Today is Thanksgiving and this year, as I do every year, but even more poignantly this year, I have so very much to be thankful for. For the past 15.5 years, I’ve held the honor of being an owner of dog, my sweet Oliver, who I’ve written about countless times before. He was not a dog to me, but my family, my support, my strength and my constant companion. This morning, because I was unable to last night, I shared on my personal Facebook about his pathway to the Rainbow Bridge, where he plays today, free of pain and discomfort, delighting in all of his favorite foods and toys. The following is my post:
That day stands out to me like no other. It was May 20, 1997, a warm, humid day, in late Spring. As a newly-minted 9-year-old, it was customary for me to ask the same question each day after school as I approached my mom, who would be waiting for me at the end of the hallway in the school building at just about 3:30pm; how is Grandmom? Since the preceding October, my maternal Grandmother diagnosed with Leukemia, was in and out of the hospital, receiving chemotherapy, shortly going into remission in the Winter, only to experience a relapse in early Spring. Her prognosis was grave, but we were still hopeful as she underwent another round of treatment. The early activities of the day are blurry to me, but I remember arriving home and sitting at the kitchen table with my sister, as we so often did, but this day, the room was filled with silence instead of music radiating from MTV’s Total Request Live. It was a sunny day, the sky a pristine blue, with a gentle warmth in the air, but sadness and fear engulfed my family and I. I remember thinking it was strange, seeing my dad home during the afternoon, watching him sitting at the table, expressionless. We all sat there at the table for awhile, until out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a flash of golden fur from outside, catching it reflecting off the sliding door.
Merely minutes later, I came to know his name was Darby, a young Yellow Labrador Retriever, owned by a young couple who were fairly new to the neighborhood and unbeknownst to us, living directly behind us. Before meeting and becoming accustomed to Darby, I hadn’t known much about dogs, except the fact that I believed them to be cute and friendly. My extent of experience with dogs had been reading Clifford books or watching them on TV. In person, I’d never so much as played or pet any dogs – until this moment, that is. That particular day, I was filled with a sadness I’d never truly known, and was unsure how to silence it, or at least alleviate it. Seeing Darby, I asked both my parents, if it would be okay if Hope (my sister) and I went outside to play with him. With their approval, we made our way outside and asked his owners if it would be okay for us to play with him. Within minutes, Darby, Hope and I were running together through our respective backyards with frisbees, laughing and delighting in the cool breeze, our worries quickly slipping away. Sometimes, I’d stop to run my small fingers through his soft, golden mane, or to let him happily lick my arms and face. Seeing his happy, carefree smile filled me with a joy I’d never truly experienced before until that moment; the moment my love of dogs was cultivated. From that moment on, I knew I was meant to be a dog owner. Though I didn’t become one until my 14th birthday, Darby created for me, the ability to love another, canine and human, igniting a healing from a pain no 9-year-old child should ever have to experience.
Looking back, I owe Darby a lot for that day. While he might have only shown up, by doing so, he helped me heal and taught me the meaning of selflessness, of taking life one moment, one laugh and one smile at a time. I’m grateful for that day, because no matter how painful it was, it taught me that “We don’t always need advice. Sometimes all we need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart that understands. Sometimes all we need is a dog.”
As I’ve noted numerous times in prior posts, since the months leading to and subsequent to my 29th birthday this past May, I’ve struggled considerably with growing older. Perhaps it’s really not the age or number itself I fear, but rather all I feel should go along with it. In my life, there are often a lot of “shoulds,” “I wish,” or reflections upon situations I could have handled differently. Too often, I compare myself to others of a similar age, longing for the “characteristic” life I feel they have or portray, without acknowledging their own struggles or hardships. It’s similar to celebrity singer and actress, Selena Gomez, who appears in ads, concerts, and magazines flaunting her pristine hair, makeup and clothing, but privately struggling and ultimately undergoing a lifesaving kidney transplant. From looking at her, I, myself, never would have guessed she was in kidney failure, or even ill with lupus. That’s the thing, though, people so often look at someone and based off their appearance deem them healthy or not. Shiny hair, pristine makeup and clothing, a bubbly personality – none of that is an indicator of health, or at least certainly not always. What appears on the outside is not always indicative of what’s unraveling inside.
With that being said, I recently started to contemplate a news story I heard and was intrigued by. One of the magazines I closely followed and read in the past, Allure Magazine, proudly declared last month they would no longer use the term “Anti-Aging.” So often, I’ve read seemingly countless articles instructing women and even men, on all the latest products and techniques specifically formulated to “combat all signs of aging.” In these articles, without so many words, it suggests aging is something to be feared, or to be disguised and avoided at all costs. A wrinkle around your eye area? Lines around your mouth? Sagging skin? All of these aforementioned supposed, “signs of aging,” come with specifically-formulated products to help avoid, disguise and discourage and are often touted in magazines and store shelves.
Feeling as though they’d finally had enough, Allure Magazine took the first steps towards what I see as progress and a notion I wish I embraced many years ago, but most specifically in the months leading to and after my most recent birthday. In their words in last month’s issue of Allure, they stated, (via – https://www.allure.com/story/allure-magazine-phasing-out-the-word-anti-aging)
Allure Magazine – August 2017:
“This issue is the long-awaited, utterly necessary celebration of growing into your own skin – wrinkles and all. No one is suggesting giving up retinol. But changing the way we think about aging starts with changing the way we TALK about aging. With that in mind, starting with this issue, we are making a resolution to stop using the term, “anti-aging.” Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that aging is a condition we need to battle.”
If there’s one inevitability in life, it’s that we’re getting older. Every minute. Every second. We produced a video recently that featured 64-year-old gray-haired Jo Johnson, who made the poignant observation that aging should be appreciated because “some of us don’t get an opportunity to age.” Repeat after me: Growing older is a wonderful thing because it means that we get a chance, every day, to live a full, happy life.
Language matters. When talking about a woman over, say, 40, people tend to add qualifiers: “She looks great…for her age” or “She’s beautiful…for an older woman.” Catch yourself next time and consider what would happen if you just said, “She looks great.” Yes, Americans put youth on a pedestal. But let’s agree that appreciating the dewy rosiness of youth doesn’t mean we become suddenly hideous as years go by.”
After reading this statement and their stance on aging, I couldn’t be happier or more proud. Throughout the years, I’ve been an on/off reader of Allure, but after reading their declaration, their concept resonates with me beyond words. It summons a quote I read not long ago, which read: “Do not fear growing older, it is a privilege denied to many.”
Isn’t it true though, when thinking about it? Countless infants, children, teens, young adults, even adults in middle-age, have succumbed to accidents, illnesses, and beyond; ultimately denied the opportunity to age. Instead of fearing aging, it can be seen as a chance to “ripen,” to gain knowledge and understanding. Instead of fearing aging, it can be embraced, wise words can be shared with younger generations and even our own generations. We all have stories to tell, experiences waiting to be recounted, and growing older gives us this opportunity.
What a whirlwind it’s been these past couple weeks! With my 29th birthday arriving earlier this month (on the 3rd), it caused me to reflect quite a bit on my life and in particular, the past decade. To say it’s been tumultuous would be an understatement. Much of it was difficult, painful and at times, excruciating to endure. Other parts of it were dramatic, but positive, in some respects. With that being said, I ushered in the last year of my 20’s feeling loved and cared for. In the evening, my family and I gathered together and shared a couple hours exchanging laughs and enjoying each others’ companies. So often, I find myself in moments drifting away, worrying and fretting about the next day, hour, moment, and beyond. Though, this time, I centered my focus on that present moment, knowing that if I didn’t, I would regret it hours later. Consciously I knew, hours later, I would lay in my bed, reflecting upon the day wishing I had simply enjoyed the moment, relishing in the time with my family. Looking back, that evening was a defining moment in my 20’s, as I felt more loved and appreciated than I could have envisioned.
Pictured: Flowers spotted while on a walk the day of my birthday.
To that end, I found myself looking for even more quotes than usual, as I embarked on my 29th year. So often, I stumble upon the most intriguing and expressive thoughts through Twitter, of all places. With that being said, I thought I’d share a few of these quotes or statements, because perhaps they might impact someone who may be reading this:
“Life is the most difficult exam. Many people fail because they try to copy others, not realizing that everyone has a different question paper.”
“When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.”
“Strong people stand up for themselves, but stronger people stand up for others.”
“You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge. Apologize for mistakes. Apologize for unintentionally hurting someone – profusely. But don’t apologize for being who you are.”
“Spend your life with who makes you happy, not who you have to impress.”
“If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.”
“Love when you’re ready, not when you’re lonely.”
“In this life, we cannot always do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
“Work hard in silence; let success make the noise.”
“Every scar has a story, don’t be afraid to tell it.”
“Be kinder to yourself. And then let your kindness flood the world.”
“Those extra 5-10 pounds, that place where your body naturally wants to be – that’s your life. That’s your late night pizza with your loved ones, that Sunday morning bottomless brunch, your favorite cupcake in the whole entire world because you wanted to treat yourself. Those 5-10 pounds are your favorite memories, your unforgettable trips, your celebrations of life. Those extra 5-10 pounds are your spontaneity, your freedom, your life.”
Those who know me, even slightly well, know that I’m a voracious reader, often indulging in numerous books throughout the month, savoring them and then advising others to read them, as well. Reading has always been a favorite pastime of mine, offering me refuge from an often stressful and tumultuous life. For me, reading is a comfort, transporting me to the life of another, allowing me to travel from the comfort of home, or wherever I may be. Each page turned is an adventure to embark on, with the words often coming to life.
With that being said, innocently enough I requested a new book recently recommended in one of the many magazines I read. I was excited to indulge in this particular book, having read a brief excerpt. As I typically do, upon picking up the book from the library, I turned the book to the back to learn about the author; a year jumped out at me: 2010. It was the year I graduated college, a year that served as a culmination of four often painful and excruciating years to endure due to emotional and physical constraints. The brief biography of the author stated she graduated college in 2010, as well. Absorbing this fact, I was caught off-guard to say the least and quickly found myself falling down the comparison trap, yet again. There I was, perplexed as to where I would fall as far as a career and personal life and yet held within my hands was a potential bestseller, or at least a published novel, by my peer of the same, or vastly similar age.
Instead of continuing to fall deeper and deeper into the comparison trap, I forced myself to recite this very phrase: “Everyone has their own time.” It is true though, isn’t it? There is no set time, place or moment, that we really have to be doing anything at all. Our life is own, our own story to write and detail each day, each breathe and each moment. The stories I love most are the ones I hear about people who realized this, people who didn’t set a time limit for achieving their goals and dreams. Often times, people who are most inspiring to me are the ones who were brave enough to make significant changes and take significant risks, years or moments beyond when people “typically do.” What do I mean when I say this? I mean, the women who may have had children in her 20’s, who had dreams of becoming a nurse, and abandoned her goals for the sake of her family, but later returned to school in her 40’s to become a nurse and ended up being one of the best nurses a hospital or medical facility could ever ask for. Or, the girl who suffered so deeply from illness as a child, or never was able to travel and later became a travel writer, as an older adult, traveling the world, writing and telling others all about it. Bravery and courage and the ability to continue on, in spite of our difficulties or the ideas in our heads about “how it is supposed to be,” are most attractive to me. Each day when I find myself wallowing about the current state of my life, I remind myself of these people and remind myself that no matter how alone at times or isolated I may feel, (learned from a quote I read last night!): I can always look outside at the sun or moon and know that at that very moment, someone, somewhere is looking at that very same sun or moon.
Maybe others can relate to these sentiments, or perhaps not, but regardless, I thought it was important to share, because they are thoughts that help me during life’s toughest moments.
This post is bound to be more or less all over the place, so I apologize for the mess of words it may very well result in. Lately, I’ve been contemplating countless hours about the words some us don’t, won’t or feel we cannot say. They never really go away, even if they are no longer at the forefront of our minds. Or, they may appear or emerge in other ways, like a nervous tic, foot tapping, biting our lips or cheeks, and beyond. Sometimes, we ruminate about them, mulling over what could or will happen if these words and feelings are verbalized or written to someone or something. Therefore, many of us repress them, stuffing them deep inside of us, tucked away into an area that feels raw and unaddressed. It never leaves though; it sits and sits, and sometimes, when it becomes too much to bear, the words spill out in ways we never intended, or not in the way we hoped.
For me, the words I don’t say sit beside me each day. They follow me from place to place, like a piece of lint of dust that simply won’t disappear until it is properly addressed. Other times, when I HAVE spoken up, a sense of relief washes over me and I am amazed by how fulfilling and cleansing it was to finally release the emotions and words building inside of me. In some instances, I’ve been shocked to learn others have harbored nearly identical sentiments to me, wondering why I waited so long to speak the words I felt couldn’t. So many times, unnecessarily, I’ve walked around berating myself for feeling as I do, thinking as I do and for my inability to speak the truth, words that very well could set me free from emotional duress. The words I often choose to not speak sometimes become my shadow; I can always see or feel it lingering in the background and even when I focus all my efforts in ignoring it, it never ceases to escape.
