The Invisible Man

love1There was once an invisible man.

No one knew that he was invisible.  Not really, for the invisible man kept himself impeccably dressed,  and was always active and while the man himself may have been invisible, the clothes were not, and his actions had just as much of an impact on the world as those of a visible man would have had.  But no matter what he did, no matter what he did, no one ever realized that he was invisible.

And so it was that the man went about having a normal life.  He worked a normal job and had a normal wife and normal children and normal friends.  The years went by and the invisible man went grocery shopping and barbequed with the neighbors and went to church and attended school concerts and went out to eat, it never ceased to amaze the man that so many people could look right at him; that they could interact with him on a daily basis; listen to him talk, accept money from his hand and never actually see that there was nobody there at all.

Each person that interacted with saw who they wanted to see.  They saw the employee with the stellar reputation.  They saw the father who took such good care of his family.  They saw the active church member who always volunteered time with the elderly.  Even his wife saw only the good husband who always remembered her birthday and anniversary and paid the bills on time.  And the man would wonder as they talked to him, as they commended him for a job well done, as they praised his generosity and talent, whether they ever bothered to actually look for him, or if somehow they just projected the image of who they wanted to see on his invisible body.  But every time he looked in the mirror, he was forcibly reminded of the fact that where a man should have been there was only the shell of a man; a shell wrapped in nice clothes and defined by the expectations of those around him.

As the years went by the invisible man became restless.  When people praised him or criticized him he would laugh outright.  Who were they kidding?  Who were they talking about?  They didn’t know him – nobody did.

Finally, one day when he got home from work he stood in front of his mirror and slowly took of all of his clothes.  Piece by piece he let them fall to the floor and he stood there, staring at himself in the mirror, willing himself to become visible.  When nothing happened he took a deep breath, turned on his heel and walked out of his house, down the driveway, and never looked back.

The invisible man walked for days.  He spoke to no one.  Without his clothes and without the expectations of his friends and co-workers, it was as he wasn’t just invisible, but that he didn’t exist.  The further he walked the more depressed he became, until finally the invisible man collapsed onto stretch a deserted park bench in a small town during the middle of the night.  Wrapping his arms around his chest he sobbed uncontrollably.  Who was he?  What was he?  How come no one could see him?  How come he couldn’t see himself.

“You know” said a quiet voice quite near to him.  “It can’t be that bad.”

The invisible man startled out of his sobs and looked around him, ashamed that someone had caught him crying.

It took him a moment, but after a while his eyes picked out a young woman sitting on the grass under a tree not more than 20 feet away.  She wasn’t looking at him.  She was sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest and seemed to be in a deep sort of despair herself.

“Are you ok?” asked the man quietly, drying his tears on the back of his hand.

The girl shrugged, a delicate gesture that spoke volumes.  “How about yourself?” she asked quietly, eyes still not meeting his.

“I’ve been better” he said, shrugging himself.

“Want to tell me about it?” she asked.

“Tell you what” said the man, “I’ll tell you about myself if you promise to tell me about yourself in return” he offered.

“You’ve got yourself a deal” said the girl, and she began to talk.

For the next four weeks the invisible man went back to the same park and the same bench every night, and every night the girl was there, and every night they took turns talking about themselves and after a while they moved on from the things that were bothering them to the things that they liked.  They began talking about art and books and movies that they had seen and places that they wished to travel to.  They talked about beliefs and dreams and shared hopes and discussed possibilities.  They began bringing their favorite books to read passages from them to each other and exchange little gifts when the night was through; a pomegranate, a book mark, a small bouquet of wild flowers picked from the fields outside of town.

Before the month was up the man found that he had fallen in love with the sad girl.  Except that she wasn’t so very sad any more.  She smiled far more than she had, and he found himself entranced with how her face lit up when she smiled, and he was more than a little startled the night when she looked up at him, right into his eyes, and smiled as if he was the most wonderful thing she had ever seen.  Except that she couldn’t possibly see him – no one could.  He couldn’t even see himself.

