I have said time and time again that The Universe gets me to the places I need to be at the exact moment that I need to be there. I may not even realize in the moment that something profound is happening. Or there may be an awareness that washes over me that I need to pay attention. I may not know why, I just know that I do. And at a later time, the why makes itself known.
I have also made a confession or two here on the blog. They have been tongue in cheek confessions but it would not be dishonest to say that I use this platform the way some people use religion. Through this blog I have found a community that is overflowing with love, understanding, support, and encouragement. Being in the presence of the people I have met as a result of BAH brings me peace and lifts me up. It touches me deeply to share time in their presence and to share a meal of communion with them, in a way that religion and church never has.
So it really should not have been unexpected that at some point in my life these two bricks in my foundation should intersect. And on July 30th, in a converted barn in rural Pennsylvania, at Big Summer Potluck 2001, that’s exactly what happened.
My cell phone was put away. I wasn’t checking email or tweeting. I made a conscious decision to be in the moment…to give up control. I was listening to Shauna Ahern speak. We were at a blogging event so ostensibly her remarks were about this activity we all engage in. And yet, it was so much more. I can’t speak for anyone else in that room, but as Shauna’s words reached me I heard her telling me that it’s ok to be vulnerable, to face my fears, and not to let myself get in my own way of finding happiness and success. Not just in blogging, but in life. That sometimes there are thing that you absolutely have to say and trying to ignore them will simply give them more power. In that moment, I knew why I have struggled so mightily with finding the words for BAH. I have been trying to ignore the words that needed to be said because they scared me. In my mind, I could pick out on one hand when I was truly being authentic instead of merely filling space to get to a recipe. And I thought that was where the lesson ended.
Then at lunch, in a completely unrelated conversation, I finally admitted to myself that I was filled with sadness because I did not have a single happy childhood memory of a time with my parents. They had divorced when I was very young. I had absolutely no context of them together. And through my experience as their child, I could not wrap my mind around what had brought them together in the first place.
It was being out of my normal routine, away from the usual barriers that I put up to avoid this truth, that I finally acknowledged it. There was no laundry to do, no dishes to wash, no food to cook. Once those were stripped away and I was surrounded by these people who valued me for me that I could finally have the courage to admit to my own profound sense of loss and regret. It was powerful in a way that I could have never anticipated. And I thought that was where the lesson ended.
Later in the afternoon, Penny De Los Santos spoke about capturing moments and making pictures. She spoke of patience and waiting for the moment and being able to connect to another person through the camera. She painted vivid pictures for us with her words instead of her photographs. There were tears in the room as she painted these pictures. Tears of humility and vulnerability. Tears of acknowledgment. Tears of sadness. And then I thought that was where the lesson ended.
We shared in a wonderful dinner. We raised our glasses to one another and the sense of community that we shared. We hugged…we hugged a lot. And we cried….both quietly during presentations about our own fears and anxieties and openly during one on one conversations. This was no mere “blogging conference”. This was more. It was a retreat. It was spiritual. It was people being vulnerable and human and asking for acceptance and validation. And through the tears, there was comfort and acceptance. I felt validated and accepted for me…that I was a good person worthy of good things. And I thought that was where the lesson ended.
At the end of the day, back at the hotel, I finally pulled out my phone. And I saw a string of missed calls and messages from family members. And I knew that whatever had been said in those messages was not good. Both of my parents were terminally ill. One was in hospice care and the other had recently undergone another round of treatment to try and prolong the inevitable. It was merely a question of which parent it was.
It was my mother.
We had a difficult relationship. I had drawn a boundary over the years. We did not communicate. I made a point of not being in the same place as she was if I could. I could not reconcile my sense of empathy for her as a person with my sense of disappointment for the pain that she had caused me a a parent. I knew that she was terminally ill. I had struggled over the last few weeks about whether I should go and see her. I got updates through my siblings. I drove my grandmother to see her only child in hospice, but I did not go in. From the outside it looked as though I was cold and uncaring. But I protected myself…I carried too much hurt at her hands. I could not imagine what words she could ever say to bring me to a place of forgiveness. I thought that her death would merely be a physical end to the emotional relationship that I had walked away from years ago. I expected it to be easy. To be a relief.
And then suddenly, I was faced with the reality that I knew was coming. Her life had ended. And in as much as I place my faith, whatever it is I have, in The Universe, I knew that I was where I needed to be to get that news. I was not alone. I was surrounded by people who could never possibly understand the significance that their presence played in that moment. I was surrounded by warm embraces and hugs that forever linked me to the people behind them. I reached out to my community and they gave me unconditional support.
I reached out to a friend who knew me; knew the situation and the dynamic. As I sat on the floor of the bathroom, sobbing, she gave me a safe space. She gave me refuge to say that I didn’t know how to feel. And the next morning, surrounded by the people who are my community, my tribe, they collectively embraced me. Both those with whom I had shared this information and those who had no idea…who thought the sunglasses at breakfast were because I had enjoyed my wee box of wine too much the night before. And I thought the hard part of the lesson was over.
I drove home and got back to my life. To the dirty litter box and the dirty laundry. To the messages in my voicemail and the dishes that needed to be put away. To my grandmother who now had lost both her husband and her only child. And my heart ached for her loss; not for my own. I could not fathom how forsaken it must feel to lose the people you love; to outlive most of the people you know. I did not sleep that night.
I drifted between dozing off and realizing that I was wide awake. The minutes passed like hours and the hours were days. And in the morning, with the sun streaming brightly through the window, the world had kept moving on. Death didn’t stop it. Tears didn’t stop it. It just kept going.
As I left the house that morning, I realized that I hadn’t brought in the mail when I got home the day before. Opening the mailbox, there was a bright yellow envelope. Canary yellow. Sunshine yellow. The return address was my mother’s. I took it and walked to the car not knowing what to expect when I opened the envelope. When I did, the typewritten words on the page made me angry at first. I had no idea that someone could reach out from beyond the grave to try and manipulate my feelings. But as I read further, pieces of a puzzle that I hadn’t realize I was working on fell into place. Halfway down the page, I read:
“I don’t know if anyone has told you this or not, but your mother has been talking to you on your blog for years…All those stories about her mother were actually stories of her childhood and your grandmother. She did not do this to hurt you. She did it because she wanted to be close to you and it was the only way she could have any contact with you. She is very proud of you and all that you have become…”
I didn’t even have to read the name that was given in the letter to identify her on my blog. In my heart, I had known. There was always something familiar about her. Always something that didn’t quite add up with the comments that she would leave and the facts that she would give. There were moments in our correspondence through the blog that I nearly came out and asked her who the hell she really was. But I never did.
In that immediate split second, I heard Shauna’s voice in my head saying that our first instinctual response is our true response and that everything after that is our internal editor trying to create a socially acceptable response. And my first response was that without knowing what I needed to hear, my mother had finally given me the validation that I needed. That by doing what we essentially all do and being someone else online, she had finally been able to speak to me in a way that I could hear and cut beyond the anger and hurt. I could see her as just a name on a comment and not be weighed down by a lifetime of a disappointing relationship and unmet expectations.
The irony is that it was easier to be the best version of myself, the person that I hope I really am, to someone with whom I have no intimate relationship. It was easier to be free and kind and caring towards someone who I didn’t associate with pain and neglect and contempt. And while it makes me sad that the two of us could never be these people to one another in real life, I am so profoundly grateful for the knowledge that she wanted to and found a way to connect with me in a way that actually did respect the boundaries that I had established.
As a parent, and as a person, she had many flaws. And as a daughter, and a person, I have many flaws as well. But as two people who corresponded through my blog, I think perhaps we were able to be the best versions of ourselves to one another. If I can take the gift that she gave me and finally get to a place of forgiveness, then I think the second half of my life could be much happier than the first half. If I can consciously make an effort to let go of the weight that I have carried for forty years, then maybe I can see the happiness in the small, quiet moments and recognize them for being the perfection that they are. And maybe, just maybe, I can be a little more forgiving of myself and those closest to me.
If you have read this far, have stuck with a very stream of consciousness rambling with very little editing (and no spell check), I thank you. This post is not so much about the events and activities of Big Summer Potluck 2011 as much as it is about me selfishly using this space to finally say that I have been sad and angry for a long time and that a weekend in a converted barn in rural Pennsylvania took me a few steps further on my journey to moving beyond that. That was the lesson. That was my church where The Universe knew I needed to be.
To those of you that were part of that weekend, I thank you for your support, even when you didn’t realize you were giving it. To those who knew and hugged me extra long, you will always have a special place in my heart. To Shauna, who sparked that first moment of realization, I would not have had the courage to say these things if you had not shared your story with us. I hope that through my words, I have painted as memorable a picture as Penny De Los Santos did. In their own way, both of these incredibly strong women inspired me.