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Saturday February 26, 2005: Personal: The Leap of Faith

        There is a photograph hanging on my bathroom wall – of a wolf jumping across ice flows. Two ice flows are in the center of the picture. I remember what initially drew me to this picture: the wolf is in the middle of her leap (for I think of her as female) and the distance between ice flows makes it hard to tell if her leap will be successful. One sees solid ice only in the far distance. There is no way of knowing where her journey began, or what drove her out onto the free-floating ice; one cannot see any nearby ice flows that suggest where her journey might end. By all appearances, even if her leap were successful, she would be stuck floating in the middle of the sea, cut off from land. But she jumps.

        I bought the photo in the early years after my divorce. There had been a deep inner attraction to this wolf’s leap of faith. I’d saved the catalogue that offered the photo for months, staring at the picture nearly every day. When the hospital surprised us with an unexpected bonus, the first thing I ordered was the wolf print; as soon as it arrived, I had it matted and framed. Buying a wall hanging was a luxury from a financial standpoint, but the image had become an emotional life ring, thrown to someone drowning in a sea of responsibilities and demands.

        You may have read charts that measure stress factors in one’s life. According to those charts, I was red-lined three years in a row after I left my marriage. (We won’t count the years before.) The legal ordeal of the first year included the boys and me being dragged back to Ohio while the court appointed its own counselor to sort out issues, and me working two jobs in two different states to make ends meet. In the end the court-appointed counselor took our side and allowed us to move back to Michigan, yet court battles continuing long after the divorce was finalized -- an embittered ex’s payback for me leaving the marriage, for damaging his public image as a wonderful family-man. There were long-standing money issues that came from having been married to a spendthrift, and his post-divorce determination to shift as much liability as possible to my shoulders.

        At a point where I most craved roots and stability, I’d packed everything up and moved four times in fourteen months, three times across state lines, twice against my own wishes. The last move came when the house we were renting was sold. To stay in the school district, I’d been pressured into buying a house more expensive than I believed affordable, simply because there was so little else on the market. Even my sons grew anxious at the idea of another move.

        The boys were young (ages three, five, and eight) and had plenty of their own problems. Two of the boys had health problems that required multiple hospitalizations and surgeries. There were suspicions of one child being dyslexic, one child possibly being sexually abused by an adult male. Experts were called in and when findings were inconclusive, they shrugged their shoulders, admitted there might indeed be a problem but they couldn’t help; the problems were thrown back in my lap.

        All three boys had suffered emotionally during the last years of the marriage. Once in a safe environment, emotional issues continually bubbled up to the surface. They fought amongst themselves. They fought their own inner battles. It required hours each week of one-on-one time, over the course of many years, before I could finally get each boy stabilized and back on track.

        There were problems at work: pressure to work overtime (even if I hadn’t needed the money to make ends meet) and warnings about the time I took off to be with sick children. I spent thirteen months working six-day weeks; when we finally were caught up and back to working a five-day week, it took almost a month before the boys stopped asking if Sunday was a school day.

        By year two, my sore throat, ear aches and bone-weary fatigue had been diagnosed as Epstein-Barr (chronic fatigue syndrome), and from that point on, the doctor shrugged his shoulders if I returned complaining about not being able to keep up with work, a house and family. Blah, blah, blah -- the list goes on, but you get the idea.

        There were days when I would shut the door to the bathroom so the boys would not see me, and I’d sit, curled up on the floor. I would’ve cried ‘uncle’ if there’d been anyone else to take over. Where was I to find the energy, the reason to continue? Some days I gave up hope of ever finding solid ground. It seemed we were sinking and any heroic effort on my part simply delayed the inevitable drowning. How does one move forward on sheer willpower, when there seems no end to challenges, no assurance there will ever be a secure place to rest and enjoy the simple things of life?

