And I was going through a rough time when I saw her. A time that was so difficult and new, in fact, that I didn't have the words I needed to express what was happening, or how I felt, or what I needed. What I knew was that it was awful, and that I needed it to change.
But it wasn't easy for me to say that, because I was thinking that I, in part, was causing the awfulness. I was thinking that I, in part, was to blame for the situation. When I finally got a glimpse of the fact that this might not be the case, the closest thing I could come to expressing it was to say, haltingly, "it's just...it's just that...I'm just realizing that...this isn't fair. It's just not fair."
And do you know what she did? She laughed. She laughed this big, loud, hearty laugh that startled me, and she said loudly (she did everything loudly), "Ha! Fair?! Whoever told you life was fair? You're in for a sorry wake-up call, sister."
I looked at her with what I hope was my very best "WTF?" expression.
"Seriously," she said. "Do you really think life is supposed to be fair?"
"No," I said, embarrassed, and I quickly ended the conversation.
Here's what I learned from this conversation: (1) Stop whining. (2) Your pain doesn't matter. (3) It's not going to get better, because you deserve this pain. Everybody's got it. This is yours.
These are lessons I've carried with me.
* * * * *
I recently had a young man come into my office who is being physically and emotionally bullied by his peers. He collapsed into a heap on the chair, eyes filled with tears, and said, "It just isn't fair. It just isn't fair. I'm telling you, it's just not fair."
And for him -- as it was for me -- this acknowledgment was momentous. Acknowledging that he does not deserve this bullying, that it is wrong, that it's okay to talk about and tell adults about and seek help about...that was a big deal. And, to me, that's what he was saying. He was saying, finally, "I don't deserve this, and it just isn't fair."
So I told him he was right. I told him that it isn't fair, and I let him sit backwards in the chair with his feet over his head and cry. After a while, I asked him to sit up and talk, and I explained that it ISN'T fair, and that I can't undo what has already been done. But I also told him that there are powerful steps he can take. I told him that he has a team of people that want to work with him to help him take those powerful steps. I told him that I see lots of kids who are being bullied, and that when he is ready, I can teach him some super strong anti-bully skills.
I could tell you that I'm an awesome therapist and that he sat up and smiled said, "oh yeah! You're right! Do teach me these assertiveness skills and about my right to stand up for myself!"
But this is real life, so what actually happened is that he said "fuck you," and flipped the table over, and told me not to talk to him cause he was really mad, and that I was really lucky that he didn't have a light saber 'cause if he had one, he would have killed me already.
So we'll try again next time.
I get it. I really do. I get where he's coming from. I'm in this place right now where I wouldn't mind dropping an F-bomb, flipping a table -- and yes, if I had a light saber, I probably would have light-sabered SOMETHING if I didn't believe there was enough violence in the world already. I'm not proud that this is where I'm at, but you know what? Like I will with my little client, I will try again next time. What other choice is there?
The world, it seems, is going to hell in a handbasket. The news is full of tragedies and violence I can't bear to read about. My personal world is full of friends who are struggling to make ends meet or to stay alive, family members who are struggling in more ways than can be counted, and I've had doctor's appointments that cause anxiety as I try to get a - probably simple issue - resolved in what appears to be the most complicated manner ever. And, because The Universe coupled with social media is a funny thing, those old issues I thought were resolved have come back 'round for visitation again: Anger and Betrayal namely, while I watched Forgiveness slink out the back door when I thought she was here to stay.
I don't let myself complain much, even in my head, but as I was driving home from work today, I realized that...you know? It's NOT fair. It's life -- and life isn't fair. For me, there aren't any superpower skills I can learn or practice to change it...but there is power (for me) in acknowledging that it just isn't fair.
I know that if I were to pick up any self-help book, and it's going to tell me not to think that way. It's going to tell me that I'm making myself the victim, that I'm relinquishing my power, or that I'm feeling sorry for myself -- and honestly, that's the way it sounds. It sounds like a whiny "life's hard" rant from a privileged girl who is not living in Israel, or living with the fear of catching Ebola, or dealing with being deported after surviving horrific conditions to make it to this country.
But this is how it feels: in my heart, when I say, "This is life right now, and it isn't fair," I am saying, "this thing that's going on is real, and it's hard." I am saying, "this stuff that's going on is overwhelming and I can't do it alone." I am saying, "I'm going to let myself acknowledge and name what is going on, because it sucks, and pretending it's just life-as-usual is hard and awful."
And funny enough, when I do that, my heart softens and the breathing room around it expands.
Perhaps this is what Anne Lamott talks about in Help, Thanks, Wow. She writes, "Where do we even start on the daily walk of restoration and awakening? We start where we are. We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering. I get thirsty people glasses of water, even if that thirsty person is just me."
I don't believe in god...but I want to believe that there is some sort of Universal Love Force out there in the world that hears me when I say "help" or "thanks" or "wow." I don't necessarily miss the idea of a God, but I miss believing that something bigger than me is listening. I miss believing that I can hand The Mess over at the end of the day, and that something bigger than me will hold it for a few hours so I can get some sleep. I miss feeling like there is something larger than myself that I can turn to and say, "hey," when I just need someone big and powerful to listen.
So perhaps this softening, this opening I can experience through honesty and just being with myself -- perhaps that softness is that force. Perhaps that softness is Love. When I acknowledge and name the suffering and the unfairness of it all, perhaps what I am doing is just giving my thirsty self that drink of water. It is starting where I am. It is, perhaps, starting the walk of restoration and awakening.
Lamott continues, "You may be saying, 'It's so awful right now, and I am so pissed off and sad and mental, that against all odds I'm giving up. I'll accept whatever happens.'
Maybe ... you'll go a little limp, and in that divine limpness you'll be able to breathe again. Then you're halfway home. In many cases, breath is all you need. Breath is holy spirit. Breath is life. It's oxygen. Breath might get you a little rest. You must be so exhausted.
...So when we cry out Help, or whisper it into our chests, we enter the paradox of not going limp and not feeling so hopeless that we can barely walk, and we release ourselves from the absolute craziness of trying to be our own -- or other people's -- higher powers."
And perhaps that is what is needed, no? Perhaps what really needs to happen here is to say, "okay, so maybe I'm NOT this awesome higher power all by myself who Has It All Together and is beyond feeling angry, or unforgiving, or whiny." Maybe I can breathe into the fact that, above all else, I am human, and I can whine, and be angry and unforgiving, like humans are. Maybe I can acknowledge that I'm allowed to be scared, and unsure...and that life, for sure, is not fair. Maybe I can get that part of me a drink of water, and let her sit upside down and backwards in a lump on her chair until she has herself put back together, and then we continue walking. Maybe that's what happens. I still don't believe in God, but there's a possibility that maybe -- maybe --I can call that spaciousness "grace."