Good morning my Fledglings.
I never thought I’d title a blog of mine similar to a movie my youngest daughter was dying to see only a year ago.
She purchased the book, 5 Feet Apart, a month before the movie came out because the celebrity she had a crush on, Cole Sprouse, was staring in it. Her sister and I also devoured the book, each in a day, which increased our excitement to join my daughter’s Hollywood boy obsession.
This led me to learn about Cystic Fibrosis, and to realize that today, with the Coronavirus, all of us have the opportunity to live in the shoes of many of those who have this disease. (I just found out from my daughter that the reason the movie was titled 5 Feet Apart was because Stella made the decision to “steal one foot back.” Is this where we got the 6 foot rule?)
What we are all being asked to do is pretty much a daily routine for someone with Cystic Fibrosis.
A life where we must stay conscious about washing our hands, mindful of our health, and learn to maintain distance from not only those who are ill, but those who appear to be healthy as well.
To not know if the person you’re talking with, a grocery store clerk, your next-door neighbor, or your spouse, is currently contagious.
To not know if the railing you touched, the shopping cart your pushing, the gas pump your holding, or the clothes you’re wearing might be contaminated.
And even if you’re feeling ok, there’s also the idea that you could be walking around with a bullet in the chamber of a gun that has the ability to kill someone if you get too close; an invisible burden that becomes heavy to carry. (That’s like Will in the movie)
So, what do we do?
We follow the protocol of Shelter in Place. We go out only when it’s essential.
We practice Social Distancing. We limit our life of physical contact with one another.
Due to people performing essential services outside the home, many families must also continue to maintain this social distance within their own household.
If your Love Language is touch and quality time, like mine, this is one of the most painful feelings of all. To crave touch, to desire connection, and yet to be denied that opportunity on a daily basis can be excruciating.
This was what I’ve struggled with for years.
My career keeping me away from home. My failed marriage. And now the teen years where Dad is not as important in his daughter’s lives as he used to be. I know, a necessary developmental stage for my girls, and yet, that doesn’t diminish the painful feelings.
The other day I had an hour nap with my roommate’s 16-month-old lying on my chest. His dad asked, “When was the last time you got to enjoy that with your girls?”
“Over three and a half years ago, when I moved out. My youngest would always wake up in the morning and snuggle with me. My oldest, I don’t even know the last time she wanted physical connection. Except for the occasional hug, it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed the closeness of my child.”
A couple of weeks ago, when our county issued the Shelter in Place, long before the Governor did, my thought was, welcome to my world!
Welcome to the world I’ve lived while on the road isolated in hotels.
Welcome to the world of seeing your family a day or two a week before you’re gone again for days at a time.
Welcome to the world of hoping to reconnect with the one you love and every time it feels there might be a chance, once again having that hope dissipate like the left-over smoke when someone blows out a candle.
I know I’m blessed. There are others who have it far worse than I. My heart goes out to each and every one of you.
But, in that initial moment, where everyone was worrying about how they were going to be able to survive being sheltered in their homes, I threw up my armor, head held high, believing I had learned the skills to weather out the storm.
What I didn’t imagine was the intense triggers, fears, and repeated childhood wounding that would instantly return.
That trick candle that sparks back to life just when you think you blew it out.
Like an unexpected flash flood, these past couple of weeks I’ve found myself swept back out to sea in a Tsunami of emotions.
What Happened to My Juju?
My Fledglings, for some reason this piece I’m writing has been extremely difficult. Whenever I’ve sat down to write in the past, the thoughts flow, like turning on a facet. I control the volume and temperature of the water as it comes out.
Lately, I turn on the facet and I only get a trickle. Wait, not even that. Just drops.
I write down ideas, things that come to me, but it’s not like I put a cup under the dripping faucet. It’s more like I’m trying to collect everything on a metal plate (ping….ping….ping) and then pour the little bit I have into a shot glass, most of it spilling into the sink instead.
It feels as if I have very few nuggets I can use.
So the other day I decided to try something new. Anna David, New York Times best selling author of eight books, journalist, and podcaster, had sent out an email (yes, I’m on numerous email lists) invitation for inspiring authors and artists (she doesn’t discriminate) to come together at a specific time each week over Zoom to write for one hour.
I admit, I was a little apprehensive. Not only to join a group of people who most likely have been doing this together for a while and who are more professional at this than I (a story I made up), but this was Anna David! Her former podcast, Light Hustler (I found some archived podcasts on Soundcloud if interested), I had followed where she was helping addicts “share their dark to find their light.” She’s currently running Launch Pad Publishing, to help authors write their stories and publish their work.
