Finding Home: The Bookshop at Water’s End

The-Bookshop-at-Waters-End-624x936This morning I finished reading my 29th book of 2017, New York Times Bestselling Author Patti Callahan Henry’s latest novel, The Bookshop at Water’s End.

I met Patti back in 2010 at the Girlfriend Weekend, the annual conference of the Pulpwood Queens Books Clubs. This is Patti’s 13th novel, and she’s won lots of awards for her work over the years.

The Bookshop at Water’s End has all the hallmarks of a classic Patti Callahan Henry novel… old friends returning to a place that holds special memories, helping each other heal from life’s wounds; towns with a strong sense of place, and strong women struggling to find themselves. As Patti writes in “The Story Behind the Story”:

And I wanted the same geography for my characters in The Bookshop At Water’s End, for women who were coming home to themselves. So I offered them a summer-home that echoed their life destinies, conflicts, secrets and tragedies.

I asked: When things don’t work out the way we desire, when our life is upended and change is forced upon us, where do we turn? Hopefully to a sense of home within, to that soul-place that is immovable and strong and waiting for us.

Patti’s writing reminds me of my friend Julie Cantrell’s books. Both women dive deeply into the psyches of their characters—often sharing insights into the damage done by abuse, abandonment, bad choices, and bad luck, but also the importance of relationships in healing that damage. I also see similarities of style with some of the works of another friend, Nicole Seitz, whom I also met back at the Girlfriend Weekend in 2010 and visited this past May when I was in Charleston. (Nicole’s latest book, The Cage Maker, is on my to-read stack now!) I’m excited that all three of these wonderful southern authors have contributed essays to the anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi) coming in 2018. And I can’t wait to be with all of them in January at the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, where I’ll be on panels for my novel Cherry Bomb and the anthology A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. I’m honored to hang out around the edges of the circle of great writers that they are!

I’m not in a book club, but I enjoyed the “questions for discussion” at the end of Patti’s book. Question Number 11 was especially thought-provoking for me:

Home. All of these characters are trying to identify and find “home.” Is this a place? A house? A group of people? A feeling? A town?

I think I’ve been looking for this my whole life. Probably because my family of origin was very dysfunctional, and so I looked for that feeling of comfort elsewhere. I think it can be a place, or a group of people—what Patti calls a “tribe”—or maybe a feeling. I looked for it but never found it in high school. I looked for it again in my sorority at Ole Miss in 1969, but I left college after one year for an early marriage. Then I looked for it with a group of people who started a church in our apartment when we were newlyweds, and I found it for awhile, but with it came more dysfunction, as is often true in these cult-like groups. I looked for it in my marriage, and now after 47 years, I’m finding my “tribe of two” is growing stronger. I looked for it in cities and towns, and have envied what looks like such a strong presence of community in places like Seaside, Florida and Fairhope, Alabama. My little neighborhood on the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis—“Harbor Town”—has come closer to feeling like home than anywhere I’ve ever lived, and for that I’m thankful. I’ve looked for it in friendships and writing groups and churches, and some of it is there in each of these places. But I think I’m finding “home” in my own writing, and most of all within myself as I grow older and become more comfortable in my own skin. In that sense, Patti, maybe “home” really is a feeling.

Woozies and Glam and Flowers, Oh My!

What a fabulous birthday I’ve had. Dinner out on birthday eve with my sweet hubby last night. Visits from several friends today. Packages and cards in the mail. Phone calls and text messages from children. And about 150 Facebook birthday wishes. I am feeling the love. THANK YOU, everyone!

 

Flowers and cards.

Flowers and cards.

Pearls and feathers from sweet hubby.

Woozies to keep wine cold, from sweet Madeleine and Damon.

Woozies to keep wine cold, from sweet Madeleine and Damon.

Peacock martini glasses from Beth and her family. Perfect.

Peacock martini glasses from Beth and her family. Perfect.

Peacock sticker for my new MacBook Pro, selected for me by almost 5-year-old Gabby.

Peacock sticker for my new MacBook Pro, selected for me by almost 5-year-old Gabby.

Beautiful JJill necklace from Jason and his familiy. They know my taste!

Beautiful JJill necklace from Jason and his familiy. They know my taste!

Mental Health Monday: People Who Need People

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I found this wonderful image over at Madelyn March’s blog, “A Writer’s Journal.” Another good place to go if you’re looking for a writer’s community:  https://madelynmarch.com/tag/writing-community/

 

I’m a people person. Well, sort of. I do enjoy my time alone, but it’s almost counter to my personality that I work so many hours every week alone in my office, with no one to talk to.

Imagine this: You work for an insurance company, or you’re a CPA, or maybe you sell advertising or houses, or maybe you’re a lawyer. You go into work every day, but no one else is in the office. It’s just you and your computer and maybe a coffee maker. No one to chat with during breaks. No one to discuss business problems with. No one to share successful moments with. Just when you land that new client or sell that house or solve that client’s legal problems, you turn around in your chair to high-five a colleague, and there’s no one there. That’s what it’s like to be a writer.

So whenever I find the opportunity, I get together with other writers. My monthly critique group is a hugely important venue for not only social interaction with other writers, but also an opportunity to hone my craft, to get feedback on my latest project, and to hopefully help my fellow writers with theirs. That (short) two to two-and-a-half-hour gathering feels like a lifeline for someone who works in isolation. I wrote about this a few years ago in “The Strange Pull of What You Really Love.” (writing about Hemingway)

Just when I need another writer to high-five (because of my recent book deal) here comes Wendy Reed, an author friend who lives in Birmingham, to spend the weekend with me. With my husband out of town, we would have the house to ourselves. Wendy was spending a few hours in a small town in north Mississippi on her trip over, doing some research for a book. When she arrived, we talked for three hours straight, and then made a plan for the rest of the weekend: She would work in the dining room and living room, and I’d be back in my office. But we would take breaks for snacks and meals and talk about how our work was going, and read excerpts to each other. It was magical.

14095882_10209407038166746_1365473881966335148_nAt the end of the day on Saturday we went down to Tug’s, the casual restaurant on the Mississippi River near my house, for drinks and dinner, and then walked across the street to take pictures at sunset. It felt like a celebration! Returning home we ran into my neighbor and life/writing mentor, Sally Thomason (out walking her dog) and she came over for a champagne toast to (1) my new book deal and (2) the anthology I’m editing that both she and Wendy contributed essays to. And the three of us talked “business” for another hour or two, just like we might have done at the end of a day together in the office. And I thought, “So this is what it feels like to work around other people.” (Okay, full disclosure, it was prosecco, not champagne, and my sweet husband brought it home to celebrate with me the day I got the book deal, but I wasn’t feeling well, so we decided to open it another day. I’m going to replace the bottle this afternoon and share it with him soon!)

I’m definitely a person who needs people. So now that my weekend visit with Wendy is over and it’s time to get back to work (alone) I’ll stay in touch with Wendy (and other writers) through email and Facebook, which helps me not feel so alone. And later this morning, when I’m sitting in the waiting room at the car dealer while my car is being maintenanced, I’ll find that fellowship I crave… in the pages of a good book. My current read? Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women. And I’m re-reading Wendy’s mixed-genre book, An Accidental Memoir: How I Killed Someone and Other Stories.

Hope everyone has a good week! Take care of your mental health… work hard, read a good book, relax, and find a friend to hang out with!

Faith on Friday: I Will Not Hurry!

Hilltop PrayersAbout a month ago I did a post about my husband’s ancestor, Ralph Spaulding Cushman, whom we discovered through a friend at my mother’s funeral. After that our oldest son, Jonathan, sent his dad a book of poems by Ralph Cushman, the one I referred to in the post, Hilltop Verses and Prayers. Published in MCMXLV (it took us a little while to figure out that meant 1945), the book is out of print, so Bill received a lovely used copy, with the original owner’s name inside: Carol Nan Rester from Albany, Oregon. I think it’s fun to learn the history of a book’s ownership.

I love poetry, and some of my favorite poems have spiritual elements, like those of the Orthodox poet and writer Scott Cairns (whom I’m blogged about several times, especially his Compass of Affection and Idiot Psalms) as well as more ancient poets like Saint Ephraim the Syrian (A Spiritual Psalter) and Saint Nikolai Velimirovic (Prayers by the Lake).
So when my husband received this gift of verse by his ancestor—a Bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church—I was immediately interested in reading more of his poetry. I started with his introduction, “Concerning Religious Verse.” I love what he says about poetry:

A poet can flash forth a truth in a few lines that would require pages of prose to express…. If it is true, as Shakespeare says, that ‘brevity is the soul of wit,’ then Poetry is crystallized thinking.

