chapter 30 

Several people have asked me recently how I feel about turning 30. Lets just get right into this.

During the first half of my 20’s, my brain was not fully formed. If you knew me, you’d agree, but also this is a scientific fact, I am convinced of that. The dumb clichè of “I was finding myself” might apply had I even known I was lost. But I didn’t. I thought I knew everything during those years and made some awful choices that ignorance disguised as the best things. I hurt a lot of people. I let myself down. I was selfish. I was fake. I did things that I 100% regret, and then I nosedived right into my late 20’s with the consequences.

The scariest part of the past decade was being candid with myself. Honesty and self discovery sound great but when you’re facing the wrong way on your path, it doesn’t feel so great. It takes courage to make changes. It takes work for your life to catch up to where your heart is. It takes a mistake to know better. It takes practice to do better. It takes patience to love yourself again. It takes that same love to forgive yourself.

So here we are, a brand new decade. One that I have heard is the best of both worlds because you are still young, but have gained a bit more wisdom. All I know is I have a long list of things that I won’t try again paired with a shorter list of boxes to check. These past ten years were spent chasing the ideal. The ideal body, the ideal photos, the ideal home, the ideal financial situation, the ideal relationship dynamics, the ideal family. I have seen that when we do that, we create a battle for ourselves that we will always lose. The important thing to chase is the most happiness we can find in each day. All of this being said, I won’t miss my 20’s at all.

Closing out a decade experiencing the culture in Italy taught me more about happiness. It taught me that life should be enjoyed. Not just sometimes but whenever possible, at all costs. Life should not be taken too seriously because we are just one tiny part of it and our struggles pale in comparison to those of so many others. So as I get older, wiser, more boring and have an earlier bedtime, I want to carry that lesson with me. 30 is just a reminder that life gives us many fresh starts and opportunities to look at life differently, to do better, to love harder and to be happier.

I am concluding with an excerpt from the best blog entry I have ever read.  The blog has since been removed and I wish I had the author’s name but I don’t. I will always be appreciative of her thoughts and her ability to articulate so brilliantly.

 “I have learned to embrace vulnerability. Shit happens…every day…to the best people…making the best decisions they can. There’s no way to avoid it and really live. Embracing risk is essential to this experience, and pain is inevitable. The good news is I was right about one thing: the best stories are riddled with conflict. Heroes are shaped by suffering, born from the ashes of great struggle. But what I had desperately wrong was my belief that pursuing suffering would make me feel significant or more valuable. Hardship will come, and it will be valuable, but it is not proportionately related to the value of my life or my personal worth, and pursuing it is useless. Struggles will come all on their own, and I just have to hope I have the strength to let them shape me when they do.

 My life’s pursuits were a series of attempts to control and predict the best outcomes for myself, instead of focusing on honest engagement with myself and the people around me in the present. You cannot manufacture happiness through obedience. You cannot control it. It is not made. It is not earned. A whole life does not look the same for everyone. And trying to do everything the perfect “right” way to attain the “whole life” will not work. There is no universal definition of success packaged in a damn picket fence. Not everyone will want to live like me, and that’s beautiful.

 The other beautiful thing I’ve learned is that some people will.”

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When it floods, it pours

This blog entry might seem dramatic. It is. My life is dramatic. This day was dramatic. My condo is dramatic, which I guess makes it perfect for me. The irony is I couldn’t wait for life to be simple. I thought 2016 was my year of calm. Of being settled. A year of shorter to-do lists and boring weekends. You’d think I would have learned this by now, but just when you get too confident about the forecast for your life, God sends a reminder that you, in fact have zero control.

Wednesday, 20 January started out to be an exceptionally great day. It was a normal day at work, but I was excited to eat the egg sandwich I had bought from Harris Teeter (so good) the night before, when I went to stock up my pantry for the pending blizzard.  Before lunch I received an unexpected call, informing me that I had just received a pay raise/promotion. My most significant raise since starting my job 6 years ago. I was over the moon.  The kind of happy that makes your hands shake a little bit. I thought, 2016 definitely is my year. Off to a great start. Everything finally coming together.

