In the last year, Liadan Hynes’ marriage fell apart. She is now working on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she is exploring the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.
I’m not suggesting one’s marriage falling apart is a good thing, but there are benefits to having been seriously challenged in life. “It’s quite satisfying to know you will bend but not break,” I tell a friend. “You realise you’re quoting a Pink song there,” she replies.
I am not religious. Nor am I, to compensate, in any way spiritual. No grey area here.
It has taken me most of my life to be able to say that so baldly, without also making an involuntary grimace of apology, meant to clarify that my lack of religious faith is in no way meant as an insult to someone else’s possession of religious faith.
When you are not religious, you come to realise fairly quickly that for those with faith, it is almost impossible to believe that you are not in some way lacking. Lacking in support, depth of life experience, community. Usually, they don’t mean to be insulting, mostly it is meant kindly, if in slight sadness for you.
I am here to tell you that this is not the case. When things go wrong, in the process of fixing your life, you acquire what I think of as the arsenal, or sometimes the toolkit. Both are terms I thought I had come up with myself, but which it turns out are in fact often used in the wellness world.
They are a set of coping skills life has equipped me with, sort of what I imagine religion in its nicest form is for its followers. I may not have God or the church to lean on, but what I have I have created myself. That is not to say one or other is better. But equally valid.
My arsenal includes the particularly close relationships I now have with my mother, father and brother, all of whom can slot seamlessly into our home to help at any stage of the day, breakfast, bath, dinner, bedtime.
My closest friends who have become the sounding blocks for life a spouse would have been.
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
My knowledge that getting out for a run will always, always, make me feel better. The podcasts I know will instantly change my train of thought. Meditation, the new sailing habit, the trips to the park for fresh air that always takes you out of yourself, the weekly coffee with a friend who just gets it.
Coping skills I have gleaned from professionals I have dealt with, personally or through work. The three-minute breathing trick when stress threatens to overwhelm.
And when none of that works, the knowledge that this will pass.
I ask my most faith-filled friend what are the main things she gets from her religion, and she says one of the most important things is a sense of belonging. And she describes the community that religion provides you with, people who will walk through life with you, mind you, mind your children, support you through difficult times.
When your immediate family unit, your nuclear family, turns out not to be the shape you had envisioned for it, you think a lot about networks. And your focus turns a little bit more outward than it might have done.
So determined were my own parents that my brother and I, children of a non-religious family, would not have to step outside of a network in school that they, with some friends, started an Educate Together school. So we didn’t have to step outside the classroom when religion was being taught.
Now, I am conscious of my own daughter, nearly four, having her little networks. Already, there are her two little best friends, Noa and Roo, both of whom she has known practically since birth.
‘I’m going to live on an iceberg,’ she announces one night after yet another bedtime reading of The Snow Beast. ‘I’m going to take Mommy, Daddy, Mo, Grandad, Uncle Daragh, and Noa and her mommy, Laura. All my family,’ she says.
Roo is the work wife’s eldest. We’re often asked if they are twins. Creepily, his mother and I like to plan their future wedding. ‘That will go on the invitation’ we say at a particularly cute picture. I pick mine up from a playdate and we are halfway down the road when Roo comes running after us, urgently shouting ‘Sary, Sary.’
‘Hug,” he says matter of factly, as he reaches her. They hug and turn their separate ways again. “Love you Sary” he shouts with a backwards wave as he disappears into his house. “Love you Roo,” she shouts back.
And so instead of religion, we have our networks.
Separation aside, we still have our original network. It may not be nuclear, but our immediate family unit is tight, one of us just happens to live in a different house. And then like concentric circles around us, there are the grandparents and aunts and uncles, the mom friends, the school friends, the work friends, the cousins, the cousin’s children.
Our community, which has minded us minded my child, who walk through our life with us.
Main photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash