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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

What I learned at the Elizabeth Gilbert lecture

I believe in synchronicity. I believe that when you really need to hear a message, it will come. I know it sounds hokey and new-age but it's happened to me too many times in my life to think that it's a fluke. Sometimes it's so wild when it happens that I look up to the heavens and I think "Why, God, aren't you clever sending me the message this way! I got it. Thank you! Now if you could work on extending the life span of dogs that would be great."

This weekend there was a message I needed to hear.

On Sunday night I went to see a lecture by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat Pray Love," "Big Magic," and soon to be released "City of Girls." I almost didn't go. I had bought the ticket months ago and promptly forgot about it until my calendar alerted me to the event. My first thought was this:  "I'm busy. It's raining. I need to feed the baby and put her to bed. I would rather just go to bed early. I hate driving into the city."  Then I realized it's Liz Gilbert. I have "Eat Pray Love" DVR'd so I can watch my favorite parts of the film in Italian and remember that she was the reason I took three semesters of Italian after seeing the film. So, (to quote Liz) I put on my big girl panties and got dressed and went to the lecture.

There is something wonderful about being around other people who just want to live their best life, like the audience there for Liz. When she came out on stage, the audience, of course, cheered and then sat there rapt as Liz shared the heartbreaking story of her partner, Rayya Elias's struggle with pancreatic cancer. It wasn't just a struggle with this terrible disease but also her struggle to avoid taking opioids to help with her pain. As a former addict who had been clean for 17 years, she didn't want to go back to that dark place. The pain, though, was too intense and she finally did submit to pain-relieving drugs which unfortunately started her spiral into the darkness again.

In this clearly painful story to retell, Liz told how at one point she was to administer pain relieving patches to Rayya. These were serious patches-Fentanyl, an opioid 80-100 times stronger than morphine. For 72 hours Liz administered these patches but for 72 hours Rayya had no relief. It wasn't working. They were both in a cataclysmic hell. And then Liz called the nurse. When she same over, she looked at the patches on Rayya and it was then that she realized that Liz hadn't removed the thin layer of film between the patch and the Raaya's skin. Liz stepped away to the bathroom and cried tears of regret. She knew that for those 72 hours, the hell that Rayya was living was because of her. And then she took a moment and asked herself what the old Raaya, the Raaya before the cancer would have said. She would have forgiven Liz and Liz realized if it was anyone else that this happened to, she would have told them "Forgive yourself. It sucks but it was an honest mistake. If you knew better you would have done it differently." Liz realized that she would have been gentle with anyone else but not with herself. She had to find mercy and forgive herself.

This resonated with me so much that my eyes welled up as she spoke. I have forgiven people who have done unkind things to me (maybe not immediately but I found a way). Yet, I still carry my regret, sadness and anxiety around with me. It's like a wound that I just keep aggravating. I cover it up instead of letting air and sunshine get to it and let it heal. I hold onto it because I feel like I should.

As I drove home in the Seattle traffic on Sunday night with the rain was coming down in waves, I had the radio off and I realized that beating myself up isn't working. This self-sabotaging thing isn't working either.  I had a conversation with God. I asked Him to forgive me. As a Catholic I've gone to confession and I know that I have received absolution. I thought if God can forgive me, who am I to not forgive myself?  I asked Him to please let me be gentle with myself.  Showing yourself gentleness and mercy doesn't mean it never happened. It means it happened, yes, but you have made your peace (however that is with God, yourself or someone else) and now it's time to leave it behind.

I hope in the next few days, weeks, months that the anxiety and regret in my heart dissipates like fog on the beach in the morning. One minute it's there clouding everything up and then just like that, it's gone and you're standing there in the sunshine. I'm looking forward to that.

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