The fabric of my life is woven through with departures

The fabric of my life is woven through with departures. There are big ones, whose nubs are visible on the surface of my life, and smaller ones, the thread of which just glint when you turn the fabric this way and that. Like the samskaras that Dani Shapiro so eloquently talks about in Devotion, these departures remain within me, hard little kernels of sadness that the rest of my experience flows around, but not undisturbed.

In the first big departure of my life I was the one who left. My family moved to London in January of my 7th grade year (incidentally, not timing that I would particularly recommend). I will never forget the evening that my parents told me, driving me home from my 6th grade graduation dance in the late-fading light of an early June evening. How could I forget?  That was the night I realized how small I was. It was concrete proof that I was not absolutely in control of my life.

It took me another 20 years, however, to realize that the right response to this slap in the face about my lack of control wasn’t actually to try to control everything. For those 20 years I gritted my teeth, clenched my fists, and exerted untold amounts of energy thinking – hoping? – that through sheer force of will I could bend the world to the shape I wanted it to be in.

That departure was deeply destabilizing for me.  It ruptured irrevocably the life I’d assumed would unfurl in front of me like a bolt of fabric rolling out. Even though I was the one doing the leaving, I was powerless and the deep tectonic instability that that represented has reverberated through my ability to feel secure ever since. Of course there were enormous riches that came from the move to London, of course, of course. I am grateful, and think often of the unique experiences I had during those years. But there were also ramifications in my spirit, not all easy, that I am still sifting through, and it is they are on my mind tonight.

In the second major departure that formed me I was the one who was left. The first man I ever loved (and it’s a short list!) moved to Asia, and I was left behind. While I intellectually understood his reasoning, even admired his wanderlust and adventurous spirit, emotionally I was devastated, rocked by further evidence that I really couldn’t count on anything or anyone. It took me years to understand that my panicky fear of abandonment was rooted in some ways in this original experience. To this day, I have a deep fear of being left behind, that those I love most will up and leave, and that I will be powerless to stop the departure.

Clearly, all of these departures were followed by arrivals, hellos, new beginnings. The ways that loss folds into life and then back again into loss in the world’s most complicated and ever-shifting piece of origami continue to amaze me. All of these events, as unpleasant as they were in the moment, and as long-lasting their ambivalent echoes have been, contributed to bring me to where I am now. I think often of Theodore Roethke’s lines,

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

It is a comfort, certainly, to believe that all of this leaving and being left that haunts my relationships and life now was in service of both fate and continued learning. That doesn’t mean there isn’t pain, though, or sadness. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss people, and regret some goodbyes, both made and received. I wish, like Roethke, I could not fear this going where I have to go. The truth is, though, I often fear it frantically, find myself scrabbling to keep the change or goodbye at bay. Hopefully in the afternoon of my life (Carl Jung) I can learn the acceptance that pervades Roethke’s words, feel the peace that I am going where I have to go.


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11 Comments

  1. Christa
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    As I face the fact that my only child will be out in the world in two short years, these are wonderful words to ponder.

    There are times, in the afternoon of my life – as you so delicately put it, that i am able to go Roethke’s way. Not all the time, but here and there. Progress?

    I hear you. Thanks.

  2. Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    I engage in that same frantic scramble for control.

  3. Posted July 30, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, so beautiful. I, too, like most if not all humans, so fear being left. When my late-husband died suddenly, at 4 in the morning, I lost all sense of any kind of mooring. It took years for it to return. I’ve come to see that that place of being without anything to stand on is the place that Spirit thrives in, but ego does not. Such a quirky paradox this human life is.
    Blessings to you, dear one.
    Julie

  4. Posted July 30, 2010 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    “feel the peace that I am going where I have to go.” your words are my map.

  5. amy
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    This post really resonates with me. I am *so* scared of being left behind. (Probably because of my parent’s divorce when I was 12 and then my first live-in boyfriend moving out of our apartment when I was in my 20’s). I feel the need to control nearly everything in my life. It’s only now, in my mid 30’s, that I have come to realize that there is only so much I can control. Terrifying, really.
    Thank you for today’s post. It is good to know that others share this fear of abandonment.

  6. Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Unwrapping the deep wounds and letting the healing light in, even a bit at a time loosens the tight grip of our hands – and as we loosen the death-grip of our fingers, the blood flows back in and healing happens. Circular, spiraling, folding and unfolding like your beautiful origami – we move ever closer to who we truly are designed to be. Julie is right, where the ego is adrift and afraid the spirit and soul are most often active and alive. You are there, but you are not there alone – and your words carry us along in the current by your side.

  7. Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    These words bring soothing in kindred spirit today and so I thank you for them.

  8. Posted July 31, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Do you ever notice that the more we try to control, the less control we seem to have? After my mom died suddenly and unexpectedly in my early 20s, I faced major abandonment worries, too. It’s taken a lot of years to begin to chip away at that.

  9. Posted August 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    This is such a beautiful post, Lindsey. I share your fears. I also hope to keep making a space to share my poetic spirit, like you are sharing yours. I have read only some of Roethke (even taught him), but your post reminds me I need to read a lot more of his stuff.

  10. Posted August 6, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    wow. through various leavings that i have also endured in my life, i too struggle with that fear of being left behind. i have just never heard another person speak of it in just that way…in the way that i feel it…not to mention speaking of it so eloquently. the comings and goings as origami…love that! thank you for letting me know that i am not alone in this feeling…that can feel so overwhelming and sabotaging to the life that is left. thank you for speaking your truth. i needed it today.
    all the best to you and yours,
    ~amy

  11. Posted August 29, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    so beautifully written…and well timed. I’ll leave my daughter at university in nova scotia in a few short days.