Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thoughts on being "thankful," and what that really means

Every November, I see an outpouring on social media of people who choose that particular platform to think about and acknowledge the varying aspects of their lives that they appreciate. Most are thankful for family, friends, jobs, etc., but then there are those that just could not live without their double oven or mega refrigerator. That's okay too--no judgment here, many people find that they cannot express gratitude through words but have to give thanks in the way of food or crafts. Nothing wrong with appreciating the modern appliances and technology that make those little tokens of love easier to create and distribute. I, for one, will be eternally grateful if I ever end up with a bells-and-whistles dishwasher, or (more importantly) a deep, soaking bathtub with jets and aromatherapy. I could happily live in an outhouse so long as I had that and an unlimited supply of hot water.

I'm not vain, I just find happiness and gratitude in the simpler things in life. I don't need video games or a television, or even my coveted shoe collection. I love them, but I could do without all of them and really be okay with it. After years of anxiety and depression, I've realized that if I can find a place to be in body where I can simultaneously have my mind quieted and settled, then I'm really good. So I don't usually partake in the whole "30 days of things I'm thankful for" game that many play around the holidays. Kudos to those who do, because I respect so much that you recognize just how much you have in your life that is good and positive and powerful. Just not really my style.

That being said, I've been reflecting a lot over the last few days about just how precious and sweet my life is, and how grateful I am to have so much joy and love contained within it. None of it is easy, and I'm grateful for that as well. I have this paperweight that I got a few months back, that sits on my desk right in front of my computer so that I have to look at it often and remind myself to breathe.

Everything about living is hard. Marriage is hard. Even in the best of circumstances (which I feel that mine is in that category), marriage is still really challenging. It should be, otherwise you take for granted the love you have for that person, even as you grown and morph into something more. Ideally, the person you married supports that growth and goes along for the ride with you. Regardless, marriage is hard no matter what, and you have to never lose sight of the fact that you are in this together. You're a team, and nothing should take priority over that.

Finances are hard. I both love and hate working. I love the idea of getting to stay home all the time, but I just could not be a stay-at-home mom. I'd be okay for a couple of weeks, then I would get antsy, and then I would just get depressed. I love my job, and I'm grateful for that job for two reasons: 1.) because I get a sense of real accomplishment every time I pay our bills and know that I can pay those bills; and 2.) because I have the ability to make a real difference in my community through the work I do. What I do at my job really matters, and that is everything to me. It's incredibly hard and sometimes difficult to see, but it's there. That, not to mention financial security, is worth a lot, so I'm thankful for it. Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to maternity leave so that I can have some time off and bond with the newest member of our family, but I'm also incredibly grateful that I'm going to have a job to go back to when maternity leave is over.

Speaking of children--lord, children are HARD. I have possibly the easiest, happiest, healthiest, most well adjusted and relaxed little boy on the planet, he's been that way since birth. The kid never cried unless he was starving or having pain. He was sleeping through the night (I'm talking midnight to six a.m.) by the time he was ten weeks old. He just laughs and is independent and keeps himself entertained, and--like his father and me--is just as happy sitting quietly drawing, reading, or watching a movie as he is going out and playing in the city or with his friends. Even with that being the case, sometimes I just want to cry from how hard it is being a parent.

People forget that you aren't raising a pet or a plant or making a loaf of bread. As a parent, you are actually raising another human being, and they look to you for everything--for love, safety, comfort, understanding, and all of that, but they also watch and listen to what you think and do, and they learn from that. Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods is being released as a feature film this month, and the Witch nails it--"Careful the things you say--children will listen/Careful the things you do--children will see, and learn/Children may not obey, but children will listen/Children will look to you for which way to turn, to learn what to be./Careful before you say 'Listen to me.'/ Children will listen."

I am so very grateful for that though, because it has made me a more aware and conscientious person. I am a far better human being because of my friends, my husband, and my family, but absolutely because of my son. You can't expect your children to do things as you would have them done, or react the way you want them to. You aren't training a dog, you're growing a human, and they have a will all their own. I have to remind myself of that constantly. It's not about me. It's all about learning who they are and what they need.

I am currently 36 weeks pregnant. That's further along than I was when my son was born, and boy am I grateful for that accomplishment. I have no desire, ever again, to have to witness my newborn hooked up to monitors, with tubes coming out of his/her nose, mouth, and head, and know that there is absolutely nothing I can do except wait, cry, and hope my baby is okay. For as easy as my son is, and for as relatively easy as that pregnancy was (until his premature birth), this time around being pregnant has just SUCKED. I've been lucky to not be on bed-rest, but boy has this been difficult. I've had bleeding since 16 weeks, contractions since 18 weeks, complications from diabetes, ongoing anemia, swelling, terrible heartburn from early on, acute pain in my ribs, legs, and back, and (unlike my son, who hardly ever moved while in utero) a baby that is apparently fully intending on being a full-fledged Radio City Rockette before she gets into junior high. She also apparently doesn't care that her mother is little (5' tall, not a lot of room to grow into), and such activity is causing mom a tremendous amount of pain and difficulty breathing. I cannot wait to never be pregnant again. Ever. It is hard to be thankful for something that is causing me non-stop pain, discomfort, and deprivation.

Oh, but I am so grateful for her. I am so in love with this little hellion beating up my internal organs. I want her to be here so I can hold her in my arms and see her face and tell her how much she is loved and cherished. I can't wait to introduce her to her brother and daddy, and her family members who love her so much. I want to show her everything, and teach her about gratitude, especially after a year that has been so incredibly difficult. This little girl was not planned in the slightest. She was a direct result of the intervention of stars aligning in the universe and potentially a higher power getting involved, if such a thing exists. There is no doubt that this year has taught me a great deal about thanks and gratitude though, because I could not have survived it without that support net I have up around me. This sweet little one is a message that there is beauty and light in the world, and is a reminder that I should never forget that, no matter how much pain I'm being exposed to. You have to be thankful not only for the gifts you are given, but for the hardships as well. How else would we appreciate all the blessings we have?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

I've glanced into the future, and I think I'm terrified

I'm having a girl. Holy crap, I'm having a girl. A daughter. When I got the phone call telling me that our second child, due in early January, was healthy, with no signs of genetic problems or a Y chromosome, I almost felt my heart explode in my chest. I never knew just how badly I wanted a little girl until I was told I was going to have one. I cried uncontrollably for five minutes, I was just so happy. I have no doubt that I would have been over the moon with happiness if we had been told we were having a boy, because we currently have the sweetest little boy in existence and how could I not want another one of those? I do think, though, that I would have always dreamed about the little girl that never was. I am so excited to be having a girl. I am also absolutely terrified that she's going to be a little replica of me.

