“It’s not about how to achieve your dreams, it’s about how to lead your life.” — Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture
I believe in listening to what’s being said inside of you. Working at a Quaker school taught me that. In Meeting for Worship, the practice is to enter into a simple gathering, sit silently, and open your heart and mind wide so that the message of God can be heard. When you feel God’s love and it moves you to speak, you stand up and share the message with others. No altar. No fancy chalice. No kneeling up and down. Just you, God, and silence.
For the lifelong Catholic in me, this was tough. In the early years of attending Meeting for Worship, I felt completely uncomfortable. I didn’t understand how a religious service — a religious experience — was possible if there wasn’t someone of authority to interpret the message for me.
Every few Sundays, my husband and I would drive out to Queens to visit his family. His father is a Pastor of a charismatic Christian church. Live, upbeat music, clapping, “Amens” and “Yes Jesus!” filled the room during the songs, during the sermon, and long after the 2 1/2 hour service was done. People danced in the aisles, spoke in tongues, and turned to their neighbors to tell them “God loves you, and God is good all the time!” There was nothing this Catholic girl wanted more than for a little silence and a whole lot of structure. I didn’t understand how it was possible that a religious service — a religious experience — was possible of everyone in the seats was involved in the service.
Though both places of worship seem so different, they share this foundation of God’s message:
Listen. Feel. Believe. Be present.
Though some of you might find this hard to believe, for most of my life, I beat up my body and mind. Not thin enough. Thighs too fat. Butt to big. Arms too wide. Skin too brown. Hair too straight. Hair too curly. Hair too black. Eyes too small. Stomach too jiggly. From my early teens until my mid-twenties, I battled troublesome eating issues. A few years in there, those eating issues became best friends with alcohol dependency. More years of self-loathing. More years of never feeling good enough. More years of trying to be better, live better, treat myself better.
I have finally begun to come to terms with the truth that years of believing I was worthless, ugly, not good enough, not smart enough, and not pretty enough are not going to be solved with a few sessions with a nutritionist and a few weeks in a gym. They won’t even be solved with a few half marathons. Though my life events have helped me to leave most of that negativity behind, I still carry a small knapsack of it with me.
For the past 18 months, I have been focusing on my body in a very different way. Rather than obsessing about how thin I wasn’t getting from working out, I had to focus on how strong I was growing. In order to heal properly, I had to concentrate on how my muscles were changing. Just days after surgery, I remember sitting up in bed giving thanks for having built strong abdominal muscles that helped pull me out of bed.
Today, I marvel at my range of motion. I smile at my ability to do 2 push ups without my chest muscles violently convulsing when, just a few months ago, I couldn’t even bear weight on my forearms. I smile when I realize I can reach up to the top of the refrigerator, when I surprise myself as I zip up my dress, and when I finish running 6.2 miles with relatively no pain in my shoulders. I laugh when I choose to eat carrots instead of the Milano cookies in the white roll-top bag, when I look forward to that first refreshing bite of a really good salad, and the idea that a cool glass of water is more appealing than a bubbly glass of Diet Coke. My attitude towards food — towards my body — has changed. It’s how I now live my life.
Though having the mastectomy quite possibly saved my life from cancer, it actually saved me from myself. After Joli got sick, I appreciated the value of life, love, and joy beyond material possessions. After my mastectomy, I appreciated ME. I began to love myself. I began to see myself as worthy of care, of compassion, and of beauty.
I am beginning to Listen to the positive messages and redefine the negative ones. I am beginning to Feel the change in my physical body and change in my emotions. I am beginning to Believe in myself. And, I am learning to Be present.
As I sat quietly at the dining room table tonight, I thought of a video that was circulated a few years ago that I never watched. It was of the Carnegie Mellon professor who delivered his “Last Lecture.” I’m not sure what was prompting me to watch it, but I have learned to just go with what my heart is telling me to do.
I decided to just watch the 3 minute version (as opposed to the whole 76 minute lecture), and heard the line I was meant to hear:
If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. Your dreams will come to you.
I never imagined taking away my breasts would actually give me my life back. My life was meant to do this, it was meant to move in this direction; and so far, my dreams of feeling more like the Me I was meant to be are beginning to take shape.
Peace, love, and being present,