I never learned to be kind to myself. Because I come from parents who hadn’t learned, and certainly whose parents, in kind, had not learned. Instead they grew up in poverty. The kind of poverty that meant some of the things we mostly take for granted today, many of us anyway, were metered out, saved, reused time and again—tinfoil, soap, water, clothing… they learned to scrimp so they would have something. Baths were taken, sharing the same water, one family member after the next, one day a week. Water was precious. The soap they made from their own lye and lard, scraped from the hide of the thin cow they’d slaughtered, the scant meat from which was meant to last out the year, was precious too. My father hitch-hiked, as a boy, out to the farm fields far away from his tenement housing to glean the potatoes and onions from farmers’ fields that had been left behind by the machinery. When the fields were bare he gathered nettles from alongside the highway on his long walk home, not willing to soon see his mother’s disappointment, covered quickly so as not to hurt the sincere boy who was trying very hard to feed his family of six.
But I wonder, the thought coming to me just now, as I write these words, was it his regular treks out to the country where the landscape held more than soot darkened buildings, and wooden staircases up, up and up, holding the poverty within, each identical set of boxes sheltering some form of human misery, but also human hearts, human hope. I wonder if the contrast between his home’s landscape and the open landscape of the country where he traveled with a specific need, if it was there that my dad discovered he had an eye for beauty?
I, too, grew up taking one bath a week because water was precious, as was soap, so happy when the stinging lye-based soap was traded up for store-bought Dove. I had the regular task of gathering and melding the small bits and slivers of bar soap used down to their quick, back into a bigger shape using my fingernails as little pallet knives to better join the grouping into one mass. And when those reshaped bits became too small, I would stuff them into a tin tea ball, as my mother had taught me, and we would shake that around in the dishwater rather than buying expensive dish washing liquid.
But unlike my parents, my sister and I never went hungry, we were never assaulted by those we were meant to trust. Mom and dad made sure of that.
I read somewhere recently that people who really want to be helped when they go into therapy get it pretty quickly, because they’re working very hard. And a light went on for me because I’ve just left therapy, more because I could no longer drive the hour-long one-way trip on the pain meds I’m taking now. But I’m also seeing that I have learned. In fact everything is easier now because I’ve gained tools I can apply over and over again and to all kinds of situations. So thank you Dr. M. You know who you are.
Anyway, today I was hanging my sheets out to dry in the sun, a lark singing in the field nearby and I realized this was a big thing for me. A big change. I haven’t been willing to put my sheets out before. I’ve watched Kim hang his and I’ve wanted to do it too but, unless he came round and encouraged me, helped me, I just never did it for myself. The dryer was easier and took less time. And, bottom line, the underlying message I’ve been regularly sending was that I wasn’t worth it.
But today, listening to birds singing in the spring, I thought of the bliss I will feel when I snuggle into my wind and sun dried sheets tonight, fresh from the shower, hair newly dried, cream rubbed into my elbows, my feet, my legs, my arms, and I recognized the important shift: I am taking care of myself! The extra bits that aren’t absolutely necessary–the things I’d supposed took too much time or money, or both, the things I was not worthy of, I am now doing for myself in the simple act of hanging my sheets out to dry.
I went into therapy to learn how to deal with protracted shingles, but my brilliant doctor knew she was helping me with a different kind of pain, the kind that runs deep through some families, springing from poverty, bigotry, hardship, need and few real opportunities–a kind of identity that bleeds into the very cells of people, generation after generation.
But today I hung out my own sheets. And today, also, a ditch I had dug last year from the acequia that feeds my land, a ditch villagers had scoffed at saying it would never run because it was dug uphill; one that made me feel the city fool as it sat there all season dry and accusing, today that ditch ran. And if it is dug uphill then it ran uphill.
Somehow, someway that water is running in all of my ditches, into old culverts used long ago. My pond is full!
And today I dug my own earth, my own ditches.
I watched my water continue on, deep into the canyon behind my house to nourish the land and animals down there.
And today the birds celebrate—bathing, drinking, dunking, flapping. And I, too, celebrate these new acts of self-care.
Living is hard work so let’s be gentle on ourselves as much as we are able. And may we each find our own eye for beauty wherever it may lay.
Love to you all,