When I say that, I don't necessarily mean that I'm worried she's going to be a little hellion or anything. Truth be told, I was actually a pretty good kid. I always had my nose in a book, was just as happy staying home on a Friday night playing piano or video games as I was going out to a party or a football game. I'm not worried about things like rebellious teenage years--I've got time to prepare for that. I'm more thinking about me as a child. Temperamental, emotional, independent, and more than anything, SICK ALL THE TIME. I spent the first 8 years of my life in and out of doctor's offices, fighting sinus infections, chronic ear infections due to very narrow U station tubes, strep throat, etc. I even had shingles my senior year in high school. I am allergic to EVERYTHING, from grass to mold, dust, mildew, cats, dogs, various antibiotics and anesthesia, and panthenol (which is in pretty much any shampoo, conditioner, mascara, facial wash or skin moisturizer that's worth a damn). We think I'm allergic to bugs, because I blow up in hives if I get bitten by something as innocuous as a mosquito. I've never been stung by a bee or wasp or anything of that ilk, so I'm running under the assumption that I'm allergic to those as well. I should probably keep an epi-pen handy just in case that ever happens. Then there's the migraines. If I eat aged cheese (like blue cheese, for example), chocolate, or drink red wine, or if I consume anything that has a fermentation process involved in it's development, I get a migraine. I'm a diabetic on top of everything else. My best friend, Jamie, once said to me, "Girl, you are the sickliest human being I have ever met in my life."

In case you think I'm exaggerating, consider this: I am allergic to Claritin. It makes me projectile vomit. I am allergic to an allergy medication. My son has thankfully inherited his father's iron immune system (and stomach). I just know that my daughter is going to be just like me--likely a redhead, allergic to everything on the planet, and with a stomach so sensitive that even saltines and ginger ale will make her throw up. Now, I've never really thought about the fact that I am, in Jamie's words, "sickly." This is just how I've always been, so I don't know any different. It astounds me that my husband has only had to go to the doctor four or five times in the decade that we've been together. That being said, I'm now looking at myself from the perspective of a mom, and I know what my mother has said about me for my entire life, which is that if I had been her first child, I would have been her last. I wasn't a bad child. I was just sick all the time. My son got his father's immune system, and a great combination of my husband and I's brains and emotions. He's smart as a whip, with a wonderful sense of humor and disposition (like his daddy), but is also quite serious when confronted with new situations and he hates conflict. Raised voices upset him, just as they do me, and like me, he examines problems and observes quietly from the sidelines before jumping into new things. He's an easy kid. Eats everything in front of him, sleeps constantly, goes along with the flow, and is just so damn adaptable. There is no way we're going to get that lucky again. We're doomed. Doomed.

I, of course, know that I am being utterly ridiculous. She's going to be beautiful and wonderful and completely perfect in my eyes, in every way. She has to be, there's no other explanation for her presence. This pregnancy wasn't planned. We were taking active measures to avoid getting pregnant. Several of them. She was meant to be here, and I have no doubt she will make one hell of an impact on our lives, no matter what. Our family is already so in love with her, and she's not even here yet. Cameron is always touching my stomach, whispering to his baby sister, asking me how big she's growing and singing into my belly button. But lord have mercy, I'm crying all the time and having mood swings at the drop of a hat. I'm telling you right now--this girl's giving me trouble already. She's going to be a handful. I absolutely can't wait to see just how much trouble she can dish out.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Proud to be a Hutchison Girl

It's that time of year when the annual giving fund comes around, and for the first time this year, I had the financial stability to be able to give something back to the private, all-girls school that I attended from the time I was 3 years old until I graduated from high school. The Hutchison School for Girls, established in 1902.

A lot of people are surprised when they find out that I'm a Hutchison alum, because there are a lot of preconceived notions in Memphis about what Hutchison is and the kind of girls that attend it. In the last few years, I have become one of Hutchison's most outspoken supporters and all-around cheerleaders, which has been somewhat of a shock to those who knew me when I was growing up there.

There isn't a time when I don't remember being at Hutchison, and with predominantly the same group of girls. Some came and went as the years passed, but collectively, it was a solid group of roughly 60 girls in my class, all of us stubborn, independent, proud, hilarious, and very, very smart. Now, I spent a good chunk of my time at Hutchison with the distinct feeling that I didn't "belong" there, and not because of the girls in my class or the teachers. I just never felt settled, like I was supposed to be some place else--I never felt comfortable, I was always just a little uneasy and out of place. Again, these feelings had absolutely nothing to do with my classmates, it just was what it was. I lived in a neighborhood where I was the only kid that didn't go to public school, and I wasn't allowed to forget that fact. The other children I grew up seeing every day, mostly boys, lived to mock me about the fact that I went to Hutchison, with my dresses and occasional uniforms that we wore over our gym clothes, and the required dance and art and music and French classes. I remember a boy that I had grown up with once accusing me of thinking that I was better than everyone else in our neighborhood, which was pretty much a working class area. My dad works in the telephone business, and my mom was a nurse, so we didn't exactly live in the suburbs. It was a very urban residential zone, with the interstate running directly in front of my house, a major street running behind it, and a fire station at the end of the block. So between being my general discomfort of being at Hutchison and the taunts of most of the kids in my neighborhood that never let me forget that I didn't fit in with them, I grew up a pretty solitary child; I was quiet, nose always stuck in a book, with a very small, but very close-knit, group of friends. I wasn't unhappy or anything, I just kind of kept to myself. My best friend in the whole world lived next door to me, so I spent most of my time away from school with her, and at school, again, I just kind of kept to myself.

As the years went by, and as I got older and became more resentful of being called out for going to a private school and being "different," I began to place blame on Hutchison for the way I was being treated by kids in my neighborhood that I had known all my life. Like any child, the opinions of other kids mattered to me, and I began to see Hutchison as the primary source of my angst. Again, it was never directed at my classmates, but at the larger institution of "Hutchison." It's like when you get angry at the "government"--you're rarely thinking about your congressman or senator or representative. It's like a giant looming figure that you can't see but that impacts every aspect of your life. You shake your fist at the sky and say, "It's the damn government that's ruining everything!" That's what Hutchison became to me for a long time. I was angry at having no say-so over where I went to school, that I didn't have any voice in where I got my education. As I got into middle school, I discovered that I had a real talent for music, and Hutchison had very little in the way to offer a budding musician--it was a college preparatory school, and anything outside of that was just extra-curricular, and not supported within the academic system. I saw my best friend going to the top creative and performing arts public schools in the city, and I wanted to have that experience. I thought music was the only thing I was any good at, and I could really do something with it if I had the training that those schools could offer me. My parents were adamant--I was going to go to Hutchison, I would not be going to public school, and no, I did not have any choice in the matter. Cue the quadrupling of resentment.

