The Real Me!

Ever look into the mirror and wonder whom the stranger is staring back at you? Usually this is after a major life event or traumatic experience. Life seems to create in us this quandary as to who we are and what our purpose should become. 

I have always been an independent, stable woman with a career I love and a zest for life and living. However, when I look in the mirror I no longer see that woman. Oh I get glimpses of her here and there, but the general essence of who I was is veiled. It isn’t that I am a totally different person; it is that those aspects of who I am, which I found familiar, seem absent. I find this disheartening, or should I?

Just because the person staring back at me in the mirror is unfamiliar, doesn’t mean she is unwelcome. It simply means I need to become comfortable with her again. I need to explore what makes her tick—how she lives, makes decisions—how she loves and how she takes on life. 

We evolve and change constantly. Life events and circumstances influence this change. I am not the same person I was before I was a mother.That experience molded me. I am not the same person I was before I experienced great loss, that event has shaped who I have become. 

As I work through this process of re-acquaintance, I am not sure if I become more content with who I am or if it is that I begin to understand myself better and thus begin to accept and even become fond of this “new me”. I believe it becomes a choice. 

I refuse to lose my sense of self. I refuse to allow this unfamiliarity to create within me insecurities that are cause for rash decisions or a sense of uncertainty. On the contrary, I embrace this new person and realize she is a collection of her experiences both past and present and is being fashioned to move forward into the “chapter two” of her life with a newfound appreciation for the outcome of life’s experiences.

This I know for sure…..mostly!

Snow Day and a Confession!

I may be telling stories out of the “teacher’s lounge”, but it is a little known fact that teachers love snow days as much as, perhaps more than, the students. It is the one time I sit, eyes glued to the bottom of the television screen hoping to see my school name scroll across. When it finally does, I find myself doing one big happy dance (on the inside of course as to not scare the children). I grab the phone; make the call to the next teacher on the phone tree, grinning at the giddy sounds on the other end of the phone. I feel like the florists delivery boy on Valentine’s Day.

I always have great plans for the snow day. I am determined to clean out the study, get my tax information together, launder the sheets on all the beds, work on the storage room and….well, you get the idea. I make lists and have the best intentions. 

Then, I sit at the computer to “quickly” check my email. As I look over at the nearby comfortable couch, I eye the remote control which seems to call to me. I hear it say, “What about all those television shows you have TIVO’d and what about the Lifetime movies you never get to watch? Are you sure you want to be productive today. I have much more fun things planned for us.” So, my determination disappears and I grasp the remote control sternly in my hand, sit myself on the couch and—I am not sure where time goes from there.

The next thing I know it is 3:30—the regular time I get home from work. That is a benchmark time for me. There is certain melancholy when I discover it is already 3:30 and I haven’t accomplished—ANYTHING. Wait one minute; I HAVE completed five Sudoku puzzles, read five magazines and watched hours of meaningless television.

What have I gained? Perhaps nothing except that I have REGAINED my sense of wasting time, an art many “grown ups” have abdicated to their teenagers. I have come to the realization that I am capable of frittering away time and have absolutely nothing worthwhile to show for it. I will admit, I am proud of myself. There are not many adults who can boldly stand and say “I wasted a whole, entire day”. There you have it – my confession. They say it is good for the soul.

This I know for sure….

Joy from Sorrow

I know you might get tired of me bringing up Henri Nouwen, but I simply can’t believe how much his words resonate to where I am on a daily basis. I receive his Daily Meditations and they are always inspirational or cause me to think or, well, both. If you are interested you can also sign up to receive them: http://www.henrinouwen.org/home/free_eletters/?m=1011221485028&p=oi They are taciturn (Rosanne will appreciate that-since she is the queen of verbosity) for those of us with a bit of an attention problem (like my entire family and most of my friends—LOL).

I was in the middle of composing a blog about the close relationship between joy and sorrow. The basic premise was that in order to experience true joy, you would have to also understand sorrow. I remembered that this topic was addressed in an early January Daily Meditation and sure enough—I found it. Nothing I have ever written has come close to explaining my feelings on this topic than the words from Henri Nauwen as follows:

“Joy and sorrow are never separated. When our hearts rejoice at a spectacular view, we may miss our friends who cannot see it, and when we are overwhelmed with grief, we may discover what true friendship is all about. Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy. If we try to avoid sorrow at all costs, we may never taste joy, and if we are suspicious of ecstasy, agony can never reach us either. Joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth.” –Henri Nouwen-

Now, do I long to feel sorrow so I can also experience joy? NO! of course not, but I do acknowledge the connection. It is said that love is the universal language, but I am not sure that is the case. Unfortunately, there are people who may never experience true, undying love in their lifetime, but everyone will experience sorrow and pain. Perhaps these emotions are more universal then we would like to admit. The other side of this coin is that, the greater your capacity to feel the pain and work through it, the greater your capacity to absolutely experience joy. Though pain is not something I desire to experience, I concede that through sorrow I have the ability to recognize and experience joy more completely for I have endured the opposite.

