Saturday, June 09, 2007
Over the last year, I have been contemplating various life lessons that I found myself revisiting since the diagnosis of gallbladder cancer, and I had such a vivid example of one this morning, I just had to write about it. I believe that each of us comes into this life with lessons to learn, whether small or large, practical or profound. I suspect we may bring these lessons into our very existence as we begin our lives, but it's also possible to imagine them as challenges to our maturity that we bring to our adult selves as we begin to live independent lives. I also believe that life presents us with many opportunities to learn the lessons, so that many of us in mid-life sigh and think "this again!" as we see what challenges a new situation brings.
One of my life lessons has been to learn that I am truly lovable, and to contradict a deeply held belief that I am unlovable. Now, before those of you who know me pull out a list of things you think are lovable about me, know that these lessons, these challenges, just are, come from some deep place within us, and sometimes fly in the face of a more objective reality. I know that I have many lovable qualities, but, deep inside, there is a place of me that has simply felt unlovable. What's the best way to learn this lesson? To let others love me, and in the last year, I have experienced such an outpouring of love and support that moves me to tears and so contradicts this belief that I have about myself. Now, I don't know that I needed to get terminal cancer in order for this belief to be so thoroughly contradicted, but I do know that I've never before had such a consistent and persistent series of contradictions. I have felt the love of family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even strangers. An example of this occurred about a month ago when my massage therapist called to say that she'd been talking about me with another client, who wanted to pay for 4 reflexology treatments for me. This client believes in the reflexology so deeply that she felt it would help me, and want to me it possible for me to get some treatments. At other times in my life, I would have refused, but instead I gratefully accepted. And the reflexology treatments have been wonderful.
Another life lesson has been to learn to ask for help, and not to assume that I can or should do everything myself. I came into adulthood strongly self-reliant, so much so that it was difficult for me to ask for help, even when I really needed to. This year, and particularly this past spring when I was still working, I understood that folks wanted to be helpful, and that I simply couldn't do everything I had done before. So, I asked colleagues to pick up a bowl of soup for my lunch, or to run to the drugstore to pick up another set of "sea-bands" because I'd left the house without mine. And any sense of false pride that had prevented my asking for help simply slipped away. We need each other, and relying on each other and asking for help is an important piece of that. I'm reminded of the poem that Jamie posted in the "comments" section last time about how we need to see our connections with each other, and to be willing to lean on and love each other.
Another example of folks reaching out to me to fill a need is that of my quilt tops. Several decades ago, I had pieced together quite a few quilt tops, but never had time to finish quilting them and putting the layers together to make them usable bed covers. A few weeks ago, some of the women in the church asked me if they could take the quilts and tie the tops so that my family would be able to use them. I said yes, and they delivered four beautifully tied quilts this week. We envision that Patty, Lucy and Nathaniel will each have a quilt for their very own, to use or to put away.
A third, but by no means last, life lesson that I have struggled with relates to both of those. In my self-reliance and perception as unlovable, it's hard to lean on others and see myself as genuinely part of a community. And yet, on an intellectual level, I have felt that the breakdown of community in American culture has been a profound loss, and I have mourned that loss. On an emotional level, I have also felt in myself a deep longing to be a part of a community, to be held by a circle of loving individuals who care about me and my well-being, and who also care about each other and the larger world we live in. I have consciously created community with other mothers in our "baby group," formed when we were expecting our first children, and still going strong. I have sought community by looking for others who have seen themselves on a spiritual path, as I have envisioned myself on. I now belong to a church community which existed before my arrival and will continue for many, many years past my death, and I value the relationships, care, and active concern we share for each other.
So what happened this morning that made me think about all of this? I woke just before 8:00 to the sound of voices in the garden to the side of our house. Unknown to me, Kim, a friend and parent to one of Lucy's classmates, had organized a "weeding party" on this Saturday morning, and had recruited kids and parents to come weed my garden. I did need to have weeding done, and I have mentioned it to folks who have asked what they could do. I'm not capable of doing it myself right now. Kim saw a need and met it. With almost a dozen pairs of hands, they cleared out a lot of weeds, and now the garden is even more lovely. And in a single, simple act, they contradicted my beliefs about myself and life and reinforced a much most positive vision of our interconnectedness. Yes, I am lovable, and my garden deserves TLC from strong backs and willing hearts, and yes, it's okay to ask for help with the unglamorous job of weeding the flower gardens. And yes, communities both temporary and permanent can be created when folks come together with a task, a desire to serve, an urge to reach beyond ourselves.