Shelter in Place OR When Children Must Come to Terms with Their Imminent Demise Something is Very Broken

“This is a lockdown. This is a lockdown. This is NOT A DRILL.”

That’s what the students at the public schools heard on Friday in the community where I live, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. They pushed tables against doors, crouched in corners, and tried not to make noise. They hoped and prayed that they would be allowed to live.

Thirty minutes went by before they learned that it was a false alarm. Someone had accidentally triggered the panic button.

Thirty minutes went by in which every adult and child in the school wondered if the shooter would find them. And when.

Texts were sent, like this one: “I don’t know what might happen. I love you, Mom.”

Some students could not bear to wait and jumped out of second floor windows.

I can’t begin to guess why they jumped… Was it fear, plain and simple? Survival instinct? A despairing belief that it might not matter but I’ll try anyway? It seems that “I want to live” looks like shelter in place to one child and it looks like jump out the window to another. What would you do?

By incredible, ironic chance, a panel discussion about Massachusetts gun legislation was scheduled for later in the day and I had planned to attend. I did attend, completely unsure what it would look like in the wake of the morning’s events. Three members of the Massachusetts legislature were there, as well as a representative from Moms Against Gun Violence, and a high school student activist extremely involved in the national gun control movement.

That boy told his story.

“A fourteen-year-old girl one foot away from me was crying so hard that tears flowed in a stream from her chin. All she could say, over and over and over was, ‘Where is he? Where is he?’”

The boy, let’s call him JJ, went on: “By he, she meant the man out there somewhere who wanted her dead.”

He explained, “I did not know how long I’d be alive.” He said that, or words to that effect, repeatedly as he processed before our eyes.

No one, he explained, thought, “Maybe it’s an earthquake.” They’ve been trained to fear something far worse than the shifting of tectonic plates, the collapse of buildings, and a tsunami aftershock.

By the time we saw JJ, he was very, very angry. But there was more. Much more. This brave teenager, who somehow managed to have the stomach and the grit to make it to his speaking commitment that afternoon, was traumatized.

I think we say that word a bit too freely sometimes: “I was traumatized,” or, “That was so traumatic.” Many people in our country experience true trauma—abuse and rape victims, children ripped from their parents and kept in cages, the victims and survivors of mass shootings, to name just a few examples. We need to be careful to use words precisely.

Children who thought they were about to die while in a place where they should always and without question feel safe? That is trauma.

However, JJ never once said, “I am traumatized.” He was too inside the moment to think about defining it. But all of us in that room heard it in his voice. Saw it in his face. He will never be the same. None of them will.

And JJ did NOT have to face a shooter. He will NOT have to go to funerals for the next month. But he believed he would die. That his friends, his teachers, might be gone in the flash of a semi-automatic weapon and lie in their own blood until some indeterminate moment when things were safe again.

Outside, surrounded by the flashing lights of every police car on the island, parents gathered, awaiting news, wondering if their babies would come back to them.

This is the country we live in. This is the United States of America. A nation of children who know how to shelter in place, push tables against doors, be very very very quiet. While wanting their mothers. While crying, while needing human connection, while being paralyzed by the most horrific of thoughts. A “civilized” society in which 5-year-olds know what a “shooter” is and must understand that they and they alone are responsible for their actions in attempting to avoid being murdered. They must also know this: if they reveal their position to the shooter, they may be to blame for the deaths of everyone else in that room. Deal with that, why don’t you.

I know I could not.

Marjory Decker, state legislator who sponsored the red flag law that passed in MA in 2018, spoke of her own young children. One of them has night terrors because of the lockdown drills at her school. I have heard similar stories from others whose children are deeply troubled just by being prepared for an active shooter in their schools. Why wouldn’t they be?

As horrible as it is that the alarm went off in our schools by “mistake”—why do we even have to have a panic button in every school? Why must we prepare our children for imminent death because some dude decides he needs to shoot things, AND he can get a gun more easily than a car or a marriage license?

I am intensely proud to be part of the agency that was called upon and that responded to this event on Friday. Our clinicians rushed to the scene and helped children and parents, teachers and administrators navigate the fearful reality of this accidental “not a drill” that they had to live through for 30 whole minutes. We will be back again on Monday, helping as best we can… But I despair. Why does this have to be a thing? How can the gun lobby matter more than the lives and souls of children?

