Halfway… by Sara Frykenberg


Sara FrykenbergThe title of this post is meant to reflect where I am in the semester, temporally speaking: halfway. Actually, the idea that I am halfway is a bit of a shock to me, considering I feel like I just started! I have a goddess oracle card sitting on my desk that reads: “Blossoming: You are just getting started,” reminding me to be patient with myself as my work takes shape this semester. But seven of fifteen weeks in, I think its time to pull a new card.Aeracura

When the word “halfway” popped into my head, though, I realized this is also a struggle I am having right now. I feel halfway—I answer “yes and no” to every emotional question. I sleep halfway, working even in my dreams. I am halfway okay: one week I am very down and the next, I feel just fine. And sitting on my patio this weekend, unable to sleep, I thought to myself: you are less than halfway full; and realized I that didn’t know what to do to fill myself up.

I think the work we do as feminists, survivors and justice-workers is sometimes very, very hard. On rare occasions, I miss—or perhaps it would be better to say, I entertain missing the purpose and definition given to me by my patriarchal god. I was good at patriarchal religion. I was a “good girl,” and in some ways, service to this deity was far easier than the work I do now. I knew who I was “supposed to” be. Of course, this was only true when I ignored the fact that the cost of my service was my own spirit. I don’t really miss patriarchal religion.

Recently, I have started saying of myself, “I am not a person of faith.” “I am not a person of faith,” I say to my religious colleague, “I don’t know what I can contribute to this conversation.” But I think this is untrue. I am simply not a person of his faith, which sometimes leaves me feeling a little lost and confused at the religious school where I teach. I had to turn down an offer to participate in a friend’s project, reminding her that, “I didn’t stay in any tradition, so I don’t think I can speak in the dialogue you have planned.” The well-meaning woman who gave me this gracious invitation apologized, but no emotion of mine was her fault—her question reminded me of a question I have been asking myself: what do I have to say about faith now? I have half of an idea about god/dess, holiness, ritual and spirit… and right now, it does not feel like enough.

I read a really powerful book last year called The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. The title of this book is a little misleading, as my title may be above. “Drama,” is not a pejorative label and “gifted child,” is not meant to suggest a child with a high IQ or who excelled in school. The book is about survivors of abuse and the skills they learn to cope with violence. One of the skills Miller discusses, in my interpretation of her work, is an ability to assimilate other people’s standards. The “gifted child,” gets good at doing what he, she or they is told to do, acting as a mirror for whomever he, she or they is “supposed to” mirror. One problem with this, like the abusive, patriarchal religion I used to practice, is that the cost of service is one’s spirit and identity.

I have been asked, “What would happen if you didn’t try your hardest?” Was anyone else told their whole lives that they should always try their hardest—that they always had to try their hardest? I am sure many of you are answering yes… so, what would happen if you didn’t try your hardest? If your survival now depends upon this effort, what would happen if you didn’t have to try your hardest? What would happen if we weren’t or didn’t have to be perfect? Maybe, we could be human for day. Maybe, nothing would happen because I am/ we are already human. Maybe, it would be okay to be halfway between here and there, because we are always somewhere in-between.

Sometimes I try to mirror a standard that exists; and sometimes, I try to live to standards that I only think exist. I am still working on figuring out when I am actually looking in my own mirror: I have been working on thriving. I believe—or I entertain the belief that it is far easier for me to survive than to thrive…And for me, this is only true when I believe that my spirit only needs to be half full.

A friend once told me that reclaimed parts of our histories and ourselves are like precious pearls that are easily crushed by fear. I’ve found some of these pearls, but I am afraid—I I think, because I feel like I am only halfway.

But what this blog reminds me of, what my feminist work reminds me of, what the research that I love reminds me of, what process theology reminds me of, what my sisters remind me of, what my husband reminds me of and what my friend who literally gave me hope—a physical statue of the word hope—reminds me of, is that perhaps, halfway can be celebrated too.

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Categories: abuse, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Awakenings, liminal, religion, survival, thriving

Tags: , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. great and informative post!!

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  2. This post speaks to my condition–as I am sure it does to many people’s. Thank you!

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  3. As I get older, and find that so many people demand that I be in two or three different places at the same time, I am beginning to feel that this notion of ‘completeness’ or ‘fullness’ is a mirage we run after in this world. Even if we do ‘get there’, our human nature will find some other ‘wholeness’ mirage to run after, kinda like Barbara Ardinger’s fish story. Or, if we do hit ‘fullness’, we’ll look back at the halfway days as “the good old days, the golden years.”

    Enjoyed your post. Made me start humming “halfway down the stairs” ala Muppets.

