This weekend, my baby sister who is 12 years younger than I is experiencing something I hoped she would never experience…her first heartbreak. Watching her go through it has led me to my second post on my new blog, because even though it is personal and it at first may seem to be a bit out of the realm of topics I planned to discuss here, I realized, it is completely relevant to our plight of trying to get to the place we want to go. Setbacks. We all have them.
Yesterday I went to watch my sweet friend graduate from law school (Congrats, MAT…the law community just got a whole lot brighter!), and Dean Rosenblatt asked a barrage of questions of the students. One was, “How many of you lost a loved one during your three years of law school?” I audibly gasped at the number of students who raised their hands. How on earth do you continue to study and meet deadlines and take tests when you are swimming in a sea of grief? How is my precious little sister going to make it through work when she just wants to go crawl under the bed in the dark and stay there until kingdom come? How do you still meet your goals when your heart hurts so badly that you just want to rip it out of your chest and stomp on it until is in an unrecognizable glob of mush? How do you do it?
The simple answer is: You just do. By God’s grace, somehow you manage to take that next breath, and then another one and then another one and you keep moving forward, and one day, you have no idea how you got there but you realize that you ARE there. You are over the hump. You might even smile that day.
The long answer is: Prayer, Time, Friends and Family, Will, and Video Games. (I promise I’ll explain).
The hardest thing about going through any matter of the heart is that there is no cure. There are no words that can change the circumstance. There is simply a void that can only be filled by the missing person in your life. Logic means nothing. Incredibly well-meaning people will say “they are in a better place, you will find someone else, blah blah blah blah BLAH” and those people need to be slugged in the face (which I do not advocate, but, they really do.) You feel like your skin is going to simply peel off your body at any second, and you almost wish it would and that it would hurt really, really badly, because any physical pain is better than heart pain.
But for me and other Christ-followers, prayer is the first step. Getting out of yourself and realizing that, first and foremost, you are NOT alone, no matter how alone you feel. Knowing that every time you curl up in the fetal position and cry one more tear, Jesus curls up right beside you, wiping your tears away as He cries His own. He tells us to praise Him for EVERYTHING, but we generally don’t think to thank Him when someone we love has been taken away from us…..but that is exactly what we should do. Because there is not one thing that He doesn’t have His hand in. And the comfort that can come, not from someone telling you that He is in control, but having that feeling that comes from Him being in control, and knowing it is real because for brief intervals, you are filled with a peace you never knew was remotely possible, are what revive you and create the hope that you have to have in order to keep going. He gives that to you, and it brings moments of relief to catch your breath and see the sun shining on you and remember happy things and feel like you understand….enough……for that moment.
Time is such a healer, but man, it sure moves slowly when you are miserable. Seconds seem like hours and days seem like years, and if you could push the fast-forward button in your life to get through, you wouldn’t be able to push it fast or hard enough. But somewhere inside of yourself, you have to give yourself time. You have to tell yourself that tomorrow will be better, and you have to believe it, even if it is only true in micro- measurements. You will genuinely despise Time, because it is like getting a shot or making yourself eat a salad with no dressing or climbing on the blankety-blank Stairmaster. It is the last thing you want to do, but it is what gets results. Time is really only your friend after it has passed and you can look at what you’ve gone through and marvel at the fact that you are not, in fact, in the same place emotionally that you were yesterday or a week ago or a year ago. It’s a blessing in that each new day brings a different set of circumstances that you must navigate, and when you get to that place where you are able to look back, it is those circumstances that make you so proud of yourself. You actually finished that assignment, you went to the grocery store and managed to decide between 2% or whole milk, carried it to check-out, swiped your debit card, and drove home, you planned your child’s birthday party and your baby squealed with delight at all of the surprises that you created, you saw that movie that made you laugh one moment and squall the next and then you went home and journaled about it and realized that you took something meaningful away from it, you sat in on your weekly Bible study and didn’t add anything to the discussion but someone took your hand and squeezed it and you knew someone was praying for you, you gave your oral arguments and decided you did not, in fact, have any desire to be on moot court, you sat on your best friend’s front porch and actually listened to her problems and gave her advice and it was exactly the same advice you would have given her before the big hole in your heart appeared. Time just scooted on by, and with it, you found yourself again.
