Tag Archive: abuse


Forgiveness in Fred Meyer

I had the most interesting experience today in the most unexpected place. My younger son was invited to a birthday party happening today (and he gave me the invitation yesterday) so I decided to save on gas and just get the gift on the way to the party. We were running a bit behind (I blame facebook) and dropped him off first so he wouldn’t be late then headed to the nearest store that sells toys which happened to be Fred Meyer. After I found the gift I walked around a bit to kill some time and ended up in the garden section. As I was looking at all the interesting plants and flowers, thinking about life and my kids and what I was going to write about next, I suddenly found myself in the indoor plant section.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a small jade plant, the only one left on the shelf. I instantly felt nostalgic because when I was growing up in my grandparents’ house there was a jade plant sitting on the kitchen table in front of the window. I loved that table because my grandfather made it himself and it was strong and sturdy with lots of scratches and dents from years of use. It had character just like my grandfather. I loved the jade plant, well, just because. I remember my grandmother taking care of it and watering it. I guess I would consider it her plant. The photo to the right is of me standing next to the table. That’s not the jade plant there, but I remember it loving it, too.

If you haven’t read my other posts that go into the relationship I had with my grandmother you may be forming a picture in your mind of a sweet old lady caring for her plant and smiling at me as she lovingly poured water into the pot. Yeah, not so much. Sure, she loved the plant, but there was no tender bond between us. Because of that and all the things she did to me over the years I’ve struggled with feelings of hatred toward her. At some point I stopped actually hating her and those feelings were replaced with indifference. I forgave her on some level and found peace with it. There’s no way I could’ve let go of the hatred if I hadn’t. But today, after years and years of nothing particularly new in my view of her or how my childhood affected me, something very strange happened.

As I stood there looking at the jade plant I suddenly felt we had a connection, a bond between us. My grandmother, not the plant. Don’t get me wrong, she passed away years ago and my personal belief system and understanding of the Bible does not include people going straight to heaven or wherever and looking down or up at us, but that they are waiting, knowing nothing for now as if in a deep sleep. So I’m not saying it was some spiritual connection from beyond the grave. I just mean that I can finally see her as someone I have something in common with. Something that, if she were still alive, we could share and talk about. I am able for possibly the first time in my life to see her as a person completely separate from all the crap that happened between us.

It’s as if a veil was lifted and I can now clearly imagine her growing up, having hopes and dreams. She had friends and boyfriends. Things she liked and disliked. Things that made her laugh so hard she cried. She was a person, not a monster. She just wanted what the rest of us want, what I want…a happy life with a loving family and to feel like she had a purpose in the world. It wasn’t her fault that all that was taken away from her when she too became the victim of abuse. Sure, it would’ve been nice if she had dealt with it and found healing instead of trying to hide it and eventually take it out on me. But that didn’t happen. And that’s ok. I am who I am because of everything I’ve been through.

As I stood there I felt a strong wave of what I can only describe as pure love pass through me. I’m not wanting to sound like a crazy person here. If you’ve ever experienced it you know what I’m talking about. I felt forgiveness on a much deeper level than ever before and could actually imagine myself genuinely smiling at her and hugging her, not because I was being forced to like all those years growing up, but because I want to. I want to tell her I’m sorry, not like all the times I had to because if I didn’t I’d suffer the consequences, but for everything she went through that made her the way she was.

So there I was in the indoor plant section of Fred Meyer having some kind of major breakthrough and thinking, “Wow, I actually love my grandmother,” with people all around me having no idea what was going through my head and heart. I wasn’t planning on buying anything other than the gift for the party, but I just had to have one more thing…

…oh, and a pack of watermelon gum. 😉

Hard to Say I’m Sorry

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a hard time apologizing to people and I know exactly why. I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in an abusive home after my parents divorced and my mom and I moved in with my grandparents. Though she did not have a job, my mom kept herself quite busy out and about which meant I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. I don’t know the details, but it seems my grandfather essentially rescued her from a bad family situation when he married her. Translation…she had a lot of issues. And it seems she took those issues out on me. I was not the perfect child. I’m sure I had my moments that would drive any parent crazy. But I did not deserve the treatment I got. No child should ever feel afraid in their own home because of their own family.

