I received a call from one of my sisters this past week that seemed to be something of a breakthrough. The events of illness and loss that I incurred had isolated me from her and others, a position which my own mind perceived as one of abandonment.
Although I had consciously chosen to forgive them for not coming to my aid in a time of terrible despair, deep down inside I remained confused about the reasoning behind it. Sometimes, especially when wounds are deep and long-standing, the healing that occurs with forgiveness is not automatically accompanied by memory purge.
Those painful “bytes” can remain and cause the scar to prickle and itch with discomfort.
As we cautiously spoke, some unnerving things emerged. I found out that among the reasons my sister Anne didn’t reach out to me was the fact that a close friend of hers, who happens to be a social worker, advised her that my problems were so immense that her help would end up being an “all or none” phenomenon.
Anne lived hundreds of miles away, had a steady job, a husband and home to care for, and so in taking this counsel to heart she felt she could not give “100 percent.” In good faith, she took this literally in verbatim fashion, a fact that I was never aware of. I was quite astounded.
I’ve worked in the health field myself, and had never seen this guideline invoked except under the most extreme circumstances. I'd never heard it expressed in the myriad of settings I found myself in as I worked with my own therapists and social workers. All or none? I just didn't get it.
I felt compelled to tell my sister that this well-intentioned advice from her friend was just dead wrong. When someone is ill or needs help, he will usually take whatever scrap that comes along, from whatever source, in whatever form, anything from a simple phone call or e-mail to something that may indeed require more ongoing or substantial involvement.
I needed help badly, yes, but was always rational enough to never expect the whole enchilada. I knew that no fairy godmother or knight in shining armor would show up! I was very, very sick, but I wasn't psychotic!
Another reason she gave is that the few conversations we had during those times left her feeling hurt and wounded. I know that there was a lot of anger and pain on my part during those rare exchanges, but then again I was the one on a toxic mix of medications, I was the one in chronic pain, I was the one who had incurred the losses.
Shouldn’t she have taken that into consideration? I began to think of these conversations, many of which I can’t even remember, as ping pong games in which we tossed back the little ball of needs, thoughts, statements, questions. It appeared as if my little ball hit her more than I ever realized, without my even intending it! But then, when we played that game, she was playing in a healthy state, and I saw myself as playing with a tremendous handicap.
I was playing without two good legs, perhaps, or with only one arm, or after drinking twenty cups of coffee just to keep going, or with only one good eye. Wouldn’t it make sense that my hits would more often miss the mark, or have more or less force than was needed or intended? Was it even possible for me to properly control the paddle? I do know this: engaging in the game with crippling disadvantages made “winning” an impossibility — I was fated to lose.
In the middle of this rather revelatory conversation I went to my kitchen window and saw the groundhog that's been plaguing my neighborhood for months. I mentioned it to Anne, and she started telling me about hers. A few minutes later, her groundhog made an appearance!
We discovered we had an eerily similar experience: In May, I was unable to set a trap for my critter when I saw a baby groundhog shivering in my driveway. I remember it so well because it happened on Mother’s Day! She told me the same thing had happened to her; in fact, she'd seen more than one baby. She, too, was unable to render them orphans.
Here we were, sharing a rather mundane and irritating experience, and having the exact same reaction! We are both mothers, we each have a son and a daughter — we both chose mercy over fresh produce. I didn’t know there was a gene for groundhog trapping!
So why was groundhog appearing to us both at the exact same moment, hundreds of miles apart, during a conversation that was the most productive we'd had in years, if not decades?
Groundhogs, like bears, are hibernators, and can ask us to pay attention to our dreams and our inner states. I wasn't doing dream analysis with Anne, but I know that being more introspective and seeking peace within has helped me put a lot of things in perspective. Groundhoga tell us to create proper boundaries and then act accordingly.
We shouldn't make a habit of giving free rein and inviting havoc, but neither should we put up so many walls that nothing can get in. Groundhog's burrowing skills may be reminding us to bury the past along with those things that no longer serve our purpose. Practicing introspection and constructing a new, better viewpoint can lead to the emergence of a new sense of self (or others), just as groundhog reappears in the spring after a long winter's sleep.
I don’t know about Anne, but I plan to reflect on these messages over the next few days and try to act on them, especially since groundhog has made such a tenacious appearance in my life.
I know that taking an on/off, all-or-nothing approach to adversity is not a good option. Circumstances can change quickly in times of stress; needs exist in a continuum and can come and go in rapid fashion.
I believe that each of us is here in human form to learn and to teach — to learn our own lessons as we attempt to achieve the godlike state of goodness and love, and to teach others the knowledge that is needed for their own journey.
Being placed in a posture of loss and illness has allowed me to learn much. I can only hope I’ve taught a little something in return. But of this I am sure: groundhog came to both of us simultaneously — she must have had an awfully good reason.
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