Moving to a new town has left me feeling a bit like a foreigner in these beginning months of transition. I’m the newbie overwhelmed by the slight cultural differences I pick up on every single day from what people wear to how people engage or don’t engage around here. I’m the annoyingly slow driver trying to figure out where I’m going and how to get there because these streets are not the ones I’ve known most of my life. I’m the mama who has to ask a hundred questions about a hundred different things going on at the kids’ schools because we haven’t been a part of this community for years. It’s exhausting for this gal right here (yes, my two thumbs were just pointing toward my cheesy self).
The truth is, trying new things and putting myself out there has always been a struggle. That may sound shocking to some who know of my family adventures to Uganda and my seeker-tendencies that have led to varying vocational paths requiring substantial risk and change. The only explanation I can offer is that when there is a clear and undeniable intuitive sense that a calling is connected to some kind of divine energy, I know well enough to follow that curiosity even if I think it may lead to an anxiety-induced heart attack and do me in for good. Somehow that sense of the Divine compels me enough to move in spite of my own fears and discomforts.
The anxiety that has accompanied this new adventure hasn’t been the paralyzing kind I have known with previous out-of-my-small-comfort-zone experiences. It’s more of a gut-punching every morning reminder that each day continues to require courage. It takes courage to take up space in this world with billions of human beings walking around all over the place. It takes courage to decide that I can make this town, this neighborhood, and this community the place I belong. It takes courage to determine that you can make spaces or places or relationships in this world your home simply because your story has led you there. It takes courage…but it also takes hope. Why muster up the courage to show up day after day if there isn’t first the hope that it even matters?
I am banking on lots of hope these days. I hope that this move wasn’t just a random and unnecessary re-routing. I hope that the lessons we are all learning in this experience mark us for good. I hope that if I keep showing up every day, mustering the courage to face new things and new faces, that my showing up isn’t just for me – that it’s also for the ways I will mark the world around me. I hope that is true for all of us – that our stories matter in this world – that what the world needs is simply for everyone to really just show up every darn day.
Immediately after I sent all but the toddler off on their first day of school with that giant smooch they secretly love but pretend to loathe, I felt a wave of emotion that I instinctively knew I’d need to spend the day unfolding. This was not a surprise arrival. I knew this emotional release was inevitable months ago when we first discovered that life as we knew it would be dramatically shifting in a nanosecond. Look at me trying to sound witty and smart. Confession: I don’t really know what a nanoseconds is, but it sounds super fast, so I’m sticking with it. You see, nanosecond life-shifts by nature don’t allow the time and space to dig into deeper levels of the emotional and psychological processing of our experiences. But emotional data left unprocessed is persistent and perpetually attempts to make its way to the surface. I’ve learned at this point in life that it is much kinder to myself (and SO MUCH kinder to any and all creatures who come in contact with me) to greet the (re)surfacing of emotions with arms wide open. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few days – holding space for all that needed to surface.
Perhaps I should back up and catch all of you up just a bit. At the very beginning of our summer, the time of year that I most look forward to for a host of reasons that do not include an affinity for the warmer weather, we discovered that the path my husband’s career was headed down was a dead end and we were in desperate need for some re-routing. Within less than a week’s time, the re-routing we were searching for came clearly into view, but like most experiences in life, it possessed a duffel bag’s worth of pros and cons. Greater financial freedom and advancement in Brian’s career meant another relocation for our gang of six and an ending of sorts for my five year old private therapy practice.
Our summer consisted of selling our house, purging through and packing up our belongings, finding a new place to live and trying to wrap all of our minds around this sudden and unexpected disruption and uprooting of our lives. I knew that the real process of grief likely wouldn’t occur until we had moved through all of the steps involved with the relocation.
By the end of August, the initial relocation process was complete: I finished unpacking and getting everyone situated in their new space, completed and submitted a gazillion forms to process new school enrollment for each of the big girls and registered them for a year’s worth of classes, did all the back-to-school shopping madness, and took care of haircuts all while distributing a multitude of hugs and wiping away many tears as they each continue to grieve and accept this new reality. So there I was, standing at the front door of our temporary home (we’re renting to buy ourselves sometime to figure out where we want to plant our roots) watching each of my terrified yet courageous daughters walk TOWARD their next chapters. And I just knew it was time for me to find enough courage to face mine as well.
Last weekend, we took advantage of the unseasonably gorgeous weather in Seattle and went on our first of 50 City Walks in Seattle. On one of our many garage sale exhibitions this summer, we discovered a box of cards that invites you to explore undiscovered gems hidden in neighborhoods and parks of the city. As master geo-cachers, the summons to find hidden treasure was an offer we couldn’t turn down (not to mention the box of cards was about $.50 – another reason not to refuse).
