u-turn

A temperamental sense of balance and an overly sensitive inner ear don’t make the best flight companions. Fortunately, the only moments of the journey that we tend to be at odds occur during takeoff as the plane climbs in altitude. My brain and my ear cannot seem to resolve their past communication issues and as such, are a bit  fluttery when presented with a challenge beyond navigating the balance challenges of a typical day. Each flight and airport present a unique set of circumstances, but discomfort of some kind reveals itself regardless of place or direction. Last night’s flight home brought forth one of the most courageous conversations my brain and my ear have had to flesh out in a long time.

At first, I was relieved. We seemed to be climbing in altitude slowly which always eases tension by allowing my head to adjust to the pressure changes gradually rather than all at once. And then we made a sort of u-turn. Planes turn all the time. No big deal. I sit just in front of the wing and by a window so my eyes can use the visual to explain the discomfort my head feels.

Last night felt different.

The turn was steeper and tighter and incredibly disorienting. There wasn’t a window that I could look through that could grant a stable visual. There seemed to be no steady point on which to focus, to center myself. Gorgeous pink clouds reflecting the beauty of the setting sun should have been distraction enough, but I simply couldn’t get my bearings and it equated to a terrifying minute or so during which the panic of the vertigo days flooded my system. My mind reeled toward flashes of the worst moments from that time swifter than I could stop it. Before I realized what was happening, my hands were shaking and my breath became shallow. Treacherous, sneaky fast, pervasive. Panic acts without notice and I wasn’t prepared to prevent it from persisting. My guard was down.

Eventually, after the plane leveled out, the pressure in my head did as well. I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and reminded myself that, despite the painful memories this u-turn invoked, the discomfort was limited, temporary. Despite that feeling of helplessness in mid air, I was okay–safe, balanced, headed home.  Another inhale, a breath of gratitude. The exhale, a prayer of peace.

I have these u-turn moments from time to time-I feel like in some strange way, in our own ways, we all do. A moment when something triggers my vertigo panic button or rips the stitches that contain my grief and suddenly I am swallowed up. Whether fleeting or lingering, the emotion is disorienting and even when I am surrounded by goodness and love, it can be hard to see it clearly enough…even when I know the feeling will be temporary and I am in charge of its dismantling, it can be hard to find my balance long enough to wait it out.

Yet, inevitably, the moment always levels out, the pressure of the panic subsides, I realize that I am held in love unconditionally-that I am safe, and I breathe. Will the vertigo come back some day? Almost definitely. Will that be awful? Um, probably… I can live with that aspect of my life, I have to. I don’t have to like it and from time to time, I’ll be caught in a bit of a u-turn moment, but this is my lot and with it, I can still do so much.

Inhale, gratitude…exhale, peace.

(Entry 29 in the king cake writing challenge!)

microcosm

The human collective encased within the parameters of the airport possesses all manner of oddities. While this mass of people exists in this singular place for merely a fleeting moment of time, the focus is not on community but more on the individual habits and procedures that will get us where we need to be, when we need to be there, with as little interaction as possible. Skillfully averted eyes and the incarnation of air pods have heightened the already palpable vibe of “don’t talk to me.” We place bags on the seats next to us in the terminal in an attempt to avoid having to sit too closely to a stranger…or maybe just to enjoy some personal space before boarding the plane. Magazines, that so many only ever purchase in the airport, as well as screens of varying shapes and sizes act as blinders, making us appear engrossed in something important that absolutely should not be disturbed. We all meander and move with purpose and intention and with no apparent need for those around us.

Which actually makes reasonable sense in the airport, but I wonder how often we walk through our larger communities in this way–turned completely inward, avoiding conversation and community, focused only on the needs and goals of the self. It feels easier to move through life solo–or at least with a very small tribe. The fewer people who rely on you, who need things, who look to you, who could possibly hurt and be hurt by you, the easier it is to make decisions because the impact feels compact. Yet, no matter how isolated we imagine ourselves to be, or how singular each action feels, no matter how secluded we expect we have made ourselves, ripples go out into the world…for better or for worse.

