After a four-month corona hiatus, our favorite Chinese restaurant reopened this week. The neon green sign on the previously boarded-up window reads, “In mask order Chinese July 8th.” Ah, yes, you know I put that directly in my calendar. I drool for orange chicken, especially when I’m feeling sad.
Yesterday a fellow blogger Mark of Healing your Heart Within took the time to write a lovely comment in response to my recent post An Existential Crisis on a Scenic Hiking Trail. His words resonated and stuck with me, specifically:
“Your sadness and pain is all that the fear is built on, usually a rejection in some form from those you love and look up to, and you have spent your entire life thinking it is you that have caused this so you are in a constant ‘I’m not good enough, can I , should I’ in all that you do. That questioning of the mind is you trying to break back through that wall of fear. Find its source, understand it…and be free.”
I marinated those words, “find its source, understand it…and be free,” for the rest of the day: between advising appointments, my drive home from the office, awake at 2am. Did the Universe send this reader/writer to me? Like it sent me this love letter.
Believing in “signs” isn’t new to me. My grandma (not my blood, but no one would know), “Lannie Bird” they called her, was a very troubled woman with a rice pudding heart. She loved us kids unconditionally and her demise left a pea-shaped void I never did fill. She collected signs from the universe like I collect owls.
When she wasn’t skidding tires on our front lawn, sleeping in vodka-dew grass, she’d take us thrifting on hot summer days. She was always searching for that one special piece in the dusty boxes of someone else’s history. I loved that about her. She’d swat away the bees buzzing around my sister’s cherry-popsicle dress and tell us “never be scared to be yourself.” I didn’t know then that she carried a secret pile of rocks about her sexuality in her stomach. She bought us each a bluebird figurine.
“Grandma Blue,” we called her. She would stand at her window and sing, “come on-a my house, my house, I’m gonna give you candy,” by Rosemary Clooney, and the blue birds would sunbathe in the birdbath of her sorrow in the yard. To her, they were a sign of joy, harmony and honesty—the very things she should have been chugging on the corner of Military Road instead. She loved to talk about who sent which bird to her.
So, what do I desperately need sent to me? What do I fear? What do I need to understand? I think, while driving past the youthful bicycle-gang in the middle of Seneca Street. No worries, no cares given, they’d say. The one kid, maybe 12, shoots me with his finger-gun every time I see him. I’m starting to take it a little personally. What would you do if I pulled over to get out of my car?
The nice cashier smiles under her mask, her eyes tell me so, and hands over a steaming bag. I end the meal with a fortune cookie. And whatdoyaknow? Grandma Blue sent me a bluebird from a treasure chest in some place that smells like lilacs.
Do fortunes cookies know what I need? Or do I just eat Chinese when I’m depressed and looking for answers? I’m not sure—but I’ll keep stuffing the tiny scraps of encouragement into my pocket!
I cling to signs as a way to organize and conceptualize my needs, thoughts, feelings. I don’t chase blue birds, but words. Someone else out there, the one to author this note, s/he understands and that’s validating.
“Find its source, understand it…and be free.” The what, the why, the how to let it go.
I fear failure.
I know my fears stem from childhood trauma flowing, rapidly, like a liquid shadow, in the fistula it carved out between my cerebral cortex and heart. You can’t bail liquid with a strainer. I know this because I’ve tried to empty the tunnel many a time. And if you can’t examine the organisms living in the water, how can you understand? The dozen memories I have, they haunt me less than the ones I cannot access. I am a book of erasure poetry.
“To understand is hard.”
I’ll be a year older later this month (“Please Don’t Wish me a Happy Birthday”—a post coming next week), but I’m still a child hiding in the closet, gripping my notebook and pencil-box full of supplies to runaway: pennies collected from the dryer, a spoon, a piece of tan cloth my sister and I shared when we were scared. I am a cup of emotions without a bottom. I should have worked through all this years ago. I should be sitting poolside laughing with my friends. Instead, I’m collecting fortunes and writing about it so I can sleep at night.
Though I wasn’t able to empty the fistula with the strainer today, I’m looking to buy the right ladle, the kind they don’t sell in TJ Maxx, but I’m sure the universe, or perhaps Grandma Blue, will send the right one soon.
“Once one understands, action is easy.”
I’m clinging to this until I understand. And I know I will someday soon understand. I have to. Mostly for myself. But also because Grandma Blue never got to understand and be free.
Do you believe in signs? Have they helped your mental health journey?