On Healing


 

 

This week, I’m focused on healing.  Hernia surgery does that to you.

Tests, doctors, being driven to and from the surgery clinic and getting an IV, all the procedures that are so routine to the wonderful healers attending to you, but new and different to me.  The daily routine has changed, and I am now focused on self care, and have time to heal.

In the past week, my life has focused on pill taking regimens, taking care with painful areas of the body, and the seemingly everpresent need to close my eyes and zone out.  Basic bodily care procedures take on a new importance and challenges, as I sense all the healing that my body is engaged in.

Time and patience, yet also pushing myself a little, me testing and experimenting.  And, listening to my body.

While occupying myself on the couch with books, laptop, and just watching the birds outside setting up their spring housekeeping and discovering the new blossoms on the wild currants, I came across an essay in the April 16 New Yorker, by Junot Diaz. He’s a noteworthy writer, who writes about serious issues.  Yet, “The Silence” reveals a story he has not shared before.

He takes me on his journey, into his wounds, exposing his pain and anguish, and the challenges he has faced in his own personal healing journey.  Uncomfortable, disquieting, yet so brave of him to take on pain from his childhood, and sharing his journey, and his healing experiences.

His courage and his honesty refreshes me, and helps me in my own journey of exploration and discovery.  I invite you to read what he has to share with us. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/16/the-silence-the-legacy-of-childhood-trauma

 

Healing starts from experiencing many wounds; healing comes from many sources.

Old wounds, scars nearly faded, remind me of good times, good friends, how I have changed and grown, evolving into who I am.

There are other wounds and stories, too.  Nightmares, tragedies, events I have buried deep and kept away from my conscious self, yet they are present in the own dark ways. As acts of self-preservation, I have buried them deep, yet they continue to shape and form who I am today, an integral part of my self.

Sometimes, I go there, deep and occasionally brave, digging and probing, rediscovering, exploring dark corners and hearing again stories that need to be told. And, sometimes, I am ready to hear their meaning.

I am not alone on such a journey.  Others do this work too, this self-discovery, this journey inward, downward, this course of study on themselves.

Others have led the way, and still others are following me, opening old pain to the light, part of our learning and growing.

The pursuit of who I am is a life long journey.  I need to be brave. It is when I fear what I might discovery, and don’t pursue these self-discoveries, then I am not practicing self care and self love, but only when the time is right, and this exploration is truly for the good of me.

I must be brave and ask the hard questions I am called to answer.  I must open the rusty lock and oil the squeaky hinges, and bring the light to see into the darkness.

Then and only then can I see the open wounds and the thorns that must be removed before the pain can begin to end and the healing begin. When the time is right, I must act and take charge of this part of the journey, and the healing.

I find strength in the courage of others in their journeys.  There are many teachers and guides in this journey.  From them, I have much to learn about courage and focus, that I am not alone, and that just taking a step can offer great rewards.

When the darkness becomes the light, and the shadows reveal their secrets, the weight falls off my shoulders and I can move ahead, becoming freer, less burdened, and lighter in spirit.

Mr. Diaz is one of my new heroes, one of those people who carries the lantern of truth into the darkness, and brings light to difficult conversations.

 

—-Neal Lemery, April 13, 2017

Simply Listening


 

 

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

            Leo Buscaglia

 

It is the simple things in life that are often the most meaningful.

 

A young man and I were working on his math. He’s been working hard and now the formulas and methodology of his algebra was making sense to him. My tutoring today consisted of listening to him explain his processes, and watch him work his problem, applying his knowledge, and seeing him find the answers.

 

“I think I understand this now,” he said.

 

Pride filled his voice, and he gave me a seldom seen smile.

 

“What else do you need to work on?” I said. “You’ve clearly got your math under control.

 

He looked down at his shoes, then out the window. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, as he pondered my question. A minute, then another passed without an answer.

 

He cleared his throat, finally cluing me in. His therapist needed him to make a list, a list of challenging events in his life, times when he was abused, and was abusive to others.

