No More Braces

A few weeks ago I found my notebook from January 2016.

In black ink, I had listed the things I was hoping for in the empty pages of a new year.

I had just started a dream job. There were 363 days to fill with goals and books and friends and growth opportunities.

In March of that year, my optimistic self was whacked to the knees with loss.

My world contracted and my goals mixed with tears in a confusing, sloshing slurry.

I threw out my resolutions and sat and stared at walls. 

Recently, I sat in my dark basement reading my old words, my heart ached for my younger self. Ambitious. Hopeful. Unscathed by the flickering cold flames of loss.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed of my previous positive outlook. Foolish for hoping in a hurting world.

‘Silly girl, you didn’t know what was coming,’ the bad voices said. I knew it was bad out there – it just wasn’t bad for me. Not yet.

I can now see I did, in fact, fill 2016 with books and I learned about my friendships and I grew tremendously – just not in the ways I expected. Grief tore things, and stretched, and re-arranged my definitions of success.

As the sun set and rose on repeat, I’ve welcomed four more January 1sts. At the start of each year, I’ve made lists to direct my efforts, and set goals to move myself into new places. I carried forth optimism and an appreciation for aesthetics. Yet, even with my devotion to hope, I moved with clenched fists and braced myself for more.

For resolutions were my buffers and achievements were my shields. Chinks in armor. If I do enough, then this won’t happen again.

When I was a toddler, I had to wear braces so I could learn to walk. I don’t remember much of the plastic structures that covered my ankles and went up my tiny calves into Keds sized large to accommodate the extra support. I have one blurry memory of blue gymnastic mats and afternoon light as I put heel to toe, heel to toe, heel to toe across the room towards the voice of a physical therapist.

The braces gave me support, structure, and a permanent bend in my big toes.

They also, eventually, got to come off.

In my grieving, my braces – preservation and structure – have looked and sounded like many things.

… isolation

… no-thank you’s to invitations

… doubts and fears and the I couldn’ts, I shouldn’ts because walking without leaves one wobbling

… I’m not ready, yets

Some were healthy. Others I’ve outgrown. As a result of the spiritual supports, I’ve got a permanent bend in me now – a wound – a wonder – a missing.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. – SemiSonic

I sat under bad lighting at an oak kitchen table in a cabin in the woods as December turned to January in one minutes time. A decade slipped from one to the other in a split second.  There was no Ryan Seacrest and my young cousins had never heard of Dick Clark. No confetti. Just falling snow and the flick of a switch and we arrived.

Scrolling with my thumbs, I missed the moment the ball dropped. Two minutes into the new year I turned to kiss my husband on his forehead.


Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

This year, I’m removing my braces of fear and of worry. I’m kicking aside the lie that accomplishment protects me from all that could be coming round the corner.

There’s a voice calling me to keep at it.

I’ll be seeking the magic and believing in the good.

I won’t be ashamed to hope. I’ve just learned to carry my humanity differently.

I’m moving heel to toe, heel to toe, tentatively in the new year, with my braces kicked to the side of the room. What a beautiful thing.




You Can’t Count That

Have you noticed how goal oriented we are as a society? Or maybe I should ask, as my friends, have you noticed how goal oriented I am? I get so excited about checking things off my list, about saying whew… that project is done, or I’ve finally accomplished that! I have, for YEARS, been trying to read 20,000 pages in one year – a new years resolution that has rolled over for the 7th year now. (Two years ago I got close with 18,500 pages- last year was a dismal attempt at 7,500 pages). I love a good grading rubric (Thank you IB Program), my “FitBit @fitbit” that counts my daily steps, and anything else that helps me to quantify the things I am doing in my life.  It feels good and secure to check things off and say to who ever “they” are – ha! see I did it! Aren’t you going to applaud? Sometimes “they” do, and sometimes, “they” don’t.

But I have been thinking so much about how as I enter my mid twenties it is becoming more difficult for me to quantify my success. I suppose I know the right things to do that I’m not and it’s driving me crazy- the applying to grad school, the “career track”, the happy wedding planning, the saving to buy a house. I know, some day, I will accomplish all that but I am afraid I may look back and the applause won’t be there. I’m pretty sure when those things are under my belt I may feel a significant tug for ok, what now! I even feel that way about this project – how many ‘likes’ am I getting, and why is no one new following me! Am I performing too much for the invisible “they?”

Dylan and I often talk about how we measure success, and what it means to be living a happy life. Isn’t it rather ironic how difficult it is to put a number on such a thing? Sociologists, psychologists, researchers – they dedicate years of their lives to try and put a number on such an illusive concept. Success – what does that mean for me? Especially now when I’m not getting a grade, or a daily pat on the back from someone other than myself, or finishing a program and filling out an evaluation or a really wonderful rubric. I guess that’s what it boils down to – what does it mean to me? Well, I am not quite sure most days, but I am working on stepping away from the counting, the calculating, the trying to find an answer, and that standing on top of the mountain moment where I turn around and expect applause. I want my applause to come from my heart more than from others on a daily basis. This is a huge shift in attitude for me. Can you help keep me on track – because let’s be honest, the atta’ girls from society’s expectations feel so good. They make me feel on track, not off center. Other’s approval makes me feel secure. That’s ridiculous.

Maybe being ‘successful’ is more about bending in the wind, the side steps, and the ability to adapt to the world around me and the changes moving within me. Within ME.  Does anyone else ever wonder how hard it is to be an individual in such an individualist culture that is pulling us to all be the same thing? Yuck. I don’t want to be the same.

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This weekend we had the privilege of spending some time in Breckenridge at Dylan’s uncle’s cabin. It was a beautiful breather where I got to go skiing, and try snowshoeing for the first time, and sleep in, and watch the sun come up over Mount Quandry while drinking too many cups of coffee. So this week, I am thankful for the beauty that the mountains offer and for quiet at night. Do you know how quiet it gets at night when its just the stars and the beautiful whisper of the pines in the wind?

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I am thankful that I live in a destination state where people come from hundreds of miles to see. I am thankful for the beauty of a relationship where I can spend a weekend with a guy I love, whom I’ve spent six  years learning about, and learning with, and loving, and laughing. And I’m thankful that I can keep climbing mountains, when I’m not sure what’s behind that next bend. I am thankful for the beauty in knowing that I can work on expecting less applause at the top, but rather change my focus to appreciating where I’m at on the trail.  And I am finding beauty in the things that I am doing – the working for a non-profit, this project, the learning to love my parents as adults and friends, and the finding my way in the world – one day at a time, with patience and grace and a little bit of applause within my own heart.