Your friends and your family watch you as you go through the anguish and they want to take the hurt away. Obviously, they can’t, so they just hurt with you. They sit beside you and hold you while you cry, they bring you food to make sure that you remember that you have to eat, they try to get you out of the house so you don’t forget that there’s a big ole world out there that needs you in it, they try to make you laugh–they will do ANYTHING to make you laugh–they would, for hours on end, stand in front of you and make funny faces if you would laugh. That is the remarkable thing about people who love you…there isn’t one thing they wouldn’t do for you. And you have to let them. To not let them is to deprive them of their gift to you. They need to do these things for you, because they are hurting with you. It is not an option. When they offer, you accept. And you laugh, even when you don’t feel like it, because you love them back.
Someone out there reading this may not have the same kind of support system that I am lucky enough to have. I live in a little bitty community that has known my family and me forever, and we collectively share each other’s joys and sorrows. But I had a friend in law school who moved here with his wife and infant daughter from Nevada, and they were Mormons. Bless their hearts…I can’t begin to imagine what planet they thought they had landed on when they first arrived. Our children were almost exactly the same age, and I knew what a time I was having my first year of law school trying to make sure my son ate and was changed, much less have time to sit and look at him and make goo-goo faces and do all the things a mama wants to do with her brand new baby. But aside from my husband, I had my mama, daddy, sister, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors. One of my family’s friends who is an attorney decided he would help the new, young law student by picking my child up twice a week and driving him to my parents’ house because it was completely in the opposite direction of the law school and on those two days, I had 8:00 classes. In other words, when I couldn’t be Mama, I had a slew of other people who could be, who were, and my son wanted for nothing. So I worried a lot about my new friends who had to feel so displaced and out of sorts, far, far away from their mamas, daddies, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors. I just wasn’t sure what they would do if they both got the flu or had a flooded kitchen due to a leaking roof and a thunderstorm during final exams or even just needed a moment of peace from a screaming, colicky baby. Well, I shouldn’t have worried because my friends did exactly what they should have done…they managed to locate a Mormon tabernacle and they created their own support system. Their church became that group of people who made sure they had everything they needed, and they were surrounded by new, willing faces, united in their faith, who took this young family under their wings and opened their homes and their kitchens and front porches and arms and gave them a soft place to fall.
The moral to that story is, is you don’t have one, you gotta find one. It is non-negotiable. In order to meet your goals, whatever those goals are, you have to have help. And if my friends can find a Mormon tabernacle in Mississippi, you can find a group that will suit your needs too. Go look for them, invest in them, let them invest in you….and when the hole in your heart appears, you will have everything that you need.
Will. You have to have the will to keep going. And if you are reading this blog (not because you know me and you are just being a sweet supporter of my new endeavor, but you genuinely are a member of this group of us out there trying to achieve a goal or build a new path or start a new business or go back to school or whomever my readers might be), then you are trying to make something happen, something important, and, at one time, you wanted it with a fierceness. You believed you were doing the right thing and you were going to see it through, no matter what. Well, to get out of the sadness and get back on track, you gotta find that place again. It’s a mental thing, plain and simple. Maybe it means you go back and read those scribbles on the back of an envelope when you were brainstorming about your dream that you decided you would make a reality. Maybe it means you talk to someone that you talked to back then who helped you decide that this was, indeed, a good idea. It’s possible that you have to go back and research the subject matter of your particular field of study or business or hobby and get inspired all over again. Maybe you’ll get on the internet and read a blog. 😉 Whatever you need to do to remind yourself why you started in the first place, you do it. Quitting is non-negotiable, and you will never forgive yourself if you let your suffering override your plans.
