On Friendship, Heartbreak, and Being Worth It.

I’ve had a hard time recently (yes, I’m being very honest here, be nice to me, okay?). Something came up, an issue, a problem, with someone I loved dearly, and trusted. A close friend. It may have been a small thing, but it hurt me unimaginably, left me with those deep feelings of wanting to lash out, wanting to hurt back. Spite. I’m not a spiteful person; I’m not a vindictive person at all, and the fact that I was feeling such feelings scared me.

It felt like I was in grade four again, this stupid attitude of “he sat next to her and not me”, or “she promised me that I could come to her sleepover, and then she invited somebody else instead!” Dumb stuff. Kid stuff. I’m a mature adult, and I earned that maturity through a lot of dumb mistakes I’ll not make again.

In other words, I Know Better.

I do! I know that love is a choice not a feeling. I know that life goes in seasons. I know that hearts mend, that people grow and change, that sometimes stuff is hard. This knowledge hasn’t stopped me wanting to lash out though, to take my hurt to Facebook and wail about it.

I haven’t. And I WON’T. The problem is mine, not my friend’s, and doing anything like that would only make it worse (okay, MUCH worse), and I’d regret it. And I know I won’t always feel this way. Heck, by the time I post this I may not even feel this way any more.

What I did do, though, was this:

I talked to people, in person. I chose trusted friends, people who weren’t connected to my friend or the situation; people I knew who loved me and who could listen to me without judging and without condemning me or telling me I sound like a ten year old. People who could just listen. It helped. A lot.

You know, one of the big things I realised from it was this: much as it’s hurt, and much as it’s made me wonder why I ever bothered getting close to people in the first place if this is how it’s going to wound me, it’s precisely because I chose to get close to people, to allow them into my world, that I’ve got access to the friends who listened and cared when I needed them. I spent years, because of experiences like the one I’ve had with my friend recently, keeping people at a distance so I wouldn’t get hurt. It was lonely. I ached with it. It took me years to allow myself to get close to people, and then when I did…

…and then when I did allow myself to get close to people and I got hurt, there were others there, a whole network of people who could offer me a hand, an ear, some grace, while I got myself up again.

I still love my estranged(ish) friend dearly. Hello, estranged(ish) friend, wherever you are. And, no matter the stupid feelings I’ve been going through of late, that once-upon-a-time long-ago decision to love people, to allow myself to get close to people again, was worth it.

It’s still worth it. Even if it means, for a little while, disconnecting myself some from places I’d see them and giving myself a serious kick up the backside from time to time. So long as I take care of myself, so long as I don’t do anything stupid that I’m going to regret, then allowing myself to get close, allowing my heart to be vulnerable enough to get a little broken, it’s still worth it.

Remind me of that tomorrow, when I go through this same stinking emotional roller coaster again, okay?

source: Wikimedia commons

source: Wikimedia commons

The greatest of these is love

I read this this morning on Facebook, and it’s possibly the truest thing I’ve read there in a long time, especially on the subject of love.

It goes alongside the wisdom of not comparing someone else’s public face with your loved one’s (or your own) private one.

And it goes alongside something I read yesterday, a note from an old, old diary where I’d expressed my deepest fear that I was, at best, tolerated. I lived like that for a number of years. I don’t any more.

And with that I bid you good morning. Go. Love. Forgive. Or think about being forgiven. Remember that you, too, are more than just tolerated. You too, by someone, somewhere, and by the creator of the universe (whether you believe it or not) are loved.

What my cat taught me about breaking all the rules of love

When I was a kid I liked the rules, and I liked staying on the right side of them. I was a good kid. It probably has something to do with being an only child, or being good at my schoolwork and liking the praise of my teachers. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, or just my particular personality. I liked the rules, and I liked them because they told me I was good.

There weren’t that many rules when I was growing up. It’s not like I lived in a strict disciplinarian household. And many of the rules were unspoken, as well, or implied. Say please and thank you. Say thank-you-for-having-me if you’ve been to someone’s house. If a friend offers you a lift home take it, because they may not offer again. Comb your hair. Don’t ask for anything. Don’t dog-ear the pages of books, or fold their covers over onto themselves like you would a magazine. Be good. Don’t be a nuisance. Wait your turn. Offer the last biscuit to everyone else before you take it yourself. Don’t ever presume you’re welcome, but wait to be invited.

