They say it takes the human mind six weeks to adapt to a new habit. Supposedly, after six weeks of waking up at 5:45 and running two miles, your mind should automatically prepare itself for that seventh week. There should be no more early-morning struggle against your own will. It should be natural, normal, a new part of your daily routine. But if your mind is weak, just once, if your fingers follow nasty habits and hit snooze one morning, and your eyes stay closed until 8, your new routine is devastated. The six weeks have to begin again. You can’t have a remote lingering shadow of your old ways in order to move forward. You can’t live side by side with your past and try to make a future.
Earlier this week I was searching through emails to find information on Angola. In a blur of looking through emails from years ago I stumbled across some from an old boyfriend. Intrigued, and hoping to find something amusing, I opened the most recent exchanges we had shared. I should have known better. I should have reached deep into my memories and pulled out the heart grating emotions these emails had created, then I would have had the sense to close the computer and move on with my present life. But I am not that wise.
His words, typed neatly across the screen so many years ago still stung.
“You’re too emotional.”
“You and I have nothing in common”
“You’re too different.”
Three opinions from one eighteen-year old. Three phrases burned into my mind. Over the years as scar tissue grew over the wounds my mind became calloused. It had accepted those sentences as truth, they had become an integral part of my mind’s being, leaving no room for new thoughts. Funnily enough, I can recall saying these exact words to every man I dated in university.
“I’m too emotional.”
“We have nothing in common”
“I’m too different”
Many of them brushed those words aside and said something along the lines of “I’ll overcome that, don’t worry.” They made it into a chivalrous opportunity, as if they knew those things to be true of me, but they wanted to be the brave man to look past them and succeed. My husband, on the other hand, simply shook his head –
“Yes you’re emotional, your heart for people is what I love most.” “yeah we don’t have a lot in common, but we love the Lord, and we have a desire to serve Him. That’s enough.” “Yes, you’re different from anyone I’ve ever met, and I hope I get to spend the rest of my life learning all your differences.”
These were truths that should have performed that figurative plastic surgery in my mind. His honest, good words should have extracted the hold the lies had in me. And for a few weeks, I thought they had. I thought the surgery had been successful, that recovery was going better than expected, that my mind and heart were healing splendidly – they were already up and loving again! But, alas, no. Lies, past ties, truths that have evolved without us realizing, are toxic. They grip onto cells, they infest the mind and await, dormant, until a flash of words on a screen, or a memory, or a smell, or the finding of an old yearbook, evokes them into action. Then they proliferate, attacking each cell they can sink their virus teeth into, they travel through vessels and make themselves known through tears, sleepless nights, and silent days. They infect and metastasize when you thought they were eradicated.
It takes so much more than an overlay of current truths to eliminate the damage done by the past. It takes so much more than a few stitches and a band aid to fix a botched lobotomy. And until I realized that, I was walking around like a mental Frankenstein. I wish I could have entered this new life in America, taken six weeks to adjust, and been content. But I didn’t. Besides all the set-backs in life that make adjusting nearly impossible, I was my own detriment. I kept slamming on the snooze button, letting all the un-faced memories sneak their way into my warm covers, tie my hands down, and keep me from running my two miles every day. I let them in for a moment, then shoved them under the bed, allowing them to fester until I was a weak, ideal host for their disease once again. I think this happened because I don’t want to untie myself from my entire past, but I do need to find a balance. I need to be able to say good bye to the bad, and remember the good with an honest perspective – it was good. It was all I knew for a time, but it is over, and life moves on.
So I’m writing today to dismantle that figurative snooze button. I’m writing to put down once and for all my good byes to certain haunting thoughts. I know, however, that someday they may find their way back into my life, but I hope, having written this, I will be a little less susceptible to their infection. And again, I do know that not everything I’m saying a figurative good bye to is bad or hurtful, but it is something that does not fit into this life, something that cripples me from running full force into marriage, into nursing, into Jackson, TN and all that may come after this. So, to begin six weeks of a new habit, I am breaking ties, and saying good bye to people and places who let me go many years ago.
Good bye to the concrete safe house, the red dirt and sticky floors. Good bye to power outages and late nights listening to gun shots. Good bye to sipping Coca-Cola on Friday nights, good bye to imprints of the window screen on my face, as I eagerly watch for the city light to come on. Good bye to a faithful watch dog, a morning greeter, and an afternoon sleeper. Good bye to homeschooling alone, listening to my sisters cry from loneliness and wishing I was enough company. Good bye to long aeroport lines and never understanding the stress of a visa, but always knowing I can never lose my passport. Good bye, a childhood Iona, playing safely in Angola.
Good bye to being called weak. Good bye to raising my hand in class, and quickly putting it back down, afraid of being wrong, or worse, of someone disagreeing. Good bye to spending lunches in my dorm room, watching baboons and birds play in the tall tree outside, waiting for the final bell. Good bye to running alone on a hill after field hockey practice, because dinner just has too many people. Good bye to sneaking into counseling on Tuesday mornings, making sure no one sees my flaws. Good bye to being afraid of caring community, because the ones I enjoyed weren’t there, but I had to pretend, because these were the good ones and the house belonged to the dean. Good bye walks to the dukas, lingering freedom in the vegetable market. Good bye to the name calling, the bullying, the terrible confusion. Good bye, to an Iona eating Korean noodles in high school, finding safety in a few friends and a single burnt pot.
Good bye to being afraid of red trucks and empty houses. Good bye to hating Virginia and never wanting to meet another doctor’s son. Good bye to being the newest one in a new country, to keeping to myself, to not understanding, to hanging out with the wrong people time and time again. Good bye to letting compliments go to my head, and letting insults go to my heart. Good bye to spending summers without my parents, drinking with strangers in several continents, and always going home alone. Good bye to an Iona, writing papers in the library, running through Kroger with once upon a time friends, to an Iona safely making an illusion, just getting through the next four years.
To the friends with whom I didn’t stay in touch, good bye to something that could have been great, but we both know we don’t have the time. To the friends with whom I tried, and tried so hard, good bye. If I was a better person I would keep trying, I would keep writing unopened texts and making unanswered phone calls. But I’m only human, and I’ve reached my capacity for pouring out to people when I’m clearly cut out of their life. I’m sorry for what I may have done, for the choices that led us slowly in different directions, I’m sorry if I wasn’t worth keeping in your life, and I really wish you all the best. Good bye. Good bye to an Iona trying too hard to keep everyone safely happy, when some people will walk out anyway.
Good bye to trying to build a safe world, one where I’ll never be hurt, and hello to facing the real world – one raw and vulnerable and ever changing. Hello to new mornings with my love, hello to new cities on my own, hello to new traditions and memories with ourselves. Hello to living a life free of illusion, one fully dangerous and fully real, a life I really could get used to.