Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Matryoshka... by way of many...

And if you walk--walk away save yourself you've got nothing to prove
And if you give what they take you can bet they will take it from you
You're not the same as the day that you came
You can choose dignity or shame
You've got to carry your heart like a torch in the night
Little keeper of light burning deep burning bright in the dark
- Crooked Fingers.

Frederick Buechner, wrote in the Hungering Dark essay, Pontifex, which i am sure i have recalled here more than once before, "...we need each other, you and I…"

As i struggle to pull myself up from that dark well of loneliness (to steal a phrase), which i have also recalled here more than once before... as i try to give myself compassion at a time when my emotional insides try and catch up with my desire to love where i feel hurt dealt - i am drawn again to those words of Buechner's. to wonder what the G-d's eye view of our lives is... the eye that sees the need in us so much better than we do...

i do not know if it is faith that keeps me alive. but it is something like belief that there is always another way to view our lives. that if right now i am struggling to keep afloat, i should be wary of anything that feels definitive, an end point, a final solution... i must remain open to possibility - to that which is to come. to hope. as Caputo names it, "to hope in hope itself", even if, by way of Foy, "Hope deals the hardest blows"...

i have been recalling once again the words of a gospel preacher i witnessed delivering a sermon on the fourth verse of the Psalm 23 in Nashville. it was November 1998, in the weeks following my mother's death,
"Brothers and sisters!" he exclaimed with passion and dancing limbs, " 'Yea, tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death'. Through beloved! We are walking on through..."

i remember, or someone remembers in me, (perhaps it is G-d who is remembering, by which i might mean, perhaps that part of us that does not give up is what we would be best to call G-d, that something that does in us in spite of ourselves), that the only way out is through...


It is often noted by those that know me well that I have a curious or irritating ability to remember exact phrases, entire conversations. Such exactitude is both a blessing and a curse. There are many conversations and comments I would prefer not to remember. They keep we awake and wind round and round, replaying a barbed tune, like thorns on the inside of the skull. And there are many words that others would prefer I didn’t or couldn't recall... and i wish that i could marry that remembering with doubt, an ability to not believe what others say, since we humans so often seem to say things which we will later retract, deny, disprove, betray...

One of the (perhaps) mixed blessings of technology is that when we do what we call instant messaging we can save our conversations.
We get to rewind time if we choose and listen in on what we were thinking, feeling, saying, not saying on any given day. this morning i revisited a conversation of a few weeks ago, in which i had written, acknowledge pain is not a hurtful act to anyone. but to try and weave through life without being honest about our hurts is always destined to make us make bad choices or end up hurting one another...
as i read my words, i found comfort. met the stronger me. saw grace in action. little did i know how hard i would later, now, feel the cost of that attempt to live with grace, the attempt to make peace, let go of anger...
little did i understand then that even as i wrote that line above, i was swallowing my hurt and not allowing myself to be vulnerable. to admit pain. hurt. that apparently stronger me makes the repeated mistake of not taking care of the vulnerable me, the me that needs nourishment, security, caretaking...

when i do not listen to that me, it sits beneath, silenced, to be dragged by the stronger me, the one striding forth in the name of love and compassion and grace for others. the one that all to often forgets about me i was before i had words for love, compassion, grace ... the me that believes so passionately in love, in goodness, redemption, so often does too little to nurture, parent even, this more vulnerable me... it has such will, such force of belief it refuses to listen to the child who is desperately trying to speak within me, but who only has tears...the strong me silences and in doing so succumbs in the end to the wealth of grief being felt and i regress back so that all i can feel is that inner child... and such is the grief, i shut down on the outside...

of course there are no two parts, they are one... and yet there are more than two, within myself there are many... so let's scratch that, let's say that perhaps we are like russian dolls...

the largest is the one you see. the present self. the one that faces the world, has a mouth and eyes and ears. and inside, wrapped up inside one another are the many selves... to encounter each one is to encounter the past parts of ourselves...each one smaller and younger than the last... until down there in the centre is that part that has never been touched by the world... down in the place within us where there are no words, where G-d dwells... our true, unbattered, unwounded self... the source of our unique beauty...
each self wrapped inside another has a different story to tell, some are so young they have little language to express what they experienced, no way to tell us what it was that happened to make them hurt so much... they need great gentleness... others need to be allowed to be angry, to scream... others need to be affirmed, to be set free, to dream... others need to speak of neglect, injustice...
in every conversation, in every moment, there is always the possibility that we will awaken the memory that any one of these selves carries... and if we are not careful, those selves do our feeling for us, they believe the past is repeating itself... we need such discernment to be whole humans... we need to know the difference between the present and the past... to nurture those past selves... to love them within us...we need to remind them that what is past is past and that they are safe... we need to let them speak... but we must reconginse that they are speaking about the past, their time, not the present...
but by keeping them silent, by refusing to really listen, our present self struggles to control the commotion... who to listen to, who to let be in charge..? inside there is panic, fear... we become legion the more those inner selves are not taken care of... and for others... well, they shut down rather than face those inside... they retreat into perceived control rather than allow the perceived chaotic pain of hearing their own stories, rather than admitting there are parts of themselves that do not have a clue how to live in the grown up world... who have no control... who need taken care of... who are ashamed of what lies within them... who cannot bear to face the hurt in some of the stories needing to be told...

sometimes we stuff the mouths of those inner selves to keep them quiet - with material goods, food, sex, drugs, alcohol...hedonism. sometimes we silence those inner selves by starving them, neglecting them, denying them what they need, keeping them under strict guard. sometimes we will silence them by physically hurting others... and sometimes the noise is so intolerable we give way to what the world sees as insanity... we will, it seems, go to any extreme to pretend we are in control...

