Recently I learned something that changes virtually everything about how I’ve always seen my childhood, my family, and myself. Like so many things, this shock came entirely unexpectedly. I thought that I was immune to blind sides at this stage; there have been so many– but this one has knocked me on my butt. I’ll write more when I’ve properly dissected and digested it. For now, my head is still spinning and my emotions are raw, as I try to make sense of things that don’t add up the way they once did.
As it were, I had an opportunity to take off for a week… or, however long I wanted, to lick these wounds and start to work through all of this. This is my happy place: in a quiet, Mayberry’ish, Pacific NW town, where people really do know your name; folks walk and say hi when they pass you; bald eagles soar and dive outside my window all day, and there are miles and miles of beaches to walk… in precious solitude. I brought my sweet pup, Gracie, but aside from her, I can pass the entire day with little to no spoken words.
On our first day, we walked 13.5 miles on Sea Glass Beach! I hadn’t had breakfast, and I headed out at 10am without water or food, thinking I’d only be gone a couple of hours. We returned at 4:30. We ran into a brief storm: rain and winds; we had eagles dive down after Gracie (she weighs all of 9 lbs.) and watch us for miles, and I had lots of time to begin processing things. We came back exhausted and hungry, but it was an amazing day on that wondrous beach. The next day, we headed out even earlier, to catch the tides and be the first ones on the beach. This time I had a backpack, food, water and Gracie’s sweater. I walked 16 miles on Sunday (day 2); Gracie wriggled her way into the backpack, after lunch and I carried her over most of the rocky bits, but that little warrior walked beside me for much of the day.
Monday we were both crippled. My legs and feet would barely hold me and my poor wee dog was limping. It was raining and gusty; I figured it would be the perfect day to catch up on writing and enjoy a full day of quiet. Not to be… because life is funny that way. You can have all the expectations in the world, but life has its own game plan.
Instead, of a quiet, contemplative, restorative day 3, I opened my emails– an after thought– to find that I’ve been named one of BlogHer’s 2015 “Voices of the Year!” (VOTY) I read the message over and over, sure there was a mistake. But there it was:
“We’re thrilled to inform you that your piece, “On My Father’s Birthday: A Letter to the Man Who Killed Him,” was nominated in the Impact category and made it through three rounds and six judges to be selected as one of the top honorees.
We’d love for you to attend the Voices of the Year ceremony at the New York City Hilton at 4:30 pm on Friday, July 17, and of course we hope you can attend the entire conference…”
I was stunned. I was thrilled. I cried. I cried because I am a believer in signs, and the fact that I, won this incredible award for this particular piece: On My Father’s Birthday, A Letter To the Man Who Killed Him– as I spend this week processing, is magically ironic in more ways than I can presently explain. It was as if my dad reached down and gave me a hug that I desperately needed, at just the right moment. I know that the judges who chose my piece, chose it because it spoke to them, but what so many people read in that piece, or took from it, is so very different from what it means to me. Not even I knew how fragile I would be feeling, a few months later, when that same piece would be acknowledges in such a big way. I believe in “signs.”
And that would have been enough. That piece of incredible news would have been enough to shake my quiet, and keep my stomach filled with butterflies– as I imagine reading my VOTY piece on July 18, in New York City. Butterflies and bats! But there was another email. Huffington Post wrote to let me know that they had published a piece I did about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and my mother’s family’s very painful struggle with Huntington’s Disease. Generally, I’m happy if a HuffPo piece has 30-50 likes, early in the morning on the day it’s published. When I clicked the link the piece already had 456– by bedtime it would reach 1,500!
Seeing great stats is always a perk, as a blogger. There’s no doubt that writing is cathartic for me, that it’s my calling, but I write to see my work read by others, plain and simple. This piece is particularly special to me, as it highlights the lack of support by pharmaceutical companies and big donations, for a genetic disease that is always fatal– and which has claimed the lives of my grandmother, my 49 yr. old aunt, and my mother… so far. However, reading the comments from other people living with HD was truly humbling. This is a disease that doesn’t discriminate: men, women, all races, most ages, can be impacted, and the outcome is always devastating. It was extremely moving to read those comments throughout the day yesterday. While I hope readers of this blog will take a look at my piece (here), I really hope you will scroll down to the comments and show some support for people who really deserve it.
And so, what was to be a quiet, contemplative day of writing and processing, imploded. A constant stream of friends and family wished me congratulations of Facebook; my Twitter account was swamped with messages about HD, the VOTY award and new followers. My email pinged all day, with messages, and my head was swimming in the attention my work had brought, the distraction and the deluge of emotions I felt.
I came to this special place, this haven, to dig in old places and find some answers. I’m picking at scabs. The fact that my day was disrupted by a convergence of the two worlds: my mother’s and my father’s, that I’m trying to make sense of, is a cosmic nudge that I can’t ignore. The dichotomy of these two people who impacted my life in such enormously different ways is something I need to work through. As I unravel old threads and figure out how to make sense of it all, I have to remember that there is no one answer; there is no single truth.
Today the sun is out again. I have reclaimed my silent contemplation: I’m writing and thinking, and later I’ll walk some more. My legs have recovered and I’m stronger. I’m still digging in old places– there’s no expiration date for grief, and growth should last a lifetime. It took two emails to remind me that life is full of beauty and grief, struggle and growth, rewards and losses; it is full of love. Two emails reminded me that while it may take some time, I’m ready to heal… Life is funny that way.
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