Saturday, April 14, 2012

On Losing My Marbles

I am in the midst of a many-years-long quest to “find myself.”

Tongue in cheek, you may ask, “Were you lost?”

After a series of confusing, painful and disheartening experiences in my adult life I did, in fact, lose myself. It’s a natural consequence of simply trying to survive.

Now I’m correcting my course. I have been diligently gathering up the pieces of myself that I abandoned or neglected.

That process has been a lot like gathering up marbles.

My marbles—the different facets of my personality, and my deepest hopes, desires, passions, dreams, fears, and disappointments that make up the uniqueness of “me”—were spread all over the metaphorical floor of my inner life.

They were hiding under couches and coffee tables, kicked into corners, wrapped up in dust bunnies and lurking in the shadows, as lost marbles are so apt to do.

But I have been painstakingly searching each one out, cleaning it off, taking inventory of what I find, and sizing up what I am made of.

Because this has been such an arduous process, I am learning to value every marble in my bag—the shiny ones, the dull ones, the chipped ones, and even the ugly ones.

I am also growing more careful about who gets to see, touch and handle my marbles. I am learning to guard them and treat them in a way that honors their worth.

But every so often my precious bag of marbles that I want to store safely in my private emotional realm comes spilling out into reality.

Because sometimes, no matter how much work I’ve done, I let my guard down. I get a little too laissez-faire. I loosen my grip on my bag. I kick up my feet and throw back my head. To say it plainly, I relax my boundaries--the very boundaries that have enabled me to regain what was lost--and I lose my marbles. Again.

All those marbles that I have kept carefully hidden, managed and accounted for, come spilling out around me.

If you’ve ever lost your (literal) marbles, you know what I’m talking about. You know that they don’t just fall into a neat little pile at your feet. Falling marbles bounce and they roll, picking up velocity as they travel far, far away from you. They scatter quickly, usually in many different directions.

And this is precisely how it feels when I lose my marbles emotionally.

Losing any kind of marbles can be a real mess.

In the first moments after the marble spillage, I stand there in the wreckage, surveying the damage. It is not uncommon for me to feel paralyzed and overwhelmed.

But at some point—hopefully soon after—I know what I must do. I have to begin the process of gathering up the parts of me that came crashing and bounding out. No matter how far they’ve crashed and bounded away.

I have to remind myself that I’ve done this before, and it’s never as hard as it was the first time.

So I begin.

Sometimes the frustration, disillusionment and embarrassment of not "holding it together" can leave me exhausted. Though I know that I will feel better once those marbles are tidily stored back in their bag, I often lack energy for the full re-gathering.

That’s when I know I have to ask for help. In the same way that my son calls "Help, Mama" across the house when--in his frenzy of creativity and play--he has messy-ed his room to the point of ridiculousness, I often need to enlist trusted friends to assist me in cleaning up my ridiculous mess.

Sometimes I need my community--my tribe--to get down on their hands and knees and look under tables and chairs with me. I need them to sweep floors and move furniture. I need them to be another set of eyes—to help me see what I can’t see.

I need them to help me get my marbles back.

There is a point in the retrieving process where every one realizes that, despite our searching, a few marbles are still missing but it's time to call it a day.

When I'm left alone again I can't help but feeling that pit in my stomach, the angst of unfinished business. That's when I have to be my own best friend.

I have to look myself in the mirror and with quiet assurance speak the words I tell my son when he's lost a favorite toy he cannot seem to find: "Don't worry, dear one. It'll show up somewhere. And probably when you're least expecting to find it."

And you know what? That's always true. I always find the missing marbles. And I end up appreciating them that much more for having been lost.

Let's be honest. We all lose our marbles sometimes. But really what matters is that we keep picking them back up.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Focus On Hope

A Variation on a Theme
(And April's Word for The Year of the 12)

The last ten years of my life have felt like a race between two sets of circumstances: The Good and The Hard.

It has been a tight race, and The Hard has often had the definite lead.

Nothing in my worldview prepared me to witness such an intense competition. I naively believed that I was one of the gifted few destined to float through life--accomplishing my goals and living out my dreams--with little resistance and adversity. While I am not entirely sure where this conviction came from, I am absolutely certain it was there.

So when The Hard pressed in on my life story--digging a path into the race track and stirring up dust in my face--the only way I knew how to cope with what was happening was to hide my face under the covers and wish and pray that somehow The Good would get a second wind, outrun its opponent, and save the day. SOON.

I spent hours, days, weeks, months fantasizing about how The Good would gain the ultimate victory. How it would trip up The Hard--leaving it gasping and panting and unable to take another step. I imagined myself watching breathlessly and then cheering wildly in the stands as The Good crossed the finish line.

I mistakenly believed that at some not-so-distant point, long before my life was over, the race--and my troubles--would come to an abrupt and definitive end. I thought I would walk away from the track holding hands and swinging arms with my favorite friend, The Good.

It's laughable to me now.

But I wasn't wrong about the ultimate outcome of the race. I was simply expecting it to come much sooner than it shall.

While I am still convinced that The Good will be the undeniable victor at the end of my life, I am learning that my emotional state cannot be dependent on which runner is in the lead during any particular stage of the race.

When The Good is sprinting more swiftly, it is easy to have sunshine and smiles and a heart filled with hope. But when The Hard is running faster, I have often felt trapped under an oppressive cloud of despair.

Since I am now opting out of hiding under the covers and ignoring what's going on down on the track, I realize that I need to watch the race with a different mindset.

I am learning to observe it all with Hope this month. And as I do, despair is fading into the background.

Hope has an unchanging message. It sits in the stands and waves a banner over and over, day after day; it says, "Everything is going to be okay."

When The Good is rounding a corner and The Hard sneaks up and takes up the lead, Hope doesn't gasp in horror with the crowds in their seats. Hope rests peacefully, grinning at the new development with a twinkle in its eye because it knows the end of the story. Hope knows that what may seem like a catastrophe today often turns into a grand opportunity tomorrow. Hope trusts the process.

Hope also redirects my line of vision. Even when The Hard is a few paces ahead, Hope sits poised and ready for The Good to catch up; it know that it's only a matter of time. But more than that, Hope's unwavering confidence isn't really based on the outcome of the race. Because no matter which runner wins the medal, Hope knows the bottom line doesn't change: It's still going to be okay.

I am learning how to see my life with Hope this month. And as I do, I like what is coming into focus.
"In all things it is better to hope than to despair."
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Hope is the dream of a soul awake."
-French Proverb