This morning as we were getting ready for the first day of school, my son (who is going into grade 1) came up to me and said, “Mom, I feel a bit scared about today. Maybe a bit sad too. I don’t know what it’s going to be like, or if I’m going to like my teacher.” He said it quietly, as if the softness of his words would somehow blur their meaning.
“That all sounds perfectly normal to me,” I said thoughtfully. “It’s a new school year with a new teacher, and new classmates. I would imagine that a lot of kids are going to be feeling exactly the same way you are.”
“I guess,” he said, studying his hands. “Everyone keeps asking me if I’m excited to be starting school, but I’m not.”
I nodded as I gently wrapped my arms around him. “There’s no right or wrong way to feel about the first day of school,” I said, reassuringly. “Whatever you feel is perfectly okay, because your feelings are yours to have. I’m glad you told me about them though, because my job is to help you understand those feelings and to figure out what to do with them.”
And that is something we all need in life, isn’t it? Someone who will tell us it’s okay to feel what we feel, and who will still love us anyway. Someone who will listen as we talk, without necessarily trying to fix whatever it is we are trying to work through. Someone who isn’t going to tell us that we can’t or shouldn’t feel a certain way, or try to convince us that we are just fine in spite of the fact that we are clearly not. We need people who will press their shoulder up against ours when we need someone to lean in to. We need people in our lives who will say, “I get it, and I’m here for you, so go ahead and feel all the big feels.”
Time has this crazy way of holding us hostage. It will make us count out every minute of every hour of every day until we realize that we cannot control or change it. Those of us who have experienced trauma, grief, heartache, pain and regret will know all too well that we are prisoners for as long as we fight it.
We can rail against it, cry out or hide, but none of it will change the slow and steady manner in which Time will push us forward. We can throw ourselves to the floor, a tantrum of agony and anguish, and Time will unremittingly carry us through until we wearily accept that the time has come for us to take our first step. We will do so tentatively, and we will undoubtedly fall more times than seems acceptable, but we will gain strength through our efforts.
Then one day we will look back and realize that we have walked farther than we ever thought possible, survived longer than we ever dreamed we would, and healed in a way that makes us proud of our efforts and perseverance. And Time will gently whisper, “As I knew you would.”
I wrote this poem several years ago during a time when I had decided that happiness was more of a suggestion than an actual state of being. I only just recently came across it, and it left me both humbled and amazed after I finished reading it. I felt as though I had peered back in time and found the exact moment when I gave up on myself. The point when my head dropped down, chin tucked into my chest, while shallow breaths betrayed my wish to disappear. It was a time when I was filled with more than just sadness and shame. A time when I struggled and fought to understand it all until one day I finally stopped, convinced that I would never be the light that chased away the shadows that fear and regret had smeared across my floor.
I have reached a point in my life now where I can look back on those days, and I can finally, with so much compassion, properly grieve for that girl who felt more comfortable crying on the bathroom floor than smiling in a room full of people. I can see how much she struggled, and I can finally understand why. I can also see that it wasn’t her fault, regardless of what she thought. And I can, with absolute certainty, see that she did one day discover how to be the kind of light that washes the darkness from the room. With the softest of exhales, she did one day find the courage to turn around, and she shone so brightly when she did.
The simple truth is that painful memories, regret, and even flashbacks don’t just go away. They are always there. We just learn to manage them better when they come rushing back to us.
We are like boxers who train to take a hit. It hurts like hell until we figure out what we are doing. We learn to manage pain, to block it out. We learn to breathe. We become stronger. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we can sidestep a memory and avoid the agony of being hit hard enough to drop us to our knees; other times, the times when our guard is down, we aren’t so lucky.
We carry these sorts of memories like slow healing bruises, and we hope that the smiles we wear are wide enough to cast those bruises into the shadows where they can be seen only by those who take the time to look closely enough.