A Journey in Self Trust
Recently, I was moved by an emotional story on NPR about a young woman and her sister who were moved from foster home to foster home. When she was 11, another family adopted her kid sister, but did not want her. Alone in the foster care system, she felt she could no longer trust anyone, not even her sister. Now engaged to be married, she told her fiancé: "I love you dearly but I can't trust anyone, so will this be OK?" When heard that, my body became tense, my throat was dry and I ached inside... I had to pull off to the side of the road to regain my composure. Her story brought back sad memories.
We adopted a 12-year old girl when our son, Julian was seven. Ariel was the granddaughter of a member in our church who had been living in a foster home. We'd been wanting another child and this could be the opportunity. We invited Ariel to live with us for a "fost-adopt" period of four months. Our commitment to her was made open-heartedly. We had a wonderful adoption celebration with over 100 friends in the church. There were many challenges for each of us adjusting to our new lives together. Soon, we were" loving her" and she was "loving us"... and our family of four became grounded and bonded. Over the years our church community embraced her tenderly and many become her friend. Ariel was working hard at school to catch-up and was on a solid track...college plans were being dreamed about.
But, when Ariel was seventeen, she ran away...our lives changed so unexpectedly.
It's been about seven years and my wife, Kim speaks with her often, offering much comfort and support. Ariel has just landed a job at AmeriCorps in California and seems on a good path. Julian keeps in touch on Facebook. But I have not wanted to, probably because I'd stopped trusting her. Ariel's early years were difficult as she moved around in the foster care system and became hardened, probably not learning how to trust. I hope one day she will find a husband to love and to trust. In thinking about the NPR story and in my work in preparing this talk, I find myself needing to connect with Ariel. (I want to share that I just spoke with Ariel yesterday and I believe she was touched...I was and our relationship may be moving forward again!)
For many years I have been delving deeper, trying to improve my own emotional maturity and understanding all the complexities in relationships; there are many levels of trust, circumstances are continually changing, and others have different expectations at certain times than you may have.
So, by consciously trying to be better at listening and outwardly expressing patience, empathy, and kindness...I continue to learn how to more easily build a new friendship and how to keep openly connected with my work associates. And more importantly, I've learned how to help repair some misunderstandings with my loved ones and old friends from my past.
When I was about 40, I had a delayed but much appreciated opportunity to re-open an important relationship in my life with my twin brother. Bruce and I are fraternal twins and good pals from the very beginning. We comfortably co-existed together. Not being identical, fraternal twins mostly develop different interests, habits and their own set of friends. As we later learned together in a college Psychology class, fraternal twins develop their lives in a complimentary manner as a result of one twin stepping out in one direction.
Bruce was introverted, he was content being alone and was enthused to pursue any constructive activity using his hands, often in solitude. He is a very peaceful soul. I was extroverted, always needing to be out with others and was happiest when immersed in competitive sports or debating issues with others. His senior yearbook was signed with sincere messages about "being the one you could always count on;" mine was signed with brief messages about "getting ahead in life" and "motivated to succeed." Bruce and I trusted each other; we shared many good times together and acknowledged some differences. After our school years, we went on our own separate ways; but some things were missing and we did not stay connected....(pause)
About twenty years later, I felt a strong urge to reconnect with Bruce after being deeply moved from a personal-growth seminar I had just participated in. I called Bruce and invited him to come out to California to experience this seminar with me. Bruce's emotions flooded over with gratitude. I must have struck a deep emotional chord within him.
The seminar was called "Temenos" (a Greek term that Carl Jung had used to mean: "a safe spot where mental work can take place"). This intensive workshop was focused on "rebuilding relationships with our family members. Much of our life's potential is held back because we let personal disappointments and hurts within our family get in the way of our relationships." I learned so much about myself in the Temenos seminar and could see during our early years how I must have let Bruce down. In reflection, I realized that my early life "was mostly all about me" and "not nearly enough about US, the twins."
Over the three-day workshop, we re-lived our early lives chronologically together. We shared our disappointments about each other and recalled our fond memories between us and with Mom and Dad. It was as if our own time capsule had been discovered. Bruce opened up and shared that he was not sure whether he should stay with his wife... All the open hearts and trusting support from our group helped him clarify that his love was still with his wife and son, the most important persons in his life. He would return back home with a new, re-invigorated loving relationship that is still strong to this day.
