FALLing into MYSELF!

I have always been “open” to new things and ideas.  There’s no better way to appear strange as a kid then to be open. When growing up, most kids thought of fall as I time to kick leaves or jump in a mammoth leaf pile, while I observed the metaphor that leaves are beautiful in their death- that the colors are most vibrant before they fade forever.

Fall is not my favorite season because it marks several things that are difficult for me.  It begins the wait of an impending doom- Winter, and the bad weather to come.  I am not a snow bunny and I’d much rather sweat than freeze.  I hibernate in weather below 40- and walk around like the abominable snowwoman- barely seen with so many layers to keep warm that it’s assumed I am a bear, fat for the winter.

My late husband Kevin’s birthday is Oct. 20th, and so begins all of the birthdays, holidays and sad days without him until the anniversary of his passing on February 21. My birthday is on Christmas day.  I’ve never minded having a Christmas birthday- except that the more Christmas gets out of control (see my blog Christmas Schmismis- (http://open.salon.com/blog/joames) the less I pay attention to that date, commercially, anyway.

But this fall, I had the chance to catch a documentary, WAKE UP as it aired on OWN on October 16th.  This description is found on WAKE UP’s website:

WAKE UP (www.wakeupthefilm.com) tells the true story of Jonas Elrod, an average guy who one day suddenly began seeing and hearing angels, demons, auras and ghosts all around him. Perplexed by his new ability to experience the supernatural, he sets out on a soul-seeking journey to find answers to his mystifying situation. From physicians, religious teachers, scientists to mystics, spiritual healers and more, he humbly inquires “Why me?” He also fears being ostracized by his own God –fearing, southern Christian family, while failing to see the “gift” of his new found ability, that even his hometown preacher affirms could quite possibly be “God’s way of communicating with him.”

I don’t watch much television, but I was fascinated.  I sat, fixated on the screen and the idea that some of us, when we least expect it, wake up to new experiences.  Experiences which may seem foreign and uncertain one minute can bring us to greater understandings and teachings the next.

I watched every aspect of Jonas Elrod’s experience.  He sees an acupuncturist.  He prays in sweat lodges, he meditates and spends days in isolation, all to seek answers to why he sees and hears the things he does. He questions the reason for this new gift…. new curse of being open to spirits and visions.

Jonas' journey is fascinating and inspiring.  He tells it with such honesty and sincerity that you can't help but be intrigued.

As I watched, my life analogy stirred and a piece of writing that I did a few years ago came to mind.

Here it is:

Have Faith; Your Life’s Plan Will Be Revealed

I first experienced God's presence in my life in 1973 when I received the body of Christ.  I was a skinny eight year old with hair that refused order and preferred hanging in unkempt strands. My First Communion dress was delicately and lovingly made by my proud mother; it was simple yet pretty, but lacked the sequence and glamour that surrounded me.  I was not a sequence and glamour girl.  I would have preferred to arm wrestle, dress and all, “those” girls or better yet, their older brothers!

Although petite, I somehow felt taller than my CCD peers.  Father had told his Catechists that we might feel a light enter us and maybe feel different somehow after receiving Christ for the first time.  I was only a child but my life changed forever that day. God’s light did enter my soul as Father said.  Both His energy and will ran through my seventy-five pound body and nourished my soul as imperatively as the blood that nourished my being.  I remember singing our closing songs in church with renewed strength and belief that I had possessed the abilities and energy to be or do “all things through him.”

I cannot explain how or why this happened.  The feeling simply embraced me fully while I was singing and I have been God’s faithful servant, to the best of my ability, since that day.

So there, in St. Peter’s church, sitting in a pew between my mother and father, filled with God’s love, I felt empowered.  In my child’s mind, this meant “famous.”  I was certain that this vision included a glamorous role as a celebrity dancer, actress or possibly, writer and I vowed then to never settle for anything less.

God had entered my body and shared his light with me and this “little light of mine was gonna shine,” somehow.

I remember telling my family (and anyone who would stop to listen) at my communion party that I was now truly blessed.  Few understood my excitement, hugging me with a check in hand- thinking that was the impetus for my epiphany.  Others stared blankly as though, this weird kid before them, had finally lost it. With a milk mustache and remnants of roast beef between his two front teeth, my uncle muttered his support, "Good for you." Whether they believed or not, that blessing and that day guided me into my forties and still remains the core of who I am to this day. 

