Set Yourself Free

It’s been a long time (I feel) since I’ve talked about my time in Africa. In college, I talked about it a lot and was often teased about it. It’s a precious time in my memory, an important part of my adolescence, and a strong connector between my mom, sister, and I. I’m reading Glennon Doyle’s recent book Untamed and as I was underlining and annotating, I wrote “set yourself free”. Flash back to Summer 2005, post Carnivore feast, in a mutatu with two very slap-happy chaperones. Cue singing.

You just slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan. You don’t need to be coy, Roy. Just get yourself free. Hop on the bus, Gus. You don’t need to discuss much. Just drop off the key, Lee. And get yourself free.

Thank you, Paul Simon. (And MJS and EDH)

Mind you, conversation quickly turned to the fact that the song never gives you more than 5 ways to leave your lover. And shouldn’t we come up with the other 45….but I digress.

Though there have been points of hiatus, I’ve been pretty open about my dating forays on this platform. Online dating sucks in general, but it is especially tricky in a COVID world. Ghosting is real, and the lamest thing in the world. In a world that already gives you security behind a screen, you’d think it wouldn’t be so hard to type “Hey, I’m not interested. Best of luck.” Alas, often that is too much. It’s not something I will ever understand. Especially from people who claim to value honesty and vulnerability. But the lesson I suppose it those aren’t my people. Easy to hear, harder to embrace.

Though there have been some short term successes, there have also been disappointments, bizarre occurrences, and stories that now make me giggle. I’m not sure what my online dating takeaway is at this point. One thing that continually rings true is this “just be you”. That’s all I can be, and in a world that calls us screams at us to be anything but ourselves, this is a mantra I try and hold fast to as much as possible. Not everyone is going to understand your decisions. And on the flip side, you won’t always understand the decisions of others. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, and thus they don’t owe you one in return. But what I do know is this: if the person and the relationship (friendship, family, romantic) is important enough then the “why” is important to share. So as I wade through thoughts of self-doubt and confusion of wtf happened, I come back to this: that relationship did not and does not define me. I am my own person and I am pretty amazing. I have much to offer to someone, but it has to be the right someone. And that will happen when it happens. That doesn’t make my current life any less fulfilling or fulfilled. It’s time to concentrate on the positives, the life-giving things, the people and moments that truly matter. Sure, I’m still on dating apps. Sure, I’m still open to being set up on dates. Sure, I want to find love some day. But none of that means my life as it is right now needs to stop, or that I need to lose focus on family commitments, my job, school, friendships, my creativity. There is so much more in life that demands or warrants my attention right now. And so, the words ring true, I will set myself free. (Glennon Doyle talks about freedom in many forms in Untamed).

  • I have a family that loves me, supports me, and brings me joy.
  • I have a close circle of friends who get my whole self, and give their whole selves in return.
  • And among that close people there are an even smaller few who keep checking in on me: sending me funny memes, creating playlists, reminding me of my worth, holding space for my emotions (and boy can that be a roller coaster).
  • I have a job that provides for me, and especially during the pandemic it is something I refuse to take for granted.
  • I have the opportunity to grow my mind through grad school, and apply it to current and future endeavors.
  • Followed closely by the amazing people in my cohort, seriously. These people are a force and keep me laughing in way no one else can.
  • I’m alive, and force my body to get up and move every day, it’s my own kind of medicine to be active and outside for at least a short time each day.
  • There’s a lot of talent in this being of mine: creativity, humor, helpfulness, compassion, etc. I am not any less because someone (or some people) choose not to be a part of my story. **Says to herself on repeat** It’s a good mantra, albeit longer than most.
  • I have a lot to offer: to my friends, to my community, to the world, to potential partners, the kids I work with (no matter their age, they are all kids to me).
  • Music and quotes. Because those will always speak to my soul, no matter its current condition. There is music for every mood, there is a quote for every emotion.
  • Introspection, the ability to process and work through the tough sh*t. You find you more and more each day. And what a blessing that it. Learn, child, keep learning.
  • And so, so, so many more. Because if you just look, you can find so much positive in your life. Even when things feel horrible, or you question yourself, or you’ve been hurt, or things seem not so bright and shiny. Make a list. There’s more than you realize. And I will continue to move toward the things that are positive, not discounting all of the other feelings because they need to be felt too. But knowing that there is more than the way someone else’s actions made me feel.
Among many others, this has been on my “get over it” playlist, lovingly called “effs” on Spotify

Where’s the Silver?

Life recently has felt heavy. Social unrest surrounding race continues. The COVID pandemic is still very real. But somehow those seem to have taken the backseat (though they shouldn’t). They are old news, brushed aside for something new. Hell, even the election seems passé. With those things setting the backdrop, I’ve had one too many (in my opinion) other things weighing on my heart.

About 6 weeks ago my aunt moved up to Indy from Florida. It’s something we’ve been trying to convince her to do for the last 5 years or so, and finally she caved. But a couple weeks into her time I had to take her to the ER. Tests and tests and tests came back; some with answers, some not so much. She flipped into a regular hospital room once there was availability and then eventually was released to rehab. My aunt is 85. There is the normal wear and tear on her body and mind. But there is definitely more at play here. I think we didn’t realize how much she had declined before she moved. And there is something about being in a hospital and then care facility that expedites the aging process on folks. I’m not sure what it is (some backhanded magic) but I’ve seen it time and time again.

