Mothers’ Day was a roller coaster day. We were going to go to the zoo, but as it turned out cold and rainy we opted for a day indoors in our PJs, only putting on jeans once to go out for ice cream. We had good friends over for dinner – delicious take out Mexican and Indian (yes, both), with a plethora of delicious homemade desserts left over from their dinner party last night. (Incidentally, I can’t say or write the word “plethora” without hearing it in a slimy Mexican accent as it is spoken in “¡Three Amigos!“. Same with “infamous.”) It was an extraordinarily relaxing day for everyone.

The evening, however, was another story for me. Certain events toward the end of the evening (including, surprise, interactions with my children) grated on me unexpectedly, and put me in a heavy funk. Not just a frustration or fatigue, but a tight-lipped, heavy-hearted, sit-in-a-chair-and-stare-at-the-floor funk. And then once the children were in bed (and had stopped calling out for one thing or another) while we were on the couch watching a movie, I began crying. And not just a little sniffling, but crying and sobbing, and muffling myself in Amber’s chest so I wouldn’t disturb the kids. During a lull I told her, “I don’t know why I feel like this.” There wasn’t an event that precipitated it, though as I said the evening had in part led to it. But if my emotions were at a 10, the events of the evening would have registered around a 3. Not congruous at all.

My mind could only go to the big picture frustrations in my life – ones that Amber and I have hashed to mealy bits many times in the wee hours of the night and fallen asleep only feeling worse. The years of loneliness and isolation since our move to a new city, the difficulties making friends, the disappointments of the churches we’ve tried, the emotional displacement of trying to leave and return to the east coast, the devastation of large passionate dreams cut off at the knees, and the waning and disappearance of the habits and contexts through which we once connected with God regularly. I hadn’t particularly been thinking about any of this recently, and though there have been things lately that have tapped into them in one way or another, the sum of those experiences again didn’t add up to the response I was having.

I suppose in the end it was the movie that set me off. A woman, driven and narrowly focused in her fast-paced life, gets a call, and suddenly no amount of her determination can keep her life from crashing to a devastating halt. I love movies where characters who are strong-headed and self-motivated or otherwise checked out of reality encounter a paradigm-crumbling expression of love that is simultaneously devastating and deeply healing. Mike Nichols’ Wit, for example, Shadowlands, Good Will Hunting, or even, one could argue, The Fisher King or Dead Man Walking. I’m drawn to movies like this, and I’m drawn to people who are drawn to this kind of love because it’s the kind of person I want to be. Granted, the character in this film hadn’t encountered anything that could be classified as love, and while I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of events heading that direction, what I identified with that night was the devastation. The pause in life that allows subdued emotions to find their way to expression. For her it was thrust on her by a phone call, for me it’s been the gradual peeling away of other things in life that were demanding more immediate emotional responses.

I used to have a job in a high-stress, hostile and oppressive environment where every day was an emotional melee and my response ultimately was to put on a thick skin and withdraw. My mantra became “I don’t care,” which on one hand kept me sheltered from much of the hurt being dealt, and on the other hand got me in the habit of, well, not caring. I don’t work there anymore, and over the last two months have put efforts into caring again.

I used to think I was leaving town any day now – heading back to Boston where we had family and close friends – and I had thrown myself into the process of getting a job that would support the move. That left me feeling displaced and in transition, not living where I wanted to live, and divesting myself of attachments and involvements in my current life. Then I got the new job, and last month we bought a house, and that pretty much put and end to that pursuit and the season of turmoil.

We haven’t had close friends since we moved. On the one hand we hadn’t felt like we found people who were like us in the deeper ways, beyond the having small children and going to the same church and maybe liking the same movies types of ways. On the other hand, we came to Cincinnati with tons of wonderful experience with vibrant friendships and developing and navigating relationships, so with most people we met we found ourselves expecting or hoping for more and being regularly disappointed. It all hurt quite a bit and left us feeling more lonely than we’ve ever felt for longer than we’ve ever felt lonely. And again, in the last two months we’ve met some friends who have blown our expectations out of the water in wonderfully unexpected and unique ways. One of them took me out for dessert this week because he noticed I had been down recently. And suddenly I find myself feeling loved again, and loved on, and part of something.

So with the crust of turmoil, stress, loneliness and pain dissolving, I’ve found another layer of suffering. A friend of mine was talking about suffering once and how to navigate it well, and one of the first steps was simply acknowledging it, not intellectually as I have been for a while, but simply to say, “I’m having feelings.” And giving those feelings validity and space.

Well, I’m having feelings.

Maybe at the bottom line it is grief I’m feeling that characterizes the tempest of other emotions that has lately been uncovered. Grieving the loss of good friends, of a context where I felt validated, supported and empowered to pursue life passionately, and the loss of the dreams I had of participating in relationships or communities where people’s lives are being gradually and dramatically changed for the better. Or at least the loss of those dreams as I envisioned they would come about and the context in which I expected them to flourish, if not the dreams themselves. And on another level, the loss of protection and safety. When I left Boston I left the umbrella of family and a community of people who shared my passions, affirmed my pursuit of them and provided support for me along the way. In many ways this is good – it forces me to negotiate my own terms in life and discover who I am without leaning on the character and actions of other people. On the other hand, it hurts.

A friend of mine has a variety of conditions for which he has been prescribed an endless string of medications, many experimentally. Some work well, some don’t, but the net effect is, well, he’s drugged pretty much all the time. When I asked him a couple years ago how he felt about it all, he said, “Imagine if your faith and everything important to you were suddenly ripped from inside you and you were left walking around with a void where your soul was.” At the time I thought wow, that must suck. But now, while I can’t claim to have experienced internally what he was talking about, externally, in terms of circumstances, relationships and my own pursuit of life, it feels like I’ve pretty much lost everything that was important to me and that I identified myself with, besides my family.

I’m able to see into the deeper well of my heart during the last few years. And what I’ve found there is sadness and grief.

  1. Anonymous
    May 14, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Normally I read your entries and don’t say anything. I might reflect upon points in my blog, or mention something to you that struck a chord. But I think it is important to comment: I love you. Robyn loves you. You are much stronger than you give yourself credit for and you seem dedicated to pursuing anew with strong passions everything you think is important and valuable in life.

  2. Mom
    May 15, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Although we are miles away, know that we love you deeply, very deeply. We share the burden of your grief. God has not forsaken you; people have; the economy has; the culture has. He does not leave you or forsake you. As we are your parents, He is even more. You were made in His image and given to us for awhile as a gift. You are a very special man with so much depth, love, passion and vision. You also feel deeply. We love you and lift you up during this time.

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