More often than not, those times when my mom was gone and my grandfather was either gone or in the basement working on his inventions turned into episodes of violence and intimidation. It was like she had two completely different personalities, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One minute she’d be out of control, screaming and hitting and pulling my hair, and then the phone would ring and she would answer in the sweetest voice as if everything was just fine. No one outside our home had a clue…and neither did my mom. Every time she came home my grandmother would make sure to get to her first so she could tell her version of the day’s events. That always resulted in me having to apologize to her and tell her I loved her. Even as I’m sitting here typing this my heart is racing as those memories I normally choose not to dwell on are still vivid, like it just happened yesterday.

So I hope you can understand why I have a hard time apologizing. Over time it’s gotten easier, but it’s most difficult with the people I’m closest to, my family. My early experiences definitely created a roadblock or wall which, to others, probably looks a lot like a stubborn streak. It’s just not always easy to separate those times when I was forced to say I was sorry when I really, really wasn’t from the times when I want to say I’m sorry because I really, really am.

Now that I’m a parent and trying with all my might to make sure my kids have a better childhood than I did, I’ve started to try to see our life through their eyes. What is it like to wake up in their beds with me standing in the doorway telling them they need to get up? How do they truly see me as I’m pushing them through their morning routines? I know they’re not afraid which is truly a wonderful thing, but do they mostly see me smiling or frowning? Do they really know how much I love them and appreciate how great they are even if getting them to do their chores is like pulling teeth?

Thinking about all these things has made me realize that I have to consider the possibility that my grandmother never, ever asked herself how she looked in my eyes. She was always so concerned with how everyone else saw her and our family. She made it very clear that I was never to tell anyone what went on in our home. Obviously on some level she knew it wasn’t ok, but I think it’s possible that she really didn’t understand how bad it actually was and how much damage she was doing. Maybe because of her past it all seemed fairly normal, just nobody else‘s business. Or maybe she so identified with the person everyone else thought she was, she just assumed no one would ever see her differently no matter what she did.

I’m in no way saying it was ok, but now I’m seeing how easy it is to behave in certain ways without realizing how we’re coming across to those around us. And let’s face it, our family sees us at our worst. There are days when I’m grumpy and irritable and make very little effort to think before I speak, but somehow when I’m around other people I manage to control myself. Sometimes I can be impatient with my boys because I know they’re smart and capable of so much. Yet I would never speak to someone else’s child in the same tone of voice.

So I ask myself again, what does life look like from their perspective? Do they see a mom who is loving and happy and cheerful most of the time? I actually am very happy with my life now, but I wonder if that’s what they see or if most of their interactions with me have a negative tone. When I talk to them about life and how to navigate through it with goals and a positive attitude do they see how passionate I am about making sure they understand because I want what’s best for them or do they just see it as nagging? Other people say I inspire them (which is extremely humbling considering how I’ve lived most of my life), but do I inspire my kids or do I make them feel like I’m not happy with them the way they are?

You may be reading this thinking I’m beating up on myself, but I’m really not. I’m just trying to ask some hard questions because the last thing I want is to be one person to everyone else and another, completely different person to my family. When I really concentrate and imagine that I’m each of my boys I see a picture of me that I’m not entirely happy with. And that’s great! Not because I haven’t always been perfect, not one of us has, but because I can see clearly where I need to improve and what I need to apologize for. Not once when I was growing up in my grandparents’ house did my grandmother ever apologize to me. And it didn’t happen after I grew up and she mellowed out a bit, either. What a difference a simple “I’m sorry” would’ve made. Not a meaningless one, like all those I said to her over the years, but one from the heart knowing she needed to do better.

