Leaving Home Again, For the First Time

April 7, 2011

“After a thunderstorm, there is always an updraft.”

I awoke with these words imprinted on my brain from an amazingly powerful dream. I was on a luxury yacht but I was trying to get off; I sense I was being pursued by someone; I finally found myself on the upper deck where there was a helicopter waiting. “Sorry but the winds are too high for take-off” Then my niece Amy’s voice. “It will be fine, there is an updraft, there is always an updraft after a thunderstorm.” The helicopter took off and I found myself trying to persuade three children to put their feet in a harness so the helicopter could pull them to safety however they were all too scared. Finally one seemed to make a commitment then at the last moment hesitated and threw the harness away. We were all trapped.

I sat up in bed, grabbed my journal and began to write furiously; I knew this was an important dream; I sensed it was a response to a specific question I had posed to my Soul last night, “I am totally confused and have no idea what the right thing to do may be. I need a really clear sign, one of those flashing neons!” It was a Tuesday morning I was staying at a friend’s place in Whistler but the story started nine days earlier on a Saturday evening. I had driven up to Whistler to have dinner with friends. Two of them have always been inordinately generous to me in offering me free access to their exquisite chalet whenever I wanted to visit as long as there was room. On this particular weekend there were five of us and I was looking forward to a social time. As dinner progressed the other two men got into a somewhat heated discussion over real estate prices in Hawaii. My friend who owned the place seemed particularly energized and finally the person arguing against him suggested, “Let’s go on line and find out.” I had been observing this disagreement with some amusement as like most of our disagreements, they were based on opinion and hearsay and very little fact. I then made what became a fatal although quite innocent mistake by quipping, “What a remarkable concept – getting facts.”

In a flash, the discussion of real estate prices in Hawaii was dropped and my friend the owner of the chalet, turned the full force of his fury on me. “How can you of all people talk about facts?” I froze like a deer in the headlights; I had no idea what had happened. My friend began a major rant talking about something I had e-mailed him that was disgusting, implausible, unfactual, and biased. I sat there nonplussed with no idea what he was referring to. “Do you know who Wiebo Ludwig is?” he shouted. Having no clue how this connected with me, I said that I thought he was a terrorist of some kind and then asked, “Just what does this have to do with me?” Finally I managed to elicit that offensive article had been sent by a third party to both of us on an oil man named Gwn Morgan. I had facetiously appended, “Just what we need our own Dick Chaney – he even looks like him.” I had only scanned the article and certainly had missed any reference to Wiebo Ludwig. However no matter how hard I tried to get him to see that this was not about me, he just got angrier and angrier. I began to get frustrated and heated, telling him that this was not about me and why did he always have to take things out on me (Unfairness is one of my major triggers). Finally he exclaimed that I had a responsibility to write to the person who originally sent it and tell him that he should not be forwarding such rubbish. This became the straw that broke the camel’s back. “How dare you tell me what to do, you and I are completely different!” His response was dramatic and forceful, “well if you don’t like me there is the door.” I stopped got up and said, “I did not say I did not like you, I said we were different however I think I should leave.” I walked downstairs to where I had planned to sleep and began to assemble my stuff while the thought in my mind was ‘What the #!&?* am I going to do, I don’t feel like driving, I am possibly over the limit (although interestingly enough I had been careful that evening”), and it is a long way home. I decided that I could always sleep in the car however this proved unnecessary as my friend came down and told me I couldn’t leave. We were both feeling remorse by this point and although we did not resolve the differences, we both apologized and completed with a hug.

It was the next morning while writing my journal that I suddenly realized my major trigger besides fairness, as I wrote the words “there’s the door”, I realized why I had decided to leave. This scene resembled much of my teen years when I was expected to conform to my father’s beliefs and when I challenged him, his answer was “while you reside in my house, you follow my rules.” I had always been too fearful to leave. My reaction to my friend was the result of an old complex, something James Hollis refers to as “these energy charged clusters of our history…. (that) write our biographies, frame our futures and circumscribe our freedoms.” I felt good about the fact that this time I had at least chosen to leave even if I didn’t follow through.

We seemed to put it behind us and it was not mentioned again. He did write to the person who initiated the e-mail and established a clear boundary around this type of communication. Meanwhile after a lovely day on a sunny Whistler Mountain, I headed back to Vancouver. The next day my sister, her husband, her daughter and boyfriend arrived. Due to space limitations they did not stay with me but found a lovely B & B close by and on Tuesday I hosted a turkey feast for eight including my friends who owned the place in Whistler. My niece had arranged for the four of them to spend the last three nights of their trip up at their beautiful chalet. All went well and I found myself sharing with my friend my insight around my relationship with my father and its impact on the evening in question.