Do some of these rules sound familiar? There are some that I’ve thrown out in my adult life; recognised them as unnecessary, silly, or just plain wrong. I haven’t combed my hair in years – don’t own a hairbrush. I dog-ear books with alarming regularity, although I’d never bend their covers right back like a magazine. Sometimes I eat the last biscuit, even when I’m with other adults (as opposed to being the one adult around a bunch of kids, where I’d be lucky to get any biscuit at all!). I’ve noticed the silliness of kids who have been taught that it’s rude to ask (“Oh it’s such a pity I didn’t bring my drink bottle/lunch box/jumper/note pad to your place today”), and kids who miss out at birthday parties because they’re hanging back away from the food table or the piñata loot collection, waiting for their turn. Some rules are okay to break. Some rules are hard and fast. There’s wisdom in knowing the difference.

I thought I knew which rules were which, until Maggie came along.

Maggie and the goldfish

Maggie and the goldfish

It was Summer 2010. January, maybe even December when we first met her. We’d been catless for over a year (my first time ever living without a cat). The kids were small, my baby just toddling, and one of them yells out “Mummy! There’s a cat in our yard!” so we all went out to see. Sure enough, a fluffy black and white thing was calmly eating our grass, and allowed us to get close enough to go and pat her. The girls next door were over, and there was a big kerfuffle as the older kids raced inside to find a saucer of milk for her, and the ensuing spill, and by the time we got it outside again she was gone, and we all went back to what we were doing.

I don’t know how long after that we saw her again, maybe a week. “There’s that cat!” someone would call, and we’d all traipse to the back door to look. We presumed she lived over the back fence, or maybe in one of the units off to the side.

By February though, when the summer heat beat relentlessly on us, she was at our place more often than not. She’d lie outstretched in the sun on our deck, barely blinking as we wandered past with baskets of washing or hula hoops and balls. She’d be lying there, contentedly still, as we called the kids in for dinner finally, as the heat stretched into dusk and the curtains were closed for the night.

I think it was March when she first came inside. The days were generally hot enough for us to leave the back door open for the breeze, and in she’d wander until we picked her up and threw her out again. She didn’t learn though. Never learned that these were the rules, and that maybe she wasn’t welcome. Soon after, because it was still so warm, someone would leave the back door open again and in she’d come. Soon it wasn’t just the kitchen, we’d be turfing her off the couch in the lounge room, or a child would come out with a bemused expression, “That CAT’s under my bed!” We christened her Maggie, because she was black and white like a Magpie, and because we needed to call her something.

By June, when the back door was shut always against the cold, and the deck was more ice than sunshine, we didn’t have the heart to turf her off the couch when we found her there – which was nearly always. She’d miaow at the back door in the mornings, as if to say “you locked me out!” which of course we had. There was no food for her at our place, and no litter tray. She was healthy and well-fed though. She obviously had a home and an owner, although none of our neighbours knew who that owner was, and nobody ever called when we left fliers about her in their letterboxes.

One weekend in June we went away for a holiday. The kids were devastated. “But what about Maggie?” What if she goes away? What will we do without this cat that isn’t ours? What DOES one do? We left a can of tuna with our next door neighbour, and asked her to put it on the deck for us if she saw Maggie around. We briefed the kids to expect that we may not see Maggie for a while when we got home again, that she’d probably realised we were gone, and she’d go back to her original owner for a while. Every night though the kids prayed that Maggie would be there when we got back.

We didn’t get home until late, well past the time it first got dark, but the first thing we saw when we pulled into our driveway was a black and white cat standing on the woodpile, with the loudest MIAOW I’d ever heard. Maggie had missed us. I realised then just how much I’d missed her, too.