I immediately thought of the Psalms when I read this, and how they capture the heart of humanity—in all its sinfulness and its joy and emotional expressions—in verse rather than in prose. I think David (and others who wrote the Psalms) was very close to God. As Cushman says:

It seems evident also that there is a close relationship between poetry and religious experience. I do not mean that all poets are saints…. Emotionally and temperamentally they have the capacity for sainthood…. Religious experience—a growing nearness to God in Christ—tends to express itself in lofty and poetic language. Likewise the use of poetry will help one to cultivate the spiritual life…. Poetry is capable of catching and expressing the deeper emotions and conceptions of the human heart and mind….

0410-2TI just spent the morning with a friend who is struggling with a form of early onset dementia. We had coffee and talked about birds—the birds she and her husband feed in their yard and often watch with their morning coffee. And then we worked a simple puzzle that revealed pictures of a dozen beautiful birds and tried to guess their names. I regret not having a bird feeder in the little patio outside my office. Last year I had a hummingbird feeder but the hummers didn’t come often and I found it “too much trouble” to keep the feeder clean and filled. After this morning I’m thinking of getting a new bird feeder, which I hope will encourage me to sit still and watch for the beauty of the birds that will hopefully visit me. I am inspired by Cushman’s poem:

 

I Will Not Hurry

 

I will not hurry through this day!

Lord, I will listen by the way,

To humming bees and singing birds,

To speaking trees and friendly words;

And for the moments in between

Seek glimpses of Thy great Unseen.

 

I will not hurry through this day;

I will take time to think and pray;

I will look up into the sky,

Where fleecy clouds and swallows fly;

And somewhere in the day, maybe

I will catch whispers, Lord, from Thee!

 

After working the puzzle this morning, my friend and I spent an hour playing a game that normally takes about 30 minutes to complete. It blessed me to have to slow down and help her to understand the mechanics of the game and to take time with each move. I hope that the morning will help me remember the wisdom of Cushman’s poetry and the joy of just being with a friend in the presence of a God who loves us.

Mental Health Monday: Gift(s) from the Sea on Clean Monday

sunset lakeFour days at the beach is a gift, but also somewhat of a tease. It often takes several days to unwind from “city life” when one arrives at a paradise like Seagrove Beach, Florida. In the years 2011-2013 I was blessed to spend one month each year in my own little “writing retreat” alone at this beach. When you know you have several weeks to do everything you want to do—explore, relax, walk, read, write, eat, drink, shop, sleep, sunbathe—you lean into the experience slowly, with no need to hurry to fit everything in. When spending one week here, I can sometimes acclimate in a day or two. But this time I knew I needed to seize the moments as they came.

Susan Daphne beachSharing this experience with a best friend helps. We both seem to cherish the specialness of the trip, beginning with the eight-hour drive with its opportunities for non-stop conversation or relaxed silence, both rich with blessing. We make room for the other person’s wishes—another hour at the beach or drive into Rosemary or Seaside for lunch? Church on Sunday morning or not? We opted for the lovely service at the Apostles by-the-Sea Anglican/Episcopal Church that meets in the town hall at Rosemary Beach yesterday morning.

 

At Apostles by-the-sea Anglican Church in Rosemary Beach

At Apostles by-the-sea Anglican Church in Rosemary Beach

The rector gave a wonderful sermon, and the people were welcoming. I couldn’t help looking around at everyone during the service and imagining what their lives were like, living in this paradise. On the Western calendar, it was the fifth Sunday of Lent. This congregation, like all of Western Christendom, is preparing for Palm Sunday and Easter, while we in the Eastern Orthodox Church are just beginning Great Lent today, with “Clean Monday.” I almost envied their place in this annual cycle.

 

Gift from the SeaI always bring books with me to the beach. Ironically, one of the first things I read, today, in one of those books—Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh—was this:

The beach is not the place to work, to read, write, or think…. one carries down the faded straw bag, lumpy with books…. The books remain unread….

She goes on to describe what she considers to be the gifts she receives from her times at the beach, and how receiving those gifts sometimes means having a receptivity that might be hindered by too much “busyness” like reading and writing and thinking. And yet the book unfurls with wisdom that must have come with some degree of thinking, and at some point she had to put pencil to paper in order for us to have her words with us today.

As my friend and I walked for an hour along the shore Sunday afternoon, listening to the sound of the large waves crashing at our feet (the red flag was out) she commented on how the tide coming in and pulling back out works on her psyche, and I agreed. It has a healing affect. Lindbergh talks about this in her book:

Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid.

I love what Lindbergh says about women’s lives, remembering as I read that she was writing this in 1955. And yet much of it is timeless:

With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.

How to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life. Here I am at 65 without children at home or a nine-to-five job I must attend. I have stepped away from most of the volunteer activities that once filled much of my days. My focus during this cycle of my life has become more centered—on marriage, friendships, and writing. My children and grandchildren live in other states, and I only see them several times a year. They are not “distractions” but vital interludes into my routine during this season. I visit my mother in the nursing home once a month, also in another state, and am sometimes “distracted” by the paperwork involved in her care, but the pain of watching Alzheimer’s take her away is a centrifugal force that I feel as strongly as the tide pulling the ocean’s water away from my legs.

The problems of remaining balanced and strong, which Lindbergh also addresses, linger in my mind today. The book kept me up late into the night and early into this morning, as I experienced a rare sleepless night. Finally around 2 a.m. I walked outside and the stars and the moon on the beach took my breath away. I rarely see the stars living the city. And there it was again—the sound of the waves crashing and the tide pulling and pulling and pulling. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, allowing it to pull whatever it was that needed to leave my brain so that I could sleep. I’ll close this post with the last words I read before returning to bed:

I want first of all… to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact–to borrow from the language of the saints–to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.

after sunset

 

Mental Health Monday: Valentine’s Day Revisited

I’ve been in Denver visiting kids and grands (and watching the Broncos win the Super Bowl at my son’s Super Bowl-watching party!) and as I begin my trip home at the Denver airport this morning, I’ve got Valentine’s Day on my mind. Why? Because I left Valentine’s gifts for all four granddaughters at their houses so I won’t have to mail them this week. And because, well, love is in the air, right?

The Denver Library holds an annual “Anti-Valentine’s Day Party.” This year it has a bit of a twist… they’re actually offering free weddings to five lucky couples, complete with cake, officiant and everything. Doesn’t sound very “anti” to me.

 

lonely_valentines_day_by_fallendeath13-d399h1u

 

My friend River Jordan wrote a short piece about the day for Pscyhology Today a couple of years ago, “Lonely On this Day of Love.” She talks about “the love we give in spite of the empty places in our lives.” It’s a good reminder to reach out to those who might not have a special someone—or even someone at all—in their life. I’ll be visiting my mother in the nursing home this Thursday, and although she doesn’t know what Valentine’s Day is—or even who I am—I’m sure her heart will respond to the visit and maybe a special heart gift.

 If you’re helping your children prepare cards or goodies to take to their classmates or friends, remind them to be sure and not leave anyone out. Help them find a way to make everyone feels special. Isn’t that what’s love does?

Mental Health Monday: Experiencing Our Experiences All the Way Through

In Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today, he says:

… it is our experiences that transform us—if we are willing to experience our experiences all the way through, even and most especially the hard and wounding ones.

imagesI had a wounding experience recently. Nothing traumatic, just one of those times of rubbing up against another human being and getting a little bit pricked. I was aware that it might be good for me to experience it, as Rohr says, “all the way through,” but I didn’t want to. I escaped the pain by leaving the setting and having a drink. Later I discussed the situation with a close friend, who poured healing oil on my soul, leaving me with less regret for not having stayed in the moment. Perhaps it was transformative after all.

I’m bringing this up this morning because I’m about to leave on a trip to visit my mother in the nursing home today. I won’t say that each visit with her is a “wounding experience,” but it’s rarely easy. And over the years, as I’ve learned to forgive her and my love for her has grown, I’ve found that some of those visits can transform me. I’m asking God to give me grace to feel whatever feelings may come when I’m with her today, and to bring a measure of grace into her life by my presence.

Mental Health Monday: The Secret of a Happy Marriage

I’m writing this a day late because I’m in Fairhope, Alabama, with girlfriends and I was on the road yesterday. This will be quick. I’m continuing reading Alice LaPlante’s incredible novel, Turn of Mind (see my post about this a couple of weeks ago here). Today I’ll just share two more quotes. The first one is about marriage:

And then, after a month or so, the trouble passed. As it always did between James and me. You learn, you grieve, you forgive, or at least you accept. That’s why we’ve lasted. That’s how we’ve endured. The secret of a happy marriage: not honesty, not forgiveness, but acceptance that is a kind of respect for the other’s right to make mistakes.

Acceptance. Respect for the other’s right to make mistakes. Wow. Just wow.

