Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Castaway Part V... Off the Island and a little bit about the Whale

Chuck Noland was stranded on a desert island - stripped down, leaned out by isolation, cut off from the life he knew and its daily rhythms.  That's what widowhood after 33 years of wedlock feels like at first. Once you lived in a marriage, suddenly you were a adrift and washed up on an unknown shore. It feels like you may never get off that island. You have moments where you almost resign yourself to the idea that you will forever mourn the loss of your old life and scratch out a barren, joyless existence. Chuck Noland, face with the formidable barrier of the reef and the lack of materials to devise a sail felt trapped as well. He couldn't reasonably imagine rescuing himself with the materials he had available.Without intervention, he could see no way off.

Noland was trapped four years. Four long years.  I've met people trapped in grief for that long and longer. They fail to get find or accept the resources to get off the island. They remain preoccupied with the loss, crippled by longing for the loved one who is no longer there, unable to find purpose or meaning. I believe that the loss of a spouse if very different from the loss of a parent or a child -- and that each of these losses have their own nuances. None is worse than the other. I've experience all and I can say that the loss of a spouse, to me,  is more like the loss of my life and my identity than any thing else.  Parents raise us up to set us free; we raise up children, not expecting to keep them forever. We experience little deaths when we move away from our parents, when our nest is emptied. In no way is the physical death of either "less" than the death of a spouse, but it is different.  A spouse is someone we commit share life with "until death do us part."  We become one. And as C.S. Lewis wrote, losing a spouse is much like an amputation. In order to not remain trapped on the island of grief-stricken widowhood, you must hold out hope that there IS LIFE out there, just beyond that barrier reef. You need to dream; you need to patiently (gulp, I said the word) believe that escape is possible with the right tools.

"And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I'm back." The island changed him, but at the core Chuck was still Chuck. Parts of who "he" was came back to serve him rather than to control him. Once he was a slave to the clock and to the calendar, now he used his knowledge of these things to purposefully plan his escape. Where the old Chuck was constantly trying to race against minutes, he was now working with the slow, steady reliability and timeliness of the forces of nature. As you find your way off the island of your grief, you will find that you learned a lot being married and you learned a lot as you were thrust into life on your own. Putting the best of the old with the new resiliency and it is a matter of waiting upon Providence to send in the key to escape with the tide. He knows what we need better than we do and Philippians 4:19  tells us "... my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus."

Watching Chuck launch his rickety raft off the island and row headlong into those terrifying waves makes me tense up every time. I'm still impressed by how that rickety thing that didn't look safe and didn't look pretty made it over such an overwhelming obstacle. It took faith to depart from that island. Four years before he was flying above the clouds, his life on course, finding himself in a horrifying struggle against the power of the ocean which spit him out on that rocky shore. Now we see him bravely turning his back on that island and venturing forth with faith into the same ocean. That's faith. Belief in action that there *is* something better out there, that sitting on that island and rotting is not "life."  For me, the knowledge that Pat loved the Lord and that his death wasn't some grim finality made a huge difference in my attitude and my unwillingness to set up camp on the island for the long haul. I also completely believe that God has plans for me, good plans, plans that are not mean to harm me but to see me prosper (Jeremiah 29:11). I have faith that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Just because there is a season where I'm blinded by tears or facing rocky uphill climbs, I have known all along that I can't lose heart because one day I'll see what He was doing and I know it's going to be for good greater than I can imagine.

This is where I have to mention about the whale - this is getting too long for one sharing opportunity - but that whale represents to me God's presence. (I've got much more to write about this that I probably will at a later time). When Chuck gets past that barrier, past his long,dark night of the soul (four years worth), in the dead of night he encounters the peaceful presence of that huge whale. The whale, with all its majesty,bellows, exhales, submerges and reappears on the other side of that rickety raft, casting its peaceful, benevolent eye on Chuck. One flip of a fin or turn of the tail and that whale could crush Chuck, instead it is on one side, then the other, a protective guardian. It vanishes below the surface and yet you know it is there. There is a wonderful song by Mark Heard, a man who also died young of a heart attack and is with the Lord today.  The song talks about how we so often do not realize the "strong Hand of love hidden in the shadows."

I'm on that rickety raft like Chuck.I'm out on the sea on the way to living this new life as whoever He has planned for me to be.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Castaway (Part III)...

And now time for part III of the comparison of my past 10 months with Castaway. It's apparent to me now that this will not be done in three parts. I'm verbose and a lot has happened, a lot has changed in me and around me. REMEMBER, please, that this is not necessarily where I am right now. This is a lot of "hindsight is 20/20" reflection. With that.....One thing Chuck couldn't do was get off that island. He could not get past the barrier reef. He would try but the huge waves would send him crashing back. My barrier reef has less physical than it has been emotional/spiritual; my barrier reef has been my loss of identity and the ability to see myself in a new light. For most of my life my identify has been as part of a union, a very strong union that had survived some very big storms but could not withstand the division of death. Coming to terms with "aloneness" and accepting myself as a singularity, recreating myself as "me" instead of part of "us," this has been my hurdle.

