“True ambition is not what we thought it was. True ambition is the profound desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God.” -Bill W.
I just ended a 7-year relationship with a doctoral program.
At the beginning of this year, I received the most amazing news. The dissertation research project that I had poured my heart and soul into since 2009 since I began writing the dissertation had received IRB approval. I had been in the doctoral program since 2006. For those who aren’t familiar with research at the University level, this is the pinnacle achievement prior to being able to collect data and move forward with entering the scholarly realms. This means that I have created a research study that is ethically sound and worthy of exploration.
I usually don’t write poetry, but I participated in a spiritual activity the other week where I was challenged to reflect on a time when I felt I was my true self. After the reflection, I was supposed to write a poem. So I thought I would share it here:
My true self stands before you
So free, so full of wonder
So beautiful, so kind, so gentle
And you were there for me,
You held your arms wide open,
held me close, and said,
“I will never leave you…you are not alone.”
One of my favorite movies of all time is Amadeus. In my essay, “Music and Beer, (p. 60)” I talk at length about being taken to see that movie by my music teacher when I was a young child, and how the movie began my love affair with classical music and my adoration of the brilliant composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. To this day, I feel love anytime I hear any of Mozart’s music or play one of his pieces on my flute. I have told family members that I want Mozart’s Requiem in D minor (the “unfinished” death mass featured at the end of the movie) played at my memorial service after I die. Yes, my love of the man, his music, and the movie Amadeus is intense.
As a child, seeing that movie, I could only process the music, the wild interpretations of the man, Mozart, his flamboyance, arrogance, brilliance, and genius. But there was a bigger picture to this movie that I did not discover until I became an adult.
Although certified as one of my favorite movies of all time, it had been awhile since I really sat down and watched Amadeus all the way through. I recently decided to revisit this movie, popping in the DVD with popcorn and peach pop; a southside Chicago girl’s only way to visit the streets of Vienna–city of musicians. Once again, I became obsessed. But surprisingly enough, not with the man, Mozart, or the music, but with the underlying emotional and psychological themes that I was unable to extract from the movie as a child.
With all of its historical accuracy, the movie, Amadeus is largely a work of fiction. Based on the play by Peter Shaffer, the movie bears the name “Amadeus,” but Mozart is not necessarily the main character. It is Antonio Salieri; a part fictional, part nonfictional representation of Vienna’s court composer and Mozart’s “nemesis,” who is at the forefront of the movie (and the play–I recently saw the play as well, and it was a wondrous event). Salieri despises Mozart for his brilliance, genius, and his ability to compose the most “miraculous” of musical works with what seems like little effort. This composer-envy (albeit one-sided) builds throughout the movie and ultimately turns into complete hatred toward Mozart on the part of Salieri; for Salieri believes that Mozart is “God’s muse” and that his music is the very “voice of God.” Salieri only just wants to be a great composer, praying to God to “enter him” to create one piece of true music.
It was a battle between “mediocrity” and excellence.
But here’s the truth. Salieri was a good composer. He was just unable to recognize his own worth and his own beauty as a composer, because he was wrapped up in his comparison with Mozart.
Comparison. Thief of joy. (paraphrased quote by Theodore Roosevelt)
This is something that we are all guilty of doing.
The character of Salieri felt that there was this intense competition with Mozart and constantly compared himself…and this whole competition and comparison took place in Salieri’s head. It ultimately crippled and consumed him, and led him to the point of emotional destruction.
I started to reflect. How many times have I been so wrapped up in what others are doing; what they look like; what their accomplishments are; what their lives look like; how their lives are progressing?
This analysis of this movie is not new. But revisiting this movie as an adult put my own personal struggle with comparison into perspective. As mentioned before, the character of Salieri was a fine composer in his own way; he had his own unique style, and for goodness sake he was blessed by God to know music! How many people do not even know how to write one note? As I was watching his destruction unfold, I thought,
What a pity. If Salieri could have just focused on his own authenticity, instead of his own perceived inadequacy, he could have been great.
Damn. Sometimes it takes awhile for the light bulb to come on, and sometimes it comes on like a flash. I said to myself,
Michele, if you could just focus on your own authenticity, instead of your own perceived inadequacy, then you can be great.
And there it is.
What’s funny is at that at the top of my goal list of things to let go of for 2014 is comparison. Be careful what you wish for. You never know what route your Higher Power may take to get you to where you need to go.
Beautiful – excellent of its kind. wonderful; very pleasing or satisfying.
I never knew that I didn’t know who I was. Or maybe I always knew, but there was so much emotional junk that needed to be removed for me to finally embrace who I am. As I have been on this path of emotional recovery and healing, I have discovered who I am. I am continually discovering who I am. The challenge I have found on this journey to my true-self, is acceptance. Since I have been in denial about my authenticity for so long, the challenge is loving myself and having the courage to share that authenticity with others.
