Choosing not to suffer
8 February 16
I choose my own suffering. And that’s something I don’t wish to endure any longer.
(Photos to come)
We say goodbye at the gate. Aisha is flying to spend time with our Melbourne family — she plans on window-shopping, eating meat and submerging herself in the big city. I’m thankful that I don’t have to personally facilitate those experiences, but the separation pains me.
As I watch Aisha walk alongside the flight attendant and climb the stairs with her luggage, I feel like bursting into tears. We’ve been apart before, so the sadness is mostly residual from my own early experiences of leaving my parents to attend boarding school from the age of six. I’m also imagining a lonely time when I’ll have four daughters spread across the globe … and then whom will I clean up after?
Aisha is happy and confident in flying alone. She knows that she only needs to tackle this for the first time, and then the world will be open to her. She is not sad, she is watchful and focused — intent on learning whatever tricks she can to make her next solo flight easier.
I am sad, but not for her — for me. In acknowledging that, in recognising that my pain is rooted in the past and projected into the future, I can choose not to suffer. Not at this moment. Not for this. No longer.
The mechanic calls me. He is clear and informative and friendly, but the report is grim. Mechanical details rearrange their letters in my head and all I’m left with is the fact that I probably won’t have the bus back this month. I don’t dare to ask about the final price tag — I’m not as grossly masochistic as that.
After receiving the news, I am tempted to wallow in the pain of losing our transport, our independence, our free-ranging activities, our adventure-mobile. We’ve been camping in a tent since December — which has been lovely — but I’m ready for a change of season.
On a practical level, we’re surrounded by supportive friends who have vehicles and are happy to assist, but I feel uncomfortable surrendering my independence in order to accept their help. And that hurts. I’ve built my identity on a foundation of independence (however illusionary), and in losing transport I also have to demonstrate to the girls that I’m dependent on others’ good graces to drive us places — much like they are to me.
In seeing this all within myself, I can let it go. I can open myself to the new depths of friendship that can form as I allow myself to be vulnerable in new, practical ways. I can choose not to suffer. Not at this moment. Not for this. No longer.
I open the email without assessing its message in advance. I have no time to prepare for the punch to my gut. It arrives in the form of a courteous message from a Queensland police station: “Property lodged at the [station] can now be returned to you. The property consists of:
- Baby accessories: Pram/Stroller – Pram, and
- Household articles: Bedspreads/blankets – 1 x blue blanket (in poor condition)”
Fuck! I didn’t expect that. Memories of that dreadful night overwhelm me, and I burst into tears. Brioni and Calista hear my sobs and enfold me with their arms, quietly holding me until the emotions are all spent.
As I explain my weeping to the girls, I allow for the authentic expression of my painful memories. But I also remind them (and myself) that without the events of that night, we wouldn’t be here — where we are — in this current adventure, in this moment, in this place.
While the real pain of the grief continues to flatten me at times, the loss is continuing to transform into a greater gain. I’ve been able to do amazing things as a single, powerful woman, and I am doing a sterling job at raising these four girls in a peaceful and respectful way. I can befriend and mentor other young men in Elijah’s stead, and I can open my chest and display my mangled heart as proof that life continues — not just a mediocre life, but one of compassion and generosity and amazing adventures. I can actively choose not to suffer. Not at this moment. Not for this. No longer.
It’s a work-in-progress, this not-suffering thing. Each time I discover I’m retreating into suffering, I remind myself to return to the present moment — where everything is alright.
Emotional pain has been a constant companion since childhood, and perhaps I’m subconsciously afraid of a vacuum. Whatever will fill its vacated allotment in my mind? Do I dare hope for something good? Yes, of course I do!
Because I can choose not to suffer. Not at this moment. Not for this, or that, or the other thing. No longer.