When life gives you lemons throw them at all your breakables.
Stick a fork in it--literally! (Long time readers of my blog know I don't use that word lightly)
When push comes to shove, fight dirty.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, but you're probably dead if you see it.
My bark is actually smaller than my bite.
I could seriously go on and on. And that would be a fun blog post, but I decided to post something serious. Those of you who had fun with the first part can turn back now, or go enter my contest to win a free signed book in the next post, or leave me a comment telling me a cliche phrase you hate and how you would change it. This next part is long. And it's serious. And it's personal. I only feel I can post it now because it's about something that is quite definitely in my past. And it's something the person who this blog post is for helped me through. This is not advice or me telling anyone else what to do. I'm not trying to say just do this and everything will be okay. I hate it when people say "just" (another rant for another day). This is simply my own personal journey to healing.
Love you, You-Know-Who.
The Empty Doll
For the last little while I haven’t been able to shake an image from my mind. It’s a strange picture, not that I’m a stranger to the strange, but this time it’s personal, a self portrait of sorts. In my mind’s eye I see a version of my face painted in thin, skilled brush strokes on the upper portion of a Russian nesting doll. From the outside I notice that I look like any other nesting doll, brightly colored with floral patterns in smooth, flowing brushstrokes around my face and along the lower portion of my rounded wooden body. I’m not too old, my paint is still shiny with only a few small chips and a bit of dust and dirt on my outer layer. For the most part I think you could say my doll has been well cared for. To any passerby or casual observer it would seem that nothing is amiss. But when I look at my shell in the proverbial self-portrait, I know something that most others don’t. For though the seam in my middle is thin and barely visible now that it has been tightly shut, not too long ago it came apart, spilling all of the interior pieces and mini me’s on the floor. Since that time I’ve been slowly picking them up again, and discovering that some have been lost, damaged and even discarded in the process. The result is a fact that has been staring me in the face for a while now, but it’s a fact that I’ve been trying to resist: I’m not the same person I was a few months ago, and try as I will to pretend that I am to the outside world and even myself, I can’t deny there is an emptiness that didn’t exist before, and it’s left a hollow feeling in my chest.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling. Not a person has lived on this earth without passing through sorrow. Yet, I also know that despite the shared human experience each individual’s pain is unique. I’m not ashamed to say that for quite a long while I’ve been focusing on my pain. The only thing that seemed to give me any relief from the void I felt where I had been broken, were mindless and often pointless distractions, distractions that seemed preferable to the questions that filled my mind in their absence. Questions like, what am I supposed to do with a broken doll? Or, How can I ever get back to who I was before? And, Am I worth anything to anyone this way? I’ve felt angry and sad and resentful, feelings which all led to the biggest question of all, Why? What is the purpose of suffering? At times over the past weeks I’ve been truly contemplative, but often my question have been desperate, angry and hopeless, and though I tried to fool myself into thinking they were inquiries, I knew often they were rhetorical , more statements of bitterness than anything else, and I couldn’t see how things were ever going to get better. But then something unexpected happened while I was sitting in church, only half listening to the speaker one Sunday. As I often did, I again went through my many questions, when a single thought came to my mind. You choose what fills the void. That one sentence changed me or at least it changed my perspective. Suddenly I could see what had happened as a fork in the road and a potential turning point in my life.
I believe we all have some sort of metaphorical container that represents who we are and we fill it up day by day with activities and beliefs and priorities. When life runs smoothly it’s easy to get full on what is frivolous or temporary, amusements, social events, shopping, television, things that don’t require as much effort and seem to make us happy. Then something happens that turns our world upside down and we watch as all the things we filled our lives with fall out on the table or floor. We see it all laid out clearly and for some reason it no longer seems as appealing. But we know the emptiness isn’t right either. A vessel’s purpose is to hold something inside otherwise it is susceptible to mold and dust and cobwebs or any number of opportunistic inhabitants. So we stare at the components of our life, realizing some of them are rotten, broken or maybe just outdated and we have to decide what to do with them. Do we pick up the pieces of the life we once knew, put the same objects back in that were there before? If they are broken do we replace them with light fillers, more tv or video games, more socializing, more internet, and other sources of entertainment, only to have our lives become less solid, less stable, easier to topple, until the cycle starts over again. Only the next time we get knocked over the pieces on the table or floor seem more bleak, less varied, less fulfilling. Or do we take our blank space, that feels like an unbearable trial and see it for what it really is, an opportunity, a new start, a chance to fill up with something solid and lasting.
My grandmother passed away a few years ago and after the services were completed the estate needed to be taken care of. I was given the opportunity to request a few items that were meaningful remembrances to me. I looked around her room and thought of the graceful and refined woman she was. For every outfit she owned there were coordinating shoes and purses. She was always very elegant and polished when she went out. So I choose a fancy clutch, it was gathered pink silk with a small, tailored bow across the top. Then on an impulse I looked inside to see if she had left anything in its folds. Nothing spectacular met my eyes, in fact the contents of the purse were quite ordinary, a handful of wintergreen mints and a folded cloth handkerchief, yet both were meaningful to me. They reminded me of all the times she’d snuck those very same mints to me while sitting next to her at church. Then while I sat enjoying my treat she’d roll up her handkerchief in her special grandma way and turn it into a baby doll for me to hold. Much like the elegant purse she was beautiful on the outside, but what really mattered was what she chose to put inside, devotion to her family, her faith, her principles and unconditional love.
My personal vessel has been knocked over recently. I realize some of what it contained is unsalvageable. It will never be the same again. It would be impossible to expect that it could. I’ve spent time denying that fact, while I passively let sorrow, anger and fear seep into all my empty spaces. But I know now that my heart was not the only thing broken in my recent fall. So were many of my habits and my old way of life. All around us there are examples of demolition for the purpose of rebuilding. A forest must pass through fire for seeds to be released and regrowth to begin. Muscles are broken down by exercise so they can be rebuilt stronger. I have a chance to rebuild now, to make my life better than it was before. Faith, family, friends, service, hard work, and so many other things can take up the space that seemed like an irreparable hole. But first I have to see my experience for what it really is, a chance to deliberately choose what will fill up my life.