Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn.” – Mumford & Sons, Below My Feet
Am I forgetting him?
With nearly two years gone since my dad’s death, I found myself asking this question a few months back. I’ve gotten used to our lack of daily discussions, not being able to pick up the phone over the latest sporting news or world event, and even his nickname of my dog, “Ain’t right” comes up only on rare occasions — mostly when someone else reminds me of it.
Yet as I recently reflected back on the year 2014, a happy, sunny contrast to the gloom and sadness of 2013, I realized that one of the reasons I don’t notice my dad’s absence quite as much, is that so much of what I learned from him (and from his passing), has simply become engrained in me. It’s as if there are two separate sections of my life, before my dad’s death, and after it, with two different perspectives on how I live it. I can’t describe the change exactly (nor do I think you want to listen to me try), but per usual, several lessons from this year remind me of all the guidance my dad continues to provide even though he’s no longer physically with me.
1) “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – The Fray, Fighter
Upon moving to a state where 70-degree temperatures and sunshine greeted me daily, that fact that pain in my knee/hips/back still prevented me from running proved even more bothersome. So, the first week in Arizona, I signed up to see a physical therapist. At our initial visit, I spent nearly 45 minutes explaining my injury — its source, trigger points, worsening, etc… The 30-something guy nodded throughout, and at the end gave me a slight smile. “I know exactly what is wrong with you.”
“Great,” I breathed a sigh of relief, “so… what should I do to get better?”
“Start running again.”
It took two more visits, and most importantly, reading a book he recommended called Healing Back Pain (Dr. Sarno) to be convinced of his notion that anxiety over my injury was the reason it wasn’t going away — my tension was making it worse. But in continuing to consider how the stressors of 2013 had compounded what began as a tight IT band, it really made sense. I’d gone from taking a day off from being sore, to over-analyzing every ache and pain trying to determine if I was ready to run again.
My dad served so often as a source of reassurance for me, always trying to get me to stop thinking too hard, always telling me I worried too much or that I needed to stop overanalyzing the situation. Yet seeing this lesson played out in such a physical manner reminded me more than ever how damaging it can be. This year, more than ever, I’ve taken his advice to heart and am reaping the rewards of a much more easygoing existence — both in running, and in life. I’m living in the moment and enjoying those moments much more as a result.
2) Never think what you have to offer is insignificant. There will always be someone out there that needs what you have to give.” – Unknown
While I was confident in my decision last year to go back into the world of healthcare consulting, I worried about my ability to have the kind of impact on people that a field like Educational Leadership offered. Yet this exact career move taught me that no matter the position, I always have an opportunity to impact people — it’s all about attitude and effort.
At present, my two main facets for this impact have been my role as a manager, and, as you can imagine, my writing. The first one is relatively straightforward. I take pride in the fact that it’s my job to make the 17 staff who report to me want to do their job — to create a good work environment, make them feel appreciated, learn how to grow, etc… With my writing (book and blog), it’s a little trickier, and sometimes I wonder if my stories can really help. A few pieces of encouragement have come to light recently… two in particular from my dad.
Digging through a box of old memorabilia while home for Christmas, I came across a card my dad gave me the night I published my book. Here was a man who wasn’t portrayed in the best light in my book (though accurately), but because he understood my purpose and reason for publishing it, he could only offer love and support. His words brought tears when I read them again. A week later, back in Tucson, I drove past a church with a sign out front promoting Celebrate Recovery. The sight of an organization my dad was so committed to reminded me again of exactly why he got me and my book: he understood that telling your story isn’t about your own life, it’s about affecting others’ lives as well. In healing yourself, you show others how they can heal too.
3) “Be a good person but don’t waste time to prove it.” – Unknown
Fresh off the anxiety and grief I previously mentioned, I also took the time to find a good therapist here in Tucson (I recommend the same for anyone in just about any situation). Not surprisingly, she wanted to read my memoir and after a few chapters, said to me “I think there are a few things here we need to unpack.” I didn’t argue. What churned up over the course of several subsequent sessions was the realization that even after all these years, there were indeed things with my former friend and idol that I hadn’t let go of, namely that my intentions had been so misunderstood. It bothered me, still, that I’d been thought of as crazy, or, alternatively, that my actions had been considered hurtful or even condescending when I’d meant so much to help someone I cared about. A part of me still held onto this valiant idea that someday she’d understand that– not for a friendship, not even a hug or smile, just a simple “I get what you meant. I see you weren’t crazy.”
It took several sessions, some deep reflection, and even another chance encounter and conversation. But I finally got there, and when I finally accepted that I was never going to get that understanding I’d hoped for, my guilt and discomfort gave way to a kind of relief I’d never felt before.
The lesson reminded me once more of how my dad lived out his last few years, choosing to focus on those people who “got” him and who believed in him; not those who questioned his intentions or recovery. I’ve talked before about moving on from what you’ve done in the past, another lesson from my dad, but this year I learned that acceptance is just as important in your future outlook or reaction to people who may judge you. The people who know me, know what I’m about and therefore know my intentions — I don’t have to worry about misinterpretation. The people who don’t know me or more importantly, don’t get me? Not only am I unlikely to change their minds, but there are far better uses of my time then to try to change them. As the motto my dad lived by states, “Accept what you can and cannot change.”
