In his book “Notes on Love and Courage”, Hugh Prather writes:
“Yes there are other considerations. There is no end to the considerations: feelings of the people involved, your word, your commitments, the possible consequences. But a time can come when there isn’t much of you left, and all you have is enough strength to act, just enough to put an end to it by turning your back and walking out.”
These words so perfectly describe my struggle to separate from my husband. There was so much to consider, but in the end, I realized it was best to go. Coming to this heavy decision and moving out was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I am normally a very high energy person, but the whole process left me exhausted. I spent the first few months in what could be called a cocoon-like state. Basically, I made it to work, ate and slept A LOT. I can’t remember ever sleeping as hard or as often as I did during those first few months.
As my energy slowly returned, I felt a very strong urge to document and work through what had happened and how I was feeling. I created a google doc titled “The D Word” and started writing. I have never been much of a writer, but something inside me was cracking open and all the feelings and thoughts I had stuffed for the past 25+ years came pouring out. Needless to say, there was quite a lot to process and express.
At the nursing home where my mother-in-law lived, there was a woman named Alice who had dementia. She wandered the halls with a puzzled, worried look on her face and would continually ask, “Where do I go, dear?”
We would always walk her to her room, or at least point her in that general direction. When she arrived at her room, the puzzled look never left her face. Arriving there did nothing to calm her confused, restless state.
One day, I walked by her as she was sitting down to dinner. She touched my arm and again pleaded with me. “Where do I go, dear?”
Instead of directing her to her room, this time I said,
Well, Alice, you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.
I’m not sure where those words came from other than she was exactly where she was supposed to be–at dinner. For the first time since I’d met her, the expression on her face changed from confusion to delight. She smiled and gave me a thumbs up.
Recently, I’ve had some great conversations with my Uber drivers. I love to ask them questions and for some reason, they open up to me and share some interesting and fairly personal stuff. One time, I asked my Uber driver what brings him joy. He replied,
Being at peace with myself, liking and knowing who I am. Everything else spirals up from there.
His answer was a lightning bolt moment. I was struck by what he said and I saw the lesson in it. If he had asked me the same question, I would have replied something simple like “my kids, mornings, and the smell of fresh cut grass.” His answer was much more meaningful, deep and true. Before we can really find joy in other things, we must first know and be comfortable with who we are. We must be able to love ourselves. This isn’t being conceited or selfish. It’s contentment that comes from being self-aware.
One day, when my son got off the school bus, he was all out of sorts. I don’t remember what the issue was, only that he was not his normal self. There was a mom, Jenny, who picked up her daughter at the same stop. When she saw the state my son was in she said:
Everybody’s working on something.
Her words have stayed with me ever since. When someone in the checkout line at Target is cranky, cuts me off in traffic, or says something rude, I think of this statement and wonder–what is that person working on? Are they experiencing something really hard to deal with right now? Thinking about it in this way gives me a chance to pause and find a bit of compassion. Everybody’s working on something–be it a hard day at school or work, a cancer diagnosis, or loneliness. Sometimes these things feel like a heavy backpack, the weight of which causes people to lose their cool and say or do something out of character.
My boss has been talking about selling her business, so I’m in the process of determining my next career move. I do not have a clear sense of direction and am fearful that I will not find something in time. I’ve been doing what I call excavation work–internal digging to determine what my insides are telling me to do–but I don’t feel like I’m uncovering any answers. Everything is muddy and uncertain. I’ve grown impatient and have been pushing myself to figure things out NOW.
One day when this feeling was quite intense, I was sitting at a red light and a big truck with the words Pluto Excavation Service pulled up alongside of me. The word “excavation” caught my attention and I became curious. When the light changed, the truck pulled ahead and on the back in big orange and blue letters were the words
I laughed out loud. Okay, I get it. My impatience and desperation are causing me to push for answers. These words were a message to relax; a lesson to trust the process and allow things to unfold.
When I took my first interior design job out of college, AutoCad was in its infancy. The company I worked for did not yet have it, so we drafted everything with pencil on vellum. I loved the process of putting pencil to paper. It felt really good to me.
Christian Baueracker was the master draftsman in the department. He was from Austria and sounded just like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was an amazing draftsman and his drawings were beautiful works of art. I asked him one time for advice on how to improve my drafting. What was his secret? He came over to look at what I was drawing and said
You need to draft with purpose.
He wrote on a slip of vellum “W/ PURPOSE” in his great lettering style and taped it to my shelf as a reminder. I immediately saw what he meant and how his work was so different. His lines were purposeful and had a well defined beginning and ending. He was confident about his work and each line carried its own weight and with that its own meaning. Some bolder, some lighter. My work by comparison looked tentative, with each line about the same as any other. I was doing the work, but without much thought or purpose.