 

This would be the last barrier to complete therapy and move on with his life, to becoming free of what has burdened him, held him down.

 

He looked away, tears filling his eyes.

 

“It’s so hard,” he said. “I can’t seem to get started. I can’t write it down.”

 

“Hard because?” I asked.

 

He fell silent, still looking down. A tear ran down his cheek.

 

“It’s…. it’s overwhelming. There’s just so much,” he said.

 

We sat there, letting the heavy words fill the air. It was hard for me to breathe, the air now thick with his emotions and the weight of this task.

 

“Take a breath,” I said. “This is a safe place. We’ll take this on together, and work on it just like we do with math.”

 

“In math, one of the first steps is to write down the problem, give names to what you’re working on,” I said. “One step at a time.”

 

He looked at me, and I nodded. Another tear ran down his cheek. He took a deep breath, then another, re-inspecting his shoes. A few more minutes passed. He gave me a slight nod.

 

“I can be the writer today” I said. “I’ll be your secretary.”

 

He looked away, over my shoulder, and started to speak, beginning his story with the last time he was in a difficult situation, a time of chaos and pain.

 

I picked up my pencil and began to write on the tablet we’d used for our math, starting a fresh page.

 

He spoke almost in a whisper. I leaned closer, barely able to hear his words. The room was silent except for the scratchings of my pencil against the paper, and his soft words, his voice cracking and choking over them.

 

I gulped, feeling my own sense of revulsion, panic, horror, and angst build up in my gut, as he told one story, then another, and another.

 

Working backwards in his life, he moved quickly from one incident to the one before it, giving me two or three sentences, names, ages, what happened, how he reacted, how he felt. At first, it seemed jumbled, but I began to see the order, how he’d been preparing his story, rehearsing and editing it in his mind, probably for months.

 

He spoke fast enough that each story was only a line on my tablet, often just fragments of sentences, a first name. I wrote quickly, finding myself near the bottom of page two before he took another breath and looked down at his shoes.

 

Once, I had to prod, a few words of encouragement. His look told me he thought I’d be a harsh judge for this story, condemning and berating him.

 

“It’s OK,” I whispered. “It happened, so it needs to be on the list. No judging today.”

 

He took a big breath and let it out. Another long minute of silence.

 

The first time, I can’t remember much,” he said.

 

“I can’t remember,” he finally said. “I was two years old, and there was something, something with a friend of my dad’s.”

 

“I don’t know, but there’s something,” he said.

 

“It’s OK,” I said. “When you’re two, you probably don’t remember a lot, at least consciously.”

 

We talked about the conscious brain and the subconscious, and how different parts of the brain have different tasks, and work differently. And how we deal with trauma, and don’t deal with it very well. But, our body remembers, in ways that aren’t always clear to us.

 

He nodded, relating all of this to what he’d learned in therapy and his psychology classes, and in all the thinking he’d been doing.

 

He looked at the list, shaking his head.

 

“Wow, that’s a long list,” he said.

 

“A good list, “ I said. “You’ve done good work today,”

 

Our time was coming to an end, and I needed to leave.

 

I tore off the pages I’d written, and handed them to him.

 

“Here’s your list,” I said. “We’ve written it down, so you don’t have to keep it in your head any more. But, you’ll have it if you need it.”

 

He looked at me, penetrating deep into my eyes.

 

“Oh,” he said. “You mean I don’t have to keep all that inside of me, thinking about it all the time?”

 

“No,” I said. “You have your list, on that paper. Kind of like a grocery list, or a list of chores for the day.”

 

“It’s a reference, I said. “You can put it in a safe place, and refer to it if you need to.”

 

“And, once you’ve put words to all that, then you’ve named the problem, you’ve identified it, and you don’t have to keep thinking about it,” I said.

 

He nodded, and let out a big whoosh of air.

 

“So, the problem,” he said. “Kind of like a math problem then?   Write it out, apply the formulas and work the solution, huh?”

 

I nodded, and he chuckled.

 

“Just like a math problem,” he said. “One step at a time.”

