In 2005, a documentary was released into the wilds of film and humanity’s hearts. It seemed everyone was talking about The March of the Penguins. When I finally watched it, I bawled my eyes out. After all, the film documents the extreme challenges the Emperor penguin face in order to grow into adulthood and repeat the cycle of penguin life. This is a species that has evolved via a careful plan that best protects itself. The males incubate the eggs through the worst weather so that the chicks are mature when the food is most plentiful. Emperor penguins do not deviate from this strategy. At some point, they found what works and that’s what they teach their chicks to do still today. But when things go wrong, many perish. When I think of the cataclysmic effects of say the female Emperors not returning to the males and chicks due to their migratory paths being destroyed…well it just breaks my heart. And yet, I am not so different.
Whereas penguins have developed coping skills to survive life in the Antarctic, my coping skills get me through my life in the temperate Pacific Northwest. I may not deal with arctic temperatures but my life is not without its own challenges, lack of stylish appearance and waddle notwithstanding. This was never so apparent to me as last Tuesday when I needed to venture to the City Planning offices.
The backstory here is that a while back, we realized our house needed a major repair. Bids, builder license reviewal, all the normal steps taken and we had a building contractor. Work began, work progressed, and then work stopped. And one day he never came back, leaving us in the lurch without a completed job, without a “passed” final inspection.
So on Tuesday, as my heart thudded in my chest and my hand shook while I pulled that door open, I had to ask myself just why was I so upset. Things happen. Sure, the building contractor was total crook that my rudimentary home-owner-self-protection skills hoodwinked. But on Tuesday morning, as I sat in the parking lot, renewed building permit in hand, I forced myself to really look at why this whole house fixing fiasco has at times made me feel broken inside. The answer? It makes me feel terribly vulnerable and stupid. First I was taken advantage of by a crook, but then I found myself in a place where I just couldn’t make any forward motion. Like any hoarder knows, when the chaos gets too great to easily tackle, it gets easier and easier to pretend you don’t see the chaos. To turn a blind eye to it all. So for far too long, I just ignored the whole damn thing. Then the city sent me a reminder that my permit had expired and I was forced to deal with…everything, including how stupid I felt for having used the coping skill of avoidance for too long.
That kind of self-deception takes a toll. For me, I often wake with a pounding heart, it fills my dreams, it terrifies me. Oh, I know it is absolutely ridiculous. And yet, this has been my life for far too long. For far too long, I have held onto the coping skills I thought were preserving me, like some Emperor penguin who’s mate will never return.
Perhaps it doesn’t seem like much to you, but finally accepting that getting “over this thing” is going to require that I just get “through this thing” was freeing.
Like a penguin who finally accepts that loss of planned outcomes is sometimes inevitable and moves on, thus allowing itself to survive the loss, I am moving forward. I am moving slowly, and without much grace or finesse, but I am moving forward through my winter and into my spring.