Monday, January 5, 2015

Kate's Room

Fear. I try to rid my life of this word, but the pesky emotion continues to resurface. No matter how many pages of, A Course in Miracles, I read or how many hours of Marianne Williamson lectures I hear, I can’t eliminate fear. I hear and read fear is not real. I read only love is real. And, while my heart knows this fact to be a true statement, my brain, my anxiety, and my chills who rapidly permeate my body during any uncomfortable moment, they tell me differently. And for the record, I do not mean the kind of fear that protects me from the dark alley way, but the fear that prevents me from new experiences or confines me and forces me to play it safe. 

Last Sunday, I faced this playing it safe fear. I am not sure how gracefully I accepted the challenge, but I silenced the don’t do it monsters. And, although I felt the tirelessly fluttering butterflies inside my stomach, I forged ahead, choosing hope over fear, one more time. 

It’s football season. Apparently, this means there are more than enough football games to be watched on any given day of the week. I am totally on board with the cute jerseys and delicious football snacks, but the whole watching the game part is kind of my weakness. Don’t get me wrong, I understand enough of the game, as one friend told me, and I can get as emotionally involved as I allow, but, all in all, this game’s complexity escapes me. I try. And when we all had season tickets to our city’s NFL team’s games, I really, really tried. I like to watch football, occasionally, and I, always, like to prepare the dips and sliders and spreads. Anyway, last Sunday, I drove to Kyle and Ashlea’s to watch football and eat food. 

The night before, as I was wrapped up in the food prep, Kyle, very delicately, requested we watch the game upstairs in the bonus room. And this means, I must be lifted out of my safety zone and carried up the large staircase located in the foyer that leads to the bonus room. Which, by the way, is the cutest black and white painted staircase you ever did see. Kyle’s request was genuine. Ashlea’s insistence that I am absolutely comfortable, was also genuine. And because the scrapes I hear on my driveway in the dead of winter are from Kyle’s shovel hitting the driveway's pavement and scooping up the snow and ice, I genuinely wanted to honor his request. Regardless, I knew whatever I chose, we, they would have made the best of it and there would never, ever be any hard feelings. In a word, they make me feel safe. Even with the fear that began to rumble, I knew I was safe, no matter what option I chose. 

I stayed busy preparing more food that four people could possibly eat. Cooking is my meditation and when I am nervous or afraid or joyful or grateful, I cook. It’s my go-to good feeling and escape. As I stirred the pan-fried onion dip and waited on the butter and hot sauce to mingle and marry together, finally creating the Buffalo Sauce, for the chicken sliders, I felt my long lost friend, fear, begin to adhere its ugly claws and puncture my happy space. Fear tried to overcome the inner confidence I felt for the two strong men tasked with carrying my half-broken body and wheelchair. Fear desperately tried to disrupt the genuine trust I feel for the the loyal friend and spotter, who on a side note, will dress down and educate any car valet because I am too slow or drunk girl knocking on the bar bathroom door that tries to hurry me. She will not only do this, but later say it just makes her want to cry because she knows how I must feel. I knew I was safe, but fear kept a tiny grip, reminding me of its presence every time I tried to escape. 

I enable this fear of being carried for a few reasons. I, at the ready, can easily recall horrible staircase carrying experiences. I combine these recollections with the knowing what is at stake awareness and these worries, easily and quickly, feed the fear. There is the dropping of my body and damaging it more than it all ready is fear. There is the guilt of the person who trips and falls while trying to carry me and ending up hurt himself fear And there is the whole, I am stuck up on a floor and I can’t get down without assistance fear. It’s just risky to carry an adult person, not matter what the strength level. Anyone can slip or trip and then all chaos begins. After I ran through the usual list of fears, I contemplated different strategies and landed on one that felt the safest and most reliable. One friend would head up the stairs first, with my chair, so the chair was waiting for my arrival, one would carry me, and Ashlea would follow behind, as the spotter. I was calm and cool about this plan, all would be well. Or, at least, that is what I told the fear. I’m not quite sure I believed in my own plan, until I, suddenly, let go of the safety net and just believed all would be well.

We said goodnight to the kids, Kate and Jack and Will. Ashlea and Kyle headed upstairs for the bedtime routine and a few minutes later, Kate snuck down the backstairs, plopped in my lap, and despite brushing her teeth asked that we pass her some chips. She didn’t heed the grown-ups warning of the dangers of eating chips post-teeth brushing. In fact, she said she really didn’t care much at all.  We sat and ate chips with Kate until Kyle came down and said to Kate, “Why are you eating chips, you all ready brushed your teeth?”. She looked back at us and grinned. 

