My oldest granddaughter Nora has no shortage of confidence. She will often say things to me like “Freezie, I am magnificent at art.” Or “Freezie, you know that all my ideas are really, really great.” That last one, in particular, always gets me. I think of my reactions to my own ideas, and the fact that I usually have to consider them ten ways to Sunday before I decide that they’re even marginally good, let alone really great. I’ve only ever seen her confidence falter once when she brought sleeping bags over for a slumber party we were having, but then decided that my bed was cozier. “I guess that wasn’t one of my best ideas,” she said in a way that broke my heart, and I replied that not only was it a really, really great idea, it was a scathingly brilliant idea! If you’ve ever seen the movieThe Trouble With Angels from way back in 1966 starring Rosalind Russell as the Mother Superior and Hayley Mills as the less than cooperative student, you’ll recognize the line. If you haven’t seen it and attended Catholic school as a child, then you need to watch it as soon as possible. So many things will resonate! Since the sleeping bag incident, I’ve told Nora at least three times a week that her ideas are scathingly brilliant, and she wholeheartedly agrees with me every time. It has led me to wonder at what point along the way do we lose the ability to maintain that level of nearly unfaltering confidence?
In last week’s post, I mentioned that I’d discovered a new podcast called On Being with Krista Tippett. I confess that up until about two months ago, I was not much of a podcast listener. I had a few favorites, mostly astrological, but I hadn’t really branched out all that much beyond those. I think people who regularly listen to podcasts will say, however, that once you discover some good ones that you like, they will often lead you to more that are similar in style and content. And so that has happened to me. I came across House Calls with Dr. Vivek Murthy through On Being and have quickly become a huge fan. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you that I did not immediately know who he was. For those of you who are in that same boat with me, Vivek Murthy is the 21st Surgeon General of the United States. In a groundbreaking move on May 1st, he issued an advisory to call our attention to the mental and physical effects of loneliness, which he sees to be an epidemic in our country. The powerful force of loneliness is a topic that I’ve written about quite often on this blog and as recently as last week, in fact. As it turns out, over 50% of U.S. citizens have reported feeling isolated even before the Covid-19 pandemic, with those feelings intensifying in its aftermath. As you would expect, House Calls covers topics related to the ways in which we can manage these kinds of emotions and move in a far more compassionate and empathetic direction overall.
I was unfamiliar with the idea of ambiguous loss until only recently when I heard it explained by the rather famous psychotherapist Esther Perel on an episode of On Being with Krista Tippett, an equally famous podcast. Originally coined in the 1970s by Pauline Boss, also a relational therapist, ambiguous loss is most simply explained as loss without the opportunity for closure. Even when a loved one dies under the most tragic of circumstances, we generally have knowledge of the events that led to their death or may have even experienced those events firsthand. Despite our seemingly insurmountable feelings of grief, being armed with such understanding will eventually lead us to acceptance and closure. When the facts of death are unknown, however, such resolution remains beyond our reach. Consider the example of losing a loved one to a disappearance or kidnapping, to an act of war or terrorism, or to a natural disaster. All of these cases deal with the concept of “physical absence with psychological presence.” Our loved one is gone, but we are unable to fully accept this as fact because the circumstances of their death or disappearance remain remote and unexplained, rendering them impossible to process. Similarly, there are instances when we know where a person is or what has happened to them, but our relationship has changed because of circumstances like separation, divorce, or incarceration, and contact may become unwelcome, restricted, or even prohibited. The very modern occurrence known as “ghosting” would also fall into this category, in the sense that when a relationship ends without explanation or an opportunity for conversation, it can feel very much like a death or disappearance. Closure and acceptance can take years.
It is a fairly normal occurrence for me to walk from my car to the door of my apartment transporting more bags than any human being should ever attempt to carry. Two on my right shoulder, one on my left, both hands full, and sometimes one more held in the fold of my right arm. Occasionally I’ll have a box too. And then inevitably I will drop my keys. I’ve often thought of how ridiculous I must look. Not long ago, I was trudging along in this typical fashion when a man walking towards me dropped his own bag on the ground and rushed over to me. “You look like someone who could use a hand.” I was so shocked that I didn’t even know how to answer, and since he was dressed all in black with a strange hat on his head, I almost thought he was some sort of an otherworldly apparition. I hesitated for just a moment, but then I allowed him to help me, I thanked him profusely, and we parted ways. I’ve thought about him a lot since that day, mainly because in the million and one trips that I’ve made from my car to my door, he is the only person who has ever offered to help me in any way. I guess it’s fair to say that I was officially the recipient of a random act of kindness, a fact that interests me differently right now because I just finished a book entitled Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. In it, a group of strangers find themselves thrown together in a way that could never be anticipated, and the acts of kindness they show to one another deeply affect each of them. They begin their day knowing nothing about anyone else in the room, but end it as profoundly connected as family or friends.
One night last week I had a dream that I found a large yellow and green turtle in the bathtub, which immediately sent me running to some of my favorite dream interpretation websites like AuntFlo.com and The Dream Encyclopedia. And what words of wisdom did I find?? A few meanings were obvious. Someone or something in my life needs protection. I am a pillar of strength and stability in the face of destruction. I’m going to need lots of patience to get through the next few months. While these were good, especially that second one, I found myself looking for a bit more, so I kept digging. As it turns out, the fact that my turtle was yellow is rather important, since golden turtles symbolize wealth, prosperity, and abundance. Well now. This sounded far more promising. Wealth and prosperity are both measurable things that we spend a lifetime seeking to some degree, but very few of us will have them at any kind of extraordinary level. For the majority of us, an excessive amount of material wealth remains out of reach. Abundance of things that are unrelated to finances or possessions, on the other hand, is far more subjective, far less measurable, and far more attainable, making it a totally different matter. People may say that they have an abundance of wealth or prosperity, but the term seems more appropriately applied to things like an abundance of friends, or happiness, or tomatoes in the garden. And while it would be grammatically correct to also say that someone has had an abundance of misfortune or grief in their lives, the connotation seems to be off. Abundance is simply not a word often used to describe negative situations.