As we journey through life, most of us learn stuff. I don’t mean data or skills, though of course we do acquire those. I mean we gain deeper understanding of ourselves and what it means to be human. Call it wisdom, maturity, spiritual growth … anyway, it never ends (until we do). So long as we’re alive, we don’t arrive at an end point. (For the record, I don’t believe in “perfected beings,” or “final realizations” or gurus, or “enlightened masters.” Big topic, I know.)
One of the most essential ways we grow is in learning how to love each other and take care of each other better. I don’t think we ever stop learning how to do that. And in the meantime, we also hurt each other a lot. Even people we say we love the most – we hurt them and get hurt by them.
I was thinking recently that a “mistake” I’ve often made in my life (and sometimes still do … though in this realm I even question the whole concept of “mistakes” – another big topic, I know) is to define people in my mind and in my memory on the basis of wounds they have dealt me, rather than blessings they’ve graced me with or caring they’ve shown. I don’t know about you, but some of my most awesome blessings and fiercest wounds have been delivered by the exact same people.
And though I can’t see it – because I (like everyone else who wears a human body) have massive blind spots, I bet some people could or would say the exact same thing of me. That is, I’ve been the source of some of their sweetest gifts and some of their harshest injuries.
I believe I am getting better at caring for myself and others (particularly those whom I designate as my loved ones). I’m aware that I still do it imperfectly.
I’ve never known perfect love. Have you? Maybe there is nothing wrong with that at all. Maybe THAT’s perfect.
Pain and Purpose
I seek to experience pleasure and avoid pain. I’m a human being and that’s what humans do, by and large. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I am even philosophically in favor of avoiding pain, minimizing it, and getting rid of it.
But it’s not the ruling principle of my life.
I understand that there is little that I truly understand about anything. My mind thinks that there is something wrong with the universe when I’m unhappy or in pain, but maybe that’s not the case (at least not always).
Someone I loved died by suicide last year. It still hurts. I was walking in the park recently and I thought of this person and how – had I known the depths of their suffering – I would have reached out. Someone who knew this person far better than I has assured me that there was nothing I could possibly have said or done that would have deflected the person from their path (or saved their life), and that for me to imagine otherwise is hubris.
I heard the wisdom and common sense in those words, but in my heart and gut, after all this time, I’m still not sure. I can never be sure. And so that pain, that grief, still lives in me. And it burns my heart at times.
As I was walking and thinking about this person who died – and the signals and opportunities I may have missed at a critical time – it occurred to me that perhaps I need to find someone to talk to about it, maybe a therapist, to process my experience and my unresolved thoughts and feelings more completely – to talk the pain away. But then, it was as if the person who’d died spoke to me in my mind, saying, “I left you a world of people you can still show kindness to.”
And I realized that maybe this particular pain I carry isn’t something I have to get rid of. Maybe it will fade away on its own. (It does seem to wax and wane, and sometimes it’s completely below the surface of my life and my conscious awareness.) Or not. I mean, I suppose I could talk to a therapist or some wise, compassionate skilled listener about it, but I don’t have to. I don’t like feeling pain, but I can live with it. The fact that it lives in my heart doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the universe. It may even serve a purpose.
— Heather Noel