So, after Peter’s early soccer game, we laced on our walking shoes and schlepped up some snacks and were off to discover what nuggets Schmitz Preserve Park had to offer.
Schmitz Preserve is the city’s largest old-growth forest. 53-acres of lusciousness is neatly tucked away inconspicuously near the popular Alki Beach in West Seattle. We accurately followed the map to our destination. However, surprisingly, houses surround the park on all sides, so we missed the simple entrance and had to be redirected to the stone gates that marked the trailhead. Once we confirmed that we were in the right place, we headed off on our adventure under a canopy of changing multi-colored leaves and on top of a carpet of thick green moss and ferns.
One step past the gate and you see giant trees toppled over ravines and roots the size of your thigh twisted and mangled sprouting new saplings. Tree limbs that were seemingly on a trip down to the ground have made U-turns and are headed vertical once again. Bases of trees have been uprooted and their diameter is wide enough to be a circular dining room table set for eight. Having lived in the arid climate of Colorado most of my life, I am still perpetually shocked at the verdant environment I now call home.
We walked along a prepared path admiring the Douglas firs and red cedars. It was only a few minutes before the sounds of the city disappeared altogether. What remained was the gentle whirl of a small creek that ran through the middle of the forest. Overlooking a ravine, we saw that the water was only about 10 feet down. But the slope was steep and wet, and having just started, we weren’t interested in getting muddied up yet. We decided to stay on high ground until we came to a giant tree that had fallen across the gulch providing a bridge across the bubbling brook. With a trunk at least 2 feet wide and covered in thick green moss, it seemed like a comfortable byway to the other side.
The kids and I immediately hopped on the tree and suggested that we use it to cross over the water, stay dry, and explore the other side of the forest. Karl has no love of high things and suggested we could go on ahead and he would find another way around. So, Lucy and Peter followed me onto the trunk and together we walked until we got just past the ledge of the trail and were above the chasm. There, I quickly discovered there were no other trees on which to lean or branches on which to hold. My bravado swiftly escaped me when I realized I was standing over a 15-foot drop to a very shallow body of water. There, a terrifyingly awesome feeling flitted in my belly. Something akin to fear had me insist that we all back up slowly and get off the “bridge.”
Once my young were back on land, safe from danger, I exclaimed, “It’s so scary! But…I want to make it all the way across!” Karl, naturally, shook his head and asked, “Why?” I replied, “Because I love that feeling. I want to have it again!” That terrifyingly awesome feeling I had in my belly was unfamiliar. I don’t regularly practice taking risks, seeking danger or chasing thrills. Sure, I’ve had my raucous days of skinny dipping, cow-tipping, TP-ing, and Truth or Daring. I’ve even been skydiving! I’m not immune to wanting adventure. But, I don’t make it a part of my everyday life. And I miss it. What amuses me most is that I knew that feeling – it wasn’t entirely foreign. It had just been a long time since I had felt its presence and I forgot how exhilarating it is. And like rekindling a friendship after a long separation, it takes a moment to get past the unfamiliar before remembering how wonderful it used to be and is again.
After some hesitation, I decided I would cross that moss covered tree trunk bridge to get to the other side. I chose to engage that part of myself that had long been forgotten and invite the exhilaration of fear to be a part of my life once again. With Karl still shaking his head and my kids squealing in anticipation, eager to see their mom do what they themselves were longing to do, I set one foot in front of the other and with great commitment and concentration began the gymnastic act that was an attempt to cross a slippery balance beam made up of bark and bristle…
…and their webs. Oh, their webs!
In the summer, I like to work outside at my back yard patio table. The large umbrella keeps me cool in its shade on the rare occasion I get too hot under Seattle’s inconspicuous sun. However, in the last couple of weeks, finding a space to place my computer on that table has been like trying to find a Manhattan apartment for rent that doesn’t cost an entire month’s paycheck. Spiders are everywhere. They are either resting in the center of their elaborate sticky orbits, or hanging from transparent threads, floating in the wind waiting for the perfect moment to perch on one of the four chairs that encircle the table. They have created a labyrinth of netting that corners off nearly every exit from my backyard. Lest you think I exaggerate, let me illustrate that which could not be fabricated.
The other day, the kids and I drove to Target. I am relatively sure that on the way there I practiced proper driving procedures and looked in all of my mirrors at some point during the car ride and unremarkably didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. And yet, after our purchase of batteries and breakfast cereal, we got back into the car and noticed a fully complete spider web covering the passenger-side mirror with an eight-legged friend resting comfortably right in the middle. I am certainly not an entomologist, but have lived long enough to know that it takes some time for a spider to build its web. And unlike many, many visits to Target, this time was for an exact purpose that didn’t involve spending unnecessary minutes browsing the Dollar Spot. In other words, we were not in the store long enough for a spider to infiltrate our automobile, and sign a lease to craft its intricate home in that prime real estate local.
