In 1988, I broke up with one of the greatest loves of my life: Paul. It was a painful break-up and a long painful recovery. At age 54, I’m lucky enough to have had 2 or 3 great loves so far. Maybe 4 if you count the marvelous cat I had for 16 1/2 years. But I do digress.

As I said, I broke up with Paul in 1988. Well…he actually initiated the last break-up, although we’d taken turns over the years. I just never believed he’d be the one to finally end it. This was the most painful break-up I’ve ever experienced, surpassed only in its emotional toll by my mother’s death last year.

In getting over Paul and allowing myself to move on, I often had to  remind myself of all the horrible times we had and how unhealthy the relationship had been for me. (And it had been.) So over the years, most of what’s left behind are some vague memories of all the yucky stuff. Not too many of the good memories remain. They were never reinforced the way the bad ones were.

I worry sometimes that the therapy-based cleansing process I (and so many people) use to heal may not leave enough of the good stuff behind and may actually over-emphasize the crap. And there can be plenty of crap if you keep digging, especially for long-term relationships as with Paul – or my mother. So many demons from our past. And so many countless little hurts to go along with all the big ones.

Anyway…as part of a discussion about how much of the pain of the past we need to rehash in order to heal, Surface Earth’s latest post references one of my favorite books Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

cover art where the wild things are

In the Sendak book, young Max unblinkingly stares the wild things right in the eyes, letting them know they don’t have power over him. Just like the wild things from our past.

I so love the book and was glad Surface Earth reminded me about it. And then as I leafed through the book, I was grabbed by a ghost from the past. There was an inscription in the book:

Ronnie,

Here’s some mature stuff for what I hope will be an advanced year in 1986.

Love,

Paul

Hah! It was from Paul. I didn’t remember he gave me the book; I was absolutely sure I bought it for myself! So much for memories. It was nice to be reminded that he did love me – at least back in 1985 – and that he knew me well enough to give me a gift I truly loved and still do. He was not the total bogey-man my memory has made him into in an attempt to leave him behind.

Oh…he’s in the past for sure. But it was nice to remember that I wasn’t a complete idiot in loving him. There were some really good parts as well as the stuff that just didn’t work. OK…a LOT of stuff that didn’t work. But I think it’s important to honor the good parts. In fact, I think it lifts the soul. This just isn’t a black and white thing. We are all nuanced and so are our relationships. And we grow from all the parts – if we’re lucky.

And, of course that applies big time with my mother. We had a lot of tough times, but oh how we loved each other. And in the end, we had become friends – admittedly aware of and respecting each other’s many boundaries – but loving friends for sure. And as much as wading through the past in hip boots might unearth emotionally painful crap, there is a lot of love there too.

I guess all we can do is try to learn from the wild things – looking straight into their eyes – and hopefully strengthening who we are as a result. How much yucky stuff we actually need to wade through, I still don’t know. I’m not convinced it needs to go on and on for a long time until we squeeze out every ounce of hurt.

And if love was truly there, I definitely think we need to look at that too. Honoring the love touches the very heart of how we see ourselves as loving beings.

Love is like a fun-house mirror that reflects all our flaws as well as our beauty. It’s where the wild things are and also where our spirit flies. Like a healing salve it should be taken as often as needed. And when those wild things come at you, just look them in the eyes without blinking and tell them what Max did: “BE STILL!”

—-

A little extra: A wise friend of mine recently reminded me of a similar technique that was used on the Wicked Witch of the West by Glinda the Good in The Wizard of Oz:

“Nonsense! You have no power here. Now be off with you before someone drops a house on you.” You tell ’em, Glinda!