The Matchbook Diaries

There is no Plan C

Wanting and loving are not the same.  Wanting is what a child feels when he sees a toy at the store, his lust for it is almost painful.  He needs it, must have it.  He wails.  He lurches from the little basket where he is pinned.  When he cannot have what he wants he is distraught and cries.  After he sleeps the feelings are forgotten.   When he is 16 or 27 or 43 he will find that he wants again but this time instead of an object, it will be a person, a living, conscious thing.  Then wanting turns to what can be called love, but what is only barely love, very pale, very thin love.  Love is complex like Pi.

Falling in love is the easy part of love.  Loving what you fell for is the hard part.  The woundedness in me and the woundedness in my beloved will eventually be the only players in the relationship between us.  The war that inevitably begins between friends who love each other, between lovers in love, within a parent’s love for a child and between a boss’ love for an employee – that war will play out endlessly, with subtle variations.  Unless redemption occurs, every relationship will eventually be a disappointment, every connection will eventually produce despair.

Living in a material world, it’s challenging to conceive and then to perceive the depth of God’s children.  We are eternal; once we are made, we cannot be unmade.  Death is a threshold that escorts us to our actual birth, to our permanent life.  Here, now, though, we define that forever life.  The war over us is all that there is.  God loves us, Evil hates God, and therefore seeks to deprive God of our company.  The battle for us begins at the moment we are conceived and it never, ever ends.  God never lets go.  There is never a moment, not even in the depths of hell, when God is not still there, reaching towards those who do not know love.

When a person is young they have hope but after 50 years of failure in relationships that hope withers and in its place is something hard, mean, blind and frustrated. (Recently an old woman wrote to me only one line, “The world is full of crooks!” and I thought, God have mercy on you.)  That old man who was once a young boy wanting a plastic toy after a 100 years of love and loss and ultimately failure in his relationships, his youthful optimism will have deliquesced into implacable self hatred.  It’s imperative to stop that cycle before this kind of consequence.

The shame that comes from relational failure is compelling; either the failure will be something I own, something I use, or it will define me and become my master.  My reply to the terror of what happened to me is to fear everyone.  I fear phone calls.  I fear emails.  I fear any moment in public.  I fear any exposure.  I fear my son, my husband, my closest friends.  My fear is debilitating.  I am regularly sick, just a little cold, usually.  I am almost always exhausted.  I am always physically cold; I’m cold on the inside.   I am terrified because I was eaten alive daily for more than 10 years.  When I take a moment to check in with myself, I normally detect anxiety.  So when I love something, I have to overcome my fear to touch that person or thing.  If it’s a thing, it’s easier.  Things are predictable, not necessarily static, but, unalive, and therefore easier.  People, however, are alive, unpredictable, uncontrollable, and therefore fraught with peril for me.  I rarely touch anyone.  I’m much better at intimacy with total strangers than with people I’m likely to actually know in daily life.

The question is, how can that cycle be broken, particularly when the largest pieces of me are behaving without my knowledge and yet with my unconscious consent?  To be, or not to be, Hamlet’s and Zelensky’s question; read Shakespeare’s lines in a mooment (below) and you will find that they speak to this precipice, to this pivot point of the human soul.

Hell is, fortunately, still about being.   I am grateful that there is hell because hell is justice.  My mother, Putin, Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and all the rest, they pay, or will pay, every penny.  Vengeance certainly belongs to God, and it will not be avoided.   There can be no un-being.  Hamlet wishes there were, as do I, a place that we can “escape” to, a place where this humiliating war is ended.  But this desire in me, and in Hamlet, is just pride, it’s about resisting the cure.

What’s the cure?  To be broken.  There are, in the end, only two choices, only two directions to travel.  Either I will be a woman who breaks, or attempts to break, those around me, and then crush them, mold them so that they will fit into my delusion, into my sickness, or I will let the people that I love break me.  I will let my desire for them, I’ll let my great passion for them break me.  Those are the options, there is no Plan C.

How do I consent to be broken?  I agree to feel the pain of my failure.  I agree to show up for your rejection or, worse, indifference.  I agree not to raise my emotional, fiscal, social, or physical fist at you when you raise it at me.  I agree to be broken, rather than to break.  This is absolutely the heart of any true love.  If you want to know the profundity, the ecstasy of real love, forever love, then this is the gate through which you will agree to pass, and it won’t be once and for all, nothing priceless is cheap.  Love is a process, love is the choice to be broken every single time.