In this safe, trusting environment with others also feeling confident to share personal family issues, Bruce and I knew then that our bond would forever be deep...we'd wasted too much time being disconnected. We made a commitment to share our love and to be there for each other ...no issue; no excuse would block us again... "I Iove you, Bruce...Carl, l love you, too" is now how we always end our phone calls or when we're saying good bye at family gatherings.
From a personal perspective I've learned over the years to confidently rely on the strength of my inner-trust. My own philosophy is that "life is really a journey, whatever steps forward I have made and will be making, the outcome will probably be A-OK...don't be weighted down by the challenges...it's the curiosities of life I've wanted to follow." I believe there are always three options with any decision I've made in my life: Any decision could be: 1) modified, 2) reversed, or 3) ...even canceled. This philosophy has given me the confidence to take on spur-of-the-moment risks and try many new things. For example "while in college, I changed my major mid-stream and still graduated in 4 years." And "I once asked a former employer to please rehire me back to the job that I had hard-headedly resigned from!"
I look back at my life's journey as an unfolding of a deepening adventure ...Go forward, young man and adjust as you need." Upon reflection, my early steps forward into life after high school were a little raw...even a little reckless. I've learned so much from my mistakes and have been humbled.
Every time I risked stepping into the unknown by moving to a new city or faraway to another country, each step gave me a precious opportunity for a personal new beginning and building new friendships. I spiritually trusted that the experience itself was the goal and the outcome was merely the result.
I can now say with much gratitude that "I'm one who has engaged fully in life. I've trusted my instincts, using my knowledge acquired along the way and my natural ability to accept almost any outcome, with complete trust.
I know that my ongoing journey, whether re-learning to trust Ariel again, or deepening the trust with my brother Bruce, or intuitively placing trust in the unknown is really what makes me "who I am." These expressions may be more eloquently said in the beautiful song, The Rose:
"It's the heart afraid of breaking... that never learns to dance.
It's the dream afraid of waking...that never takes the chance
It's the one who won't be taken... who cannot seem to give.
And the soul afraid of dying... that never learns to live."
Thank you, my friends for allowing "me to be me" this morning.
A Script for Trust:
Good Morning! I am Emily Dickinson. Oh no, wait a minute, that's not right. I am Clara Schumann. No, that can't be right either. Louisa May Alcott? Flannery O'Connor?
Hold on now, get a grip! I am Candace Ridington and this is the 21st century. Yes, I'm sure that's right.
Don't worry, I've not lost it. Just having fun with my dramatic bent.
I have been happily writing scripts for historical or literary women whom I then portray dramatically in one-woman performances....me being the "one woman!"
How did a person as shy as I used to be find the nerve to stand up before audiences and act? Many in my college class didn't know me at all because I was so retiring. However, my closest friends knew I loved to imitate people, from opera singers to our professors. Good thing Monsieur Jambon from French class never knew how I imitated his shaggy walk and sleazy jokes. So the dramatic yen was there.
My subsequent career, college teaching, gave me growing confidence and trust in myself. It combined talking before groups with my love of the literary characters I taught, and my love of reading and writing.
And teaching has its dramatic elements, after all.
Fast forward to my joining a Unitarian church in another state, and then later, moving to Bethesda and joining this church, where I felt comfortable from Day One.
Being a Unitarian, I had heard about "The Mountain", the Unitarian retreat in North Carolina. It sounded like a beautiful place, so I was pleased to be invited to teach a five day Elder Hostel there on Emily Dickinson. What fun, five days in the Smokies with compatible people, Unitarian principles, and Emily Dickinson as well! At the end of the week, the class said, "Why don't you dress up like Emily and portray her? You even look a bit like her!"
The idea intrigued me, and driving back to Bethesda, a picture of how Emily might enter the stage came to mind: she would run on stage, as though escaping a knock at the door. (Emily was far more reclusive than I ever was!)
That image started me off, and once home, I began to write.
When I finished the script, I tested it out on my husband, Jack. Would it fly? Being Emily in shorts and flip-flops might seem a hard sell, but he said, "It will fly. Go ahead." He gave me trust in myself right away.
But where should I fly with it? Where should Emily's trial run take place? Aha, River Road, of course. Among people who would be curious, patient, tolerant.
I would be able to trust them.
My debut came at Daytimers, the monthly potluck and program event here at church. I was still rather new here, and wasn't even entirely sure what Daytimers was, but they said, "Sure, do whatever it is you want to do." They trusted me.
