Are We Responsible for Responsiblity?

I’ve been thinking a lot about responsibility lately. Well, no wonder — I’m looking after my 97-year-old father and doing the best I can for my dysfunctional brother. I’ve always had an enormous sense of responsibility but now I’m wondering if perhaps that isn’t a good thing.

I was the oldest girl in a large family, and as such, I had responsibility thrust on me at an early age. (I never used to admit I was from a large family. I felt ashamed, as if I had been the one to choose to have a large family in overpopulated times. It took me half a lifetime to realize I had no blame in the matter. No responsibility.)

Responsibility means: 1) the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone. 2) the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something. 3) the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization. 4) a thing that one is required to do as part of a job, role, or legal obligation. 5) a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of.

It’s unusual for all the definitions of a word to apply in one of my ramheavenbling discussions with myself, but in this case, all of them do. Well, except for perhaps #3. I often have a hard time making decisions when all things are equal and it doesn’t make any difference to me what I decide. For example, I can never decide where to go to lunch if I’m out with friends. It’s being with the friends that matters to me, not the food that accompanies the conversation.

I’ve never liked having control over anyone, another leftover from childhood when I would be left in charge, yet I do often feel as if I have a duty to certain people, or perhaps a moral obligation to them. I also sometimes feel responsible for situations that have nothing to do with me, other than that I am there and I care. For example, if I express an opinion or preference, no matter how casual, and another person acts on that opinion with bad results, I blame myself, though I’m learning not to.

Some of my youthful research into spirituality added to this sense of responsibility. If life is created by thoughts, including ours, then everything we do affects the whole. I don’t believe, as many people do, that we create our own illnesses, or that we remain sick because our belief isn’t strong enough to make us well. Nor do I believe we create our problematic situations. I do know that sometimes (maybe most times) things simply happen, and all we can do is deal with them, and yet, the idea still lingers that somehow, somewhere, we are the authors of our lives, the ones responsible for putting ourselves in crises.

I once liked the saying: “No snowflake in an avalanche ever thinks it’s responsible.” It wasn’t until just now that it dawned on me that no snowflake is responsible. The snowflake didn’t create the weather, didn’t create the snowfall, didn’t create the conditions for an avalanche. It didn’t even choose where it was to land.

I’m not much of a snowflake in our society. I’ve only owned one car, and that still-running 42-year-old vehicle has but 153,000 miles on it. I recycle the old-fashioned way — wear out, use up, make do. I trod as lightly as I can, and yet, I am still a snowflake, however unwittingly, causing the avalanche of human destruction on this earth.

So, where does responsibility begin and end? Am I responsible for the earth, for our society’s problems, for my family, my father, my brother?

Am I responsible for the death of my life mate/soul mate? Now that I know the answer to. Of course I am not responsible, and yet there is something deep in me, something beyond consciousness, that believes perhaps I didn’t do enough, didn’t hold on to him tightly enough, didn’t love enough.

See? An enormous sense of misplaced responsibility.

So, are we responsible for responsibility? If things go wrong in the world (or in a family or community), how much of the accountability or the blame belongs to us? Do we in fact have control over anything, or do things just happen — will we, nill we?

Research into the mind shows that often a decision is made before we become aware we made the decision. One test had people choose which light to light up, but often the light lit up before it was chosen, which led researchers to wonder if the people chose the light in the millisecond after it lit up. Perhaps, as this research might indicate, we have no real choice in what happens. In which case, how can there be responsibility?

I suppose it’s also possible that no matter what we do, we’d get the same results. Although that idea wasn’t formulated when I wrote the first chapter of Break Time, the soon-to-be-published steampunk anthology, it’s how the story progressed. Every time Al went back to the past to save his wife and child from death, they ended up dying in another accident. If the end is the same no matter what we do, how can there be responsibility?

And is it possible (or even acceptable) to unshoulder a lifetime of responsibility?