Anna’s definition of addict:
“Someone who is so uncomfortable with how they feel, that they’re willing to do anything they can to change it, even if changing it may mean dying.”
Should I join this group?
Even as I’m editing this and getting ready to post it, not only on my site, but adding a link to Anna’s Group Facebook page, I can feel that tightening of the chest, the shortening of my breath and my shaking hands that creeps up when I start to question if I’m doing the right thing.
Do I even have anything to offer? Who even might be on this Zoom meeting?
Actually, the real question is…am I ready to really, I mean really, come out of the dark?
Yeah, yeah. My blog’s been around for three years, but seriously, how many people know about Phoenix? And I’m sheltered behind my pseudonym.
Drip….drip….drip. My faucet is clogged.
I’m frozen with processing what’s been going on in the world. I’ve been stuck wondering what’s going to happen with my career. The uncertainty of the future and wondering if I’m going to need to move back into my ex’s place just to keep our family afloat. That brings up the fear of possibly reopening the wounds I’ve been trying so hard to heal.
The recovering addict in me knows I need to do self-care. And I’m using the tools I have in my outer circle. Except…what works best for me; processing my thoughts and emotions through my writing.
I need a swift kick in the ass to do it.
So, four days ago, I popped up as a newbie on a Zoom meeting, joining over 20 people each day, to sit in muted silence and write. Nothing different than attending a SAA, AA, or AOA meeting for the first time.
Oh, my! How refreshing and encouraging it is to sit with people from all over. The connection we all have, even though there’s no interaction during that hour, except at the beginning and end when we all check in.
I don’t feel as alone as I have in the past.
We’ve been given the opportunity to work on our masterpieces together, not work on them in isolation. And we have a support network to lean on when we are struggling; a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips to guide us on our own creative journeys.
And by writing our stories, we cutting our shame in half. We are healing. And we’re doing it together.
Together We Can Heal.
My First iPad
This reminds me of my first iPad.
Back in 2012, when I went back to work after 20 months of being off due to 13 weeks of in-treatment care, recovery, and taking medication that kept me grounded until the FAA had observed me long enough to determine I was finally safe to fly, I had to once again endure what it meant to live on the road and out of hotel rooms.
My passion is flying.
My job is not a job. It’s the most peaceful, awe inspiring hobby in the world. I’m so lucky I get paid to do what I love.
When I’m at work, I’m lost for hours in bliss. Time literally stops (well, actually it goes by way to fast). On the descent of a five-hour flight to Hawaii I’m always saying, “Really, is it time to start down now?” Then I remind myself where I’m overnighting.
And yet, when I was grounded from 2010 – 2012, I never looked skyward missing and craving the freedom of flight, as much as I missed and craved to be home with my family when I’m away from them days at a time.
There’s this joke in the aviation community that says when a pilot retires, within a couple of months, his wife is begging him to get a job and get out of the house.
Other than the issues surrounding my betrayal and recovery, I don’t believe during that time there was a need or desire for our family to be apart.
When I returned to work, I went out and splurged on something I had wanted. I purchased my first iPad.
Video connection with my family.
For the first time I was able to connect with my girls and my wife from my hotel room. It was magical for me. And yet, it eventually became painful.
A wound that still sometimes bleeds.
You see, when I would arrive at my hotel room, I would unpack my stuff and put my food in my fridge (us pilots have the most stringent checklists and routines we follow, even out of the flight deck, especially when we arrive at our hotel room or come home).
To save on the extraordinary costs of eating out by bringing my own meals, I’d heat up my food in the microwave and eat in the silence of my hotel room.
Now, with my iPad, I could FaceTime with the family. There they’d be, sitting at the table eating dinner. And I, on my ex’s iPad, was placed at the other end of the table opposite her.
I didn’t realize the extent that this is what I had desired all the years I was on the road.
I didn’t realize that when I was in my addiction, all I was doing was medicating the pain of isolation and distance I felt from the ones I loved.
Sitting there eating dinner with them, even though I was on a screen, was the most comforting feeling I had on the road.
This lasted for a while. I’d connect with them via FaceTime and not feel so far away.
Then, as has always been our patterns, the connecting dropped off. We always seem to start out strong, finding ways to stay connected, then it slows down, until it all but stops. You know, kind of like that drip, drip, drip, faucet.
