Make pain a friend, and you will have no enemies.
When the truth of the myth of Sisyphus comes to light…
what choice do we have, but to love the rock?
Deep down, everyone wants to feel loved. It doesn’t seem like a big ask.
Oftentimes, facing our own history, unraveling it, then making peace with it in the present is a necessary first step.
Gazing into the mirror we unknowingly ask, and answer a question in silence, “Am I lovable?”
This unspoken answer serves as subliminal instruction for all those we come across in this lifetime.
If someone cannot love you for who you really are,
be sure that someone
Time is an illusion, or so say theoretical physicists, some Buddhists, and a few uncredentialed randos. Change, on the other hand, is palpable. On the cosmic continuum, our human lives are laughably short, unless of course one throws caring for a newborn baby into the mix at which point each moment takes on the guise of eternity.
What to do with such a minuscule timeframe? Establish an identity? Wear it as a mantle, or suit of armor? Perhaps. On a more interesting tack, might we open our minds to the so-called illusion of time and embrace the challenge of change?
That sound we hear at night when we cannot fall asleep, that jarring metaphorical thunder strike that suddenly and unexpectedly transgresses our imagined force field of normalcy, that ominous silence which becomes deafening during unwanted moments of solitude; that is the sound of inevitability. It is the specter or the hope of change. It knocks at the door when we do not expect a visitor, or claws at the window on a stormy night as we toss and turn, tangled in our sweat-soaked sheets. It is the ‘inescapable,’ taunting the prisoner.
Some folks make peace with change, even crave it. Others purposefully oppose it in archetypal ‘arch-rival’ fashion. One path leads to some manner of peace with what is going to be, the other leads to voluntary disappointment. Each is a fine perspective, though one opens new doors while the other bars them. Either way, the drama is short lived.
A dam with no floodgate cannot contain a relentless downpour forever. So it is with the ‘illusory’ incubus we call ‘time.’ The waters will crest, the dam will fail, the future will wrench historical normalcy from the hands of every true believer and cleanse the land with the as yet unknown.
Holding tight to the past, or even the present will give the illusion of effectiveness for a decade or two. ‘The more things same, the more they stay the change,’ but only for so long. Nostalgia is bittersweet as is the inevitability of change, but only one of them is optional. Onward!
Tacking hard back and forth across the teeth of the wind. Spray filling my eyes as the bow plunges into wave after indifferent wave. The imprint of rope on my clenched fingers may by now be permanent. The going is slow and my destination still so far off that I’ve almost forgotten its original allure. All I know is that the safe harbor I’ve been seeking seems to lie at the birthplace of the relentless headwind. “Perhaps it is time to choose a new course,” I think as another wash of spray wipes my brow. “Perhaps.”
The stories any of us can recall about sailing downwind are few for their lack of incident, even scarcer if one has never actually sailed, but let’s say its national metaphor day and roll with it. For most of us, our many days are marked in turn by periods of smooth runnings, threatening waters, and periods of the listless, anxiety-provoking doldrums. Each it seems has their time and place on the nautical map of our journey, and I imagine a reason they’ve found us, or we’ve found them. Few milestones rise up in monolithic fashion while we are enjoying the momentary gift of easy passage through this life. It may be that the cursed wind, or lack of it, thwarting our efforts at any given moment is also the very gift that aids us in the writing of a story finally worth telling.
Parents! If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent! If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking. If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.
For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity. Humanity, consisting primarily of me. Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about. Ugh, so embarrassing! Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.
We all do our best right? No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time. However, if we do our best, well done us! That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece. To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable. Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole? You decide.
These days I am a parent. Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons. I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.” Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself. Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.” I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add. Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered. Attitude is everything!
Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor. Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities. I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times. Ego talk? Probably. Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true. Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best. As for my misread on the choice of life partners? Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.
I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct. All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family. What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance? Could we have done better? Certainly. The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again. No blaming or finger pointing here.
Back to my parents. They worked hard, or at least my pops did. On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included. Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect. To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics. Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps. My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life. The intensity must have been nearly unbearable. Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure. No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.
My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs. We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood. It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled. In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt. We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together. So it goes.
In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown. I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family. With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live. “Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked. My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance. Phew!
By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance. Distance allows perspective. Perspective provides the chance for healing. Healing allows courage to blossom. Courage creates the possibility of change. Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a universal gift.
Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze. It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled. Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.
I love you, mom and dad! I now see clearly that you did the very best you could. Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Distant lightning flashed. White light careened through the skylights momentarily illuminating the dark bedroom. The air bristled with discomfort, disquiet coursing through my mind, through every cell in my body. Thunder rolled across the night, and the wind rose to a harsh whistle at the windows. The unease that filled the night was not however born on the wings of the coming storm. It was of my own making; a rising tide the origin of which was a mystery, unknowable and ominous.
As the first huge drops of rain began to hammer the skylights, I huddled in the darkness wrestling with the sense that everything in my world seemed beyond control, beyond the possibility of repair, beyond hope. The spread of this darkness began to envelop my mind, strangling my thoughts, paralyzing any ability I once would have used to still the maelstrom of doubts. For reasons the genesis of which escape me, there are times in life when the smallest thing, the largest thing, everything seems overwhelming.
As the storm overtook the house in its full force, I lay still in the darkness. Fear of living is not something I choose to dance with, but there are times when the music comes up, and that fear reaches for my hand and pulls me out onto the floor despite my resistance. This was such a night, such a dance, spinning around the room I moved to the tune of unfounded fear.
The sound of the hammering rain drew my eyes in the direction of the skylight. As I stared wide-eyed into the blackness a lightning bolt struck, once again blasting the world with white light. At that moment I saw the myriad raindrops exploding against the glass. That’s when it dawned on me.
The raindrops are a metaphor for life. Moments before they had not been raindrops. From an ineffable particle field of clouds miles above they had formed, born into the shape of a water droplet; a singular entity created from the ether. They live in individual form hurtling through space and time; their unique existence real and measurable, for a moment. Upon striking the skylight, the rooftop, or the ground they were transformed; no longer individual drops, returned to the shapelessness of rushing water, washing away to be absorbed by the earth. There they are assimilated and redistributed as means for growth and current for streams and rivers. After a few hot days, any evidence of their unique existence is diminished and finally vanishes.
So it is with life. A beginning from nothing followed by a meteoric plunge through the universe of existence; and finally a return to the fathomless whole of all things. Everything that has a beginning has an end. Once placed in this perspective no journey is without hope, without relief, or without its own particular brilliance. The storm of disquiet within dissipated, understanding washing over me in a gentle wave of acceptance and appreciation. I pulled the covers over my slowly relaxing body, rolled to my side and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The patience cat came to stay on an unusually warm Saturday in late July. She was accompanied by two siblings who clearly regarded her as the least significant of their clan. The serial cat rescuers we acquired these new family members from defined her as the runt of the litter. Funny word for living things, “litter!” Kittens come into the world in one, cats relieve themselves in it, and humans prone to indiscretion cast it from the windows of speeding cars along the highways of America as a malevolent gift to society at large. Anyway, the three kittens, two silver tabby girls and one-half tabby, half polished polar bear boy crawled tentatively over the edge of their cardboard limo to explore the new world. “Ugh, linoleum,” thought the patience cat at first touch, what have we gotten ourselves into?
Interestingly that was also one of my first thoughts when I bought the place. That said, Linoleum is an amazing substance, tackiness notwithstanding. No offense meant to lovers of the flooring option. It (linoleum) is an amazingly forgiving, and down-the-road money-saving choice. For instance, when the 1970’s fridge that came with this fossilized house offers up a couple of quarts of “where the hell did that water come from” around its base, or one of the cats yacks their morning kibble and half the lawn on it, its cool. Linoleum saves the day via its impermeable countenance. A few rags or paper towels solve the problem, and no one has to lose sleep over absorbency. Excellent! The fact that someone actually gets paid to create the god-awful designs featured on most plastic flooring products must rank high among god’s jokes, but I digress?
As human children grow up their personalities being to emerge, or if their ways of being have been made clear early on, they magnify. The Patience Cat was no exception. Being a firstborn myself, by many years actually, (only child until I was six), I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the weakest among seven born within twenty minutes. In the litter arena, I imagine getting food, let alone parental nurturing has a gladiatorial survival essence about it. So yes, she was slight of build, to put it mildly. In fact, she looked like a bobblehead. That said, unlike many of her kind, she survived. In her little cat way, she found footing in a loving home and made a place for herself, possibly due to the three, well-distanced food bowl placement strategy employed at our place.
