First day back from vacation is always a killer. After having reality suspended to enjoy life in out-of-the-ordinary ways, it’s tough to re-acclimate to the mundane. But it’s the perfect time to reflect on just what, exactly, do you want out of life?
Or…You Don’t Miss the Water Till the Faucet’s Run Dry
As a 21-year-old, I wore some atypical hats. Saying I became the “man” of the house with my dad’s death might be a stretch, but I definitely took over maintenance of my mom’s home. Repairs became my terrain, and I ended up being a relatively handy woman. That’s why when our kitchen faucet recently began to leak, I donned my pseudo plumber’s hat and tried to fix it. Continue reading “The Leaky Wheel Gets the Grease “
Divot in shin—knife drop, Easter Saturday, 2010. Forehead pockmark—head-butt on bathtub faucet, 1969. Knee “freckles”—torn meniscus, soccer game, 2012… I could go on and ON. My body is full of scars and imperfections. I’m guessing you might have a few, too.
We typically look at these kinds of marks on our bodies as flaws or eyesores. After all, they rarely, if ever, add beauty to a person’s body, right? Stretch marks anyone? But what if we considered them not as imperfections, but brushstrokes that come together to help create the work of art that we are?
In a way, each mark that we acquire through our lives is a mark of our journey. They may not necessarily “represent” anything in particular, but they are a part of us. Maybe if we cast a kinder eye on those scars we would be better able to see them as an essential part of ourselves.
You don’t get through life unscathed.
And what about the scars below the skin—the ones that we carry on our hearts? Maybe your heart is marked with the death of a loved one. Maybe there are rejections you’ve suffered in love, work, or friendship. Maybe you’ve gone through a trauma that you have yet to give voice to. Maybe you have been treated unfairly or abused. Maybe you’re battling an illness. Maybe you’ve failed in some capacity. Maybe many or all of these things have touched you in some way.
These kinds of hurts definitely leave their mark. Some much deeper than others, but a mark nonetheless. And while it is critical to work toward healing in every way we can, we will never be able to bring the heart back to what it was before the scar.
We are forever changed.
But what if we also look at these scars as brushstrokes on the canvas of our lives? Each mark helping to form who we are? Though this perspective doesn’t take away the pain of the “heart scar,” it may help us to see that there is meaning within it.
I know some of my heart scars have equipped me to be a better person. I’m using the term “better” here in a relative sense—as in what I believe is important. Compassion and empathy are important to me, and my heart scars have led me to be more compassionate and empathetic.
Of course, hindsight helps me understand this. For example, my dad died of cancer when I was 21. Obviously, that is a major heart scar with many facets to it—some obvious and some not so obvious. But I had no idea when I was going through it how many times I would be able to be there for a friend who was going through the loss of a loved one or battling cancer. Simply being there with some firsthand understanding ended up being of some comfort to several people in my life since then, and I am grateful for that. It means that the loss of my dad and the pain that is left behind from it in some way served a purpose. The heart scar has meaning.
And since we know we won’t get through life unscathed—either physically or emotionally—it helps to recognize that those brushstrokes are helping us become works of art even through the pain.
At least it helps to know for me.
In my mind’s eye, when I stand back and see how my “brushstrokes” are coming together, I see the work in progress that I am. I see how many things, when observed in isolation—can only be seen as ugly or painful—but with some perspective, are essential to the creation of the work as a whole.
Though some days my life canvas looks like something painted by Pollock or Picasso when I’d prefer Degas or Hopper, it is a work of art nonetheless. And that work of art is me.
I wonder what challenging brushstrokes you’ve been through…and what does your painting look like?
All photos are my own.
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Do you ever feel like some days life is really just a big dodgeball game and you’re the only one left on your side of the court? Balls flying everywhere and all you can do is run around like Phoebe from Friends until the inevitable happens and you get pummeled from numerous angles?
Okay, maybe it’s not that intense, but too often outside forces can lead us to lose sight of our true purpose.
When I taught, my fellow teachers and I had to deal with an onslaught of issues from the administration. It was, quite frankly, often hard to swallow, as those who were telling us what we needed to do in the classroom had either never taught before, or had a year or two of teaching physical education under their belts before moving over to administration. I’m pretty sure a surgeon wouldn’t be thrilled with a first or second year resident telling her how to operate. But I digress.
With the swirl of outside forces clouding my vision, I used to tell myself this one thing to remember why I was there:
Shut the door and teach.
After all, that was my true purpose. I didn’t get into education for the politics of it all—I became a teacher because of my love of learning and wanting to share that with my students in the hopes that they, too, might also fall in love with it—or at least fall in like with it. Ever the realist, I am.
Just shut the door and teach—because that is why you are here. This is your purpose, your calling—and don’t let yourself get mired down in the morass of what is flung at you from those outside forces.
