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After the Rape

The day after the rape the woman enters her office, deposits her belongings on her desk, walks into the women’s bathroom, locks the door, moves to the farthest corner of the room, crouches low, collapses into a fetal position and presses herself tightly against the wall. Eyes squeezed shut – feeling for a brief second the relief of a mind wiped clean.

The minutes stretch out. She stays there as long as she dares. Until it will be noticed. Until they will come looking for her.

She stands up, adjusts her clothing, moves to the mirror and smooths her hair — staring vacantly at the reflection of a woman she no longer recognizes. Finally, she unlocks the door and steps into the airless colorless battle zone which is now her life.

For years she lives like a hot house flower under a glass dome, cut off from the world – breathing her own recycled oxygen, drenched in her own sweat — the only sound, her own labored breathing.

When they will let her, she narrows her view to that which is directly in front of her – a rain drop, the tip of a sharpened pencil, the tiniest petal of a flower. These things fill up her brain, pushing out all the rest — the voices talking at her, questions people ask, memories, thoughts, the future.

Then one day many years later, the woman feels a tiny spark of warmth in her veins. Her eyes begin to recognize beauty again. She surprises herself and laughs. As time goes on, she feels her limbs releasing and unfolding. The tight coil in her mind loosens. She absorbs moisture through her skin and expands like a sponge.  Oxygen moves into her lungs once again, so she can breathe.

Tiny windblown seeds deposited in her body at her birth, begin to sprout and unfurl their leaves.

Surprising chartreuse and orange sunflowers bloom within her.

New blood courses swiftly through her veins and she can feel the gentle receptive heart of a woman begin to beat again.

On a whim, she steps outside and turns her face to the sun.

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Surprising state of affairs

“Strange New World” by Betsy Lewis

I have a date this week — with a man.

This surprising state of affairs occurred because the 63-year-old me dropped the ball recently and left the job of running my life to the 20-year-old me. In my absence, I find that the 20-year-old has done a fair amount of remodeling of my body and soul. It was she who set up this date.

The 20-year-old made her reappearance in my life recently when my old boyfriend from 43 years ago came back into my life. It was a tumultuous reunion and, from the outside, it looked like the whole thing ended badly. However, there were some significant things that were healed for me, and the support of a few special friends kept me sane.

So, now that the 20-year-old has tasted freedom — and liked it, she has decided to stay for a while. I have her on a short leash for the time being, but the truth is, it’s felt good having her back.

SHE. IS. FUN. She is also energetic, optimistic, smart, idealistic, earnest, intense, and creative.

She has me running on the track again — and liking it. She has me cutting out sugar and blending green drinks. She has me whittling down my body, so I can physically keep up with her.

She makes me happier than I have felt in a long time and I can see that embodying her is essential to living out my creative potential with the years I have left.

When I asked her what a creative life would look like to her, she made this list:

DANCE, run, walk, hike, create art, try new art mediums, workshops, classes, learn new skills, explore new places, EXPERIMENT, WRITE, publish the Walkabout Diaries, make creative friends, practice compassion, find someone to love, get art out into the world, organize art shows, self-exploration, conversations over COFFEE, deep sharing with friends, CELEBRATE everything, see more of the world,  COLLABORATE with artists, start a writing group, do scary (but mostly safe) things, MUSIC, Play, Be in water.

The 20-year-old, unfortunately, can also be reckless, self-critical, overly trusting, and sometimes lacks judgement.  It is a little disconcerting to the 63-year-old me who had all but settled down for the long slow slide into dementia — but now has a 20-year-old to manage.

The first time around her 20s this lovely girl got the joy kicked out of her.  But as a friend pointed out — what could be better than the wisdom of a 63-year-old and the joie de vivre of a 20-year-old — combined in one person.

We could be a force.

And this time around, she has someone to protect her magic.

I am unwritten. Ending unplanned.

Breaching Dolfins by Betsy Lewis

I dreamed I was curled up asleep on the ocean floor. When I woke, it was to a dark murky gray green world of sea water. It was utterly silent and uninhabited. I felt an imperative to move — to start swimming upward. I did that for a very long time. It was hard work and bitterly cold. I was running out of oxygen. But, as I doggedly kicked my feet and moved my arms, it grew very slightly warmer and easier to move.

I could see a faint light above me and I strained to reach it, but the swimming seemed to go on forever and I was exhausted and wanted to give up.

