In personal crisis, my first response is to go inside. That’s when a turtle shell really comes in handy. I’ve had several knee-bending crises in my lifetime. They come about once or twice a decade. The earliest I remember as an adult was after I had moved to Montana in my early twenties. I had a few friends but no job; I was plum out of money. I was scared. I cried myself to sleep every night.
I didn’t own a car. I biked through Missoula, Montana on an old $20 Schwinn 10-speed I had picked up at a garage sale. It was blood red and welded at the crossbars. I bought a used red carcoat at Good Will. I wore black corduroys and a sturdy pair of Vasque hiking boots. I kept going.
I was taught by my parents that if you take the next right step, have faith, eventually things will turn. I took a big risk moving to Montana by myself. It was a dream. I couldn’t turn my back on it. In talking to friends, I found places to go to get help. But I waited way too long to ask. This is another family trait — waiting until we are absolutely devastated to reach out for help. Is it shame? Is it fear? In my case, a little of both.
I did finally call my parents and told them I was in dire straits. They sent me lots of love and $200; that was all it took. I used the money wisely – food and shelter. I finally landed a job as a gas station cashier making $2.50 an hour. I worked until midnight where I closed up by myself and rode my bike home across wintry black city streets.
Jobs were scarce in small-town Missoula. I wanted to better myself. I went to an employment agency and took the necessary skills test to land a job as a dental tool sharpener on Reserve Street. It paid well and wasn’t as physically demanding as some of the U.S. Forest Service jobs that many Montanans had at the time. I worked there for quite a few years before I moved to Minnesota.
My instinct is to go inside. To weather the storm alone. To keep secrets. Relationship crises are harder to me than economical. Busting out of personal relationships is painful and haunting. The endings of relationships have given me bleeding ulcers, the body’s version of a broken heart. I like to think I am wiser now. But it is best to maintain humility. We are all the same distance from the ditch.
In global crises, I am saddened. I send prayers to those in need, but I try to act locally. There is so much suffering in the world. Why does it take a catastrophe for us to notice? In personal crisis, I turn to family, to prayer, to therapy, to recovery. I have bottomed out and been willing to do the work to keep going. I have also holed up, frozen and scared, afraid to do the work. I’ve gotten stuck.
That’s where some kind of practice comes in. Something that takes me back to center. Writing every day. Going to a meeting. Calling and talking to someone I trust. I’m not good at emergencies. If someone is bleeding or needs immediate medical attention, I can be squeamish and fearful. But over the long haul, I will stick with you. I’m a sticker.
Last night we watched In The Land Of Women. It’s about a 20-something erotica writer, Carter, who after breaking up with his famous model girlfriend, moves from Los Angeles to Michigan to live with his aging grandmother for a while in hopes of writing a novel. He lives across the street from Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan), her husband (who is having an affair), and their two daughters; at that exact moment in time, Sarah discovers she has breast cancer.
I turned to Liz just yesterday, “If something happened to me, if I got sick, would you stick it out with me?” She looked at me with her kind blue eyes, “Absolutely,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’d stick, too,” I said. Then I smiled, blinking back tears, and turned to watch the end of the movie. The truth is you never know what you will do in a situation until it happens to you. But faith, and the face of that smiling Buddha, teach me that things will turn. Sit like the mountain. Prayer, practice, community, can help navigate treacherous and rocky terrain. But I have to do my part.
Show up. Continue. Give back. Reach out. I still battle with waiting too long to ask for help. But I am getting better. And to anyone who has stood by me along the way — thank you.
-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, September 18th, 2008
-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – WHERE DO YOU GO IN TIMES OF CRISIS?