So, video games. When my first love decided that I just wasn’t what he wanted anymore, I became a crazy person (or, a crazier person that I already was). I found that idle moments were the bane of my existence, and I wasn’t functioning properly in them. So I had to find something to do with my body while my heart was walking around outside of it, begging for someone to put it out of its misery. I was in graduate school and working part-time and I had more free time that I wanted to have, so I would get in my car in the middle of the day while my parents were at work and drive to their house 30 miles away (careful not to listen to the radio, as it is every heart-broken person’s worst enemy) and play Nintendo. Super Mario Brothers, to be exact. It became an obsession. Had to get to the next level. Had to beat my last score. Had to push those little buttons and move those little arrows and wonder who in the name of Zeus though to create a game with a bunch of little squatty people and mushrooms and wonder if they were, in fact, in drug rehab by now….because it meant I didn’t have to think about him. That person who had once been the center of my world and was now off living his life without me and pleased to be doing so. I was barely out of the stage where I honestly did not want to think about him….unlike when it was brand new and I could not help but dwell in my “loss.” I was barely past that point and I no longer wanted to study a picture of him (or every picture I’d ever taken of him). I didn’t want to hear a song that he used to sing to me (like I used to play over and over and over and over and over). I didn’t want to hear his name (instead of filling up a stack of notebooks with it just so I could look at it and be sad). I wanted not to think. So I played Super Mario. Fortunately for you, you can do better. You have Angry Birds, there are fifty different versions, and it is portable. There is something out there that will help you bide your time, and you can and should allow yourself that luxury. Most people say exercise. Exercise is good (I feel obligated to say). I am allergic to exercise, so i bit my thumb at it. Many of you will say it saved you. I believe you, and I also believe you have definitive stomach muscles. Good for you. Whether or not you are a flabby, lazy anti-sweating person like myself or someone who has named her treadmill because she loves it so much, this is the bottom line. Laundry will sit a little longer. (And I know what you are thinking…what will people think? Let me tell you. When your child gets out of the carpool line at school with a bright red stain on his shirt, they are NOT thinking that the stain is a week old because there were no uniform shirts in your child’s closet and you did the best you could (I mean, he does HAVE a shirt on) because you have a hole in your heart and can’t figure out how to load your own washing machine because it takes too much energy that you don’t have and you just can’t bear to ask your husband or roommate or mom to open it for you. Their first thought is that your child managed to find the red Kool-Aid in the back of the refrigerator before you ever got them into their car seat, and bless your heart. Don’t worry. Other mothers are generally very forgiving, so you can fool them. It’s okay not to explain.) Your child will not die if he eats Mac-N-Cheese 7 meals in a row. Deadlines can (sometimes) be pushed back. Even (most) law school professors understand that life happens (though I would leave out the part of the explanation as to why that paper didn’t get written on time because you just can’t stop playing the Wii. Instead, I would, tell him or her that there is a hole in your heart. They’ve had one before, too). Most things that you think have to be done right this second, don’t. That phase doesn’t last forever, and your child WILL eat a vegetable again.
So, this is my humble advice to my sister and to anyone who may happen to read this. When you find yourself in the depths of despair and there is still just so much to be done, pray first and pray hard. Give yourself time. Lean on your friends and family. Remind yourself why you must continue. And play video games. And when you cross to the other side, after you create your new normal, after you recognize yourself in the mirror again, remember to thank every one of those people who let you be crazy for a while, and start repaying the favors, one small gesture at a time. One day, he or she is gonna find a hole in his or her own heart, and because you know what it feels like, you are gonna be able to be the one to hand the controller to them and say, with knowing in your eyes and pride in your heart, “Level 8 is a beast. But you’ll beat it.”
And Pants, though our house is void of video games, I’ll go buy one, set it up, and you can park it on my floor for as long and through as many levels as you need. My door is always open, my ear is always ready to listen, my arms are always ready for you to fall into them. It’s not my hurt, but I’m gonna hurt with you, if you don’t mind.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11