Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In Which She Goes On and On about Attachment and Detachment (But Finally Comes to an Important Realization)

Early last year, I experienced a huge paradigm shift. This happened while I was taking part in a discussion on Theology of the Body with and among a group of University students.

The old paradigm sat on my thought-shelf, dusty, largely untouched for well over a decade, but still there in the back of my mind. It said: "You have had more problems than most people you know."

I listened to these students' perspectives and concerns, and suddenly it hit me. No, not just that I was the same age as most of their mothers. It hit me, new paradigm: "You have experienced more healing than most people you know."

It was an astounding moment, and one that I have only barely begun to digest and grasp what this asks of me.

But I thought of this again today as I ponder where I am in life about attachment and detachment.

I am not the world's most empathic person. I admit that. I do not walk into life with my emotions in the lead; I tend to go head first, with thinking leading the way. So I don't get all teary-eyed over someone telling me they've had a difficult life or a difficult childhood, and that's why they have issues. I suppose this is because I don't go all soft on myself, trying to explain that fact that I have had difficulty in both attaching to people and detaching from people. I suppose this is also because I see what a complete waste of time it is to sit around in self-pity and say "Man, I have it so tough." What I have concluded is that in reality everyone has it tough. Some people face it, and some people scramble to fill their voids another way. Blessed are they who admit they have issues. It's the human condition. Welcome to the human race, honey.

The fun part is, I guess, that we don't all have the same issues to the same degree. God designs us with a capacity for our own range of strengths and weaknesses so that we can be interdependent on each other, not so that we can proudly crush and dominate each other, or whimper in a corner for someone to come along and live life for us. Like Bill Withers sang, we all need somebody to lean on.

Dear God, sometimes I hate that fact.

I didn't do so good attaching to people in childhood. I'm the sort of person who needs information; I like to be able to make sense out of what is happening around me. Explanations, discussions, clarifications, and communication of any sort were not things my family was good at. So when my parents separated and divorced one year, my oldest sister moved away the next, my other sister shortly after, there was a lot I didn't understand about people disappearing. Then my Dad was living in a new place, and there was this alcoholism thing going on, and people who wouldn't speak to each other. And no one ever talked about it. Even though we fought constantly, I was deeply attached to my brother. One day when I was 15, he announced he was moving away. The next day. So, he was gone. I'll admit now that until I was 19 years old and already in college, I lived with the fear that I'd come home from work one day to discover that my Mom had moved out of our house without leaving a note behind. Two or three times circumstances were such that I was sure it had finally happened.

But it really doesn't matter what circumstances befall us when we hand over our hearts to the Lord. I think St. Faustina helps us grasp that Jesus' mercy is the deepest and richest where our misery is the worst, if we but open that misery up to Him. Our Father always knows just what remedy we need.

It's funny, though, because the Lord isn't just a kisser and bandager of wounds. It's more like after we break a bone, he not only sets it but puts us through physical therapy to get the muscles back to work again. And so He will indeed put stress on the very thing that has been our weak spot. Healing isn't all fun and games.

Maybe another way to look at that with the issue of attachment and detachment is that both are necessary functions of a human being. We need to be able to do both. God's grace has allowed me to look into the face of my difficulty attaching to people, and to know and believe in God's love enough to do it anyway. Some of the scenes I can replay in my head of detaching from people in my life -- saying goodbye, moving, moving on with life -- oh dear, these range from my feeling foolish to feeling like I had a sword cut gashes across my chest.

The way I have learned to think about it is that our human connections -- mine, in particular -- are orchestrated by God. Long ago, when I was in college and trying to extricate myself from a very difficult relationship, the Lord told me I want to be the One in charge of what people are in your life.  I had no sense of power to filter out good people from bad, or people I welcomed from those I didn't. That at least taught me that I was not at the mercy of the people around me. I could ask God for help and realize that He was God, not them.

I've grown in discernment for sure, and the world no longer seems so scary and threatening at every turn. But I have to admit, I am still afraid of people. Sort of. I'm more afraid of me, and at heart I'm just afraid of pain. I get this image that in a way we are to be like Legos in God's hands. A good Lego attaches well to another and can stay that way, and detaches from another in the hand of the builder, sometimes with the use of a tool. The whole point of Legos is that they do this, and doing so they build really nifty structures.

There's a difference, of course, because Legos are not persons. We, however, given into God's service, need to be able to become attached to others for service and for God's kingdom to be built. But we must not become more attached to our position than we are committed to the Lord whose plan it is. So, we need to be free enough to both give of ourselves to people and to let go in relationships. It has helped me to learn from mystics and visionaries like St. Catherine of Siena that no love we experience in Christ on earth is ever lost; heaven sees the continuation and flourishing of every holy relationship begun on earth. That makes the letting go a bit easier.

I still have a fear. It's not a fear of getting hurt, though. That inevitably happens, but it's ultimately no big deal to me. No, here it is -- I finally realize that attachments bring me face to face with death in a very intense way. Finally, I have the words for it. Love, the daily stuff on this earth, is a little death. It's giving myself away. And a big love, the intensity of attachment I tend to experience -- I am seeing now I fear it because it is like a trumpet blaring in my soul that this is not for this world, it is all about the next, and I love here to get ready for the next. I will die. Love is me exercising for the real thing, heaven. And at this juncture in my life, this still frightens me. The fact that I will die and let go of everything frightens me. My mind tells me it shouldn't, but apparently my mind and my will have some work to do to get on the same page.

Loving deeply should be the most joyous thing there is, and it should also be the most genuine. For that to be true, I truly need the freedom of soul to detach at any moment from this life to attach to eternity. Or, to undergo any other detaching or attaching the Lord desires for me in this life, without fearing it. Otherwise, my love is intermixed with self-seeking, with clinging, with those "disordered attachments" the saints write about. Thanks be to God that He allows us to muddle through in our impurity, offering Him the best we can and all the while pleading that His mercy may purify us and make us fit for Him.

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