‘I am I said, to no one there, and no one heard at all, not even the chair. I am I cried, I am said I, and I am lost and I can’t even say why, leaving me lonely still…’ – I Am…I Said by Neil Diamond
Orchestrating a geographic distance from everything that supports, sustains and affirms us is a time-honored way of breaking up with our old selves; still, it doesn’t lessen the perplexed, aggravated, hurt and possibly tut-tutting emotions of family and friends who feel we’ve broken up with them.
In 1992 my parents emigrated to the UK, leaving four children who could fend for themselves and taking the three who could not.
It was heartbreaking watching my littlest sister go through the gates to fly to her new, colder country – before my wedding late in 1990 we were inseparable; strangers would sometimes assume she was my daughter (giving me questioning glances because it pointed to a very early teenage pregnancy).
Twenty five years later I embarked on a less dramatic relocation that brought home to me why my Mom moved herself so far from what she knew, and away from many who loved her.
It was time to Grow Up – and sometimes we’re in our forties (or fifties) before we do it.
When surrounded by familiarity we’re surrounded by:
- well-meaning people who question our inner answers, and answer our inner questions in the framework of their own priorities and personalities, not ours
- constructed ideas about who we are
We’re no longer ‘I Am’. It’s more of a ‘You Are’.
Growing Up is being in a place where, metaphorically, you have no roots, no generational watering hole, no friend landscape, no signposts, no tribe, no defenses, no backup and no one to do anything for you that you are capable of doing if you’ve no choice but to do so.
What you rely on is your resourcefulness and the shaky relationship you have with yourself. In many cultures this was the classic initiation into self-mastery and self-knowledge – the lonely and dangerous period spent in isolation meeting yourself and forces of nature and spirit that made you a man…if you survived.
You can get the same result if you move suburbs of course, or, if you’re particularly feisty, staying right where you are…but for some of us it has to be harder and harrowing – cutting the ties that bind us to who we think we are requires a stint in a kind of wilderness, a trek into the unknown with nothing but our own heart, spirit and wits to sustain us. We unwittingly become a soul pioneer, travelling beyond our internal borders by crossing geographic ones.
You have experiences in your new environment that take you to the limits of who you think you are and show you who you really are.
For me, the aloneness, the apartness, is a gift I appreciate only when I’ve kept myself company like a dear sister would – when I’ve listened to my emotions and frustrations and churning thoughts and cried my heart out on my own shoulder…’I Am’ I’ve cried.
We experience a lot of what we don’t want to know, and unapologetically state, what we do want.
When everything we’ve become to please others is stripped away to make room for everything we must become to please and love ourselves, we take full responsibility for our choices and life.
Slowly but surely, in the isolation of a relocation, we build this new, fresh, satisfying, authentic persona. We distill our experiences into a unique essence and allow for less and less dilution of our true nature – a self that knows where she ends and others begin; a self that relishes being on her own, whether in a relationship or not; a self who can be, and lovingly express, exactly who she is and accepts the losses incurred if others find this offends, displeases or disturbs them.
In separating from everything we’ve identified with we identify the newness in everything – including the ability to soothe ourselves and tenderly care for our own needs. That’s when you’re ready – ready to love again, ready to step up, step out and take the world by storm.
I sit on the chair and say ‘I Am’ and need no one but myself to hear the statement. It took a divorce from everything I’d previously known to recognize the truth…we stand alone because our own-ness is what makes us formidable. It’s what keeps us Growing Up to our tallest Self.
The pains that come with stretching our personal and physical borders can feel like torture. Yet, like any contrast in life, they make us a kinder, more compassionate, open, frank, funny and nourishing being – to ourselves and to those who know how to love the new ‘I Am’.
And that’s OK.
P.S. Mom, I know you appreciate Neil Diamond and Growing Up. This one’s for you.