Thursday, 12 November 2009

Night spirit

Got this quiz result from a facebook quiz, and for once, I think it's absolutely perfect:

Irim took the quiz "What Kind of Spirit Are You?" and got the result ► Night Spirit

You are the elusive Night Spirit. Your season is Winter, when the stars are bright and frost crystallizes the fallen leaves. You are introspective, deep-thinking, and mysterious. Everyone is intrigued and a little intimidated by you because you have an aura of otherworldliness. You work in extremes, sometime happy, other times sad, but always creative and philosophical. You are more concerned with the unseen, mystical, and metaphysical than the real world. Night Spirits have a tendency to get lost in themselves and must be careful not to forget reality, but their imagination is limitless.


Sunday, 8 November 2009

On synchronicity and finding answers

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, when the World and Time themselves hang in the balance, a wind rises in the mountains of mist...What was, and what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. --Robert Jordan

As anyone who has known me for any length of time knows, I'm a Jungian, and so synchronicity is an important part of my conceptual framework. For a working definition:

"Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner."

So, for example, a priest, my boss at work and a good friend talking about Darth Vader (sans prompting from me, of course) might qualify as a synchronicity, though I'd probably shake my head and laugh rather than cogitate on the Dark One's (not you Richard, m'dear) presence in my conversations.

However, I've been noticing them a lot more since my friend Jenna had me start keeping a synchronicity journal.

In contrast to Darth Vader, a conversation with a friend where we both discovered that we had details for Dignitas, a discussion about a news item re: suicide b/c of the fear of physical deterioration, and completely randomly turning over to a 'Without a Trace' episode about - you guessed it, assisted suicide - make up a trio that makes me sit up and notice.

That, to me, is a synchronicity - for some reason, I look for sets of 3. More often than not, they hold important keys for me. I just need to find the doors.

Yesterday, I wondered if I'd found the first 2 parts of another synchronicity. A book that crossed my desk for cataloguing had a passage discussing judo and doing the unexpected. The author used the example of being a woman and facing down a rugby international. If she pushed, he'd push back harder, and he'd win. But *what if she pulled him towards her, using his momentum, and then moved her foot to the side*? Who hit the ground then?

I sat up and paid attention.

On its own, it would have been thought-provoking enough. But later, as I popped into Borders before going off to meet Br Martin at 7 for dinner, I couldn't resist picking up the latest volume from the "Wheel of Time" series by Robert Jordan, an old favourite that I left when it hit Book 4 with no end in sight. Wonderful depth of characterisation, a complete universe, but I couldn't continue ad infinitum.

I thought I'd look in the glossary to see if my suspicion about my favourite character, Moiraine Damodred, was true. Could it be that she hadn't died falling through the ter'angreal with Lanfear, a Forsaken?

What I read made me smile. It seemed likely that after an interminable absence, Moiraine might yet be back. Even better was a copy of her letter to another character I had yet to read; it reminded me of another reason I loved the series - the language of a time and place long gone; the language of magic and prophecy.

Then one line sent that familiar tingle along my spine - that tingle that tells me, 'This is for you':

A final point. Remember what you know about the game of Snakes and Foxes. Remember, and heed.

It is time, and I must do what must be done.

Snakes and foxes...could I remember? I didn't, so I flipped through the glossary, hoping against hope it would be there.

Snakes and Foxes is a children's game that cannot be won without breaking the rules.

Doing the unexpected. Pulling instead of pushing. Breaking the rules.

And sometimes, that means going with the momentum rather than against it. Sometimes, being a rebel is falling into an expected role and obeying the rules, when what you really need to do is break them.

Hmmm. I think I should be on the lookout for the third piece.

And as for the door that key is going to fit, I don't know yet. But I look forward to the search.

In the meantime, I will remember.

Remember, and heed.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Remember, remember the 4th of November...

...not gunpowder, treason and plot.

A friend's suicide. A landmark anniversary.

Even now, some years are better than others - last year, I was so excited and emotional about the impending American election - it's not often I get up to go to the 7.30am mass - that whilst I remembered Lou's anniversary, it wasn't so hard. Other years have brought an emptiness or a gentle grief. Some years, it feels like the day she died. Last year was easy enough that I thought I might actually be past the worst of it.

How wrong I was. This year, I started crying on Halloween night and didn't stop till I fell asleep. The last couple of days have been better, but I even cried at the end of the All Souls' mass - and as much as that mass takes me to the depths that I love and moves me to sorrow touched with hope - I don't cry in public.

Last year may have been the easiest, but this year has been the worst since the year she died. And because 11 November is tied into her anniversary, I expect I've got at least a week to go.


It all began Thursday, in an Alexander Technique lesson with Sumi.

"You know, breathing IS an option, even over here," came the supportive, yet somewhat tart, comment as Sumi checked my head, neck, shoulders and back, before giving me a sharp look and saying, "You hold yourself very tightly, don't you? You really need to let go."

"Busted," I thought.

Then, on Saturday, I walked into Unique Creations when I saw a friend with one of the kids she babysits, making a plate for the parental anniversary. I admired the design, then my eyes fell on the date. I felt like I'd been hit.

