17 April 2011

a spiritual pruning

My father's death threw me into a mid-life review of my life.

I'm happy with a lot of the choices that I've made, particularly the ones to do with family and children.

Any life, though, has areas of damage and failure. I have acknowledged those areas. I've felt the pain and regret associated with them, but I haven't known what to do about it. In many cases, these areas are things that I must simply accept. It's either too late to change them, or they're not the sorts of things that I have the ability to change.

Okay then: I'll have to accept them.

But it was by accepting them that I allowed the wounding to happen in the first place. And if I go on accepting them, I'll just end up with more of the same kind of wounding.

So what do I do then? If I can't change them and I can't accept them, what can I do?

I kept running into this same dead end. I looked for an exit, some way out of this dilemma, but I couldn't find one. I felt like a fly caught in amber, struggling vainly to escape but only sinking deeper into the sticky mass.

Friday night, I lay awake in prayer and tears, sinking deeper into the situation until I had no tears and no words left.

I slept at last, around dawn, and woke up with these words in my heart:

The Net interprets
censorship as damage and routes around it.
– John Gilmore

There was a third option, and it had been right under my nose all the time.

My dad was a very smart guy. He started working as a programmer in 1961, and he was one of the most skilled problem solvers I've ever known. His problem-solving skills extended far beyond his work. Even while he was dying of brain cancer (and his short term memory was shot full of holes), he was able to focus on relevant facts, ignore red herrings, and optimize his remaining life from the ever-decreasing options available to him.

In other words, like the skilled network programmer he was, he identified the damaged areas of his brain and routed around them. He couldn't change the damage. He accepted the damage as fact and went to work busily figuring how he could work around the disabilities that the damage imposed.

Maybe it's possible to route around emotional damage as well.

In worship on Sunday, I was sitting with this new thought. As I sat, I had an image of myself focusing on this one stem with a flower that wouldn't bloom. The scene zoomed out, and I saw myself as a vibrant shrub with the potential to flower in many different ways. Yes, that one flower was blighted and refused to open, but the rest of my buds were healthy and ready to open, if I'd just transfer my energy from the blighted bloom to the rest of my life.

And, suddenly, it was as if I had been pruned of the dead wood and the failed buds. I felt clearer and lighter than I'd felt in a good long time. I felt like I could move on, instead of staying stuck in the amber of my failure.

And I looked around at the Meeting, and thought of the shrub of our corporate being, the paradox of its incredible health and vibrancy in contrast to its dead wood, failed buds, and spent flowers that had failed to fruit.

Okay then. We start from where we are, here and now, and work with the parts of us that are still alive and growing. If there are places that are damaged and can't be repaired, we route around the damage. New branches will grow to fill the open spots, and to take over the job left by the fallen branches.

There is life, there is hope, and it's time to stop being stuck in the past.


Chris M. said...

Lovely post, Heather. Thank you for sharing it.

The pruning image is powerful. Joe Franko once gave a deep message (at Pacific Yearly Meeting representative committee sessions) about the pruning he had done in his life, and how pruning a vine actually results in better fruit later.

The story of your father "rerouting" around his illness was striking, too.

Blessings to you and yours!

Julia Bolton Holloway said...

I've loved reading all your blog. Thanks for letting the Spirit lead you and your meeting. This is great!