I guess part of me has always felt like apologizing is a sign of weakness, but now I know I couldn’t be more wrong. It takes courage to be willing to look at ourselves and come to terms with the fact that we have things to be sorry for, especially with our families. They see us at our worst and love us anyway. That doesn’t mean we should take advantage of the situation and continue on as we have been. It means that they deserve to know that we “get” how much we’ve hurt them even if we didn’t realize it at the time. They deserve to know how much we appreciate them for always being there through the good and the bad. And I can’t think of a better way to show our love and appreciation than by saying I’m sorry…and meaning it, no matter how hard it is.

A Breakthrough – Part 2

Ok, where do I start? Before my husband and I got married or were even a couple we were close friends. As a matter of fact, our friendship meant so much to us it almost kept us from getting together. We were afraid if we took our relationship to the next level and it didn’t work out we’d lose the friendship that meant so much to us. We would spend hours talking about anything and everything and even though we didn’t always see eye to eye we listened to each other’s point of view out of respect. I found him to be intelligent, charming and challenging.

We all have hardships and go through tough times, but my husband has had to deal with more than the average person. For our friendship, that meant a lot of the time I was helping him deal with the emotional aftermath of it all and that was fine with me. It made me feel needed and like I was making a difference. The more he let me in the more we connected and eventually I knew I could no longer be just friends. He felt the same way and we became an official couple in August 1995 while visiting San Francisco with my mom.

Through unforseen circumstances we ended up living alone together, something I would’ve never chosen and don’t recommend. But that’s what happened and through the daily stresses of life and the nagging feeling that we had taken things in the wrong direction our relationship started to break down. The mutual respect eroded away and instead of being the close friend he could go to for support I became the one who took the brunt of his frustrations. What was once a life that felt perfect and almost magical became a mentally painful and unhealthy existence. But I was committed to him and making it work. I couldn’t handle the thought of losing him and the friendship we once shared.

Looking back, I have no doubt that a regular person would’ve left many times over and moved on, but because I grew up in an abusive home I had learned to put up with more than anyone should. I can’t blame him for the state of our relationship, either, because we teach others how to treat us. If I had stood up for myself and made it clear that some things were unacceptable, things would’ve been different. He either would’ve respected me more or ended it, but I didn’t. I became less and less the person who had overcome her childhood and more and more a doormat who was losing her identity all because I was afraid to lose him.

At this point, you may be thinking that he’s a horrible person. I hate to portray him that way, but the truth is that he did do some horrible things. He never hurt me physically, but he caused a lot of emotional pain. That’s what happens when two people with  lot of unresolved issues get together and become each other’s world. Being so young and living together was like putting our relationship in a pressure cooker and neither of us held up under the stress. There were times when I hated him and I’m sure he felt the same about me, but I never stopped loving him deep down. Many times we almost ended it, but decided to stay together despite everything. It was like a crazy roller coaster ride that I didn’t know how to get off and didn’t really want to. I just kept believing that somehow we’d work through it and get back to the way things used to be.

Despite all the red flags, we ended up getting married in July 1998. I hoped that making that commitment would allow things to settle down. We left California and headed for Oregon for a new beginning. But old habits don’t stay behind. We moved in with family by marriage on my husband’s side, but things continued to be the same. There were bright spots. There always were. Just enough to keep my hope for a happy life together alive. Then I found out I was pregnant. For most, that news would’ve brought joy and excitement. For us, not so much. The added stress almost ended our marriage, but again we decided to stay together and try to make it work. We moved out on our own and it was tough. A new baby in a healthy relationship can be difficult, but for us…well, I’m sure you can imagine. Eventually I lost count of all the times we almost split up.

