How to Be: Summer Breakup Edition

I know I’m an anomaly when I say that I don’t understand our prioritization when it comes to relationships. We assume that romantic relationships sit on the top of a pyramid of connections, with friendships somewhere below it. I’m a bit backwards and I place friendship at the top of the pyramid, if we even have to have a pyramidal, hierarchical structure at all. This is because my romantic relationships need to be above all things friendships at root. But its more than that, too. It’s also because I assume friendships are more enduring for most people (if done right) and that they are the most consistently life-giving. After all, you need your friends after a romantic breakup. So, it might be correct to say that I’m romantic about friendships. This is why it was such a hard thing for me this summer when my dearest and closest friendship ended.

People are funny things. We love them exactly for who they are and yet, when things go south, we wish they could be different. But relationships are messy at best and when we take on a friendship we also take on that person’s past, a past we were never a part of and have absolutely no control over. To put it simply, people are complex, a product of their past, and we can’t do anything about it.

For my old friend this past was, unfortunately, insurmountable. I had inadvertently done something that upset her and, because of her past, she was unable to move beyond it. At first, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t fix this. I apologized, I explained, I told her how much I loved her and I gave her space. But the lesson for me, it seems, was about how I can’t do anything. This was incredibly difficult for me because I am a doer and I like to show my feelings. But God, in Her wisdom, decided to knock me on my ass with this one. If I hadn’t learned that I can’t fix everything in the world by the age of 39, perhaps this was going to be how She got my attention.

And She did. She sent me on a long holiday the day after this all happened so that I was physically separated from my friend. This proved to be crucial to my healing as I was able to literally get some distance. Holidays abroad have always felt something like retreats to me so I got the added bonus of feeling especially close to God during this time. I used the time to pray and to reflect and what I found was not at all what I was expecting.

In my mind, I was expecting that my friend and I would make up and be close again, that we just needed time. But my time away showed me that perhaps that wasn’t the best outcome, strange as that may seem. When I had time to reflect, I realized that my nature as a doer meant that I had been the person primarily keeping the friendship going. I made dates to go out, I texted her, I reached out when I wanted to talk. Once again, I was doing. This isn’t a bad thing. I’m very proud of the fact that I know what I want and will set out to get it. Again, I’m romantic about friendship and believe that it requires intention and effort. But as I sat on the beach one evening looking out over the North Sea I realized that I had kind of made up the entire friendship, that I had chosen her but she had never really chosen me. Not that my friend was not a fantastic person and not that she didn’t care about me in some way, but when I was able to step back and really look, I saw that she was never going to really be able to choose anyone, that she would always wait to be chosen. I can’t blame her for this. She’s had a really rough time with relationships, both romantic ones and friendships. I understand to a point. But it came home to me with a sudden force that when it came to choosing between everything we shared as friends and the pain she felt from her past, she would choose the pain every time simply because it was safer and required less vulnerability.

This was hard. Like, REALLY hard.  There were nights where I just cried, feeling stupid and blind. How could I have not seen this coming? Why did I reveal so much about myself to this person? But it was also then that I knew deep within myself that I couldn’t let this situation cut me off. I couldn’t let the loss of this friendship threaten to isolate me and keep me from what I do best – sharing my heart with others. So, I prayed. I asked God to please keep my heart open, to let it break spectacularly so that I could stay compassionate. During the day I found myself absently stroking the sacred heart tattoo on my right forearm as if to remind myself to keep my heart broken for a little while yet, to let it be pierced over and over and let my compassion grow.

This might sound all very emotionally morbid to you, dear reader, but I believe firmly that we need to fully explore our emotions, our reactions, for meaning. Doing so allowed me to see that I “do” too much and that this has eroded my sense of self-love. Once I allowed myself to really feel the deep pain of betrayal and rejection, I felt an instinctive need to heal myself and to show myself the compassion I felt I was lacking. So, that’s what I did. I began, first of all, to eat better, something my powerlifting coach no doubt loves. I began making sure I went to bed before midnight. I began to monitor the way I spoke to myself. This all sounds very much like doing still, doesn’t it? But there were other ways I found healing as well.

I sat.

Literally, I just sat. I didn’t even focus on my breathing as I would for my meditation practice. I simply sat. When an emotion threatened me with its insidious waves, I shrugged and allowed it to roll over me. I trusted that God would see me through whatever happened. I trusted. I trusted. I trusted.

I accepted that I would cry for many weeks yet. That I would have days where I felt powerful and loving and days where I felt helpless and sad. I accepted that I may have moments where I felt friendless and times where I was going to have no one but myself and God to see me through. And I refused to talk myself out of loving in spite of it all.

trusted.