Please explain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Mother Thing

Did you ever think to yourself, “We all have one thing in common?” And the answer was: “Everyone has a mother.” Well, it’s not true.

Of course, every human emerged from a vagina. Or out of a uterus, one way or another. But throughout human history, children and mothers have been torn apart. An enslaved mother sold to another Southern farmer upon the birth of a child of questionable origins. A child whisked into sex trafficking. Mother and baby connections shattered by war and famine and epidemics.

Children in cages in the Land of the Free

And here in this country now, children kept in cages, far from their mothers. And, if the people in charge of this Land of the Free get their way, never to be reunited.

Quick disclaimer: I love daddies and I know that every story of family separation, loss, grief, and anguish is likely to involve a father. A father’s anguish is no less important, and a father’s love is no less vital, than that of a mother.

But this is my blog. I’m a mommy. And I want to talk about mothers.

My mother wanted me. I was planned. Still, for half a year when I was two, she abandoned me with a stranger. (She clearly did not see it that way.) It was with my grandmother—a woman I’d never met, in a house I’d never visited. Apparently I cried a lot—to the point of vomiting—upstairs standing in a crib. For a long time. A week? Two? Then, so say my uncles, I changed. Got quiet. Learned the rules.

I only mention this because it is my 1/1,000,000th partial-not-really experience with that awful rift. I did learn the rules and was reunited with my mother. It took me a few decades to really sort out the mommy thing (complicated by her narcissism and collapse into psychosis years later), but I turned out okay. Because I was privileged as hell. I was always fed, always warm, always dry and physically secure. I received an education, had experiences that enriched me, knew other adults who loved me—uncles, friends. And there was my Great Aunt Thelma who gave me all the unconditional love a gal needed, and my father. He was long-distance and distracted by a new family, but that was my family too, a blessing to me. And my father loved me the best he could. And I was white.

By the time I was 17 she was lost to me again, that mother. The psychosis previously mentioned had spiraled her into an alternate universe from which only her voice emerged, now and then, to blame me for things. I didn’t blame her, though. She did her level best with the cards she was dealt. Sure, it was hard to go through life’s trials and joys without a mom to turn to or share with. College. Date rape. First love. A broken heart. A medical crisis. Pregnancy. But I had enough of what I needed to be okay. More than.

Me with my babies long ago.

But you can bet your ass my babies got all the attachment parenting, unconditional love, safe boundaries I could give them, and a warm, ever-present, non-judgmental ear to listen to all of it, even in the middle of the night when, ya know, shit happens. Their privilege is profound, because of the love of me, their dad, and the fact that they are white middle class kids with US birth certificates. And passports.

But the most important of these is love…

I see the effects of that love in my now-grown children. They have self-love and they understand their worth. They are not afraid to ask for help. They are adventurous and kind. They know they’re okay. And they know where to go if they aren’t.

I see the remarkable children of safe, privileged, loving families—those of my friends, my sisters, and extended family.

I heard a statistic once from a therapist a bunch of years ago. 30% is all a child needs. If a parent can give love, attention, safe emotional haven, 30% of the time, things are probably gonna be okay.

THIRTY PERCENT. That’s all. That’s not much, really. That means 70% of a kid’s parenting can 100% suck and they’ll be all set. But a lot of kids get zero% because guess what? They got a raw deal.

Starving mother love

When the playing field is so slanted, how are parents expected to be fully present, have the wherewithal to show their love by listening, being there, lying in the sun with a baby on their chest? They’re busy trying to survive. Envision the mothering journey in a land where bombs fall daily? Where there is no food. Where institutionalized racism means everything is so much harder. How do you have anything left?

Probably like you, in 2016 I found out that racism in this country is not a last vestige of an old white paternalism, slowly fading to nothing. No. Racism is alive and well in America. Racism seems to be kind of what America is. Our claim to fame. The not so distant era of suppressed bigotry and implicit bias seems like a golden age.

But I misspeak. If your skin is not white and/or you were not born here, there has never been a golden age.

