A casual friend asked me recently how Keara was doing. Though she doesn’t know Kiko personally, she’s a reader of the blog and loved how we blessed K on her way to college last month. Though I had considered writing about how it went, I thought it might be too late. She assured me it wasn’t. On the hope she’s not the only one, I thought I’d follow up.
On Friday, the morning after the blessing, we packed up the car to drive from San Diego to Long Beach. I noticed some butterflies in my stomach, nothing too distracting, just an occasional flutter, a hint that today was not an average day.
On Saturday, her move-in day, I woke with a nagging sensation that something was wrong. I took a shower, asked Tim to bring me a cup of coffee and sat down to write and pray. Here is an excerpt from my prayer journal that morning:
We move Keara into her dorm this morning and it is very clear to me that I have two choices: I can write, or I can cry. Since I’ve already done my makeup and I am determined not to scare her, I’m writing to you God. All I keep saying, over and over again – even during my sit as I tried to return to my sacred word – is, “May you be safe. May you be content. May you be strong. May you live your life at ease.” I am praying that blessing for Keara and myself, over and over again.
I pulled myself together; we drove up the coast and created a semblance of a home in a 15×15 dorm room. I was so bewildered that day. I kept looking at all the parents and their eighteen-year-old children. What had seemed like such a good idea in the previous months suddenly seemed like bad idea, one of the worst really. I felt like I had Tourette syndrome. It took everything I had to not start shouting, “Does anyone else think this is a terrible idea? Take your children and go home. All of you!” Obviously, I didn’t do it, but Tim, perhaps sensing my need for solidarity, kept squeezing my hand and giving me appropriately concerned smiles. Before I knew it, it was 5 o’clock and Kiko was racing out to dinner with her new roommates, saying she’d see us in the morning for breakfast.
Sunday morning dawned and I found myself , unable, or possibly just unwilling, to get out of bed. I was physically nauseous, dreading the day ahead. Eventually I persevered, but only with Tim’s help and on his insistence. We picked Kiko up from campus and did one more Target run, one more cup of coffee, one more hug goodbye and that’s when it got ugly. I held her in my arms and whispered my morning’s blessing to her one more time, and then she started to cry and I started to cry and Tim started to cry. We let her go, got in the car and drove away.
And before we were even out of the parking lot, Tim asked me, “What are you feeling right now?” as if he didn’t know. But sad didn’t even begin to cover it, so I took a deep breath and told him.
“I know this is going to sound really weird, but it feels like the morning I left Sarah in the hospital. It’s that same sense of being hollowed out, of leaving half my heart in the high-rise behind me and driving away, ON PURPOSE, and knowing that things are never going to be the same again. She’s never going to be mine again…. And don’t turn on the radio, because God help me, if Lionel Richie is playing, I just might not be able to do it. I don’t care if you’re crying; DON’T STOP THE CAR! We can’t stop, because if we stop, I don’t think I can start again. If we just keep moving, I can do this. I know how to do this, but if there is one second when I can turn around and take it all back, I just might and that would be the worst thing ever! So please, just keep going….” As I trailed off into sobs. *
And so he did. We turned left out of the parking lot, found the 405 freeway and traveled south at seventy miles an hour, silently, in our pain and grief. We couldn’t talk about it, or listen to music, because we’d both start crying and Tim’s so responsible that he won’t cry and drive. He said the tears messed with his visibility and we still had two kids at home to raise, so instead we talked about stupid, silly things – work and politics and the weather. We made it home, went to church and out to dinner that night and the new normal began.
And it was okay.
Like the day after I left Sarah Moses and gave her up for adoption, twenty-four years ago this week, I woke up and took deep breaths. I listened quietly for the beating of a heart I thought was broken. I found a routine I could live by and if I lost track of time intermittently throughout the day, thinking about my baby girl somewhere far away, that was okay too. I knew she was safe; I knew she was content; I knew she was strong; I prayed she would live her life at ease, but I also knew the ease would come more easily if she was living apart from me. It’s the reason I let them both go, my two Moses girls. Love, my love anyways, would never be all they needed to become all they were meant to be.
I guess I didn’t share this story earlier, because it hurt so much and I couldn’t make sense of it. I didn’t have the right language to explain how, or why doing something that you know is so right can feel so wrong. And for me, sense-making is an important part of the healing process. Now, I may not have it all figured out yet, but I’m getting closer, with some help from my friends in the Living School.
A couple weeks after we dropped Keara off, I went on my annual pilgrimage to Albuquerque, NM and spent time with the faculty and my fellow students. We listened and learned and talked late into the night. We laughed and cried and fell in love with the world and each other a little more. It helped with my healing process, especially something called the Law of Three and ternary metaphysics. Basically, the Law of Three holds the premise that “three-ness,” like that we see in the Holy Trinity, is the basis of creation for the whole universe. Nothing new comes into being with out the dynamic interweaving of three distinct, but inseparable forces.