However, this time I broke the surface of the water to the light, breaching and splashing like a dolphin. The atmosphere was thin, light and balmy; the sun warm on my skin. I gulped in the oxygen.

I’ve dreamed this dream, and others like it, many times before, but without reaching the light or finishing the foot race or finding what I am looking for (usually my car.)

When I woke up this morning from my swimming effort, the words that first came to mind were, “Oh world, please just let me be myself.”

So simple. Certainly this is in my control?

Yet, I exist between a constrained fearful past and a new vulnerable present – one more full of feeling, heart and authenticity. There is a new person rising up within me I do not know yet, but who is making herself felt and heard — confident that it is safe for her to come into existence now.

It dawns on me that at any age we are at a beginning of something that can be big or small.  That we can always be reaching for something in the distance that we can let in, or that we can renounce and give up. Giving up may seem the easier choice as we age. It is hard to keep doing the challenging working — to keep putting ourselves on the line.

What we have as we age, however, is the experience to know we can survive many things and can survive again.

That even the experience of dying can be met bravely as a beginning.

A Facebook friend sent me this inspiring song: “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield (lyrics and music video below.)

I am unwritten, can’t read my mind, I’m undefined
I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned
Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

I.AM.BACK.

Over 10 years ago I cut most men from my life because of a violent act against me. I have sheltered those years in the healing arms of my women friends and was lucky enough to get excellent trauma therapy and support.

What was once personally a bonfire is now cold, dead and burnt out. I have slowly begun to add good men back in. I have been reminded of the sweetness, generosity and richness men bring to my life.

Here’s a counterpoint for you – below is a link to a video of the best of men – the love between a father and son. It truly is a balm if you are feeling beaten down right now.

With everything else that has been changing for me lately, when I woke up this morning, I knew that the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing was another turning point for me. This morning I could feel a huge energy rising up — within myself and energetically from the mass of others out there feeling the same.

What I want to say is this: I may have been weakened, beaten down and broken for awhile, but I have survived and — I. AM. BACK.

https://klipland.com/video/just-released-andrea-bocelli-haunting-duet-with-son-is-bringing-everyone-to-tears

Andrea Bocelli and Son, Matteo

My (60 Second) Conversation with God

“Mystery” by Betsy Lewis

A man I love told me he does not love me.

It took him 5 years to stop loving me and he can not go back.

It seems we are always at cross purposes.

He says he “cares about me”, but these are the only words I really hear:  DOES. NOT. LOVE.

From where I stand, this gap between “caring about” and “loving” is a vast un-navigable ocean.

I asked my friend, Carol, what she would do in this situation. She says she would pray to God to:

  1. Remove the wish or obsession
  2. Leave it if there is some other purpose for it

I am not a conventionally religious person. When I took a test to determine my character strengths, “Spirituality” was at the absolute bottom of my list of strengths. As far as beliefs go, I am wide open. I reject nothing, but am not attached to anything either. If I were a church, I would be the church of unknowable mysteries, loose boundaries and capriciously editable dogma.

I decide to give Carol’s system a try. I fold my hands in prayer like I did when I was a little girl in church school. I ask God to remove my love for this man or to leave it, if there is some other purpose.

This takes all of 5 seconds.

I stand up and I think to myself, “All I really want is someone to love.”

Another voice, perhaps the God voice, points out the obvious – I already have someone I love – the man who doesn’t love me.

Perhaps I did not ask for the right thing.

But maybe this is right. Although it is unrequited, I do have at least one someone to love. I am clearly capable of true and enduring love. My love for the man needs no answering call. It was forever engraved into my soft youthful heart and mind all those years ago. It has existed hidden, but rears up now and says, “See me. I am not going away.”

And in truth, I don’t take it personally that this guy doesn’t love me. I haven’t loved everyone who has loved me. All is fair in love and war.

Even better, I didn’t ask God to make this poor guy love me. I didn’t ask to be loved.

I asked to give love.

This seems like mature progress on the love front.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to be loved. But, at age 63, do I even have the right to more romantic love? Should there not be a limit? There is a time for every season after all. Is my season up?

These are the issues I am wrestling with. I battle with aging, the physical changes it brings and maintaining my self-esteem in the face of it all.

Sigh. It was all so much easier when I carried the bargaining card of youth and beauty.

Now, I have no card, but still a beating heart, a warm body, energy, enthusiasm – a surfeit of love. I see no end in sight for the longing of the delicious feelings of loving and being loved.