In the past seven years, I don’t know when the last time I had a family dinner via FaceTime with my ex and my girls in a hotel room. I did have my daughter call me twice via FaceTime two days ago. Even though I was just across town, those brief exchanges filled me with joy.
Last night, I connected with two close friends via Zoom. We usually connect through text, sometimes daily, other times it’s once a week. And tonight, the three of us enjoyed beers while talking about the benefits of installing a bidet for your toilet. Ok, that wasn’t all we talked about. Just the funniest.
Which brings me back to Anna’s group.
Connection. It’s what we all need. It’s what we all crave. It’s an important part of our lives.
Just having the opportunity to sit and write with others is incredibly comforting. We don’t need to talk. We don’t need to keep coming up with ways to interact.
We can sit together and not feel isolated and alone.
This is what I believe is so important for us to learn about the Coronavirus. We’ve spent so much time “posting the unblemished versions of our day” and reading about everyone else’s perfect lives, that we’ve lost sense of what connecting with others really means.
Hey! Lookie there! The facet is flowing and the water, it runs cleaneth. YAY!! I’m writing again.
Ok, I’m slightly mistaken.
It’s not quite flowing yet. All I’m writing about is what has gotten me to write again. I haven’t really processed the deep issues that have plagued me these past couple of weeks.
You see, I can be the great procrastinator.
The other night, as I was posing questions I wanted to talk about in my blog, my friend excitedly exclaimed, “You should go somewhere with that if you haven’t already. Seriously! … I think asking questions is the way to go. What a way to bring your readers into your process.”
Time to stop procrastinating.
Time to call Rafiki and see if he has some wisdom and, ugh, do I have to admit this? To see if he can challenge me.
What was that I said about procrastination?
Time to start processing.
Damn! My hour with my group is coming to an end. We’ll see if I can keep this faucet running. Let’s see how long it will last.
I’m looking so forward to joining my group tomorrow!! I think I’d rather hang out with them than hear what Rafiki is going to say to me.
I take a deep breath and press that Zoom link he just emailed me…
Chats with Rafiki – Where the Real Processing Happens
“Why, hello Phoenix. I haven’t heard from you in a while.” Rafiki smiles over the Zoom video connection.
I find it interesting how his brief comment fills me with some anxiety and shame.
Now, why I didn’t suggest FaceTime (oh yeah, he has an android) or even Skype? I have no idea. I think it’s because Zoom is the “in” thing right now. Wasn’t Zoom a PBS show for kids in the 1970’s? Anyway…
Rafiki adds, “You look a little uncomfortable today.”
Oh, this is really weird. Most of our conversations have been on the phone. Rafiki is very intuitive, clueing into tone, phrasing, the words I choose, and how I say them. But now he can also watch my body language. I feel extremely vulnerable. Like Jeff in the Zoom Zoom video from the Holderness Family.
Why is it that the people who are the closest to us are the ones that bring up the most fear when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable? Why do we fear judgement from those who love us just the way we are?
I deflect, “Well, there’s quite a lot going on in the world today.” As if that will keep him from knowing the truth.
“There’s always a lot going on with the world. The question is, where do you put your energy?”
He leans back in his chair and takes a sip out of his mug, most likely hot tea (I mean isn’t that what all wise gurus drink?). Maybe it’s coffee. I realize as I’m trying to figure out what he’s drinking that he let his question hang in midair.
I break the silence, “It’s hard not to think about doom and gloom when that’s all the media is sharing.”
“You have the choice of what to read and what not to read. You have the choice to believe what is written or not believe it. It is your option to turn off the media and relax in the comfort of your backyard basking in the warm sun while reading a book you’ve been longing to read or instead, you have the choice to drown yourself on your computer fretting about what is going on in the world.”
He takes another sip, “You set the tone of the life you will lead.”
“Yeah. I guess that’s right…” I start, then get interrupted.
Leaning forward staring right into the screen Rafiki adds, “How quickly we can forget.”
I flash on an image of Yoda. “Quickly forgetful you are.” Interesting. If I switch the words up, how easily it is to feel shame. Instead of being gentle on myself, not allowing this to be a kind lesson or tender reminder, I cut myself down instead.
Rafiki, recognizing my discomfort and already relaxing back in his chair, adds his observations. “I’ve been thinking about you, Phoenix. I can’t imagine how scary this whole thing must be. You’ve finally reached the point in your career that you’ve been working towards for over half your life. You’ve released the burden of staying in limbo by finalizing your divorce. You’re on stable ground for the first time, emotionally and financially, and now the universe is giving you another 9.0 earthquake forcing you to keep your balance…”
It’s my turn to interrupt. “Really Rafiki. It’s not that bad. I mean a shelter in place is nothing different than being isolated in hotels during my career. I’ve got all the tools I’ve learned over the years to help me get through this.”
