Thursday, December 2, 2010
Amid my late teens and early twenties, when any nod to my own physical appearance incited an immediate internal rant about my weight, I sought the counsel of the food/love guru, Geneen Roth. Many hours I drove the hills and valleys of my Kentucky home and listened to Geneen weave her tales of failed diets, faulty relationships and that ever elusive bag of M&M's. The latter goes a little something like this:
One day a mother, alarmed by her young daughter's increasing waist, decided to set locks on the kitchen cabinets and ban all M&M's (the little girls favorite treat) from their home. The daughter continued to gain weight. Exasperated, the mother called in a professional. The therapists advice? Remove the locks from the cabinets. Take a pillowcase, fill near to overflowing with peanut M&M's, and replenish at the first sign of depletion. When the little girl realized it would not be taken away, the therapist reasoned, she would begin to eat from 'stomach hunger' and nothing else. After two weeks the little girl had lost six pounds.
I spent much of my childhood bobbing and weaving through various tumults, where safety miraged just outside my bedroom window. In the huddled, desperate space of that adolescent pain, I swore someday a different path. Above any other dream I lusted after, grander than the palatial weddings of movie stars, all my heart ever desired was a family of my own. One day, I will have my own family and I will be safe.
I took to marriage the way an impatient swimmer waits for winter's end. I had been training for quite some time, after all. I stopped working and cared for our children. I made dinner and cleaned house. I deferred to Paul on all manner of domesticity: finances, houses and where to eat dinner. In the name of love, I cleaved unto my husband; God bless that wonderful, tolerant man.
And oh how I thrilled to the sight of my hand adorned by my wedding ring! Its very presence broadcast my unquestionable value to the world. Look now! I am loved! I am wanted! I will never be alone again! I corseted love around my chest, unlocked the kitchen cabinets and allowed my candy filled pillowcase to runneth over.
Along the sometimes bumbling path of our marriage, there were moments of such exquisite sweetness, I thrill to remember them now-and it is good to give account to some here, for they made up the majority of our lives together. Sharing sinks in the early morning hours, Saturday morning snuggling. Birthdays and dinners and bottles of wine near the fire. Nursing each other through stomach bugs and weight gain and finding more love with each new push past selfishness. Laughing at almost everything. We both held mightily to the power of humor to dissipate the greatest of tension. "I'm a human blanket!" I would say as I draped my body over his after a fight, and he never refused the olive branch. It simply wasn't Paul's way to stay angry. These ordinary moments were my life's greatest blessings.
Several months ago, my dear friend Wendy gave me a book entitled Tenzin's Deer. As I began to read, I felt a stirring I knew from experience signaled something important. In the kind of unmistakable skin prickle that begs you to Pay Attention I read on. In this story, a tender-hearted Tibetan boy named Tenzin wanders along the woods and finds the wounded tracks of a felled deer. Touched by what he sees, Tenzin begins to care for the animal, eventually renaming her Jampa, "Loving Kindness". Over a series of several nights, Tenzin's dreams become the blueprint to heal Jampa. Under his tender hand, she soon grows well enough to run and play and eat alongside her beloved friend. Eventually, a startling dream came to the young boy. Jampa had been healed and wished to be released. "Please stop praying and holding me close to you. Please let me go."
It is week six of our eight week hospital stay, but I do not know then how long we'll be there. I know only one thing with increasing certainty: Paul is not getting better. On the website we created I write these words: "For almost six weeks now, you have carried the burden of prayer for Paul and for our family. We are so grateful for that love and support. Would you join me now in asking God for a miracle for Paul? My prayer is that God would heal every muscle, organ, infection and injury..." Those desperate words remind me how clear-headed I was: Paul was leaving me.
In the hospital room, the frantic pace had slowed. The inevitable would come. We would wait. In a moment of exhaustion; physical, mental, spiritual exhaustion-I draped his arm over my neck and fell asleep. When I finally woke, I moved close to his ear and uttered what I believed was my duty as the self appointed One Who Loved Him Best: I let him go. "I do not want you to say goodbye. I want you to keep fighting. But Baby, if you can't do it anymore, if your body is too sick to go on, we'll be okay." I promised to take care of our kids. I promised to keep him alive in spirit. I promised to love him forever. "It's okay Baby" I said, many, many times over.
It would be a disingenuous account to paint myself a Tibetan monk who knows the beauty of love and releases it to its full breadth. My truth is simpler and far less sage. All that I dreamed has died. I am struck the petulant child, longing for what she cannot have. But when I am quiet, when that still, small voice rises up to guide me, I remember Tenzin's prayer. I admit my weakness and ask for strength. I ask God to show me how to love as Tenzin loved.
"At the moment he felt his bravest, (Tenzin) began to breathe with Jamba. As she breathed in, he breathed out. His breath deepened, and he felt as if he was now breathing for her, making it easier for her to leave. He said gently, "Go, beloved friend, to the wild. Do not be held by my love. Go bravely and well and clearly know we will meet again. Return to the earth as a gift."