Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Forging, Like Metal

The pain that I live with has tempered me. Living with the possibility of Katie's death, every day, for the 10 months of her treatment, and now, living with the reality of it --for a year and a quarter,-- have taught me to tolerate pain. I've been through a process that resembles the forging of metal.

From Wikipedia:
"Forging is the term for shaping metal by using localized compressive forces...Forged parts usually require further processing to achieve a finished part...
"Forging results in metal that is stronger than
cast or machined metal parts. This stems from the grain flow caused through forging. As the metal is pounded the grains deform to follow the shape of the part, thus the grains are unbroken throughout the part. Some modern parts take advantage of this for a high strength-to-weight ratio." (If you know how small I am, the "strength-to-weight ratio" reference is funny; ask MB. I'm small, but I'm scrappy).

The elements of my character are essentially the same, but they have been re-formed, hammered into a stronger material. Suffering also seems to have re-arranged the elements within me, as if they were furniture in a room. I noticed this in Palm Desert, the day after we arrived. I noticed that all of the "extras" are now a real, unexpected pleasure.

I used to arrive in Palm Desert with a set of expectations, more than hopes. I wanted "a vacation," and to me, that looked like: sunny weather, daily walks alone with Gregg, a spa day, some shopping, a date night with Gregg, and many meals "off" from cooking. Nowadays, I enjoy any/all of that, but if none of it happened, I'd be fine. I feel very fortunate when any of it does happen, but if it doesn't, it doesn't change me deeply. When good things happen, I try to be aware of them, and be thankful for them. Noticing God's loving care for me --and for all of us,-- makes life easier and happier for me, moment by moment.

I have noticed that I laugh a lot more at life, at myself, at things that were not funny to me, before. I even laugh at things that might not seem appropriate, to others. I cannot seem to help it. Life is both a tragedy and a comedy, now. Being part of it has become less dramatic, less shocking, and more acceptable in its polarities. I don't like all of it, but I feel more "Aha" about it, and less scandalized. I feel older, like a grandmother, at 49.

Many of the Advent scriptures are pointing to the need to prepare our hearts for a new revelation. A few of them have resonated strongly within me, and I want to share them with you. From Radical Grace, by Richard Rohr, p. 8: "To love demands a complete transformation of consciousness, a transformation that has been the goal of all religious founders, saints, mystics and gurus since we began to talk about love. And transformation of consciousness is this: We must be liberated from ourselves."

I used to work so hard at transformation; I wanted it so badly. I wanted to be a better person, always. Now I believe deeply that it will happen in God's own time, in His way, if we keep our hearts open with desire for Him.

In his daily meditation email, Fr. Rohr shared this: "The prophets before Jesus are not preoccupied with creating a fault-free environment that will ensure their own happiness, but rather they tell us that joy is finally in entering into another, the Other, an objective Presence, Love itself, the Lord. What freedom we have when we no longer have to wait upon ourselves to be in love!
"We are led beyond loving just ourselves, our own adequacy and our own personal responses. We are, instead, commanded to recognize joy -- to trust it and believe it.
"Undoubtedly this is the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the fire that John the Baptizer announces in the gospel. It is baptism not created, like mere water baptism, but a baptism that can only be waited for, longed for, believed in and therefore received. We see that the people listening to John were filled with expectation (Luke 3:15). They were predisposed and ready for joy to reveal itself."
from Radical Grace, p. 9

I realize that, since I was four years old, when I first went to Sunday School and learned about the love of God, I have been longing for union with that Love. All that I have tried to accomplish with my life can be traced, directly or indirectly, to this longing. It has formed many of my goals, decisions, relationships, my spiritual life, ethics and activities, and it determines the kind of mother (and wife) I have tried to be. But it was not until Katie was diagnosed with cancer that I was cracked open, wide enough to experience this union at a deeper level.

I have been through many phases and stages of belief, two different religions, studied several traditions outside of those religions, and taken many turns that appeared to be wrong. Yet, looking at it through the lens of the past year and a quarter, I can see that it was all simply preparation of my heart. My heart's longing created opportunities for change, growth, the death of beliefs, and the gestation and birth of greater truth. Katie's illness and death have been the forging of my heart, and as Wikipedia so aptly puts it, "Forged parts usually require further processing to achieve a finished part." I am not nearly "done," nor perfect, nor do I ever expect to be, in this life. What I am is, perhaps, more of who God made me to be, and certainly more aware of what I am not.

A "fun" illustration of this is the fact that when we were ski boot shopping for David, a person who I have not forgiven appeared in the store. The day before this occurred, I had told David that I hope that I don't meet this man face to face, because I would be tempted to get into his face and speak my anger and hurt to him. (Cliff Notes Version: he was Katie's public-school teacher at one time, before we pulled her out of his class.We had to go against the school administration, take her out of school and threaten to pull her completely & permanently out of the school, before they allowed her to move to another class. It was THAT bad.) David was amazed at the passion I expressed about this, still...and the very next day, the man appeared in front of me! HELLO! I avoided him, standing behind Gregg, refusing to look at the teacher, and --a small miracle!-- I didn't accost him. Phew.

Reflecting on this, I realized several things, besides the fact that karma is a funny thing. One: My anger and unforgiveness are in direct contradiction to my Lord's counsel. Two: This anger is probably mis-directed (it belongs to the administration as much as to the teacher). Three: If this man knew better, he would probably do better. Four: If the administration knew better, they would probably do better, too. Five: I am only injuring myself by holding these angry feelings. They do not bless anyone. Six: I really do not want to get into this man's face and give him a guilt-inducing speech about ruining what turned out to be the last school year of my child's life. I do not want to shackle him with my anger and pain over her lost opportunities due to cancer. Much of that has nothing to do with him; his part is very small.

I do not want to be a person whose life is about bitterness or revenge. I do want to be a person whose life is about love. In fact, when I die, what I hope you will remember about me is just that: love (okay, love and maybe a little humor, too). So I am going to try to let this anger go, and forgive this man. He is probably doing the best he can. So am I. After all, I obviously "require further processing to achieve a finished part."


Kay said...

This is such a great post. I also feel like I'm much older than my age. You're not alone in that one! I'm glad you're able to find joy in the things around you..esp this time of year.

Hugs to you, friend!

Sheri said...

I loved reading this today Karen, thank you. Your thoughts always inspire so many of my own. I too know that I am an old woman in a younger woman's body. It is weird and valuable and useful and sad.

Love you.

Maggie said...

I am always blessed by your writing Karen, I truly feel enlightened having read your post today. Thank you for being so honest and loving.

Busy Bee Suz said...

I enjoyed this too. You are so relevant and in the moment.
The last few senetences made me laugh out loud, not sure if that is what you intended. I believe you will be remembered for your love, your passion for your family and your introspect and view of life. Oh, and of course your humor. :)

Jennifer Stumpf said...

this is such a lovely post, karen.
i completely identify with the part of anger only hurting oneself. forging metal, indeed. as always, i wish you peace!

Irene said...

This is a fascinating post. I am currently listening to Handel's Messiah and it put me in mind of the text that is used in one of the arias: "He is like a refiner's fire." (Malachi 3:2) - your post has provoked some very interesting thoughts in my mind about the relationship between suffering and religion, whether it equips us sufficiently and how we may draw strength.

Thank you for sharing (I'm a frequent reader but don't always post - but I always enjoy)


karengberger said...

Suz, it was intentional. =)

Thanks to all of you for your comments. I love to hear your thoughts.