Fog, like Pea Soup

I drove into work yesterday in some of the worst fog I have ever encountered. It was thick, oppressive, massive, and isolating. It made me think of recent news of a former student tragically completing suicide this past weekend. I know many in their family, I have taught and had multiple connecting points with them and their siblings. I feel privileged to have taught them in some capacity over the years. Driving through the fog, they taught me.
Many will look at a person’s decision to complete suicide as one of the most selfish acts someone can commit. I used to think that. I don’t anymore.
Take fog. Depending on the time of day and the density, it can be all-consuming and frightening–there are also some moments of serene beauty.  As I drove yesterday, I could not see a hands distance from me on all sides. While there may have been, (and were) people traveling the same road beside, in front of, or behind me, I was oblivious. I could not see them, and they could not see me. Normal non-verbal communication that happens with drivers was not seen. Normal signals such as lights, slowing down or speeding up, or a lane change were lost. Eye contact and the bevy of non verbals (yes, even flipping the bird) were gone. In that moment, I was alone. But, I wasn’t. There were others out there, traveling the same stretch of interstate, similar paths and goals, different destinations. I felt alone.
In the case of suicide, this description fits. It’s a dense, all-encompassing fog that breathes heavy, clouds the windows, casts shadows on what we think we see, and impairs our judgment. When the light breaks through, it is blinding in its intensity and after our eyes adjust, we loosen our grip on the steering wheel, turn up the volume on our Spotify playlist, breathe a sigh of relief, set the cruise and motor on.
Being consumed with the painful fog of suicide offers no relief. I say pain here because I believe that is what it is . Wait, I don’t believe it. I know that’s how it feels. I know this pain.
You see, when we encounter moments of intense pain, we will go to any lengths to alleviate that pain. That’s why we have an incredible drug problem out there. People are trying to survive through immense pain. Note that I said, survive, not thrive. When the pain is so crushing that mere survival hurts, a person will do just about anything to find relief. That’s not selfish.
Take a migraine. For those that suffer, it is extreme. I’ve even driven myself into clinics and endured shots to the skull for relief. When it hurts in every fiber of your being, alleviating pain is not necessarily selfish.
Likewise, a person watching a loved one in that much pain will do almost anything to help. We know how helpless we feel when we can’t take the pain away from someone…any parent knows this. Imagine the pain of a child in almost any circumstance, I can guarantee you that most parents feel that pain more intensely than that child and come almost unglued with the want to rid them of it. I have seen my sons’ in moments of pain, their howls of agony rip at my soul. I want to help them and in some instances, I can’t. This is one of them.
In the moment when pain is at its most acute, there is nothing else a person can see or feel. They are not thinking about anyone else, not because they don’t want to, but because they CAN’T. When I am in a migraine cycle, I cannot function for or on behalf of anyone else. I may have the thought that I feel bad for not functioning,but rational thought of taking care of anyone else is gone. This is not to say that I do not love in those moments. I am simply unable to see or feel anything besides the pain and a quest for relief. Relief of pain is not selfish, it is natural and necessary. How we go about that is the slippery slope.
In the moment that a note, email, voicemail, text, or Facebook post is written claiming that we would be so much better off without their existence, there is absolutely no thought to the repercussions of that action. Pain has clouded the mind and fogged judgment so severely that rational thought and action do not exist. All that remains is what the mind and emotions are screaming at that person and all they want is peace.
I am NOT condoning this action. I am trying to grasp hold of it myself and wrestle it to the ground. I want easy answers and they don’t exist. I see others in pain and I want to help relieve it and I can’t. Only the person walking in that pain can and that’s where it’s hard. At the end of the day, I can hurl every strength, show of support, courage and love to a person and I still have no control over their actions. NONE.
That hurts. That’s scary. That’s real. And. it. Sucks.
I know this world. I’ve seen it, mucked around in it, examined its possibilities, attempted to taste its fruit to find it bitter and rancid. My experience is not yours and yours is not mine. But, I have to keep reminding myself that even when I feel isolated and am fumbling in the pea soup, I am not alone. There are others in their cars, on their journeys, similar to mine. I have my own road to take and a destination that belongs only to me, just as they have theirs. They can’t fix me and I can’t fix them. As I remember moments when people wrested bottles from my grip, I recall the deafening scream of silent pain that wanted freedom, that wanted the fog to lift so that I could find relief. Luckily, pain did not win. Tormented plots and twisted thoughts eased and the clouds parted. The fog lifted. I am lucky.
I am lucky because I understand. I am lucky because today I breathe life. Many are not and have not been so lucky and I mourn for them. I mourn their opportunity, I mourn their life. I mourn the level of pain that dictated this as the answer. I mourn because the work continues. But, I also rejoice in a deeper understanding of really dark and twisty places that do not have ready answers. That sounds weird. I rejoice in a constant quest for more understanding and more places of intersection so that I, and many others, do not have to feel so alone.
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Layer(ed) Cake

