Silence

Silence is a crucial and weighty part of an artist’s life. In an attempt to protect the artist, silence provides a way for an artist to regain his or her power. “Art becomes the enemy of the artist, for it denies him the realization- the transcendence- he desires. Therefore, art comes to be considered something to be overthrown.”

I used to be a full-time musician. I wrote songs, recorded albums, booked gigs, traveled, and toured. I went to a music conservatory and majored in music performance. I did what everyone expected me to do from the time I turned six and opened my mouth at church. Everyone told me from a young age that I had a talent for music and music was what I “had to do” with my life. No one ever gave me a choice or encouraged me to try anything else. And in all honesty, I hated it.  But, as much as I detested music, I adored the attention. Their reassuring praise embodied my self-worth. I let people use me and take advantage of me because it was what was expected of me. Because it was what I was “supposed to do.” Because it was the only thing I knew. No one ever tells you when you first start out as a musician that it is perfectly acceptable to say “no.”

The artist either “flatters or appeases his audience, giving them what they already know, or he commits an aggression against his audience, giving them what they don’t want.” I came to a point where I despised everything the audience wanted from me. I grew to hate the audience. And I grew to hate myself. Night after night, I played hole-in-the-wall bars to drunk men who yelled out terrible words and tried to touch me in appalling ways. When you first start out, no one ever tells you how lonely it is on stage watching all of the people in the audience laughing with their friends and snuggling with their loved one at the bar. You just sit up there, singing over-sung requests yelled out by the drunk, old, bald guy in the corner. When you first start out, no one ever tells you that singing “Brown Eyed Girl” for the 500thtime will make you physically nauseous. “The artist can persevere in the interrogation of his art until he or it is exhausted.” You go until you simply cannot any longer.

Exhausted, I turned twenty-three and stopped. Just like that. I sold my instruments. I took my recordings off iTunes and Amazon. I quit every band I was a part of. I stopped booking gigs. I quit singing, playing, and recording. And I felt blissfully free. “Silence frees an artist from anxiety.” Truer words have never been spoken.

I was taken aback by how angry people were when I fell silent. Furious even. People I loved told me that I was a disappointment and that I was wasting my life. I clearly remember looking around in that moment and becoming painfully conscious of the fact that and I hadn’t a single friend that liked me outside of my music. In that moment, I realized I was not skilled at anything else. At twenty-three, I became conscious of the sobering realization that I was going to have to rebuild my life from the ground up. Little did I know then that it would be the first of many rebuilds to come.

We have to give up our memories in order to make room for new experiences. Once we go to the end of our emotions, silence follows for a time. One would assume that after the silence fades, there would once again be room for new emotions to be felt, and therefore new art to be created. When my silence faded, I decided to go back to college. I became a writing major. I found my voice again. But this time, in words. Writing saved me. Writing gave me a purpose. I shared my writings and people liked me again. Almost as much as they liked me when I was singing. But it didn’t matter anymore if “they” liked me or not. Through the course of my silence, I learned to like myself. For the first time, I felt comfortable in my own silence and in my own skin.

Philosopher Plotinus says that to see the beauty that a good soul has, one must allow his or herself to see his or herself as beautiful. If one does not see his or herself as beautiful, he or she can remove the parts that are not beautiful and work on his or herself until he or she sees herself as beautiful. Once this happens, and one is one’s true self, one is true light alone and does not need another to show him or her the way. Through the process of silence, I found my true self and I found beauty in my little corner of the world once again. I rescued a cat and named her Delilah. I bought a little yellow VW bug and moved to Alaska. I trained for and ran my first marathon. I left an abusive relationship. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree and started a master’s program. It is amazing what you do when you start to respect yourself. It’s amazing what happens when you let the silence make way for your inner voice to surface.

Philosopher Hume believes that every piece of art has a purpose. I would like to believe that my musical art had a purpose for that time. I think that silence is an art form as well. Just as Plato believes that art is unnecessary unless it is spreading truthful messages, I think that silence is just as important because it stops an artist from spreading untrue messages. Silence prevents an artist from being untrue to his or her own self. By going silent, I was able to begin to speak my greatest truths again.

It has been years since I stopped playing music. And for the first time, I understand that my silence was actually vital for my survival. If you are reading this and feel the need to silence a part of you, maybe my experience will help you to know that it is perfectly acceptable to be quiet. Let the silence envelop you, and in time I believe you will be able to listen to your innermost soul.

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She Who is Brave is Free

When I first heard about the #MeToo movement, I was ecstatic to give a strong voice to something that society had deemed filthy, dirty and secretive. I thought, Finally! We no longer have to be small and pretend nothing ever happened for the sake of not making others feel uncomfortable. But, with every post I saw, my joy and vindication slowly turned into this heart wrenching sadness. In time, however, I realized that every “me too” I read was a challenge to win back every part of every person that was stolen, and win it back with love. Because love is stronger than hate. Love is stronger than abuse and violation. Love is the most powerful weapon we yield.

This time last year, many of us who fell pray to sexual assault felt those same feelings of violation all over again. We watched a few brave women come forward and share their experiences. Many of us felt the pain in their words reverberate in a place buried deep within us. Many of us felt like they were narrating our own stories.

A year ago, we lived in an age where those of us who had been violated were expected to wrap ourselves inside our stories like a patchwork blanket of secrets. That blanket became our identity, yet no one knew it because the blanket was invisible. And it was filthy. It was something we were never allowed to discuss or show to anyone. The soiled patches on the blanket were gag orders, embarrassment, humiliation, secrecy, and shame. Sexual violation was something we simply did not discuss.

Fast-forward one year. Those few fierce women who came forward last year inspired a movement that spread like a wildfire in a dry forest. We have all seen how many brave and heroic humans have come forward since, less afraid to share their own stories because of the fearless few who used their words.

We live in a world now where movements like the #metoo agenda are becoming the new normal. People are coming forward and sharing their stories like the beautiful badges of honor they should be.

I remember being nine years old, forced to face and forgive my own assaulter. I asked my Mother, “Why, Mom? Why did this happen to me?” Her response has stuck with me for twenty-one years. She said “One day your story is going to help someone else. You did not go through this for nothing.”

NONE of us have gone through what we went through in vain. A lot has changed this year. There has been a great deal of heartache, terror, fighting and confusion. But, my hope is that 2017 will be remembered as the year where we took off our blankets of shame and found the courage to tell our stories. The year that we found the strength to turn our violations into victories and beautiful stories of survival. The year we found freedom in our bravery. The year we were heard. Amidst all of the confusion, hatred, and division that 2017 has brought, let us remember this as the year that light finally got to shine in the darkness. The year that we got to watch broken things learn how to shine brilliantly.

Never be afraid to share your story. You are heard. You are enough. You are brave and beautiful. And you are not alone. For she who is brave, is free.

The Little Dome Shaped House by the Sea

It was raining. It was raining for the 17th consecutive day in a row. She yearend to enjoy it as much as her best friend Jane did. Jane felt like the best version of herself on days when the skies hung grey and rain soaked the streets and sidewalks. She longed for that joy that Jane felt, as she sipped her earl grey tea in a corner of the coffee shop, reading her book and watching the caffeine addicts come in for their morning fixes. Enablers, she thought to herself, eying the barista behind the counter slinging lattes. She thought about Jane and her red polka dot umbrella and matching raincoat. Jane never worried about the frizz that would find her hair and force it grow to wild and unmanageable proportions. Jane was never bothered by her wet feet or soaked backs of her jeans on her ankles. The things that people with straight hair don’t have to worry about, she thought to herself, scrunching up her massive mess of curly red hair in the window’s reflection, secretly jealous of Jane’s love of the rain. And her straight brunette hair.

She, on the other hand, craved the sunshine. She longed for the heat. The rain made her feel entirely too much. She worked hard for the unbreakable, positive outlook she was known for and the sunshine fueled it. But the rain? The rain just washed it away, just like it did the sidewalk chalk drawings the neighbor kids made the night before.

Attempting to find some peace with her hair and the rain, she nestled into the overstuffed blue patchwork chair in the back corner of the coffee shop, staring out the window as the rain pummeled the green leaves on the birch trees. Her cat was next to her, in her purple Jansport backpack. Sir knew better than to poke anything out of the backpack other than an occasional paw, as he wasn’t technically allowed in the coffee shop. The baristas knew he was there, but they never said anything. They all had this rather unspoken agreement that Sir could stay, as long as he was quiet. And stayed in the backpack.

She watched the leaves grow greener with each drop that splashed on them. She listened to the water patter on the roof above her. She did love that sound, the one single aspect of the rain she found rather enjoyable. Holding tightly to her mug, legs pulled under her for comfort, she tried to talk herself into the “cozy” day the rain would bring. She wore her favorite oversized sweater, softest socks and yellow rain boots. Sir had dawned his yellow rain coat as well, complete with holes for his ears to stick out of, and was snoring from the backpack on the table beside her. Urging Sir to quiet down, she continued her mental list. She could work on her writing today. Or finish the book she’d been nursing for weeks. She was trying not to think about how she wished she were on the beach or drinking peach iced tea on the swing outside. It was hard to find a reason to smile on a day like today. Just like the rain made the flowers and grass grow, it made her anxiety grow as well. The rain made her feel. It made her feel too much. She wished she were alone at her house listening to the rain fall on the roof shingles, rather than in the coffee shop. But it wasn’t her house anymore.