It wasn’t 30 minutes later that I received another call. This time, from a number I didn’t recognize. “Kim? Are you the owner of unit ***?”  Yes? “You need to come home immediately and get your dog out. Your entire condo has flooded.” I don’t remember if the person on the other end hung up on me, or if I hung up on them, but in that moment I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think.  Was this a prank? Am I dreaming? I had just bought this home four months prior, and had just finished making it the way I wanted. Paint, decorations, new floors, window treatments. I had a million thoughts rushing through my head. The fact that I had just been promoted no longer was one of them.

That 30 minute drive home felt like an absolute nightmare, mostly because I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know who had called me. I imagined my condo literally floating away. I was scared for Brooklyn. I was worried about my things. My furniture, my electronics, my clothes. The hand painted crafts I had just hung up on the wall three days ago. Was everything ruined?

When I got home, there were a bunch of strangers in my living room but I went directly to Brooklyn, who was perched on top of my love seat, soaked and shaking. He was safe, so there was that. Had he escaped, I would not have been able to cope. Things are things, but pets are family.  I then looked around and saw puddles everywhere. The fire marshall had busted down my front door, and there were people already starting to clean up. It wasn’t the scene that my pessimistic imagination had been envisioning during my drive home, so that immediately prompted me to be positive. “Oh, this isn’t that bad!” I said as I noticed all of my trashcans had already been dumped out and were being used as buckets to catch the water from above.  I would later eat my words, because the scene that wasn’t “that bad”, would get very bad in a few hours.  I began trying to soak up some water with bath towels, having the delusional belief that I might be able to save my floors. I had the genius idea that my best friend Kelsey who lived down the street could bring her wet vac over to get up the remaining water, and then my condo would be saved and I would live happily ever after. When she arrived with the wet vac (and her 11 month old son) in hand, it dawned on me that they turned my electricity off, making the wet vac useless.  Oops- silly me to think that logic would be working.

The mitigation crew arrived a few hours later, after the electrician had come to dump out the light fixtures that had been filled with water, and safely turn the power back on. I sat on my couch observing everything.  The flood crew was starting with the units above and below me first, because somehow they were worse off than I was (which I couldn’t believe was possible until I looked in and saw that my neighbor’s unit could have passed as Sea World). I noticed that my beautiful new floors had started to buckle from the water, so it started setting in that there was going to be quite a bit of damage.  I will never forget the moment when I looked up at my ceiling, from my couch that had been pushed into the dining room along with my other furniture, and saw a seam of water start rapidly forming. Logically, I should have anticipated this.  The water was coming from the attic, from a frozen pipe in the sprinkler system that had burst. The water came rushing down through the attic and destroyed the unit above me. It didn’t occur to me that all of this water would eventually soak through those floors, and come through my ceiling.  All at once it seemed, pockets of water started bursting through, quicker than I could attend to them.  I got out every pot that I had, and every makeshift item I could think of to start catching the water.  It was happening everywhere. The living room, my bedroom, the guest room, the closets. I couldn’t keep up with all of it. I couldn’t shift furniture and belongings around quick enough to protect them from the water. I didn’t know where the next pocket would form.

I developed a deep sense of sympathy for those who have lost their home in a fire, or a natural flood, or any kind of disaster.  Although this happened to me on a smaller scale, I believe that the psychological impacts are the same.  You are losing more and more of what was once your home with every passing minute, and there is virtually nothing you can do to stop it. I felt helpless. I eventually ran outside and saw some crew members from the mitigation team arriving and begged for their help as I dealt with “the worst of it”. They had to immediately start cutting holes in my ceiling because the weight of the water would soon be so heavy that my ceilings were at risk of caving in. I knew I had lost my floors. I am now losing my ceilings, and more than likely my walls too.

After the entire crew of probably 15 people arrived, a sense of paralysis set in. There was absolutely nothing I could do but sit and watch. I have seen rooms get flooded. But I hadn’t seen anything like this first hand. I was about to lose everything as the crew started quickly tearing up my entire home.  They told me best case scenario, my kitchen would stay in tact. Everything else would be gutted. There were so many questions I wanted to ask that I’m sure no one had the answers to, or the time for.  As the anxiety was building, I decided I needed to go out for a drive just to get away from all of it. By this point it was after 8:00pm and I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. My egg sandwich was still in the refrigerator at work. When I drove back into my neighborhood 15 minutes later, after a quick run to McDonalds, firetrucks followed behind me. My building had been evacuated, flood crew and all. Why? My neighbor burned a baked potato in the microwave and set the fire alarms off.  We would be evacuated for the amount of time it took me to sit in my car, eat my oatmeal and Diet Coke and watch as the first snowflakes of the blizzard started falling down. A day that had started out with amazing news and the highest high, ended in the ultimate chaos. A complete and utter uprooting of my newly achieved life. This wasn’t calm or simple. This was a nightmare.