I  looked back on the last blog that I wrote about my son and chocolate cake.  Something struck me mid week and today while doing my own work I stumbled upon a couple stark realizations.

I was penning a new blog where I opened with the admission that I was a thief.  It was matter-of-fact and final.  It was wrong and judgmental and I directed  it precisely at me.  I was unapologetic and fully willing to take the blame and I’ve done that for the last 41 years.

There was something in that last blog that did not sit right with me.  It was the image of me as kid,  sitting at a classroom desk waiting for birthday treats that did not come my way because of allergies.  I wrote out of what I knew to be truth at the time.  It was truth until I peeled back some layers of the cake and revealed a crumbly center.

You see, at that time I wrote that my parents had forgotten to send to the school treats that I could eat.  I trumped up every excuse in my mind, or truths that I  told myself over  41 years, so much so that any other reality was inconceivable.  I never thought to question it, it was my reality.  Then I  discovered there was nothing accidental or forgetful in their actions.  Nothing.

I have 2 children, and my job as a parent is to make smooth the road to adult independence.  It is my job to advocate, support, cheerlead, mourn, celebrate, and “be” in it with and for them.  It is my obligation to do all I can to arm them with the tools they need to be successful citizens, husbands, and God willing, fathers.  Forgetfulness happens and can be forgiven.  Intentional neglect does not.

It nearly guts me to type those words, believe me, it broke me to utter them today.  Even though I was in a trusted and safe place, the amount of pain I encountered is something I will have to muck around in for awhile.  Even in the midst of that safe space I fought like hell the tears that ekked out, revealing my vulnerability.

Intentional neglect.  That is quite an accusation and one I do not entertain lightly.  But, if I examine the facts, it is the only conclusion.  In this day and age, peanut and gluten allergies are as commonplace as uttering the phrase Common Core. (not getting into that debate)  There are whole tables dedicated to the “non” peanut eater and special menu considerations exist for those with gluten allergies.  It is a given that if one child is affected, the whole class is made aware; every effort is made to ensure that all children feel like they belong and no one is left out.

I did not have that luxury and now I am beginning to feel the full impact of that alienation.  While we did not have the internet or smart phones when I was young, the invention of the telephone DID exist…even if we had to use a rotary dial to make the call.  Parent-teacher communication was available.  There was still snail mail, teacher conferences still happened, a stop in to the school was always welcome.  The fact remains that those measures were not utilized.  That intentional inaction led to my feeling even more ostracized and alone, lonely and afraid in a time when perceptions of school were just beginning to take shape.  I learned at an early age that I did not fit, that there was something “wrong” with me, that I was not like the others.

Edward Kleban, lyricist for “A Chorus Line” provided some words that resonate with me

“Diff’rent” is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty.
“Pretty” is what it’s about.
I never met anyone who was “diff’rent”
Who couldn’t figure that out.
So beautiful, I’d never live to see.

Without knowing it, I adopted this philosophy and claimed it as truth.  It’s wrong and it kills me to type that.

Why?  Because what the hell do you do when you put A and B together (and I don’t do math) and discover the truth you thought you knew and what you had constructed your whole outlook on is incorrect?  Worse yet,  that truth is destructive and unhealthy?  What do you do when you realize that people who were charged with your care intentionally neglected to follow through?  What do you do when you peel back a layer and find that there is no excuse for their actions?

They could have picked up the phone to check in every once in awhile.  They could have brought items in during teacher conferences.  They had a whole host of options.  They chose not to.

My mother told me once that because I was such a difficult child, that I was reluctant to embrace her as my adopted mother, and show her love, she quit.   She quit trying.  I never forgot those words and they ring a different tune now.  They quit–they intentionally quit.

Even now I am rolling that around my head and beginning to question 41 years of beliefs I have and finding myself at ground zero.  I don’t know what to do, and I usually have an intellectual analysis, or at the very least, a smart ass comment to diffuse the situation.  I have none.  When I wrote the words, “I was a thief”, I was writing out of a truth that I believed wholeheartedly and called myself.  I was a thief because I used to take sweets from locations in the house, hide them, eat them, and try to smuggle out the evidence.  Sometimes I got away with it, often I did not.  Each time I was caught I was punished for stealing and sneaking around and taking things that did not belong to me.

You know what?  Oreo cookies rocked then, and they rock now.  I know that because I took them, ate them, and liked them.  Maybe instead of stealing, I was surviving.  Maybe instead of looking at the situation and swallowing that I was a bad kid who stole and lied, I was someone who was resourceful and just sassy enough to buck a system I could not control.  Maybe.

That’s a hefty piece of cake.  But, I think it’s important to pick apart all the layers and see what they’re made of.  I think I owe it to myself.  Because what I’m finding that while the cake is chocolate, and appears to be chocolate throughout, there are pockets and whole layers that are bitter like baker’s chocolate.  I know it’s bitter because in one of my sweets’ forays, I took what I thought to be chocolate from the refrigerator and well, let’s just say, baker’s chocolate should be left for its intended purpose…..for baking.

I’ve thought about this understanding all day today and tried to put it in perspective as I parent my children.  I watched my son inhale a  slice of cake for breakfast and I grabbed a piece too.  I smiled at him as he took his first bite and I smile now remembering how his eyes rolled back into his head.  You know what?  Chocolate cake is flippin awesome—it tastes amazing.  It tastes even more amazing when you know someone made it for you, out of love.  Scratch that. Chocolate cake is FREAKIN awesome (insert the intended expletive if you choose)  You know what else?  I am a flippin good mom……I got to share in this moment with my son and I will never forget it.  My son may, but what I hope he remembers is how he felt when he expressed his needs or desires and they were met.

I thought about my mother in those terms today and for a split second I felt sad; sad for both my parents.  I could try to justify this whole blog by saying I was willful, difficult, unruly, and that I did not get those moments with my parents.  Today, a new layer revealed that THEY did not get those moments with ME.  They chose not to.  They quit, intentionally.

God, I wish I could explain the pain that admitting that brings.  I wish I could walk someone through what it feels like to sit and watch 41 years  begin to tumble as jenga block by block is removed.  I wish I could describe the fear of what happens as each block displacement sets the structure to swaying, wondering if the next removal causes it to topple.  I wish I could articulate the confusion I am encountering as I twist and turn this Rubik’s cube, trying to make sense of a reality and truth that is without explanation.  Worse yet, that that truth is wrong.  I wish I could say that this is easy and there is an instant resolution to the 24 minute “Full House” episode where everyone hugs. wipes away tears, promises, and forgives.

It’s not Lifetime movie night.  It’s not easy, it is the hardest work I’ve done because it requires vulnerable honesty, brutal admissions, and concentrated courage.  And, I’m not sure that I’ve got it.  I’m not sure I’m up for the challenge.

All I know is that today, my fork ran into a layer that I did not expect.  Does it cause me to gag, retch, spit out the piece, throw out the rest of the cake; rendering it worthless?  I don’t know.   Do I look deeper into the piece to find out how much of the cake is affected and do I go back to the recipe to determine what happened?  Do I take the information I discover and apply it to my next recipe?  Do I have the guts to enter into the  original story and create a new reality?  Do I have the balls to allow others to join me in baking a new cake?

Tonight, I iust don’t know.  Ask me tomorrow, I may have a different answer.

shalom,

cahl

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