Recently while on vacation, a woman looked over my way and waded across the pool. I panicked. My first thought was “uh oh! Some drunk traveler is going to commandeer my moment in paradise”
You know how some people are all too willing to share their personal pain long before you even ascertain whether or not they are teetering in and out of lucidity?
I figured this is what I was in for, when within 90 seconds I learned she was heartbroken. Her wound, while not visible was palpable.
Three months earlier she had lost her second husband to whom she was married for 23 years – within 3 months of being diagnosed.
I also learned that her first husband was also a 23-year marriage. Eventhough the first didn’t die, she seemed to have a twenty-three year best before date when it came to matrimony.
At first I was trapped in that awkward place of way too much info, way too quickly. But also just as quickly, my initial reaction was eclipsed by awe as her light shone through her pain.
She elaborated on the time she shared with #2 and how he supported her as she had gone back to school to get a degree after her first marriage, to become part of the support network for the abused and disenfranchised.
She spoke so lovingly of her man “he raised my son… without ever trying to replace his father” and how “he had washboard abs well into his fifties”
Then the tears came.
“Now it is me who is seeking counseling to move through all this… imagine that? After all I’ve seen and heard on the job- I need a therapist!”
She seemed almost surprised by the fact that there really was a benefit within her own profession.
“ My therapist says I’m engaging in a little excess … but given the situation he completely understands and he even said he’d be doing the same”
Loss of all kinds beats the shit out of our sense of “I got this!”
Loss of love, loss of health, loss of self.
These things, when handled individually are challenging enough, but when they roll into life all together like an oversized KISS tour bus, the most natural response is to run.
And run we do.
Distracting with substance … or worse – with less recognizable dalliances like work or sex … or even tears.
Tears at first are natural and can be cathartic. They change our body chemistry, attempting to provide a release from whatever it is that is saddening us. Tears are such a well designed distraction they even have the built in ability to make us laugh!
Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror while in tears boo-hooing?
Check it out!
I remember being a kid and noting just how my contorted face made me pause and marvel at how weird my scrunched up mug mirrored.
At the time I decided to scrunch it a different way and before long I wasn’t thinking of whatever got me started … I was looking at how f$*ked up my face looked.
The tears actually became a distraction from my sadness, in the same way that the sadness itself was a distraction from the pain behind it.
When we are sad, often the first thing we share with anyone who might listen is “I’m sad” and therein we get distracted and resistant. Inspired by the voxpop refraining how we “aren’t supposed to be feeling that way”
Who promised us that?
Tears, booze, work or sex all are great in moderation but they can become even greater avoidance vehicles for actually experiencing through the pain.
Given that at some point we all feel pain wouldn’t we be better off exploring it beyond its discomfort inspired by seeking to answer: “Why has this tourist wandered over to me here in Paradise?”
What if we explored the neighborhood and asked:
“What’s on the other side of pain?”
How could we know???
Most of us avoid it like the corona virus. Using hand sanitizer and steering clear of travel just to avoid the possibility of pain. And here’s the kicker – just like the virus, many of us actually carry the virus but never revealing a single symptom!
Similarly most of us feel heartbreak and just stay the hell away from exploring it as if it was our entitled right to never ever feel it.
But just like the virus du jour, emotional pain is for most of us, just temporary. A portal to a place within ourselves that needs our attention.
Not obsessive focus either.
Not even the search for a solution.
It invites our investigation, it calls for exploration.
But through some Facata reasoning we typically hope to explore pain…pain free!
When my son announced he wanted to play hockey, the last thing I wanted to do was get up for 6 AM practices in minus OMG Celsius to drive and sit in a damp cold arena with bad coffee and hangover.
So how did I respond to his request?
By enrolling him in Sunday afternoon library studies !
Naw … (though admittedly the thought did cross my mind as I hoped to escape the inevitable).
No, I remember saying “ well if I’m gonna be there I might as well distract myself by yelling at the kids”.
Ironically, it didn’t occur to me that I could do that from the seats with the other parents.
Nooooo, I was thinking from “behind the bench ”
This full on swan dive into a sport I had not really played was counterintuitive, frightening and sometimes quite literally painful.
Picture unbalanced kids with a long stick right about waist level and you will catch my drift.
Yet dive I did, and through that pain I was lead to a love for the boys caught up in their struggle to learn and grow. And in some cases, just stand up.
That love, my light must have shone through because before long my daughter asked if she could play and then if we could coach her team.
Which I did … for nine years.
Nine years of cold drives, late for practice after work, countless moments of elevated heart rates and nine years of pulled muscles.
Nine years of screaming, cheering, bellowing love!
Love for my son… the young athletes and spirits I coached and love for my role as a coach.
It was Love that was on the other side of the pain from which I was so ready to run.
Love that I would have missed if I had listened to those who said “Oy! That’s a lot of work” and “You really don’t know shit about hockey dude” (we’re in Quebec)
We are hard wired for flight or fight.
A binary code that suggests the only two options are to run or resist.
What about pause and explore?
What lies on the other side of the pain we feel so entitled to avoid?
Why do we feel so compelled to run…(or swim) away from what looks like an overbearing tourist, briefly visiting us, with the gift of ultimately revealing the light that lies on the other side and of our fear?
“And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Marianne Williamson