Last Love

BY RACHEL MCKIBBENS

Adam & Eve, detail

To my daughters I need to say:
Go with the one who loves you biblically.
The one whose love lifts its head to you
despite its broken neck. Whose body bursts
sixteen arms electric to carry you, gentle
the way old grief is gentle.
Love the love that is messy in all its too much,
The body that rides best your body, whose mouth
saddles the naked salt of your far gone hips,
whose tongue translates the rock language of
all your elegant scars.Go with the one who cries out for her tragic sisters
as she chops the winter’s wood, the one whose skin
triggers your heart into a heaven of blood waltzes.Go with the one who resembles most your father.
Not the father you can point out on a map,
but the father who is here, is your home,
is the key to your front door.Know that your first love will only be the first.
And the second and third and even fourth
will unprepare you for the most important:The Blessed. The Beast. The Last Love,

which is, of course, the most terrifying kind.
Because which of us wants to go with what can murder us?
Can reveal to us our true heart’s end and its thirty years
spent in poverty? Can mimic the sound of our bird-throated mothers,
replicate the warmth of our brothers’ tempers?
Can pull us out of ourselves until we are no longer sisters
or daughters or sword swallowers but, instead,
women who give and lead and take and want
and want and want and want,
because there is no shame in wanting.

And you will hear yourself say:

Last Love, I wish to die so I may come back to you
new and never tasted by any other mouth but yours.
And I want to be the hands that pull your children
out of you and tuck them deep inside myself until they are
ready to be the children of such a royal and staggering love.
Or you will say:

Last Love, I am old, and have spent myself on the courageless,
have wasted too many clocks on less-deserving men,
so I hurl myself at the throne of you and lie humbly at your feet.

Last Love, let me never roll out of this heavy dream of you,
let the day I was born mean my life will end
where you end. Let the man behind the church
do what he did if it brings me to you. Let the girls
in the locker room corner me again if it brings me to you.
Let this wild depression throw me beneath its hooves
if it brings me to you. Let me pronounce my hoarded joy
if it brings me to you. Let my father break me again
and again if it brings me to you.

Last love, I have let other men borrow your children. Forgive me.
Last love, I once vowed my heart to another. Forgive me.
Last Love, I have let my blind and anxious hands wander into a room
and come out empty. Forgive me.

Last Love, I have cursed the women you loved before me. Forgive me.
Last Love, I envy your mother’s body where you resided first. Forgive me.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Forgive me.
Last Love, I did not see you coming. Forgive me.

Last Love, every day without you was a life I crawled out of. Amen.
Last Love, you are my Last Love. Amen.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Amen.

I am all that is left.
Amen.

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Originally published in Muzzle Magazine.

8 Steps to a Good Mind

Adapted from Purpose Fairy.

1. Always focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want.

The mistake that most of us make when having a problem is to talk about it over and over again instead of focusing on the end result, instead of focusing on what we want to achieve.

2. Know that every problem comes with a lesson.
There is always a lesson in everything that happens to us, and we should constantly look for what that lesson is and master it, because you see, just as Confucius said, “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.”

3. Don’t believe everything you think.
Our problems aren’t as big as the mind is trying to convince us, and if you choose to believe every negative thought that goes through your mind, you will always get in trouble. Observe your mind, observe your thoughts, but don’t identify yourself with them. Go beyond them.

4. Gratitude.
Choose to express your gratitude for everything that happens to you, whether good or bad, and also for every person you interact with. The more you choose to express your gratitude, the more reasons you will have to express it, and when you’re too busy focusing on the many things that you are grateful for, there will be no more room left for stress and worry, there will be no more room left for negativity.

5. Know that there is a reason for everything.
As Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.” Therefore, everything that happens and every person who enters your life will ultimately do you good, if you keep your eyes and heart on the Transcendent and on Love, which is God. It’s your responsibility to act upon this knowledge rather than to judge events and people as “bad.” It’s all good, eventually. Believe it.

6. Let go of your need for perfection.
When you try to do everything perfectly, you will meet with stress and frustration, because it’s impossible to be perfect in everything you do. Why would you want to be perfect anyway? Don’t you know that perfection leaves no room for improvement?

7. Let go of your resistance.
Accept things as they are without you trying to change them, without trying to fight against them. When you stress over an outcome and when you resist what is, you fighting against the present moment, against the present reality, against the whole universe, and this is a battle you will never win. Allow yourself to just be. Go with the flow, and know that life wasn’t meant to be a struggle, even though that’s what your mind was trying to convince you all of these years. Learn to “Let go and let God,” knowing that “By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning” (Lao Tzu).

