Saturday, May 19, 2012

In the Blink of an Eye

“All your life you're yellow. Then one day you brush up against something blue, the barest touch, and voila, the rest of your life you're green.”
Tess Callahan
Much like in the quote above, we have all experienced moments that have changed us forever.  Not the little moments like discovering that you love squash after years of thinking you hated it, but rather the big moments that truly dent our world, therefore changing it and us forever.  My first experience with that type of change was probably when my parents divorced.  The disintegration of a family is a sad thing and to the 13 year old me, it was devastating.  While my folks fought a good deal and it was obvious that there wasn't much respect for each other between them any longer, they were my solid ground.  Finding my footing in the aftermath was tough for me.  It was my first lesson in what would be a lifetime of lessons about adapting to change. 
Not too many years after my parents split, my sister and mother were in a horrible car accident that claimed the life of my 13 year old sister.  My mom was also critically injured and spent weeks in the hospital.  I had turned 18 just two months earlier and my cocky "I'm now an adult and can handle anything" attitude quickly was torn away.  My mom was my rock and going through those first few days after Karen's death without her supporting me were terrible.  She laid in the hospital near death herself while my family buried my baby sister and figured out how we were supposed to go on with our lives from this point on.  The changes in my folks and myself after this event were palpable.  My dad became angry at God and carried that anger until his dying day.  My mom, while still one of the most vibrant, amazing women I've ever known lost a big part of her shine.  For me, I learned that even if you love someone so much it fills you up, they can and probably will leave you one way or another.  This lesson, coupled with the similar lesson I learned when my parents divorced, sent me into a destructive, self loathing search for love and consistency in my life that I am frankly surprised I survived. 
Just a few years later on a beautiful summer afternoon, my roommates and I were enjoying a rare time at home together.  Linda was napping in her room and Tracie and I were playing a marathon backgammon tournament in the floor of our living room.  It was the late 70's in a small Kentucky town where nothing exciting really ever happened.  Suddenly a man walked through our unlocked front door into the house.  In a nutshell, that man had been watching us for awhile and knew that the three of us were only in the house together rarely.  He asked for someone who didn't live there and Tracie sensing something out of whack, went to wake Linda while I was trying politely to guide this gentlemen back out the door.  He pulled a gun and suggested that I go to the bedroom where the other girls were.  He had three pieces of rope with him, got us all on the bed and began insisting that we undress. We were hysterical and uncooperative and in his nervous state, he shot my roommate Linda in the face.  I was sitting next to her on the bed.  He freaked and ran from the house while I watched the smoking hole in Linda's chin blossom into a fountain of blood that no horror movie could possibly match.  They don't cover gunshot wounds to the face in high school health class and the helplessness I felt at how to help Linda at that moment was incredible.  Tracie called 911 and within minutes every policeman in Bowling Green was at our door.  Linda was whisked to the hospital while Tracie and I were taken to the police station to give a statement before being taken to the hospital to check on Linda.  She was fine.  She had to have a good deal of reconstruction on her jaw and she was very lucky that the bullet had lodged in her jaw rather than going through her throat to her spine.  They caught him about a year later and he died in prison.  That knowledge brings comfort, but from the moment he stepped into that house to this day my life has been completely changed by our encounter.  Just ask my friends about my obsession with locked doors and suspicion of every stranger. 
Quickly I want to mention that I had a similar experience just a few years later when I decided I needed to explore living on my own, alone.  I had rented and fixed up a little duplex and had lived there exactly one week when late at night while I was waiting for my boyfriend to come over, a man busted in the back door and chased me out the front door with a knife that looked four times bigger than the one Michael Meyers used in Halloween. They caught this guy, too.  He had raped the girl that had lived in the house prior to me and had also raped three students on the campus at Western.  After this incident, I told my dad that he needed to build me a room out of concrete blocks and feed me through a slit in the door because I was pretty sure I was going to lock myself up for the rest of my life.  Truth is, we can't do that, can we?  I moved into an apartment with a friend and convinced myself that statistically I was bound to be way ahead of the curve of anything like that happening to me again. 
Deciding to move away from my small hometown to the big city of Nashville was certainly a huge change in my life.  I knew a few people in Nashville already and it wasn't far from home, but it was a big change.  I met and married my first husband, another big change in my life.  I spent most of those years trying to live with and love an alcoholic who could not get sober and after a little more than 7 years, gave up.  Divorce was not something I ever wanted to experience, but from that change,  I learned that you can't know your future.  
Losing my cousins and aunt and uncles and grandparents to death changed me a bit each time.  Losing my parents has made deep changes, some I have not even been able to recognize yet.  Job changes, a new love and marriage, health issues, both my own and those of loved ones, all these events have infinitely changed my life in some way.  You think you are good, feet solidly planted and I guarantee you, life is going to find some way to unsteady you.  It may be through death of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of health, decline of your neighborhood, winning the lottery, finding a great new job, discovering family you've been out of touch with for years.  Your great friend moving all the way to California.  Something will change.  Change is inevitable.  We are resilient, bendable beings and you have to choose to adapt or live with regret.  I don't like change.  I don't like it one bit, but I do understand that it is truly, truly the only thing you can count on in life.  Things will always change.  
I'm doing my best to ride out the changes in my life and I hope that you are, too.   

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Life in Progress

What a simple statement!  My mom basically gave me this advice over and over while I was growing up.  Believe me, I have failed miserably at achieving such a simple thing.  I've made plenty of boneheaded decisions that may have hurt others.  Over the course of my 52 years I have gossiped, manipulated, lied, stolen things that were not mine.  I've cheated, skipped school, called in sick when maybe I really didn't feel that bad.  I have talked bad about others. I stole my friends boyfriend.   I have been intentionally mean to people.   I have been disrespectful to others.  Every night when I lay my head on the pillow, my prayer is that I will try harder to be that person in the quote tomorrow...and I do try.  Every day I try. 

I know that perfection is out of my reach. I know that every day I will be tested and more likely than not, I will stumble.  I think it is the trying part that is so important.  If I stop trying to be the person in the quote, I am terrified of what I will become.  I don't want to be the mean, bitter old lady who never comes out of her house.  Seriously.  As I get older, tolerance is so much harder for me.  Isn't that the opposite of how it is supposed to be?  I thought that patience came with age.  Honestly, I am more patient than I was in my younger years, but I am certainly not more tolerant. 

One thing that age has given me is the wisdom to know that it is okay not to like everyone I meet.  That certainly doesn't give me permission to be unkind to anyone, but does free me from the guilt of feeling like a bad person because I don't care for someone.  We are going to come across plenty of people in our lives that we don't warm up to and that is okay.

I guess the point of this babble is to say that I am still trying to be the best person I can be.  I know everyday is an opportunity to do better.  I can be a better friend, a better neighbor a better citizen.  I hope I never stop trying to be the person in the quote.  I'm certainly not there, but I'm trying.  This is after all, my life in progress.