Sometimes I wonder if I would survive better with my heart hardened in this world. Whether it is unprovoked war, pandemic, death, famine, or hate focused on the vulnerable the news seems to spew despair in some form or the other on a daily basis. Well, I am not sure we should even call it news anymore; I think it is merely produced for entertainment and ratings these days with true journalists numbering in the minority. But information is everywhere it is coated thick with despair, destruction, hate, and loss.
I do not read news or seek out information daily. I cannot digest the mouthfuls of misery it serves up. Instead of facts, there is mostly horror and hopeless commentary and it leaves a bad taste in my brain. However, we have to pay attention to what is going on, that is how we can be a difference in the world. Because no matter the problem, we are the solution. We hold the key to a better world. How we behave, where we spend our money, what we watch, what we teach our children, how we treat one another, that is where the answer always lies. No matter what is happening in the world, we can be the spot of light for ourselves and our neighbors.
I have witnessed this many times in my life. It might be a book that shaped me, a writer’s words that delivered hope into my heart. It has been a friend who drops off a coffee when they know I have retreated too far into myself. I see it in my kids when they notice a student struggling and wonder not what is wrong with them, but what might be happening in that child’s life that is causing them to struggle. It was in the kindness of a stranger who offered to show me how a photograph could shape my inner voice. It is in the kindness of my husband’s eyes, his soft tone and encouraging words.
In fact it’s the reason I married my husband. On a trip to Tahoe – we had only been dating a couple months – we stopped in a fast food restaurant to grab a bite to eat. He ordered three meals, there were only two of us. I thought maybe he was extra hungry, but as we walked out the door he dropped off one of the meals to a man who had been sitting by the door. The man was obviously homeless, shabby shoes, disheveled clothes, threadbare jacket, belongs piled into an olive covered makeshift knapsack. I knew then and there the man who had noticed this human and decided to offer assistance would be my husband. I wanted to be with someone who noticed. I wanted to be with someone who made a difference in any way that was readily available. This is who I want to be in the world.
People often give us the hope we need to see the good in the world. I met just that kind of someone a while back. This someone asked those who know her to share memories of her so she could remember the good in herself, that was her birthday wish this year. Her birthday was a few days ago, so this post is late, but hopefully still brings a smile to her face. Her name is Amy.
Amy is going through a bit of a hard time having moved during the pandemic. I met Amy in October of 2019 when I attended a retreat in Scotts Valley. I have written about the author, Rachel Macy Stafford, who was the instructor of that class here. The topic of the class had to do with self-love. Why is believing in your own worth so hard for some of us? Why do some of us feel unworthy of connection? Why do we struggle to feel enough? But also about how to shift our soul so that we could find our own gifts and shift our mindset so we could see the path to use them. Amy comes into the picture pretty early on, but I am going to jump ahead for a minute.
One of the first assignments, self-assessments, we were tasked with was to find a picture of ourselves where we were happy. Rachel called this Our Dreamer. She wanted us to get in touch with Our Dreamer and describe her or him.
The girl in this photo is My Dreamer. She never apologized for taking up space. She posed for pictures in ruffled shirts and plaid jump suits. Her laugh filled her soul completely and her smile reached her eyes. She loved her sister so much she would not hesitate to wake her up and take her hand to lead her downstairs to watch Saturday morning cartoons together in their feet-sy pajamas. This girl played Barbies like it was her job and her imagination had no limits. Impromptu dance parties were her jam and she rocked all her epic dance moves. Learning made her so happy. She could not wait to get to school every day and had no doubt she would meet her very best friend there. She eagerly volunteered to help out new students. And most of all she believed in magic and fairytales.
But My Dreamer did not walk into this seminar. Instead, I showed up early, and went to the bookstore. Bought a book and sat by the fire pit all by lonesome hoping my powers of invisibility worked and no one would stop to talk to me because what did I have to say that was of any interest to anyone?
When it was time to start, I sheepishly tried to slip into the conference room unnoticed. However, no such luck. One of the greeters was named Amy Paulson. She was bubbly, open, and so welcoming.
She said welcome and hello then asked my name.
When she heard my name she immediately shared that she had almost been the proud owner of my name tag. Her smile turned into a laugh.
” I almost stole your identity today.” She beamed. Her brown hair was pulled back and she was dressed in a cute oversized sweater and jeans. Her white tennis shoes made me smile. I seriously love tennis shoes.
“What?” I looked at her quizzically. I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly.
“The front desk had confused us.” She handed over my name tag. “They tried to tell me I was Michelle Paulson. I told them I wished I was, but I am Amy. They looked through the name tags and found me eventually, but I almost got to be you for the weekend. I am sure that would be great to be you, but I thought you might be sad if I had taken your identity. You might like being you.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. It might be fun to switch.” I said.
Amy laughed, “Are you staying here?”
“I am not. My family is camping close by I am going to stay with them, but come to the class for the weekend.” I answered. I then went on to explain I had received a scholarship to attend with Rachel’s help. That I was worried about being a friend and making them and Rachel had assured me I was a good friend and she would help make sure I could take the class.
“Oh my gosh, Rachel is the best, isn’t she?” She raved. Amy went on to tell me that Rachel was one of her friends and had invited her to the conference as well. She was eager to be a part of the experience and grateful to spend time with her friend even if it was a short visit threaded between class and work. She was a photographer and had worked in a couple photo shoots while she was on the west coast. “I think we should be friends since we already have the same last name, we might as well be friends.” She flashed her wide open, radiant smile at me.
“I would love that.” I said.
Amy proceeded to tell me she looked forward to getting to know me and hoped I enjoyed the conference.
Oh I wanted to be her in that moment. Not only was she authentically herself and amazing, but she was also friends with Rachel. Instead, I was still me. The name tags had found their right owners and I could slip back into being invisible.
But here’s the thing, I don’t really want to be invisible. I want to be My Dreamer self in the world again. That is who I want to be. That is who I really am because the dreamer is the one who has the light on and will be a light for others. Just like Amy’s light had lifted me up and made the conference seem a lot more welcoming, I wanted to be comfortable enough to share myself with those around me. Instead I snuck into a seat and quietly scribbled notes and bashfully said hi to Rachel fumbling over words and feeling stupid. Then walking quickly to my car.
Here are some photos Amy took that looking back I am so glad she did, because maybe I wasn’t the fumbling mess I thought I was. It is really nice to see yourself through Amy’s eyes. She has quite a gift at capturing people and their inner beauty.
Anyway, after the seminar I drove to the campground where my family was staying and proceeded to try and park the car in the overcrowded lot. It was Halloween weekend and there was tons of people parked in the overflow parking. I hate crowds and already feeling less than stellar was not excited to try and find parking in the congested lot.
My husband had come down to help me park. He found a spot and was guiding me in using a flashlight. However, as I started to maneuver into the spot I immediately froze up. He began to swing the light back and forth quickly, hurrying me into the spot. I stopped and muttered to myself, you aren’t helping me. you are just making me nervous.” But even before he started swinging the flashlight, my fingers gripped the steering wheel and my heart started to flutter in a familiar pattern of anxiety. I hate being the center of attention. I can’t handle people looking at me. I didn’t even want to walk down the aisle at my own wedding because I would be watched. I mean who even thinks that?
As my mind raced, I turned too short to make the space and I rolled down the window. I said to my husband, “You are going to have to park the car.”
He answered sharply, “Fine, hop out.”
As I braced myself to hop out of the car and sulk off to the side, time seemed to slip into slow motion. I could feel something in me shift. Maybe he noticed the look of defeat on my face, maybe I finally understood he wasn’t frustrated that I couldn’t do it, he was frustrated at my lack of self-confidence. Not because I am frustrating, but because he knew I could do it if I just believed I could. And the man I married, the one who had purchased food for the homeless man on our trip, who has done it countless times again, emerged in my eyes again. And I thought about Amy, brave, open, and ready for adventure. I didn’t get out of the car. Instead, I stayed put. Smoothly and slowly he said, “Just pull forward a little bit. Okay, good. Keep going. Aim for the back of the truck. There you go, that’s it. Okay, stop. Now, back up and turn the wheel this way.” He spun his hands right.
“Good! Okay, now you can go forward. You’ve got it! Just pull in. There, you did it!”
The calm and comfort I felt completing that task cannot be measured in words. And that my kids were there, too to see me stick with it and finish is a proud moment.
What I wanted moving forward from that night was the ability to not tense up when I am scared. I didn’t want to live in fear and learned helplessness. I wanted to meet myself with the same kindness my husband showed me. The same welcoming excitement Amy had greeted me with. I wanted that kindness in my own head. I didn’t want to be the lonely mom standing by myself at school pickup. The invisible girl at a conference. I wanted to have friends that just stopped by to say hi. I didn’t want to over analyze conversations or myself too much. I wanted to be the calm in the chaos, the friend in a new crowd, and somehow let My Dreamer self shine through. I wanted to be the solution. The light and comfort for those around me.
I didn’t do a very good job of being My Dreamer self at that conference. I sat alone, stood off to the side. But at the end of the conference, Amy asked if any of us wanted to take some photos. She was working on a project to showcase how the voices in our heads change the way we look to the world. I wasn’t going to do it, but I ended up being one of the last ones walking out and she encouraged me to give it a shot. How could I turn down, Amy. She was glowing with excitement. She explained how she wanted women to see their worth and their beauty. She loved taking photos and thought with her gift of sight through the lense she could help others see themselves the way she did.
The two photos below are the ones she took of me. The first photo we had to write down what are inner voice told us and the second we had to write down how we could answer back that inner bully. How would we speak to ourselves like a friend?
These photos literally continue to shape who I am. I wish I could say it’s a faster process, but maybe the pandemic slowed me down a bit. Somehow two years later, I am still trying to find that dreamer.
But I can tell you this, I have started to stand with some of the moms at school pick up. I wrote and published a book. I can write my job description on school and medical forms without wincing. I believe in magic and fairytales. I am still working to reshape my relationships in a way where I don’t feel like I have nothing to offer. I am a work in progress in terms of my laugh and smile reaching my eyes and not worrying about how I look or what I say. Maybe, maybe I will get there. But I can tell you the voice in my head is so much kinder. I have more patience with myself and that is a start.
Amy Paulson is someone I met only briefly, but she made me want to be a better human. She made me want to be more myself. She made me believe that I am likable. Amy gave me the courage to try and reach My Dreamer and allow her to shine through again. If you are lucky to meet someone like Amy make sure they know how special they are. Make sure you tell them the difference they make in you. It is so important that we share these things. These aren’t my words, but it is in the cracks that the light gets through. It is when we are vulnerable that we shine. It is how we can light the world up again. It is how we can change the tune of the news and our neighbors from dread and hopelessness to optimism and hope. We are the difference the world needs. Find your dreamer and let it shine into the world. We need the best of ourselves now more than ever.
Happy Birthday, Amy – I hope you know how very precious you are and how by just being you, you are making the world a better place. I would love if you were my neighbor, but I am grateful with the one chance encounter we had, it truly left an imprint I will cherish forever.