The Truth of Who I Am

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." -Eckhart Tolle

Cabbage Ball Wins and a Tender Moment

There are moments in parenting that have left me at a loss for just the right thing and the right words to say. And in those moments, the best thing I’ve learned to do is to lean in until the lesson is learned.

This past weekend, we went to Charlotte for a family event of cabbage ball (softball with a cabbage-sized ball – a New Orleans thing, I’ve heard). It was the Young ‘Uns v. the Legends. Let me just say that it was quite a moment of realization to discover which team I was on! It didn’t seem to alarm anyone on the team when I asked about the rules of the game, nor did they appear concerned when I asked what to do if I happened to catch the ball while the other team hit the ball (referred to as batting, I believe). It turned out I was on the winning team so nothing else really mattered. And it also didn’t really matter that the winning team MADE the decision that they had won and walked off the field WITH the trophy. Winning isn’t everything, but it was everything on that day. That day, I also won a special opportunity to open my heart a little bit more.

So I was sitting there with my husband, talking and watching and laughing over crazy family talk when our 7 year-old son came up to us with a look on his face that I had learned to recognize over the years. There were no tears flowing, but I knew they were stuck in his throat and that his throat hurt. But not as much as his little heart was hurting. I have come to understand that, for David, the louder the cry, the less hurting there was. This was an inaudible cry. He stood there silently, sniffing and fidgeting with his fingers and then a few tears brimmed over as we asked him what was going on and offered him a hug and a hand. No response from him. He continued to fidget and sniff and try to hold the tears in his throat. After about 5 minutes, I took his hand and suggested we walk away somewhere. He walked with me, digging his face into the side of my waist as we walked. Still holding back his cries and his words. I tried asking questions creatively and from different angles, hoping that he would cave on one of them and then tell me what happened. Still nothing. We finally got to a bench and he sat on my lap. I asked a few more questions.

I REALLY wanted to know. I NEEDED to know. My heart was hurting like it was his own little heart and yet I knew it was not and that, no matter how much I was hurting for him, I could not make that hurting go away. I could not take his pain away. This was another growing up moment for me as a mother. I realized in that moment that he was growing up and that there would be many, many more times when I would not be able to take his pain away. That I would have to step aside and know that his pain, his lessons in life would be for him to get through. Often by himself.

I stopped asking him questions then and pulled him closer to me and just held him and tried to make my love tangible and healing for him. I leaned into this hard moment in which I knew no more questions nor answers. I simply leaned in. It was a tender moment. He was very tender. We sat that way, the two of us and I allowed visions of him, a teenager, a grown man, a father, a spouse feeling pain in his life and having to work his way through it by himself. I prayed that he would always have love surrounding him through his painful times and I felt grateful for this moment of the opportunity to surround him with my love. His breathing slowed down after a while and his hands pulled my arms tighter around him.

I asked another question and explained that I wanted to know so that I could maybe understand and help him think through what had happened. He finally told me. He was playing with his best buddy in the whole world and a few other boys and he (playfully) hurt his best buddy with a hockey stick and one of the other, older kids said he didn’t want to play with him. And they all went off and played without him. Best buddy included. Even though he understood David didn’t mean to hurt him and was not mad at him. The other kids were playing a game he wanted in on and he went off to play with them. David was hurt. Mostly because he felt betrayed but also because he was excluded by a kid who didn’t know him and didn’t understand the special relationship between him and his best buddy. He knew he had made a mistake. He didn’t know how to fix it and he was hurt that his best buddy went off to play with the kid that told him he couldn’t play. Regular kid stuff. But I hurt for my little boy who was hurting and trying to make sense of it all.

David Stop Bullying Sign

David made this sign on a dry-erase board while waiting on his little sister to finish dinner.

And that’s where my experience that has sat with me since my childhood came into play. It was as if the Universe made sense for a moment. I reminded my son of the story I had told him about the two little girls that came over to play with my older sister and I often. About how they came over once and gave my mother an invitation to a birthday party. I was just outside the room and I could hear the older one say to my mother, “We want only Nancy to come. Not Rhina. Just Nancy.” My 6 year-old heart sank to the floor and every doubt I had about my ability to make friends and be loved by people who were not family and, thus, not required to love me, was confirmed in that one instance. I pulled my son closer still and told him that I knew that feeling he was feeling right then. And it seemed okay to me then that I had ever felt that feeling because now I could be there with my beloved son and sit with him and know, really KNOW, what he was feeling. Somehow, being able to have empathy for him made the painful experience I’d had completely worth it in that moment. Maybe all the hard stuff I had ever felt were lessons to prepare me for moments such as this one. That nothing I had ever endured was in vain.

