“She didn’t know how to fix herself….”
-Bryn Chancellor, Sycamore
I love the idea that we find in a book what we need to see or hear at that particular moment. I just finished re-reading Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor. It is the first selection in our campus-wide book club, Levine Reads. The first time I read the book, I had a purpose in mind. I was trying to solve the mystery that unraveled throughout the pages. There was a missing girl—a crime to be solved. I needed the answer.
The second time I read the book, it didn’t even seem like the same story. I took my time and strolled through the lives of each character. I sat with them and listened to what they had to share about life, loss and love. I was not solving a mystery but embarking on a journey with people in a small town in Arizona. Same text, different lens.
Upon revisiting the story, the word “right” continually jumped from the page into my psyche. Characters were all fighting in their own way to right a wrong. “Make it right.” “I can’t make this right.” I could sympathize and understand their struggle.
Similar to my experience re-reading the novel, of late I feel that I’m re-reading the story of my life. The first time I read with purpose. I was on a mission for the answer. I needed to be right. It all needed to be right.
Deep in the trenches of this second reading, my lens has changed. I am not on the charted course of my earlier years— a time when A led to B then directly to C and so on. College, marriage, graduate school, career and kids. My life has run that course. Now, I re-read with an open heart and willingness to live, not just do.
As my younger self, Ms. Right, there was no room for error. I could not wander off track. I could not ponder and refine the question for fear of delaying the answer. This time through, I am noticing anything that feels not quite right. Every relationship, friendship and even my children exist as a mirror into myself. I am strolling through the days of my life examining and learning to listen. I have dropped the tired gig of know-it-all and opted for a work in progress mentality.
A friend recently said, “My biggest fear is that instead of being a good person who sometimes acts like an asshole, I am an asshole just trying to be a good person.” She is referring to her core or resting state. Like me, she wants to be noble, honest, open and good. We want to leave this world a better place, but our midlife awakening has revealed darkness that we have harbored for most of our lives. We have insecurities and vices programmed into our DNA since childhood, which can only be corrected by being brought into the light.
If I am re-reading the second half of my life differently, my husband might be reading his for the first time. I think he either watched the movie or caught the cliff notes for the first half of his life, but he is quickly making up for lost time. He reads a daily devotional on stoicism and has been encouraging me to celebrate all of the “not right” parts of me. “Let’s be grateful that we are aware! We will get better together.” I wish I could say I was all ra-ra-ra about his kind proposal, but I’m a stubborn one.
Brittney Bergen, CEO, creator and writer at idealisticisabel.com, echoes my husband’s mentality. “Your romantic relationships are in your life to remind you how awesome you are and to reveal where you still get to heal.” Emphasis on the word “get.” Yes, it is a privilege to be aware of things that are "not right" because with that recognition we can begin to truly heal.
Similarly, last week I read a meme that said if we notice a rock in our shoe, we don’t just keep walking; we stop and fix it. Yet, we seldom stop to address our emotions or inconsistencies within our identity. We just grin and bear it, hobbling our way through life with a worsening limp. Sometimes we need to get out of our own way so the healing can begin.
This second read of my life includes an examination of my values and purpose. Most days I am left with many more questions than answers. It was so much easier to skim the surface, reading only to meet societal outcomes. Instead, I have chosen to linger and ponder the “rightness” of my present self. Perhaps the text is similar, but my perception is not, and truthfully, it can be painful to bring the dark sides to the light. But I remind myself that healing is messy. And best of all, I’m not in it alone.
We will not be all right, but we will be alright.