That sweet little baby brought a new sense of purpose to our lives, though, and slowly we began to figure things out. Just when we started to gain some momentum in the right direction I found out I was pregnant again despite our best efforts to keep that from happening. When he was born I fell in love all over again, but the stress of providing for our growing family was driving a wedge between us again. Our relationship was nowhere near a place that could handle more strain and we ended up separating. We had both had enough and as much as it killed me to let go of the hope I had for us I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I can’t even tell you now exactly what it was that made us decide to go to counselling and get back together. I’m sure it had to do with the kids and not wanting them to grow up with divorced parents like both of us had. And despite everything I still loved him. We didn’t stay in counselling as long as we should have and so even though we were making some progress there were many times when it felt like we’d move one step forward  then two steps back. Then I was introduced to a book that gave me the tools I needed to make some changes that finally pushed us out of that rut. That book was The Love Dare. When I started it my husband wasn’t even speaking to me and for what seemed like the thousandth time I was sure our marriage was over. But I took it seriously and by the second week not only was he speaking to me again, but he was buying me flowers for no reason. Things were starting to feel a tiny bit magical again.

I wish I could say that I’ve continued to do everything I learned from that book everyday since I read it, but old habits are hard to break. As much blame as I can lay on him for the problems in our relationship, I have to accept responsibility, too. Our friendship, the foundation of our relationship, was broken down from both sides. Along the way, I stopped listening to him and trying to see things from his point of view. I started feeling like I already knew what he was going to say and would cut him off before he could finish his thought. That made him feel like there was no point in talking to me so the two people who once shared anything and everything suffered a complete breakdown in communication.

With the help of my wonderful, supportive friends I realized that I couldn’t continue to be a doormat and expect our relationship to heal. I had to start respecting myself if I wanted him to respect me. Going back to work played a huge part in that as I felt like I was contributing not only to our family, but to the businesses I worked for. I was able to start lovingly, but firmly communicate to him what was unacceptable and what I needed from him even though sometimes I felt like I was talking to a wall. Then I discovered Turbo Jam and Chalene Johnson. Her outlook on life has pushed my “recovery” to a whole new level and my life has completely transformed.

So what does all this have to do with staying in bed with my husband until 3-something in the afternoon on a day he should’ve been at a job fair giving his resume to potential employers from all around the country? Well, despite my new outlook on life and the vast improvements to our marriage we’ve never found our way back to the friendship we once had. Of course, after all the years of trials and heartache I know it will never be exactly the same as it was, but I believe in some ways it can be even better if we can rebuild it. One of the most frustrating things has been that I’m learning how to be happy and successful and even though I’ve been able to share that knowledge with my friends I haven’t been able to with him, the person I care about the most who needs it the most.

The alarm went off when it was supposed to, but neither of us got up. Then it went off again with the same results. Finally, it was time to get the kids up and off to school so I got up and took care of that. He still wasn’t up despite much nagging and pleading from me. Taking into consideration that he normally only gets 3-5 hours of sleep on  weekdays and that we had stayed up until 4:30am getting everything ready for the job fair, I wasn’t at all surprised that he wasn’t getting up. I climbed back in bed and quickly fell back asleep next to him. The next thing I knew we were both waking up and it was after 1:00. So much for the job fair.  

Out of nowhere he started to ask me some pretty odd questions saying he just needed me to answer even though it didn’t really make sense. I went along and that led to a conversation about why he does what he does…including skipping the job fair even though we spent all night preparing for it.  A real conversation. Both of us taking turns talking and listening. He was opening up and asking for my help and I finally had answers for him. It was amazing…dare I say, magical. The conversation even turned to me when he asked what kinds of things I was dealing with. I realized that I couldn’t remember that last time he had shown that kind of interest in my well-being and it took me off guard. I’ve spent lots of time talking with friends about my issues, but in that moment I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I found a way to open up to him and trust him with my vulnerability. I think he sees me differently now, in a better light because he’s realizing again that we’re in this together and need to lean on each other the way we used to all those years ago.

At one point, he started to say something and I felt like I knew what he was going to say so I cut him off. Instead of shutting down, he pointed it out and asked if he could finish. When he stopped talking I asked if I could respond and he said no. He could see it was killing me and explained that that’s how he feels when I don’t let him talk. It was the most vivid “a-ha moment” I’ve had in a very long time. I felt such remorse for making him feel that way for all these years that saying I was sorry didn’t feel like enough. Over the years, I’ve apologized for many things that I ended up doing again and again so I know the words probably didn’t mean much to him. But the point hit my with such clarity that I can’t imagine doing that to him again. Not that the temptation won’t arise, but the understanding I have now will always make me think twice before I open my mouth and close my ears.