We were eventually able to talk a little and I threw out a few reminders of how wonderful and amazing he is and how sometimes he would meet people who didn’t see his beautiful spirit – his Divine spirit. The same Spirit that was a part of them, too. I reminded him that he needed to try to see their Divine spirits no matter how angry he felt. He didn’t buy much of what I said. He picked up a stick and wrote in the sand, “He is mean.” He wasn’t on board with the idea that he shared the same spirit with the kid who hurt him. Not in that moment. But I hoped that someday he would remember and give the idea a fair chance. We continued to sit there for a while longer as he grappled with what to do with his feelings.

When he was ready we held hands and headed back to the rest of the family and the games and the trash-talking. He was able to salvage the rest of the afternoon and he and his best buddy found their way back to each other as magnets often do. I watched him and felt the joy I often feel when I see him happy. The world returned to normal again. But the little piece of my heart that was opened up to the realization that I would not always have the opportunity to know and console and love my son stayed open. And I was reminded once again of the depth of pain and joy that is mothering. After all, my children are my teachers and opening my heart up is what I’m here to do. They teach me every day.

We won in more ways than one that day. Cabbage ball may have hurt a little as I, literally, slid this legendary body into first base after getting over my surprise at making contact AND hitting the ball a reasonable distance in the right direction. But winning an opportunity to lean into a painful moment with my son was priceless.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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American Pie, Please!

Something strange happened to me this past weekend while sitting on a humongous rock that sticks out of the ground. It was completely unexpected and it took me some time to make sense of it. Once or twice each year, our family makes the, almost obligatory, visit to Stone Mountain Park to see the laser show. I’ve been going to see the laser show since my college years and if you live in the Atlanta area, it’s something you consider doing at some point in the year – most likely when you have guests from out of town. The show is entertaining and definitely patriotic. Lots of music from Georgia locals and several well-known oldies that could warm up any old American heart and fill it with pride. I was surprised to notice this year that a request flashed the mountain to “Please Rise” before the Star Spangled Banner” (the U.S. American national anthem). I stood up out of respect but more so because my U.S. American kids and husband were right there with me. It was the right thing to do.

But the strange thing that happened to me didn’t even happen during the Star Spangled Banner. It happened a bit later when images of…wait for it…military families lasered across the mountain, It was then that I felt a twinge of affinity for the United States. (This may be partially related to my recent short-lived addiction to Army Wives). Okay, okay, it was more than a twinge, it was a wave. Maybe even a tidal wave. There was no mistaking that feeling of affinity, of belonging, pride, loyalty, dare-I-say patriotism for the U.S!!!!!! And that’s what surprised the heck out of me!!! Let me explain before you start wondering what feelings I may have had prior to this one.

You see, I’ve lived in this country for a long, long time and I am not a citizen. Please put down your cell phone and stop Googling the U.S. immigration police. My status is perfectly legal and always has been. Well except for that unfortunate Tijuana experience, but that’s for another post. I’ve lived here far, far longer than I have in any other country but I’m not a citizen. It’s somewhat embarrassing at times, such as when our family returned from India and lined up to go through immigration and my 7 year-old kept asking repeatedly and loudly, “DADDY WHY IS MOMMY COMING WITH US IN THIS LINE? SHE’S NOT AMERICAN. SHOULDN’T SHE GO IN THE OTHER LINE?” How quickly he had forgotten the alien womb he started out in….

I like living here. I do. But I have never quite felt comfortable actually belonging to any one place or group or country or whatever. It’s a bit of a commitment issue. I’ve always had this story I’ve told myself that I belong to the world and the world belongs to me. I refuse to be limited by the boundaries we create for ourselves. So I have never felt particularly compelled or rushed to apply for U.S. citizenship ASAP. On top of all that, my work revolves around critiquing the United States from a variety of angles – sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism. I spend time handing out magnifying glasses and microscopes to my students so they can see all the realities about the U.S. that tend to get swept under the rug or stirred up with sugar and handed back to you in a glass of sweet, Southern tea. The courses I teach are dedicated to developing a critical consciousness of the isms and privilege and educational inequities and ignominious history of this country. Inevitably, there comes a point in each semester, when I have to clarify to my students that I do not, indeed, hate America. There’s always the one student that wonders and voices the question or rather – suspicion. After all, I’m NOT American. I mean, it’s the same thing as, “I can talk about my family, but you can’t if you’re not a part of it!” I can see how one might wonder that. After all, when you are picking apart and looking directly at the least endearing parts of anyone or anything, how could you possibly feel anything else? Here’s a quote I share to help them make sense of it all:

And that’s precisely why I felt that, ahem, patriotic feeling while sitting on that rock with the coolness of a late evening breeze on my face watched the lasered images of American people who willingly sacrifice and speak up and fight and demand and come together because they believe in something. I realized it was because I had looked at the ugliest parts of this country and knew about them that I felt that feeling. Because I am ultra conscious of them, I could feel an eyes-wide-open kind of love for this country. Despite that ugliness that exists here, what also exists here is an endless, incredible cup-runneth-over generosity of spirit and kindness and compassion and the unshakable desire and tenacity in the belief that there is good and goodness can win.  Just in the last few days, I’ve seen example after example of this. The Monkee See Monkee Do people raised $100 000 in 6 hours for four sweet babies with special needs to have their needs met. And no one was allowed to donate over $25.  The See Beautiful people had all their money stolen out of their bank account which did nothing but make visible an incredible outpouring of beautiful from the president as well as all the followers of the See Beautiful movement. My husband, one U.S. American, began a movement to make small changes For 28 Days at a time and people everywhere have jumped on board because they believe they can do better. Be better. I could go on with example, after example, after example.

And that’s what it all about for me. The wish to not belong has really only been about avoiding the limitations. Lately, I’ve been coming to the realization that belonging might be more about saying what you’re for rather than what you’re against. Taylor Mali, one of my favorites, says it perfectly in  Silver-Lined Heart. Belonging is about saying what you’re for. I’m starting to notice what I’m for these days. For the first time in my life I feel like I’m for the place I go to on Sunday mornings. I’m for the way we think about life and creation and spirit and love in that space. Sitting around the table with my family makes me feel like I’m for this family. I want us to live out our dot on the Grand Timeline together the best we can. Being in my classes with my students makes me feel like I am for these young people who are considering teaching as a career or already in the thick of it. I want them to go into their classrooms with an armed love for their students.

I like this. I can sense a slew of jokes and entertainment at my expense for this semi-patriotic post. Believe me, I never expected to know, let alone share publicly, this truth about me. It’s a strange thing that it happened to me. I felt patriotic. Maybe it’s time to get started on my application for U.S. citizenship.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina
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Between the Fight and The Forgiveness

So Labor Day weekend has come and gone and it feels like a wasted weekend because so much of what we had planned did not happen. A trip to D.C. for a friend’s wedding was reversed due to the ridiculous traffic on I-85N. We made it from Atlanta to the Mall of GA in close to 2 hours (which should only have taken 30 minutes) and decided to turn around. We didn’t make it to a cookout yesterday with some awesome friends  due to not being able to get our act together. Read: passionately discussing marital issues so that going somewhere together just didn’t happen. And then a lukewarm Monday in which David, our 7 year-old, planned and ran a Labor Day Camp for him and his sister very effectively while the parents remained between the fight and the forgiveness. The time between the fight and the forgiveness always feels like wasted time.

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden. 

A little over 8 years ago I made a promise to join my life with another person’s and to accept, love, and respect him throughout the journey. Yes, I knew, because I had heard often enough, that marriage is hard but I also believed I could do it. We could do it. I still believe it can be done and I still believe we can do it. But wow! Hearing something and knowing it are two entirely different things! I had no idea just how hard things could get and how easily they can slip from great to dismal in a matter of seconds. I wonder if the allure of marriage is more about the challenge or the actual belief that we’d be spending our days in each others arms or longing to see each other after a long day’s work and then moving on to the blissful days in which we anticipate and then share in the parenthood of beautiful, perfect little children. I wonder, sometimes, if I had known the truth about the hard parts of marriage, would I have chosen to dive in? No, I’m not bitter. This is simply a moment in time for me and captures the moments between the fight and the forgiveness.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