"Oh, is THAT their anniversary? 4 November?" I semi-squeaked.

I gasped, realising suddenly that it had been a day of happiness and normalcy, as well as one of incredible pain. And that was the start.

In her book, "My grandfather's blessings", Rachel Remen posits that when we experience a sudden shock, we hold our breath, just as we do when plunged into cold water, and we need to breathe again to move forward and release the energy of the event and attendant emotions.

I believe that, and I think that most of us have some areas in our lives where we are holding our breath: a death, a breakup, a loss that we perceive to be catastrophic. We may be moving on in others, but until we breathe in all areas of our lives, we'll leave some part of us behind, or it will die of asphyxiation.

That gasp was my first breath in the part of my heart that had been Lou's since that 4 November.

She was working at the Child Protection Line; I was working the Crisis Hotline. Four hour shifts they may be, but they're intense hours - you discuss the tough calls, deal with some of the most difficult issues. Small talk isn't an option. Friendships become intense pretty quickly in an environment like that. Lou and I were no exception.

Lou was the first older woman I could pour my heart out to - my doubts, my fears, my 'I don't WANT to be a doctor; it's what my parents want,' 'I'm not sure I want to do this.' She was one of the first women to listen; the first woman whose love didn't waver when I didn't want to do what she wanted me to do. Well, there wasn't anything she wanted me to do, except be me. She trusted in my ability, she had faith in me. It was an immense gift, the first such I'd received.

She often stayed beyond her hours, as she had grown children and was on her own - she had done the whole of the three day Columbus Day Weekend because no one else showed up. Last time I saw her, her back was to me as she cut out patterns. I didn't want to bother her since she was busy, so I didn't give her my usual hug. It was the last chance I ever had.

The next time I heard her name, the word suicide was part of the sentence - and I held my breath. That part of my heart froze in that moment.

A month later, after a biochem exam, I could hear her Carolina drawl in my head: "You did really well, hon, I'm so proud of you." I shrugged it off, but I got an 88% on that exam, one of the highest grades in the class.

She, who had loved me for who I was, would never, ever have wanted me to freeze in that moment for an instant longer than the announcement.

So why?

Growing up in a family where emotions were held in contempt - by the time I got home after the shift I'd heard about Lou's death, I was so normal, my parents didn't notice - would be the easy answer. But things are never that simple.

I loved her, but I was so angry I couldn't go to her Maryland memorial service before she was buried in NC. I never forgave myself for that. But I was angrier at myself. FFS, I worked at a CRISIS HOTLINE. I dealt with suicidal people almost every goddamned shift. HOW DID I MISS IT IN MY FRIEND?

And so, I could never breathe; I could never let it thaw. I could never forget the intensity of that pain; never be that blind again. I had to be there for everyone whose loved one committed suicide; for everyone who was suicidal or self-harmed; I had to keep getting better. No one else
in my circle was committing suicide on my watch. NO. ONE. One of the demons that would drive me - still does, more often than it should - was born. And when it was too painful for me to bear alone, I made him drive others - no one was good enough, no one did enough for anyone else, nothing.

What I forgot was that if you can't let go of what you're carrying, you can never receive or hold anything else.

When I gasped Saturday, I couldn't hold my breath any longer - I kept breathing...and started crying as what was frozen thawed and started hurting like f***. I had an inkling of how bad Saturday night was going to be, having been that deep before. Deep breath. When the only way out is through, you just batten down the hatches and go. Each day since has been a bit easier, with All Souls' mass offering the space to breathe and grieve, allowing me to drop the mask I had worn at work. Today is 8.45-7 - I'm not looking forward to it. C'est la vie - I've been through much worse. I'll live.

With every breath, I'm letting go a little bit more.

But I'm afraid. I'm afraid I'll forget her; forget how deeply it hurt; I'll forget how to be with those in that much pain; I'll no longer WANT to be with people in that much pain; I'll lose my edge, my vocation, something.

The truth is, that's just not true - I'll never forget how much that hurt and I'll never want to stop easing that pain for others. I just won't have that intensity of pain right under the surface. I won't drive myself and others to impossible lengths - as one of my friends said, "Do you believe that no one will kill themselves if you're around?" If I'm honest, I think some part of me thought the answer was 'Yes.' Without that pain, that impossible drive, I'm more able to be there, more able to help - more flexible and agile in my responses. I'll have a greater variety of responses too if I'm not so driven by my pain. Pain tends to blind us.

And my arms will be empty and open to hold something new. It's what Rachel Remen might call an endbeginning. And the thought of standing there with empty arms, not holding anything, is terrifying. But I need to stand there in faith and trust - because beginnings always come.

I will get there one day - but I can't force it and I can't predict how it will come. I need to breathe through it, find my way by the light in the darkness - sometimes alone, sometimes with others by my side.

But for right now, let's just say it hurts like hell. Coming out of numbness into feeling always does.

And I like to think that somewhere, Lou is looking down at me, saying, in that North Carolina drawl, "You did really well, hon. I'm so proud of you."

Thanks, hon. Me too - and I'll see you on the other side. Till then, miss you, love you.