According to 17th century German mystic, Jacob Boehme, at first, there is a yearning, a desire for something. Then, there is the frustration of the desire; the will cannot get what it wants. As long as there are only two, there will be anguish. They will endlessly go back and forth, pushing and pulling without reconciling, or changing anything. (Think of U.S. politics.) If one is much greater than the other, it may “win,” but nothing new will come of it, because it is the friction, the pain itself, which is the “ground of motion.” It is only when a third force enters the equation that the two can be transformed and something new can be born. Frequently, this third force is gelassenheit, what we might call equanimity, the “letting-be-ness” of the surrendered will. In her commentary on it, Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “Will, desire, and pain are not obstacles to spiritual perfection, but rather the raw materials out of which something yet more wondrous will be fashioned. Thus, these things are not to be feared, denied, or eradicated; they are to be transformed.” **
Don’t worry, I’ll stop there with the dry stuff. If you’re anything like Tim, you’re about to check out anyways. Here’s what it means to me personally.
Although I didn’t have the language of ternary metaphysics at nineteen, I knew what Boehme was talking about. Here is my simpler formula:
Desire + Will = Pain + Surrender = Transformation < A New Being
When I was nineteen and got pregnant with Sarah, there was so much pain (SO MUCH PAIN) as I held the tension between the desire to raise her and my will to give her the best possible life, which I believed meant not being raised by me as a single teenage mother. Only through surrendering to the process was I transformed. I became someone new on the other side of that experience, someone who knew that it was possible to have your desire and your will completely at odds with each other emotionally and energetically and yet completely aligned in terms of their purpose. It was in the alignment that the resolution was found.
I had that same sensation as we left Keara on her college campus. My will was for her to become independent and find her place in the world. My desire was to have her place in the world be next to me, in my arms and the shelter of my home. Those two forces created enormous anguish in me – as they have done, I imagine, in virtually all parents across time and space. But it is only by letting that pain be what it is, neither clinging to it (by over-involving and inserting myself into this phase of her life), nor rejecting it (by denying my pain, or shutting myself off from feeling it) that she and I, and our relationship, actually have a chance to become something new. I have no idea what that new thing might look like, but in faith, based on evidence, I’m not worried.
Here’s how I look at it. I think we are screwed, or blessed either way, or perhaps more exactly, we feel screwed in the moment and are blessed in the long run. But I think the blessing only comes if we believe it will come and live as if it will come. If we refuse to surrender and choose to stick with the pain, then we will view our path as either an inevitable frustration of our desire, or of our will, and then it will become thus – simply frustration, not transformation. If there is no surrender, no faith in a new arising as yet unknown and undefined, then there will be nothing new under the sun.
The process of giving Sarah up burned into my body, heart and mind, the lesson that you do not stop wrestling with the angel of God (who comes disguised as every moment of your life) until you receive the blessing. When something unknowable, but potentially precious is placed in your life, you have to grasp it, embrace it fully, know it intimately, see what it has to teach you. Don’t bury it in the desert and walk away too soon. Find some way, however small, to allow it to bless you before you let it go. You may always walk with a limp, scarred in some way, but you will be wiser and better for it and you take that wisdom out into the world with you. ***
Stephen Colbert has said recently in many interviews promoting the new Late Show that he can never be glad for the death of his father and brothers and yet, the very curse of their death has become his greatest blessing. He admits, “I love the thing that I most wish had not happened” and he has found a way to embrace the paradox. His life, his work, his humor, compassion and drive all stem from the wisdom he gained in the struggle. He has surrendered both his desire for it to be different and his human inability to make it so.
We all have wisdom to share with one another, hard fought wisdom and the accompanying Love, compassion, joy and empathy that goes with it. If you’ve wrestled with an angel, don’t be afraid to show us your scars. It’s the only reason I’m here. My writing is the best proof I have of my ever-broken and ever-mending heart.
*If you don’t get my Lionel Richie reference, click here, or on his name, and it will take you to the original story.
**All the notes in this paragraph are from Chapter Seven of The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three by Cynthia Bourgeault.
***The language around this lesson was taught to me beautifully by Rob Bell with an assist from Paula D’Arcy.
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Beautifully said dear friend…. your writing touched me as I sit with you in solidarity and tears streaming down my face. Thank you for putting words to a mothers heart – especially the piece of it that is walking around on the other side of the world. Love you!
I know you and K are walking the same path Tash. I only shared, because I knew I couldn’t be alone in the loss and transformation… XO
Thank you for helping lay a foundation for those of us leaping with faith next year. I love when there is a framework-a theme, a process- that can ground something that feels like chaos at first. This is a gift. You are a gift Ali. Xo
I was thinking of the mamas who are taking the leap next year and hoping it might help. I’ll post it again next August to remind you all!