I trusted that I was enough. I trusted that God is about connection and love and communion and that therefore I was on the right path. When in doubt, I spoke to myself.

“Keep your heart open. Let it break. Let it break. Let it break.”

And because I am such a doer and always will be, I repaired what I could in myself and in other relationships. I reached out to someone I had stopped speaking to when I realized I’d never get the apology I deserved. I no longer felt like the apology was necessary. I began to write olde tyme letters to friends. I went on blind “friend dates” that, at this point in time, seem very promising. I even wrote a letter to my biological father, a man who abandoned us thirty years ago. I let go of the expectation that he wanted to know me and gave in instead to the knowledge that I couldn’t let people think that they didn’t matter. Instead of retreating into myself and refusing to love, I decided to throw my heart back into the ring with abandon.

trusted.

And I wrote a final text message to my old friend. I told her that I loved her and that if she ever decides she wants us to repair this, I’ll be here. But I no longer have the expectation that she wants this. I no longer need to assume that I was to her what she was to me. Knowing of the deep pain that she has experienced in the past, I don’t expect that she’ll choose me. Instead, I’ll just keep trusting that my love isn’t wasted, even when it isn’t returned.

Women and the Discipline of Compassion

The thing I love best about feminist theology is how easy it is to describe to someone who has never heard of it. Feminist theology is about humanization. It is about taking the focus off of the abstract and instead attending to the daily existence of all human beings. It is rejecting abstract dogmatic concepts in favor of praxis. Of course, the impulse to living in a feminist theological context is found in compassion. It is through compassion that we are led to reject damaging dogma. It is in compassion that we find our deepest and most generous theological impulses.

And yet, I’m convinced that compassion is still something we don’t quite get. We use the word as though it means mercy. But does it? Mercy, to me, implies a power relationship. The oppressed cry for it and the oppressor grants it (or does not). Mercy does not require “com” (together) “passion” (suffering). It requires only will. Others believe that compassion is a synonym for kindness. But kindness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. From where does it spring?

Compassion, actually suffering WITH someone, is quite hard to come by. I don’t mean by this that most people in this world are shitty, just that we’ve come up with less difficult ways to engage with others, ways that allow us to keep a degree of healthy distance. The trouble with compassion is that it can only really take place through an emptying of self combined with the desire to fully love the other – much like Christ did. And although we laud this ideal, how can we, as twenty-first century people, really get on board with letting go of the “I” so that we can love more fully? How is it possible to let go of our precious egos?

What IS the “I”? As a post-enlightenment people, we tend to equate our mind with “I”. Our likes, dislikes, emotions, thoughts – those are all what make me me. And yet, wise people throughout the centuries have not thought so and have believed that discipline through meditation can teach a person to shed this illusive sense of “I”, what we now call the ego, in favor of a more universal “I” that is no “I” at all.

Here is an experiment. Take a moment right now to observe your thoughts. Right now, mine are telling me that I probably appeared like a total nutcase to the person with whom I just had a meeting. There is also a voice telling me that that is nuts, that I’m proud of how different I am and that I was just fine. In fact, there are several voices in my head judging the event and creating a narrative.

So, tell me, if I am my thoughts and feelings, then who is the “I” observing them? Who is saying, “I am thinking that so-and-so probably thinks I’m crazy.” Who is this “I” that is not making judgments about anything but merely observing what is going on in my head? I have no answer to that, nor does anyone else. And yet, it is this “I behind the I” that is observational and free of judgment that we really need if we are to truly become compassionate people. You can’t just decide for compassion, you have to make it into a discipline and learn to be at home with this hidden “I”. You must be able to separate your identity from your thoughts and emotions. Buddhists know this. Saints know this.

Emptying yourself so that you can fully experience the suffering of others has often been a trait universally ascribed to women. After all, isn’t one of the complaints we have against sexism that women are expected to abandon or sacrifice themselves for others? And if we have been socialized to do this, aren’t we automatically more compassionate as a gender? I argue that no, we aren’t, and that is simply because compassion as a practice demands an intentionality fully centered in a desire to love and understand another. When we empty ourselves as a social obligation, we are not fully intentional. Moreover, the kind of “compassion” we perform in this example does not necessarily require a true emptying but rather a denial of ourselves. Finally, abandoning self for others in this sense does not rely on the “I behind the I” but rather on the “I” constructed in our egos and social identities.

When women practice compassion as an intentional act, this emptying of self is done not as a gendered sacrifice of all she is, but as a spiritual practice of discovering her true self and that of the other person. Moreover, practicing the “I behind the I” helps her to develop self-compassion which is then passed on to her companion in a gift of true connection. Thus, practicing true compassion enables self-knowledge, self-compassion, connection, and healing – all goals of feminist theology.

