BE BRAVE


be braveIt has been 27 days, nearly four weeks, almost a month. I have not pried open my laptop and let my fingers move gingerly across the keys. Instead, I have avoided. I have shut out the noise. There has not been any lack of fodder and my life has not stopped moving. Circumstances have arisen that have given me pause and prompted me to think but nothing has allowed me to cross over the line and actually write.

With Turn to Stone, I literally turned to stone. I exhausted myself but, oddly, thankfully, something inspired me today. After being in hiding with my flesh wounds still raw, my pain exposed and my heart laying naked on the table, I decided to peek my head around the corner to see if the coast was clear. Is was finally time for me to return to my commitment to myself to tell my story, be brave and courageous and step out into the light.

Earlier this month, I was in Kansas City working and visiting with my friend. I love Kansas City because it is so different to me yet feels so familiar. It often amazes me that I have grown such affection for the city when, up until a few years ago, I honestly could not have located it on a map. Being a native New Yorker, my geographical knowledge never spanned far beyond the major cities on the east and west coasts. Chicago comprised the whole of the midwest and Florida encapsulated the south. In my adult life, as a result of my business travel, I visited places I never expected to see like Dallas, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Arkansas, Denver and many other wonderful cities and states that allowed me to truly expand my horizons. I stumbled upon Kansas City because I started working with and befriended someone who lived there. Initially, I needed to go there for work and, after several trips, I found myself really looking forward to my visits, thinking about my favorite restaurants and being comforted by my growing familiarity. When I first traveled there, I had anticipated something very different from what I ultimately experienced. I did not expect the beauty of the architecture, the culture, the diversity, the amazing cuisine. It has become a special home away from home for me. And, it does not hurt that I have some dear friends there too.

During my last trip, I asked my friend if I could borrow his car and do some exploring on my own. He was planning to make dinner for us and his partner and, rather than just feeling like a houseguest, I wanted to treat this like I would a dinner at a friend’s home in my own town. I wanted to get some wine and dessert and decided I needed to go out and do this on my own. After having been there quite a few times, I had some ideas of where to go but I decided to break away from my planned route and see what would happen if I just wandered out. Sometimes the most wonderful experiences happen when we give up our plans and just let things happen on their own. Relinquishing the control and allowing the universe to guide you is often a rewarding and gratifying experience. For me, there was a serenity that came with being free in this city that I had come to love and finding whatever places crossed my path.

I suppose this hardly seems a story worth telling as, I recognize for most, it might seem like quite the banal experience of driving around, finding some shops, walking through neighborhoods and doing some shopping. Yes, for some, it might very well be run of the mill. But not me. For me, it was bliss. For me, it was freedom. For me, it was a connection point that I so desperately craved. For me, it was truly extraordinary.

I don’t go off course. It is a rare occasion when I let go of the structure of my life and allow myself to let loose. I spend so much time being focused on not fucking things up. I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the bad directions the road can take me in. I rarely stop and smell the flowers. I have been conditioned to worry. I have been well-trained to plan for the worst case scenario. And, for good reasons. The worst case has come my way more times than I care to recall. Yet, I have thought long and hard about my desperate need for structure and whether it fits into my life anymore. I have pondered the notion that perhaps I am carrying around some old baggage that no longer suits my life. Sure, my life is complicated. There are bad things that happen but maybe – just maybe – the worst case is not as bad as I remember it being. Maybe I have new tools that allow me to handle the obstacles that cross my path and present seeming roadblocks. Perhaps they are just pebbles or loose debris that I can drive around or even drive over without feeling the bump. I have not yet allowed myself to imagine that reality. I have embraced and clung to my ideas around survival. And, as a result, I have missed the possibility of actually living and experiencing life from a very different vantage point.

Fear holds me back. It is debilitating at times. The uncertainty of what might occur when I give up the control and stop trying to predict the outcomes is terrifying and paralyzing. How can I survive when I do not know what is coming my way? I remember one of my mother’s favorite expressions being “People plan and God laughs.” I hated when she said it because it was so contradictory to how she lived her life. She never left room for imagination. Everything had to be structured and anticipated. She reprimanded me whenever I took risks or lived outside the lines. I never contemplated her reasons for having to live such a structured life but I understood that my own need was rooted in the fear of complete destruction. If I can at least see the lights of the train as it headed in my direction, I might have enough time to jump off the tracks and save my own life. But, of course, that suggests that I believe that there is usually a training heading around the corner and I am in jeopardy of being decimated. Perhaps, instead, I could feel confident that I can boldly walk the tracks and know that, in the off-chance this abandoned track line actually sees a train, I will have the wisdom and strength to jump out of the way in time. I really don’t need to see the lights in the distance, I just need to be able to react when the whistle blows.

