I’ve been looking forward to this week for a year! On Friday I’ll be at M-W Cares Day, a character education program for over 2300 high school students, telling my personal story about how I overcame obstacles to become an author. The chair of the event read an interview I did when my book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, first came out almost a year ago and contacted me to ask if I would be a speaker. At the time, I didn’t know how big this event would be; I just knew I wanted to talk to as many young people as I could to be the adult for them who I wish I had when I was their age. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to help them through storytelling. This is the work of my dreams.
More details about the event and day here:https://www.mw.k12.ny.us/monroe-woodbury-high-school/about/m-w-c-a-r-e-s/
A bow is made strong by being pulled back. I know many are worried about the state of our nation this 4th of July. I am, too. And I also believe that the immense challenges we now face will make us better, stronger, more resilient. The struggle may be long but I believe in us.
“If the world is cold, make it your business to build fires.” ~Horace Traubel, author and leader of the Arts and Crafts movement
The world is in need of people who can bring their best selves to it, who can see what’s needed and then have the fortitude to make it happen. Before I jump to the conclusion that this or that could never happen, I’ve lately found myself looking at challenging situations that I’d like to see come to fruition and asking, “What would it take to make it so?” And then I get to work.
As I think about my own storytelling projects, I am reminded of my introduction to it when I was a young child.
I grew up in a rural area where Native American culture is still very much alive. We had a family friend who was a Mohawk chief, Chief Black Bear. We would often go to visit his trading post. He was a very tall, solid, regal man. I was fascinated by him. I remember the jewelry, items fashioned from animal skins, the art, and the tobacco pipes carved from natural items. I have no Native American heritage in my blood, but I somehow felt very much at home in his culture. I still do.
One year for Christmas, my mom bought me several books about Native American history. The way they live and what they believe makes complete sense to me. They take care of the planet and each other. They believe in the connectedness of the heavens above and the Earth below. And their storytelling—that’s what captivates me the most. They make deep wisdom palpable, even to a child.
Yesterday I learned about how some members of some tribes welcome people back from war. There is a recognition that they must have transition time. They go with the medicine man for a number of days to literally and figuratively have the blood washed away. The trauma of war is recognized and processed. They deal with this in the light so that it doesn’t get subsumed into the shadows. They grieve. They’re cleaned. They’re healed so that they can return whole.
Setting war aside, if we just look at our own grieving process today with any lens, we often don’t allow space or time for it. We are supposed to move on quickly and in earnest to sunny skies and smiles. We are told to let it go as quickly and cleanly as possible. Though truthfully we hang onto things inside of us. We don’t always give ourselves time to adequately mourn our losses and reflect on what we’ve learned. And so it piles up, and up and up and up until we literally collapse under it. We do ourselves a disservice all in an effort to get on with it. Except we haven’t gotten on with anything. We are playing a role, and eventually we will have to leave the stage and all of our grief will be there waiting in the wings. And we will feel alone and isolated and ashamed of it. And we will bear it until we can’t.
Our society is dealing with massive public issues now, issues that have been ignored and swept under the rug for too long by too many. Of course they now seem unwieldy. Look how much time they’ve had to grow unattended. We cannot and should not shrink away from dealing with them now, no matter how large they loom. If we don’t recognize and set ourselves on a course to solve them, that task will fall to the next generation and the generation after that. Bringing them into the light is painful, but it is the only way to create a better tomorrow. Have faith, and let’s get to work. We can do hard things, together.
“Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.” ~Josephine Hart
My friend, Tony, wrote this quote on his Facebook wall and it immediately brought a smile to my face. People who have been knocked down and rise up, again and again, can never be beaten. They will find a way up, out, over, and through any and every difficult situation. It will take time, courage, and a significant amount of effort but they will do it. They are the people I admire the most—the ones who persist against any and all odds, determined to live the life they imagine.
“Sometimes we fall down because there is something down there we’re supposed to find.” ~Unknown
This week I wrote a guest blog post related to my book that details the journey that led me to find Emerson. I had to take a long and winding road to meet her, and that road was often difficult to navigate. During the rough times, I would have given anything to have them end as quickly and painlessly as possible. Now in hindsight, I can see why they were necessary. The difficulties gave me so much more than they took away. The things they took from me needed to leave my life, and what I learned and the people I met in the process of my healing are now some of the very greatest gifts of my life. Experience is funny that way; it’s only with time and distance—sometimes a very healthy dose of each—that we see our difficulties for the treasures that they are.
