This quote popped up on my Pinterest feed, and it brought me comfort in the weeks following my mother’s death, when certain people did not reach out to me. All those assholes were just not on my spiritual frequency. So I posted this quote on my Facebook page as a big middle finger to everyone who had not reached out to me after my mother’s passing. I was on a spiritual hilltop, and my frequency was way above everyone else’s. A friend put it well when he said that I’m going through a beautiful experience, a viewpoint that had not occurred to me until the words came out of his mouth, but which made sense because he has lost both his parents, and experienced a spiritual transformation as a result. And it is a beautiful experience. Of course it’s painful and raw and sometimes bittersweet, and also just plain heartbreaking, but it’s also a fact of life. But it turns out that no, I’m not better than everyone else.
Dyer writes about how, when we grow spiritually, we have a tendency to feel special and therefore superior to others who aren’t on the same path. In particular I thought of my relationship with my roommates, who are all about 10 years younger than me. One roommate in particular I judged because on the morning of the day my mom had her stroke, because he yelled on the phone at his mom to quit berating him, and I’d judged him for being mean to his mom. The same roommate texted me while I was in North Carolina for Mom’s memorial service to let me know how much rent was, and that I needed to sign the lease, and included me on a group text with the rest of my roommates about what a great time they were having hanging out together. It all seemed so insensitive, and I decided they were all coldhearted bastards who could go fuck themselves, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that recalling all of this brings up anger for me today.
Group settings are not easy for me. My roommates, like most people for me, are more tolerable for me one-on-one. What struck me about this situation of my judging my roommates was the fact that somehow I still like this particular roommate, in spite of the fact that I think he has a lot of growing up to do, and I think he can be a real jerk sometimes. What makes a person like someone else? What is it that makes people connect with each other?
Maybe it’s because I see a version of myself in him, a self that, I hope, is being replaced by a more open person. This person didn’t use words to express herself so much as small acts here and there, which is what he does sometimes. When I had more money I bought nice gifts for my family, and I remember Mom saying, “You always buy good gifts,” and I remember feeling touched that she noticed how much thought I put into it. I thought everyone around me had telepathy apparently, because I didn’t feel a need to tell people things that, really, when you think about it, can never be said too many times. Things like “Thank you for being there for me” and “You are the best mother anyone could ever ask for” and “You always made me feel loved and safe” and “Never once did I doubt your love for me.” Even though Mom knew me better than anyone, once a few years ago Mom asked me if I was Republican. I remember thinking, How can she not know that I would never be a Republican? I thought she knew me better than anyone, but she wasn’t telepathic.
My ex-husband too has learned this way of being closed emotionally, and he too has the still-waters-run-deep, closed-off sickness. But really he is just on a different path than I am, and it’s not up to me to decide when and how or even if he should arrive at the conclusion that I’ve come to, which is that we must open up more emotionally. Just because I just learned something doesn’t mean everyone else should already know it, or quickly learn it after being told. We all have to experience our life’s lessons, not just be told. I can’t learn from watching someone else live their life; I must live my own.
One of my former co-workers lost her father a few months before we started working together, and I remember feeling sympathy for her, and making an effort to be patient with her—except that I wasn’t always successful because she drove me nuts. There was always work to do, but she didn’t always do it, and things needed to be done a certain way—my way—and she didn’t do them that way. She was only about 23 years old and had quit school at NYU because she’d been assaulted, and then her father died. My job was to be her boss, but not really her boss—I was told to give her work to do but that I was not officially her boss. At the time my perfectionism was still in full swing, and I did not like to see disorder or disarray or empty shelves or lots of talking and hanging around when there was work to be done. Everyone in that department was 15 or 20 years younger than me—though they might not have known it by looking at me, because most people think I’m about 28—but they wanted to talk about concerts they were going to and drugs they were trying and relationships they were pursuing… I don’t know, I just felt that I’d moved past all of that, and was not interested in revisiting it. Basically I felt morally superior, and wanted to roll my eyes, sigh, and hold up my hand to say, “Spare me! I’ve heard all this before. Been there, done that,” etc. Staying busy was easier for me at that time in my life.
Anyway, I never heard anything from this co-worker after she left, though we’d had in-depth conversations at times, sometimes about her dad, sometimes about relationships, sometimes drugs, and life purpose. I felt like a big sister to her, and often I wanted to protect her from the inevitable pitfalls she put herself in, but I felt helpless to do anything because she didn’t hear me, and everyone has to do their own thing. When my mother died, she did not reach out to me, as I thought she might, since we’re Facebook friends, and it made me wonder if she felt like I was not as compassionate as I could have been after her dad died. It could be that she’s not on Facebook that much and didn’t know, but whatever the case, the important thing is that it’s a reminder of how I was before Mom died, when others had lost loved ones. Of course I’d say that I was sorry for their loss, and I felt compassion for them, but I didn’t talk about it to them much unless they brought it up. There’s a part of me that wants to scream that I am tired of making the effort to be patient and understanding to others, because American culture is the problem. Our culture does not know how to deal with death and dying, and glorifies youth and discards the old, sweeps death under the rug, and someone needs to teach us to become wiser and more compassionate. But that’s just the answer: change starts with me.
It also reminds me of the St. Francis prayer. My favorite version is this one:
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.
Here’s another beautiful song by The Cave Singers (lyrics here):
And here’s a cover of the same song from a sweet young man who reminds me of my boyfriend’s son, only because he’s an artistic soul, and also reminds me of my niece, another artistic soul who has a beautiful singing voice, and who wants to learn guitar.