I shouldn’t have to, but I will clarify, that all is good and as it should be in my marriage. We are two people who committed to being married and continue to be committed and have every intention of staying together ’til death do us part. I love Brian and Brian loves me. We’re married. And this is simply a part of it. If I’m going to tell truths about who I am, I have to be able to tell truths about all parts of my life and marriage is one of them. I feel the need to share my truths about the hard parts of marriage because I believe I might figure out something through my writing. Or maybe you will help me figure out something. Or maybe I’ll just feel better when you tell me that I’m not alone. If you’re married, it’s quite likely you already know this and completely get what I’m talking about. If you’re not married, it’s most likely you don’t believe you’ll ever get yourself into such a situation because you’re only going to commit to being with someone who, like you, is above all this. And if you don’t plan to be married, well, hey….love will find you in other places.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

So here’s my truth. The hard parts of marriage took me completely by surprise. I did not expect some of my reactions to various situations. I’ve always thought of myself as a level-headed, carefree, easy-going, forgiving, sensible and loving human being. Oh – also witty and funny. So it took me completely by surprise when I found myself behaving in ways that were the complete opposite. I know, I know. Some of you who know me well are utterly shocked by this truth about me. But really, I actually possess the opposite of all the beautiful qualities I know are mine. Strange. It’s as if my mate…or my marriage…is here to teach me,  and humble me in the process, that I am human. And being human means that I possess all the qualities that any human being can possess. I know I possess all the qualities because I always have a choice. I’m still learning this one, but I ALWAYS have a choice to be forgiving or to punish, to be patient or to be frustrated, to be kind, or to be hurtful, to be angry or to be understanding, to be loving or to be fearful. I can choose either one. I have chosen all of the above.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.

What I have come to learn in the 8+ years of marriage is that there is an ebb and flow. There are ups and downs. Highs and lows and in-betweens. I fought this hard at first. The lows took me by surprise and there was a time I would be in the lows and not be able to imagine ever getting out of them. I couldn’t see that it was possible to get past the ugly. Or maybe I mean get through the ugly to see the beautiful again. A very beautiful person started a movement that I sometimes believe was just for me, to See Beautiful and it is a message, a calling that plays in my head constantly. When it came to the hard parts of marriage, however, seeing the beautiful through the hard parts was next to impossible for me. But then, we got back to the beautiful parts. Somehow we were able to get through the ugly and back to the beautiful. And it felt so good again to be there. Despite the intensity of the hard, the soft place to land turned out to be in the same place – the same man. Over time things have gotten easier because I know, while I am in the dark, that the light will shine again. That there is an other side. There is a soft place to land. It is possible to get back to us again. and that the hard parts were actually necessary. The soft place to land is worth the pain. In the ebb and flow of marriage, I am learning to have faith and there is a different kind of being in the hard parts because I know that the pain, the discomfort, is temporary.

But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

Learning that the beautiful and the ugly parts of love – are simply a part of a Divine Design. A Divine Design to teach me how to be more human. It is a hard lesson for me. While I know it and can understand it in my head, I have a much harder time knowing it in my soul when I am in the middle or the ugly. But I am slowly but surely learning that the ugly is just as necessary as the beautiful  in the journey into Love.

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

I am learning that I am in the heart of God. And while I am in the heart of God, I can only learn about my true nature. I am learning that I can always choose love. That I can choose love because it’s all there is. Even when I am at my worst. Love is always there as one option. Even when choosing love seems like the hardest thing to do. Love is always a choice. Love is always the right choice.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

Turns out even my marriage is a spiritual journey towards the Divine. Towards the soul of all our souls.  Towards Love. Turns out we’re all the same and time is not wasted when times are hard. The hard times are simply markers, reminders that I’m on the road and moving towards something greater…a more human self. A more Divine self. And despite being in between the fight and the forgiveness, I still give thanks for another day of loving and a prayer for my beloved in my heart and a song of praise that I get to know this kind of Love in my life. And gratitude for being spared the knowledge about the hard parts of marriage before choosing it because, had I not chosen marriage, I might never have known Love like this.

Here’s hoping he doesn’t read all this until AFTER the forgiveness. Because, you know…who needs vulnerability in between the fight and the forgiveness….

Jokes aside – I have to post this before I think twice about it and decide to hide a truth.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

*The poem quoted throughout this post is from Kahlil Gibran’s book, The Prophet, which is a favorite of ours and one we quoted throughout our wedding book. How prophetic it has proven to be in our lives!

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