24 January 2011

This Is It

Always we hope someone else has the answer, some other place will be better, some other time it will all turn out. This is it; no one else has the answer, no other place will be better, and it has already turned out.
- Lao tzu

One of my family members is, even while I type, moving toward the end of her life. It's an extended, not immediate, family member - someone I don't really know well to be honest because we live at a distance from each other. In truth I haven't seen her since the summer of 2008, just four months after my heart attack. Yet as I follow the e-mails from her immediate family, the updates on her treatment and, recently, the news of the discontinuation of that treatment, I find myself wanting to DO something for her and for the rest of the cousins I'm not [in truth] even that close to.

Ah, the legacy of growing up in an alcoholic home! I was the kid who tried to "fix" everything, the one who came to believe early on that I could rescue the drunk, could make others feel better, could - if only I tried hard and long enough - make it all different. I strove diligently and long, in my primitive child ways, to become the heroine of my family. When you're too young and too scared and too powerless to deal even with your own stuff - the best way to avoid trying is to take on the stuff that other people are only-too-happy to let you have.

Now, I'm not trying to either excuse or blame myself for this - just to express honestly that I know where the impulse to jump into a situation such as my cousin's comes from. Lao Tzu - smart guy - knew what he was talking about, didn't he? Always we do want it to be something outside of ourselves that we can take on, blame, hold to, fix, or whatever our particular defensive strategy spurs us to do - so that we don't have to sit with the unbearable roiling in the belly, the intolerable drunken monkeys that swing from limb to limb in the mind when fear and anger, and even regret combine in something we label anxiety. Always I want to rescue, fix, make it all better for others - be the heroine.

Accepting that what I CAN do is share the things I know to be true from my experience, share what my heart holds, share my honest words and express my emotions doesn't feel like enough to me. But accept it I must, and do. I don't have to like it - just accept it. This acceptance involves inhabiting that anxiety that pushes me to "do something," to consider that in this situation, as in most of life, all I can do is respond authentically. Which of course requires maintaining contact with what truly is authentic in me - including the desire to be the heroine.

My cousin's husband signed off on his earlier e-mails with the phrase "Cancer Sucks!" Sitting with our anxiety sucks too, as does this whole trying-to-be-a-grownup at times. Yet I'm finding, as I express, as I love myself even when I squirm as I look at myself, as I get to know that authentic me and share it with others, that life is comprised of more of what (as Anthony Bourdain would say) "doesn't suck" than what does.

Yours in continual confusion, along the journey.

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