The thing is this–we were made to be with each other. We were made to associate rather than detach. Sure, life masquerades as simpler when we shield ourselves within a fortress of busy-ness and singularity, but we miss so much in avoiding the intricacies and attachments and beauty of those around us. People are not always easy. Relationships are often uncomfortable. But living in community with those around us constructs scaffolding that holds us accountable while also holding us in tenderness.

The thing is also this–just because we attempt to avoid interaction or just because we deny our place in any given society doesn’t erase our presence. So, consider instead, the power of your smile or a simple thank you or any other basic kindness that possesses the potential to elevate the quality of someone else’s day. Consider instead, that when we look up from our screens and books and busy-ness, there are people, both known and unknown, waiting to be noticed, deserving of recognition. Consider instead the vibrance and richness that could decorate not only our own lives but the world at large if we just took a moment to step out of ourselves and into relationship.

(not sure the day count holds anymore since I’m not writing in consecutive days…but I believe this would be Day 28)

(and also because I seem to have strayed from sharing poetry here…it’s one I’ve shared before but it is perfect for this particular blog…“Gate A-4” by Naomi Shihab Nye)

 

acceptance

For what seems like my entire adult life, careless eaters and their subsequent audible mouth noises have rendered me wretched. Crunching, smacking, squishing, gulping…all of it… every muscle within me would tense, while on the outside, I would futilely attempt to withhold visible reaction (though once my shiver pronounces it’s presence, it is hard to mask my irritation). I have no way of explaining the swift development of this distress in any given moment, other than to say it is intrinsic, instinctive. No frustrated thought process exacerbates my reaction and tolerance entirely eludes the grasp of my capabilities.

Despite this aversion in my adult years, I also possess vivid recollection of my mom having to correct me, repeatedly, for smacking when I was a kid. Looking back, I cannot fathom why it took me so long to learn that lesson. Obviously, my manners required refinement, but somehow the sound of my own chewing didn’t seem to deter me. I am not sure when the changeover occurred. I just know that in the same way that I suffer a full body reaction to cilantro when it evades my careful eye and ambushes my taste buds, mouth noises incur complete revulsion.

Despite years of living into this disgust to the point of it worsening, my life turned in a bit of a punishing direction. In the midst of the fury of my inner ear disorder, when it had reached the point of disability, I consented to a surgery that offered no guarantees but did generate hope for restoration. I knew going in that the surgery, whether successful or not, would result in muffled hearing in my left ear as it healed and as the packing inserted during surgery dissolved. I knew a tube would be inserted as well that would also complicate my hearing for a while, but given that my hearing was already complicated, this seemed like a small sacrifice.

A few months after surgery, the surgeon removed the tube and for about three days, my hearing returned to the quality it kept before I was sick…not just pre-surgery but pre-illness. Everything about my life seemed to hold greater clarity in those days-I heard my kids clearly without having to see their mouths moving to decipher their words, my thoughts were uninterrupted by tinnitus, and directionality of sound was restored. The smile on my face in those few days reflected the lightness and joy of my being.

And then the hole the tube tore closed up.

While my hearing remained improved, I quickly discovered that I was also hearing internal noises at a volume not conducive to calm and clarity of thought. Every beat of my heart sent a roar instead of a pulse. Every breath I took, a hurricane in my ear. Every turn of my head, yawn, and stretch accompanied by cracking and squishing–noises we aren’t intended to hear and remains sane. Every word I spoke echoed within.

And also…

Every bite of food I chewed, every sip I took played at full volume and there was no escape, no retreat. All of a sudden, the thing that drove me mad in others became a state of being and no amount of shivering in disgust would resolve the issue. If I wanted to eat and drink (you know, survive), I had to also find a way to manage my disdain for these internal noises. It was hard to explain this situation to others without being greeted with the attempted empathy of “oh yeah, I know what that’s like! Happened to me when I had a cold last year” Not the same. I’ve had colds before that elevated the volume of internal noise. I’ll say it again–not the same…at all.

