The Simply Watched Life

Photo courtesy of Jill Lowery as Pinned on Pinterest

It had been quite the morning with the central air repair guy running late…again, the Realtor stopping by to talk options about my house in lieu of me moving, packing, taking boxes of things that won’t be traveling with me to Spokane to the thrift store and prepping for lunch with my mother and sister to celebrate my mother’s graduation from grad school with her second Mastser’s and my sister’s new job (okay so it was new in April, I guess it is new-ish now but  still wanted to celebrate her).

And yet when it was about 4:30 that afternoon I was on a train headed to Cooperage, a sweet little restaurant in the graduate hospital area to meet with a former resident of mine from my days as a resident director at a girl’s house in Swarthmore. She wasn’t the same 14 year old she was when she moved into that house as a first year student in high school. She was a 2 year old young lady, working in Manhattan, dating a  cutie pie of a guy in DC, and finishing up her senior year of undergrad at Cornell.

I sipped my sparkling wine, she drank her cocktail, we reminisced, and laughed. We talked about the challenging change in dynamics with my brother and my house which she could not believe and wondered aloud “I am so lost. You are so easy to live with. I lived with you. I remember and I remember how you would spend time with us and then go up to your room and study.”

Degree achieved, I can’t say I much remember the time I spent studying and completing assignments, but she did. She was paying attention. She was watching.

Photo courtesy of Vogue magazine April 2012

The following night it was fish tacos at my favorite restaurant in West Philly, Honest Tom’s, outside with a good friend, enjoying the absolutely gorgeous weather. She was in scrubs having come straight from the hospital where she is a physical therapist, and in true Saturday form came from picking up a few things,like a new bag for my new job, in center city. We sat at our little sky blue table, appreciated the privacy provided by the gorgeous pink and purple flowers, and talked. When I shared how I continue to be increasingly grateful for my opportunity to relocate and how my brother was bent on making that transition as hard as possible, we both knew what was really sad was that given the dynamics of my family there was no way I was coming out of what was turning into a legal battle as “the good girl.” There was no way many family members (not all) will not have expected more from me, will freely verbalize their disappointment in me, be baffled as to why I didn’t do more or just concede to my brother’s demands, completely negating my brother was the one who desired litigation, and it will cost me.

“It will be okay. ” I shared. “To be honest the people who have been so very supportive have been you and a few other friends. When I said I was moving, it was my fiends who post expressing both cheer and sadness, that offered to help me in any way I needed. It was friends who asked to throw me a See you later Philly celebration. I think I know who, family and friends, get it and support me and those who don’t, maybe can’t, and won’t.”

“Right, ” she said. “I feel like a year or so ago Ahyana you started the process of really looking at your relationships, all of them, for what they were and letting go of the ones you could that weren’t healthy and reciprocal. And the ones that you couldn’t, like you’re family, I’ve seen you figure out how to better navigate them and have boundaries.” 

Photo courtesy of Ellen von Unwerth

She was right. She remembered the social sabbatical. I took it two winters ago and it made a world of difference. I was not active on any social media outlets, and didn’t go out to do social activities as usual with friends. I did go out and do my own thing and met some new people, so I wasn’t a hermit. However those outings and conversations were more helpful for personal discovery and growth than anything else.  It was one of the best decisions I made and it gave me time to do some serious assessment of myself, my relationships, and where changes needed to happen. She was paying attention. She was watching.

Even more recently as I have been preparing to relocate and start a job as the Assistant Dean of Intercultural Student Development at Whitworth University, which is nothing short of an amazing gift of an opportunity, I have been watching. Things are stressful for certain, as any such a move would be, but things have slowed down just enough for me to notice some things about myself and others. I have had more time to pay attention and to watch.

I have paid attention as some folk have struggled to make this transition in my life about me and instead make it about them. I have watched as some have called and made more request for me to do things for them- almost like let me use up the rest of what I can from Ahyana before she leaves. I’ve seen some not even inquire about the position, why I am leaving my current position, or express any type of sincere happiness for me. I have watched others look for negatives, i.e. “Well what if you don’t like it then what/ no job is perfect so you might as well just stay here. You’re gonna be around all those White people so you know you’re just going to be with a bunch of racism, etc.”  I’ve listened to people pull the religion card, and completely convinced that if God didn’t tel them His plan for my life, then He could not have told me, and so I must be doing something wrong.

I’ve also paid attention to the outpouring of congratulations, and sincere happiness from folk. I’ve seen people pop over to check in on the process and offer to bring a bottle of wine and a box of pizza or a bag of gummies to help. I’ve gotten emails from friends who are also in the thick of relocating. I’ve been sent little prayers and positive thoughts via text throughout the day of encouragement. I’ve had goodbye lunches and breakfasts. I’ve had questions about why I a leaving my current position, watched faces light up when I speak of the new position and the culture there, heard squeals of excitement at me reaching a goal of relocating let alone and administrative position in higher education that fully recognizes all that I have to offer and are wiling to pay me accordingly.

Photo courtesy of Ricoh Pulman

When I called my close friend last Sunday after one of the top three worse conversations with my mother to date, she shared how proud she was of me because she has watched me get better and stronger at releasing the painful dynamics of my family to God, how I have gotten better at not personalizing things to the point of unhealth and detriment to me, and how I continue to use my voice and navigate being respectful but saying what I need to say. She shared how proud she was of me as she has observed me continuing to be less fearful that I might be an unfit wife or mother because of all I have experienced in my family. Her sharing the ways she has seen me grow only made me more committed to being  a healthy and whole individual regardless of who is capable of understanding and supporting that. And I mean capable because at this point I choose to believe that sometimes people, self included, find ourselves at points in our lives where we are simply not capable. It’s not about desire as much as an inability. I have learned that sometimes when people are unhealthy and have unaddressed and unfinished business in their own lives it impairs their ability to do things to assist with health and wholeness in another person’s life. now some may say they are choosing to not address issues and finish their business, and I would share in some agreement; I think it still leads to an inability to try to assist someone else in being healthy.

It’s important to take time to watch in life and to make room for moments where others can share what they have watched. What is witnessed in the watching speaks volumes. It speaks to who we are and who we are becoming. It speaks to the wellness in our lives and the places in our lives that still need to be made well. It speaks to change, challenges, and choices. You know how I feel about choices.

Watching empowers us. It empowers us to fight for what we need, deserve, and desire. We see that we are capable. When others share what they see, it reminds us to see that we are capable when we forget and don’t see it for ourselves.  When I spoke with my friend last Sunday I didn’t immediately see that my ability to be a decent wife and mother and have a healthier family than what I was exposed to was not predicated on what I had observed.  I needed her to say what she had watched in my life during the course of our friendship. I needed it to get my fight back, to shake the conversation off, and keep moving forward.
This weekend I needed the shared sightings by my student and friend to remind me of who I am, the diligence and tenacity that I have, and to use those things to keep moving forward.

Photo courtesy of Vogue Korea April 2009

It’s Monday and this week instead of watching the news, the reality show, or Frozen for the umpteenth time in part because your daughter loves it and in part because you do and just won’t tell her, watch your life. Watch what your choices, words, and behaviors are saying about who you are and who you are becoming. Make time with someone in your life for them to share what they have watched. And if there is anything you see that you don’t like, change it. If there is anything that you see that you adore, high five yourself and hold onto it.

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