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    • Thank you for your comments!
      I appreciate your sense here that ‘fullness’ is itself an illusion. I tend to agree– we are always in-between. I also agree that often when we’ve finished our goals we go running after something else. (I am teaching Intro to World Religions this semester, and this conversation is making me think about my class on Buddhism this morning.)

      Emotionally speaking though, I think there is definitely a way that we may feel ’empty’ or like we are ‘running on empty.’ That is where I see a tension between acceptance of our liminality, and a need for ‘filling up,’ so to speak… maybe the acceptance is part of “filling/ fueling up?”

      Thank you again.

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  4. As a former “good girl”, I found that maybe we don’t really have to work so hard to be what others think we should be. I feel much better, and more “whole”, since I “gave up the struggle” to “work my hardest” and learned to relax and enjoy the ride following my own “inner compass”. The Patriarchs are so very efficient at drawing up plans for others to obey and work at. Is there a song for “bad girls”? :-)

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    • Hi Barbara,
      There must be a song for “bad girls!” … Probably many ;)
      Hmmm… a number of artists come to mind that I have mixed feelings about. Let me know if you think of a good one.
      Thank you for your comments :)

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  5. I’m in a weird position right now – being told not to try my hardest, being reminded about self-care. But how does a person recover those things that might constitute self care when their enjoyment of these things was taken away? People keep saying to me “don’t let them take that away,” and I’m trying… but by the time I realized what was happening, those things already tasted like ash in my mouth. Your piece touched a place of exhaustion I am feeling. I like the comment above, which describes completeness or fullness as illusion. But emptiness… is that also illusion? And if so, how do I break the spell?

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    • Hi Melody,
      The note of exhaustion you resonated with is definitely part of what prompted this post.
      Maybe you will and can discover new forms of self care that will help you reclaim the old ones? Or different avenues that will lead to parallel paths?

      I also like the notion of fullness as illusion– your question about emptiness is an interesting and important one, especially in light of Sarah’s comment below, which references Buddhism… But I am hesitant to speak to that, as I only have a cursory knowledge of the tradition.

      I do hope though, that you find rest in the exhaustive process you are in– I wish both you and I some rest.
      Thank you Melody.

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  6. Thanks Sara. If you are not a person of faith you can still pursue spirituality. Zen is definitely a path not dependent on belief, but simply awareness in the here and now. An old story says that if you want to know what Zen is, wash your teacup.

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    • Thank you Sarah. As I mention above, I have recently had some opportunity to study some Buddhist thought; and much of what I have been studying speaks to issues in my post here and the conversations we are having in these comments.

      I have pursued some spirituality since leaving the faith tradition of my family; which I have written about in some other posts. But as this blog may convey, I have found myself frustrated of late. Actually, I have been specifically frustrated with the issue of belief– so your comment is apropos.

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      • Hi Sara,

        Such an intimate post, thank you. I’m not sure why – could be aging, wisdom, spiritual maturity, acceptance or survival – but I am finding that I measure things less and less. I’ve been working on a doctorate for four years and while I’m glad to be finished the course work and just about finished the dissertation proposal, I find I’m truly in the moment with it. Which is a good thing as I’m also raising my 6-year-old granddaughter. Working on my MA as a single mother of two was very different and I was constantly under stress about every possible measurement of time/completion/childcare, etc…

        Perhaps I have internalized the notion that the journey’s the thing and that there really is no finish-line.

        Blessings, Ann

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  7. Thank you thank you Sara for your post and for being spirit to matter conversion unit. I love sitting in silence and listening to the sounds of nature around me as a way to nourish my spirit and renew myself.
    Fill that glass up with bird songs! Keep us posted on what is working.

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  8. hello Sara – I hear what your post is saying … at the moment I have the same card ( that I pulled a few weeks back ) on the side cupboard next to my bed …. I’m blossoming – indeed…… the house is a blossoming mess….. my thoughts, ideas, plans are half way here and there and thriving is hard when surviving is the order of most days …. I was away for the weekend and walking and sitting in Mother earth -such a healing uplifting thing to do. Making it a ritual each day is what seems to ground me in the now, bring balance and lift the spirit and reading these kind of posts help nourish my soul… thanks for your lovely post. Blessed be

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  9. I have the same deck, given by a friend! Anyway, thanks for reminding me that where I am is ok.

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  10. I returned recently from a retreat that filled my cup to overflowing. While there we read “The Radiance Sutras,” and I continue to read them everyday since. They have changed my meditation practice, so that almost anything can be my “mantra” (of focus), and any little thing refills my cup again. Take a look at them, Sara. I think they’ll feed you as well.

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