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Friday, 24 July 2009

What Happened In Italy

(Matera, Italy)

Just a warning that this isn't the most pleasant reading you'll do all day. I'm honestly not even sure if this is appropriate to publish but then on the other hand, it's honest, it's the way it was and the way I felt two years ago.  I can't excuse how I felt at the time but I can assure you that it's been almost two years since this time and what I feel now is not even close to what I felt then.

Even though I feel at peace with where I'm at in life today, there are things it hurts me very much to remember.

The initial, slightly frenzied feeling of panic in the doctor's office on a warm August day as he said such quiet, simple, life changing words; the shaky, almost defiant disbelief in the car on the way home, stumbling blindly out of the car and into the house together and yet, so very alone in the numbness of grief; crawling into bed at 3 in the afternoon sobbing, thinking please God, this, of all things, can not be true.

How eventually this defiance, pain and incomprehensible despair and great sense of loss of everything all meshed together in my soul to create a temporary chaos in the midst of the bland routine of everyday life.

I started a new job, worked for several weeks until one morning I woke up, began to get dressed and simply couldn't.

I couldn't take anymore so I stopped.  Everything.  I began an elaborate quitting process. Not just the quitting of my job, but the quitting of everything. The shutting down of the soul.

I began to dread taking the dog for a walk in case I would see anybody and have to say hello. (Anyone who knows me knows how uncharacteristic this is.) I would wake up, find Per already gone to work and slowly get out of bed, turn off any lights in the house that were on, close all the blinds, make sure the doors were locked and sit inside in darkness planning to be silent and still if anybody happened to come to the door. It was desperate self preservation.

I began to dread going to mass. I remember sitting there every Sunday biting my lips, my jaw tight, eyes burning with tears the entire hour, my hands shaking in my lap with an anger too strong for me. Vast, stretching confusion at being so betrayed. And in all that empty space inside myself, I nourished an idea that I would tell myself again and again, day in and day out.  An explanation so I could make sense of what was happening, a constant mantra:  "I am worthless. I shouldn't live. God must hate me, worse than hate, he must despise me, think I'm sickening and disgusting, and if not even God loves me then there really is no hope at all for me." And these words broke my heart.

Looking back, I think there is so much anguish in such words.  It wasn't self pity, it was something more.  I think the echoes of everything I believed in grief are still there inside me, they mark the soul, they damage it. Not irreparably though, they just make their mark like everything else and then eventually heal over but they leaves scars.

What role did Italy play in all of this?  Well we decided to go there for Christmas to get away from everything around us.  Spending Christmas roaming around the elaborate, beautiful streets, museums, churches of Rome, Naples and Matera ended up being the most healing thing we could have done. We visited shrines, we splashed ourselves with holy water, we went to mass, and I visited the body of my patron saint (St. Patricia).  I prayed and prayed.  And felt so little.  I experienced everything though the heavy, sometimes physical, weight of depression.  It was beautiful but it had nothing to do with me.

One afternoon, I walked into a Catholic book shop and saw a beautiful statue of Mary.  I felt strongly drawn to her.  I stood looking at the statue for several minutes but then I turned away.  Physically, emotionally, spiritually.  I firmly told myself no.  You don't deserve her.  You don't deserve anything that pure or good.

Although something in my heart was trying to make itself heard over these thoughts, telling me I needed this now, needed to let go of the pain I'd barely managed to carry for the past two years.  That now was the time, if I could just let it go, I could start to heal properly.  And there was the kind, smiling old woman in the shop who spoke no English watching me curiously and walking over to me and wordlessly offering to show me the statue, but all I wanted was to hurt myself and to keep hurting so I shook my head and left and sat outside the door and cried and cried.

But sometimes grace is beautiful, a delicate gift. It came unexpectedly. This same day I saw the beautiful statue, I was sitting on a bright red chair in a square in Matera, me eyes closed against the cool December sunlight and the thought again how I felt nothing at all, how I wished I could die.  The thought that for two years had been my on and off companion.   And then suddenly, it was like I woke up, and for the first time in months, I wondered if wishing was like praying.  I hoped it wasn't because I knew that I didn't really want to die.  And realizing I didn't want to die felt like someone handing me a gift.  For the first time in so long, I felt peace.  I remember getting up and going back to the book shop but it had closed.  Somehow that was alright though, I felt it was all going to be alright.  Not in a glib way but in a real way.

So Italy gave me a gift.  Or perhaps, Mother Mary gave me a gift.  I was able to let go of everything I was carrying with me and leave it behind me.  Somehow, something changed for me there and I returned to Norway with happiness and strength in my heart.  I was lighter and looking toward the future.

And I found the statue of Mother Mary that had so moved me in another store later and bought it.


Zion said...

(((HUGS))) Honey, I don't know what news your doctor gave you - this was probably right before we started being so much in touch again - but I am thinking it must have been dreadful, I'm so sorry you had to go through that but PTL that you got through it OK and you had that peace and grace in Italy - sounds like a Christmas miracle to me ;)

I'm glad you don't have the cloud of depression clouding your vision anymore, that's a terrible place to be - I know - one extra (((HUGS))) and thank you for sharing that with us, hope things are good with you.

Colleen said...

Thank you for your understanding comment S├Žunn! I like the way you put that "Christmas Miracle"...that may very well be what it was.:) Hope all is well with you in Iceland!