There are times and situations when I feel like an exposed nerve ending. Sometimes I am aware of my fragility. Noticing that I am tiptoeing through a potential quagmire of hurt. Other times. I am oblivious to my vulnerability until the sting. Always I am at once a little girl, nursing open wounds as I withdraw.
It confounds me that childlike responses still, at times, override my mature adult self. An eight-year-old locked inside the greying-haired, slack-skinned body of a 60 something. I know from many years of emotional recovery work that acknowledging the child within is necessary for healing. However, sitting with her as she weaves a tapestry with threads of self pity, resentment and isolation empower her. Instead of me. Still, I’m prone to do it. It’s safe and familiar.
I am often accused of being too sensitive. Too emotional. The words are delivered without empathy. It’s a flaw. And then the coin is tossed. On the shiny side, I am praised for being understanding, thoughtful and caring. Thanks to my raw nerve endings, “I get it”. Curse and blessing.
I want to maintain my childlike energy. I want to extinguish my emotional immaturity. I’m in my mid-sixties. The dichotomy is perplexing. The delayed start is distressing.
One of my favourite city walks is through a large mid-town cemetery. This perfectly manicured acreage is one of the largest arboretums in North America. Trees of all types, sizes and shapes bear plaques describing their Latin names and heritage. There are thousands of headstones lying flat in the ground, competing for light and air with the lush grass. All around them are beautifully carved slabs of granite memorializing dates of births and deaths, the dashes in the middle a mystery. Except for Dr. Low: between being born and dying, his inscription tells me he was a nephrologist.
Our family plot—Section 31—has a worn and dull grey headstone. The names and dates of my grandparent’s existence are almost unreadable. My parents, in their urns, are beneath a plaque close to the headstone. The other day, I went looking for them. Imagining that I’d hear them bickering and be able to dig the plaque out from the overgrown clover. All was quiet. I couldn’t find them. Peace at last: that’s what we wrote below their names.
To me, the most beautiful area of this parkland of the deceased is a garden of large natural boulders as headstones, nestled in a small plot of trees, surrounded by a thick carpet of bluebells. I wonder if it’s possible to book a spot there, rather than in the shadow of the grey-faced marker of my grandparents, whom I didn’t know.
While I’m walking along the carved paths and between plots, I do the math. A lot of people die in their sixth and seventh decades. A wave of vulnerability mixed with a reality check hurtle me into the present moment. I need to thicken my skin while maintaining my sensitivity. It’s a delicate balance. I waste valuable time and emotional energy being porous. Nurturing the little girl to keep her safe is no longer necessary. A therapist told me that a long time ago.
From one of my favourite books, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, I learned that to ease the burden of taking things personally, look to the source. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
I know that each time my mood and sense of self is altered by someone else’s words, that I have handed over my power. Unconsciously, yet willingly. A thicker skin will protect and empower me.
Cemetery walks have a way of shifting perspectives. They have a way of taking me to the space between the date of my entry, and the date of my exit. They have a way of taking me to flashes of regret, while reminding me of moments of grace and gratitude. They have a way of challenging me to take responsibility for my emotional wellbeing.
At least, that is my experience.