I wish I could say this surgical consequence brought me new perspective on the patience I should show others before reacting, but it didn’t really. However, it did grant me a realization. Was this situation uncomfortable? Yep. Did it make eating disorienting and difficult? Definitely. But, here’s the thing, I wasn’t dizzy anymore. The tinnitus was gone. I finally functioned in the world, for the most part, like other healthy people (with a few restrictions). I was present with my family and friends. I had been given so much only to be annoyed by these noises that over time, I could learn to live with if I only tried to focus on the positive rather than on the grotesque.

100% effective? Let’s just say, I require reminders:) Just tonight, while attempting to enjoy a piece of pizza, I nearly quit the meal 4 times (literally)  because I just couldn’t take the eating noises anymore. Then I remembered there was a time that just chewing pizza held the potential to incite vertigo. I let my frustration go and I enjoyed the treat.

And I think that is the point. There are so many moments in this life to enjoy when we just step back, let go of the frustration, harness our gratitude and dive into the delight.

(Day 22:) Also, Orange team don’t be mad about the pizza! I promise I ran 4 miles today too!)

flicker

“For some things/ there are no wrong seasons./ Which is what I dream of for me.”

–from “Hurricane” by Mary Oliver

Hope flickers in the darkness.

Yet,somehow, when we need it most, we see everything but that light. We sink into seeing only the misery that surrounds us instead of squinting to see the light of hope in the distance. The choice remains within us to live into hope…to anticipate miracles that may arise in any single moment…to believe that there is more to come because right now is only temporary and each day brings a new promise.

In the toughest times, it is hard to take ownership of that choice.

In the midst of the most difficult days of my inner ear illness, when I thought I would have to quit my job and give up driving…when I thought my hearing would be lost forever and my kids would never remember who I “used to be”…it was in those terrifying days that for the first time in my life, I lost hope. I felt like a burden to all around me and I saw no chance of healing. For the first time in my life, I sank into the darkness and elected to remain there. Anything else felt too difficult, felt impossible. I could see no way out, could find no silver lining, could not understand anything beyond my own suffering.

And all I can say looking back on that is this: in denying myself access to hope, I denied myself healing of mind and spirit. In succumbing to the quicksand of my despair, I cheated myself out of moments, days and weeks of my life. I was waiting for someone else to throw me a life preserver or to reach out a hand and make it easier all the while missing the point that I had the power to save myself. I could not heal my illness, but I could in fact heal my heart.

Rediscovering that flickering light was no easy path to walk. Learning to trust it again took even longer. Walking forward in that light brings rest to my most difficult days now and also brings gratitude for the journey to its reclamation.

(Day 21–I’m exhausted…this is short and not what I had wanted it to become…I suspect a revision of this will turn into a future blogpost)

hidden truths

The thing no one tells you about being a mom is that on the other side of miraculous astonishment over that highly anticipated little life…on the other side of intensity of love previously unimaginable is this truth: on most days of the week, you will wonder if you are enough. “Am I doing this right?” will reverberate as an anthem on repeat because, a lot of times, it’s just hard to know. What no one tells you is that on any given day there are a lifetime’s worth of minute decisions to make, questions to answer, reactions to constrain, lessons to impart, activities to juggle–and every single one of them shapes the people your kiddos will become. That pressure is palpable even when you feel like you’re blindly just getting by. There is no owner’s manual, and complex issues that require resolution seem to peek around far too many corners. In a world where answers are readily available to nearly every question we might possess, parenting works at a speed that does not always allow time for a Google search.  We know our kids, we know our values, we know who we want to see them become so we make our best guess as to how to steer them through the storm until they can navigate it for themselves.

I will never forget staring at my oldest child the day we brought him home from the hospital and crying. Important to note that I wasn’t crying over the wonder that was this baby in my arms after so many years of waiting. Nope. I was crying because in that moment, he was perfect, and I feared that all I would do was mar that perfection. This realization marked the beginning of the internal whispers that second guessed my maternal abilities.