Boy, I’m the master justifier! I now sit back feeling pride in my answer. Where’s my coffee?
Rafiki takes another sip and asks, “When was the last time you attended an SAA meeting? I mean they’re all online now. And I know you know national has had online and phone meetings for years. Have you attended any one of those?”
He takes another sip. “Have you called and talked with your sponsor? Have you talked with your therapist? When was the last time you blogged? How’s your eating habits on your Lose It App? Seriously, what are you doing to take care of yourself?”
Damn! He knows me way too well. I stare at the screen like a deer in the headlights.
“I do not say this to judge or shame.” Rafiki’s voice is soft, gentle. “I say this because this IS a difficult time.” He emphasizes the word IS.
Emotions vs. Feelings
Holding his mug with both hands, like he’s trying to warm them, yet looking contemplative he speaks again. “Phoenix, in times of crisis, in times when we are triggered, it’s normal and extremely easy to fall back into old routines. Old habits. And it’s ok that when an earthquake comes, you actually fall down. What’s important is that you get back up again.”
I stare into space.
“And getting back up may take some time. You’ll have scrapes and bruises. Buildings don’t rebuild themselves overnight. Many people will have died from this pandemic. There will be a lot of hurt and pain. And if we accept that and move forward, we can start rebuilding instead of sitting in the trenches licking our wounds.”
I understand what he’s saying. I really do. And yet, at the same time I have a ton of pride. I’ve been blogging for three years. I’ve been in recovery for 9 ½. I’ve listened to the experts, I continue with my daily routines, I know how to calm my thoughts. This is just another obstacle I must hurdle.
“I have written a prayer that I read daily,” I confidently begin. “Here, let me read you this one paragraph.” I read the part of my prayer that explains all the hardships I’ve overcome the past 19 years. “If I’ve survived all this and have always come out stronger, I know I can survive this pandemic and what it has to offer.”
I see the thoughtful look in Rafiki’s eyes. If he had a pipe, he’d look like a wizard formulating what he was going to say before he pronounces the wisdom from his past.
“I hear the words you are using. Good. Bad. Sucks. Hard. Tough.” Rafiki stops and thinks again. “These are judging words. You can’t have one without the other. There is no Yin without Yang.”
“Ok,” I respond tentatively.
“You cannot have the good without the bad. You must watch the negative attitude. This shuts us down. It’s what poisons everything.”
I’m confused. “What do you mean negative attitude? I just said that I’ve jumped over every hurdle my Higher Power has given me. That I have persevered and gotten stronger. I’m reminding myself that I can and will get through this. How is that negative?” I argue.
“When you use words such as good and bad, you start to warp acceptance.”
I stare at the screen trying to comprehend.
“As the waves come in and out, is life more joyful or less joyful? Or is life just as it is?”
Another pause. “Acceptance. Just acceptance. Nothing but that. That is part of the balance.”
I’m starting to feel anger. A part of me wants to remind myself, that when I’m angry, usually there’s something I need to look at. I brush it away. I’m not ready to look inward yet.
“I have accepted what is going on,” I proclaim.
“Have you?” Rafiki questions. “Language is the manifestation of thought. How you express yourself verbally determines where your beliefs lie.”
“I know,” I respond stubbornly, suddenly defensive.
“What makes the current situation with your job, as you say, bad?”
“Well,” I start to feel confidence coming back. “Airlines are cutting over 50% of their flights. There’s no one flying. Really, how many will survive after this is all over with?”
“It’s hard not to when the writings on the wall where our economy is headed.”
“Hmmm…hard? Interesting word choice.” Rafiki smirks. “And how do you know where our economy is headed?”
“Over 10 million people filed for unemployment!” I exclaim. “How can you not see where the economy is going?”
“Once again, thinking about a future that is not yet here.”
He takes a deep breath. How he just loves to let things sink in. It’s nice and annoying at the same time. “People need to file for unemployment because they are stuck in their homes. They have bills to pay,” Rafiki continues. “When the shelter in place is lifted, the economy will need those jobs back. It may take a while to recover completely, however, we will see more people going back to work as businesses open their doors again. It may not be the same as it was, but I do not believe it will be as long as you fear.”
