On October 28th, 2013, I was cleaning out my garage on what would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday. I was six years into counseling, clearly lingering at my own pace, making progress in my own time, trying to figure out who I was before life had its way with me. I put in my ear buds, strapped on my iPod and started digging into the pieces of our marriage and family that had built up in the garage and in my head from the past 25 years.
After about an hour, I came across a spiral bound notebook, a journal my therapist had asked me to keep when I first began counseling. There were entries from 2007, pages upon pages of scrawled assignments, tear stained missives and the wrapper from a Hershey Kiss. I found a page I had divided into columns with words describing what type of person people think I am (happy, funny, self-assured), who I want to be (happy, funny, self-assured) and who I really am (sad, lost, petrified.) I discovered a page filled with a list of the things I loved about my life and my marriage, and a list of the ways we had torn our hearts and selves in two. I saw ways in which I felt I had failed my children, ways I was certain I had fallen short. And further back, I found my wishes and whims filling page after page inside of this tattered notebook, none of them respected or realized. Every entry read as if time had stood still. Nothing had changed. Not one…damn…thing.
I started to sob, convulse really, sitting in my driveway, as Taylor Swift’s “White Horse” shuffled into play and wormed its way into my ear. Taylor was wailing (I love her, but the wailing…)
“I’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairy tale.
I’m not the one you’ll sweep off her feet,
And lead her up the stairwell…
This ain’t Hollywood, this is a small town
I was a dreamer before you ever let me down…”
This made me cry harder.
I can’t have spent six years wallowing in precisely the same hopes and hurts, filling page after page of thin blue lines with carbon copies of the year before. It seemed impossible but my handwriting wouldn’t lie. I had gone nowhere. I had done nothing. I hadn’t made any progress at all.
I raced to the trash bin on the side of the house to throw this ugly, college-lined truth away and felt something crunch under my feet. I looked down and saw a baby bird. Though it was likely dead already, I wasn’t completely certain I hadn’t ended things. I thought of its mother, and then my heart wandered to my mother, and this completely unglued me. I was hysterical now, and something about that soft, fuzzy, dead, squished baby bird reminded me of where I hadn’t gone, what I hadn’t done, the time I had disrespected and squandered.
Life is so very precious, and I suddenly realized that unless I changed, and if that process didn’t begin that very day, one journal soon I would be 80 years old, lamenting the same dreams, making the same lists, spending my final moments weighing identical pros and cons while I jammed another composition book into an overfilled, neglected bookcase. I would be gone one day like my mother and this poor baby bird. I was at risk of never taking flight. And as my tears fell onto the little bird’s feathers, I pushed the shovel into the cold hard ground to bury the messenger. It would take some effort, but I realized that I was strong enough to dig this hole and in honor of this bird, I would spread my wings and fly.