8. Learn to be present in everything you do.
When you become present and engaged in the now, your whole life will become easier and you will realize that problems will begin to disappear, little by little. If you get too caught up in your mind, and if you think too much about what happened in the past and about what may happen in the future, you will create a great deal of pain and suffering, and the energy you will generate will be toxic, not only for yourself, but also for those around you, because energy is contagious. Go with love in the present moment.

Thoughts on Love

There are psychological preferences as expressed through type, and then there are moral behaviors. A person’s type may determine how she expresses her values, but it does not determine the values themselves. A person’s type contributes to how he gives his gift, but the decision about whether or not to give the gift is a moral one.

Psychoanalyst and author Alice Miller writes that people who grow to adulthood without ever having been truly loved as children are similarly unable to truly love. In that case, “we can only try to behave as if we were loving. But this hypocritical behavior is the opposite of love,” she writes. Only “a loved child learns from the beginning what love is.” Others have to learn what love is in adulthood if they learn it at all.

A person’s psychological type doesn’t determine whether she makes the choice to learn love in adulthood, or instead follows her natural but hypocritical inclination to act as if she were loving. Making decisions about whether to learn to love or not, whether to search for God or not, whether to seek out and develop one’s own true self or not, and whether to keep one’s word, commitments, and obligations or not are all moral choices. Not one of these choices is determined by personality or psychological type.

Excuse Me?

I think that growing up unwanted and unloved are good excuses for being a psychological mess upon reaching adulthood. But there’s no good excuse for failing to really learn to love rather than acting as if you love, no good excuse for failing to love someone with all your heart, with passion and sincerity, by desiring and acting in ways that serve the needs of the beloved in addition to serving yourself. I see no good excuses for receiving good in one’s life and hoarding that good rather than sharing it. There’s no good excuse for being given the chance to heal–perhaps many such chances–and refusing it or betraying your healer, as Judas did Jesus.

Jesus told a story about a wealthy landowner who prepared to go on a long journey. Calling three of his most trusted servants to him, he explained that he’d be gone for a very long time. “I’m leaving you three in charge,” he said, “so you’ll need this money I’ve budgeted. Make good use of it and when I return, we’ll have an accounting.” The first servant received one talent, which was worth nine years’ of skilled work–$20,000.00 in 2004 dollars. The second servant was given two talents, equivalent to $40,000.00, and the third servant was given five talents, equivalent to $100,000.00.

When the master returned, he learned that all but the servant who’d been given one talent had doubled his money for him. The one-talent servant had buried his $20,000.00 in the ground and returned it unharmed to the master. The master was shocked! “What?! You buried my money in the ground when you could have at least put it in the bank and earned me interest?! Why did you do that?!”

The servant replied, “Oh, it’s your fault, sir. Everyone knows what a hard-hearted man you are. I was afraid of your anger; it’s your fault I buried the money.”  Not fooled by the servant’s blame, the wealthy landowner considered the fact that two of his three trusted servants had valued something greater than their own skins. They’d been willing to overcome their excuses and fear to profit from the trust and generosity their boss had showed them.

“If you had really believed I am the hard-nosed bastard you say I am,” the rich man replied, “You would have put that money in the bank rather than risk having it dug up and stolen. You would have at least earned me the interest that money would have earned had I never placed my trust in you. As it is, you used me to excuse the smallness of your own heart. You’ve broken my trust and failed to return anything on my investment. You’ve just proved that you’re not the sort of servant I want in my business.”  The boss then took the $20,000.00 back from the hoarder and gave it to the servant who had doubled his $100,000.00. “Get that lazy servant who buried his money in the ground out of here!” he cried.

And there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Love Gives

Love is not a Scrooge McDuck. Love is a giver. Isn’t that the gospel? “For God so loved… that He gave…”. Love is a constant yielding in the back of one’s mind, all the way to and beyond the boundaries of one’s heart. Love makes me always aware of the yield sign.

It’s not easy to love. Love doesn’t come naturally to us. If love came naturally, we’d all do love like we do whatever else comes naturally: urinating, defecating, fornicating.  That love with its giving, yielding, believing, hoping, patience, and kindness isn’t natural to us is obvious. People are natural-born takers, doubters, demanders. We’re impatient and unkind. We give up, we don’t run the race to the end; we let people down.

It’s all so jolly as we go along loving those who are easy to love, our friends, the ones similar to us, those who agree with us and think our plans are just grand. But just let a disagreement occur, a difference of opinion. It stops being such a fine, jolly frolic when our differences draw blood. Then the stakes are serious.

When people are willing to give up their right to have their own way, I know that they are truly awake and alive to love, regardless of their psychological type. Extraverts and introverts alike are able to love. Extraverts may do it with a lot of words and production, and introverts may do it quietly without drawing much attention to themselves, but the character of the love will be constant.

