Sometimes when people ask me what I do (admittedly, never a quick and easy answer) I want to say, “I translate people to themselves.” I help translate the feelings, behaviors and reactions that seemingly make no sense to them, helping them make the connections to where they’ve been, what they’ve experienced and sometimes even who they were told that they are.
For example: they feel anxious and easily overwhelmed because they were faced with handling adult situations as a child. The consequence now is that any seemingly overwhelming situation puts them back in that helpless child place. Or they feel depressed because they are listening to negative messages that no longer apply (if they ever did.) Or nothing seems right because it’s time… time to let go of an old hurt, times to grieve a lingering loss, time to get out of the toxic relationship, time to start the next chapter.
I’ve learned in my own life that my feelings are important messengers. If I catch myself suddenly running short on patience that’s a clear sign to me that something needs attention.
The only problem is that many of us live in a culture geared to helping us ignore our feelings. We can stay so busy that we seem to outrun them. We have lots of ways to distract ourselves from them… food, alcohol, drugs (prescription and recreational) worry (faux worry can be the useless distraction from real planning), television, pop culture… even religion can be a distraction. The problem is that these feelings don’t go away if we ignore them. They’re not like the snowbank that eventually melts, no matter how long it takes. They’re more like the pile of laundry that just starts to stink.
My family teases me that all I do all day is sit around asking, “How does that make you feel?” But really, how does it make you feel? Or more to the point, what are you feeling these days? Pay attention. Pay attention to what’s in the flow and pay attention to what’s out of whack. Listen to them. If you’ve a mind to do so, write a dialogue with that feeling and ask it what it means and where it comes from.
We have a great internal GPS system. All we have to do is pay attention.
Sometimes it’s hard to take it all in.
Driving the very familiar road to the beach I noticed a lot of damage in one town. Old homes had trees resting top of them, pulling down gutters and destroying roofs. Other trees were uprooted, still lying in the yards where they’d fallen. I finally realized that the town had been hit by the tornadoes that swept through the eastern part of the state not so long ago.
It’s already been an ugly season for tornados and sometimes it’s hard to know how to take it all in. We’d not had time to take in the devastation in Alabama when a new town is added to the geography of disaster: Joplin, Missouri. Yesterday I heard a woman on NPR saying in a quiet, lost voice, “My husband has Alzheimers and he’s in (a care facility now destroyed.) We don’t know where he is now.”
A friend posts on his Facebook page a link to a site showing picture after picture of the utter devastation in Joplin. (One redeeming picture is the mixture of joy and relief of a young couple as they hold their just-rescued dog.) Over lunch I try to read a Sports Illustrated story about the Alabama storms but have to stop. I’m in a Subway eating my sandwich and the tears are beginning to fall.
Perhaps instead of spending so much time, energy and money worrying about the end of the world we would do well to invest ourselves in those whose worlds have ended. As I looked at the pictures from Joplin I wondered to myself how one even begins. But the truth is that I know. You start where you are and you pick up one piece… and then the next… and then the next.
It’s what we do when our worlds have ended – whether it’s a natural disaster like a tornado or a private one like a death. It’s what we do when we don’t know what to do next because the worlds we’ve been living in no longer fit us or feed us or seem like life to us. We pick up the next piece. We follow the next thread. And when it seems that there is just too much that’s unknown or too much that’s too tragic we stop and breathe and in our breath allow our hearts to grow just a little bit bigger. For as I read the story and looked at the pictures I wanted to weep for the sadness of it all but also for the grace of it all… People who traveled far away from their homes to search through the wreckage of a stranger’s home. A dog who was willing to work through the hard days sniffing for life. A former football player who found that he could give something back to these people who’d cheered for him, that he could cheer them up just be being there with them.
Sometimes life leaves us all twisted up. But we pick up the next piece. We follow the next thread. And sooner or later we discover that while one life may have ended, a new one has begun.