Sunday, October 13, 2013

Settling Dust

I got back to the United States of God Bless America about six weeks ago. The last six weeks have been a whirlwind of change. And it's been difficult to catch my breath and take a bird's-eye view of what my life has recently become.

Things have started to calm down a bit and it's been interesting to see what it looks like to have the Palauan dust settle. I've been thinking a lot about how Palau changed me and why it changed me and what scars are left to prove it. As I've started to recover from what I experienced and have felt myself heal, I've been able to see much more clearly where and what the wounds were that preceded the scars.

It's no big secret to those of you who have been reading Stranger for a while that Palau was not the easiest experience of my life. And I'm not just referring to Leotrix--although he was no help.

When I first got there I felt some major shock that I thought would wear off. It didn't. And in fact, it got much harder to swallow. And in the process I felt the process swallow me whole. I temporarily lost a big piece of myself and turned into someone I had never been before and someone I didn't like as much.

This isn't to say that I hated myself or that I was completely miserable. Neither of those things were the case. But in Palau, I often became reclusive, which was against my nature, and beaten, which was inconsistent with who I had been before.

It was rough going for a while. And there were a lot of bad things I was too tired or too cowardly to change about my situation.

As that dust has settled and I've thrown myself back into my Salt Lake life, I've found myself thinking a lot about what happened in Palau, and why it happened, and how I can keep some of it from happening again. I'm so happy right now. And I feel like I'm turning back into myself again. It's invigorating and fun. But I also know that I'll never be exactly what I was before. Because I hadn't experienced Palau when I was what I was before.

Palau was an adventure, both in the traditional and non-traditional senses of the word. All adventure is is the process of someone experiencing something uncomfortable. Moving to the middle of the Pacific Ocean during the prime of my life was an adventure, in the most traditional sense.

But what I really benefited from were all of the non-traditional adventures that occurred when I got there. Getting out of bed and forcing a smile on my face, even when it felt like my life was coming apart at the seams. Having a teenage boy look me in the eyes and tell me he was scared about a really serious problem he was too afraid to report to authorities and having no idea how to respond to him. Staying when the prospect of staying seemed dark and frightening. These, and many others, were adventures for me. Hard ones.

These experiences can make us better people. Hand-picked adventure gives us the courage to battle the adventures that are forced upon us. They teach us things that the comforts of life are too shallow to show us. For me, Palau was a hand-picked adventure that forced upon me unknowns that I didn't anticipate. And now, looking back at it and seeing how it has thickened my skin and prioritized my values, I can't use big enough words to express how happy I am that I was so unhappy for a little while.

I needed that. I can see it clearly now. I needed Palau. There are things I wish I had done differently with that experience. Some things I think I did just right. But despite the mistakes, I would never trade the lessons.

Sometimes I write this blog about my zany adventures and the quirky constant happenings and I think you might be getting a view of me that isn't entirely accurate. I don't know if I've been nearly as clear about my struggles as I have about my laughs. And maybe with time I'll get better at that. Or maybe I won't. But I just want to let you know now--if there are any out there who might benefit from hearing it--the storms do come my way. Often at the same time as the laughs. And some of the storms have been very ugly. But as I get older, I find that I cherish them in the aftermath more and more. I am what I am because of those storms. Those storms don't make me and you who we are. But what we do during them does.

Maybe you feel crippled by your struggles. Stuck because of your circumstances. Scared because of your limits. I've been there. In a real and ugly way. And I know it's not always easy to hear it when you're at the lowest of lows or somewhere close to it, but: things will get better.

You have it in you to make them get better. And when they do, you'll walk a little taller and be a little prouder of your battle wounds. Because they'll represent some really significant victories. And when you do get there, you and me are going to celebrate those victories together. Because we'll both understand it. And we'll need to remember the celebration when we're in the middle of the next storm.

Twice up the barrel, once down the side.

~It Just Gets Stranger

28 comments:

  1. At times your writing is a great assurance, and tonight is one of those times. Thanks for this post, Eli.

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  2. I had just finished my most recent blog post and needed to hear this. Thank you.

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  3. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from A Tale Of Two Cities:

    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was great the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way."

    You mostly write about the good times, but life is good times and bad times all wrapped up into one. Thank you for sharing your struggles with us, but never apologize for looking and focusing on the good.

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  4. If it's any consolation, Eli, many things clear up - and some just go away - as you live longer, and have more and more life experiences under your belt.

    Until then, wrap up tightly in the Snuggie when the going gets too tough.

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  5. Beautiful words. Thanks for being real.

