On Surfing and Life

Jul 19 2016

I sat by a beach at sunset last night, in the heat and humidity with sticky eyelids and hair bundled on top of my head, watching black specks on the horizon surface and dive, and surface and dive, and surface and dive. The waiter who brought me a mango margarita said they were dolphins, but I suspect they were mermaids or mommies or both who were drowning and surfacing and sometimes barely catching their breath and sometimes exuberantly celebrating their wild, weird and wonderful lives.

I sat with my sister-in-law, Kim, who is my friend and my family and sometimes my confidant, and we talked about life and the ways we’ve loved each other well and the ways we’ve failed each other — through our ten years together and also in the last month alone — and also about our boobs and our butts and whether we should order guacamole. Yes to the last, by the way. We love each other and we fight sometimes, but, my hand to God, we’ve never NOT ordered guacamole, which means, no matter what, we have a solid foundation for trusting each other moving forward.

Waterlogue-2016-07-19-15-39-32We sat on a precarious wood balcony with a panoramic view of the water and the mermaids and the mommies while the tide rushed in underneath us with force and enthusiasm which made us giddy and also made us wonder whether the whole structure would collapse, but we decided there were worse ways to go, so we stayed.

And we watched the surfers surf.

They paddled out into the tumultuous water and waited for it to rise behind them, and then they’d paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle, and try to catch the wave juuuust right. Just before the impact zone. Just where’s there’s the right amount of force. Just where the wave could propel them forward, and, when it did, to stand for only seconds at a time before they could turn their boards seaward again and drift back out to the ocean to try it again.

But that’s only when it went according to plan. Only when the untamed ocean complied with their precision timing. Only when sea and body worked in concert to create split seconds to soar.

Most often, they crashed.

And fell below the surface.

And tumbled inside the wave.

The impact zone taking them down and down and down until their buoyant bodies and boards, which they trusted over and over, brought them to the surface to try again.

And try again.

And try again.

Knowing they’d fall more than fly, they kept trying again and again and again.

It made me wonder if I’m not drowning, exactly. It made me wonder if maybe I’m just tumbling and need to accept the fall as the price to fly.

I googled surfing today. Because I wondered and needed to know. How do surfers survive the big waves? And what can I learn about how to survive mine?

Here’s what I learned, friends, which I share because we need this.

How to Survive Big Water and Battering Waves
in the words of surfers who would know:

  1. You hold your breath and relax. You might be tumbled, but your body and board are naturally buoyant and will surface if you wait it out. Then you look out for the next wave breaking & get the f*ck out of the way.
  2. The sensation is rather intense. You have NO idea what direction is up, if you are going to get dragged along the ocean floor, when it will be over, if you are going to collide with another surfer. Every time you wipe out you are quickly reminded that you are a speck in the ocean and the waves can have their way with you if they want. Fun stuff! You relax, pretend you are a rag doll, and eventually swim your way to the top.
  3. One loses one’s sense of direction under water, but, if one can locate “down,” then “up is in the opposite direction.
  4. I body surfed a lot as a kid, and got washing-machined plenty. You just hold your breath, do your best to relax, and pull your limbs in so they don’t get yanked off.

With love in the waves (and wave-ing 😉 ),

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P.S. I keep forgetting to let you know I’ve updated retreat dates and descriptions for Fall 2016 and Winter/Spring 2017. For information on the spiritual formation retreat, go here. For information on the writing retreats, go here for the 101 version and here for the 202 version. I would LOVE to hang out with you at any/all of these!

Drowning and Swimming for the Surface. Maybe.

Jul 18 2016

Dearest Friends,

I’m drowning.

Optimistic.

And drowning.

Swimming for the surface.

And drowning.

Swimming in circles, maybe, actually, truthfully, since I can’t quite see the surface from here. But I believe in the surface, is what I’m saying. I believe it’s still there. Like I believe the dawn is coming. Always on the way, even in the darkest part of the night. And I’m swimming for it; the surface, the dawn. Whether I’m pointed in the right direction is almost superfluous, right? Almost? Just keep swimming. And swimming. And swimming. Except when I lie still here, under the water, in a dead man’s float where it’s quiet and cold and sort of peaceful in its own drowny way. I’ll swim again in a minute. For now I’ll rest.

I’m in no danger, I think, this time, while drowning. I’ve been in danger before, but not right now. I have lifelines. I’ve grown them, like tentacles, over time, and collected the lines I’ve been thrown. I have a few tied off, even now, and will climb some soon to see which lead to the surface this time. Those lifelines, though; they’re a labyrinth. Like the stairways at Hogwarts, always shifting. Still stairs. Still lifelines that lead somewhere; just not always where I necessarily need to go, and so I have to seek out different routes to the surface sometimes.

Depression lies. But for now I’m drowning. I’ll swim for the surface soon.

