Today’s Tiny Spark comes from Lisa Kramer, the word-wielding woman behind Woman Wielding Words. Her readers love her for her honesty, lyrical way of looping words into big thoughts, and her absolute sweetness. I had the pleasure of meeting this ray of sunshine over the summer. She was exactly who I thought she’d be: brilliant, warm, and a champion in living a full life. Today I’m thrilled for you to catch a glimpse of her special light.
LOOKING FOR THE END OF THE RAINBOW ONE DAY AT A TIME
When Tori first asked if I’d be interested in writing a guest post for her special series on Unexpected Good, my first thought was “Hell ya!” I mean, this is Tori we’re talking about; the woman who amazes me on a daily basis with her wit, her sass, and her powerful ability to take mundane language and turn it into something living and breathing, dancing off the page to kick you in the butt and make you laugh out loud or have some other dramatic reaction.
But then, I began to think about what she actually wanted—a story about surviving the dark times in life, about having hope even in the bleakest moments. Suddenly, I doubted my ability to do that. I doubted the value of my story. My dark moments are nothing compared to those struggling after Hurricane Sandy blew through with no regards to human needs. My most challenging moments are small compared to my friend Cathie who valiantly battled breast cancer while watching her own daughter fight and succumb to an even more vicious form of stomach cancer. My most difficult years seem like mere minutes in comparison to those who struggle on a daily basis simply to feed their families.
What story could I possibly tell?
Then I realized that life isn’t always about the dramatic dark moments. Sometimes, resilience or hope come from how we maneuver our way through smaller obstacles—the tiny, dark private moments that nobody talks about but we all share. Those moments when life seems so overwhelming that we just want to curl up in a ball, cuddle with our blankets and teddy bears, and yell “make it stop!” But we can’t stop, because somehow each of those moments turns into something else. We learn to transform our darkness into light and keep moving.
How do we do this? I can’t answer for everyone, but I seem to find my way by keeping a few clichéd thoughts in mind:
1) “This too shall pass.”
2) “It always gets done.”
3) “You can always write about it later.”
Allow me to elaborate.
Turning an Attack into Strength
During my first year of teaching in Japan, I was called into a meeting with the boss/owner of the English Conversation School and told that there was evidence that my work was not satisfactory, that I was the worst teacher in the group.
“What am I doing wrong?” I asked as I tried to hide the tears and fear.
“Well . . . I don’t have any specifics, but . . . “
Okay, let’s forget about the fact that this turned out to be someone trying to get me in trouble, for me this meeting was a crushing blow. I pride myself in working hard and always doing my best. I seek to learn, grow and improve whenever I take on a new challenge (and teaching at that point was a new challenge). I spent much of the rest of the day crying by the river, writing pages and pages in my journal and watching the few remaining cherry blossoms drift down in melancholy.
I could have taken this report and returned home in defeat, escaping a challenging year in a foreign country and writing it off as a failure. But I didn’t. I chose to stay, to work harder, and eventually was invited to extend my stay by the same employer, and moved on to become a Head Teacher/Trainer at a bigger (and better) English language school where I spent the next two years.
For me, being told I’m not good enough makes me work harder to prove someone wrong. The lesson I learned from that small incident served me well later in life: when my graduate school advisor tried to fail me because I didn’t do a favor; when a power-hungry woman tried to destroy my life and my family by manipulating the system so Nathan didn’t get tenure. With each of those events I worked harder, I wrote more, and eventually I moved out of the dark into the light.
From Loss Comes Blessings
Many years ago I realized that I needed a little help trying to find balance in my life. I found my emotions out of control, and would feel debilitated by the highs and lows of my personality. I talked to my doctor and we mutually decided to place me on an anti-depressant to see if that could help me regulate better.
Two weeks later I learned I was pregnant. I immediately stopped taking the pills as whatever prescription I had at the time wasn’t recommended for pregnant women.
A little over six weeks in, I lost that baby. I can’t describe the devastation I felt. I blamed myself for the loss of that child, and that of course simply spun me deeper into a hole of depression from which I was unsure I would be able to climb. I felt alone. I felt guilty. I felt like I had nobody to turn to who understood. I couldn’t tolerate the sympathy and placations. The “I’m so sorry” or the “Perhaps this is for the best.”
The only way I got through it was by writing. I started a course in writing for children and young people and began to find my voice.
As soon as I was physically able, we tried again. This time I kept the pregnancy secret for much longer, only revealing the truth after a tumultuous (vomit-inducing) elevator ride at a conference (but that’s a whole other story).
I could have chosen to give in to the depression and give up, but I found my way out through words. I could have said, “I don’t want to try again,” out of fear that I would lose another, but I found my own inner strength and Sarah was my reward.
Facing the Beginning in the End
Now I face another challenge as I watch my father slowly fade into the horrors of Alzheimer’s. Someday in the near(ish) future I will have to say goodbye to him for good. I will have to watch Sarah as she loses her Papa. I will have to be strong for my mother who has already said that she “feels like she’s missing her other half.” I will have to be supportive of my brother who is going through his own struggles that aren’t limited to his need to be there to help my parents. I will have to help my sister as she mourns. Suddenly, I am faced with the reality that we all face—that children eventually grow up and have to take care of their parents. I don’t know if I have the strength to do it, but I really don’t have a choice. How will I get through it?
I’ll do it because I have to, and meanwhile I’ll write of course.
Hopefully, despite the loss, I’ll find a new way to tell stories so that it helps others find the strength to face their own. I think that would make my Dad proud.
My story began as all stories do, with the hopes of a child who perceives that life is lived in a straight line; that we will achieve our dreams and goals without glitches along the way. But we all know in reality life doesn’t happen that way. We know the beginning (birth); we know the end (death); but the path between those two points is anything but straight.
The best we can hope for is that the path we choose ultimately leads to the end of a rainbow.
“& this is for colored girls who have considered suicide/but are movin to the ends of their own rainbows.” (Ntozake Shange )
How have you handled those small, everyday obstacles that feel so BIG?
Upcoming Tiny Spark:
Monday, December 10th