The Exercise in Humility, Fault 4: Can’t End Anything!


I don’t know exactly how to name this fault.  There’s a great saying though:  Anything I’ve let go of has claw marks on it.

The truth is, I hate endings.  Many therapists in many countries would tell me I have abandonment issues, and while it’s true that rejection is among my least favorite experiences, abandonment is for children.  I mean, I don’t really think adults abandon each other.  We leave each other, hurt each other, distance from each other, betray each other’s trust, but abandon?

I hate endings because I have trouble dealing with loss.  Which is to say, when I feel an ending approaching, I totally panic.  Now, remember, I am also reactive, so imagine me, ending coming on, someone dying, with my lovely reactivity.  I am surprised I haven’t EXPLODED.  Physically, I mean.  I have kind of exploded emotionally, once or twice in my lifetime. (UNDERSTATEMENT!  I’m old!  I’ve exploded at least once or twice a DECADE.)

Now, I can end classes.  I can do closure.  I am responsible, it’s my job, and I can show up, as long as people don’t give me presents or make moving speeches, in which case I may lose my professional persona and just climb under the furniture.  (I suppose in a forthcoming blog I might write about my struggle with compliments.)

But outside of classes–and usually people don’t give presents or making moving speeches, thank whatever/whoever–well, it’s not pretty.

Through all of my youth and much of my early adulthood, if I felt an ending coming on, I headed for the door.  There’s a name for this fault:  I am a runner.  But there’s more than that.  There’s the heightening of my attempts to attach, to stop the inevitable.  There’s the fear and hurt, which mount exponentially.  There’s the loss of context–like, it might be ending, but it’s been great, and we love each other, so a little grace might be in order if only I were capable of that.

Endings are when I hurt people the most.

Mind you, I’ve been friends with people who became obsessed with me, calling me seven times a day (I do not exaggerate), or calling and hanging up (everything has call waiting these days, do they think I don’t notice?), or even, apparently, falling in love/lust/whatever.  Ending those relationships should have been easy, but I can still feel guilty and wish it had gone another way, with more grace.  But really, as an ex-Catholic I, in very Buddhist fashion, watch that ridiculous guilt and say, okay, some endings have to happen no matter what, no matter how.  And then I don’t attach to the guilt, thanks to meditation, and I feel better.

BUT!  Here is perhaps the most personal revelation to date:  when I was four, my maternal grandfather, who was sitting next to me on the couch having cocktails before a family dinner, had a heart attack, fell on the floor, and died.  I learned that loss comes without warning, that it takes, and takes, and that you are completely and utterly powerless to make anything different or even to get an adult to explain to you what’s happening…as the sirens sound down your street, as your mother shoves your arms into your coat, as you sit at the neighbors staring at a pile of white rice, unable to stop talking, your three-year-old brother silent at your side.

I’m currently reading a book called When Children Grieve.  In it, they talk about the myths around grief: that healing happens with time, that you have to be strong for the people around you, that keeping busy helps, that you tell a person not to feel badly, that a person in a life can be replaced, etc, etc.  I have known these things to be lies for a long time, because I have grieved.  I have gone down the tunnel, the rabbit hole; I have entered the cave and bowed down in the darkness and been broken open.  Maybe just not enough to get through all the endings.  There is still healing to be done.  (All the gay men in the 80’s and 90’s, for example.)

I have a lot of lovingkindness for the broken-hearted four-year-old me.  Though I must say that the fact I have to actually work at ending simple phone calls is a little embarrassing.  When I say I can’t end anything, I mean anything.  I have a close friend who I talk to on the phone all the time and we are doing a running total of how many phone calls in a row I can end without bringing up a subject just as we’re about to put down the phone.  I’m at, like, seven.  And it is so f$&^ing HARD.

My partner, of course, has to deal with this when she’s trying to go to bed and I can’t end the conversation.  I exhausted her patience around this, oh, let’s say ten years ago.  She’s just like, Let me get the F%$# to bed!  Work will suck if you keep talking!  This isn’t every night, or couples therapy and probably divorce would have happened a long time ago.  I have a comedy routine where I pick myself up by the shirt front and pull myself out of the room.  I get a laugh out of her with that most of the time.  IF I stay out of the room and stop talking, and if I haven’t pushed it too far or too long with the compulsive talking (always about big issues, too, of course).

So you see, where I am most vulnerable, I am most screwed up.  I mean, I read about a man who told his therapist sunsets made him incredibly sad, because it meant the day was ending.  And I was like, YOU ARE MY SOULMATE!

The truth: we are mortal.  We end.  We lose everything–the people we love, the world, our own lives.  I just lost people much earlier than most.  So the grief people do at 70, 80, I have been trying to do since age 4.  I’m still climbing up this hill, and as I do I soften, I become more compassionate.  Pain and suffering have taken away a great deal of my bullshit–you know, judgment, thinking I’m better than, different than, not connected to everyone.  So what, I can’t end things.  If you’re going to love me, you just have to deal with it.  For now.  Because I am trying.  Seven actual phone calls seem like a small deal, but remember, I had to tell my friend how screwed up I am around this, I had to cop to it, and if you think that was easy, think again.  I really like my friend and she is one of the few people in my life to whom I can tell almost anything.  And she was letting me get away with protracted endings.

A quote from Six Feet Under, one of my favorite TV shows ever:  Everything, Everyone, Everywhere, Ends.

PS–To keep the roll call of virtues going:  compassion, intelligence, gentleness, forthrightness, loyalty, honor.  And honesty.  And more honesty.

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