Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Loss’ Category

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.

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Girl Meets Boy

 

“We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jar of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and recategorized with every act of recollection.”

Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations

Girl Meets Boy (At a Disco)

For B.G.

Saturday night at a popular disco/bar in a small California college town a boy asks a girl to dance.

The next morning, the girl’s ears still ring from the deafening beat and volume of the music. She recalls the gyrating bodies on the cramped dance floor, the patterns of light racing around the walls as the disco ball spun overhead and the sharp sour taste of beer in the plastic cup she clutched in her hand.

She also thinks back to the tall lanky boy with a head of dark curls who appeared out of nowhere and asked her to dance.

The girl must have told the boy where she lives because, a couple of days later, he strolls down her tree-lined street and finds her reading quietly in the shade on her front porch. They talk, make a date and their love story unfolds from there.

They both will go on to live other love stories, but for the girl at least, this is her first one.

Over the next few years, the boy and the girl learn about love and share wild adventures – and some tragedies. During summer breaks, the boy makes heroic long-distance drives to see the girl. He is there to support her when her father dies. The girl always stands patiently by the side of the road while the boy grabs his collection of tools and disappears under the hood of his beloved Bugeye Sprite to make the mysterious repair that puts them back on the road again.

They get to know each other’s families and the girl often stays with the boy’s family during holidays. A few things she remembers from the boy’s house are the thick perfectly folded guest room towels she was afraid to use, sneaking into the boy’s room when the house was asleep, the boy showing her how his father folded the Land O’Lakes butter packaging so the Native American Indian girl’s knees looked like breasts, and the soft raspy sounds made by the three big white fluffy (debarked) dogs in the backyard.

The boy’s mother teaches the girl to put a dish towel in the bottom of the sink when washing crystal by hand, so the glasses won’t crack against the hard porcelain. She shows her how to make a pie crust using lard and how to pile that pie high with huge California strawberries which shrink while cooking.

There’s much much more, but this story does not end with the boy and the girl living happily-ever-after, however.

Over time, a divide grew between them about religion. They cling together for as long as they can until the girl meets another, leaves to make a life with him and resolutely locks away her memories and feelings for the boy from the disco. The boy felt love-lost for a while, but eventually made a happy life with another who shared his faith.

Girl Meets Boy (Again)

One day the girl, now a woman in her 60s, receives a surprising message. The boy, now a man also in his 60s, has sent her a text.

Four decades from their first meeting at the disco, the boy/man and the girl/woman connect again — this time through the magic of the internet. Suffice it to say, they are no longer shiny and new. The man is grieving the profound loss of his wife of 31 years. The woman is numb and exhausted from the effort of tying up the loose ends following her divorce.

Now, a few mornings after the surprising text message, the woman sits quietly sipping her morning coffee at her kitchen table. She looks up and reflects on the story she has been writing about a girl and a boy meeting at a disco. The ending is eluding her – shifting and changing like a cloud on a windy day. It is still being played out and she doesn’t know how she wants it to end.

She can’t remember the last time she cried, but now her tears start flowing like a river as she begins to unlock the feelings, stories and people she shut away so many years ago.

She cries because she desperately misses the boy she knew, so joyously and vividly alive. She cries because this boy has had to walk a difficult and challenging path through life as a man.

She grieves for their family members who have passed away – her father, his mother and father, his sister.  She even cries for the dogs, the house, the safe familiar rooms, the cars in the driveway; the trees, leaves, flowers, blades of grass in the lawn. And Bugeyes? Is Bugeyes gone too?

She grieves for the pretty girl she was, and for all that is now finished for her – romantic love, touch; being cherished and desired.

The girl who learned to never let anything in has become the woman freely welcoming all that arises.

Perhaps the boy/man and the girl/woman will meet again someday.  Perhaps they won’t. Still, for as long as they live, they hold within them the remembrance of their youthful love, the unique times in which they lived, and the people they loved who are now gone.

The woman now knows what she did not know as a girl when, 40 years ago, she so easily and innocently took the risk to love the boy:  That there is no love without grief and no grief without love. That grief and love are as intimately connected as lover’s hands entwined.

And that, although there is no end to grief in life ….. there is also no end to love.

 

 

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!

Lost at Sea

10600616_10203830079906905_7626856388676479996_n

I was molested by a relative when I was a preschooler.

Some of my memories of this are murky; others are surprisingly vivid. I remember blue-jeaned legs, a round red face, and not being able to breathe. The most disturbing emotion, which can send my heart racing even today, was fear for my baby brother in the next room. I was his big sister, entrusted with his care. I loved him with all my heart. His happiness and suffering I felt as my own.

I also remember what I was wearing at the time – a blue sailor dress with a red tie. I loved Popeye the Sailor Man and felt invincible in that dress. I remember standing on the couch in my dress with my arms out like Popeye – showing off my muscles. That dress and the big sister status — it had to be heady.

In one fell swoop, in that one miserable day, a terrorist entered our home and changed the course of my life forever.

When my parents reappeared to save me, I remember longing to sail off on a fairy boat with my mother.

That this occurred, is not a particularly unique thing. It is estimated that one in ten children are abused before the age of 18.

I believe my parents and other relatives knew what happened but, as was typical of the time, it wasn’t talked about. I am guessing they all assumed (hoped) I was too young to remember.

And I didn’t for a time, but eventually the clues kept appearing, memories returned, and certain mysteries about my life started to made sense.

A month or so before I moved to the Oregon Coast from Portland, I found an old photograph of a little girl at a thrift store I haunted for vintage art supplies. She cost a full $1.00, which was a steep price for where I was shopping. But, after I kept returning to look at her, I splurged and bought her. After I settled into my new coastal house, the first thing I did was pull the photograph out and begin a collage not knowing why or where I was going with it.

When I had finished, I saw a sepia toned phantom of my past – the Popeye girl in the sailor suit.

That little girl had gone away and I would never know her. I was consumed with grief. I call this collage “Lost at Sea”.

There is a memorial to lost sailors in the coastal town where I lived then. Their names are carved in stone and I think about the people they might have become had they lived.

If I could, I would carve the words “Betsy the Sailor Girl” into the stone. Instead, I made this collage memorial to the girl I was who was lost at sea – who didn’t become who she was meant to be, but lived to become another – no better or worse, but who, frankly, has had to swim through a tsunami to get this far.

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/

 

 

%d bloggers like this: