“I could eat sweet potatoes for breakfast lunch and dinner,” so I told my husband. Before a morning workout, I stuck a sweet potato in the oven anticipating some serious post-sweat hunger. Some sweet potato meat had gotten singed while I was out squatting and lunging. The burnt smell left Luke wondering, which prompted my defense of the sweet potato. When I lived alone, I really gave my affinity for sweet potatoes little thought other than props for some Vitamin A consumption. But this morning, I thought about the quirkiness of my orange delight and how my husband who enjoyed his very normal shredded wheat, didn’t skip a beat. Instead he laughed at my comment and said, “Yep. You probably could.” See? I think to myself… my sweet potato of a husband knows weird things about me and smiles. Hmmm, I think, all giddy over breakfast…isn’t love grand?
Later this morning, sweet potato in stomach, I thought about it again. The whole loving sweet potatoes and being in love reminded me of something. Last night, I worked with my teenage girls on the concept of self-compassion in support group. I always begin our groups with some sort of inspiration that’s supposed to center or lift. At least in theory. Sometimes they just roll their eyes.
Last night I talked about letting go of suffering. I asked the girls if they ever thought about loving their pain as a way of letting it go. When someone is abused, like these girls had been, the tangle of emotions needs some sorting. The tangle also stings which makes sorting hard. I was suggesting that it might sooth the sting if the negative emotions were loved. Accepted. Not glorified– just, taken care of. Given a little pat on the shoulder. If we accept things, they are much easier to address. And girls, I explained, we’re here to address things. We’ve got to address things.
They looked at me like they wanted to leave. I was self-conscious, but I tried not to show it. “I know it sounds crazy, but what kind of power would your guilt have over you just…accepted it?” This time they looked at least intrigued instead of totally irritated. One girl looked up from looking down: “Ummm, no.” I smiled but ignored her and continued: “Let me ask a different question. Have any of you learned to like something about your physical appearance?”
“For example, I said: I used to HATE the dimple I have in my chin, mostly because in fourth grade somebody called it a butt chin.” They looked up when I said the word butt. One girl perked up and touched her own chin. “The point I’m trying to make,” I continued, “is that I’ve learned to like it, in fact I don’t really think about it. Ever. It just became part of who I am.”
Now, the girls started chiming in. If there is one way to engage a bunch of teenagers it’s to talk about looks. I was hoping I wouldn’t regret this. The red-head thinks her freckles are okay but she used to hate them, the quiet girl in the corner likes being tall because she’s good at basketball…and on and on. If there’s another way to engage a bunch of teenagers it’s to get their friends to start talking. I summed it up for them as best I could, encouraging them to accept the painful parts of their stories: self-hate, frustration, guilt… the whole ugly mess. Without doing the cilche darkness before dawn thing, I wanted these brave girls to entertain the idea that suffering and joy might already be comrades in battle. How might they shake hands? Help each other even? And true beauty? It’s usually the soulful kind. And if there’s anything we know about suffering it’s that it takes up some serious soul-space. Their stories have already made them some of the most beautiful spirits I’ve ever known.
But mostly, I wanted these girls to think about love. And what it does. And how it frees. True love accepts to the utmost umpteenth degree and holds us until we feel its perfect embrace and say: “YES.” Yes to God, and to our Beloveds, and to our quirky selves. Yes to life and its richness and to the moment that sits in our kitchens mid-week, mid-June…sweet husbands, sweet potatoes and all.