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Archive for May, 2017

Eight People

The night before last I was walking down the beach with a friend.  We had just had a delicious meal followed by a ridiculous shopping excursion in a tacky souvenir shop.  The sun was beginning to set and so we decided that, rather than get an Uber home, we would take our shoes off and walk the two miles home through the sand.  This friend is someone who, from our  very first conversation, has been the person I can express all of my thoughts to.  She gets me, she makes me think, she indulges any ridiculous question that I have.  So as we walked the sky gently turned from blue to black, flirting with shades of pink and violet on its way to night.  The waves lapped lazily and the breeze pushed gently against us.  This night, this setting, this friendship was made for hearts laid bare.  And so I began to tell her a story that I had never told anyone.  But now I will tell it here.

It was 2009 and I had been living in Colorado for six years, married for three.  It was late springtime and snow still blanketed the mountains and Aspen was in full gear with tourists.  A friend of mine was getting married in a few months time and a handful of us gathered for a bachelorette party/night out on the town.  We wound up at a bar situated  at the base of Aspen Mountain, a place that was known for it’s ‘apres ski’ scene.  We weren’t dressed in traditional bachelorette gear because we were mountain chicks……however, my friend wore a white fleece and a veil on her head.  So we were having drinks at the bar and a group of gentlemen approached us and wanted to buy us the next round.  They were in town from Canada having a divorce party.  One of them had been a professional hockey player and had just split from his wife;  they had split the houses (plural) and he had gotten the Aspen home.  So he invited a few buddies to join him on a ski trip to celebrate.

So as the night wound on, we started having fun with these guys and we were all tickled by the fact that we were celebrating the beginning of a marriage and they were celebrating the end of one.  The men had reservations for the private dining room at one of the finest restaurants in town and as that time approached they asked us to join them for dinner, their treat.  It was one of those “why wouldn’t you?” situations.  So we went to this restaurant, drastically underdressed, and had a great meal.  As we were eating, this one man who I had been talking to quite a bit told me he had a confession to make.

“We didn’t come over and buy you guys drinks because your friend is getting married.  But that was a great excuse.  The truth is that you were lighting up the entire room and I told my friends I had to find a way to get to know you.  I know you are married and I’m not trying to be inappropriate at all but you need to know how special you are.  And I’ve got this feeling you are going to do amazing things with your life.”

After dinner we went our separate ways, my friends and I to a local watering hole and the men to the swanky members only club.  I’ve never spoken to that man again.  I have a slippery memory of his face but can’t remember his name.   And yet.  Flash forward to a couple nights ago on the beach talking with my friend….

“Do you think that man is one of your eight?” she asked me after I had told her the story.  I replied yes without even thinking twice.

My friend had told me her theory of the eight before.  She believes that if you’re lucky, throughout your life you will meet eight people who, by meeting them, will profoundly change the course of your existence.  These people might only be in your life for a few minutes.  Or they might be in your life for decades.  But something in them truly and profoundly changes something in you.  Now, this is not a soul mate in the romantic sense per se.  Nor is it the eight most important people in your life.  I am so fortunate to have wonderful parents and friends who love me and lift me up.  They support me, they get me, they make me laugh and listen when I cry.  We shift and change together.  But they are not my eight.

This random Canadian man?  He’s one of my eight.  And I know this because, here it is, eight years later (look what happened there….) and that night is so profound for me that it will never leave the slippery folds of my memory.  Because at that point in my life when I met him, I was feeling very un-special and un-shiny.  I was in a marriage in which I did not feel appreciated.  I didn’t feel like my ex ‘got’ me or loved the parts of me that I was most proud of.  I had a light grasp of a feeling that I was meant to do ‘more’ but I didn’t know what.  And I didn’t feel like my partner believed in me at all.  And it’s hard to achieve anything when the one you sleep next to doesn’t support the effort.  And this Canadian man had no motives when he told me I was shiny and special and that he believed in me.  And yet he did.   And in that moment, I believed him.  And after that, I started getting a little stronger every day, investing in my strength and my self and my shine.  And that all brought me here, which is truly where I’m meant to be.

I have a few more that fill my list of eight.  One of them is my abusive ex (your eight people don’t necessarily have to be positive in your life).  However, I had been travelling around in a state of numb for a while when I was with him.  I was just doing what I thought I ‘should’ be doing.  With my studies, it was like I was running through  a race I wasn’t sure I wanted to even finish.  When I left him, I had to leave the state for my own safety.  He pushed me fully and completely out of my comfort zone.   But I needed that.  After leaving him, I moved to Aspen and began exploring a life that made sense to me, regardless if it made sense to anyone else.  And that way of living has been an compass for my soul ever since then.

One of my other ‘eights’ is the first man that I fell in love with.  It was decades ago, I was young, and the relationship only lasted a few months.  But yet, he showed me what I should expect in finding connection with a partner.  He showed me that love exists more powerfully in actions than in words.  I could talk to him about anything.  And he made my heart do absolute backflips every time he looked at me.  That’s how I want to be loved and I will always thank him for giving me that guide.

