Love after Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Somehow I learned early on that it was more important to get outward approval than to reach inside take a look around and acknowledge some of the better parts and qualities of myself and grow from there. For years wearing my eyes on the outside meant constant comparison, self criticism, and tons of judgement; meant never measuring up because there would always be someone smarter, prettier, savvier, funnier and the list goes on…
In school we were not taught self compassion, rather we were taught that criticism was the catalyst to success. I learned if I was hard enough on myself, I would hurdle barriers and climb various ladders and find happiness. Junior high and high school were ruthless advocates for homogeneity. Wrong shoes, wrong lunch, wrong hair cut, meant finding yourself sitting alone at lunch or being snickered at or bullied or written about in notes that were passed around. And so, I, like many of us, learned to mould myself into someone I was not, to hide my realness and to dislike who I was because expressing who I was led to scrutiny and isolation. Uniqueness was akin to social death.
It was in university that I began to allow for the expression of uniqueness–we all are unique in some ways–and allow buried parts of myself to emerge. I think honouring our uniqueness requires self compassion. Allowing ourselves to be real and not hide behind so many masks means we are saying to ourselves that it is okay to just “be”. It is okay to say no to comparing and judging and always trying to fit in.
One image that comes to mind is both literal and figurative. Tight pants were the style when I was a teen in the 80’s. I vividly remember being in Manhattan and going to Firoucci to get jeans. I tingled with anticipation. My poor mom who hates shopping at the best of times acquiesced and came with me. I lay down on the floor in the dressing room to get the pants on. I Couldn’t breathe when they were zipped up but there was a knowing that I had to get these jeans because then maybe, just maybe I could fit in and choose where I wanted to sit at lunch. Squeeze in to fit in. And so, because my mom wouldn’t buy me those painted on pants, I used my allowance and babysitting money and bought those Fiorucci jeans. They bought me one week at the popular table and then I was cast out.
It may seem counterintuitive but when we can fully embrace ourselves and allow our uniqueness to surface we build strength and resilience. We hold ourselves with respect. We have an oasis to go to when everything feels it is crumbling around us.
Of course there are parts of ourselves that we don’t like, try to hide and those parts too need our compassion. Kindness towards the rough parts of who we are does not abnegate responsibility from change and growth. Kindness, though, does lead gently and does not call for flagellation and self hatred, rather, we change by embracing and accepting. Moreover, we connect to what Kristin Neff refers to as Common Humanity. “Life entails suffering, for everyone, without exception.” To know we are not alone in our pain and suffering is big.
Why kindness and compassion? Because it is the door that works.
And so, love again the stranger that was yourself.