I have thought a lot, in the past few weeks, about my day in Kansas City. There was something about the warm air, the sunny skies, the lack of responsibility (my husband and children were at home in NJ) and the possibility that filled my lungs as I breathed in and out. I parked my friend’s car in a cute little section of town, in search of a store where I could buy a card for him and his partner. I wanted to find a little something special for them. I walked from shop to shop and stumbled across a wonderful little store where I discovered an array of goodies that were just what I was looking for.

After I paid for my purchases and I was getting ready to leave the store, I looked up at the wall and saw a print that literally took my breath away. It said:

Be brave.

I thought maybe

if I wrote the words down,

read them every day,

traced them with my fingers…

I could live them.

I could let go of this “maybe” life,

and be brave enough to say yes…

brave enough to say no.

And then, in all the uncertainty,

around me, I could be certain

of this, that I was brave

enough to love, to laugh…

to cry…to be me…that I was brave

enough to really live.

Well, well…maybe the universe was, in fact, behind the wheel driving me around that day.

STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND


I feel like I have been living in someone else’s body for a few days.  It is a very strange feeling but it is something like be a tourist in a city that looks a little bit familiar but you’re still a foreigner trying to find your bearings.  I’m not sure what led me to feeling this way but I suspect it is a multitude of factors.  I tend to be someone who grounds herself by familiar landmarks – my routines, my work, my family and friends.  When any of those markers are out of place, I become out of sorts and feel a little askew.  But I have not felt like this before.  Earlier today someone said to me that I seemed like I was a million miles away.  I am.  I am alone on a trip and not sure where I am.

I’m not particularly unhappy.  I don’t feel sad or depressed.  I just feel disconnected.  I feel isolated from myself and my familiar surroundings.  It is lonely.  It is disturbing.  And, I pray, it is temporary.  As someone who normally spends a lot of time trying to sort things out in my head, I am challenged to catch up with myself and understand my own distance.

I typically try to stitch together the experiences in my life and weave a tapestry that tells my story.  Usually there is connective tissue through it all and, at once, I can figure out the meaning of how I feel, what I need to do, or what is going on around me.  Oddly, I can’t pull those pieces together but I have decided to try to write my way through it in hopes that the elements will come together.  Some of my friends, over the past few days, have been having some fun with me regarding my blog, suggesting that anything noteworthy that happens inspires a blog post.  Well, nothing particularly noteworthy happened unless you consider this foreign travel, right here inside my own head, an adventure worth writing about.  (So take that Patty and Eric!)

Last Friday I landed myself in the emergency room.  It was a silly and uneventful visit resulting from a karate injury that was two weeks old and had not properly healed.  I went to see the doctor (which many of my friends suggested I do right after the injury) because my ankle and foot were swollen and I was growing nervous that perhaps, despite my indignation against it, my ankle was broken.  My husband and others talked about my wearing a boot for weeks to help secure my ankle and, just the thought of it freaked me out.  I could not imagine how I would be able to maintain my lifestyle – not to mention continue my martial arts – with the encumbrance of a boot.  I made jokes about it but I was getting sick to my stomach (in fact, just writing about it now is giving me a stomach ache).  The idea of being incapacitated in any way was so unacceptable to me but, given the fact that my ankle was not healing, I knew I had no other choice but to see the doctor.

There is a really funny story surrounding my visit to the doctor that includes me trying to bribe him into a clean bill of health with an invite to a party at my house but that will just derail my story right now.  Suffice it to say, the doctor had enough concern that my ankle might be broken that he sent me immediately to the ER to have it x-rayed.  He gave me detailed instructions on how to find my way from his office through the underground tunnels that connected the Medical Arts Building to the hospital.  He called down to get me fast tracked and left me with the parting words, “you might end up with a cast and crutches.”  Well, this was far worse than a boot.  Suddenly, a boot that I could take on and off but would look totally unattractive as I prepare to sport my beautiful new spring wedge sandals seemed like a dream compared to a full-on cast and trying to maneuver with crutches.  I panicked.  I called my husband and had an inane discussion about how he would get to me to drive the car home since it was my right foot and I would not be able to drive with a cast on.  This, apparently, was the most important problem I needed to tackle at that moment.