He tried to explain it to her that he was invisible, that she was only seeing what she expected to see, and she laughed at him.

“Don’t be silly” she told him, giving him a playful poke in the ribs.  “I can see you plain as day.  You are handsome and funny and full of life.  You have a big heart and are not afraid to be there for other people when they need you.  Your laugh is contagious, you are highly intelligent, but most of all – you care.  Do you realize what a rare person you are?”

She reached out a hand and traced the outline of his lips with her finger tip.  “I see you” she whispered.  “I SEE YOU”.  And softly she kissed him full on the lips.

In that moment his world collapsed into myriad shards around his feet then reassembled themselves with her at the center of his universe.  And a moment later she had taken his hand and held it up in front of his face.  “Can you see?” she whispered in his ear, and with amazement he realized that he could see his hand.  He jumped to his feet and stumbled to the fountain where the rising sun was casting a thin golden light on the surface of the water.

He looked down and, for the first time in his life, he saw himself looking back,

Collapsing to his knees the man let out a sob of wonder.  “What is this?”  He asked, holding out his hands in front of him and looking at them from every angle.  “How did you do this?

“All you needed” whispered the girl quietly, taking his hand in hers, “all you needed was to be seen.”  She kissed him softly on the forehead then added “consider it my gift to you, for saving my life.”

“I didn’t” began the man

“I was planning on drowning myself in the fountain that night” admitted the girl.  “And then you came and, well, that was that”.

“It’s like magic” murmured the man, turning his face to the rising sun.

“It’s love” smiled the girl taking his hands and pulling him with her to a standing position.  “But you’re right, to be loved unconditionally, to be seen, truly seen for who and what you are, that is true magic” said the girl, smiling, and she began to laugh delightedly, and he found that her laughter was so contagious that he couldn’t help but laugh as well.

And so it was that the visible man and the no longer sad girl stood hand in hand in the sunlight, and greeted their first morning together with love and laughter an they both knew that their worlds would never be the same again.

 

 

Toothpaste and Mud Puddles

puddles_380x220_1436058a[1]

Have you ever had a moment of such incredible happiness that you found yourself wondering “what did I do to deserve this?”  I have.  And that one question my friends, is a clear cut example of what a twisted culture we live in. You see, happiness is not something that you deserve.  It is not something that you can earn or that you acquire either by earning enough brownie points with a qualified deity or by collecting the appropriate number of box tops.  Happiness is something we are.  In fact, it is our default state.

Don’t believe me?  Spend some time around small children some time.  I’m not talking about school aged kids who are already knee deep in learning how to envy those around them for the things that they don’t have or for getting the ‘good’ seat on the bus.  I mean small children; babies and toddlers.

The average toddler has a better grasp on happiness than most adults on this planet.  Of course they haven’t yet developed reasoning or social skills and have more energy than the average power plant on a high production day and sometimes still have to wear diapers, but if you spend any length of time around them you will notice that when it comes to happiness, they’ve got it nailed down.  Their whole being radiates with happiness because they are entirely focused on whatever it is that they are doing; watching a caterpillar balance on a twig, jumping into mud puddles, watching a kitten play, squeezing all of the toothpaste out of the tube.

We have forgotten how to do this.  We have forgotten how to be happy.  We have forgotten how to radiate happiness with every particle of our being.  We have forgotten the joy of watching all that toothpaste curl out onto the counter.

We go along, day after day, year after year focused on our education, on our work, on providing for our families and on juggling bills.  And while that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, when we begin putting aside our own happiness in order to better focus on these “more important” things we lose the knowledge of what it means to be completely and blissfully happy.

Humans are social animals.  They want to fit in.  They want to belong.  For millennia like-minded individuals have created villages and towns and cities and religions. They have created clubs and teams and organizations so that they could come together and socialize; interact; share their experiences as humans.

In a world that is marked by suburban sprawl and almost wholly bereft of any sort of social or cultural opportunities that you used to find regularly wherever there were large groups of people. This is why the concept of social media is so very addictive; it allows individuals all over the world to “belong” and to interact with other individuals.

While the concepts of “belonging” and “fitting in” are natural and part of the nature of things, it comes at a price.  The price can be steep, for many times a group or religion or organization has strict rules and regulations, things that you have to or cannot do in order to belong.  And so, in order to be accepted we give up pieces of ourselves; our individuality; pieces of who and what we truly are in order to conform to the acceptable standards of the group or organization.  Many times we give up the things that made us happy in order to be accepted by others.  We then have to spend years – sometimes entire lifetimes attempting to understand why it is that we are so unhappy and attempting to find happiness again, albeit within the structures of our adopted social group, which of course means that many people have and will continue to die unhappy and unfulfilled.

So how can we be happy again?  How can we possibly regain that selfless joy, that innate wonder of the world around us; the supreme happiness of jumping in the mud puddles; the sheer bliss of watching that toothpaste curl out onto the bathroom counter?

The first order of business is to accept that happiness is not an “earned” condition.  You are happiness.1

The second order is to remember what it is that makes you happy and do it.  Have you always loved the color and texture of paintings?  Pick up some small canvases and paints at a craft shop and try your hand at putting images on paper.  Playing in the dirt?  Try digging up a small square of yard for a garden, or plant flowers or vegetables in a pot if you live in an apartment.  Playing in tidal pools?  Try setting up a small aquarium.  Rainbows?  Hang prisms in any window that gets direct sunlight.

Thirdly; don’t apologize for being yourself.  Don’t beat yourself up if others laugh at you for going out in the rain without an umbrella, for blowing bubbles on the bridge during rush hour, for dancing madly to your favorite song when it comes on the radio, or laying out on the hillside to see the shapes in the clouds.

And finally, if you find someone with whom you can be completely and totally yourself, who not only enjoys your myriad facets but is aware of their own and who is not afraid to be themselves, cherish them, they are a rare gift, and believe me, the happiness that you will take in seeing each other’s total authenticity will be so incandescent that whenever you are tempted to think “what did I do to deserve this” you will instead find yourself thinking “what on earth took me so long to realize the truth?”

Waiting for Home

images13N17I32Barefoot, she stands, waiting. A restless breeze tugs at her hair before moving on, leaving behind the faint scent of the ocean; a scent that fills her simultaneously with a soothing calm and an unquenchable restless.

Head thrown back, she stands, waiting. Her eyes search the evening sky, watching as the stars wink into existence, as the golds and plumbs of sunset fade into a black velvet background worthy of a sky full of glittering jewels.

As the light fades in the west a silence falls across the yard; a pregnant pause as if a cosmic conductor has raised his baton and all of his musicians have paused, instruments raised in anticipation of the downbeat. A moment later, with a single croak from a large frog of advanced years, the evening chorus begins; frogs from the riverbank, crickets from the meadow, a low throaty hoot from the owl that lives in the forest behind her house.

And still she waits.

As if on cue a crescent moon rises over the tree tops, casting faint shadows across the darkling yard and glimmering silver off of the tears that flow freely down her face, dribbling onto the ghostly white of her shirt dampening the grass at her toes.

She does not cry for the gloriousness of the vast array of glittering stars or the spectacular evening chorus or for the lingering scent of the restless sea. She cries for many reasons, few of which she can put into words and most of which she knows she will never understand. But mostly she cries because she waits.

She is not even sure what it is that she is waiting for. Perhaps it is love. Perhaps it is hope. Perhaps it is a sense of peace, of belonging. She does not know what she waits for, only that when it appears she will know that her waiting is over. She will know that finally, she is home.

She waits, barefoot, gazing at the stars, kissed by the moonlight, caressed by the whisper of an ocean breeze and serenaded by a chorus written expressly to touch her heart. And as she waits, slowly the tears dry and the competing peace and restlessness combine into an expansive duet whose rhythm counterpoints the beating of her heart. Slowly the stars expand until they fill not just her eyes, but her very soul. Slowly the sound of the nighttime creatures fill her head to bursting and it is then, only then, that she ceases to wait.