Your blog has touched me personally as usual. I believe that being a parent is all about letting go. You experienced it earlier than most, but the friction you described is shared by everyone that wants their kids to become independent but also wants them nearby to share all their day-to-day activities and emotions. Sending a child off to college is a significant emotional event and you’ve described the range of emotions perfectly. Thanks for sharing them with us.
Thanks for the support and love Mike. I appreciate it so much!
Ali, You have captured the happenings of the heart and tied in the spiritual path to growth in those small yet profound moments that we all face. I remember running upstairs just before we drove up our loaded car to Long Beach with Adam, I looked around helplessly for something, I didn’t know what, but feeling that feeling you described. Then I just sat on my bed in silence with tears running down my face. I couldn’t move. Adam came up to find me. I looked into his eyes and and then he just gave me a very long, strong embrace. No words, yet I knew the moment was acknowledged and understood. Then we marched down to the car and drove off. And our new normal began.
Life brings many of these transformational moments, some are big and obvious, others sneak up on us. Awareness and understanding unfolds in different ways, accordingly. Thanks for sharing your insight and story in your amazing way.
I love this story about you and Adam and that he was only going thirty miles away and it still caused heartbreak. Makes me feel understood, even though she’s only 100 miles away. Something about the oldest I think…
Ali, thank you again for sharing and putting into words feelings I can so relate to. I realize I need to live in the present and not worry/fear the future, but I have a pit in my stomach of emptiness when I think about my boys going away to college… The first days of Kindergarten I remember excitement but also the sinking feeling that this is just the beginning, there is no turning back. And then the first days of high school, along with college fairs, college visits, and preparation there is excitement with a lot of angst. I am hugging them tightly, sometimes holding on longer, not wanting to let go physically and emotionally so I definitely appreciate your words and will remember to work towards surrendering/acceptance while moving towards transformation.
Jill – I hope I didn’t scare you, but made you feel better. It’s something I wish someone had warned me about, though I’m not sure I would have listened. I was so happy for her and confident she needed to go that I had no sadness until that last week or two and then those last awful days. But I believe in surrendering, acknowledging both sides of the story that is running through our heads and feeling what we feel, while not letting it control our actions. Tough stuff! I didn’t know I’d do so much “growing up” in my forties.
Another spectacular piece of writing when you heart, mind and soul are out there for all of us to take away! You allow yourself to feel things so deeply, something that I have always struggled with doing. When I was in the hospital my biggest struggle was to keep fighting and going forward and staying positive….that has been my hardest challenge that I couldn’t gloss over. Emotional pain is so darn hard! Laurie’s death was the one time that crumbled me completely. I love you and your mind and your soul and your gift for sharing! Love, Mom
Date: Sat, 26 Sep 2015 05:03:11 +0000 To: email@example.com
Ali..you are awesome. Thanks for sharing your beautiful soul with us.
Beautifully touching, Ali, and I know this opportunity for transformation is right around the corner for us. Thanks for sharing your heart.
Jenn- I am sure you will do great. Thanks for the support.
I marvel at your ability to express so eloquently in words what is piercing through my heart and soul. All I can say is thank you…you are a blessing!
Sending so much love to you Angie as your children are leaving the nest and coming back, but knowing sooner or later they will go for good. You’ve done an awesome job mama!
Allison, I am sorry we never met in class. Your family is fortunate to have u. You r a gifted writer and teacher. Most of all you r a real lover. M.Scott Peck’s definition applies here, “Love is the will to extend yourself for your own or another person’s spiritual growth.” Thanks for having the courage to extend yourself to us, your classmates!
Thank you so much for your kind words Bill. Wouldn’t it be incredible to have met each and every person in the Living School and hear their story? I am most regretting not knowing those of you who won’t be returning, but I am so grateful for our FB group, where we can keep posting and keep learning from one another.
Wow, Ali, You continue to inspire and awe me.
Cheryl Shyba firstname.lastname@example.org
Two comments, dear Ali: First, the day we left our 18-year old daughter at a lovely Christian college, two hours north of Whittier, created one of the longest, grief-filled drives home! My husband and I couldn’t speak because our throats were so sore from holding back the tears!! Thank you for describing this common event so well – one that so many parents are blind-sided by! Second, I remember my broken heart as the mom of a not-married-daughter who was going to have a child (or did, but I don’t remember the exact timing of our conversation). Your few well-chosen words of understanding and compassion comforted, soothed, and calmed my broken heart. Thanks you for using your gifts in incredibly powerful ways, Sweetie!
My book is actually about gelassenheit – was absolutely key in much Familist thought.
[…] another “leaving day” that I had experienced twenty-five years earlier. You can read about it here. Even when we heal, there are parts of a broken heart that will always be more tender. But two […]