Today, I am working on "courage," my word for 2014. I am taking an online writing e-course, and I wrote this piece in response to a prompt. I long to be a better writer, not to get published, simply because I love to write. Nevertheless, I was reluctant to put this out there, because I fear ridicule and that my writing isn't good enough. Yet, I know that is exactly why I have to do it. By doing so, I am writing, for the sake of writing and only as I can.
The story is mostly truth, with a mix of fiction. Although I hope that you like it, I am satisfied knowing that I choose courage, and the risk of being vulnerable. Once again, I applaud myself for practicing courage which I wished to bring more of into my life. xo
First, there was a blissful silence. Then, the voice came out of no where. I could not understand its first words. At first, I thought it my vivid imagination, so I returned to reading my book, but the voice was persistent. My eyes searched the room, trying to pinpoint its origin, but it seemed to surround me. Oddly, I was not frightened. The voice was soothing, gentle and so alluring. I set my book on my lap.
“Who are you?” I asked, in a voice more assured than I actually felt. “What do you want?”
“You know who I am,” the voice responded in an even tone. “For some time, I’ve heard your cries and pleas. First, they were whispers, as gentle as a Summer’s breeze. Over the years, they became more insistent, desperate and demanding. My heart breaks for you and I am here in answer to your prayers.
Out of nowhere, appeared a door — plain and ordinary. Now, I think that a door appearing out of the air in anyone’s living room, might cause them a moment of disbelief, so, I stood up, placed my book on the chair, and walked toward the door, my interest piqued. The voice remained silent as I lay my hands on the door, touching it, if only to prove to myself that it was real. Without lifting my hand from its surface. I walked around inspecting every inch of the door, as my curiosity rose.
Startling me for a moment, the voice said, “This is the door to what you believe an answer to your hopes and dreams. This is, in simple terms, what you’ve referred to as your “do-over” door. How long have you hoped, prayed and bargained for this opportunity — so long that you can’t remember. You’ve agonized over the mistakes, poor choices, hurts and missed opportunities for a long I time. Well, enter this door and you can finally , in your words, make things “right.” But, there is a catch. Walk through that door and you change what is. In all likelihood, the person that you are today, will disappear. You also risk losing all the people and things most precious to you.”
“Go ahead. Open it. Enter it. What are you waiting for?” the voice said in a gentle, but stern tone, as if he was a parent speaking to a little child. It is what you’ve wanted, isn’t it?” I didn’t respond.
For the first time, I noticed the door knob. It was golden, shiny and gleaming in the sunlight that spilled through a window. It was starkly different then the rest of the door, which made it all the more enticing, and I was certain that it had not been there before. My hands moved toward it, seemingly involuntarily, just as a piece of metal is helpless to the effect of a magnet. Before I realized it, my hand rested on the door knob, at first gently, then with firm assurance and determination. I even turned the doorknob so that a brilliant lift shone through the tiny opening in the door. Still, I hesitated as my mind was inundated with thoughts, questions and concerns.
Through the haze, I heard, “My child, this is your first and last opportunity to change your past.”
“What should I do?” I cried.
The voice, though with kindness and compassion, said, “It is for you to decide. It is your choice. I cannot and will not tell you what you must do.”
My mind raced back to the past. There were countless should-haves, could-haves and should-never-haves, and hindsight, well, often it is neither kind, nor comforting. In my mind’s eye, the people who were hurt, directly or indirectly, by my rash decisions and abominable judgment, paraded before me like a fleet of Mardi Gras floats. My head began to throb as my mind began to touch upon all of those events that prompted my fervent and sincere prayers and pleas.
Suddenly, one of my loves ran into the house and rushed into the room. I panicked, wondering how I’d explain the presence of this door in the middle of our damned living room. I need not have worried, because she looked right at me, said, “I forgot this,” holding up her most treasured appendage (her Nintendo 3DS), and said, “I’ll be at Nat’s,” and with that, she was gone as quickly as she’d arrived. She never noticed the door — like it wasn’t even there. It was then that I realized that it was there, only for me to see. Yet, her presence brought me spiraling back to the present.
My hand slipped from the door knob and touching the door once more, I looked around the room. Doing so, I began the task of re-examining this present life of mine. I walked to a wall filled with photographs of untold numbers of family and friends. So many photos, and with them, so many memories.
There were the children — irrefutable proof of the lives, which only existed, because of me. I shook my head thinking of each of them and how much they meant to me. I thought silently, “these were no mistakes.” I touched their faces lovingly. The photos that brought tears of joy to my eyes were of my grandchildren — four girls and three boys. Although I love my children fiercely, until my “g’children” blessed my life, I had no notion of the depth and breadth of my limitless capacity for love. With the birth of each, my heart expands correspondingly. Again, no mistake here. There were countless moments of family and friends, raucously laughing, loving and making happy memories. The photos, too many to look at, held memories from varying phases of my life — all filled with pure, and heartfelt love.
As I continued my pilgrimage around the room, I stopped before the college and law degrees, that I’d earned through sheer will and determination. After becoming pregnant right out of high school, and having three small children by the age of 21, no one, but me, expected me to go on to college, least of all law school. Yet, there they were, diplomas, proof that the expected path, high school, then college, was not mine. I’d forged a different one.
One after another, I swayed basking in the love that I felt for the people and things that I now cherished — that I loved, without a doubt. And, these people loved me. For a while, I forgot about the door. However, as I continued to walk around the room in a counter-clockwise direction, the door and its purpose reasserted themselves. I was abruptly reminded that the room also held stark memories of pain endured, unresolved hurts and any number of life’s difficulties that over the years, that I’d longed to change.