If you’re going through a difficult time right now, I want you to know this: eventually, maybe years from now, you will look back on this very moment and I promise you that it will make sense. You will come to appreciate it as much as you appreciate every joy in your life. The road out of your difficulty may not be easy, but the strength you get from that climb and the view that you will find at the end of that road will make it all worthwhile. So keep going. One foot in front of the other. One moment after another. Breath to breath. That’s the best any of us can do, and it’s enough.
Yesterday I spent some time talking to a friend of mine who’s a real estate agent. She’s helping me get on a path to homeownership here in New York, which is not a task for the faint-hearted. After talking about my financial picture, we talked about the idea of willing dreams into existence. This last set of years have at times been extraordinarily difficult for me and greatly blessed. All in, they have led me to the place I am now: in my favorite neighborhood in my favorite city, starting what I have high hopes will be a dream job, and a book 8 years in the making about to be published in just over a month. A year ago, this scenario was unlikely. Hell, it felt flat-out impossible. Today, it’s my everyday life, and I don’t take a single moment of it for granted. It’s not perfect, but I’m extraordinarily grateful for it, even in the moments when I’m most challenged. With effort and a belief in the wisdom of what we don’t yet know or understand, life becomes exactly what we imagine it can be. Every difficulty and blessing I’ve had was needed; each one played a role in making my life today possible. Perspective is a beautiful thing.
I’m so glad to be home, so excited for what’s next. And I’m not going to lie—I’m a little nervous, too. The second I solve one challenge or put one more concern to rest, another one is waiting in the wings and immediately steps into the spotlight of my attention. It’s moving, it’s job searching, it’s getting Phineas healthy and settled, and it’s the personal and professional to-do lists that never seem to end. None of this is bad at all; it’s just stuff that needs doing and I’m the one who need to do the doing.
Mine is a naturally worrying mind. I do my best to stay focused and composed though those pesky concerns are persistent little buggers. And unfortunately, if I can’t find a good one, I invent one. You know, just to get ahead of things! I don’t procrastinate well. I’m just not built for it; I often wish I was but it’s not my nature.
I was talking to my friend, Alex, and she reminded me about all of those posts we read when someone gives advice to their younger self. And they all say some variety of “Stop worrying. It’s going to be okay.” I try to imagine my older self telling myself today the same thing.
If like me you can’t stop worrying at least put the worries over there, way over there, so you can keep moving forward. I take a long walk. I take a deep breath. I remind myself of all of the difficult things I’ve done before, all of the trying circumstances I’ve survived. And that helps. Staying calm in the face of challenges is difficult, and it’s the only way to get through them. And get through them, we will.
Moving brings up all kinds of fears and concerns. I’ve been facing a few this week: comparing quotes from movers, worrying about the actual packing, saying “see you soon” to friends I’ve gotten used to seeing all the time, and renting a car and packing it up to make the trek back to New York. Every time I would cross something off my list, I’d find that there were two more to-do items to replace it. I started to get nervous that I wouldn’t get everything done in time, that something would make my move impossible. It was keeping me awake and making my mind fuzzy.
I got home last night and took a deep breath. I’ve been here before, many times and not that long ago. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s move and begin again. And if something does come up, some wrinkle in my plan, I’ll invoke my favorite mantra: “I’ve got this and I’ll handle it.” The only way out is through.
Friends, I have had a rough week. One of the roughest I’ve ever had. Truly. I have been struggling mightily on so many fronts that at one point, I could feel the walls closing in on me. There were a lot of triggering events and I felt like I was descending back down into the scary tunnel of my PTSD from many years ago. I couldn’t sleep or eat for almost 3 days. Eventually, somewhere deep down in the depths of my soul, something began to rise through all the sadness and fear and noise. It was my power. It was my voice.
Your power and your voice are always there. Always. I know it can be difficult to hear them. I know that pain stands up and demands to be recognized. And I know that healing takes time. But you will heal. Be kind to yourself. Be on your own side. Be your own best advocate. Be fierce. Know your truth, and don’t let anyone else tell you who you are. You know you. You be you. Because you are so much more than enough. It takes time to know that, too. Take the time. It’s worth it.