Peace Is A Choice.
I'm about to tell you some things I'm not proud of. Things that I wish were different. Things I wish I did differently. The point is, I'm owning this.
If you've known me a while, you know my brother Steve committed suicide three years ago. Before this happened, I was given a tremendous professional opportunity--a job at a tech company that is harder to get into than Harvard University.
I was so proud of myself--the opportunity came after a time when I was feeling extremely creative and felt I could do no wrong. Some could even say I "attracted" the opportunity.
Walking in the door at my new gig I felt I was finally in the creative, exciting and innovative environment I'd always wanted. That, in a certain way, I'd come home.
Not long after I started, Steve started having problems that couldn't be easily solved. I worked to help him but workable solutions weren't coming fast enough.
His situation was getting dire and I was running out of ideas and things to do. I confided to someone at my new gig about what was happening and that I was worried about Steve becoming homeless.
The retort I got surprised me. "There is a special place in hell for people who would let a family member be on the streets".
I didn't know what to say to that. It was shocking--was she implying I would let my brother be homeless or was she saying it in a more general way? I tried to let it go and forget it, but it stayed in my mind.
Unfortunately, things didn't get better for Steve fast enough and he took his life.
While I went to my Mother's home to break the news to her, Keri called my manager to let her know what happened. The next day, a lovely orchid showed up with a card from work. The following few days were filled with time that passed too slowly and the practical things that need to happen when someone dies. After the essentials were taken care of, I didn't know what to do so I decided to go in to work.
I didn't know what I was expecting, but it was different then what I got.
I didn't expect for a senior leader to come up to me and say "I heard about your tragedy, but nothing can be done I guess, so we have to move on."
I didn't expect to hear in my absence that someone blamed me for decisions I had no part in (and I was only there a month anyway).
I didn't expect for people to immediately change the subject when I tried to explain what happened.
I didn't expect for things to get thrown at me hard and fast and then to be screamed at when I faltered.
But what was I expecting? Empathy, or at least for someone to notice that I was struggling.
I fell into the grip of a grief spin that acquired an additional dark element--resentment and anger.
For three years I've worked mostly shoulder to shoulder with the same people who treated me with less sensitivity than I would have liked. My emotional state (and by extension my whole life) did not get better on it's own.
My hurt, anger, and resentment colored the whole of my work experience.
Despite working in a beautiful space with many benefits and advantages, I felt I was in hell. I was quick to anger and argue. I didn't socialize. At times I was hyper focused and critical. At other times, completely checked out. I had a hard time connecting with people and work in general.
While I felt I should be proud of the job I had, I was sickened by the microcosm I was in. The way I felt about a few people colored how I saw the whole place.
I wanted to escape my circumstances but the way out wasn't clear. I wasn't ready to take my coaching work full-time and taking another technical role didn't feel right either. I wasn't in a position where I could just walk away.
I felt people looked at me like I was a hiring "mistake". I felt that way about myself as well.
Every work day I would wake up with the thought "I hope I don't have to see those assholes today".
Ironically, I had my own share of asshole behavior. My temper rested at a low boil most days. More times than I care to admit, I've needed to go back and apologize for the things I said loud and out loud.
Even outside of work, I saw the world through an angry, resentful lens. I interpreted innocent gaffs as intentional insults--inside I screamed "CAN'T YOU SEE I'M SUFFERING???"
Of course, no one could. The outside world was wondering why I was acting so strangely. Looking out, I saw an unfriendly world that wanted to hurt me.
I wanted peace, but my requirement for peace was for those clueless/insensitive people to have some blinding insight and say "I'm sorry".
Sorry was not coming.
I had to make my own peace.
Peace meant letting everyone off the hook--even the ones who hurt me the worst. Some would call it forgiveness. I look at it more as cutting the cord with the past.
I find these quotes by Marcus Aurelius helpful:
Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.
but more importantly
Does what's happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforward ness, and all other qualities that allow a person's nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.
I don't have either of these down. I'm allowing myself to let each new day be innocent and give my circumstances (and each person) a chance to be new in the moment.
In that way I'm giving myself the gift of peace I've wanted. It's a process.
A few days ago, I saw someone carrying a Plein Air easel, much like the one my brother owned. In a second I found myself saying out loud, "I miss you Steve" and wishing I could see him.
I can't remember the last time I felt missing him--wishing he was here. And I have missed him--I just didn't have any space to feel it.
Bitterness has a way of suffocating competing emotions.
With the bitterness exiting my heart, the accompanying numbness is lifting as well. The resulting spaciousness has left room for my heart's proper work--finally giving grief her due.