Just wondering.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Gyro Thinking

A gyro ball is a piece of exercise equipment used for strengthening the wrist, fingers, and forearm. It’s about the size of a tennis ball, and is composed of an outer covering and a free-spinning inner gyroscope. The faster the inner ball spins, the more strength you need to hold on to the device, and yet, all you need to keep the gyro going is a gentle circular motion of the wrist.

It seems to me that sometimes we can get caught up in gryo thinking where our thoughts spin and spin, and all it takes to keep those thoughts accelerating with ever increasing strength is to nudge ourselves with reminders of those thoughts. Sometimes the gryo gains such strength that it seems impossible to ever break the cycle.

In my case, what winds up my gyro are affronts. Pure hurts I can deal with face on. Pure anger generally burns itself out Ferris wheelwithin a few hours or maybe a couple of days at most. But affronts — being disregarded or deliberately disrespected — go deep, probably because they touch on ancient hurts and ancient angers.

This is a game two can play. If another person also experiences a similar slight or an offense from the same source, you can really rev each other up. You start out by talking things out, but so often what you are really doing is keeping each other’s wheels spinning.

I’ve never heard of gyro thinking, though I’m sure there is another, more technical name for it. It’s just something I have recently become aware of. (Which makes me wonder — did my having a name for such thinking make way for the concept itself? I only made the correlation after hearing about a gyro ball exerciser and learning how it works.)

I’m not subject to such spinning thoughts very often any more, but when I do feel affronted, I am learning not to feed the gyro. Learning to let the thoughts pass through my mind without holding on to them. Learning to let the spinning wheel turn on its own until it comes to a peaceful stop.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Perpetuating Gender Roles

A fellow Second Wind Publishing author posted an article that took me aback. Her post, Wives are Awesome, spoke of marriage roles, and how from the moment men took their vows, all the troublesome details of running a household vanish. Their wives make sure they have their favorite shampoo, their clothes are clean, the coffee brewed.

It was a clever article with a great punch line, but it surprised me to learn that women are still mommying their husbands to such an extent. I thought this sort of gender role disappeared a generation ago. It’s women’s prerogative, of course, to arrange their lives however they wish. I can even understand how it happens. In the throes of new love, women do what they can to mothermake their husbands’ lives easier, and over time, this role of nurturer becomes ineradicable.

It’s not just men who perpetuate such a role — women do, too. When a friend disagreed with my stance on women’s issues (apparently, as a thinking woman, I’m supposed to automatically be a feminist), I asked in rebuttal what percentage of household chores he did. He said, “I do everything I’m asked.” The assumption that household chores were his wife’s obligation and that she had to ask for his help made my hackles rise, but then he added, “She doesn’t like the way I do some things so she doesn’t ask.” I had no response to that, of course. It’s hard to share equally in the responsibility of running a household when one of the partners insists on holding the reins. (The moral of the story is, if you want your partner to do a greater percentage of the household chores, don’t complain about the way he or she does them. Let your partner work in his/her own way in his/her own time.)

Getting such glimpses into other people’s lives makes me realize how easy I had it with Jeff, my now deceased life mate/soul mate. We “wifed” each other, doing what was necessary without ever asking the other to do something. And if one of us didn’t like the way the other did a chore, we did it ourselves. (He once mentioned he didn’t like the way I did dishes. I didn’t say anything; I simply left them for him to do.) Whichever of us noticed that the carpet needed vacuuming or that a floor needed scrubbing (or rather the first one who was bothered by it) did the task. Mostly, though, we did things together or split up the responsibility without making a big deal about it.

Although it might not seem like it, roles really are changing. It’s no longer assumed that women who marry will take up where the husband’s mother left off, nurturing him as if he were still a child unable to fend for himself. Sometimes men take on that role for their high-powered wives. Sometimes both share equally in the responsibility and sometimes the couple hires a housekeeper to look after both of them.

