It occurred to me as I was cleaning floors this past weekend that though I count myself as a compassionate progressive, I can be quite oblivious to the pain of others at times.
I wrote last week about doing “hard things”, like community projects and letting my natural hair color grow out. Can you hear the eye roll? These are NOT hard in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to what many people go through on a daily basis just to survive. The fact that I have hair to grow out or time for extracurricular ideas or even a forum to voice them publicly is a tremendous privilege for which I ought to express more gratitude.
I thought and I thought about it. My floors were sparkling.
It would have been easy to berate and hate myself, to see the cleaning as punishment for how I behave instead of worship for who I am and what I have, but I resisted. As Marianne Williamson says, “It is tempting to proceed without love; hatred is always looking for recruits.”
If I hadn’t written that shallow column about doing hard things and if I hadn’t taken time for self-reflection while cleaning, then I wouldn’t have remembered that it’s the ego that believes we are separate from everyone and everything else. It’s the ego that feels like my pain is not like other people’s pain. It’s the ego that thinks my way of believing is the best and only way. It’s the ego that believes I am on a solitary path soldiering forward by my own sheer will. Pure ego. None of those things are true on either the micro or the macro scale.
It was also during that marathon cleaning session (lasting the whole of Julian’s long afternoon nap and beyond) that I turned up the music and got into meditation mode. I’ve been using the Headspace app, and for the first time in many year’s worth of attempts, I’m keeping a consistent meditation practice, learning what works for me and applying it in daily life. As I cleaned, I worked on letting my thoughts simply be, noticing them for what they were and where they flew. With that freedom came a peculiar focus, a flow, and the task at hand took on a fun and respectful energy. I saw the chore as a form of worship for the gift of my family and the home we live in, instead of punishment for being relegated to the role responsible for chores such as that.
It’s worth noting (to me, anyway) that while I was under our roof cleaning our floors, my partner was on top of the roof cleaning off snow. I was warm and listening to music. He was out in the cold listening to his breathing and the rhythmic scrape of the shovel and snow rake.
Songs came and went, and by and by a line popped out, echoing almost, that stilled me. I walked to my desk and wrote it down in big Sharpie lettering.
“If you don’t speak out, we can’t hear it.”
Tony came in for break later, catching me mid-floor reverie. “What’s up?” he asked, seeing me staring at him pensively. “I feel very vulnerable talking about this,” I began, as did the tears. “I’m going to start sharing more of my struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts in my column. We have to keep the conversation going around here,” I gulped. “They are partly your stories now too, so that’s why I’m saying this to you.”
He reacted stoically, didn’t say a word, though my anxious mind detected a trace of disapproval.
“And I want to tell my abortion story too,” I blurted quickly, before fear changed my mind.
Fear of people in this tiny community judging me even more harshly than they already do. Fear of more Letters to the Editor. Fear of losing more friends. Fear of feeling even more unwelcome in public spaces.
So much fear.
It’s kept me from going deeper, from being real, and from making any kind of difference. It’s made me feel like going gray and talking about it would be a “hard thing”, as if anyone else cares about such nonsense.
Brene Brown wrote “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
I went back to cleaning the floors. It felt appropriate.
I am afraid, but as I try to teach my daughter, I can still be brave.
And maybe it will do some good in the world.
That is what’s next.
(Published in the Feb 26, 2019 issue of the Warroad Pioneer)