That being said, by the time I got to high school, I had given up even trying to convince my parents to take me out of Hutchison. I had been there for over a decade, might as well just give it up and finish it out. It was then that I allowed myself to start becoming more than just the girl who obviously didn't want to be there. I started trying to make better connections with some of the girls in my class, and unsurprisingly, I was welcomed with open arms. Look, I'm not trying to say it was perfect--of course there were cliques that we sorted ourselves into, and yes there were catfights and tears and "world-ending" levels of drama. Those things never lasted though, and the cliques were never exclusive. Just because we had our small groups of friends didn't mean that others weren't welcomed. My class of girls were (and this is backed up by any member of the faculty that taught us, I assure you) stubborn and persistent and, in many ways, total renegades. There was a general hunger for understanding of knowledge in our class. We were never the "Is this going to be on the test?" class. We wanted to know WHY. We pushed boundaries in our classes, much to the delight of our teachers (mostly), and challenged long-standing Hutchison traditions that appeared to have lost their relevance, or stood in the way of the changing views of what a woman could and should be. More than anything, my class, the class of 1996, genuinely loved each other. All drama and bickering aside, if any one of us was in trouble, the rest of us came storming up to surround that girl and take her side. It was, and to this day still is, exactly what a sisterhood should be. We held each other up, supported each other, and accepted each other, warts and all.

I remember being on a choir trip my junior year in high school. I ran down to the room of another girl to ask her a question, and she invited me into the room she was sharing with three other girls, none of whom I had really ever talked to despite the fact that I had known all of them for my entire life. They were all messing around with their hair, seeing how crazy they could make themselves look. Within minutes, I found myself sitting in a chair, laughing, as one of them pulled my hair (I have curls, and a lot of them) away from my face. Suddenly, everyone settled down, and the girl who was pushing my hair back looked at me and very quietly said, "My God, Angela. You are gorgeous." She didn't say it as if she were surprised or anything, it was just a matter of fact. I glanced over, and the other girls were genuinely smiling and nodding in agreement. For the quiet, ill-at-ease bookworm with devastatingly low self-esteem, it was such an important moment in my life, and one that I have never forgotten. In that moment, I realized that I was exactly where I needed to be. I was accepted, and appreciated, and valued. These girls were my sisters. Hutchison was my second home.

We graduated the next year, and at the traditional mother-daughter luncheon that follows graduation, I realized that this would be the last time that all the girls in our class would be together in the same place at the same time. At that exact moment, I made eye contact from across the room with a girl who had been one of my best friends from third through fifth grade. We had drifted into different circles over the years, but we had always maintained something of a connection. Our eyes met, and we smiled at each other. I walked over to her, and she said to me, "Oh God, you're not going to start crying are you?" I burst out laughing (because I was absolutely about to start crying), but I was spared from having to answer her as another girl interrupted us. Another moment I'll never forget. I could spend all day talking about my class and all the memories we made, like how we built "houses" out of hay on the lower school playground, or the time we got into a food fight at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., and were yelled at for half an hour outside in the freezing cold. Our skits for Spirit Week every year were legendary, and our enthusiasm contagious. Thanks to social media, I have been able to reconnect with most of those girls, and many girls who were in other classes as well, and what a gift that has been, because I have spent the last fifteen years wishing I could let them know just how much I love them. I would do anything for any one of them, at the drop of a hat, without question, no matter what time, day or night. I have never known such a dynamic, spirited, bombastic group of women in my life, and it was Hutchison that gave them to me. I am so grateful that I was and continue to be a part of that place.

There are many other, very personal, reasons that I feel a close connection to Hutchison that don't belong here. Maybe one day, when I'm braver and more at peace with myself, I'll share them. For now, it's enough to say that if I ever have a daughter, she will without question be a Hutchison girl. I never appreciated how much my parents, who did not have the financial resources to afford Hutchison, had to do in order to make sure that my sister and I were able to go there. It required a lot of help from a lot of people, and a lot of sacrifices. I can't tell you how many nights our dinner was a box of macaroni and cheese, or tortilla chips with a can of chili poured over them. My mom and dad worked so hard, and were so exhausted at night, yet they still found a way to put me through 15 years at Hutchison and pay for 14 years of piano lessons as well. I grew up wearing hand-me-down clothes and driving to school in old, sometime beat up vehicles. Since both my parents had to work just to keep a roof over our head, I was a latch-key kid by the time I was 12. My parents desire to make sure I went to Hutchison was the reason that I had three hours every afternoon in my house by myself, and I spent almost every second of that time practicing piano. My mom and dad did everything they could for me to get the best possible education. In return, I paid them, and Hutchison, back by getting a full scholarship to college--yes, a substantial music scholarship, but the vast majority of the scholarship money I received for college was based on my ACT and SAT scores, thanks to the skills I learned at school. Hutchison gave me the strength to fight for what I wanted to achieve, the skills to attain excellence, and the drive to become whatever I wanted to be. That school gave me the foundation to build my future on, and an unforgettable, and irreplaceable, group of women to share it with. I am extremely proud to be a Hutchison girl, and eternally grateful for the gifts that Hutchison, and my Hutchison sisters, gave to me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"The Sunflower," and the Question of Forgiveness

A few years ago, when I was finishing up my last year as a history undergrad at the University of Memphis, and in a moment of desperation to complete a missing requirement, I signed up for a 400 level class on Holocaust Studies. I was terrified of taking that class. I knew how difficult it would be emotionally, and I did not want to do it. I also knew, however, that it would be good for me, and would probably thicken my skin a bit, which I needed. So I bought all 18 books that we were going to be reading that semester, and jumped in. Probably one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

There were a lot of things about that class that have stuck with me. I had never read Elie Weisel's Night before, and that book is so powerful. We watched "Schindler's List," which I had not seen before, and that was intense. Beautiful, powerful, horrifying--I've never watched it again, and likely won't. I will not ever forget it though. The book and subsequent conversation that impacted me the deepest, however, was on Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower, which, if you have not ever read, I advise you to do so.

The Sunflower is about Wiesenthal's personal experience with a Nazi soldier who was desperate to obtain verbal forgiveness from a Jew in the face of his own impending death. While held prisoner in a concentration camp, Wiesenthal was pulled from his work duty outside of a hospital and brought into one of the hospital rooms by a nurse. In that room, Wiesenthal met a German soldier who had been seriously wounded and was on the verge of death. This young, Catholic boy was in excruciating pain, staring his mortality in the face, and felt that he needed resolution and forgiveness for the atrocities he had committed before he met God. The things this man had done were, indeed, atrocious. He actively participated, upon orders but without protest, in the violent, horrifying murders of Jewish men, women, and children--including very young babies. He told Wiesenthal every gruesome detail in an attempt to clear his conscience, to obtain forgiveness from a Jew--any Jew. He begged Wiesenthal to forgive him, so that he could meet God in peace. Overwhelmed and unable to respond, Wiesenthal walked away without saying a word. He denied the soldier, who died later that night, his request for forgiveness. This experience impacted the remainder of Wiesenthal's life, and it seems that he never quite came to terms with whether or not he did the right thing, or what he would have done if the soldier had lived long enough for Wiesenthal to formulate a response.

Years later, when Wiesenthal wrote his story, he questioned what others might have done in this situation--what would have been your reaction or decision? That is the question that pervades the rest of the book, which contains responses from more than fifty contributors from all over the world, including the Dalai Lama, Episcopal priest Matthew Fox, and retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Moshe Bejski. For Wiesenthal, his refusal to immediately grant forgiveness was spurred by a number of things, including the realization that this young man, who he admits was honestly contrite and remorseful for his actions, still did not seem to grasp the bigger picture--he only saw a label in his desire for forgiveness, and to obtain forgiveness from someone who fit into the category of "Jew" would suffice. Even in death, the soldier did not understand that the Jew he was so desperate to receive pardon from was a human being, not just a category or label. Others Wiesental spoke to later, when he had returned to the concentration camp, agreed with him, adding that one can only grant forgiveness for personal grievances, and that Wiesenthal could not forgive the soldier for his actions, since this man did not do anything personally to Wiesenthal. The soldier would never be able to truly attain forgiveness, because his victims were no longer living to grant it. One of the larger questions that this story poses, I think, is whether we see forgiveness as an understanding or justification for thoughts or actions, and more over, whether forgiveness is in fact an individual right, or the right of the human race as a larger collective.

This is a subject I have struggled with my entire life. I've heard people say that forgiveness is easier for those who have "faith" because they can place trust that, whatever the hurt is in regards to, it is all part of a journey and that the higher power in charge will eventually reveal the reasoning for your pain so that it can be understood, or at the very least, accepted. I don't know about that--I'm sure it rings true for some, but religion can make things far more difficult to accept. Wiesenthal speaks at length about the difficulty that many Jews face with their own faith and belief, especially given the history of the Jewish people and the devastation they have survived over a period of thousands of years. Why does suffering have to be a part of the journey, and is offering acceptance and forgiveness of that suffering a necessary part of life in order to obtain enlightenment? It's a tough question to answer, especially when you remove a go-to response like, "The Bible says so," from the equation. Bottom line, forgiveness is difficult for everyone, and in my own opinion, it comes down to how you process information and experience.

I've heard it said that forgiveness is the acceptance of your past: it is accepting that the past is what it is, it cannot be changed, and forgiveness is the realization that you have completely moved forward without allowing the past to influence you any more than it already has. I have several problems with that philosophy, but the most obvious one that most overlook is that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. You can "accept" that something has happened and move forward, without being able to "forgive" the person or people responsible. You always know when that's the case, too, because it smacks you in the face when you least expect it. You can harbor no ill feelings for someone who hurt you ten, twenty years ago, and then (this has been my experience) you hear about something really wonderful that has happened for or to that person, and all that anger and resentment just bubbles back up from out of nowhere and you want nothing more than to track that person down and spit on them. Time numbs feelings, and makes them better able to be handled and put aside so that they don't influence you on a regular basis, but acceptance that it happened and honestly being able to forgive someone for their actions are two different things.

I also heard someone once say that forgiveness was giving someone permission to hit you again. That's a jaded statement, and I get it because I am the world's absolute best at putting up that invisible armor of protection to keep from being hurt again. You hurt me once, that's it--believe me, you're not going to get close enough to do it again. I don't care how nice I may act to you outwardly, you will not get another chance. However, that statement is little more than an empty justification for not offering forgiveness, and I do believe that forgiveness is healthy and important. Anger and resentment will just suffocate you if you can't let it go. That being said, knowing that you have forgiven someone for a transgression is not the same as being able to ever trust or have a relationship with them again.

I think, ultimately, that forgiveness is very similar to faith--it differs for every single person, and there is no one answer for how to forgive that will apply to everyone. It's personal, it's private, and it's up to the individual to decide whether or not forgiveness is a necessary part of their own personal journey. Here's what I have figured out about my own ability to forgive. Reconciliation is easy for me. I can do that. I can accept what happened, learn from it, and move forward without the event or hurt itself haunting me or keeping me locked into the past. Forgiveness, however, is something that I only offer when someone has been brave enough to hold themselves accountable for hurting me or someone I love. In order to forgive, I expect that person to own up to what they have done. Even if they aren't sorry for what they did, but are sorry that they caused me pain as a result, that is still accountability. I can forgive that. However, it needs to be stated outright. "I am really sorry that I hurt you." "I hate what I did, and if I could take it back, I wouild." "I am truly sorry that you were hurt, it wasn't my intention." "I hate that this happened, I never meant for you to be hurt and I wish I could change it." Those things are all acceptable. Those statements are all honest attempts at taking responsibility, and I can, and will, offer forgiveness.

You know what is not being accountable? "Are you ever going to forgive me?" I cannot even begin to say how many times I have had someone use that on me or someone I know. That's such a bullshit apology. That isn't taking responsibility for the actions that you committed which caused someone else pain. That is shifting even more blame onto the person you hurt and accusing them of being at fault for being hurt in the first place. It is a flagrant attempt to cover up the fact that you aren't sorry at all.

Bottom line--in order for me personally to forgive, I need to know that the person who hurt me is genuinely sorry for the pain that they caused, and that they are mature enough and strong enough to walk up to me, own their decisions or choices, and ask for my forgiveness in an honest and meaningful way. Acceptance and reconciliation are easy. I only grant forgiveness to those who ask for it, and who mean it. I don't lose sleep at night, wishing ill on someone who hurt me, or thinking about why they did what they did. I also don't look for larger meaning in the hurt. That's the beauty of free will. You don't always learn some larger lesson from pain. Sometimes people just suck and do stupid hurtful things because we as humans are intrinsically egocentric and we as a result always think first and foremost about how things will benefit or hurt ourselves before other people. There's nothing wrong with that, we all do it. Not holding ourselves accountable for our actions is something entirely different, and if forgiveness is important to you, then ask for it. Be open, be honest, and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Even if, like Simon Wiesenthal, the person you are asking forgiveness from does not grant it to you, at least you will have some sense of peace within yourself, knowing that you were accountable and accepting of the consequences of your actions, no matter how terrible. Ultimately, my own personal philosophy is that asking for forgiveness, and your ability to grant forgiveness to those who ask for it, isn't about the person you hurt or the people who hurt you. It isn't about the event, or the time, or the reasoning or justification of it all. It is about how you are best able to continue on your journey, and what you need to do in order to look at yourself in the mirror with a clear conscience and sleep well at night. It's all about you. Egocentric, indeed.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Working with kids, and how West Side Story just changed my life

