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Posts from the ‘Betsy Lewis’ Category

Drawing the world in closer and truer to myself

Last week I made an energetic shift to the good. The world was a beautiful place. I felt confident and grounded. I patted myself on the back for doing all the personal growth work that led to this result. I had arrived!

Fast forward one week. I find myself googling apocalyptic art.

I feel scratchy and irritable. I am taking things personally; blaming, grumbling and complaining. I feel prickly, fragile, impatient and judge-y. I am two pieces of sandpaper rubbing together.

Try as I might, I can not summon the enlightened person I was the week before.

To add insult to injury, I hate myself for being this way. I am ashamed.

Is this then who I really am? Have I not learned anything in my long life? I see others meeting grave losses with grace and love. Right now, I have no love for even the simplest challenges. I have achieved nothing.

To escape, I watch British detective dramas – murder mysteries. Their simple formula is comforting. If there are interesting characters, they become my world for awhile. I like it there. I want to live there. The good guys prevail by solving the murder puzzle. The bad guys are identified and caught and, in the end, justice is done.

Justice – that is the happy ending I long for, and what feels so elusive in my life and in the real world.

I am going to be 62 years-old in August. As a survivor of childhood trauma, I know I have lost some of the years of a lifespan that was my birthright. They say people like me can die 20 years earlier than people without childhood trauma. I want to make some headway in healing my trauma with the time I have left — toward justice, if at all possible. I want to at least be on my way.

In a prayer and contemplation meditation group today, I felt rebellious. There we sat, a group of privileged white women, in a safe place with no fear about where our next meal was coming from, where we were going to sleep at night or whether a bomb was going to be dropped on us at any moment.

I decided that I was going to deliberately THINK and I wasn’t going to go “back to my breath” or “my word.”

For 20 minutes I thought hard about children in war-torn lands. Children who have lost their parents and relatives and are themselves at risk of dying every day. In my mind’s eye, I saw them crouching in dirty ragged clothes, protectively clutching their younger siblings against them. I saw their huge round frightened eyes.

I communed with those children. And as I write this, I realize that I feel more of a kinship with them than with the group of women around me.

My early life was a war torn country too.

My thoughts also wandered to where my dreams sometimes go – to a fire ravaged, smokey, grey post-apocalyptic landscape of destruction. I saw myself as a “skinless creature” – a crippled skeleton – as fragile as ash. Just one light touch – a single puff of air – would demolish me.

Some days, like today, I know that the “veil” between this skeleton and myself has thinned. Little things can hit me with a destructive power  – a criticism, a jostle, a grimace.

I am not really sure any of us are free of our version of it. We all have been wounded in some way. Jungian analyst, Duncan Carpenter, coined the words “the skinless core” to refer to this, our most exquisitely sensitive, unprotected and vulnerable inner self.

I know that this ash skeleton is part of my “skinless core” and, quite likely, my unseen traumatized self from my childhood.

Try as I might, I can not transcend or escape her. It seems no amount of meditating, crystal gazing, spa days or ice cream will soothe her.

It dawns on me what I can do.

I CAN witness her, commune with her, never forget her, see her truth, and give her a taste of the validation and justice she did not receive from the adults so many years ago in her childhood.  I CAN offer concern, reassurance, attention, empathy, and kindness. I can take her seriously.

Of course when I use the word “her”, I mean “me”.  As fragile as she is, I recognize that she is truly my own savior, part of the my growing personal imperative to draw my world in closer and truer to myself.

I will not wish her away anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

The teacher who saved my life

Beginning violin - Age 8

Betsy Lewis ~ Age 8

My family had significant challenges when I was growing up. I was the oldest of 4 kids and when I was 12, we lost our mother. My father was completely overwhelmed with the job of taking care of us, especially since he needed to work long hours to keep his new business afloat.

That’s when I stepped in to take up the slack and when my childhood mostly ended.

Despite my best efforts to run the household, I regularly fell short. I naturally didn’t know what or how to do things and I took it as a personal failing. My father seemed grateful for my help, but no one told me that this was an impossible job for a 12 year-old. Even today, I work on letting go of shame when I don’t know how to do something or when I fail.

