Ode to Summer

By: V.I.

I spent the Summer of 2018 transforming. I spent it breaking open and stretching and falling down and rising up and becoming whole and dissolving and re-forming myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. I spent it running. From how I felt about myself, how I felt about others and from things that were bigger than me. I spent it facing some of my biggest fears and turning my pain into power. I spent it finding my way and building my trust capacitor. I spent it taking my whole body and my whole life back.

In the midst of that, somehow it became “The Summer of the Friend”.

A friend who’s eyes light up with laughter, who slowly grew on me, tells me like it is and has no filter – truly one of the best kind. A friend who checks in with heart emojis and rainbows. A friend I gained and lost because he objectified me. A friend who really seemed to care, but stabbed me in the back. A friend who nearly killed me with humor. A friend who shared his spiritual breakthrough and handfuls of Starburst with me. A friend who failed herself, failed me and then found redemption. A fierce little friend who is so similar to me that I’m scared to get close to her. A mentee a thousand miles away whom I’ve never met in person, yet has my back, she became my friend. A golden haired friend, just my age, who pours out pieces of his life story over Sunday morning gym workouts. A friend that I hugged so hard I hurt him. A friend who would protect me at all cost. A pair of friends who cook for me and call me family. A friend who really, really, really wants to be my friend. And then there was the friend who tested me. Watched me for months before saying a word. Who sees me for who I am and has witnessed my transformation. Who smirks at my tantrums, who inspires me to be my best self, who challenges me and calls me out when I don’t even know I need it. And when I talk about that friend and all these friends, I’m also talking about myself. Because in my life, I’ve learned to be my own best friend. And now I’m learning to see myself more clearly. Through their eyes.

This summer I learned to “people” better. To accept and be accepted. To love differently and, well, I wish I could say be loved, but I’m not always very good at that. Though I did learn to give and take a compliment better. I was fully engaged in a compliment war that knew no bounds.

Bounds. Boundaries. They can sometimes be the things that make or break a friendship. Break a friendship. That’ll split you down the middle.

In June, I regained a friend I had lost and found and lost and found and lost and found for more years than I care to count. And let me tell you, it has been scary. S-c-a-r-y. There’s that breaking open again. I know even if it’s lost again, it will be worth the time in between. The funny texts and weekly video chats. Getting to see his son and hear stories about his wife. Reminisce on days gone by. Remember how at age 15, I was a competitive rock climber and avid reader of Climbing magazine. I had read an article about a young climber, beating all the adults in the elite open competitions. Knowing I was competing in my first National at his home gym, I decided I’d meet him, we’d become friends and he’d help me be a better climber. So simple. I walked into that gym and who was the first person I saw? KB! The connection was instant, as though we’d met hundreds of times before. Epic conversations and ping pong battles ensued. My insides sang…Finally! Another athlete my age who understood me. By the end of that Summer, we had traveled together and were finishing each other’s sentences with a mischievous gleam in our eyes. Forever up to something, we were. If I wasn’t teaching him yoga at sunrise, he was making me climb blindfolded at night. We made the youth national team together just months later and traveled to the World Championships in Europe that Fall. KB was my hero then. It’s funny how life works. And awful when it doesn’t. I betrayed this friend and thus began that cycle, the ebb and flow, of decades of loss and gain.

Loss and gain. Sorta the story of my life.

I started off this Summer the angriest person you might never want to meet, under the surface. I was a blur of red energy, figurative fists flying. Through the change of seasons, I’d somehow lost myself. And in a way, I’d lost my father, too. The phone rang one bright day in early June. I felt the full weight of his disappointment come down on me in verbal blow after blow. It was disguised as a quasi inspirational speech, of course. And then the final gut punch, in person. As we rode home from my baby niece’s graduation, he blurted out that he did not like the individual I had become. I was full of hate, he said. Incompassionate he said. I can only describe the escalation that happened next as an explosion, a bomb that left my own shouted words ringing in my ears for days. The last I saw of him, was his retreating back. Maybe he was right. Maybe I did have hate. Maybe I’d let the anger sink too deep. Oh, anger. My other new best friend. It had been building. And building. And building. I let him push me to a place where I couldn’t look in the mirror and feel good about my actions, about my feelings. I’d let the rage overtake me, a reflection of his own behavior. He’d said so himself. I was embodying all the worst things about him. But you see, I wasn’t. I’m not. I never will be. Just because I stopped being a doormat, stopped letting people hurt me, does not mean I’m bad. I am inherently good. When I review those events in my mind, they are polished. Slotting neatly into a timeline. But when I feel them in my heart, they’re raw and sharp. Good thing for him, I kept some of my words inside that night. And good thing for me, I decided that it was time to set him free. To keep him at arm’s length.

Arm’s length. I’m a bit of a pro at that.

After that fork in the road, joy, reclamation and forward motion became my goals. My whole self, my whole life began to open up. That’s when I started to crack. To become open. Open and undone. In the most beautiful, ugly, magical, sun shine down on me, tormenting, spring cometh, train-wreck, can’t-look-away style. I could’ve hidden it, could be hiding it now. Yet both my silent and vocal supporters wouldn’t allow that. They elbowed me to move, to adjust, to “be happy”.

