We Westerners are not so great with suffering. Relative prosperity and The American Dream have most of us starting out with an emotional bedrock of conflict avoidance and high expectations about family life and prosperity gospel.
Even those of us who never had The Dream at home yearn for it as a means of overcoming. That’s sort of beautiful, isn’t it? The desire to build a stable family and keep it strong, to choose one partner above all others and bury past dysfunction, it’s an everyday miracle that looks quietly average from the outside. It works every day. For every child who grows into a monster from the harm inflicted on him, there are thousands more who simply, silently, give better than what was given them. Two parents, food, lights and heat. The occasional joy of a want versus a need. Love, real love. Deep and true and unshakeable. These are the things that make us fake smile at a difficult boss, part way for an aggressive driver, say something nice or nothing at all.
After the kissing in the tree, love, marriage, the maybe appearance of a baby carriage or two, comes the Infidelity. Your Unnatural Disaster, so get the fuck down from that tree if you don’t mind. Along with the mind games, the shock, the anger comes the total absence of acknowledgement that this selfish and motley assortment of acts (not just the physical puzzle piece logic of the act itself) has raged through your home and ransacked your soul. Then asked you to be “still friends.” Thanks, you think, because saying so makes you the villain. Thanks, you Fuckwit Tornado. Let me glue that back together for you. Let me fix everything!
But here is the fatal flaw that fixers like us cannot initially grasp. You can’t fix what you didn’t break. You can only heal you. I won’t say fix. It implies you begged the Storm on. I don’t believe you did. I believe you were ravaged by a Fuckwit Tornado and lived to tell the tale.
Today, this morning, I saw a 2012 Silver Chevy Malibu on the road and I didn’t flinch. What is it for you? Is it a brunette baby? Is it that goddamn cologne she wore that always burned your eyes? Is it the chest freezer you no longer need because your home is now half empty, half full, like a hollowed shell?
How long will it take? I don’t know. Two years. As long as the courtship and marriage. As long as it takes.
Two years on, though, here are a few somethings that helped this Jolly Little Chump.
I have stopped measuring my success by life’s highs or lows. Now I measure the quality of the average Thursday. Do we have food? Is there gas in the car? Oh, look! A car, we have one. Did I complete as much work as I needed today? Was I an asset to my employer? Did I not mute myself to cry during a conference call? Wonders, the Baby made toast by himself, he’s five and he made himself a meal!
I wanted a faithful marriage with a person I loved very deeply. But he was a cheater. I also wanted to be a ballerina, but I was 150 pounds at age 11. I wanted a pony, but we lived in the city. MEH!
I focus on what I can have, and I don’t believe anything is out of the question. I may fall in love again. I could lose 50 pounds and join the community theater. I could board a pony, though I’d prefer to have my utilities on. But plain Thursday, almost getting kicked out of the fancy fondue restaurant because my daughter is laughing so hard at my Minions voice offering her “bananas and cake blocks” is pretty good.
Secondly, suffering happens. It’s clearly not okay. It’s not usually deserved. As Joseph Conrad wrote in Heart of Darkness, “This also has been one of the dark places of the earth.” Anyone looking at a few rooms emptied of a beloved stepdaughter and her things knows this home truth. Faiths of all flavors, from Catholic Saints to the Buddhist demon Mara, tread the terrain of transformative suffering. There is a place of peace to inhabit when you perceive you have lost everything. There is a pretty well-known mediation on Mara that’s stunning in its practicality and wisdom. The goal is simply to accept suffering. Not as a masochism. Not as a penance or a promise of future reward. It’s an expansion of one’s abilities, auspiciousness, and capacity to thrive without obsession on the past. For more info, read “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach (2003). This meditation comforts me nearly every day.
So I never thought my mate would cheat. I accept it. And also this:
He was cold and unkind as he packed his things. He dragged on. He could have left and sent for his things and spared me pain. But he seemed to enjoy watching my suffering, taking my stepdaughter from me, the sound of my sobbing and begging, inventing crimes to justify his cruelty.
I see you Mara. And also this:
He dropped all our friends and family. He hasn’t spoken to his stepdaughter in two years. Never offered her so much as a word of comfort. And also this:
His new daughter, whose proud due date and overdue birth was celebrated on Facebook without the muddy inconvenience that it placed conception well before inconvenient family objects were excised from the picture. Makes such a happy picture.
This. All of it. I accept it. And I can see a car that looks like his without flinching. A brunette baby is blameless and lovely. And I see Mara now. In a date that’s too handsy. In a tough situation at work. In a gossipy neighbor.
I am stronger, I am clearer, I know want from need and use from love. I have my daughter and my son, they saw evil and we lived through it. Now our health and happiness is all we need.
Come what may, Fuckwit Tornado.