Every Day, On Occasion

I was religious once. More of a question than an answer. More of a desperate attempt, than a genuine plan. That’s how it is sometimes though. When you’re not sure if you will ever see someone you love again, you tend to become religious. It isn’t the only time, but it’s a time. Every day I wonder if I messed up. If I made the wrong decision. To believe. Not to believe.

Every day I make a conscious decision to stay awake. Every afternoon I start to slip a little. I get drowsy, usually from lack of sleep the night before, and I have to decide if I should just curl up on the couch with a book, or I push through. Plan dinner, do some laundry, make a to-do list for when I will feel like doing more. I usually push through.

I feel guilt over something every day. Some situation, some action or reaction I had. It’s part of the cycle of shame. Of not being in control. I read it in a book. A book about adults who grew up with parents with addictive behaviors. We seek control, and when we don’t have it we blame ourselves. We blame ourselves a lot, for situations out of our power. It’s a cycle.

On occasion I wonder if my husband loves me like he said he does. I wonder it even as he is saying he loves me, or showing me in some way. He has never given me a reason to think any different. Never hurt me in a profound way. I just wonder if he loves me like he says he does. Because on occasion I wonder if I love people the way I think I do, because on occasion I wonder if what I feel is love. Or something else altogether.

On occasion I look into a mirror and feel a strange sense of detachment from my body and my emotions. My therapist says it happens. She says it’s a symptom of trauma. Depersonalization. Profound detachment. It goes by several names. It’s an odd feeling. The feeling of not belonging in your own skin. The feeling of watching your body continue to buzz, but your brain turn off. On occasion I avoid mirrors all together.

I worry about my child. Every day. Every day at some point I stop and wonder what he is doing at school at that moment. If he ate all his lunch. If someone was mean to him. If he was mean to himself. Every day I worry that he got enough sleep the night before. I listen to his breathing while we sit on the couch together. I ensure that he isn’t coming down with anything. I worry that I am messing him up. That he doesn’t have the life I planned for him. That I am disappointing him in some way, some irreversible way.

On occasion I wonder when the other shoe will drop. When this life I am living will end. When the rug will be pulled out from under me. I envision a fiery crash. A break-in. A gunshot. I assume I’ll be taken down in a blaze of some kind, an accident maybe, but a tragedy no less. I think I’ll be blindsides at two am with bad news. I sleep with my ringer on, on occasion.

Every day I work to make my life better. I go to regular therapy. I evolve, try to become more self-aware. I read books that tell me explicitly how to live a whole-hearted life. I practice mindful breathing. I take a pill, every single day.

On occasion all of this works and I have a good day. No self-deprecating devil on my shoulder. No little inner critic. On occasion someone tells me I helped them in some way, and I believe them. My son hugs me tight and tells me he has a great life, and I give myself credit for creating it for him. On occasion a friend texts to tell me that I make her smile, and I smile, because I want to do better. I deserve to do better. To be better. But not every day.

I hope today is a good day for you.

M.

Bear Witness

The photo that currently serves as my desktop is one that I took at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. in January. It is a photo of words, in black wooden letters against a white wall that greets visitors near the front entrance. The words are from Elie Wiesel, a political activist, professor, writer, and Holocaust survivor. It simply reads, “For the dead and the living we must bear witness.”

I can’t tell you how many times that quote has played in my mind over the last four months. How many times I have wondered how a young boy, imprisoned and orphaned in a concentration camp, came to be a man who could forgive and share, love and trust so openly after what he’d been through. It is true that the human spirit can withstand a great deal, the museum shares that spirit with its visitors. That’s what I appreciate about the museum, the way the stories, the real, heart-wrenching stories, the real, makes-you-so-mad-you-see-red stories, are told in a way to remember the past, and poignantly and pointedly, look toward the future.

Listen, I don’t intend to wax political about the Holocaust or genocide, or any numbers of harsh truths that we face day in and day out in our country, or see on the news about other countries, but I do intend to speak on the “T’ word itself. In a world where we are constantly being lied to, by our own Commander-in-Chief, it is important to rely on facts. It is important to bear witness to what is truly happening in and around us.

There are scientific truths, verifiable facts, that people in our own country are turning against. There are people who can simply turn off the television screen and pretend like there are not children in cages on American soil. There are people saying things like, “Evidence-free” and “alternative fact”. All of this amounts to a lot of not telling the truth. And without truth we can’t bear witness to the children who are in cages. And the young women being sold into sex-trafficking, and the heaps and heaps of danger our democracy is in.

On a personal level, I wonder what good I am doing. What good I could be doing. I wonder how I am bearing witness to the people around me. The men and women who live on the street. The ones who live paycheck to paycheck. The estimated six million people in prison on charges they should not be in prison for. How am I shining a spotlight on the injustices of the minorities, or those living in poverty, or the children in the foster care system, or the children on the streets. I lose sleep over it, and honestly, you should too.

Because a world of people who lose sleep over whether or not their neighbor can afford her light bill, or whether or not that elderly woman you saw last Tuesday trying to cross the street ever made it to the bus stop, is a world that is capable of changing the problems that the generations before us created. A world of people who have empathy, who have heart, who can and will bear witness to those people, is a world where things are capable of changing.

Maybe I am being too naive today. I have my days. Maybe I am feeling too powerless and I am looking for a strength I can’t muster alone. Either way, say you’ll try today. Tomorrow. Next week. Whenever you find the strength. Say you will try to do better. To be better. To worry about thy neighbor more. To help those around your community. To share their stories. To bear witness. To speak out against those who are spewing hate and lies. To correct those who refuse to believe what is really happening. If you can’t do it for me, do it for Elie Wiesel. Do it for the room of shoes. Do it for your own children, whose future is becoming shorter and shorter everyday.

M.