Every now and then, something happens that gives me pause to consider my life and where I'm at in the grand scheme of things. Yesterday, my newly published book arrived--100 copies of that book arrived, actually. And for a writer, I'm not sure there is a greater thrill than holding your book in your hands for the first time. It's heady stuff. In this case, that 500-plus-page book is the result of a year's worth of labor. So of course, I can't help but think back over the year.
And what a year it's been.
My life has been on ongoing series of transitions in the recent past. I left a 12-year relationship with the father of my daughters. It was a painful, gut-wrenching decision, one I had been struggling with for years. We had never married, but that fact didn't make the parting of ways any less difficult for us or our children. We had bought a house together, lost a son, built a life with four kids. Dismantling that life was not something I took lightly. Demanding something more, something better, for myself and those children required me to take a leap of faith. I knew I was making things more difficult on one level in the here and now in hopes of creating a brighter, more positive future for all involved.
I am fortunate--so incredibly blessed--to have four kids who know they occupy the first slots on my list of priorities. They are, in part, why I remained in the situation I was in for so long, and they are largely the reason I finally chose to leave it. Although tears were shed and anger brewed, they each knew, at the end of the day, that our life together was not ending, but rather shifting. Change was happening on several fronts this past spring, and we would face those changes as we always have: side-by-side.
In addition to my split from Wes, my son Max graduated high school. That last year of school was a tug of war for him, I think, internally and externally. I watched as he made choices--nothing major, but still--I wish I could have kept him from making on the one hand. But I felt I needed to trust that all the years I had dedicated to him would have some positive influence. And I believe they did. Max has repeatedly proven to me that he is a person of integrity and principle. We may not always agree--and frequently don't--but that is not necessary for me to love and admire him.
Still, watching him pull away and knowing he was doing exactly what he needed to do was not easy for me. Max and I have shared a strong bond, and I had to let that bond guide me as I saw him less and missed him more.
As if high school graduation wasn't enough, he had the audacity to go off to college. Now he lives in Boulder, and I see him more than I dared hope I might. We text regularly, and sometimes I chat with him on Facebook. He is in my heart constantly, along with his brother and sisters. But when I spend time with him now, it is clear he has an "other" life. That is, other from my own. And I'm okay with that.
All the while these struggles of the heart and soul were taking place, I was crafting a book. This wasn't just any book; it was one man's dream to see this story in print. He dedicated 15 years of his life to uncovering the story of American pioneer Perry A. Burgess, and he trusted me to make that adventurous tale come to life. Some days it took all I had to sit in front of the computer and immerse myself in Perry's experience. My emotional life was in turmoil as sadness and resentment crept into the corners of my solitude. I had no peace. Most of the time, it took all I had to remember to just breathe. Ugh.
And yet writing that story--researching the details and events of years gone by--breathed wonder into my life. There were days when time literally just disappeared as I felt myself being transported to a bygone era, one that was not influenced by technology or even motorized transportation. It was an era of great hardship and hope, persecution and loss. My spirit was buoyed by the determination and can-do attitude of the men I was writing about. In the end, as I typed the final word of the final paragraph of the final chapter, I knew that this writing assignment had been a major gift, its timing a perfect example of mystical synchronicity.
Having lived nearly 46 years, I am wise enough to understand that gifts come to us when we least expect them. And I've had enough experience with grief to know that sometimes, it clears the way for joy to grow. And joy is what I have found in someone I once knew who never completely let go of the idea of me.
After having made the decision to leave my relationship as 2009 became 2010, I got a phone call from an old friend, someone I had dated briefly in high school. Rick was charming, handsome, athletic back when I knew him. He came from a wonderful, loving family who welcomed me into their home and lives. But circumstances dictated the course my life would take, and I left the area soon after getting to know them all.
Twenty-eight years later, the phone rings and I find myself in a 2-hour conversation that leaves me smiling and feeling, well, happy. In the midst of the tempest that was my life at the time, there blossomed a seed of pure happiness at having reconnected with someone who had once meant something to me. As I thought about the details of that first butterflies-in-the-stomach-inducing phone call after hanging up, I realized Rick had become the kind of person--the kind of man--I wasn't sure really existed. He laid bare his soul in that conversation by willingly talking not only of his successes but also his failures. He made no excuses for his regrets but clearly had great expectations for a fulfilling future. He confided in me things he'd shared with no one else in his life...somehow trusting me not only to keep those secrets, but to understand. I did, and I do.
Since that phone call, Rick and I have managed to get together as regularly as two people who live across the country from one another can. Between us, we have 8 children between the ages of 6 and 18. We come from vastly different lifestyles: his has been one of luxury while mine has been one of yard sales and coupons. His kids attend private schools while mine face the wilds of public education. He votes Republican and I just have to forgive him for that.
It's easy to do, because Rick has awakened in my soul a peace I never imagined I would know in this lifetime. Somehow, he knows my heart so well that he often gives voice to thoughts and feelings before I get a word out. He talks to me--and truly listens--and sees me for the person I am. Being with him is at once exhilarating and comforting. He reflects to me a piece of myself I never knew existed. When I tell him I love him, it is with a depth and a knowing that I have never before experienced. And when one of my children says she loves him because she likes how he respects me, well, my heart soars to remarkable heights. Especially in light of the fact that he considers my own four kids "a bonus."
And so I am reminded that sometimes, the best things in life--the gifts--are born of those most difficult moments, those times when we forge ahead even as we really just want to curl up into the fetal position and block out the pain. Every now and then, perhaps we are rewarded when we force ourselves to push past settling for less simply because it is familiar and dare to demand something more because we deserve it. There is no growth without risk, and even if the risk does not pan out the way we thought it would, being able to say "I tried" makes it all worth it.
And sometimes, as this past year has shown me, letting go of what makes you sad makes room for unmitigated hope to find you.