May 3, 2013

Letting Go: Teddy Bears and Baggage

I did a rather dark piece last year for Father's Day, and this is the other side of that particular tunnel for me. It was hard to do, but I'm glad I did and I have felt rather badly about just leaving it there, because of course  no broken heart just stays broken.  They mend in all kinds of interesting shapes, none of them perfect.

The other night I was lamenting the fact that I still haven't gotten through the Beautiful Redhead's childhood toys on her shelves, and I spied this guy.  The whole world stopped, and my mind started whirling, and I ran to get my camera and even managed to take some pictures in focus.

This is Leo, on the left.  Leo is my first real love.  He used to be a lion with a music box.  I have no memories, or pictures, of Leo when he still had a mane, or fur, or whiskers, but he has a scar from where my mother had to perform surgery on him to remove the music box. ....after she had washed it.  Laundry would be a demon my mother would wrestle all of her life.  She fought the good fight but could never overcome what she called "the bleaching gene".  I have no memory of the music box and as far as I know, I never missed it.  I was just glad he was all right, sewed up tight and still with me.
 He used to sleep with me every night.  I had a lot of stuffed animals that slept with me every night, and it caused me a great deal of anguish trying to decide how to arrange them in my bed.  I had room for about 3 rows of stuffed animals that I could fit in my bed, and I worried that only the ones on the top row would be able to breathe.  I tucked the covers under the arms of those on the top row that had arms that would bend.
My mother pointed out that stuffed animals didn't have to worry about breathing.  She *may* have even said "um, do know they aren't real, right?" (wondering, no doubt, about the definition of "obsession").
I knew this in my head but it was my heart that was the problem, and I knew this, too.  I was about 7 when we had this conversation/revelation.
Even then I was more worried about my skills as a mother than the more practical things, like the fact that my "babies" did not breathe.  My mother did not believe imagination was a thing to be squelched in children.
But always Leo was beside me, closest to me.  I loved him the best of all.  Leo had been with me since I was a baby.
Soon after we moved to this house in 2001 and put up the shelves in this room, I must have come across him while unpacking and put him up here for safekeeping.  Here he has sat, next to the pig that my daughter loved when she was 3, for 12 years.
There is a black spot on his hand from where I threw him up, high in the air, after being warned not to do that again by Big Grandma, who was trying (desperately) to spray paint some TV trays (Remember those?) when he landed smack dab in the middle of her fresh paint.  Big Grandma was mad!!  I was in trouble!!  She did not spank me.  Maybe because I was almost as tall as her, but maybe because she didn't have to.  I knew better than to do it but I had not realized I would be putting Leo in jeopardy.  I was maybe 8.  You might think that's kind of old to be carrying around a stuffed animal but it would have been the summer my dad left.  Leo was there for me.  We went through it together.  Where I went, so did Leo. It threw both of us  into a panic thinking that Leo had been mortally wounded.  Not to worry, most of the paint came off, and what remained we both thought added character.  Big Grandma had her demons, but laundry was never one of them.

