It is the ending of an old year, and the beginning of a new.
And I have a flag on my gate. An old, rayon American flag.
It’s not my flag. It’s not really my gate. It’s a gate that belongs to a house that belongs to someone else. I rent this house that doesn’t belong to me, and doesn’t even seem to belong to the owner. It’s more of a business transaction than a home, for everyone involved. Not that it’s not a cute house, or could have been, if not left to its own devices amidst tape and patch and spray foam insulation. But, it’s not my house. It’s not my home.
The last tenant left it there, I imagine. I moved in, and I left it there, too. Not for any good reason. Just because I didn’t care.
I had no plans to move in, and attach my heart to the thing. The house. The place. Any of it. There are boxes unpacked in the garage. Makeshift cloths hung over disintegrating cupboards. Ugly window treatments left up. I set up a temporary shop of a life within a space that doesn’t fit me. Because it was what I had to do in that moment. Survive before thrive. That’s been my motto for quite some time, whether I’ve fully realized it, or wanted to.
It’s a mindset that formed early for me. In my younger years, I had some events that shifted my trajectory. Some stripped me of pieces of myself, and left me raw for longer than I had realized. They changed my form, and the way I moved through the world. One almost cost me my life, because the pain I was in clouded over everything else. Until I couldn’t see. Or didn’t want to. But those are often the spaces where miracles occur, and that is precisely what happened to me. I was saved, and I knew that in the moment. But I wrestled with the pain for years to come, a tug of war between my true self, and the me that was made by circumstance. The real message behind that day hasn’t fully reverberated in my life. Parts of it have, those places where I have become less selfish, more of service, more understanding of my obligation and duty to love others and try and make the world better than when I found it. But the rest of it, I left, unwilling to pick up. Consciously unaware that it was the most important part of the gift I was handed that day, when someone saved me from myself.
And I’ve had reminders. Many times over. My father wrote a book on the psychological effects of cancer, and I listened for years as he counseled some of the most powerful people in the world on their journey through their diagnosis. So, I was well versed in the knowledge that our emotions and thoughts shape our physical being. After I was diagnosed at 21 with chronic illness, however, all of that knowing left my brain. Because I didn’t know how, or if I could, do that work. I focused on my diet, toxins, sleep, medications. I even jumped in with both feet for the standard treatment of heavy steroids to try and calm my raging immune system. Until I realized that the treatment was more likely to kill me than cure me. Unable to move much, or eat much, or see myself living to 30, I realized I needed something different. I took off down the road of alternative treatments, Eastern medicine, homeopathy, osteopathy, functional medicine. It did help, and I felt less like I was dying, but more diagnoses would come rolling in. I would sit on that crinkly paper draped table, and hear words like cancer, lupus, MS, Leukemia. Each time, I would stare up at that ceiling, those measured aluminum lines holding up the sections of tiles, and pray. Most of those prayers got answered, and I counted my blessings. And I would know, in those moments, that I needed to shift or I would end up back, staring at those tiles, and praying once again.
But, life would start to happen. And I would push “it” aside. The “it” being me. Myself. My life. My happiness.
And new symptoms would roll in, and take up residence in my idea of normal living. They say God whispers, until you make him (or her) yell. I have a feeling I make God want to scream. My doctor told me I had the highest cortisol levels he’d ever seen in his practice, and if I didn’t make some serious changes, I’d be dead in 3 to 5 years. That should have been enough, but I wasn’t ready. A renowned healer told me that half of me was already gone. That my soul didn’t want to be here anymore, and I would have to work like hell to keep it around. That every other one of my lifetimes had been about service to God, and this one I was supposed to know what my personal joy felt like. If I didn’t, the rest of my spirit would follow that part of me that was ready to go home. It was a truth that I already felt in my bones but couldn’t name until she said it. And that should have been enough, but I wasn’t ready.
My body is always asking me to remember what I know. But, then, life. And I forget. Or choose to.
Losing a parent. Caring for another who no longer knows your face, but occasionally your voice, on a good day. Business’s lost, savings cleaned out. Children to raise, Trying to do the best that you can, knowing you will still screw it up again and again and again. But hoping they know how much they are loved in spite of all your humanness. A marriage that is a constant reminder of friendship, as well as the damage we cause to ourselves and others when we run from what is. All these things make it easy. To focus elsewhere. To feel like you are the least important person in your world, even when you know that can’t be true. To tell yourself that in this lifetime, maybe you aren’t supposed to be happy in the way you thought you were. Maybe that will come later, maybe not. And maybe you’ll be okay with that, though you know you won’t.
And then someone very sweet and special to me drove me home the other night. As we stopped in the driveway, looking at the gate, I said, “That’s not my flag.” I looked at it, and the driveway that I have walked for five months, but not really seen. “This house just isn’t really me.” He looked at my flag on my gate, and quietly said that it seemed like I had a lot of things in my life that I’m allowing that weren’t really me. I looked back at the flag. He was right. And sometimes, it takes someone who knows you, to tell you things so you hear them.
I remembered the day I was saved. And this same man was a part of that day, though I don’t know if I ever told him that. And I realized that I had missed the thing I was supposed to get, maybe most of all. That I was saved. Me. Not just because of what I could do for others, but because of how I could do it. Because of who I was. That that person, my real person, my authentic person, was supposed to do something in this life in a way that someone else cannot. Because I am uniquely me, with a unique voice, and mind, and heart. And I can’t truly serve fully if I’m not fully myself. That is a part of the duty in life; to bring who you are out of the shadows and into the light, and share it with others. Nothing you do can be whole without it. And that was the piece I have been missing all along. I thought it was just the moments I was put in the right place to be of service…pulling someone’s child from a burning car, dragging an injured dog from the fast lane of the freeway, holding someone when they just lost the person they loved most…and of course that was part of it. But the other part, the great phantasm and plasma of my life that has been missing, was me. Not the me that people want me to be, and expect me to be, or downright need me to be. But the me that was born pure and uncomplicated and open. The me that was pulled and pushed by life in ways I didn’t expect, or would ever ask for, but have no regret over because of where those moments took me to. You can’t have miracles without a space that requires one, and that brings me to the me that I love and respect and like, that is in no small part in response to where I have been and what I have been through. I have learned to love myself, even when I don’t show myself love.
He then said that our children know what we show them. That they will come to understand life as we live, and will mirror who we are in who they become.
I looked back at the flag.
I want better for them, these two people that fate brought into my life from halfway around the world and entrusted me with. In that moment, I realized that the ways in which we think we are loving someone, or protecting someone, or providing for someone may not be giving them what we think we are at all. I looked at myself through their eyes, and in a flash, saw the things I don’t want for them. I saw the things I want them to unlearn from me. The things that I need to rewild them to. I want them to know they are important, and valuable, and unique. I want them to believe that their happiness is not only possible, but their birthright. I want them to know that they don’t need to sacrifice who they are for others, ever. I don’t want them to make their lives smaller to fit someone else’s ideals. I want them to believe that they are grace and power and beauty and love and all things that are good and right in the world. I want them to laugh, and scream and live out loud, with no regrets, until they don’t have one drop left. I want to show them that they don’t need to feel shame, ever, about who they are or what they’ve done or what they’ve been through, because they always in every second can make a better and more beautiful choice for themselves. And I can only do that by doing it myself.
I looked back at the flag. On the gate. In the driveway. Of the house where I live. And I thought to myself, maybe this time, I’m ready.