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How do we catch up with friends when we are still figuring out who we are now?

On AA, Lazarus, and Our Emotional Bodyguards

Last night, thrilled by the fact that alcoholics can again gather in church basements, I wandered into a recovery meeting I have never been to and finally sat my ass down again. There were perhaps a dozen people there, all much older than I, and two of them told their harrowing and hilarious stories of sobriety.

I found myself feeling such warmth toward these strangers; such gratitude that I could spend an hour of my evening in the same room with them. And toward the end I realized that I was far less fidgety than I would have been in the same situation 14 months ago, more grateful to be there, less critical of the people around me, maybe even less critical of myself. It made me smile. And then it made me wonder “yes, but for how long?”.

In my Sunday Pandemic Prayers in March I wrote :

I’m not who I was a year ago. 

I want so badly

to hug my friends again

and laugh like hell again

and have amazing conversations again

and yet I am not sure how long I could do any of this before crying or just getting really quiet. My emotional protective gear has worn so thin, and grief just leaks out everywhere now.

I am so afraid that I will never be who I once was. And I am also afraid that I will be.

(Not to mention, I’m not entirely clear what size jeans I wear as the me I am now)

And yet, when I quiet my anxious thoughts, I start to suspect that I am now closer to the me you have always known and always loved.

So help me trust that, Lord.

As things change, help us be gentle with ourselves and with each other. We are all wearing newborn skin right now.

Amen.

As I sat in that church basement with my “newborn skin”, I thought about Lazarus.

What was Lazarus was like, having been dead in his own tomb for several days and then raised by Jesus.

What had shifted in the darkness of his own tomb?
How long did it take his eye to adjust to the light?
I bet that part hurt.

I wonder if Lazarus was filled with resolve, given another shot at life. He will never take his sister for granted again. He will always say please and thank-you. He will not squander one more precious moment of life getting angry in traffic.

Or maybe he had changed, truly changed, and Mary and Martha treated him as though he hadn’t, and he didn’t know how to stop playing the part because he didn’t want to make them uncomfortable, but that was killing him all over again.

Surely he changed in ways that were not visible to those who were “just glad to have him back”.

This is all of us right now. At least that is what I suspect.

My “Hedge of Protection” (my ride-or-die group of women from all across the country) are all flying here in August to be a part of something I’ll write about soon.

For years we have gone on retreats together.
And each year of our lives have always changed us in some way, so we when we see each other, we try and catch up.

But how do we “catch up” with friends right now when at the same time we are trying to catch up with ourselves?

I know I have changed in some ways.
The grief and loss and isolation of the last year have allowed my emotions to come closer to the surface than usual.

I need more space. More time to reflect. I sink into my thoughts without realizing it, even when I am around other people. I think my heart may be more open than ever. My emotions are closer to the surface. I don’t feel nearly as defended. I used to have a bonkers schedule and was so busy and now it as if I can do UP TO one things a day before feeling a stone pull back to the quiet of my apartment.

There are parts who we were that may not return.

There are parts who we were that will remain.

There are parts who we are now that are new, or renewed.

There are parts of who we are now that will be revealed slowly.

And yet, damnit, despite my own resolve, I’m already getting angry in traffic again.

Anne Lamott writes in her new book about her friend that says that when you first meet him, you meet “his bodyguard”.

I feel like my bodyguard (the part of me I felt safe showing you, whose job it was to protect the parts of me I couldn’t show) was off for so long during this pandemic that maybe she’s not coming back and that feels both liberating and terrifying.

So… given all of this, how do we allow for all of it? How do we allow for who we are now and allow for who others are as well. How do we remember to show the curiosity toward our friends that we need for others to show toward us. How do we not treat others as if they are the same, when of course they are not?

I feel like we should wear a name tag right now that says “Hi! I’m: still figuring it out

How do we catch up?

The only answer I have right now is: gently. (and maybe with some prayer).

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