Settling in at my table in the coffee shop, in a section that was totally empty, I pushed my earbuds into my ears and turned up the volume on my computer to block out the skit-skat jazz playing loudly on the overhead sound system. Within moments, my best friend’s radio show’s theme song blasted through the line and I released myself to the journey she would lead me on. Because, with Everyday Joy, it is always a journey.
Jen was talking about letting go of our burdens that day. It was a tender show, filled with tears and raw vulnerability. With permission, she shared only the vaguest of details of a horrific story from one of her listeners. It was a tale of unimaginable pain and abuse. As I listened, sending Jen energetic support as she had requested for that specific day, I could feel the people all over the world that were listening and who would be listening at a later time. Their pain was immense. Their anger was undeniable. Their fear was overwhelming.
I felt my own emotions shifting through me as I listened to her talk about the pain of a mother and a father who had watched their daughter and granddaughter be abused by the one man who was supposed to love and protect them. They had watched as he perpetrated crimes that led to his eventual arrest and imprisonment. They had watched their daughter’s life be stripped away from her, leaving her bereft, homeless, bankrupt, and destroyed. They had stood up for their daughter, taken her in, provided her refuge, kept her and her daughter safe. They had become her protectors. And the mother was justifiably angry that Jen would even dare suggest that she stop carrying the burden of being her daughter’s protector.
Gratitude crashed through me as I listened to my friend’s recounting of her listener’s tale. It was so similar to my own tale and in it, I could hear my own parents, their fears, their fierceness, their devotion to my daughter and me, their willingness to stand up and protect me against the man who had dragged me through a hell of my own making. They took me in when I could not stand on my own two feet. They sheltered me, cared for me, went above and beyond. And they are doing this still.
Right there in the coffee shop, I sobbed unabashedly, knowing how much my parents loved me. Hearing from another parent, just how much it hurt to be my parents. Emotions washed through me and I grieved in that moment, breathing, and releasing it rapidly as it rolled through with tsunami force. The gratitude was so immense, so astounding that I could do nothing but simply be with it.
In the waves of gratitude, I discovered what I had learned through loving Charles, through living with the abuse, through choosing to be in an abusive relationship… I learned that life is about being accountable for your choices. It’s about loving completely, full out, no holds barred. It’s about compassion, tenderness, and being imperfect. It’s about loving like crazy and knowing when to say “enough” and when to walk away. I learned through my abuse that, while I held Charles in the space of perpetrator, he could never do his own work, be accountable for his actions, seek forgiveness, and heal. And the truth is, neither could I. I had to forgive him and myself to release myself into healing.
As the strength of my knowing was rushing through me, Jen began talking about the most tender moments of her life. It is a story that never ceases to cause me to gasp when she shares it… the death of her daughter, Kelsey, her son-in-law, Garrett, their unborn child, Sage, and their five dogs back in January, 2013. As I listened to her briefly touch the very tip of that iceberg, I was taken back to the moment she called me that morning and let me know we would never be the same.
I remembered the experience of being with Jen and her family as they mourned and planned and cried and existed in an ongoing state of shock. The experience was too big to ignore, rolling out across the land and touching life upon life. I remembered all we did to honor those kids and all the love that was there. Love… like… crazy…
Tears tumbled down my cheeks as I was filled with the overflowing gratitude for Kelsey’s bold, albeit short, life. She played full out and was at-the-edge crazy with her willingness to do so. She lived every moment, and did so in loud, vibrant, Technicolor explosions of energy. In her 21 years of life on this planet, she lived unapologetically and drank in the experience of it all like a thirsty warrior.
And in being with Jen, as she waded through the emotions, the preparations, and the unimaginable, unbelievable, astounding loss, I learned the importance of living first what you teach. Life can be surreal at time and in those moments, your real truth shines through. The sheer enormity of all of their deaths was one of the most surreal moments imaginable and it would have been okay and forgivable in that nearly emotionally insurmountable time, if Jen chose to ignore her own preaching. However, she continued to be gratitude, compassion, and love in unending amounts. She had so strongly lived what she teaches – to be in Everyday Joy – that, when she would have had the perfect excuse not to be in joy and not express joy, she was still able to.
I was drinking that in and realizing that I, too, am fully living what I teach, when I became aware of an edge of irritation rising along my consciousness. It was poking at me like a bully and it was distracting me from listening to Jen. Angrily, I tuned into the agitation and began searching for the source…
She was obviously smitten with the man who sat across from her in the coffee shop. They appeared to be in their late 20’s, early 30’s and neither were wearing wedding rings or the telltale bleached band of skin that indicated a ring had once been there. Their energy was mingling, flirting, and filled with “first date” jitters.
I had smiled as I walked by them earlier, feeling the insecurity and the nervousness wafting around their table. I was curious about how long they had been doing the dance, where they wanted the dance to go, and what he thought about the whole thing. While he seemed to be present and happy to be there, he was clearly not as taken with her as she was with him.
I had noticed them there when I first arrived and had appreciated their presence. They appeared to be genuinely happy and seemed to be communicating really well, but something had begun to shift at their table and I realized that it was that energy shift that was eating at me. She had entered that space women go to when they’re trying to win the affection of their mate. She had gotten really loud with her words and her laughter – loud enough that I could hear her over the words coming through my headset that had effectively blocked out the loud jazz. She was louder than the jazz!
The plastic, false “giggle” of a girl/woman who is in the presence of a man she is trying to win over slapped me in the face, as she tossed her hair over her shoulder. Her irritatingly loud, high giggle trilled up and down the musical scale like a maniacal piano genius, punching the atmosphere with energy that dripped with insincerity. Every now and then, she would tap his shoulder or nudge him, saying, “Oh stop!” And then she would titter again annoyingly with another hair toss and batting of the eyelids.
Even as I describe it here now, it sounds like an exaggerated character description for some horrible B-list romantic comedy. But there I was, in a coffee shop, witnessing it live and in person. I was thoroughly irritated. Her saccharine façade was so blatantly obvious, posing a huge juxtaposition to the truth, vulnerability, and rawness that was pouring into my head from the radio show. It was a contrast that I could not ignore. Something about her fabricated, forced exuberance as a way of flirting really pissed me off. Because I was so angry about her counterfeit behaviors, I knew I had to look at it for myself. I wouldn’t be bugged by her unless there was a nugget of myself I could see in her that was gnawing at me. So… I looked.
Why am I so mad?
It could have been because I was listening to Jen’s show and feeling raw and sad, which was conflicting with the emotions she was displaying.
It also could have been because… once upon a time, I used those ploys and sometimes the “skills” worked. Sometimes, I failed miserably and found myself thrown to the floor. That realization surfaced with tender embarrassment for my past self – the me who failed at it AND the me who succeeded.
And… it could have been because I have realized that life is too short and too precious to NOT be real in every moment and her falseness was diametrically opposed to that knowing.
Truth is… it’s all of them. But the most vital and life-changing of them all is the last one… life IS too short and too precious to be anything but real with every breath.
By being willing to look at why I was so friggin’ irritated in that moment, I saw the nugget. I saw that her pretense reminded me of my own past insecurities and inauthentic behaviors, but even more than that, it shined a light on what I am now living. By living through my abuse, being willing to forgive, and through being witness to Kelsey’s life and to her mother’s grace in mourning her daughter’s death, I learned that life is too short to be anything but completely present for whatever you’ve chosen into, to experience it, to be really REAL – without pretense – and to love like crazy… no. matter. what.
© Angie K. Millgate 5/21/14