One afternoon, years ago, on a visit to see my soul sister and great teacher, Joy, we were sitting in the little studio/house her husband had built for her, set in the woods behind their home in North Carolina. We were talking for hours as we always did. I guess that day she unconsciously decided to teach me about the Shadow. Joy always teaches me something. She doesn’t try to, but still she does. She said in her adorable southern dialect: “Say—’I am selfish.’ Say those words aloud—’I am selfish’, Say it.”
I was shocked. I didn’t want to say I was selfish. I am a two on the Enneagram and in those days, I used to pride myself in not being selfish. Ha!
She persisted. “I know you are a generous, loving person but you are also selfish. We all are. Even when you eat a piece of broccoli you cut that broccoli’s life short. You are selfish. You are choosing you over the broccoli. Say it!”
Now you have to understand that Joy is the gentlest and kindest of souls. Never harsh to me. Unconditionally loving. In 26 years of friendship she and I have only had three or four short difficult conversations that always led to immense healing. Why was she pushing this?
I tried to say it and gagged. We laughed hysterically. I burbled out, “Why are you doing this to me?” “Say it!” she repeated tears running down her face with laughter. Both of us were wheezing we were laughing so hard. She had caught me metaphorically with my pants down, exposing what I wanted to keep most secret. I tried again. This time I almost threw up, but I forced it out. She laughed even harder. So did I. “Say it and mean it! Go on.” I practiced it again, trying to get behind the words, be a good human-actor, make it believable. Until “I am selfish” became the truest words I could speak, until this part of me that I wanted to disown so badly became a part of me again, making me more whole.
And that day my love of shadow work began. A workshop was born called Loving the Ugly and now my next book is going to be called LOVING THE UNLOVABLE IN OURSELVES AND OUR PARTNERS.
As I write this, I am so so so selfish. My beloved Joy is in hospice and though I want her suffering to end and her soul to be set free again, I cannot bear it. How will I go on without her friendship and guidance? How will I continue to grow? Me. Me. Me. Selfish. I know if she could speak, she would tell me that I will go on and I will grow. But I will not be able to hold her hand again, see those crystal-clear sky-blue eyes, hear that voice, laugh uncontrollably out of perspective and precious exposure of my most human places. I am angry. I am selfish.
My head knows I should meet this moment with peace and faith but my heart is broken and I am proud of this anger. I want to indulge it selfishly. I want to feel everything profoundly. Deep, cutting, raw and vicious. I don’t want to feel comfort or peace. I want to continue to sob and sob and scream and wail. I want to feel either dead or the excruciating pain from this loss. I want to hold onto it, not transcend it.
I know I would be peaceful if I was next to her. If I could call up my finest hour for her right now, I could. I would set aside my selfishness. I would find the deepest peace and do it for her. Enter peace, stop her suffering. But she is far away, and the honest truth is that I am in total inner conflict. Period. I cannot bypass this. “I am selfish, Joy, wanting you in my life forever.”
I went to see her two weeks ago, visit, massage her delicate feet, give her table sessions. We even laughed and cried together again. We were in the ethers together, floating above this all, this hard life of ours. I didn’t know then that would be our last physical contact. In retrospect I see that those sessions opened the portal to her exit. Though she was still walking with just our hands holding. I was holding all of her as we spoke of letting go. But I thought then there were months to go. Another visit next month. I didn’t know I might never touch her again or hear her voice or laugh until we cried.
As I left her, she shuffled to the back door with the help of a friend as I climbed into the car to go to the airport. She waved at me like we were two little girls waving goodbye. That image of her is burned in my head.
I know the purest light will come. It always has as far as Joy is concerned. It will come because the light creates the shadow. The light is always there but gets obscured. But right now, I am selfish, and in a huge pity party, as if I am the only one who has lost such a treasure.
And then there are those frequent moments when I am the opposite. When I feel unbelievably graced with moments of gentle peace, and immense gratitude, and I know she will always be near. The light comes. And her timing for when to teach me, and how – perfection.
I was in a sound studio recording the last chapter of my new book, ACTING LESSONS FOR LIVING, which she wrote with me, though she didn’t know it. Everything I have grown into and share begins from her guidance. She had wanted to hear it on Audibles as reading has become hard for her. Exactly when I was reading the last chapter into the microphone, Curtain Call, Final Bow, a text came in saying she had been brought to hospice and was not really conscious anymore. Perfect timing, of course, Joy.
Joy, you continue to shine light on my shadows and you always do it with acceptance and love, and always will – wherever you are.