Along my life’s journey, I have had other callings, and still the same mantra holds true. While I’m no longer in the classroom, I still need to remind myself to shut the door and teach, in whatever adaptation that means.
No matter what my purpose is, I need to shut out the (often negative) distractions and zone in on what I can do to make a difference.
Even within our personal lives, we need to remember to shut the door and teach, so to speak. After all, we can really rip ourselves apart when we lose sight of our core purpose: to love one another.
Really…isn’t that just it? God calls us to love him and one another. Period.
We are not called to feel poorly because our house isn’t just the way we want it or our kid doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that seemingly everyone else does. We are not called to be caught up in the “stuff” of this world.
We are not called to be the answer to every unfolding drama that comes our way or every problem dropped in our laps. Sure, we are to do our best and take responsibility appropriately, but it needs to be in keeping with our purpose—not derailing us from it.
Just shut the door and teach…and love.
Of course, this doesn’t make the distractions and negatives disappear. We all know better than that. After all, the administration kept right on with their form of educational dodgeball. And bills won’t pay themselves. And crises still come our way. Life will still send us ducking and dodging, but we are hopefully more fulfilled because we keep our focus through it all. (Or at least on most days. Still the realist.)
So for all of us who from time to time feel pummeled by the world around us, I hope you are able to do your own version of shutting the door and teaching…of remembering your calling and keeping those that have a habit of putting obstacles in your way in their proper place.
Remember what you came for…and then do it.
There are few times when a finger is pointed at you that it’s a good thing. Maybe you’re getting picked for a game of kickball or maybe you’ve raised your hand to be chosen for Let’s Make a Deal…but usually a finger aimed at you is a call-out of some sort.
Merriam Webster defines it as “the act of blaming someone for a problem instead of trying to fix or solve it; the act of making explicit and often unfair accusations of blame.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting exhausted with our culture of finger-pointing.
The polarization of society is something that really hurts my heart. Be it politics, religion—any number of social issues—people are so busy being adamantly, unwaveringly “right” and often just denigrating and denying the other side’s perspective, that our world is filled with hatred and so-called “righteousness.”
When I taught high school English, one of the exercises I created to try to get students ready for a healthy debate was what I called the 9/6 Perspective. (I had to put the numbers in that order because calling it the 6/9 Perspective would cause too much giggling in a room full of teenagers).
The exercise was very simple. I wrote a figure boldly on a piece of paper, set it on a desk, and had all of the students circle around. Then I’d have two students stand on either side of the desk and tell me what they understood to be written on the paper. Without fail, one would say “a 9” and the other would say “a 6.”
I’d ask them “Are you sure?”
“I know my numbers, Ms. Ancona….”
“Of course I know a 6 when I see one…”
They were certain of the facts in front of them.
Then I would ask the rest of the class, “Well….who’s right?”
This would result in multiple voices speaking up…”They both are!” “It depends!” “If you’re on either side, it looks right!”
And so on…And eventually we would put words around the reality that each “side” saw their own truth—though the answers were completely different.
But it was still their truth.
How you see things matters. Where you’re coming from matters.
And the same goes for the other person.
Now don’t think I see myself as righteous in this respect—my own stances can be passionate for sure (ask me about equal rights, gun laws, or preaching love over law and be ready for an impassioned response)—but I know that when we shut the other side down with scorn and disdain, we simply grow farther apart when the real challenge is learning to live together.
Acknowledging and listening doesn’t mean agreeing or embracing. To listen to a 6 when you are a fervent 9 doesn’t mean they win or you give in, but it hopefully brings the debate to a healthier level where opinions are offered without calling names or spewing hatred.
The ease with which we can “plant our flags” and take stands on Facebook and Twitter has only made the situation worse. It always saddens me so when I see someone share their hatred of “the other side” in a post, and then see the “likes” and comments that follow.
Before the ease of social media to share such things, the circles of disdain or hatred were smaller—or at least more under the radar. Now people share how others “disgust” them right after they post what a great time they had at the beach.
I think we can be better.
The person who sees a 9 when you know a 6 is right is still…a person. So while we can hold tight to our belief in 6, let’s not just be “disgusted” by the 9-seer. Let’s instead work toward what we might be able to do to get that person to walk over to our side of the desk and see the 6. Or maybe we need to do the very same to see their 9. And maybe when we’ve done that neither side will have budged a bit, but at least we might better understand why they believe in what they do.
I don’t mean to simplify life’s complex issues and people.
I know it’s not easy to extend grace when we are passionately entrenched on an issue…
…but I believe it’s what we are called to do.
And I very much believe in what the late, great Maya Angelou said time and again: “We are more alike than we are unalike.”
And if we look at one another that way rather than with contempt, we just might have ourselves a better world to live in.