Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the first leg of a recent holiday road trip, we had come into the town where I went to college. We stopped for dinner there and he teased me about not seeming to know my way around, but the place had changed so much my bearings were off. I kept looking around expecting to see something I recognized, but in the end I only had a short span of memories sifted through before I grew weary of it. I smiled at the telling of a story of a Thanksgiving past, when I brought a couple of friends from school home with me. One had joked that my mom was fattening us up for slaughter, and my roommate had succumbed to a tryptophan-induced nap in the hallway by the door. All afternoon we had to be careful not to hit her head, and it seems funny to me now.
On the way back from our rip, we had a bit of an adventure, having gotten a little lost on the map and in conversation. There was a late night, and then a workday, and then I was side by side with my companion for several days. It was a time for turkey and transitions. Some moving of large furniture occured. It seemed to cleave like bookends our shared pasts, one year or more removed from each other.
And then there were the family gatherings. Included the ones in my mind, ones that had or might have happened, and visions of ones to come. In one scene in my memories, my exhusband's mother is teaching me how to make her version of banana nut bread, a favorite holiday treat for this first son of hers. She is a little exasperated at the fact that I had never learned to bake from scratch, a skill she feels like every woman should have. She considers it her responsibility to pass this on. Every year after that, when he was apart from his mother, I made banana nut bread for him until it became habit.
This Thanksgiving, there were three family gatherings, two at my parents, one at his. On one of these, I had wandered into my parent's study. My mother had been reorganizing and there were boxes everywhere. Curious, I peeked in one. Thre were some empty photo frames, and some loose photos. I picked up a stack to flip through, see if there were any pictures from my youth. No such luck. They were all pictures from my wedding, eleven years ago this summer. I tried to look into my own eyes from back then, to see if they showed any hint of knowledge of what was to come, but all I saw was the fresh face of youth.
Before this family gathering, I had stopped by my exhusband's house to pick up the children. I handed him a foil wrapped loaf of fresh baked banana nut bread, his mother's recipe. I told him I know he had wanted to be with his mother this Thanksgiving, and this was as close as I could get for him. I don't have any residual emotion for him, but it felt like making peace with this past, a little nod to the past and a little gratitude for him letting me go, to go be happy.
And I am happy. Never been happier. And I am thankful for that. I think about that as I hold the hand of my man on a stroll down a wooded trail, of just how appreciative I am of this, this moment, all of this. I am thankful for the love of the man beside me. I am thankful my ex has given me some time away from the children, the three breaks I have in June, one in August, one in the now. These moments are restoring my sanity. I am thankful for my family, and those little shining moments that make life worth it. I'm so thankful to God for taking care of me, of showing me the way, for giving me hope, peace, joy, love: the gifts of the holiday season.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Originally, I was crafting a post in my head about transformation, about how my internal life has been changing over the past months. I've been distracted from this mission, however, by the demands of daily life, by my little children, by the packing up of my house, the seperation of things, by living in the moment, and mostly by this book I have been reading that has been sucking up the spare time I would have spent writing.
Today I had a flash of insight, though, about something I have been thinking about regarding the story I am reading. The story (Devils Gate, by David Roberts) is a historical account of the Mormon emigration to Salt Lake City, mostly centered on the plight of recent converts who dragged poorly built handcarts 1300 miles to get to their "Zion".
There's a lot I could say about this story. There is a lot I have said about this story, actually. What I want to focus on, though, is what has both impressed me and bothered me about these people I am reading about. Most of the people in this story were from England or various other places nearby there. They were converted to Mormonism by disciples of Brigham Young, who sent his people over there to obtain more souls for his recently settled-on piece of land in Utah. In the short amount of time between their conversion and their persuasion to board vessels that carried them overseas, then trains that took them from New York to Iowa City, then their overland journey through the wilderness of the west, they became so strong in their faith that that it was enough to carry them through a journey of incredible hardship. When they faltered, they relied on this faith to get themselves back up again and keep them moving. When members of their party were dropping to death from starvation and exhaustion, they prayed over it, they asked their God for strength. They honestly believed that reaching Salt Lake City would be akin to reaching their land of milk and honey, that Zion lay just ahead on the horizon.

Part of me wonders, especially after reading some of the gritty details of their grueling journey, how they could have been so sold on this idea that it was enough for them. I marvel at the fastness of their faith. Along the way, their brethren was dying alongside them, and yet on they marched, hearts set towards Zion. I wonder why they just didn't give up on the idea of reaching Zion, and how hard it must have been for them to believe there was something good waiting for them at the end of the journey on the dark winter nights where they trudged on, surviving on such small rations that surely would have made any one of us living in this day and age cry and give up after one days worth.
And there that much of a difference between that faith and ours, in mine? Sometimes I wonder how I got to be such a polly-anna optimist. When things get hard, when things don't seem to be working out, there is this part of me that is just convinced that Zion is right around the corner. I haven't always been this way, though. I think there are times I have been, and that perhaps that was my natural tendency, but that was something I lost in the past dozen years or so. A number of times during those years my heart was heavy and despondent, with the attitude that things would never turn around, that my life was shit and would always be that way. I felt like giving up a lot, even as recently as last year, my optimism grounded to a halt. I didn't have much emotional strength to "rally the troops" and convince myself that "this, too, shall pass".
I have beat depression, or maybe I was never really depressed. Well, I do think I was, during some of those times, but I do remember having an epiphany at one point, after a terrible low, that the one thing that combats depression and sadness is Hope. When you are really, truly down, though, it is hard to have that hope that things will get better. Once I realized Hope was the anti-depressant, I tried to focus on that when things got difficult. It is hard to hang on to that, though, when you can't see yourself out of a hole, when you look around and all you see is the darkened edge.
I am so far past that now, though. Now my heart is soaring and it seems like nothing can really get me down. I can see it in my responses to things, situations that maybe last year would have seemed a calamity, but now are easier to recover from. I can feel the difference in the emotional center of my chest, where there is just calm and light where there was heaviness and darkness before. I feel like I was "saved", not really in terms of my "salvation" necessarily, but in the way that my entire internal landscape has shifted back to this trust and faith that things will work out, that there is something Good in this life. There are times now where I feel bliss and joy, feelings I haven't had in so long that it makes me feel like a kid again, or takes me back to times long ago where I felt this way and then had forgotten what it felt like.
Sometimes in my responses to situations now, I feel some of what these emigrants must have felt, with the blind certainty that somehow I will make it to the land of milk and honey, that soon, just around the corner, Zion will appear, and there will be much rejoicing. I think I understand their heart's compass a little more as I question my own and find it pointed in hope's direction.