My Mom has long said that when I was very little, I was known to go up to everyone and anyone, to say hello. Being infectiously friendly is and apparently always has been, a key trait to this redhead. I remember being in the alley behind our house in Michigan after having recently arrived there, so that would be at about age 7 for me. I was picking blackberries, purple-stained hands. Suddenly, there was a group of girls my Sister's age walking down the way. I might have told this story before. I introduced myself and then marched them up to my Sister's room with a swift knock on her door. Susan, one of the ensemble, is to this day one of Robin's best friends.
That was the first time that we had made a major move and it would not be the last. Every four years or so, my parents would announce that we needed to "have a talk" and I always knew what that meant. Off we would go to another part of the country and slowly, I lost that will to befriend, tired of always being "the new kid" who had to prove herself all over again. Eventually, I went so far as to dress in what was considered "radical" fashion at that time...new wave, punk, goth...just to confirm what seemed already evident, that I was "other," someone not meant to belong.
I tried to do so with pride. To be adolescent is to wear a mask lightly.
But that sense of separation created such loneliness. There is an inherent discord within not feeling being appreciated. As if it were bad to be uniquely myself, topped up with a heady longing to be loved. As Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in the poem, "I am prayer again,":
"It’s here in all the pieces of my shame that I now find myself again.
How I yearn to belong to something, to be contained in an all-embracing mind that sees me as a single thing.
And I yearn to be held in the great hands of your heart.
Oh let them take me now.
Into your hands I place these fragments, my life, and you my God spend them however you want."
Why am I writing about this now? Beyond the beauty of Rilke's words (and please, feel free to exchange "God" for whatever suits you), I have been rolling in the shadows of this seeming distance as of late, during this time of isolation, this pandemic. It has been since March 14th that I have been alone, so for nearly two months. I thought that I would be fine as I am used to solitary living but I did not take into account all of the interactions during my workday that buoyed me. I miss them.
One evening at the hotel this winter, a couple that I had been chatting on and off with for days came to the reception desk. Somehow, they started to speak about their religious beliefs and forcefully. Quickly, I understood that they both were trying to convert me to Christianity. The wife was more insistent than her husband, himself a preacher, who said something important. "What if this job is exactly where you are supposed to be for now? You are very talented at it and the difference that you make in people's lives...Perhaps that is enough? That you are celebrating the gifts that were given to you by God? To make others happy. To connect."
I thought about that for a long time after. And it echos with me now, in my empty room. What if? What if he is right?
I share these thoughts with the ghosts of the past. The issues not healed, having been ignored. In these days and nights, I find myself incapable of hiding from them. Grief, fear, anger...they have all arrived one by one, and rarely politely. I breathe through them, I feel where they are lodged in my body, I try to handle myself tenderly, with grace. This moment is a definite opportunity, or a demand, to heal those wounds once and for all. Sometimes, when I cannot take it anymore, I walk. But even then, in the abandoned streets, I am too aware of the massive space all around me.
I want to be seen again, to be recognised for who I am. In this time, often, not always, I feel invisible, indivisible from the hidden as we hold on, each in our own home. The lockdown will start to ease up in a few days time in France but the issues that have arisen will not so quickly be forgotten.
All I can ask is that we be aware and share for each other. As we can. I am not sure if we will ever approach others as openly as we once did but we can hold space for that desire to connect and not separate. Because of course that separation is only illusion. Can we remember to belong? To once again belong to ourselves and to each other? It could, quite clearly, give us all the force to go forward, in so doing, through love.
Valèry, one of my recent French readers, has suggested that I do a simple audio recording for all of my posts, not only as for the recent collaboration that I did with Rémy Deck on "So far to go through". He said that it helped him to better piece together the meaning and that the sound of my voice added to his understanding. So here we go, as a little test. I would love to have feedback if this is of interest. You can find it here: Invisible indivisible recording.
Something that we have both been concerned about recently is the emotional impact of this pandemic. On Instagram, Mayra has created @pauseandremember which invites us to take time each day at noon to mourn the lives that have been lost due to COVID 19 as well as to share the grief of their loved ones.
For my part, given that this is Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to help break the stigma of those who are suffering emotionally during this crisis. It is easy to put shame upon depression during this time, with thoughts such as "who am I to be down? I should be grateful to be alive. I am being ridiculous." While the truth is that all feelings are valid and are to be respected. As someone who has struggled off and on with depression my entire adult life, I fear that the repercussions of this crisis may be far-reaching indeed.
So, just in case anyone might need it:
En France, SOS Dépression, 24 heures sur 24, 7 jours sur 7, appelle gratuit.
In the States, IM Alive Crisis Prevention with trained responders available to chat at any time.
So let's do our best to stay connected. Be well, be safe and be kind.
With great love and gratitude from Provence,