I made a decision in 9th grade to not play football any longer. That choice turned out to be extremely important for me. It’s one that I still draw on today. I was 14 at the time.
I had transferred schools in 7th grade and in an eager attempt to fit it, I signed up to play football. I learned quickly that I was not wired for the aggression required to play the sport, but I stuck with it for three years.
In the spring, the 9th graders would load a bus in the afternoon to practice with the high school team in preparation for the fall season. I didn’t get on the bus. I stayed behind in class.
About thirty minutes into class, I got a notice saying I need to report to the principal’s office. I anxiously made the long walk down the stairs, then to his office at the end of the hallway. He signaled me to come in. The principal was leaning back in his chair, smoking a cigarette and asked me a pointed question. “Why didn’t you get on the bus?”
I replied, “I’ve decided not to play football anymore.”
He had this look of disappointment, maybe even disgust. I recall feeling nervous, but something in me refused to cave.
“You’ll never have this opportunity again. I’m afraid you’ll regret this.” he said.
And 14-year-old me said confidently, “I’ll take that chance, sir. Can I go now?”
This probably seems like an innocuous story, but it was a defining moment for me as a kid. I felt the pressure to perform in a sport that I was not wired up for. But the desire to fit in pushed me to submit and go beyond my own sensibilities. I don’t know if there was a last straw, but I chose to listen to my heart at an early age and trust myself to do what I needed to do.
And no, I never regretted it.
This foundation gave me the courage to pack up and move to California after college. It led me to take the risk against common sense and open a restaurant, for which I had no prior experience or training. And it also helped me in my marriage to see what was really at stake.
I was married 29 ½ years. It was buffeted by a tremendous amount of life challenges along the way, As does with any marriage, the stress took its toll and strained our relationship significantly. We sought counseling, and each time I tried to describe the issues, the therapist would send us home with a new book on communication style or love language.
And it never helped.
As time went on, our conflict continued. It was like two squirrels chasing each other around the same tree, getting nowhere. I kept thinking to myself that communication style is not’ our problem. There must be something deeper that is preventing the trust and openness that fosters good communication.
Eventually, I found a therapist that could see what I see. She saw past our repetitive conflict and identified the unmitigated core issues that stem from childhood trauma. These would need to be solved first.
And then cancer took her away.
Suddenly, I feel like I’m 14 again. I’m alone, just like I was in the principal’s office. Now what should I do? It wasn’t the violence of football that I wanted out of. It was the cruelty of life. How do I deal with this unfairness? There would be no hope of resolution. Our conflict went to her grave.
At the onset, there were many voices that proved helpful to me in sorting out this dilemma. I am grateful for each one and the unique contribution they made in my recovery process. But eventually, I had to start relying on my own voice. I couldn’t just read someone elses thoughts about grief. I had to put mine down on paper.
When I write, I am my first audience. The paragraphs above that represent the past hour of writing are primarily for me and my own inspiration and encouragement. And once I am satisfied with the result, I’ll share it with the rest of you.
This is why my mission in writing is to use my voice to help you hear yours. My work might help you think or process, maybe even smile. But ultimately, I want you to trust the voice that’s inside you. This is where your real power resides.