By now, those of you who have been with me on my journey down Darby Lane know that I often write about resiliency and hope. And as we all know, challenges to this frame of mind arise nearly every day – perhaps from Mother Nature delivering the extremes of her power or a new roadblock to returning to what we once knew as ‘normal’ life. It’s easy to be worn down and lose the broad perspective that allows us to adapt to occasional challenges – but this year, 2022, arrives with multiple barriers to a lifestyle we once took for granted – invincible viruses, accelerated climate change, a new set of rules for work and social life. It’s a lot and, sometimes, feels like too much.
But this morning, I read a birthday post from my neighbor. Nicki turned 51 years old. She has a husband who flies helicopters and can fix anything that needs fixing, and two treasured teenage boys. She volunteers to teach guitar at the local high school and loves music and bright colors, and her eclectic home on the mountain. In her professional life, Nicki is a social worker who visits elders needing emotional support and guidance in their homes. She sat with many, held their hands as they closed their eyes, and became a memory. She does this soul-touching work distanced from a difficult childhood that suppressed happiness and crushed her youthful spirit. Sometimes the memories come back to haunt her days and nights. On occasion, Nicki shoots her feelings out in prose that’s both revealing and healing. It’s part of self-therapy she can share because, today, she is loved and letting go. It’s a continuing journey to rediscover the little girl who was damaged by thoughtless parenting, and she’s living that experience out loud by being boldly the woman she was intended to be.
Her 50th birthday slipped by quietly and sadly. Isolated by the pandemic, she didn’t throw herself the birthday party that once lifted her spirits with raucous “shenanigans.” Instead, she spent the day curled up and sad – sad about the lost 50th party, but mostly because her mother, who’d failed to make Nicki feel safe and loved, died. Her father, who failed badly at his parenting job, prohibited Nicki from spending the last moments with her and then took her mom’s ashes and scattered them in a place known only to him. But Nicki and her sister searched a familiar site in the nearby Sierra and, amazingly, found the ashes, gathered them up, said their goodbyes, and scattered their mom to the north wind.
These excerpts from her birthday message tell a story about a lifetime search – always believing enough in her authentic self to not tumble into endless despair. To step up to responsibilities to herself and her family of choice. It’s a parable of hope:
“It’s my birthday. I get to be 51… I’m here, and I’m feeling grateful. Grateful for 51 trips around the sun. Not everyone gets that many, but I do! Grateful to my momma who taught me how I didn’t want to live so that I could make different choices. Grateful for believing in myself enough to seek out everything I was never taught how to have, but yearned in my bones to find (and did!).…
“ … Grateful to my amazing husband, my beautiful boys, my cherished friends who replaced the family I never had. … Grateful for health, for a career I love …. Grateful for always having enough. Grateful for having an adventurous soul and a gypsy spirit. Grateful for dreams, music, art, nature. Just grateful.
“… I am awake, and I am choosing to be the first to greet my own birthday and consciously welcome in all the blessings that getting to live another year will bring. This year, as I whispered, “Happy birthday to the little girl who didn’t get a fraction of what her soul needed as a child,” I felt oddly peaceful, content, cared for, held, and I am floating on a sea of possibility for all this new ‘Nick’ year will bring. Not curled up into a ball sobbing… shutting everything out before anything beautiful can find its way in.
This year there will be hard stuff, too, because, in life, we have to breathe and go through pain. But there will also be joy and laughter, and shennagins!”
Through a childhood experience that, in another person, may have created a lifetime of bitterness and fatalism, my neighbor resurrected the essence of the child and woman she was meant to be. In her written words, there’s a lot to take in and consider as our world hands us one challenge after another. A great deal to be grateful for despite the storms and mutations and damaging politics we carry into the new year with us. Thanks, Nicki, for doing the hard work of embracing the positive and the possible.
Thanks for being an important part of my week. I value and respect your time. And thanks to the readers who drop me an email to tell me something about themselves as we journey through our time together. Let me know if you have any strategies that help you through today's challenges! I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org and love hearing from you!