The challenge was to find, comfort and restore the playful, yet smart, young girl. Tucked away in a forgotten envelope of childhood pictures, I found her…a small, lone photo from sixth grade more than forty years ago. Her deep brown eyes caught my attention as did her toothy smile. I recalled the scrawny, eleven-year-old girl with loose strands of hair tucked behind her ears scampering home from school in the humid Florida heat. Her home’s front door with louvered window slats rattled as she jimmied the loose knob to get in.
Reopening that faulty louvered door into my childhood was risky to say the least. I had to step back in time to revisit the young Julie who told herself she was unlovable and not worth enough to stay around before the adult Julie could refute such untruths. I slipped on those scruffy black flats that I used to wear with anklets and tentatively pushed the door open.
We were surprised to see our dad already at home from the brewery. “I’ve got something to tell you kids when the rest of you get home,” he said as he turned his face away from us. My two brothers and I tossed our school notebooks on the dresser, plopping onto the beds and wiggling out of our sweaty shoes and socks. Squeaky bed springs and dad’s agitated pacing reverberated through the house. Our eggshell silence withheld our unexpressed emotions: “What’s up with dad? And where’s mom, anyway?”
All of us were lined up in the only room large enough to accommodate five confused siblings side-by-side with our father facing us. “Your mother left, she’s gone; she blankety-duh-blankety took off today and blah-duh-blah-duh-blah.” His bitterness, anger, and resentment spewed out into our little house, all over our mom’s name, and all over us like disgusting sludge.
Yet I squeaked out my selfish question anyway, “But when will she be home?”
“She doesn’t love you…she left with him,” his spittle blasted the dust particles floating through the shafts of afternoon sunlight. Too much anger, too many secrets revealed, too many losses and changes, too much for the young girl in the photo. No one asked anymore questions. No one confided. I closed the door behind me and went outside to climb the limbs up into the leafy loquat tree.
Daring to surrender to my word for this year—open—I’ve climbed down from the safety of my loquat tree. Opening myself up to my childhood was much like confronting the turbulent stream I encountered on a recent hike. The chaotic waters churned up unaddressed fears and trauma. Its constant thrusting current threatened to engulf. Too much, too much. The frigid cold could suck my last gasps for breath. And the speed would sweep me over the rocks and into the abyss.
Encouraging husband—who loves me and thinks I’m worth it— beckoned from the other side. One had to commit to non-stop fording this emotional flood for the momentum required to make it to the other side. No stopping midway or else I would be stuck in the middle of surrounding turbulence…immobilized from going forward or backward. Stuck in avoidance or stuck in turbulence, I wanted neither anymore.
After much trepidation, I lurched onto the first bridging log, then onto a boulder, then touching over a stepping stone, and finally hurdling forward onto the other side.
An exhale and a smile rushed to surface on the other side. Dr. Henry Cloud simply describes such risk events in his book, Integrity: “ The good [risk-takers] learn something and grow to a point where what they are doing can no longer contain all that they have become. So, they just step out and take the next step. Growth is like that. “
On the other side, I began hiking the wooded trail away from long-embedded thought patterns. I marveled at the Giant Sequoia trees…not a loquat tree in sight. Such trees live long and strong withstanding fire, drought and harsh winters. Yet their cones do not reproduce and yield new growth unless the trauma of fire forces open the cone containing the seed. Life’s traumas are not wasted; they are redeemed by forcing out seeds for new growth…by forcing new steps leading to new growth.
“People work on themselves, and then they express what they are learning in a further step,” Dr. Cloud affirms. “When they do that, they become more. Then, as a result of taking that risk, new growth happens.“