A few moments later Kyle came back down the stairs. He was followed by Ashlea who had Kate in tow. Ashlea entered the room and informed us that Kate would be staying up for a little bit longer because she was older. We all ate the hot pepper raspberry soaked salami, the onion dip, the queso dip, the guacamole, and the shredded chicken sliders with blue cheese or ranch dressing slaw. Ashlea shared her peppermint Oreo cake balls. And after all of the anticipation, here it was, time to make the trek up the long and winding stairs. As soon as this next event was announced and I felt my stomach tie in a knot, Kate jumped up and exclaimed, with as much enthusiasm as you can imagine, “I am going to go and get ready for Sarah!”.

Good God. I totally forgot. I can’t tell you how many times Kate asks me and whispers in my ear, her hope, that one day, I will see her bedroom. She wishes I walked, just so I could see her room. Her only sadness about my wheelchair is that I can’t see her room. I totally and absolutely forgot about her wish and her dream. I, too wrapped up in my own fear, completely neglected to realize that taking a break from my own comfort zone, stepping outside of this blasted fear, might make someone else’s dream, a six-year old girl’s, who is sweeter than sweet, dream come true. And as one friend carried me like Pollyanna, and another ran ahead with the chair, and another spotted us all from behind, and I saw Kate dash to her room, I knew venturing on, while still feeling the faint clutches of fear, was the right thing to do. I knew whatever vulnerability I felt in those few moments, having my life in another’s hands and the obvious what I can’t do illuminated for all to see, it was all okay. Because at the top, a little bit of hope and an ocean of joy waited with a smile that could heal the whole world. 

My friend gently placed my body in my chair and I said, as everyone headed into the bonus room, except Ashlea and me, I have to go see Kate’s room. Seeing her room was the only thing on my mind, fear took a back seat, took a ride on the caboose, and left the station. 

I entered her pink room and with her tiny Vanna White hands, she showed me her beautiful dollhouse, built by her Noni and Pop Pop; her brand new American Girl Doll bed; her bed, with the hot pink tufted headboard and the pink polka-dotted comforter and matching pillows; her pink and white Christmas tree, and even her doll that poops gems or something. Still not sure what that doll does, but whatever. Kate loves the doll. Kate shared her space, her room, her little piece of the world that was all hers. She shared it with me. A dream she carried for so long, to simply share a part of her little self I didn't have the ability to see. And then, the piece de resistance, she wrapped her tiny body, dressed in Christmas pajamas, in her hot-pink robe, tied the waste tie, and slid her feet into her hot pink slippers. Ashlea pointed at the robe to make sure I noticed and said, “Isn’t is great to be six?”. 

Yes, it’s pretty fantastic to be six. It’s pretty fantastic to be innocent enough to want your mom’s friend, the one who can’t walk, to simply visit your room for a night and have it make your whole world. And it’s even more fantastic to be that friend, who let go of her ridiculous fear, for five minutes, to make such a simple, but ever so important dream come true. Making this dream really didn’t take much from me. Just a tad bit of vulnerability, a smidgen of I am scared, but I am going to do it anyway, an arm around the strong neck of a trusted friend, the reassurance of another friend carrying my chair, and another friend, well sister, spotting the whole way up combined with a little bit of hope that we all make it to the top safely. 

This is it. This is the whole point to this life thing we all do, day in and day out. We aren’t here to be perfect or right or win every time. We are here to serve. We are here to let go of playing it safe and take the damn chance. Because, seriously, we may think we are overcoming a fear just for ourselves, but in the end, this simple act of looking fear in the face and saying, I raise you, you beast, and I am going to go ahead anyway, makes dreams come true. Not just our dreams, because, yes, each time I reach the top of a staircase or let go and allow others to see me for who I truly am, I make my own dreams of honesty and genuineness and love come true. But, making someone else’s dream come true, making a little girl’s dream come true, who never gives up or even thinks her dream won’t come true one day, well that’s more than I could, ever, ever hope for or imagine. Let go, despite the fear. Rely on others to carry you, rely on your best friend to spot you, whatever you need to do, do it to make it to the top because you never know what waits. I know now, from experience, trust me. Hope stands up there on top of the stairs of fear, love beckons in her pink robe, and smiles her biggest and warmest smile while welcoming you into her innocent, fearless world of dreams. And I promise you, the view is spectacular. 

Kate's room.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

For the Love of the Tears

A few weeks ago, I whizzed around Whole Foods, basket on my lap, sunglasses still on my eyes, unconcerned with anything other than the next item on my list, and stranger walked right up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “How do you keep moving forward even though your life is so awful?”.