From the outside, the place she used to live looked rather unassuming. The paint was faded and chipped from wind exposure. The windowpanes were slowly pulling away from the exterior. It was one of three houses on a one way, dead end street. To most, it seemed like just an odd house shaped like an upside down letter U that overlooked the sea. But, to those who had a chance to be a part of it’s story? It was much, much more.

Two years ago, right before she moved into the little dome shaped house by the sea, she was quite shocked to learn of how many people had a story to share about it. Joyous exclamations and nostalgic smiles met her from those that had the pleasure of spending some of their time there, “I did yoga there! I rented a room there for a few months! I remember having coffee there.” With excitement, she and Sir and their carload of meager belongings and set out for their winter adventure to housesit at what two years later, lovingly and affectionately became known as “the dome home.”

I became the best version of myself there. She thought, fondly remembering. Hot steamy French press coffee and the most exquisite, stunning sunrises met her every morning. Sir spent his days lounging in his own wingback chair, watching the world saunter past. Friends came to visit and shared the French press coffees and the sunrise views with her. She finished college at the wobbly card table in the kitchen, although she figured out the perfect placement of dishtowels under the table legs to fix the unsteady shake. She learned to be a writer in the creaky, wooden rocking chair in front of the wall of windows that looked out over the mountains and the sea. She settled into herself there. She learned that she was wholly and beautifully herself in the walls of that house. That house became a part of her being. And she became a part of its.

Her tea was cold and the coffee shop was getting too crowded with the after church crowd. So, she and Sir spontaneously decided to take a rainy walk toward the little dome shaped house by the sea, something they hadn’t done in quite some time. She closed her book, finished the last swig of her cold tea, put on her rain coat, slung Sir’s backpack on her left shoulder and set off down the rain soaked road. As she rounded the corner onto the one-way street, she saw it. It was dark. And gloomy. And all of the curtains were drawn, and cinched closed. Clashing with tears that were fiercely winning the war she was fighting with them, she exclaimed in utter dismay to Sir, “The little dome shaped house by the sea deserves so much more than these shady curtains closed in front of the windows. The windows should be open! Because that’s how the light gets in! Who would do such a thing?” She was heartbroken.

Sir meowed in agreement, raising a paw to the bay window he used to spend most of his time in, but quickly retracted it as it was getting wet. Both of them shed two tears that day, a tear for their memories and a tear for the house’s current state. “Whoever lives here now is missing out on so much light. And joy,” she muttered sadly to Sir, yearning with all of her heart to go inside, open up all of the windows and dance on the hard wood floors once again. Regretfully, they turned around, wishing they never came back at all.

Leaving the driveway and the memories behind them, they carried on along the road and made their way to the beach, as it was not far from the little dome shaped house. Standing on the beach, watching the waves gently caress the sand through the raindrops, she and Sir started writing a letter. “It’s only way I know how to bring closure to all of this,” she explained to Sir. He extended a paw to her soggy cheek in support.

The letter read:

Here’s to you, little dome shaped house by the sea. Thank you for helping me heal. Thank you for helping me to become a better version of myself. Thank you for being there when I rescued Sir from the pound and for being there when my Jane’s heart was breaking over her lame boyfriend. Thank you for being there when I cranked up the Beatles and danced with Sir when I turned in my last college essay. Thank you for being there when I was lost, and when I was found. And to those of you who get to be a part of it’s story next, please never take for granted one moment you get to spend there. It’s a place of healing, peace and joy.

She signed it and Sir placed his mud covered, sandy paw on it as well, adding his own endorsement. Together, they situated the letter in an old root beer bottle and chucked it into the sea. The rain had come to an end and the sun and blue sky were starting to parade their way through the clouds. For it was time to take what the little dome shaped house by the sea had taught them and advance forward. Gazing up at the bluff one more time at the little dome shaped house by the sea, she whispered “thank you,” unleashed her hair from her ball cap and she and Sir made their way down the beach, heads held high towards the sun.

The Revolving Door

She knelt by her old wooden trunk upstairs in the attic of her Mother’s 1940’s house on Willow Lane. The snow gently fell outside as she shuffled through the papers of her past written works. As she sorted through the journals and typed pages, she couldn’t help but reflect on the last year of her life, as we all tend to do in January. Holding a tattered leather journal, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and let her memories play in front of her like a slide show. The kind of slide show her Uncle Bo talked about his mother making him sit through when he was eight after her most recent adventure. He didn’t want to admit it, but as boring as it was, he enjoyed the old black and white photos of the Grand Canyon on the screen, projected by the old clicking photo machine.

As she watched her own slideshow weave a wandering story through her mind, she couldn’t help but feel like a shell of her former self. A self that she worked three raw, solid, and extensive years to reinvent after she lost herself to him. As his face found itself at the forefront of the slide show, she shook her head violently to make her mind click over to the next memory.

Kneeling over the trunk, holding tight to her peppermint tea in her favorite chipped sage green mug, she pulled out a piece she wrote her junior year of college entitled “The Wizard.” A story about a road trip with the mysterious accordion playing, straw hat wearing Wizard, a metaphor for surviving her failed engagement and abusive relationship.

“I found such great healing in writing that story. I feel like I knew the Wizard and goodness, I do miss him something fierce,” she muttered out loud to her calico cat. Clementine meowed in approval, as if she too remembered when her human wrote that story.

Over the past few years, she became the girl who drove the 1982 baby blue Jeep. She had a cat and most recently, a geriatric terrier she found on the side of the road, who much to Clementine’s dismay, was now an intricate part of their lives. The three of them lived a life full of adventures. They paddle boarded in February between the ice chunks in the inlet. She turned her jeep into an RV for her and her fuzzy comrades, perfect for summer outings. She majored in Writing and wrote story after story for writing class after writing class. She fell in love with words. She fell in love with yoga and running and everyone around her. She fell in love with herself. She lived in a dome shaped house on the ocean and took more sunrise photos than she knew what to do with. And she shared them. She shared them all. She wrote stories about her adventures and discoveries and shared them with anyone who might take the time to read. She loved her life. And this life she loved became her identity.

She didn’t share to brag or get attention. She didn’t share to make anyone think her life was stunningly superior. She shared because there was entirely too much beauty all around her to keep it to herself. It actually felt selfish not to share. After all, if she was finding so much joy in Clementine’s mitten shaped paws and the fact that she had thumbs to hold things, it felt like she was doing her loved ones a disservice not to share this joy with them. The sunsets were far too striking to keep to herself. She felt like everyone deserved to see that exquisite beauty too. She had been through a lot, but found a way to bring a luminous light to the darkness in a way that qualified her experiences. When asked why she shared such personal events with strangers, she always replied, “Because it’s the only way that what happened to me makes sense. I went through it all to help someone else feel less alone. I survived it all to show someone else that they can too.”

But, two years later, she graduated from college. Her housesitting job ended at the dome house on the ocean. Her jeep started having problems. She lost the energy for her adventures and yoga. She stopped writing. She stopped taking photos. She stopped sharing. She just started going through the motions, waiting for something else to validate her existence.

Fastening her red and white flannel robe tighter around herself for warmth and security, she started reading another poem she pulled out of the chest that she wrote for her favorite creative writing class.

The broken windows bay as the sunlight finds a way through the broken glass and dirty pains. Let us burn all this fear and run like children through the ashes who have fallen, fought the fear and flown on…

Lost in thought at the depth of the words written by a woman she didn’t even recognize anymore, the thump outside brought her back to the present. Checking outside the single paned window, she realized it was just snow falling off of the roof. Noticing the moonlight shining in through the glass and glimmering off the green paint-chipped windowsill, she couldn’t help but smile and remember how this very window inspired the poem she just found.

She dusted off her laptop, opened a blank word document and started typing. It felt scary. All of that blank space in front of her. All of these emotions she would have to face. She began to write a letter to the stranger who wrote the poem about the window and the story about The Wizard.

 Dearest Woman Who I Used to Be:

 I ask of you to remember what it is that causes you to write. I ask this of you because as hard as this may be to believe now, there will come a day when you stop writing. You will become someone in the future so far removed from who you are now. But why? And how? Maybe it is because sharing your thoughts has caused a few conflicts. Maybe it was that with the ending of this particular chapter that you find yourself in now, you lost your identity and with it, the confidence that your words had any meaning at all.

 You’ll find yourself in your Mother’s attic years from now reading pieces you wrote, but you won’t recognize the author. How is it that you feel so much confidence in your words? Because currently, this giant piece of me is petrified to share. Scared that my words might hurt someone or cause someone some sort of disservice. And the idea that something I share might indeed damage someone else is enough to make me never want to write another word again.

 If you wouldn’t mind, could you tuck a little reminder somewhere that might help to spark a wee bit of passion a few years into the future?

 Sincerely,
Your Future Self.

 And with that, she emailed it to herself. She felt a little silly and foolish doing such a thing, but she couldn’t help but feel slightly better about the fact that she actually wrote something. Still shuffling through the trunk, about ready to call it a night, as her tea was cold and so was she; she found an envelope she didn’t recognize. “Where did this come from?” She asked Clementine.

Clementine placed her paw on the envelope and meowed as if to say, “Go ahead, read it. You’ll see.” And then got this glimmering look of excitement in her yellow feline eyes that said, THIS is the good part. This even made the geriatric terrier lift his head from his sleeping place on the wingback chair.

With her fuzzy support system beside her for courage, she reluctantly opened it and found a letter addressed to her. Her heart started pounding as she read:

Dear Future Self:

 Something you must remember is that terrible things happen to people every day. Someone might find himself or herself in an abusive relationship without a way out. Someone else might be the victim of abuse as a child. People have eating disorders. People have affairs. And suffer from depression. But then people survive these events. They fight their way through it, only to come out on the other side fierce and passionate. They then use their experiences to help others through the very same things. Everyone has a voice. YOU have your very own voice, and an eloquent one at that. There are people out there that need to hear what you have to say. Please don’t be afraid to share beautiful things with those you love. Please don’t be afraid to use your words to bring light to the darkness.

 I understand that we loose ourself somewhere along the way. But the way I see it, life is a series of reinventing ourselves in the revolving doors of loving others. We never loose ourselves because I do not think we are ever one person forever. And don’t forget what our favorite Professor told us, writing has a way of making sense of the present through the fictional story lines.

 We are not defined by what we drive. Or the adventures we take. Or the houses that we live in. We are defined by how we love. And by how we take what we have been through, good or bad, and use it to help someone else. Because isn’t that the point to all of this? To make broken things shine like brilliant diamonds in the end.

 You’ll write again, my dear. Your voice never left you; it just needed to listen for a while.

 With all of my love-

 And with that, she knew she had no choice. She poured herself another cup of peppermint tea and got cozy in the wingback chair next to her snoring dog. Clementine took up residency on top of the chair and watched the words pour from her fingers as gentle and purposeful as the snow that fell outside the attic window.

To the Sexual Abuse Survivor Triggered by this Election

To the Sexual Abuse Survivor Triggered by this Election:

You probably have feelings and emotions that you are searching every back hidden crevice of your mind for a word to explain, but are doing so with no success. Please know that you’re not the only one. I know you probably feel all alone right now, but I promise you that you are not.

Being told at the young, susceptible age of ten that the abuse one endured and suffered didn’t really happen and was simply made up in their head causes a person to reinvent their perception of reality. Armed with years of counseling and a Mother with the strength of twelve armies, that little ten-year-old girl learns to move past her grief, forgive the man and eventually move forward with her life. Twenty years later, that now thirty-year-old woman is led to believe she is past it, over it, through it. She tells herself and others that this part of her history is far behind her. She tells herself and others that she is actually stronger because of it. That it is a part of the reason she is who she is. She might even help other young women through their own trauma, helping to build an army of over comers and survivors who are stronger than their past has defined them to be.

All is going along quite smoothly, until a man who blatantly disrespects women is elected as the leader of the place where she has worked unbeliebably hard to be proud to call home.

As a sexual abuse survivor, seeing Donald Trump elected president may cause you to feel that same violation all over again. You are not alone. I felt the same.

Before hearing the results of the election, you probably felt like a fervently strong woman whose gender was finally seen as a hard fought equal. You felt strong. You felt unbreakable. It took you a lifetime of work to feel like you deserve to take up space. Within minutes of hearing that Trump was elected, were you filled with shame? Shame for your gender? Shame for your history? Shame for taking up space? Shame for your very existence? Did you want to feel small? Invisible? Did you weep uncontrollably? Because I did.

I wept for every six-year-old child that was never heard or believed. I wept for every young woman and man who was told it was in fact their fault for what happened to them. I wept for every human who had to face their abuser in plain daylight and soak in the shame of being told they could have prevented it if they just did a little bit more. I wept for every confused child, trying to understand how the “love” they experienced as a child wasn’t love at all. I wept for my ten-year-old self who was forced to hug the man who took away my innocence and apologize to his friends for the “lies” I told about him.

Did it take you some time to figure out where these new foreign feelings were coming from? Did it take you some time to figure out where your confidence went? I know that I sat there on my living room floor, shocked, asking myself, Where did my confidence go? Why do I suddenly feel this unbelievable shame?

In the end, the answer was simple. Right or wrong, I felt violated. Again. I felt like everyone around me took the side of the man who violated me as a child. I felt as though the man who took my innocence won. Again. Trump’s victory was a trigger.

I have stayed silent throughout the entire election season. I wanted all of my friends to know that regardless of their affiliation, I love and respected them and their opinions.But, I listened to all of the stories from all of the women who felt violated. My heart broke for each one of them. No part of me, however, thought that the man who feels that it is his fair right to do whatever he well pleases with a woman would be elected the President of the United States.

