Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When the Warrior is Weak and Wounded...

I don't like being "in trouble."

Since I was small, I've need approval from authority figures. In order to get it, I studied people. I figured out exactly what I would need to do for each person in my life in order to get what I wanted, whether an "A" for a class, a raise, or even a simple "Job well done!" I've successfully achieved approval for most of my life.

My strategies often remind me of warriors preparing for battle: Study, study, study. Strike. Win.

After my personal paradigm shift in April 1997, I was adrift. I was 27 years old and had spent my life doing things the "right" way. I believed that people who always did the right thing would be rewarded. Although I wouldn't have articulated it, I guess I also believed the opposite was true: be bad, be punished.

I didn't recover quickly or well from the depths of the grief I experienced in 1997; in fact, I walk with a healthier version of that grief every day. Carrying those dark days with me helps me make decisions at my real job. I never relax a standard because I never want to explain or apologize for doing so. I operate under my own version of "be the best you can be" every day.

In the early days, I did peculiar things to ease my grief. Every day I went to the scene of the accident. Sometimes I was there for a few minutes and other times I was there for hours. Sometimes I went multiple times a day. I visited the three students' gravesites. I spent hundreds of hours studying reports and documents by the various inspectors and reading countless pages of depositions. I stopped talking. I was trying to find out what we did wrong, why we were punished. I needed to know so I could be sure we never failed again.

I grieved profoundly.

I didn't lose my own child. I wasn't driving the bus or truck. I didn't fail to take any action that would have prevented the accident.

I was embarrassed by my grief and shared it with very few people. I didn't think anyone would understand or worry about my insignificant loss when theirs was so much more real and important. I prayed desperately for those I thought were most affected -- the students' parents and siblings, their friends, the truck driver's wife, the responders who worked passionately to save lives...

I developed a regular habit of calling the investigators. During the last call with the Human Survival Factors Investigator, I asked--for the first and only time--why he thought the accident happened. Mr. Survival Factors thoughtfully replied, "You know I can't formally answer that question. My job is just to collect facts. The board makes a final decision about blame and culpability. But you know, Kari, sometimes bad things just happen."

Sometimes bad things just happen.

They do. It's true.

I can see in retrospect how that comment formed a step in my recovery.

I learned something important in the ensuing years: working for personal gain -- in my case, approval by others -- is worthless in the quest for an authentic and faithful life.

In the moments when I am my warrior woman self, I no longer need approval.

It's only when I'm weak and wounded that I find myself seeking approval.

Today I'm weak and wounded.

So I fall to my knees, remembering some great words of wisdom from Abe Lincoln. His comment fell on rich ground; I couldn't stop thinking about it and wrote a SALT concert based on these words:

I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.

Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks edited by Michael Burlingame (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 210.

I lean against the solid weight of my rock and I pray.