"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Never Odd Or Even

I wish I could remember when I first learned what a palindrome was. Like a new color in my box of Crayolas, these words and phrases that read the same forward and backward, have delighted my eye and ironed out some deep invisible wrinkle at my center since sometime in elementary school. The symmetry is so appealing, as is the weird wisdom that emerges from some of the phrases.

Never odd or even.

Dammit I'm mad.

Live not on evil.

The words are often pure music. My favorite: kinnikinnik (both a plant and a product of that plant).

Lately I've been considering the possibility that some of life's big themes are palindromic. Somehow the same thing whether approached forward or back, but not complete if cut on the line of symmetry.

"Never odd or even," split in half becomes "never od," which makes no sense.

Reading and writing are at the top of the list. Two different names, but so intertwined they cannot be separated from one another. I cannot write with reading, and I cannot read without being immersed in writing. I don't know if this is the case for everyone, but from the time I first realized those squiggles on the page could take me to faraway places, both the absorbing and creation of them consumed me as one deeply satisfying act.

Teaching and learning fit as well. It's impossible to teach without learning, as I'm being reminded on a daily basis these days in my role as teacher of writing. It's just as impossible to learn without teaching. I'm a student of writing on Tuesday nights, very aware that the feedback I offer teaches the whole group, just as their feedback teaches me.

Marriage. Two very different humans as husband and wife forming a whole that is very different from the separate units. And the palindrome of that relationship is richer, more powerful, more satisfying than each half alone.

Perhaps it's the sense of wholeness that makes palindromes so appealing to me. Not black or white, but the most beautiful shade of gray imaginable - pussy willows declaring the end of winter. Not right or wrong, but actions with the single purpose of meeting very human needs, some more effective than others. Not love or fear, but both intertwined in a bittersweet reality where sunlight is the brightest in the presence of dark clouds looming on the horizon.

In the last few weeks a hidden truth has risen to the surface of my heart. One that I held deep and dear, hidden even (or most especially) from myself. The series of events that led to this epiphany is a story for another time, but so clearly purposeful there's no way to deny this truth. However, it's such a hard-won truth, I wouldn't send it back if I could.

It started with questions: What if I never really wanted kids? What if motherhood was never my path? What if the unfinished grieving is not about not being a mother, but instead about not wanting to be? Those of you who know my story, know I've spend most of my adult life either trying to become a mother, compensating for not being by teaching elementary school, or trying to prove how hard I tried before I failed.

At the core was the belief that becoming a mother would prove God had forgiven me for giving up my only daughter (for wanting my own life more than I wanted to be her mother), and because there ultimately were no more children, I had not been forgiven. Which meant I was irredeemable.

However, the other half that creates such a very different whole is this: If I answer "yes" to those questions - if I accept and perhaps even embrace the truth that motherhood was never my path - then God's intervention, or lack of, was a blessing, a gift, an answer to prayers coming from so deep in my heart, I couldn't hear them.

Two ends of a story, incomplete until joined in understanding, to form a whole that feels very much like hope and forgiveness and love that was always there but unfelt until the ends met in the middle.

photo by Filip Nystedt from Flickr


M said...

I am in such awe in the way that God appears to reveal truths to us. As I read (and re-read) this post, I was struck by the degree of healing that you have found in these past few years, but most remarkably, in the past six months. That only happens when we have a heart and a mind that is receptive to hear the inner voice, as well as the voice from above.

I'm so proud of you for continuing to ask the difficult questions and accept answers...even when they are not what you may necessarily want to hear. Know that I continue to be on this journey with you.



Carrie Wilson Link said...

GORGEOUS! All this teaching and learning are really paying off!: )

When I read "never od" it was never oppositionally defiant, but that's special ed speak. Still.

I love the concept of the larger palindromes at large, at play, at our centers.

Thanks for so much to chew on!

Jessica said...

I think I forgot about the word palindrome and its meaning. This is such a deep and somewhat painful post.
I loved how you brought in the idea of husband and wife being a palindrome. That's really intriguing.

Lorna said...

