Tag Archives: hope

Never Again and Forever After

Twelve days ago, on Good Friday, my life fell spectacularly, publicly, heartbreakingly apart. After all of these past months of struggle, fighting and turmoil, everything in me gave up. I caused a terrible car accident in which, by the grace of God no one was hurt. But the aftermath, the wreckage has been incalculable.

brokenI ended up in the ER tonight because I have not been able to eat or drink anything for twelve days, despite the significant steps I’ve taken to start to rebuild whatever my new life will look like. My body just told me that it was simply not going to continue this way and it didn’t.

At the hospital, they were perfunctorily kind, suggesting that I perhaps try relaxation exercises, and brought in a very nice young man who asked me if I was considering harming myself. Since I believe that my life, and more importantly, my reactions to my life, to years of  deep misery had already done enough harm, I said “No.”

So they gave me some fluids, checked my blood work, watched as I shook, vomited up the water I couldn’t keep down, and then eventually sent me home. Lying there waiting to leave, I alternated between being terrified that this was actually what it looked and felt like when someone was truly cracking up, and then offering exactly what I was in those moments to God.

I thought that I had surrendered to God, but then I remembered that last night, my prayer was not to surrender but to want to want to surrender. I believed I had done this, but I hadn’t, until tonight. I surrendered because I had no choice, and a deep sense of giving in and giving up came over me.

Not of giving up my life, but giving up, entirely and completely, the struggle.  In that moment, in repeating to myself, over and over, “I’m done. I’m done,” I knew that I wasn’t done with my life. I was done with the misery of a life I’ve been living for such a long, long time. A river began to flow through me.

On the way home, I made a fierce commitment and that is this: “I will fight as hard as it takes for as long as it takes to recover.” Recovery of body, mind and spirit. That I never again want to live a life of relentless, undignified, useless suffering. And that no one and nothing was going to take anything else away from me. Or rather, that I was not going to let myself give any part of myself away. That I would fight for the life that God means for me to live, no matter what.

If you are struggling, remember this: Blessed be the warriors who are given the privilege of following this path, blessed be the suffering that leads us somewhere, especially somewhere bigger, greater and more meaningful. Blessed be.

See below, from Anne Frank, “As long as this exists…”


As long as this exists…

Anne Frank

“‘As long as this exists,’ I thought, ‘and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts, I cannot be unhappy.’ The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be.”

Love always,

Leslie

stripped

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More on Alligators and Unwilling Self-Exposure

One thing most women of a certain age know is that the search for a bathing suit requires extensive online research (going to an actual shopping establishment is torturous and laughable), along with a potential bank loan to finance the cost of the suit. You have to pay for coverage, slimming and enhancement, and no price is too high.

alligator1A year or two ago, when I knew I had to deal head-on with the burdensome weight problems caused by my anti-nervous-breakdown pills, I suffered through the purchase of two bathing suits. Or bathing costumes, really. They cost approximately $8,000 each. When I went down to visit my parents in FL last month, I knew I’d need them because my son would want to go in the water and I would, against all my desperate longings, have to accompany him.

I forgot the suits at home. Mostly because I packed at 4:00AM on the day of the flight, and my head wasn’t quite right. But I arrived in Naples with a dilemma. I needed a suit, but was highly unwilling to pay the exorbitant fee one involves, nor could I face the trying-on process.  So my mother, who accused me of forgetting my bathing suits at home on purpose, which was ridiculous because they are worth more to me than gold, frog-marched me into Wal-Mart to acquire a bathing garment, along with, I desperately hoped, a large cover-up.

The first cover-up met with maternal disapproval: “That looks like a shroud!” “Perfect,” I thought, and tossed it into the cart. As far as the bathing garments…suffice to say that when you are looking for something well-cut and flattering, Wal-Mart is the last place you should even consider going. Unless you are a 16-year-old size 2, it’s best to interpret the old person’s greeting at the door as, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

When it was time to go to the water park, I lathered Gabe up and then retired to the bathroom to squeeze, yank and shove myself into the horrible Wal-Mart bathing garment. On went the shroudish cover-up. And then, in the car, the final humiliation came.

I was wearing sunblock, but as I had not been exposed to sunlight for six Midwestern winter months, I was looking forward to “getting some sun.” “You need a hat, ” my parents said. “The sun is very strong, you need something to keep the sun off your head and face.”

