Publisher - September 2017
Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light. —Madeline L’Engle
In 1988 George H. W. Bush called for a kinder, gentler nation and I believe he was on to something. While our nation is now at the most unkind and most ungentle it’s ever been, I have adopted Bush’s vision for a kinder, gentler life.
As you all know, perhaps ad nauseam, this past year has been a beast for me with a series of one terrible thing after another. There were many days that I went to bed as soon as I got home from work and had to drag myself out to face the next day. I was exhausted both mentally and physically. I was beaten up, beaten down, beaten inside and out. My entire being was bruised to the core. I felt like a pinball being jerked here and there, and when I just wanted to slip down the hole to oblivion, I would get caught by the flippers and slapped back for more.
I had taken so much and faced so much and stood up for so much, I finally realized none of this was going to kill me, and I had the power to be the conductor of the trauma and drama. I hadn’t grown numb to it, I had decided to not step into the boxing ring anymore. I was fine with having a conversation with someone on the sideline, but I refused to lace up my gloves and engage in the fight. I decided I had been beaten up enough, and I wanted a kinder, gentler life. I actually needed a kinder, gentler life, or I was going to go down for the count and possibly not get back up.
Facing Fears: What this looked like for me started with facing my fears head on. I learned that when I showed up to the ring first, I lessened my “component’s punch.” Showing up first is an action play that decreases worry and stress. You can’t hide and hope it will go away. Although it is scary, dialing someone’s telephone number and having that conversation you’ve been dreading forever is powerful. People respect you more when you show up first to take care of business, but more than that, is the respect you gain for yourself. Once I dealt with one thing, it would give me the fortitude to face the next thing. Pretty soon, like a snowball, my confidence, courage and faith grew and gained powerful momentum.
Call a Spade a Spade: In building my kinder, gentler world, I also had to learn to call a spade a spade—out loud. If someone was beating me up over something I had no control of or solutions for at the time, instead of trying to miraculously solve the problem, I merely explained I was doing my best and that was all I had. Socrates said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” He’s still right on. Sometimes we move through life believing we are the only ones going through hard times, and forget everyone is experiencing hard times. Life is hard, however, I’ve found the harder it gets, the softer I get—by choice.
Learn and Live: Every life lesson is a double edge sword. It can teach you how you want to be and how you don’t want to be. We can let life beat us down or lift us up. I’ll admit, I let life beat me down. I was knocked out, lying flat on my back, dazed in the ring of life, faintly hearing the referee count over me. At the last count, I rose to my feet, albeit wobbly, scared, broken and unsure, and decided how I DIDN’T want to be.
It Is What It Is: When I began to heal, I became protective of myself. That doesn’t mean I quit living, hibernated or became defensive—actually, just the opposite. I began to say yes to good stuff. I started setting boundaries. I actually told people to be kinder and gentler (in a kind and gentle way). Life began to change. For the first time, I was truly designing my life on my terms. If I wouldn’t have been as broken as I was, I would never had a reason to rebuild a stronger, fearless, more grateful me. Just like my home, which was destroyed in the hurricane, we are both now emerging as the best versions of ourselves. We would have been exactly the same today as last year, if the storm didn’t come and shake us to our core.
Finally, I got to a point where I thought death would not be a bad thing. I wasn’t planning on killing myself, I just started to believe if death came, I’d be OK. As desolate as this sounds, it was a powerful place to be. Do you know what you can accomplish when you’re not even afraid of death? A lot. Grave situations become no big deal, mountains become molehills and pettiness is laughable.
While I want to answer “yes” to the question, “If you could take last year away would you?” I guess my answer would be no. The strength, clarity, wisdom and faith I have gained in completely losing myself and then truly discovering myself again has been a deep, dark journey. I never have liked the dark. But being in the dark is like being a seed planted in the ground. It isn’t the end; in fact, it is the beginning. It takes really hard work and perseverance to break through ground and see the light, but when you do, the sky’s the limit.