So I’m talking about the golden age when I and others like me were allowed to kid ourselves that things were “so much better” because it wasn’t in our faces. I am disgusted now, realizing that was me.

Slave children–our legacy

But there is no mistaking it today, in 2019. The war on people of color, women, children, immigrants, families of all varieties, gays and transgender (read: non-whites/non-males/non-cisgendered), not to mention the war on our basic constitutionally guaranteed (but not really) rights, is alive and well. Even more children than ever before are robbed of the one thing that –if there is a god or goddess up there, that deity would want to be like, FOR SURE EVERYONE GETS THIS ONE THING? What is the one thing? Not to be gunned down for being the wrong color? That’s a good one but even more basic than that. To get fucking toothpaste in the prison camp where you live cuz you wanted to escape a war and picked the wrong place to land? Don’t be silly. Food? No, not even that.

Mother love

The one thing —the safety of a mother’s arms.

I despair for our children.

What will this world be when it is populated by the privileged and securely-mothered few and a whole big lot of humans robbed of their childhoods, their security, their hope, their basic rights?

We need to rewrite that story before it happens. Join me in being an activist in whatever way you can. Join me in voting for NO MATTER WHO wins the Democratic nomination. Join me in sending as much money as you can spare to help get people voted into office around the country who will really make change. Join me in always speaking out when you see or hear injustice happening, either in front of you or on social media. Join me in refusing to be a bystander.

Mother love

Get the babies back with the mommies. That’s a good first step.

 

If you want to help but can’t decide how, check out this site and help progressive women get elected all over the country, not just in your state. 

 

100th Blogday—Reflections on a Blog’s Birth, Change, and the Optimism to Try Again

Spiralwoman.com was born sometime during the very early part of 2013. At that precise time, I was in a tunnel and the light was starting to show. I was ready to emerge. To write, live, forge ahead. Starting this blog was a huge affirmation of life and joy. I’m not altogether sure of the details of why that is so, but I know it is.

Happy 100th blogday to me.

What was going on? Let’s see. Within the prior year I had ended my marriage, taken a risk on new love, taken a leave from my job, moved 1400 miles with a cat in a truck, tried very hard, saw that love is not always enough, moved 1400 miles back again to a world where I no longer had a home or an income, relied on the kindness of friends, suffered the fucking agonies of hell with a heart, mind, and soul that felt more ripped up than one might imagine could happen to a “mature woman,” and refused to succumb.

I started this blog, 100 posts ago, sitting in the brilliantly sunlit family room of my dear friend Meredith, who basically gave me her weekend home to live in. Occasionally she showed up… a human co-habitant so full of love and grace that I felt blessed all over again by her. One of many blessings hidden in the pattern of growth, pain, and change.

By the time I showed up at her place, I had experienced the unconditional hospitality of three other friends. What I did not talk about on my blog, though I talked around it, was that my heart was, quite simply, broken. I lost love. Plain and simple. A second chance I thought I was being “given,” was no chance at all.

During that period of my life, when someone said, “This might help,” I tried it. No questions asked. There was no ego, no pride that could interfere with any process undertaken by the scaled back-to-the-bone self I was in that moment. I drank Valerian tea and came to love the bitter, nauseous smell and taste. I tried automatic writing to seek my own inner wisdom. I took epic walks in every kind of weather. I circled with women. I dove into solitude. I counted each day off the ledger of my sadness, knowing on a deep level that, eventually, there would be a day that was less hard. I wrote, for me and others, scraping together money until my leave was over and I returned to work.

Before summer came, I was on the way to being me again… mostly. People I loved experienced loss of their own, and I found I had the reserves to offer comfort and support to them. I had replenished my hollowness. One day at a time.

Part of the reinvention of myself included becoming a blogger. Part of it included being an idiot sometimes. Part of it included starting (eventually) to date again, and even having a few, short-lived but meaningful, angst-free relationships. Part of it included stepping into an entirely new job—one that scared and thrilled me and that I turned out to be really good at. I ushered in a new chapter at a workplace I loved with all my heart, turning my skills and passion to the task of making things better for everyone. A mission worthy of the reborn.

Fast forward 100 blogs… I am sitting at a coffee shop on a tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts with an all-new life barely begun.

Nantucket is my new home.

I love this kind of transformative challenge because it reminds me, once again, how tough I am. Emotional, highly sensitive, romantic, idealistic, trusting, irreverent, maternal Spiralwoman is also a survivor and a thriver.

All new everything. I can’t find my way around the twisting streets without getting lost. I can’t buy five items at the grocery store for less than $50. I can’t see the sun from my basement apartment. I can’t imagine the high season, when the cobblestone streets will be choked with cars. I can’t do a lot of things.

But I can… Crush my new, demanding, meaningful job. Host every friend I’ve ever had who is willing to come visit me. Live life with optimism and joy. Spend my weekends on the beach. Or writing. Or both. Be grateful for the lessons learned. Celebrate my 100th blogday!

Isolation is good for the soul.

 

 

 

 

Location, Location, Location—How A Place Can Call Your Name

1982? 1983? Youthful, happy, reckless, free in C’ville with Molly and Bridget.

Here I am back in Charlottesville. Again. Or should I say: againagain. It’s been nearly a year since I spent two weeks here. There was an unplanned extra week as I waited for my car’s new transmission to be installed, attended the gun control march in the wake of the Parkland shootings, and worked remotely as I tapped in to the energy of a place I have loved for 42 years, since the first time I saw it.

Albemarle County, country road… ah Virginia…

I was 17, a senior in high school, and envisioning what my life might be. As much as I loved the town, Albemarle County (full of horses and country roads), and the University, I did not at first think I was going to go to UVA. It was quite big, and I was still thinking small. I came very close to attending Kenyon instead—an awesome college I have utmost respect for. But as I energetically pointed my sights toward Ohio, something shifted, and I veered off that course, landing in C’ville a month before my 18th birthday. Destiny is real.

Thos Jeff’s column-defined ranges along the Lawn

This town has been the source of some of my greatest learning. I received an incredible education, creating my own course of study at UVA as a privileged young scholar. The university supported me through my financial independence from my family shortly after I started my second year, and as far as the people at the school were concerned, it was NBD for me to be a non-traditional student, working full-time at the C&O Restaurant and taking two to three courses a term, fall, spring, and summer, and getting my degree two years later than originally planned.

Human connections of untold value and importance happened here. Lifelong friends, an employer whose gut reaction (he hired me after I said, “Hi, I’m here to apply for the job”) led to a learning journey like no other(and great money, FYI), and, of course, first love. And second love. And third.

My boss at the C&O when I was 18-23–I still love him madly. Sandy McAdams.  

Serpentine walls –UVA trademark and another reason to love everything about C’ville

I feel certain that my destiny will bring me back here to live again in the energy field of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the history—both tortured and significant—of this oh-so fundamental part of the nation, the learning community that is the University and the people and the town itself.

It is no freak of chance that Charlottesville attracts so many energy healers, so many writers, artists, and artisans, so many seekers. This place heals and it also (sometimes grudgingly, sometimes joyously) receives healing.

My astromap.

For kicks, I looked at how my astrological chart interacted with Charlottesville. Fascinating. One thing stood out: the place lends itself to exploring the depths of my psyche, meditation, contemplation, and self-healing. Sounds good to me.

Drawing by Georgia O’Keeffe of the University’s rotunda…

I have history here, a now here (now, this minute, sitting with my latte at a coffee shop among other coffee-seekers), and a future here. Life unfolds—or does it extend… like a sailor’s spyglass, to reach through the depths of now into the other nows that happen just out of sight?

When friends I’ve known longer than my kids have been alive hang out with me and my kids in C’ville. Serendipity.

I Don’t Know Why You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Last things often precede first things. The last night in a familiar home precedes the first night of a new life in a new place. The last oatmeal cookie precedes the first taste of a new cookie never imagined before. The last time ever I saw this place, comes just before the first time ever I grew wings and tried a new life in a new place with new people doing new things.

That’s where I am today, Christmas morning 2018. My cozy, beloved home of several years felt like “life as I know it” just weeks, maybe even days, after moving in. I’d moved out of a house I lived in for over 25 years—my marital home, no longer marital and then, no longer my home. And yet I truly believed, up until the moment I decided to move out, that nothing would ever feel “right” again. But guess what? It felt perfectly right.

Staying put was right until leaving was right. Goodbye became a big hello.

Ease and comfort, the familiar, are like a plush blanket that, with a deep breath, I push off myself. I stand up and walk to a door. This door was not there before. Curious and brave and a little scared (and shivering a bit because the blanket is gone), I fling open the unknown door.

My door…

Don’t get me wrong. I created the door. Now I have to use it. So, wearing my scarlet cape and witch’s hat, I will leap through it and suddenly the fear of goodbye becomes the gift of hello.

I’m leaving where I’ve been. I mean, really leaving! It’s a big deal for me. I’m not just moving two towns over, either. I’m moving a whole state over and taking a boat to an island. I’ll settle in on the island of Nantucket like a seed in fertile soil. I’ll grow and give and I’ll learn and thrive. I can’t wait to connect deeply to people and to the ocean, and to sink in to parts of myself that have been muffled by the familiar and safe.

I used to fling myself off the cliffs of opportunity all the time, without fear, and here I am again.

So much of what changes in our world is outside our control. The anxiety about how our leaders let us down every day, putting us in harm’s way, throwing our best outcomes away in favor of their personal gain—that is something I face head on in the middle of the night, a pillow clutched to my stomach as I coax sleep back towards me.

But there is no anxiety about my own personal changes. I choose them just as they choose me. Starting a new job, making a difference in the lives of people, forging a new and creative path for myself and my new employer—I have every confidence in those truths. I am not afraid.

What did you once fear… then embrace? What did you once imagine would never come to pass, only to welcome it as a natural next step, hardly remarked upon in the perfect flow of your timeline? Was there a day you dreaded, only to find that when it came, it lay the greatest of gifts at your feet?

My new Nantucket tree ornament.

The best thing about my move? It never occurred to me. My job? It was not something I would have imagined or considered. The feeling of lift-off reminds me of flying dreams I’ve had through my life. I’m ready to say: Hello.

 

Most People Are Good–My Cincinnati Airport Miracle

My plane from Charlotte NC had landed about fifteen minutes ago. I was back in Cincinnati where I’m staying for a few weeks. Pulling my little carry-on, I got to within 20 yards of the parking garage where I left my car 36 hours earlier when my brain exploded with the realization that I did not have my computer. It was not hanging, in its case, from my shoulder where it belonged. I was slammed by the white flood of horrible awareness that wants to be denial. You know that feeling? My mind fell to its knees wailing, “NNNNOOOOOooooooooooo!”

But my (tired) body raced back into the airport. I headed to the first official-looking person I saw. It turns out she is called an “airport ambassador” and she has a magic telephone. But though she used the phone to seek help for me, none was forthcoming. It was while I was standing there with her, waiting for a call-back from the security guard who was going to look in the women’s room—and I explained exactly which one it was and how it was on the right side, just after the first moving walkway coming from gate B22—that I realized the case was not in the women’s room.

“The train!” I exclaimed in a voice squeaky with panic and hollow with disbelief. By now 25 minutes (at least) had passed, and my on-flight, post-job interview sense of well-being and exhaustion was completely washed away by adrenaline spiked by cortisol. “I had it on the train!” How could I explain to the utterly baffled ambassador that for almost a half hour immediately after getting off the train, I had forgotten I was even on the train? The human mind is maddening.

Now I remembered. I was so tired, I’d decided to take that little tram/train—which I normally eschew in favor of walking and the cool moving sidewalks. My daughter called while I was aboard the zippy little train, and I missed the announcement that we’d reached the destination—near ground transportation. The only other person on the train got off and I leaped off too, in the nick of time, before the doors closed and the train would return to the gates.

That’s when the computer case became a distant artifact lost in the Cincinnati airport, without my realizing it. I begged the ambassador armed with The Phone to find out if I could go back to look? Somehow? With a security guard? Please?

Finally, after another call or two with her not-so-magic phone, she said it was time for her to go home. She informed me that the American Airlines personnel upstairs at the ticketing counter could give me a pass to go beyond the checkpoint.

Not so.

I went upstairs and the woman at the counter told me what my good sense already knew. “No, we cannot give you a pass to go back.” (Implied: you poor deluded woman.) She explained very kindly that it was very likely someone would turn it in to security and tomorrow Lost and Found would contact me. “This happens often. People usually do the right thing.”

It was at that moment that I realized: my wallet was in the computer case.

No kidding. I’d forgotten that too. Why? Am I fucking senile or something? No, I swear. But my brain, like yours, is a creature of habit. I never—and I mean never—put my wallet in that bag. But in the interests of traveling light, I had not brought a purse, and so, in addition to my computer, the case held both wallet and hairbrush. The really essential things.

At this point I was vividly pre-living the next 24 hours in my mind. Cancelling all my credit cards. Trying to think of all the websites that my computer remembers my passwords for. My bank, for example. Why hadn’t I used a good password to protect my computer instead of the word “peace” which is probably second only to “love” as a non-birthday password among the hippie/shaman/gluten-free set.

“People are good,” I kept telling myself. “People are kind. People usually do the right thing.”

The airline lady—Traci—looked at me with great compassion but her hands seemed tied. I said, “Do you think that, somewhere in this airport, there is a person who would just go peek on that train?” She looked at me and said, “You know what? I’ll go.”

“C’mon,” she said. I followed her down the escalator. “You stand here and just watch people coming through.” She pointed to where travelers poured out from the American arrivals gates. She used the secret employee passage and said she’d be right back. I stood there paralyzed with the intensity of my hope, and stared at every man, woman, and baby stroller that passed me on the way to their cars, Ubers, and waiting grandmothers.

Then I glanced at the security guard. You know, the guy who sits at a little desk/kiosk thing at the end of the tunnel? His job is probably pretty boring. He was chatting with someone. That’s when I noticed a black strap—suspiciously like a computer bag strap—dangling down from the shelf of the desk/kiosk behind him. “Sir!” I burst out, my voice cracking. “Is that…” He looked at me, eyebrows raised. “Is that,” I pointed, “a computer case?”

He turned, grabbed my case and said, “Someone found it on the tram. I don’t know if there’s a computer in it…”

I did not even mind his lame attempt at a joke. “It’s mine! OH MY GOD IT’S MINE!”

The hot flood was back but it was such a happy flood this time. “I can prove it. My wallet is inside.” He unzipped the case, peeked, zipped it and said, “Yup. This is yours.”

I must have looked like I was about to stroke out because he said, “Breathe! It’s okay. Breathe. Just breathe, lady.”

A no-man’s-land divided us. A line painted on the floor near him kept him in his spot, and a wide strip, on which the toes of my boots shuffled impatiently, said, “DO NOT CROSS THIS LINE.” Six feet divided us. “You come to me,” he said with an authoritative nod.

Grabbing the case to my chest like a recently ransomed infant, I thanked him 63 times. “Just so you know,” I explained, “I’ll be waiting here until Traci from American comes back. She’s looking for this.” I raised the case as exhibit A, as if there would be any confusion. “I need to thank her.”

Not even a minute later, Traci emerged from the employee hallway with a dejected “I didn’t find it” look on her face. I waved like a madwoman, swinging the computer case around like a total fool. “I got it!”

She rushed to me, and we embraced—a genuine, full body, arms tight embrace of joy and solidarity. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” she kept saying. We pulled back, grinned into each other’s faces, and embraced again. “I’m so happy for you!”

“Most people do the right thing!” I said, nearly weeping. “People are good. Really, really good!”

As she hustled back to the escalator and the end of her shift, she called back, “Yes! They are!”

 

Note: I am neither deluded nor stupid, but I do believe that most people are good. We cannot forget this, despite the palpable evidence that there are, in fact, people who callously do evil on a daily basis, using their power to increase their privilege and to disenfranchise, belittle, ignore, mock, bully, and harm others. Remember that you are good. And I am good. And the person who turned in my computer is good. And Traci is good. And millions more who can take our planet and our country back from the ones who are not. Don’t give up. #resist

I Can See Clearly Now (Almost)

31 years of love and loyalty

It started as a little swelling on my eyelid. A little pressure. I could ignore it, but should I? Life went on, but sometimes I would peer into the mirror, squinting to see better. What WAS that thing?

