Sunday, August 29, 2010

Independent back float

Since I came to the US, what seems like a lifetime ago, I’ve had a recurring dream or, rather, a nightmare. I am hearing that it’s a phenomenon, afflicting many of us, immigrant folks. It’s the nightmare of being “sent back” against your will. In this awful vision, I am being forced on an Airflot plane. Walking backwards through the dark tunnel, I am watching John’s tearful, terrified face. He is being held by the armed policeman. It sounds like he is trying to say something, but I am too far. I can’t hear what he is saying. Helpless to do anything else, in my tired mind, I am sorting all the documents that have been lost, disappeared, got mixed up in some crazy bureaucratic process. As I get closer to the airplane, I strain to create an image of what my life is going to be like back in Ukraine. I wonder how I’ll manage to speak Ukrainian since it’s been so long since I’ve spoken in this language. Where am I going to live? What am I going to do? How will I ever be able to come back? Granted, since I’ve become an American citizen, back in the 1990’s, the nightmare isn’t as frequent, but in the past five years, the component of leaving my only child behind makes me wake up in sweat, tears, and totally breathless.

I remember all this now because it seems to be happening in reality with my dear friend, her husband and their little baby (who is an American citizen!).  After losing their jobs, they are unable to renew their work visas and, therefore, can not legally stay in the US. So, next Tuesday, early morning, they are going to be on the plane en route to Shanghai…For months and months, they’ve struggle to do everything in theire power to stay – looked for jobs, engaged countless people to help them, applied and reapplied, petitioned…My friends and I tried in earnest to find ways to help them stay in the US. Nothing worked. Every glimmer of hope turned to nothing. Every lead, led to another disappointment. And now, on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, I am watching this awful nightmare unfold in reality, helpless to do a thing to stop it.
And then I hear a voice. It’s coming from somewhere deep inside of my soul. It’s the eternal wisdom that resides within all of us. I feel its gentle nudge: “Hey, what happened to your motto?”

“What are you talking about?” I say, almost angrily.

The voice: “Don’t you always say that things happen for a reason?”

Me: “I guess I do. There must be some darn good reason for all this”.

The voice: “Concepts such as good and bad are manmade and therefore aren’t real. But there is always a bigger picture that you are unable to see”.

Me: “But how will they manage?”

The voice: “They will manage.”

Me: “How can you be so certain?”

The voice: “Somebody has to be”.

And then I realize, it’s like learning how to do an independent back float. My son takes swimming lessons and he recently got a sticker for learning to stay afloat in the water, on his back. It took many, many tries and I heard his instructor repeat to him over and over again: “Don’t fight the water. Relax. Just let go and count to 10”. Maybe this is the same thing? When everything is going seemingly wrong and you find yourself totally out of breathe, swimming against the current, struggling, maybe the only prudent thing you can do is an independent back float? Maybe when nothing works, as Martha Beck teaches, you’ve got to just do “nothing"? Put your head in the water. Let go. Trust that it will hold you up. Don’t try to find the reason things are the way they are, don’t decide if something is good or bad, and just let the water of life take you to your next stop in your journey. And maybe then, you’ll hear an approving voice of the Instructor: “You’ve done well kiddo. Here is a sticker. You are an accomplished independent back floater. Now, let’s move onto something more challenging”.

Good luck my dear friends! You’ll manage! I am certain of it, because somebody has to be.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

About Marriage

"It is the prerogative of all humans to make ludicrous choices, to fall in love with the most unlikely of partners, and to set themselves up for the most predictable of calamities." - Liz Gilbert, Committed

Just the other day I was having lunch with someone who is getting married on Friday. She asked if I have any marriage advice and I told her I didn't. I know, what was I thinking! For me not to have advice?? And ever since, naturally, I can't stop thinking about all the advice "I don't have".

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her wonderful sequel to “Eat, Pray, Love”, called "Committed" (which is her book about marriage), reveals concepts which are both profound and poignant. One of her main conclusions that a successful and happy marriage has as many meanings and interpretations as there are married people in the world. I agree.

Over the years I have accumulated a mental and emotional collections of conclusions about marriage. Most of these conclusions I kind of believe in now, sort of, depending on the day. A kind of “non-advice” on marriage. 

Warning: these are guaranteed to only make sense to me and me alone (and even this claim is a bit shaky). So, read at your own risk of disillusionment, disagreement and general indigestion. But since this a blog about life as I know, what the heck, I’ll indulge in sharing them.

My top 10 “non-advice” / thoughts about marriage:

1. It’s a crapshoot. Sometimes you get lucky and you end up having a fantastic marriage (according to your own definition of what it means). And don't kid yourself, it ain't gonna feel that way every day. But in my book of marriage, good enough is the new perfect.
2. Love shouldn't hurt. Trying to sit with one bottom on too many chairs (if you catch my drift) will. So, don't.
3. I've read this one somewhere and I've grown to agree: don't marry someone you can live with; marry someone you can't live without. And this one is not about neediness. More about passion and intimacy.
4. Butterflies in your stomach (the good kind, those with blue fluffy wings) are very, VERY important to be present. Being deeply, passionately, head-over-heels in love is a good baseline for a marriage. It’s a not a guarantee for having a good marriage, and, in fact, it will make you more vulnerable and prone to getting your heart broken, but who cares cause it feels so good!
5. People don't change; they become more and more themselves. Mary Karr, the author of many cool books, wrote: "Every woman signs up thinking that her husband will change...every husband signs up believing his wife won't: both dead wrong."
6. There are no rules when it comes to intimate relationships (including marriage). You make the shit up as you go.
7. When it comes to marriage, never say never. Seriously!
8. It’s OK to elope. In fact, it could be really liberating. People will be pissed off. But if it floats your boat...
9. Speaking of people, nothing will ever be enough for them. When you get engaged, they'll hound you to death for a wedding date. As soon as you are done with that (or not!), they'll want to know when you are planning to "start your family" (some may politely inquire right at the wedding) and they'll keep asking about "having another one" until you have at least nine kids (after that – this is not from a personal experience, but I’ve seen this happen – they’ll kind of smirk that you have a “few too many”). So, if you are new to this marriage thing, brace yourselves! And, most importantly, kids or not, don’t try to please anyone but each other!
10. And speaking of pleasing each other: really loving someone is just amazing luck. Having a life partner who loves you back, the best way they know how, is like winning the lottery…every day! Gilbert, towards the end of her book on marriage, says: "There is hardly a more gracious gift that we can offer somebody than to accept them fully, to love them almost despite themselves."

I have a feeling I will keep tweaking these on ongoing basis. In fact, I think I want to change a couple of them already! What was I saying about it being a crapshoot?