As I was running my Sunday 10K this morning, I was mulling over the fact that it was Easter morning.
Resurrection is the symbol of the day, so I starting thinking about that, particularly the resurrection of the human spirit.
I've often said that I was never athletic before last year, because as an adult, I eschewed every bit of physical activity out there until last year. But did you know that at age eight I could do cartwheels on the balance beam? I competed in state events, including floor gymnastics and the vault, and was one of the fasted sprinters at my school. I played outside everyday: kickball, softball - any kind of sport, until it was too dark to play, and then sometimes, after that. With this came good grades and two proud parents, who believed I would, could, should be anything I wanted to be, and told me that, often. An ideal childhood, with virtually none of the risk-factors that are associated with problems later in life.
Then, as I entered junior high, something mysterious happened. Nobody knows what. It's the same thing that happens to a lot of smart, confident girls who enter junior high.
That belief in myself - that I could do anything
that I deserved only the best intentions, behaviors, and decisions,
My parents were baffled, as are many of the parents that I see every year a teacher - anxious, sad faces sitting across the table from me, heartbroken. Asking me, why, why? Why would a smart young person suddenly become an F student? Stop loving the things they used to love? Become surley and inactive? I sit across from them, year after year, I am frustrated both as a teacher and a parent, as my parents must have been, because I just don't know. Motivation is the golden fleece of all educators - of anyone who works with youth. If I had the answer, I'd be rich, and teacher of the year. What causes a strong, assertive, talented little girl to lose her belief in herself? Some blame peer pressure, rock music, negative messages from society.
By the time I was in my twenties, having barely graduated from high school on time, I had the lowest of expectations, both of myself, and others. An early marriage and baby at nineteen to a man who beat me, tried to kill me, then eventually killed himself; then a second marriage to a man with whom I had nothing in common, and two more children. Eventually, I found myself in rural South Dakota, divorced, with three young children, on public assistance.
Then one day, hope. A true miracle is the indominable human spirit. A twenty-five mile trip in a beat-up pickup truck to fill out college and financial aid applications and a voice that whispered, "Maybe." Changing a infant's diapers on the desk of a faculty advisor while signing up for first semester classes. Friends and neighbors who brought information of every available assistance to make it easier - I didn't do it alone. But I was the one who made the decision to do it.
Still, the transformation was slow, and more bad choices were made, based on a belief that I deserved and was capable of, nothing good. The beginnings of asking, "why does my life suck so much?!?" and this much louder and angrier, meaning that I was starting to whether I could, or would, expect more from myself and for myself. Anguish over a six-year relationship that, in itself, had been based on lies and deceit and had ended abruptly and unexpectedly. At that time, anger and grief would overcome me and I would run out the door and then up a large hill - the beginnings of a future love of running and the cleansing release that it provides were there - but then the anger, eventually, faded, when it fdid, the running stopped.
It took a counseling intern named Kim at the college to finally get me to say it: "I make the choices that I make, because I don't believe that I deserve better". Once spoken, I realized what bullshit it was consciously, but unconsciously the struggle had just begun. Mentors and advisors began to urged me to expect and reach for more. Go to grad school. Become the person I admired in others.
It was my mother's death in 1998 that turned the tide. I realized then how short life was. How could I NOT expect the best that life had to give, when the possibility of heartbreak meant also the possibility of joy? After getting an offer, I packed everything that would fit, including three children then 8, 11, and 14 - into the back of a fifteen-foot U-Haul, and for an assistantship at U. Alabama.
Except, well, except that before I left I had, with chattering teeth and nerves on edge, agreed to go out on a date with a doctoral student I'd met at USD. And then another date, and another. At first, thinking, why would he want to go out with me; I have nothing to offer him? He wanted to pack the truck and drive it to Alabama for me. He had never planned to raise any children, but he couldn't let me go.
Tuscaloosa didn't work out, but I was happy to have had the opportunity. I married the doctoral student (aka Husband), and we moved together to New Mexico. The two older children are now grown. Poverty, violence, uncertainty, insecurity - all a dim memory.
So, as I said, I was running this Easter morning, and I was reflecting about resurrection--the resurrection of a little girls' spirit, who believes she can do anything. Sometimes that spirit's voice is still for a lifetime, but sometimes, just sometimes, a voice whispers, quietly, "maybe".
Maybe I can leave a man who beats me.
Maybe I can go to college, and be a teacher.
Maybe I can go to graduate school.
Maybe I can run.
Maybe I swim, bike, and run - one right after the other.
Maybe I can be an ironman.
Happy Easter, y'all.
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