Years ago I got pregnant unexpectedly. At the time I knew I'd just keep moving forward with it. That I hadn't planned to have a baby but that now being in the process I'd rise to the occasion. Growing this kid now 12-plus years on my own has made me rise higher than I had any idea of, higher too probably than I would have as a single independent person.
Still, there are times when I struggle with just standing up one more time. When the truth of dealing with life's everyday stresses for the sake of two people but with only the psychic support of myself feels just like too much for me.
I am an only parent. I am a mother. I am responsible for helping this young girl grow a healthy heart and a capable sense of determination and growth. I must too plan for her physical future--make sure she eats a fairly balanced diet, make sure she develops the habit of brushing her teeth twice a day and flossing too and rinsing with mouthwash, of not eating TOO MANY cookies, of getting proper immunizations, and of learning to appreciate vegetables. But then too, in many ways, I am also responsible for her joy--for helping her see that in the middle of stress we can be goofy, that it's good and possible and fun to laugh spontaneously, that we can revel in the simple everyday things, that if we rinse our dishes right after using them, whether we're going to wash them then or later, our day will be happier.
Lots of literature on the emotional health of a person states the idea that it is through our relationships that any of us grow the most as a person. This same trove of insight also tells us it is in our relationships that we most deeply heal our own hurts. Sometimes we think we must do it on our own to be ready for another. But it is the other that opens the door more widely for this process to happen.
I was surrounded by family growing up. I was raised in a multi-generational family. There was always someone there. Still, through no fault of anyone, I grew up lonely. My heart felt separate and not understood. As an early teenager I could feel I had the power of invisibility. There were moments when I would intentionally exercise it--turn the power on and off. I remember sitting in the middle of a ski chalet surrounded by people I knew. I said to myself, "I choose to be invisible. I choose for no one I know to see me." And for ten or twelve or eighteen minutes I sat there as people I knew walked by urgently on their way to whatever task they had. Not only did no one stop. No one noticed I was sitting there. I smiled at this then decided "okay, now I will be seen." within a minute people walking by turned heads and smiled at me, waved, or came and spoke with me. It was not the invisibility that was a problem. It was feeling I could control it. That sense of power seemed alienating.
Now I have a daughter. She is a glowing beacon. She is happy. She loves what is around her. She loves me. She wants to revel in the richness just of being close to others and of exploring projects that she likes. There are times I want to hide. But I've lost my power of invisibility. There is no off switch any longer.
I spent much of my life doubting myself. I do not take credit for being a parent and yet I know that her being a glowing beacon. Her being happy. Her loving what is around her. Her loving me. All these things indicate NOT that I have made her these things but that I have succeeded at holding a space through which she can be who she is, in which she can be these things. She is a person. So she is also sometimes sad. She also feels pain for others. She also gets bored. She also wants to connect. That is, she feels a wanting. My job is not to take these things away from her. That would be to deny her who and what she is, a human. My job is to provide her a sense of courage, and to offer her a gift of steps--ways to dance in the feelings.
I spent much of my life wishing for love from another. This comes from the loneliness I mentioned as a child. In the movie DOGMA the character Bartleby is an angel that was kicked out of heaven. At a moment of breakdown he says that ever since he has felt that absence of the divine and it has been as pain to him. I believe this is a description of that feeling of wanting the love of another. It is not just actual relationship with another human that we feel we want when we have that longing--it is our own absence of trust, of faith, of openness to our being alive and the richness of all that is that compels us to seek connection in others. We reach out to find a moment of our own faith again. We reach out to recognize ourselves.
My daughter has pushed me everyday to recognize she is there wanting the same thing with me. It is a source of pain for me. Part of who I have been is someone that is invisible, that experiences herself as alienated. To change that is a kind of healing, but to heal is also to painfully remake myself as well. Healing, opening to the gift of others, is not an easy gift. Some people believe that when love arrives our lives will be better, or we will be happy, or it will give us what we've been looking for. This can be true. But the further truth of it is that it is also us that must be willing to suffer the pain that will come in the quiet glory of truly recognizing the joy we can live through love.