On performance day, I was nervous and my heart pounded wildly; I kept my script nearby as a safety net. But it went well. People smiled and clapped and said nice things afterward, and I went home in an exhausted but happy daze.
I am happy to report that now my heart does not pound wildly before a performance, (except perhaps the one I gave at Emily's own house in Amherst, which I will tell you about in a moment)—and I now have 8 character portrayals, plus a show on the Underground Railroad with many characters. And I am pretty much freed from my script, enabling me to focus more on my acting.
I am a member of the Montgomery County Historical Society, and perform around town for them as a volunteer, but I also perform in many other venues for which I get paid. So things are almost routine now.
Oddly, however, I find that speaking as myself to you this way is almost more challenging than portraying a character before strangers.
Why? Well, I guess there is a sense of freedom in portraying someone else—and a sense of involvement in the character's life, along with a sort of thrill pretending you are a person you dearly wish you could have met, such as Emily Dickinson, or Clara Schumann.
One of the 15 characters I present as a cameo in my Underground Railroad show is an anonymous black woman praising Harriet Tubman. It's one of my favorite scenes because it is so passionate and meaningful, and because I so admire Harriet Tubman. But I wondered: "Is that all right? Can I do that, portray a black woman, being white?
I previewed the show in front of Tony Cohen, a person of color and a local specialist on the Underground Railroad. To my query about portraying a black woman, he answered, "Absolutely yes. You can portray anyone you want, black or white! Even male or female. This is the Theater!" Make that Theater with a Capital "T."
I loved his answer.
I might add that another rewarding aspect of doing these performances involves trust in another sense: trust in one's powers of memorization. True, I must review a script when I am called to perform one I haven't done in a while. But basically, they reside in my head and I can pull them out. It's like money in the bank.
This goes for poems I have learned too, whether for a performance, or just for myself. Once learned, these poems can be pulled out while you are stuck in traffic or waiting in a post office queue.
But more importantly, having the lines of poems tucked in your head can be uniquely comforting in times of stress or grief. Recently, I learned two Shakespearean sonnets to help center me, to put life into perspective, perhaps.
I think Shakespeare's sonnets are especially good for that, not only for his meanings, but also for his splendid language.
Knowing poems from memory might thus be another aspect of trust—for we can tap into the wisdom and genius of those who went before us. I highly recommend memorizing some poetry.
Let me end with my visit to the Dickinson Homestead in Amherst where I portrayed Emily in Emily's own parlor! I drove all the way to Amherst alone, trying to remain calm and cool. Suppose Emily's ghost came out of the attic, outraged at my pretending to be her? What nerve I had! In HER house!
At the Dickinson Homestead, as it is called, while waiting to begin my performance, they let me sit on the back stairs where Emily used to sit, hidden, so she could listen to the conversation in the parlor. Tourists are not allowed there, and so the thrill of sitting there did not escape me. And soon I entered Emily's parlor, and all went well, despite my nerves.
And there was one lovely humorous moment before the show: Dressed in costume—similar to the one I am wearing now—Emily's white dress, boots, plus a wig—I went to the upstairs modern bathroom to arrange my attire. There were still one or two people finishing a tour of the house, and apparently, one elderly lady had asked if she could use the bathroom.
Imagine her expression when she knocked on the bathroom door and I appeared—the ghost of Emily! Her eyes widened and her hand went to her throat for a moment. Then, regaining composure, she managed, "What a jolt you gave me, my dear!"
I will close with a poem by Emily Dickinson about Indian Summer—and more than that: her questioning of Christian ideas of immortality, and her awareness that the Indian Summers of life are a kind of trick—winter is indeed coming, as is death. But she asks that she, like a child, can share in the emblems of renewal, like a Communion. And note her Communion images. This is a poem about a kind of trust.
Poem # 122, Franklin edition
These are the days when birds come back—
A very few—a Bird or two—
To take a backward look.
These are the days when skies resume
The old, old sophistries of June—
A blue and gold mistake.
O Fraud, that cannot cheat the Bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief—
Til ranks of seeds their witness bear
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.
O Sacrament of Summer Days,
O Last Communion in the Haze
Permit a child to join—
They sacred emblems to partake—
Thy consecrated Bread to break—
And thine immortal Wine.
Thank you, Emily!