When my husband and I first started dating and getting to know each other, we had many conversations that sounded a lot like a game of Twenty Questions. What is your favorite movie? Who is your favorite author? If you could interview anyone, who would that be and what question would you ask? What was your favorite year in your life so far?
No one had ever asked me that last question before. I was actually stunned by the question and I had to think for a long time before I had my answer. And as it turned out, the answer was that year, 2004.
Even though I turned 42 that year, it was the first year that I felt truly grown up and in control of my life. In March of that year, after three years of legal maneuvers and more stress headaches than I could count, my first marriage was officially decreed done. My four girls and I had gotten out alive! I was the sole owner of my house and two-plus acres of land. I had negotiated a reasonable loan agreement on a new car. My oldest daughter was graduating from high school and soon going to college. In May, I ordered a dump truck with 10 yards of black dirt (trust me, that’s a lot of dirt!) and I spread it, one shovel at a time, across the front yard. The lawn never looked so good (and I’ve never had such strong arm muscles since). At the end of June, I picked up a lucrative freelance editing job that promised food on the table, at least for a few months. And in August I began to think there was a chance I might be able to love someone again. In September I interviewed for my “dream job” and in October I learned I got it! A week before I started my new job, I won an award that honored me as the outstanding elected official of the year for my state. I had the world by a string!
And so it was on Thanksgiving Day, 2004, when asked what had been my favorite year, I realized I was living it.
Fast forward to November, 2013, nine years later. I was feeling depressed and needed a way to focus on my blessings. I put up a blank poster on the door of our kitchen pantry asking everyone to write down something they were thankful for. And sadly, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to write down. I stared at the blank poster for a minute, then walked away. I told myself that something would come to mind. I just needed to not think so hard about it.
That poster stayed blank for the rest of that day and evening. As I went to the pantry the next morning to get some cereal for breakfast, there it was. Stark and white. Surely others had seen it, but no one had written anything down. And that thought frightened me even more! What if everyone else in the house was just as depressed as me and not one of us could come up with something to be thankful for? Suddenly I felt the weight of the world on me. I had to put something down on that poster right then and there.
I grabbed a marker and I wrote, “someone emptying the dishwasher.” Ha! How lame is that? I asked myself. Worse, it was written in marker and I couldn’t erase it. Even worse, it was a lie! I was the only one who ever emptied the dishwasher. I knew I would be thankful if someone else emptied it but no one ever had. And now I had a boldfaced lie in black on white staring at me. What the hell… So I added another lie. Underneath my other words I wrote, “cleaning the kitchen” and “cooking a meal for all of us.” I figured I could see them as wishes. Wishes are blessings—when wishes come true. I threw the marker on the counter and took my cereal to the study to eat my breakfast without the poster to look at.
The rest of that day I was in a funk. I was mad at myself for taking something as pure as “counting your blessings” and filling it with sinful lies. I spiraled down into the dark depths and reached a point where I had to ask myself, “How did I get here?” And a little while later, “How do I get out of here?”
And so it was, I understood I felt trapped and needed to find a way back to 2004, back to those incredible feelings of being in control, of knowing the answers, and of visualizing my destiny.
It wasn’t that I wanted to go back in time, be 42 again, a single mom. It was none of that. What I wanted back were the feelings I had had then—confidence, hope, satisfaction, pride. There wasn’t an ounce of them left inside of me. And I had no clue how to create them again. The only feelings I knew were resentment, frustration, depression.
At night I would sink down into a hot bath and sob. Exhausted I would fall into bed and sleep, only to wake a few hours later. I’d throw myself out of bed and sneak through the house in the wee hours, reading a book or surfing the Web. After a few hours I’d finally be tired again, and I’d climb back into bed for one more hour before my alarm woke me up to get ready for work. And the next day I’d go through the pathetic cycle again.
The weekend before Thanksgiving weekend, there was a spontaneous gathering of all four of my daughters at our house. Truly, it just happened. No one had planned ahead. In fact, I don’t think they had communicated with each other to know that they were all coming home for the weekend. But each was brought home for a reason. And it turned out to be a massive dose of medicine for my soul. For varied reasons, each daughter was home solo, without her spouse or significant other. We sat around the kitchen table just as we had when I was a single mom in 2004. We laughed, we cried, we debated, we laughed some more. My very wise husband sat off to the side in the livingroom, one eye on the TV and all ears on our conversations.
I didn’t realize in that moment that I was being healed. It wasn’t until the weekend had passed and I returned to work. Halfway through that first morning I realized I had more energy than usual and more patience to deal with the strong and challenging personalities that pass by my desk every day. But the true awareness came that night when I returned home and stepped up to the kitchen pantry to grab some things to make supper. I saw that poster with all its white space and a handful of blessings flooded my head. Four beautiful daughters of mine. Healthy, each one. Two adorable grandchilden. A job. Health insurance. A loving husband. I grabbed that marker and started writing. The last entry I wrote was “Joy in my heart.”
As I write this, I cannot help but wonder if the saints and angels orchestrated that spontaneous gathering of my daughters. Indeed it was the foundation for building the bridge back to the person I want to be. Slowly I’ve added a board, then another, and another. It’s a long way over to the other side so I still have a lot more boards to lay down. But I’ve started the building. I’ve taken the first step. So long as I can dredge up the strength to get out of bed each morning and take a breath, then I can put one foot in front of the other. Some days laying down another board is easy; other days, no boards get layed. I’m learning to accept the fact that just making my way from my bed in the morning to cycle back to it at night is an achievement. Baby steps. Small boards. Building a bridge back to confidence, satisfaction, pride, hope.