When something terrible and irreversible happens to you as a child, it is right before sleep that your heartache will find you.  Once you are alone and everything is quiet, it will well up out of you.  It becomes a daily ritual.   During the day you can "not think about it", and keep your mind off of it, but it knows where you sleep.  Every night Leo slept crushed to my chest, and every morning there he would still be, and on I would go.
As a teenager he was always on my bed, and usually slept with me, but you will be glad to know that I did not have to carry him around anymore.  I did not cry every night anymore by then, either.  The self-centered-ness of puberty had staked out that ground, and many nights I spent obsessing over acne or what to wear to the dance instead of crying. Some time around the age of 18 I realized that I had not been crying every night for quite a while.  My heartache did not come for me as often, but when it did come for me, Leo was still there.
I got married and moved away from home, Leo tucked into my cedar chest from Nana along with other treasures and keepsakes.  I got divorced and moved back home, went to college, had apartments and parties, had jobs, got married again, had kids, the whole nine yards, Leo was with me always.  Tucked away in my cedar chest until my children got old enough to be careful with stuffed animals.
Sometime in my early 20's, I realized that it had been a long time since I had cried at all, or  felt sad, or even thought much about my heartache.  It was a shock, and I thought I outgrown it.  It wasn't done with me yet, but I treasured the possibility of peace, and started working toward it.
When I was pregnant with twins and at a psychologist's office for one of my children (I thought), I surprised and embarrassed myself by bursting into tears when the man asked about my parents.  Then I got mad at him when he said it was obvious I had some "issues" with that.  Not outwardly mad, (Thank you LORD), but inwardly mad, which is less embarrassing but more humiliating, on a personal level.  That was when I finally broke down and asked for help.  From God, not the psychologist, nice man though he was, he was still, well, .....a man. Plus let's not forget my prejudice toward taking pills.  I'm against it, generally.  Let's just say I had issues in more than one category but do not worry, God could handle them all.
Then the years flew by and one day I saw Leo on the shelf for the first time in such a long time that I had almost forgotten Leo.
HOW could I forget Leo, who was my first "baby" and my staunchest friend?
And I realized that Teddy Bears are really just like baggage.  It was an epiphany.
We carry them so close, our heartaches,  they become so much a part of us, that the thought of getting rid of them hurts as much as cutting out a part of ourselves.
We (I) often (used to) sit around whining about our burden but eventually your realize that YOU are one who is crushing it to your chest, holding on so tight that you are never going to be rid of it until you let go.  It may have even grown into you by then, like those poor people who weigh so much they die in their chairs and only then does anyone know their skin has fused with the fabric!! It's ugly, but take heart, because it's also easy.  All you have to do is let go.  That's it.  Just let go.  One day your head will know that it's time and it will be all right to let go, but your heart will not be convinced.  Listen to your head.  Sometimes, the head must rule.  When it's for your own good, and your heart is paying the price, listen to your head and just let go.
Nothing will happen.  You may think at least a good, resounding cymbal crash at least, is called for, but odds are it will be quiet, and nothing will happen.  No one else will know a thing.  No one else is inside your head, seeing the tragic opera that plays on a constant loop, unless you tell them.  The only change will be the peace in your heart, which will most assuredly make itself known in your face when you smile.  You will be better than you have ever been.  More, even, than you have ever been, and grateful for the lessons you learned on your way to that place.
I have had quite a journey with both Leo and my baggage, but unlike Leo, who I kept safe on the shelf, at some point I cut my baggage loose and let it float on down the river of time.
Perhaps the hurt finally scarred over.
Like arthritis, it didn't hurt all the time, but when it rained there was a deep ache I could live with but not forget about.  Dan Fogelberg did a song that has always haunted me, that describes it much better than I can write, Hard To Say.
"Lucky in love,
 well maybe so,
 there's still a lot of things you'll never know,
 like why each time the sky begins to snow 
you cry"..  
The lyrics can be found here and I think they are brilliant.  Thank you for your service, Dan Fogelberg.  You might have just been writing about a break-up, but I see both myself and my father in this song, and it has touched me deeply.
It's the unexpected tears that you need to investigate and run to ground.
You learn to live with it to survive, but to learn to forgive it is truly an act of mercy, and will bring you grace.  Enough grace to share.
I tried a lot of things, learning to live with it. Denial, Anger, Derision, Blame (others), Blame (self), oblivion, attention seeking....the list goes on.  I thought I needed to mend my broken heart but really I think I needed to just learn that I wouldn't die from a broken heart, and trust God that it would heal in His time.
It took a lot of years but I finally got to the point where, when I could look at my dad as a child, from the standpoint of a mother, (haven't I always been one?) I could see that it was okay to love him and accept him for what he is without expecting him to be the person I thought he was, once upon a time.  His mother, my own Nana, helped me it this by pointing out that this is how God loves us.  We all have children that may disappoint us, do hurtful things, sometimes we may even feel that we don't like our own children, but we always love them.  That doesn't change, no matter what the kid has done, how long ago the end of the rope you were trying to hold onto has slipped through your fingers, or how much it's going to cost to save them.
Parents are just people, too.
Some things just aren't ever going to happen, and your life will be easier if you can accept this.
You see, I still love him. Can we ever stop?  I don't think so.  My answer is no.  Nana's answer was no.  Everyone gets to answer that for themselves.  Does this mean that I invite him up and volunteer to meet more wives?  Good Lord no!  Even Nana drew the line at that!  But at least the kids are old enough now that I am not trying to find an explanation.  For some things, there are no explanations and we have to accept that.  But I do love him, and wish him every happiness, and I have peace with that.
Everybody has their own journey, and I don't think any of them are easy.
Love what you can and keep your expectations realistic.
You have your own life.  Enjoy it and realize how much love is all around you. There are all different kinds of love, all of them good.  Stop letting your heart be broken. You really are in charge of that.  You can still love a person even if you know their patterns and have learned what will probably happen next the hard way.  Choices have consequences, and consequences must be reckoned with one way or the other.
It is always in your power to take the bull by the horns, (and that can be much less violent than it sounds), by just asking God to give your broken heart some peace and help you understand what is next, with grace.
If you can just do that much, it will help.  You will have to do it a lot, and it may take some time, but it's your journey and there is no time limit or shortcuts.  Keep your head up and your heart open to healing.  It will come from some of the last places you would ever expect, and one day, you will just feel..............fine.
You will not cry anymore.  At least, not about that old heartache.  Life may bring you others, so guard your heart wisely.  I hope you will even smile, after your baggage floats off. It will sink under it's own weight soon enough.  Let it go and be at peace.
If you are going through it right now, or just still dragging it around, I hope this helps you.  Just let go.  I think you will be glad you did.  Even if you just let the line out a little, so that it follows at a greater distance, that still counts as progress.  Don't be surprised if, after you think you cut it loose, you turn around to find it following you.  Wish it peace and turn back around.  It's in the past, where it belongs and you will face the future.  You will be uncertain of what will come next, but you won't care all that much because whatever comes next will not involve the same old circular path that was your heartache.
I burned a lot.  I am a burner, an Aries, fire is my sign, I am a ram blazing a path that burns from the friction, dragging Leo along for the ride.  He supports me unconditionally. It's what he does, It's his destiny, and he has fulfilled it heroically.
Do it your way, but do it. Do it today, at least make a start, and it could take quite a while.  You should not have to ask me how I know this, ahem.
What am I going to do with Leo? He is going to keep sitting right up there with the rest of the treasures.  I'm too afraid to wash him and The Beautiful Redhead will someday, eventually be forced to deal with her stuff.  When that day comes I will put him on my own shelf until the day when he will probably be cremated with me. It seems only fitting, as he's been there for everything else.  Leo and I will blaze into heaven, our journey not yet complete, and I expect we'll either be given a sword to fight more battles or go directly to the baby room.
Either one will be just fine with me.  I can do both equally well, thanks to everything I learned on my journey, so far.  Let the journey continue.

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These are my thoughts, which sometimes drive me crazy and sometimes keep me sane, but are always entertaining. I call this Lace Your Days With Hope because I can't find enough hope to make an entire quilt out of. Stay tuned, and add your own!