It's no secret that the last few months have been rough. I'm grateful to those who have reached out to help and lend their comfort and support. It has truly been a gift.This last week has not been perfect, but it's been a little better. I've been taking it one day at a time, and it's been a battle, but one that I'm feeling better about than before. Enough so that, yesterday after church, I dropped off my husband and son at home and went out to a local school to see their production of West Side Story. Now, this was not a random trip out to see a high school theater production (I am not a fan of West Side Story, despite my love for Sondheim). Let me set this up for you, because you're going to have to understand the background to understand just how important yesterday was for me. Up until two months ago, I spent the last thirteen years working as a private piano and voice instructor, and for the last four years I worked at a music academy, averaging about 35 students a week. One of those students was a young woman that came to me in 2011 when she was 14 years old. She's a natural talent, but had only ever experienced singing from the choral and show choir perspective. Since she was interested in doing some theater, a lot of the work we did together was not so much technique (though of course that was a part of it), but how to relax and stop trying to make the sound so "pretty" and pure (if you're a theater singer, you get what I'm talking about here). We focused on musicals (classic all the way to modern) and I started introducing her to some jazz standards and torch songs, which she warmed up to quickly. We worked on warming her tone, watching how her voice reacted to her posture and body movements. We also did a LOT of work on just building trust and confidence--her trust in me, our trust in each other, and her trust in herself.

Almost a year ago, my student (I'll call her Amy) came into lessons and told me that her school was going to be doing West Side Story for the Spring 2014 musical. She had done a few shows, and was starting to attract the attention of her directors and other students. As such, she felt a lot of pressure to perform well. The bigger problem was that, because she is beautiful and sweet and has a fabulous voice and sunny disposition, her directors had a tendency to type-cast her as the good girl leads, regardless of voice part. She came in afraid that her directors were going to want to cast her as Maria, despite the fact that Maria is a Soprano I part (up to a high C). Amy can hit a high C, but it's at the very top of her range. There's no question that this girl is an Alto, and a low Alto at that (she can sing a low D with ease). She is also Filipino, and she was worried that she might actually be cast as the Maria because of her ethnicity. She was unsure that she wanted to play Maria, despite it being the lead, and I couldn't blame her. I think Maria is a terrible role. This girl needed to be Anita. We started preparing a full six months before the auditions were even announced, so that she would feel confident going in.

We spent the entire summer working on Sondheim and jazz. Interpretation, diction, movement, feeling, and finding a part of herself in every single song she learned, no matter what. I remember we spent a month doing nothing but Broadway songs that we both hated, just so she could learn how to find something in any song, no matter how awful, that she could identify with as an actor and person. Authenticity was the focus. I also spent a LOT of time just talking to her about her thoughts on the audition, and encouraging her to go after what she wanted. I don't know how many times I told her, "Don't let them decide who you are going to be in this show. Show them who you ARE. If you want Anita, go get her. It's your part--they just don't know it yet." By the time auditions came around, she was confident in what she wanted, and that was Anita. Who can blame her, Anita's the best part in the entire show. For the first round of auditions in November, she went in with one of Anita's songs prepared, and she nailed it. After she sang, she moved over to the cold-read section of auditions, and she was given Maria's script. She looked at it, looked her director dead in the eye, and said, "I'm not auditioning for Maria. I'm auditioning for Anita." No question, no room for argument, just pure confidence. This is a sixteen year old girl, how ballsy is that?! The director just blinked at her, and said something akin to, "Uh, okay. Um, well, sure, here's Anita's script then." Again, Amy went in there and nailed it. She was so excited when she came into voice lessons the next day. She got called back (there was no question she would), and texted me the minute call backs were over. In her own words--"I KILLED it!" The cast list was posted the next week, and she was Anita. She did it.

Two months later, I had a job offer I couldn't turn down. I left my position at the music school to go to work for the city, and that meant leaving my students. There were several that were just really painful to say goodbye to, and Amy was one of them. I promised her that I would come see her in West Side Story when it went up in April, and she gave me a balloon and a beautiful note telling me how much I had done for her, and that I had made a real difference for her. It was very sweet. Fast forward to a couple of days ago. I got a text from Amy telling me that the show had opened the night before and it had gone really well, and that she hoped I would be able to come see it. I admit, I had forgotten the dates and probably would have missed it if she hadn't texted me. So on Sunday, after church, I went to Kroger and got her a small bouquet of roses, and went to go see West Side Story. While sitting in the packed theater (completely sold out show), I started chatting with the mother of one of the chorus kids, and mentioned that I was there to see a former voice student. When she asked which part Amy was playing, I said she was Anita, and this woman's eyes got as big as saucers. "YOU taught her voice? She's amazing, she steals the show! Do you teach in the area?" I laughed and told her no, but referred her over to my former music academy for her son. It was a good feeling. Then the curtain went up, and I could barely contain myself, I was so excited to finally get to see Amy perform. You'd have thought I was her mother, not just a former teacher. I was in no way prepared for what I saw when she finally appeared on stage.

She was dazzling. Breathtaking. She just shone on stage, like she was meant to be there. She was so fluid and natural and gorgeous, and her voice was strong and healthy and confident. She did, indeed, steal the show. I giggled at her playfulness with Bernardo, and her unrepentant confidence at her own beauty and sensuality (something that a lot of teenagers have a hard time pulling off). I cried with her when she sang "A Boy Like That." I physically felt her fear when she was tormented and assaulted at the diner by the Jets. I have never been so proud and moved by anything or anyone in my life. She was transcendent. Luminous. She is a star, and every single person in that sold out theater knew it, and they made sure she knew that they recognized her talent.

I waited for her outside the stage doors, flowers in my hand, willing myself to not cry when I saw her. After all, this is a seventeen year old girl, I REALLY didn't want to be one of "those" adults and embarrass her in front of all her friends and castmates. She was one of the last people to come out, and when she saw me, she froze. I hadn't told her I was coming, she had no idea I was there, and it had been more than two months since I had seen her last. She took one look at me, cried out, "Oh my God, you came!", and then promptly threw her arms around my neck and burst into tears. This sweet girl literally laid her head down on my shoulder and just sobbed. She couldn't even speak she was crying so hard. I didn't stand a chance. I cried as hard as she did, and we would, every few minutes pull back and look at each other, and through laughter, try to talk but would end up crying all over again. I finally managed to choke out how proud I was of her, and how much I loved her, and she just cried and held on to me tighter. After about five minutes we pulled ourselves together and laughed, and I gave her the roses, and told her I would always be just a phone call or text away if she needed anything, and I pushed her over to her friends who had been waiting so patiently for her (and who had no idea who this woman was that Amy was clinging to--they were clearly confused).