At last she has become.

Finally, inside of her own skin, she is home.

An Honest Father’s Day Post

Dear Dad,

You  may not have been there for me while I was growing up.  Other parents manage to be around for their kid even if their marriage falls apart.  But I know now, that is not how you work.  You had to get away.  Start a new life.  I get it.

You may not have been an active part of my life as a child and teenager, but you always sent me birthday cards, usually with some money, and it was always appreciated. I’d buy myself fun things.  Pretty things, and pretend that my dad had picked them out for me.

You may not have been there to help with homework and to put the fear of father into my boyfriends, but you always sent christmas cards with more money, and sometimes you’d call.

And once every couple years you’d have me come to stay with you and your new family.  That gave me the opportunity to see you being a father to other children.  I would have felt jealous except that it never lasted long, and then you’d leave them too and start the process all over again.

You came to my high school graduation.  You came to my wedding, so I can’t complain.  But it was the birth of your oldest granddaughter that (I thought) finally caught your heart. 

From the time my oldest daughter was born I saw more of you than I had put together in the rest of my life.  Then the second granddaughter came and you fell even deeper.  You came to their recitals. You came to their functions.  You didnt just send cards you brought them gifts.  We shared holidays and you had us down for afternoons at your house or out on your boat. We went on cruises together, all of us, and over the years you became an integral part of your granddaughters lives.

I’ll grant you, seeing them so involved in their lives could sting a bit as I watched you interact with them in a way I never got to experience.  What a cool dad you would have been!

Of course you left again.  That was, as I understand it now, inevitable.  This time you didn’t leave just one little girl.  You  left me AND my daughters.  You left after they had come to think that they could depend on you to always be there for them.  You left after I thought you would always be there for me. 
You left yet another awesome woman who had devoted her life to being there for you. 

I could be hurt.  I should be hurt.  I would be justified in hating you.  But you know what?  I don’t hate you.  I cant.  I understand now that it isnt about me.  It isnt even about your grandaughters.  It isnt even about your relationships with women.  Its YOU. 

There is something deep inside of you that doesnt allow you to get too close to anyone on an emotional level. Something that doesnt allow you to form any sort of attachment that could hold you back or pin you down.

And this fathers day, I want you to know that in spite of everything, I love you.  You gave me life.  Because of you I get to see the wonders of life and explore the mysteries of love.  You made it possible for my awesome daughters to come into existence.  And for this, I thank you.

You have your own demons to battle with and are doing that as best you know how.  And for that I applaud you.

And even though the chances of your ever seeing this are slim to none, know that no matter where you go, no matter what you do, you are my father and I love you.  I may not be happy with the choices you’ve made, but they were your choices, not mine.

I choose to be here for you if you ever need me.  I choose to stay in contact with you no matter how far away you run.

I choose to love you.  For always.

Happy Father’s Day.

The Caterpillar Girl

THE CATERPILLAR GIRL

She was going nowhere, this caterpillar girl.  Every day the same.  Inching along her barren  branch. Trying to make sense of a pointless world.

Every day she would wake up and do it all again.  And every night it seemed that she was no closer to her goal (whatever that might be ).  Every night she would curl herself around the stem of a leaf and fall asleep gazing at the stars and dreaming of a future where she had a purpose, where her life had meaning.

And then there came a day when the caterpillar girl knew that it was over.  She couldn’t stand being strongany longer.  That night she curled herself around the stem of a leaf, and this time she allowed herself to let go.

Inch by inch she used her outer skin to weave herself a shell; an armor against a purposeless pointless life.  And once she was enclosed in her safe space she allowed herself to fall apart.  She held onto nothing, allowing herself to finally let go, dissolving into the quantum foam of pure possibilities.

And it was there, in the quiet and the dark of her chrysalis that something began to take shape.  It was here that the caterpillar girl’s  hopes and dreams finally loosened from their mundane routine, began to take on a life of their own, and the foam of possibilities coalesced into exquisite form.

