Way back in high school, I was the friend who would carry your secrets. Tell me your problems–I could pick them up and carry them around those high school halls without my shoulders bending a bit. Nothing marked me. People thought that was a good thing. I thought that was a good thing. Friends came out to me, told me about their abortions, explained their problems with their parents. I skipped on, their secrets and my own floating above me in a helium balloon sealed tight and tied securely to my backpack. Life was easy. I was happy.
Not that long ago, I realized that I’ve spent much of my life carrying that balloon, walking along the shore of the river, keeping my feet dry. Next to me rushed a river full of life: muskrats, beavers, river trout, crayfish, snakes–all of them were swimming by me. I kept my distance. I happily portaged other people’s problems down the river, slinging them over my head like a fiberglass canoe, but I never got my feet wet.
Suicide has a way of throwing you into the river. For a long time after the second of the two worst phone calls of my life, I drowned, I tumbled, I washed by places I wished I could stay. I fought the current, looking for the break when I could make my way back to shore.
But then a funny thing happened. Somehow my wet feet found the bottom. They eased into the muck where tadpoles were burrowing and reeds were beginning their long, faith-filled journey toward the sun. I found myself walking in the river. It wasn’t easy. I kept losing my balance on slippery ground, and my feet grew heavy with mud. Sometimes I’d fall down; sometimes the weight of the water would keep me from walking at all. But once in a rare while, the water would buoy me up, and I’d swim.
One day I forgot to angle for the shore.
Here in the river cranes call from the marshes, eagles cast shadows, geese v overhead. Here in the river life is harder, my own problems snag on branches, my friends’ problems weigh me down. Here in the river cynicism and joy battle it out in me each day. Here in the river when the cranes call, I lift my eyes into the blooming morning sun.
This blog is called “live love leave,” and it’s about trying to learn how to do all of those things with grace. It’s about learning to play the violin, training for triathlons, loving things that are fragile, and loosening my frantic grip on the world. It’s about letting the world hurt you and love you. It’s about the shape of your shoulders as you try to stop carrying the world.
This afternoon I walked out into the hallway of my school and some kids were playing the Game of Life. It was an English project. Heathcliff and Cathy and all the gang from Wuthering Heights were there, riding their horses over the moors and ruining each other’s lives. (OK, Heathcliff was doing most of the ruining, but that’s not really where I’m going with this). I remembered how my old best friend Jacqui and I spent many hours of our childhood spinning that wheel, losing a job and going back two spaces, having a baby and pushing another little pink peg into our convertibles, getting married to Henry or Eddie or some other boy we loved from afar in fourth grade. (I suppose I should reverse those last two items. It was the seventies; we were in Catholic school.)
Not that long ago I realized that I’ve spent a lot of time learning to play life. This blog is about what I’ve learned, what I’m still learning, what I don’t even know I don’t know yet. If you plan to keep reading I have a spoiler alert: I make a lot less money than I used to. The shape of my shoulders has changed.