Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Giving Ourselves Mercy

A few years ago I started thinking backward more than I was thinking forward. From what I have studied, that seems to be the case for people when they pass mid life.

This thinking back is a good thing and a bad thing. It brought up feelings of sadness. It brought up feelings of intense gratitude for the good fortune I have enjoyed in terms of loving people, a myriad of fabulous experiences and just plain old-fashioned good luck.

Conversely, this line of thinking also made me face all of the dumb things I have done. I thought about opportunities that I had passed over. I was at the point in my life when I was realizing that all of the things I thought I might do at age twenty were not going to happen during my lifetime.

I went through a period of what lasted about three years in which I was so angry, frustrated, frightened and awkward-feeling that I did not like to be around myself much. And to be honest, I must say I have usually thoroughly enjoyed my own company.


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early spring sometime in the late 1950's

A girl of nine stands at the window outside her bedroom door. The view to her right is of her mother's kitchen window. Soon purple irises will bloom in the area under that window. But for now there is only snow- dirty, muddy, middle of March snow.

The girl sees the gray sky and the leafless trees. Today she has been told to stay home from school to watch over her mother. Mom has been in out of the hospital a lot lately. No one will tell her what is wrong with her mom. She just knows her mom cries so much, sleeps so much, and when she does get up to do something she isn't fun anymore.

Gone is the Mom who dances to Ricky Nelson in the living room on the big braided rug.
Gone is the Mom who sings while she whips up lemon meringue pies, hot cross buns and Easter bunny cakes festooned with coconut and jelly beans.
Gone is the Mom who puts a stick of Blackjack gum over her front tooth to get a laugh.

Here is the Mom who is sad.
Here is the Mom that the little girl must cheer up.
She knows so because her grandparents and father have told her that is her job.

They have told her not to cause trouble or ask for too much because your mother has worse problems. "You just be a good girl and make Mama happy," they say.

Down the hallway in her antique bed, Mama sleeps.
Still staring out the window on this very gray of days
the little girl wraps her arms around herself as if to ward off an inner chill.
And she tells herself, "I will always have me."


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During so many of my young adult days I expected too much from myself. It was like I thought I had some dues to pay or something to prove. This force inside of me propelled me.
It was a drug as heady as good sex.

A few years back I just stopped trying so hard. That in itself has been a whole new challenge.

At some point, hopefully earlier than later, a woman must take sum of who she is and rejoice.
We are all too hard on ourselves.

Shortly after my mother died, I met Ram Dass. I was struggling with grief but sadder still was that I was passing judgment on myself as to how I was grieving. Was I doing it right? Was I taking too long?

Ram Dass stared me straight in the eye and said these words, "We must learn to give ourselves mercy."

I am fine just the way I am. And you, dear reader, are just fine the way you are too.

Let us stop being hard on ourselves. We've come a long way.



*Quite a few years went by before I realized that the following song was about loving and accepting oneself. It was written by Linda Creed, a young woman who died of breast cancer at the age of thirty-six.




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