The Miseducation and Monstrous Transformation of Lulu

About a year ago, when facing the fact that at 48 I had become deeply dissatisfied with my personal and professional lives and that leaving the security I had grown accustomed to was the only choice if I was going to survive, my dear friend Lulu said to me, “You know sweetie, as long as I’m alive you’ll never starve.”  This is a luxury most people never think of as a luxury but for me, at 48 years old, it was a brand new concept.  Now I have wonderful friends who are far more my family than any relative and I know that technically they would never let me starve.  But in saying so, unprompted and sincerely, she changed my world. I'd like to tell you a little bit more about her.

Back in 2005, the first year of my high school teaching career, I was working at a school called Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley California.  I had lived in the San Diego area for about 3 years and had finally found my calling. I had been there about 4 months when I met her. She was thin, blonde, pretty and almost fragile, but I remember being puzzled by her, even in those first moments. She clearly had a Southern California look, was a football mom and wife and had even changed careers recently to be closer to her husband.  But there was something more...substantial.  Later I learned she was originally from Indiana and had attended Notre Dame. Of course, I thought.  The pretty exterior covered, even protected, the woman beneath.  I didn’t know that woman yet nor could I have imagined how we would change each other’s lives.

Though we liked each other right away, I wouldn’t say that our friendship began in earnest until the day she found out her husband had been having a rather public affair.  She came to my classroom and another colleague of mine and I sat with her as she tried to tearfully process this betrayal.  As awful as that afternoon was, I was so grateful and honored to be there for her.  And it was from this moment of forced vulnerability that we came to each other.  We were so very different and yet it felt very quickly that our bond, our shared presence in the world, was meant to be.

Lulu, my pet name for her, had a new life to discover...in nearly every way.  She had been married 22 years and she, like so many other women of her age and culture, had defined herself through her marriage and motherhood.  When your definition, your identity, is made to seem ridiculous, it’s easy to fall into despair, or to find someone else to make the definition real again.  She did her fair share of crying early on, but I honestly don’t believe it was ever over the loss of the marriage.  It was that definition and the fear of answering the all-important questions:  Who am I...really?  What do I want...really want?  For women, these are not fair questions because so many of the answers are not acceptable in a culture that still tells women to sit down and shut up.  She must’ve thought, “What if, who I really am, is a woman of substance, of action, devoid of the need for approval and companionship for the sake of companionship?  What if all that I am is so different that I will be unrecognizable to my family?  What if I learn to love myself enough to need only what I need and want only what I want?  Who will accept me then?”  Because women don’t have these luxuries and they know, if this is the path they take, the path of self-acceptance, self-worth, self-love...that there may just be a fiery stake waiting for them because truly independent women are to be feared, yes, even reviled, yes, even today.

So she started her journey and I am proud to say she allowed me to walk with her.  The details of her exploration are unimportant and best friends take an oath to never tell upon pain of death anyway.  I can’t tell you what she was most afraid of as she started down what was an unknown and what seemed to be a very dark path.  No one would ever want her again?  Perhaps.  
That one was blasted out of the way pretty quickly.  The fact is this: men like Lulu.  ‘Nuff said.

Any fear of a new career?  No that was something she had done again and again as she gets bored.  She is always trying new things, almost always successfully, and then moves on to the next.  In fact, it is perhaps here that Lulu began to discover one of the more remarkable things about her personality: she is, in many ways, fearless.  I’m not sure she knew how fearless she could be until this new life.

So she had raised a son to be a kind and decent man, not only survived the divorce but thrived in her new independence and freedom, was fearless about dating, career, building new friendships, and yet something was still missing.  At least that’s what the voices told her.  She heard from those closest to her that she should be settling on a man. Otherwise, she might end up alone, the implication being that alone was the worst thing that could happen to a woman.  Alone.  The word hung in the air like stale cigar smoke.  So she would approach happiness and contentment, or in fact be firmly planted in it, and that word would be launched at her from the most familiar and even loving places.  And despite the fact that the voices were insistent and all-knowing, somehow, and flying in the tenets of her miseducation, Lulu stopped listening.

She was dating a very good man at the time and although she cared for him very much, she knew the moment the voices were silenced that what she wanted was to be...ALONE!  For alone meant that her decisions were just that: hers.  Travel the world, when and where she saw fit, socialize, eat, drink, play, work...on her terms.  She told me once, “I have always had a great deal of faith in my ability to figure things out.”  And now that the other voices have been silenced, that ability, fully realized, is her guide.  

So Lulu’s tragic miseducation has now been transformed: she is independent, reflective, kind, charitable, blunt, certain, and a force to be reckoned with.  She is a good woman, yes, but lives each and every day unburdened by the need to prove it to you, or anyone else!  

Monstrous indeed.

49? It was Fine.

Today is my 49th birthday.  And I don't really have anything to say.  I've reflected on it throughout the day and I thought inspiration would come, but it really didn't.  I spent much of the day on my own which was my choice.  I checked Facebook every once in awhile because it seemed to me that people were wishing me a happy birthday almost desperately, as if it may be my last.  It is likely that I am experiencing it this way rather than it actually being, but it occurs to me that birthdays are strange things.  

People rush, sometimes hundreds of people, rush to tell you how important you are and how important your birth is to them.  It's lovely and a little, I don’t know, sad.  Not so much sad as, well...fucked up!  What the hell happened to the other 364 days?  I'm present for all of them and I'm as lovable, charming, and engaging as I am on April 2nd every year.  And it's not like I don’t know the people in my life, and on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, are out there, supporting me, loving me in a way.  But to have them, all at once, celebrate you...well let’s be clear...yell at you, demanding that you have a SPECTACULAR DAY, compelling you to MAKE IT A GREAT ONE or insisting THIS IS IT…!!!  No kidding, at one point I was visibly shaken.  I mean that is crazy pressure.  Come on!  

