Today I woke up with a mixture of contentment and the kind of grief that doesn’t just go away with a good cry. Thanksgiving Day is the start of a season that has never been the same since I lost my family. For many years now, my philosophy has been to be grateful for what I have instead of focus on what I don’t have. Ironically, Thanksgiving Day is the hardest day of the year for me to do this.
Years ago, my reason for living was instantly revived with a powerful experience that resulted in an undeniable miracle. That was the day I somehow stumbled upon the gift inside of me and with it, dedicated myself to service. Up to that point in my life, no matter how many friends I had, how successful I was, how great my family was, how much I was loved, how much this, that, or whatever…. nothing changed the overwhelming longing I felt to die, nothing. It’s been over five years since I discovered the gift that I have for changing people’s lives with the equivalence of a snap of a finger. It came very natural to me, all it took was a heartfelt prayer and a little dose of gratitude. By that time, gratitude had become a way of life for me. I remember how grateful I was to have a car with a rolled up mattress pad in it. As I saw it, with this, I always had a place to sleep, a place to keep my things, and a vehicle to get me where I needed to go. I was actually shocked the day someone asked me with a wide open stare, as if I just wasn’t right in the head to be so grateful, “Do you realize that you are HOMELESS???” I never thought of it that way. I knew of people that slept on park benches, under bridges, in cardboard boxes and in dumpsters. It just didn’t make sense to me to focus on the fact that I didn’t have a home when I was one of the lucky ones. After all, I lived in Hawaii and everything I needed fit in the back of my car… including myself.
The day I discovered this gift was the best day of my life in some ways, but at the same time a double-edged sword that presented a whole new host of new challenges. I found myself kicking and screaming every step of the way as all of the deepest fears in me bubbled up to the surface and infiltrated my world like a tsunami. The physical and emotional challenges that I had already experienced in my life were nothing compared to the challenges I was about to face. Little did I know, I was preparing to make this my life’s work by facing the biggest challenges I had ever known.
I wasn’t looking for this profession, if you can call it that. I didn’t want it and I certainly never expected it. I believed the better part of my life to be over when I moved to Hawaii to live in a tent. Severe depression that drained every ounce of will to live out of me was the least of my problems. Over the years I had become a master of disguise, skillfully hiding my misery from those around me so that I could still function in the world with a smile on my face and an heir of success. It wasn’t difficult, I just indulged in pleas of despair on my own time. Eventually, however, it got to be more than I could handle.
What broke me was, well… I’d have to say it was a bundle of blows all delivered back to back without a moment to pull myself back onto my feet in between. I remember asking the questions, “How much of this can one person handle??!” and more importantly, “What could I have possibly done to deserve this???!” I have always been the type of person who tried to do the right thing. You never heard me saying something hurtful for the sake of boosting my own ego. I didn’t have an ounce of retaliation in my blood, no matter how much someone may have hurt me. I honored my commitments, was loyal beyond measure, and have always derived so much more pleasure out of giving than receiving…so again the burning question haunted me, “Why me???”
I’ll spare you the details but give you a quick synopsis. First, the father that I adored was taken from me in an instant one Christmas Day when I unknowingly stumbled upon his dark side. When I accidentally discovered the extramarital affair he was having, without a second thought he kicked me out of “his” family with a vicious threat. He forcefully took possession of what I had always considered mine as well, thus ripping everything I had ever loved away from me. Hence, Daddy’s little girl became an orphan over night and that big black door swung open. My lovely little life as I knew it…gone for good. I packed up my things and moved out of the town just like my father demanded. It was like being blindsided by an eighteen wheeler, not realizing that it was a caravan of big rigs all out to get one thing….me.
In my new home town, I landed right in the arms of a wonderful new boyfriend… my new family. We were in love until I found out he was a pedophile. It was the second big shocker of my life, after four years of devotion, to find that my best friend, my new family, the man I chose to give my love to, was even more of a disgrace than my father. The process of getting him out of my life was a tricky one, to say the least. It was my first taste of a truly dangerous relationship that could have easily ended my life. Meanwhile, lifelong friends started dropping off one by one as the basket case named me was having a hard time holding it together.
Then, a successful retail business went down the tubes instantly the day someone decided to fly a couple of planes into the World Trade Center. As an added bonus, all of my retirement savings went with it. Call it big rig number three.
Next was brain damage that reared it’s ugly head on the first day of my new job and engulfed every aspect of my life with a rapid vengeance. Who would have thought I would ever lose the gift of thought? Obviously, you can take away my family, my money, my friends, and my business, but you can’t take away the brain function that I so readily take for granted. Wrong again.
Had enough, little girl? Nope. Let’s top that off with an FBI agent with a personal vendetta and a gun that I believed he might actually use on me. Paranoia penetrated every waking moment as I believed that at any given time I could turn around to find a pistol in my face.
Not to minimize this by blowing past it, but did I mention the a lost pregnancy devastation and failing health that resulted in seizures, narcolepsy, diabetic black outs and a degenerating spine that according to doctors would confine me to a wheelchair within the next few years?
The final blow, however, was getting fired from the job I had held onto with white knuckles since my very first day at work – the day me and my boss both realized that he had just given a six figure income to an imbecile. Protected by corporate policy, I endured one year amidst Fortune 500 chaos and was actually successful for a period of time. The brain damage was manageable as long as I had two things – a boss that didn’t want to admit to his own boss what a big mistake he made by hiring me, and the support staff that he hired do all of my office work for me. Ultimately, it was the nervous breakdown that I had after “my position was eliminated” that ensured my last hope gone by the age of 33. By this time, I had no poker face left, only debilitating sorrow and hopelessness beyond words. The answer? Hawaii.