So it was that the Patience Cat became a teenager. The intersection of safety with dependable continuity from day to day allows one to spread their wings. The Patience Cat found this to be true for her. The unruliness and demands of a teenager manifested in her every action. The quirks this girl displays make for regular conversation fodder around the house. Which for context I must say is a house inhabited by three men two teenagers and yours truly.
This kitty girl, with all her issues, is a gift to us. For one thing she is a lovely little soul. On top of that, her style of interaction provides a constant reminder that patience is a choice. Patience was in short supply in the halls where I dwelled during my early years. So it is I imagine in most households featuring young, busy parents and challenging offspring. Though I was first born, and therefore not classified as a runt by traditional definition, I was not remotely familiar with golden child status, nor accustomed to patience as a guiding hand during my assent to adulthood, (an assent which I’m not sure I’ve completed). The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree, unless a benevolent tornado has been involved in logistical reassignment proceedings. As a result, the expression “patience is a virtue” comes to mind in no small way on a daily basis for me. The Patience Cat then has become something of a guide, a guardian angel if you will, to remind me of my choice to be accepting of others. In particular, she has reminded me to make space for those who, by no fault, or choosing of their own, do shit that makes me want to go volcanic!
Do you remember that kid in school who tried way too hard to get attention? Everybody shunned that poor desperate bastard or bastardette right? That’s the Patience Cat! Working at the laptop, perched on the couch with a cocktail, I’ll be intensely focused on a project. Then here she comes, sliding her dripping, enthusiastic nose across my arm, ensuring a typo as she works her way toward obscuring my view of the screen. Even now as I am typing this piece, she has been nudging and nuzzling my arm with that running nose to the damp tune of a multitude of “red underlined” typos. Ugh! But wait, she just wants connection. That’s not a crime. So I have to take a breath and chill, in lieu of my automatic response which would be to escort her from the couch physically, possibly to a neighboring county. Yes, I can be an insensitive ass. The boys, who have had similar experiences, find her to be equally intrusive and disruptive. We discuss it, regularly. Good for her though, we ultimately decide, grudgingly. She goes for what she wants. Plenty of humans never find the courage to quest for the fulfillment of their needs. Again, the Patience Cat is a guide, a role model even.
Though she can be trying on multiple levels, she is family. The name Patience Cat, which I might add, is her most flattering nickname to date, arose from her curious behavior at the threshold of our patio door. It was late December, the temperature hovering at 7º. She wanted to go outside, sort of. She meowed at the door; I opened it wide offering unobstructed passage. She backed up, timid, uncertain. Confused, I closed the door. She again meowed and approached the door. Once more I pulled the door open allowing the winter chill to wither the already wilting kitchen. Again she backed up and declined the offer. This time I Thought, “well what the fuck cat?” Then it dawned on me; she has an issue with crossing the threshold. Perhaps she’d been hit in the ass by that door at some point on her proverbial “way out.” Not on my watch, but we have had cat sitters while on vacation. Hmmm? I mustered a patience flame from deep within. Standing there freezing my ass off, while hundreds of dollars of central heat poured into the leafless, frigid backyard I waited.
I spoke gently to her, assuring her that she could exit safely, and would be let back in should she change her mind. She looked at me as if to say, “I don’t speak English, you silly fuck!” I stood still, recognizing at that moment the opportunity to undo a lifetime of patience-less perspective. Slowly she moved, one tiny, cautious step at a time across that insanely hideous greenish plaid-ish linoleum toward the doorway. Minutes passed, hours, days, lifetimes. Suddenly she rushed the door. As she approached the threshold, she leaped several feet in the air kicking her hide quarters to the side like a freestyle motocross rider and flew out into the winter night.
Stunned, I watched her dash across the frozen grass, then realizing my shiver along with the icicles forming on my eyelashes, closed the door. Click went the latch. There in that dark, cold, horribly neglected 1950’s kitchen I stood stone still. Moments passed. A smile slowly crossed my lips; then laughter burst from me. The Patience Cat, the smallest and least likely to survive had delivered a late Christmas present. Patience grew where once there was none. It is a choice that can manifest, a gift, a survivable option for one to whom it had formerly been no more than a myth. Who knew?
If you’re still stuck on the 7º bit, fear not. I did a lap or two around the house turning off lights and saying good nights, returned to the kitchen, and called the little girl in.
…for the ones you love, and the one in the mirror.