Not far from our place is a house overlooking the river. A few months ago it was for sale, and it wasn’t on the market long. A ranch-style house, it wasn’t as spectacular or flashy as some of its neighbors, but its location is prime. I didn’t think much of it until we drove past one day and the house was gutted and the roof was off.
The new owners, apparently, are taking the frame of the house and turning it into something of their own. They’ve added a second story and a bay window and what the house is becoming is unrecognizable from what it was when they bought it.
In becoming “whole” I’ve first become a whole lot more broken.
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent. — Crazy Jane Talks With the Bishop, by William Butler Yeats
I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention, a chronicle of her marriage. She quotes this poem by Yeats, and I can’t stop thinking about it. That to become whole I must first be torn.
I’ve been seeing a therapist for a few months and that’s what this process feels like sometimes. A shredding of who I thought I was, of what I believed. A ripping apart of the falsehoods. An exposing of the inner wounds. I leave the office sometimes having shed more tears in an hour than in the weeks prior, and though I am often exhausted by the emotional and spiritual toll of the work, the days afterward are healing and I feel more like my true self. More whole.
How it works, I don’t completely understand. How healing comes from brokenness, wholeness from pieces, I don’t know. But I can feel it inside. Every time I am torn by the pain of the past, every time I bring it into the light, I am one step closer to the me I lost.
I am almost glad I didn’t know this was part of the journey. I might not have started it had I known.
This L’Engle book is convincing me that her life and words have much to say to my own. I am a late bloomer when it comes to reading her work, and this is an unconventional place to start, I would guess. A Wrinkle in Time sits on my shelf in the to-read pile but I needed her words on marriage more.
She says of the union:
And what I must learn is to love with all of me, giving all of me, and yet remain whole in myself. (103)
This, too, is a mystery. I knew when I got married that two became one and something new was created, but I didn’t understand that I could still be me, too. We are two individuals living in communion, and I do not have to give up who I am to be his wife.
The losing of me is no one’s fault except my own. For many years, I couldn’t tell you what I liked. I wouldn’t make my own decisions or form my own opinions for fear of losing friends. Even in my early Christian experiences I felt the need to conform to be part of the group. Though I might have had my own thoughts, they were masked depending on the situation.
I remember a time in college when a bunch of us were sitting around talking about movies we loved. After someone named one, I would declare, “That’s the best!” I must have said the words a dozen times for a dozen different movies until someone called me out: “They can’t all be the best.” I didn’t even know I was doing it. A few years later, a friend asked me what my favorite cake was. She was going to bake it for my birthday. I had no answer, so I told her white cake with white frosting. (How boring is that!?) No offense if that’s your favorite, but it wasn’t mine. It was just the safest choice. (For the record, the answer is Boston Cream Pie. Or ice cream cake.)
Becoming whole means accepting me for who I am and who I could be. It means discovering my wants, needs and likes and not being afraid or ashamed of them. I feel like I’ve only recently begun to get to know myself. Some days I’m sad that it took so long, but I’m trying to be grateful that it’s happening at all.
A few years ago after our marriage crisis, we attended a one-day marriage workshop that my husband helped plan at his school. One of the therapists leading the workshop led us in an exercise to build a bridge or some kind of structure using uncooked spaghetti noodles and marshmallows, I think. I have no gift for envisioning a strategy but Phil immediately had a plan. We set to work and when the time was up, we hadn’t gotten as far as some of the others. I was feeling bad about our seemingly failed attempt when the therapist went around the table pointing out the positive attributes of each structure.
“Phil and Lisa’s might not be very tall, but it’s solidly built. It’s going to hold up over time.”
Those weren’t her exact words, but the thought behind them. They were perfectly timed, and she had no idea what we’d been through. I hang onto those words, still, for me and our marriage and the path that we’re on.
I may have gotten a late start on knowing myself, but I’m building a foundation that will support something I can’t yet see. It’s not about how tall or fast or soon but how firm the foundation. How solid the frame.
I may yet discover more tearing down, more shredding that needs to be done. Maybe that’s always part of the process. But I’m looking forward to the piecing back together. The rebuilding and restoring.
Most of all, I know now that broken isn’t always bad. Nor is it the end.
Sometimes broken has to come before whole.