Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
There are angel wings painted on the two-story wall of my loft bedroom. They were made with my three children’s hand prints intermingled with mine. Each feather is a collage of purple and white and blue, like the separated colors of a bruise. It has always been footprints that bring me to reverent silence, a simple signature of life passing. But these wings, with palms and fingers spread like an offering, remain evidence of not just a life lived, but the vast territory that our internal journey covers.
We created the wings almost ten years ago at the time of my divorce. In reflection, I was marking the swift flight between a devoted family and a shattered one, so though I was doing my best to make this artistic endeavor playful, it was much less like finger painting and a little more like excavating the bones of me. We can destroy and we can heal and though it is messy work separating one family into two, each morning I would wake to these wings and I would do my best by leaning forward with an aching heart towards a life that was both sustainable and healing for my children and me.
The wall itself is the other half of the equation and equally important. Days before painting the wings I stood where our bed had been for years. I hadn’t slept for over a week, lying awake trying to figure out how I’d been so blind. In one severe moment I went from thinking I knew everything about marriage and my husband, to not knowing him at all. I looked at the tall two-story wall that extended up into the loft that had become my new bedroom. I had feverishly rearranged everything that reminded me of our intimacy and as I faced the expansive wall in this now barren room, I felt small in comparison. Fierce, but so little.
I took a paintbrush and wrote, scratched, etched, yelled, slammed, cried words onto the wall. Garish graffiti. Time was distorted in those first months and though I painted “forgive” across all of it before layering paint up and over the railing, I wouldn’t fully know forgiveness until years later. Even now, there are moments when some interaction or experience will occur and I will feel the brittleness of anger or resentment shift forward in me and I will walk in circles with the curling posture of my emotions until I find the path to forgiveness again. Knowing forgiveness, speaking it, feeling it, living it and then moving forward having released something that had me tethered to the past was never a one-time deal. Each act of forgiveness had it’s own world of sensations, including the act of forgiving myself.
The angel wings were perfectly aligned to extend from my scapula so that I could lean back against the solidity of the wall and slowly let myself unfold. Or that is what I imagined. But I found that it takes much more than one-dimensional pronouncements to bring you freedom. Freedom is a choice and choosing it takes courage. I did not always choose to be courageous. Sometimes it was easier to go the route of blame. Blame gathers an audience and is a momentary salve. Courage on the other hand can be lonely, requires that you move through all of the painful and uncomfortable feelings, can drive you to the doorstep of madness and on the rare moments when you are commended for it, can be followed by pride which needs to be met again, with courage. Ending my marriage created a tumultuous and breath taking beginning. I chose to be catapulted into an uncertain life. The life I had pictured did not begin to touch the kind of reflection I needed to face then. Marriage had a menu that I understood and the life I chose ten years ago would come from an emptying out of everything that I knew.
At first it was difficult not to feel like a victim, a kind of relentless thrashing and raw internal eruption. It took strong enduring friendship and presence to bring me to a place where I could own and embody that ending the marriage was not the only choice, but one of many choices. I believe that was when my healing could begin. I was not trapped or forced or driven to experience the difficulty of divorce. I was not along for the ride. I was not a victim. I had also chosen to veil my intuition long enough to feel diminished by the unhealthy aspects of our relationship. Recognizing that I had made a choice did not mean that I was graceful or fair or that the process looked or felt peaceful. I was unbearably angry at times, pressed myself into corners and cried for hours, made mistakes that I wish I had a do-over for, but ultimately what I would come back to is that I held the reins to my passage.
Being at choice informed the next ten years. Immediately after my divorce, I said I’d never marry again with a kind of bravado and sarcasm. Fortunately, time and healing and exploration allowed me the space to find authentically that I would instead embrace relationship with the same earnestness that guided my healing. So I studied, observed, explored and loved. I have learned that though relationships ebb and flow in terms of passion, intrigue and excitement, there is a quality of stagnancy that can be avoided by establishing patterns that keep curiosity, love and respect alive. I found out that even experiences like jealousy or insecurity could be opportunities to build understanding and heighten intimacy. Due to my past it would have been natural and understandable to fortify behaviors that make relationships feel safe. But through trial and error I found that decisions made out of fear, diminish the kind of intimacy that I long for.
Avoiding suffering is not the goal for me, nor one I recommend for others. But noticing why we are choosing it is essential. Suffering is only hazardous when we keep recreating it. Suffering lasts as long as we endure it and feed it. I have a strong belief that if we take suffering, that shadow that can either engulf us or coax us into the light, and we peer into it to find the pieces that will usher us towards healing, then we embrace life rather than cower from it.
In this last year I have noticed that I shunned the woman that I had become in my marriage. She was far too accommodating and she constantly was apologizing for the debris that was not her own, scrambling to pick up the pieces as a tornado passed. Even the woman I became in my grief and anger, I explained away. She is broken, not who I am now. Today, October 25th, 2016 I celebrate the whole journey and welcome each aspect of the woman it took to become who I am today. I was carved out by a very difficult experience. I could not have seen it then, but that is what it took to unmask me. Waking this morning to those angel wings is a whole new experience. So with gratitude I bring my entire self forward and honor these ten years. Today I get to begin a new chapter. There is so much more to come.