What is home?

Home is a feeling of comfort, rightness, and belonging. It’s a relationship that’s fulfilling, a job that you love, an activity that brings you joy, an environment that makes your heart sing.

Home is your purpose in life, your mission, your raison d’etre.

It’s not a place–it’s a feeling. There are many people who think they know where your home is. Parents, clergypeople, gurus, experts, and other authority figures are eager to tell you how to get there. But the truth is, you’re the only one who knows.

“But I don’t know,” you might say.

Actually, you do. All the information you need is inside you: your emotions will guide you home, and they’ll help you recognize it once you get there.

This blog augments a card deck called Mixed Emotions. Here, Petra Martin, the deck’s creator, writes about the role that emotions have played in her own life.

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The upside of fear

I’ve heard many times that the opposite of love is not hatred, as you might expect, but fear. The implication, of course, is that love is good and fear is bad. But I recently read something that has me thinking. Fear is what keeps us alive.

We’re born with a fierce survival instinct, and all of us have felt it first-hand. Near-misses, such as swerving to avoid a collision with a cement truck, trigger a surge of adrenaline that prepares us to fight or flee. Our initial feeling is fear, which is followed (almost immediately) by a hormonal surge that equips us to do something about it.

If it weren’t for our built-in fear of death, we’d step out of our lives at the first sign of discomfort and request a cosmic do-over. Fear keeps us on the planet.

The fear of death can erode, however, and when it does, we have a safety net. Holocaust survivors, prisoners of war, and victims of torture have survived unspeakable suffering because of the love and responsibility they felt for their families.

Usually, we are kept alive by two layers of emotions: fear of
death and the love and responsibility we feel for our families

If we lose our fear of death, feelings of love and
responsibility keep us fighting for survival

When you have lived a full life and come toward the end of your years, the fear of death naturally erodes. Knowing that your loved ones can care for themselves gives you peace of mind, and you can allow yourself to relax your grip on life. When my grandfather was in his late eighties, he said, “I just want to go home.” We adored him and were very sad when he died at 89, but we knew it was what he wanted.

A well-lived life isn’t the only thing that causes people to relax their grip, however. Sometimes, depression and mental anguish become so great that they extinguish all emotions, including the fear of death and feelings of love and responsibility. This causes a total eclipse, which can lead people to put a permanent end to their own suffering.

Profound mental anguish can snuff out the feelings that usually keep us alive

A year ago day today, my friend Marc died of a total eclipse. I’ve thought a lot about how and why his safety net eroded. Obviously, Marc lost his fear of death. But what about the love and responsibility he felt for his wife and twin 11-year-old sons?

Clearly, all of Marc’s emotional systems failed. Marc thought he was ending his own suffering when he pulled the trigger. He didn’t realize that his suffering would increase exponentially as it passed to the wife, children, parents, siblings, friends, and colleagues who would, on some level, be grappling with his death for the rest of their lives.

I alternate between feelings of compassion and empathy (because of the despair that Marc died of) and anger (because of the pain that he forced the rest of us to live with). On some level, I guess I also feel a little envy. Marc’s pain is gone. Mine will remain for a long, long time.

—-

Marc Alan Olson

September 15, 1965~September 21, 2007

Born in Tacoma, Marc graduated from University of Puget Sound with a degree in Physics in 1987. While there, he and his dear friend, Scott Andrews founded Passages, the outdoor orientation program for freshmen. Marc also served on the UPS Board of Trustees. He worked as a software engineer at Microsoft since 1989. Marc lived his life to the fullest with energy and commitment, admired by all who knew him. He was a devoted and loving husband, father and friend who had many passions in life including learning, reading, cooking, flying, photography, hiking, boating, skiing and anything that immersed him in the great outdoors. With his wife and kids, Marc loved nothing more than hosting friends and family at their “little bit of paradise” on Stuart Island, enjoying fine food and wine, fellowship and spectacular sunsets. Marc will be remembered by his many friends for his brilliant mind, generous spirit and insatiable appetite for life. Marc is survived by his parents, Judy and Terry Olson, wife, Jean, twin sons, Alex and Jake, brother, Craig, sister, Marce and their families. A Memorial Service to celebrate Marc’s Life will be held on Thursday, Sept. 27th, 1:00 p.m. at University Presbyterian Church, 4540 15th Ave NE, Seattle. All are welcome. In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to a college fund that will be established for Alex and Jake.

How I lost my faith

When I was in the fourth grade, my sister, brother, and I responded to a hell-fire and brimstone altar call at the Bible Baptist Church in Rantoul, Illinois. My mother had been raised a Christian by devout Methodist parents, and her brother was a Methodist minister. But she also became “born again” and raised the bar. She got baptised in the church’s baptismal tank, which amounted to a declaration of war between her and my father. From then on, it was us against him.

Mom and Dad were now “unequally yoked,” and the pressure was on for him to see the light and accept Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. But Dad, who had been raised by an Army chaplain with a mean streak, would have none of it.

After Dad retired from the Air Force, we headed west, where he and Mom owned an unfinished house in Roy, Washington. There, we attended the Roy Missionary Church, where I eventually became a Sunday school teacher, youth group leader, and camp counselor.

It was while preparing one of my “sermons” for the youth group that I realized God was too small. I went out onto my grandfather’s land and prayed, “God, this is too easy. I could fit you into a shoebox and that can’t be right. Show me how big you are.”

At that time, I had my first serious boyfriend. His mother had died of cancer when his little sister was nine, and I had a special place in my heart for her. Jill was one of the brightest lights and most deeply spiritual people I’d ever met. She joined our youth group and caught the eye of Mike, who asked me to help him write poems with which to woo her. Soon, Mike and Jill fell in love.

I lived with my parents during my first two years of college and then packed my car and headed to Seattle Pacific University for the last two years. On my way out of town, I stopped by the cemetary where Jill’s mother was buried, knelt by her grave, and prayed, “God, I can’t take care of Jill anymore. Please take care of her for me.”

In the winter of my senior year at college, Mike and Jill were killed in a car accident. It took place right in front of Jill’s house and her father was the first one on the scene.

Jill’s father asked me to speak at the funeral, which I did. Seeing Jill’s broken body in a casket was difficult, but having both caskets in front of me while addressing the hundreds of people who attended the funeral was even harder. It was, without question, the most gut-wrenching thing I’ve ever done.

When Mike and Jill’s lives ended, my war with God began. I had asked–I had specifically asked–God to take care of Jill, and he killed her. If he didn’t outright kill her, then he failed to prevent her death, which was just as bad.

The prayer I’d said on my grandfather’s land had been answered–this God certainly didn’t fit in a shoebox. I felt completely betrayed and wanted nothing to do with him. My faith crumbled. The black-and-white world in which I had found comfort vanished. I was adrift on seas of gray under an angry sky and lost sight of everything that had once lent order to my universe.

Hopeless

Oddly, it never occurred to me not to believe in God–I guess I needed him to exist so I’d have someone to blame. I eventually rebuilt a spiritual world view that made sense to me, but it took almost 20 years to do it. It is nothing like my mother’s.

My mother believes that Mike and Jill, who had been together for a number of years, may have been finding it difficult to keep from getting physical with each other. She believes that God “took” them before they managed to fornicate. “You mean death is better than premarital sex?” I asked her. “Yes,” she said, nodding sadly.

* The illustration, by Kris Wiltse, is from the “Hopeless” card, which is part of the Mixed Emotions card deck.