This process of self-discovery has been a definite bumpy road. It has not and is not easy. Part of the reason is because I have had to accept the imperfect, less than the best parts of me as a path to learning that is a part of me as well. My ideal self makes all the right decisions, doesn’t make mistakes, performs at the top of her game, and is good all the time. But discovering who I am has not been just about discovering the good parts. It has been about learning and trekking slowly toward accepting my weaknesses and areas of growth. It’s about accepting the places that do not look so good along with the parts that look great and realizing it makes an awesome package.
This authenticity…the integration of the good and the bad, yes, I have come to the conclusion is quite beautiful.
The word beautiful – I believe is an active process. At first glance, something beautiful means that it is pleasing to the 5 senses; specifically what is pleasing in front of the eyes. While that may be a part of it, I believe that there are quite a few not so beautiful moments that lead a person, place or thing to being beautiful.
Beautiful has been my theme for 2013 because I have finally “seen it” within myself. I believe that I am beautiful…even if it is not affirmed or confirmed by anyone else.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. -Helen Keller
There have been several not so beautiful moments or feelings that I have had to peel away. And in doing so, I have had a glimpse of my beautiful core. And now that I’ve seen it, I have something to reach for and remember on those days when external forces try to overshadow my beauty.
My hope is that everyone get that same glimpse of “beautiful” within themselves as we go forward to a new year. Thank you to everyone who has been with me, continued with me, and are just starting with me on this journey. I look forward to more “beautiful” to come.
The January 2014 issue of Foliate Oak Literary Magazine is out. It’s a beautiful issue in general…but specifically, it features my essay “She Had Known Me Forever” in the Creative Nonfiction section. This essay is my most emotionally profound to date, as I discuss the emotional aftermath of my sister’s murder…and how that loss ultimately connected me with my best friend. Through the darkness, there is always light. I hope that you will enjoy and respect my vulnerability, as I share another delicate part of my story.
“Remember, the two-legged and the four-legged are made by the same creator. We are relatives.” -Cloud Dancing (from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman)
“No creature is undeserving of love. God reminds us of that.” –Today’s Gift from Hazelden
It had been a long week. For various reasons, I was feeling especially lonely and disconnected. That’s kind of how the holidays have been for me. In and out of gratitude, comparison, joy, depression, back again to thankfulness, reflection, and back to hopelessness. Earlier in the week, I had spent time with my best friend, lost hope in what I thought was a promising romance, and learned of an upcoming publication success. The ups and downs of life. Nothing new. I came home Friday night, wanting to share my disappointments and successes with someone in my house. But there were more pressing issues that the people in my house had to share with me. I listened. I responded. I reacted. I worked: took out the garbage, started the car, brought water to my mom, washed the dishes, unstopped the toilet, swept the kitchen, fed the cat. I was needed. I started to wonder, if I didn’t come home, would anyone really miss me? Perhaps if the dishes started piling up. I don’t know. I wanted to run away. Perhaps starting over in another town would be good.
Okay, with the pity party over, I basically felt unappreciated, and codependently unable to ask for what I needed.
Of course the people who live with you are supposed to know what you need!
So Saturday, I slept. All day. My all day slumber was probably 50% depression, 30% exhaustion, 10% disappointment, and 10% guilt and shame for feeling the depression, exhaustion, and disappointment. Got up…ate…slept some more. I was checking out. Every time I felt a hint of emotional pain, I would turn over and sleep some more. It’s not the most evolved way of dealing with feelings, but it’s all I had yesterday. It was the best I could do. Toward the end of the evening, I emerged for a bit and spent time with my family…who were still quite self-focused. I watched a movie and then made a decision to not do this same thing again today. Sunday, I would get up, get dressed and go to church. Yes. Having somewhere to go will help.
That’s where the funny part comes in…
I woke up early this morning feeling the same sadness and hopelessness that I felt yesterday. I said, forget it. Maybe I need just one more day of slumber. It’s freezing outside anyway. I’m just going to turn over and go back to sleep.
The moment I turned over, there was my cat, Samson, on my bed, looking intently at something by his paw. He kept poking and poking at it. I thought it was a bug. But then, I saw the four legs…then the little tail…
It was a mouse!!
A dead mouse. The cold temperatures in Chicago have led those little mousey guys into our warm home. We have an old house and there are lots of cracks and crevices that those little guys sneak through. And my 10 year old cat, being the great mouser he is, caught that little guy, and brought him to his mama.
Disgusting yes. But two things happened here. Be careful what you wish for. Just a few days earlier, I had felt unappreciated. Here, my cat was showing me that not only did he appreciate me, that he loved me enough to bring me his prey to share.