Yes, he missed the job fair, but it worked out for the best. We had a major breakthrough in our relationship which to me is more valuable than all the money in the world. There will be other opportunities and I know he’ll end up where he’s supposed to. The important thing is that we’ll be there together, happier than we would’ve been if things had gone as we planned, and for that I am eternally thankful.

What is “normal”?

I’ve spent some time recently thinking about why it’s so easy to fall back into old habits even though I know that not working out and not eating healthy food just makes me feel like crap. Some people just seem to naturally do the “right” things and make the “right” choices without having to give it much, if any, thought while some people (hand raised) have to think about every decision or they automatically end up doing the things that aren’t good for them.

I think it has a LOT to do with how we were raised. I’m not trying to blame anyone because I believe most parents do the best they can with the knowledge and means available. It’s just that we are so impressionable when we’re children and the things around us, no matter how “wrong”, were normal because that’s all we knew. After my parents got divorced when I was 4 (I think), my mom and I moved in with her parents. My grandmother (I later found out) had been the victim of some kind of abuse (didn’t get any details…it was amazing I even got that bit of info) and continued the cycle with me.

Because no one outside our home knew about it, no one did anything to stop it so in my mind it was normal. For a long time my mom didn’t even have a clue because it all happened when she was gone and my grandmother would always be sure to tell her version of the story as soon as my mom walked in the door which always led to me having to apologize to her for my bad behavior. I’m not saying I was perfect, but now I know I didn’t deserve the “punishment” I got. It wasn’t until I got a little older, maybe 9 or 10, that I realized what was happening was wrong and didn’t go on in most homes, but by that time it was such a part of who I was that the long-term damage was done.

Then on top of all that craziness, we almost never ate at home. We went out to eat every night, usually at restaurants that served mainly unhealthy, high fat foods and I was allowed to order anything I wanted. Occasionally my mom would suggest I get something on the healthier side, but I don’t think she liked conflict so she gave in if I acted like I didn’t want it. Oh, and we also had a maid that came twice a week to clean the house and do the laundry. So at my grandparents’ house I never observed or participated in a regular schedule that included preparing healthy meals, cleaning up afterward, or any other chores for that matter. NOT GOOD. As an only child I mostly played alone and would often “play” with the Windex, cleaning the windows for fun or the Pledge, dusting the furniture. I actually wanted to do those things back then and got great satisfaction out of cleaning things.

Every Friday I’d spend the night at my dad’s house. Talk about the complete opposite environment.  He and his wife were two people who had regular jobs (did I mention my mom was an opera singer, my grandmother was a retired singer and my grandfather was retired but spent hours each day inventing things in the basement?) and stuck to a regular schedule and ate at home more than once every month. If we didn’t go out for pizza, we’d stay in and have things like spaghetti and garlic bread and salad and iced tea with mint from the garden in the backyard (my dad hated lemon in his tea, but loved mint). Then we would all help clear the table and she would wash the dishes while my dad and I would dry and put them away. Seems like a simple thing, but to me it was almost magical. My dad would tell me about how when I was really little I loved helping him do the laundry even though I could barely see over the top of the washer. And he had this big bowl in his closet. Everyday when he came home he’d toss in the change left in his pocket. When the bowl got full I got to help sort it and put it into rolls. Maybe that sounds like a mundane task, but I loved it and it’s still one of my favorite childhood memories. 