Over the course of a week, it transformed daily—hourly—into increasingly offensive versions of a vision-occluding sty. Finding meaning in almost everything is not a problem for me. And in this case the metaphorical significance of this ocular impediment was not lost on me.

I’ve been struggling to see where I’m supposed to go next.

Life changed on me, unexpectedly, as it often does, last April. It was a shock to my system, though, because the change was not on my terms, but on someone else’s. I am the epitome of privilege, because painful change (not on my terms) has happened only rarely in my life. Like when a lover left the country, and me, without warning once a long time ago. Or some major upheavals resulting from having a severely mentally ill mother. When major change (even the good kind) is imposed from without, the breath leaves the body. The eyes go wide. The feet stumble to keep up with the shifting earth beneath them.

But change, whether agonizingly chosen, instinctively leaped upon, or dropped like a bomb into one’s world, is always an opportunity for growth and personal transformation. In that way, even the most dreaded, hated avenues to this kind of growth are gifts beyond measuring.

So why the sty? What don’t I want to see? Is there a truth out there that I am unwilling to look at? Scared of? Is it just ontological skepticism keeping my vision blocked?

Truth with a capital T can be a slippery little devil. If you’re like me, you don’t often want to see it. And sometimes you do.

Slippery Truth… it’s like a little water snake poking its slick little head up to peer around before diving beneath the water again. All the people who care about me can see it, but I swim on, oblivious. Then, it gets my attention in small but shocking moments. The Truth snake—deep bone-level unhappiness, disturbing knowledge of betrayal, or a heartbreaking understanding that I am no longer valued—slithers into my bathing suit. Instant terror—which in hindsight I always realize was an overreaction—and before I know it, the Truth snake is slipping away again, soon to be a distant memory.

When will I grab the snake and look it in the eye, smiling at it, thanking it for the gift of knowledge that it brings? I eventually do. Why does it sometimes take so damned long? And this time…why must I create a giant infected pustule in my eye to show me the absurdity of my refusal to see?

My recent unexpected change –intentionally not addressed here directly due to matters of honor, practicality, and self-interest—sent me into a brief, but intense, cycle of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining—all within a day or two, then, for me, fear, harder to move past, and, more quickly than anticipated—acceptance, even relief. The clarity and surety of my need to move on was profound, and I wondered how the Truth snake had failed to convey that message, as I had found her in my bathing suit a number of times over the last decade or so. Am I really that slow a learner? Loyalty and love tend to hold me back. Let me rephrase that, I allow loyalty and love to get in my way of choosing positive change, and so change has to fall on my head like a volunteer ladder offering itself as an escape route.

I always survive. I always figure out what is best. I always, inevitably, end up stronger, when I emerge from the birth canal of transformation. But for now I cannot seem to see clearly the path ahead of me, though I know the path behind me is behind me for a reason.

I find myself a decade at least from retirement standing at the beginning of a huge unknown. Single, self-sufficient, both tough and tender, I am unsure. And I am sure. Regular employment has made me complacent. My certainty that this mechanism for transformation is ideal, necessary, and, in fact, the only alternative if I am to continue to grow and evolve the way I want to—it does not change how fucking scary it is to say goodbye.

Remember that philosophical question teachers ask their students? What would you choose, freedom or safety? The answer says so much about you, your circumstances at the moment, and your ability to see your own Truth with a capital T.

Whatever happens next, from now on I will be the only one allowed to apply value to myself. The only one to decide what is best for me. The only one who will dig in and extract marrow from my bones for causes and reasons to be determined only by me.

I am at the very edge of seeing where to put my feet. My outward vision is, for a moment more, blocked by a pestilent sty in my left eye. But it is coming to a head. Literally. My third eye finds itself clear as ever, and these two ways of seeing are in cahoots to get me to the place I need to go. An eruption of knowing is just around the corner. I seek help from within and without. I know my path is clear and glorious, and that when I finally see it, I will leap onto it with wings on my feet.