If there is anything I have learned over the past months, it’s that we cannot afford to take any moment for granted. These unprecedented times, that have all of us wishing to find some normalcy, certainty, and deep health, have taught me that we never know when things will change, when something could be the last time, or when we will have to give up something that we care deeply about. It’s been my practice for the past many years, as I have walked through divorce, parenting struggles, and questions about how I want to show up for myself and in the world, to allow myself to feel it all…the good and the difficult, the heavy and the light, the joy and the sorrow and, through it all, remain optimistic that the best is yet to come. Acknowledging all these feelings is what makes us human. It’s how we learn to appreciate and understand what we value most in life. Connecting with ourselves so that we can connect with others is one of my pillars Active Optimism.
The truth is, allowing ourselves to feel is an important first step; learning to sit with those feelings calmly, process them, and respond with patience and a solid voice, is what stitches the whole experience together.
I’ve always been grateful for my memory. My forte is not facts and figures, but capturing the human side of a story and then backtracking to find the research that backs up the why of what we feel the way we do. Emotion sticks with me…even memories dating back to two years old. I swear I remember foraging around my back yard in Mendota, nose against the fence trying to see what was going on outside of my space. I often think about the places we go in a lifetime, I go from moments as early as this one, to incredible trips to Normandy and Paris, to some of the most traumatic, like Matthew being at the bottom of the pool or the times prior to the end of my 20 year marriage that I hadn’t learned to respond with patience and clarity of mind when I felt hurt, to the freedom I feel today to tell my story and help other people process their own in a matter of minutes. It’s not frenetic, I just love to think about life. Through all this, the message that emerges to me is this:
You have a choice how you want to show up in this world. We are not victims of circumstance. it’s not what happened, it’s how we choose to respond that is most important…it takes training, and that training is entirely up to us.
There is a quote by Maya Angelou that hangs prominently in my home where I can read it everyday (one of the first purchases I made after my divorce) and it reads:
“People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya has had a profound impact on me, as she has for millions of writers, thinkers, and actually probably any human that has been exposed to the other worldly perspective and talent and faith that she brought to this world. Until a few years ago, I had never read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and one of my favorite quarantine reads has been Mom & Me & Mom, about the real and highly charged relationship and life she shared with her mother throughout her lifetime. I highly recommend it to any mom out there who is feeling insignificant in the role that we play as mom’s in our kids lives. It comes with struggles, worry, and mistakes but this book will show you to never doubt the impact we have the chance to make in our children’s lives at every stage of the game.
As I sit in the mountains at the cabin that I have I haven’t been to in eight years because life and kids and volleyball tournaments took over, finishing this blog on the birthday that Lauren and my mom have shared for the last 20 years, I realize how blessed I am to have always been surrounded by people who care deeply how they make other people feel. It’s given us challenges to accept in life, like learning to set boundaries and realize that we can’t control outcomes and even ultimately the way our choices and actions influence the thoughts and feelings of others, but I wouldn’t trade being raised by and with people who have a deep desire to bring warmth and connection to the lives of the people who surround them It’s important to move away from an “I’m ok if you’re ok” mentality, but caring about how others feel will always matter to me and fuel my optimism that it will be returned because of the example I have been shown by my family. Optimism is contagious and trainable, as we move along in life, the ability to have a heart for others and a mind that knows how to take care of myself feels like an incredibly freeing place to be…and that calm translates to my home and the future generations of my family. We know what to live with, what to accept and what to let go. We care, we love, and we are learning to connect with ourselves so that our connection with others can grow deeper…and the optimist’s lens will always grow from this place.