What I have come to learn in the years since those tears is that on any given day, in any given moment, we are all doing our absolute best as moms and that is enough…even when it feels like it isn’t. Even when every other mom on social media or at school seems to be doing it better, my kids need me and I am enough for them. Am I perfect? Not on any day at any time. Do I mess it up? Frequently. Do I blame myself for things like inciting my kid’s fear of thunderstorms because I hurried him along into the house one rainy afternoon when he was somewhere around 2, explaining that lightning was very dangerous? You bet I do.  Was I doing my best in that moment? You bet I was. Will he survive and even outgrow this fear? Absolutely. It is simply part of his story. We all have stories…and his will be more interesting now (okay…that is what I tell myself…don’t burst that bubble).

What I know for sure is this. My kids know I love them. My kids know my number one goal for them is that they become kind humans who look for the good in others and in themselves. My kids trust that even though I make a lot of what they call “statements” that I am trying to teach them something of their privilege and their responsibility as a result of that. They will roll their eyes when I make these statements but I will persist. My kids feel safe enough to be themselves when they are at home because they know that they are accepted for who they are now and for whomever it is that they will become in the future. My kids know they can screw it up royally and while I may be disappointed and while there will be consequences, none of it alters the depth of my love for them.

So, see moms, we don’t have to be perfect in every single moment. We don’t have to second guess every single solitary action we take as a parent to our kids. We can accept that we are human beings who will make mistakes and carry forward as a mamas because our kids have the love that they need to muddle through our potentially amateur motherly skills. Just as we continue to love them through their mistakes, they will love us through ours. And we don’t have to compare ourselves to each other because in the end, our kids are all different humans who will require different kinds of parenting. That doesn’t make any one of us better than any other. We are all just doing our best on any given day and with that understanding, we should rally to support our fellow moms. Because all of us could use a word of encouragement and a reminder that even though it is hard, we are all in this life together.

(Day 17)

lyrically redeemed

Thursday holds such promise. It’s the day that unabashedly informs me that weekend is promised soon and by Thursday night, despite Friday’s proximity and eventuality, I feel as though those leisurely days have arrived…I feel as though we’ve made it through yet another week at school successfully…I feel as though I can breathe a little easier and my brain rejoices at the sight of relaxation on the horizon.

Today, however, at least in my world, did not do Thursday justice. Today, for me, became Thursday in name only as it was infiltrated by the stress and worry and anxiety of some other day of the week…you know, like Monday maybe? (though, this accusation feels hypocritical because I have a whole blog about how Mondays don’t deserve that rep…I’m abandoning that momentarily though in light of today’s misery). Today was just not very friendly and it began the moment I woke up.

I could spend my time tonight sorting through the details of what made this day so demanding, but honestly that would be a waste of my time and yours. What deserves far more attention are the redemptive moments in this day. Because, truly, even the toughest days have those moments if only we seek them out–if we open our eyes and our hearts to the promise of positivity. I had to look hard today, but my people came through to drag me out of my funk.

The salvation of this Thursday came in the form of three songs gifted to me by three very different humans under very different circumstances, but when I consider those moments all together, they reflect generosity and goodness and love…they remind me that even on my worst day, that is what surrounds me.

Song #1

“Mrs. Clark, are we having notebook time today…because I have this rap in my head and I have to write it down!”

Okay, so let’s begin here…in the history of notebook time in my classroom at this particular school, those words have never been uttered. Sure, students have come in excited for notebook time (every now and then), but this is not usually the reason presented. Regardless, I had spent the day for the most part mentally and emotionally exhausted and wishing I were at home rather than at school, and then those words were uttered and I couldn’t help but smile–inside and out. In this single moment, she reminded me how grateful I am to work with my students and young adults in general. I’m relatively certain she had no idea the impact she would have on my day. She was just being herself in the middle of her own day and it was entirely what I needed to begin to turn my attitude around. Then she agreed to perform her rap, despite unexpected stage fright, and the room erupted in support and laughter and joy and I was wrapped up in gratitude for the opportunity to spend the last hour of each school day with that particular room of students. Seniors can often take themselves too seriously because they are under a great deal of stress. This moment, though? This moment was pure silly fun…and we all needed it. Maybe me most of all.

