Dear Readers and Friends,
I remember what it was like to live every day in uncertainty and fear. I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father and a mother crippled with depression. As a result, I never knew if my basic needs would be met or what I would have to face. Would I have clothes and shoes to wear to school? Would the teacher make an example of me for not having milk money or having homework completed? Would I be teased today or bullied because I was dirty and unkempt? Would we have supper that night? Would I be hiding in my bed with a pillow over my head to avoid hearing the fight going on downstairs between my parents or comforting a younger sibling in my arms? Would he be coming upstairs with the belt tonight? It was tough, but I survived and somehow made a life for myself that did not resemble my own childhood home.
The most impactful lesson I learned as a child was that sometimes all you need do is breathe. Each breath takes you to the next until one day your chest doesn’t feel so constricted and you can take the pillow off your ears. Despite the death of my mother the summer I graduated from high school, an absent and deadbeat father, living with grandparents who were ready to retire rather than raise five children, and becoming pregnant at 18, I kept breathing and putting a foot forward. My young husband and I both managed to get college degrees, first him then me, by working our way through it all cleaning offices, being house parents, caretakers for a farm, etc. I’ve beat three types of cancer and continue to live with chronic pain. I’ve nurtured and reveled in my marriage to that same young man for forty-one years, raised two great kids, lost one, and grandparented six amazing girls. I love to learn and experience new things, I’m still able to challenge my beliefs, and I’ve learned to love myself. I have handled everything life threw me and walked miles away from living everyday with uncertainty and fear. And yet, this last month, I forgot how to breathe and could find no where to place my foot that felt firm enough to support the weight of the tragedy I was experiencing.
I could do nothing to change anything. I could not roll back time or fix the situation. My mind spun in all directions seeking a way out, a place to take a step forward that would lead us away from this unbearable confusion and pain. I couldn’t make a decision because they weren’t mine to make, it was all out of my hands and beyond my limits of capability. So, I sat waiting in an E.R. living in fear and uncertainty. I felt powerless and then angry and I think I lost my mind for a little bit. I irrationally acted out my anger on some folks who didn’t deserve it. My anger was displaced. It was irrational, but it wasn’t deliberate, they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t do something so grievous that it couldn’t be understood or forgiven, but I’m not proud. I have forgiven myself and will accept the fallout, but the bigger issue is that I forgot. I forgot how tenuous life is and had become complacent and took my life and good fortune for granted. Tragedy can strike any of us at any time. There never comes a time when anyone is truly safe from illness or senseless violence. I think I lost control of my emotions for a bit because it had been so long and I truly believed I had walked far enough away. I hadn’t and for a moment the reality was just too much.
Today, I find myself looking at the world and others with new eyes and more compassion: I feel for the mother with an ill or disabled child, those who struggle financially, living with mental health issues or those marginalized and afraid, but I’m also learning that pain is a relative thing. You cannot compare your suffering against someone else’s and justify or minimize it. When you are in a painful situation you feel it whether someone else has it worse or not. So, I’m allowing myself to feel the grief and sorrow.
Today, I find I’m getting better at breathing and walking through the pain, but I’m certainly not back to being myself. I think I’m finding a new normal. It isn’t all bad. I’m caring more about others, finding reasons to be grateful, reexamining my priorities, and loving my family. Experience tells me that with time we might find something good in all of this. If I’ve been absent and distant lately, I’m sorry. I hope you’ll understand. The days ahead will not be easy for my family. Each one seems to bring a new crisis, the ground feels shaky and the air thick with worry.
Writing is how I process things and so, this was good for me to write. Publishing it was a more difficult decision. In the end, I decided to be vulnerable and put myself out there. Maybe someone needs to hear my story and maybe others will hear me and know I wasn’t deliberately hurtful just hurt. I’m sorry.
God Bless you all,