The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Mary Oliver

Thanks to Elaine Thierry for sharing this poem on Facebook.  It made me remember...

About 20 years ago I had an epiphany about what I had considered to be my "sordid past."  I had felt bad about how many men I had been with and had allowed self-righteous, judgmental people to shape my own opinion of myself.  I had acted as if what they had to say about me was true, rather than an opinion based on less than the full truth.  No woman wants to be thought of as slutty or easy.  Definitely not me.

I had recently gone through my third divorce and was planning on going to law school.  It was my decision to divorce a man that I loved because I realized that I was not going to be happy with my life if I considered it from the prospect of being eighty years old looking back on my life.  I knew that it meant I might be alone the rest of my life, and I still went ahead.  I didn't want fear of being alone to be why I did anything.

Sometimes, to be completely free, we have to give up what others think of us and recognize the nature of what we have actually done rather than allowing ourselves to be swayed by the self-righteous judgments others burden themselves with,  and then inflict upon us for their own reasons.  We don't have to believe or adopt their judgments and opinions of us.  We don't have to make what we have experienced mean more than the information we gleaned directly from the experience itself.  

We can never recognize the natural light within ourselves if we are focused on only the darkness with which others wish to crucify us.  

That darkness we judge ourselves to have embodied is most often made up of the mistakes we make in our youth and innocence and what we or others have said about it, for which we can only forgive ourselves. We create awful guilt and terrible stories about ourselves because we have adopted ideas that were not ever our own original ideas.  Those ideas did not spring from our consciousness; and they are not our own, those ideas are not our truth, unless we claim them.  If we don't allow ourselves some kind of forgiveness for adopting and living as if those alien ideas were our truth, completely letting them go, there is only us being cut off from living fully, only terrible sorrow and disappointment and being stuck with a misperception of who we are.  

Where is authenticity if we live our lives as if we are awful people for having been lonely and searching?  

When I was a young woman I did a bit of sewing wild oats.  I had a few adventures.  I learned a bit about what I love, what I value, what has meaning for me.  I learned some of the most important things that I know by making mistakes and some of those mistakes were painful and heartbreaking for me personally.  But I don't think I broke a lot of hearts, perhaps a few.  I know I didn't leave anyone  in a permanent state of emotional pain.  I didn't ever do anything that was outside my own personal responsibility to do.  And by choosing one day to free myself I went on to build a glorious life that was not accidental.  I freed myself to find the love of someone true and good. 

"All these roads steer me wrong, but I still drive them all night long"  Bruno Mars

It's what we do until we learn who we truly are.

Views: 484

Comment by Susanne Freeborn on January 4, 2013 at 4:52am
I wasn't suggesting that we don't change. But who I am is also the same in certain respects.
Comment by Susanne Freeborn on January 4, 2013 at 5:21am
I don't define love the way that you do apparently.
Comment by Susanne Freeborn on January 4, 2013 at 5:28am
In my relationship to my husband I don't think of love being about a cultural sense of obligation & mutual admiration or chemical hormonal impulses. I don't experience our marriage as obligation. I experience our relationship as a nexus where my word and his meet and that context provides a place from which we live our lives together. We share many commitments. We mean for one another to succeed in our separate and mutual endeavors. We have no jealousy or competition. We are *for* one another without reservation, even when we are angry. We do admire one another, but that is a separate experience from love.
Comment by Susanne Freeborn on January 4, 2013 at 5:42am
I had my mom with us for a few years, caring for her. When she died I kind of felt like the reason I got up in the morning was gone. We changed a lot of things after that, including where we lived. It helped me deal with the change.
Comment by Susanne Freeborn on January 4, 2013 at 5:51am
I am 62, not so old, but definitely not young and I believe that continuing to live, to love, to think, to give a damn makes the experience worthwhile.
Comment by Susanne Freeborn on January 4, 2013 at 5:53am
It has been lovely to have this conversation with you Jan. Thank you for taking what I have written seriously enough. That means a lot to me.
Comment by Susanne Freeborn on January 4, 2013 at 6:23am
Yes, you are right. Take care of yourself. You may surprise yourself yet!
Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on January 4, 2013 at 6:38am

This is as lovely an approach to this set of conundrums as I have seen. Brava!

Comment by Susanne Freeborn on January 4, 2013 at 6:41am
Thank you Jonathan!
Comment by greenheron on January 4, 2013 at 7:24am

I liked the back and forth between you and Jan as much as your post.

I moved last month, after more than fifteen years in the other house, and did a major material purge. From the early nineties through early oughts, I kept journals, and every one of them, I shredded.  I stopped needing to journal at some point, and tossing this old residue felt delightful and cleansing, like skimming the soup for the final stage of deliciousness. In reading a few entries before the shred, I recognized myself as I am now, the same woman, just one yearning to be accepted as is. Perhaps something happens after a certain number of years on the planet–I have heard many older women express this–where there comes a shift, and acceptance comes from inside, rather than outside.


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