4) “Time is like a fortune, when we take it.” – NEEDTOBREATH, Tyrant Kings
For the first 29 years of my life, I prided myself on my ability to “delay gratification.” It was why I could run 20 miles at a time, why I could study for hours and ace a test, set big goals, etc… But the problem I recently discovered with that attitude is that gratification becomes a reward, like with food. In traveling extensively through Europe I found their view of eating quite refreshing. Dinner is meant to be enjoyed, not inhaled, and certainly NOT a reward for a long workout, as I once considered it. My dad and I discussed this perspective when I returned from overseas, given we both considered ourselves “work-out-aholics,” and how the concept of always having to put off enjoyment in favor of working for it first, could prove detrimental to a healthy lifestyle.
It applies to more than eating.
One of my “bucket list” items had always been to take my dog to the ocean. When I realized San Diego was less than 6 hours from Tucson, I immediately booked a hotel– why wait? The sight of my dog racing towards the waves that first time brought happy tears. Another item on my bucket list was hiking the Grand Canyon. When my stepmom scheduled a visit for April, I put it on our agenda right away. During that trip we discussed a trip to Europe later that year. Two trips in one year? Both that included Paris? Absolutely — again, why put it off?
My Dad talked incessantly about how he was going to go to Italy in a year; he’d never been out of the country and it was definitely on his “bucket list,” he just had to wait one more year until the timing was right. His sudden and unexpected death proved another reminder to seize each and every moment I can, as soon as I can. Don’t journey to your reward; create a journey of rewards.
5) The fact that someone else loves you doesn’t rescue you from the project of loving yourself.” – Sahaj Kohli
As some of the previous lessons have pointed out, this year brought with it a confidence and contentment I’d never known. Then, in October, I thought I’d taken it to a new level: I brought a boy home with me.
It wasn’t just any boy; and in fact, the reason I’d never brought one home wasn’t because I didn’t have opportunities, but because I didn’t think any of them had staying power. This one did; and for the first time I got to proudly introduce someone to family members as my “boyfriend.” How great to finally put all their critiques about “finding a guy” to rest; how great to put some of my own securities about how people saw me to rest — everyone had to think I was complete now, right?
A funny thing happened midway through the visit. My feelings about this guy didn’t change at all, and, not surprisingly, he was welcomed with open and excited arms by everyone we met. Yet it occurred to me “I’m the exact same person I’ve always been, so if people are looking at me as being better because I have a boyfriend… they’re wrong.” Unfortunately our relationship didn’t last much longer after that visit, but my sense finally that I didn’t need anything — or anyone — else to feel appreciated, did.
One of the first heartbreaking thoughts after my dad passed away was that I’d lost one of my biggest cheerleaders, the one who always said to me “who cares what other people think, you’re on your own timeline, you’ll find someone when you’re ready and it will be someone who deserves you, etc….” For the first time this year I’ve finally adapted his voice to my own thoughts, fighting off not only others judgments, but most importantly, my internal ones.
We think pain’s owed apologies and then it will stop, truth be told it doesn’t matter if we’re sorry or not; Freedom comes when we surrender to the sound, of mercy and your grace, Father send your angels down.” – Tenth Avenue North, Losing
I’d debated when to publish these lessons; I’d originally intended them to be another year-end post like 2012 and 2013. When New Year’s came and went, the idea popped up to blog for my 31st birthday 10 days later. Yet as I began to think about how I wanted to commemorate my father on his birthday, I realized so many of these lessons I had to relay from these past 12 months have to do with the things I’ve learned from him.
Last year, that “Karmic Year” was filled with analysis. I searched for signs, signals, and answers, and for the most part, I found them–even when the answer was simply to “let it be.” This year hasn’t contained searches, and besides those visits to a therapist, not a whole lot of analysis. Instead, the overall theme has just been living; letting go; surrendering to my life and taking in each and every new opportunity presented. Rather than teach me new lessons, this approach has allowed me to develop a much deeper understanding of some of life’s most important lessons, and to listen closer to that special voice which continues to guide me.
During one of my first at-home meditations as a part of my mindfulness classes I took last April, I found myself reduced to tears, overwhelmed with remaining grief over my dad’s death. The teacher had said this was normal, that allowing the mind to relax could bring up strong emotions you may have been holding in. When I mentioned to her what had happened later on, she suggested I picture my dad with me during my meditations. Several months later, that thought has carried on, even into my yoga practice, where I often imagine my dad’s presence during our cool-down meditation (Shavasana). There are no longer tears; rather, just a comfort during those deep breaths of relaxation that he is still very much with me on this journey through life.
Happy birthday, Dad, I love you and wish more than anything I could wrap my arms around you, but just like the past 24 months, I can still feel your arms wrapped around me.
Additional Note: If you’ve ever lost a parent or someone close to you, listen to the song that opens this post “Below My Feet.” It has served as a great comfort in the days just after, and now, even in the years after, in how to keep moving forward, slowly but surely.