Later that week, I telephoned them asking what I could do to help as I planned to stay two of the three nights. My friend told me that his wife was doing dinner on Monday and he was cooking burgers on Tuesday, “so that leaves me nothing to do” I said before asking what I could bring. At this point he seemed somewhat annoyed inferring that I never did much anyway. I did not take it to heart and asked if I could speak to his wife who I knew would be fairly specific about my contribution. While talking to her I recalled that I had brought dessert for dinner the previous Saturday so I asked her to tell Dennis that I had done something. Little did I realize that this would be like a blind man pouring gas on a fire. I had unwittingly set the stage for part two of this drama.

It started innocuously enough, I noticed the table getting cleared up around me so I went into the kitchen to help but belatedly found that my sister and her daughter had completed most of the work. A little later I went to check the kitchen to hear my niece’s boyfriend ask my friend if he could finish cleaning a pot for him. “No I’m OK, it’s just the pot left.” so I went and sat in the lounge. Big mistake. The next thing I hear is a voice saying, “Thanks for all your help in the kitchen.” Somewhat surprised I said “But I heard you say you didn’t want any help. Why didn’t you ask?” “I didn’t want his help I wanted your help and I shouldn’t have to ask. I hear you think you are pulling your weight around here.” (I only realized later that this related to my reminder that I had brought dessert.) Then my friend launched into a litany of my deficiencies as his guest. At first I began to protest, because it did not feel fair but then I began to listen. What I learned was that I had completely failed to live up to his expectations of someone who was taking advantage of his generosity. “Did I realize how much this place cost to keep running through the winter” He listed the things he would do in my place: buy a cord of wood, supply not only one bottle of wine but more, cook more than my fair share, perform random acts of cleaning on the house. “Have you ever vacuumed the entrance?” I did not try to defend my self, because there was no way what I did could not live up to his expectations. I just listened and finally I said, ‘I can understand how you feel”, and I really thought I could. Somewhat ironically he said, “I can’t believe how different you are to me.” without realizing I suspect that those were the very words I used that resulted in him telling me to leave a week earlier. I told him I did not think I had the capacity to meet his standards. I responded by suggesting that perhaps I should come up here less frequently. His response surprised me, “that would not make me happy.” Then he got up and gave me a big hug exclaiming, “how can I expect you to change, you have been the same for forty years”. It was kind of touching but it felt incomplete. The image of a child that has been told off for misbehaving comes to mind, you are temporarily forgiven but if you offend again you will receive the same treatment.

I retired feeling very confused because this event following so closely on the heels of the previous one. What was really going on here? Every morning I set an intention: to learn and find meaning from the experiences of my life. So what did it all mean? I went to bed and spent some time restlessly reviewing the events. Was I supposed to be learning new responses or was I supposed to leave this cozy chalet relationship despite him making it clear that this was not his objective. I entered a dialogue with my Soul.” I am confused and I don’t know what to do. I am prepared to give up this part of my life if it’s your desire but it is a very big decision. It does not just affect me but my friend as well as his wife plus it will mean a huge readjustment in my own life. I spend at least fifteen nights a winter up here. I will need a really clear sign.” With these words I drifted into a fretful, disturbed sleep waking to the amazing dream.

I realized almost immediately that the dream was the sign I had been asking for. The yacht is the symbol for the beautiful Whistler residence, the thunderstorm represented the two conflicts, and the updraft was the opportunity to go to a higher place. The three children refusing to take the risk and leave were my fears of leaving – fear for myself, fear of his reaction and fear of his wife’s response. The kid who faked it was me! Reminding me that last week I had threatened to leave but stayed. Then I recalled a CD I was listening to on my up to Whistler from James Hollis’s lecture series What Matters Most. He was talking about “stepping into largeness” and suggested that when faced with challenge we should always select the option that made us feel larger not smaller. In addition he encouraged an exploration of the feelings: which option made us feel more like an adult and which more like a child. The moment I applied these criteria to my decision, I knew what to do but of course I had to leave as an adult not as a child, not in anger which is what I intended to do the previous week.

I waited a day for reflection and the perfect moment. When it came I went to my friend and told him of my decision. “We need to change this relationship or our friendship of forty years will die. If neither of us can change than we will be trapped into repeating this drama over and over again, and I already find that I am starting to avoid you because I sense your aggravation with me.” He was not happy but my decision felt final. One last hug, I packed up my things and left. It felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. I had taken the alternative that made me feel larger. For the first time I sensed how often I had felt like a child in this relationship. Finally I had left home feeling like an adult for the first time.