So said Scott Peck so famously in his book, The Road Less Traveled. When I was in my 20’s and thought I ought to read such an important work, I got as far as that sentence – the first one on the first page. Then I slammed the book shut and thought, "What an asshole. MY life is fabulous."
Hardly. The truth is I was living in such emotional chaos that denial was my only defense against simply disintegrating on the spot. There was no way I could begin to admit that life might be anything other than peaches and cream. To admit otherwise would have meant peering into the black hole. It would have meant doing some admitting, accepting, changing, and walking through the fire of all those resentments I was so busy pretending I didn’t have.
That hole, by the way, was an actual physical place in my body. It was just below my sternum and I was aware of it every second of every day. I lived in terror of falling in and just disappearing. I would see myself – I know this sounds wacky – but I would see myself teetering on the edge of that black hole. My fear was that one day I would fall in and never stop falling. And the people I was with would say things like, "Where is that cute, young girl who was just sitting there? Did she leave? Hmmm. Oh, well. Ok, I’m ready to order." And life would just go on and I would still be falling.
Around this same time, I was in training to work with abused kids in Manhattan. Day one of training, they tell you all the things a parent will do to a child. You can’t believe the stuff parents have done. Horrific. Day two, they tell you abused children would rather stay with the abusive parent, no matter what that parent has done to them, because that is what that kid knows. That is "safe." I couldn’t wrap my closed-up mind around that concept. Not even close. It was all too ugly and too close to home. Not the abuse – I was never abused. It was the avoiding change part. Denying that anything was wrong in my life in order to preserve the status quo required all of me. No matter what. Ugh. I didn’t complete the training. And I had no frickin’ idea about life.
To add to the complete and utter madness, I lived in fear, on top of my terror, that one day someone
would hear about my black hole (how, I don’t know because, trust me, I
never breathed a word of this crazy shit.) They’d send in the guys with
the white coats and I’d really disappear. But life just kept plugging away.
By way of some amazing grace and a series of
unfortunate events, starting with the death of my father, I stumbled
into a therapist’s office. One day, quite by accident, I told him about
the black hole. I didn’t mean to. It just sorta slipped out. And, you know what? It didn’t faze him in the least. He said, "Oh, yeah. The
black hole." Then he explained it in detail, even drawing up stuff on the
blackboard, like I wasn’t crazy at all. I cried with relief for days.
I’m well now. Better, at least. Took some long painful lessons and every second of 20 years. I’m a slow learner. Against my better judgment and in spite of my will, life has taught me a thing or two. Like it’s OK to make plans as long as I release any and all expectations. Like I need to do my best no matter what. That thoughts are things. That death can be welcome. Or not. Usually not. That fear and guilt are a big fat waste of time (not that I don’t indulge). That life makes no sense at all for the most part. That there is no figuring out why bad things happen to good people, I don’t care what the book says. Or why some people are "lucky" and some are not. At the end of the road, there’s only acceptance.
[How come, if I’m so smart, I never remember this till I’ve tried everything else?]
It’s true. Life is difficult. It’s mostly difficult. And strange. On Saturday, two days ago, while I am having my weekend of mindless movie fun, my friend Sam, my age, was diving a wreck with three long-time friends, one his closest, a trip they’d planned for months. Something went terribly wrong and, at the end of that day, Sam was the only survivor.
How will he make sense of this? I don’t know. Prayer helps me. And knowing I’m not alone. I’ve survived the most difficult times in my life only by putting one foot in front of the other, because the only other option was to stick my head in the sand. Unfortunately, I found out the cost of denial is so much greater than the pain of the moment. This doesn’t help in the moment, though. In the moment, I only want a bucket of sand. Or a cozy black hole to crawl into. Because, some days, life is unrelentingly difficult.
I stumbled across your blog while doing some prelim research on Costa Rica for a documentary I will most likely produce.
Anyhow, I loved this post! I know the black hole oh-so well. We all have one–some choose to see, some not. The question is, can we be satisfied with just watching at the precipice, as if it were a lookout point for tourists at the Grand Canyon? Why do we feel compelled to run away or even jump in?
Thanks for sharing…
I’m so sorry about your friend. I heard about the dive a few hours after it happened and the Herald detailed what they thought had gone wrong on Sunday. I kept looking at the photo of the sole survivor and wondering what he must be feeling. I hope he can put it all together and be glad he made it out alive, but I’m sure it’ll be hard.
As difficult to understand or as harsh as it may come across…I can’t help but be jealous when I hear of a passing. It means they are free from this life and all of it’s frustrations, free to move on to the next phase of their existence. I don’t believe for a minute you die and are buried and that’s it.
Their lessons of this lifetime were learned, a celebration is in order!
I can’t imagine the days ahead for him. He has a wonderful wife, very strong and smart and loving. And from what I know about them, they have a good solid community, very close. Looking in, you see how critical that is, especially at a time like this. I miss that community in Key West. It’s the only thing, but not having it yet only points up how important it is. We are working to build it here. And keeping it there.
Jen, it may be a bit early to be popping open the champagne.
Oh, Patrick, thank you for stopping by. Deep questions… wish I knew the answers. I could be the new Maryann Williams!!! Look forward to hearing more about your documentary. Pura vida.
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I can relate to dark moments when you think you’ll fall in a hole and never crawl out but living here in CR has taught me appreciation and to embrace whatever life brings, whether good or bad. You just never know how you are going to learn about life. Hopefully, we’ll grow to be old AND wise.
I brought that book you mentioned plus more self-help books just in case I needed a reminder of how GOOD life CAN be.
Living in CR has taught me so many things. And so many things “I knew” before are manifesting… what a gift!