Some of us struggle with gaps. Memory gaps, energy gaps, gaps between lovers, jobs, marriages, or friends. Some of us fall into the gaps and land in deep depressions, accompanied by whatever symptoms of self-abuse, starvation, alcohol, or bulimia come most naturally. Others reach out so fiercely for help that we pull others with us into the gap. And a few learn to breathe softly and float for dear life.
I seem to be forever trying to mind the gap. I'm a middle-aged woman, an empty nest mother, an unemployed wife and writer currently "between books." Most of my days seem comprised of gaps, and filling them is not always an option. As anyone my age knows, when the mind springs a gap – also charitably called a "senior moment," the least effective response may be a rush to fill it with words. That effort to find the misplaced word can be contagious, even entertaining, turning – in my family -- into a sort of verbal charades. But the exertion of willpower over memory can also freeze circuits with frustration and rage against the aging machine. Only later, during the float of slumber or a warm shower, will the missing word snap to attention, gleaming and naughty like new!
Sometimes the most effective way to mind the gap is to relax and trust in oneself even when the evidence is not encouraging. This is a lesson, I've found, that applies to so much more than faltering memory. It applies to failure of just about any kind. I try to train myself on the small gaps so I will remember the lesson when I'm faced with the truly overwhelming losses that almost all of us are bound to face sooner or later in our lives.
This is not an easy lesson for people accustomed to ordering their lives, striving to perform at the top of their game, measuring and weighing their accomplishments so that there is no doubt about their discipline and drive. It's not an easy lesson for me, as I realize all too often when I sit down to write and my voice fails me. The words don't come. The ideas don't flow. I must be a total failure. Sound familiar?
We all want desperately to be seen accurately and heard clearly. When we're not, some of us do terrible things to our bodies and minds. But in order to be seen and heard we have to get comfortable in our own skin and calm down enough to hear our own voices. Panic, anger, frustration, hurry, blame, and shame make it impossible to feel comfortable or talk clearly. These negative emotions turn our words into sharp pointy objects that we turn against ourselves. When this happens, the refuge we most need may lie between the words -- in that very gap that our words are railing against.
Sometimes we can hear ourselves most clearly in silence. Learning to sit with that silence, without struggling to fill it, is one critical key to minding the gaps in our lives without falling into them.
Causes Aimee Liu Supports
PEN USA, Academy for Eating Disorders, Women for Women, UNICEF, Amnesty International