Because I will quote the others songs that saved this day, here is a snippet of her rap (which she graciously allowed me to share)–

“ate chocolate all day, following my heart

maybe I should do better things

like make art

I’m sitting in English, breathing in air

to use my notebook time wrong

is something I don’t dare

and maybe me rapping won’t be so rare!”

Song #2

My friend, Morgan, possesses passion for music that surpasses just about anyone else I know. Her song lyric vocabulary and register exceeds my poetic one, and I can always count on her to send me the perfect song in any given moment in my life. Today was no exception.

I had gone to the gym after school because I knew that if I didn’t workout, the joy of that rap would soon be scattered by returning reminders of the stress of the day that will string out into days to come. Exercise is essential in my life in that way. Morgan knew I was there and why and when I was leaving I had a message from her with “When It Don’t Come Easy” by Patty Griffin in it (along with a comical note about why she wouldn’t sing it to me herself:) ). This song was new to me, so I listened to it on the way home from the gym…and cried through every lyric. I know what you are thinking–that doesn’t sound like a song that turned my rotten day around. Except these were tears that came in recognition of the fact that I have this amazing friend in my life who loves me enough to send me just the right song in just the right moment. I have a friend who knows that she cannot fix my life with a song, but who also understands the way words move my heart and she wasn’t afraid to send a song my way…A song with lyrics like this:

“Everywhere the waters getting rough/Your best intentions may not be enough/I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight/But if you break down/I’ll drive out and find you/If you forget my love/I’ll try to remind you/And stay by you when it don’t come easy”

In the midst of the Mondayest Thursday ever, I was wrapped in support, in love, in friendship.

Song #3

My youngest son will one day rival Morgan’s lyrical dexterity. Tonight, after his shower, and entirely unaware that I had “suffered” this difficult day, he brought me his ipad while I was cooking and said, “THIS! We should sing this!” He proceeded to hit play and sing “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” from Mary Poppins Returns (in his best Lin-Manuel Miranda British accent…).  His smile and his joy percolated comfort and happiness within my heart and mind reminding me that there are things in this world deeper than a day. But also, beyond that, the lyrics of the song presented me with advice I give to others far more than I adopt for myself…

“When you’re alone in your room/Your choices just embrace the gloom/Or you can trip a little light fantastic with me/For if you hide under the covers/You might never see the day/But if a spark can start the inside your heart/Then you can always find the way…”

It was up to me to turn this day around…to recover my smile…to rekindle my own joy and to resist owning the struggles of others too much as my own. It was up to me to “trip a little light fantastic” and with the gifts of gratitude for students and friends and family, I was able to do just that.

(Day 15! King cake…really delicious king cake…crossed my path today…tempting…but I refrained:) )

vibrance wins

“You can’t build a house of leaves/And live like it’s an evergreen/It’s just a season thing/It’s just this thing the seasons do”

John Mayer, “Wheel”

Just a few short months ago, summer evenings spoiled me with beautifully painted skies that awakened a sense of wonder and awe. Splashes of orange and pink and purple decorated the expanse in ways no human hand could as though the descent of the sun into the horizon warranted fanfare, fireworks. Sometimes, though, it was more of a muted affair. Hues of deep blue and smoky grey would stretch in gauzy translucence only allowing a glimpse at the ribbons of color they masked…and only allowing beams of light to escape here and there rather than revealing the complete enchantment of the sunset (as though to say, not tonight, its beauty would be too much to take in, so here is just a taste).

I found myself eagerly anticipating the surprise of the sky each evening and wondering offering might be next. And in all of that time, through all of those evenings spent in reverence, I had not anticipated the grey of winter. I don’t necessarily live in a place that experiences four seasons (and if we have seasons at all, Carnival season is one of them…hence the incarnation of this blog challenge). Winter isn’t really winter here. Snow doesn’t blanket the earth and freezing temperatures are not a regular occurrence. I mean, it is January and the high today was somewhere around 78 degrees. Of course, a cool front is moving through and the high tomorrow is supposed to be 52 degrees–which while Louisianians will don scarves and boots and shiver in sweatshirts and jeans, is still not really winter comparatively.

