I can tell I’ve stumbled across something important when I attempt to draft a post and in the course of writing it, find myself going deeper and deeper into the scary stuff, because I don’t even know where it’s going. This is one of those, I didn’t understand it until I finished writing it.
So here you are, some blog therapy for your Monday!
For the past week, potent symbols have been popping up everywhere. The knives that were sharpened. The household object that was divided.
These were things that actually happened, but they were only interesting because of what’s going on under the surface: my parents are getting divorced after 37 years of marriage.
As you might imagine, it’s an emotional maelstrom lately. Big discussions. Confronting hard stuff. People I love are in pain. Trying to figure out where I stand (me, the eldest daughter, the fixer and the family glue) and what on earth I’m feeling. (I’m in pain, if I stop to think about it.)
But here’s another thing: my mother’s birthday, right smack in the eye of the hurricane. More importantly: the birthday gift that I have not yet bought for her.
I’m not just randomly exploiting symbols here to make a point — this gift is looming HUGELY in my mental landscape, as evidenced by the fact that I ran around all weekend in a semi-panic, talking about the gift, wondering about it, coming up with financially unfeasible ideas, attempting to plan with siblings…but ultimately, not accomplishing anything more than your average headless chicken.
Why was I so scared? What is the big freaking deal?
I realized today it’s because this is my offering to the dragon.
(I know, not a flattering metaphor. Trying to be okay with that.)
Really, why would anyone be excited about bringing an offering to the dragon? Dragons are: unpredictable! Not easily placated! Your offering of a nice plump goose might be summarily rejected and your lucky dragon-placating boots burnt to a crisp!
Here’s a thing I am figuring out about myself: after living a long time with an unpredictable dragon, I’ve become afraid of what signs or signals will be read into my actions.
The fear of the dragon cancels out good intentions, you see. Each action or word has the potential to set off that unpredictable anger. So I’ve learned to examine myself very carefully.
After a lifetime, I came to believe that if the dragon comes out, it must be because I screwed it all up, even though I may have had zero power over the situation the whole time.
I’ve got to focus on that last part: I have zero power over how the other person receives and interprets my intention. I can feel compassion if they are hurt by it; but I can only work from my own sense of integrity. Everything else that happens is a good time to work on sovereignty. (Have I mentioned how badly I want to go to Sovereignty Kindergarten to think about this one some more?)
This is big stuff. My stuff, my pain, is all mixed up with other peoples’ stuff.
And that’s why this gift is not just a gift.
I’m making it into a symbol because I want to believe that the perfect gift will fix everything. Bandaid, therapist, and time machine, all rolled up into one.
Of course, if I avoid shopping for the gift, I can avoid failure — hello procrastination and perfectionism, my old friends…didn’t expect to see you here!
I heard some wise words from a good friend this weekend about scapegoating. It’s the easy way out: it’s someone else’s fault! If you’re busy blaming someone else, you don’t have to pay attention to your own stuff. She stopped me because I spent a lot of time talking about what was wrong with the other person, and not a whole lot about how I felt or thought or understood. Sometimes I just get started and momentum carries me right into a tirade; without consciously engaging with my stuff, there’s no catharsis at the end.
So what part of this is mine?
I want to acknowledge that I feel a lot of resentment right now. Pain is here, and a lot of it is old and creaky and needs a lot of attention. And I’m afraid. It’s healthy fear! But even given all this, I want to set some healthy limits on this whole gift thing in order to make it work.
Giving a gift transcends obligation, here. On a socio-cultural level, the act of giving (even in reluctance) actually temporarily short-circuits negative feelings (some other time I will have to dig up the article in which I saw this discussed in greater detail). It’s like practicing Yoga when you’re in the mood to hurl objects at the wall; not that you shouldn’t honor those feelings, but it’s good to remind your head and your heart that good feelings feel good, too.
Here’s what I know: I do want to express the love that I feel. I do want to protect this gift from all the emotional cargo that it can come freighted with, if I let my stuff get mixed up with other peoples’ stuff. This is what’s important to me.
I wish I could give her a gift that will fix everything. A bandaid of boundless compassion. A shield that magically repels disappointed expectations.
But it’s okay for this great big mid-divorce birthday event to come and go without being my One Chance To Fix Everything. I can’t change anything with a gift, after all. I can only be myself.
Compassion says: let go of the need for the gift to be anything other than what it is. Let it be simple.
Fatigue says: I am so, so tired of trying to fix everything. I want it to be simple.
Logic says: Set a time limit. A place to look for it. One nice thing. That’s all it has to be.
So that’s what I’m going to try.
Thanks for reading this today. It’s a little scary to put these things out in the big world, but writing about it is far, far better than bottling it up.