After being registered in the ER, I was sent to a small little curtained area and was told to wait for the technician who would be in shortly to x-ray my ankle.  I sat on the little bed in the room, thankful that I had my iPad and that I had smuggled some cookies out of my favorite deli at lunch (the owner said I could so no calling the cops on me).  My phone was low on battery power but I had managed to alert all my key players to let them know of my predicament and the inquiries were coming in fast and furious to find out the verdict.  There was no news to tell.  The cacophony of ringtones assigned to my various friends and family members kept startling me from my seclusion in the little room where I sat alone waiting and waiting for hours.  I ate my smuggled cookies, bite by bite, over the course of the first two hours.  I wasn’t even sure that I was hungry but the comfort of the chocolate chip treats were helping to calm my nerves in small intervals.  I played solitaire on my iPad to distract myself from the thoughts barreling down on me, as I tried to imagine how I would manage to navigate the two trips I would be taking over the course of the next few weeks, laden with a cast and crutches.  I lamented about how I would have to forego wearing the cute shoes I had picked out for the party we were hosting the next night.  I worried about how I would possibly be able to help my husband get the house ready for said party when I would barely be able to stand.  I had visions of others I knew who had been trapped in casts for broken bones and imagined them slumped over their crutches trying to do their menial tasks.  I got myself very worked up.  I felt very lonely.  I was, brave woman that I am, feeling scared.  And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.  There was no way for me to control the outcome of my experience.  If my ankle was broken, a cast was going on my foot.  I thought about just walking out of the ER and I imagined hearing the words I so often heard on the medical dramas I had watched over the years “she left Against Medical Advice”.  I just wanted to run away.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to stop being such a big giant baby.

In hour three, I started thinking about how much weight I would gain from sitting around and no exercise.  I envisioned myself in my bed or trapped on the couch unable to get around.  I would eat to squash the pain and frustration I was feeling.  I anguished over disconnecting with all my friends with whom I kickbox or do karate.  I felt lame.  And I still had no technician to take me in for X-ray.  The dying phone kept dinging with well-wishers’ texts and jokesters asking me if I would be doing tequila shots on crutches at my party.  I smiled, even laughed a little and then went right back to my panic.  I was losing it, for sure.

After 3.5 hours, the lovely blond technician came in to retrieve me.  She asked me if I needed a wheelchair and I told her, as I had told all the others before her, that my foot did not hurt.  I had no pain (so, of course, it could not be broken).  I could walk fine.  I just had this nasty bruise and a big swell on the front of my ankle.  But, otherwise, I was just fine.  “We’ll take it slow, don’t worry,” she responded.  “No, really, it does not hurt.  I’m fine.”  She led me down the hallway, walking slowly and continuing to ask me if I was ok.  I wanted to pummel her.  I just smiled and said I was great.  I wanted this to be over.

My heart was beating out of my chest as I lay on the table contorting my ankle into positions so it could be properly viewed for the fine hairline fracture that undoubtedly would reveal itself.  And I listened to the familiar dings and rings as my phone continued to live on and my friends checked in on my status.  When we were done, the technician slowly walked me back down the short hallway and insisted on showing me back to my curtained space that was at the end of the straight hallway.  I guess she thought I was slow or disoriented.  She meant well.  I felt otherwise but just smiled again and thanked her.  She assured me that the doctor would be in right away to share the results.  And then the panic unleashed itself.  If I was a crier, I would have simply lost it right then and there.  I returned the call of a friend who had left me a message while I was being x-rayed and tried to communicate my fear but, apparently, the brave women emerged again and I could not simply admit that I was scared, lonely and needing some moral support.  “I’m good.  I’ll be fine.” I told him and sent him on his merry way.  And right then, much like the acceptance phase of grieving, I relinquished myself to the reality that I was going home in a cast.  My ankle was hurting and I knew there was no way I was getting out of there without those pesky crutches.  And I would just have to learn to cope with it.  And I took a breath…just as the doctor walked in to tell me that there was no break.  Maybe there had been but it had healed and the swelling was just the result of my not standing still since I was injured and letting the ankle heal properly.

“Thank you.  I love you.”  I kept saying it over and over again to the doctor.  She smiled, told me that I would get an air cast, as my doctor had suggested in the event there was no break, and that I would be discharged momentarily.  Then the funny gay male nurse came in (the gay part is important because I simply love gay men and he was one I was ready to take home and add to my collection) and took my blood pressure.  He told me jokes and made me laugh and then took my blood pressure again.  My pressure was 160/120 and he was not going to discharge me until it settled down.  I had gotten myself so worked up that I was ready to stroke out.  My mind is a powerful instrument and I am fully capable of driving myself crazy without too much effort.  Clearly I had succeeded.  It only took four hours, a little isolation and the fear of completely losing control.

I calmed down, went home, had a blast at my party the next night.  I loved on my friends and told my crazy story.  And, then, days later, I suddenly was lost.  Not sure if my travails in the ER left some scar tissue that hid out until the adrenaline of getting ready and enjoying our annual festivities died down, but it is possible.  Perhaps that loneliness and fear was rooted in some deep feelings that lie dormant inside me waiting for the right opportunity to rear its ugly head.

So, I’m trying to find my way back to myself but, not unlike the brave woman who sat in the ER alone, I will not ask for help.  I will travel around looking for familiar sights, hoping to find some signs that will lead me back to my homeland.  I will brave the elements and trust my instincts and, maybe, if I actually become truly brave, I will ask someone for directions.