This is the first article for PART II of my series. Please click for LONDON, THE LETTER AND LOOKING BACK for PART I
Spring, 2004. We’re on the other side of the bridge now: no longer tethered to the London church drama or the ministry ; me embarking on my new career as an English tutor, Henry still flying to New York on a regular basis, the kids in Canadian schools for the first time. We look like a normal (I think) Canadian family, albeit with two beautiful, exotic-looking children who don’t look like most of their classmates. Daniel has introduced himself as an “American” (brain-washing fixed by the time he finished grades two to seven in the States) and changed his name to “Dan”, facts I was unaware of until chatting with his Social Studies teacher, who doesn’t know who I’m referring to until he connects our surname with “Dan, the American”, as he is already widely known. We’re attending the Vancouver congregation, where I still feel like a visitor. This is most likely a reflection of where I’m at emotionally and spiritually. I feel like a creature that’s slipped out of its skin, but has yet to find a new shape or skin to inhabit. I don’t talk about how I’m feeling, even with myself. Henry feels most engaged with the New York groups, where therapeutic discussion of what’s gone on in the ICOC continues to sadden, madden, yet invigorate him. For him, it’s an ongoing internal battle over what he knows, what he loves, what he thinks, and what should be his next step. I ‘m aware of this, but discussions between us are slowing down. I’ve overdosed on disbelief and disenchantment. I’ve shut down.
These forthcoming chapters are hard to write. Unlike the London saga, my story can no longer be told in a linear way, because I am spinning through cycles of numbness, grief, illness and sadness. There is little truth to the notion of ‘five stages of grief’ unfolding in sequence towards acceptance and closure. This process is more like a free-fall spin, like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole past ever-darkening doors and windows, with no sense of ever hitting bottom. Until the bottom hits, pulling me into even deeper pits and false bottoms. Trying to make sense of everything is the last step of this journey: writing this blog, putting formlessness into shape and story, giving myself new skin and a fresh start. And you are here, to give my words a listener, a receptive heart.
Hence the title of this second, more personal part of the story: Turn, Turn, Turn. If you are a child of the sixties or seventies, as I am, you will immediately recognize the song and start singing the lyrics in your head:
To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time for every purpose under heaven.
…A time to build up, a time to break down; a time to dance, a time to mourn,
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together……..
And so on. Beautiful words set to a timeless melody, engraved on my heart since 1967, ‘rediscovered’ at the age of 24, when I found the original words in the book of Ecclesiastes. Words that took on deeper meaning as I moved through life; words that bring me comfort and perspective even now. My “turning” changed to spinning for ten lost and confusing years, reluctant as I was to acknowledge and measure my grief. As I wrote in my introduction, I was slow, as always, to process trauma, even as my soul and spirit were churned in an emotional ‘food processor’ and my sense of self and confidence were shredded. So this next part is that story, told from (possibly) the 20/20 perspective of hindsight and grace.
As a builder sets the scaffolding, there are different outlines I’ve considered to give this formless story some shape. I could build it around the lines from Ecclesiastes: a time to seek, a time to lose, and so on. Surely the Scriptures will give me solid footing, even the searching words of King Solomon. Or I could base it on the typical “Effects of Grief” outcomes: Fear, Anxiety, Isolation, Longing, and so on. From a representative list of fifteen markers of grief, I languished in all of them, for much longer than is considered ‘normal’. I could structure my story on indicators of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, of which I can claim at least thirteen. Coupled with symptoms of PTSD and Depression, I can add ten more serious warning signs, plus a range of physical symptoms I now believe were psychosomatic petitions from my body, collapsing under my unawareness. Or I could base my testimony on a self-made list of All the Things I did Wrong, unevenly balanced with a shorter list of Some Things I Think I Did Right, albeit very slowly. Which approach will cover all the bases best?
To settle this debate, I could ask readers to vote for their favourite scaffolding technique (or for the least painful one to read). But knowing me, I’d probably disregard the vote in the end and come up something entirely different. (Feel free to cast your unofficial vote anyway, and I’ll at least consider what your choice says — about YOU – lol.) But while I’m considering my options and you, dear reader, I want to leave you with a poem I wrote – one of my earliest – when I finally started doing something right and took to poetry. What came out nearly every time I sat down surprised and informed me: my subconscious had a very strong ability to voice how I felt, beneath the façade of ‘moving on’. This poem hit it.
Like one from whom the past is sealed,
I live apart
from worlds I used to fill.
Seems I was born to lose my place
at every turn —
cold fingers pried off rock until
the sea surge drags me deep
into the undertow again.
Once more I’m tossed in endless drift
round continents and kingdoms not my own.
Cast upon shores of gem-encrusted sand,
strongholds of belonging speak my name
and seem to be my final port of call.
Sometimes the stay is brief, sometimes
prolonged, as if
I’d dare to stake my claim –
only to watch the sea
capture it all again.
My craft is a lonely place to look for land
but I have learned to call it home:
tossed between memory, dream, what might have been –
lucky to keep my head above the sea,
while all the rest
is surely cast away.
This pretty much captures my loss and longing. Obviously, the moving, the losing, the saying goodbye, and the end of life as I knew it were all taking their toll.
Categories: My Story: Turn, Turn, Turn