I have been buried under an vague but massive, lung-crushing sense of oppression and frustration for some time. Some of it these feelings are based in current events and politics, some in my professional life, and some in my personal life. I can’t think of a time in my life when I have felt and tasted total frustration, disappointment, and deeply buried rage so tangibly. These are feelings I have traditionally forced inward and then numbed with red wine, passive aggression, and paralyzing insidious self-doubt. Or, I have tried to compensate for them by being the perfect cook, host, gardener, friend… Whatever it took to hide my inadequacies in the closet, and compensate for my failings in other areas. I have become very good at compensating.
I was born with the scourge of sensitivity on my soul. I can be painfully vulnerable to gratuitous confrontation and finely tuned jabs. I am the perfect victim for the passive aggressive. I am also admittedly a card carrying member of the P.A. club. I am aware of this, and for the love of God, I try to play along and to take things lightly. I try not to be weak and easily hurt. I don’t want to be Debbie Downer, or the person everyone has to tread softly around. I try to be assertive and direct. It does not come naturally, and it is a constant uphill battle. Then again, I see nothing wrong with admitting that at this point in my life, I overwhelmingly prefer to be around people who are kind and fair and loving. People for whom I don’t need to prepare for by dressing in soul-armor.
I had a conversation with a good friend of mine this weekend. We were talking about some challenges I have faced in some personal and professional relationships. She told me that there are some people in life that are meant to be teachers. These people are sought out because subconsciously, we know we have something to learn, and somehow we know these particular people are going to be a part of that learning process. If you have some wherewithal, you will eventually learn a valuable lesson or two. Oftentimes these people are inadvertently leaping about and flailing their arms, metaphorically flagging you down, and saying “knock knock! Anyone home? Are you even SEEING THIS? How can you not be seeing this?”
The best teachers tend to be the ones who make you the craziest. Crazy, as in: I am frightened by the amount of anger I am harboring towards them, I never thought I could have such rageful thoughts about them, and it’s eating me up inside angry. I like to think of myself as a nice person. A lot of the time my feelings about some of my teachers make me feel profoundly NOT nice. My feelings about some of my teachers make me feel like a wounded animal, ready to bare teeth and go for the jugular.
Relationships with these teachers can be complicated and filled with resentments, hurt feelings, misunderstandings and real pain. PAINFUL pain. To complicate things further, a lot of time, you also have incredibly positive feelings for these teachers, like love and respect and admiration. I have noticed in myself, a desperate desire to find some middle ground on which to connect, without fear or anger. I yearn to win the struggle to forgive, and to make peace. I want to replace uncomfortable and excruciating feelings of pain with feelings grace, kindness, patience, and total acceptance.
As someone who tends to have an elephant’s memory for the various ways in which I have been wronged in my life, and the people who have wronged me, forgiveness and kindness at times, seem like far-away places I visit only in my dreams.
I don’t want to give up the fight. I don’t want to walk away. There are still things to learn. But I am feeling really tired and vulnerable right now. I think I might need a time out. And I think I can be okay with that.
And then there is that ever-looming concept of personal responsibility. As other people are teachers, so am I. I teach people how to treat me. I teach people what I celebrate, and what I will tolerate and ignore and deny. I am realizing that I have been teaching from a really flawed lesson plan. I have been teaching things like funny math, and “the earth is flat” kind of lessons.
Changing the lesson plan is really fucking hard. Students and teachers alike will become confused when the game is changed partway through. And I have to deal with it, because this is the house I built with my own two hands. I created the game, like it or not. I am the one who sealed myself into a room with no windows. I am the one who painted myself into a corner. I did those things because for some reason, it felt like home. But now I see the flaws in my past ideology. And now I am trying to change the lesson book. I have to change the lesson book because I have to save myself.
I keep saying it over and over again. “We teach people how to treat us”.
I am at a difficult point right now, because changing the lesson plan can make a person feel really isolated and lonely. No one knows the new, strange tune I am trying to whistle. Christ, it even feels foreign to me. As a person who has always loved and craved feelings of connectedness to humanity and to people, those feelings of separateness are really, really difficult and lonely.
When I think about my tenuous relationships I have with some of the teachers in my life, I try to think to myself “Would I want anyone treating my daughter the way I am being treated?”. Taking things a step further, I wonder if I would ever allow anyone to speak to Maggie in the cruel and degrading way I often speak to myself. The answer is no.
I treat my daughter with so much more kindness than I treat myself. I notice how I love her so completely and unconditionally, and with such acceptance and warmth. It feels good to love like that.
And I realize that I have a teacher I never, ever expected. In an amazing turn of events, my twenty month old daughter just handed me the lesson book. And the answers are all right there, and she is flailing her arms, metaphorically flagging me down, and saying “knock knock! Anyone home? Are you even SEEING THIS? How can you not be seeing this?”
It’s my turn to be the student. I think I will shut up and pay attention for a change.