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I called my boss from my car to tell him I would be in late tomorrow. My only reaction was to laugh, to keep from having a mental breakdown. I even thought to myself, I hope one day I look back and genuinely laugh at this moment. I am. As I write this.

I would start to receive bits of discouraging news over the next few days…We need to move out all of your things immediately, pack enough clothes to get you through the Spring. Insurance won’t be covering the upgrades you made to your condo. The upcoming blizzard will delay work. Your front door won’t shut or lock. Meanwhile, my property manager was in Las Vegas, and I was about to put everything that I own in the hands (literally) of a group of people I had just met, who by the way, ended up being fantastic.

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Over the next few weeks, I would have a new experience for the books. I knew how to rent a place, how to house hunt, how to buy a home with another person, how to buy a home alone, how to build a new home from the ground up, how to lose a home in a divorce, how to find the perfect storage unit, how to move (x1000). What I didn’t know how to do was navigate through the process of rebuilding. But in the same way that we rebuild anything, with patience, faith in God and in others, the path was eventually paved and I started back on my quest for “calm”. I also don’t think it would hurt for high schools to get rid of Algebra and add a class called “How to Handle Unexpected #GrownUpProblems in your 20s”

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I share this story for one, because it is ridiculous. I also share it as proof that life can throw some really tough things our way, over and over again, despite the high hopes we have for tomorrow. Being dealt a bad hand doesn’t mean you are exempt from being dealt another one.  In fact, you are likely to get one because you have proved that you can deal with them.

Also, water is crazy. It stops for no one. It just goes wherever.

Lastly, I wrote this because I like to reflect on lessons, big or small, that I learn from major events. I understand that you have to be in the mood to read things like this, otherwise I will probably seem disgustingly optimistic, preachy and annoying. But for those of you in the mood, here we go.  I was mad at the universe for destroying my calm life. My settled life. I had a lot of self pity, and a lot of anger. I asked a lot of whys, and I complained. A lot.  But over the past six weeks I think I have been learning quite a bit about simplicity, and how ruin CAN in fact create that.  I have learned to live with less. I have recycled the same five outfits and two pairs of shoes over and over. I have realized what I truly NEED, and how many things I don’t need, packed in storage that I will be donating.  I have been appreciating the simple things… a wall, a door, a ceiling. The kinds of things we take for granted that many wish they had.  Had this not happened, I don’t think I would sit on my couch at night, look around and think “I am so thankful for these walls.”  I will be doing that soon, and for a long time. You also realize in these moments how temporary “things” are. They can be gone in an instant. Completely. You can replace them. You can buy new ones. You can’t replace loved ones, I can’t replace my precious Brooklyn. To lose the things you can’t replace, now THAT is a tragedy.

But even so, this was still tough.  There were many nights I had to force myself not to think ‘how much can one person take?’, but rather ‘look how much I have endured. Look how much I have learned.’ I can tell you that when I move back home, there are a lot of things I will no longer take for granted. And if/when I do, I hope I remember the night it was taken away, minute by minute as I prayed to God to make it stop. The hardest thing to do is identify the positives in a situation that feels so dismal and unfair.  One of my weaknesses is continuing to believe that life owes me something, despite all of the mistakes I’ve made and people I’ve hurt. That for some reason, the universe will choose to spare me and will put training wheels on for me when I’m exhausted. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t. Sometimes life must teach us, challenge us, not in the ways we want, but in the ways we need. Opening up my heart to that concept has been a great place to start. Home will no longer just be a place I signed my name for. It will be a place I restored. A place I cried in, prayed in, a place that was brought back to life. A place that held so many emotions in such a short time. A place that had its walls destroyed, only to build stronger ones.  Like I said above, this home has already proved to be dramatic. Just like me. We were meant for each other. We are a mess. But I can guarantee we will both be better for it.

