Our lives move in waves. People come swimming in and out of them. Projects ebb and flow. Relationships crest and crash, smooth out and can eventually flatten completely if we let them, while life continues until the next dip, the following rise, the next encounter with the sway of the currents.
My life has taken some pretty interesting rises and falls, let me tell you.
I recently read a beautiful essay about how most stories are like sine waves – whether the telling begins in the dip or the crest, the end on a high or a low, and what happens in between those curves is up to the storyteller – but the basic form of our collective narrative is the rise and the fall. Again and again. Throughout history. We rise and we fall, and we get back up and do it again.
I’m telling you this because I sat on a friend’s couch today. I sat and I listened as she told me a part of her story. I sat with a notebook on my lap and as she described a sliver of the events in her life, a pattern began to emerge and a sine wave took shape in my mind, which translated into my pen moving in waves along the page. A story snake. I saw clearly the rise and fall, the rise and the fall, her rise and her fall. Over and over, again. This woman is resilient beyond belief. She struck me as heroic and she is brave, but I bet she wouldn’t want me to tell you that. Because she is also every woman. She is you and she is me. Hers is a story I badly want to tell. And the thing is, the thing is, her story has become part of my story. Our stories are intertwining as we strive to build a relationship, a partnership, ride the waves together. Our sine waves overlapping, our story snakes becoming friends, acquainting themselves with one another. She wants me to be the teller of her story. What happens next will either be the rise, or the fall. This is the pattern, on repeat, of our lives.
And I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life, on my own story snake, as I drove away from her house and made my way to the library to get to work. My life has similarly had its troughs and peaks, its highs and its lows, and I realized that at this moment, right now, TODAY, this is a high point. And in reflecting, I see there are really only two truths to reaching that high, to loving your life and being happy and fulfilled. If I had to simplify, yes, I’d say there are only two. I know you know what they are in your heart but humour me.
- Do what you love. 2. Persevere. That is it.
Life is hard, incredibly hard. And UNFAIR. So unfair. You’ll never get what you deserve. Unless you work for it. And I’m not talking about I’m going to work on this thing I want for a day or two. If you want something, and I mean really want something, you have to be in it for the long haul. I’m not talking about I’m going to hope this happens. A friend of mine posted this quotation from Antoine de Saint-Exupery the other day, and oh how it resonated within me,
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
I would add, a goal without a plan and the perseverance to see that plan through is just a wish. Hold onto hope and faith. They have their place. But believe, most of all, believe in yourself. Believe in your goals. And make a plan. Then push through it. Ignore the naysayers, there will be plenty. Ignore the naysayers in your own head.
I met with a friend the other day who once was a competitive swimmer and knew about my former life as a competitive gymnast. “You must have body issues from being in gymnastics,” she surmised. Au contraire. My coaches never talked negatively about our young bodies, instead they marvelled and praised us for what our amazing bodies could do once we earned it.
I almost quit gymnastics at age nine – the year I became a competitive athlete. This was a major low point for me. I had to learn to do a back handspring (popularly referred to as a backflip). If I didn’t do it, there would be no moving forward. Go backwards to move forward, I see the irony. I was terrified. My mom took me out for lunch one school day after mysterious stomach aches had materialized. She was rightfully worried about me. She asked me frankly what I wanted to do about gymnastics, if I would continue. There was no judgement, only love and support in her voice. I made the decision then to push on. This was a conscious decision and it was mine to make.
By the time I was twelve, I could do a roundoff back handspring with a layout full twist in the air. Floor became my strongest event and I loved it. That year my floor routine, with all its back (and front) flips, placed second in the province for my age and level. Was it because I had been given the choice, didn’t give up, and then succeeded that I loved tumbling all-the-more? Maybe. Couldn’t hurt.
I didn’t learn to loath my body through gymnastics, I learned to respect it. My body sent me soaring through the air, flipping around a bar high above the ground, turning backwards on a balance beam and dismounting off the side in a back tuck with a perfectly stuck landing. My body felt strong and well and could do amazing things and I’ve never forgotten that feeling. My stint as a competitive gymnast brought me confidence that I have carried with me throughout my entire life.
Gymnastics practices were grueling, and they were long. I learned how to be tough. How to survive five-hour training sessions that ended with runs outside on the burning gravel in the summer heat. How to fall on my head and get back up and try again. How to turn my body into one huge muscle, then how to make those muscles ache; the balance between strength and graceful beauty. Gymnastics gave me grit. I learned how to handle pain and stick it out, when it is worth it. You don’t put yourself through hell for things that aren’t worth it. Children, worth it. Athletic pursuits, worth it. Family and friends, worth it. Writing a book, worth it. Building a career, worth it. Passion projects, worth it.
Some things that aren’t worth it: toxic friendships, money for the wrong reasons, a bad marriage, situations that invoke guilt, doing things out of shame or a feeling that you ‘have to’, letting others take advantage of you, crutches or quick-fixes, abusive partners…the list goes on. Not all of these things I’ve experienced first-hand, but certainly I’ve been duped into my fair share of bad ideas. I’ve lead myself down some not-so-good roads, to some not-so-good places. But today’s my day.
Life is too short not to ride the high of the waves, and lately, I feel like I’ve been surfing. Literally, I have been surfing, and that’s part of it, but there’s more.
There was a time I had a handful of blog posts and one measly article to my name. The piece was the story of my daughter Elyse and my love for her. The piece was about what people with Down syndrome can do if we believe they are capable. I’m still telling that same story, my message has not changed, but my platform has grown, and so have I. Elyse is set to be on the cover of a national magazine, with my article as the feature piece. I did not see that coming, I did not prepare for that high, but maybe I did. I have a book ready for publication, another on the way. I’m set to start my MFA in creative writing this spring. Everything I have done up to this point has brought me here. Not one thing goes to waste, even those times I was duped, those perceived failures. Those not-so-good roads to go down; I learned from them.
Was it my teenage years of being a competitive gymnast that gave me the strength and determination to write and keep on writing the past eight years until I would arrive at a book and a new career? Until my writing would appear in newspapers and magazines and that my message would be heard? You tell me.
“You’re Type A,” my husband says, meaning it as a compliment, in that I am driven, competitive, ambitious, highly-organized and aware of time management (but as psychology is one of my majors, I need to point out Type As are also widely known as being impatient, aggressive, more stressed and a slew of other not-so-nice words, like psychopaths – all of which I reject completely). But I’m not so sure that’s it. I don’t think my life has arrived within me innately. I’m a person who’s always had to work her ass off to get what she wants, and where she wants to go. I have trained myself hard to ride those waves, and I have no doubt it was the training that got me to where I am today, and the many, many, many, many, MANY times my face has slammed down hard against the waves as I fell off my board. But I’m in training for the long haul, and I’m not going to quit. As far as I have come with my writing and my story, there are so many places left to go, pages to fill. I want to make waves around the world.
My husband, who pokes fun at my psychology degree – but exclusively reads books about psychology – calls this attitude of mine a “growth mindset.” His eyes get wet when he says it, like the psychological term holds great reverence, and I suppose it does. There is something to be said for believing that with determination and hard work you’ll get there, no matter your innate abilities.
Whatever comes next, the rise or the fall, and historically speaking, I may be headed for the fall, I’m going to hold on tight and ride my board while this wave of good feelings and good fortune lasts.
Rise and fall. Rise and fall. Our chests heave. In and out, like breath. Our very lifeforce. Breathe.
And when the swell returns; I’ll be ready to catch that next wave.