However, what winter here does bring is grey rainy days and fog…lots of fog. Fog that is disorienting and forgetful; fog that instills a sort of desperation for the sun…for its warmth and its smile across the sky. Fog that hangs heavy in the morning and just when you think it is about to lift, droops heavier once again, blanketing buildings and trees and landscapes nearly completely, muting the beauty of our surroundings and the brilliance of the gifts of this life. In its ability to hide the world from us, the fog also issues forth feelings of isolation. We can lose our connectivity as life beyond the fog is merely a mystery.

~~~~~~~~~~

“And if you never stop when you wave goodbye/You just might find if you give it time/You will wave hello again/You just might wave hello again”

John Mayer, “The Wheel”

~~~~~~~~~~

Tonight, my kiddo who is experiencing his first state student council convention about three hours away from home sent me a picture of the sky. The cool front I mentioned had already passed through and the sun was breaking through just in time to say goodnight.

60108373783__8D5A22DE-32A3-4603-98BB-B96FF58052C9.jpegWhile this glimpse of the sun is but a brief respite before the fog and rain of January return, it is also a beautiful reminder that even when lost in the fog, the sun will eventually shine again. The color will return and the haze will lift. And when it does, we won’t be the same as we were before the days of the fog, because we are always moving and changing. We are always growing and learning–for better or for worse. But we will still be blessed again by the richness of these vibrant visions that remind us of all we are. Because, truly, if we are given the gift of the sunset, we must be worth so much more than we realize.

(Day eleven:) This sunset pic from my kiddo melted my heart for a lot of reasons but mainly because he had a day filled with tremendous anxiety and stress on this trip. He had just started to find relief–his metaphorical fog had lifted–and the joy in his text when he sent this pic filled my mama’s heart with comfort and joy. Watching this boy learn to live with and navigate his anxiety in similar ways to me at his age can often be painful but I am so proud of him at the same time)

lucky

“Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now!”

(“The Schuyler Sisters”, Lin-Manuel Miranda)

So, tonight, my youngest was riding with me to the pet store because in a stroke of sheer brilliance I didn’t realize we were out of dog food until I finally got home from work around 6:00. Anyway, there we were in the car, him singing whatever song was on the radio and me sort of pouting because I really just wanted to be home curled up on my couch rather than out in traffic running an errand. Just as my internal pity party reached its crescendo, my kiddo says (just out of nowhere), “You know, mom, I feel so lucky to be born in this place at this time with all these people around me. I just feel so lucky.”

Now this sweet boy has a habit of knowing exactly what a person needs to hear and then saying it in the moment they need to hear it most. For example, in the vertigo days when the side effects from ingesting a  ridiculous dose of steroids with hopes of healing wreaked havoc on my body and on my physical appearance, my self esteem waned pretty swiftly. I spent weeks feeling lost in a futile struggle for wellness that not only seemed to make me feel worse internally but also look worse externally. One night, after a particularly uncomfortable and down day, I was putting him to sleep and he looked up at me and said, “Mom, you know who you look like? Who you remind me of?” Well, you can imagine, I was dreading the conclusion to this question. And then he said, “Cinderella! I think you look just like Cinderella.” And, I realized in that moment that it didn’t matter what I saw when I looked in the mirror because in the eyes of my four year old, I was still a princess. Don’t get me wrong. There is no given day where I look like Cinderella! But the fact that this kid somehow knew that his mom needed that sweetness that night was nothing short of remarkable to me. And that, more than the compliment, meant everything.

He has a lifetime of these moments and I find that as his empathy grows, so does his ability to read a person or a situation and to know what healing words need to be spoken. Tonight was no different.

It is so easy on any given day to feel like this world is falling to pieces…that everything is going wrong…that humanity has lost sight of its value…that having to go buy dog food instead of relaxing in my pjs is an injustice rather than an inconvenience. That negativity fuels so much of our talk that it seems to have become habit. And then there was that sweet ten year old voice–a bright light calling out into the dark of negativity–expressing a realization of his complete and profound gratitude for the blessings of the absolute privilege in his life. He knows he is loved. He knows he has a home and comforts and peace in his immediate surroundings. He knows that he is safe. And not only does he go through the world knowing these things, but he is self-aware enough to vocalize it and to be grateful for it.

