of emotions – is with you. Many of us fear our feelings and do whatever we can to shut them out. Simple measures like TV and music and yes, even reading or writing books are effective barriers between ourselves and what we feel. Alcohol and drugs are ever popular emotion numbers. Some people resort to the extreme of self mutilation – cutting and burning their own flesh so that the physical pain might block out the emotional.
When I was working through my grief after my husband’s death, I would find myself at times in a pattern of falling asleep on the couch instead of going to bed. Too tired, I would tell myself. It takes too much energy to make the shift to bed.
But it was part of an avoidance pattern. Go to bed late, get up early. Run fast and hard all day long, caught up in the sweep of whatever needed to be done. Crash onto the couch at last, after the kids were in bed, and turn on the TV. Watch TV until my eyes closed and I drifted off without ever a moment of silence in order to face whatever demon had surfaced and needed to be processed so I could move on.
Eventually I came to recognize this falling asleep on the couch as a signal that I had work to do. Journaling, drawing, long walks by the river. Tears that needed to be shed. The grief issue would rise and I would have a couple of days where I felt like the sorrow might consume me.
And then, hard on the heels of the grief would come the miracle, the day where joy showed up for no greater reason than the blue of the sky, the purr of my cat, the pleasure of a perfect cup of coffee. If I didn’t let myself feel the hurt, everything would fade into a grey blur, but allowing the pain opened the door to the joy.
Are you allowing yourself a full range of emotional expression? There’s a simple test – how are you with being alone and quiet with yourself? What happens when there is no music, no television, no book. Can you sit quietly and look at a sunset, take a long walk by yourself? If you avoid these types of situations, stop and ask yourself why. Maybe it’s time to pay some attention to a long buried hurt so that you can be more open to the joy as well.
Wisdom comes from unlikely sources at times. This comes from my favorite band of all time, Dire Straits: “There should be sunshine after rain, there should be laughter after pain, these things have always been the same. Don’t Worry Now“
This is not a post about romantic love. If you’re looking for romance (and who isn’t?) there are other sites for that. Romance is wonderful and terrible and often precipitates the crises we’re talking about resolving. The kind of love I’m talking about is the kind you get from good friends and healthy family relationships.
It’s been said that if you have one good friend to talk to, you will never need a therapist.
There is some truth to this. Many difficult life events never reach crisis levels if we have the supports to help us cope before things blow up. Not too long ago I watched the movie Lars and the Real Girl. The premise involves a socially inept young man named Lars, who falls in love with a life sized doll he believes to be real. The entire community wraps itself around Lars, supporting his delusion while helping him develop real relationships. Now that is a support network!
In the real world, these types of relationships are harder to come by.
So, what about those relationships – the ones that aren’t romance – the ones that involve friends and family, that can help keep us sane in the midst of chaos and disaster?
Some of us are lucky enough to come from families where we were – and maybe even still are – loved, nurtured and supported. Unfortunately, for many of us these are also the relationships that put us into crisis in the first place. Let’s be honest – a lot of us, even as adults – are still tangled up in relationships that create more pain than healing.
So what’s a person to do?
If you have the means – insurance or money or whatever it takes – a really good therapist is an invaluable ally in learning how to develop healthy relationships, especially if this is something that doesn’t come naturally to you. But let’s face it – a lot of us can’t afford a therapist, or hate therapists, or think they do more harm than good. We may also be afraid we’ll be forced to face up to things about ourselves we’d rather just leave buried.
Don’t forget that there are plenty of good self help books about relationships out there. (Yes, there are also bad ones. The good ones tend to follow common sense.)
Anyway – once you’ve either decided to engage with a therapist or a book, or have decided you have no use whatsoever for any of that ‘touchy feely stuff’, the next question is – where can you find some supportive people to have relationships with?
There are many possibilities and really only one rule: remember that you are looking for healthy, supportive people. While you might find them at the local bar, it’s probably not the best place to start looking.