And this year it actually scared me.  Seriously.  Because I was sure I couldn’t live up to it. And I was right.  It was a fine day...sunny and relaxing.  But SPECTACULAR?  GREAT?  THIS IS IT?  Not even close.  

So now what?  Am I obligated to let people know?  I mean I tried, I took my best shot, but I just couldn’t get the juice.  And does this admission mean they get to yell at me some more?  

I don't know.  48 was the beginning of so much change and that change continues to roll through my life like a river, so today I needed quiet.  Safety.  Downtime.  It is what I gave myself, and my friends Jen and Leah encouraged me to listen to my spirit and support my soul.  But I was raised to deprive my spirit so that others would like me or crush my spirit so that someday others might even love me, that ultimate manipulation and subversion happened upon children of drunks and addicts, untreated narcissists and manic depressives, placing our divinity on the ground to serve as happy little doormats for the damaged to march across…

But not today.  No, today was fine.  It was a fine birthday.  It was my birthday.  Mine.  My spirit wanted it and I made sure it got it.  So no it wasn’t GREAT or SPECTACULAR or IT...but it was mine, and because of that, I can celebrate 49.


 

Please note:  I am so grateful for all of the love directed my way today, even if the love came in all-caps. Thank you for your kind wishes!  

A Little Inspiration

Several years ago I was asked to deliver the Baccalaureate address for my school.  I was honored of course but what do you say to young people that they’ll actually hear and put to use?  “Hang on tight” came to mind, and “check the label”, and of course “Broken hearts mend”.   But something happened as I wrote and I realized I was writing for me.  I was writing instructions, yes, but they were for me.  For every time I feel broken, or pressured, or unloved.  Because we all feel that way sometimes, and wouldn’t it be great to have an instruction manual for comin’back, gettin up, and walkin’ around?

Yeah, I got you.

 

I hope I will be forgiven for what I am about to say but while I love words, I don’t usually like poetry without music.  It is perhaps that I am too simple-minded; that I need to be hit over the head and often poetry simply isn’t direct enough. That said, I have been moved and I think spiritually directed lately by an excerpt from the great American poet Mary Oliver’s work Sometimes.  In the fourth stanza she gives us quite the gift…:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

See, now right off I’m in, as I had no idea there was an instruction manual for living a life!  Had I known this a long time ago things might have gone a little differently. I find I know so very little. In my 20’s I thought I knew everything, and in my 30’s I realized I didn’t know everything but somehow still valued the goal, and now in my 40’s I am perfectly content to know next to nothing…but these three things…pay attention…be astonished…tell about it…I know these to be true.

So what does it mean to pay attention?  Scripture tells us “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” You all know how to pay attention.  But I know many of you, and I know your version of paying attention and Mary Oliver’s version are often at odds with one another. You are barraged in your daily lives with demands for attention.  Your professors, your significant others, your parents, brothers, sisters, friends, pets, television shows, sporting events, homework, deciding what to have for dinner, and then breakfast, and then lunch and of course dinner again (my fave so I said it twice...deal with it)…

But where and when do you begin to draw lines?  How do you know how to prioritize?  Simple…pay attention.  Simple yes…but not easy.  And it takes practice.  Is your heart full when you are with him? Do you feel safe and relaxed when you are with her?  Are you balanced?  Are you laughing?  Pay attention. Feelings are not facts but they are, I believe, God’s traffic lights.  They direct us perfectly and yet we ignore them.  Pay attention to your feelings.  Sadness, for example, is a part of life and a signpost directing us to feel, to allow, and to be simply human. Peace and joy are God’s gifts to us and we pay attention when we accept them.  Pay attention to the cries of others, the laughter of children, the wind, the trees, the sun, the rush of accomplishment and the devastation of mistakes.  Pay attention to the world around you and the suffering of those in need.  Take the time and pay attention.  And while we are called to simply pay attention, we must choose to be astonished.

Now I want to let you in on a secret that used to embarrass me but not any longer. I have in my house several objects that I believe to be imbued with magical powers.  Two specifically are boxes in which I place dirty things, I push all these strange and mysterious buttons, and soon thereafter, the dirty things are clean.  I know not how this happens but I choose to believe it is magic.  I choose this because it makes the world a more welcoming, exciting place.  I choose to be astonished.  It is a choice after all to find the world and all its trappings astonishing.  The morning sun on our faces, clean dishes in the dishwasher, anesthesia, fried chicken, antibiotics, a friends hand in ours, chocolate, mountains, the way our dog’s fur feels after a bath, fried chicken…choose to be astonished and the world is a place of never-ending wonder.  

Now, when Mary Oliver says to tell about it I am certain she means to share our truth. So often we hide our pain, our suffering, our fears.  We hide our joy we hide our laughter.  Share your truth!  Tell about it. My truth is that 18 years ago as I lay in a hospital bed and the priest came to give me my last rites, I said no to leaving the fight.  And I said no two years later and a year after that.  And with God’s help and a slew of angels in the guise of doctors, nurses, friends, therapists, teachers, professors, friends again…I was able to survive to tell about it. I had been given the gift of immediacy…knowing that paying attention, being astonished and telling about it are what we have. Tell your story to others because it is in the living, in the sharing that you allow for a community to truly be built around you and there is nothing that will make you happier than being an integral part of a community.   

Pay attention to your better angels and don't allow your inner demons to shout them down. Be astonished because I promise you every day there is something to be astonished about.  And tell about it because there's nothing more powerful than sharing your truth.  


Have a beautiful and blessed Sunday my friends.