When Jeff died, the thought of growing old alone panicked me. I’m okay now, mostly because I don’t think about it. Still, I do wonder what would happen if I met someone new and fell in love, but the thought of ever setting up a household with anyone again is beyond my imagining, especially considering problems of aging, possible health issues, and entrenched behavior, such as his expecting to be “wifed”.

Even if I found someone who would be willing to “wife” me, I wouldn’t be interested. Having someone look after the small details of my life sounds like a burden. It’s amazing to me that so many men willingly shoulder the load.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

We Are Public Property

”You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” The author of these words, Anne Lamott, was speaking about writing, but her comment also holds true of life. Everything that happens to you, everything someone did to you, everything someone said to you, all belong to you. These things are a part of you and your life story, and you can do with them as you wish. (Ownership doesn’t negate Untitledtresponsibility or consequences, however. If you write or talk about what people said or did to you, they have no obligation to like it. You might even lose them as friends, assuming you were friends in the first place.)

The corollary to the quote is that other people own everything you do or say to them.

We are savvy enough online not to write or post anything we don’t want coming back and slapping us in the face or kicking us lower down on our anatomy, long after we’ve forgotten what we posted, but offline, we are much more casual, saying whatever comes into our minds whenever there is someone around to hear our voice. Most people, don’t really pay attention, so what we say drifts past their ears or in and out of their mind moments after our words are spoken. Except, of course, when we say something we wish we hadn’t. Those words remain hanging in the air long enough for them to register. Many times people have quoted something I said back at me, and it stunned me, usually because I didn’t remember telling them, or at least not the way they understood my words to mean. Not that it’s a problem. I have no secrets. Offline, as well as online, I am what you see.

Still, it is a bit of a revelation to think that we extend way beyond ourselves. If people own what we do to them, then our actions are public property. If people own what we say to them, then our words are also public property. We are not the autonomous creatures we think we are, safe within our own little sphere of noninfluence. Just as we are continually affected (and infected) by others, they are affected (and infected) by us.

It’s a sobering thought, and one that should make us think twice about what we say to people and how we treat them.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Gossip: Healthy or Destructive?

For more than three decades, I didn’t spend much time in the company of women. I didn’t plan it, it just sort of worked out that way. My life mate/soul mate and I did most things together, including work — trying to build our business. He was also my best friend, the person I most wanted to be with. We had wide-ranging interests, and we talked about life, books, movies, history, philosophy, ideas.

I knew some women, of course, but not well, and I never participated in any group activities. After his death, though, I got afternoon teainvolved with many people. I joined a grief support group, and we had plenty to talk about — our deceased loved ones, our many losses (we lost not just the person, but the life we shared, our hopes, plans, and a feeling of “home”), our pain, our slow rewakening to life, and ourselves.

It wasn’t until recently, when I started taking exercise classes and came in close regular contact with a group of women that I ended up in a situation I wasn’t prepared to deal with. Idle chitchat. Gossip. Talking about each other, especially about those who weren’t present.

At first, I didn’t think anything of it since the remarks weren’t malicious, but when I found myself making comments (nothing bad, just things another person had done or said to me) I began to feel uneasy. I’m no paragon, but I do like to do the right thing. Eventually I came to the conclusion that we’re women. We talk about people. It’s who we are. (Though studies have shown that men gossip just as much as women do.) I have no delusions of being exempt as a topic of gossip — I always figured that in my absence they talked about me, but it didn’t matter. It’s not my business what other people think of me. (Strange. I just realized that once I took the opposite tack, that it is my business.) In fact, after one lunch — yep, we often exercised then went to lunch afterward to replace more than the calories we burned — I had to leave before everyone else, and when I got up to go, I gave them a big smile and said, “Now you can talk about me.”

To be honest, we talk mostly about ourselves (though food is a strong second topic). The comments about others were quite remarkably sparse, perhaps because we spent most of our time togther concentrating on our movements. Talking about our families and absent friends was simply a way of passing inactive moments.

