My mother always told me, "hide your face people are looking at you." I would reply, "it doesn't matter; I am also looking at them."
- Malala Yousafzai
The last couple months have been a blur. With the stress of moving behind me, I anticipated a period of relative calm. Who was I kidding?
As the dust settled from the move, I didn't even take time to wipe it from my shoulders before running full speed ahead toward the next set of activities. My job has been the usual rollercoaster of boredom alternating with long hours working with people who treat each other with record-setting levels of disrespect. One of the ways I cope with the discomfort of my job is to continue planning my escape, so I spent the last two months working toward my Embody Tantra certification and deepening my skills as a transformational coach. When I wasn't in workshops or on conference calls or coaching, I spent time with my Beloved, my daughters, and my friends. Amidst all of the busyness, I felt joy. I felt passion. And I felt completely overwhelmed.
Despite the fact that elements of my life are coming back together, it somehow feels like I'm falling apart. It's weird. In many ways, I feel more deeply supported than I've ever felt; and I also feel adrift, alone, and only half-connected to myself and others. During this time, I've tried several times to write an article for my newsletter. In my mind, I’ve drafted different versions of a brilliant essay on integration. Or about imbalance. Perhaps a confession of what feels like a struggle with addiction (to behaviors, to sugar, to numbing). What could I share that would be authentic for me and meaningful to my readers? Nothing. Each time I sat down to write, I stared at a blank page again.
The other night I took a journal with me and walked to a local restaurant to eat dinner and to write. What came up for me was unexpected, but it was also a momentary release from the numbness that sets in when I get lost in all of this. It's a deeply personal share and a reflection on the subtle ways that we keep ourselves from being close enough to really be seen in order to feel safe.
I’m sitting at a countertop bar near home. I’ve ordered a drink. I drink almost daily right now – not enough to get drunk or even buzzed - just enough to “take the edge off.” Tonight, I at least tried to order a healthier meal than the usual comfort food I binge on when I come here. And I’m writing. That’s something.
This edge. It’s an unexpected edge tonight that has me feeling uneasy and sad.
I chose to walk here. It’s a short, five minute walk that I’ve done before. There's a single crossing with a traffic light on the way, and whenever I cross there (or drive through it on other occasions), a specific memory emerges. I usually chuckle and then shrug it off. Tonight, there was no chuckle to deflect the real energy in that memory - the heartbreak that lingers in it.
A few weeks after my final break-up with my ex-husband, I pulled up to this intersection in my car and saw him there. He was on his bicycle, approaching the intersection to my right. He wore a bright green shirt – not fluorescent, but bright enough to stand out. I’m not sure when he noticed my car. Perhaps it was the moment before I saw him. Clearly, he saw me, but what he did next was odd. He lifted his left hand up to face level, hiding his face from me. It was as if he thought I wouldn’t recognize him if I didn’t see his face.
This man who had been a part of my life and my daughters’ lives for five years. This man who had seen my deepest fears and darkest anger, and had called me out on it. This man who had been naked with me, had made my body shake with pleasure, had cried with me while we made love. This man whose presence I could feel even when there were hundreds of miles between us. This man put his hands to his face, so that we could both pretend that we didn’t see each other. We could both pretend it didn’t hurt not to be together anymore. We could both imagine that the other no longer existed as I drove away, making a left turn without believing it would be the last time I would ever see him. It was.
I made fun of him later when I told friends about the strange interaction that afternoon. I laughed at the “ridiculous” way that he raised his hand to keep me from seeing him. Now it occurs to me that maybe he didn’t want to see me.
Perhaps he was tired of trying to see me. There were aspects of me that I’d kept hidden from him, or thought I did. I’d clumsily put my ‘hands’ up, hoping that he couldn’t see behind them, and then blamed him for what he hadn’t seen. I was used to people loving me because I was strong, smart, and nurturing. I didn't trust him to love me if he saw the parts of me that were broken, scared or angry. He saw some of them anyway. I just pretended that he didn't.
How was it possible? I’d dreamed of sharing my life with this man, but it all came to this. A moment at an intersection. Looking away. Heartbreak. Hiding. Hearts divided by hands.
So here I am – years later – walking through an intersection. I’m overcome with a sense of tragedy and loss. At the same time, I’m overwhelmed by gratitude for all that has changed in my life since then. Everything is still changing, still unfolding. I can sense beauty riding toward me and away from me with a hand covering its face, and it feels like the light is about to change again. Part of me wants to stay in this moment - to see and be seen - but I also know there is beauty rushing ahead to meet me at the next corner. So I turn on the blinker on and take my foot of the brake.
What parts of yourself do you try to keep others from seeing? How might this this keep you from experiencing deep intimacy with others? What would it feel like to put your hand down and allow yourself to be seen?