“Absolutely not,” was my first thought, as I have a number of gorgeous and exotic beach hats at home, and could see nothing like them within reach. But no sooner could I turn around when a white GOLF visor was being shoved on my head. A golf visor. A white one. Not even black. I felt like a land manatee in a bad disguise.

When we got to the water park, I slunk into the water with Gabe, and it was actually quite fun, the playfulness, the pleasure he was experiencing. However, out of the corner of my eye I was stealthily watching my father, who seemed to want to capture these moments on film, and I knew without question that if I saw him even reach for his iPhone, I would slap it out of his hand in a heartbeat, right into the 4-foot deep kiddie pool.

alligator2There were no alligators at the water park, but their repulsive, fearless presence from the day before haunted me. People In Florida say, “They are more afraid of you then you are of them. No. No, they are not. (click to watch).

Now, the thing about alligators is that they give occasion to experience a deep, primal fear. Alligators can and will come after you. The bad thoughts in your head about the size of your stomach or thighs will come after you too. But they don’t have to kill you. The time that I spent in the water with Gabe made me feel light and free and playful. My body felt like my body again.

Alligators are a constant reminder of the predatory nature of depression and desperate, panic-ridden thinking. It’s said in research literature about self-development, fear, and growth, that the worst decisions we can make come from the “reptilian” part of our brains. That is our basest level, the one most preoccupied with self-preservation. The poet John Donne said that “When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.”

My parents, who are tremendously great sports, got in the water also, especially my Dad who took Gabe down the waterslide tons of times. We all went on the lazy river, which was very relaxing, except for the weird 20 year olds with multiple tattoos whose tubes kept bumping into mine. (At public pools you are practically naked at very close proximity to total strangers and this is not okay with me.)

Dad1I had been feeling quite down earlier in the day. Having to “be on,” i.e. go to a water park dressed as an entirely unfamiliar version of myself seemed beyond my comprehension and psychological capacities. But it turned out fine. Seeing Gabe smile and play, and feeling the love and effort of my parents was a type of buoyancy. As I said, my dad went down the water slide over and over with Gabe while I stood on and watched with pleasure and gratitude (and fear of the trips to the chiropractor if I myself went down.)

If love alone could cure any of life’s problems, I would be running marathons and writing novels. But swimming in the kiddie pool with my son was a triumph of love and fortitude that was made possible by the steadfast presence of my parents.

As hard as it can be to even, as Andrew Solomon, author of Depression: the Noonday Demon, says, to take the concept of other people’s suffering on board when one is in its depths, I truly believe that is the only way out. Being aware that there is pain in the world, and that our own suffering gives us something to offer back to others in the “same boat” (or the same inner tube) is what helps us pull each other out. It brings us back to life.Gabepool

 

 

 

The Green Alligator
By Sidi J. Mahtrow

There’s a green alligator.
Lying on the bank out of the water,
His (or her) hide, a bilious green
And as it dries has a certain sheen.

Some would say that’s most un-natural
But I reply that’s colors, factual.
Brought about by being in a water that’s
Filled with chlorophyll bearing plants
And as the gator swims along,
He can’t help but being tagged upon
By those single celled organisms that live there
In the primordial soup we all share.

‘Haps, this is his way
Of disguise from his prey,
But I prefer to believe
He’d much rather have a reprieve
From the pollution
In his watery bouillon
That coats everything large and small
From snout to tail and all.

But as he sleeps along the shore,
Covered by this slime and more,
I wonder if evolution will raise her head
And make all alligators green instead.
Then no one will notice this one apart
From others with the same colorant.

Regardless, it’s best to avoid the alligator, green
Lurking there, grey-black, or some shade in between.
He knows not why you’re there,
But for him, maybe you’ll become the daily fare.

One agator, Two agator, Three
Green alligators neath the tree,

Slipping, sliding, slopping,
Never stopping,
Green gators neath the tree.

Mouth open, teeth, a showing,
Just a grinnin
Green gators neath the tree.

Hides a glowing green
Doesn’t seem so mean,
Green gators neath the tree.

Into the water he’s a slippin
Just a dippin
One green gator’s not neath the tree.

Silent swimmin, easy going
Eyes and nose only showing
Green gator’s gettin close to me.

One agator, Two agator, Three
He’s after m….

Welcome to Florida!

Sidi J. Mahtrow

 

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Into 2012–Keeping Calm and Carrying On

Our family received so many lovely holiday greetings this year while ours never made it out.  Such is life.  We did manage to host our 2nd Annual New Year’s Day Open House, and a more wonderful way to mark the new year I couldn’t imagine.

