In Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park," Mr. Rushworth, the dumb ox rich guy, is trying to memorize lines from a play called "Lover's Vows." His character is describing all the things he's learned as a world traveller. That got me to thinking, in my usual convoluted way, about all the things I've learned in my travels. I'm not a world traveller, at least not yet, but I have travelled many byways and side roads of emotion over the years. Up and down, over hills and valleys, weeping and laughing, snarling and snapping, I've discovered many nuances of emotion as I've tramped the woodlands of my own heart and mind. What a ride it's been. So as Mr. Rushworth learned "delicacy in Italy" and "sincerity in England," I'm trying to decipher the things I've learned in my own travels. It's been a fascinating mixed bag, with good and bad experiences all tossed into the pot; a recipe of spice and sugar sweetness, shoved into the oven to roast a bit. What kind of cake shall I be? What frosting and filling will I end up with? I like to think I'm something sweet after being so bitter for so long. That's the funny thing about truly screwed up human beings: we're excellent actors and often very, very funny. I used to be witty in my youth, a biting wit that cut and damaged. I used it against my own mother when she was drunk and I used it for two reasons. The first was to show my contempt of her; a sort of clever revenge that always got a laugh. The second was to avoid screaming with rage at her weak selfishness and repulsive neediness. I didn't want to hurt her too much, stab too deeply, so I used wit to score nicks and paper cuts across every inch of her. I didn't use wit on my father. He'd have just backhanded me. Mom was an easier target. As I grew older, I realized the true cruelty of wit and turned my funny side to humor instead. Humor is far more benevolent and doesn't need a victim as a sounding board. I like humor a lot more.
With my father, I was courageous to the point of self-destruction. But I firmly believed in not backing down and was legitimately willing to die for it. It was a matter of principal for me. Death before dishonor. As I grew older, I realized that part of that seemingly noble courage was also revenge. I would not give him what he most wanted, what he fantasized about, what he admitted he wanted from me more than anything: my tears. I wouldn't cry, I wouldn't beg, and I would have let him kill me rather than hand him such a gift. In the film "Good Will Hunting," I cry every time Matt Damon tells Robin Williams about choosing the wrench from the list of tools to be beaten with. When Robin Williams asks, "Why?" Matt Damon replies, "Because fuck him. That's why." That's straight out of my heart and that's precisely how I felt. I still have that stubbornness. I still wouldn't give him a single tear.
When I was married, I subjugated myself to not one, but two unworthy men. The first was a perverted brute, the second, a cold-hearted control freak. With both of them, I cried a lot. Strange. I thought I loved them both, but I only truly loved the idea of love. I wanted the romance, the kindness, the bonding of true love, and I would work hard to insure that my husband knew I loved him, that I'd do anything for him. Therein laid the trouble. I picked two men who would never be content with anything I ever did for them, who would suck me dry and chastise that I didn't have any more to give. I didn't realize that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than it is for a severely insecure person to be happy in any relationship.
So I was born, I had great hardship, I experienced great joy, and I grew older. Everybody's a wheat field and every moment can be a time of harvest. A time to separate the wheat from the chaff, to glean the gold in the center of every life-giving grain. What lessons have I learned? What gold have I found in all that mess?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. What a surprise. In my youth, I used wit but experienced regret at the wounds I inflicted. So I stopped using it. I turned to humor. In that regard, I learned thoughtfulness and forgiveness, even to those who'd harmed me so severely. I discovered a kind heart at the center of me. With my stubbornness against my father's determined torture, I learned that pain is something that doesn't necessarily have to be feared. Pain, both physical and emotional, are a part of life, as important as joy and pleasure.
In my marriages, I curled up into an obedient ball and lost myself to men who wanted nothing more. I learned that such a relationship is terminal to an already fragile spirit. I found the will to get out. In that regard, I learned that I had courage and insight.
In all these things, the best discovery I've found about myself, the brightest gold, is empathy. I understand so much more about people than I ever would have if I'd lived a quiet, peaceful, loving life. I know suffering. I know despair and loss and shattered dreams. I've had a trampled spirit, I've experienced the blackness of hopelessness, I've known the ugly, pock-marked face of self-hatred. I've wanted to die, not once but many times. I've wanted it all to just stop. I've wanted to sleep forever and never to dream. I know the feeling. I understand it. And that's the gold. That's what I've drawn on now to help so many people. That's what I've used to save my son's life, to talk others out of suicide, to cheer up bitterly vengeful and broken-hearted wrecks over the years. I've tapped into that well of misery that is my past and used it...to do good. How's that for a twist? The suicidal basketcase has learned how to do something heroic. Incredible. Unbelievable. And true. I hope everybody reading this can find their own treasure inside, can see how useful bad memories can be if we only turn them to good. I've gone from a miserable loser to a happy woman, all because Fate has been so kind as to show me the flip side of all the shit in my life. Manure grows some pretty gorgeous roses. Plant some seeds in your own shit and watch them grow. You'll be surprised at all the radiant colors inside of you, just waiting for a little sunshine and rain. Take care, all you gardens. Be happy and well.