 

“Uh, huh,” I said. “Just like a math problem. And, you can solve it, right?”

 

“Yes, I can,” he said.

 

“Yes, I can.”

 

—Neal Lemery 12/19/2016

Witnessing Truth


“Truth is beautiful and divine no matter how humble its origin.” –Michael Pupin.

He spoke, his voice barely audible above the noise of the visiting room at the prison. We’d played a few hands of cards and munched on some cookies. We’ve only been visiting regularly for a few weeks, chatting about school and his family, and what he wanted to do when he got paroled.

I’d seen it in his eyes, a dark inner story pent up inside, needing to be told.

Tonight, it was time for truth, raw, unvarnished, naked and real.

Sweat beaded up on his forehead, his eyes locking into me.

He laid the cards down, leaned towards me, and began to tell his story, about how he ended up here, making some bad choices, wrestling with the many demons that had stalked his childhood, sending him down his dark road.

His thirteenth year was the worst, the culmination of so much darkness.

His eyes glistened, and he wiped a tear away, as he kept telling his story, filling me in on where he’d been in his young life, and where he wanted to go.

We were doing his homework tonight, working on an assignment that was past due, a requirement for his real graduation, getting out on parole and moving on with his life. This was his duty, to get real with me and tell his story, with all its darkness and shame. In the telling, he held the keys to the door. Being open with me was his path out, his road to freedom.

“I’m scared,” he said. “I just want to be a kid, to have a childhood I never had. Out there terrifies me.”

“I doubt that I’m ready,” he said.

I nodded, telling him we all find the world scary, challenging even in the best of times. We all have our demons and our doubts, I told him.

“You’ll do fine,” I said. “You have your act together. You’re a good man. You’ve got your support team.”

“I’m here to listen to you,” I said.

He wiped his eyes again, and told me more about his life, unloading his shipload of guilt, shame, and remorse.

“I’ve written this all out, and shared it with my family,” he said. “But, I’ve never said all of this out loud before. It was too hard to say the words.”

He’d brought paper and a pencil, but after he wrote out the names and ages of his victims, he laid the pencil down.

“I’ve got to just say this,” he said. “I’ve got to tell you face to face.”

He paused, looking me, a look of expecting something horrible.

“And man to man,” I said. “I’m here for you now.”

It all came out, one slow sentence at a time. He’d look at me, half expecting me to throw a punch, curse at him and walk out on him. His eyes told me that his sins were beyond horrible, unforgiveable, nearly unspeakable.

But, I didn’t move or bat an eye. I stayed there, glued to my seat, ears open wide, my heart aching as his river of pain flowed across the table and flooded the cold cement floor of the visiting room. I was an audience of one, my mission to listen, not pass judgment, to be here as a vessel of unconditional love.

Truth was being told here, his truth, with an occasional tear falling on his hand of cards for the abandoned game, and the rest of the cookies, now forgotten in the telling of this tale.

I leaned forward, eye to eye, and heart to heart. One man to another. Two survivors, two men on our own journeys in life.

“I hear you,” I said. “I hear your truth.”

His shoulders lowered a bit, and his hand waving the half eaten cookie stopped shaking.

I waited, letting him have his space, room to find one painful word after another. They came out slowly, one story and then another, the autobiography of a strong young man.

Finally, there were no more words. I felt at ease. My brave soldier breathed deep and let it all out.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thanks for being brave. And honest. For telling your truth.”

He nodded, the cloud of shame and guilt clearing, the atmosphere in the room easing up.

“Do you want to finish our game?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “You’ve done great work here, and you’re tired. I’ll go so you can get some rest.”

“Being brave and telling the truth is hard work,” I said. “I’m honored to have heard your story tonight.”

He nodded again, a faint smile lighting up his face. We hugged, and I told him I was proud of him, proud of who he was becoming.

We’ll do this again next week, and he’ll tell me more. Not that I want or need the details. I am merely his witness. He needs to tell his story, and speak his truth to the world. He needs to be free of so much.

–Neal Lemery June 2, 2016