What we Owe Ourselves

What do we owe each other? More than we usually give; see the chasms everywhere, the violent individualism.

Individualism demands we rely on ourselves, each an island. Be special, be strong, be capable. Need is a failure of individualism. Failures of individualism are gifted contempt.

Since we are called to be self-reliant, are we given tools to meet our own needs? Deeper than lavender candles, bubble baths, yoga and massages? Do we know how to see ourselves? Or only the gap between ourselves and how the world wants us? Are we taught to tend a circle around ourselves, define and assert where we and others may not overrun? Everyone loves a border, until they want to cross. Are we allowed? We are, but, are we?

I’m the child of an alcoholic, the eldest of three. Independence is safety, self-sacrifice is love. Untangling that is a full life’s work.

As I untangle, threads of imperfect questions: Want, or need? Selfish, or necessary? Reasonable, or dramatic? Mine, or others’? Over and over, How? Ultimately, What do I owe myself?

Sometimes, there is no avoiding hurt, and we can only try to mitigate. I owe myself consideration. But oh, it is so much easier to hurt myself to mitigate the hurt of others.

This is not clean: sometimes, we should—must—hurt to mitigate the hurt of others. Privilege, the discomfort of its end. But I know what I owe others, inside a lifetime of that relentless education. What do I owe myself?

I am drawing circles so I can give myself without losing myself. I owe myself protection. I am bad at making them round, at keeping lines unbroken, at speaking in italics. Untangling is a practice. Self is an untangling. I am trying to black my ledger, so long and so bright red. It is messy. I owe myself grace. It is tangled. I owe myself patience. It catches others in its threads. I owe myself forgiveness. Kindness. Tenderness. Love.

I owe us both the truth of my circles. I am teaching you how to love me. I owe myself those lessons.

A Popcorn of Grasshoppers

Lately, I’ve been riding my bike to and from the gym. It’s only about a mile away, and it’s an easy ride. I could say that it helps get my heart rate up so I benefit more from my workout (true), or that I’m saving the planet in my tiny, non-commercial way (true), but the truest truth is that I feel like an utter badass rolling up to the gym with my yoga mat slung across my back.

Today, dozens of tiny grasshoppers had made their way to the sidewalk, presumably seeking an unfiltered sunlight. As I passed, they’d leap several feet into the air, startled or fearful or perhaps angry I’d messed with their sunbathing. Every few seconds, poof! hop! pop!, a handful of baby grasshoppers pirouetting all around me.

It’s a popcorn of grasshoppers! I thought joyfully and audibly giggled.

And then, immediately, If I hadn’t been biking to the gym instead of driving or skipping altogether, I would have missed this!

I thought of the red tail hawk who swooped into the field just in front of me on yesterday’s ride, surely to sniff a goldenrod or for some other entirely nonviolent purpose. I wouldn’t have seen that, either!

But then I thought of the other red tail hawk I saw yesterday, slowly hovering just above my windshield, then veering into the ditch (also definitely for a nonviolent purpose), as I drove to work.

Well, wait. Then what’s the lesson, if it’s not “bike places so you can see cool things“??

Reader, I am obsessed with “the lesson.”

Uncomfortable or unfortunate events? What can I learn so I can prevent this happening again? Happy happenings? What can I learn so I can make sure this happens again?!

That’s not to say there isn’t a lesson. Maybe it’s, Pay attention. Or, There is joy all around you, if you look. Or maybe it’s, Red tail hawks are very hungry. Who knows?

I guess what I’m learning — or, if you will, the lesson — is that I’m a bit tired of myself at the moment, of the constant popcorn of my thoughts grasping for some sense of control.

So if you need me, I’ll be lying in the unfiltered sun, sniffing a goldenrod, tying big red balloons to all these analytical thoughts and watching them disappear into the endless sky like a totally nonviolent hawk.