There was one steady adult in my life then — my violin teacher, MaryAnn Butler. She also had a busy life as a wife and mother of four children. She ran a home business teaching violin and piano, and she played violin with the Livermore Symphony Orchestra.

MaryAnn talked to my father and started giving me free lessons — since we could no longer afford them. Later, she hired me to babysit, so I had some spending money. She made me a 2nd violin in the symphony orchestra — picking me up by car every week and driving me to and from practices and performances for 5 years without fail. She also made sure I got music scholarships for college.

She seemed to believe in me and never gave up. This, despite the fact that I was not a good student or violinist, had a terrible musical ear, rarely practiced, and was too anxious to play at her recitals.

Truth be told, I got no joy from music or playing music. My life was simply too stressful — to feel. I am sure I clung to the violin because I knew that each week I could go to a place with a caring adult holding space just for me, who showed me how to do things I didn’t know how to do and didn’t give up on me when I failed.

MaryAnn and I lost touch over the years. From my perspective now, at age 61, I deeply regret this. In a recent Google search, I discovered that she had died at 71 of cancer. I also found comments from other former students confirming that she had done, for many many other kids, what she had done for me.

MaryAnn was a teacher, and teachers do things like this for kids all the time. But, you don’t have to be a teacher, or even in a profession geared to kids, to change their lives for the better.

NPR recently ran a story of a barber who managed to fit in support for kids in his daily work by giving a $2 discount on haircuts to kids who read a book to him in the chair: ( How The Barber, And Other Caring Adults, Help Kids Succeed.)

NPR also cited a study that found “for every 1 percent increase in the adult-to-youth ratio in a given community, there was a 1 percent decrease in the rate of young people dropping out before graduating high school.”

Astoundingly, it doesn’t take much. Simply having more grownups around is pretty powerful!

And maybe you only need to do one thing to make a big difference.

Which leads me to ask the question of myself and of you.

Is there a way we busy adults can carve out just a little bit of extra space for a child in our daily life or work?

I stopped playing the violin soon after graduating from college, but I think MaryAnn would be happy to know that, at age 50, I bought myself a cello and found that I actually had developed a musical “ear” and found joy in making and listening to music.

This was her legacy to me, discovered many years after my lessons ended. Deep gratitude to MaryAnn!

On Being Ordinary

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This seems harsh, but it gave me a kick in the pants that it is possible to change my attitude sometimes. And really there is not one thing wrong about my life right now that would lead me to feel miserable!

 

I intended, at the start of my walkabout several years ago, to write my story frequently. What I found is that writing is hard for me. I get too perfectionist about it. So starting now I am writing just for myself — and I forgive myself in advance for typos and nonsense. You are welcome to read along if you wish, but nothing is guaranteed!

Last year I read an article that reported that most of us have a better opinion of ourselves than the facts would appear to support. We think we are all around better people than we actually are.

Which got me thinking about self-esteem.

Growing up, I had very poor self-esteem. A few bad things interfered with what could have been a blissful childhood, and for a good while, the only sense I could make of it was that something was wrong with me. I felt that way in high school – less worthy, almost less human — than the other students.  Many were taking off for trips to Europe. I knew that would never happen for me. I wasn’t upset. I was resigned to my lot in life. I knew I would never see the Eiffel Tower (which felt like the epitome of achievement at the time).

Still, a small ember of self-esteem burned deep within me. I did not picture myself working behind the counter at Woolworths. I felt I should go to college. Although my family was poor, a disastrous mess and no one was encouraging me  – I did just that.

As I’ve gotten older, managed to survive many challenges, picked up life experience and been supported by many people — my self-esteem has soared. I feel good about myself — maybe too good – at least according to this article.

I know for a fact that, the only thing I am really better at than most, is hand-eye coordination (I’m in the top 1%). This has been verified by testing I put myself through during my divorce. (Don’t ask) It explained why I have always been really good at catching things!

Otherwise, I was average in all tested categories  – except that I failed solving mathematical word problems. But that was because, at this point in the testing, I crossed my arms and refused to participate. That probably brought my score down. They were not giving out points for having boundaries.