It was a few weeks after that a friend pointed out how skinny she was getting, and it suddenly occurred to me that she was spending so much time at our house that she may not have been going home at all, or if she had then her owner had given up on feeding a cat that they never saw. That afternoon we went to the supermarket and bought her a bowl and a litter tray and a dozen tins of cat food, and, as simply as that, she became ours.

Nobody ever taught Maggie to wait her turn, or to say thank-you-for-having-me. Nobody ever explained to her that it was rude to simply turn up uninvited and expect that you’d be wanted. Nobody ever told her that she couldn’t just show up and expect people to like her. She never listened to the rule that you needed to wait until you were asked, or thought to check first to see if she was wanted. She presumed she would be, and because of it she made us want her. Because she moved in she made us love her, not the other way around.

This is the biggest gift my cat has taught me: that the times that I’ve moved into people’s lives and made myself at home and just expected that I’d be their friend are okay too. That’s it’s better to presume you are loved and wanted and to act accordingly than it is to not, to have to wait to be asked.

If Maggie had waited to be asked we’d never have had a cat.

Magie on the pillow

Maggie on the pillow. This is her near-permanent home. 

I’m glad she didn’t wait. I’m glad we gave up hoisting her back out the door.

I’m glad that she’s taught me that it’s okay to expect to be loved.

I’m not glad that she’s missing though.

Just as quickly as she slipped into our lives she’s also slipped out. I think she got spooked by the builders. It’s been a stressful time for all of us, including Maggie. I haven’t seen her since last Thursday. Praying like crazy she comes home, and soon; that we’ll have one of those “our cat when missing for three whole weeks, oh don’t you wish they could talk” endings. I’m still, even now, peering into the early-morning grey out the window and hoping to see her little eyes glowing, waiting to be let in.

Because she’s our cat, and, simply because she broke all those stupid rules and moved in uninvited, we love her.

Maggie the cat

Love and judgement: a reflection

…and then there was Boston. And the raging argument over abortion legislation in Tasmania. And deaths of loved ones, and people on Facebook with broken hearts and broken spirits because of all of these. Even the air around me grieved yesterday.

We’re a bigoted bunch, it seems, and too often a calloused bunch as well. I can’t say I’m the exception, although I desperately wish I could. I’ve held onto my own self-righteousness like a cloak that keeps me warm in the past, and I’ve allowed ugly stereotypes and cartoonish thinking to uphold my prejudices against people. And…not only that…I thought I was justified. Ouch.

I’m sorry for it now.

The thing I’ve learned though, is that the same judgements we apply to other people we also unwittingly apply to ourselves. Then suddenly there’s a little part of us, an insecurity hidden deep inside, that cowers and says “I’m not good enough”, and our brazen, bigoted outside grows bigger in order to hide it.

When we stop judging others then we are free to love ourselves.

When we stop assuming that we are right and that we know the cardboard hearts of others then we can start seeing them for the flesh-and-blood and hurting creatures they really are.

I can’t judge. I’ve stood before as a self-appointed judge of others, and I’m deeply ashamed of it now. I’ve not loved people as I need to. I’ve let my own self-righteousness get in the way of loving other people, and for that I’m sorry.

I have no great authority today to say “go ye out today and change the world!”, but I can start with me. And, more so, I can start with MY world. Today I will love my children, and endeavour to respond with understanding and not judgement.

Maybe that way I’ll start a habit in me. Maybe that way I’ll start a habit in them.

Let’s choose to love. It’s all we’ve got.

The greatest of all is…

My youngest kid has a new habit. He’s taken to talking to people randomly – oh okay, that’s not news. The kid is only three, he’s already declared his undying affection for Susie Finkbeiner (actually he wants to marry her. Pity she’s already taken. Pity also that, if he did, all his new step-children would be older than he is. And he’s never met her. And he thinks she lives on a cloud because I’m going to visit her on an aeroplane). He also once threw a tantrum because I wouldn’t let him invite a middle-aged American novelist to his birthday party (“but MUMMY, she’s my FRIEND!”) so I’m fairly used to chatting with strangers because of him. However, he’s started a new twist on the whole everyone-is-my-friend thing: he’s started declaring his love for people publicly.

