Tuesday I drove to Limantour Beach, the birthplace of my soul, and hiked for four hours. I headed north, sticking close to the water’s edge, looking for whales. The clouds were an almost stormy, white-gray, without water in their bellies. They streaked back to the horizon, like the ridges on a sea shell, nestled together and leading to one point. The water shimmered like shattered mirror glass, colorless. I spent the first hour marveling at the insane beauty of my ‘gym’. The next three hours were a little more intense.
I started thinking about some of the comments HGM has received recently (Massive apologies for the delay in getting them all posted. Some require a little pondering and I’m enjoying some time with my visiting family.), being so grateful to have the opportunity to connect with so many people and share our wisdom, when a thread between a recent group of unrelated comments flew at me like birds. It was a collection that all referenced subtle ways in which we give up our voice in a relationship. This one in particular stood out:
” I regret not having pushed for definitive answers while having a serious discussion.”
H, let’s start a band: The Mutes. I’m super experienced at this. I can withhold questions with the best of them. I sit quietly, thinking, but never getting to the heart of what I’m trying to say so that I can actually say it. Something blocks me from getting it out.
I’ve read H’s sentence a dozen times and it still gives my spine the shivers. Around the 5th time my stomach turned. My marriage dragged on and decomposed in large part because we weren’t effective communicators. I was too scattered emotionally and The Genius was too emotionally guarded when we tried to tackle big relationship issues. Both of us needed to improve our skills if we were to have a chance at sustaining a marriage that was already challenged by extended separation and trust issues.
I was aware that our communication skills, when it came to serious discussions, were pitiful. But (I am so mortified to admit this) I never made the connection that this inability to have a productive conversation centered on our relationship could tank our marriage. Not exactly Mensa Material, eh? I ignorantly thought it would all just work itself out. That we’d grow through it. Instead we blew it up.
I like to communicate. I’m a writer and a talker. I happen to excel at the one that does not a healthy relationship support. I’d be a GREAT online girlfriend, but I’m not really up for that. From the palace guard to a federal agent, I’m confident I can get just about anybody to open up via the written word. You’d think the drop off in skill level for plain old talking wouldn’t be so dramatic, but the real head-shaker is, Why didn’t I realize how much I needed to improve in this area in order to live a happy and fulfilled life personally and within my marriage? How did I not catch on to the fact that I never had a probing conversation with The Genius about our relationship in its later years and that maybe that was a real bad sign about the health of our marriage? Maybe I did realize it and I just ignored it.
Towards the end of our marriage, the last year-ish, I believe I simply lost interest in trying to have conversations about our relationship. They never turned out well. I’m no fool. (Or so I thought.) Why keep going back to the table when nothing was ever accomplished? I perfected the art of steering clear. I crammed my discontent so far down I probably passed it on to some poor Aussie who is now pissed at The Genius and doesn’t even know why. I couldn’t ask the right questions that I needed answers to, and The Genius would never offer up personal insights without being waterboarded first. So our relationship fossilized.
What began to concern me in hour 2 of my trek along the beach was the realization that not being able to communicate effectively wasn’t the root of the problem. It’s not to be tossed aside, because tactical communication skills are essential to a healthy relationship, but the root was, of course, harder to unearth. I turned to the Pacific, taking in its shattered mirror brilliance and softened my gaze so that the sea turned into billions and billions of diamonds. There’s something here, I thought. It’s not that I couldn’t formulate the questions, but it is fair to say that I didn’t know the answers I needed. I was getting closer. Breath. Breath. I tried to control conversations without knowing where it was I needed it to go. So they spun and spun, aimlessly. Almost, not quite.
It finally fell free…
In the heat of a conversation between me and a man with whom I have a relationship I become ungrounded and shut down emotionally. This doesn’t happen with my family or friends, and it didn’t happen in business. In those situations I keep my focus, I’m present enough to remember where we started, I can follow the threads and probe, and carry the conversation to a conclusion where something is gained, progress is made. With a man, if it starts to get intense, I shut down. The space between my collar bones and my belly button gets dense with fog. I just want the conversation to end. I can’t see that by sticking it out when it’s painful we might get to the end and actually feel good.
Instead I give up.
In hour 3 of my hike I came across a bird sitting about 10 feet up from the water’s edge. As I approached it became clear he was injured. I slowly walked toward him until I was standing over his body. His left wing was hanging low and slightly spread. It was broken. He looked at me with a small, brown eye as I bent down. He didn’t flinch when I reached out my hand and with my index finger stroked his feathered head.
At first he stayed still, but within seconds he began enjoying the feel of my touch. He moved his head around like a cat, so I wouldn’t miss a spot. When I brought my hand under his chin and stroked the feathers on the underside of his neck he stretched it up and around, side to side. The only thing missing was a purr. This bird was in heaven.
After 10 minutes of heavy petting I peeled myself away from him, taking pictures as I walked backwards. I didn’t want to leave. At one point he pulled himself up on his feet and pointed his beak to the sky. He remained in that position until I could no longer see him as I made my way south, past the ‘Cliffs of Insanity”, and over the rocks that spend some of their days and nights under the tide. I turned to head back only when I realized that those rocks might become submerged soon, leaving me stranded on the wrong side. (Had that happened, this would have been quite a post. If it was written at all.)
An hour and a half had transpired since I left the bird. I was looking out to sea, hoping for a whale sighting, when I spotted a vulture near the surf. My heart sank. I approached, the vulture flew away, and I saw the bird laying there, his head gone, the very head I was petting 90 minutes earlier, now in a vulture’s stomach. I burst into tears.
Our shared encounter was his last fulfilling encounter on the blue marble. He rode the waves with a broken wing, got to shore and hung in there, through the pain. He was rewarded with an experience unlike any he had had before, I imagine. It was certainly my most intimate encounter with a bird. We both reveled in it.
Now, his end was unfortunate, but nature rolls that way. I bet if I got to talk to him after his head had been picked clean like a happy hour wing, he would say that, after all this time, he finally got to know one of those big things that move along the sand and occasionally take to the waves. That our encounter was worth the pain he had to endure to get to shore. That he was glad he didn’t give up because he was loved before he was taken.
His spirit guided me today, during a conversation with The Genius. I stayed grounded, I didn’t give up, I expressed how I was feeling and what I needed and got what I asked for. It was miraculous. And I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Thank you, bird.