I sat stunned and speechless. My cheeks felt hot and red and my hand trembled when I reached to remove my sunglasses. I pulled off the glasses, looked this stranger right in the eyes, forced the corners of my mouth to form a huge, toothy grin, and replied, “Well, I just choose not to focus on the awful parts. I am so late, I need to run.” And with that ridiculous response, I found the closest check-out line and sped out of the store.

His question threw me. But, even more so, my answer infuriated me. I grasped the hand controls in my car, pulled out of the parking lot, and waited, in a daze, at the stop sign until another car honked at me to move forward. My skin crawled and my heart raced. Tears seeped through my large, protective eye wear. Not even my giant aviator glasses could protect the affect his question and my nonchalant answer had on me. 

As I continued to drive, I watched a memory play out so clearly in my mind it was like a movie on a gigantic screen. I watched as I sat in a hospital wheelchair, not the sleek, light as a feather version I have now, but the heavy, awkward, metal version hospitals use, and I wore pajamas and a hard, plastic, turtle shell brace over my t-shirt. My friend stood next to me and we waited for an elevator to arrive. The top of the brace encroached on my neck and I reached up to push it down. The small force of this adjustment caused me to wince in pain because of the pressure the shift put on my broken ribs. I clinched my fists, closed my eyes, and took a long, deep breath, my new method to overcome these new and sudden urges of excruciating pain. My friend leaned forward, placed his hands on my wheels, and, with great concern, asked, “Are you okay? Are you sure you want to go outside?”. “Yes.”, I replied. He stood back and then said, “You know, I am really impressed with how you are taking all of this in stride.” I blankly smiled, and pretended to agree.

I knew I didn’t agree with his comment, but to be fair, it is what I allowed everyone around me to see. I acted like all of the pain and the heartache were just fine and I was fine. Fine, fine, fine. It became my favorite word. I’m fine. It’s fine. It’s all fine. The truth was and is though, it isn’t fine, it isn’t all okay, and I am not fine all of the time. Just as a I lied to my friend in that moment at the elevator, fourteen years later, I lied to the stranger in the grocery store. With my flashy smile and hurried attitude and brisk answer, I basically lied again and said, “Yes, I am okay, just fine.”

I cry a little bit each day. Still, after all of these years, there are parts of this life I can’t handle or take in stride. I know enough now, though, to know these moments of sadness aren’t shameful or scary, they are just part of the adventure. The definition of the word adventure when used as a noun is an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity. And as a verb, adventure means to engage in hazardous and exciting activity, especially the exploration of unknown territory. A word carrying this much weight and this much of the unknown and uncertainty, certainly doesn’t require a taking it all in stride attitude. This kind of life challenge requires tears and scrapes and bruises and falls. Adventure requires the tough stuff, the vulnerability of the tears and the awe. Adventure requires resilience and an intimate relationship with fear in order to venture forward on the long, hard walk through the woods of the unknown. When the night sky is black, the adventurer relies on the glowing light of the moon, and knows enough to continue on until the sun kisses the edges of the horizon and lights his way again. 

Each day is like this walk through the woods of the unknown. There are awful parts and really great parts. Fear grasps my spirit and instead of running from fear, I allow fear to pass through me and really feel fear. I can’t conquer fear until I know what it feels like. I can’t wipe the tears until I allow them to flow. Feeling my feelings, really feeling the sadness as much as I feel the joy, is what gives me true freedom. Taking it all in stride is just an avoidance of these feelings. I don’t need to be the girl who feels nothing to be brave. I am the girl who feels everything and is brave because of it. I face the tears with as much enthusiasm as I face the laughter. Both extremes feed my soul and propel my spirit. The exploration of the unknown, for me, is a bath in the pool of vulnerability and realness. I don’t want to live in a world anymore where I am afraid to feel. I want to be able to say to that stranger in the store, “Yep, my life can be awful at times, maybe even for a whole day or an entire week, but it can also be really, really great at times. And the best part is I am on board for all of it. I am okay with the awful. It’s my life, my adventure, and the awful comes along for the ride. Don’t feel sorry for me though. You have a little bit of awful in your life, too. You will discover your unknown. Your tears will wash your stride away and teach you dance along with all of the rhythms of life. You will fall. You will get up and you will keep going. You will know your awful and you will learn to love it because it is just a part of your adventure.”

Happy New Year. I resolve to see my tears as marks of beauty. I hope you will too.

This photo was taken the week before Christmas as we headed out to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday. It’s the perfect juxtaposition of the awful and the great. Putting on boots or any shoe can take so much time out of my day. It really is awful to have something that used to take seconds take upwards of twenty minutes. But, it also really great to rely on my leftover dancer flexibility to help speed up the process. I might end up zipping the bootie in the car, on the way to dinner, but I rise to the challenge. One more bump in the road, one more tear, and one more smile. It’s just all part of the adventure.