Channeling Lizzy

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Mill City Ruins, January 11, 2014

It was not till the afternoon, when he joined them at tea, that Elizabeth ventured to introduce the subject; and then, on her briefly expressing her sorrow for what he must have endured, he replied, “Say nothing of that. Who would suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

“You must not be too severe upon yourself,” replied Elizabeth.

“You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”

— from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Mr. Bennet (above) facetiously observes that we are are prone to be too severe on ourselves. Had he been written in the last decade (as opposed to two centuries ago), he might have appended the word, “NOT!” to his statement. One of the reasons I’ve always appreciated Mr. Bennet’s character is just this: he may fail utterly due to a weak will, but he is clear-sighted enough to be aware of his own failings.

The reason I have loved his daughter Lizzy more, though, has always been her self-efficacy and willingness to change.

As I considered what I intended to write about this week, I heard Mr. Bennet’s voice first. His “mea culpa” in the scene above has stayed with me over the years and comes to me when I am feeling particularly – and rightly – self-critical.

This post began when the photo I shared above popped up on my Facebook memories (though its subject has been hovering, unspoken, for a while). The picture is from a particularly memorable weekend in January 2014. The day of the photo, I worked an 8-hour shift on my feet, biked fifteen miles in the snow and cold for fun, attended the mayor’s victory party (another several hours on my feet) listening to speeches by people I admire like Senators Klobuchar and Franken. The next day, my friend Mike and I bundled up for another wintry bike ride, this time to – and on – Lake Calhoun, followed by coffee at Spyhouse.

That weekend was indicative of the whole year that followed – jammed full of new experiences, standing in crowds of people listening to folks I admired (mostly musicians, rather than politicians), shift-work on my feet, miles and miles logged by bike and on foot exploring and laughing with friends. By the time the year was over, my average mph by bike had risen from 12 to 16. My feet always hurt but the rest of my body felt amazing – by January 2015, I was in the best shape of my life.

Seeing my photo of the Mill City Ruins brought it all back. Looking so closely at my memories from 2014 into 2015, I could hardly avoid the sharp contrast with where I am today – a mere two years later. There has been, in those two years, a spectacular failure of will – mine. I’ve stopped riding or walking, I’ve stopped making time for new people and experiences, I’ve stopped paying attention to my food intake. I am now seventy-five pounds heavier and in horrible shape. My feet hurt, my heels hurt, my knees hate me. Like Mr. Bennet, I need to own it, need to feel it. Though moments of self-recrimination have popped up occasionally, even the worst of these passed by without effecting any real change in my behavioral choices.

And now, I’m worried that I’ve left it too late. What if I’ve backslid so far I can’t fix it? I haven’t written much about it here, even though this whole blog began as a record of my weight loss journey – and this certainly qualifies as part of that long travail. I haven’t written about it because  I have been too ashamed. Not embarrassed by a number on the scale – I’ve truly learned not to measure myself or anyone else based on that. Rather, ashamed of my self- neglect. Ashamed of my almost willful lack of self-discipline.

So, this is probably the moment to call upon my inner Elizabeth Bennet, rather than her father. Lizzy could have allowed her pride to carry her forward, refusing to be seen as fickle in her opinions or wrong in her assessment of character. In doing so, she certainly would have saved herself some moments of extreme embarrassment – imagine having to admit to virtually everyone in your community that you were the complete opposite of right! But there’s a good reason Lizzy is a beloved heroine to generations of women who’ve read Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy chose to grab her chance to be happy even though it meant admitting her mistakes, standing up to those who wished to belittle her (especially that bully, Lady Catherine deBourgh), and working to set right the damage her behaviors had inflicted.

This is definitely the moment. But, I can’t help wondering, is there enough of Lizzy’s fortitude in me? Getting healthy and in shape the first time around required all of my attention and energy, plus most of my non-work time. It also sucked up oceans of support from loving friends and family. Now that I’ve pissed all of that away, can I find the strength to do it again? I honestly do not know. But it is about time to find out.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.

   — John O’Donohue, from “A Morning Poem”

 

 

The Grace of Recognition

(Quote by Boris Pasternak)

On the day I met my friends Kate and Victoria, I found myself (somewhat tipsily) telling them that I felt certain we were destined to be friends. They were very kind to me, a strange woman squatting next to them in a bike shop parking lot, pledging friendship after a hot afternoon of alley cat bike racing. They were kind, but I’m also pretty sure they thought I was just drunk.

In the intervening year, as our friendships have grown, we have laughed about that moment. But the truth is, I’m so glad I spoke aloud what my heart had whispered to me.

Writer and philosopher John O’Donohue writes about the “anam cara” or “soul friend”, a person “to whom you could reveal the hidden intimacies of your life.” He also writes that many of us have such friends but we are largely unaware – our lack of awareness and presence in our own lives cloaks that friend’s presence. He says, “Sadly, it is often loss that awakens presence, by then it is too late. It is wise to pray for the grace of recognition.”

It is wise to pray for the grace of recognition.

You would think we would easily recognize our “soul friends”: those who are most emotionally available to us, those whose friendship calls forth what is best in and for us. How could we not recognize those friends who would as willingly walk beside us through difficulty as well as through sunshine?

O’Donohue has an answer for that question, as well. He writes, “Though the human body is born complete in one moment, the birth of the human heart is an ongoing process. It is being birthed in every experience of your life.” In other words, we learn these lessons and skills slowly, through experiencing those moments of grace, as well as through experiencing their opposite. Like a friend who recently lamented to me, “Why do I always chase after the cool people, when I should be focusing on the ones who are always there for me?”, we get distracted by the shiny and showy. We forget, or fear, to delve beneath the surface, to test the depth of intimacy that is possible with these individuals.

In friendships where we plumb those depths, we learn a great deal both about ourselves and about the other. Years ago, a friend confided her deepest life secret to me – I was stunned and humbled by her choice to share it with me. Afterwards, there was no longer any possibility of a surface friendship or acquaintance between us. Which isn’t to say we were no longer able to hurt one another or betray one another. Indeed, hurt and/or betrayal then became open territory for discussions and sharing, too.

I would take the injunction to “pray for the grace of recognition” one step further. It is wise to pray for the grace of recognition and the courage to speak it. For example, my dear friend called the other night just to tell me, “Whatever happens in life, I will always take care of you.” She said she told her husband she was going to call and say that, and he told her I already knew. Which I did. But the gift of having it declared aloud was precious and meaningful to me at a time of uncertainty in my own life. An “anam cara” knows when it is important to speak.

Recognizing and cultivating soul-friends may require us to invest our energies differently than casting a broader net of acquaintanceships does. It also opens our lives up in so many ways, as we experience the generative nature of intimacy. “Love begins,” says O’Donohue, “with paying attention to others, with an act of gracious self-forgetting. This is the condition in which we grow.” In my life, the intimacy with and support of my closest friends has freed me to take risks and to attempt creative work. They are the foundation that underpins my flights of discovery. As I hope I am for them.

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Today’s post is a reflection on my reading of Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue