Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wisdom of Age

Have you ever gone back and watched a movie that you loved as a teenager…10 to 15 years later only to wonder, "That was terrible. What was I thinking?" It's only natural that our tastes would change as we mature and learn more about ourselves and the world around us. Then there are the movies that are truly timeless, but your perspective has changed. You relate to the characters and themes on a completely different level each time you see the movie.

I ran across one of those movies this past weekend…The Big Chill. This is the third time I've seen this movie. Once in my 20's, then 30's and now at the age of 43. If you have somehow managed to go through life without seeing this film, the plot is as follows. A group of close college friends who have drifted apart reunite after 15 years due to the suicide of one of them. Virtually the entire movie takes place in the home of one couple where everyone is staying. The characters themselves are in their mid to late 30s.

Various conversations take place over the course of several days. Discussions of how idealistic they were and how they were going to change the world versus what they've actually become. Marriages, affairs, one woman desperate to have a child with no prospects on the horizon and of course the suicide…the topic they dance around and finally all confront as a group.

The first time I saw this movie, I did appreciate and like it, but really couldn't relate to the experiences of the characters. They were so much older. I was in my 20s. Very much still in the idealistic phase. My life an open book before me waiting for the pages to be filled. Living on dreams of what the future would hold. I thought, "how could people get so far off track and compromise their ideals?" "How could things get so bad that one would even contemplate suicide?" I was naive and didn't know it.

The second time I saw this movie, I had already compromised myself. Allowing another person to tell me what to think, how to act and who I should be rather than who I actually was. All of this in the guise of love. Feeling I wasn't good enough for anyone else and lucky that I at least found this person willing to be with me, though I didn't deserve him. I had given up my art and almost everything else that brought me pleasure in life. Why? I don't have a great answer. Low self-esteem, a belief I was weak and couldn't make decisions on my own. Constantly criticizing myself with that infernal internal voice. I wasn't that naive anymore. I knew intellectually what was going on. That it was wrong. That what he was doing was not love, yet it was still difficult to leave to reach out for help; admit I needed the help.

Now not only do I have the same perspective as the characters, but also of one other I hadn't yet mentioned…the widow. She was not part of the college group, was quite a bit younger and compared to the rest, unsophisticated. She sits quiet for most of the movie listening to what is being said around her about her late husband. Learning things she never knew. This was the one way I related to her. Listening to people talk about their past with Tom. The past that took place before me. I could easily see myself in her eyes. I felt like I had been dropped into the movie. She didn't find the stories sad. Neither did I. I could now understand the regrets of the others. Time passed that can't be retrieved or altered. Paths seemingly so deeply rutted that one could never climb out to change direction. I could understand them, but do not share them. I believe you must learn from the past, but not dwell in it. I choose to move forward.

I find myself coming full circle. My life an open book before me once again. All directions open, but this time I have the wisdom that comes with age, an understanding of the mistakes of the past, the knowledge that I am not weak as I had believed for so long and finally that I am deserving of a love that doesn't compromise my true self but instead embraces it.

The painting:

"Can't See the River for the Trees"

-Brazos River, Texas

Water-Soluble Oils on Canvas Board

24" x 18"

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fate's Lesson

It's been a while since I've written. I've been busy with both the day job, painting and volunteer projects, but perhaps I just needed a break from my relentless self psychoanalysis and needed to attempt to enjoy life again by just feeling instead of thinking. A new friend was discussing his personal situation and my husband's death with me over lunch and it seems we have in common the need to research and read extensively to educate ourselves when confronted with something unfamiliar.

He commented that I must have had to overcome anger toward Tom for dying. Except I never did. I wasn't angry. It wasn't purposeful. I also found that I couldn't relate to what I was reading about how to deal with a death. It didn't really apply to me or what I was feeling. I had already survived more than most people had to deal with in their entire lives even before Tom's death. My perspective was very different. I was left with my own thoughts on the situation. I wanted to move forward with my life. Fate has made a point of beating one single lesson into my head and it is this, "life is fragile–we are only guaranteed this very moment–make it count." I made a decision recently to do so and start dating. For the friends that I have talked to about it, you are pretty evenly split. Some of you are all for it and others think I'm making a rash decision and am opening myself up for more pain or to be taken advantage of. Let me assure you that the logical rational side of me is still firmly intact and in control. Okay, there has admittedly been a little heart denting in this process, but I've got a pretty good handle on it now. I won't settle just to be with someone instead of alone.

I had already gone out with a couple people when I'm informed that my company wished to present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Tom at our National Sales Meeting. I was asked to design it, accept it and speak. Upon hearing this, I am simultaneously honored, terrified and angry. It was truly a wonderful gesture and I do appreciate it greatly, but I am terrified of public speaking, though I apparently do a good job of disguising that as I'm actually speaking. Mainly though, I was a little angry that almost no one seemed to realize the potential to reopen wounds. To me this was essentially another memorial service...people speaking about his life, showing the video compilation of our life together...I didn't really want to go through this again, not now that I was moving forward. I knew everyone's heart was in the right place and I felt compelled to go through with it. If not for me, then for Tom's brother, Paul, who was flying in to attend.

I didn't sleep the night before, rewrote my speech 4 times and tweaked wording right up until a few hours before the presentation. I stood in front of the mirror in the hotel room and read it over and over out loud until I no longer stumbled over the words. When the video began playing, I could see the tears in those around me. I was determined to hold it together. I had planned to watch the video about 20 times beforehand to make myself somewhat immune to the content, but I hadn't. I tapped my foot nervously, staring down periodically at my piece of paper just wishing it was over, but my favorite picture came up. You know, the one that makes everyone laugh, Tom eating surrounded by the fur-kids evenly spaced in a semi-circle around him staring at the, dog, cat, dog, dog...I can't help but smile at that.

It was finally time for me. I walked up to the podium and was nearly overcome by the thunderous applause. Though I felt I didn't deserve it. This was Tom's award. I do know it was to show support for me, for my loss. It was appreciated. I even made you laugh. You don't know how I agonized about putting Tom's joke about us working together in there. I wondered if it was appropriate, but in the end it felt right to me, so I left it in. Once I began talking, the anxiety diminished greatly. I was determined to do the best job I could for Paul, for Tom...and for me. I don't regret it. My fear was that if I didn't speak, that I would regret.

I felt solemn the next day, not sad so much as introspective. Was it the right decision to move on with my life? I will always love him, but my heart still has room. Fate's lesson has not fallen on deaf ears. So I take control of the reins and ride forward into the unknown.


About the Painting:

"Sky Waves"
4 feet wide by 16" high
Acrylic on Masonite board


When my sister and I were driving home from seeing the building where we had Tom's service, this was the scene before us as we turned into my development.