Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Death Comes When We Do Not Struggle Against It

struggle“I’m sorry but I can’t take any more. My apologies to the world for being the awful person I am. I’m of no value to anyone any more. Even God doesn’t want me. Please make sure my dog goes to someone who will love him as much as I do.”

A friend, who I’ll call Rick, posted this message on Facebook yesterday at 11:30 am. I found it about 45 minutes later. By then, others had seen it and called the police. Friends called one another in dismay and fright. “Have you seen him? Have they found him?” The answer was no.

I spent most of the afternoon scouring parks near his house, because when I told Bryan about the post, he responded, “Rick has his dog with him. Muscle memory will kick in, and he’ll walk the dog in a familiar place. Let’s go search. Perhaps we can find him.”  It was as good a plan as any. It gave me something to do besides just sit and wait – because, to be honest, sitting and waiting was leading to crying and shaking.

Some of you know that I’ve been through this before. One terrible morning eleven years ago, I too called the police. They coaxed me away from my home, away from my despondent husband and his gun. They led me to a neighbor’s house where I waited…and waited…and waited through the long afternoon, until an officer knelt by my chair and gave me the news  no one ever wants to hear.

So yesterday we hiked in the rain and the cold. We searched three rustic parks and covered acres of ground. We didn’t find Rick, but someone else did. He’s alive and safe, and for that we’re overjoyed.

Why would an upbeat, intelligent, well-loved person try to take his life? It’s a question people are asking about Rick today. It’s a question many asked after my husband died.

I researched and wrote about suicide during my MFA studies. We read much about teen suicide, and many believe it’s a malaise of the young. But I found that, contrary to popular belief, young adults aren’t the largest population of suicides. They attempt in large numbers, but they do not succeed as often as the middle-aged. Suicide frequency actually reaches its peak between ages fifty-five and sixty-five.

Regardless of age, research shows that people don’t want to die. What they want is for pain to end. Suicide – death – is the final barricade between them and unbearable emotional agony. What triggers a suicide attempt? For instance, was the torment stronger yesterday for Rick? Did it press in on my late husband more cloyingly on October 3, 2002? Maybe, but maybe not. This sounds trite, but I what I found was that suicide results when a human fails to strive to remain living. Life continues because we work at it; death results when we do not. Whether we refuse food or wade into a river with rocks in our pockets, death comes when we do not struggle against it.

There’s a tired platitude that says God never gives us more than we can handle. Bullshit. I disagree. There have been many days when I’ve collapsed under the burden of worry, of grief, of all the stresses and strains that come with living in this human container. (By the by: I don’t believe God bestows pain and suffering upon us. She/He does not loom over us with a scoop, dumping burdens into our life like wrapped caramels into a plastic bag, watching us stretch and distort, seeing how much we can hold before we totally give way.) We are all sometimes pushed by life beyond the breaking point. We are all blown-out bags.

What makes the difference between those who continue to work at living and those who don’t? Two things: others and ourselves.

Over 150 people posted messages on Rick’s Facebook page yesterday. One-hundred-and-fifty people who were ready to drop everything and rush to his side. One-hundred-and-fifty friends, family, clients and even strangers who prayed and worried and loved. At my husband’s funeral, over five-hundred people attended. Five-hundred people, any one of whom would have dived head-first into the sludge pond by the Rickreall dairy to save Lee from drowning in his despair.

One of my favorite books is The Curse of Chalion by Margaret McMaster Bujold. In it Cazaril, the protagonist, asks a local saint why he was tapped on the shoulder to save the day. Why was Cazaril chosen by the gods? The local saint replies that Cazaril was not the only one chosen; a hundred may have been sent, but Cazaril was the only one who listened, who acted, who arrived. When I first read this passage, I thought, “Let me be one who arrives.” I determined then and there to be more deliberate about being open to nudges that cause us to act on behalf of another.

This passage came to mind as we searched for Rick yesterday. You see, he reached out to me via email more than a month ago. He didn’t tell me what was causing him pain, but he did tell me he was discouraged, and he asked for a word of encouragement. I was happy to talk,  happy that he had asked for help. After a few email exchanges, he indicated he was doing better. I checked in with him a couple more times. He didn’t seem despondent, but he didn’t seem like his usual self, either. Our last exchange was two weeks ago.

I failed him. I should have seen the signs. I should have pushed a little more and insisted on a face-to-face meeting. I should have kept more consistent correspondence, whether he responded or not. I, of all people, should have known better than to believe the social face of a person who’s admitted he’s in pain.

This was my self-talk, expressed tearfully to Bryan. “No. Just, no.” he said. “You reached out. You were a good friend. You are not responsible for another person’s actions. We cannot control what another person does.”

And that is the second thing that makes the difference between life and death: ourselves. We have to choose to shout out when our boat is being swamped. We have to choose grab the saving hand, to be drawn up from the depths. Sometimes, we have to choose to let others breathe for us when our lungs are still.

