“Show me the door, and I will walk through it.”
This is the promise I made to myself during the most difficult time of my adult life, when all the elements of my existence seemed to be in discord.
In the months – truly, the first raw years – after my mother’s death at the age of 60, not one thing in my life felt congruent with me. In dealing with her illness and death, I’d reconnected with parts of myself I’d long buried or shoved aside. I now felt obligated to honor my “highest and best” self unequivocally.
This transition started many years before Mom actually died, when she suffered a traumatic brain injury. After that, my husband’s career was sucked into the vacuum created by the collapse of the housing market. Then our dog succumbed to a swift and brutal illness. Mom’s cancer was diagnosed shortly after the loss of our dog, and although I carried on with my usual optimism and bravado, I must admit to feeling a little beset. Still, I had this sense that even these difficult circumstances were leading me somewhere – deeper into my own life, to a more complete knowledge of myself.
After Mom died, nothing felt right. The problem wasn’t that she was gone, really, although that wasn’t the outcome we’d hoped for. Rather, with her death began a period of intense self-examination. What if I die at 60? What will I wish I’d done differently? How can I spend the hours and days of my life engaged in endeavors that I would deem worthy on my deathbed?
Although this new keen awareness of the value of the moments of my life felt right, like part of a natural process, it was also excruciatingly uncomfortable. It wasn’t that I’d outgrown my life exactly, but rather the opposite: the events of the past few years had whittled me down to my core, and I felt suddenly lost in an oversized life. Slipping around in it was like trying to run in shoes two sizes too big.
I felt impotent, unable to change the shapes of things. A simple task like pruning a rangy bush in my yard became insurmountable. I simply lacked the energy or the inclination. Weeds sprouted. Paint peeled. I bought weed killer and didn’t use it. I bought spray paint and it sat on my counter, waiting to be used, until I finally put it away.
This wasn’t frank depression; it was more a time of reckoning, a realigning of priorities. Feeling an intense dissatisfaction and apathy toward my life brought with it a kind of freedom, like everything I had grown accustomed to was scrawled in chalk on a blackboard and I stood ready to swipe a felt eraser right through the middle of it all. I no longer felt invested in clinging to old ideals, outmoded sentiments.
And yet, along with this willingness to do whatever it took to mend my life, it seemed equally imperative that I do nothing. To manifest big changes during this somewhat reckless period of internal realignment would be unwise. Rather, I felt I was required to sit with my discomfort, feel the feelings. I sensed the time to act would come, and when it did, I could trust that I would “do the right thing,” even if it was uncomfortable. Hell, I was already so uncomfortable I figured it couldn’t be much worse (though we all know that’s not true; it can always be worse). I so badly wanted to do something, to alleviate these feelings of prickling dissatisfaction that made me feel like I was squirming in my own skin, but although my compulsion to act was overwhelmingly strong at times, it was abundantly clear to me that now was a time to do nothing at all.
So the mantra was born: Show me the door. I said it to myself, really. Who else would I talk to? Not God, not the angels everybody is always romanticizing about. I find it unlikely that supernatural beings are listening to me and are invested in my personal well-being. Rather, I said it to the wiser part of myself that I was learning I could trust to guide me. The part of myself that might send me, again and again, to walk across the coals, but always for a good reason.
“Show me the door, and I’ll walk through it. I promise.”