This I know for sure….

Brush With Greatness!!

I have been a member and contributor on the Young Widow Bulletin Board since a few months after Don passed away. It has been a lifeline, as well as an opportunity to communicate with and meet other widows and widowers who share the same journey. It is through this venue I have met and developed friendships with some amazing individuals. Recently, a member of the bulletin board contacted me regarding a thread to which I had contributed. One that she found particularly interesting.Seems she is writing an article for a well-known weekly publication on the topic and wanted to interview me for the article. 

Along with the email, she sent a link to her web site to authenticate her interest. 
(https://jacquelynmitchard.com). With a click of my mouse, her web site came up and I immediately recognized her, Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of Deep End of the Ocean, Oprah’s first “Book Club Book”. I was excited and a bit timid (I know, hard to believe) that this famous author would be interested in anything I had to say. Jacquelyn and I began communicating via email a couple times a day for several weeks. We’d share tidbits about family, “the widow experience”, and life in general. We often would send one or two line blurbs, but at other times it would take paragraphs to express our thoughts. I have to say that I felt a connection with her right away. 

Last week I received an email from Jackie stating that she was going to be in Bloomington with her son (he was auditioning for musical theatre at Illinois Wesleyan) and wanted to know if we could get together for lunch. I couldn’t have been more excited to meet someone. Not only to bask in her literary knowledge, but also to meet, in person, this new friend I had made. I anxiously responded that I would love to meet with her whenever she was available.

While sitting in Biaggi’s with a very special friend awaiting Jackie’s entrance, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t even nervous—excited, but not nervous. When she walked into the restaurant her presence was sensed in the room—she had a strong, confident persona. I gave her a hug and she sat down. I introduced her to my friend, and we began to talk right away. It was a comfortable exchange. We spoke freely about our history and life story. She was a widow at a young age, so conversation logically turned in that direction. There we sat, the three of us with this shared experience of loss and an instant bond was created. It still amazes me how collective life experiences create immediate friendships. 

We listened as Jackie shared her life journey from widowhood to remarriage; how she had survived as a single parent and successfully blended and created her current family (seven children—wow!!). She was honest about the difficulties, struggles and ultimate triumphs of creating her “chapter two”. 

We discussed her life as a writer. I was interested in how she researched books, how long it took to write, and in her writing processes. Jackie shared the plot of her next book due out this summer and of the young adult book to be released at the end of this month. She brought copies of her new book, Cage of Stars and a copy of Deep End of the Ocean, to autograph for me. They will be books I will treasure. As we sat enjoying each other’s company, it seemed like we were simply old friends meeting to “catch up”.

Jackie spoke of the cheerleader competition that was being held at the college where her son was auditioning. She told of the girls sitting in the front of the building speaking, as teenagers do—about whatever it is teenagers converse about. As she relayed the girls’ conversation to us, it was as if we were listening to them ourselves. It is this writer’s eye that makes Jacquelyn’s writing resonate. She sees the world through the eyes of a writer. Conversations and life activities surround us on a daily basis. We pay little attention to them, yet to a writer each incident is significant—an opportunity for expression. I made a mental note to share this with my students.

Was this a chance connection with a famous author? I don’t think so. I do believe Jacquelyn Mitchard was one of those brought into my life to dance with me (see blog entry: http://www.breathingsoftheheart.com/2006/08/26/lord-of-the-dance ) and I with her; partners on a journey of shared experiences, yet living diverse lives. I am thankful for those who continually are symbols of hope; those who exemplify that through pain, joy can be found—Jacquelyn Mitchard is one such beacon.

This I know for sure….

What Defines Me?

I am so different than I was even 10 years ago. I am not the reactionary—I don’t jump to conclusions (as much)—I also lack a bit of the passion those traits encompass, but have gained a sense of discernment. Different qualities define who I am now. I have grown and hopefully learned. 

What defines me?

I am first and foremost a mother. 
My children define me—
not by what they do, but when they think for themselves, come into their faith or simply say “I love you mom”. 

I am a daughter.
Family defines me–
not necessarily by birth, but by the heritage I embrace with such pride.

I am a friend. 
My friendships define me—
not because they chose to share life with me, but because the character they exude reflects my uncanny ability to surround myself with exceptional friends. 

I am an educator. 
My students define me—
not by getting good grades, but by thinking outside the box, creating a beautiful piece of writing or simply being better members of our community. 

I am a Christian. 
My faith defines me—
not because of what tenants of my religion dictate, but the day in and day out walk which causes this world to hold the hope I long for

I am a widow.
Loss has defined me–
not because of mourning, but because of the strength gained, the capacity to empathize and the assurance that there is more.

I am a woman.
Life defines me—
not because I live it perfectly, but because I long to live it fearlessly.

This I know for sure….