Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In the Moments We Have

A friend shared this story: In a local pub to celebrate a high school graduation/end of the school year with another family, the parents, over dinner and drinks, were chatting when the other dad said to her, "We're all so lucky to be here- we've got these great kids, we're happily married, we're in good health... what if this is it?" She said she was quiet, but that he persisted, "We have it so good. Do you think this is it?" She said he pressed her for an answer so she responded with, "Well, yes, I do think this is it." I liked the story because it lingers afterward in your thoughts: How do you answer the question for yourself? How would you answer the friend's question?

My first impulse would have been to ask him, "Mm, well what more would you like there to be?" Or something along those lines. I see a man nearing the end of one very long adventure (raising a child), looking at a fork in the road (a child off to college), and sensing something different on the horizon (an empty nest). Sometimes we seek change, sometimes change comes upon us. Transitions are often a time of reflection and reassessment. Some respond with feelings of loss or grief, others seek to keep things the same, and others embrace the opportunity to make changes- there is no right way but if we look inward, something likely seeks to be expressed.

Another friend daydreams of a relationship that has no basis in reality, but her fantasy is so strong that her feelings are a real obstacle in her life. She can't seem to shake her fantasy- it is perhaps easier and less cumbersome than the real relationship in her life that is complicated and demanding at times. These two stories are linked in my thoughts because they are both yearnings: Is this it? Is there something better out there? I have this good stuff, but?

The core of what comes up may be about reconciling where we are in life with where we want to go. A healthy integration of our foibles into reality makes us ultimately responsible for where we are in our lives. This might be uncomfortable and make us fearful. This is truly the monster of our nightmares- not Godzilla or King Kong or the Terminator- fear is the monster that keeps us rigid and locked into place, afraid to question our life, our choices. However, throwing everything out to start afresh denies what we have created before. Continued growth comes from these old places not just new things.

Keeping an unpleasant thought away is to not think, to not question. If we think, if we question, we might have to change. Change is uncomfortable. We may feel more in control of a known pain than an unknown outcome. For example, the Navy offers adventures- living in faraway lands, frequent travel, new experiences, being a big fish in a small pond- do we acknowledge how much we are alone because our spouse is working too much or deployed too frequently? Do we acknowledge when our spouse makes a career choice that serves their promotion but not the best interests of the family? Do we see our value outside of a title or an office? An opportunity here is to feel at peace with the sacrifices we make or maybe to choose differently- we can integrate this fuller picture into our lives.

The insight that arises can allow us to enfold meaning into the present if we can listen and accept it without judgment as in this story of a child. A daughter angrily confronts her father, accusing him of selfish career choices, of never being there for her, and of always putting the Navy first. The father was gone a lot- he was deployed, but he provided for his family; he took jobs that took him away from his family, but it helped him get promoted. What does he do? In this story, without rebuttal, he accepts his child's pain not with grief and lamentation, but with humility. He chooses to be there in the moments he has left. He sits at her bedside each evening and for the first time in what remains of her childhood, he begins to read her bedtime stories; she is a senior in high school.

We are drawn to the fantasy of the other because we can make it what we want it to be. There is no history to corrupt our daydreams; there are no flaws to reconcile. An opportunity here is to see the people who love us "warts and all." Someone in your life is saying, "I love you" but what you hear is perhaps harsher or some version of, "You need to do this...and another thing...." When that fantasy love becomes known and intimate, there will be new warts, different warts, but still warts. We arrive back at the beginning- learning to love them where they are, just as they are.

We complain of another with laser like insight, and, conveniently, we do not have to turn that laser onto ourself. We see clearly all that "they" need to change from our perspective. Who can we really change? Do we change anyone with all of our critiquing and cajoling and henpecking? Criticism turns on the defense shields. It shuts me down when someone starts negatively with, "what are you thinking?" or "you idiot, don't you know...." An opportunity awaits in that what irritates us in the other, is likely the indicator of where to begin listening to ourselves.

Fear gains strength from: despair when fantasies crumble; myths we tell ourselves and denial of what is before us; and grudges we nurture. Peace grows from accepting flaws and loving anyway, risking the truth and letting it guide us, and by forgiving the past and accepting the moment's offering.