Terrible, Beautiful

I sat on the cold, tile-floored kitchen, my left shoulder against the door, my knees bent, my feet tucked underneath them, my legs leaning towards the door, held up by the strength of my right hip and the weight of my body.  I was wearing my house clothes-black sweatpants and a grey, hooded, zip-up sweatshirt. I stared at my house shoes-processing my thoughts.  I felt at once tired and embraced.

“I get triggered,” I began.  Looking up towards Taryn who now joined me in sitting on the floor.

Flor was sprawled out next to me.  I reached my hand over to touch the back of her furry neck.

I had not liked the way the morning had began, and I was blaming.

My tone of frustration for things not being to my liking, had given way to a softer recognition of the problem being one on the inside of me.  This shift had contributed to Taryn’s position moving from one of standing, busy with tasks, to being seated, attentively listening as she faced me.

I recall the words of my LifePlan:

“As the context for my life’s Greatest Delight and Most Demanding Work, our relationship serves as a symbol of Singularity, and, an arena for the constant Vision of Vulnerability.”

 We sat there for a while, talking, listening, exchanging mutual self-disclosure.  Breathing in the air of the space that the conversation was creating.

Meanwhile, the boys ran about back and forth down the hallway playing hide-and-seek.  Every so often one of them tried to open the door, usually Jakob, wondering when we were going to the store.  He had plans to get a new Cars 3 toy with his piggy-bank savings.

“When Mommy and Daddy are done, Jakob,” Taryn announced again, followed by a whine and stomping feet.  We looked at each other smiling about his reaction in its consistent predictability.

We were on day 16, the last and final day, of the Christmas holidays.  During which, two out of three of, our boys had contracted chicken pox.  The night before I had squirt half of Lucas’ ‘acetaminophen’ accidentally on the side of his face.  It had been that sort of day.  We were tired.  And our coming together in the kitchen that morning was in recognition that we weren’t going to get through the day without staying in concert with our connection to one another.

Love always costs more than we are initially prepared to give.  And the process of surrendering to something bigger is so intricately intertwined with the most important relationships in one’s life.

In my case, this starts in many ways, with my relationship to my wife. It seems we have the frustratingly good fortune of living a life that, literally, doesn’t work without such a practice of coming together around the details of our days, as much as around more long-term dreams and plans.

That morning I was experiencing the fruit of that commitment for myself. Again, from the context of my LifePlan.

“Together we are learning to give the best of what we share away, while struggling to stay grounded in the Truth-that GOD IS EVERYTHING, and every part of us is welcome here, and that awareness alone brings out the best in us.”

 Our surrender to something bigger, in this case the demands of authentic partnership, transform the relentlessness of that work into a delivery system of refuge for both of us.

We landed in a place of giving thanks for specific aspects of our life together, giving ourselves and one another affirmations, in a way that honored, and even revelled, in our oneness.  We were ready to move on from there, together.

Preparing the baking soda bath for my three-year-old son Lucas, I noticed the way his delicate skin had been transformed by the bumps and blisters.

He was drowsy from the anti-histamine he had taken, and sat hunched forward in the tub, hugging his knees to his chest while I poured cups of water over his back; occasionally sprinkling baking soda directly on his skin to dry out the broken blisters before rinsing it off.

I continued dipping the blue plastic cup, almost rhythmically, into the water sitting inside the slightly darker blue plastic tub in which Lucas sat.  Slowly I poured the water down his back.

I felt tired.

Life is terrible, I thought.  Wonderfully terrible.  And terribly beautiful.

The poet Rilke writes, “For beauty is only the beginning of a terror we can just scarcely bear and the reason we adore it so is that it serenely disdains to destroy us.”

As I write this, I think of the multiple people I know who are going through some of the worse kinds of losses.

A daughter struggling with substance addiction, the death of a son to its disease.

The sudden death of an active and healthy father.

A spouse with late stage cancer, another with the early onslaught of Alzheimer’s.

The loss of a lifetime family home to wildfires.

Life is terrible.  Wonderfully terrible.  And terribly beautiful.

I sometimes meet life with disappointment in having the expectation that things will one day be easy.  But I’m finding that it is through the acceptance of difficulty, not in spite of it, that a paradoxical ease is actually delivered.  And it comes in the form of a posture of non-clinging.

This stance, of course, can be cultivated in myriad ways.  Practiced through things like prayer and meditation. But, it often comes most powerfully through the shock of loss, delivering the beatitudinal blessing of being in a right relationship with people, places and things.  Where we learn to honor life’s impermanence and passing nature-having been broken open by the beauty and terror of things.

The spiritual journey often begins with such shocks, or, some other injection of emotional pain.  Shaking us from the illusion of security and control to which we’ve been clinging.  In fact, it is often only through suffering that we can access the love with which our hearts most deeply desire.

Richard Rohr writes:

“Any journey of great love or great suffering makes us go deeper into our faith and eventually into what can only be called universal truth. Love and suffering are finally the same, because those who love deeply are committing themselves to eventual suffering. And those who suffer often become the greatest lovers.”

Finishing the bath, I wrapped Lucas in a towel, and grabbing the calamine lotion and cotton swabs we then headed down the hallway to the living room.

It was a beautifully sunny, albeit chilly day, and the south eastern sun light shone down directly into the room.

Placing him on his feet in front of the radiator heater, I flipped on the TV and began dabbing his body with the increasingly pink cotton swab.

Lucas is feeling better.

He’s still home from school but hopefully will be able to return next week.

In the meantime, he is enjoying the attention and special treatment.

And even though we are adjusting to the circumstances the feelings of wishing they were different, just like any other day, sometimes shows-up.  There is an invitation to a practice in learning to welcome them.

Yesterday afternoon, Lucas burst into the hallway from the living room, announcing enthusiastically, “Pee-pee…poo-poo!”  Flor had donated both to the floor.

I cleaned it up.

Lucas, having gone into his bedroom, reappeared, equally enthusiastic, now holding a plastic rhinoceros in hand.

“No more pee-pee, Daddy!”

“Learn from the things that are already in the place where you wish you were not.”

-Pádraig Ó Tuama

Indeed. Life is terrible.  Wonderfully terrible.  Terribly beautiful.

And love always costs more than we are initially prepared to give…love anyway.