And my friend, the one who stepped side by side with me in the sand a couple nights ago?  Well, I’m pretty sure she’s number four.  It might take the gift of time to see how exactly she is shifting my life but I am certain that she is doing so.  The thing about your eight is that you never see them coming.  So it’s best to stay open, to let people enter your soul and your life.  Talk to strangers, fall in love, pursue a new friendship.  You never know who is going to change your life unless you allow them to do so.

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The other day I put on a purple shirt and I thought the same thought that I have had for the past 30 years whenever I wear purple.  I was walking out of my elementary school wearing a violet dress.  The mother of one of my classmates looked at me and said “Well, Ashley, we’ve finally found a color that looks good on you.”  Inappropriate? Sure.  Insignificant? Of course.  Because it was just a passing comment, one that this woman probably forgot five minutes after she said it.  Meanwhile, thirty years later, I am still trying to reckon with how that has guided my life.

I started thinking about the purple dress after I read this sentence in the book “Autobiography of a Face” by Lucy Grealy:

“Sometimes the briefest moments capture us, force us to take them in, and demand that we live the rest of our lives in reference to them.”

I wasn’t a particularly attractive child.  I know my mom and dad are reading this and right now chiming in with protests.  But let’s call a spade a spade here.  I had a perm and a silver tooth and then traded that in for a mullet and some braces.  And I have always marched to the beat of my own drummer when it’s come to fashion.  Just ask one of my high school girlfriends about the doily outfit.

The comment about the purple dress was perhaps the first time as a young girl where the idea of being pretty even entered my head.  But it stayed there.  And then, at middle school dances, when I sat alone on gymnasium bleachers watching all the other girls getting asked to dance, being held at arm’s length by gangly little boys, I began to think that perhaps pretty was the most important thing to be.  I began to measure my worth by times that I was desired…..but those times were few and far between in my young years.  So therefore I felt a little worthless.

And that girl?  The one that sat alone on the bleachers?  The one who hadn’t yet seen the world and found independence and starting doing great things with her life yet?  Well, she still lived inside of me.  And she made a lot of the decisions for me.  I have let a lot of men in my life get away with treating me terribly, all because they told me I was beautiful.  I have at times neglected putting energy towards myself so that I could funnel energy into the men that I have loved, in a crazy effort to prove myself desirable.  I have not embraced the complete awesomeness of who I have been in my life, all so that I could be more palatable and easy to want.  And only now am I realizing how absolutely crazy that all is.

When I was living in Aspen, I got a coveted position as a cocktail waitress at a members only nightclub.  At the club, it was known that only the prettiest girls worked there, sauntering around holding drinks aloft on a tray wearing high heels and short skirts.  I wanted the job because the money was great.  But I think I was also trying to prove something.  To who?  The girl on the bleachers of course.  The girl that only looked good in purple.  And I continued to try to prove things to her as I listened to men spout words that I knew were lies but as long as they contained the words “you’re beautiful” I would see the whole package as truth.  I have allowed my open heart to shatter way too many times trying to please that little girl.

The other day, while I was wearing the purple shirt, I ran into a friend of mine; and as it does often, the universe tilted towards serendipity and my friend told me a story that sounded all too familiar. My friend has a beautiful voice.  I have heard her sing once and it brought me to tears and filled up my entire being with warmth.  When she was a young girl, my friend would compete in singing competitions.  At the age of 10, she came in second to another young girl in a beautiful sparkly dress.  My friend’s story from that point on was “I’m not a good enough singer and I’m not enough for sparkly dresses”.  As fate would have it, three decades later, my friend was in nursing school with a woman and one day they got to talking and figured out that the woman was the girl in the sparkly dress all those years ago.  And the woman told my friend that her mom would buy all these sparkly dresses that they couldn’t afford and then return them to the store the next day.  So this story, the one that my friend held herself up to, the one that made her feel not enough?  Not only was it not true for a million reasons, but it was also just a complete mirage.

And yet….oh, and yet.   I am guessing we all have versions of these stories that we keep spinning around.  These things that we lead the rest of our lives in reference to.  Until one day we decide that perhaps we know better now.  Until one day we realize that these points of reference are steering us right into oncoming traffic every time.  So what do we do?  We start by calmly but forcefully telling that little girl on the bench, that little girl singing her heart out only to come in second, that it’s alright for her to stop talking now.

We let that story go just a little bit.  We let it ease out of our beings with a gentle grace.  We realize that while childhood games are fun; it’s time to grow up and start being real about what we need and deserve and what no longer serves us.  And then we start with the apologies.  We apologize to all the versions of ourselves that we subjected to false stories; we apologize to that little girl for putting her in situations that she had no hope of succeeding in.  And also, because I know I for one have left others in the wake of my destruction when I acted out from places of needing to be desired, we apologize to all of those who were affected by our stories.  Verbally, energetically, peacefully.  We promise to try harder, because that’s all that we can ever do in this life.

I still wear purple.  And my friend still sings.  And together we laugh about these crazy stories we told ourselves.  We bemoan the fact that we let them rule our lives for so long.  But we also know that in the process of reconciling them and rewriting them, we have become wiser and stronger and our hearts more open.  We have become enough.  We have become beautiful.

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