Part of becoming, however, is addressing what and who we are now. It requires assessment, a sizing up. That's the hard part. We have to take in all the cracks and fissures that have accumulated over the collection of our seasons. Sometimes the universe intervenes, steps forward and quietly offers, "Try this. It might help."
Anne Lamott's Hallelujah Anyway is it for me. It's about mercy, which isn't something I've given much thought to, actually. Forgiveness, yes. Kindness, sure. Empathy, absolutely. But mercy... Mercy is something different. Mercy isn't turning a blind eye. It isn't glomming over the ugly bits. It takes in the whole, sees all the cracks, puts judgement aside and says, "Yep. Hallelujah anyway." As Lamott says, "Hallelujah that in spite of it all, there is love, there is singing, nature, laughing, mercy. Mercy means that we soften ever so slightly, so that we don't have to condemn others for being total shits, although they may be that." She alludes to a priest who asserts that sometimes we merely need a new pair of glasses that allow us to see the awful person (maybe even ourselves) a bit more gently.
What I love about Lamott is that she is so beautifully honest. She doesn't climb on a pulpit and tell us to do it, that it's right. She exposes the struggle. And she swears a lot, which I appreciate. And as I'm reading, I'm nodding along. I'm jotting down lines. She's helping me with the sizing up, the ugly work of taking record of the shitty things about ourselves, the ways we are damaged and the knowledge that it's our responsibility to do the repairs.
I've been thinking about kintsugi, the Japanese art of filling in the cracks in pottery with gold, thereby restoring them and making them more beautiful. The process doesn't strive to disguise the cracks, it highlights them. It makes them shine. I wonder how differently we would feel about ourselves if we took on that philosophy. Rather than leading with our strengths so as to minimize and cloister our weaknesses, rather than the rituals we put in place to disguise our blemishes, what if we dusted them in gold? This is not to say we simply declare: "I am broken! See?" But instead to recognize that we have been broken in many ways, often deeply. Often in ways that seem beyond repair. But we don't abandon or hide those pieces of ourselves. We look at them in their totality. We see them for what they are. We extend mercy to ourselves and we begin, best we can, to fill them. We can never return ourselves to the untarnished nascent beings we once were, but we also must believe that we are more beautiful and whole because of the damage our histories have written on our beings, that, filled with gold, we are more than whole because we are altered in wonderful ways. The source of those cracks may have felt tragic and devastating and enormously painful at the time, but we survived and they are part of our landscape now. We have no choice but to embrace them.
I'm in a period of grief, which is difficult because one would expect it to be a season of celebration. One of my gold cracks is that I've always given freely of my heart, which means, unfortunately, that I am quick to love and often hurt as a result. I'm coming to the end of a relationship that has certainly been tumultuous at times, but has also borne witness to my becoming, my identity. This sounds dramatic, doesn't it? But, after 11 years I'm leaving my school. I'm not sure people understand how traumatic that can feel. I love it deeply. I am comfortable and loved there. It's comforting and predictable. I'm safe. At book club the other night, a woman shared that she's going through a divorce. She said there wasn't an affair, there wasn't an inciting incident, it was merely the accumulation of days. She feels ready to shed that skin and move into another phase. And I guess that's how it feels for me, the accumulation of days where I feel like maybe I need something a little different.
And I'm striving hard to bestow mercy on myself because, in many ways, this is an entirely selfish move. I'm making the change for the people with whom I'll work. I know they will challenge me. They will help me to grow and to become. It's not to say, of course, that I couldn't do those things by staying put, but a change will certainly hasten the process. But of course there's the all-consuming fear that threatens daily to upend me: I made the wrong choice. People won't like me. I won't fit in. I'll be lonely. Those kids aren't my kids. I'll suck. No one will miss me. I'm easily replaceable. And there's really no one I can talk to about it. I am an island right now.
As I work through this transition, I'm turning inward. I'm trying to take care of myself. Too often I try to count on others to patch me up (no one has yet). I know that one of my coping strategies in times of crisis is to make people vessels for my fears. I displace my anxieties onto a person, for example. If I'm important or valuable to said person, I am in turn valuable and important. And because I'm so consumed with the need to be filled up that way, I do a hell of a lot of work to interact with that person. But it's a false premise from the beginning. And when that person chooses to spend time and energy with someone else, when I'm not buoyed by frequent attention, I'm fractured in ways that can feel all-consuming. The cracks give way not only to rivers, but to tributaries. And then I'm not repaired with gold, I am gold. Gaudy gold.
So I'm making a concerted effort to patch and fill myself. I'm breathing. I'm going for a run. I'm practicing self care. When I feel a tug or a pull to reach out for assurance and love and validation, I take a deep breath. I remind myself I'm fine. I'm attempting to quiet and subdue the negative noise. I want to enjoy spending time with myself. If I don't want to spend time with me, why would anyone else? I have a lot of healing to do. And I'll get there. I'll get through the grief. I'll find and connect with myself again. And I'll move into the next stage whole again, dusted, not consumed, with gold.