Both “Super Great Betsy” and “Completely Unworthy Betsy” are not the real story.

I am no better or worse than everyone else. Comparing myself to myself, I am perhaps wiser now, but my cognitive skills are clearly slipping.

I am ordinary.

Don’t knock ordinary. Where I come from, it’s an honor to be part of the club of ordinary human-beings. There is also a freedom in claiming my ordinariness. Mostly now, I am doing things just for myself – because they make me happy. Like this blog. (I do hope someday my children will read it and know me in a different way.)

I can relax. No need to keep proving myself. More and more any standards are changing into MY standards.

Simply getting to live to see another day – feels like quite an achievement – and perfectly ordinary.

 

Brave little girls, big sisters and beach angels

Bandon Beach Labyrinth

Bandon Beach ~ May 2015

Walking on Bandon’s beach last week, I remembered another day at this same beach — some 20 years ago. There was the same ominous heavy moist grayness, the same biting wind and moaning fog horn, and the same super low tide – which left a wide sandy beach covered in a thin glassy sheen of water. Rock outcroppings, usually underwater, were left high and dry, revealing damp caves and passageways.

20 years ago my husband, myself and our two kids were here on a family vacation. Our daughter, Hailey, was six years old. At the beach, this high-spirited little girl turned into an exuberant water nymph, kicking and frolicking at the edge of the waves. She was in her element and I always breathed a sigh of relief because, finally, here was a wild energy that matched her own.

Our son, Kai, was a new walker — a sweet chubby toddler — who we had thoroughly bundled up against the elements. He was happily walking along, with stiff arms and legs, as best he could.

With so much space and a long view, we relaxed and gave the kids free rein to run around.

But when we turned around — Kai had disappeared.

We heard Hailey screaming from a short way down the beach. Next we saw our beautiful fearless daughter plunge into a deep moat circling a large rock and fish little Kai out by his coat collar, dragging him onto the sand. He had gone in over his head – and sunk like a rock.

We ran over, bundled up our two soggy kids in beach towels and carried them up to the car. For a moment, our eyes met — sharing a silent terror – the grim knowledge that, had Hailey not seen Kai, we might not have found him in time.

This is not one of those stories that you laugh about later on. This is the story that you don’t want to remember because it leaves you chilled to the bone with “what ifs?”

Hailey is now 26 years old, a mother herself, and Kai is 21. I had happily walked this beach many times since that family vacation, but on this day I felt weighed down and traumatized. Perhaps it was the similarity in the weather or the season — or maybe even the actual anniversary. They say the body remembers these things and you never know what your subconscious has in mind for you.

I thought about the people I have known who had lost a child. I thought about the premature dissolution of that little family we were back then. The losses and traumas just seemed to pile up. I wondered how any of us can go on.

At one point, I came upon a sand labyrinth, expertly drawn in the sand. The words “Enter Here” with an arrow invited me in, so I stood at the entrance, quieted myself and began slowly walking. By the end of my walk, my dismal mood had turned to sobbing.

I cried for that scary day 20 years ago. I also cried for an even more ancient time when I was a child – a new big sister too – and had been unable to save my little brother from suffering.

I cried for all the times I had been powerless to help those I loved. I cried for the collapse of our little family, and the many times since, that their father and I had let our kids down. I cried for the times we hadn’t been there or done the right thing – or even known what the right thing was. I cried for my lost dreams of how things should have been. I cried because when we failed, it had hurt the two people I care for most in the world.

And also I cried because I was tired of being strong and brave. I was tired of being the one who carried this burden alone – the one who was blamed for everything.

The labyrinth builders, two women and a man, – unknown and nameless, but angels just the same – came up to me. I told them the story of the near drowning of my baby, just the tip of the iceberg, and they took turns hugging me as I cried.

We cannot plan these things consciously – these steps along to healing our life. They come when they do – if we give them the attention and the opportunity. I no longer believe I am to be blamed for everything. I know I cried for the person I was who used to believe that.

I meant to take a simple walk on a beach. Now I recognized it as another step toward the freedom I had been seeking when I first set off on this walkabout.