I’m frustrated. “Yes, but the airlines…”
Rafiki interrupts, yet again, “…will have their own challenges. Who knows. Maybe people will be so stir crazy that they need a change of scenery and a ton of people will flock to the airlines to get away. These are unknowns. However,” Rafiki takes a sip, “What you do know is that your current job and pay is secure until September 30th. You have an emergency fund in place to help you. And you and your ex are amicable enough that the two of you can work together to find a solution to best care for your girls.”
He takes another sip. “You have time to plan Phoenix. There are many out there that don’t have that.”
“Doesn’t make the feeling go away.” I stammer.
“What is the difference between an emotion and a feeling?” Rafiki redirects.
“Umm. An emotion is something you fe…” I stop mid-sentence. “A feeling is something that is intense, like an emotion…” Now my frustration is turned inward. I know we’ve discussed this before. “I can’t remember,” I huff, deflated.
“Here, let me send you an algebraic equation.”
I instantly remember the one I talk about a lot, Jack Kanfield’s Event + Reaction = Outcome. “I know. You have an event and how you respond to that event is what determines the outcome. We’ve talked about this.”
My phone vibrates. “Take a look at your text.”
I look down.
Emotions + Belief = Feeling
“Emotions are unconscious. They are the neurological reaction to an emotional stimulus. Think flight, flight, freeze.” Rafiki shifts, leaning slightly sideways, his body resting on the arm of the chair. “Now a feeling. A feeling is the conscious reaction to an emotion. This is based on your beliefs. And your beliefs are based on your past memories, your personal experiences, and the stories you tell yourself.”
I start to nod my head, “Yes, the stories we tell ourselves,” I mumble. I speak up, “Is the story true? Is it really true?”
My mind flashes on Oprah and Deepak’s Meditation, Hope in Uncertain Times, Day 9.
“Iyanla Vansant says that the key to trust is going within, follow your intuition, and facing the unknown. Even though you can’t control the unknown, you can control what you believe. Your beliefs determine what you manifest in your life. And when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you can trust that no matter what happens, greater and grander possibilities will rise up in your life.”
~ Oprah Winfrey
Here are some links discussing the difference between an emotion and a feeling:
Rafiki’s Experiment Part 1
“Let’s try this,” Rafiki suggests, a little gleam starting to form in his eyes. “What’s one of the issues you’ve struggled with the past couple of weeks.”
I look up thinking. A light bulb goes off. “I started working on my estate planning for the first time.”
“And what made you start now? You’ve talked about doing this for years.”
“Well, I was waiting until the divorce was finalized. Waiting until I had all my assets lined up in a row. I was waiting until…”
“What was the catalyst Phoenix?”
Must I tap into that fear? Ugh! He’s going to make me.
“I fear, due to the occasional cough I get when I don’t sleep well, that since the coronavirus attacks the respiratory system, I’m at a higher risk than the average person to survive.” I breathe deeply, “I figured it would be important to make sure my girls are protected in case something happens to me,” tears welling up in my eyes.
“I can see that’s a deep fear. Why?”
“I feel guilt that I didn’t do this before. Initially, I felt I didn’t have much time to get it done. I’m feeling better around that now. And I felt sadness that if I was to go, if I was to pass on, I wouldn’t get to see how my girls grew up, to be there to help them when they were struggling, and thinking about all my ‘bucket list’ items that have never been accomplished.”
“Wow!” Rafiki sighs, kind of in amazement, but also with a tone to make a point. “When you sat down to figure out your estate plan, not only was the kick in the pants because of a fear you were running out of time, but because you had already written yourself off as dead.” Blunt. To the point.
I sit stunned at his directness. This is why sometimes I want to avoid talking with him.
“Makes sense why you’ve procrastinated all these years, the fear of facing your own death. Let’s look at this a different way.”
“Ok,” I whisper, trying to choke back the tears, my chest tightening with sadness.
“Part of growing up and being an adult is taking care of our family, correct?”
“And part of that is making sure that if something happens to us, our family is taken care of?” He continues the questioning.
“So, basically, you’re adulting.” Rafiki smiles. “You’re acting responsibly for the security of your family.”
“Okay,” I say challengingly.
“I understand the fear of death. I really do. And I remember you telling me how you handled. Let me rephrase that. How you went into a panic after one of your sessions of in-treatment where the assignment was you have 60 minutes to live, write down the last thing you’d like to say to the people you love.”
I take a deep breath, nodding my head while at the same time wrapping myself in my arms. “I do remember that.” I was so lost after that assignment.
