I just broke down crying in an airport bathroom. Not the most embarrassing place I’ve cried since leaving my ex-husband – work bathrooms, the gym shower, my car, the therapist’s couch…Already a crier, I turned into a watering pot during and after my divorce. I’ve been a lot stronger lately, though, so the tears caught me by surprise.
But I’d just left my son with my ex-husband and driven to the airport to catch a flight out to Boston. Almost six months ago I decided to take a job in another state. I had a lot of good reasons for the choice, but it has led to a custody battle, courtrooms, and flying back and forth every other weekend to see my child. It’s been incredibly hard to be separated from him, and while I’ve found coping mechanisms they’re just distractions from the ache of being apart. The tears after this departure were long overdue.
After I pulled myself together I exited the stall and almost bumped into a woman who’d clearly been waiting for me.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I nodded, wiping away the last of the tears. “I will be. But thanks.”
It’s been a rough three years. A lot of growth, a lot of change and a lot of mistakes. I wouldn’t have got through it without my friends – or the kindness of strangers. Whether it’s a friend offering me her guest room when I’m in town or a stranger hanging out in an airport bathroom to make sure the woman crying her eyes out is okay, I have come to believe deeply that humanity is inherently kind.
It’s a radical belief in the face of the news, the cynicism that pervades our culture, and even our very-human desire to protect ourselves after the pain of a broken relationship. And I think it’s easier to buy into a different view of humanity because if we believe that humans are horrible it absolves us from being kind. It is easier to retreat behind the walls we can put up after pain, walls meant to protect us that can ultimately end up isolating us.
What we look for, we find.
Scientists call it the reticular activating system. It’s our brains’ filter, a bundle of nerves that sifts through all the information our brain encounters and serves us with the important stuff. It seeks out what you’re looking for in the midst of the noise.
Imagine if you’ve lost sight of your child in a crowd at the state fair and are desperately searching for him or her. Once you find them you’d be hard-pressed to describe the music playing, the sounds of the carnival rides, the food booths you passed or the other patrons. Why? Because you were looking for your child. That’s all that you focused on, and that’s all you saw and–since we’re going for a happy ending here–that’s what you found.
Reinforcing negative beliefs may help you feel safe but they sure won’t make you happy.
In a similar way if you go looking for stories to validate your belief that people are cruel or unkind, you’ll find it. With a world rocked by divorce and change that you don’t always choose “safe” may look very attractive. Reinforcing those negative beliefs may help you feel safe but they sure won’t make you happy.
To be vulnerable is an act of courage. It’s opening yourself up to new possibilities. Not just love but going back to school, or trying a new hobby, making new friends or switching jobs. It’s finding the light in people. It’s accepting that your choices may not turn out as expected and that’s okay.
For years if you’d asked me if the glass was half full or half empty I’d have said, “Empty and never going to be full again.” But that negativity, the pessimism and the cynicism with which I used to live my life just plain feels old. When I fall back into that dark hole it’s like putting on an old jacket that doesn’t fit anymore. Too tight in the sleeves, won’t button across the chest, and you wonder why it’s still hanging in your closet.
Of all the choices you have to make post-divorce, why not choose to look at yourself and how you can become a better person? Set intentions for joy and love, and don’t hold on to the old emotions like anger or bitterness. Bury them with your dead marriage. Once you’ve gone through the natural grieving process and accepted the changes in your life, think about the choices you can make for yourself. And, when given a choice as to how to show up to the people around you–choose to both see and be the kindness in the world.
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