But the truth is, even if I thought there was anything wrong with the remarks, I would not have walked away. I found such talk compelling. Intriguing. Connecting. Privileged.

After coming to an accommodation with gossiping, I didn’t think anything more about it until a few days ago when one of the women called to let off steam about a reprimand she’d gotten that day, which she felt was uncalled for. Since I too was upset about something that happened in that class, we commiserated with each other at great length. I thought it was over and done with until today when she called to ask if I’d repeated a specific, totally innocuous remark she’d made during our commiseration. I hadn’t repeated her remark, but she was so upset, the call ended on a bad note.

As a result, I am rethinking my position. I want to try to stay away from any remarks about others, which sort of leaves a void in the conversation. Most people after or even during exercise have no interest in deep discussions of important ideas or significant events, (not even me, though at other times I’m all for such discussions), but I’m used to being quiet, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

The idea of not being privy to insider remarks, however, has left me feeling bereft. Such conversations were so compelling, I can still feel the pull — a sort of magnetism — when I think of the exchanges (though to be honest, I can’t remember many of the actual remarks. They truly were innocuous and not at all malicious.)

I’ve spent the past few hours doing what I always do when faced with a conundrum — research, in this case, researching why gossip is so fascinating. (Not celebrity gossip — I have zero interest in such unimportant folk. Unimportant to me, anyway.)

According to an article in Psychologies Magazine, Gossip builds social bonds because shared dislikes create stronger bonds than shared positives. Two people who don’t know each other will feel closer if they share something mean about a third person than if they say nice things about them. It’s a way of demonstrating their shared values and sense of humour. Add to that the thrill of transgression, since we’re supposed to be nice and positive.

However much we may disapprove of gossip in theory, it’s very common behavior, says social psychologist Laurent Bègue. “About 60 per cent of conversations between adults are about someone who isn’t present, and most of these are passing judgement.”

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has suggested that gossip is a vital evolutionary factor in the development of our brains; language came about because of the need to spread gossip, and not the other way round.

Participants in a one study were asked “to gossip with a friend about a mutual acquaintance, as the researcher filmed the exchanges. Those who rated their self-esteem highly showed a clear pattern: they spread good gossip when they felt accepted and a more derogatory brand when they felt marginalized. The gossip may involve putting someone else down to feel better by comparison. Or it may simply be a way to connect with someone else and share insecurities. But the end result is often a healthy relief of social and professional anxiety.

Other studies show that gossip is a way of defining group behavior and keeping the group intact, which is a survival skill left from our tribal days. Even today, talking about what others have done is a way of defining group values. If you talk about someone who disrupted a class or who slacked off at work, it’s an object lesson, showing the rest of the group what actions are acceptable. (Do what the teacher says, don’t play around in class, make sure you shoulder your share of the burden.) Talking also helps prevent problems from getting out of hand by letting members of the group vent their frustrations with other members.

So, according to an article in C. Health “We shouldn’t think about gossip as just a time-wasting, tacky habit. It can actually be a valuable social tool to help us understand and get along better with those around us.”

Whether gossip has a healthy role or merely a destructive one, we are infinitely fascinated by other human beings, and gossip tells us not only about the gossipee but also the gossiper.

Still, I think I’d feel better if I stop making comments about what other people said or did to me. At least most of the time. Anne Lamott said of writing, and the same might be true of talking: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Happy Astrological New Year’s Eve!

There is a new moon tomorrow, and this new moon in Aries signifies the beginning of the Astrological New Year. Not that I know anything about astrology, but a friend keeps me abreast of the changing sky and how it affects us, and she sent me to Mystic Mamma.

According to Mystic Mamma, we are entering a time of collective rebirth and that “It is time to find and trust our own unique expression, and use our voice, our being, and our vibration to embody the changes and the energies we wish to experience.

ariesCathy Pagano says, “The best thing you can do is stay centered, married to yourself, so you can open up to the energies in a conscious way.”

