Today it’s my pleasure to host Barbara McDowell. Barbara works for a regional accounting firm by day and writes blogs and short stories by night. I’ll be posting on her blog Monday, but for today, let’s concentrate on what she has to say.
We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are. ~ Tobias Wolfe
In early 2011, I lost a colleague to cancer. I remember marveling at the distinct embrace of hope and life spark she shared during our last conversations. Lily, as I will call her, had told me around Thanksgiving how she was feeling better and that the newest treatment was working. She baked her standard holiday cookies and made stockings for her grandkids. And she was gone before Valentine’s Day.
Whenever tragic moments hit, we hear platitudes about how lucky we all are and that “life can change in an instant” so we must “live each day as if it were the last” and “look forward never back.” If someone is hurt, cue the voices telling us that we’ll be fine in X amount of time.
We’ve all done it. Looked for words to show compassion or provide comfort at an awkward moment. We speak all these words without bad intent. They are meant to cheer people up and help them move past the pain. Yet, as individuals, we are unique and what can be a quick, blip for one might leave the other deep in a valley of despair.
In 2010, my life was changed from two separate “instants”: That May a driver crossed into my lane head-on. I swerved and my shoulder took the worst of it. Four months later, a driver speeding and (presumably) chatting it up on his phone slammed into me from behind and herniated a disc in my neck, which by 2011 launched me into a sea of chronic pain. I wondered if I would ever get back to where I’d been.
Most people said I was lucky. Told me to get back to life and that, once my car was fixed, everything would be back to normal. That I was strong and that this was nothing in scale compared to what it could have been. I did not feel lucky. I was trapped behind my smiling face. There was sadness for things I’d no longer be able to do like my Pilates classes or carrying a favorite purse up on my shoulder. A new anxiety while driving that I’d never felt before. And there was guilt for feeling any of that because I had life.
It was in those dark moments that I flashed back on Lily. Had she believed the words she said? Was it a blanket of denial she’d cast to protect us from the truth? Or had she somehow freed herself to live through all of her diseases’ moments—the physical pain, financial struggles and fears of death—while not losing sight of her wish to survive?
To hope is to want or wish for with a feeling of confident expectation (Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary, Revised Edition). There is a positive expectation that the wish will be fulfilled. Slowly I fell back on the craft I love and writing is what led me out of the darkness. When the words were blocked, it started with a word of truth written on a corner of the page—“hurt.” It then bridged into a silent sentence—“I am not happy today.” When I couldn’t write long journal entries, I scribbled notes anywhere, including on napkins or keying them into my phone. When no words would come, I read the expressions of others. There is a peace in acknowledging something is wrong. A way as such to give ourselves permission to not be “okay,” but to wish to be in the future. From Lily, I found hope.
How have you climbed back out of a valley in your life? What tools or strengths do you tap into?
By day, Barbara McDowell works in training and development, managing the educational needs and course development for the staff of a regional accounting firm. In the depths of the night, she is a crafter short stories birthed with dark, human themes. Suspense at each corner turned. Horror sometimes waiting at the end. Primarily a short story writer, Barbara has recently started her first novel. A lover of coffee, cats, crime dramas, crochet, conspiracy theories and chocolate, Barbara can be found blogging at http://writenowlife.wordpress.com/ or tweeting at @BMcDowellOH.