I like to say that this boy of mine is my heart walking around outside of my body…his sensitivity and the way he sees the world reflecting a kindness and an empathy that I try to model, albeit imperfectly. But tonight, more than any other occasion, his gratitude in a moment when he could have just been annoyed (like I was), brought me back to the reality that he is a better version of my heart walking around outside my body. And that makes me “just feel so lucky” too.

(Day Nine–exhausted! Grateful for a kiddo who provides inspiration–even uwittingly. Also, you should know, the justifications for cheating and tasting king cake have begun. This struggle is for real you guys!)

 

worthy

“…Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.”

from “Lost” by David Wagoner

For anyone who just needs to hear this today…or on any day to come…

a way in…Years ago, when my youngest was in first or second grade we hosted a pretty typical event–he brought a friend home from school with him to play for the afternoon. Except this kid was anything but typical! He very proudly explained to me that he was a survivalist with wilderness survival skills that other kids only saw on television. In the ten minute ride home, he regaled us with his knowledge proving the truth of his assertion. Let’s just say, when lost in the wilderness, he is who I want to be my guide!

~~~~~~~~

There are moments (days, weeks, months, years) in this life when the only way to justly explain the location of our mental health, of our well-being, of our clarity, is to name “the wilderness”. And the wilderness isn’t such a bad place to be…for a while. Exploration of this uncharted territory often offers deeper insight into who we have been, who we are and who we might become. The silence of our time there, at the start, feels contemplative and so we engage it rather than fear it.

Yet, inevitably, at some point, the wilderness exhausts us.

The silence becomes loneliness rather than solitude. The trees choke out the light and the path we thought we were on muddies itself and the weight of being lost settles in. In the darkness, we can no longer see ourselves or sense our purpose through the panic. In the darkness, we imagine the worst until it becomes our reality. In the darkness, doubt enters. In the darkness, we become uncertain of our capacity to maintain the strength it will take to exit the wilderness at all…we begin to doubt there is even a possible exit. Weakened, we succumb to sitting down, head hanging in distress.

And we forget.

We forget that the difficult moments in our lives are not the only moments in our lives.

We forget that we have been here before.

We forget that we survived…that we are battle-ready…that we are strong.

We forget that we are worth the struggle because sometimes it feels like the world has forgotten this too (even when it tries to tell us otherwise).

We forget what it is like to see clearly, without distortion, and to trust the well-meaning words of those who love us as truths–in the dark, it is hard to trust anything–and so in the dark, we forget we are loved.

And we hunger.

We hunger for a ray of light to break through the canopy and to shine upon us–a reminder that good has not been entirely eradicated from our existence.

We hunger for our hearts to feel in full rather than in shades.

We hunger for peace rather than pieces.

We hunger for someone else to do the work that we feel too empty to attempt.

We hunger for community, clarity, connection.

And all the while, we feel lost, unseen, misunderstood.

My only purpose in this blog is to say this…

I see you. I know you because I have been you. I’m here to shine that ray of light on whatever your situation is–to be your survivalist, your guide while you feel so invisible in the darkness. To let you know that you are not alone and that more than anything, you-just as you are-you are worth and worthy of the struggle. It won’t be easy; we know that. It will often feel impossible to orienteer your way through. Harness a strand of energy and strive to shine your own light again. It is still there, buried deep, waiting to be rediscovered.

But until then, I promise, there are others who will be beacons for you because they know that “…Wherever you are is called Here,/ And you must treat it as a powerful stranger…”

Sending love into the world today to all my fellow current and former wilderness dwellers. And also to my young survivalist who is battling his own metaphorical wilderness these days with courage and heart (truly survival skills)…an example to the rest of us for sure.

(Day Seven–not sure where this one came from but it felt necessary to honor the idea today. Also, every struggle is different and so if you need more than a pep-talk of a blog written by an optimist and not a professional, this is an excellent resource: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org and also 1-800-273-8255 )

roots in the rocks

