Bone Deep Beauty

Most unhappy people need to learn just one lesson: how to see themselves through the lens of genuine compassion and treat themselves accordingly.  — Martha Beck

bone deep box
Photo by @jessicolejackson on Instagram (I’m sure I took pictures of my box too, they are . . . somewhere).

I have spent the last year feeling ugly. Not skin-ugly but soul-ugly. Dorothy Parker wrote, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.” And I some way I felt this characterized me.

Sometime in the spring of last year I stopped writing because I feared the things that would come out would be ugly, angry and dark. Those were the things that were coming out in my relationships.  I felt overwhelmed by fear and anxiety and I felt completely abandoned. That feeling of abandonment turned to anger, and anger turned to resentment. It was a deeply painful time and writing about it felt like spoon-feeding people my pain.

I’m a pupil of the likes of Julia Cameron and Laura Doyle, so I thought the answer was better self-care. I exercised, I sought out sunshine (quite the quest in the Pacific Northwest), I got counseling, I treated myself kindly on days I wanted to bite everyone’s head off (if only I could have treated them so). But no amount of bubble baths could wash away something that was bubbling up from inside me. Continue reading

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waiting to hear one daring and heartfelt word

Okay, I’m not really in the snow drinking hot cocoa. I stole this picture off my friend’s Facebook album because it made me happy.

I’m still in Southern California where the sky is drooling and I’m busy. (Those were unconnected thoughts.) I live in a house with a bunch of other busy people. We love and care deeply about each other, but on some days the closest we get to one another is when we’re competing for use of the microwave. Without a common social group, a common history, a common stage in life, commonality in our daily endeavor, shared experience, hobbies, loves, without even, at times, a common perspective on God, finding a deep connection in the hours sheared off at the beginning and end of days can be hard. I’m commonly amused at the irony of applying the word “community” to such a motley  lot, however much I love them.

Modern life doesn’t lend itself to authenticity, even when you’re suffering. Or more so then. And when real relationships fail,  real words can help. Whether it’s saying them, or hearing them, writing them, reading them, finding them. I’ve been reading a lot lately. I borrowed some books of poetry, and some on poetry and one on India from the library, and they have a way of tying me up when I’m unraveling internally, or making me feel like less of a sham when life seems purposeless. I’ve read the preface of one of them, “Good Poems for Hard Times” (ed. Garrison Keillor) over and over again. Keillor writes,

People complain about the obscurity of poetry, especially if they’re assigned to write about it, but actually poetry is rather straightforward compared to ordinary conversation with people you don’t know well which tends to be jumpy repartee, crooked, coded, allusive to no effect, firmly repressed, locked up in irony, steadfastly refusing to share genuine experience – think of conversation at office parties or conversation between teenage children and parents, or between teenagers themselves, or between men, or between bitter spouses: rarely in ordinary conversation do people speak from the heart and mean what they say. How often in the past week did anyone offer you something from the heart? . . . Forget everything you ever read about poetry, it doesn’t matter – poetry is the last preserve of honest speech and the outspoken heart.

He goes on to talk about in culture what I was just talking about in relation to my house mates. A loss of commonality:

The common life is precarious. I fear a future in which America becomes a loose aggregate of marauding tribes — no binding traditions, no songs that we all know, not even ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ or ‘Silent Night,’ no common heroes, no American literature . . . There are no more TV shows that everyone knows: 10 percent of audience is a huge hit. The last singer recognizable to everyone was Frank Sinatra; the last poet known far and wide was Robert Frost. There are no replacements in sight. Today celebrities are people whom most Americans haven’t heard of.

This, I think, is a question that matters. It matters for life, for friendship in this distant, expanded, digital and post-modern world; it matters for marriage and it matters for ministry, especially cross-culturally.

How much can you really share of yourself with someone whom you share nothing else?

Somewhere to Belong

It’s amazing how good arms that want you can feel. Like: This is where I belong—you belong with me.

Hugs, like most things, come in all types. The good, the bad, the just plain awkward. Long hugs, laughing hugs, crying hugs, I-don’t-know-where-this-arm-over-under-ooh-ouch-oops hugs. “I don’t want to smother you, little person” hugs, “you’re smothering me, big guy” hugs. Oxygen-sparse group hugs, head-clanking side hugs.

“Ick. Side hugs are like—kissing Catholic ladies.”    Melissa Dorr

In my group of friends we’ve recently installed the kiss-and-hug, although Sophia and I are the only ones who’ve made a regular habit of it (six-month-old nieces are good for those kinds of things). There’s nothing like a baby around to make you realize how much physical communication is innately part of us. She isn’t much for cuddling, but she likes to look at and feel faces, be tickled, be kissed. It’s nice. There’s something wonderfully intimate about touch—even when it’s a vice-like grip on your nose.

I’ve been giving a lot of “hello” and “goodbye” hugs recently. Both are hesitant in their own ways—the first, not knowing where you stand with a person—the second, not wanting to let go of them.

I wish I could just gather up all the people I love and take them with me everywhere. We could buy a boat and sail the world. Always at home. Always adrift. But always together.