Notes on Courage
Transforming myself to transform the world.
In episode 2, I have two stories to share about how I've befriended my fear and learned to discern real vs perceived threats. In either circumstance, courage is what's needed to make a decision that will expand your life rather than restrict it.
If you would like to have a conversation about the content of today's cast, I invite you to join me over in my private Facebook group: The Resilient Soul Sanctuary. It's a safe space, where you can share your own reflections and start a conversation about how courage shows up in your own life.
Before I leave you to it, I wanted to let you know that CourageCast is now available on iTunes and will soon be on Stitcher too! If you like what you hear, I'd appreciate a review!
I've been wincing a lot lately. Sometimes when I'm laying down, and sometimes while standing up. Other times, the sharp pain that shoots through my back is tied to completely random movements.
Finally, after much procrastination, I went to the chiropractor for the first time in way too long. I told her my "spot" was acting up. This spot in my lower back, just to the right of my spine, that feels like a ball full of sorrow.
Since my back brace came off seven years ago, I've done my best to ignore that spot. It's been this elusive pain that seems inescapable. During this first visit in way too long, the pain was as tricky as ever-- the questions of, does it hurt now? as my body is shifted and contorted, so often answered with no.
How is it that this pain can cause fleeting moments of crippling discomfort and then disappear in the presence of a doctor? They always say they believe me, but sometimes I feel like the girl who cried wolf. So I've spent the last seven years chalking it up to life. Accepting that a certain level of pain is just what life is like now. Penance, perhaps.
This time, when I went to the doctor, they had a new scan machine that showed how my vertebrae were zigzagging down my back. 150% one way, 200% the other--like a pin ball pinging off the sides of the machine. Official diagnosis? Your back is jacked up! (I love my chiropractor for her formal style and unwavering professionalism, it really makes for a much more pleasant experience!)
It's nice to have some validation that the pain is clearly real. I've got this image on my fridge as a reminder that I need to care for my back as much as I care for my heart.
This time my pain feels different. It's alive again, in an excruciating way. There are memories attached with this pain. The physical sensations and the limitations.
I'm pulling out the adaptive moves I learned so long ago. The log roll has been helping me out of bed, and there are some really smooth moves to help with getting dressed in the morning. I'm trying to keep from sitting too much-- which means make shift standing desks and evenings laying on the couch.
I'm trying really hard to care for my spot-- which amounts to some ill placed bones and a sprained muscle (or two).
Since my brace came off, I've spent so much time trying to heal my heart so I could seize the day, that I've neglected a critical element of life--a body that feels good. It's actually a really amazing thing to feel present enough to want a body that can help me live this extraordinary life!
So I'm seizing the pain right now, in order to truly live life to the fullest. Enough with feeling like I'm ninety, at least until I am ninety. (Later than that will do too!)
I'm going to leave you with a post from my old blog. I wrote it as I was transforming my brace into something worth keeping, titled Healing Embrace. Healing is truly a state of embrace--pulling the tough stuff close and giving it all the love you can.
My mom said “get rid of it”. How could I do that? This object represents so much.
Pain. Anger. Tears. Restriction. A bulls eye—a target. Baby steps. "You’re still wearing that?" Security—I am safe in this shell. Healing.
Instead of creating a burden for the earth, with something that will never decompose, I transformed it. It’s still a work in progress—just like I am—but it will tell my story, in ways my words may not.
Yesterday, I guided a painting session with a group of high schoolers. About half-way through the workshop, one of the painters called me over and said that she was stuck. She told me that when I shared my story, it reminded her of her own loss in 2007. She felt inspired to paint about that loss and started her "dark" painting. As she told me more of her story, I observed the black at the top of her page gradually transition into beautiful shades of red and orange-- a sailor's delight surely around the corner.
I could see her delight in the vibrant hues she had started to use, and hear the pain and burden as she expressed concern about what she thought her painting was suppose to be-- dark, heavy, grief-stricken-- but wasn't any more. I asked her if it was possible for both to exist-- the darkness and the light. The guilt she was holding, just beneath the surface, was palpable. When wounds cut so deep that it feels like a betrayal to use vibrant colors in a painting, just imagine what it feels like to live a vibrant, colorful life?
I get it. There have been many steps on my journey that have felt like betrayals. Betrayals that I turned into obligations so I wouldn't feel so guilty.
Surviving felt like a betrayal. I'm alive and thirteen others aren't. I need to make my life worthy of the second chance. I need to prove to the Universe that I was worth keeping, in case there was some kind of mix-up on the way to the other side.
Healing felt like a betrayal. I'm getting better but others are still stuck. We're in this together, but I can't stay stuck. I can't keep reliving the pain, I need to transform the pain. Moving on is a betrayal to the pain and grief and loss, my own and others.