It’s very cute. He’s an adorable little fella and I think he knows it already, and he fixes you with those blue eyes and gazes up at you and his eyes crinkle up and he says “I love you Mummy!” and he means it. You can’t help but melt a little, and I think he feels that, truly feels the love that emanates in those moments. I think that’s why, the feeling of that love, that he keeps doing it. He does it to me, he does it to Daddy, he does it to Grandma and to Gran, and probably to his day carer as well. The day he said it to our next door neighbour was a bit weirder. Yes, we love her too, she’s a lovely lady and a great neighbour but we don’t go round…you know…talking about it.

But she melted when this little blond boy from over the fence squeezed her round the legs and said “I love you Aussie” (yeah her name’s Aussie. Because. No, not Ozzie, although she does have dark hair and is about the right age. As far as I know she doesn’t eat bats). She melted. Everybody does.

It made me think a lot about our culture. Australians, for the most part, are a stoic bunch. I know that this isn’t universal, that there are cultures where people profess their love for one another with alarming regularity, and cultures where men walk arm in arm along the road just because they’re friends, but we’re not like that. We’re “educated”, mores the pity. We’re taught to keep our feelings in, and sometimes – even worse – we’re taught that withholding love is an appropriate response to not liking someone’s behaviour, we’re taught that withholding love is okay unless we’re truly emotionally connected, or unless they treat us in exactly the right way.

My youngest is a smart kid. I want him to get a great education. But I want to completely UNeducate him in all of these things. He’s got it right already. There aren’t that many commandments in the second half of the Bible. On the whole it’s the same one repeated in endless ways: Love people. Love people. Love people. Love people. Not because we feel it about them. Not because they once gave us a favourite CD or an awesome pair of shoes. Not “because” anything. Just because.

Challenging, isn’t it? Here’s another challenge for you today: go tell someone you love them. Go on. My kid can. I dare you!

All you need is love

Well, Monday’s post on guilt and parenting certainly struck a chord with people. We are not alone. Thank you to all who took the time to leave a comment or talk to me on Facebook or in person about it. It’s been a valuable discussion. Actually, it’s been a very profound discussion in some ways.

Last night I read a comment from Pat Bailey, and I hope she doesn’t mind but I’m going to quote it here: “What is funny is that all the guilt I carried around for YEARS about things done or not done – things that I knew scared my children for life and I would burn in hell for. Those were the things that my children didn’t remember, just gave me the “you got to be s##### me” look. Then they told me the things that I did that really hurt them, wounded them and I thought “you got to be s#### me.” So I guess I carried the wrong guilt around all those years which means I should have just given it up and let them lay the guilt on when they were ready. That guilt didn’t seem like a burden because I said I was really sorry, they said no big deal, and life goes on…”

I found that so profound that I copied it onto Facebook, and Debbie left me this response: “Megan, my mother shared with us at my dad’s funeral that he always regretted the time he overreacted to a ‘potty’ word from one of us when we were little. My sisters and I looked at each other and said, “It wasn’t me, it must have been you.” None of us remembered it. I think guilt gets worse when you age, unless of course, you can let it go.”

AND THEN…(it just gets better, folks), my friend Lisa left this comment on the blog too: “…Interestingly one of my colleagues, who is a child psychologist of many years experience,  told me recently that she read that children need a good parent for around 30% of the time and as long as the other 70% or so is not abusive or destructive they will be fine…”

For me this is hugely profound, and incredibly freeing.

Just yesterday I realised something about myself and the way I thought. I’ve been battling through a mindset shift for the better part of two years, some real foundational thinking that I got wrong many years ago. It was, of all things, a novel that showed me that I’d been wrong for all these years (and locking myself away and suffering in silence because of it), and the journey of accepting the truth has been as difficult and painful as it has been freeing and beautiful. Paradigm shifts are like that. But just yesterday I saw in my mind for the first time exactly when that thought had come in, the words that were used, the conversation, the chairs, the room, the clothes my friend was wearing. Sometimes memories are weird like that. He was wrong. I know that now. But he was also seventeen, and seventeen-year-olds are kind of known for not being altogether accurate on big theological or philosophical matters. It’s not his fault that my thinking about myself and the way I did life with people was skewed. I was in a vulnerable place at the time, and I’d pressured him for answers bigger than he could give. Then hot on the heels of that thought was another one, also from when I was seventeen, and this time it was ME handing out judgemental idealism with a good dose of heavy-handedness (ouch. Oh I’m glad to be not seventeen any more). There were probably more incidences as well…but that’s the one I remember. Ouch. Remembering that so close to the revelation of how big an impact my friend’s words had had on me was…confronting.

