Searching for Words, Finding Hope

I’ve lost them, my words.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I know where they are. They’re in my head, racing around at a dizzying pace.

They spend the day building up momentum for the seemingly endless night ahead- unleashing with a force that is as deafening as it is despotic.

And they’re tired and pissed and terrified that they’ll be trapped in there forever.

As am I.

I first blamed their retreat on the holidays. Maybe I was just depressed. Or maybe it was because I was editing other people’s words all day and I didn’t have the energy to come up with my own.

Or maybe I was actually never a writer at all. Maybe it was just a phase or a lifeline to keep me from drifting off to a point from which I couldn’t return.

I tried to exercise patience. I decided, if I couldn’t write, I would spend my time learning how to write instead.

Terrible idea. Everything I read only confirmed it: I have no idea what I’m doing.

Technique, imagery, character development, piecing together a plot? Yeah, I haven’t really been doing any of that. I’ve just been trying to keep my protagonist from falling apart.

Although I did discover that I at least have the five essential elements of ‘a story’ in place: all the characters are ready to go, I have an interesting mix of settings to work with, my plot is established, and there’s most definitely a conflict… in desperate need of a resolution.

It’s that last one, however, the resolution part, that’s the problem. I was sure this whole mess would be resolved by now. Or at least enough of it that any real threat of another maelstrom taking me down was minimal.

But it’s been a year. And things are still so fucking messy. And it still feels bizarre to laugh. And making it through the day without fighting back tears at some point feels equally bizarre.

I push through it. I make sure to smile and do what it takes to distract everyone from noticing what feels like a gaping hole in my chest. But I’m tired, and now, it seems even my words are failing me.

I do, of course, have good days, quite a few in fact. But when they happen, I find myself looking over my shoulder, waiting for disappointment to catch back up with me. It seems I can’t keep ahead of it. And for the first time in my life, I’m wondering if I ever will.

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But it finally hit me last night, why they’ve been trapped. I was walking home, mad at myself for forgetting my gloves and wishing I could better embrace this whole ‘no car’ thing. I was just about to dart across the street to beat the approaching cars when something made me stop.

I turned around to retrace my steps and breathed in as deeply as I could, feeling the cold air scraping against my lungs. But nothing.

I realized how ridiculous it was and turned around to head home, then stopped again. There it was.

The smell of orange blossoms.

I closed my eyes.

and felt the uneven cobblestone beneath my feetI gathered up the bottom of my dress to better navigate my way through the crowd, seizing every opportunity to forge ahead without slamming into one of the orange trees lining the street. Flamenco music spilled out of every bar- all packed with locals sipping on manzanilla as they made their way to Feria.

An old man stopped, smiled and tipped his hat as I walked by. His words- infused with the sweet smell of orange blossoms- trailed behind me…

“Ahh, las maravillas de Sevilla’.   (Ah, the wonders of Sevilla)

Adorable+kids+dressed+in+flamenco+dresses+-+Feria+De+Abril,+Seville

I looked around for the source, tilting my head back to study the tree sprawled out above me. Fluorescent lights clung to its thin, rigid branches, turning them an ashen shade of brown that rendered any sign of life impossible.

Reality set back in and the only thing I could smell fumes coming from the cars behind me. The relentless heaviness that’s been lodged in my chest resumed its place, extinguishing any trace of what had taken me back to a time when desperation seemed impossible.

So this is why I’ve lost my words. Not because a resolution hasn’t surfaced yet, but because I’m starting to believe one never will. I’m starting to lose hope.

When I smelled the scent of orange blossoms, when I thought back to Sevilla, I got the same feeling I do when I see the first tiny buds appear on the trees after a long winter. Or when I’m walking down the street in a far-off country- foreign words, enchanting music and exotic smells swirling around me. Or when I see the person I love light up when I walk in the room.

Those moments when I want to take everything in all at once, feel it as deeply as I can, and savor the magic of it all.

But going to Spain isn’t an option right now and it feels like it never will be. And green is nowhere to be seen. And the thought of ever falling in love again feels impossible.

Hope is powerful. As opposed to its dark cousin, despair, which paralyzes us, hope energizes and mobilizes us. Beyond that, hope affects those around us, lifting them as well as us.
~ Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D.

The thing is, I don’t write just for me. And I had convinced myself when I got to the other side of this, I could maybe be a source of hope for those who had lost it.

But that was when still had hope, when I still truly believed all that would remain at this point would be a scar- a substantial one to be sure- but the pain would be a distant memory.

Despair is not what I thought would be commanding my thoughts, keeping me up at night and stealing my words. And despair is not what I want to elicit with my words.

I waited for a break in the traffic and darted across the street, landing on the patch of grass underneath my favorite tree.

He had been the highlight of my walk in the fall, greeting me each morning with a new display of colors that were more enchanting than the day before. But now he was stripped bare. He looked cold and lifeless. He looked desperate.

This morning I made it a point to stop again and give him the benefit of daylight.

He didn’t look lifeless at all. He looked strong and peaceful.

And I realized, he isn’t bare. He’s covered in leaves that are growing just beneath the surface, building up the momentum they need to unleash with a force that will allow them to flourish.

They are there and have been all along, full of hope and wonder. I just can’t see them yet…but they are there.