Dipali Desai says, “This New Moon, suggests to embrace your individual spark and to have the courage to take action in life. Even if you do not know where it leads, the Archetype of the Inner Compassionate Warrior (symbolized by Aries) will help you explore a new way of life or expression. Go forth with gusto as this may just bring delightful surprises you may not expect.”

Divine Harmony says, “This New Moon cycle also takes us into a radical month of shake ups, wake up calls, breakdowns and breakthroughs of massive proportions.

Robert Wilkinson says, “This is a heavily transmutational New Moon, with the ability to ‘raise the natural to the human,’ or see the natural magic in who we are once we drop old emotional sludge or baggage that may not have ever been ours to begin with.”

I’ve never seen a correlation to the stars and my life except perhaps in my birth chart — horoscopes sure don’t seem to match up with anything I am going through — but I do like what this new moon supposedly means. New beginnings. Delightful surprises. Change. Embracing our individual spark. Having the courage to take action. Breakthoughs. Seeing our own natural magic.

I especially like the part about dropping emotional sludge that might not ever have been ours to begin with. I have a lot of such sludge, some leftover from childhood, some a legacy of my thirty-four year union with my now deceased life mate/soul mate. I’m sure some is even left over from my own past, with me hanging on to ideas or feelings that no longer pertain.

And most especially, I like the idea of being married to myself. Centering myself. Being true to myself. Finding harmony within myself. Connecting with a deeper aspect of myself. (To me this “marriage” is metaphorical, but I googled “marrying yourself” and there were one heck of a lot of hits. Apparently, people actually marry themselves, with a ceremony and everything else that goes along with marriage.)

Whatever this new lunar month brings, whatever the astrological new year signifies, the truth is, I will do what I always do — embrace life to the fullest and see what happens.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Fourth Anniversary of Grief

It’s very windy today, with gusts up to 40mph, but the sun is shining through the clouds.

And so begins my fifth year of grief.

Four years ago today, my life mate/soul mate died without a sound, not even so much as a whimper. His Adam’s apple bobbed once, twice, and then he was gone.

100_1807aThe world is poorer because of his absence. I am poorer. He was the best person I ever knew, kind and helpful to all, not just those who were close to him. (In fact, it was his unfailing kindness to others that cemented my love for him.) He was smart and wise and witty. He was exceedingly knowledgeable about many things — movies, music, mobsters, history, humans, health. It always seemed odd to people that someone so interested in health had physical problems, but his lack of good health is what made him interested in how the body worked and what could be done to make it work even better. He believed in self-discipline and, even at the end, despite pain and debility, he strived to learn, to be better, stronger, wiser.

I’ve gone through a couple of days of sorrow and tears as I neared this anniversary, and I’m glad I did. I seldom cry any more — in fact, I didn’t even know there were tears left in me — and oddly, I miss the tears. Tears kept me connected to him in a way nothing else has since he departed this earth. Besides, he deserves my sorrow now and again. I don’t want to live blithely without a thought for him and what he meant to me.

As always, once the time of his death passed (12:50a.m. MDT), I started to regain my equilibrium. I miss him, but the reality is that as much as I hate it, he isn’t here.

And I am.

Many of my grief mates (those who lost their mates within a few months of when I did) still have relationships with their deceased spouses. Their belief in the continued survival of their soul mates is so strong, they know without a doubt they are still connected; some people can even feel the connection. Others have moved into new relationships. While I . . . I do the best I can on my own, taking each step as it comes, trying not to cling to the past, trying not to fear the future.

And I strive to learn, to be better, stronger, wiser.