My aunt doesn’t have children of her own. She has step-kids, who are wonderful to her, even after their dad passed. But when the time came to elect who would be responsible for her health/financial affairs, she chose us. It didn’t seem like a big deal when I/we originally agreed. But that was before all of the heartache and struggle we went through with my mom. All the long days visiting before work, and working through end of life plans, and allowing ourselves to grieve every step of the way. The situation with my aunt is more nuanced. There are loose ends she didn’t tie up from her move. There are things that legally we can’t do yet. There is a very tedious chain of events that usually would encourage my organizational mind, but really just has caused stress. It’s a lot. But I love my aunt, and there is lots of help along the way. Thank GOD for my dad because I would not be surviving this without him. It’s hard to see her like she is, in pain, confused, unable to take care of things on her own. It’s a stark reality juxtaposed with how she and my uncle lived for so very long. But it’s a reminder as well to make every day count.

I still have contact with several friends from childhood. People I don’t always talk to but could pick up right where we left off. Those I could call on and I know they’d come running, people who have a history of all of the Shannons I’ve been over the years. But there is one of these people who has, pretty much, been around the longest. She’s been my nearest and dearest for so long. She’s walked a long journey with me. We’ve been through ups and downs in our own lives but remained constant.

A few days ago she had her own baby girl. The cutest, sweetest, spitting’-image of herself (for real, those cheeeeeeks). One of the happiest moments that she and her husband will remember forever (and me too, because, gosh what a darling baby girl). But almost exactly 24 hours later my friend’s mother passed away. Excruciating is the best word I can think to describe it–because honestly, there are no words when you lose your mom, but especially not under these circumstances and in these times.

We had a conversation maybe a week before discussing how her mom was doing and ::gasp:: me doing a lot of listening (I swear I am actually a really good listener). And, as is typical for me, I asked her what she needed–what I could do. And these words chilled me to my core: “You’ve been through this, Shannon, so I could really use your advice…” And we both broke into tears. I don’t mind giving advice. Friends often come to me to hash out things going on in their lives. I was 28 when my mom died, and at that point I was highly aware that I was the first of my friends to experience this loss. And that I would have the unique opportunity (responsibility?) to help them through their grief when the times came. But I didn’t anticipate it would be this soon.

It was a good conversation. It was timely. It reminded me that I have more knowledge than I realize, more insight than I care to think about on a daily basis (that wouldn’t be healthy). Everyone experiences grief differently, there is no right or wrong. It’s a process. But if I can do something to help ease those I care about into that process, I will do it. I’m okay with that being one of my purposes in this lifetime. Because no one should have to go through that shit alone. No one should have to figure it all out by themselves.

Last night was the online memorial for her mom. I looked disheveled and was tired so I kept my video off. But scrolling through the names was unbelievably humbling. So many people (250+ participants, and some of those had more than one person). The rabbis did a beautiful job, better than many of the Christian funeral/memorials I have been to–not sure if that is just the ability of those two individuals or whether it was connected to the Jewish tradition (I digress). Hearing the words of her brother made me smile. Hearing the remembrances of her son, a dear friend, had me on the verge of tears. How proud I was of him, for his vulnerability and heart.

My oldest sister–she’s almost 40, so I like calling her old 😉 –has a dear friend who has been around our family a lot. I’d consider her a friend of mine, and honestly an extension of our family. She’s probably one of the only friend of my sister’s who I would hang out with on my own. She and much of her family live in CA and have been plagued by the ongoing wildfires. It’s scary. This year and last year, I feel, have been more treacherous for them than in years prior. But perhaps I’ve just been more aware. But it is scary. The air quality is not good, and that threat has been expansive (stretching even to OR where my sister and her fam live). I mean, we’ve even been able to see air effects here in Indy with strange sky colorings. It’s crazy, and something that even though I am removed from, still affects my life and day to day.

On top of this there are many other things that I have had on my heart. Friends undergoing heart procedures. Those I know battling COVID. Those close to me who have a lot on their plate. Dear ones who are struggling with health and income and livelihood and tough decisions. People who are my people who are struggling–those that I know would rather stay as anonymous as possible but still hold space in my heart so I recognize them collectively and silently. It’s a lot.

So where is the silver lining? Because, dang, it feels really grey and lackluster these days. It’s there, I just have to look for it a little harder. Sometime it’s difficult to see the joy when you feel surrounded by sorrow. But I swear to you it is there. It is.

It’s found in the joy of connecting with family who you don’t see or talk with often. Sorrow and trying times have a way of bringing us together.

It’s found in the presence of new life and new beginnings.

It’s found in community and folks being willing to offer what they have in times of need.

It’s found in the people in your life–those new and those old, who have entered or re-entered at just the right time and remind you that who you are is pretty great and you have much to offer this world.

It’s found in the ability to use your voice and your actions: to speak up and take a stand. It’s found in VOTING and doing so in an informed way, not merely to say that you cast your ballot. (To be clear, I don’t care who you vote for, we all get to make that choice for ourselves. But I do hope that you will read up on the candidates and the issues at play. Educate yourselves.)