Going through rough times in life is akin to deep sea diving. For much of your daily life, there you are, happily bobbing on the surface. You’re soaking in the sunshine and enjoying the ride in your trusty boat. You may be on the lookout for sharks and such, but you’re in your sturdy, protected vessel so their impact is not really a worry.
You fill in the blank. Your loved one jumps into the depths and you follow to try to help them.
You are told by the dive master you must dive in and get wet. Just the next step in your certification process.
You accidentally drop your mother’s wedding ring into the murk and chase after it.
You think of the sharks. And other things that scare you. And you realize . . .
. . . you are alone. Even if others are diving with you, you are alone. This is your dive, your journey, your mission. And only you can make sure you rise back to the top at the appropriate time and pace for your own survival. Just as your companions must mind their own timing.
You may have friends who stay on the boat. Some will have been called to go through what you are going through, plumbing the depths. Others may not.
Chances are, the wise ones will let you dive and resurface at your own pace. They’ll keep a careful eye out for you but realize this is your gig. They won’t judge your pace or skill. They’ll just pray for your safekeeping and hand you a large drink when you resurface. They’ll want to hear your stories.
The others? Well, let’s just say you may rejigger the guests on your boat when you resurface.
This handy little metaphor is obviously about life, in case you are reading this prior to your morning coffee. And if it’s evening, a glass of wine might help you follow my meanderings. Join me.
We’ve all been on that damn boat. Life is that boat. But not all of us have been called to dive.
Some of us have dived at 40 feet, fancying ourselves experts. While others have gone down as far as 125 feet. The latter takes special training, a lot of moxy and patience. And not everyone is called to do it.
Your dive could be about anything. The loss of a spouse is just one example. Recovering from an illness or coming to terms with one. Adjusting to having a mentally ill family member. Grieving a child who is out of control and causing pain for the whole family.
The uninitiated, the non-divers, tend to get impatient. As do the 40-footers. They want you back on that boat lickety split so the party can continue. There you are, plumbing the depths at 125 feet and you feel every tug and pull on your line from above. But you know you can’t come up for air yet. That if you’ve been sent this far down, there’s a reason.
So you square off with the shark that terrifies you. You explore the underwater cave, hoping to find the treasure that might lie within it. You master, as best you can, this depth—knowing you may not be sent down this far again (God, please no) but your job in the present is to handle this, learn from it, and then share your story with others so the journey is less lonely or troublesome for them.
Learn on me, you say.
And you’d be right to say that.
Solo journeys, yes, but we’re all in this boat—this thing called life—together.
And yet, those tugs from above keep coming. Hurry up. Aren’t you done yet?
As a society, we seem to value people who move on quickly. Not too quickly, or we’ll judge that too. Careful there, sister. Don’t show joy before 12 months of grief. But don’t show pain after that.
We all grieve at our own pace. We experience things differently. We process change and hard times in a way that is ours alone. They say grief is universal, and it is, but the handling of it is all on you in your own way.
Which is hard enough, without being put on someone else’s timetable.
During a rough time in my life, I had an old, dear friend who stuck by me. For a while. And then, as my situation continued to grow and worsen, stretching out over a period of time, she withdrew. Not entirely, but she took a step back. Way back. She was up there in that boat, mad that I was not back to party. And even as I began to ascend, slowly and safely, she kept tugging on that line. So hard I was afraid it would break.
When I asked her if all was well between us, she never had the courage to own up to her actions. She pretended all was “fine,”brusquely. Which took her behavior from a simple lack of insight to pure pettiness.
She was judging my timing, my experience, against another friend. And let’s be honest, this friend was a 40-foot diver at best. She was not going to plumb the depths. Was sure she knew all there was to know based on her shallow runs. Instead of honoring others’ experiences and timings, she imposed her own timetable on them. If they took longer than she thought appropriate, it was labeled feeling sorry for oneself.
Judge. Judge. Judgity judge judge judge.
When someone is hurting, let them be. If you can tell a hard truth empathetically and they can hear it, do it. But if not, and all you can do is step away, so be it. Either way, you are doing them a favor. To try to be there in a half-assed way, resentful, is felt by any wise old soul. Better not to be present. Perhaps you’re not the one to see them through this journey. That’s ok. That’s authentic, if you can step away with love. Half-assed, judgmental presence? Not so authentic.
Some of us are here to experience things only to a certain level. And then we move back to our “normal” lives, worrying about whether to have chicken or steak for dinner. And what color to paint the bathroom wall.
Bully for these people. I don’t want to be drinking a glass of wine with them before a fire, though. Chances are, the conversation would bore me to tears. The perils of hot yoga interest me not.
Others of us know we’re here for a reason. That we’re more than our outer shell. That we’ve been here before and if we can just get the learning in we may not have to be here again. Author Dani Shapiro puts it best in “Still Writing”:
“If we are artists—hell, whether or not we’re artists—it is our job, our responsibility, perhaps even our sacred calling, to take whatever life has handed us and make something new, something that wouldn’t have existed if not for the fire, the genetic mutation, the sick baby, the accident. To hurl ourselves in an act of faith so complete that our fears, insecurities, hopelessness and despair blur along the edges of our vision. We stop for nothing.”
Now there’s a soul with whom I’d like to be having that glass of wine before the fire.
Some of us are wired to be artists—even if we have a desk job and can’t paint to save our lives. We take whatever trial by fire we went through and mold something new out of it—a book, a sculpture, a support group, a quiet circle of friends.
Others feel only what is absolutely necessary and scurry back to their safe little dens. Talking about what happened would be anathema to them.
If I am asked to dive deep, I will ascend slowly, at intervals. Safely. Making sure I know what I need to know before I get back on that party boat.
There is nothing worse than a case of the bends, physical or emotional.
If you are waiting for me as I resurface with an arm extended and an umbrella drink in hand, I will greet you with my own open arms.
But, rest assured, I will know if you have been talking to your fellow sailors about my timing, my judgment, my stamina, in a less than supportive way.
Don’t be surprised if I put you in the life raft and set you adrift. Or take you back to shore and leave your sorry tush on the sand.
If you’re going to tug on my dive line, it had better be with kindness. Because I won’t resurface to anything less.
None of us should.