A Safe Space

There is a place in which I’ve spent a considerable amount of time throughout the course of my 37 years. And it is the only place I have never felt afraid.

When I was a small child it was the playroom for my sister and me. Painted bright yellow and full of toys, I spent hours in there pretending to be a doctor, a veterinarian, a mommy, a school teacher and eventually an artist.

As a teenager, when my parents converted it into their bedroom (farther away from our rooms upstairs… probably so they couldn’t hear all of the screaming) it was the place I went to beg, borrow or steal my mom’s favorite sweater, red purse or pair of heels.

As Empty-Nesters, my folks moved back upstairs while my sister and I built lives of our own… She just down the street and me on the other side of the country. Whenever I visited—heavy luggage in tow—it was a sanctuary as the “guest bedroom” and always a chance to take a deep breath and a step back from the ledge I was currently standing on during some silent but turbulent times.

At 31, after receiving a devastating blow followed by a mediocre severance package in the boardroom one day, my sanctuary 2,000 miles away suddenly became my new home. Falling from a spacious, ammenity-packed condo with mountain views to a single room overlooking our backyard, my father swiftly installed a new ceiling fan, lighting fixtures and cable connection to make me feel more at home in my humbling new digs.

Ever a victim of wanderlust and clueless to the nose dive our economy would soon experience… A voluntary but hasty adventure west and back again at 33 ushered in what would soon become a ten-month stint in what had officially become my “home” when I was homeless.

And now—whenever I want to visit from my new “home” two hours away—the room is always waiting for me. Like right now… as I type these words in front of the open window. It is quiet here. There is peace here. There is love and laughter here. There are sweet memories here. There is comfort here. And there is always… ALWAYS a good night’s sleep.

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The Space Between

Our new shower rod was resting on the dining room table along side Christmas presents, gloves and our newest stack of purchases from the local used book store. Wrapping paper, ribbons and holiday bags were strewn about the hallway in what can only be described as the result of a full-blown holiday fury. New lamps and old, skirted the edges of the living room as the “appropriate decorative illumination” deliberations entered into their second day. As far as I was concerned, nothing seemed to be in its “place” and it was driving me crazy.

You see, this wasn’t yet my house… but it soon would be. None of my things were there… but they soon would be. My mind was swimming with questions and concerns: Where will I put my favorite side table? Will my throw pillows match his couch? Man I wish I had my Keurig… and my favorite flannel pjs… my down pillows… my DVDs… and Stanley.

During the transition from an old life to a new one, there is a space that lies between. This is where I found myself then and even though I can see the other side from where I am now—as I inch ever-closer day by day—I’m still standing on the bridge over the gap.

Within the gap there are some everyday things that inevitably get caught in the cracks between the transitions we make in our lives. Things like misplaced shower rods, bagels and laundry laying where they aren’t supposed to be along with mixed-up emotions lacking any proper explanation. Yesterday, I was reminded by a beautiful writer in her recent post about a personal life transition just how out-of-whack life seems in the midst of major change.

No matter what our journeys look like. No matter our transitions… be it a career change, a new baby, a relocation, a tragic loss or the beginning or ending of a vital relationship… there will always be the transition and that awkward space between when we’re bound to feel out of place, discovering our “things” in odd locations where it seems they don’t belong.

Second Chances

The year was 1985. It was the start of a new school year at Mary Irene Day Elementary School in Minerva, OH. And this was no ordinary year. At M.I. Day, the start of the 5th grade not only ushered in a new school year but a whole new brood of students from the tri-county area as well.

This was the year that all of the other kids from the smaller, more rural, K-4 schools joined the “townies” at the larger, local elementary. And let’s face it… Who likes outsiders anyway, right? This concept was particularly difficult for a bunch of bratty, pre-pubescent, middle-schoolers-in-training to deal with in a graceful manner.

But there I was, a little blonde girl who probably thought she was “all that” sporting a sassy new 80s get-up while unpacking my sharp #2 pencils, fresh notebooks and admiring the front of my new Trapper-Keeper. And there he was—reeking of new-kid-ness—a sheepish, chestnut-haired boy with kind brown eyes, turned backwards in his chair and staring right at me.

“Why don’t you take a picture. It will last longer!” I snapped at him in the nastiest pre-teen tone I could muster, trying to make my friends laugh and ease the heat that I felt rapidly spreading toward my face. He quickly ducked his head and turned away. I had obviously hurt his feelings by acting like such a little bitch.

