a couple of years ago, i posted about a poem by sharon olds that made me exclaim "oh shit" right as i finished reading it. this "oh shit" had to do with the mirror the poet lifted in front of my life as i read her words.
i thought of this yesterday, as i sat in the mandolin cafe reading thunder and lightning by natalie goldberg. i thought of this as i found myself grabbing a sticky note and writing "holy shit!" with big arrows toward two sentences in back-to-back paragraphs on page 65:
In all the years I was writing I had never imagined this response.
I learned I can't control people's reactions.
she was specifically talking about her ex-husband's reaction to her novel Banana Rose and how the book mirrored some of her own experiences, including their break-up. as the reader (and having read the book), i had my own assumptions about how he would react...about how "family" always reacts. but then goldberg writes that when he called her to tell her he had read it, his reaction surprised her and they had the best and deepest conversation they had had since the divorce. she writes:
I learned I can't control people's reactions. My job is to work with my writing and make it the best I can.
to this i nod and say yes yes (even as i stare at my notebook and cross something out worried that a member of my family might read it if i suddenly died and my notebooks were found and read and misunderstood).
but the way my mind was working in the moment i read those words had me jumping to another thought: i simply have to let people have their feelings.
there is a need inside me to protect the feelings of others. yes, i smile, this is what i tell myself. i want to protect them from the truth i want to share or from feeling bad because i need to set a boundary or from misunderstanding me. i twist and turn possibilities in my mind in this attempt to protect. how should i say this? how can i tell the truth? what will they think if i write that? what if i said, "what you just said deeply hurt me" or "what you said last summer was like a sucker punch"? what would happen if i just said "no"? the twisting and turning in my mind has begun to make me nauseated. it is as though i am at disney quest in chicago with my brother in the late nineties and we are inside that red spinning rollercoaster-like machine and i just want out.
here is the truth i so do not want to admit...to me...to you...to this white space in front of me. i convince myself that i am protecting people's feelings, when in reality i am simply afraid they won't like me. that they will reject me. that they will see me for who i really am. that they won't love me.
that is the simple and real and wide truth.
and this is indeed a lesson i have sifted through before, written about before. but this is another layer to the lesson. i don't see growth as part of a checklist. there is not space for, "oh good. glad i got that one over with. time to move onto the next one." each day, we learn another piece, perhaps repeating a lesson in a new way (or an old way). again, we fall into the hole in the sidewalk, but realize we know the way out.
for me, in this moment, taking a breath and simply inviting myself to let people have their feelings is another layer to this deep understanding that i am only in charge of my reaction. and i cannot stop others from having their reactions. it might be obvious, but that doesn't mean it is easy.
this is what i am focusing on right now: as do my best to i come from a place of truth and love as i walk in my life, i am only in charge of me.
it all is, again, another opportunity to step into the light.
to step into the light and see.
to then stand in the light and open my mind and heart to what i already know.
to stand in the light and be open to whatever will happen next.