Finding Heaven

Good blogging etiquette delineates that a successful blog post should always be succinct, direct, and largely impersonal so that the reader–any reader–can read it quickly and relate to the content. Well today I have to say, screw that. Send my warmest regards to convention, but I need to vent and delve into the realm of things personal. So here it is, the blog post that should probably have gone forever unpublished.


Family Matters

I love my family. But it’s also very complicated. Let’s just say the ol’ family tree is crooked, has a few broken branches, and the trunk is knobby and pest-ridden… But the roots– ah, the roots are pristine. 

Being the child of a broken marriage is not at all unusual. Looking back, the weirdest part for me was probably not growing up with a stable understanding of “home”. From the time I was seven months old, my older brother and I would switch houses every other weekend, on holidays, etc. The constant to and fro never seemed abnormal at the time–but now hearing people talk nostalgically about their childhood homes, I realize that I may have an ill-conceived notion of what “home” was, and is… Because nostalgia is not among the feelings I experience when I think of my childhood houses.

Both parents ended up getting remarried when I was still a small toddler (to fantastic people), so I was given two more loving parents–which has really been a blessing. Through the two new marriages, seven sweet kids were brought into the world. If you have been doing the math, that makes eight siblings total. All of these kids are honestly impossible not to love (no, I’m not biased). Every single day they amaze, awe, and inspire me.

It has definitely been a challenge, though, being the relic of a failed marriage and bouncing between two newly established families. Regardless of how welcoming my step-parents and parents have been, sometimes it’s still a very awkward thing–showing up with all my baggage while they are having family-dinner, or playing a game. I imagine it’s akin to a businessman coming home after a long trip, having missed so much family time that there’s virtually no way to catch up on everything. And, oh lord, try explaining to a crying six year old that you have to leave so often because you are technically part of another family, too. You are standing precariously on the periphery of two completely different families… Part of both, and somehow neither.

Divorce is just a really hard thing. And, truly, because it is so prevalent, it is largely marginalized as a struggle. This past year, I had a very dear friend whose parents divorced after twenty-five years of marriage. Now he is watching his parents re-invent their lives as individuals– dating new people, apartment hopping, etc.– and I’m watching his idea of “home” become less and less of a stable notion. All the while, he is being a tough guy because “a lot of people go through divorces”, as if that somehow makes it easier.

My step-dad’s father spent twenty-two years in prison. When he got out, I was in college, in the midst of a personal crisis, dealing (unsuccessfully) with the typical family qualms. A series of extramarital affairs, seemingly cataclysmic fights between parents, and overall familial drama had me reeling and trying to find some sort of understanding and peace through it all. I still don’t really know how he saw right through me, this former inmate that I had never had previous contact with. But at some family event, he looked me square in the eye and said, “You want to know the hardest thing any kid comes to realize?”

“What is that?” I asked him, half afraid of the answer.

“That his parents are not in fact perfect, as he had always thought… Want to know the second hardest thing?”

“Yes..?” I answered, with probably a tint more sass than was necessary, but not thrilled with his cat-and-mouse game.

“Forgiving them.”

This conversation was two years or so ago now and it still burns in my memory as brilliantly as the day we had it. For a long time I carried bitterness and resentment everywhere because my parents really did make a hell of a lot of mistakes. But they also did a lot of things very well. And it turns out bitterness and resentment are very, very heavy companions.

Last January my mom and step-dad finalized their divorce after eighteen years of marriage. Now, being an adult and being at least remotely established on my own, I am less phased by the fallout. But helplessly I’m left watching my little brothers, fourteen and eleven, feel the deeply jarring instability that accompanies the end of a marriage. Meanwhile both my mom and step-dad are trying on lovers like t-shirts, trying to put band-aids on the gunshot wound of a love that long gone wrong.

Through it all, I think I’ve probably learned only two things for sure. I hope you’re ready for this:

1) Marriage is hard

2) Divorce is hard.

That’s it. That’s all I have.

Oh, and this awesome quote to chew on–

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven… –John Milton

We do always have a choice. Find your heaven through the hell.

-Love-

“Oh, to be in my twenties again…”

              old hand young hand

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet. –Sylvia Plath

Age is a very sensitive and difficult issue to address. Recently I’ve had a number of people tell me how very lucky I am to be in my twenties, in the proverbial “golden years” of my life. Although I agree with them that I am lucky, I disagree that these are the golden years (and would even argue that they don’t qualify for silver or bronze, either).

On Tuesday morning I met a very sweet ninety-five year old man at the gym. From his waist up he was crooked and bent, his spine formed a disproportionately squashed “s”-shape, and both of his wiry legs had a sizable limp–which actually ended up almost normalizing his gait. As he hobbled slowly towards me, I watched him grimace with each step, his face seemingly registering pain slightly late, just a nanosecond after each foot hit the ground.

He sat down next to me in the cafe area, heaved a heavy sigh, and laughed to himself as he said, “Dammit, getting old sure isn’t for pussies…”

Thrown by the absurdity of this statement and unsure of how to appropriately respond, I just smiled at him and nodded. When in doubt, smile and nod. But he stayed and I stayed, both silently sitting with that noisy thought. A couple of minutes later we started small-talking and then later, large-talking. The real steak-and-wine kind of conversation, if you will. It became immediately apparent that he had lived a rich life, full of love and friendship, and as he told his stories I couldn’t help but envy him.

Here was a man that had established a complete life for himself. He had honorably served our country in two wars, worked hard in numerous different jobs, raised a family, and by the warmth in his voice, it was apparent that this man still found joy in each day.

He told me about the love of his life, Betty, who had died nine years earlier. About his sons Paul and John who both went to college to get degrees and who now had their own jobs and families. About his seven beautiful grandchildren. With a proud voice he rolled through his stories and I, too, felt proud of his life.

After a while, he got up to go swimming and I watched him limp away and thought about his life, and my own. I have never dealt with the physical decay that he has. The natural but depressingly erosive process of time on the body. I have never dealt with mortality as intimately as he has– losing close loved-ones, or dear friends. But I also have never felt the deep abounding joy of having children. I have never been secure professionally or truly felt gratified in a career. In my youthful, healthy body that older people envy and tell me to appreciate there is a maelstrom of insecurity, indecisiveness, and fear. Like Ms. Plath, I sit at the bottom of a fig tree and starve while I wonder which branch of life to choose.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a multitude of reasons this is a great age to be. But there are also a number of things that I would instantly change. Being perpetually broke, for one… But I guess that feature can come uninvited at any age. Regardless, I think we can all agree that every age can be hard. My one hope is that with age, we simply become better equipped to deal with it.