Happy Day – Happy Valentine’s Day!
Truth is that it wasn’t my intention, my mindful intention, to post this blog today. But when I woke up this morning, I knew it was the day.
A few weeks ago I was asked to share a “life journey story” for a project, actually a new social enterprise organization, I’m involved in (more on that in a later blog). I began with this writing assignment as I typically do – feeling it first, with little idea of how I would morph that feeling into words. Over days, and weeks, it did.
Here we go. A Love Story.
∞ ∞ ∞
Stories. My story. It sounds so simple, but where do I begin? What story do I tell? One that’s easy? Or do I dare go deeper?
You see, for a long time, I didn’t tell my life’s stories. It wasn’t that I chose not to share them, I just didn’t. Life was life. And, if I were savvy enough back then, I could’ve said something “new-agey” like “Oh, that was then, this is now. I’m living in the present moment.”
That would’ve been furthest from the truth. It wasn’t until my life changed dramatically – the kind of eruption where who I thought I was, what my life was about, and ideas of my future were totally blasted – that I came face-to-face with my stories – the ones I had tucked away a long time ago.
“The teacher appears when the student is ready,” they say. It’s easy to surmise that the teacher is a person. But what is it like when the most poignant teachers are our own stories – challenging us to love all we had sentenced to be unlovable, offering to transform old stories into new ones?
I’m ahead of myself, so I’ll begin at the beginning.
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When I was born, my dad was hospitalized for TB, the scourge of the 50’s. My mother and grandmother went to work to support our family; and my older brother and I were given to 2 different sets of great-aunts and uncles. I was an adult before I saw the surviving pictures of that time. I was a happy little one. But that wasn’t the story I tucked away. It’s this one.
Like every morning, I was eating corn flakes in the breakfast nook. Only on this day, my uncle, Uncle George, came to breakfast with a drawn face and puffy eyes. I was three. Holding back tears he said as cheerfully as he could “Good news. You’re going home.” He meant, of course, I was going back to my biological family, which was now together, healthy.
“I am home!” I announced. And, without a word, he brought me into his arms. He was crying. I was crying. He said softly, “We love you. They love you. It’s time. You’re a strong little girl.”
I’ve gone back to that little one many times since that day. I wanted to know how she felt, then; and what she tucked away as her memory. With 3 years of life under her belt, she made the only logical conclusion she could. “No matter how great life seems, it can change instantly; so be watchful, be a good girl, be strong.”
She was. She was, that day, standing on the front porch of her parent’s house, watching her uncle and aunt drive away. She was, hearing a knock on her 2nd grade classroom door, watching the nun ask for her, listening to the words that Uncle George died that morning. She was, sitting at the funeral home in the midst of people and carnations, feeling her lifeline to home, gone. That afternoon, her conclusion became even stronger, “Life can’t be trusted. It takes away people I love.”
All of this was forgotten as the daily rituals and a young girl’s life experiences took over – school, friends, brothers, brownies, summer days and evenings, snowmen, bikes, piano practice, and first boyfriend. Days were on track, normal, wonderful, yet mysterious in all the ways growing up is for a young girl.
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Life was as normal as normal could get the spring I turned 14: in a few months, I’d graduate 8th grade from our small Catholic school and in the fall, I’d go to the local high school. It was all myself and my friends could think or talk about.
So, normal it was one evening. My brothers were clearing the table; I was loading the dishwasher; and mother and dad were finishing up a conversation. As they left the dinner table, they said they wanted to talk to me. “Okay… I’ll be there in a minute” I said. And they continued, “let’s go in the living room.” “Yikes,” I thought, “We never go into the living room.” Unease crashed into my stomach.
They began, “We’ve been thinking….” After that, I only heard the ending “And so, we’ve decided the best thing for you is to go to an all girls Catholic boarding high school 70 miles away. The arrangements have been made, they’re allowing you to work to pay for your room, board and tuition. We know you’ll love it.”
It felt as if the air had been sucked from the room. I just sat – there – silent – stoic – being a “good girl” – promising myself not to cry. “What about my friends, my room, my life here?” Something about it felt strangely familiar.
