The darkest stretches of this journey have been punctuated by bright beacons of light. They offer a warmly comforting glow. Sometimes they illuminate a place where I can rest my heart, such as the listening ear of a compassionate friend. Sometimes they are as blinding as the stage lights at a concert, a sacred space where music heals and lightens the burdens I carry. But eventually, time marches on and they start to dim until they are nothing but the smoky remnants of an extinguished flame. Then it’s time for me to march on, too.
It’s good to reflect on how far we’ve come. Where our journey has taken us. Having made it this far is proof we can make it through another day, another week, another month, another year.
Last night I sat down with some friends to talk about how I’m doing. And as I openly shared my honest truth – that I’m surviving fabulously and even happy, but always struggling – I realized how strong I really am. The word “strong” gets thrown around a lot, and its meaning is fluid. For people (like me) who feel like they’re constantly scraping the bottom of their barrel, “strong” is never a word we would use to describe ourselves. Truly, by tomorrow I might not feel strong at all.
But when I look back at the mountains I’ve climbed, and the person I used to be, I see nothing but strength.
As I proudly showed pictures of Wesley, and told them my son’s short life and how beautiful he was, the old me still inside beneath layers of change was shocked into silence. This is the way it goes any time I decide to have courage and be bold, which, in the last few years, has been happening more often with less clumsiness, and more confidence. It feels good to be at peace with myself, with who I am and what has happened to me. For me, I have found that peace is synonymous with healing. It doesn’t mean I hurt less. If anything, it means I have learned to lean in to the hurt, to feel the pain and still have inner peace at the center of my core being.
There, in the center of my heart of hearts, is where I carry my own light. And the same grief that tore me to pieces has somehow stitched me up with a gold and glistening thread of divine quality, a material that is nearly unbreakable in a physical way and indestructible in a spiritual one.
This is what it means to be strong, and this is what I find when I look in the mirror of grief and loss. This shiny material is stitched through my whole being, and made me capable of doing things I thought I couldn’t do.
Never is this most clearly manifested in my sudden and surprising desire and ability to help others dealing with loss, specifically infant loss. Once unable to even discuss my own feelings, now I help others process their own. And as I’ve been able to do this, I find myself wanting to go beyond the people that I know personally and lead a group in some way, the details of which I am still exploring. Regardless, this strength to help others is what drives me to offer help in any way I can, to anyone who needs it, and I am excited to explore this new facet of Who I’ve Become.
Instead of dreading another year without Wesley, I’m stretching forward to the coming days and months where I can use the lessons his absence has taught me to be a source of encouragement and strength to others, to be a good friend and a great mom and a pillar of faith in my community. That’s not to say I won’t fail, but I hope the time between falling down and getting back up is less, and that the fall is softened by being kinder to myself with a more accurate assessment of my worth.
That’s the beauty of the journey, that we can look back and see how far we’ve come and see our worth stretched over miles and miles of darkness, an immeasurable brilliance that burns long after the lights go out.
So as I carve another notch for another year on this road, I tell myself I’m one year stronger, one year wiser, one year closer to the finish line. If you told me at the beginning I would have come this far, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend the part of the journey that is my reality now. But that’s not really the point. Sometimes the destination we have in our mind is blurry, unfocused, unrealized. But we keep moving anyway. We may struggle to cover a few inches on some days, while other days we can run miles, but any distance is good enough. Any distance is evidence of the strength we already have. The strength is in the struggle.
While I don’t really have any concrete goals for 2016 (other than The Same Goal I’ve Had Forever, aka ‘finish your book’), my plans for this year are more abstract and forgiving and less to do with me at all. Help others. Listen more. Show hospitality. Practice gratitude. Be empathetic. Show compassion. Be courageous on behalf of someone else.
After all, no one will remember whether or not I lost X amount of pounds, or climbed Mt. Everest, or finally learned how to fold a fitted a sheet.
But people will always remember how you treat them. Long after you are gone, your light still shines within them.