It will probably take you a long time to understand your loved ones for supporting the man who symbolizes what you have spent your entire life fighting to overcome. You will probably feel betrayed. You will probably feel deceived and let down by the men you respected who dismissed the notion that “grabbing women by the pussy” is normal manly locker room talk. I know that I will be spending a great deal of time wrapping my brain around their thoughts, trying to dissect how they have rationalized this as acceptable. I am not angry with them; in fact, I actually understand them now. They felt disrespected too and felt their vote was going to help them reclaim their own power back. We all deserve to be heard and respected. All of our opinions matter. Respecting each other’s differences are what make us a beautiful nation.

Have you cried more times since hearing of his election than you would have ever imagined? I have. Are you mourning the loss of the people who stood up for those of us who worked so hard to reclaim our identities that were painfully ripped from our grasps without a single apology? I have.

But the truth is, I am not six years old anymore. I have a voice. I am a strong independent woman who has the right to speak her mind and the right to stand up for her beliefs. My heart is sad, but it’s not broken. And neither is yours.

I choose to still love the people who support Trump with unconditional love. I still choose to support the country I am still honored to call home. I choose to willingly accept the challenge to win back every part of every woman that was stolen, and win it back with love. Because love is stronger than hate. Love is stronger than abuse. Love is the most powerful weapon we yield. Be proud to be a survivor. Be proud to be a woman. And remember, regardless of political stance, we are and will always be stronger together.

With love and an unconditional understanding heart, you are not alone.

 

R.E.S.P.E.C.T

R.E.S.P.E.C.T

What does it really mean to me? What does it really mean to any of us?

What does it mean to respect another human being? What does it mean to be respected? It’s a word people believe that they want, but rarely know how to explain.

When asked what it meant to be respected, I was given many replies and responses.

Respect is when other people’s thoughts and opinions have merit. Respect is shown by including others, rather than excluding them. Being respected means not demeaning another. It means souls are mutually admired and care is evident. Respect happens when one is consistent with action, value and word. Respect is honor. Respect prefers another. Respect is acceptance without expectation. This is not to say there is complete agreement on everything, but rather an acceptance of another’s soul as it is and not what we want it to become.

I have always respected my Grandparents. We grew up at their house and their knowledge has always surpassed mine. An odd thing happened this year, however. Dementia and aging became an evident factor. They started making choices that were not healthy or safe for them. They stopped wearing teeth and refused to make proper eating choices. I found myself slowly loosing respect for the six foot four strong, tall, red headed bearded man I called my Grandfather. I watched him pull away from my Grandmother’s incessant repetitive questions from shear exhaustion. I watched him recede further into his man cave and further away from us. Through these events, I found myself once again loosing that proverbial respect. What was happening to the man who always made me feel safe? What was happening to the woman who would call me in the middle of the night because she just had a feeling I needed her in that moment? I still loved them, but my love was changing form.

I had to learn to meet them in this new place- to embrace this as the new normal. What it came down to was simple. That no matter what, I still loved my grandparents. And if I still loved them, I still respected them. I just had to learn to respect them in this new foreign place we now seemed to find ourselves in. I had to let go of my prior beliefs of who they were and learn to accept them now without expectation. I had to resign myself to attempt to understand who they had become, not who I wanted them to be based upon my previous experiences of who they used to be.

My respect for my Mother grew exponentially as I watched her heed to their every beck and call, frustrated as well by their choices. But, she never handled them with anything less than pure, authentic love. She consistently included my Grandmother in her day-to-day life, even if she couldn’t remember it and asked the exact same questions in the exact same tone of voice seven minutes later, seventy nine times a day. She loved them. She was learning to respect the new normal as well.

Nothing can prepare a person for the aging process. No one can prepare a person for the horrors of dementia. Due to all the special circumstances that came  with this September’s arrival, I can honestly say that that this has quite possibly been two of the the hardest weeks of my life.  I  wanted to mentally remove myseld from the whole situation, goingkng through the motions without actually feeling the unimaginable pain of accepting the fact that these people who were my rock now need me to be there’s. But, that is a part of respecting them too, being who they needed with authentic generosity, regardless of my own selfish desires.

I’ve come to the conclusion that respect is love. And love is respect. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to understand how to separate them as two separate entities, but upon farther inspection, I believe them to be one in the same. As I begin to embark on the journey into my thirties, I am honored to take the lessons they have taught me and use them in my own life and in my own relationship. When I say, “I respect you” I believe I am indeed saying, “I love you enough to meet you where you are at.”

“And the seasons they go round and round. Painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on a carousel of time. We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came. And go round and round in the circle game.” – Joni Mitchell

The Old Wooden Door

She spent the last year wandering and driving rather aimlessly around the backcountry dirt roads of the little town she landed in. She made all kinds of new friends; some mean, some nice, some helpful, and some not so much. She spent her days meandering about, meeting new people and rediscovering who she was. She didn’t really have a purpose or a plan. After moving across the world for a fresh start, she failed to see the purpose in putting down any sort of roots. She was simply living fully in each moment.

