Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sacred Life Sunday: You Raise Me Up...

She was 12 years older than me, a recovering alcoholic with a long span of hell behind her. Foul-mouthed and fat. Crusty, outspoken, strong. She smoked like a haystack. She had skin the shade of coffee with a wrinkle or scar that marked all the passages of her life. She always wore bright colors, all the tones of the earth. Orange, green, brown, deep red and plum.

I was in the thick of what would be a very long climb out of the abyss. Lost and confused with this life, not knowing why I was here or why I should remain here. Knowing I didn't really want to be here but believing suicide was wrong, one day followed another with that drip-drip-drip stagnancy that can drive a person insane. I'm not good with dates but she came into my life sometime in the early 1990s.

When I would complain, she would say, "you are where you are because you choose to be there". At first I thought she was terribly unsympathetic and harsh. How could she possibly believe that I would choose to be so miserable?

It took a few years for me to realize the gift (and the exhortation) she gave me was powerful. It changed my life from one track to another. It was the proverbial four-way stop. It was the radical idea that I/we always have choices. It was the radical idea that we own our own existences. We are not cogs in a cultural wheel or products of social custom. Naturally those things influence us but they don't define us. Life is a series of choices, one thing or another. Sometimes both or all in a new configuration. Sometimes, as Neitzsche said, when something is tottering, we give it a final shove and move on to something entirely new and different.

That simple. We always choose. We are always choosing. Big choices and little choices.

I wrote a yellow post-it note and put it on my refrigerator. "You get to choose."

There was one on my bathroom mirror as well. "CHOICE!"

This might seem rather odd to those who have come along in the generation or two after mine. My generation of women were taught to be compliant and deferential. The idea of choosing what we would do, be or have was outside our reality. We were chastised to never be haughty or demanding. We existed to serve. The idea that we could design our lives as we saw fit was revolutionary. Our job as women was to serve men and serve children. The first wave of modern feminism which took place during my late teens allowed that we could then join another type of servitude ~ to an employer instead of family. The essential message didn't change in substance, only in the packaging.

The practice of learning to make choices was frightening as hell in the beginning. I thought the earth would shatter, the heavens would open and mass destruction would occur at the very notion that I would make a choice that someone else might not like.

Oh, my God! I'd be disliked, culled from the herd, rejected, sent into oblivion. I would cease to exist!

And, in fact, that did happen. I've written here previously about it, the time spent in complete isolation from any adequate support systems or friendships. And, yes, it was hell. It was also a transition. Without that, I wouldn't be where I am now.

It's been a long, hard road, this journey to finding likeminded others, women and men who are not afraid to make their own choices, chart the course of their own lives, make decisions that suit who they are instead of who they were conditioned to believe they should be. I'm only beginning to get comfortable in my own new skin.

It goes on, this learning and experimenting. These days though, I wouldn't have it any other way. I love the idea that I make choices, that I am responsible for those choices and that I have the internal strength to deal with the consequences.

This wouldn't have happened without that unusual friend who shattered my world and guided me in picking up the pieces.



Anvilcloud said...

Of course, you're right about choice although we're sometimes predisposed to make bad ones. For example: I'm in a grouchy mood today. In a sense I choose it, but in another sense I don't. Something is going on in me that usually isn't, so I'm inclined to be grouchy and must choose to fight my way out of it. I know you are talking about larger choices and not about the mood we're in. Nevertheless, this is where my mind is locked at this moment.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Our greatest teachers are usually those with whom we have the most trouble or who are most unlike us because they force us to leave the comfortable discomfort of views we cling to although they are not working.

Someone who gives us a hard time or who rides our last nerve often enables us to be better than we were, if only to show them, or to show ourselves that we are not like them.

Such people are really angels in our path. Angels come to teach us important lessons. The lady who introduced the shocking concept that we create our own reality was definitely one such person, and like all angels, she appeared when you were ready to hear her message. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

I think she'd be pleased to see all you've become since she gave you that small nudge.

