A humble offering
We find ourselves reeling again, here in Palo Alto. We've lost another child to suicide. And we don't know what to do.
In hard times like these, when I don't know what to do, I take a Cliffs Notes approach. By that I mean, I look for a wise source I trust and I do what the notes say to do. In the face of loss, grief, or despair, I look for something to hold onto that makes sense, that is part of a tradition that's been recommended for generations and I just try it. Some might call it faith to even have tried some of the things I've tried, but more often going with the notes has amounted to experiments in survival. My faith in a lot of ways is a reverse engineered byproduct born of necessity.
And the notes I'm relying on today are from Karen Maezen Miller who posted a Dogen quote recently: "When an object can no longer offend, it ceases to exist in the old way." When Maezen posted this quote someone right away asked her about racism, how could we not be offended by racism. Her response was:
"see it in yourself and change"
This is the note I'm holding onto today.
What it means to me is that I am part of the cause and I am part of the solution. As painful as it is to think that some of the seeds of a suicide are mine, I stay with it, because the promise this note holds is that if I can change myself, I can change the future. Proceeding Cliffs Notes style in the face of Palo Alto's recent tragedy, for me means that I am going to live as if changing myself could actually change the world, even if I'm not totally sure it will work. It means I'm going to try it for myself and see what happens. It also means I'm asking you to consider doing the same, because each of us are a part, but together we are the whole. And rather than fall into overwhelm or paralysis we might as well start with ourselves.
What I have noticed in myself lately is that stress creeps up on me. Even with a strong desire to live a peaceful life, even with a true intent to be reasonable, my life gets crowded. Meetings pile up. Kids have activities in different directions. I forget to pay a bill or call back my friend or buy a gift for a Birthday party. Water floods from the ceiling in the kitchen and the dog needs to go to the vet. Sometimes I lay awake at night stressed that I am stressed, because I know my life is easier than most, and I'm still stressed.
Stress, it appears, is something I do. It's a habit I fall into, even when I don't mean to.
There was a time in my life I was not stressed in the usual way. I had quit my job and had enough money and wanted to write. My days were vast and I was not busy. No one in my day to day life needed me in any real way. I had very few responsibilities. You would think I was relaxed, but I wasn't. I was terrified. I was curled up in the fetal position crying, half hoping I would accidentally drive off the road into a tree. Not to end it all exactly, but to know for sure that I didn't want to, to wake up in a hospital bed with faces around me. The white walls like light and the concerned soft eyes of my mother, my father, my brother and my new husband spreading love like a blanket. In the fantasy I was sure that I wanted to be alive, that those people mattered to me and I mattered to them. In my thoughts I knew this was true, but I had the fantasy, because part of me couldn't feel it or believe it. My life's work at that time was to breathe my vitality into that vacuum and feel my way back to the love that existed for me.
I share this today as a way of owning my piece of the whole, and of remembering that stress is a strong tendency of mine with roots that trace back a long way. Historically, I filled my life with tasks I could succeed at because that made me feel like I mattered. I think it takes some amount of courage in a place like Palo Alto (or who knows, maybe anywhere) to dare to believe that you matter for who you are, not for what you do.
This story also reminds me that at one point or another some of us will lose track of our hope. We fall into despair and need tools and teachers and loved ones to help pull us out. Bright, imaginative young people can have vivid fantasies that lure them in a dangerous direction.
I was a little bit like that. Knowing that I was like that, I chose to tell my own kids at the dinner table that suicide was not allowed in our family. That suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And that their father and I love them too much to let them do that, ever. It was crazy and I don't offer it as advice. I did it for myself, because I would have wanted that recording in my brain when I was having those disturbing driving off the road into a tree fantasies.
Other things I've done to reduce my stress the past couple of days: I made chicken soup and drank it from my favorite mug. When Gwendolyn looked over at me, and said, "Mom, that looks really, really good," I gave her the cup and savored watching her polish off a recipe I learned from my mother. I surrendered to a sick day with my youngest and pushed off my self imposed writing deadline. I bought a baseball glove and a new bat for Chloe so that we can practice together, and I know when that will be. I did the dishes by hand and read a book and took a walk with a friend. I wrote what I felt like writing, not what I felt I needed to be writing. I sat and took deep breaths for a part of the day, and if you want to know the real truth, I pulled a tarot card too. I curled up on the floor with the dog. I played some legos and drew My Little Pony for Eloise. I started the process of de-cluttering my calendar, because I need to feel the being part of myself--not just the doing part. This bit about the calendar is a challenge for me, guilt masks vestiges of that old fear.
These are the things I did for myself the past couple of days to deal with my stress. To own it, and to try to change myself. A work in progress, to be sure. A very humble offering in the face of all that has happened--but I hold on to the hope of the note--see it in yourself and change--that starting with ourselves is fundamentally how we change it all. And here's the gift of it--you don't have to believe it to try it. Reduce your own stress and see what happens. Certainly no harm could come of it, and maybe a world of good will.