Love Yields

Love yields. Because love yields, it’s not possible for love to have its way in a conflict in which one person wins at the other person’s expense. When my loved one demands his own way and I yield to him, one of us has loved and one of us has not. Love has a concern for each person in the exchange, each person in the relationship.

“Love hurts, love scars, love wounds, and marks,” Nazareth sang, but love doesn’t have to achieve its ends through suffering. A person can always try to choose the path of love, a path that says, “I don’t want to win at your expense. I’m more than a vampire, sucking your blood; I’m more than a leech or a parasite, always taking and giving nothing in return. I hear that I’m causing you pain, and I’m sorry. What solution can we arrive at that will serve our mutual interests? What can we do to achieve peace between us?”

That kind of caring doesn’t arise from personality type; it is rooted in good character.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

I feel frustrated today, impossibly sad and frustrated because I can’t seem to write what I mean to write. I write something and I think it means one thing, but then another person’s reaction seems to indicate that I didn’t even write in English. Frankly, I can’t believe I’ve ever managed to have anything published. I feel stupider now than I ever did before.

In fact, I never felt stupid before. I felt sure of myself and my writing and of a lot of other things, and I thought I knew a lot. Now, after many more years of living, I feel stupider. I don’t even care if “stupider” is not a word. It’s how I feel. And I think stupider, too.

image2 by you.

I don’t know anything, sometimes; most of the time. Yesterday we went to the funeral of our friend who was killed Tuesday, and seeing the stricken faces of the children who looked so much like her was more than we could bear. I keep carrying this grief with me, knowing how they will never be the same again and will have to grow into a new “normal,” but will still feel numb for a year or more. And I know there is nothing I can do at all for them at the deepest level, because grief is like birth: you go through it alone. You and God. And if one doesn’t believe in God, well . . . God is still near to the brokenhearted.

The casket was opened at the end of the funeral service. I do not generally like the American way of burying image1 by you.people, where they make the body into a plastic, creepy looking thing that hardly resembles the living person at all; but in her case I was glad they opened the casket, even though she died in a car accident. I was glad because her children who are developmentally still in quite concrete stages of development could see and feel that their mother was dead. It’s final; they’ll know that they won’t see her alive again until heaven.

As everyone tried to work out how such a tragic accident could happen to the people involved, judgments began to form. The conversations I was privy to were sowed with “should,” “ought,” and “wrong.” I have not been able to think or feel my way through this well, because on a deep level I believe the suffering is senseless. One labors over its senselessness like the tongue over a broken tooth. It’s jagged; it’s out of place; it’s worrisome. Even after it’s fixed and only the memory of the sharp edges linger, we can go back to it and touch it, remembering how uncertain the decay and sudden loss made us feel.

image3 by you.It’s the uncertainty of life, and how people seem to deal with it, that has my attention this week.

The fear uncertainty causes seems to make many of us rush to judgment, because judgment is certain, and when we are certain, we feel safe. There are no question marks in “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not.” We love to judge people up until the day we go to their funerals. On that day, we’re not as inclined to be judgmental. We’re kinder when we notice the tears streaming down the faces of those who are most bereaved. Otherwise, we go through life making judgments; we may build our blogs, our conversations, or even our livelihoods around judgments.

We would much rather judge one another than love one another. How unlike my heavenly Father I am when I give myself the right to judge you. Is there not only one lawgiver, and one judge? As Saint James wrote,

Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:11-17)

How unlike Him I am when I tell you how right my own belief is, and how sure I am about it, and how wrong image5 by you.yours is. How arrogant I am for forgetting that you and I “are just a vapor.” My life should be full of “if the Lord wills,” and not so much “we shall go.” I know two people who died in their 30s of aneurisms. Their spouses woke up and found them dead in the bed beside them. How sure can I be that I’ll survive this day? And if I’m not sure that I will, absolutely certain, shouldn’t I try to be sure about something in the moment I have right now? Shouldn’t I try to be sure that I’m filling this moment with my whole being, and with love? Or is my life so lacking in these qualities that I need to fill up the space with judgments?

I am not sure. I am not certain. I don’t know much about anything, any more. I used to argue with people who helped me to feel inferior and stupider by their certainty. But something changed in me over the past eight years of ongoing suffering of one kind or another, beginning with my daughter’s death; I don’t argue as much any more, or with as much certainty, although I’m still a passionate person.  I don’t blame her death for my shift in thinking; I just point to it as a turning point in my life. Many other things also happened to change me, most of which I’ve never written about here: moving to our dream home, which brought us problems we never anticipated; having terrific financial and marital problems for year after grinding year; experiencing large changes to our family structure, and large losses of other kinds.

image4 by you.And then I spent the better part of a year reading deeply in Buddhism; that changed me. I learned that in Buddhism nothing is permanent, and was reminded that this is true in Christianity, too. But western Christians have made Christianity into a westernized mockery of what it once was; I didn’t know that, either. I was so arrogant about my faith in the past, and now I am mostly just grateful and overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed most of the time, whenever I turn my eyes toward the sacred. I find I have been too free with my judgments and my platitudes, and have been more than ready to offer simplistic, shallow explanations of why things happen as they do.

I don’t know why things happen as they do; I can’t possibly be sure about why. The fact is that I am rarely sure or certain of anything, and this is the most humbling and comforting place I can be for now, because it’s a place where mercy triumphs over judgment.

Images by David Béjar Suárez 

What is Love?

In the adoption world, at least, there’s a lot of confusion about what a real mother is. I believe that, at our cores, we know a real mother in relationship terms when we see one; to name just a few archetypal incarnations ranging from the mundane to the sublime, she is Harriet, she is Mrs. Cleaver, she is Olivia Walton, she is Celie in The Color Purple, she is Mother Theresa, she is the Virgin Mary. But, because many people are wounded in their families of origin and may even have the added insult of having been separated from their mothers and subsequently adopted (or raised by someone other than their mother), people can become muddled and confused about mothers and mothering. When that happens, it helps to have people who are clear about mothering to say, “This is the behavior of a real mother; that is not the behavior of a real mother.”

Having others in our lives is helpful if they will point us in the direction of truth, even if those others aren’t mothers, but are merely authors or therapists, best friends or sisters-in-law, grannies at church, bosses or other bloggers. People who point us in the direction of truth are helping us to find the way home. And if we never had a true home, a hearth from which to start our hero’s journey, then those who love us enough to help us may also show us how to establish the hearth from which we may leave.

what is love?

I think that any discussion of real or authentic mothering has to eventually arrive at love. What is love? Who is our real friend, the one who is really there for us, the one who truly loves us? Do we know it when we see it? I think, yes. We feel it, we feel deeply satisfied by love; and we feel calm and whole in its presence.

While it may sound odd that I would recommend a book about romantic love for those grappling with adoption issues, I do think that Robert A. Johnson’s book, We, provides an excellent overview of our flawed Western view of love, based on the oldest Western romance that we know of, Tristan and Iseult. Johnson writes this about real love:

Love is the power within us that affirms and values another human being as he or she is. Human love affirms that person who is actually there, rather than the ideal we would like him or her to be or the projection that flows from our minds. Love is the inner god who opens our blind eyes to the beauty, value, and quality of the other person. Love causes us to value that person as a total, individual self, and this means that we accept the negative side as well as the positive, the imperfections as well as the admirable qualities. When one truly loves the human being rather than the projection, one loves the shadow just as one loves the rest. One accepts the other person’s totality.

Johnson goes on to point out that love leads a person to honor and serve the other, rather than to use others for purposes of ego. Love compels us to be concerned for the needs of the other person, for their well-being, rather than merely on our own needs and wants. As the Bible says, “Love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).

I wrote yesterday about why, in my way of thinking, it’s wrong for a birth mother to tell her adopted child that, if she had it to do over again, she would choose abortion rather than suffer the loss of her child to adoption. What a terrible thing for the adopted person to hear! Though the adoptees I’ve known who have heard this from their birth mothers extended grace to those mothers by sympathizing with their pain, they later confided to others just how deeply such sentiments had wounded them. They didn’t trust their mothers any more after hearing this, for if their birth mothers were given the same choice again, they would want to hear their birth mothers say, “I would do anything to keep and raise you, and be there for you and be your real mother.”

Adopted people also don’t want to be reminded by their adoptive parents, “You’re my child, you know; I raised you!” They don’t want to be party to the paranoia and fear of adoptive parents who never really stepped up to the plate emotionally in the first place, but who assert their parental rights later, when they are getting older and more needy and know they weren’t very good people, but want to continue to pretend that they were. Proving that they still aren’t very good people.

But whether we are orphans or not, injured by separation or not, what we really want is love, isn’t it? Don’t we want to know that sometimes we, and only we, are reflected in the eye of the beholder? Do we not want to be engraved on the palms of someone’s hands, the apple if the other’s eye? Don’t we long to be beamed at by proud parents, to be told that we are more than enough, that we’re blessings beyond measure?

Oh my God, yes. Don’t we? Yes.

Love sees the glory of the other person, and stands in awe.

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