“Nobody gets to go through life unscathed.”
This is a declaration I frequently use, mostly because it is true. We tend to look at other people and think they live idyllic lives, absent of turmoil and storms, but in truth, we all have times when our skies turn inky and the seas we navigate roil with turmoil.
My daughter Elizabeth has been experiencing one of those seasons, when finances forced her to abandon school and return to New Hampshire. The move was heartbreaking. She had to leave everything she loved behind- her apartment, her friends, the kitten she rescued from a dumpster. She sold some of her furniture, and gave away the rest. Then she packed what was left in the back of her car, and quietly wept as the two of us drove from Florida to New England.
Despair is dark place with deep muddy waters that drag our feet and keep us from moving forward. Like the hooves of Artax from “The Neverending Story” Elizabeth’s feet shuffled through our apartment as she aimlessly tried to unpack clothes and books. Mostly, things just moved from one pile to another, and nothing was really put away. She attempted to smile, but her swimming eyes betrayed her soul. The task of rebuilding her life was overwhelming, an insurmountable precipice looming before her. “Cheer up!” didn’t seem appropriate, but I wanted to help her to remember that all difficult assignments are accomplished one step at a time.
I looked at the white board hanging on the refrigerator. We use it to leave messages for each other- “Doctor Appointment- Tues. at 10:30,” or “Remember Library Books,” or “Gabe called- call him back after 9.” I wiped it clean and wrote at the top, “One Good Thing.”
“Okay, you guys,” I announced to Abby and Elizabeth, “Every day we are going to find one good thing to write on this white board.”
I detected a slight eye roll from my daughters, but the humored me. I found a black marker and carefully wrote, “Elizabeth is home.”
Abby followed with “I bought my wedding dress.”
Elizabeth obediently picked up the marker, and after a moment of thought, wrote, “I found my cup.”
I looked on the kitchen shelf where we store our mismatched cups. We all have our favorites for morning coffee, and among the familiar mugs was a new one- a white ceramic mug monogrammed with a big black E.
“Small steps,” I reminded myself, and grinned at her. She smiled back, and she looked a little less bewildered. I looked at the mug, nestled between Abby’s and mine in its new home.
In the days that followed, we continued to write on the white board. Elizabeth unpacked and arranged her belongings on her dresser. She set up her keyboard so she could work on her music, and a few days later, she interviewed and landed a job.
Now, almost two months later, the white board again is used for quick messages. Elizabeth still misses her friends and her cat, but her list of good things is becoming longer than that of her losses. She has become proficient at her job, is making new friends, and has taught herself to long board in the driveway outside our apartment. She has slogged out of the valley of apathy and she is once again starting to resemble the Elizabeth of her childhood on the move, full of courage and determination. It started with a simple step. A simple declaration. It started with one good thing.