Stage five

It’s been a few days past a month since everything came to a head and changed.  To be totally honest, everything changed long before that — I just was in denial, hadn’t accepted, refused to believe — it took me a long time to get to the place of tearfully trying to get through my last sleep in his house, to packing bags, to looking at the (grim) Seattle rental market and to closing the door behind me and starting over.  And since that moment, the universe in the form of my friends and family and colleagues has provided.  Not just a safety net, but a trampoline.

Yesterday I worked from home in the afternoon with the plan to take care of a few thinking things and spend a little extra time with Gibs before my evening plans.  We stopped off at a park for a walk before getting back to work.  We walked happily along the path, both of us smiling at the other mid-day walkers, all of us lucky to be out in the sun and fresh air at 1pm on a Friday.  I thought about the last month, and about how when I was a senior in high school we had a segment of our social studies class where religious leaders came in to speak to us (I did grow up in Port Townsend — we do things a little differently out there).  One of the speakers was a Lutheran or Methodist or some kind of Protestant pastor.  I don’t remember anything he said that day, except for the message that faith in God is an absolute must because the people in our lives are weak, and will let us down, and when that happens we need to have some form of divine support to get through.  Being the teenager I was, my hand shot into the air, incensed.  “My family won’t let me down,” I said.  “My mom won’t let me down,” I replied, incredulously, feeling a mix of confusion and sadness that anyone would have so little faith in the human beings around them.

He stuck to his guns, assertively.  People will let you down.  They will do wrong by you.  They will hurt you.  And when they do, you need somewhere to turn.

While that conversation put a damper on my teenage flirtations with reformed Protestant churches,  it’s also been one of those teachings that has stuck with me ever since, but not in the way it was intended.  All these years later, I do think that he was partly right.  It is possible for people to let you down, to do wrong by you, to hurt you.  Where we diverge is on the relationship that we need to foster, as insurance for when that happens.

Gibson and I passed the wading pool where I’d been last weekend with Megan and her babies, and my little dog perked up.  She’s not so sure about kids, but she’s a freak for babies, and there were a few toddlers making toddler sounds that caught her radar ears.  She wanted to go visit, but dogs aren’t allowed in the wading pool.  I delighted in the comedy of my little dog, who’s not so sure about water, issuing body language of complaint because I wouldn’t let her jump in a wading pool to sniff a toddler.

We turned around on the path, me needing to get back to the work of the day.  Gibson sniffed a tree root in the shade, and I watched her happy animalness, blissed.  And the words

Thank you for setting me free

echoed in my head.  They repeated

Thank you for setting me free

They caught me a little off guard in their clarity.  This was no chatter from my monkey brain, listing off its wants and needs and impulses.  The words were clear.  Ringing like a bell.  Unmistakable.

Thank you for setting me free

My first instinct was to pull out my phone and text them to Ryan.  I hesitated, always the fact-checker,  once a journalist always a journalist.  That’s not exactly how it went down, I corrected myself.  While he contributed to the conditions that lead to that tearful night and that difficult morning, he didn’t set me free.

I did.

So I paused in the park, and let that sink in, and let waves of gratitude move through me.  Some gratitude and compassion for him, and some for myself and my circumstances, and some for the friends and family who’ve moved through the last month with me with so much love and abundance.  And I soaked up the freedom of the fresh air in a park surrounded by trees with a little dog who is my little sidekick and teacher and breathed it all in.

People will disappoint me, but the worst pain comes from the times when I disappoint myself.  When I abandon myself. When I don’t put my own oxygen mask first, or don’t listen to my instincts, or don’t honor and insist on what I know to be true.

When people — including myself — fail me, I have my trampoline of friends and family and self.  And perhaps to that pastor, that is God at work.  For me, God or the spirit or the beloved or whatever name is least offending is in the tree canopy providing shade and the beauty of the dappled shapes that leaves bring to that shade, and in the smile and snuggle of my little dog and in the so very many teachers in my life who seem to bring each lesson precisely when I need it as if according to some kind of (divine?) plan.  And for all of that, I am truly, truly grateful.

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