One day, her very favorite new friend asked her to accompany her to her favorite place. She loved Favorite Friend and had no reservations about following her. She chased her running into the sunflower fields and through this old wooden antique door that didn’t seem to be attached to anything but a weeping willow tree on the river’s edge. On the other side of the door was a little wooden cabin covered in twinkle lights. It had a blinking blue sign that read “this way to life changing coffee.” She loved coffee and could stand for her life to be changed a bit. She could hear music and see dancing through the icy windows. Snow covered the trees and glistened under the lamppost lights. How is it that I’m not cold right now? She wondered to herself, taking careful note of her lack of coat and mittens.  And how was it 70 degrees before we walked through the wooden door? How did the seasons change so quickly? Afraid of over analyzing the situation, she accepted this as her new reality.

“What kind of strange place is this?” she asked Favorite Friend, her eyes ablaze with a perplexed sense of excitement.

“Why don’t we go inside and you can find out for yourself,” Favorite Friend answered with giddy sarcasm.

And with that, they ventured inside. A barefoot man in a straw hat was playing sing -a-longs in the corner and everyone in the little cabin in the woods was singing along. One man in an apron that reiterated the life changing coffee idea started dancing to a Beatles tune about the sunshine. She and Favorite Friend sat at the corner table, sipping their lattes, grinning and watching the hootenanny. After hours of fun and frivolity, it was time to return home, but Favorite Friend promised they’d return the next day.

On her journey back to the wooden door and to the cabin in the woods that next evening, she passed a lady dressed in green, wearing a pointy hat that was cocked sideways to the left. She noticed the lady was crying in the community garden green house, so she ventured over and asked what the matter was. The mysterious lady told her how much she treasured all of the flowers and how much she loved and cared for each one. The lady went on to explain that as of lately, if she ever came into contact with water, she would melt. She was so sad because her flowers were going to die without water and she had no way to change this fact.

She said to the Lady in Green, “Would you mind if I took care of your flowers this afternoon? I promise that they’ll be fine and so will you. And in return, would you consider coming with me to this magical place I recently discovered? They say their coffee changes lives! Maybe it would help with your conundrum.” And with that, the Lady in Green agreed.

After the flowers were watered, and the Lady in Green was dressed for the sojourn, she grabbed her hand and they took off running as fast as they could, gasping for air, as they barged through the heavy wooden door, wide-eyed and looking around. There it was, just as magical as ever and Favorite Friend was waiting for her to go inside.

“I. Found. Us,” she said panting, attempting to fill her lungs with air as though she just finished a marathon, “a new friend! She needs some life changing tonight!”

That night, the barefoot man in the straw hat was replaced by this strange new activity. People were contorting themselves into strange positions on mats. Calm soothing music clung to the air like a humid summer evening in the Midwest after a storm. They joined the group and found herself breathing in the peace filled moments, following the teacher’s words and instructions. She didn’t know who this person was, but her energy was contagious. At the end of all the bending, they just laid there, eyes closed. She didn’t understand it, but she was never one to break rules or not follow instructions. “You all deserve to take up space,” the teacher said to the group. She didn’t know it then, but those words had changed her. And they had also changed the Lady in Green. By learning that it is perfectly acceptable to take up space and do more than just exist, she found herself willing to invest some of her precious energy into the Lady in Green.

She asked the Lady in Green if she could have a job in the garden working watering all of the town’s flowers and the Lady in green excitedly agreed. She met all kinds of new friends and even found herself putting down a few of those roots she was so deathly afraid of. But as soon as night fell and her job was done, she’d run back to the wooden door, get a cup of coffee in her favorite yellow mug and join in whatever activity was waiting for her at the little cabin in the woods.

Almost a year later, this one particular night felt different to her. She didn’t know why. She had to work a little late, but as always, as soon as she was done, she ran as fast as she could to the wooden door. But tonight, she couldn’t find the door.

Did I go the wrong way? She frantically ran about looking for the door, but it was gone. She sat there, defeated. She didn’t know what she was to do. She found the weeping willow tree and the river as they offered her some sort of safety, and sat in the ominous fog and waited for morning to come. The sun rose, she went to work, and came back secretly hoping that the door would be there and that the last night was all some sort of strange dream. But alas, the door was still gone.

She sat there night after night wishing the door to come back, but it never did. That wooden door, the weeping willow tree and the cabin in the woods were the only things that made sense to her now and without them she was lost. Her life had been changed, as promised, after all. But one night, she glanced over to her right beside the tree where the door used to be and noticed her yellow coffee mug was there.

“So it hadn’t all been a dream?” She asked out loud to no one in particular. “But where did the wooden door go? And how is it that I somehow left a part of my heart on the other side of that door?” She resigned herself to the fact that she was going to have to leave part of her heart behind. It would have to stay behind the door with those amazing people that she had met there like Favorite Friend, Barefoot Music Man, The Green Lady, and the Woman who taught her its ok to take up space.