Waving in the dark,

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P.S. Sorry this post is a little weird and dark. I’m OK. I swear it. It’s just that I decided a long time ago to not hide from you — or myself — when I’m “middling dark” instead of very, very happy or very, very depressed. The middle is a weird place to be. Sort of undefinable except in strange metaphors about water and nighttime and believing in the surface and the dawn which are easier for me to cling to sometimes than hope, which is too big and slippery to grab with my tentacles.

P.P.S. My parents and brother and husband have sent me away for a few days with my sister-in-law for respite. It’s a lifeline. GOD BLESS THEM. I’ll be writing more this week. That’s one of the respite goals to unclog my mind and heart and soul. And to rest. Life is challenging right now. And relentless always. I know you get it, friends. That’s why we need each other.

P.P.P.S. This…

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I love you with all my butt. I would say heart, but my butt is bigger.

The Pictures You Don’t See on Facebook: PTSD and My Son’s Service Dog Hero

Jul 11 2016

We went on vacation last week, and it’s not lost on me that we’re now part of a narrowing group of American families who can afford ridiculous luxuries like paid time off and time together in the sun and water. Never mind that this holiday was paid for by Nana and Papa, and not us; we won’t pretend generous grandparents involved in their grandkids’ lives and with the means to gift us family time isn’t its own elite past time. We’re beyond lucky. We know it, and we walk a line that’s littered with guilt and gratitude in equal measure.

I posted pics on Facebook to prove we vacationed. Our happy family. Smiles, surf, sun and silliness. And I didn’t feel guilty about that. Not even a little. I still don’t, in spite of the loud voices everywhere telling us we’re Fakebooking when we post the pretty things and are trying to deceive our friends by highlighting only the joyful parts of life and omitting the rest. Facebook is my scrapbook. It’s where I hold happy memories. And the more happy on Facebook the better, in my opinion. POST ALL THE LUNCH PICTURES, I say. I WANT TO SEE YOUR PRETTY SANDWICH, friends. And ALL THE BABY PICS, too. TOO MANY CUTE KID PICS, PLEASE. When did we decide to be the cranky, old lawn neighbors, anyway? “Damn kids! Keep your happy off my Facebook lawn!

I feel guilty, in other words, for having a vacation at all. Guilty and grateful because I want ALL the families to have one, too. But I feel no guilt for having a happy moment out loud, and one I can share in public. Maybe because I long to share your happy moments, too. Or maybe because I know that vacations and families and friendships and children and life are made up of the happy mixed with the unhappy. The joyful mixed with the barely-holding-it-together. The gasps of air at the surface mixed with drowning. The magic and the mess intermingled. Grace and grime all the time.

Maybe, for me, it’s because every moment like this one,

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comes hand in hand with innumerable moments like this one
IMG_0547where our son, who experiences Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from an early life that was deeply unfair to him, falls all the way apart.

Our vacations, therefore, are moments of trauma and triumph strung together haphazardly. Angst and sorrow sprinkled with joy. Frustration, mostly, for this precious man-child, and tiny glimpses of freedom, now and then, and not often enough.

I don’t usually share much with you about Ian’s life or ours with him. I have occasionally here and here and here and here. But mostly we keep what he experiences to ourselves because each of our kids has control over the “publish” button when it comes to their stories, and Ian is the most private of our kids, the one who’s most bewildered about this strange life; the most uncertain that there are good things out there for him; the most sure that he’ll be hurt again like he was in his first life, before we were there were champion him and fail him and champion him again, like all parents who mean well and succeed and fail in equal measure but still hope they’re not screwing it up entirely.

I took the pictures below of Ian with his service dog, Zoey, months ago, because he asked me to. He wanted to “watch Zoey do her job, Mom,” and so I sat with him while she worked as she so often does to ease anxiety and panic that overtakes my son but which he’s helpless to explain, bearing the double burden of PTSD with an expressive language disorder that keeps most of his thoughts and feelings stuck inside with no way out. I’ve kept these pictures private, of course, because they’re really not mine to share.

Except that Ian has asked me now for a week straight to show them to you.

We had a conversation after vacation. A conversation about Miss Zo and her special place in our lives. A conversation about the many who suffer, as Ian does, from PTSD and myriad other disabilities. A conversation about mental illness, with which I am far too familiar myself. And a conversation about what it’s like to feel so terribly alone, wading through the muck and mire and wondering whether there’s a way out.

Ian said, “Show them, Mom.”

I said no. A whim on his part didn’t seem like a good enough reason to show his anguish to the world.

He still said, “Show them.”

I said no again. And again. And again.

But he’s asked me every day for a week after that convo. Until I said, “Why, Ian? You usually want to keep this to yourself. You usually don’t want people to see this. And once we show them, it’s not possible to take it back.”

And Ian said, “So they’re not alone, Mom. So they know they’re not alone.”

And so, to honor my son and his battle, my son the hero, and his dog the hero, too, here are the pictures we don’t show on Facebook. A face of PTSD and the dog who would lead him to the light at the end of each tunnel:

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With love, friends, and the reminder from my kid that we’re not alone,

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