I cried all the way home, and knew that I needed to write about this experience because it made something so clear to me. That experience, those precious moments where I had a TEENAGER hug me and tell me how much of a difference I had made in her life, is the reason I have chosen to work with children. I hear people say all the time, "Lawd, I couldn't work with kids. They would just drive me crazy." They're absolutely right, they do drive you crazy. When you work with kids, no matter the age, it's going to be a challenge. It's going to be tough, they're going to challenge you, and aggravate you, and push your buttons, and why shouldn't they? They are PEOPLE, and PEOPLE do all of those things on a daily basis. The main difference between working with  kids and adults is that, when you work with kids, you are impacting and helping shape a fellow human being, and those kids remember who supported and nurtured them. They take everything personally, and their emotions are like live wires, ready to go at any moment. They absorb everything they see and hear and are influenced by the smallest details, and often they can't just shrug things off like most life-weary and embattled adults can. They don't forget, for good or bad. It is an amazing thing, to realize that you have made a positive difference in a young person's life, and that they realize it and are grateful to you for taking the time to help them.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a star. I wanted to perform and be famous, and not because I was desperate for attention, but because I was terrified of the thought of being forgotten. I don't know why I was so preoccupied with the idea, but I wanted to make sure that, whatever I did, I made an impact and that there would be something left of me to be remembered by future generations. In the musical, Little Women, there's number called "Astonishing," in which Jo March proclaims, "I will blaze until I find my time and place. I will be fearless, surrendering modesty and grace. I WILL NOT DISAPPEAR WITHOUT A TRACE." That was me. I was determined to be remembered and do something important. Somehow, when I wasn't looking or trying, I accomplished that. I've made a difference. I choose to work with children and teenagers because I can make an impact, and have. I cannot fully put into words what it means to have had this experience and what it feels like to have made a real difference in the life of a young woman, to know that I did something that I love, and helped her find a part of herself she didn't know she had. There's a reason I got into teaching music and directing theater. There's a reason that I am now working in the children's department of the public library system. I get to see and work with children from every demographic every day, and yesterday I realized that I really have made a difference, and that I will be remembered by this wonderful young woman. I also realized that she isn't the only one, that there have been other students whose lives I have influenced in some positive way. As difficult as the last year has been, I have confidence that I'm doing something important, something that I'm good at, and that I'm exactly where I need to be. What a gift to be given, and how funny that it took a musical I hate to make me see that.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Grief, God, and Trying to Heal

Please be forewarned—this blog is going to be long and egocentric. There will be not cutesy images or gifs. I make no apologies, but anyone reading this should note that I am writing only in an attempt to try to start healing, and for purely personal reasons. That being said, I do hope that if someone in a similar emotional place stumbles upon this, they might find some solace in it. It truly does help, knowing that you aren’t completely alone in your grief.

The problem with grief is that it isn’t a straightforward journey. I know that little in life is, but as compared to say, getting a college degree or applying for a job or having a baby, grief is far more permanent. There are tons of complicating factors in all of those things, but for the most part, when you go to college, you are told what to do, you do those things, and theoretically you get the degree. You apply for a job, you interview for said job, and either you get it or you don’t. Getting pregnant can be terribly complicated for some, and pregnancy itself can be complicated (lord knows, mine was), but at the end of the road, there is an end result, which is hopefully a healthy baby. Grief, for whatever it is you’re grieving for, doesn’t end. Ever. It’s always there in some form or fashion, and even though time does indeed make it easier, it never leaves.

Whatever it is you find yourself grieving over, whether it’s a death or divorce, the end of a friendship or loss of a pet, the feeling of abandonment that is left behind is not only overwhelming, but it is pervasive. In the last decade, I lost one of my oldest childhood friends to a car accident. I had three friends, one that I was particularly close to, commit suicide in an 18 month period. In the last year alone I lost my 15 year old cat (which for anyone who has had to deal with the death of an animal, you know how devastating that is to the soul). Last April, I lost two friends in one fell swoop, when my friend Heather was murdered by her husband. He’s in prison charged with first degree murder, so that loss was double as I continue to grieve not only for her, but for him as well. I know a lot of people won’t understand grieving for him, but it’s complicated and I don’t owe anyone an explanation for it. If I’ve learned anything over the years it is that anything you feel is valid and legitimate, and no one has the right to question why you feel the way you do. Over the last several years, I have had to stand by helplessly as I watched a family member that I love so, so much suffer from medical issues that no one, not even the best hospitals and doctors in the country, seems to know how treat. I’ve spent a large portion of that time feeling like an outsider in my own family, having to fight to get a little information here and there. That’s a different kind of grief altogether, but it has continued to eat away at me. The grief I have felt through this trauma has never fully left me, and it shows back up at unexpected times, when I see or hear something that triggers a memory and then suddenly I’m devastated all over again.

Almost two months ago, I lost one of my best friends to leukemia, and it was his death that apparently broke something in me. Don’t get me wrong, I did all the traditional things that you do when grieving for the loss of someone you love. I screamed, I cried, I verbally eviscerated anyone who came into my path. I leaned on people that I didn’t really know all that well because they were safe and removed from the situation, and if I lashed out at them, it didn’t matter because I wasn’t emotionally invested in them. Better than taking it out on my husband or child (which I did anyway, despite my denial that it was happening). I mentally checked out of everything I was doing, I stopped eating—it was just ugly, and this was all the week before Courtney died. By the time I got the news that he was gone, I had accepted that it was coming and was completely numb. That numbness kept me going for a number of weeks following his death. I kept telling myself that I just needed to keep moving forward. Keep going, start your new job, make breakfasts and lunches and dinners and get your kid to daycare, go to the grocery store, do the laundry, do the dishes, play video games, and hopefully with time it’ll hurt less. It worked for a few weeks, until I began having explosions of emotion at random and completely inappropriate times and places. I actually thought at first that I might be pregnant, because the fluctuation and intensity of emotion was so extreme. That wasn’t the case, so I just chalked it up to hormones and tried to keep going. It’s been a month since these episodes started, and they show no sign of abating. Sitting in my office at my new job, which I love so, so much, I suddenly get struck with the feeling that I am suffocating and that I need to either start screaming, or I need to start breaking things, or I just need to collapse onto the floor into fits of sobbing. Often I feel like I need to do all three simultaneously. The sensation is so intense that I honestly feel as if someone is squeezing my trachea and that I’m going to choke to death. I have, periodically over the last few weeks, spent a half hour or hour at a time screaming and sobbing in the solitude of my home or in other safe places, like with close friends, and it has helped for a day, maybe two. Not long enough, but it’s something.