Finally, gasping for breath and still damp with the dew of creation, she climbed out of her self imposed prison and lay quite still, wings spread to dry, basking in the warmth of the sun and ready at last to make her dreams come true.

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Tectonically Divergent

divergentSuddenly thrown together; violently torn apart; slow and steady buildup of grown and strength or a steady movement away from each other; a study of planetary plate tectonics is like viewing the development and decline of personal relationships only on a global scale.

Most people are introduced to the concept of tectonic plates in grade school. I can remember learning about how the plates moved and how two plates meeting head on caused folds in the land that we know as mountain ranges and how the sudden shifting apart of two plates could cause rifts and canyons in the earth’s crust; how two plates moving in opposite directions can cause earthquakes or trigger volcanos.

It was a fascinating subject, and I remember spending hours on my own reading about how the plates interacted with each other; about which continents rode on which plates and in which direction they were (slowly) moving, and about the currents of the magma underneath the plates that is thought to contribute to the continental shifts. Of course I got sidetracked by geysers and earthquakes and volcanoes and Yellowstone National Park basically being one giant Caldara. But it was the discovery that plate motions vary from 10-40 mm per year (or about as fast as fingernails grow) at the Atlantic Ridge to 160 mm per year (about as fast as hair grows) at the Nazca Plate that really got me thinking about the similarities between planetary tectonics and the human subconscious and its influence on the development and decline of personal relationships.

While each human person on this planet belongs to one species (just as the tectonic plates travel over and around the one core of the planet) each individual (plate) stands alone and moves in its own direction, intent on its own growth and development.

But, just like the tectonic plates, individuals come in contact with and interact with each other on a regular basis. Some merely pass by each other smoothly and with absolutely no friction or move together in the same direction, taking comfort from knowing that they are not alone, while others meet each other head on, neither one giving an inch and causing the upheaval of everything and everyone around them. Some people come together and meld in spite of the fact that they are moving in opposite directions, and when they finally move far enough apart everything around them comes tumbling down or an eruption occurs that burns down everything they had worked to build together. And some people – some people travel together for a long time, but unbeknownst to either, they are moving in opposite directions and it isn’t until the rift or ridge between them is too big to be spanned or climbed do they have to acknowledge that their time together is over.

I suppose that I am lucky.   Unlike so many marriages that mimic a Convergent plate boundary (meeting head on and causing huge upheavals) or a Transform plate boundary (the kind that result in frictional shift with resultant earthquakes and destruction of everything the couple has built) my marriage is ending as a Divergent plate boundary – the kind where two plates keep drifting away from each other forming a rift or ridge between them.

After 25 years my husband and I have finally acknowledged that the rift between us is too deep and too wide to be spanned. For years we simply ignored it, felling trees to serve as foot bridges, building rope bridges when the trees were no longer large enough, constructing steel and cable monstrosities when the ropes finally unraveled and at long last sending mule trains across when even the longest bridge could no longer hold up.

Mind you it wasn’t easy for either of us to acknowledge that it was over. There have been lots of tears (on my side) and plenty of defensiveness as both of us try to justify how we got here and who is to blame for the huge canyon between us that we finally had to acknowledge as existing when even the mules bogged down in the mire, dug in their heels, and refused to move another inch.

They say that hindsight is 20/20. And now that we are here; now that it is over; it is clear that had we acknowledged the rift when it first occurred; the first cracks in seemingly stable land, we could have halted the divergence in its tracks, for there is one major difference between plate tectonics and human relationships, and that is choice.

While the plates move together and tear apart in seemingly random dances of creation and destruction, humans can choose to move together; to mend the rifts; to quench the volcanos; to anchor themselves to something far deeper and stronger than themselves; to anchor themselves to their choice to be united and to stand together and to grow and change in tandem; a choice that prevents the random and chaotic upheavals that unanchored relationships encounter.

We did not.

Perhaps we were anchored once. But slowly, day by day, year by year, the resolve to stand together dissolved and we were left to drift apart on separate unseen currents tethered to each other only by our love and concern for our two beautiful daughters and our desire to make sure that they grew up with the love and attention of both parents on a 24/7 basis; a tether that, with our youngest turning 18 and graduating from high school has finally snapped, leaving us each standing on opposite sides of a grand canyon of disbelief and holding the frayed end of what was once a strong and beautiful relationship.

The good thing about a divergent breakup is that there has been only a minimum of drama; no histrionics or flung accusations or eruptions of long vented anger and frustration, only the relatively calm acceptance of where we are now and of what comes next and the mutual agreement that our daughters will continue to be our priority and that even though we will no longer be living together, we agree to be there for them when they need us; putting aside our own differences in order to support them in whatever they decide to do and in any kind of life events that come their way.

So here we are, saying goodbye to a marriage that lasted a quarter of a century but somehow emerging with a level of mutual regard, of shared responsibility and goodwill for each other intact; something that defies the conventional concept of breakups and leaves us staring at each other with a sheepish smile and a half-hearted shrug. It may not be how things usually end, but this is where we are. Each of us staring into the canyon between us, seeing the layers of strata that have been revealed by the pulling apart of these two plates; the shared experiences and colorful memories and moments of a shared life and down; far down at the bottom of the canyon we can just glimpse the river of what once was; a river that continues to flow in spite of the towering canyon walls, and always will.

 

~SSHenry, July 2014

 

How to Heal a Broken Heart

broken heart“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell

My heart was broken long ago.  The details don’t matter.  What matters is that instead of admitting that my heart was broken; instead of admitting that I was in pain and dealing with the trauma right then and there, I made a series of decisions that threw my world into chaos and that impacted my life for a very long time.

Mind you, the decisions that I made (one in particular) in response to the heartbreak were a way of protecting my heart from further injury; of insulating it against the pain that I had incurred.  But what I didn’t realize is that by denying the pain; by choosing to delude myself into thinking that I was all right, I was ignoring an injury which, when left untreated, never healed.  In fact, it began to fester, poisoning everything else I did.

And so to escape the pain of infection I wrapped myself in layers upon layers of mundane is-ness; sinking into a depression so complete that I was not even aware that I was.  I only knew that there was something wrong; something that continued to eat at me and that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

As crazy as it may seem, six months ago, just as I was ready to give up altogether, it was the very one who inflicted the original injury that pulled me out of my despondency; enabling me to see exactly what I had allowed my life to become due to the choices that I had made and gave me the courage to acknowledge what I had done, accept where I am, and  to face the future without fear of what it might bring.

Knowing what might have been – what I have lost – what I will never have because of the choices that I have made – makes my heart ache as it has never ached before.  It is like peeling off the scab to clean out an infected wound; a throbbing ache that reaches right down to my soul.

Accepting that I will never have what might have been; accepting where I am and who I have become because of the path I chose to follow stings like alcohol poured into a cut; intensifying the pain to the point that it doesn’t feel as if I can take it for even one more second.  But it also kills the bacteria of despair and despondence and is the first step to healing.

Acceptance leads to an understanding of why I made those choices.  And understanding is like a soothing balm; a balm and a soft cotton bandage that covers the cleaned wound, protecting it from further damage.

But knowing and accepting and understanding is not enough.  I must also have wisdom; wisdom and courage to prevent any more trauma to my heart; not by burying it where it cannot be touched, but by leaving it exposed and choosing instead to make those decisions that will strengthen it.

I must have the wisdom to learn from my experiences and the courage to listen to my heart and, from now on, to make each decision based on what feels right to my heart – to my soul –not based on my fears; not as a reaction to pain that threatens to tear me apart, or in response to the pressures and influences of what those around me expect from me.  And once I have made the decision, the courage to move forward without fear, knowing that if I am acting from my heart – and for my heart – that I will be making the decision that is best for me and that will help me to become who and what I was meant to be.

~SSHenry~ March 2, 2014.