four things

In this season of compulsory joy and obligatory gratitude, I’m reminded of the AA slogan, “Fake it ’til you make it”.  Perhaps I should not be so quick to roll my eyes and judge.  Perhaps there is a place for affirmations.  Perhaps contrived gratitude is not a total waste of time.  Perhaps it can reprogram the channels in the brain to achieve the goal of real gratitude, re-routing your brain so to speak.  Stranger things are true.  And once again and still, Brother David Steindl-Rast speaks quietly and gently in the back of my mind reminding me that grateful people are happy.

I know I have been focused on this gratitude slash happy thing a lot lately.  I don’t mean to be a Johnny-one-note and bore you.  I just seem to keep turning over this rubik’s cube, fascinated by all the combinations.  The truth is, in general, I am a cup half full person.  I’d say I’m grateful most of the time.  And honestly, my life is good and I have very little to not be grateful for or complain about.  Most of the things in my life are easy to be grateful for.  Like my health or my spouse, our friends, our children, our home, our community.  But there are some things I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen, some things, if given the choice, I would have actively avoided – like run screaming in the other direction avoidance.  Never realizing that some of those things might be some of the very things that have contributed to making me who I am, pushing me to be a better person.  And while I may not be grateful for these things exactly, I am grateful for the experiences, for the expanded awareness and for the opportunity and ability to grow.

1)  Having a mentally ill parent: Not diagnosed formally until my adulthood, my mother has always had Borderline Personality Disorder.  She’s always been a pill-popping, mean, agitated, malcontent.  While those are not all of her good qualities, they are the ones that come to mind first.  And for those of you who don’t believe in this diagnosis, I will happily give you her number and suggest you have contact with her for 3 weeks (if you can stand it that long).  Get back to me after that.  Anyway, not being able to depend on my mother for pretty much anything, ever, has always made me angry and sad.  But I realize too that it has also made me stronger, profoundly independent, and highly capable.  While my attempts at over-achieving may have at first been ways to try and get her attention, they became a standard for me in life.  Her mental illness and the secrecy in our family surrounding it gave me my first glimpse of awareness that things are not always as they seem or appear.  That everyone has a story behind the smiles and makeup.  That not every family is like a fairy-tale.  That the Cleavers and the Bradys may not be everyone’s reality… possibly not anyone’s reality.  The ability to know those things and the willingness to speak them out loud has made me a very good chaplain, especially to those who have been hurt by abusive parents.  And we are far more in number than most people even want to consider.

2)  Having a child with a disability: People look at me with Joita and they immediately decide I’m some saint.  Oh aren’t you amazing for having adopted a handicapped child.  Um, no.  Spoiler alert: I didn’t know she had a disability when I adopted her.  Awkward silence.  Yeah.  I guess those votes for Saint Hali will have to go elsewhere.  Raising a child with a disability is exponentially different than any parenting I could have ever imagined.  I cannot even begin to count the ways and I don’t want to make it sound like it’s just parenting only moreso.  It isn’t.  It is a different beast entirely. I love her fiercely (as most parents do), but I have to constantly overcome the urge to overprotect, shelter and coddle.  I have had to let her fall down and stand aside as she has struggled to stand herself back up (often with people looking on).  Not because I am mean.  And not only because I will not always be there.  But because I want her to believe in herself the way I believe in her.  Even though it would have been easier and felt better in some ways (certainly to the onlookers who stare aghast at me) to simply have scooped her up.  But I knew she could do it.  And she did it.  And giving her that confidence allowed her to try out for (and actually make) her school basketball team for the second year in a row!  Go Jo!  Having Joita has taught me patience, and forced me to go more slowly.  There is no such thing as rushing with her.  On good days I take in and appreciate the slower pace and the world around me.  On bad days I do a lot of deep breathing (and grumbling under my breath).  But slowly we still go.  Watching her work so hard to do even the most mundane of activities (such as putting on a sock) has expanded my perspective, showing me that persistence is a conscious choice that makes a world of difference.  Having Joita in my life makes me realize I have no idea about other people’s struggles.  No one seeing Joita go about her day has a clue about the contortions and wrangling and sweat that went into what most take for granted as the simple act of getting dressed.  I have no idea what struggles those around me have engaged in before the sun even came up this morning.  Note to self: be gentle with others.  I am also more aware of people with disabilities.  I am more apt to go out of my way to offer a hand, hold a door or speak up about lack of accessibility and people without placards parking in the handicap spot.