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“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.” ~ Maya Angelou

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Sometimes the Greatest Gift we can Give is to Receive

Since my words still elude me, I thought I’d share something I wrote a year ago today. It still holds true…and I seem to need the reminder myself of late.

~

In the Service of Others

“Everyone can be great…because anybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”   -Martin Luther King Jr.

In keeping with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I thought I’d write a tribute to what I believe his legacy stood for- his steadfast commitment to fighting for human rights, justice, and equality through nonviolent activism on a scale that had never been done before in the U.S. He was driven to serve others, to lift up those who didn’t have the courage or capacity to raise their voices.

I believe this to be the underlying motivation for most people who achieve success in their endeavors: to make a difference in the lives of others- whether that be their children, co-workers, neighbors, or complete strangers. I think this is why most change-makers accomplish what has never been done before. They ultimately want to help improve the lives of others in whatever capacity their gifts and talents allow them to.

This might sound naïve. I know there are those hungry for power or fame or other self-serving purposes. We all deserve to experience joy and success in addition to fulfillment from helping others. But I think most who achieve success (whether that success is on a smaller scale or one that impacts millions) are driven by their inherent goodness and compassion for others.

I was struck today when my young friend who works in my complex declared, without hesitation, that all people suck. “I don’t suck!”, I reminded him. “No, not you, and there are a few others, but for the most part, people suck. Once you accept this, you will quit being disappointed by people.”

I wanted to stay and argue with him, to try to change his mind, but a customer came in, so I quietly made my exit, shooting him an ‘I’ll deal with you later‘ look.

I’ve thought about our conversation all day. I don’t think he really believes that. He has always gone out of his way to help me when I needed it…which has been a lot over the past 6 months. And I don’t think it’s because it’s me. I think he would do that for anyone precisely because he does believe people are good, and he does want to make their day better.

I’ve been the recipient of random kindness from complete strangers more times than I can remember. People in every country I’ve traveled to have helped me out of various predicaments I’ve gotten myself into- from spending the day showing me the highlights of their city (Siena, Italy), to driving out of their way to get me where I need to go (I have a tendency to get turned around at times), to fixing me a warm meal and giving me a place to stay when I got stranded in the pouring rain on a bike trek. (Northern Ireland).

I know a big part of being the recipient of such kindness is because I do my best to extend the same when I can, which seems to be apparent. I’m usually the random person people select out of a crowd when they’re in need of directions (which is both comical and hazardous) or want someone to sign their petition or are hungry or need someone to catch them as they stumble down the stairs. And it makes me happy to help.

The point of this is just an effort to remind you (and myself) to ask for help. Most people really do love the opportunity to help someone, to feel like they are making a difference in someone’s life. When we ask for help, we are giving those who are helping us something invaluable. We’re giving them an opportunity to experience the joy and fulfillment of making someone’s day better, even if it’s in the smallest way.

I recently experienced this with one of my closest friends. She invited me over because she knew I needed a friend in the worst way. We settled into her couch, and I gave her the nutshell version of the nightmare I had been going through. She got tears in her eyes and told me how strong and courageous she thought I was.

Yes, I needed to hear that, but it made me stop talking. This girl had been through most people’s worst nightmare, and she had handled it with such grace and resilience.

She’s one of the most upbeat, positive people I know and doesn’t talk about things that might make people sad. I knew she hadn’t talked about what happened to her as much as she needed to, so I asked her to tell me about it.

She took me through that day, described what the lighting looked like when she found him, the thoughts that went through her head, what she said out loud, what she did immediately after. And she cried and I cried and we laughed and cried some more.

It was a conversation that most of her friends most likely had avoided because it is uncomfortable and sad and terrible. But I know from experience, we desperately want and need someone to ask those questions. Otherwise, the pain just festers inside and continues to haunt us.

I went to sleep that night feeling the closest to happy I’d felt for months. I helped one of the people I love most release a little bit more of her pain. At least I hope I did. She unknowingly gave me something more valuable than a shoulder to cry on. She gave me the gift of letting me help her.

So no, I don’t think all people suck. I think most are kind and compassionate and generous. Maybe some have difficulty giving of themselves, but deep down, I think most truly do want to.

I think Martin Luther King Jr. believed this, too. I think he believed in the inherent good in people. That’s why he had the impact he did; he made people want to give back, to take action to make the world a more peaceful place.

Yes, he showed us the power of serving others, of giving people who feel powerless a voice and hope and a way to fight for what they deserve with love and peace, instead of with fear and hatred.

But he also empowered people in the most effective way we can; he gave them the opportunity to make a contribution, to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.

This, the capacity to help others- to love and serve- and the courage to ask others for help- to receive and express gratitude- this is humanity at its best. This is why we’re here.

 

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Songs from the Final Chapter: Ever After…

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A Gypsy’s Tale: Ever After

I keep seeing the posts coming in: wishes well for the year ahead or blessings counted for the one that passed…or heartbreaking accounts of why we so desperately want to place 2017 firmly in the past.

I tried to write one of these, all three versions. But nothing. It seems I’ve lost my words.  I’m not sure why. I wish I could get them back or out or whatever needs to happen. But they also seem to be stuck firmly in the past at the present moment.

So for now, I’ll steal more words from others who have fed my soul… and saved it at times.

But this one you’ll like. It’s for the future I have to look forward to and the gift of the present I have to get there.