Failing Up

By Julie Mitchell – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

Years ago, after my son was born, I got the wild hair to do a play for the first time since my daughter was born. I wanted to get back to myself. Having kids had boosted my life in so many ways, and had hurt my confidence in who I was outside of my kids in so many ways.

So I was in this series of short plays and met an actress in the process that I liked a lot. She was very talented and very funny, honest and authentic. One night backstage she whispered a story between scenes, and now, I believe, it was story meant for me to hear.

She told about having cancer and being very, very ill. She told about what that experience taught her about people – How some people she loved didn’t have the capacity to handle her illness and they disappeared. Other people unexpectedly stepped in to be what she needed. Her cancer brought her closer to some and further from others, and she could never have predicted ahead of time which of her friends would fall into which category.

I have experienced that to some extent with my own cancer story. Mostly, I have experienced the latter – with so very many people coming through for me and my family in ways I would never have expected. People I barely know and some I don’t know, have given to us. Acquaintances have become dear friends. Friends have become even better friends.

I truly have been riding waves of love, and generosity, and kind deeds this year.

Still, there have been moments when someone has not been able to be what I wanted them to be. And there have been moments when I have not been able to be what others wanted. I think we should talk about it, because, as fellow humans, we have let each other down sometimes this year.

I suppose that’s to be expected while the ground rattles beneath us. And all of us have the ground rattling beneath us this year.

In a year of personal crises for me, every single person is experiencing their own crises. Our nation and our world are in crises. The thing that has blown me away is the amount of compassion and generosity people have shown my family even while they are experiencing their own pain and adjustment to all that 2020 has brought.

That compassion and generosity has come from some unexpected places, and some of the places that I would have expected it to come from, it hasn’t.

There is some regret there. I have friends who reach out to me with, “I’m sorry I haven’t…”

But I don’t want them to feel sorry for what they haven’t been able to do for me. And I don’t want to feel sorry for what I haven’t been able to do for them.

Cancer has given me this strange gift – Permission to drop the ball and forgive myself for it. In doing so, it’s given me permission to forgive other people, too. Forgiveness doesn’t always mean that I’m trusting the same person with the same ball again. Sometimes it means that I’m chasing the ball to a new place without any resentment toward the person who let it go.

In the last couple of weeks I have begun the process of addressing some of the things left unsaid and undone over the course of my treatments. The unpleasant things I put off while I was in survival mode, have not gone away.

I’ve started having some of those hard conversations and making some of those difficult decisions. Similar to those years right after becoming a mom, I’ve had a singular focus this past year, and now I have to figure out who I am outside of being a cancer patient.

We are all going to have to have these reconciliations soon. We’re going to have to face the little beasts we have avoided while we slayed the big beast. We’re going to have to figure out who we are post COVID-19. Many of us have to figure out who we are as we mourn our loved ones, or the loss of our businesses and jobs, or the friends who couldn’t be what we thought we needed them to be this year.

This has been year of coping, of keeping our heads above water. This has been a year of having to prioritize some things and let other things slide. And…that’s just the way it is.

That’s just the way it is.

I was helping my eight-year-old with her Spanish class work yesterday. I was frustrated and impatient. I don’t know Spanish and I didn’t understand what we were supposed to do and my daughter said, “It’s ok, Mama. We’re just supposed to do our best, right?”

Yes. It is ok. And sometimes our best is just hitting submit and letting it go. Sometimes “our best” isn’t about spending hours on one lesson to be sure we get it right, but about seeing that lesson in the context of all the other work we have to do and the life we have to live and just moving on from it. 

Sometimes “our best” is accepting that we don’t have limitless capacity. Taking a breath. And letting go.

When we drop the ball, we give someone else the opportunity to pick it up. And when we have to go chasing a ball that someone else dropped, we might just look up and find ourselves in a very interesting place – a place we might never have found on our own. 

Sometimes those who have failed to be who we thought we wanted them to be, have succeeded in being who we needed them to be. Even if our relationships don’t always make a pretty story whispered backstage between scenes, they often segue way to a better ending. So I strive to be grateful for all of them.

Categories: Opinion