As a kid, I tended to excel.
I had some natural talents and fairly good smarts. I could read fast and retain information easily. I did well in school with mostly minimal effort, and quickly it became clear to me that anything less than Excellence was Failure. If I could have gotten a 99 or even 100, then an 89 was failing. My grades became a reflection of my Goodness, and there was very little if any gray area between my view of pass or flunk.
Between the chaotic toxic divorce of my parents and the sexual and emotional abuse I had suffered at the hands of a friend’s (much) older brother, there was not a lot I felt I could control in my world as a young teenager, not much reassurance that I was worthy or loveable. Except in those straight A’s. I could control them, I could prove I was good enough. The odd part was no one actually cared…. except me. My A’s weren’t rewarded externally in any way, my B’s weren’t berated and went equally unnoticed. But on the inside, my delicate sense of self-worth balanced on the precipice of a 4.0 GPA.
Then one day in AP something-or-other (cause I took AP everything but Math), I had a stroke.
One second a normal teenager taking notes, the next wondering if I was going to die without anyone realizing anything was wrong. My hand had turned to jello, and as incoherent scribbles dragged across the page I tapped my friend sitting in front of me only to realize I couldn’t speak to tell them something was wrong. I sat, pen in hand, trapped in my brain which was quickly coming to the realization that this was probably a Very Bad Thing. Class ended, and I walked to the front office. “I need my mom” I said. That’s all that would come out. “I need my mom.”
The official diagnosis in the ER was “transient ischemic attack”. Basically a little stroke that passed instead of sticking around to really do permanent damage. My body had betrayed me temporarily, but decided it wasn’t ready to go quite yet.
A few days later I was back in school. A few days after that a follow up appointment with a Neurologist informed me that I would no longer be permitted to continue taking Accutane (#poisonofthe90s) for my acne or the necessarily co-prescribed birth control pills as either one of them could trigger another event…..or more serious stroke.
I’m 17 here, remember. So my response was appropriately measured and mature:
“You can’t take away my birth control, I’ll get pregnant!” I said, admittedly indignant with a hint of panic in my raised voice. Stroke or no stroke, it surely couldn’t be worse than getting pregnant??
The Neurologist shrugged. “You shouldn’t be having sex anyways” and walked out of the room.
Three months later, two little lines on a pregnancy test altered the course of reality permanently. It’s one of very few tests you can get positive results, and still feel like a failure. I remember tucking it in my backpack, walking past my Dad and stepmom telling them I had to go out. I drove down the road to my boyfriend’s house, walked past his parents…..I can only imagine what my face was betraying but they didn’t stop us from going upstairs to talk.
We sobbed together. The weight of this “failure” seemed to be crushing the very life out of us. All my college applications had been mailed. A wide open future now narrowed forever to a hallway ending with only two doors: Adoption or Marriage. The third option of abortion was not an option for me, personally, although both my parents suggested it it to some extent upon receiving the news they were going to be grandparents. “My” life was going to be “over” if I continued the pregnancy they said. You can’t stay here if you decide to keep it, they said. In my mind….my life was already over. Whatever that life was going to be had, quite simply, ended. It was time to embrace the new life that hadn’t decided to be here, as scary and difficult and unknown as it might be, that little blossoming life deserved the best shot it could get.
This “Failure”, which at the time seemed so completely devastating, became the greatest joy, deepest love, and brought the truest meaning to my life. That moment in time, embracing that personal “failing”…..was a leap of faith in to an unseeable future that only time, tears, hard work, love and dedication could unveil as the single best decision I have ever made. Where at first I saw only closed doors, I realized eventually there were actually only new doors to discover and maybe a few open windows where we could once again glimpse the sky of endless possibilities. As long as we continued to choose Love, we would be alright.
I wish I could say because of this I got better at “failing”.
I wish I could say I stand here 18 years later knowing that what today feels like Failure…..could be tomorrow’s greatest achievement.
I wish I could say I learned to embrace the ups and downs of the life we chose 5 years ago with more grace and understanding as a result of this early lesson.
But I am only human.
Instead, my “failure” once again crushed the very life out of me. My failure to understand attachment disorder, my failure to modify my parenting in a successful way, my failure to embrace the chaos without feeling threatened, my failure to seek (better, more qualified) help, my failure to make the fairy-tale-Love-conquers-all a reality. I have no doubt my efforts certainly had all the markings of an A+….and yet I couldn’t manage a passing grade.
But Today….I am remembering the tenacity of a 17 year old who embraced the fact that her “life” was over and stepped in to uncharted territory with Love. I am remembering the 24 year old who knew her marriage was ending, and chose to step forward in to that failure with Love. I am remembering the Army Wife who said exquisitely painful Goodbyes and then moved in to the unknown of lengthy deployments with small children, smiling bravely as we counted down the days. Holding fear at bay through every phone call, every doorbell, every tear-filled bedtime with Love.
I am remembering the woman who sat at her laptop and saw the face of a small, motherless girl with a twisted leg, a world away, withering in a Ukrainian orphanage and said “I Will Not Look Away.” With nothing but Love.
A broken heart is just a broken heart. A failure is just a failure at the time. Life will deal us many.
What we do afterwards is Everything.
I am hopeful that 2018 will open it’s fair share of windows on the failures of 2017, so we can air them out and choose once again look on to the world with endless possibilities for healing, health, growth, learning, and most of all those sacred opportunities for continuing to walk the path towards the true meaning of Love.