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With Honor and Reverence: My Reflections on September 11th

“It’s been said that patriotism is not a frenzied burst of emotion, but rather the quiet and steady dedication of a lifetime”

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12 years. Over a decade has passed, yet the anger and horror is just as fresh, at least for me. Coincidentally, I entered on duty for the Federal Government on May 8, 2011, just a week after one of the most monumental days in intelligence and military history-the UBL raid. I didn’t think it was possible to feel a more potent and overwhelming burst of patriotism than I did the night our President announced the death of the world’s most heinous terrorist. But, I was wrong. The day I promised full commitment and dedication to the government by raising my right hand and signing on the dotted line was the most inspirational and defining day of my life.  I knew the death of UBL did not mark the end of terrorism.  Although it was appropriate to celebrate this victory, I knew the fight for our freedom and protection did not cease on May 1, 2011.

I was only thirteen on September 11, 2001. I remember how I felt, and I remember how that day went. I remember the sadness and shock that permeated every inch of space for a long time.  I remember the sound of each plane flying overhead, a sound which previously went unnoticed, but suddenly evoked feelings of panic and fear. As each anniversary came and went, I  understood with greater perspective the impact of that devastation and what it meant for our country. When I began my career ten years following, I met people who lost spouses and siblings in the 9/11 attacks.  I met care providers who responded immediately and witnessed ground zero before the dust had settled.  One of my colleagues told me that despite many decades of training as a psychologist, nothing could have prepared him for what he experienced at ground zero.  The physical remnants and unprecedented breadth of destruction transcended all logic. The scenes he described made my eyes full, but I needed to hear it. I needed to be reminded of how horrific and gruesome that day was. I think if every American saw what he saw, they would think about life a little bit differently.  Lastly, I have met officers from all walks of life who have dedicated their time, energy, and passion to the security of our nation, operating with a momentum and vicious courage that has fueled them for 12 years.  The impact that I make is minimal, although I am still proud of it and honored to contribute in the smallest of ways. However, it is the ferocity I see in the eyes of my colleagues and the selflessness of the heroes who serve in the shadows of anonymity that inspire me in a very unique way. As George H. W. Bush said, “It is an honor to stand here and be counted among you.”

The attacks on September 11th proved to us with striking clarity that unspeakable evil exists in this world. But it also reminded us that we live in a country made of men and women who are nothing less than heroic. They aren’t the kind of heroes who catch a ball in the endzone, they are the fierce patriots who risk their lives in the bravest way by facing danger and fear void of hesitation, certainty or praise, not just on September 11th but throughout our nation’s history and the 12 years following the attacks. In addition are the silent heroes who dutifully fulfill their roles behind the scenes day after day, night after night. These silent heroes consciously realize the ever-present threat upon our nation and work tirelessly to ensure that we never experience that kind of barbaric violence on our homeland ever again.  When we sleep soundly and safely at night, it is because of them.

At 8:46am on Wednesday, I hope those who are reading this will take a moment to sit in silence with reverence, setting aside their opinions regarding current events or foreign policy.  At the absolute least, we live in a country in which people go to bat for each other, not just for their loved ones, but for people they never have or will meet. The terror that weighed heavily on our hearts and minds has gradually been lifted because of the people who, regardless of political affiliation, rank, or reward, put the needs of Americans before their own.  These people hand over their lives with less hesitation than some of us would hand over our phone records. These people should be thought of as symbols for what it means to be an American and should inspire us to serve with similar loyalty, pride and dedication in whatever role is specific to us.  My mother taught me, “any job that is worth doing is worth doing well”, whether it be defending our country, teaching in our schools, or staying at home with our children.

September 11th is always a very somber and emotional day for me, as it is for so many. My heart is blended with anger, sadness, but also with the motivation to continue pushing against the evil things in this world.  We have been shown that this evil is not limited to the radicals abroad, but can be seen at home through domestic acts of terror, violence and hate.  Our world is undeniably a scary and confusing place. I can’t comprehend what brings people to act with such maliciousness, but what I do know is the demand for love, acceptance and compassion has never been higher.  My personal goal is to be a source of light inside and outside of work, even when it is difficult, always remembering that no job is beneath me, and no act of kindness is unwarranted.  Just as the quote at the beginning of this entry states, my burst of emotion that occurred on May 1, 2011 has turned into the steady desire to serve my country in a way that I never could have predicted or envisioned when I was thirteen.  I am reminded every day of the sacrifices that are made in defense of freedom and during this time especially, I am proud to be an American.

*Written in honor of the innocent lives lost as a result of terrorism, and of the American heroes who selflessly devote themselves in pursuit of a safer, stronger, and happier world.