Sherry Peyton said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
thailandchani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Woman in a Window said...

This was powerful. Wonderful. Full. I think it's so important to recognize there is choice, but too that there are those consequences you spoke of. I think a lot gets lost today between choice and consequence. That's where we all need to stay alert.

Wonderful writing, Chani!

Kelly (conversemomma) said...

Wow. There is so much in this piece that speaks to me. I was particularly struck by the idea that work was just another form of servitude. I often wondered why there only seemed to be two extremes for me as a woman, motherhood or work. But, it wasn't until I realized that I was really in control of what I wanted and who I was that I realized that choices were truly infinite.

Leann said...

I have tried to instill in my children (much to their chargrin) time and time again that life is about choices. They get to decide where they are and be content or move on if unhappy.

If I could only take my own advise.

Border Explorer said...

We may not always have many options, but we can always choose our attitude.

Thanks for this beautiful post, Chani.

Molly said...

This makes me think of a few of my children, who had the courage, for better or worse, to forge their own paths, to listen to that internal voice that was telling them to take the other fork in the road, not the one everyone expected them to....Since I was very conventional and compliant myself, no one was more surprised than I when I produced these independent thinkers..... Every one is the captain of their own ship. I'm a little miffed that I didn't realize this when I was a lot younger! Very interesting post....

Suki said...

How absolutely true. In my case, this teaching came from Lacan, through one of my professors. And even this morning when I woke up wishing to melt back into the bed... I knew it was a choice I was making, and a bad one. Which is what goaded me into getting up and sitting down to work.
It's surprising how hard it is to be unforgivingly honest with oneself. But then the rewards reaped by way of productivity and self-esteem are worth it all.

starrlife said...

What a profound post. Thanks for sharing these groundbreaking experiences- choice is indeed a most powerful word and practice!

Reluctant Blogger said...

It took me a long time to realise that I could actually do as I wished with my life. I spent years not doing so.

It wasn't anyone though. I just worked it out at some point.

But with regard to love I think it did take one person to wake me up a bit and shake myself down. Not someone it could ever have worked with - but someone who showed me what it was all about to be alive.

I SOOOO nearly called my Life is a Rollercoaster post "You Raise me up" but I always play a youtube and I couldn't bear to play that track as I really don't like it!

Olivia said...


I am really enjoying your new Sacred Sunday focus. It is interesting to see how friends bearing gifts can look like anything really, not like what we expect.

Great post, thank you,

Love and joy today,


Brandi said...

there are times when I am in awe of the freedom I have compared just to my mothers generation.

I hope never to take that for granted.

lovely and moving post.

citizen of the world said...

You can't always choose what happens to you, but you always get to choose your response to it. That's power.

From one of my favorite local songwriters, Louise Mosrie:
"You're only free when you make choices,
and thank God my choices are all up to me."

Mauigirl said...

Great post, very inspirational. Your friend was very wise.

painted maypole said...

"This wouldn't have happened without that unusual friend who shattered my world and guided me in picking up the pieces."

the best kind of friend

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Chani, thank you, thank you, so much for this reminder. I'm trying to learn to make new choices in my professional life, and I needed to hear this.

Angela said...

Well, Chani, this entire post is just great. The strength of your experience shines through. I think until we really accept the responsibility of the choices we make, we can't see those things about which we really have no choice - and that's a killer. Thanks, as always.

Ian Lidster said...

There is so much wisdom here, Chani, I don't know where to begin. Suffice it to say this is another gem from you that I am going to print out.

Also, because I truly value your writings, I have given you an award. Please check it out.

Catherine said...

Powerful. It's been so many years since then and I'd forgotten how we came to here.

Thank you for the reminder.

LittlePea said...

Well said. I think even today, no matter what generation, there's always a difficulty for woman to choose themselves. But the knowing we HAVE choice is powerful.

I always learn the most from people who love me enough to piss me off with the truth of a mattter.