Little did I know that 26 years later that same sheepish boy with the kind brown eyes—now a grown man with an even kinder spirit—would escort me to that same spot, kneel down in front of me and say: “A picture would have been nice, but I want something that lasts forever.”

It wasn’t easy for him to pin-point the exact spot where I’d hurled those hurtful words at him so many years before… but somehow he’d managed to pull it off. You see, our school had recently been torn down and a new one built in it’s place. But with an uncanny sense of direction and the assistance of Google Earth, Bing and Yahoo Maps… he found it. THE very spot where our 5th-grade classroom used to be was now the new playground.

The school as it looked in 1985.

A clever story about his role on the Building Leadership Team at the school where he teaches convinced me to go with him to the playground to do a little “research” for his district. Feeling like a kid again, I teased him about the brat I’d been back then and took a trip down the slide. He was waiting for me at the bottom poised to ask this life-altering question.

After a lot of tears and shouting “Yes, a million times yes!” we couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer amazement of how life works sometimes.

By the time we were in high school we had become great friends. Kindred spirits some might say. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I liked him. He was one of the good ones and we could talk about anything. We shared a taste in music, books, movies and deep conversation. We tried “dating” for awhile but I did not yet understand the importance of dating someone who was also a friend… so we parted as friends.

Off to college and separate adventures that would take us in completely opposite directions… To him, I was “the one that got away” when he read of my wedding announcement 4 years after graduation. And to me, years into a destructive and abusive marriage… he was “the good friend that I desperately wished I hadn’t taken for granted.”

By the time we met again at the age of 34, you could say that our lives—much like that old school building—had, over time, been completely torn down and reconstructed. We were different, and yet somehow exactly the same. And we realized that we’d been given the very rare gift of a second chance.

Since we first laid eyes on one another two years ago—after half our current lifetime had passed by—we have not looked back. Perhaps 26 years ago he saw something in that bratty little blonde, and thankfully he didn’t give up on me right then. Thankfully he stuck around and waited. Waited for something that would last longer than a picture. Something that would ultimately last forever.

Enlightened

There is a new show on HBO this fall entitled Enlightened, which has caused me, at times, to feel rather, well… enlightened. When we meet the protagonist, Amy—a divorced, 40-ish career gal on the fast track in corporate America—she is returning from an extended stay at a rehab facility after suffering a complete and utter meltdown on the job.

It is not a surprise that I have found some common ground with Amy. In just the first paragraph of this entry alone there are six… count them… SIX things that I can either relate to or that I find infinitely intriguing… Divorced. 40-ish (I still have 4 more years to go, but… I’m flirting with it). Career gal. Corporate America. Rehab facility. Meltdown. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that she has no children, is extremely and painfully enthusiastic and considers herself a “people person” … OR the fact that since her “meltdown” no one wants to look at, let alone associate with her.

Yep, me and Amy… As much as it pains my heart to say it… I “get” her. No I’ve never suffered a meltdown on the job (not that I haven’t been close) or been to rehab. But I think there is probably more than one other person reading this who might also understand the thinness of the line between non-meltdown and total meltdown. Rehab and no rehab. Honestly… sometimes it is no thicker than a hair… and a THIN one at that.

Yes Amy is a fictional character, but she is nevertheless my hero. I adore her. I love how perfectly flawed she is and how she has no choice but to wear her flaws on her sleeve like a bright scarlet letter since her very public breakdown. She has endured the worst kind of humiliation and downright plummet from grace than most ever will and yet she keeps right on trying day after day.

Most people have the luxury of suffering in private. Of keeping their horrible traits hidden beneath a mask of cosmetics, false bravado and designer clothes. Their ugly secrets stay secure behind the locked doors of a home they can’t afford. And although on the outside all seems perfectly idyllic—on the inside—I’d wager they look a lot more like Amy.

To me, the ultimate hero is one who rises from the filth of shame and judgment everyday to get up and get out there and do it all again. To face adversity shoulders back and head held high. Because I will never be free from making mistakes. I will always be far from perfect. But I aspire to be like Amy, wearing my very human faults proudly for the world to see. I aspire to be… enlightened.

Falls the Shadow

“Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.” — T.S. Eliot.

This is not what I had in mind. At some point in time everyone utters those words. No exceptions. Most of you have already said it. And if you haven’t yet… I promise you will.

