“Whatever It Takes”

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(There will be minor spoilers for those that haven’t seen every MCU movie.)

There are few movies I’ve anticipated as much as Avengers Endgame. Since 2008, I have seen every Marvel movie at least once (and some as many as 7 times). I was there when Tony Stark emerged from that cave in the Middle East. I watched Thor lose an eye at the hands of his sister, and I saw T’challa after he was pulled from the icy waters of Wakanda by the Jabari Tribe. Needlesstosay, I’m hype for this final movie.

In all of my anticipation, I began thinking about the plot of Endgame more deeply. To recap: In Infinity War, Thanos collected all of the Infinity Stones, snapped his fingers and wiped out half of Earth’s population along with beloved heroes like Spiderman, Black Panther and Groot. Now the Avengers must undo the catastrophic actions of Thanos, and I assume they’ll be successful because Spiderman Far From Home premiers this summer, and it would be hella awkward without…well…Spiderman.

So we know that ultimatly the Avengers will somehow re-write history and save the planet. Which is awesome. I obviously want them to win, but I can’t help to reflect upon the idea that, in reality, the past cannot be undone.

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That reality hits close to home for me as I continue to uncover the residue from my childhood traumas. I lament the ways my relationships are impacted and my daily existence is altered by the scars I carry. I’m not conscious of any active desire to change my past, but deep within me I sense the presence of a silent hope. A hope that I will eventually do enough to undo the effects of all I’ve endured. I’ve prayed, sought counselling support and endlessly worked to understand myself so that I might feel immune to my past.

The truth I struggle to live with is that there is no antidote to history. We don’t get to escape the broken hearts, failed relationships or buried dreams that are behind us. We can’t refund our tears or bottle our anguish. Unlike the history of the MCU, our own reality can never be undone or rewritten. We live with the daily reminders of every arrow we’ve taken, every knife we’ve plunged into the backs of those we love and every wound we’ve sufferred or inflicted. It all stays with us.

I’m slowly coming to accept the tension between my reality and the fantasy of the comics I love. I want to believe there are parallels and lessons, but there is a limit to what they can teach. As I approach this limit, a phrase from the Endgame trailor emerges from my subconscious like the sun rising over the horizon at dawn.

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

“Whatever it takes.” As this phrase meets my grief, I begin to think of how far I’ve come. Then I recall all of the other people I know who have endured the brutalities of life yet still stand every day to face what comes. I recall the heroes. Heroes that…

…carry the searing pain of sexual assault day in and day out.

…hold the memories of neglect, abandonment and rejection deep within your psyche.

…see the hurt they’ve caused in other people, but instead of being undone by shame are cleansed by grace.

…rise despite the health scares which make you feel as though your body is failing you.

…nurse a broken spirit and fractured ego after hearing again and again you aren’t good enough.

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Heroes like you. Those who don’t run from the invisible wounds which afflict them because they believe restoration is possible. Avengers Endgame reminds me that my own past can’t be rewritten, but my future is not yet set.

I look forward to watching Endgame. I plan to laugh, cry and applaud as this chapter of the MCU comes to a close. As I leave the theater, I will ponder what is next for my onscreen heroes and offer appreciation heroes like you. Our past can’t be re-written, but our future can still be shaped.

To all of you who don’t get enough recongnition for facing what is within. To those who encounter your shame and continue loving yourself anyway. To those who are detemined to be defined by the love, resiliency and determination you show day in and day out. Thank you. I hope you continue to do “whatever it takes.”

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Embodiment is a Gift!

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Self-Care is vital to the personal healing work I’m doing. Part of my self-care regimen has included yoga among other things. Now I’m no yogi, so I visit a local yoga studio in Indy a couple times a week. I’m just kidding. I go on YouTube and look up Yoga w/Adrienne. (C’mon I’m a millennial afterall).

Near the end of one Adrienne’s practices, she instructs her viewers to cross their legs, sit with their feet in front of their body and massage their arches with their thumbs. I promptly oblige and awkwardly fold my legs. The moment my hands make contact with my feet, I immediately become uncomfortable.

As I massage my arches, I become aware of two simultaneous impulses. Impulses that speak to the internal conflict that has been swirling within me since January: disgust and compassion. Disgust registers first because it is most familiar to me. It is the first emotion that I’m aware of when I think of my feet.

I often look at them with derision because they can become smelly, sweaty and dirty. They are also beset by dry skin, callouses and a persistent lack of melanin. I honestly don’t like my feet. I hide them whenever possible, so the notion of even touching my own feet made me feel dirty.

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Then, as swiftly as I noticed my disgust, I began to experience the sensation created as my thumbs made contact with the soft flesh of my arches. First clockwise then counterclockwise, I worked my thumbs and fingers over each toe, ball joint and heel. I applied more pressure and soon found tender spots begging for relief. There were places that hadn’t felt the compassion of touch in a long while.

As I began to feel the release of tension, my perception changed. I sensed a deep appreciation for these appendages that do the thankless work of carrying my body everywhere it wants and needs to be. They bear all of my weight and endure whatever terrain I subject them to without fanfare. I run, jump, swim and do so many other things because of my feet. As the waves of appreciation continued to wash over me with each touchpoint, I became more deeply connected to my body.

I now realize how much I genuinely take for granted, and how easily I allow shame, cultural judgments and negative perceptions to influence the way I experience myself. My feet aren’t the only body parts that have been the subject of my withering criticism. I could make a solid list of body parts that I’ve wanted to curse or change during my 30 years of life. The trouble is, in cursing my body, I’m also cursing myself. The curse is that of disconnection. To be disconnected from my body is to be disconnected from the primary medium through which I experience the world and the world experiences me. It also means that I’m not experiencing parts of my own being.

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My sense of sexual desire, emotional intimacy and vocational purpose all suffer because I am disconnected from myself. The most direct example of this involves coitus. (I could have just said sex, or sexual intimacy, but I love Big Bang Theory). If I judge my own body, I’m bringing my embedded disgust, shame or displeasure into every sexual experience. That trinity of disconnection either remains internal and cripples my ability to be present to the power of the intimate connection I’m experiencing, or is projected externally onto someone else thereby damaging their self-image or identity.

While I’m less accepting of other’s bodies when I can’t accept my own, the converse is also true. The more I’m able to accept myself, whether I’m freshly showered or drenched in sweat, the more easily I can cast off the false definitions of what is or isn’t desirable and find beauty in the unique manifestation of someone else’s embodiment.

Embodiment is a gift that I pray we don’t take for granted. It is such a gift that Jesus did it twice! (Didn’t think I’d go a whole post without mentioning something Easter-related.) I dare not take such a gift lightly for fear that I’ll not only devalue myself but creation as well. Even when my body feels as though it is betraying me, I strive to accept it and all that it is communicating. Accepting my body isn’t about it being perfect, it is about me recognizing it for what it is and choosing to be present to all it has to tell me.

Take a moment this week to rub your feet, shoulders or whatever body part needs the most love. (Go crazy, but please lock your doors first.) If you feel you’ve got that down, find ways to appreciate and show love for someone else’s body. (With consent of course). This may mean giving a hug, a compliment, a massage or tantric sex. The possibilities are endless.

P.S. I want to acknowledge that I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who is able-bodied and cisgender. Appreciating embodiment may be different for those who identify as transgender or those who are differently abled. I don’t pretend to fully understand their experience, so I recognize that as a blind spot for me as I write about appreciating my body.

8 Months

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No one wants to grieve. It feels messy, painful and outright overwhelming. So overwhelming in fact, that we’d rather pretend grief doesn’t exist.

Grief is the colonoscopy of emotional well-being. You don’t want it. It is terribly uncomfortalbe, but if you never experience it, you could miss vital information about your health.

Not feeling that analogy? Ok try this one out. Grief is the check engine light for our psyche and spirit. Ignore it long enough and the problem compounds with ever-worsening effects.

Grief sucks, but it is of vital importance.

I bring it up this week because April 10th is my dad’s birthday. Its been nearly 8 months since we lost him. 8 months since the phone call I’ll never forget.

I’m in my living room having just gotten home from an overnight shift at the hospital. As I sit in my arm chair, I feel the familiar vibration of my phone. I slowly fish it out of my pocket so I can see who is calling before deciding if I want to answer it or not. (Don’t judge me. You do it too.)