“Phoenix, you’re not dead. You are one of the healthiest 50-year-old men I know. Physically, emotionally, mentally. If anyone has a high chance of survival against any virus, it’s you. And yet, you allowed yourself to believe you were on your death bed before you have even gotten the virus.”
I know this is true. I don’t respond.
“How about trying this. Reframe the belief.” He sits up straight, in a lecturing posture. “I’m being an adult taking care of my family. By facing one of my biggest fears I’m showing the greatest act of love I can to my ex and my daughters. I am going to make sure they will be taken care of when I’m gone. You are giving the gift of love Phoenix. You are not giving them the pain of death and chaos.”
My breath stops a moment. A warmth fills my chest. I had not thought about this as love, but necessity. I had not thought that this was a gift, but a requirement.
As I focused on the pain of not being around to enjoy life, I had not allowed myself to see that I was breathing life into my family.
Rafiki’s Experiment Part 2
“Ok,” Rafiki claps his hands, interrupting my processing. “Let’s try another.”
“I fear being furloughed.” I was ready for this before he even asked.
“Have you been grounded before?”
His question catches me off guard. What? You aren’t going to ask why I fear furlough or what that means to have one’s wings cut and the feeling of being grounded?
Without answering quick enough, he asks again, more firm this time, spacing each word out, “Have…you…ever…been…grounded?”
“Ah, yes,” I stammer.
“And did you get to fly again?”
“Yes. Every time I…”
“How many times have you been grounded?” He’s enjoying this interrupting and heckling.
“Umm…” I count on my fingers, “Four times. I think…”
“And you flew again?” he repeats the question.
“Yes,” I say with a little anger in my voice.
“Been downgraded before?”
“Yes.” Arrggg, I grown outloud.
“Been denied an interview for an airline job or position you believed you were qualified for?”
“Yes,” I stammer.
“Let me see if I get this right. You fear being furloughed, or grounded. And yet you’ve been grounded four times in your career, been denied opportunities elsewhere, have been downgraded, and yet every time you’ve gotten to fly again?”
“Yes.” I can’t seem to hide the bitterness in my tone. I know he’s trying to help me. I take a deep breath.
“What?” Again, he catches me off guard.
“Why do you fear being grounded when that’s only been temporary in the past?”
Uh, oh. Here it comes. I start to vomit my words in a rush, “Because, I’ve finally gotten where I wanted to be in my career. I’m tired of taking a step forward, and every time feeling as if the carpet just got pulled out from under me!”
“So, you would rather life just be easy?”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“I’m listening.” And he’s smiling too. He loves this way too much.
“I’ve got the financial responsibility of providing child support and alimony for my ex and my girls. I’ve got my own personal reasonability of keeping a roof over my head and food on the table for my girls when they’re with me. And who knows, if I’m furloughed and don’t have an income coming in, I may have to move back in with the family in order to keep our house of cards from falling.” I’m breathing really hard now.
“Take a deep breath. I know I pushed you. I needed to do that.”
He gives me a moment to catch myself. “Look at those beliefs Phoenix. No wonder you’re having such a hard time. Your ex and your finances. Those two are your kryptonite. Your biggest weaknesses. On top of your unrealistic fear of death, you are burying yourself with thoughts and beliefs that are hurting you. Let’s pick this one apart too.”
Rafiki leans forward into the camera, trying to lock eyes on me (which is really hard when you are looking at a screen – the only way to lock eyes is to look into the camera, but then you can’t see the person you’re looking at so you aren’t really locking eyes).
Gently, ever so gently he says, “You will be financially ok through the end of September. This gives you space and time to plan. If, and I want to emphasis the word ‘if’, you get furloughed, it will be temporary. You will not be grounded for life. In fact, you could always still flight instruct, find a job flying for a corporate company, and you will still get to enjoy your passion of flight.”
He can tell I want to say something and holds up his hand. “You have the option available to you to move back in with your family. If,” he takes a breath. “If that is something you all agree upon. However, that is not the only option.”
Still holding his hand, he waits a moment, “Your responsibility is not to care for your family at the detriment of not being able to care for yourself. And, if your financial situation was to change, it is not your job, as a divorced father, to shoulder the burden alone. Your ex must then pick up her piece.”
The tears start to fall. I feel my face heating up. I feel the shame and the guilt of not being able to be a provider start to take over.