rain or shine

rain or shine

3)  Being transgender:  While I have wrestled, struggled and been burdened by it every day of my entire life, I’m not sure I can count it all as equal.  By that I mean that for most of my life (until about 3 years ago) I didn’t know what was “wrong” with me.  I didn’t know I was transgender.  I didn’t know there was even such a thing.  Not knowing why but still feeling somehow so fundamentally wrong was painful (slight understatement there).  In the best of times I simply assumed I was crazy.  It’s hard to explain what it felt like to walk around constantly in two distinctively different and discordant worlds, neither of which anyone but I could sense.  Over time I learned to navigate inner and outer realities in a way that channeled both, morphing me into something uncommon, something curious, interesting, dare I say, exotic.  That mixed energy has been a blessing in some ways.  My lack of definition has allowed me to go and be places that other typical-gendered (or cis-gender) people cannot access.  Because labels don’t necessarily fit me, I am granted greater parameters to be whoever I am – someone strong and capable as well as understanding, gentle and nurturing.  My being different, being so painfully aware of my difference, and my aching for belonging and connection is only an exaggeration of what I believe most everyone feels.  Mine is just a bigger neon sign that I can’t pretend is not there.  So, not so long ago I stopped even trying to hide it.  Instead, I acknowledged it, I named it, I am learning to own it.  In other words, my loneliness has made me aware of the loneliness in others and allowed me to touch upon that.  It has been a point of deep connection.  My wounds have allowed me to acknowledge and be gentle with the wounds of others.  And being someone who isn’t a big fan of superficial bullshit, I am grateful for these richer, more real connections.  There is also something incredibly powerful about refusing to be put in a box of other people’s criteria.

4) Having a spouse who had cancer:  I have been terrified of cancer for as long as I can remember.  A childhood friend’s father died of cancer and I remember listening to my friend’s mother describe to my parents the horrors of it.  That day three years ago when Emily got her call was the most terrifying day of my life.  “You have invasive ductal carcinoma”, the doctor simply stated.  {cue screeching tires and shattering glass}  I almost can’t even get past that memory.  Aside from my wife being an unbelievably heroic cancer warrior, I have to say, I think I kinda rocked-the-cancer-thing myself.  While I broke down hysterically in the bathroom, shower and in my car fairly often, I never let my fears get in the way of confronting and dealing with Emily’s cancer and being fully present for her.  I always thought, in my day-dream nightmares, that I’d shrivel up and die or at the very least, run away and hide.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t even consider not facing it, not being a solid partner with Emily as she fought.  It was like my heart burst wide open to a new level of exquisite love.  I couldn’t take away the worst part of the disease.  I couldn’t take away the horrible treatment, or even share in the misery.  But I was able to be present and attentive.  I was able to keep our family happy and healthy and together.  Even the day that the chicken caught on fire, Nina pooped in the wading pool and Joita fell down to bloody both her knees – all at the same time – I remained calm, cool, collected… and… funny.  I couldn’t have done it without my most amazing and loyal friends.  But I was also pretty amazed at how I rose to the circumstances.  I had no idea how strong I could be.  I had no idea that it was not only ok, but wonderful, to ask for and receive help from others.  I learned a lot about deserving and accepting and well, right back to the beginning of this email, I learned a lot about being grateful.

nina on ems back

There is a quiet strength in realizing and acknowledging that even the hard things, even the very shitty things in life, can be so much more than just shitty things.  The experiences can show us just how courageous, how indomitable, how spirited, how audacious is our inner awesome.

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About halitentwo

i am. god is. we are. as soon as i write something about me i change, am different, evolving. i am trans. i am a parent. i am a partner. i am a human. i am attempting to live a well-lived life in the spaces in between, beyond definition, fluid, dynamic, omnifarious and always changing. hopefully growing.
This entry was posted in blessings, everyday stuff, no man's land. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to four things

  1. Mary Martha Thiel says:

    Think you might really enjoy a new book called Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint, by Nadia Bolz-Weber….. Love you!

  2. Jamie Ray says:

    An interesting list with a lot to think about. It will be a long time before I can forgive my mother (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) enough to recognize anything good that came our of our relationship.

    I am grateful for my “transness” although I struggle with it, and I am grateful for being in a long term relationship with a partner who is much older than me (30 years in the relationship; Donna is 26 years older than me) even though she is challenged by the trans thing (although not by the butch thing).

    I am also grateful for Gracie, despite her being a “borderline collie”.

    • halitentwo says:

      we have SO MUCH in common! crazy! um, did I say forgive mommy dearest? no. and I honestly don’t credit her or our non-relationship with much other than misery. I credit myself for enduring and succeeding despite her parenting(sic). let’s face it, my brother and I had the same mother… and look how we each turned out. I look forward to more connecting Jamie!

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