I wanted immediately to go write to her and apologise, hoping that her life and understanding of self hadn’t been limited by my rash words all those years ago. I didn’t. Maybe she’s forgotten. Maybe she hasn’t. Maybe I need to. In the end I prayed for forgiveness for myself, and asked God to release her from any baggage my stupid words had left her with.

And then this morning I read the comments I posted above. It’s the full circle. We all stuff up, pretty much all the time, somewhere. And, of all the responses, guilt is the least productive. There’s a bit in the bible that says “love covers over a multitude of sins”, which is kind of what Lisa’s child psychologist friend is saying too – so long as those sins aren’t abusive or destructive – we are doing okay.

So. Go love somebody today. Go shout your friend their coffee. Hug your kids. Say yes. Forgive yourself. Forgive someone else. Love yourself.

Go on, you deserve it.

Loving people is a stupid idea

Love is dumb.

There. I’ve said it. Surely we have better things to do, like look after ourselves and our own. Makes me kind of wish we were like cats, or lions or something, you know: had babies, grew them up, killed animals, ate them, made babies, moved on, died. You don’t see cats getting all emotional because they wanted to share their kibble with the neighbour’s cat and the neighbour’s cat said no. You don’t see cats caring about much at all, actually.

Some people are like that. We can all, if the truth be told, be like that. We’re all selfish, demanding creatures who love salty food and warm beds and someone who shares the couch and lets us do our own things. It’s considered normal, and considered The Way Things Are.

That’s the way it was for me, really. Until some crazy lady did a Rachel Stewart number on me, and helped me when I’d fallen over in the middle of the race.

Rachel Who?

I don’t know if Rachel Stewart remembers the grade five athletics carnival. I don’t know if the friend she stopped for just before the end of the 100m sprint to help back to her feet again remembers the grade five athletics carnival either, but I do know that those two women, nearly thirty years later, are still friends. She stopped. Rachel Stewart was our fastest runner, and she stopped before the end to help her friend that was down. That’s love. That’s when you know that Rachel Stewart knew what meant more than some poxy ribbon on a pin.
That’s what love is.

She didn’t need to. Nobody needs to do a Rachel. In fact, Rachel Stewart didn’t need to do a Rachel, and when she did it it was Dumb dumb de dumb dumb, and she lost the race.

And once upon a time that crazy woman who did a Rachel on me knew what it meant as well. I drove her crazy. A few times. I probably put her through hell and back a few times as well, and I even did the famous SDCU* on her and decided that I’d stuffed things up so badly I could never ever love anybody again.

We do that. We all do that. We turn to our Rachel Stewarts and give them the finger and then we beat them in the next race and not think about it till it’s too late and we can only hope to God they might forgive us, and then we swear we’re never ever going to race again, poxy ribbon or no.

Tell you what, I’m glad that once upon a time God did a Rachel Stewart number on me. He did all right. And that’s the only reason I’m back lining up for the race at the moment.I’m back there on the old New Norfolk oval staring down the white lines on the grass and eyeing off the sports teacher holding the ribbon, and just a bit worried that that starter gun is a real one.

I’m going to run.
I’m looking at the people who are racing with me. None of us are that great, or that pretty, or that cool any more. And none of us are ever going to make the Olympics.
but together we’re running this race we call life, and this time I know, because I will always remember the ones who stopped for me, that no matter which one of us falls, I’M gonna be the one this time to stop and do a Rachel.

Care to join me?

*Super-dooper cock-up. See the last blog post.