It’s what he always did, and I can do no less.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A True Woman’s World

We are bound to the world by society, culture, our shared past. We have no real choice as to what world we are born into — we come as babies to a fully formed structure, learn our way around that structure, and then finally, as adults, either try to live within the structure or try to bend that structure to our needs, hopes, dreams.

warriorI wrote a blog the other day about not believing in women’s issues. The point I tried to make is that both men and women have issues, and that what I believed in were human issues, non-gender issues, such as fairness and respect for everyone. In response, a friend texted me: “You are entitled not to be a feminist. A lot of very brave, determined women won you that right.” Although I commend his willingness to disagree with me since many people don’t want to voice disagreement with my commentaries, his remark hit me wrong. It presupposes that as a woman I have an obligation to be a feminist and that it’s my “right” to choose to forego that obligation.

For thirty-four years, I was deeply connected to another human being — a man. Because of this relationship, I understood the unfairnesses of a man’s life as much as I did the unfairnesses of a woman’s life. I want fairness for everyone, so much so that I have often done the fair thing when it was to my detriment simply because it was the fair thing to do.

It seems to me that those who champion women’s issues don’t want fairness. They want the tables turned where it’s women in the forefront of economic and societal structures. And it’s happening. According to a new analysis of 2,000 communities by a market research company, in 147 out of 150 of the biggest cities in the U.S., the median full-time salaries of young women are 8% higher than those of the guys in their peer group. In two cities, Atlanta and Memphis, those women are making about 20% more. This squares with earlier research from Queens College, New York, that had suggested that this was happening in major metropolises. But the new study suggests that the gap is bigger than previously thought, with young women in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego making 17%, 12% and 15% more than their male peers, respectively. And it also holds true even in reasonably small areas like the Raleigh-Durham region and Charlotte in North Carolina (both 14% more), and Jacksonville, Fla. (6%).

This disparity is seen as an advance in women’s rights, but where’s the fairness? Are we supposed to continue to champion an equality where one gender is more equal than another?

If it is true that I owe those brave, determined feminists a debt, then I owe it to men, too. It was the urban world the early suffragettes were born into that gave them the time to fight for such things as equality. Women (and men) in non-urban areas were too busy keeping alive to worry about jobs outside the home or politics or bodily automony. So in a way, it was the industrial revolution, the legacy of men, that brought about the conditions that ultimately led to the fight for women’s rights. Oddly, it was urbanization in ancient times that originally contributed to the loss of women’s power, women’s religions, women goddesses. So there is no one to thank, no one to blame, no one to be indebted to for my “right” not to be a feminist — I was simply born into a particular world, the sum of everything that has  gone before.

Besides, I believe feminists are settling for too little. Instead of demanding entry into the so-called “men’s world,” I always thought women should create their own world, not the housewifey world that is usually considered a woman’s world though is merely an adjunct to the man’s world, but a true woman’s world — the world of mysteries, wildness, goddessness that is our birthright. A world superior to the world that we were born into.

But perhaps the structures of this materialistic world are too well entrenched, and all we can do is change who controls the materials.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Friend of My Soul

I learned a new word today. Anam Cara. (I guess that’s really two words, isn’t it?) It’s Celtic. Anam means “soul” and cara means “friend.”

Soul friend.

I call my deceased life mate a soul mate, though I don’t necessarily believe we truly were soul mates.

Some people believe soul mates are separate halves of the same soul, split aparts. To these believers, you are only whole when you’ve met and connected with your other half, your soul mate. Although we were deeply connected, I do not believe we shared a single soul, nor did I ever believe it. Oddly, when I first met him, I entertained the idea that he was perhaps a “teacher.” You know the saying — when the student is ready, a teacher will appear. Well, I was ready, and Broken hearthe appeared. Even odder, when he was dying, long after I’d forgotten this romantic notion, he told me, “I won’t always be here to teach you.” I bristled at that, of course, because it sounded so paternalistic. It wasn’t until after his death when I told a friend of his words, that she reminded me of my youthful idea. The reminder sort of freaked me out, to be honest. Was I correct in that he came here to teach me, to help me gain whatever knowledge I could through his help? I do know that he had taken me as far as he could on my journey, and so . . . what? He went back whence he came and left me on my own? It’s because of this notion that I don’t necessarily believe we will be reunited when I die. I have the strangest feeling that he has gone beyond where I will be at my end, gone to a much higher plane. (What makes this whole idea so bizarre is that I’m not even sure I believe we retain some form of consciousness after this life. I do believe we are eternal, since energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but what form that energy takes, I cannot even begin to guess.)