A freedom I am just beginning to taste.

A little research led me to the website of Denny Dyke, who I believe is the labyrinth maker on Bandon Beach: http://onepath.us/

 

 

The heart and the not so lonely hunter

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I have been on the lookout for heart-shaped rocks on beach walks near my home. It was only a casual effort at first. I usually have an eye to the sand anyway, looking for interesting debris tossed up by the waves. Lately, I almost always find a single small rock with a tiny hole through it (for a necklace I am making) — but never a heart rock.

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Heart rocks are pretty common. If you Google “beach heart rock”, you will find hundreds, if not thousands of images. Last weekend I walked for two hours on a rock strewn beach and did not find a one.

My heart rock search has picked up notably as I have started searching for the next big thing with heart for my life. Normally skeptical about the power of signs and omens, these two searches have become entwined. And because my next big thing is still hazy and unknowable, the easier thing seems to be to rely on a magical rock.

While musing, walking and heart rock hunting last weekend, the song, “The Shape Of My Heart”, which Sting sings so hauntingly, looped over and over in my head –  one of those cryptic messages my subconscious doles out so sparingly.

Hearts, of course, are symbols of love. I knew my next big thing had to do with love, but that the question had changed from “When will my prince come?” to “What shape will my love take?”

The past great and grand loves of my life – romantic love and mother’s love – aren’t the right shape anymore. They feel too small, like a beloved sweater that has shrunk in the wash.

Beach walks are usually great for finding clarity. Yesterday I tried out all sorts of ideas for my future passion, but none took hold. As I walked, I began to compose in my head this piece I have written right here about my fruitless search for the heart rock and, low and behold, I saw something in the surf that looked kind of heart-ish. It went under a wave and then emerged again. I waded out into the water and picked it up. It was not quite perfect, but pretty close. I think it will do for now.

I know this is too happy and pat an ending for this post, but I really did finally find a heart rock yesterday. I wish I could say that my future was magically revealed in that moment also, but it wasn’t.

So, I will use this rock as a talisman – as a sign to me from the Goddess of Mystery that I am going in the right direction.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying walks on the beach, magical thinking, playing games of hide and seek with my subconscious, the joy of the search, feeling my way through the mist with my own two hands and the glorious possibility of another iteration of love in my life.

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The Invisible Woman?

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Me and Invisible Me

 

Last week a sales clerk gave me the senior discount automatically — without me having to ask. Whoa! That was a first.

I had dressed up too. Made an effort. Had my makeup on. I’d also recently lost a few pounds. I thought I looked good, middle-aged perhaps, but certainly not a senior. Apparently it is time for a reality check.

Or quite possibly, the clerk hadn’t read these breaking news stories:

Middle age begins at 60, says researchers

Middle age now lasts until 74 as baby boomers refuse to grow old

God bless the baby boomers. We are not going down without a fight. If we don’t like the rules, we’ll change ‘em. You wait. We might just outlaw old age altogether.

I am still sorting through what old and senior will mean for my life. My memory slips now and then. I sometimes strain to remember the title of “that book.” “You know the one,” I say to my friends of a similar age. They nod. They DO know, but can’t find the words either. Apparently we can now communicate telepathically. This is good news.

On the other hand, I can no longer learn a new language (I’ve tried), knit an Icelandic sweater, or move a furniture item of any weight and bulk up a flight of stairs. I am having to face up to some new limitations. Sometimes I look in the mirror, stretch the skin on my face, and toy with the idea of surgical intervention.

There are the jokes about aging and there will be the optimists piping in with things like: “Age is just a number!”, ”Aging is mandatory, but growing old is optional!”, “Embrace your age!” etc. My favorite one is, “You are only young once, but you can be immature for a lifetime!”

I see other people are sailing through just fine. I came to parenting late, having spent the last 15 years using my dwindling energy to make sure my children survived to adulthood. I have emerged from that absorbing effort to find myself a senior. It is going to take some getting used to.

And why am I surprised I am old?

Because inside, as other seniors will tell you, it is a different story. Inside I am stunning, a force of nature, a blizzard, a tropical storm, an avalanche, a hurricane — for god’s sake. I have it going on. I know what’s what. I have big ideas, plans and dreams. All systems are go.

And finally I have a voice!

But will anyone listen to me – senior that I am? What are these words I hear whispered on the wind: “Irrrrrrelevant” . . . . . . “Invvvvvisible”

There is something familiar in this actually. It is my home turf in many ways. As a woman I have been grappling with some stage-of-life version of “invisible” my whole life. From petitioning for the right to wear pants instead of dresses to school, to the right to choose, to the right of equal pay for equal work – to name a few.

So now it looks like I must add ageism to sexism.

And how about love and the “invisible woman”? I would like to fall in love again. I thought I would be over this by now, but apparently it goes along with being a human of any age. I’d like a chance to do it better and make – ahem – better choices. But, as my neighbor lady says, “That’s a topic for another time and a bottle of wine.”

The advocates push old as bold and empowered. I am having trouble building up enthusiasm – but maybe I’ll get there. Obviously I need consciousness raising. But, there are the grand words and then there is the reality — which seems to me to need a total societal remodel — which I do not feel up to tackling at the present time.

Being old and getting even older is the unknown. I have few close models. My parents didn’t make it to 60, like I will – if my luck holds – this August 2015. I am a little scared. The end – MY END – is coming closer. Losses are multiplying faster. If I don’t go first, I will lose someone.

So I guess it is time to get busy making long awaited dreams come true – which I am doing as best I can.

Hopefully my body and my bandwidth can keep up the pace for a good long time.

Collage artist

The Collage Artist

Love In The Time of 40 Rose Bushes

rose garden

I used to own 40 rose bushes.

They came part and parcel with a house my new husband and I bought in Boise, Idaho — when we were young, in love and wanting to settle down and start a family.

The roses were a riotous mix of colors and shades, lined up prettily against a low weathered gray fence in a sunny courtyard of our new backyard. The windows from the kitchen, eating area and sun room looked out at them. They were in constant view and not easily ignored.

I preferred to grow vegetables back then and was intimated by the responsibility for these roses, so fragile and elegant — and not at all like a melon or head of lettuce in usefulness.

Still, the roses had been growing at this house for a long time. And someone, or a succession of someones, had cultivated and maintained them – perhaps loved them. I was learning to honor love and ready for new responsibilities. Now that the baton had been passed to me — I did not want the roses to die on my watch.

I diligently studied rose cultivation with books borrowed from the Boise Public library. (These were the days before Google!) I mounded loose acidic bark at the base of each bush and put in soak-er hoses to keep their shallow roots cool and damp through the hot Boise summers. I fertilized them, vigilantly watched for disease, picked off aphids and clipped spent blooms. That first fall, instructions in one hand, sharp new clippers in the other, I pruned them rather far back – reducing them to ugly gnarly stumps. I had a few winter months of worry that I had killed them.

But no, they were consistently resilient and reliable, dying back each fall and blossoming beautifully each spring we lived there. The death/rebirth metaphor for my own life is easy to see now with the distance of age.

The roses came to be a source of pride and joy for me. I needed something alive to cherish and nurture, so I showered those 40 rose bushes with the love I was unable to give the child we could not conceive.

Now, nearly 60, with spring on its way, reminding me of my roses and those heady glory days when opening to new love was easy and untainted by its potential for crushing loss, I do another little bit of grieving for the past.

I know that some years later, after we had moved, that beautiful house and its 40 rosebushes burned to the ground — just like my life did, or so I thought, for several years after my divorce.

There are things you can not know about love until you have loved and lost. There are things you can not know about how to live and honor life until you have been burned to the ground. I could not know these things back then.

But I do know, that as long as I am alive, there are still lessons about love ahead of me.

GLORY DAYS

There were brilliant autumn days

where I stood in fields

gone rampant with abundance.

And I was full to swelling and beautiful.

My baby was a round cherub,

a pumpkin,

and my husband was puffed up with love.

And we were going to live forever.

Glory Days!

The days God gives to remind us,

as winter comes,

that in the end,

it was all worth it.

Betsy Lewis

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