It is when we can become self-knowing and self-compassionate that we can fully enter into the experience (have compassion with) another and it is that experiencing from which theology is born. Good theology is not made in universal decrees and inflexible dogma. It is born in experience and built from the ground up.

 

 

 

Post – Abortion Care Packages

When I arrived in Canada in June 2015, I immediately made contact with the local abortion care clinic to see what their needs were. I had founded a clinic escort group back in Richmond, Virginia years before and wanted to continue the work. It turns out that the clinic here didn’t want an escort team (they’re not for all clinics) but I found another way in which I could be useful –  Post-abortion care packages! Lovely gift bags full of items to help ease recovery both physically and emotionally. I’ve been doing these now for two years and love the shit out of them. The patients seem to like them too.

What follows is something I wrote when I made my first package. Please feel free to use and share!

*****

There isn’t much about post-abortion care packages online so I thought I would share my process here. If you can think of anything to add, please comment and let me know!

I am a very poor little writer so I hit up Walmart for some supplies. I needed the following:

  • Lap blanket (nice and fleecy)
  • Tea (Chamomile has a relaxing effect, peppermint is a good choice as well)
  • Protein bars
  • Soup packets
  • Chocolate (DO NOT give this to the patient before the procedure!)
  • Fabric and rice for a homemade heating pad (directions to follow)
  • Tylenol or Ibuprofen (no Aspirin! It is not good for post-operative bleeding)
  • Pads (make sure you get incontinence pads rather than the regular ones shown)
  • Bag (I am useless and could only find a Christmas bag)

IMG_20151124_184733

The total came to just under $40 Canadian so homegirl needs to think of some cheaper ways to do this and/or get some donations – more about that later.

Once I got home and got my daughter settled in her high chair with some pasta, I pulled out my sewing machine and set to work on the homemade heating pad. It’s just one of those very simple bean bag type things you see at craft fairs that you can put into the microwave for a minute. Before you go and make a zillion of these, make sure that the doctors in your clinic approve of applying heat post-surgery. Some suggest it while others suggest cold packs. It’s important for the patient to follow doctor’s orders!

So, first thing’s first – grab some cotton fabric. It MUST be 100% cotton because it will go in the microwave. Fat quarters from quilting stores are perfect but flannel is amazing because of its hand (this is sewspeak for “feel”). Ideally, you would first iron your fabric but I am driving a patient tomorrow and therefore, need this one ASAP. I basically had to make it in the fifteen minutes between my daughter happily munching away and her screaming to be let out of her high chair. Other things you’re going to need are:

  • Fabric scissors
  • Sewing machine (unless you want to hand sew entirely)
  • Needle
  • Thread
  • Pins

IMG_20151124_181138

Cut out some random rectangle of fabric. Yes, I know, this is terribly non-specific but I was in such a hurry that I didn’t measure. I cut out something that, when folded in half, would comfortably cover a decent amount of the lower abdomen, where most women will use it when experiencing post-operative cramping.

Once you cut it out, fold it in half with right sides together and get ready to sew!  My suggestion is to set your stitch length to small since you’ll have lots of itty bitty pieces of rice in there and you don’t want them to leak. Using the foot as a width guide, sew around all the edges, leaving about a six inch gap at the end as an opening for the rice.

 

Reach into the little bag you’ve just made and pull it right side out, using a pencil or other pointed object to poke out the corners so they don’t look rounded.

Now is the fun part – spilling rice all over the kitchen! Those of you with partners who know how to open a bag of rice will be able to just pour those bad girls right in there. The rest of us will use an ice cream scoop.

*Here’s an extra-special tip – add two drops of peppermint oil to your rice! Though most essential oils do not have evidence to back the properties they claim, there is definite science to the anti-nausea properties of peppermint. You can get some inexpensively at any vitamin store.

 

Now you’re ready to sew up the opening using your hand sewing needle and a blind stitch. This is a very easy stitch to learn, even for beginners!

VOILA! You’re finished!

Once I was done with the heating pad (took about fifteen to twenty minutes because of the ice cream scoop technique), I put the entire care package together and added a note. Please don’t forget the note! Regardless of why a woman chooses to have an abortion or how she feels about it afterward, it is important that you let her know that you are thinking of her well-being.

Notecard

It doesn’t even matter if you have the penwomanship of a Kindergartner.

***

Now my post-abortion care package is ready! But it does feel a little lacking. What would you add?

If you’re interested in donating supplies, please email me at areinhardtsimpson@gmail.com!