What Bells Ring?

Splashes of gold and red frame the sky. Wilted leaves crunch underfoot. The sun is shining but it’s cold enough that I’m glad I have warm jacket pockets to tuck my hands into. A lot has changed; a lot is changing. I remind myself that this is how it always is, and always will be. Still, I worry about change like the human that I am.

As I stroll down the sidewalk in my clunky leather boots, a gust of wind awakens a wind chime from the porch to my right. It dings loudly and then sways slowly to make a low-pitched rhythm. This question arises in my mind: what bells ring?

What bells ring? I’m not sure exactly what this means, but I’ll take it as a message, as I usually do when something as clear as day states itself from a place deep inside. Could it be alarm bells? Bells igniting purpose or passion?

Recently, I envisioned a giant wave come crashing down onto the shore of myself, only to rise up, hop on the wave, and ride it. Then, last night, I dreamed I was fending off a pack of wolves in an open field. It’s hard to determine where exactly my psyche’s at these days. All I know is I’m riding something big. I’m growing, I’m making mistakes, I’m overcoming challenges, I’m greeting change at the door. If you’re doing this too, then I commend you. You’re fighting the good fight, the only fight there is. And the only way is through…

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A Recipe for Change

Change comes whether we’re ready or not. Sometimes she’s a sly gypsy cat who slips in through the backdoor; we may not notice her until she’s dug up the flower bed or rearranged the laundry into her sleeping quarters. Other times, she’s a mountain lion, leaping from the rock and pinning us to the ground with one swift bat of a paw, just as we’ve rounded the bend and made peace with the distance we have yet to go.

I have a complicated relationship with change. I’m both enamored with her ability to catalyze growth and fearful of her tests of faith. Nonetheless, I’ve always counted on her to arrive just on time when I need her the most, despite my resistance.

Ah, the resistance. That dance we do to try and keep everything at a “perfect” status quo; a delicate balance of comfort and facts – holding fast onto the things we think we know are for certain. Many a time in the past few months, I’ve had to give up the known and barter it for the unknown (which has actually turned out to be much more nutritive to my soul).

And so I’ve been thinking, as multiple areas of my life are currently rearranging themselves, about a recipe for change. You know, like instructions and ingredients with the promise of something edible at the end.

Here’s what I’ve got…

Change: A Recipe

1 part denial

3 parts truth

at least 3 reliable, wise friends

phone calls, lots of phone calls for processing

2 week’s worth of imagining outcomes

4 days of setting goals and intentions

45 days of taking action

a minimum of 12 days of rest and rejuvenation

a bounty of self-care practices (this can include ice cream and/or wine consumption, bolting out of town for a brief escape, yoga class, walks in the park and if available, hugging someone you love)

two handfuls of perseverance and grit

an alarm clock

1 part trust

2 parts surrender

at least a few hours of sleep a night, preferably 5-6 (although now is not the time to worry if your cortisol levels are conveniently interfering with your average Z-schedule…just let it go, and carry on. You will survive.)

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl and stir gradually. Add a sizable pinch of humor, followed by an adult beverage of your choice. As change begins to work its magic on your life, accept the unavoidable emotions as they show up: fear, excitement, anxiety, elation, sadness and doubt. Keep reaching out to friends and loved ones. Notice the plot, the villains, the heroes and the scene, but avoid building narratives in your head about what might, will or could happen. It hasn’t happened yet, and there’s no sure way to predict the future. (This is okay, despite your nervous system’s opinion otherwise.) Keep putting one foot in front of the other, focusing on the actions you can take today. Never give up. Trust that this change will ultimately nourish you, and that the new skills and strengths you are learning in the process will serve a purpose.

Repeat this phrase “There’s got to be a way through this.” Then start believing it.

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I’m Still Alive

Seattle was wet like it usually is. Despite the rain, we were smiling. It was Valentine’s Day after all, and we were together.

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We’d wandered into a cozy bar and took turns feeding the jukebox. Sipping on drinks, we sang along to Van Morrison and Al Green, nodding and humming. The jukebox shuffled – a pause – and then my song, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” clicked on.

Eddie Vedder belted out his infamous line “Oh, I, Oh I’m Still Alive,” and the man at the bar began swaying side to side. He looked as if he was made of stiff limbs rather than muscles that bend and flex. We watched him with sideways glances from our tiny red vinyl booth. A guttural yell escaped from his mouth and filled the tiny tavern, pushing against the walls. It occurred to me that he was trying to sing along. The word “Alive” was momentarily audible but the syllables were drawn out and muffled as if he had a cotton ball under his tongue. 

The bartender kindly told him it was time to leave. His behavior was beginning to interfere with the other patrons. One too many drinks; and perhaps, one too many heartbreaks.

Although it was a painful sight to watch – a grown man in his late 50’s three sheets to the wind, mumbling and stumbling, unaware of the impact he was making on those around him – there was something about it that stuck with me weeks later.

It’s the brokenness that was so clear, and the humanity I saw beneath this man’s moment of rawness. Although his actions were jarring, they were also somehow comforting. As two friends guided him to the sidewalk to take a cab ride home, I saw a man who was lost. And I also saw a man fighting something – or maybe for something. For what, I don’t know, and I’ll never know. But I imagine it to be love. The love we all crave so deeply. Not just from others, but from ourselves. And with that comes acceptance – knowing that you are okay just the way you are.

I recently turned 28, and birthdays have a way of making me take stock of things. I’ve had a lot of gains, and also a lot of losses in my time here thus far. And in the depth of my grief, I’ve even felt as if I’m at risk of losing myself. But tonight, as I feel the sharp edges of wounded places in me, I remember this man and Eddie Vedder and the words, and even though I feel swallowed whole by emotion sometimes – I’m still alive. You could even say they’re proof of it.

Inch by inch, I get a little closer to something that resembles love; maybe even acceptance.

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