Within the last couple of weeks, however, the panic and grief have started to morph into something else. I’ve been having completely internal, silent fits of rage, for no reason, directed at almost every single person I know that I interact with socially on a regular basis. The only people who have escaped this seem to be parents. I take out my pain and anger on my husband and son, and then I hate myself for being such a horrible person to them and I don’t know how to stop it. It’s been the people that I know through church that have been the primary target of my anger though. I’m a professional musician, so church is a job for me, and I’ve been fortunate that I work for a church that welcomes literally everyone, no matter what your story is. The people at the church I work at, both the staff and the congregants, are honestly the most amazing people I have ever been associated with. Right now though, I see people at church that I consider friends—not close friends per se, but definitely more than acquaintances--and out of nowhere, I feel something akin to hate directed at them for absolutely no reason. In the last two weeks, I have actively pulled myself away from people that I honestly want to spend time with because I’m worried about saying something unfounded and unwarranted in a moment of anger that I will not be able to take back. I’m not actually angry at any of them. I have nothing but love for these people. They don’t deserve it, especially since a few of them were absolute rocks for me in the week leading up to Courtney’s death. I’m just consumed by the fact that I feel like no one besides my husband has noticed just how badly I am STILL hurting, that I am suffocating from silent grief, despite the fact that I feel like I’m wearing a giant neon sign around my neck pointing it out. My husband is amazing and wonderfully supportive, but this is pulling him down too. He’s hurting for me, and he needs the support as badly as I do because I’m lashing out at him daily. I’m being selfish and not taking into account that many of these people are dealing with their own trauma and pain as well, and I know that. It makes my feelings no less valid. I’m drowning in grief, and I just wish someone would hold out a hand to help, and I’m angry that no one has. Call me selfish. There’s no question that I absolutely am.

I’m not secure enough in myself, despite the self confidence that I project, to be sure that any of these people actually do care about me, and I want them to care about me so much. I don’t know how to outright ask for help without feeling like an absolute failure. For some reason though, I feel like I desperately need support from this particular group of people that I don’t even know all that well, and I don’t understand why it is that I care so much about whether or not they genuinely like me. I have rarely ever cared what people think about me and yet, for the first time, I do care and I hate it. Maybe I’m just reacting to the voids left in my soul by the people I will never see again, and I’m trying to fill those voids any way I can. Regardless, I’ve veered way off the point I was trying to make.

I mentioned earlier that I feel like Courtney’s death broke something inside of me. This is where that statement comes into play, because, after all, anger and bargaining are a part of the grieving process. Courtney passed from leukemia, like I said, but the important thing to understand is that this happened suddenly and unexpectedly. He was diagnosed in early 2013. By December, when I last talked to him, he had been through nine cycles of chemo and radiation, and was in remission. He went home, he was in the clear, he had beaten it. Less than three weeks later he was back in the hospital, and the leukemia was back. A month later he was gone. To say that this was a punch in the gut is an understatement of the highest order. For weeks, I begged God not to take him. Then I begged God to please take him quickly, to stop making him suffer so terribly. Then I begged God to take him, but not on his wife’s birthday, any day but that day. Every single one of those pleas went unanswered. I finally realized a few days ago that the reason I am so angry at the people that I associate with church has to do with my anger at “God.” I’m silently judging sweet, wonderful people who are just trying to live their lives and who, I think, do genuinely care about me and my well-being, all because I associate them with church and I’m pissed off at church, religion, God, and at myself, for once again putting blind faith in the idea of a higher power. That’s it. My spirituality, and my relationship with “God,” has always been tenuous at best, but Courtney’s death, the way it came about, was the final tap that shattered any sense of faith I had left. For the first time in my life, I truly feel abandoned. I no longer feel any sense of spirituality within myself or surrounding me. I don’t talk to God anymore, because I don’t feel him. If he is there, which I doubt, he either isn’t listening, or worse, he is listening, and just doesn’t care.  

When I started singing for the church in 2007, I walked into that beautiful, old space that is so filled with history and love, and I could almost sense the divine presence in every single pore of every surface that sits in that space. It is the most holy place I have ever been in. For the last seven years, that building has given me such comfort and peace. I even got married there, and I swore I would never get married in a church. It is a spot of real grace, real love, and filled with some of the best people I have ever known in my life, and now, for the first time, I walk into that building and I don’t feel the divine. I don’t feel God. I don’t feel love. To be fair, I don’t feel anger or resentment or any other negative emotion either, so I don’t think I’m projecting my grief onto St. Mary’s. I simply do not feel anything now. It has become a large, empty room with great acoustics that occasionally fills up with worker bees and passersby, who then flitter away only to come back at another designated time. I walk into that space that has been such a precious and rejuvenating cocoon for me over the years, and I feel nothing. Nothing. Services have been getting harder and harder to get through, because of my own sense of hypocrisy at being there. I find myself being filled with feelings of complete disgust at my continued presence there, and I don’t know what to do about it. I think leaving the church, leaving my job there, would actually be a step further into the abyss, yet I can’t help feeling that I don’t belong there, that I shouldn’t be there, and that I am only perpetuating the stereotype that people who go to church only go out of some sense of obligation to a hegemonic power that they don’t really understand but feel intrinsically bound to, for good or bad. That relationship with some altruistic, omniscient, omnipotent higher power is just gone for me. I don’t have it anymore, and to be honest, I don’t know if I want it back. I have no interest in holding onto false hope only to be inevitably suckerpunched again.

So why am I writing all of this down on paper and putting it out there for everyone to see? I don’t know. Maybe because I have finally gotten to the point of understanding that I need to ask for help if I want to get through this. Maybe I’m doing it because, like the crying and screaming fits that I’ve been having in private, I need an outlet to get all of this out of my head so that I don’t completely snap and blow up the train that regularly causes me road rage during my attempts to get to the Kroger at Sanderlin and Mendenhall. I’ve always been a “writer,” so it just seemed like the right thing to do at the moment. I recognize that I need to be in grief counseling to deal with all of this, and I likely will pursue that path sooner rather than later. I have no choice but to keep moving, one step at a time, one day at a time. I have a family that I love and who for some reason loves me as well, and I cannot and will not let them down by being any less strong that I am fully capable of being. To be that person, I need to draw on the strength of others, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. I have always believed that there is nothing wrong with putting your heart on your sleeve and exposing it for the world to see, particularly when you recognize that you only have so much strength left in the reserves, and you need to call in the reinforcements. Anything less than brutal honesty, no matter how uncomfortable, is a waste of valuable time and energy. Life is too damn short to waste being dishonest with others about what you need, because then you waste even more time being angry with them for not recognizing what is so obvious to you. I suppose I’m just hoping that putting all of this down and projecting it out into space is a first step to starting the healing process. People can take it or leave it as they will. I guess we’ll see where it goes from here.

Please Note: If you’re thinking about responding to this, privately or publicly, and talking to me about God or Jesus or spirituality—don’t. It will not resonate, and you won’t be saying a single thing that I haven’t heard or thought before. AT BEST, it will piss me off. At worst, I will likely unfriend you and never speak to you again, which you may not care about but I do. I don’t want to lose anyone else. Spirituality is an intensely private topic for me, thus the reason I rarely talk about it, and I honestly do not care what you or anyone else on the planet believes in regards to God. It is PRIVATE. If you want to pray for me, I welcome it. Just don’t preach or try to save my damn soul or do any of the things that the poor unfortunate COGIC woman who showed up at my front door yesterday tried to do, because it will end badly. Know that I respect your spiritual beliefs and practices, so please have mutual respect for my journey and let me take it on my own.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ending a chapter, or closing a door?