Since most of my existence was chaotic and seemed very unstable, the simple chores were the highlights. Doing them made me feel like I was contributing something and working together on tasks made me feel like part of a team. Having a routine meant there was something I could count on. I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be now if I had spent most of my time at my dad’s and only one night a week with my mom and grandparents. While the thought of not living with my mom all those years breaks my heart, I know for a certainty that my idea of “normal” would be completely different. Perhaps eating healthy and drinking plenty of water would come naturally and cleaning the house wouldn’t feel like something that’s “not my job”. Maybe I would’ve learned to follow through with things and have some consistency in my life without going through mental acrobatics to think that way.

I shudder to think what I’ve already determined is normal for my kids. Although an improvement in many ways over my childhood, the life we’ve lived still isn’t what I’ve wanted it to be. My husband and I have tried to implement some kind of routine for our kids because both having grown up in homes with a complete lack of structure, we see the need, but nothing has ever stuck. I want my kids to grow up knowing how to do things like laundry, cooking and cleaning, but time has slipped by without me taking the time to show them. Now my older son is in middle school and we have a good relationship, but he is a “tween” and the thought of folding laundry doesn’t exactly appeal to him. It would’ve been so much better if I had started sooner, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on the idea altogether. When my boys grow up and get married I want their wives to only cook and clean for them because they want to out of love, not because they’re expected to. And I don’t want my sons to marry someone because they think they need someone to take care of them.

While there are certain things we have zero tolerance for in our home like being mean or disrespectful, there are other things we’ve let slide like allowing our surroundings to be cluttered with things that should’ve been put or thrown away long before. And our eating habits…not ideal. I’d love for all of us to gather at the table for dinner, but our schedules don’t allow for it. We all eat at different times and at different places…the kids at the table and my husband and I on the couch. I suppose it might help if the table was clear from clutter so there would actually be room for more than two people to eat there. Each issue is related to another and it all boils down to our baseline “normal”.

I think it’s a step in the right direction to at least identify what feels normal so we can decide if we need to make some major or minor adjustments. The things that really do need to change are worth fighting for and that’s exactly what it is…a daily battle. Some days the fight is easier than others and some days we temporarily give in because we grow weary and can’t see an end in sight, but if the change is important enough we have to keep fighting no matter what. And little by little, as we find ourselves dealing with the same things over and over again we start to figure out the best way to overcome and make a new life for ourselves.

I did have one victory today, with the help of a friend. We went walking and then had lunch together. One thing is for sure, if we’re going to fight to change our lives having friends who support us is more precious than all the money in the world.

Oh, so many opportunities to photograph “droppings” presented themselves to me this morning, but I resisted. I am talking literally, but noticing poop and deciding whether to take a picture has become symbolic, too. Yesterday was quite the roller coaster ride of emotions as it started great, went a little downhill, plummeted down into the depths, got a bit better, then back to great and ended with uncertainty. This morning I got the answer and while it wasn’t what I hoped to hear, it wasn’t the end of the world, either. Anytime we work toward a goal we’re going to encounter setbacks. The question is, when we look back on the tough days will we laugh or cry?

If we give up, we fail, and may always look back on that time with regret and tears. But if we push through and succeed, we can look back on the hard times and laugh…or at least smile because we overcame.  We are who we are because of what we’ve been through and how we’ve chosen to view each situation.

As we go through life we meet all kinds of people, some who are impressive and some not so much. What I’m learning is that everyone has a story and we need to try to be understanding when we have to deal with people who aren’t necessarily the easiest to be around. Instead of just assuming that a person is mean-spirited or obnoxious or unintelligent, we should remember that there’s usually a good reason for their behavior. If we knew the story of their lives, we’d see why they are who they are.

As I walked along, I started noticing things that made me wonder what happened to make them that way.

I’m sure even “the tree” has a story. I’ve walked past it many times and taken its picture from many different angles, but until this day I’ve never wondered why it is the way it is. How many times have we done that with a person we’ve known to be a certain way for as long as we can remember? At one point, the tree was young and full of life just as the people who seem to have given up. It’s too late for the tree, but not for people we can take an interest in and help to find new hope for happiness.

