When Julie posed her question last week about forgiving the Fates using the example of the man who was in a coma for 20 years only to wake up and find a changed world, she asked us to imagine ourselves in the same circumstances--either waking up today after being in a coma for twenty years or falling into a coma today and waking up in twenty years. This has been percolating in my brain all week and I actually discussed it yesterday with a friend as we sat and shared a coffee together. It came up in our conversation because we were discussing some of the tragedies that befall people.
As I talked to her, I realized a couple of things. One, emotionally, I can't really go to the place of thinking about what would happen if I went into a coma now and woke up in twenty years. When I try, it feels as if there is some thick veil, transparent, but impossible to push aside. So. I won't. Two, when I consider the "ifs" of waking now from a two decade coma, the biggest, biggest realization that strikes me is how much growing I would have to do, emotionally speaking. The last two decades, almost the same number of years I have been married, has been a time of the most intense personal growth. I guess that is probably normal, although I do know people who just never seem to get to the "next stage" in their emotional evolution.
At 23 years of age, Paul and I were just getting back together after a split that lasted several months. He had just moved to Texas and I would be following him there in August. Moving away from my family and friends, adjusting to life with Paul, I was at a place where I began dealing with some of the issues of my life. I don't know what it is like for other people, but it took being married to allow me the stability to start processing some of that stuff. As the years passed, new issues came up. On one hand, I would love to say that I wish they'd never happened, but when I think about the catalyst for growth they were, I am at least grateful that something positive came out of them.
At 23, I was a bright, articulate, insecure, young woman. I did not see my potential and it never really occurred to me to strive to me something more. I had many fears and had a hard time planning for the future. I could not sit with my discomfort, emotional or physical. I was a good listener and a loyal friend. Seeds of discernment which would later grow into a gift of wisdom were growing but still tender and vulnerable. The intuition and insight which has served me so well was there but obscured at times by my will and prejudices.
At 43, I am sometimes still disturbingly similar to that younger version of my self. But really, that is only a fraction of the time. I'm still bright and often articulate, although parenting and wear and tear sometimes muddles my clarity. I can look back and see the opportunities I might have taken and feel some regret. I weigh that with the possibilities I still might take advantage of and hope that I will take more chances. I wrestle with planning but the future but understand what is good and necessary about doing so. I'm still a little wimpy physically, I think, but am more able to tolerate pain and ill feeling. Emotionally, I have experienced enough to know that most things pass and that if you can just hold on, you will be okay. I am still a good listener and a loyal friend. When I let my attitudes and ego go, I can be wise. I still trust my intuition and insight, but also know enough to allow for other possibilities.
All in all, I liked myself at 23, but I am so glad that I am the 43 year old me. I'm glad this is just an exercise and not a reality. I really wouldn't want to learn all that I have all over again. I've got other things to learn right now.
After going through and reading other people's responses to this week's questions, I realize I didn't really address the third part of Julie's question:
What if I awoke after almost 20 years...how would I deal with all I missed, life as it is after my absence, and reintegrating myself into life? How would I do it? How would I deal with it? How would I forgive fate for all I had missed and lost? Would it be easy or hard? Would my gratitude of a second chance overwhelm me?
There are probably two answers to this: the 23 year old Mary's and the 43 year old Mary's. Young Mary, scared and confused, would probably withdraw. Losing herself in television and books, she might find it easier to avoid the world rather than deal with it. Spiritually, I don't think Young Mary would really cope with it all until and unless she connected with some other Christians she could feel safe with. If there happened to still be friends around, that would make a big difference. They would be touchstones, people to ask questions, people to hold her hand and to listen. Given people like that around, I think Young Mary would cycle through disbelief, anger, fear, excitement, gratitude. Eventually, she would be okay.
Not So Young Mary. Hmmm. . . I think if I woke up from a coma at 63 and Paul, Colin and Marley were in any way able to journey with me, I would be okay faster than Young Mary. I would be jealous, I think, of all I missed and disoriented at the adjustments it would be necessary to make, but so happy to have my family near me. Throw in some friends and I really think I'd be good to go. I'm sure I would still have my times of withdrawal, but I think they would be fewer and of less duration than Young Mary would experience.
As far as forgiveness? I think I would forgive God. Of course, all these scenarios have the underlying assumption that other than that pesky 20 year coma, my health is fine. To realistically understand the physical difficulties and limitations of someone who has been immobile for so long, well, I'm not sure I could ever do justice or even truly be able to imagine all that and I think my faith would most definitely be more challenged.
When my friend and I were having coffee the other day and this subject came up, one of the stories she told me was about listening to a woman who lost her entire family in a fire talk about moving on. I remember hearing about that fire when it happened. Both the parents initially got out of the house and were waiting for the firemen to come. Finally, the husband could not wait any longer while his children were inside and so he went in. When it was all over, they found his body on the stairs, holding his youngest child. My friend looked at me and said that she could imagine moving on if her husband died. She thought she could try if both her children died, but not her husband, but if all three died, she didn't think she would want to go on. She clarified that she believed God could help people get through anything, but that she didn't think she would let God or want God to help her. She would just want to give up.
I thought about that for a minute, and in my classic extroverted way, it wasn't until I said the following out loud that I realized I believed it. I said to her that I could completely see someone feeling that way but that maybe that is one way that God works, that sometimes, he takes a person who doesn't even want to survive their circumstances and brings them around, slowly and tenderly. She looked at me and said she thought so, too. The woman who lost her family? She turned her home into a shelter for any and every kind of person who is lost in some way and needs help.