And one more, this one about the caregiver’s expectations of herself (when her mother/loved one has Alzheimer’s):

And you are expected to go on loving them, even when they are no longer there. You are supposed to be loyal. It’s not that other people expect it. It’s that you expect it of yourself. And you long for it to be over soon.

Yes.

I’ll close with a couple of photos taken just after sunset on the Mobile Bay last night. What a beautiful place this is!

Susan Marquez and Daphne Davenport launching the lantern...

Susan Marquez and Daphne Davenport launching the lantern…

Susan Marquez and Daphne Davenport watching the lantern they just launched. Magical.

Susan Marquez and Daphne Davenport watching the lantern they just launched. Magical.

Me with Daphne Davenport

Me with Daphne Davenport

Ren Hinote (our hostess), me and Susan Marquez on the pier behind Ren's house

Ren Hinote (our hostess), me and Susan Marquez on the pier behind Ren’s house

sunset

 

 

Mental Health Monday: Forgiveness—the Therapy of Old Age

forgiveness artToday I’m continuing my reading in Joan Chittister’s book, The Gift of Years. You can read my previous reflections on her book here.

This morning I read her chapter on “Forgiveness.” Wow. Just wow. I’m in the middle of my Southern “book tour” with Nina Gaby, editor of a new anthology in which I have an essay—Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women. My essay is titled, “High School Never Ends.” The timing is perfect for some thoughts on forgiveness, since many of the authors in this collection—myself included—never got “closure” with the friend who dumped us.  And in my case, the dumping happened almost fifty years ago. Chittister’s words speak directly to this issue and to my own personal situation:

We have been wronged. Someone has broken the unwritten rules of life by which we live. Someone has scratched the surface of our own perfection and left us exposed, abandoned, distant, aloof, gone. Sometimes the other person knows what happened, and why. Sometimes he or she doesn’t. We simply disappear to wait for a redress that never comes.

Or in my case, we try for a reconciliation forty-something years later, and it still doesn’t come.  Why was it important for me to connect with that person so many decades later? Chittister continues:

Then, the years pass. The more important the relationship, the more vivid the memory of the wrong. Instead of diminishing, the memory—the pain of it—grows stronger every year. This is a weeping wound, festering with time, a scar on the heart, acid in the belly. And time is passing.

forgivenessAs I wrote in last Monday’s post, I’ve actually experienced this pain twice—once from this high school friend, and much later in life from an adult, although I chose to write the essay about the experience from high school. Chittister’s “solution” really isn’t a mystery, and seems almost obvious, but sometimes. we have to be in a place where we are ready to hear solutions. And that place is often old age:

The question is, why does such an old sore hurt more now that I am old than it did when it happened? Or, conversely, why am I more sensitive to it now than I have been for years?…Bitterness, once it sinks like sand in the soul, skews our balance for years go come…. Only we can free ourselves from the burden of bitterness old anger brings with it.

How?

Only forgiveness can stem such pain in us. An apology alone can’t possibly do it. This kind of pain… can be healed only by the wounded, not the offender, because it is the wounded who is maintaining it.

Only forgiveness is the therapy of old age that wipes the slate clean, that heals as it embraces.

Forgiveness puts life back together again.

Another thing that has helped me forgive the friend(s) who unfriended me is to reflect on the possibility that I might not have known the whole story. Chittister addresses this:

Do we even remember clearly anymore what it was that happened? Are we really sure it was as intentional as we have painted it all these years?

il_570xN.511212513_k8i0And then she quotes the poet Mary Lou Kownacki:

Is there anyone we wouldn’t love if we only knew their story?

It helps me to remember that this person who hurt me has her own struggles, her own story. I wouldn’t say that I’m to the place where I actually love her. But I have forgiven her. And that’s a good start.

I’m off to Oxford, Mississippi, today, with Nina Gaby (editor of Dumped) for our reading at Square Books tonight. Then tomorrow night we’ll be back in Memphis for another reading, this time at the Booksellers at Laurelwood. Hope to have a lively discussion with everyone who comes!

Mental Health Monday: Working Through My Own Ugliness

Susan Dumped Nina

About a month ago I shared a few excerpts from the anthology I was recently published in—Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women.  As I’m preparing to go out on a “Southern book tour” (here’s the schedule) with the editor, Nina Gaby (from Vermont) this week and next, I’m taking a closer look at the etiology of the essays in this collection. But this time I’m not looking at these pieces with my writer/editor hat on. I’m looking at them from the reader’s point of view, especially the woman reader, whom I assume will be our target audience. Since I only know three of the other contributors personally, I can read most of the essays without bias, the way most of our readers will read them. And hopefully I can feel what they are feeling.

