Middle Child

I cried my eyes out this morning. My wife had already left for work, but I scared the shit out of the dogs. Guttural sobs while I leaned against the cold steel of the kitchen sink, staring at the wintery backyard through flooded eyes.

God, it hurts.

It is a familiar trigger – struggling with my children’s struggles. This one especially so because he is my reflection, and yet so different at the same time. Like me, he is the middle child. Unlike me, he doesn’t say much. Like me, he craves to be accepted. Unlike me, he won’t ask for help until it is crisis mode.

Ok, I guess that is a little like me…

It’s bad enough that he struggles (even though I know they can be blessings in disguise). But to be a parent is to be by his side, to let him know I am there for him while staying out of his way in his struggle. To allow him to find himself in his flailing and moaning. Yet, I complicate it by projecting my own stuff into it and I make his struggle mine. Fuck, this is hard.

No different than he, I want everyone to be happy. I want everyone to get along. I am the middle child who is a parent of the middle child. And I can’t do this for him.

Not Loving the Plateau Right Now

Full confession…I’m not a very good student. That is, the student that puts in his time; puts in the practice and hones the material. Rather, I am addicted to the discovery, the cognitive leaps. Synapses that bring about thrilling insights and discoveries. But as with any addiction, the short-term reward is increasingly followed by a long-term deleterious effect – malaise.

Salvation comes in the form of doing the work. Of practice and routine in doing something over, and over, and over until the beauty of the practice emerges. But one must work through the ugliness and discomfort first – the plateau that seems to go forever.

“What you resist, persists, Rick.”

I wince when I remember these wise words shared with me at a younger and blissfully more ignorant age. And yet there is grace even in this moment of truth. To choose action is a moment of Creation. And the only question left to answer is, “will Creation be honored with the action that follows?”

Truth, is

I am tired of myself this way,

whining at the world in expectation

of a salvation delivered.

 

I am tired of myself this way,

shuffling from one unfinished room to the next

waiting for inspiration to move me to action.

 

I am tired of myself this way,

proclaiming meaningless truths to those I love

unseeing of the precious time I have wasted.

 

I am tired of myself this way,

finding roots of the undesired

run deep in my bones.

 

I am tired of myself this way,

failing to name what I am

and what I desire to be.

 

The hardest surrender

is to let go of that which is not named

and to be unknown even to myself.

 

 

Screaming at God (or why I don’t write when I am happy)

It’s easier

when it’s just me

When it’s just the sound of my voice,

in between the distractions,

to remind me

that God is listening,

and occasionally asks,

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

It’s 3:10 am and the dogs have woken me up this morning barking at the east winds that buffet the house. The house creaks more these days, just like my knees. I yell at the dogs and burrow under the warm covers, knowing sleep will not come back this morning. My mind is up and wandering. I give thanks for another day and roll out of bed, surrendering my place beside Teresa. She murmers something unintelligible and annexes my warm spot. She can sleep for ten hours a night. I’d sooner win the lottery than this mind of mine allowing me that kind of slumber.

Fuck you! I want to shout (with a nanosecond of hesitation)

“How did you think it would be?” God said.

“Different than this,” I said.

“Different better, or different worse?” she said.

“Just different,” I said.

Or better, I guess.”

The questions come abundantly this time of the morning. The answers, not so much. At least, not new answers as I reflect on a conversation with a friend last week. I spoke a brutal truth to him. It surprised both of us and hit him in a vulnerable place.

“I don’t trust you,” I said.

His eyes screamed #backstabbingmotherfucker, though what he said was much more diplomatic.

“I thought I would have more to show for my sacrifices,” I said.

“There are no guarantees,” she said. “But only that which you believe to be true.”

I mimic the refrain in a petulant voice, having heard it many times before.

I can be such an asshole.

“What is it that you want?” she said.

I thought carefully this time. More so than before at least.

“To know what I do matters. And that it helps in big ways, and small.”

I don’t know how to feel. I am full of don’t-know-how-to-feel’s. All I know is it needed to be said. I needed to say it. Whether he needed to hear it is up to him. He may not have heard it. He may have heard something else, no different that what often I hear is my own mis-translation of what others say to me. Convoluted by my own projection of uncertainty, inadequacy, or a plethora of other nouns.

“You have all those things,” she said. “So, what is the problem?”

I don’t know what to say.

“You have chosen your path,” she continues.

“One does not walk through the unbroken brush unscathed.”

“When does it get easier?” I said, the emotion at my throat.

“In time, you will reach the clearing. For now, you must embrace the purpose for how you travel. For that is my gift to you, and is what gives meaning to your story.”

Red

Chapter 9 of my memoir, The Underage Traveler: Essays On An Unprepared Journey. It describes when I first met my wife, Teresa when finishing college at WWU. Reading through the manuscript, I recall the time vividly and it strikes me how innocent we were. After twenty six years of marriage, if I could speak to myself back then what would I have said?