“If it comes down to it, both of you have the legal responsibility to reevaluate child support. If moving back in with her jeopardizes the emotional health and stability of Little Phoenix, which also means the emotional health and stability of your two girls, you two will need to find another way.”
The tears are pouring down my checks. I rub my eyes, my face, my nose. I start chastising myself for touching my face. Damn fucking media!!
“You are no longer a couple Phoenix.” His voice is still soft, kind. I listen, detached. “I know you would do everything you can to make sure they’re ok. Look at how you’re facing the fear of death straight on to plan your estate. You show how much you love them. However, your responsibility is to care for yourself first. Then, your job is to provide and care for your girls. Your job is not to protect and care for your ex.”
“But, if I don’t care for her, she can’t care for our girls,” I say through my sniffles.
“She made her choice Phoenix. The world as we know it has changed. It’s changed overnight. She has resources. She has her family. And she has a job that is very secure, even in a time like this. She has not given up being their mother. Phoenix, you carry too much responsibility on your shoulders. It is a shared responsibility. Your ex is in one of the best positions to take care of your girls in the times ahead.”
I nod, just trying to find something to do. I realize I’ve been holding myself the entire time (well except when I’m touching my face), more tightly now than before, gradually rocking. I’m trying to take care of Little Phoenix. Really I am.
I need to take care of Little Phoenix.
“When I was practicing Jitsu,” Rafiki briefly changes the subject. “If anyone said the word can’t, they were kicked off the mat. That person had to put money in a jar, stand in the corner, or some other form of discipline. Negative energy was not allowed on the mat. Period.
“Can I have you take a look at something a different way?” Rafiki seems almost pleading. “I have kicked you off the mat. It’s time to bring you back to the mat, free of that negative energy.”
“Huh? Ok,” I respond, not knowing what to say, the tears momentarily stopping. It was the way he asked that got my attention.
“Instead of looking at the doom and gloom of your industry…And, first, let me tell you, I have no idea what it’s like to see so many airplanes grounded, airports more deserted than ghost towns, and the lack of ATC and pilot chatter on the radio. I imagine that’s as heart wrenching as seeing how empty the city streets of New York City have become.
“Instead fearing that you will not be able to provide for your family, look at the opportunity that has just opened up before you!”
I’m not sure what he’s referring to. I’m hesitant but interested.
Rafiki starts to get excited again, eyes lighting up. I feel my sadness drifting away, his upbeat attitude contagious. “You’ve just purchased a course so you can work on getting your blog more mainstream. You’ve connected with a writing group that are also sharing their personal stories of struggling through addiction and their interpersonal transformations through recovery. You’re not only being given the time, but also the prospect of building your blog into something that was only just a dream a couple of months ago.
“Your goal has always been to build connection. To help one another come together with their personal struggles so together they can heal. To teach us how to love ourselves so we can nurture and parent our inner child as our parents were unable to do for us.” Wow, he sounds like a salesman for my blog.
“You can either believe that this is the biggest downturn in your life and continue to sit frozen…” Rafiki pauses.
“Or you can take the Gift of Possibilities that the universe is handing you right now.” He sits back and takes another sip of whatever he’s drinking, satisfied that he’s gotten his point across.
After what seems like an eternity, only because I was sitting in my chair looking dumfounded, Rafiki breaks the silence, “Phoenix, what will it be?”
I feel my strength starting to come back. A little bit more resilient. A tad bit stronger. I reply, “I’ll need to process this through my blog.”
“That’s the spirit!” Rafiki jumps up and does a little jig in front of his computer. He cracks me up sometimes. Then he sits back down. “I want to give you one more analogy to think about.”
“Ok?” I question.
“Let’s say you’re cooking a dish in a cast iron pan. You forget that the handle gets a little hot as you cook and accidentally grab the scalding piece of metal. What do you do?”
That’s a silly question. “I let go.”
“How long does it take to let go?”
“It’s instantaneous. I don’t even think about it.”
Where is he going with this?
“Then why is it, when we have beliefs that hurt us, we not only don’t let go of them, but we grab onto them and hold them tightly?”
I don’t answer. I don’t need to. I already know the answer.
“Why don’t people let go of the negative self-talk that blisters their soul?”
“Going back to our algebraic formula,” Rafiki continues. “Emotion + Belief = Feeling. What if we instantly let go of that searing hot handle? What if we learned how to quickly let go of that faulty belief? What if, instead, we let go of the belief and made our grommet meal?”
“I definitely still have times where I can’t let go and keep burning myself in the process.”
