Our emotional reactions following divorce are usually a mix of grief, anger, and confusion. There may be bursts of excitement and run-ins with happiness, but they are usually fewer than the sad times. It isn’t easy to let someone go, even if they have caused you a lot of pain. When my ex-husband told me he was leaving, I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine feeling any true joy again in my future, and it took months before may laugh at a friend’s joke or a funny movie was more than superficial. There were many dark days, and long scary nights. It angered me when well-meaning friends would try to assure me that I would be okay, or that I would one day be happy again. Why couldn’t I just be happy now? I felt like the world was punishing me. The divorce was at least half my fault, and I went about my daily activities existing under a shroud of guilt, hurt, and anxiety.
The Positive side of Life After Divorce
One morning while reading through my emails, I came across an email from a friend, who said she had woken up earlier thinking about me and a poem came to her mind. She shared it with me, and I will share it with you now because it changed my entire perspective on my situation, and my unhappiness. It reminded me that I was not just here on this earth to simply exist. I was still alive. This the poem, by Mary Oliver:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I thought a lot that day about my place in the family of things. The world still offered itself to me, and despite my loneliness and my sadness, I could still sit in my reading chair and see the late afternoon light travel over the mountainside. I could go outside, walk down my street and smile at the florist, whose freshly picked sunflowers will continue to bloom in the field long after I am gone. I can take some home, and appreciate that they could have been brought home to anyone’s kitchen, but here they are in mine, because I am a part of things. I could choose to live out my days feeling like a failure, forever repenting and empty. But meanwhile the world would go on, and I would rather swim in its rivers than be a dam.
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Living Freely and Finding Your Unique Place in the World
When I began to allow myself to live freely, and simply love what I love, I could appreciate what the world had to offer me. I may have been born to find love and companionship like all humans are, but I wasn’t alive just to be a half of a couple. I was also a writer, a sister, a daughter, a friend. I was a part of my community. My hands had planted seeds in the earth. I had created a home, and even if I was the only one living in it, the important thing was that I belonged there. I was free to be my own person, and no matter what had gone wrong in my marriage, I was here to live my life, whatever it may bring.
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The positive side to my divorce was that I was free to be and do whatever I could imagine, just for me. That may sound selfish to some, but I think everyone has their own place in the family of the universe. And I agree with the poem, that you don’t always have to be good. You’ve already lived by the rules when you were married. Now, you are free to do as you like. Do the things you wouldn’t have tried to do when you were a married woman. If you want to bake bread at 4 a.m then bake bread. If you want to visit the remote villages of Vietnam, you will find a way to get there. By following your heart’s desires, you are offering yourself to the world in a way that fulfills the promise of your place in the great family of things. You have the choice to find your own unique way, and to let the universe call you to whatever it is that makes you feel alive. You can choose to stay shut in by the pain of loss and old wounds, but meanwhile, the wild geese are heading home again. The greatest loss would be in not hearing their call.