Sunday, November 16, 2008

for michael

Got home last night after seeing "the Secret Life of Bees" (the book was terrific, the film not-so-great but tolerable) and sitting in my inbox was an email from a dear friend who is struggling with the end of a six-year relationship. They had a beautiful, lovely relationship, and then about five years into it, his partner became severly depressed. It wreaked havoc on them. My friend was amazing--he tried so hard to be available, to be loving, to do everything right. Truly, they both worked so hard. But in the end, it all fell apart in spite of their heroic attempts to keep it together. And while he is becoming stronger everyday, I know from his voice, from his words, my friend's heart is still so tender, and the healing still so slow.

Yeah. Been there. Done that, many, many years ago. I can think of few things more gut-wrenching than watching someone you love deal with that kind of darkness, and when it comes out of nowhere, it's like a meteorite landing right smack dab in the middle of your life. And it leaves a massive, gaping hole. You feel helpless--watching someone so colorful and vibrant and three-dimensional just mentally and emotionally disappear.

I remember having no earthly notion about how to deal with it, and so many times I would just "check out" myself and ignore it--be so completely blind to the effects that I would just pretend everything was okay. Sometimes I would "take over". Do the groceries, cook, clean, make excuses to friends about why we couldn't join them for dinner, just completely take charge of our lives thinking that if i could make life as easy for her as possible, she would feel happy. There was nothing I couldn't solve, no one I couldn't *be*, and so I took it upon myself to be the anti-depressant. Right. Just completely refusing to accept that this was a deep set, clinical depression.

For a year or so, there was this bouncing back and forth--a "coming out of the fog" as she called it--and I would have her back, at least some version of her. I would celebrate those times, pat myself on the back for being such a patient, loving partner. And ignore all the signs that our relationship was becoming damaged. Badly. There were many, many times when she would allude to the fact that we were in trouble and I would just pass it off as a symptom of her depression. I would slap on a bandaid in a place where a tourniquet was desperately needed. Let's take a weekend trip away--we just need some sunshine and ocean. Let's go out to a fancy dinner. Let's buy new furniture. Let's get a pet. I was flailing my arms around, over my head in water deeper and darker than anything I had ever known.

Eventually, she disappeared completely, into a place so deep in the corridors of her heart that I knew I would never, ever get her back. I mourned the death of that relationship a solid year before it ended. And when it finally and permanently broke apart, i felt in so many ways that i had failed her, and it would be wrong to say that even now, years later, that tiny bit of regret doesn't surface inside me.

Life is so strange. Such a potpourri of sadness and joy and beauty and darkness, all of it flying at us so fast, so unrelentingly. Sometimes we run through it hard and strong as the greatest athletes, sometimes we dance through it graceful as ballerinas. Sometimes we trip and stumble and fall to the ground. I think I am learning that true grace comes from allowing all of it inside, the beautiful and the grotesque, the joy and the sorrow. From letting it touch us in the deepest, most tender places, and then finding the kindness to hold ourselves with that same deepness, that same tenderness.

Compassion grows strongest in dark, quiet places. And when it comes, we must recognize it as a profound gift that we are obligated to pass along to others, that sharing of experience, that ability to say "i understand" and to really, truly mean it. Last night I meditated for my friend, visualizing myself as a ladle dipping into the well of my own experiences, and trying to offer him, with a full heart, a way to quench even a tiny little bit of his thirst.

pema chodron, a buddhist nun whose wisdom and beauty has been a constant guide for me, writes: "When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn't have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space."

i do not know why i write such things this morning. except to say, maybe, i understand. and i love you michael.

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