“Off the mat young man. And put $1.00 in that jar over there. No negative energy on the mat!”
“Oops. I said can’t huh?” Rafiki nods and starts laughing. “What now?” I ask, annoyed.
“Physically, we can make ourselves sore. But mentally? It’s limitless.”
Rafiki’s laughs turn into little snorts, then he gets serious. “The key is knowing when our belief is too hot to hold onto and how to instantaneously let it go. That’s awareness. That’s where mindfulness comes in.
“It’s knowing when we need to grab our oven mitt, our tools to self-soothe and self-care, slip them on, and start cooking again.
“We’re going to occasionally get burned. That’s part of life. That’s the acceptance piece. We don’t need to add to our pain by holding on as if our life depended on it. Accept the negative and then let go of it.”
My previous fear of talking to Rafiki, of digging in deeper with what’s been going on within myself, has been replaced with love and joy. It always happens that way. But sometimes, the process is so excruciatingly painful!
6 Feet Apart: The Illusion
My Fledglings. I have no idea where we are headed in the short-term or the long-term. I do not know how hard…I hear Rafiki reminding me to reframe my beliefs.
Let me rephrase that. I do not know where you’re at financially, emotionally, or relationally. I understand, and yet, I’m not aware of the depth of your own pain and struggles. Everyone’s story is their own.
What I do know is that the word choice, social distancing, is negative in my book. It means we must socially be distant from one another.
That’s not the case at all. We must stay Physically Distant, but we can still be Social.
The media portrays 6 Feet Apart as something that’s bad; you must stay away from one another or else. And Shelter in Place becomes viewed as being isolated.
We are more connected than we’ve ever been. Friends I haven’t spoken to in years are reaching out. Strangers are connecting online to do work outs together, meditate together, or, what has been really nice lately, sit in silence together and just write.
Do we look at what’s happened as something that’s bad or do we view it as an opportunity to grow?
Do we learn now the importance of having an emergency fund and not living paycheck to paycheck for next time?
Do we appreciate the connection we have with our friends and family instead of taking them for granted?
Do we for once, learn how to step aside our prejudices of race, gender, political parties, religion, the country we live in so we can realize that we are a world of humans that have become so interconnected in a global financial community that we need to learn how to work together and put our differences aside?
For many of us, this is a wake-up call.
It’s not bad. It’s not good. It’s not them vs. us.
It’s Awareness. We are collectively becoming aware.
We have the means. We have the tools. We can work towards healing and rebirth.
The question remains, do you want to hold onto the scalding hot handle?
Do you want to hold on for dear life?
Do you want to sit in the fire and burn?
Or do you want to Rise from the Ashes?
Do you want to Soar With the Eagles?
It may not always be easy, but we will survive. What we believe is what we will manifest.
Let’s reframe 6 Feet Apart.
We are 6 Feet and Connected!
It’s not Shelter in Place.
It’s we’ve Connected More With One Another in one month than we have in years.
My men’s texting support group has now changed to hanging out with sharing a beer on Zoom. I can have the connection I desire while sitting in my hotel room and not place that burden solely on my family.
If there’s a will, there’s a way. And we are finding our way.
We Will Rise!
Together We Can Heal
PS: When I had just finished writing my conversation with Rafiki part of this blog, a dear friend sent me this link on Facebook. It’s Levar Burton reading his book, The Rhino Who Swallowed the Storm. I was going to hold off watching this until I had a chance to edit my work, and then I thought to myself, “there’s a reason the Universe sent this to me right at this moment.”
The Rhino Who Swallowed A Storm
by LeVar Burton
hosted by Blavity
I clicked on the link and leaned back in the chair to listen. The “doer” in me struggled to sit. The “OCD” part didn’t want to stop working until the final version of my blog was completed (I did say the faucet was finally running. By turning it off, would it flow freely again when I turned it back on in 12 minutes?).
And yet, Little Phoenix had this yearning to have a book read to him. I listened to my inner child.
And I’m ever so grateful I took that time to listen to him. I was transported back to childhood and Levar’s message mirrored everything I had just written.
My Fledglings, take the time to grab your favorite stuffed animal or blanket, curl up on your bed or your favorite spot, maybe even grab a special drink or pop a bag of popcorn. Go ahead, be a kid again, and just listen to his story. It’s only 12 more minutes of your time.
Oh…and watch all the way through to the very end when he answers questions. There’s a special treat. I won’t tell you what that is. You’ll have to wait and find it yourself.
Speaking of which, I think I’m going to listen again….