Tuesday, November 27, 2012

This is not where I belong

Can I just say that being a grown-up sucks?  I mean, when you’re a teenager and you are counting down the days to “freedom”, you really have no idea what you’re talking about!  In some ways, I wonder if my pursuit of motherhood isn’t at least in part motivated by a desire to live vicariously through my child’s innocent eyes, reliving my own childhood.

My good friend told me today what I’ve suspected for a while – that she is struggling with a pretty difficult, chronic health condition, one whose diagnosis hasn’t been completely pin-pointed, and as such, whose treatment or prognosis is unclear.  To make matters worse, because of where this condition is located, she has not been able to take anything for the chronic pain she lives with, since it would further exacerbate the problem with her liver.

After telling me all of this, how she’s been in pain all this time, how she’s been trying to live with the added burden of dealing with things that are made more difficult by her symptoms, how she feels isolated because she doesn't want to burden others by discussing negative things like this, she asks how I’ve been doing. 

And really, what can I tell her?  On one hand, I don’t want to just say “oh, nothing” and force her to continue reliving her struggles if she wants a break from them.  On the other hand, I don’t want to go into a diatribe about my issues, which by now seem so miniscule by comparison.

When we hang up, I think about how my Rachel, my deceased best friend, would know just what to tell her, just how to be a good friend to her.  Rachel was everyone’s best friend, whether they realized it or not.  And I will never come close to her level of friendship, which really was a level of holiness that to me sounded like a lot of work and a thankless job.  And I’m overcome with self-centered grief.

The other day, it was pointed out to me that I am about to cross into a new realm of reality, at least when it comes to OB/GYN forms: advanced maternal age.  Me?!  Who isn’t yet 100% convinced that she’s completely all grown up?  Me, who still suffers from the common side-effects of childhood such as self-consciousness and a desire to fit in?  Me – the person without a career, or important social status, or children to legitimate her as an adult woman?  Yes, apparently I’m going from “girl” to “old” in a matter of one year. And as I pondered this the other day, I got to thinking about how my mother was my age when she had her third child.

She already had all three of her children by the time she was my age; I don’t have a single one. But how can I envy my mom, who has been tasked with the burden of caring for my father post-brain injury from his midlife crisis motorcycle accident?

Sigh.  Another reminder of the injustice of life.

I am reminded of a Buddhist parable.  A woman named Kisagotami who had just lost her toddler son came to the Buddha to ask him to bring her child back to life.  She was desperate and distraught.  In all his wisdom, the Buddha told her to get some mustard seeds from a home where there had been no death.  This gave Kisagotami great joy, for she felt hope at the prospect of restoring her son’s life.  She went from door to door, house to house, looking for a home where no one had experienced the death of a loved one.  After a day of this seemingly fruitless pursuit, Kisagotami came to understand the Buddha’s intention:  death is a part of life. 

I tell this story because it has broader applications.  It’s not just death that is inevitable in life.  So is disease, and disappointment, and old age, and grief.  Christians call this carrying our cross.  We each have a cross to carry, and while it may be different from the cross of our sister or brother or neighbor, it is not worse or better than theirs.  It is exactly what we need to suffer through in order to bring glory to God.  A life without suffering would be heaven, and we are not there yet.

This song, “Where I belong” by Building 429, captures this sentiment nicely

When you are struggling, when you are desperate, when you hurt, when you feel betrayed, isolated, used, worn-out, ashamed, listen to this song.  Really listen to it, and then listen to it again.  Listen until you can sing along, and then sing along until you believe it; this (mess/drama/struggle/situation) is not where you ultimately belong.

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