Be patient. Be kind. We all have shit we are dealing with.

The Underage Traveler – Chapter 9_Red

It Is Okay

Whatever you fear

what you are wary of

what you despair and lament

I lost a client yesterday. Funny, that is is almost as hard to acknowledge than to receive the email from the client in the first place. The truth is, I don’t do vulnerability well. Saturday I went for a walk with a friend who had recently returned from walking the Camino del Santiago and we were getting together to hear about her journey, but we ended up talking about me and my silence (safe to say, I’m usually the chatty one). As she did, I felt a heaviness come over me like a wet wool blanket. I stared at the ground as we walked, kicking gravel out of my way as my jaw slacked. And it dawned on me how much I silence my voice when I am feeling vulnerable.

It is okay

you are not alone

your feelings are known

I have a shadow that moves when I am feeling weak. It is the Warrior archetype and it moves in quickly to protect. It has done its job well over the years, and yet I find it serves me less and less these days. The absence of pain equates to the absence of healing, and I shut myself down.

In the depth of your anguish

remind yourself you are here for a reason

you matter

more than you can see, or hear, or touch

Interestingly, it is here where my work saves me, time and time again. In preparing for a group facilitation I decided to show the Brene Brown TedTalk on vulnerability (if you have not watched it before, I highly recommend it and have linked to it). I have watched Brene’s talk many times before yet I don’t ever seem to have recalled it when I needed it most. Until this week. When in deciding whether it was appropriate to include in the facilitation, I realized it was for me. Because I needed to hear it really bad.

Be patient

breathe

and in time your purpose

will be known to you

But, back to losing a client… The irony in this is I had been feeling for some time that I had lost their ear and what I was delivering to them was having diminishing value. Yet, as always seems to be the case, I depend on the retainer fee and the tension between those two polarities has had me frozen in inaction. Until this weekend when after my walk and talk with my good friend, I had decided to broach the issue of reframing the work or ending the retainer. As much as I feared that conversation, I felt empowered by the conclusion. Then I got sick, and while sleeping it off yesterday I received an email from that client that they were suspending the work due to financial reasons, etc. Reading through the lines, I know what lay at the heart of their decision because it had been my conclusion as well.

And your struggle, your moaning,

your aches and pains, and impatience

will be as echoes on the wind

And this is where it gets interesting. While I had already resolved to terminate the work if needed, receiving the email from them first triggered all kinds of emotions around scarcity, lack of self worth and shame. As crappy as I have been feeling, it was blessing that I was sick because my Warrior kept his shield and sword sheathed, and allowed me to experience the emotions without getting in the way. Raw, unfiltered lament. It sucked and yet was so necessary.

Nothing of consequence

nothing of gravity

is absent of suffering

 

All of which prepares me for the next journey, because as I have experienced time and time again, when the proverbial door closes, a window opens.

The only question to ask yourself is

what are you willing to suffer for?

 

What If I Got It Wrong?

I am not where I thought I would be. I do not feel how I thought I would feel. I am not doing all that I thought I would be doing. And it feels as though I am falling behind.

If there is one thing I am convinced of in acknowledging these brutal truths…I am not very good at predicting when, or how something will happen. And yet I am compelled by visions and intuition that have proved truth enough times over to assure me of my endowments.

What gifts lay within beguile in close proximity to myself.

How am I to reconcile these things? It seems as though without the uncertainty and unknowing, that the vision would become pedestrian and unworthy of the good fight. And yet it is these attributes that plant the seeds of doubt and lament. By not knowing how long or by what journey it will take, the vision is held in the balance of either coming into being, or vanishing with every misgiving.

All of which brings me back to where I am, which is not where I thought I would be. And what scares me more than anything is that I got it wrong. And that there are no do overs.

The Dull Empty

 

With our youngest launched off to college this fall, we are officially empty nesters. When I have mentioned this in conversation with various people, the usual response I get is, “wow, aren’t you lucky! Sell the house now before they return!”

I don’t get it. That is anything but how I feel and if anything, it’s the opposite. Don’t get me wrong – there are a multitude of small things that don’t raise my ire anymore, like tripping over the pile of shoes in the entryway, or the trail of backpacks, school work, dirty socks and hoodies leading from the front door to the pantry, or the front driveway that has looked at times like a used car lot. But, the truth of it is that all these things are indications of what I cherish deeply – the company of my children.

And while I have been anticipating our youngest’s departure with excitement for him in his new journey, I have also recognized that I have been grieving for this transition; fearing the moment when the house will go unawakened in the morning, no longer jolted awake by blaring alarm clocks, squawking radios, and whining blow dryers.

Gathering dust and bed sheets that go undisturbed now mark the time until their return during the holidays. Until then, I am left to my own thoughts about what I was, and was not as a father, and the inevitable dull empty of not being able to do anything more than to ask their forgiveness and remind them that one day they will ask for forgiveness from their own kids.

For what they will be as a parents, and not.