Instead of focusing on how my thoughts and words will be received, my goal for the impending year is to focus on speaking the truth in ways that are respectful, truthful, and accountable. I’ve found from past experiences that when we focus so much on how our feelings and words will be received by others, the words we do end up sharing are the furthest from what we intended and thereby, we are left feeling unheard and the pain/unspoken truths still sit beside us. Thoughts and sentiments can eat away at us, bit by bit until we reduced to silence or whispers. It pains me each day I see others doing to this to themselves, because I know, firsthand, how deeply painful it is. Ignoring or repressing it doesn’t make it disappear, or even numb it, despite what we might think. Those little jabs at our loved ones, self-defeating judgments of ourselves when we look in the mirror and beyond – all of them, I truly believe, are the those unspoken thoughts and feelings rearing their vicious heads.
So, if I can say one thing as we make our way into the holidays and the New Year, it is to speak your truth. Speak it loud and speak it clear, because others can only hear you if you take the risk and remember, no matter how hard we may try, others opinions of us cannot be controlled by us. We have no power over someone’s thoughts of us, we only have power over how we present ourselves, the words we say and the choices we make. My hope is that you’ll make the choice to make your voice heard, speak the truth and speak it clear.
Happy Holidays! It’s been awhile since I last posted, but I hope your holiday season has been a pleasant and enjoyable one, thus far. These past couple weeks have left me feeling nostalgic, given the arrival of old friends in the area for the holidays and past memories and sentiments starting to surface. From the latter portion of my middle school years through high school, I had a solid and defined group of best friends. It was always the 5 of us, with several of our other friends occasionally mixed in. It felt good to be apart of a close knit gathering of friends, people I could turn to in both the pleasant times and the less-fortunate occurrences, or so I thought at the time.
The holiday season for my friends and I always culminated at one of our house’s, where we would trade gifts and laughter, watching our favorite movies and eating all of “our” snacks (typically the much-loved Goldfish crackers, Oreo’s, Doritos, and a bunch of other packaged goods). Prior to our holiday gathering, my mom and I would scour the mall for what seemed like hours, trying to select the “perfect” gift for each of my friends without emptying our wallets. It was an annual shopping event I almost enjoyed as much as the actual holiday gathering. Often when we finished shopping, I would count down the minutes until I could finally present my friends with their gifts and cards, eager to show them how much they meant to me. To be honest, back then, I operated under the impression that we would all be best friends forever. I envisioned rooming with one of my friends in college, having wonderful adventures and escapades traveling through Europe and beyond. I believed all would work out and we would have a life filled with nothing but fun and excitement. Back then, it all seemed so simple and like a puzzle that could be easily solved with little difficulty.
My senior year of high school, or truly, the end of junior year, my friendships started to fall apart. Broken down by stress and my own self-defeating thoughts, my priorities and focus started to change. The same friends who I shared so many laughs, parties, and adventures with, began to fade from my life. Sometimes, it’s embarrassing for me to admit, given it’s been over 10 years at this point, but their absence still hurts. Given the outpouring of social media today, (in particular, Facebook), I will occasionally spot photos of them (the few who are still friends), planning their bridal showers and weddings, seeing their adult lives mold together. It’s hard to not search for myself in some of those photos, as I can easily step into my basement and retrieve scrapbooks created for me by two of those friends, showcasing all of our smiling faces huddled together. On occasion, I’ll even see one of my former friends in the area, in a store, and they will avert their eyes, pretending like we are two random souls simply shopping in the same store and maybe in a sense, that is what we are now. It’s often hard for me to reconnect to the teenager I once was, or truly believe it was me. Cognitively, I know it was me, but given all the life experiences since adolescence, it’s hard to establish that emotive connection to my former self.
In reading this, one might wonder, well, if I truly feel such sadness and remorse about these former friendships, then why not reach out? The simple answer is, I have. There have been through the years, many unsuccessful attempts via Facebook – messages that have been read, but ignored, and perhaps there is a reason for it. If they have moved on, then it is their prerogative to remain silent. That being said, we all make choices for whatever reasons we do. Sometimes, we make decisions/choices for self-protection, wanting to shield ourselves from future emotional and/or physical pain. Other times, we make choices or decisions because we truly feel it is what is best for us in that moment.
Given how much has changed in my life these past 10 years, it’s often difficult for me to even believe these friendships even existed and weren’t figments of my imagination. Though, I know, it is only steps to my basement where those scrapbooks sit, crafted for me by those very friends, holding all the memories and moments I once held so close to my heart. It is a part of my past and though it can be hard to reflect back on it, I’m still glad it happened.