A Wish Come Clear

Choosing Love, Losing Fear, & Finding Home

Have You Been Imagining Those Prison Bars? (Or, Don’t Re-Enroll In High School)

I had this dream one night.

In the dream, I was in my twenties. I was living with my parents in New Jersey, in the house where I grew up. Since my career had apparently stalled, a faceless, intimidating authority figure strongly recommended that I re-enroll in high school, to ‘get back to basics’ or something like that.

Good news: you’ve already graduated!

The thought of re-enrolling filled me with dread, but I did it anyway. I didn’t think I had a choice. For weeks, I struggled to re-learn my old routines, fumbling through locker combinations, math tests, and the like. I felt my spirit deadening with each passing day.

And then, right as I felt I couldn’t stand it any longer, I had a glorious, eye-opening moment. It was suddenly obvious: I didn’t belong in high school. In fact, I’d already graduated from another, better school. (Vassar!)

I had my whole life ahead of me, so why was I going backward?

It was so absurd, I started laughing … the kind of loose, wild laugh that comes out when you realize that you’ve been imagining those prison bars around you, that they were never really there at all.

I had choices. I had options. And I didn’t have to stay at that school one minute more. I woke up with my hand on the double doors.

***

I awoke the next morning with a sense of liberation singing in my veins. It was the kind of dream that’s more than a dream; that is, the kind that is trying to tell you something powerful about your waking life.

So many of us walk around believing that we’re trapped in our own lives. We make a soul-deadening decision because some dictatorial figure — real or imagined — told us that that it was ‘necessary.’ We don’t think we deserve to be free, so we bind ourselves. We don’t give ourselves permission to get out of a bad situation, to take care of our hearts, to do anything but re-enroll in high school.

***

But then, if we’re lucky, we find another way. We have a moment of illumination, or we meet people who give us the permission we can’t seem to give ourselves.

I think of how a long-term member of the L’Arche DC community came to work with the community full-time. Once upon a time, he’d been a lawyer, wearing nice suits, meeting with powerful people and enjoying a great deal of prestige.

He wasn’t entirely fulfilled by his law work — in fact, he longed to do something else — but the validation he received from just about everyone in his life kept him bound to that career. That is, until he started hanging out at L’Arche … and specifically, spending time with Theresa** and her housemates (who, years later, later became my housemates).

After a while, he realized that Theresa was perhaps the one person in his life who didn’t care one bit about all the ‘important’ things he did all day. Sure, she understood that he had a job; she just didn’t conflate who he was with what he did for a living. She didn’t treat him differently because he was an ‘important’ lawyer.

Permission granted.

Instead, what mattered to her was that he showed up. What mattered to her was that he was a friend. And what mattered to her, as it turns out, was what mattered to him as well.

Just by being herself, she gave him permission to change his life. And so he took a leap of faith and went to work for L’Arche full-time. And who knows? Perhaps the ripple effects of that choice are part of how I ended up at L’Arche years later.

As Madeleine L’Engle writes, The pattern is closely woven.

***

And so today, I challenge you to look — really look — at an area of your life in which you feel trapped or helpless. Then, identify a step you could take that would move you toward a place of freedom and spaciousness.

If you need someone’s permission to take that step, you have mine. (And I’m pretty sure you have Theresa’s too.)

And now, I’m off to take my own advice. There’s an email I’ve been putting off for some time, probably because I need to apologize. Today, that email’s getting sent. That’s what will bring me closer to the double doors.

I’ll see you on the other side.

***

What’s your story of being set free? Join the conversation in the comments!

***

Enjoy this post? Receive posts via email, along with your FREE copy of Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive).

*L’Arche (French for ‘The Ark’) is a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.

**Names have been changed.

Share this post:
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

About Caroline McGraw

I'm a would-be childhood paleontologist turned full-time writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. I grew up in New Jersey (think peaceful suburb, not Newark), graduated from Vassar with honors, then served as a live-in caregiver and program director at L'Arche Washington DC. Nowadays, my husband renovates our historic 1901 home in northwestern Alabama, while I try (& fail) to keep our cat Bootsie from developing an epic tuna fish addiction. It's a beautiful life. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Don’t Miss Out! Receive Posts & 2 Free Ebooks Too:

4 Replies

  1. Love, love, love this post! It’s like what I said to you in Atlanta–about being pushed back against the wall with fear, versus living in the middle of everything, where you can see all around.
    My step for the day: to do what I always promise myself I’ll do, and then never do…come home from work and get back in my pajamas, and instead of creating work for myself, REST.
    Cheers! :)

    1. :) Yes! That awesome image has stayed with me – thank you for sharing it, my dear. And so proud of you for taking your step. xo

  2. Shaleen

    Thanks for this amazingly illuminating article Caroline.
    I have trapped myself for so long in a place of ‘stuckness’ with regards to seeking, yearning, agonising over HOW and WHERE I can be of value to the world..feeling ‘frustrated’, ‘lost’, ‘shameful’ that I am not OUT THERE as a value-adding human being.
    Last week I received a letter from my daughter in which she shared such heartfelt words of appreciation for all that she feels I have been for her. (Right here and now…not OUT THERE.) Then just yesterday a friend responded to my sharing about these feelings of stuckness “But why do feel that you HAVE to do something?”..and now your article comes along showing me….All I have to do is recognise that I am FREE and that I have permission (now from you too, THANK YOU :-)) to take that step towards ‘freedom and spaciousness.’
    I can walk free whenever I am ready to truly embrace this..

    1. Shaleen, that’s amazing … thank you for sharing this story. I’m so happy to hear that the post came to you at just the right time. Here’s to freedom and spaciousness!