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Leah Perrault: Falling apart is one step toward healing

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  • August 13, 2020

Falling is on my list of least favourite things.

It sits on the shelf beside failure and spontaneity, where I intentionally avoid the whole lot of them to convince myself they don’t exist. But denial is no match for the laws of physics. Gravity pushes everything back to Earth. Eventually, I cannot stop myself from falling apart, being unequal to the forces of life.

Several years ago, I wrote about depression and falling into desperation for grace. More recently, I’ve wrestled with finding myself at the bottom of my capacity and coming undone.

Falling apart is not a new theme for me, so why is it so surprising to find myself there every single time it happens?

The weight of my world got too heavy to hold this week. Too much work, too many weeks of pandemic, relentless parenting, finding words to say at a hearing. I sensed it was coming, which is growth for me. I asked my hair person to cut off several inches. Called a therapist.  Told my people I wasn’t doing well. I felt the immanence of the falling, but I was still resisting.

Guilt floods over me with lies pooling at my feet that I should be able to do all the hard things and protect others from suffering. I feel weak as tears threaten to spill over the edges of me. I long for relief without having to be relieved.

On my way home from work, I called some friends, and then I pulled over a block from home and cried hard and heavy for half an hour. I called my mom.

I allowed the falling apart.

I am learning to practise falling the way I practise guitar: to learn to recognize the notes and to trace my fingers over them until they feel familiar. I appreciate the tiniest of advances in skill and technique only to discover that muscle memory and intuition do things that my mind isn’t capable of alone.

And every time I fall, I find the ground beneath me, earth that has been carrying me all along. The difference between before and after seems only to be my awareness of who is really carrying the world’s heaving weight. It (still) is not me. Pure gift.

It is so hard for me to accept that falling apart is a spiritual practice, a virtue to grow into, a way of being that restores and heals me — and maybe even some corner of the universe.

I was not made to carry so heavy a load, to walk alone, to be bowed over under the weight of it all.

Two years ago, I wrote a book called My Heart of Flesh, with a chapter on falling apart. I wrote, “There is a time for falling down, for losing my grip, for everything coming apart at the seams, for the old to fall away, for the rubble to be sifted through. I am learning that these broken places are not abandoned by God but where He lives.”

I love finding trees felled in unexpected places, a powerful trunk laying across a stream with roots stretching toward the sky instead of into the earth. I am comforted by waves crashing into the shore. My heart is healed when heavy clouds give way into a heavy and steady rain. It is so much easier to see nature’s beauty than it is to see my own.

Right in the middle of being not OK, friends whisper their love for me. My mom answers the phone and cries with me. Marc makes dinner and gives me a hug. The falling apart gives way to a family baseball game in the backyard and toddler giggles at bedtime. My heart beats softer after the tears.

There is a raw beauty here in this long season of falling over and over again. I am going to keep watching for it, trusting I am not the only one practising.

(Perrault works in Catholic health care in Saskatchewan and writes and speaks about faith. Her website is leahperrault.com)

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