Both the holiday greetings and many of the conversations we had with people at the Open House affirmed something I’ve been thinking about since the holiday season started and the “family and life update” letters began coming in.  And that is that we are all so much the same.  We mark our years by family milestones, the births of children, the losses of those we love, good health and bad, work struggles and successes, time spent doing what needs to be done.  They all seem to send the same message: we are carrying on.

I’m struck by how hard we are all working at figuring out if we’re doing the right things, living the right ways, making the right choices.  One car or two?  Church or alternative spiritual practice?  Giving material gifts or “experiences”?  Are we doing right by our kids, by ourselves, by the world around us?

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For All That Has Been, Thanks. For All That Will Be, Yes.

Tomorrow is our 19th wedding anniversary.  Martin and I got engaged in March of 1992 when we were living in Philadelphia.  After our engagement, I visited one of my former professors from Villanova and told him I was getting married.  He said the only thing that has ever helped me make sense of marriage, especially why people continue to stick with it when it feels like the most barren of deserts.  He asked me, “Is it a growth relationship?”

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For I Know the Plans I Have for You

Just in case a prestigious institution (or any institution, really), came knocking on my door looking for a commencement speaker, I’d prepared a few notes for the graduates of 2011.  But graduation has come and gone, just like those “Congratulations!” cards at Walgreens which graduates hope contain money.  (When my brother “graduated” from 8th grade, we caught him in a corner at his party, opening the envelopes and then shaking the cards without reading them to see if there was cash inside).   I could never give a good graduation speech, though, because Maya Angelou already gave the best one ever here in Illinois in 2002.  She sang; it was magical.

In my job working with students, however, it is helpful (for my sanity) to remember how amazing people who are mostly fully formed are, how much potential they have, how much we can learn from them.  It helpful because on a lot of days, I want to smash their hands in my office door.  Just this month alone I’ve been lied to, yelled at, insulted, sat too close to, sneezed on, and told about 785 stories of dead grandparents, usually in far-off lands to which the students must flee immediately, thereby missing all of their final exams.

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My Most Favorite Blog

Consider this a reading PSA: there is SO much data & information that presents itself to us every single day, and without intentional effort (sometimes even with it), it’s almost impossible to claim any real, quiet mental space.  When I was in California for 5 weeks this winter, I didn’t have my cell phone or my laptop and I didn’t miss either.  At all.  But this isn’t a post about “unplugging.”  It’s more about something an acquaintance of mine used to say, “Be greedy for the good things.”  She meant that we should search out the life-affirming, inspiring, uplifting things and claim them for ourselves, especially since so many other things claim us and our precious attention.  Today, I’m sharing one of the things that makes my heart lift up every day, in the hopes that it does the same for you.  The blogger is a young mother of four who survived a plane accident that left her burned over 80% of her body.  Her story, her spirit, and her fabulous style make this a not-to-be-missed site.  Click below.  You won’t be sorry.  I promise.

http://nieniedialogues.blogspot.com/

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Best Not to Start With the Gestapo

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately, not for a noble reason such as the New Year and trying to better myself, but because, like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, I’m stuck in this compulsive habit of keeping a little psychic notebook of “offenses against Leslie Srajek,” and it gets longer and longer each day.  And I’m not talking about the girl at Panda Express who charges you for “free refills,” or even the bank clerk who–oops!–deposits your paycheck into the wrong account.  Also, this is not to say that I have not made my share of mistakes, because I SO have.

But some people have treated me not so well lately.  If we were in daycare together, they would need to be in time out for the whole day.  Maybe the whole week, with no chocolate Cherrios for snack.  However, like the old blues song says (and what the laws of discretion and good taste dictate), the details of all that “‘t’aint nobody’s business but my own.”  What does matter to all of us, however, is forgiveness.  

Forgiveness mostly sucks, because being angry is SO much easier and less vulnerable.  And if you are a drama queen like me, you enjoy clinging on to your own morsel of pain until the whole world sees how wounded and derserving of love and sympathy and healing and worship you are and …Okay, stop that.  In the end, it’s like Anne Lamott says: not forgiving someone is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.  Also, Annie Lamott has a chapter in Traveling Mercies about forgiveness in which she quotes C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity as saying, “If we really want to learn to how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.”  

Repulsive, right? You don't want this to be you.

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