1. Follow your interests. The best way to find people you might connect with is by engaging in an activity you enjoy. Take a photography class, join a reading group, learn how to paint, or cook, or make furniture. Community Colleges often offer evening classes at a very reasonable cost.
2. Volunteer for something. Chances are you’ll meet some wonderful, caring people along the way.
3. Join a religious organization. Churches are perfect for this sort of thing, often offering small groups and activities that make it easy to meet and connect with people.
4. Choose a coffee shop and hang out for awhile at the same time every day. I have a friend who has been doing this – at the same Starbucks – for years. I joined him the other day, and nearly every person who walked through the door knew him by name. Of course, he is one of those people who knows everybody everywhere, but still.
5. Don’t forget about online resources. While it is important to have actual, real life people around you, so they can give you a hug when needed and actually drag you out of the house for a walk, or on a shopping expedition, or whatever, online friends can be awesome. Online dating sites can be used to form friendships. Twitter and Facebook can help you connect with people who share your interests as well. These contacts can grow into closer friendships by moving on to email and Instant Messaging, and sometimes even meeting somewhere In Real Life.
This is a short list. Be creative. And don’t forget that one of the most important things about developing supportive friends is that you must also be a supportive friend.
I’m going to repeat that, because there are so many people out there who want other people to be supportive and nurturing, but never seem to realize that a friendship goes both ways. If you want to have supportive friends, you must also be a supportive friend.
“Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline.”
We’ve all seen the models in the advertising campaign, each of them another face for the ongoing “nature versus nurture debate.” In case you’ve had other things on your mind and missed the opportunity to sit around a table waving your hands and ranting about your take on nature vs. nurture, the question is basically this: did you become who you are today because of your genetics or your upbringing, or a combination of the above.
The Maybelline models are a case for the combination theory: they were not born with what you see in those commercials. Yep, they might have been blessed with beauty, but you can pretty much bet they’ve been surgically enhanced, or at the very least, airbrushed.
In my last post I mentioned the importance of resources in a crisis. Today I want to acknowledge the reality that some of us are born with more to work with. We all know it. And some of these things contribute to our ability to cope with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (thank you Mr. Shakespeare).
The good news is that even those of us who were not born rich, extravagantly beautiful, or intellectually brilliant can do things to add strength and balance to our lives. I have only to stand in the checkout line at the supermarket reading tabloids to know that the rich and famous are not immune from unhappiness and even full scale crisis. I also know that money and privilege are resources not to be scorned. It’s easier to sustain an emotional blow, or deal with a serious illness, when you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to sleep tonight, or where your next meal is coming from.
In 1943, Abraham Maslow presented his hierarchy of human needs, a pyramid diagram which I really wanted to include here. Due to technical difficulties, why don’t you go and have a look at it here, before I have a crisis over my inability to perform the simple task of inserting a picture into my blog.
Did you go look? The general idea is that if you are in need of food, shelter, and safety, you aren’t going to be in any position to worry about development of your higher self.
Maslow had a point, although I find the need to mention the oh so many stories of people who have done great creative work while struggling with the basics of food, shelter, and safety.
J.K. Rowling. Jewel. Louisa Mae Alcott. Dostoevsky. Countless musicians and famous artists. So I’m thinking Maslow didn’t have the whole story, which also offers hope to those of us who are dealing with a crisis and lacking basic physical resources.
I don’t have a magic bullet for getting rich. I wish I could say that philosophies like those laid out in The Secret really worked, that all we have to do is believe and good things will come to us. I don’t believe life works this way. If you want a good job, you need to get qualified, apply, do better on an interview than the other candidates. If you get the job, you have to work hard and succeed at the job requirements in order to keep what you’ve won. If you are a creative type, you have to practice your art. As a writer, for example, I know there is no guarantee of getting published or ever making money, but it’s pretty sure that if I don’t work hard none of these good things will happen.
What I do believe is this: if our resources in one area are limited, the best thing we can do is to grow where we can. And the really good news is, often if we grow and expand in one aspect of our lives, that growth spills over everywhere and we become able to achieve what we could not before.
Next post: Love & Belonging