Bryan is right. I did reach out, both to my husband and to Rick. So did many others. My late husband did not choose to accept this help. Rick, thank goodness, did.

Struggle, my friend, struggle. May we all continue to struggle. May we all be blessed with one-hundred Cazaril’s, who listen and arrive.

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Accidents Happen – and other political thoughts

exuberantA funny thing has happened since we moved. I’ve relaxed. Other than terroir, nothing has changed, really. Finances are still challenging. I’m still overweight. (Again. The Wii and I aren’t currently on speaking terms.) I’m working at settling my business in – to the third town in three years.

This does not seem like a recipe for relaxation. But in this place, in this time, I’ve been able to let loose worry and anxiety.

I think it’s because we live in community. When we lived in the city, we felt alone. In this rural setting, we find community all around us. A short walk. A short drive. A quick call. The change it’s made in my outlook is dramatic.

I believe humans are meant to live in community. I believe our American idolization of ‘rugged individualism’ is misplaced. We are better as individuals and as a society when we look to the corporate good, not merely personal prosperity.

That means that we are only as successful as our least successful member. Our current ‘every man for himself’ mentality is destructive. The Declaration of Independence says that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights for each person, yet 45,000 people die in America each year because they didn’t have access to health care. They were certainly denied life, and I doubt they felt very happy or liberated in their suffering.

It should be unthinkable that one person has access to health care and the next does not. It should be unthinkable that one person has a fully stocked pantry and the next an empty plate. It should be unthinkable that there are three empty houses in America for every homeless person. If that’s American Values at work, then it’s time for our values to change.

Ahem. <stepping carefully down from the soap box>

Being relaxed. There’s an unfortunate side-effect when I’m insouciant: the five-year-old in me ascends. That means explosive joy. Exuberant gestures. Spilled drinks and elbowed noses. Oops.

In a business meeting yesterday, I spilled my coffee. Twice. Two rounds of cleaning the furniture and the carpet. But I didn’t MEAN to, I said with hunched shoulders and a repentant expression.

Lucky for me, I’m part of a community that loves my energy and enthusiasm, and understands that…well, accidents happen. Especially around me.


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Dream Curling

Some people have a dream that consumes them, one that brings life-long contentment upon its fulfillment. Me, I’m a serial dreamer. As soon as one is achieved, a new one takes its place. I’ve never had the satisfaction of *arriving* – for me, it’s always about the journey and the joys (and frustrations) therein.

A year ago, we moved to Portland. Correction: we moved to Milwaukie. Which is NOT Portland. (How can a city that abuts Portland manage to be so conservative and hicksville? To the fourteen people in town who have a liberal leaning – I’m not talking about you. I love you.)

tali 16wk

Taliesin this morning
sixteen weeks

But we lived close enough to Stumptown to enjoy its vibrance and weirdness. Close enough for it to whisper in our sleep at night…”you need a dog…” (Portland is dog-town USA, if you didn’t know. And not everyone there feeds their dog a vegan diet.)

Portland is not one big gritty lump of city – it’s a amalgamation of neighborhoods, each with its own wine bar, pubs, dress boutique, and chachki shops. A place where everybody knows your name.

Except that, even after a year, no one knew mine. I never found my stomping grounds. Never developed a ‘Norm!’ relationship with a pub – though I tried, I really did. The only place where we were greeted with neighborly warmth was St. John’s, located at the OTHER end of Portland, too far to travel for a nightly brewski and shout-out.

We explored the area around my studio – both locations: first the inner SE Buckman neighborhood, and then the west side in John’s Landing. We talked about moving to one of those locations. Maybe there we would find our peeps?

But my dreams carve their own paths, and they rarely coincide with my imaginings. It’s like curling. Some of us are throwers and some are sweepers. Throwers heave their dreams like stones onto the ice and run along behind to see where they come to rest. Sweepers run in front, carefully grooming the path to help the stone land right where they intend.

Truth is, we need to do a bit of both. If we don’t throw, but merely sweep, the dream is as immobile as a rock. But if we throw without brooming, our dreams can veer wildly off-course, crashing and tumbling, coming to an abrupt halt far short of any goal. Me, I like to toss as hard as I can, and do just a bit of sweeping.

It means I need to maintain a fluidity of heart, mind and soul as the dreams slide and move in ways I don’t anticipate. I prefer it that way. I’m the girl who never peeks in advance at her Christmas presents, because I like the surprise.

So, this week, we moved. Not to a Portland neighborhood – in fact, we moved over an hour in the opposite direction. We’re living on an 8-acre farm outside of Salem. WHAT????!!!! you may think. Yeah, me too. How did I wind up here?

Well, the little town nearby, Monmouth, is a college town, and its developed a really groovy little downtown. A wine bar. Pubs. Coffee shops. Dress shops.

And I walked into the BiMart, which I haven’t visited for at least five years, and the checker said, “You’ve changed your hair since I last saw you.”


I guess I’m home. For now.

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