Chuck had purpose in his old life - loving Kelly with plans to marry her and keeping things smoothly oiled at FedEx. That purpose helped him to focus on staying alive on that island and gave him hope.  The thought of Kelly back in his arms kept him alive. The intent to deliver the one package that he chose not to open gave him a sense of continuity of purpose that helped him hang on to his identity. The barrier reef defeated his purpose - but only temporarily.  Temporarily can be a short time, but it can also be longer than we like. The key is that it is not permanent. Chuck had a purpose which enabled him to work toward the hope that the island was not his final residence.

A portion of my purpose was buried with Pat. After all, unlike Chuck's desire to reunite with Kelly, I knew from the get go that reuniting with Pat in this lifetime would never be an option. Therefore, I've had to pull from other parts of my identity in order to give me a reason to hang on to some semblance of sanity. I've  also had to dig and untangle the knotted purpose of my life and extricate the single cord of my own purpose as "Glynis," the stand-alone entity/

Faced with that barrier reef and a seeming inability to make it over that reef, Chuck had to come to terms with life on the island. He said, ""I had power over *nothing*. And that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope."  He had to look around that island and find resources that would enable him to survive. Action had to be taken and often it was painful and exhausting.

Sometimes the tide brought in useful items from the plane crash that greatly aided Chuck in his survival. Lessons learned in my marriage have surfaced, as well, to help me survive this unexpected life.  Chuck was able to use those blessings as tools to scratch out a life on that island.

When Chuck made it back to civilization, he was faced with loss all over again. Kelly was gone - she had a new life, one that he was not part of.  He was faced with loss but he was also faced with possibility.

"I had power over *nothing*. And that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that's what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I'm back."

Castaway Part IV

Part IV. It seems to be the proclivity of man to not appreciate things properly until they are gone. Continuing to compare my first ten months of widowhood with Castaway, Chuck became keenly aware of the things that he once assumed were always going to be part of his life like ice, fire, knives, dentists around the corner, companionship... I also became keenly aware of the things that were no longer present in my life.

There are things in a marriage that one truly takes for granted. Waking up next to someone every morning. Having someone who says, "Are you ok?" when you sigh, groan, scream, or perhaps make a loud bang as you wipe out.There is someone there to laugh with you and cry with you. There are so many pleasant things that you don't truly appreciate until they are gone. I was blessed to have a husband who loved to give me back/neck rubs. Driving in the car, if I was at the wheel, I'd get a neck rub. Sitting in church. Watching TV. My neck has been so tight since he left this orb because the daily ministrations are gone.  Twirling my hair - wherever we were, particularly sitting in church, Pat always had his arm around me twirly my hair. Sometimes it would even hurt because he'd be so absentmindedly doing it that he wouldn't realize it was too much. He also would really muss it up and shrug if I got annoyed, then go back to twirling.  I can't remember a day that went past that he didn't compliment me, tell me how beautiful he thought I was, or let me know in some way that he still had the hots for me even after all the years. Women always complain about toilet seats left up, trails of laundry, misplaced items, the last piece of something eaten. Lose your spouse of 33 years and I'll guarantee you that you would jump for joy if you fell in the toilet at night because that meant he was there.The passive aggressive battles over which way the toilet paper should be placed on the roller, waking up to dishes from his midnight snacks.

You miss what you no longer have; strangely enough, this means the bad with the good, the "meh" with the wonderful. You think you have time, therefore, you gripe, you forget to be thankful, Marriage is an amazing opportunity to come to terms with your own humanity and someone else's. It is a time to exercise forgiveness and humility, to learn to put another's needs before your own. You learn about specks in someone else's eye and planks in your own, up close and personal. Iron sharpens iron, if you don't kill each other, you will be stronger in the end.

In the beginning of the story, Chuck extols the virtues of the clock - "We live or die by the clock." Chuck lives in a world where time is of the essence. As for me, one of my life mottoes has been from "IF--" by Rudyard Kipling: "If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run..." Time is relentless and as Chuck says, "Relentless is our goal." Suddenly, days marked by the ticking of the clock were gone. Used to time broken down in seconds, minutes, hours, with must-dos and the all-powerful schedule to comply with, Chuck now finds that time can be relentless in a completely different way. He also must build a new personal of relentlessness that includes patience, something heretofore not a part of the equation. Not that my time now is as unrelentingly slow and focused as Chuck's became on that island, but I deeply regret the constant motion, the time spent meeting goals and conquering to-do lists. This is not to say that those goals that I met haven't served me well - in fact, I thank God for the foresight to do some of the things I did. However, I wish that more time had been filled with the simplicity of enjoying our life together. The clock stopped on our marriage far earlier than I ever had imagined it would. Job 1:21 - "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Let this be a cautionary tale.

Psalm 90:12 says "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  In James 4:14 we are reminded, "Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes."

Next up: The Whale. What the Tide Brings In. Facing other losses.  Not necessarily in the same post. :)