Just before Christmas, I received a pretty unassuming gift from a student. It was a large glass vase, filled about halfway with rocks, and with bulbs nestled just on top of those rocks. My only guidance was this: keep the water level to the top of the rocks/base of the bulbs and something magical will happen. This gift and the feeling of curiosity it imbued reminded me of when I was a kid–I was always struck by the promise of those pill sized, gelatin coated sponges that when soaked in warm water for a period of time would reveal some mystery animal. I loved those things and the seeming impossibility that contained in such a small, compact package was a reality far cooler than its exterior and a truth that was also entirely unpredictable.

That same sense of wonder struck me with this vase of bulbs. What on earth would they grow to be?

For anyone who really knows me, the gift of a plant, while a lovely gesture, is not a kind one…to the plant, that is. They sort of wilt in my presence or at the thought that I might be their caregiver. I mean, human beings in need of love and attention are my specialty. Cultivating horticulture, though…well, apparently God felt it was better that I just appreciate the beauty of nature rather than prune it.

Needless to say, despite what seemed like easy directions to maintain these bulbs, I was relatively certain that I would fumble the whole process. It would be added to the litany of all the plants Amy has killed and become fuel for fun at my expense. Yet, I was determined not to lose sight of my responsibility or to spoil the surprise to come.

And then Christmas break arrived.

I was leaving work on Friday and my hands were full and I didn’t want to drop the vase…so I left it in my office with the intent of returning for it the next day. Well, the next day (the next several days) filled themselves with all the chaos of family and holiday cheer and I not only didn’t go back, but I forgot the bulbs even existed…until New Year’s Day when my failure as a caregiver dawned on me and the guilt settled in. I just knew I would walk into my office the next day to discover the carnage of dried out or rotten bulbs. Disappointment over missing the surprise of what they held inside weighed heavy. But as I approached my office the next morning, staring at me through the window was this gorgeous sight:

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Well, as I took in this wonder, I realized that those glorious green stalks standing tall with pride as they held up their prize–flowers impatiently waiting to burst through their leafy cocoons–were not in any way my accomplishment. They were in fact, simply a wonder and a truth of nature that didn’t require much from me and probably appreciated my absence as they did their thing!

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As these flowers broke through and illuminated my office with fragrance and beauty, I considered what other transformations I might be missing in this world because I am simply not paying attention. Because, while it was jaw-dropping to encounter these fully grown stalks, how much cooler would it have been to have been there the whole time? How much more meaningful would it have been to have witnessed with admiration the changes from the seemingly impossible beginnings? I think that, just as I did with these bulbs, we often overlook people and ideas in this fast paced world of immediate gratification. If something or someone isn’t immediately what we hope for them to be, we sort of walk away instead of investing ourselves…instead of nurturing what might be possible and lending support and guidance until the transformation takes place. There is goodness in all of us waiting to burst through the cocoon, you know, if only we pause in time to recognize it before we miss it completely.

Something else struck me in this week of watching the continuing transformation…

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The roots of these flowers didn’t dig into rich, humid soil; they existed amongst the rocks. Growing everyday and winding in and out of the spaces between to receive what they needed from the water. It seemed to me to be the best kind of perseverance…the kind it takes to transform ourselves, even when everyone else has walked away but we know there is something inside of us worth the effort. The perseverance to keep going and to keep trying when everything around us is difficult and a bit treacherous (so tempting here to say “rocky” but I fear this whole English teacher analogy has gone too far already to start inserting puns now…). The perseverance it takes to grow and to let brilliance burst forth commanding attention and proving to the world that they should never have walked away in the first place. That they should have been standing at attention because you never quit…because you knew your worth within even when they were blinded.

There is joy in the victory of that perseverance. And not just for the victor, but for all who extended support along the way. For all who paused and recognized value beyond the obvious.

I tell my students on the daily that we will always make time for what we feel is important. There is no harm in adjusting that compass of importance to point towards people and things that might require a bit more attention, a bit more investment. The goodness to come will be worth the effort.

 

(Day 4…done early on a Friday!)