This is not the first darkness into which we have descended as a couple, and like our previous encounters (albeit much briefer ones), there is nothing visible on the surface. No convicting offense. Nor the absence of love.
What is different this time is time. We have it. To spend. To see. To feel. To open into something we’d never quite allowed ourselves to open into before.
The Provocateur: The Empty Nest.
The Invitation: The Heroine’s Journey.
The challenge is to allow the descent into darkness without turning back or trying to change it so that out of the liminal space something new might emerge.
But what if this emergence does not include us as a couple?
Our willingness to sense into this possibility is, in my mind, a promising sign even as it terrifies us. And it does.
My practice in this darkness has been to remain open-hearted. This sounds like a noble endeavor, but what it really means is that I’m feeling pain instead of numbing or distracting.
I never realized how often I armored against feeling. How my attempts to make things better, to coach or cajole, to remain ever-vigilant, to overdo disappointment, overwork anger, and overextend resolution were mechanisms of defense, as were the tiny release valves of criticism, mockery and superiority.
WIthout such protection, I am open to my heart’s conveyances.
But what if my heart conveys a new beginning?
And what if that beginning is far, far away?
And what if it is alone?
It’s not lost on me that our boys are the age I was when my parents’ marriage fell apart, and it’s not lost on me that my boys are the age I was when I left the heartache of my broken family for a semester abroad, for a season backpacking through Europe, for a year in Colorado, and finally for a life in the mountains 300 miles away from the sea.
Stay, feel, notice, I tell myself, and in my stilling, I notice that there is as much to feel from the past as there is in the now, probably more.
While I feel into the heaviness of my heart, my husband is engaged in his own practice. Feeling into himself. Finding himself. Knowing himself. Recovering himself. Which is as much a journey of the past as the present, just as mine is with pain.
We spent last weekend together at Kripalu Yoga and Health Center, sleeping in different dorm rooms by night while assisting a writing and meditation program by day.
There were a hundred participants between us as we each wrote into our past.
I wrote into all the red flags that could have redirecting my course.
He wrote into how his life might have unfolded without me.
In the evening, we came together on a couch outside the performance hall, my feet in his lap, and we took turns sharing what we had written, surprised to discover similar veins of exploration.
In times like these, the darkness is parted, but then it returns like the sea, and we drift away again into self-revelation, further and further from the shore of the familiar and easy companionship of thirty-three years. (The lifetime of Jesus. Just saying.)
It’s not lost on me that we are opening into new aspects of ourselves, dusting off old identities, trying out something new. More individuation for him. Less filling in the gaps for me. It’s not lost on me that this is disorienting.
It’s not lost on me that we had a particularly steep and jagged holiday season which had nothing to do with us as a couple and everything to do with our role, our heart, our ties, as parents.
The summer before last, when we still had a child at home, we encountered a familiarly patterned relationship crapstorm that left the household raw and ragged. Afterward, I checked in with our youngest and asked how we might better consider his feelings in the future. His request was tender, and directed toward me: “Check in with me sooner.”
But what of your father, I asked, don’t you have a request for him?
He shrugged, and offered in consolation, “Dad just needs to stay connected to himself.”
Was our offspring, practically grown at the time, parroting, or clearly reflecting the discrepancy in our relationship, the gendered discrepancy of all relationships?
I am so tired.
Women everywhere are so tired.
So much of women’s work–relationships, families, communities–takes place unseen, underappreciated, unpaid, and often in the shadows, frequently secretive and shamed.
It’s not lost on me that after each of my children left for college, I came down with acute infections.
It’s not lost on me that since meeting me my husband’s professional life has increasingly thrived while mine began to contract, and especially since motherhood, is forever gasping for air.
It’s not lost on me that with this particularly toxic President, it is a difficult time to be a woman (and a difficult time to be in relationship with a woman) as this rotting, stench-filled Patriarchy uproots everything.
My husband is afraid of this darkness, of what lies ahead.
I am afraid too, but for me it is necessary. Life or death. Now.
It’s not lost on me that I am writing from the depth of winter, but I’m not ready for spring.
Even if we should end, as we heartbreakingly will some day no matter our trajectory, our love has been a fertile place for growth and for that I am forever gratified and humbled.
It’s not lost on me that this is what scares me most, the inevitable parting.
What buoys me is the fact that our names, both Casey and Kelly, are Celtic for Warrior, and that we are a Marian family–born as I was on the Immaculate Conception of Mary to a mother born on the Birth of Christ, and a husband born on Her Feast Day, and our firstborn on Her Assumption.
Darkness is holy. Presence to the darkness is feminine work. And like everything, it too shall pass. But first I want to claim it.
With thirty-three years between us, it would be easy to abandon the heroine’s journey out of fear or habit or lack of fortitude.
I am writing into the gift of this darkness tonight. To honor it. To allow it to be rich and fertile, not just for us, but for all those who courageously dwell in the unknown becoming.