My silent friends, they were. Who gave me space until I found a way to come around.

Some of these friends of Summer needed me and weren’t afraid to ask. They showed me that my ability to interact, to be the person I am – be it larger than life, as some say – be it as a weak or powerful woman – be it mature or immature – be it of this world or the next…affects others and their own ability to express themselves. To reach out for a piece of what they feel from me. To tell me what they need. To show when they are drowning and reach up and out, for my hand. Just in that moment when we touch, when I thought only they needed me, I can see that maybe, I need them, too. And maybe, just maybe, I can admit that I need them even more. Because of them, I can see now. To be shown who you are through others…it’s like sunlight through a prism. Like lazy clouds on a sunny blue sky day. Like a leaf hovering in the air…slowly floating down to rest on the forrest floor.

Slowly, we can see the changes hiding deep down inside us.

Sometimes we go through things that re-shape us and uproot us. Things that we’ll look back on and say, “After that, I was never the same.” This is one of those times. The entire way I treat myself, the way I breathe, eat, think and do…it’s altered forever. Somehow the rhythm of my heartbeat, tempo of my blood flow…it changed. My body, my soul, my mind – they were operating at a pace and vibration I’ve never felt. So affected. Something slow, slow, quick about it. Something that lingers and then races to itself. Something I’m chasing down and running off. The rhythm of an inner battle that just won’t quit. A constant fight that no one wins. No one wins here. It’s not a game. Once a metamorphosis like this occurs, I don’t think one can go back to the start. I’m grasping and sliding and reaching out to break my own fall. Only I can save myself, protect myself, as the percussion of my spirit hammers away.

To show your spirit, despite it’s shape, is a brave and loving act.

The highest compliment I can give is simply this. It’s Love. This Summer, yeah, I re-discovered my ability to love. To love others, to put them first, to raise them up even when it hurts you, to love them more than you love yourself, to accept what they offer, is so heartbreakingly honest and humbling to experience…you just want to hold it out in front of you and say, “Look what I have here. I am so lucky.” The flip side of that is being able to take what you’ve built and turn it inward, for yourself. Holding onto something you intend to give back, if just for a moment.

If just for a moment in time, you are part of something special.

As Summer began to wind down, I was given a unique assignment directing a project about a disabled community. I went to the set armed with a script and a small crew of talented professionals. As I began the interviews, we discovered that due to neurological conditions, most of the subjects were largely non-verbal. How could I stick to my script without many words, I wondered? So, I asked everyone to take a breath, and we started to connect. There was a moment when one of the sweetest men I’ve ever met stood in front of the camera and worked through sharing how hard it can be to make friends. He was halting in his delivery. Quiet, looking down, shy. I felt the collective energy of the crew and our subject begin to collide. I watched magic unfold as he began to trust us, to trust me. I could feel the warmth of the team behind me. And suddenly this man, in all his vulnerability looked up and into my eyes. He pointed at me, “You my friend!”, he said. Then he pointed to the camera person, “And you my friend.” He continued to point to each person, talking about being friends. Then he swept his hand through the air, “You all my friends and I’m goin’ to make you popcorn!” He did a dance and left the room. We were all still, soaking it in. We’d just been part of the miracle of trust formed in that moment in time. Trust and friendship are so integrally tied together and receiving it is a gift. When I saw that special soul a few weeks later, his eyes flickered with recognition. He smiled, opened his arms and welcomed me with a hug. As I returned his embrace, I recognized that my work was growing and so was I.

But growth does not always come from beautiful places.

In this Summer of friendship, I admitted to a lot of mistakes. I was guilty of flaws like holding grudges, of putting myself in an emotional prison, of being hot headed, of withholding my gifts, of blaming myself for things, of building walls, of being too Type A, of doing “extra”, and of wrongly judging people at times. Here’s a big one I made: I tried to quantify the meeting of souls I was experiencing. And that was wrong. There is no defining the universe at work. The greater forces that put you in a place or a piece of time where you can just breathe. Where you can float. Be carefree. Feel weightless. To learn what it is that you need to receive. Find something that lights you up, winding round and round it.

When your soul is on fire, you can’t erase the results the heat leaves behind.

Never will a day go by that I’m not grateful for these moments, or that I’ll forget. I will never forget. For this is where true friendship begins and ends. This is what it’s all about. To carry their hearts in my heart. To feel their presence when they’re miles away. Even the friends I’ve lost, I believe I could find a way to “friend” them again. To do it right, or better. To fix it, somehow. I’m never far. 1000 feet, 1000 miles or across the cosmos, I’m just within reach.

Full circle is near, I can feel it. The decades have reached their cadence.

Soon I’m going to do something I never thought I could or would again. I’m going to conquer a new fear with an old tool. I’m going to walk into a daunting room, with my soul friend KB at my side. I hope some of the others will be there, too! One might talk smack, one might just smile, another might be my champion. And in the middle will be my husband, the friend who empowers me to friend. Who understands when I need to bro out. Who hugs me when I need to be hugged and walks away when I don’t. Who tells me I can. Who gets me. And within this circle I have found the most precious thing of all. Forged in the sun of summer, I’ve discovered the me that I always needed to be.

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