Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The boat

I think that, in life, most people have certain things that they struggle with (or against) for years. My mom will talk about your 'words' - the idea being that everyone has two or three words that stay with you and that you find, to your chagrin and frustration, come up time and again. Depression, anger, gossip, discontent, fear . . .

One of my words, for as long as I can remember, has been anxiety.

I remember at seven years old, starting second grade and feeling so afraid to enter a new world that I would cry in the morning, feeling panicked and alone and unable to explain to my concerned parents why going to school felt like such a terrible weight.

In eighth grade, I remember very distinctly a moment by my locker on the first day of classes when that familiar tingling and stomach-churning sensation took over, and I felt sure that I would not make any friends that year, that I would be alone every day in the cafeteria and have no one to walk the halls with between classes or sit next to on the long bus ride home.

Starting college and my family's moving to another state at the same time felt like too much to bear; I still can't remember a time in my life that felt more acutely anxiety-producing than those first few weeks in Menlo Park and at Westmont.

And regardless of how these events turned out, the beginning was always, without fail, awful. Marked by a sense of dread and a certainty that I was alone on my journey, I wandered through the haze of those times totally unable to find anything good in my days. The summer before college, I went to a therapist for the first time. She was pretty woo-woo and nurturing and didn't like the word 'challenge,' I remember. But she also gave me one of the most helpful images that I've ever received, and I carry it with me now.

She drew a picture of a little boat - a canoe, probably, with two wooden planks stretched across for seats. Next to the canoe was a dock. The boat, she explained, was me. I was the small canoe, facing a vast waterfront of possibility and anxiety. I sat next to a dock, still tethered to it but floating far away. One small breeze, it seemed, was all it would take for the rope to slide off of the dock and into the water. And that dock, that was my family. It was everything that was familiar to me - our home, the kitchen table that looked out on our backyard, my mom's banana bread and dad's story-telling voice and our dog. And this little boat was about to go out on its own to explore.

So not only was I moving, but my dock was moving, too. It would be in California with me, which was nice, but what I really wanted was the white dock with red shutters in Hoffman Estates. What I really wanted was home, known, ragged and known and so known that I could run my fingers over it, eyes closed, and trace its shape and call it home. Because at home there is no trace of anxiety, there is only presence.

Catherine of Siena said a lovely thing, a thing that makes sense of this boat-and-dock life that we all live, and that reminds me that anxiety does not bring freedom.
"Make for yourself two homes, my daughter. One will be your actual cell . . . The other will be a spiritual home which you carry with you always, the cell of true self-knowledge where you find withing yourself knowledge of God's goodness. This is actually two cells in one."

The harder I try to get rid of anxious thoughts, the more I fail. But as I accept them, and know that anxiety may always be one of my 'words,' the less power my anxious thoughts have over me. The more I am captain of my ship, steering to the old dock when I need to see familiar land and taking heart in the God who brings me to new land, and with whom we build a new dock.


*corinne said...

this, i needed.

emilykatz said...

you. are. rad.

emilykatz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristyn said...

these are such precious words. thank you for sharing and glad to see you're back to blogging. i've been missing your insights the last month!

rachel said...

this is so true lo. thanks for putting it into words. maybe god lets us tie our boats together sometimes too to get through the storms.