I've always liked the visual analogy of closing doors to a part of your life. Something about the finality of it appeals to me. I'm the kind of person that really likes for things to be clean and settled when I leave them behind. Recent years have started to change my perspective on the idea of closing doors when it comes to big moments in your life.

When I left Columbus, MS after five long and exceedingly painful years, I remember being elated as I drove out of town. I gave away virtually everything I owned and came back to Memphis with only my cats and the things I could fit into my Sunfire, my best friend's Nissan 240, and my dad's 1993 Toyota pickup truck. No furniture, no dishes, no cooking utensils--almost nothing. For weeks, I slept on the floor of my new apartment in Memphis, with my clothes in cardboard boxes, until I could get a job and furniture, and honestly, I loved it. I was closing the door on the hardest period of my life and I was not ever going to look back. For the most part, I haven't looked back. I've glared back. Whenever I think back on my years in college, the prevailing feeling I find myself focusing in on is not pride that I survived it, but resentment that I ever had to go through it in the first place. I was deeply and lastingly changed by my years in Columbus. I am far less naive, far more cynical, and less likely to trust people that come into my circle now. I am also a far better friend than I ever was before, because I learned first hand what it feels like to be betrayed by not one, but many friends. I am fiercely protective of my friends, I consider them family, I trust them like family, and so to be hurt by someone I consider to be a friend is one of the most painful things I have ever gone through. You question your worth, you reevaluate everything you ever said, looking for something that may have led to the people you cared about turning on you. Such an exercise in futility. What I took away from Columbus, what I see now as the large lesson I learned from living there for those five years, was not great college memories of parties and classes and bonding with new people. Columbus taught me--purely because of many of the people I chose to surround myself with during the first three years I was there--that there are truly awful, selfish, hateful people in the world who do not give a damn about you and will bury you if they get half the chance, especially if they see a benefit in it for them. It's an important life lesson to learn, because there really are people like that in the world. I just wish (like everyone does) that I didn't have to learn that particular lesson the way I did.

I have held on to so much anger at one particular group of people that I (at that time) considered to be good friends. People who, after three years of friendship and comradery, not only consciously knifed me in the back, with intent and malice, but who also apparently took great pleasure in twisting the blade for good measure for the remaining two years of my stay there. I held on to that hate so tightly in the months after I left Columbus that I started to withdraw from almost everyone I had known there, even the true friends that had stood by me, because it simply hurt too much to have any reminders of that time in my life. I sacrificed friendships, really wonderful friendships, because I was so filled with hate for the town, the college, the culture. When I left Columbus, I abandoned almost everything and everyone that I had connected with there. I closed the door on a painful part of my life, but it was such a mistake to do it.

I'm not saying that it wasn't a natural or normal reaction. It's simply that my M.O. for YEARS has been to withdraw and avoid and ignore when things are hard. I've tried other options, like the turn-the-other-cheek road, which in my opinion only leaves you with more anger and resentment because people tend to treat you like a doormat. I'm far too willful to allow people to step on me with any regularity. I've also tried the revenge tactic. That worked for awhile, when my anger was still raw, but a decade later, when the payoff finally came and I got validation and recognition that I had been right all along, and had been needlessly and senselessly hurt by someone I loved--the end result was not the self-righteous justification that I expected. It was just an empty, hollow feeling in my chest. I was right. Great. It doesn't take away the pain. It doesn't take away the memory of betrayal. What a waste of time and energy, to spend so much time focused on people that in the long run do not mean a damn thing to me, and never should have in the first place. I have waffled between whether I should forgive or not forgive, with no answer at the end of the day. Forgiveness, true forgiveness, means it's over. Move on and don't let them win. On the other hand, I once heard someone say that to forgive is merely giving permission to be hit again. The answer, at the end of the day, changes depending on the day of the week and how you feel at any given moment. There is no one all-consuming truth to help you deal with pain and recover from betrayal at the hands of people you love.

Sorry, I started rambling and got kind of off topic. My point is, I pushed away good friends who truly cared about me and removed them from my life because the only way I have ever really been able to get past betrayal is to cut and run. I find myself thinking these things because yesterday I attended a memorial service for my friend Courtney, who I met in Columbus, and had reconnected with in recent years through social media. Courtney just lost his life to leukemia, and I'm so glad that he was persistent in calling and emailing and texting me over the last several years, because dear God, I love that man so much. Courtney was one of the best people I have ever known, and the celebration of his life, which took place in Baldwyn, MS, brought me back into contact with a number of people that I have not seen in years, people who I have really, really missed. Death is always what seems to bring people back together, and that's just a truly awful thing. I will spend the rest of my life regretting that I lost years with Courtney because I couldn't handle the past. I will not make that mistake again.

Tomorrow, I am starting a new job. In the last five years, I have gotten married, moved twice, went back to school, got a Bachelor's degree, had a baby, got a Master's degree, and raised my son as a stay-at-home mom while still working two part-time jobs on nights and weekends. All of that work, all of that struggle and change, which I never could have done if not for my amazing family and friends and wonderfully supportive husband, has led up to tomorrow. I am transitioning myself into a new career, and one that for the first time is not a part of the music industry. I am so excited to begin this path, and the temptation is to say that I am closing a door on one part of my life, the way I did when I left Columbus. I think, however, it is perhaps more appropriate to see life not as a series of closing doors, but of new chapters. I know, not an original concept, but one that has always been less appealing to me than the closing of doors (although it is strangely appropriate, since my new job is in library management). Ending a chapter, and starting a new one, isn't a clean finish, and that is uncomfortable for me. There's nothing final about it, it isn't finished--that other chapter is always right behind you, just over your shoulder, staring at you and reminding you of its existence and of the pain and mistakes and lessons learned in the past, whereas closing a door means you can ignore what is behind it. I have to continually remind myself that I wouldn't be the person I am without those lessons, and I should appreciate them instead of hiding from them. I have had to learn how to let myself feel my feelings instead of stamping them down, and how to allow people who love me to help me when I need it, instead of running away and pretending that I'm fine. I need to learn to revisit the chapters I've finished, so they can help me better navigate the ones that are coming up, even if I don't know the end result.

Uncomfortable? Yes.
Urge to run away? Definitely.
Desire to put my head in the sand and pretend none of it ever happened? Been doing that for years.

The answer I give to myself is this: man up. Face it like the adult you are. Allow the ones that love you to prop you up and support you, and just wipe away the bad with a shrug of your shoulders and the knowledge that none of the bad matters. End the chapter, turn the page, and start the next, secure in the knowledge that you now know something you didn't before, and that you have many more chapters to go before you understand why you had to go through all of the pain and what it is ultimately all about. As Schmendrick the Magician said in Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn, "The happy ending can't come in the middle of the story."