Last week, I was struggling. My heart felt brittle, jaded and hard. I could not understand what had changed. For so long, I had rejoiced in the abundance of the universe, grateful for the lessons that the vicissitudes of life had given me. Then suddenly, I was bitter, barely clinging to the knowledge that at one time I had faith. It was as if, during the internal wanderings I have been doing over the last few months, I tripped over an unknown crypt in my heart, one made of cold, hard hematite. Upon opening the lid, I found a deep chasm of despair. I promptly fell in.
I shared my anger with a friend of mine. I was angry with God, the Universe and Everything. I didn’t want to hear platitudes or advice. She asked me one question: “Have you accepted this test?” I didn’t really understand that. What test? Life sucks, and there is no purpose. But, of course, there was still this voice inside me saying, “She’s got something there. Hold on to it `til you figure it out.”
Then, finally, after weeks of “too-busy-ness”, my husband and I finally had some time for a date night. I was ranting and raving, and he said something like, “It’s that feeling of not being good enough.”
“No!” I said. “It’s not that. It’s not about deserving. It’s about the structure of the universe. I am simply not meant to be happy, content, or feel pleasure completely.”
That’s when I hit on it. I know, with my intelligence, that this statement is illogical. But that is the belief that I have been combating, the one I have carried in my “programming” for a very long time. It is the belief that if I am enjoying myself, someone else is probably not getting what they need from me. It is the belief that makes me feel guilty even if I am lying in my bed with a fever, because I am not able to care for my children, the house, my grading, my writing, etc. My husband is the most supportive man I know. He willingly, eagerly takes responsibility for our children’s needs, even without being asked. He sees when I need some time to myself and encourages me to take it. And I do. Yet, still. I feel guilty. What the heck is that about?
I put all these things together that evening with my husband. After I said that I am not meant to be happy, my husband asked me if something happened to me when I was a small child. I said, without thinking, “Yeah, I discovered I’m a girl.” Suddenly, it all flashed together. Guilt. Motherhood. Sexuality. Love. Loss. Fear. This little black bottomless sarcophagus yawned open and took me straight to its core. I have this belief because I am female.
Now, maybe there’s a lot more to it than that, but hear me out. I am reading a book called Rejoice in My Gladness: The Life of Tahirih, the account of the 19th Century Persian poetess whose last words before she was strangled to death were, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.” I haven’t read much of the book yet, but I am enjoying the way the author, Janet Ruhe-Schoen, weaves the cultural and historical background into Tahirih’s story. One thing that struck me is how her motherhood is hardly mentioned. Tahirih had two sons and a daughter. After a paragraph of mentioning her “ties” to the children, Ruhe-Schoen says, “We see here her tie to her children, and theirs to her; however, she had an overpowering sense of mission transcending motherhood, self-importance, and self-preservation” (pg. 83). Several pages later, she writes Tahirih “knew that, according to law, her sons were the concern of her husband–in fact, so was her daughter, but perhaps he had little interest in the girl….” (pg. 89).
It struck me that, in Tahirih’s culture, her children did not belong to her. But in my culture, Western culture, children “belong” with their mother, “belong” to their mother. I began to realize the implications. Motherhood is almost deified in our culuture. And according to this belief I have been carrying, if my children “belong” to me, but I am not caring for them, then I have abandoned them, regardless of the circumstances, according to the “letter” of this “law”. It extends to all aspects of my life as a woman. If am not meeting my husbands needs, than I am not a good wife. If I’m not caring for the house, I’m not a good home-maker. And these days, if I’m not pursuing a career as well, then I’m not successful and independent, and I’m not being faithful to the “sisterhood.” Failure in any of these areas results in failure as a human being.
I am in no way intending to belittle the importance of motherhood, wife-hood, home-makerhood, or “sisterhood”. What I am trying to do is draw out the belief that supports the fallacies that make women, make me, feel guilty without reason. I see that belief now, though it is so hard to articulate. It underlies so much of the programming I operate on. But now, I recognize it when it rears its ugly little head. When I feel like apologizing for being tired. When I hold back from my children just a little bit because I’m afraid of losing them, too. Or worst of all, when I judge myself for falling into an abyss that is simply a root shooting down deeper into my psyche, preparing me for future growth. It was only through my acceptance of those feelings of anger and bitterness that I have been able to break through to this greater Truth. I, like Tahirih, have a “greater purpose than motherhood, self-importance and self-preservation.”
Even in writing this, I feel resistance. “What?! A greater purpose than motherhood? And what about self-preservation? You need to keep yourself safe!” But the truth is, my self doesn’t need any help. She’s the little Ms. Scarcity I referred to earlier today. And all my children will be better served if I am true to that greater purpose, which is to “love all people, be just and kind to every human creature.” That includes me.
So as a gift to my husband, whose birthday is tomorrow, I am giving him a new me. (But it’s really a gift to me.) I will only apologize for bad behavior. I will start a kindness campaign. I will let my heart burn with loving-kindness for all who may cross my path. And on October 1st, I will stop smoking and start the CouchTo5K program. And whenever I fall into an abyss in the future, I will remember that it will all be ok, and that I’m just preparing for a growth spurt. (If I don’t, just send me right back to this post.)