This idea of his coming to be my teacher certainly is not the personification of “split aparts.” It’s closer to the concept of soul mates in reincarnation, where we supposedly meet the same people life after life. These constant companions, enemies, allies who share our repeated lives are our soul mates. Again, this is not apropos because I don’t believe in reincarnation. Although many people like the idea of reincarnation, I don’t. I think it makes us just a bit too complacent about accepting the unfairness of life. If someone has bad fortune or ill health, somehow it is his or her fault because of karmic debt. If a person has good fortune, that is also because of karma paying off a debt.

Some people define soul mate as “the one and only,” the person you share everything with including ideas and temperament, a person for whom you have a deep and abiding affinity. Perhaps this defined my relationship with my life mate, but somehow it doesn’t go deep enough. Seems sort of paltry, actually, as a description of our relationship. We didn’t particularly bring each other happiness, we didn’t always want the connection, but we were connected on a level neither of us ever understood. Perhaps we couldn’t understand because we never had a name for our connection.

John O’Donohue, Celtic Mystic, and author of the book “Anam Cara, a Book of Celtic Wisdom,” wrote: In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam ċara.  It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life.  With the anam ċara you could share your innermost self, your mind, and your heart.  This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging.  When you had an anam ċara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category.  You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.”  The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul.  There is no cage for the soul.  The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other.  This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship.

In everyone’s life, there is great need for an anam ċara, a soul friend.  In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension.  The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are.  Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious.  Where you are understood, you are at home.  Understanding nourishes belonging.  When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.”

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether we were soul mates or anam cara or something else beyond life and reason. All I know is that while we were together, he was my teacher, my guide, my companion, my business partner, my friend. Most of all, he was my home.

Now he is gone. Has been gone for almost four years. And I still feel homeless.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Being Nice

For many years, I was subject to depression and debilitating allergies that so enervated me, getting out of bed in the morning was about all I could handle. Then there were the years my life mate/soul mate was dying, where I hunkered down in my emotional foxhole, trying to protect myself from the pain with which life was bombarding us. During these times, whenever I’d go out among people, all I ever seemed to see were happy, healthy, and energetic folks, which made me feel as if I were alone in my misery.

It wasn’t until I signed up for Facebook and started making contact with all sorts of people that I discovered the truth rainbowin their status updates. Everyone is struggling with something — illness, disability, debility, depression, grief. Even if people aren’t struggling with such a difficulty themselves, they are taking care of someone with a problem. The strong, healthy people I saw were probably normally traumatized people on their good days.

I’m learning to be nice to everyone, even people with a bad attitude. Anger, rudeness, pettiness, are all signs of unhappiness and discontent, and chances are, the misery stems from actual problems, not just a desire to be mean. In a strange sort of way, how people treat me is not my problem. Their inconsideration is a reflection of them, not me. My only responsibility is in my own reaction, and — in an ideal world — I would always choose to be nice. Life of course, is not always ideal, and I sometimes I let my own problems dictate my behavior, especially when those problems entail a lack of sleep, such as the episodes with my afflicted brother.

One of my favorite scenes in a film is in the 1989 movie Roadhouse where Patrick Swayze is discussing his policy with the bouncers. “Be nice,” he says. He goes on to tell them that no matter what anyone does, be nice. And he ends, “I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice.” It’s a good policy for anyone, being nice.

Sure, we have problems, but everyone else does too. So let’s pretend this is an ideal world, and let us all be nice.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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