        These doubts did not bother the wolf. She jumped. I would stare at the picture until it aroused whatever survival instinct still lay buried within me. Whatever wisps of courage and determination existed would slowly be gathered together, woven into a strand that could pull me back onto my feet. I would take a deep breath and quit worrying about next week or next month or next year. I would put on blinders until I could see only the day in front of me, and I would jump back into the business of creating a new life for the boys and myself.

        Of course, in time everything worked out: the boys’ lives were pulled back together and they thrived -- physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially; I could breathe easy and enjoy a hectic but happy lifestyle keeping up with them. I no longer looked to the wolf photo as an emotional life ring; most days I just quit noticing it -- I remained vaguely aware of its presence, but my eyes slid past the shapes and colors, and focused on other issues in my life. From time to time I might casually wonder about replacing the print; yet, it continued hanging in the bathroom -- because its colors matched the wallpaper, and because there were so many other things requiring my attention.

        Recently, the wolf print began catching my eye again. Once more, I found myself embracing the image, identifying with the wolf and her leap of faith. The observation came as a surprise, and even more surprising was the change in my emotional response. After all these years, I’d reached a new point – feeling the need to leap again into the unknown, only this time the motivatation was not what I might find at the endpoint but rather the very action of leaping.

        In the past, I identified with a jump forced by past and undesirable threats; I believed the hope came from taking forward action whereby one might discover better options. The leap was always connected to escape, driven by loathing of old, unworkable patterns, by fear of being trapped in roles that smothered and choked the life and decency out of existence. Always the jump came with an awareness that what I dragged with me and behind me could hinder my leap, cutting short the gap between what I needed and what I had. Always the threat of icy waters waited to mark the failure of my effort. How time has changed all of this.

        Now I feel ready to embrace the unknown from a center of peace and contentment, no longer tied by ancient memories of a shoreline, no longer bound by the need to feel solid ground. What luscious freedom to move forward without the entanglements of the past. What joy to leap into the unknown with no more motivation than to discover new delights.

        I am not less aware of the icy danger, but perhaps part of my growth has been an acceptance that the pain of failure is another part of freedom. Failure cannot destroy the power, grace, or wonder of freedom. If I miss the mark, then yes – I may find myself in cold and chilling waters. I’m not a glutton for punishment who looks forward to the experience, yet no longer does the fear of it wrap about me, restricting my movement. I can survive missing the mark; I have the reserves to pull myself back up onto the ice flow.

        It seems to me this is the luxury of a balanced life and the blessing of experience. In youth and inexperience we may believe life cruelly waits to trip us up; that failures will crush us or leave us forever crippled. The value of working one’s way through crises and conflict is the wisdom and faith that human life has surprising resources, both within oneself and within the environment.

        We are connected -- in ways we might never imagine -- to a plethora of relationships. How often do we even test the strength, the willingness of others to support and share our journey? We are connected to a greater power, whether you deem it God or the divine, time and evolution, cultures and civilizations. Even if the physical body should not survive the leap, there is something of ourselves left behind, in the people we have touched, the actions we have taken.

        For all these reasons, I’m grateful that I never bothered replacing the wolf print. There is time now to enjoy it all over again. It still shows the same wolf making her leap of faith; it still reflects part of life and life’s challenges, but I now see through different eyes. How wondrous the way that difference transforms everything.

Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2005 at 10:03PM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

This was a really interesting post, and there was a lot in it that resonated with me. I had a very difficult early divorce, but no kids, and although I had met my present husband and fallen deeply in love with him, I was definitely not "leaping" from a place of calmness and security.either into the new marriage or many things that followed. On the other hand, I did have (as I suspect you did too) a very strong center and sense of self even if I couldn't quite access it at times. Having experienced long periods of doubt and risk-avoidance, it has been so wonderful to feel myself becoming much stronger and much more trusting of process - of the leap itself. The way you've described entering into the wolf printagain and seeing yourself anew reminded me of re-reading books and suddenly identifying with a different character, or a different part of the story. It's exciting when that happens and we realize how far we've come.
March 3, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterbeth

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