Patience is All

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

I don’t know what’s going on with me. Besides feeling like I “can’t” write, I don’t want to go out. Yet after I rush home – from work, from the salon, from Whole Foods – I don’t want to be where I am. My heart is not open. I cannot access what’s essential. And I have this dreaded feeling again – or maybe not again, there are differences – this dreaded feeling of being a mother who’s lost her child. And anything I can “do” about this has nothing to do with action, but with the way I am with my grief.

It’s been suggested that I take a break from reading the emails I’ve packed in my binders. I have read from 1996 through summer of 2002. Eleven years to go. It’s not a race, much as I’m greedy in wanting to read it all. Philip and Natalie are in those pages, and it’s all real. There’s me going to college part time, on fire to learn. Writing to Ed about Shakespeare and poetry and myth. I wanted so much then – to exercise my intellect which I’d felt rotting in my head for lack of stimulation. I went for long walks and craved solitude. What happened to me? Now, If I’m not at work, if I’m not with someone – and I mostly am not – I’m sad. I don’t want to go out, much less go for a walk. I have more solitude than I know what to do with.

I think I’m lonely, which is hard and embarrassing to admit. I say “I think” because my idea of what loneliness is is that you sit around and wish there were people around to fill the hole. I don’t feel it that way. But maybe feeling sad, longing for something I can’t put words on, feeling restless and unsure, maybe that’s what lonely is. Lonely is a terrible secret I carry. It feels like a character flaw instead of a result of choices I’ve made.

I still have trouble connecting the dots between what I do and what I feel and I don’t think I appreciate what immersing myself in the past has done to me. I am overwhelmed and when there’s that much pain I shut it down. Go stupid. I’ve flatlined and I don’t know what I can do to change this.

I cannot figure out what to do with myself. I read, I write when I can, I get lost in TV. I will go somewhere if I’m invited, but on my own I just give up. Maybe because I’m trying with my head instead of my heart and there are some things that all the thinking about in the world won’t fix. But nothing calls out to me, I’ve no desire to be anywhere. Though that’s not entirely true. Kirsten and I have dinner most every Sunday, and during those hours I know pleasure.

In an effort to get myself up and out, I signed up for a series of four meditation classes held at Van Vleck House and Gardens in Montclair. Van Vleck is a nonprofit that used to be a private estate. The house looks like an Italian villa, with its cement pillars and lovely arched windows. The grounds are beautifully landscaped, with a large garden out back beyond the stone patio. Van Vleck hosts community events, and is open to the public, free of charge, year round.

Yet soon as I commit to anything, I don’t want to do it. I couldn’t force myself to go to the first class. I went to the second, but left there with a bad feeling. No, I went with a bad feeling and the class could do nothing to assuage that. John, the instructor, talked to us about meditation and then talked us through meditation. His rich voice resonates and relaxes – it was made for this. John is also my grief counselor. Once when I went to see him he did a meditation with me. I closed my eyes and went where his voice took me. When it was over I thought it had lasted for about 15 minutes. No, he said. It’d been 45.

In class, we sat and meditated, then we walked around the garden and meditated. Afterward, people talked about their experience. They were grateful, they felt good. I didn’t understand. They talked of how lovely the garden smelled, while I’d  noticed an odor when we first went out, something animal and vaguely skunky. Those who walked outside barefoot – like I did – talked of smooth grass and cool, earthy patches of dirt. I went into that garden careful and unsure, afraid of squishing bugs or stepping in anything the birds might’ve left behind.  The people that spoke in class seemed from another world.  What could I say to make this real for me, I wondered? What would I really, really want to say?

I didn’t know. How is it that even if I’m sitting and thinking, even if I have time to form sentences before I have to say them, I cannot know what I want to say? It seemed wrong not to abide in the spirit of peace and love that room was hell bent on creating. Wrapped in grief and anxiety, I was angry that I felt an outsider, and ashamed that someone might notice.

Maybe patience is all. And kindness. I’ve not been very kind to myself. I talk to myself the way my mother talked to me, abusive and humiliating. It’s a deep groove that I only entrench myself in when I let her wash over me. The only power she has is what I give her. And I don’t mean my mother who’s out there in the world. I am slowly learning how to handle her, and at 83, she has become careful with me. I mean the mother I’ve internalized. Her voice is relentless.

Seems time to recognize the way I talk to myself and change the conversation.

© 2016 Denise Smyth


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pedro
    Jun 05, 2016 @ 21:17:37

    Hi D, been waiting for you to post and Im Glad you did. Dont know everything about meditation but I have my own practice now for myself. sounds like others were trying to steer your meditation practice for you This is something that only you should control and I use that term ( control) loosely. You are more than able to handle your own mediation practice. We all have that gift with in ourselves ,It may just take time

    Love you,



    • Denise
      Jun 11, 2016 @ 17:38:21

      You’re right – I’m the one who has to handle my meditation. I went through a period of meditating when it just felt good to sit with my-self. The readiness, is all…


  2. Lucia Maya
    Jun 05, 2016 @ 22:10:00

    Ah, patience. As usual, I relate to much of where you are. I’m not “lonely”, yet when alone (in evenings) I zone out with Netflix or obsessing about which couch to buy, or other numbing activities. And I’m grateful I do find joy and peace much of the time these days….

    Coming up on another anniversary, of 4 years (!) since Elizabeth’s cancer returned, am feeling her presence so strongly, and also this incredulous, absolute stunning disbelief that she’s dead. How can it be true? I know you know this too… Watching and riding the waves, grateful you’re writing, hoping I will too again…

    OH! wanted to tell you about a writing weekend I’m assisting at ironically… The teacher is wonderful, Mirabai Starr, who is a translator of the mystics and also lost a daughter. She wrote Caravan of No Despair, a memoir of her unconventional childhood, wild life and her daughter’s life and death. Here’s the link in case you’re interested, been thinking of you and forgetting to share it:


    • Denise
      Jun 11, 2016 @ 17:36:48

      First, sorry it took me so long to respond. I’ve been a bit out of it when I’m alone. But it is so GOOD to hear from you. Yes – anniversaries, birthdays, holidays – such heartache they bring, yet they also remind us of how here they were. And I know they’re still here, but it’s so damn hard not to touch them, hear them, laugh and cry with them. I miss him, Lucia; there’s still, after four years, disbief.

      You’ll write when you’re ready, and I’ll be here to read.

      Thank you for the link – yes, it sounds terrific. I’m going to see if I can work it out.

      Such love to you, and to Elizabeth Blue.


  3. Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective
    Jun 11, 2016 @ 09:33:27

    I can relate, for sure. I keep on trying to walk this life with Jason with some meaningful purpose and joy, but sometimes my energy and strength of purpose fail.


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