"Joined in understanding, to form a whole that feels very much like hope and forgiveness and love that was always there but unfelt until the ends met in the middle." Thank you for this. It feels like the surrender of the ego/mind to the heart connecting undercurrent that runs through all of us. Beautiful post Deb....

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Amber said...

Oh wow. This is a deep thought, my friend.

One of my oldest friends has never wanted children. We were just speaking of how much I ADMIRE her for standing in that truth, and not bring a kid into her life just to be a woman like the world says we should be. She-- odd enough to me-- still feels very judged because of this. People, she thinks, think she is selfish. They treat her different when they find she chose not to have kids...But like you, she is a teacher! She LIKES kids fine... It was just in her heart.

I think this idea you write of is very insightful. I could see how you could have started on that journey because of guilt you shouldn't have had. And then how the world acts like women "should" be mothers... Well worth thinking on. Great post.


Anonymous said...

Do Geese See God?

-M in Vancouver

Janna Qualman said...

You've been dipping in deep, deep territory again, Deb. I admire that you plunge in, and let the water envelope you.

I love how one thought, or a succession of thoughts, can turn and shift what we believed to be true... and we find out the real truth was there - and better - all along.

My thoughts and prayers are with you. And I can't wait until you're ready to share this new story.

Wanda said...

I love being allowed to witness your journey. Love hearing your thoughts. I sometimes wonder how many of my disappointments are blessings I don't recognize.

Sandy said...

Thought-provoking and powerful. My first time visiting (I came through the link that Julie made) and I feel like I know you.

K.M. Weiland said...

Palindrome is one of those words I love - but can never remember. Maybe your insightful post will help cement it in my brain! The patterns of life, the dichotomies that somehow end up mirroring each other perfectly, are one of the most beautiful facets of life. Everything is different -and yet everything's the same.

She Writes said...


I have goosebumps. Much of my life was lived wanting to prove something to God about who I am, yet He always knew anyway. The bottom fell out (though I carried my part--it fell anyway). Now I rethink everything. everything.

Almost. here is an exception... My daughter, carried to life by another woman. I love her like the sun rising, or the sound of waves at the ocean. There is much I don't know, but I chreish the woman who gave her, by chance, by God, to me.

I don't know what her mother wanted, but through her decisions, I am immeasurably, unspeakably blessed.

Something in your writing struck me. The need to be who we are and be forgiven for our humanity by the God who knows us all together for just who are, before we do.


colbymarshall said...

Palindromes have always fascinated me as well...very good post :-)

kario said...

You are a wonder.
I've said it before and I'll say it again.

P.S. When I read "never od" it meant "never overdose." Huh.

Tabitha Bird said...

I love the way you write about the two sides that make a whole. Makes me think...

I have asked a lot of painful questions in my life. Many of them I have directed, or rather, yelled at God. Why was I born into the family I was? Why did He allow the pain and suffering to continue year after year? etc etc.. I have no answers other than to say that asking the questions is important. Finding a way to live through the reality is just as important, and that I cannot and never will be able to answer for the hand of God in my life. I simply know He has had his hand on my life.
I would not be who I am without my past. My past has shaped me, made me both more opened and more closed. But it is my past and I cannot change it. All I can do is decide if I will let my past define me. And I refuse to let my past, my pain and my loss be a descriptor of my life. I don't know if I wish my past did or did not happen anymore. I am tired of the effort of figuring it all out.

I like how you put it. Halves that complete a whole. Not black or white. Because it leads me to believe that there are so many things that we will never fully understand. So many things which we will only see half of. I am hopeful that God sees the other half and I believe he knows what he is doing.

Beautiful post Deb. Now I understand the short story I read in the Rose and Thorn journal. My heart aches for your pain. And my heart rejoices in who you are. Thanks for sharing with us. I am honored :)

Jerri said...

Both forward and backward, you are loved and forgiven, as we all are.

I can't know your truth, but I believe we all live out agreements our souls have made with God. That makes bringing your daughter into the world and onto her path a gift, not something that requires forgiveness.

Your courage is astonishing.