During the entire month of November, I heard people expressing how much they were thankful for. Every day they posted what that day’s worth was. They described the usual: family, friends, and in some instances health or fractions of good health which is often the case for a lupus patient. I read each one of these acclamations and wondered, “Is everyone really internalizing these thoughts? Are they mere lists that one feels obligated to write?” Certainly it is a wonderful gesture, but what is the weight of its worth. This got me to thinking about accomplishing grateful endeavors. How can you be grateful for your life if you have no task in which to prove it? Or even better, what process have you gone through to try and accomplish a purpose?
Over the years, I have learned that words are often just words. I have also come to realize that to internalize a thought process means so much more. It is the difference between the “I wills” versus the “I haves”. Sometimes we do not reach our destined goals, yet the road that has led us there, if traveled diligently, has brought us to other destinations. It has landed us on the shores of our souls.
People often ask me how I am able to accomplish so much, and yet fight four autoimmune diseases. My first response has always been, because I am afraid. The thought of slowing down and stopping my world in its tracks scares me more than anything. In my mind, when that day comes, that’s when they should dig the hole. I respect the wolf. I take my meds and listen to my body. Yet at the same time, ignore what the wolf believes I can no longer do. With this stubbornness I am much better off. Being a visual person, I always see myself as looking over my shoulder, and when the wolf is not looking at me, I run like hell to my next destination. Once I get there I laugh at him. This too, I see visually as me holding my belly and pointing. Being able to visualize yourself as an individual who can accomplish many things is half the battle. Denial?...maybe. Stupidity?...sometimes. Rewarding?...always.
This is not a new way of thinking for me. Having Rheumatoid Arthritis since I was a child, I had learned early on that life isn’t always easy. I have always been a project person. It is through these projects I learned the art of distraction. When I was 8 years old I saved bird feathers for two years in hopes of one day making wings to fly. My mother was appalled when she found them in my closet stuffed in a box. I had my first “business” when I was in high school. I reproduced album covers on canvas with oil paint for a local “head shop.” By the time I was 21 and living overseas on an army base I painted tasteful nudes for GI’s. At the age of 25 I owned a photography restoration lab. This was before computers, when everything was done on the negative by hand. At the age of 33 I opened an art school. It is where my heart is today, eighteen years later. So when the wolf knocked at my door, I wasn’t about to bow down to him. It isn’t in my nature.
Seven years ago, before the wolf, I set out to give my daughter a graduation gift for her high school achievements. I could have given her the usual, a car or jewelry. But I was so proud of her; I wanted to give her my heart. On Thanksgiving weekend 2004, I started writing my memoir. She had not known the stories of my past. We did not have family to gather around a holiday table to relate them. In this way she was deprived. I wanted to give her the gift of my history and therefore hers as well. I finished the project with a 500 page chronicle of my life. I have led a very interesting life. I have traveled and lived abroad for several years. Alone in the world at a very young age I had experienced an epic existence of struggles and accomplishments, with often hilarious paths along the way. The point I was making for her is that you never grow up…one just keeps on growing, and it is the journey that counts more. It is ok to be fearful, stupid and make mistakes along the way, because life is an adventure and this is how you learn. After I completed this project, I felt it had done its job and set it aside. With the encouragement of some friends who had read it, this year I turned it into a novel. I added some characters and made it a complete story; soon it will be published. The process it took to complete this task was the most rewarding in my life thus far. The feeling it gave me, healed me. It was such a wonderful experience it drove me to want to tell everyone if you believe you can do something then you can, but arriving is not the goal. It was not the finished book that was my reward, but the journey on which it took me.
So I ask you? What can you do today that you didn’t think you could because of illness or adversity? It doesn’t have to be a great feat. Small accomplishments are equally rewarding. With ever little stride that is taken you will find larger steps to be easily obtained. Sometimes a daunting endeavor is actually a series of smaller obstacles that are effortlessly hurtled. With my book, I chose to just write one chapter at a time. Every completed chapter gave me strength. Although I felt the prize would be its completion, it in fact was its process that gave me the most reward. As in C.P. Cavafy’s poem, Ithaca, which recounts a journey through many adventures that finally leads to the arrival in the harbor of Ithaca, the poet indicates that one must not rush ashore to claim your prize to find your treasure. The treasure is your journey and it is yours already. The best part of this type of thinking is the reward of self that one receives. Your life will seem to have the worth of your grateful yearnings. It drives you to want more. For me, the collected feathers that were never fashioned into wings; actually were. They began my flight that brought me here on this voyage today.