Pain and Wonder Held Together

10 May 2020

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

The neighbor’s hedges
Are more than four feet

“I have every tool.”
A call for community

And I’m sorry
But I can’t

It reminds me too much
Of a man from my past

Who made menudo
For everyone

And told me
Never speak to him again

It’s his food I make
With these two silent hands

- - -

Everybody’s wounds are showing right now. Some of us are really messy, and some of us are pathologically neat. Some of us are exploding and some of us are carrying around a black hole inside.

Some of us are tired from using every inch of our experience and knowledge to cope with this shit and some of us are exhausted from acting out or being cast into inner turmoil due to a lack of experience and knowledge.

Many of us are all of these different things individually or simultaneously depending on what kind of day it is.

And we are still just people, worthy of love and empathy, no matter what we do or do not do.

Just like the people around us and the people we come into contact with are worthy of love and empathy. Two things we may have trouble giving ourselves and therefore, also have trouble giving others right now. Two things we may have to apologize and make amends for withholding from ourselves, and therefore from others.

Boundaries are such an important companion to love and empathy, especially with someone who has hurt us, or through inaction, caused us to come to harm. I don’t have to let someone back into my heart in order to love them in a universal kind of way that still doesn’t make their life or their personal feelings about me relevant ever again. I don’t have to forgive someone to have empathy for their shitty human condition. Just as shitty, or maybe even shittier than mine.

I don’t know how long ago it was now, a long long time; the man I called my step-father told me not to speak to him again until I changed my mind about not having contact with my mother. I never properly changed my mind, although there were times when, through necessity or futile double checking I had slightly more contact with her than none. But I never spoke to him again.

When you are an unwanted child, when you are told and shown you are unwanted, it leaves a lasting impression. Some people go on to ensure that they are unwanted everywhere they go, because it feels familiar and it confirms their worst fears, which is actually very freeing. If you’ve never had your worst fears confirmed, it’s temporarily very nice, like a weight off your shoulders.

Other people decide, that no matter what, they will never be unwanted ever again. And that leads us to a toxic kind of perfectionism that shatters the moment it meets any criticism. The kind of perfectionism that can twist a person into an untenable shape on the one hand and prevent any kind of learning or growth on the other. The kind of perfectionism that will lead someone to never talk to someone else again and never forgive them for it either.

Through my own inability to find value in myself, I have harmed others. I’ve projected my shitty self worth onto other people, my internalized misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, classism and racism has seeped out of me in moments and at times and I wish I could have taken it back but I can’t.

I’ve perpetuated the idea that people like us get treated like this and that’s “just how it is.” I’ve abdicated my power and I’ve added to people’s burdens through that shitty thinking and I apologize.

I say that I am tired of being hurt by people, but in reality, I am tired of being hurt by myself. I am tired of carrying this wound everywhere I go, these multiple terrible wounds. We can’t go back and un-plunge those knives. All we can do is try to give it light, and fresh air; keep it clean and hope for healing.

I don’t have to be okay with what my step-father did in order to appreciate what he taught me. In order to think of him when I smell fresh tortillas on the stove top, to remember his stories, or sneaking out of the house to get the first batch of warm donuts and hot, sweet coffee at 5am on a Sunday.

Sometimes people give you a reason to live, but they can’t do that living with you. Sometimes you go farther than they can safely go. Sometimes the very people who taught you that you were valuable, still can’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated. Some people give us a leg up and that’s all they can do.

Just because I won’t set a place for someone at my table anymore, that doesn’t mean I want them to starve. I can hold the wonder of having known them and the pain of having lost them and I can stop looking for them when I know they can’t be here.

In order to hold the reality that I hold, where people value me as myself today, where I have more than just convenience or proximity or exploitable traits at the heart of my friendships and family relationships today; in order to live here today I can’t look back for the people who couldn’t come with me.

I hope that they find what they need, I hope they have the abundant life of love and empathy and mutual respect and support that they deserve. I hope that they figure out how to stop giving people a leg up and start breaking down the barriers that keep them where they are. I hope I continue to do that too. In my own way and on my own terms, far away from each other.

We have the opportunity, during this time of open wounds, to get light and air into the situation. To hold grief and growth in the same two hands and send love and empathy to the people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t come with us and can’t come back. Let’s hope their table, like ours, is well stocked and well populated.