Monday, May 5, 2014

Happy. Alone.

Root deep and grow your branches
There is a strength, steadiness and comfort in aloneness that you cannot know until you are immersed in it. From the outside, all anyone sees is a tree standing naked on its own in the middle of the field. In their perception, this is a vulnerable, weak position. They don't see the roots reaching deep into an intimate connectedness with the earth. They don't feel the solidness at the core of the ancient, sturdy trunk. They don't know how full and satisfying it feels to be empty.

If I ever marry, I want the world to exclaim, "My goodness, what a man it must've been to finally tame such a wild heart!" Women of a certain age are far too often painted as tragic things that are saved from ruin when some savior man rescues them from a lifetime of destitute spinsterhood. Apparently some people are living in a Jane Austin novel in their minds. Women are supposed to aspire to marriage and family above all else, so of course if one has not achieved that or is not on that trajectory, there must be something wrong.

This weekend I was at a nightclub with my mother and grandmother (long story...). I got up for a moment and my grandma asked my mom, "She's so beautiful and such a wonderful woman. How has no one scooped her up yet?" My grandma is a strong, smart woman who enjoyed a long career as a drug and alcohol psych nurse at the VA. She has always been independent and traveled adventurously. When my grandpa died 11 years ago, she was deeply saddened, but didn't shrivel up and die. She has carried on living her life in a big way. However, she is the product of a time when getting married was just what you did. Had she been born in another era, she might've waited longer to marry or perhaps not done so at all.

The short answer, grandma, is that I have no interest in getting married as something to give my life a sense of structure, stability or meaning. My life is structured to my liking, and feels both meaningful and stable without the presence of a husband or children. I'm not a china doll in a shop of precious things, just waiting forlornly for someone to come along and take me home. The only way that I will consent to being in any sort of romantic partnership again is for the opportunity to share time and space with a truly remarkable man with much to offer. When I meet a man who compels me on a deep level to brave the possible heartache of love, then and only then will I consider giving up the glorious ease, grace and joy of flying solo.

If you are perpetually romantically entangled and have been bypassing being single, the concept of comfortable, happy aloneness may be entirely foreign or frightening. Being single can be lonely at times, but it reveals a wondrous richness after wading through the initial discomfort. You learn how to self-soothe and self-approve, building an emotional independence that gives you the power to feel okay no matter where you go and who surrounds you. You can move about the world confidently and free from the need to consider or compromise with anyone else. It's an experience I recommend for anyone, especially before deciding to marry. If you're unhappy on your own, being in a relationship will not make you happy. We owe it to ourselves and our partners to enter relationships offering the riches of our fullness, not begging from our brokenness and need. Our partners are not there to hold us up everyday. We must be able to stand on our own.

This is something I wrote about almost a year ago. Since then nothing has changed but the yearning I expressed at that time for my beloved. I spent some time considering everything my life could be and contain outside of the traditional, marriage and family path, and found that the limitless possibilities were exciting enough to assuage any longing for a partner. Out beyond sex and romantic desire, marriage and children, is an oft unappreciated world of freedom and experience.

We suffer from this terrible FOMO, though, which ropes some into walking the traditional path because they are afraid to be haunted by a lifelong case of the What Ifs. What if I never have children? What if I regret it later? I am honestly more afraid of what I will miss, or what will become difficult or impossible to experience or obtain if I do. Parenting is the world's most important and difficult job. I think I would be a marvelous mother, but taking on that role would (appropriately) change my life in ways I am unprepared to accept. If you have even the slightest real understanding of the demanding sacrifice of being a parent, you would take a long pause before diving in.

Perhaps "the right guy" at "the right time" would change it all. Yes, perhaps. For the time being, though, I am doing the impossible. I am a(n almost) 30 year old woman. I have been celibate for a year and single for even longer. I am not dating, nor do I have any plans in my future for marriage or children. Yet, I am happy and alone. Fulfilled and alone. Confident and alone. Having said all this, I will undoubtedly be married before year's end. However, for now...

No, I'm no one's wife, but, oh, I love my life.

You can keep your societal standards. I'm good on my own.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Weekly Tithe: It's Fun to Stay at the YMCA!

This week in The Weekly Tithe, I give a big shout out to the summer camp that raised me.

YMCA Camp Loma Mar
One of the ideas behind tithing is to give back to an organization which helped to form your faith. While I have passed through countless houses of worship in my life, few affected me as deeply as the sacred, magic woods of YMCA Camp Loma Mar. The YMCA has become largely secular over the years, but every morning we would bundle up against the coastal fog of the Santa Cruz Mountains and troop to the outdoor chapel for Inspiration. I've never been much of a morning person, but raucous, joyful clapping and signing about Noah and the ark, and feeling happy, healthy and terrific was an always enjoyable start the day.

When I was older, I took on the challenge of participating in the Ragger Program, which played a huge part in forming the woman I would become. The story goes that in 1914 the Program Director of Loma Mar, Thomas "King" Caldwell, was faced with a dilemma: at the end of the boys sports camp, everyone was being given awards for their performance, but one boy was left out because he was disabled and had been unable to participate in most of the activities. However, he had a wonderful attitude, standing by and cheering on everyone else. Caldwell wanted to honor the boy's tremendous character, so he went to the store and found a blue bandanna. After all the awards were handed out, the boy was called onstage and everyone cheered as Caldwell explained that the boy was being recognized for his rich generosity of spirit and positive attitude.

The Ragger Program developed over the years for goal setting and personal growth. There are seven rags, each representing a different theme and demanding an increasing amount of sacrifice with each step. I don't remember a point in my life when I wasn't interested in personal growth, but the Ragger Program definitely helped me to refine my focus in goal setting and self-study. I had the benefit of wonderful mentors for each rag I received whose wisdom and guidance I still refer to years later (a favorite tidbit: "Assumptions make an ass out of you and me"). I also became a member of a worldwide family of conscious humans of character, and the program introduced me to the first ever mantra I would repeat daily, The Ragger's Creed:

I would be true for there are those who trust me
I would be pure for there are those who care
I would be strong for there is much to suffer
I would be brave for there is much to dare

I would be friend to all, the foe, the friendless
I would be giving and forget the gift
I would be humble for I know my weakness
I would look up and laugh and love and lift

The Ragger's Creed, the teachings within the program and the sacred rag ceremonies, and the incredible friends who I shared this journey with all guided my choices as I navigated the rocky terrain of adolescence, and served as a powerful, clear touchstone when I fell out of alignment. I can honestly say that I would not have turned out as well as I did without this invaluable experience. For that reason, this week I tithe to YMCA Camp Loma Mar, who taught me what it really means to be a follower of Christ and kept my eyes on God when I was an angry young feminist raging against organized religion.

Summer 2000