She picked up her chipped, cracked coffee mug, took one last look at where the door once stood, so strong, simple and sturdy- and gracefully walked away.

But then she saw someone out of the corner of her eye. A tall bearded man in green rain boots was leaning comfortably against the willow tree with a cup of coffee in a mug that looked strangely like the one she was holding. He took off his ball cap and nodded in her direction. It was almost as though he was waiting for her. They started a conversation sitting on the river bank that ended up lasting all night and into the next morning. She started returning to visit him as often as she used to visit the cabin in the woods. Day by day, little by little, their young, guarded hearts began to fall in love.

One night, months later, they were having a picnic on the riverbank. Taking bite of her sandwhich, she asked the Man in the Rain Boots if he had ever seen the wooden door or the little coffee cabin in the woods.

“My sweet, beautiful girl. The wooden door? You didn’t make it up. I spent a great deal of my own life behind it years ago. The safety you felt inside the cabin in the woods? It was real. The people you met were each there to teach you something. That wooden door was for a season and the world behind it gave you the courage to live your own life. But I promise you this, even though those people are gone, one day, when you least expect it, you’ll see the wooden door again. It may be a different color or a different shape. It may be attached to a different tree, but walk through it, because it means you’re life needs changing again. We must never grow stagnant. ”

She felt her eyes well up and the dam that been holding back her tears shattered. “I’m. Just. So. Sorry,” she gasped between sobs. “I have not cried in. Over. A. Tear.”

She couldn’t catch her breath. Her whole body trembled uncontrollably. She felt so small. And so out of control. Collecting herself momentarily, she whispered, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can’s stop crying. I. Feel. Crazy.”

“It’s okay, my darling. I’m right here,” he said, holding her close to him.

She clung to him with every ounce of strength she possessed. He made her feel safe. She pleaded with him, “Will you please keep out all the sadness? Please?”

Looking her directly in the eye, he said, “No, I will not do that. You need to feel this. All of this.”

“I think somewhere along the way, I forgot how to feel,” she whispered, brushing tears from her eyes.

Cradling her face in his strong, massive hands, he said with the utmost confidence, “I don’t think this is crazy at all. In fact, I think it feels like freedom.”

And with that, she allowed herself to feel. Years of plastered on smiles and fake positive attitudes fell away from her like caked on mud falls off of rain boots after they dry. She was free. She felt safe. “Sometimes,” he said to her, “the most beautiful people are beautifully broken. And in their transparency, the light is able to shine brilliantly through the cracks.”

Their rendevous went on for months. Their walls were slowly falling down with each adventure that awaited them every night by the willow tree that stood beside the river. She had always felt at peace near the water. Even running through the sprinkler as a child or diving into the deep end in the public pool in her hometown brought her pure, authentic joy. Whether the water was violently splashing on the rocks by the ocean, covering all it touched with a salt-water mist or gently lapping the lakeside, she had always felt so small, yet so empowered near the water. And wholly at peace. Lately, she found herself on the river more often than not. She was drawn to the crashing water on the side of the boat as it sped through the water. She was drawn to the vastness of it all.

“Hey beautiful girl. Ready to go?” he said with a beaming smile as he bent down to kiss her, interrupting her wandering thoughts.

All of her fears and sadness faded away in that simple moment. As she held the rope attached to the boat near the shore, excitement ran through her veins just as rapid as the current that rushed and hastened over her yellow boots. That’s what happened on the river. That’s what happened when she was with him. Doubts faded away as quickly as the current that passed by. The sunset was intoxicating. It may have been the wine, but the colors of the sky and smells of the trees were pure and genuine magic. Magic that rivaled that of the cabin in the woods. The harmonies swirled around their heads, blending into the tangerine sky. “Find me in the river,” they sang. “I’m waiting here.” And there they waited, drunk on each other’s presence.

After the boat ride, they ran. They ran together as quickly as their legs could carry them. They ran face first into the sunset, down the boardwalk that ran parallel to the river next to the weeping willow tree. They sat on the dock humming silly love songs, his arm around her shoulders. Their gaze shifted between each other and the water under their feet. In that moment, everything was beautiful. That night, they were happy and uninhibited. That night, they were free. She never saw any of her friends from the cabin in the woods again, but she never forgot the impact they had on her little corner of the world or how they shaped her identity.

She never saw the cabin in the woods again either, but she did find another wooden door attached to an Alder Wood tree. She found it while hiking with the Man in the Rain Boots one sunny fall afternoon. He held it wide open for her, said “after you, my dear” and they walked through it together to embrace what awaited them on the other side.