I was supposed to be writing down my goals and aspirations for the New Year, but I couldn’t focus. With the tsunami that is Christmas, I had stopped writing for several weeks. In the aftermath, I came down with the flu. For anyone else it would be a bothersome interruption to their “normal” life, but for me it was the threatened return to a prolonged state of invalid-hood. How was I supposed to make plans, if I didn’t know from day to day what level of energy I had to work with? Could I make one plan for well me, another for sick me, and then try to merge them?
The day before, as I struggled asthmatically to walk the dog a few blocks, I had met a friend jogging blithely down the street. She’d stopped to chat, jogging in place, her cheeks rosy, her breath puffing energetically in the cold air. She was training for a half-marathon, she said. It had all started a year ago when she joined the WOW Boot Camp. I should join! she said. It is so much fun! I muttered something about not being able, and she just laughed and said sure I could, I could do it more gently. I thanked her and went on—how to tell her that too much exercise poisons my cells? No point. But it plunged me into a welter of envy, grief, despair that I was unprepared for, that I thought I’d dealt with and put to bed years earlier. Here they were, leering at me with their ugly faces, their voices enumerating my bottomless inadequacies.
I dream that I join the bike group three of my friends are in. I tell Todd about my dream. “Don’t even think about it,” he says, “besides, they’d resent you for slowing them down.” It all pricked, hurt, felt raw. I saw my friends passing me by in the grand parade of life, and it felt as if I were being punished for doing something terribly, terribly wrong.
I’ve been reading about having compassion for yourself, about holding your pain with tenderness. So one day, driving across town by myself, I did as suggested, I put my hand on my heart and said, “I care about your pain,” over and over to myself, feeling pretty silly and mechanical. But then a funny thing happened: all those tears that I’d been holding back automatically, started up. I had begun to feel as if I couldn’t cry; I hadn’t cried in so long. I would like to report that I had a good therapeutic cry, but I was driving to see someone who couldn’t handle a swollen, red-eyed me, so I sniffed the tears back.
I finally got back to my journal, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. I scribbled the usual frets and complaints and then wrote this sentence: “Old griefs had got her by the throat; she could not move.” Ah, I thought, ah. I get no pass; there are no shortcuts. I can teach about writing until the cows come home, but I have to do it. Knowing is not enough, it is in praxis that the healing happens. Even if it means encountering the old griefs, the ugly envies, the swampy despair. Especially if means that. Except, hand on heart, “I care about your pain. Your pain is worthy of attention.”
Maybe this is my true goal for 2012.