I went to sleep last night at 10:00pm. The last thing I thought of before I closed my eyes was my girlfriend. My ex-girlfriend. And how she was gone.
When I awoke at 1:15am, I was sobbing uncontrollably. It was as if I could see her absence in my darkened bedroom. It hovered between the bed and the window like the ghost of a lost child.
We broke up because I was not ready for a relationship. I was dealing…am dealing…with a lot of personal growth, grief, confusion, anger, questioning about my failed marriage, my newish sobriety, and the incredible spiritual discovery that is spurred on by circumstances such as these.
I was not ready for a relationship with another person. I had just recently learned that there was something I was supposed to be having called “a relationship with myself.” Huh. Who knew?
But she showed up in my life. Regardless. Breathtaking and lovely, and so flawless that I felt ugly just being in her presence. And when it became clear that she saw something in me, something she wanted to be beside, I could not say no. I did not know how to say no.
But I was unsure. I did not know how to be there with her. I felt like I had snuck into an exclusive country club through the back entrance dressed as a busboy. And that at any minute I was going to be caught, embarrassed, and escorted out, my fake mustache ripped off and thrown to the floor. I panicked in the relationship. I made up reasons why it couldn’t work out. I made it not work out.
But that feeling. That feeling of love I had for her didn’t go away. It remained with me like a fingerprint on my body.
And I woke up at 1:15 am. Sobbing uncontrollably. Her absence from my room hovering like the ghost of a lost child. Several years ago, the only question on my mind would have been:
“What do I do to get her back?”
But today, I am old and wiser, a survivor of some of life’s more crushing blows. My ego is nicely, and comfortably in retreat.
So all I thought was:
“What do I do with all this grief?”
Someone once told me that Thich Nhat Hanh said that when a baby cries, we pick it up.* Right away. Before we concern ourselves with the “why’s and how’s” of the grief. We simply seek to comfort. To soothe. To calm. Only then do we attempt to figure out what the matter is.
Must I do this with myself? With my grief? Comfort myself? Hold myself? I don’t even know how.
All I know is that this grief of mine is a much deeper grief, deeper than that of a failed relationship. It is a grief that I have been building for my entire life. A grief over childhood hunger and homelessness. A grief over violence and abuse. A grief over a fear and loneliness so deep and gripping that sometimes it is the only thing I remember about myself.
And it is a grief that I am thankful to know. A grief that I haven’t known how to work through. How to love and accept and care for and let go of. Until now.
It is a grief like a ghost that I love.
To love something is to care for it. To contribute to its health. To allow it to be. Selflessly and kindly. To allow it to be healthy. It is the answer to what troubles us. Because it is how we nourish ourselves to health. By loving ourselves and all our parts. By contributing to our health. By allowing ourselves and our pain to be. Simply and kindly.
And it is how we grow beyond the grip of our pain. Not beyond the pain itself (for we may never do that as long as we live) but beyond its control.
And when we can do that so many beautiful things are possible, my love.
So many beautiful things.
-December 2, 2011
(*I was originally thinking of passing this off as my own metaphor. Then I thought of going with “Thich Nhat Hanh once said” as if I spend all day studying the words and thoughts of this man. Truth is, I read one small book of his once, years ago, and then, last night, my ex-wife told me that he said this at a talk.)