So, I started the car and as we drove out of the parking lot, we all watched (I took mere glances) when we got on the road as the spider fled its safe center and traveled up and around to the back of the mirror where it would be safe from the wind cavalierly grabbing its micro-weighted body and tossing it on the highway for road kill. When we arrived at home, and were securely parked in the driveway, the spider came out from behind that mirror and returned to its safe center, perhaps to pray and thank the eight-legged gods for sparing his life. That was a week and many long drives ago. And yet, he remains.
There is something to a spider’s tenacity that keeps me from destroying the result of its labor. My respect for them keeps me from swiping their gummy strands, as sophisticated as they may be, and putting an end to the ninja moves required to ensure my safety from their ever-present threat of surprise and terror. What is more remarkable is that when I was a child I was absolutely terrified of spiders. I would scream at the top of my lungs in the middle of the night begging my father to come in and kill the creature that threatened my very existence. Yet, now, we live together, not exactly harmoniously (I would like to wander out to my back yard patio table and work comfortably without having to stealthily navigate the ropes course that awaits), but in solidarity. The spider will only be here for a few more weeks. He will flee from my umbrella when the cooler weather returns. But in the meantime, I will honor his hard work by finding another place to do my own.
This vignette, like the mysterious spider, might have a greater purpose than to simply amuse. If we can hear every story, no matter how seemingly insignificant, as a reflection of its author, we can know someone more deeply than we imagined. Some questions to ponder might be: There are a hundred different stories to tell, why did she pick this one? What can be known about a person who won’t kill spiders? Why does she value hard work so much? Can she not tolerate even the suffering of an eight-legged nuisance? Does that make her tender, or cowardly? Does she imagine she is less worthy than someone who does all the hard work? Does she diminish the work that she does herself? How does her treatment of spiders translate to people? Does she make the same sacrifices for others?
In my constant effort to increase self-awareness, I am curious about these questions for my own growth. Finding the answer to even one of them gets me one step closer to knowing and understanding myself. When we search for answers to the same kinds of questions about others’ stories, we are one step closer to knowing and understanding them, perhaps. So, what keeps us from inquiring? Maybe, we don’t really want to know or understand. Or, it might be that we just never thought or trusted that there is often more than meets the eye…or the ear.
May we go forth and ask more questions about the stories we hear.
Over the past few months, I have been studying to take the final licensing board exam. Passing that exam would give me the highest credentialing available for my degree. Not passing would mean paying to take the test again after six months had elapsed. I didn’t want to chance not passing, so I have dedicated many, many hours over the last month to preparing for today, Friday the 13th, the day I arranged in advance to take the test.
Spoiler Alert: The fact that there is a full moon tonight and that this day on the calendar may be considered unlucky did not have a negative effect on my test-taking abilities. I passed with flying colors and am moving on to submit all the necessary paperwork for state licensure.
But, after I received my scores and realized that I passed, I was remarkably aware of my disappointment. I had reviewed an encyclopedia of study materials. Practiced on over 1,000 questions. Listened to over 15 audio CDs. Handwritten 200 index study cards in order to take a 200 question test in less than 2 hours. What? I walked out of the building and thought to myself, “That’s it?” Three years of graduate school and a subsequent 3,000 hours of practice were necessary to sit for a measly 200 question test wherein only 160 of those questions were actually graded and I only needed to get 91 of them right. That doesn’t make any sense.
And yet, it does. All too often, I evaluate my progress and my profession by external measures of achievement. I defer to some governing board for a blessing. I buy into the status quo that asserts my competencies must be measured by a single exam, rather than by the passion and commitment I have to doing good work. I am not denying that there are appropriate measures and guidelines necessary to ensure that the people practicing are indeed capable and competent. I am simply acknowledging that I trust external measures to tell me what is true about myself more than I do my own intuition and self-knowledge.
There are some things I needed to learn before sitting for that exam. For instance, did you know that the Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient is a measure of linear correlation between two variables X and Y, giving a value between +1 and -1 inclusive, where 1 is total positive correlation, 0 is no correlation, and -1 is total negative correlation? Yeah, I didn’t either. But there are other things that I already know: I am passionate about this work. And that simply means that I would have practiced on over 2,000 questions. Listened to over 30 audio CDs. Handwritten 500 index study cards and taken a 400 question test if that’s what I needed to do in order to have the privilege of sitting with people and hearing their stories each and every day.