I almost didn’t get out of bed this particular Sunday. I had been to the theatre and then out late, dancing and drinking. I wasn’t particularly fond of the sermons of the priest who would be preaching the next day. I lay in bed arguing with myself about whether or not to get up and go to church. Finally, I bolted up, showered and dressed with haste, grabbed a protein bar, and tiptoed into the back of the church.
The most successful people in life are those who have learned to grieve well. The most successful people in life are those who can reinvent themselves.
Thirty years later, I remember these lines from the sermon. I knew, in my still young adult life, that these words were Truth and that I needed to pay attention to them.
If you are reading this post, you have probably reinvented yourself a few times already. Perhaps you moved as a child and had to reinvent your circle of friends and your school reputation. Maybe you suffered a great loss already in life; the death of a parent, the death of a child, the break-up of a marriage, the loss of a job. Have you had an illness or injury that has left you different than you once were? The truth is, we are constantly having to reinvent ourselves.
The truth is, we are constantly having to reinvent ourselves.
The tricky part about this reinvention, about this “new life” that we all have to make, is that something has to die first. Nothing new can come until we let go of the old, until we let the old die. And that, Dear Reader, is the hard part, because no one wants to do the messy, painful work of grieving. You just don’t want to walk around with mascara running down your face all the time or blowing your snotty nose at the dinner table or squeaking like a squirrel when you try to talk at a meeting because your throat is all closed up trying to keep the lid on all that stuff that has to die. Grief is uncomfortable and exhausting. It makes you want to go to bed fifteen minutes after you try and get up. Can’t I just reinvent myself without the grief?
No, no, a thousand times no. In her poignant book, The Faithful Gardener, Clarissa Pinkola Estes remembers her Uncle Zovar, a Hungarian prisoner of war during WWII and a man who not only reinvented himself but knew how to help the land reinvent itself. He said, “The seeds of new life will find no hospitality or reason to rest here unless we leave it barren, unless we leave it bare so that a forest of seeds will find it hospitable.” 1 And it is so with us. We must let what is over be over. We must let our notion of things die. Dead. And then watch for the seeds of new life that will inhabit our souls. Uncle Zovar went on to say, “ ….you leave the ground fallow…you leave it turned but unsown. It means you send it through fire in order to prepare it for its new life. This is the part God does not do alone. God likes a partnership. It is up to us to help what God has begun. No one wants this kind of burning, this kind of fire. We want the field to remain as it once was, in its pristine beauty, just as we want life to remain as it once was.” 2
What needs to die in you in order for you to reinvent yourself? Do you need to let a relationship truly die? Do you need to let your image of yourself die? Do you think too little of yourself? Too much? Do you need a new vocation? A new location? Do you need to let a dream die? You can do it. You will survive the death and become a new invention.
Cleaning out a desk drawer recently I found a letter I wrote to my father in 2000. He had been diagnosed with diabetes and was completely ignoring all medical advice. He refused his medication. He refused to change his eating patterns. In this letter I wrote these pleading words to him.
“Dad, you have been blessed with good health. I think a lot of your identity, your definition of yourself, has been built on this…that you are a viral, healthy, vibrant well man. I guess the big question at hand is this: Can you reinvent yourself as a man with an illness? Can you redefine yourself? Can you work through your fears and prides, whatever they are, and face this? My fear is this, Dad. If you cannot recreate yourself as a man with an illness that needs attention, management, and healing, then you will become a disabled man.”
I don’t remember but I would bet that I wrote this after the sermon I heard that Sunday way back when. It must have given me some words to use to help me connect to my father and share my fears and concerns with him. I had certainly lived long enough to know that we all have to learn to grieve in order to reinvent ourselves.
In my Christian faith, the Easter story tells us that there is new life after death. After death. Not after a nap. A few glasses of wine. A shopping spree. Vacation. Or a good meal. Those are all wonderful things. But something has to die in order for the seed of new life to be planted and take root. And that means we all have to learn to grieve well.
So when necessary, let the old self die and reinvent yourself. Death is messy, and new life is marvelous.
PS: I just returned from seeing Hi, My Name is Doris, a film starring Sally Fields. Totally about reinventing oneself. Go see it. So well done.
1. Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. The Faithful Gardener. San Francisco: HarperCollinsSanFrancisco. 1995.