Before he cheats?
There are a few things I’ve learned to be true—at least for me—in my life.
1. There’s nothing more important than a person’s story. The best gift I can offer someone is my unbridled attention when she is offering it to me.
2. We should love people not things.
3. Powerful learning happens with an emotional connection. Sometimes, especially if you are a teacher or a parent or are in a relationship, you have to be the conduit to that connection for someone else.
4. Exposure matters. The more you’ve seen or heard, the more possibility there is for you. My inspiration is directly proportional to what I’ve been exposed—the more I encounter, the more material I have before me to pillage and plunder and recreate. I think that might be true for all of us.
5. And, finally, life keeps handing you the lesson you need to learn until you learn it. Ignore the lesson, dismiss its significance, and your need to learn it won’t go away. It’ll just amplify the volume later until you can no longer ignore it.
I have shared # 5 here before, and it’s a big one for me. I ultimately “got it” as a freshmen in college when my boyfriend (who I had dated my senior year of high school and then attempted to do the long distance thing with when we left for college) kept cheating on me. Yeah, by “kept” I mean more than once, each new encounter just piling up the licks. But I just couldn’t break up with him—and the irony is that I wasn’t having a hard time breaking up with him because I thought he was the one or that I needed to have a boyfriend. I couldn’t break up with him because it went against my understanding of myself as a nice, sweet, easy going girl. How can you be sweet and easy-going while breaking up with a guy for his own lack of sweetness, respect and judgment? It seemed forgiving was much more in keeping with who I was and so I went there. Until a random Monday, many months after any of his offenses and when all seemed to be going fairly well, when I thought, “I could just call him and politely break up.” Which I did around dinnertime, saying something innocuous yet clear about our finality and then ceremoniously going out to dance with friends late night, my sudden weightlessness such a relief that I literally did flips while swing dancing with a friend whose reputation as the best damn dance partner was his calling card.
Ever since that experience, I’ve tried my darnedest to learn my lessons early on. Sometimes I am sharp and on the ready. Other times, not so much—like the week I kept landing in the emergency room (once I was almost loaded into an ambulance as Jane Doe after passing out without identification in a CVS; I got retagged with my name after I came to and convinced the firemen who responded that I really did know my name) because I was sick—both with things we knew like bronchitis and tonsillitis and things we would only come to learn later like hypoglycemia— and wouldn’t quite working 16 hour days at the high school. “I am happy to keep seeing you here,” the ER doctor told me the second time he admitted me in five days, “if you’re happy to keep landing yourself here, but it would probably be in your best interest to just take care of yourself and have some boundaries.”
Boundaries. After that, I got it. Being sick and not knowing how to set boundaries without getting myself out of the situation completely was the subtext for why I left the high school for grad school, grad school being the theme. It was another moment in my life where life amplified the volume of the lesson to the point where the people around me were saying, “what’s that sound?” And now, ten years later, here I am again, with the siren call of a life lesson screaming at me. Last year, the lesson was more subtle—making one particular situation in freelancing uncomfortable enough that I thought, “I shouldn’t go here again.” And so just as soon as I could wrap up the situation, I did. And backed away slowly, a wash of relief, “I got out while I was still alive,” coming over me, relieved that the licks I took in the situation before I knew it wasn’t the right one for me were relatively minor.
Except, just recently, the situation made itself available to me again. I was in between projects; it was an easy thing for me to take on; and, just like when you foolishly forget all the reasons why an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend is an ex and not a keeper, I said yes. You know how this ends. A few days later, all the evidence that had been presented to me in years past as to why this situation wasn’t the right situation for me was presented to me again at deafening volume. It made me nauseous. It made me mad. It And, ultimately, it made me remember that life is a series of step forwards followed mercilessly by steps back. The key is to get yourself tuned into when the momentum swings and then bail before you lose all traction.