Notes on Courage
Transforming myself to transform the world.
My husband and I replayed the first interview I did following the collapse last night. It was an interview I did with Dave's best friend, who reported for the local CBS affiliate in Mankato at the time. Because of our existing relationship, this story is the most raw and intimate of any that I've ever done.
The interview was done about 4 weeks after the collapse-- the pain of it all sat just beneath the surface, but Dave could see it in my eyes. The pain struck him, but the audio of the message I left him that day triggered him.
I was just in a major accident on 35W- the bridge collapsed... turn on the TV... the entire bridge just collapsed and my car is in the water. Somehow I got out... My back hurts really bad... probably going to go to a hospital somewhere... I just wanted you to know that I'm alive... I love you.
Last night, it was Dave's turn to get triggered. No sooner had the recording started, than he was flooded with the emotions of that day. BAM! Just like that-- no warning-- no way to stop it. Suddenly we were re-experiencing that day-- but this time, we focused on his experience.
I've always felt like the bridge was a shared trauma, not only between myself and other survivors/family members. It's a trauma that has had rippling effects in my own life and the community at-large. Everyone has a story from that day-- whether it was the near miss (I was delayed at work.... We stopped to use the bathroom... I watched it go down in my rear view mirror...) or the secondary trauma of having your world turned upside down because of the direct impact on someone close.
Dave's story-- his secondary trauma-- always mattered to me. Throughout my recovery, there were many times that I confronted him with it-- craving the connection of feeling the weight together.
It happened to you, too!
Last night, seven years and fifteen days later, he finally admitted that it happened to him too. He confided that the few times he allowed himself to consider his own feelings, they were quickly batted away by shouldn'ts-- by the little voice that told him how selfish it would be to feel his own feelings given what I was going through.
How many other relationships suffer because of the little voice telling us not to care for ourselves in the midst of hurt and sadness? Because it's selfish, or not important, or not "bad" enough.
One of the most startling phenomenons I experienced in the wake of all of this is the complete disregard people have for their own hurts and traumas in the face of a perceived "worse."
Dave isn't the only one who neglected his own feelings or downplayed a challenging experience around me. I know that when someone says, "oh, it's nothing compared to what you've been through..." it's intended to honor my experience, but instead it feels like a giant chasm has been created between us. I feel othered and cut out from the opportunity for connection.
Last night, Dave and I talked about his experience seven years ago. How he felt hearing my message... turning on the TV... driving aimlessly, hoping not to crash... wondering how his life-- our lives would change. His wound broke open last night, and with it comes new awareness of his own trauma story-- and with that story comes connection.
To those who have experienced trauma-- in any shape or form:
It's important to look inward, to be "selfish" and care for your wounds. Don't neglect your own hurts because someone else has it "worse." Your story-- all of it-- matters. Listen to it. Learn from it. Share it.
Even as you look in, don't forget to look up sometimes, and see what stories are staring back at you-- waiting to be heard. By listening to each other's stories and honoring our own we find connection.
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, I started swimming lessons. In order to pass the first level, I needed to jump into the deep end of the pool and use the skills I had learned to stay afloat. I was so scared that I wouldn't remember how to swim that I refused to jump. It didn't matter that I had been doggie paddling in the shallow end for most of the summer, that there were instructors there to keep me safe, or that I would fail the class and have to start over. The fear of not being able to touch the ground held me back.
It still holds me back.
It's no longer the lack of confidence about my skills that keeps me grounded. I know that I have the skills to fly. I've studied, practiced, and paid attention. Still do.
These days, I find myself struggling to fly because of the little voice in my head that says:
"Don't be too confident."
"Don't be selfish."
"Don't shine too bright."
We all have that little voice and it can do a number on our sense of self-worth and add weight to our flight.
But guess what?
There's a BIG voice in my heart (in all our hearts), that lightens the load. I know that when I listen to that voice good things happen-- no, no-- great things happen!
In the lead up to the launch of heARTS, I was filled with guidance from that BIG voice. I was following my heart and it felt so right. With each new step in the process, new opportunities arose that felt like Divine encouragement to keep me going.
As my dream became a reality, I had a harder time hearing my BIG voice. The day to day realities of running an organization pulled my head from the clouds and the little voice started to get louder again. As the volume of that little voice increased, my satisfaction with my DREAM JOB decreased.
Exhaustion, confusion about my personal/professional identities, fear about money, and grief over the loss of time for friends, family and even the dishes, caused me to question my heart. Suddenly, thoughts of getting a "real job" ( WHAT?! ) crossed my mind and I had to start doing some serious soul searching and self caring.
