“Compassion is not only relevant to those who are blameless victims, but also to those whose suffering stems from failures, personal weakness, or bad decisions. You know, the kind you and I make every day.” – Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind
I’m sitting on the Embarcadero, San Francisco, watching the almost-full moon rise over the sparkling The Bay Bridge. The light over the ocean is mesmerizing. Peaceful. Tomorrow I will do a dry run for my first wedding (which happens to be my little sister’s wedding), and Tuesday will be the real deal. Granted, I’m still a seminarian so I can’t sign the legal documents but I’ll be the one at the front saying the words.
This has been the plan for many, many months. After a truly crazy year of full time work and full time school, these few days being back in San Fran were going to be my reward. Only…I didn’t expect to be laid off. I didn’t expect NOT to qualify for Employment Insurance. I didn’t expect to return to my home community after Clinical Pastoral Education to no employment whatsoever.
I thought the end of CPE would mark a time of rest and resuming a healthy part-time work routine until seminary classes began again in September. Instead, exhaustion and burnout got ramped up as I watched my bank account dwindle.
But I had already committed to being at my sister’s wedding in a capacity that was truly meaningful for both of us. Most of my costs were being covered. And my parents, bless their hearts, have helped me cover the rest. I was GOING to San Francisco. I AM in San Francisco. Only…I didn’t expect to feel like such a free-loader.
I don’t deserve having my meals covered. I don’t deserve having extra nights in the hotel covered. I don’t deserve a limo ride from the airport, or food at amazing places, or sailboat rides, or weddings in the Redwoods. What have I to offer in return? There’s no way I can pay anyone back. Not one red cent, especially for the next three years.
As my mom and I sat on the Promenade yesterday, eating our breakfast, we chatted and she said adamantly: “You know what, Erin? You DO deserve this. You have been so tired with work, and seminary, and CPE for almost a whole year and no break. You DO deserve this. And you deserve to enjoy it.”
Thank God for wise moms.
My parents and I planned to hit Golden Gate Park and hike part of the Coastal Trail from the Park all the way around to Ocean Beach. In between was the famed labyrinth at Land’s End (see above). In between obnoxious tourists with selfie sticks who clearly did NOT know what it meant to do a labyrinth walk (don’t get me started), screaming children, and my own exhaustion, I felt my breathing turn into angry snorting and flaring nostrils.
But I chose to stand still. I looked around — past the distractions — and slowly swallowed some deep draughts of sea air. I was in a labyrinth. A labyrinth on the tip of the world.
It was only sand and rocks arranged in a pattern. That’s all. One foot in front of the other, I began to release a little bit of the weariness from the past year. I looked up from the centre of the labyrinth and could barely see the Golden Gate Bridge — my starting point. And for the first time I realized: I’m enjoying this.
Not only that, but I’m enjoying enjoying this!
Not only THAT, but I DESERVE to enjoy this.
Not for the merit of my work, but because it’s okay to be kind to myself.
Yeah I know. It sounds like I ripped a page out of the stinkingly huge self-help section of a corporate bookstore. Be a sport and bear with me, hey? No bookstores were anywhere near me. I was standing at the end of the world staring into the deep blue yonder, letting myself be kind to a person who has over-worked herself for a few years now, over-schooled herself, and piled on some student chaplaincy in the meantime. That person now has to face a life with no income for the time being. No employer seems terribly interested in hiring a casual/part-time person who will be gone for 1-2 weeks of every month September to April. That person needs to learn what it means to receive gifts from other people without shaming herself. That person needs to learn to be loved.
That person has poured out her life over the past year — for many years really — and has never been able to afford a real vacation. That person hasn’t had a vacation in a few years. That person never had a reason to vacate. Who would that person go with?
This person deserves to stand at the end of the world, wander a small labyrinth, stare out across the ocean, and breathe deeply. She deserves it, and she is fully able and ready to enjoy it.
I can enjoy this experience. It will be one like no other.
I’m not a believer in karma. I’m not sure if I even believe in ‘paying it forward’ so much as ‘paying it around’. I may never have the financial resources to invite other people to celebrate with me like we are this week. But I can invite people to celebrate with me in space, in time, in life, and in love.
And I can enjoy the reality that I deserve some of my own kindness too.