My Journey to Fame Begins- NOT!

My mother was a dancer before I knew her well. Before she raised five children and worked as a waitress and spent her days cleaning, cooking and wiping noses, she was most at home on the dance floor. She made ballroom dancing look easy to romantic spectators with two left feet.

When I was nine I began my trek to become a famous dancer.  I would put on my mom's fancy gowns, her high heeled sparkling stilettos and do the foxtrot like the glamorous women of professional ballroom dancing that my mother and I admired.  For many years I diligently took dance classes.  But in my college ballet class, I came to the difficult realization that my legs are far too short to dance gracefully.  Tree trunks with feet at the end are how they looked in ballet slippers. There was nothing long or lean or elegant about me.

Soon after this disappointing epiphany, I decided to focus on my goal to be an actress.  I got my head shots done as recommended.  I crammed in acting classes, considered a nose job and went for open calls.  A few agencies seemed interested.  I learned to work my facial features that can be considered any nationality and practiced my best “Joisey” accent.  But the jobs for me were few and paid fewer more dollars that I paid out to get them. Next plan for me.

Life Happens

Meanwhile, I became a teacher, married my soul mate and soon learned that I was going to be a mommy. As a new mommy with late hours, I began writing, hoping to be published one day.  This was my last shot at doing something meaningful- something for which to be proud.

But the only published work I saw was  at school. It was my job as a teacher of Language Arts to teach writing. For every assignment I gave my students, I got busy writing.  They enjoyed my writing and in between grading papers and disciplining ruffians, I got to write too. We even worked together to create a school newspaper. This was all fun, but it paled in comparison to being sold at Borders!

And then it happened, I gave up trying to be someone and decided to be someone's wonderful wife, mommy, daughter, etc...  My dreams would wait.

Praying for the Best, Preparing for the Worst

But remember, God had a plan for me and he made those plans known in 1995.  Soon after our daughter Alina had turned two years old, my husband Kevin was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease, also known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).  ALS is a neurological terminal illness that moves very quickly, leaving patients paralyzed and unable to speak. This news changed our lives forever. 

God's light was still strong and He empowered us to handle more than I ever thought possible.  Still I pleaded with Him to give us a miracle. I prayed and asked for strength. I begged that my young husband would not die. But the miracle I requested was not granted.

Instead of living my dreams, I watched them die with my husband Kevin.  He went from a strong athletic hero of 184 pounds to a paralyzed, ventilated, speechless hero of another kind- MINE.   He, though, inspired me to live my dreams. HE, through God's glory, was my miracle and my plan.

When Kevin lay in bed, unable to move, unable to speak, I danced for him to make him smile.  I wore a fancy cocktail dress, put a rose in my teeth and performed my best way OFF-Broadway solo rendition of Chicago. I was his talentless entertainment.

When Kevin spoke of hope for the future, of goals and dreams, of having more children and more time, I was an actress.  I made us believe that ALS would not cut his young life of thirty years short.  That all of the things we planned to have together would still be. I lived each of his days in total presence- focusing only on his comfort and joy and making them the best. 

Kevin died on February, 21, 2001.  On that day, in front of more than six hundred people, I became a published writer. At Kevin's request, I wrote with pride both his obituary and eulogy.  God's light kept me strong as I began my tribute. My husband Kevin asked me to write and give his eulogy.  He told me that he wanted to see my beautiful face once again, making him proud.  Even in his death, Kevin was still charming.

I did not cry.  It was my last opportunity to honor the man that I loved; my last chance to make him proud. He, I hope, was.

All along, while I was busy making plans, they were already set.  God had bigger plans for me then those which granted fortune or fame. And although I continue to have dreams and have not used my talents to make money, I used them daily to make a difference.

My role as a caregiver was my greatest achievement and I would not have settled for anything less.

As I reflect on my life and where I am this Fall, I am grateful to Jonas Elrod for his courage to produce Wake Up.  I know that it will not change everyone, as we must find the reason to want to change and to make a difference.  But for me, it’s another affirmation that I like who I am and where I am.  And in a world that is uncertain, it’s nice to feel certain about something.

Please check out Jonas’ work at http://wakeupthefilm.com/.


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