Picasso Women Friends by Linda Apple

Picasso Women Friends by Linda Apple

Two of my closest friends have read the book. One told me that at first she wished I had been more explicit in describing the pain I have experienced in the loss of the friend of whom I write. But then, after reading the other essays in the book, she said she was glad mine was a little more upbeat. The other friend felt that many of the essays were “depressing” or overly “bitchy.” I think what both of them were experiencing was the rawness of the pain and hurt experienced by the authors. Being dumped by a close friend really does a number on the psyche.

Nina Gaby is a psychiatric nurse practitioner. She’s spent a lifetime helping others deal with their pain, so she knows of what she speaks when she writes of her own experience as the person being hurt by another, first at age thirteen and later at fifty:

I had to pretend it didn’t matter. I learned to project a safer perspective onto a wall between me and the pain. It made me independent with a never-quite-fulfilled craving for closeness. Maybe that was part of the problem. The resultant sheer avoidance never made it any easier, not at thirteen, not at fifty.

That “never-quite-fulfilled craving for closeness” is something I have felt my whole life. And I do think it is similar—if not exactly the same—as the pain one experiences when childhood abuse happens. As Robert Goolrich writes in his excellent memoir, The End of the World as We Know It,:

If you don’t receive love from the ones who are meant to love you, you will never stop looking for it, like an amputee who never stops missing his leg, like the ex-smoker who wants a cigarette after lunch fifteen years later. It sounds trite. It’s true.

You will look for it in objects that you buy without want. You will look for it in faces you do not desire. You will look for it in expensive hotel rooms, in the careful attentiveness of the men and women who change the sheets every day, who bring you pots of tea and thinly sliced lemon and treat you with false deference….You will look for it in shopgirls and the kind of sad and splendid men who sell you clothing You will look for it. And you will never find it. You will not find a trace….

I tell it for the fathers The priests. The football coaches…. I tell it because there is an ache in my heart for the imagined beauty of a life I haven’t had, from which I have been locked out, and it never goes away.

(You can read my blog post about his reading at Square Books in Oxford back in 2010 if you’re interested.)

That ache in his heart that never goes away. That looking for love in places you’ll never find it. I know that ache, and I believe the women who contributed essays to this anthology know that ache. So, if we never “get over it,” how do we deal with it in a healthy way?

One of the contributors, Mary Ann Noe, closes her essay with these words:

I thought I’d get over it. It still surfaces on some mornings when the air is just so and I sling a sweatshirt around my shoulders…. When someone tries to finish my sentence and doesn’t get it right. Those memories bring up sepia-toned images, nothing more. But when I come across that photo of the two of us, I’m still blindsided. I wonder what I did. Or maybe what I didn’t do? I know one thing: I’ll never figure it out. And I realize I don’t have to.

Mary Ann has learned that she doesn’t have to figure it out. Maybe we don’t need that kind of closure to move on from the hurt of being dumped by someone we love. The person I wrote about in my essay was only fifteen, as was I, when she ended our friendship. And because we live and move in different circles (and cities) I can choose to just not think about her any more. That works most of the time. But there’s another friend—one I didn’t write about in the anthology—who hurt me as an adult. And although she made an effort to reconcile at one point (albeit on her terms) I kept my boundaries up, not being willing to completely entrust my heart to her again. We see each other rarely, every couple of years, at an event where we have shared friends, and I’m okay with things the way they are. She and I have both suffered lots of pain in our lives, and maybe this is just the best we can do. As Alexis Paige, another contributor to Dumped, writes:

With girlfriends, I didn’t know how to work through their or my own ugliness, how to fight for the friendship. I left because it was easier.

friendship-broken

 

Alexis owns her part in the loss, as we probably all should do if we’re honest, because we are all broken human beings, who “become alienated from other women, just as you are alienated from yourself.” (Again Alexis’ words.)

We are alienated from ourselves because we are fallen creatures. God created us to be one with ourselves. That’s good mental health. When we are at war with ourselves, we are mentally ill, which is our state much of the time.

I think my “take home” from the book is to continue to work to heal my own inner brokenness in order to be able to have healthier friendships.  As Alexis says, to work through my own ugliness. Here’s to healthier insides!

LaporteP. S. While searching for images to include with this post, I came across this quote by Danielle Laporte and thought it was applicable to the discussion here. Sometimes it’s hard to be in a friendship and still hold onto yourself.

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