We leave the South in six short days. The boxes are packed, we’re eating with plastic utensils, and the truck arrives on Friday. When we moved in the summer of 2011, I told Chris I was willing to try anything for two years. “Our two-year vacation,” I called it. “And at the end of those 24 months, we reevaluate.”
For two years, when people asked how I liked Mississippi, I said it was fine. I said I was fine. I said everything, basically, was fine. I tried to talk myself into some kind of “fineness.” (Do you hear me, Universe? I’m fine! I’m fine!) But it wasn’t. I wasn’t. These past two years were brutal, friends. The loneliest, most difficult, most challenging two years of my life.
Don’t get me wrong — we’ve been through worse. Nearly losing a child trumps all other pains. And our lives in general are so very good, so abundantly blessed. But this continual, sustained state of discontent and disconnection — all 24 long months of it — left me unrecognizable. I became someone I didn’t want to be. I let the dark crowd out the light. I chose the fetal position. And I stayed there.
We moved here on the fresh and raw end of a broken friendship, one that had a ripple effect in all six of our lives. Chris and I both changed jobs, the kids changed schools, we changed cultures. Our financial lives shifted precariously, family members got sick, other family members got distant. Heartbreakingly, unexpectedly distant.
Life came at us fast and left me feeling abandoned, less than, unworthy, afraid.
And in those darkest places, the greatest lessons are always learned. We grow the most when we’re cracked open the widest. On the other side of devastation, we begin to understand what we were sent here to learn.
As a wife, a mom, a friend, a human being, here are the lessons these past two years have taught me… (In full disclosure, I’d learned some of them before. But the universe’s refresher courses always seem to come just at the right time. And, of course, if you don’t quite get the lessons the first time around… or the second… or the thirty-third, you get them again. Sometimes smack-dab in the heart of rural Mississippi.)
1. What others think about you is none of your business.
As difficult as this one can be, it’s so very, very true. The biggest, deadliest patch of quicksand we get sucked into is measuring our own worth with someone else’s yardstick.
2. You can’t love people if you’re spending all your time judging them.
Love and judgment — they’re pretty mutually exclusive. It’s tough to love unconditionally when judgment is carving out a little black hole in your heart. Always best to error on the side of love. That Judgment? She can be a real back-stabbing bitch. Don’t let her in.
3. Sometimes you have to break to be repaired.
Once the glue dries, the pieces might not align the way you thought they would. This person here, this person there, this person nowhere to be found… But when all is said and done, your trusses are stronger, the bridge is more stable. Muscles work that way, too. We tear them down to build them back up. Let’s not forget our hearts are muscles. Once broken, they need a bit of rehab to heal. Give it time. And space. And then a little more time.
4. Waking up in the home of a friend is a relationship-changer.
When you walk downstairs in your PJs, bed-headed and make-up-less to a waiting cup of coffee and a smiling friend-face to greet you, a new intimacy is born, a certain level of comfort and ease is established. Thank you, friends, for opening your warm and welcoming homes to me during my travels. For your soft pillows and your giant hearts and your killer quiche and egg sammiches, a million thanks.
5. There’s something special about having people see you where you are.
I know Starkville, Mississippi is not a vacation destination. But you came anyway, dear friends and family, because we were here. You drove on the Natchez Trace and sampled our favorite barbeque. You walked my wogging route and drank wine in our borrowed living room. You rang cowbells and cheered for the Dawgs even though you’d not heard of them before. You saw us. You sat with us. You stayed with us. The gift of your time in Mississippi is something we will not soon forget.
6. People who see the good in you when you’re at your worst deserve a special place in your heart.
There are friendships I found here against all odds. When you’re unwilling to get out of your PJs 6 out of 7 days of the week, it’s tough to form new alliances. But there were those who saw through it, those who said, “You’re coming to lunch. You’re walking with me. You’re getting dressed today.” Thanks, Starkville friends. You know who you are. I know who you are. I am grateful, ever so. Always so. This is just our beginning.
7. Sometimes people walk away to make room for those who are supposed to stay.
A door closes, a window opens. Someone decides to let you go, and someone else is standing with open arms. (Oh, there you are! I’ve been waiting for you.) One never replaces the other, but each is a unique and special gift. Open the window to receive it.
8. My kids are rock stars.
New schools, new friends, new sports programs, straight A’s. I’ve seen these kids stretch and grow into confident, kind (albeit sarcastic) human beings. Flawed and funny and fierce, these four warriors. It wasn’t always easy, but they found their way with kindness and strength and tenacity. I am beyond proud.
9. My husband is my best friend, my biggest cheerleader, my favorite gift.
He sees every bit of me, knows every inch of my heart. He’s watched me cry and has sat silently while I kicked my shit up all over him. And he’s still around. He still kisses me goodbye, holds my hand in the car, and tells me I’m beautiful — even when the Oreos and wine are winning my body battle. This journey? Impossible without him. My life? Hopelessly, wonderfully entwined with his. His heart? The biggest and best there is. And that laugh? Loud, louder, loudest… perfect.
10. There are always cracks of light waiting to shine through the darkness.
Sadness happens. Life can be tough. We get unbalanced. There is no shame in hurting and searching and reconstructing. But sadness can never win. Look for the light, the little flashes of brilliance in the moments where you least expect them. They are always there. Sometimes, your eyes are just too swollen from the tears, too tired from the fight. Rest up, get your cold compresses, and look again.
11. Some people can’t give you the love you need. And sometimes, you can’t love people the way they need to be loved.
We are broken, and we break others. Whether knowingly, intentionally, or obliviously, we let each other down again and again. Sometimes our humanness takes over, and we forget that we’re here to love and lift each other. Just don’t forget for too long. And when you love again, hug a bit harder, hold on a little longer.
12. Your attitude shapes your experience.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be Pollyanna. Being human hurts sometimes. We lose our way. People disappoint us. We let others down. The important thing is to get back up. Again. And again. And again. Tomorrow, the next hour, the next minute… one more opportunity to choose a smile.
13. It’s all about connection.
If you’re not connected with people who matter to you, you are a lost and lonely island. We are human beings, and by nature, we need other human beings. We are not rocks (even though Simon & Garfunkel might disagree), we are flesh and blood and humanity all wrapped up in a messy, imperfect package. Get connected, seek it out. Listen, be there, understand. Hug. Hold hands. Hug some more.
14. Gratitude changes everything.
Name what is good in your life. Then say, “thank you.”
Do it again.