I’m surprised because my mom is calling. We don’t talk on the phone every week, so when she calls, I make it a point to answer. Within five seconds of hearing my mom’s voice, I sense something is wrong. She sounds tentative, unsure, almost unwilling to speak the words that must be said.

“Son, are you sitting down?

I know what this phone call is…someone died, but who? The thought lingers for a split second before I intuitively know she’s calling about my dad.

“Dad’s gone…”

She manages to say the words though she still can’t believe them herself. She sighs deeply and chokes back tears as the conversation continues. We speak for a few more moments before she ends the conversation to make more phone calls. We hang up and time stands still as if its awaiting my response to this life-altering news.

The news that my dad, the man who chose to love me when others couldn’t or wouldn’t, is dead. He’d collapsed while finishing a landscaping job, presumably from a heart attack. All at once a million thoughts flash through me.

“Had he felt pain? If so, for how long? Was he afraid to die? Did he feel alone?”

I imagine these are things the things people who’ve never died wonder but can never know. A blanket of shock and sadness slowly settled on me, but I knew I didn’t yet feel the full weight of my loss. I wondered how I would respond once everything finally hit me?

Eight months later, I still wonder. For much of the last week I watched April 10th approach with curiosity and trepedation. I sensed the sadness grow within me day after day like the rising waters of a flood plain. What will happen when the river crests? Will I lash out at the people around me, make destructive decisions or find myself completely immobilized?

I honestly didn’t know how I would respond. Having watched the 10th, come and go, I can now report that I made it through the day, and most of the week, without lashing out or being self-destructive. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel different.

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My world is different. I’m in the strange position of being fatherless. Losing my dad was like losing a guiding presence in my life because I believe our parents, at their best, serve as guides for us. There was a sense that even if my dad and I disagreed, and we always disagreed, I knew he was covering me with prayer and love. I somehow felt protected and safe.

Spiritually speaking, he still reaches out to me from time to time to give me advice or to let me know that he is okay. Those assurances ease the grieving process, and remind me that though we aren’t connected in the physical world, our spiritual connection remains.

I’m grateful for our spiritual connection, but I miss his big ‘ol bear hugs and his grizzly laugh. I even miss his grossly innappropriate sense of humor which included utilizing the term “pube” as an official metric unit of measurement and creating a NSFW version of The Night Before Christmas involving a drunk Santa and rodent diaharrea (my dad was a trip).

As I remember all of this, I feel the gulf that is now between us and grieve. Not necessarily for what I’ve lost, but for what will never again be. I feel blessed that several weeks before he died, my dad and I got to have a conversation in which everything we needed to say was spoken. He knew that I loved him despite our differences and I knew he was proud of me regardless of my beliefs. We finally heard each other over the noise of our disagreement, and it was beautifully healing for us both.

Looking back at Wednesday, April 10th, I can say that the tide of grief rose within me and I faced it as best I could. I accepted that it was my reality in that moment and knew that it was not only necessary for healing, but also evidence of deep love.

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The last 8 months have rocked me in ways I never imagined being rocked. Along the way I have become more willing to be uncomfortable, more accepting of my pain and more trusting of my grief. As I continue to embrace this grieving process, I’ve learned a few things that you might find helpful.

Grief is not something to be expelled from your system. Like a runny nose or a mild fever, it is actually a sign that your system is doing what it is supposed to. Accept it, and allow it to run its course.

Learn what you need to be healthy while you grieve, and adjust your rhythms accordingly. When we’re physically sick, we know we need rest because our body is exerting energy to fight an illness. Active grieving also exerts a great deal of emotional and physical energy, so adjust your life rhythms accordingly. This may mean you need extra space to cry, rest, pray or write. As much as you’re able, make that space. Put it on the calendar, so you know it is there. Take care of yourself. You deserve it.

Own your grieving process. There is no single right or wrong way to hold and process grief. Your body will give you clues as to what it needs, so pay attention. There is no set amount of tears that should be shed to legitimize your pain. Your grief is as unique as your fingerprint. Accept it as such, and appreciate it for what it is.

I still feel the dull ache that reminds me I can’t pick up the phone to call my dad. I miss him. Each holiday that rolls through will bring with it the reminder that he is gone; there is a different degree of separation between us now. I can neither escape this reality nor change it, but I can embrace it and allow my grief to cleanse me, heal me and teach me about myself. I pray you’re able and willing to do the same.