Creating courageous heARTS felt like a betrayal. I'm living my joy by using my deepest sadness and pain. I'm betraying the sadness, my own and others. I'm betraying the horrific tragedy by calling it a gift, by having the audacity to say I wouldn't want it any other way.
I know exactly what it feels like to feel the pull of the dark-- the obligation to it, the muted existence that it creates. I also know what it feels like to find the light-- to live in the vibrancy of the contrast and find joy again.
Recently, I had an Angel Reading with Laurel Bleadon-Maffei, and was reminded that my essence-- joyful and adventurous-- is meant to live a vibrant, colorful life. I was awakened to the fact that the only real betrayal is to live a muted existence-- holding on to the darkness out of obligation and guilt.
So I'm cashing in my gift... Life.
I'm done feeling bad about being alive. They wouldn't want me to- would never have ask me to. I did that to myself.
I'm ready to celebrate my life! (Whoa.)
I'm ready to breathe in deeply, with grateful awareness.
I'm ready to explore the big wide world and all it's vibrant colors.
I'm ready to giggle uncontrollably and feel the drunkenness of joy again.
I'm ready to live a magical, extraordinary existence.
I'm ready to pop the lid off what's possible and keep dreaming-- even bigger.
I'm cashing in, with utmost gratitude.
I'm ready to fly, anyway.
*Image adapted from Tony Webster: https://flic.kr/p/9WBhY5
Part of my bridge story has always been unexplainable. That day, as I sat against the median, I remember saying out loud, on repeat, "I don't know how I got out of my car."
Over and over again. The words fell from my mouth in some kind of controlled hysteria.
"I don't know how I got out. I don't know how I got out."
I didn't know how, but I did know why. Scratch that.
I knew why, and I had an inkling about how-- but the how was wrapped up in all kinds of mystery and magic. It was an explanation beyond my understanding and wrapped up in all kinds of survivor's guilt, so I stuck with "I don't know", whenever someone asked:
How did you get out of your car?
Since I didn't have any answer (at least not publicly), everyone else tried to answer it. And oh the answers!
All I have to say is that it's not fun having the most pivotal moment of your life told through the framework of other people's belief systems. It kind of shocks me how invasive people can be about what I consider to be the most personal and intimate aspect of who we are-- our spiritual centering.
[Side note: It's not helpful to try to explain someone else's life and experiences through your own lens. It's diminishing and self-serving. It can also be really damaging in the case of race, culture, gender... Instead, ask questions and check your assumptions.]
So, do you want to know what I know?
I know that there was magic. Divine magic.
I know that it wasn't until I surrendered to the situation-- stopped fighting and started accepting-- that the magic happened.
I know there was help. Divine help.
I know there was purpose. Divine purpose.
Because I knew all that, I never looked back. Never wished for another chance to take that first missed exit, or the second. Despite the pain, I trusted it had a purpose-- that I had a purpose for still being here.
Why not just tell people that?
When it comes to the Divine, my knowing is kept in my gut, my intuition. I don't pretend to understand the mysteries of the Universe, but instead try to honor them as such, Divine mysteries. My experience is the kind people want to label with loaded words and place into their own box of understanding. I don't fault them for that-- it's understandable, and in some ways I shared my experience in a way that people could draw their own conclusions, from their own perspectives.
Then, there's the heavy. Thirteen people died. What right do I have to claim Magic? Divine intervention? I thought it was selfish to even think about the magic-- let alone to speak of it out loud. So I didn't.
Now, with some years and distance, I recognize how much worse it could have been. I remember emerging from the water thinking everyone would be dead and instead seeing survivors standing next to their car calling loved ones. There was Divine intervention all over the scene that day. It showed up in mysterious form and human form. It eased pain and brought hope. It Lit up the whole world in one of our darkest hours. (Don't you remember how everything just stopped, how all of a sudden our disagreements and little life stressors didn't matter so much? I could feel it, the collective consciousness as everyone tried to make sense of the senselessness.)
Over the summer, someone finally gave me an answer that honors the magic of my experience in a way that felt good to me.
One of the young women who comes to heARTS watched a news story I was in and she questioned, "So you really don't know how you got out of your car?"
"Nope I really don't."
"I bet I do... MERMAIDS!" she exclaimed. Then looked a little sheepish, as though I would think it was silly.
"MERMAIDS!! YES!" She didn't know in that moment how happy I was, to hear an answer filled with wonder and imagination, instead of dogmatic belief systems.
No one can deny the magic of mermaids.
So now my answer is clear, and on Aug. 1 this year I had an (A)riel tattooed on my arm-- the same arm that reached for the light above the surface of the water. The same hand that holds the physical scars from that day.
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.
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.