I came to a large bookcase, with one shelf dedicated to those who were no longer with us. My eyes were immediately drawn to the smiling face of my dear baby brother, who left us much too soon. Sad tears flowed freely. It was a photograph taken at his graduation, a momentous occasion for him, really, for the family, but it was yet another event that my job as a trial attorney, prevented me from attending. One after another, each photo served as vivid reminders of pain, missed opportunities and things left unsaid. Later, the assurance that I’d made to mollify myself at the time, “I’d make it up later,” only mocked me.
Another shelf was a shrine to my children and all of their trophies, ribbons, class photos, achievements and awards, many evidence of even more missed opportunities that seemed to litter my life. And these were minor, compared to other messes and fuck-ups that formed the quilt of my life. Yes, I clearly remembered the reasons for all of those awful times punctuated by tears, angry words and endless bargaining sessions.
The ‘what ifs’ seared through my heart and the only thing that I believed would assuage the pain was the opportunity to choose differently.
Through my tears, I glanced out of the nearest window. Sitting on the ground were two of my beautiful grandchildren. They sat, facing one another, leaning forward, the tops of their heads touching. They were in a world of their own, totally oblivious to the rest of the world around them. I’ve often marveled that it takes little more than stopping to look at a child, for a reminder of the wonder that most adults miss as they pine about the past or plan for a future that may never come. A child’s sole concern is the present moment.
I found myself standing before a favorite photo of my handsome brother. Without thinking, I picked it up, carefully inspecting it, and with both hands held it to my heart with a hug. I came to terms long ago that I would always miss him, and that when he left, a part of me left with him. All of them hold pieces of me. While cradling that photo and watching my “babies” outside doing what they do, it finally dawned on me.
There are countless actions that I’ve taken in this life that will continue to haunt me forever. For example, I will never forgive myself for leaving my son with his father. When I left Louisiana, he should have been with me. At the time, I thought that I’d made a wise decision, but because of reasons that I need not go into now, it wasn’t. I didn’t listen to my heart because, it knew that I was making a choice that I’d forever regret.
All the thoughts of the marriages and divorces followed. They, too, resulted in untold pain, disbelief, anger and disappointment, for many others. It is amazing how one decision on one’s part, can affect so many unanticipated lives. Anyway, I can create a formidable list of my “crimes,” but it is not necessary. I know what they are, and for a moment, in my mind’s eye, I see them as bricks forming the structure of my life. I’ve never considered them as anything but leftover waste, that were for nothing but the compost bin. They tied me to a past that no longer served me and ensured that I would never truly move forward. Thus, the need to change all of it.
Standing there deep in thought. I think of a flower that I love — the lotus. The beautiful, delicate flower that symbolizes remarkable fortitude and determination. The flower begins its existence as a seed in a most inhospitable environment. Its “womb” is a pool of mud, muck and other detritus, which for most plants, would be an impediment to growth. In spite of its circumstance, the flower flourishes, forming a bulb that will birth a lotus flower free of any of the effects of the life in which it lives. It thrives and with a firm foundation breaches the murky waters, first as a bulb that heralds the revered flower within. Finally, the lotus can stand erect and tall, with its face toward the sun, defying its origin. For me, it represents a symbol of the person about whom I daydream: strong, sure, and capable of overcoming any obstacle.
In those dreams, I equate all of my shame, missteps, fuck-ups and missed opportunities with the mud and muck that the lotus managed to overcome. I am the lotus, fighting and enduring to survive, a prize not easily won. Instead of allowing the difficulties to weigh me down and impede my growth, I embrace them as opportunities for that very growth. I accept them as my path to wisdom. I, too, stand tall, free of the burdens of the past and firmly entrenched in the present. The obstacles become memories of courage that lead to vulnerability, regardless of the outcome. I choose action, in lieu of complacency.
With that I realized that what I considered as “mistakes” were a part of a past that, all of which, created me. They define me, but by taking those pieces of myself back, I can begin to fill the void left by a lifetime of human frailties. Taking back those pieces of myself, do not take away the memories. Those which are loving, I hold as just that. The others, I hold as valuable learning experiences that often add more to our growth than the good times. The thing is that they too, define me and go into making me the quirky, loving, compassionate and sensitive mother, wife, G’Mom, daughter and friend that I am today. Without them, who would I be? Changing them would change the person that I’ve fought to become. My choice becomes clear.
Throughout this period of introspection, the voice remained silent. I looked at the door and once again walked toward it. I touched it, an acknowledgement of the rare opportunity it offered me. I turned around, unsure of where I should place my eyes to speak, given that I was standing in my living room talking to an invisible voice.
Finally, I said, “I’ve decided.” The voice waited patiently.
I continued, “I don’t need the door. In fact, I don’t want it. I can’t claim my life is all that I know it can be, but I relish the journey that takes me there. I struggle like everyone else, yet, looking back over my life, reminds me that I stand here because I overcame everything that I wish to change. I was strong enough to see them through, and now I see them as a gift of countless “opportunities for growth and wisdom.” The low, undulating valleys are as much a part of me as the breathtaking peaks.
With that said, the door simply disappeared. Expecting some final words of wisdom from the voice, I waited in anticipation. Hearing nothing, I turned in a slow circle, stopping every minute or so. After a time, I realized that with the door, the voice was gone.
Still, I whispered a sincere, “Thank you.” With my heart freed of the past, I felt a satisfying warmth and a sense of wholeness that I’d never experienced. I finally understood the peace of self-forgiveness. I walked back to my oversized, comfy chair, and picked up my book to begin the life that I was meant to live, one that I choose.