Every time I’ve walked under this bridge, even months before starting the walking “group”, there was a pillow up on the ledge. I even took a photo of it for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Refuge. I’d never given its placement much thought until it was gone. Once it was no longer there, I had to wonder how it got there to begin with (because there was no visible way to easily get to the ledge), who took it down and whether they were using the filthy thing to rest their head on as they slept.

Sometimes the question isn’t so much how, but why. I didn’t fully capture the angle of the slope, but one wrong step getting on or off the bench and you’d be the top story on the evening news.

It began to rain…a lot. But I remembered a section of the railing further up the path that I had always wondered how it got that way. The path isn’t big enough for vehicles to drive on so I pondered how a person on foot or riding a bike could’ve possibly done this.

It’s amazing how much damage people can do, either intentionally or without thinking. It can come in the form of abuse, bullying, teasing, or simply standing by and doing nothing while another does the damage. While it’s up to the victim to decide if they’re going to let the experience break them or make them stronger, we can be there to support them so someday they can look back and laugh because they’ve overcome.

I remember one of many incidents in middle school (back in the day it was called junior high) that made me feel completely humiliated. There was a dance coming up and since no one had asked me to go with them I decided to write a note and invite what I thought was a nice boy to go with me. As I entered the auditorium where we all hung out after lunch, a roar of laughter rose from the large group of kids already there. In the hands of one of the more aggressive boys was the note and he was reading it…loud enough for everyone to hear. I’m sure my face was as red as my hair and if my best friend hadn’t been there with me, I probably would’ve cried making matters worse. Needless to say, I did not go with that boy to the dance. While I can still remember the pain and embarrassment of that day, I can laugh about it now because I see things from a different perspective.

As I headed back, I stopped for a few minutes under the bridge to take a break from the downpour. That’s when I saw this tent. Under normal conditions it probably would’ve been protected from the elements, but I’m sure it was getting soaked. Here was a person who certainly had a story. What were they like as a kid and how did they get here from there?

We begin our lives with a few tendencies and characteristics, but as we come in contact with others we start to react and change. If we can take all of our childhood experiences and teach our children to come through difficult situations stronger and to be the ones who lift up those who have been pushed down, then everything we went through was worth it. Even though there will always be abusers and bullies, we can do something to minimize their impact by showing our kids a better way to treat people.

Some of the most kind and compassionate people I’ve ever met have experienced pain because of others’ insecurities which may very well have been caused by someone who hurt them, too. It can be a vicious cycle, but some, because they don’t want others to experience what they went through, break that cycle by choosing to make a difference. They look for ways to be supportive and caring. They have no tolerance for behavior that would hurt another and teach those around them by example, including their children. Though they went through things that no one should have to, they make the world a better place because they chose to overcome and that is a beautiful thing.

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles have strengthened me…You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Walt Disney

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength; one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.”             Booker T. Washington

I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever finish this post and I finally got the inspiration I needed from witnessing an act of kindness performed by an elementary school student at a basketball game which led to a brief converastion with his dad which finally put all the pieces together in my head. Just goes to show the little things really do make a difference. 😉

I only took a few photos on today’s walk for two reasons. 1: Uploading all the photos from my phone caused me to go over on my data plan and the batteries in my actual camera were dead. (Note to self…buy rechargeable batteries.) 2: I was distracted by the events that transpired last night and my reaction to them.

The night started off as usual. I read for a little while in bed before the book slipped from my hands and hit me in the face. I turned off the light and went back to sleep. My husband tried to wake me when he finished his online tutoring so we could watch a movie on Netflix together. As usual, he was not successful. Once I’m out it takes a lot to get me out of bed. I continued to sleep soundly until a sound began to creep into my dreams. It was banging and shuffling and grew louder as I came into consciousness. Still half asleep, I tried to mentally locate the source of the sound. Then footsteps, running fast. Just as I realized they were coming from the hallway outside our door a woman’s desperate voice cried out, “Somebody help me! Help me, please!”