Summer passed by and with fall in the air, I packed my suitcase and followed mother and dad to the car. Seventy miles and two hours later, we arrived at my new school with plenty to grab my attention – roommates, nuns, campus, work responsibilities, class schedules. As mother and dad drove away, I stood on the front porch of the dorm watching. Something about it felt strangely familiar.
That evening, my “worker” job was washing pots and pans. Standing at the biggest sink I had ever seen, my arms were fully immersed in suds; and behind the noisy clanking, quiet tears ran down my cheeks. Thankfully, no one noticed and the next few hours had plenty of distractions. With my first day done and as the “lights-out” bell rang, a monstrous wave of grief crashed through me. “This is your reality, now,” it stated. “A bell replaces your mother’s nightly tuck-ins, her loving goodnight kisses, and her reminder ‘Sweet dreams’.”
Somewhere in the night, I tucked it all into my buried story book: loss trumped love, again. And, by the next morning, my sense of loss had morphed into sheer determination. I made another promise to myself. “I’m fine. I don’t need all that other stuff anyway. I’ll be fine. I’ll find my own way and take care of myself.” With that settled, life as a high schooler took over. Even working was fine. I loved cooking; and the early morning cleaning of empty classrooms was a welcomed refuge.
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It’s amazing, isn’t it, how we spirited human beings have an uncanny capacity to move on with life? They say “time heals all wounds”. It seemed true for me too. High school was followed by Purdue, new jobs, a developing career. I decorated my homes, found adventure in travel and volunteering. In my early 30’s I married, had a beautiful daughter, become an entrepreneur, and we bought our dream home.
But the deep, forgotten stories, don’t go away. The psychologists tell us that they are always present, unconsciously impacting our life and choices. That was okay. I was in charge. I had a plan. The plan was working.
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The Buddhists teach “impermanence” as a path of coming to peace with beginnings and endings. And so it was in my life, one beautiful September day when my marriage, and as a result my home and life, shattered like brittle glass.
On the outside, one day my life looked one way, the next day, it was totally different. On the inside, shrapnels of shattered glass pierced the vaults that held my buried stories. The grief, the aloneness from decades before erupted into the moment. No one, including myself, knew where all the tears were coming from. Words, much less stories, were not yet available.
Over time, the stories, now free from the inner darkness, offered to be heard and honored. Then, they began to teach. Their lesson, on the days I could listen, was that it is not time that heals all wounds, it’s love – not the love we have come to expect from others, rather the love that runs through our life.
What else could the voice be, but love – in the quiet moments cooking, or waiting for my daughter in carpool line, that whispered “There are new choices. A new life coming.”
What else could music be, could the winds be, could the warm rays of the sun be, but love – touching my heart, inviting me to feel gifts that could heal my grief.
What else could synchronicity be, but love – as teachers came to sit with me, and help interpret the old stories in new ways, knowing it was possible to come to new understandings in my own way and my own time.
∞ ∞ ∞
As you might imagine, there are many more stories to tell. For now, I’ll end this one with where I stand today. You see, somewhere in those years, between the then and the now, I began to imagine new stories – ones that didn’t pit loss and love against each other. Rather the new stories recounted the paradox of wholeness that embraces love and loss in one breath like each day holds the light and the dark.
I discovered a new truth in the saying “This too shall pass”; a truth bigger than the simple attempt to discard what hurts too deeply to keep. The new truth looked and felt like nature’s beloved seasons. Springs’ excitements and summer’s blossoms flow into fall and winter. Leaves fall. Trees stand bare. Here, all that was, nourishes the ground – the ground that gives life from the life that came before.
And so it is that love’s stories found me. My parents’ love let me go to be cared for when they couldn’t. My uncle and aunt’s love let me go into my life that was waiting. In high school, life’s love expanded my world beyond the boundaries of what my parents and small town could provide and set the foundation for the woman I was to become.
I am beyond grateful. And I still cry. A teacher told me once that when your heart is open, your eyes leak.
The Invitation, Excerpts
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living,
I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream…
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like fool for love,
for your dream, for the adventure of being alive….
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you from the inside and
if you can be alone with yourself and
if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
Thanks for reading,