if i could carve in wood, i would build a whole series of life size dolls, one for my present self and one for all the pasts... and stand them in a row, perhaps a circle so they could be witnesses to one another... and speak to each of them... tell each of them what they need to hear... and i would keep speaking to each of them until they stopped hurting... listen to them til they had said whatever it is i need to hear...

perhaps that's what therapy is... perhaps that is what writing is... perhaps that's what these pages are all about... perhaps that is what the book i am writing needs to be about... the conversations we need to have with each of those selves... the stumbling attempt to make each one feel welcomed, heard... to let each of them speak... to not be silenced, to not be shamed... to allow them to sing and weep... to acknowledge that they all to often did not get what they needed... and so often, the G-d eye knows they were hurt by the silencing of the inner selves of others... we are all co-conspirators of our unhappiness by not listening for what is really needing to be heard... health is being in good conversation with the self...

true loving is being loving all the selves in another... of wanting them to be able to speak too... to treat them with dignity, care, nurture.. but when we're all trying to pretend we don't need, that we are whole, undamaged, invulnerable it can be hard to love one another, to find a way to have healthy conversation...

even if we understand the need, with all the self insight we can muster, we can still fail to do the work of responding to our vulnerability - of healing it, living with it, accepting it as being part of being human. instead we persist in making choices that make us seem less vulnerable. Be they when we choose not to speak in specific conversation, or when we silence ourselves and others completely by refusing to have honest conversation at all...


i recall, again, not for the first time, the words of one of a song that kept me alive with its solidarity more than once before... i don't mean to bug ya with repetition... but when one's therapist says, "i love music, it has saved my life", then i take that as tacit permission to allow music to do it's work at saving me too... whatever we need to get through... and here is stand on familiar ground, with one who does not with their art betray me... this is the authentic i need to keep me keeping on... reminding me that i am not alone. reminding me not to be ashamed of feeling, being vulnerable...
What Happens When The Heart Just Stops
so what happens when the heart just stops
stops caring for anyone
the hollow in your chest dries up
and you stop believing
so what happens when the heart gives up
but the body goes on living
the blood crawls to a slow and stops
and flows away
well we got no one to meet
no love we would beseech
we only have ourselves to blame
for everything
there was no answer in the dust
now I'm missing you so much
and now you're sleeping
and I'm leaving
empty handed waiting
and time it will subside and we'll agree
it was a given
there was no standard we could set
and the world it does regret to have to
leave you in this state of bereavement
see I'm feeling everything
nothing gets by
there is a hollow in my chest
a time I won't forget
there is no comfort in the eyes
that put us always to the test
I can't prepare myself for that
but I'll work it out in time
there is a love that flows between us
ever changing everyday
I worked myself up to a crawl
but I'm not fearing it at all
we have no reason left to stay
and that's why we're leaving
there was no answer in the dust
and no one out there to trust
there is a lie that drags us beating
and pulling into disappointment
so you're gone


is it love that causes our suffering, or silence..? i wonder if it is the latter... we silence the soul in shame... and the more we silence those voices within us the more brutally we treat one another... the more we make others pay the price of our own pain we would rather avoid...

we all have fault lines... or perhaps we might say, all of us have inner selves that are broken... that is nothing to be ashamed of... but knowing that and not doing something about it, allowing those selves to hurt others, that is when we have to dig in and do the work, bend into the ground and climb... and we make a fundamental mistake time and again by living as if it was our vulnerability that is the cause of the pain and hurts in our lives... when in actual fact we hurt more when we refuse to admit we need one another. we hurt by persisting in pretending that we are not vulnerable. like we don't need help. that we can get by on our own. this is the human error. by avoiding our own pain we make other's pay.

i did it. i repressed so much of my past that i hurt over and over. gave another my anger. and they too repressed. withheld anger and controlled by passivity. both desperately not wanting to admit just how much we needed care for our inner selves, by silencing who we had been, for being ashamed of being what is erroneously seen as weakness. we lost one another in the process.
i thought i had learnt my lesson, but i let anger give way to fear... instead of screaming i chose silence... tried to have intimacy while not speaking up... instead of saying, "i am terrified, there are parts of me that do not have a clue how to do this but i want to learn how", i kept quiet... the barbed tune in my head is often made of the conversations i never voiced, the things i should have expressed and didn't...

and the painful proof of this always comes too late... when we see what we have lost, the cost we have paid... everyday we humans like to play make believe we are not wounded... and when make believe won't work anymore, we hurt others so we don't have to face our woundedness...

but i believe where there is love, there is no shame...

where there is love there is no shame
where there is love there is no shame
where there is love there is no shame
where there is love there is no shame

i'm terrified of being vulnerable, and i have no idea how to do this...

i'm a loser, baby... just like you...



  1. This is a great post which really grabbed ahold of me in the first couple paragraphs. And it is just what I needed to read at this particularly difficult moment in my life, particularly at this very instant. kind of creepy actually, as i'm literally sitting here stewing over these thoughts of rejection and betrayal and deep hurt (thoughts that, as you put it, keep winding "round and round, replaying like a barb"), and so just mindlessly browsing in irritation and decide to dig back in your archives (after only just finding your blog a few hours ago), and this first thing I start to read back there is speaking right to me. I suppose God has his perfect timing, but it is still strange that I am just now "discovering" your writings after having "known" you through TB for over a decade! (did I meet you at Cornerstone once in the late 90's? or was that a different visiting Irishwoman?). anyway, just wanted to let you know that I'm suddenly a fan of your writing and it's hitting the mark pretty good for me.

  2. thanks for sharing that Brook.
    you are very welcome here.

    and yes - cornerstone '98. that was indeed me.

    in solidarity, and for all that's to come that we can't see yet,


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