The Path to Light and Life

The past few days, I feel like I've been sinking into a quagmire from which I haven't known how to scrabble my way out. I feel like one of those plastic accordion toys from childhood that springs up really long when opened but, when closed, needs to be compressed down real tight, so tight it fits into the palm of your hand once the task of closing it has been accomplished. It takes a little jiggering with that plastic toy to get all the layers of the accordion to fall, one on top of the other, behaving enough to be squashed down flat.

That's how I feel in this place: like I'm jiggering with my heart, trying to squash it down flat, trying to make it behave. Only when I say "behave," I'm really saying that my heart doesn't get to have a voice. That instead, it needs to hurry up and get things back together. That it needs to make other people happy instead of sad, in whatever way it can figure out how to do that. That it needs to fix whatever it broke, and fast.

In other words, I turn on it, disowning it, castigating it, shaming it.

I become so fixated on this -- figuring out some way (any way!) to fix what I have done, to reverse the pain I'm causing, to smooth down these rough edges I've now made sharp by speaking aloud some dark and scary thoughts in a relationship -- that I barely notice what is happening to my heart. It is being squashed like an accordion, forced to fit into perfect symmetry so it can be closed down into watertight quarters. It is being covered with my fist and turned over and over like Play-Doh that's being smashed into a tiny ball. It is being lowered into a deep, dark well, looking up at me from the slowly lowering bucket, my silhouette a shadow in the light of life above, my hand on the chain its own betrayal, a quick flick of my wrist upending the bucket as my heart freefalls into the watery depths below where it will go nowhere but down, down, down.

When I was at the monastery last week, there was a brief 12-hour period on Thursday when I was set free from these chains of suffocation and despair. I felt like some invisible string had been cut that allowed my heart to roam free and breathe the fresh, clean air under the blue sky in a dandelion-filled meadow. And in that period of time, you will not believe the kind of life that sprang out of the many little nooks and crannies of my heart. First, it was thoughts like, "This is who I am" or "This is who I am becoming" as I stumbled upon or remembered different thoughts or truths of myself. Then it moved to thoughts like, "This is what matters to me in relationship" and "Maybe I will do this or that with my life."

The world felt full of possibility. I began to feel industrious and productive. I felt incredibly creative and willing to try things I was averse to before, especially in my writing, willing to tinker and play. I felt greater ownership of who I am as an individual and where I am going. I felt responsible for myself and my life, and that was a good feeling instead of a scary one. I felt aware of my separateness from every other human being on this earth, and was faced with the idea that such separateness was right and good. I thought about what made up my idea of relational health, and I felt an awareness of new life in owning these values in my life and relationships.

Unfortunately, that romp through the meadow slowly came to a close that evening. I could feel the darkness and the fear closing back in, perhaps in the dawning knowledge that we would be returning down the mountain the next day. The dark clouds of doom that stifle my heart moved in and hovered for a handful of days. I felt helpless beneath its cover, cowering to its demands like a limp, wet rag. Every timid attempt I made to remember the light and life of that day of play in the meadow was stamped out, like a thin breath expiring through a tiny opening that is present for a moment and then gone.

Last night, though, I caught sight of that playful, romping girl in the meadow. We had been in a small car accident earlier in the evening, a hit on our bumper after one of the signal turns on our drive home from school. In the pressure of the moment at the scene of the accident, we made the decision to let the other driver go. The cars were undamaged, and no one was visibly hurt. The other driver didn't appear to speak much English, nor do I believe he had insurance. He seemed positively nervous that Kirk was calling the police to file a report.

In a state of grace, we decided not to finish the call to the police and let the man go. Yet after he drove away, we were immediately bombarded with second thoughts and doubts. Not to even file a report? Not to get any insurance or contact information at all? Not to even have the freedom to file a claim and allow our insurance company to cover what it could of potential medical expenses? If we woke the next day with damaged necks and shoulders due to whiplash, this meant we were solely responsible for the financial repercussion. In the moment, we had accepted that possibility, but later we regretted its brazenness. Kirk, especially, mourned not having secured better options for us.

Through the evening, we exhibited gentleness toward one another. We kept icing our necks. We prayed for God to be present. I confess that it was hard to sit with the aftermath of a decision that maybe wasn't the wisest to have made, and to watch Kirk wrestle with his own part in having made it as the male protector of our family. But I was also aware that we had made the decision together and that, no matter what, I love this man. One decision would not alter our life in some irreparable way. One decision would not define either of us in God's eyes or the eyes we have toward one another. One decision could not stack up to the many decisions we make every day in care of each other.

And that is where the romping girl in the meadow showed up. We were laying in bed later in the evening, talking quietly and gently with one another, and I said, "I love you." My mind began spinning on love and what it means to me, how that day it had meant choosing to forgive a quick decision because of what I knew of the bigger scope of who Kirk is and the love we share, how it had meant speaking words of gentleness to soothe the pain of shame and regret in his eyes, how it had meant choosing to be in each moment, present, with the unfortunate reality and the love that we share, coexisting. And it felt good to choose this approach to my life.

I guess what I am learning is that living in accord with the stifling accordion's demands seems only to deplete life from my heart, while living with my hands open to the possibilities of who I am becoming, what is important to me, the values I will inculcate in my life, and the way I want to nurture and invite life into my relationships seems to produce a vibrant sense of light and life. Choosing to live each day in light of this second path is difficult because it means leaving the toy accordion back home in the corner of the playroom, perhaps discarded forever, and stepping outside into a world that is fresh and new with very little experience in that world yet behind me. But I think it is worth it. Worth it enough to give it a try. Worth it enough to begin to carve my own distinct, individual path to light and life in my world, whatever form that life and light may take.