 

The things that come in the middle of the night

In 2006 I was still reeling from my divorce 3 years earlier. I did not fully fall out of love with my ex-husband for another two years. Making a comeback from the tragedy of my failed marriage moved at a snail’s pace.

Also, in 2006 I joined a women’s group – 5 women and a gentle skilled woman facilitator. About that time, my need to be seen and heard by other human-beings was only slightly greater than my desire to crawl back into a dark hole.

Often, as I drove away from one of these women’s group sessions, I would feel mortified. I beat myself up for exposing what, I thought at the time, was my basic worthlessness. I would vow never to return to the group, but would find myself returning again and again over several years. I came to know that vulnerable sharing can be one of the most endearing things a person can do.

Why did I crawl out of my pit of doom to attend this group, when it was so hard?

Looking back, it seems that some part of me was always on “healing autopilot”. I seemed to do what was necessary and know when to take the next brave step — all without a plan or deliberate conscious awareness.

Maybe it was just as simple as Life kept happening and I kept showing up. Things got a lot better for me by 2008. Time does heal all wounds. Spring always comes. There can be exciting new beginnings.

Back to 2006: I would often wake up in the middle of the night terrified. Laying still in my bed in a fetal position, I would try to stay with the fear and deliberately feel it — perhaps hoping it would kill me. My throat would close and ache with things I could not even articulate. I remember the ah-ha moment when I realized that feelings could not kill me.

I started writing poetry, as many people do when they take steps to heal and need to express strong feelings.

But, like my fear, the poems came to me in the middle of the night, unbidden. I would awake at 2 or 3 am and there would be a poem — word for word — fully formed in my mind. I started to keep a pen and pad of paper close by so I could write the words down. I would read them in the morning. Sometimes I was baffled and sometimes enlightened.

I believe our subconscious has our best interests at heart and wants us to heal. Sometimes it will send you fear and, metaphorically, burn down the house around you to save you.

Other times it will give you poems in the middle of the night.

Below is one of the fully formed poems. It was confusing in 2006, but now I see it was prophetic.

A Dream

I dreamed I was writing a poem,

my muse – pain.

 

I dreamed I was God; the poet Hafiz;

the Prophets.

I heard the chanting,

“In the Fullness of Time,”

“In the Fullness of Time.”

 

I moved serenely, an acolyte to God

in a holy gown.

I carried pain on a serving dish,

offering it to you like a meal.

 

My other offering,

the gift of perfect understanding

 

Shakespeare wrote, “Give sorrow words.”

In the fullness of time,

I will give you the words for your pain

 

Betsy Lewis

March 2006

Now in 2018, poems no longer come to me in the middle of the night. Starting in 2006, I did go on to find the words for my pain and for the perfect understanding and I still search and explore.

I speak these words. I write them. I share them. I dance them. I do art about them. I act upon them. I live them. When all else fails me and I crumple down to the floor with the pain, I know I still have the words and that they have and will save me.

I continually work at developing my capacity to hold more and more — both pain and perfect understanding, fear and poems, and other of the incomprehensible paradoxes of being a human-being.

I am always healing. I am always finding new understandings to speak and write.

Rarely, but every once in awhile, I surprise myself and scream them in the middle of the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miracle at Walmart

My Baby Kai

I am embarrassed to say I shopped at Walmart the other day. I don’t support their policies toward the human beings in their employ, but there it was and I needed something in a hurry, so I stopped in.

I have stereotypes about Walmart shoppers. Facebook does a good job of reinforcing them. And sure enough, in the checkout line I was behind a large woman in too tight stretch pants and a spaghetti strap tank top (buying cheap stuff – just as I was.) She had the words “Baby Kai” tattooed on her shoulder blade. I have a son, Kai, now 20, and when he was a baby we called him “Baby Kai”. I normally wouldn’t comment on a tattoo, but I couldn’t help myself.

I told her about my Kai and asked her how old her Kai was. She hesitated and then said her baby Kai had never been born. I told her I was sorry and apologized for asking. Her cheeks got pink and then she rushed to say she had had two healthy children and another was on the way.

The line was slow and long. We began to talk. I told her about my losses. She said that there were things you never got over. I told her that was true, but that it seemed with time, it got easier to bear. She was sweet, thoughtful and soft spoken. She spoke with her eyes and had a beautiful smile. I have no idea how old she was, but we were two mothers, and in a very short time we had bonded — in the Walmart checkout line, no less. We exchanged a long soulful look when we parted.

What a wonderful thing to have happened to me in many ways.

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