The other thing that happened here was that I was so freaked out and disgusted by this dead mouse in my bed, that I was fully awake and no longer going to turn over and drown in my sorrows. If I was going to cry it out, I was going to cry it out among others. In church community. So I went to church, then took myself to breakfast. And then on to one of my favorite places…as I write this…I am at the library.
My problems unsolved, still feeling rather lonely, but among the living. Fulfilling my purpose through writing these words.
And it humbles me to think that God used two 4-legged creatures to communicate His message to me today:
You are Loved
Get your butt up and show that Love to others.
And so it is.
“Expressing gratitude is a powerful practice. It transforms painful events. That doesn’t mean saying ‘thank you’ only for receiving something good, although that’s part of it…we can turn almost any experience around by practicing gratitude for what we experience or feel each moment, especially the moments we don’t like. If we’re grateful for what we label good, we’ll only be grateful a few times each week.” -Melody Beattie
Every year on Thanksgiving people stop and take a moment to reflect on what they are thankful for. I am thankful for my family, health, a job… blah, blah, blah. This of course is all good and we should all be thankful for these things. But what about the bad stuff? Is it possible not only to be thankful for the good in the midst of the bad, but to be thankful for the bad? Well let me rephrase…
Can we be thankful for the possible meaning and purpose behind the seemingly bad?
Sometimes yes and sometimes no. I think if I’ve had some sort of breakthrough or clarity about a situation I can do it. But if I’m struggling with understanding in a certain area of life, it’s more difficult. So I’ve decided to challenge myself. Can I come up with 5 seemingly bad things to be thankful for? Let’s see:
I’m thankful that I am in my late 30s and still live at home with my mom
I’m thankful that I am in my 7th long year of working on my doctorate
I’m thankful that I’m single
I’m thankful for the past dysfunction in my family
I’m thankful for my financial failures
You may be thinking, really, Michele. Seriously. You expect me to believe you are grateful for all of that.
Not on the surface, but there’s always more. I will rephrase these statements and maybe it will make more sense:
I’m thankful that I am in my late 30s and still live at home with my mom…because this time I am spending with my mom is precious. It is my privilege to care for her in her old age and in the midst of her health challenges. It is my honor to get to know her as an adult. The memories we are building together now, I will carry with me when she is no longer with me. And I will have no regrets.
I’m thankful that I am in my 7th long year of working on my doctoral degree…because I really don’t see how things could have progressed any quicker. There are certain realizations I have made in my personal and spiritual journey that have been integrated into the progress I have made in my doctoral journey. The missing elements I have discovered in my doctoral research could not have happened unless I took the necessary steps of self discovery. And this takes time.
I am thankful that I am single…because I am not currently in an abusive or unfulfilling relationship. This time is allowing me to really understand the meaning of Love and has given me hope for the future and something to trust God for.
I am thankful for the past dysfunction in my family…because it gives me something to write about. I will be honest, this blog, my essays; none of this would be here if I did not have to emotionally heal from something. And if communicating my message of healing, recovery, and connection is a part of my purpose, then it makes sense that I would have had to have experiences that parallel with that message.
And finally, I am thankful for my financial failures….because they have taught me to value the concept of financial responsibility. Although I have a long way to go in this area of my life, my financial failures have made me aware of my weaknesses and the areas that need improvement. I have also learned to rely on my spiritual source more than ever.
I will not lie to you. Making that list was tough, but I think every once in awhile it is necessary to look at the things we think are going wrong in our lives through a different lens. I challenge everyone on this Thanksgiving day to be thankful for every good thing…and even a few bad ones.
Happy Thanksgiving. :)
“When I can envision a better existence, I can embrace uncertainty with courage.” -Rokelle Lerner
This quote stood out to me the other day as I was on my commute. When I saw the word “uncertainty,” I became instantly reflective about a post I wrote in September called “Uncertainty.” In that post, I talked about my hatred of uncertainty, where the hatred stemmed from, and my struggle to surrender to it. I found it interesting that the above quote included both the words “uncertainty” and “courage.” I would never associate these two words because I usually feel pretty wimpy when it comes to facing uncertainty. I can’t imagine myself facing it with courage.
But then I thought more about it for a moment. Over the last year, I have taken a few difficult risks in my emotional journey. I have risked my comfort in isolation to reach out to others. I have confronted difficult family members. I have made amends. I even asked a guy out. In my willingness to take these risks, be vulnerable, and feel feelings about those risks, whether they be extreme joy and happiness, or extreme sadness and depression, I have in essence faced uncertainty with courage. I have given of myself without knowing what would be returned. When I reach out for what I want, take a chance, get knocked down, frustrated, and disappointed, and still have a vision for something better…I realized that this is the integration of uncertainty and courage.
Today, I felt compelled to post this poem by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) because I always come back to it when I am struggling with understanding life as a whole. I’ve put the parts that really speak to me in bold. Enjoy! Visit Desiderata (Latin: desired things) for more info on the poem itself.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”