At first it was just a temporary solution, a vacation…a band aid if you will. Without the slightest hope of ever recovering from the man slide of disaster I had created for myself, the only thing that made the least bit of sense to me was to stop trying. Don’t get me wrong, I had attempted feverishly to get a job immediately upon losing my last one. Without the poker face that had kept me functioning for so many years, I couldn’t even make it through a single interview without bursting into tears. With my body and soul broken, bruised, and whimpering, somehow I knew that if anything was going to pump a little bit of life back into me, it was in Hawaii. I decided to go to Maui for three weeks with only one intention, to find a reason to live.
For the first time since I could remember I had little desire to cry while I explored the white sand beaches and engaged with smiling, happy people that knew nothing of the disaster I had made of myself. One message kept coming to me over and over. People just kept saying it to me, but the old man sitting next to me in a small cafe finally got through to me. Without a word, he tore off a little strip of paper from his notebook and with a black marker wrote the words “Let go and let God” and handed it to me with a knowing in his eyes that this was exactly what I needed.
After three weeks in Hawaii I had found my smile again. I can’t say I was happy to be alive, but it was a start. On the day of my flight home, I was sitting at a table with six people who were staying at the hostel with me, when I looked at my watch and with a deep sigh, I said, “My plane leaves in two hours, I should go pack.” I said the words, but my body didn’t move. The next time I looked at my watch it was twenty minutes until my flight departure. Being fifteen minutes from the airport without a single bag packed, I said, “oh well…it looks like I missed my flight” and we all laughed. Just like that, a whole new way of being was born. To me, “Let go and let God” meant letting go of planning, doing what was expected of me, or needing to know what was going to happen next. I decided to follow my guidance. As ridiculous as that sounded to me at the time, it was all I had left.
While still sitting at the same table in the hostel, I decided to respond to the only other piece of paper that was handed to me during my three week vacation in Hawaii. While camping on Lanai, I met a nearby camper who lived on Kauai. Our conversation was brief, lasting no more than five minutes, but to this day I clearly remember him saying that I should visit Kauai before I left the islands. He said it was called “The Garden Island” and was considered the most beautiful island in Hawaii. The piece of paper he handed me had his name and phone number on it.
Before my missed flight even left Maui, I was on the phone calling him to ask if there was safe camping on Kauai. It didn’t make sense to me to keep paying for a place to stay with no hopes of ever earning an income again, but I thought that if there was a place for me to camp for free, like I did on Lanai, I’d go see The Garden Island before going home to figure out my life. His response to my question was yes, but that I didn’t need to camp. He told me he was preparing to house sit for a month on the opposite side of the island from where he lived and said I could stay at his place while he was gone. My immediate objection was that I didn’t feel comfortable renting a car for another thirty days. I told him that I could come for a short visit but that I wouldn’t be able to stay for the entire month. “You don’t need to rent a car. I have an extra car that you can use, you don’t even need to pay me.” said my knight in shining armor. Alrighty then, Kauai it is.
Until this point in my life, guidance seemed something meant for other people, the special ones, the gifted ones, the weird ones…anybody but me. Little did I know that all I had to do was ask for it with sincere surrender and it was there. Initially, it came to me in different forms than what I expected. I had seen others close their eyes, take a moment of stillness and wait for guidance to come directly to them. When they opened their eyes, they seemed to have clarity, a knowing that wasn’t previously there. When I tried this I got nothing but a small dose of unworthiness that told me that I wasn’t special enough to have my own direct connection to guidance. Oh well, it didn’t matter, I was going to Kauai to live in someone else’s house and drive their car for free and nobody was going to tell me that that wasn’t guidance.
Today, on Thanksgiving Day 2014, I am grateful for the inspiration to finally sit down and write some of the miraculous experiences I’ve had since I decided to make a change and move to Hawaii. It has been an incredible eleven years since the day I went on vacation. I lived on the islands for nearly seven years, the majority of which were in a tent. Never in a million years did I think I would recover from the physical ailments that nearly took my life. I certainly never expected the miraculous healing of the degenerative condition I was born with, to get my brain function back, or an instant healing of the depression that I had struggled with my entire adult life.
What I expected was the trajectory to continue with a rapid decline in health and a story that started with me homeless on the beach and ended with my sorry death, without anyone from my past ever knowing what ever happened to that basket case of a girl who couldn’t even remember her own family member’s names. At times I still grieve over the loss of my family, but depression is a thing of the past. No more big rigs, instead my life is one long caravan of miracles day after day, affirming to me that everything is happening for a reason and continually reminding me that everything is going to be ok…EVERYTHING.
Today, I am making a commitment to myself to continue writing every day until I have written down the entire story. It’s a big step, one that I have resisted for a very long time. I don’t have a plan or even an expectation of what it’s going to look like. I have not written since I was a child. The degenerative disorder I was born with made the simplest of life’s daily tasks unbearable and ensured that nothing ever went onto paper (or onto a computer) unless it was absolutely necessary. The excruciating pain just wasn’t worth it.
With a healed spine and a story to tell, I trust that it’s time. With a little smile on my face I remember the day I met Vince, the man who hired me for that last corporate job I was fired from 11 years ago. He asked me what I saw myself doing in five years. Without knowing what was about to come out of my mouth or even why I was saying it, I confidently proclaimed, “This is my last job. I’m going to write a book after this.” This is the book that has been asking to be written for so long.