Maybe it was the vacation you had planned or the house you always imagined you’d buy. Maybe it was the career you thought would last forever or the spouse who promised to love and cherish you “till death do us part.” Perhaps it is in the visions you had for your children, or even the vision that one day you would have children. It might be the health and well-being you expected from your own body.

Whatever it is for you… there is probably something that didn’t turn out the way you planned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes amazing blessings and miraculous surprises come our way. And that’s what keeps life interesting.

In T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” there is a line that reads: “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.” There is much debate over what the entire poem means. And it means lots of different things to different people. But in that particular line I find it interesting to consider “the shadow” to be that grey area that exists between what we pictured in our minds and what we actually have.

If you’re anything like me, you might struggle with reconciling your dreams with your realities. And we may ask ourselves: How do I learn to be content living inside “the shadow”? I think the best we can do is to look around for the surprises… the tiny gems we never even considered to be of such great value: A neighbor who seems to come through just when you need it most. A co-worker who notices whenever you’re having a rough day and encourages you. A friend who knows everything there possibly is to know about you and loves you anyway. Family members who are your biggest fans and cheer you on even when you fall down.

These are the riches found in secret and unexpected places. We may need to write them down. Put them on the fridge or the bathroom mirror… somewhere we’ll always be reminded of them. This way, perhaps we will never forget that even if life doesn’t turn out to be the treasure chest we were expecting… we need to look closer. We will find that it is still a treasure bursting with sparkling jewels… just lying there… in the shadow.

“Shoulding” On Ourselves

There is a little-known occurrence reaching epidemic proportions and running rampant through our culture these days. This problem may be affecting you or someone you know in some very harmful ways. Perhaps you’re already familiar with it… it’s called “Shoulding,” and it is a dangerous thing. I was first introduced to this concept by my mother who was frequently telling me that it is never productive to “should” on yourself. And even though she reminds me (almost daily) NOT to SHOULD on myself… I still do it.

It starts out harmless enough… with a few benign statements such as: I should clean my house. I should do some laundry. I should pay some bills. I should balance my checkbook. I should wash the windows. I should wash the car. I should wash the kids. These statements in and of themselves aren’t harmful. They can actually serve in a helpful manner by prompting us to take care of those things in our lives which need to be taken care of. However, there is a much darker side to “shoulding”… and this is the side that we ought to be concerned with.Let me demonstrate by sharing some personal “shoulds” I have dropped on myself over the years… I should be happy. I should be married. I should be a mother. I should be a successful graphic artist making more than enough money to meet my monstrous suburban mortgage payment. I should bake brownies and change diapers. I should be shuffling kids off to soccer practice and swimming lessons in between power lunches and networking dinner parties.

And I’m just getting warmed up…

I should be a size 2. I should have 8-minute abs. I should have Madonna’s arms, Angelina’s lips and Jennifer Aniston’s flawless skin. I should have thick, lustrous wash and wear hair (in the trendiest style of course) I should arise in the mornings looking like I have just stepped out from the pages of Vogue. I should start each day by running 6 miles and eating nothing but fiber, lean protein and organically-grown produce. I should wear fabulous clothes and drive an equally fabulous, environment-friendly, hybrid car. I should have a perfect mate who looks like Prince Charming and treats me like a queen. He too should earn an obscene amount of money… and together with our beautiful and well-mannered 2.5 children, we SHOULD be the poster-family for happiness and domestic bliss.

This process of “shoulding” can also work in another way… for there are just as many things that fall into the “Should Not” category. A few of my personal favorites are: I should not be divorced. I should not be single. I should not be childless. I should not struggle to pay my bills with a college degree. I should not have any debt. I should not feel the need to constantly defend or explain myself. I should not (occasionally) wish for a different life.

As you can see, “shoulding” is a lose/lose activity. An exercise in futility. Nothing productive or good can ever come from “shoulding on ourselves.” The moment the word “should” leaves our mouths, we are damaging our current and future happiness. This is what my mother is always trying to get me to see. As a woman of 60 she tells me how much time she wasted “shoulding,” when she could have just chosen to be happy and content with who she was and what she had in THAT moment. She hopes that by telling me this while I’m in my thirties, it might save me a great deal of heartache and disappointment and it might allow me to enjoy what I have right now.

So I guess if there is anything, ANYTHING that I SHOULD do… the singular exception to the “Thou Shalt Not Should” rule… it would be to stop all of this “shoulding on myself” RIGHT NOW and start accepting, embracing and enjoying the reality of what IS and what IS NOT.