11.30.2012

Letting Be Strong.

Last summer I went on the longest hike of my life.  Not because it was hard, but because I thought we were going on a short hike, and we didn't bring water, and it was swampy summer, and it turned out, the hike wasn't all that pretty.  A lot of tromping through dusty trails in a burned out forest.  However, this day and this hike meant a lot to me.  It was just Carl, Remy and I.  I put Remy in a carrier on my chest.  Carl helped me adjust the straps and buckle the clasp firmly against my back.  Remy cried, I bounced him and we kept walking, finally he fell asleep and his sweaty blonde head rested against my chest.  I was hot as ever.  I was so hot, and Remy was heavy.  His sleepy weight pulled against the tops of my shoulders and his soft, heater body pressed against mine.  We passed a wooden sign with an archaic '3.5 miles' carved into it with an arrow pointing the way we were hiking.  A horse passed us on the trail and I covered Remy's head as powdery dust wafted over us.

'This is not fun,' I thought.  But we kept walking because we had no choice. As we wound through the meadows and blackened trees, I remember I stopped hearing what Carl was talking to me about and had a distinct glow of gratitude.  Not gratitude for nature, or for family vacations, but gratitude because Carl was allowing me to be strong.  He had just spent weeks in the Nevada mountains literally climbing up and down mountains gathering rock samples for his research.  He is a good hiker, and full of stamina.  I don't know if it was a conscious decision he made to let me carry Remy in the heat, or even if it was something I insisted on,  (which is more likely the case), but either way, Carl did not object to, nor interfere with my sacred moment of both suffering and total joy at doing something hard by taking Remy from me.  

I didn't mention the moment then, and I don't know that I have since, but I think about it often.  It has become a useful metaphor for me.  I remember in that moment having access to greater empathy and understanding of people I had previously not. It was brief, and still incomparable, but real for me.   If you know me, you know that I mention pioneer women often, because I think about them at least a few times a week.  How did pregnant women walk across the plains?!  with other children!? lots of other children!?  without toothpaste?! or good shoes?! etc....it blows my mind, and then I usually conclude that I either feel terrible for them and/or I would never be able to do something like that myself.
In that moment on our hot, dusty hike though, I did have a small glimpse of what they might have felt, or what all sufferers might feel in some way.  Hard things are hard, and not fun, but they connect us to each other, and to ourselves.  Terryl Givens says, "There is solace in the solidarity of the desolate." The hot hike liberated my sense of belonging and built my confidence so that I felt I might have greater capacity to connect to people i want to understand and love.  I am grateful that Carl believed in my ability to be strong.

Relative to 98% of the world, I know so little about suffering, and so I don't want to downplay or make light of what it is for other individuals, but I do know that in my own minute bouts of suffering, I am not left to simply suffer for very long.  I find the weight of suffering to be woven with rich threads of the sacred.

I once hurt a friend by my actions, and not just a friend, but a very close friend, probably the closest friend I've ever had.  I hurt her in a way that she didn't want to talk to me or see me, and yet, I felt this intense need to fix things, to mend her myself.  I spent a lot of time praying about what I should do, and each time I felt so strongly that she was taken care of and that it wasn't my place to take away the sacredness of her personal strife.  I sensed that although maybe I could have found a way to fix things in a jiffy, I would be robbing her of something far more important by doing so.   I would have robbed her of the opportunity to become stronger.   And the same went for me.  It was a terrible, crushing time for me.  I lived with a knot in my stomach. I literally thought I would be crushed under the weight of a new life in the which things would not be the same as they were before.  But I did live through it, and I  recognize distinct ways in which I am a better person for having been allowed to suffer as well.   I don't think this is the right response in every situation, but I've learned over the years that not all difficulty is bad, some is, and we should do what we can to help, but I suppose I'm thinking more of the quotidian difficulties.  I'm grateful that a super mom hero does not swoop down into my house every time I think I can't handle being a mom anymore.  I'm grateful that Remy doesn't go away, but continues to be right next to me (literally, my house is small), and allows me to work through things, his presence asks me to be strong. It seems then, that an important part of being allowed to be strong, is the opportunity to acknowledge that something is hard. In Mormon Culture, we are an optimistic and faith-filled people, and it is sometimes easy to say that a trial is a 'blessing' or that there 'must be something we need to learn.' I don't doubt those things, and I think they are true, but I believe we also need space to say that something is hard, because how can we know we are strong, if we don't acknowledge its difficulty?

I used to try and be a fixer of everything and everyone.  I wanted to make everything right always, no matter the cost.  As I've grown older, and I hope not less loving, I've made peace with allowing people to be strong out of a love for them. I've also come to realize this is not easy, but still, I'd want them to do the same for me.  

10 comments:

Brooke said...

I love you. You are the dearest person. Thank you for sharing this and more than that, BEING this. I'm so glad we are friends - I can't say that enough. I miss you.

When we were in DC I thought I was pregnant a few times. I was, of course, thrilled after so many years of wanting to start our family, but there was also a little sadness that my...well, my pain and my loss would just vanish. It was awful and I hated it, but it was also purifying and something intensley personal that only I could work through. Sacred, as you wrote. I'm not jazzed that I turned out not to be pregnant, but it was really valuable for me to put an x on what suffring brings to us.

See you soon?

Allison said...

I am a fixer, too, which takes its toll. Thank you for this post, and for helping me to see the importance of letting go a little bit, and embracing hardships.

Phillip said...

"Why should you want to exclude any anxiety, any grief, any melancholy from your life, since you do not know what it is that these conditions are accomplishing in you? ... You do know that you are in a period of transition and wish for nothing as much as to transform yourself. If some aspect of your life is not well, then consider the illness to be the means for an organism to free itself from something foreign to it. In that case you must help it to be ill and to have its whole illness, to let it break out. That is the course of its progress." Rainer Maria Rilke, The Eighth Letter - Letters to a Young Poet

sara said...

I miss you so much, especially right now. So much so, that I have tears in my eyes. I love you, my dear Ash.

Rachel (and Will) said...

I love this Ashley. I know that I try to minimize my (considerable) problems to make others feel better, which is most likely not helpful for either party. In my moments of deepest grief and pain all I can think is, "This is so hard." I wish I were brave enough to communicate that to others more often, to give them space to feel the difficulty of their own trials and problems.

Heather@Women in the Scriptures said...

Wow, thank you for ths. I have to do something really hard tomorrow, which may or may not turn out good and this was such a good reminder. Thank you. And i love the idea of a super mom swooping down, some days that would be nice. But in the long run you are right that what we struggle through brings us the greatest joy.

Sofia Hoiland said...

Too often, I feel that I am not reaching my potential. Because our culture does, indeed, look down on suffering as something negative, not purifying, It is sacred, like you say. Even though much of the world's suffering is not known in depth by me personally. I know that I would much rather be afflicted and grateful, than non-challenged with less personal growth.

Thank you for speaking for those of us who feel this same emotion. Well put.

zlb said...

That last paragraph especially remind me of one of my favorite essays by Rilke on love in which he describes true, deep, hard love to be a mutual guardianship of one anothers solitude. We need to be given the space and protection to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord. Thanks for reminding me of this wondrous gift ash. i love you.

Deja said...

you are lovely. this is lovely. thank you.

ani said...

I needed to read that. Thank you, Ash.