When I awoke and checked my phone for the time Saturday morning, I was pleased to see a text message awaiting me from a good friend of mine in the United Kingdom. We’ve known each other for a couple of years now, ever since an impromptu conversation he and I had outside the cafe of the university we were attending. He was beginning his final year of undergraduate studies in finance, and I had just begun the fourth semester of my master’s program.
Before returning home to the UK recently, he thanked me for all that he had learned as a result of our friendship and for helping him through a particularly difficult time. While I appreciate his kind words, I hope he understands that I learned a great deal from him too, especially the importance of keeping a positive attitude and not taking oneself quite so seriously. He comes from a beautiful, caring family, and as a father myself, I’m certain that his parents, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when they were on campus for his graduation, are delighted to have their son back.
I plan to cross the big pond and pay them all a visit sometime this summer. Believe it or not, I’ve never been to Europe, so I’m looking forward to spending a week or so enjoying their company and taking in the countryside about two hundred miles north of London. From the pictures I’ve seen, it looks lovely.
One of my favorite places on the planet is a stand of twenty or so cypress trees located in a nearby park. And on its eastern edge sit matching hand-crafted wooden benches, on one of which my daughter and I sat side by side and shared a sundae from a local creamery on a hot and humid St. Louis afternoon this past June. Since then, I can’t help but smile every time I return and picture the two of us enjoying two of life’s simple pleasures: ice cream and the good company of a loved one.
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a sincere interest in expressing myself through the writing process, due in great part to having taken a handful of classes offered by a writer friend of mine, all of which I found to be quite inspiring and helpful. During the most recent, I suggested to another participant that the most valuable quality a writer can possess is honesty. I happened to be reading a couple of memoirs at the time, Paul Auster’s Winter Journal and Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Anne Patchett, and the genuineness and transparency of both authors had a real impact on me.
I truly admire those who possess the courage to write openly and with dignity about themselves and their experiences of being human—what a gift to those with the good fortune to receive their words. I can’t help but believe that writing in such a straightforward, unabashed manner must be intimidating at first, if not always. And I imagine that those who do so must have reached a time in there lives when they no longer felt they had a choice; when the pain of hiding was far greater than any they feared experiencing as the result of telling their stories and allowing themselves to be seen.
While it may not necessarily lead to the writing of a memoir, I believe the counseling experience can, nevertheless, provide a unique opportunity for anyone tired of hiding—writer or otherwise—to practice the gradual dropping of one’s persona in the interest of emerging more willing to share one’s authentic self with the world.
I like to walk in the park, especially in the early morning. It’s quiet, the people whose paths I cross are friendly, and spending time in nature is, of course, never a bad idea. I’ve noticed lately, however, that when I first arrive, not only is my pace quite a bit faster than usual, but I also have a specific plan in place for the time I intend to spend there. For instance, make one quick lap around the perimeter so as to be back home by nine and at the office by ten, as was the case today (hardly relaxing or meditative). I find the experience to be much more pleasant and therapeutic once that initial energy has been released and I’m proceeding in more of an aimless manner. Sure, there are things that need to be addressed in the day ahead, but it’s nice to feel otherwise, at least for the moment, and simply listen to the sound of my footsteps, or take in the sun coming up through the trees.
During a phone conversation the other night, a dear friend of mine brought up the topic of acceptance, suggesting it may be the place where healing begins. Since then, I’ve been giving her sentiment a fair amount of thought, particularly as it relates to self-acceptance. In this regard, a practice I’ve been doing my best to implement throughout the day for a some time now is simply noting and acknowledging with mindfulness what I’m experiencing in the moment, whether it be fear, frustration, shame, you name it, and gently allowing it to be before letting it go and moving on. For I’ve come to understand that when I do otherwise, such as getting lost in discursive thought or distraction, I’m missing a precious opportunity to embrace my humanity with compassion. In essence, to accept myself just as I am.
We need each other. We’re connected. These may not be overly popular sentiments in a culture that tends to pride itself on individualism, but I believe, as it’s certainly been my experience, that they’re true. For instance, a colleague of mine and I recently began meeting once a week to share and discuss our latest writing endeavors, and I’ve been pretty straightforward regarding my need for his support. In the same way, I’m honored when a fellow counselor knocks on my office door or a friend or family member calls simply wanting to talk. With that said, I must admit there’s a part of me—predominantly the culturally conditioned male—that would love to sit here and say, “I don’t need anyone’s help; I can do it on my own.” But that’s simply not the case. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and make good use of my time alone; however, there’s just something about connecting with another human being that confirms we’re all in this thing together.
I recently helped my son move back to the St. Louis area from out west. Thanks to an early morning flight to Denver, we were packing boxes and loading up the U-Haul by midmorning. Our plan was to be on the road by noon and put as much of I-70 behind us as we could before stopping and calling it a night somewhere in eastern Kansas. The temperature hovered around freezing, and a steady drizzle fell as we made one trip after another from his apartment on the second floor to the parking lot. By late morning, the ramp leading up to the back of the truck was covered with a thin sheet of ice. Fortunately, the furniture and larger items had already been loaded, so it didn’t present much of an issue.
Understandably, I wanted to get on the interstate before the roads got too bad, but each time I became aware of my urge to pick up the pace, I would gently remind myself to ease up a bit and not rush. And I’m not talking about physically, as it goes without saying, me darting around in icy conditions with my arms full would never be a good idea. What I’m referring to here is my inner voice inviting me to slow down mentally, emotionally, and treasure the time with my son, for, and I know it sounds cliché, it feels as if it was just a day or two ago he came into my life, when, in actuality, it’s been more than thirty years.