My instinct is Hamlet’s.  I’m a queen.  I don’t break easily.  Were I softer, as I have repeatedly said here and even more incessantly to myself, if I were a soft woman I’d be a crack whore, or I’d be dead.  My go-to is war.  My instinct – all that is in me – is to fight, to never surrender.  I have to use my iron will to choose surrender, not aggression, when what I love hurts me.  I will love.  That’s what I will.  I choose love.  I choose to love my son, and not to hate him for the mirror he is.  I choose to love my husband, not to break him for showing me what I am.  I choose to respect and honour my employees, not to exercise inappropriate, boundary violating dominion over them.  I choose to love my friends, too.

I was groomed to be a whore.  I was groomed to submit.  Everything in my childhood was designed to make me obey, to teach me to be broken for the pleasure of my mother, as well as for the pleasure of all of my stepmothers.   They taught me that it’s always my fault.  They taught me that if I just try harder I will appease them.  They taught me that I’m crazy and stupid.

God grooms me differently.  God taught me that if it is my fault, there is always redemption.  God taught me that I don’t have to beg, that I have to agree to be served.  God taught me that I have the strength to walk away from those whose main intention is dominion.  God taught me that while the whole world may be crazy, I am not.  If I must stand alone and repeat what is true to myself, no matter the cost, then God help me, I will do just that.

I elect for what, and for whom, I am broken.  If I decide that a person is unworthy of me, then I walk away.  I’ve done it, and I will continue to do it.  It won’t matter to me what that costs, I’ll walk.  I will use my will to do this sad thing. There are two kinds of assault – there is abuse, people who want to use me, and there is the assault that is just my woundedness banging up against yours.  The former is evil, and then I have to walk away.  The latter, though, is formative, and to those assaults I must submit.

So, in the case of those to whom I have made a serious commitment, to those I have made a contract to love, that is, most particularly, to my son, to my husband, to my best friends, and to people I pay, in almost all of those cases I choose to be broken, to use my will to endure the violation of my own horror, my fear, my pain.  I choose to cower in the emptiness.  I choose to tremble and to howl and to shake my head in the face of unbearable pain, knowing that all pain is bearable, knowing that everything ends, knowing that I do not have to figure out how to manage the next minute, I only need to know how to manage this one.

The whore is in me.  I am still, today, three years old, naked, splayed on my mother’s bed, every light on in the middle of the night, her naked body looming over me, her hands holding my limbs down so that I can’t move, her appalling verbal monologue endlessly replaying as she rapes me.  But that is not all that I am, because the whore was not bred into me, it was not God’s making, and so it can be unmade.  The only thing that will unmake that piece of me is love.  Only that which I want more than I want to please my mother, only that which I want more than I want to survive, only that which I love hopelessly and helplessly, only those things can save me.  Only those things in my day to day immediate life can break me, and, in so doing, save me.

It’s my choice.  I can love those whom I have been given to love, or not.  I can choose to be broken today, or I can rampage through my life like an infantile dictator, bending those I can to my will, killing those who won’t submit – I can choose this.  Often some version of that abomination is my choice, but, by the grace of God, sometimes I am lucky enough to understand that to love, at the center, is to offer the other cheek when my beloved has slapped the one, to hand over my cloak when my darling has just stolen my purse.  Assaults that come in permanent relationships, those assaults are meant to liberate us (obviously not in perpetually abusive ones).

Hamlet suggests that the fear of death will condemn us all to do things that are beneath us.  God suggests that agreeing to be broken overcomes all fear, transcends all woundedness, and produces glorious love and intimate connection.

Here is Shakespeare, with my liberal edits and punctuation to illustrate my understanding of this text:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

…and by opposing end them?

To die: to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,

’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;  To sleep: perchance to dream…

ay, there’s the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come? 

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil….

Must give us pause: there’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear

-the whips and scorns of time,

-the oppressor’s wrong,

-the proud man’s insults,

-the pangs of despised love,

-the law’s delay,

-The insolence of office and

-the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin?

Who would burdens bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death, the undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveller returns,

[death] puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprises of great pith [essence of something] and moment with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action.—Soft you now! The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy prayers be all my sins remember’d.