The brave break

Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of life amount not to wisdom, but to scar tissue and callus. (The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner, 1976)

We saw each other in the context of our dreams: a wife busy in a farmhouse kitchen with toddlers playing at her feet in the sun; a husband who could protect and care for a family, legitimize a lost girl by making her a wife. Friendship ripened into love and love flowed quite naturally into marriage and four babies and the making of a family. This was my dream from the time I was small - a man like my father, to know and be known, to birth babies and raise them in a farmhouse on my family's land.

Childhood was full of other people's dreams. It takes the shipwrecks of life to chip away the fa├žade I'd helped the world construct around the real Genevieve. As pain continued to flow as constant as waves on the ocean, I was tossed and tumbled until the sheen of my soul began to shine through. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror of therapy, in the wake of my own early exit plan. I was overthrown by a vision of life that I'd never imagined. A life in which I was important, and beautiful, and whole.

Life changes us, for better or worse. There were decades I was sure I was being broken, used up, stamped out. Hindsight is 20/20, they say, and so it is: all that wreckage was just the shellac of that shell I'd adorned for the sake of others, although at the time I thought I was donning it for myself. I thought I was setting myself apart, keeping myself holy, doing what had to be done - my duty as a woman and a follower of Christ.

I've been living naked, without the lies, without other people's truths, for 3 years. It's scary to choose your own path when it means walking through the woods away from the highway you were set on as a child. Yet wandering alone to find my place, to find myself, reminded me of the little bits I'd salvaged of Genevieve along the way: a preponderance toward lone wolf, the small unexpected joys of the universe cherished close to my soul, the love that used to pour out of me as naturally as blood courses through my veins.

It has always been in the desolation of the wilderness that I come face to face with my own soul. I wish it weren't so, because it is a lonely way to find yourself. I was taught, in a thousand different ways, that it is only through the sharing of ourselves that our lives have meaning and purpose. What I've discovered in my personal wastelands is that life itself is precious and very beautiful. I have no doubt now, finally, that if I were alone for the rest of my life, there would still be something to live for. This breathing in and out that is a daily miracle beyond our understanding is the greatest gift we ever receive. A gift that often gets highjacked by expectations, norms, social patterns. From birth to the grave, it is possible to live never knowing yourself at all: for our strengths are often cast as weaknesses and our weaknesses as possibilities, and we push, push, push to be better, to do better, to be different so we can be the same as everyone else, to be right...do we forget to pause and reflect on what is glorious about ourselves in this very moment on our constant quest for perfection?

It was just a footpath through the woods I stumbled upon at first. The people who had walked this path had tried to leave no trace of their existence. There were no ghosts of campfires built to keep themselves warm. There were no groups of tents pitched in community. There was no other life visible...just an almost imperceptible line weaving through the underbrush far out here from the highway where there is no background noise save for the noises of the earth. Here, on the unbeaten path, the footsteps finally match my own.

I had to leave people behind on the highway. I had to wave goodbye, and it was the hardest goodbye I've ever said. For three years I would hike back to the highway after a while, but I left my trail marked. I retreated to the woods when the din began to drown out my thoughts and my own voice in my head. I showed my children the trail, and it turns out they love being in the woods with me. They have hated the highway as much as I have. And although there are times when we all miss the ease of walking on a paved road with big glowing signs and mile markers, we've come to peace with the fact that we're not highway people. We remind each other through the fireless nights, that we are strong, and we are brave, and we can do this together. I never expected my own children to be my encouragers. I never expected them to love the paths I love or the person I am. But as I slowly shed layers of the world's myths about me, my kids fell in love with me in a brand new way, a much deeper way. They see me in ways I can't yet recognize my own reflection.

And so I've said goodbye to the wife my husband saw in his dreams. I've said goodbye to the husband I used to see in mine. The truth at the center of the heartache is that there is something between us that may just stand the test of time...four little hearts that beat a mixture of our blood, his and mine. All the mistakes we've made together are being transmuted from suffering to awe. I see the truth of him now in ways I never could see clearly when I was standing next to him. He sees me for who I am, and even when it is not who he wants desperately for me to be, I can see the truth reflecting bright off his pupils, and perhaps it is because truth is undeniable that he has been able to loosen his grip on those dreams a little.

I live today in a small apartment by myself. There are days it is filled with the noise and chaos of the family I helped create. There are days when I find my path in the woods waiting for me at the door when I walk into the quietness of my own space.

..............................

I suppose all of this is to say a very simple yet petrifying truth: I am going through a divorce. I am going through the wreckage of old hopes and shattered moments, I am sifting through waste looking for long-lost treasures. I knew there would be a moment when it was time to tell the world. I am not the person I thought I was when I was 23. I cannot dance to the music played by my small world. I will not watch myself disappear into the dark night without struggling to keep breath in these lungs and fight in this body. I finally care. I finally want it, life - like I've never wanted anything ever before.

Here, amongst the wreckage, I am discovering that I never did fade away into nothingness. I just quit speaking, I quit feeling, I quit dreaming, I apologized profusely for the very things that make me, drive me, inspire me. What I found at the end of a marriage is the beginning all over again. I can no longer make amends to the world for being who I am. I can no longer go under the surface just to keep the world afloat.

It may seem like the most selfish choice in the world - and perhaps it is, at the very core: I cannot live in the life I chose at 23. It is brave and hopeful and revolutionary, to choose life over life for others. What I have learned through all my suffering is simple: life for others can never be lived until you choose your own life first. Most people don't know this because most people never hold a knife in their hands and push it down into their own flesh. Most people don't understand choosing life because it is a default decision for them. All they see is the crooked and thorny path that leads off the highway, full of danger and unknown. To them I say, you don't have to understand and you don't have to know. I do. This is my life I'm talking about. Although it may seem scary and fraught with threats, I will say it again: I am brave and hopeful and I am a revolutionary. I will find my way. After all, this is my home and these woods wanderers are my people, and here I am finally NOT afraid.

If it is on this path that you find yourself? It doesn't matter how slow the going is or how alone you may be. There is sunlight filtering through the trees and eventually you will come to a clearing where you can spread your arms for the very first time and welcome yourself home to your body and your awareness. Don't lie down in the cold and agree with the world's assessment that only the hopeless wander off into the woods alone. Be brave. Be hopeful. Be a revolutionary.

Because the revolutionaries of our times? They aren't wielding weapons on a battlefield of wrong and right. They are seeing through wrong and right to beauty and truth. They are the ones who are smiling because the breath is still entering and exiting, and they are the ones who know the preciousness of seeing yourself clearly. These revolutionaries might turn out to be the visionaries, and they just might be the ones living best for others, because they've bandaged their own wounds and learned how to heal firsthand.

Maybe the road less traveled is for the faint of heart after all: here, in the stillness, we can remember our heart's rhythm and nurse ourselves back to bravery and strength and, most of all, love.

Get help if you are suicidal