The Hard Way

There are only a handful of dreams that impacted me enough that I clearly remember them now years later.

In one such dream during my time working at Microsoft, I needed to meet my manager  on the other side of a small pond. One route around the pond was wooded and the other side was an open meadow. I was pushing my bicycle and despite that encumbrance, headed off through the woods simply because I was facing that direction and didn’t take mental note of a different route. Wedging the handlebars between the close trees and over the deadfall was difficult. I was sweating and frustrated trying to force it through. My manager watched me placidly but didn’t offer guidance or criticism. I made it through the woods, as I always do during such trials, but not without significant struggle.

When I awoke, I could see that the dream was about me taking the hard way in life. This theme was true of my work at Microsoft and in my strained relationship with my manager. It was also true in how I approached a lot of friendships, my finances, my health and personal growth. My choices to do things the hard way, even when there was so clearly an easier route available, consistently made my life harder and I suffered.

Life here at The Angle, this tiny little piece of Minnesota wilderness within Canada, keeps showing me how I do this as well.

My honeymoon period after moving here, when everything was magical and perfect, lasted almost three years. And then life changed. Fast. I got pregnant, unplanned but welcomed. My partner and I continued to drink heavily through the first two years of our daughter’s life, breastfeeding and all. Then we broke up, which was the hardest time of all. Our priorities were so messed up. He continued to profess his love but started dating other people. So, I did too. It was terribly painful for both of us because we truly loved each other. I was hurt and so very angry that he continued to choose a drinking lifestyle over our little family, even though I was doing the exact same thing, just maybe to a lesser degree. I was trying desperately to change, though failing, and he didn’t seem to want to change at all. I was angry at myself too, but I displaced it and blamed him for everything. The rage built and built. 

Eventually, that anger spilled over into other parts of my life and I started writing in my weekly newspaper column exactly how I felt about hot button topics. The honeymoon was truly over, and I tore into the facades of small-town life as I saw them, everything from politics to religion to spanking our kids. 

Many people reached out to me in quiet agreement. But a few, who believed they spoke for the majority, called me a hypocrite and a disgrace. They publicly shamed me and I fell prey to it.

Which words did I chose to remember? Which sentiments did I internalize?

The negative ones, of course. Cuz that’s what I do. I make life hard on myself.

I’ve often wondered how my life here in this small, lonely community would be different if I hadn’t have voiced my opinions or shared my beliefs. The folks who emailed, messaged, called, sent cards, etc., they all felt the same as me, but they were wise enough to keep themselves to themselves. I broadcasted it for all to see. I thought I was doing good. That I was being brave, forwarding the progress of women’s voices and helping someone somewhere.

And maybe I was. Who knows? It’s comforting to think about at the very least.

One elderly woman wrote me a note saying that when she read about my miscarriage in 2017 it opened the flood gates for her, and she was finally able to acknowledge the loss and heal from pain she didn’t even know she had suppressed. Another person shared how challenging it was to come home north and interact with people who lived the Trump lifestyle out loud.

So somewhere in all my over-sharing and my risk-taking rants, inklings of goodness and connection resulted.

Still, when I go out walking our quiet gravel roads here, I pray not to meet cars so I don’t have to see who won’t wave to me. EVERYONE waves to each other here. EVERY single time. Except when they don’t. To me.

Some days I don’t care. But mostly, I do.

It’s worth noting that the folks who were the most publicly opposed to my point of view make a point to be kind now. They always wave or make small-talk. As I do as well. It’s as if we’re wave-by-wave apologizing and asking forgiveness for being universally awful to each other. Though I have no idea if they have regrets at all.

I have certainly made my own life hard, but I can’t really say that I regret it all. Truthfully, I don’t know that I want to be besties with someone who thinks some people should have more rights than other people. Or who posts anti-Muslim propaganda. Or who fights for guns over safe schools. Or who thinks women shouldn’t have complete control of their own bodies. Or who thinks I’m damned to a literal lake of fire because I believe their are many paths to God.

I see two women out walking together and it hurts my heart that I don’t have that anymore. I am overwhelmed with loneliness at times. I miss fellowship with women. I miss laughing with my friends. I miss having good guy friends around. (Here, coupled-up younger women don’t hang out with other men as friends without it being a scandal. It’s so juvenile.)

But my tribe will come. I will find them or they will find me. Here or somewhere else. It feels hard right now, but I hold faith that when I finally meet them, I’ll know how to be a much better friend than I used to be. I took the hard way and learned how. I suffered and pushed through.

I made my life hard when it came to drinking, chaotic parenting, and ending my relationship. But all of those choices eventually led to much better decisions and a happier life down the road. Since we recommitted to each other and to sobriety three years ago, our life has only gotten better. As a couple, we are rock solid. We laugh. We flirt. We love each other hard. Together, we’re figuring it all out one challenge at a time, and surprise surprise, it’s getting easier. I still do all kinds of ridiculous things the hard way (like getting the kids Passport Cards instead of the needed Passport books right before we’re going to fly on an international flight), but at least each time something is hard, I know now to stop and take a good look at it.

It’s the stopping, the getting still, and taking a deep breath that suffering has taught me. That’s what helps me see the pond as whole. And more often than I used to, I notice the meadow now and consider that route instead of plunging right into the woods with my burdens.