Aug. 1 has become a kind of re-birth day for me-- my life day. Last week, I took a reflective journey to the memorial and the river. Throughout the day, the Universe gifted me with reminders that even birds have to learn how to fly. Baby feathers floated into my path throughout the day and when I returned home in the afternoon I received the biggest gift of all-- flying lessons!
A family of hawks, who have been nesting in our neighbor's tree, used our backyard for flying lessons. Three hawks lined our 4' chain link fence and another was on the ground, all appeared to be fully grown. At first we thought the one on the ground was injured, it was flailing about and struggling to fly. We wondered if the other three were watching over it- protecting it. Then we noticed that the hawk on the ground was trying to grasp chunks of woods-- remnants of a tree trunk. Turned out he was learning how to fly with the additional weight of the wood-- mock prey I suppose. Eventually another hawk took to the task and the first flew up to the fence-- assuring us that what we were witnessing was indeed flying lessons. (You can watch the action yourself in the video below.)
The Universe's message to me that day was loud and clear-- permission to fly.
Just like the hawks, I'm still learning how to fly. They helped me understand that I don't have to rid myself of the weight (the grief, the self-doubt, the guilt) in order to fly. I need to learn how to fly with those feelings-- despite those feelings. I am learning to turn the volume back up on my BIG voice and trust my wings.
It's been 7 years since the fall. Since the ground fell out from beneath me and the world changed.
My life changed.
Each year, the anniversary hits in a different way. The first few years were a tidal wave of media requests and interviews. I told my story then because I didn't want people to forget- I was terrified that people would forget. That the day-to-day monotony of life would overshadow the gravity of what happened on Aug. 1. That the lives lost and forever changed wouldn't matter any more- at least until something else fell down.
The story I told then was calm and lifeless. I was a robot, a ghost, a shadow of my former self. During those years, I felt fleeting moments of life, but mostly I felt dead inside. Unable to feel the emotional weight of what happened or grieve the loss of those I never got to meet.
Each year, I thought I was better. Heck, six months after the collapse I thought I was better! The interviews I gave have become markers of time on my healing journey. A journey that included the insistence that I was better- until I finally was.
On the 5th anniversary, in 2012, I finally felt the full weight of the fall. I walked out onto the Stone Arch Bridge until the new, glistening, though apparently already in disrepair, bridge was in sight and began to sob. Anyone who knows me well, knows that public tears and Lindsay have never mixed (this is the girl who sat through Titanic without shedding a tear)- but on the bridge that day, surrounded by strangers, I cried the tears of mourning, grief and loss.
Popular culture would like us to believe that we are "better" when the tears stop falling. I started a new stage of my healing journey when the tears started to fall. Don't get me wrong, I cried many, many ugly cries during those first five years. Tears of anger, frustration, loss, insecurity and loneliness, were a regular part of life. What was different in year 5 was that those tears had dissipated.
There was finally room in my heart and my mind to grieve the wholeness of the day. The new tears helped lift some of the weight of the fall and gave me the wings to fly.
Last year I tried to focus on flying. I wanted to change the story, to focus on life and joy again, rather than sorrow. My organization, courageous heARTS, made it's public debut with a film screening at the Riverview Theater. We invited an Academy Award winning artist to screen her film and hosted a private reception in the mansion of one of Minneapolis' famous families, the Pillsbury's. (I still don't know how that happened, but it did.)
Though amazing, last year's flight was bitter sweet. Pangs of sadness filled my heart throughout the day and I felt ill equipped to attend to them. I tried to honor them briefly during my few private moments and quickly moved back to joy and life.
I thought I was fine.
I had been living out my joy, my dream, my meaning- no days had been lost to tears or anger or disconnection for a long time.
I was "fine", but I've come to understand that these anniversaries weigh down my heart. As much as I want to fly joyfully into this life I've been given back, my heart still feels the weight of the fall.
This year, there's no media and no launch. Just me.
I plan to sit with the tension between falling and flying. Try to find the balance I need on this day, at this time.
I will embrace the solitude I craved last year. I will visit the river that used to haunt me. I will treat myself to simple pleasures. I will breathe deeply and reflect. I will grieve and release more of the weight.
At 6:05pm, I will be sitting in a tattoo parlor, finally embracing the magic of that day and the part of the story I shy away from telling. (Another story for another day.)
As I continue this journey from falling to flying, I am grateful for everyone who has been with me throughout the years- in mind, body, and spirit. Solitude has been my solace these past seven years, but I'm working toward connection.
One of these years, on Aug. 1, I'm going to plan a party for myself. We'll celebrate life and flight.
About the blog:
Reflection has been a constant on my journey. This blog is a collection of my thoughts and ideas about my healing and the world.