Wednesday, September 14, 2016

It Had To Hurt

Five summers ago I had a taste of freedom unlike I had ever experienced before. It came most vividly floating in the stillness of a pond in a part of Maine I had been fortunate to visit by the grace of friends. The pond was still and quiet. I was by myself and desperately trying to get used to my newly divorced aloneness that often felt more like excruciating loneliness. I eased myself into the pond and felt shocked each time the water touched my lips. The sting of the salt water I had always known was not there. Surprised and delighted at the freshness of this experience, I swam like I had grown fins. Without the fear of being bit, stung, run over by a boat, or by a wave, I felt joyful in the true sense of the word. I would swim far out and float in complete peace. With my ears submerged, hearing only my own breath, seeing the blue sky, clouds and tops of pine trees, I felt young, healthy, and so very alive. This was a whole new kind of freedom. The next two summers I would go back and the feeling was right there returning with me. It would find me on different ponds, on mountains, sitting on large boulders overlooking some magnificent landscape. I longed to return to it each year.  

In the spring before the fourth summer of this routine, much to my disbelief, I met someone. My loneliness turned an abrupt corner and suddenly I had company in a way that was more steady and complete than I had known since being married. That summer and again this year, I took him to this magical land that I had fallen in love with. It was this summer, where floating in the fresh water, I was aware that something was different in me. I felt the water suspend my body in its same pristine beauty. The water had not changed, but that distinct sense of freedom was absent. I still loved being there more than anywhere else. I still cherished the landscape and being able to swim, climb, walk, and sit in the middle, on the edges, banks, and precipices of it. Now I walked and swam among it all with a comfortable familiarity and contentment. I knew the place and I had the security of a partner by my side. I thought about what I felt like before and how that newly liberated sense coincided with a great deal of pain. Back then, I drove those 10 hours to get there, explored a new land through solitary bike rides, kayak trips, hikes and meals in new places. I would get lost and find my way. I cried more tears in those years than I thought possible. My friend back home would gently encourage me to enjoy the solitude, that it was a gift even with the loneliness attached. He wanted me to see that this was a unique time of my life. Though I heard what he was saying, I had too much fear swirling around in me saying that I would always be alone to be able to fully embrace it. This summer, as I floated and felt the absence of that fierce, fresh feeling of freedom and the absence of that struggle and fear, I could recognize that the pain of that particular time allowed me that freedom. I could not have gotten there any other way. It had to hurt. I can look back now and feel so grateful for that time alone, for how it pushed me, for how I grew, for the risks it asked me to take and the courage I had to find. 

Throughout our lives, we see that there is no part of growth, of maturing, of life that doesn't have pain and pleasure very often entwined. If we look closely, we see that we gain something while we lose something else. We have a child and lose a parent. We get the job we want and suddenly we are working more hours than we thought possible. We have the performance we dreamed of and then we have the let down that inevitably follows. The difficulty with this configuration is that it often keeps us forever thinking there is something more we need in order to be happy. It is like a dog chasing its own tail. There is a great teaching in this when we can recognize the illusion and accept that this right here is exactly how it is supposed to be. I can see these past few years now with clarity and equanimity. I have a greater understanding that we can choose to enjoy life's fluctuating rhythms without getting caught in the falsehood that our happiness is something other than where we are. It is all worth experiencing. Even the necessity and the feeling of urgency for our situation to change is something we can befriend and take action on, while knowing that there is no place we arrive at that is devoid of some wanting. I do believe, we can learn to float suspended in fluctuating waters, confident that no wave will overtake us and the salty sting does not have to be there. This can happen if we trust in all our experiences as being of value. We still strive toward our goals, toward what makes us more of ourselves, toward what enlivens us and connects us, but we enjoy the path that gets us there even when it is so frightening it feels wrong. 

Through the pain of loss and loneliness, I was propelled into experiences that awoke an inner freedom and the power of independence. Paradoxically, it is what opened the space for the person I was looking for to enter. With his arrival, that particular kind of freedom that comes with solitude faded like a cloud, but I gained a love that is solid like a mountain and companionship that I can rest in. I will always have that deeply embedded sense of aliveness to recall. I know it now in a way I couldn't have before everything fell apart. I am sure I will again experience that freedom of those first three summers in Maine and maybe it won't be alongside pain, but either way, I will know it well, like a long lost friend returning and I will savor it for however long it lasts. This freedom is for all of us to have and to return to. Once we experience it, it can't be taken away. 

This summer in Maine, the man I love asked me to marry him. Both of us, independent of each other, went through deep waters to get to that place. Thank goodness for that. We both feel blessed for where it brought us. Though the details are different, this is really everyone's story. We struggle and we grow and if we are paying attention, more and more, we learn to enjoy, or at the very least, accept the whole path. We can choose to say "yes" to our experience of everything. I happily said, "yes" to him.