My heart began to race as I laid there trying to decide what to do. My first thought was to jump up and see what was happening. Then it occurred to me that if I opened the door the woman might run in followed by her persuer. The sounds from the struggle were coming from right outside our door. I didn’t want to take the chance of putting my family at risk. At that point, I was frozen by indecision. I heard the door to the stairwell across the hallway slam shut and then silence. There I was, still in my comfortable bed trying to make sense of what had just happened. Was this a prank? Remembering the fear in her voice I didn’t think so. Had someone else let her in or at least called the police? Surely. Should I get up and see what’s happening now? I knew I’d have to venture out of the safety of our apartment and my still sleeping husband who, as an infant, lost his mother to a burglar wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. As the questions swirled around my tired brain, I drifted back to sleep.

Again, a sound interrupted my dreams, more abuptly this time. Someone was knocking on the door. Again, unsure of what to do I was still. Another knock, a little louder. I though it might be the police so I sat up and began to head for the door. A third knock, still louder. Whoever it was, they weren’t going away. My husband woke up this time and in a whisper explained everything that had happened. He checked the peephole and said the police were talking to our neighbors across the hall. “We need you to answer the door!” The officer’s voice boomed as he knocked one last time.

I opened the door just enough so they could see me. The three of them began asking questions. “Are you here alone?” “Who else is in there with you?” “Is everyone alright?” “Did you hear anything?” I told them what I had heard, then they asked if I heard gunshots which I hadn’t. “Are you aware of any domestic disturbances here?” I said that things have been pretty quiet around here recently. They went on their way, canvassing the other tenants and we went back to bed. After tossing and turning for a while I was finally able to go back to sleep.

Despite all the commotion, the kids slept soundly through the night and got ready school just like every other day. The sounds of footsteps and the woman’s plea for help interrupted my thoughts as we performed our morning rituals. For a moment I wondered if any of it had happened at all or if it was all just a vivid dream. Once the kids were off to school I headed out for my walk. At first, the sun was shining brightly and it looked like it would be a beautiful day. I took a photo of a stream I pass by everyday.

My thoughts turned again to the woman. I wondered what she was thinking at that moment. Did she feel safe? Was she enjoying the sunshine? Did the morning bring thoughts of hope or more fear and desperation? Was she even thinking anything at all? As I headed West the sky began to reflect my mood. I couldn’t really enjoy the sunshine and was almost relieved to see the clouds taking over.

As I headed into the trees I asked myself why I hadn’t done anything to help her. I thought of the physical and mental abuse I experienced as a child brought upon me by a woman who was abused herself. Was the woman last night living with a person who caused her fear day in and day out? Could she be suffering as a victim of domestic violence right under the same roof? How can we live so close to others and never get to know them at all? Maybe it was a one time thing caused by too much to drink, but why didn’t I help her? All my reasons for doing nothing that seemed so logical at the time didn’t amount to much in the light of day. How could it be ok to do nothing when another human being was pleading for someone to help them? I hoped that somehow she got the help she needed and that today was a new beginning for her. The pain of abuse doesn’t end when the abuse itself does. It lingers on and constantly finds new ways into the life of the person who suffered and all those around them. It affects every relationship they have and can make them feel trapped and alone even when they’re surrounded by people who care about them. Even after years of healing, a single incident can bring back a flood of pain and fear leaving them wondering if they’ll ever really be free. That is what I experienced this morning as I asked myself why I didn’t help her.

By the time I reached the park and turned to head back it was raining. The drops on my face hid the tears that slid down my cheeks. I felt ashamed for not doing anything. Then I began to feel thankful for the life I have now. Thankful that with God’s help I’ve stopped the cycle of abuse in my family. Thankful that even though I can still feel pain from events that took place years and years ago I wake up everyday feeling safe. Thankful that I have the ability to help victims in a way that others who haven’t gone through it can’t. By the time I returned to my starting place I had a new sense of determination and the realization that I can do something to help.

We travel the same path over and over. When we’re able see it from a different perspective and decide to make changes in the way we travel the path it can become a beautiful thing…for us and the people we encounter along the way.