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  6. This is one of my favorite talks and I was listening to it while getting ready for church yesterday. Your post today is very reminiscent of the same sentiments. All Princesses have to go through struggles and trials before they find their "Happily Ever After". :) http://www.lds.org/ensign/2010/05/your-happily-ever-after

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  7. I think that it is easier to share funny things, and to share bad things when we can make them seem funny, than it is to really honestly share bad, troubling times with others. But only when we CAN share those bad things, are we really able to connect with other people. We are afraid, sometimes, because we don't want to be a 'downer" or to seem that maybe we are 'wallowing' in our sorrows, so we don't tell the entire tale when that tale is sad. I have noticed that there is an unspoken time limit for some friends, in which they will listen to your sorrows then they no longer want to hear it. It is important to have good friends who will listen without judgement until you are all talked out and ready to move ahead. One of my children died nearly four years ago now, and for the first year all of my friends were ready to listen but after that they seemed to feel I should be "over it" . I am still not 'over it' and the experience is as painful today as it was then. However, I have learned not to speak of grief or sorrow to them because it will not a good experience for me. But through all of this misery, two friends have stayed with me and they are completely okay if I need to grieve. Those two will sit with me in silence, not feeling the need to 'make me happy' or change the subject or help me 'move on'. They hear me. And I know that we are all mostly just strangers here on your blog but I think you should feel that it is okay to be sorrowful with us and we will hear you. Sometimes all grief and sorrow need is to be heard and acknowledged.

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  8. Thank you for sharing your storms with us, your readers. I wholeheartedly agree, "Those storms don't make me and you who we are. But what we do during them does." You are a treasure, Eli.

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  9. So needed to hear this today.

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  10. It's great to see this, especially that you did overcome the difficulties and even though it was hard that it was worth it in the end. Thanks.

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  11. Your post as absolutely beautifully well written. It had the sense of realness to it that was refreshing to see. It's so encouraging to read this entry, thank you Eli

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  12. I worked for a year as a nurse at a children's home (basically institutional foster care) in rural South America. It changes you, humbles you, and you only realize how much when you try to go back to your life "before". I've come realize that my life is a series of "befores" and "afters." Only God can help me make the "afters" better than the "befores" and survive the "durings". They are the scariest and (in retrospect) usually make me realize more about myself than I really wanted to know. But it is so worth it in the end.

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  13. I have been feeling like this too recently for an adventure I chose, and you couldn't have put it any better. We all weather our own storms, inside and out. Thanks for this post Eli.

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  14. You're awesome, Eli! This is the stuff that links us all together - the human experience!

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  15. Thanks for sharing, Eli. As Nena said, life is about those before's, during's and after's. It's when we learn to be the people God wants us to be. We might be strangers, but we do all care - otherwise we wouldn't follow your crazy blog!

    Hugs
    sue:)

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  16. I know it's not easy to share this kind of stuff with the world but I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate that you do. It makes a difference to me.

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  17. The fact that you can point out the ridiculous and laugh at them, especially in the thick of the storms, says a lot of your character. Just sayin'.

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    1. Says a lot about your character, I mean. Life happens fast, and everyone has trials; it's refreshing to see someone look for the good and find something to laugh at when it'd be easier to sit down and cry.

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  18. I love you Eli. Truly and Deeply. Thanks for the laughs and tears and your amazing example

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  19. Wow, could you have picked a more perfect day to write this?
    Thank you for your words,
    From one struggling with life's current struggles.

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  20. http://www.itgetsbetter.org/video/entry/10260/

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  21. I've always known you were a lawyer... so there must be more to you than most of your posts... but I enjoy the quirky side of you - the part you show to us... and now? I still enjoy you and am appreciative of the willingness to share more of who you are. I think you'll find today's post touches most all of your followers. It is, after all, a real life we live.

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  22. What everyone else said. In grad school, I did a lot of work on narrative and trauma: namely, in order to make sense out of our lives, we create stories. Everyone has experienced pain on some level, and in order to find a reason, or a sense, to that pain, we construct a narrative to make the inherent senselessness of human experience into something that has a shape and a sense. For many, that narrative is inseparable from religious faith: ie, belief in God is more than consolation; He is the force that shapes life. For others, it is writing, talking, and thinking. For a lot of people, it's a mix of both. Writing about your experiences helps everyone who reads it-- we are all trying to make meaning out of both the awesome stuff and the terrible stuff that populates our lives. So thank you. It takes courage to be this honest.

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  23. Great write up today. Share away man.

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  24. Loved your post! Back in Feb, I returned to the US after eight years in the Netherlands. This piece rings so true for me. Thanks for sharing, and enjoy your transition back to life in the States. Remember, resettling is a process--you may go up, you may go down, but in the end you'll even out in exactly the way you need to. Thanks again!

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