My philosophy of life sure isn’t the same as it was, say, twenty-two years ago. In 1983, I intended to complete college and become a professional of some sort, fully independent of anyone else, fully self-supporting. Not answering to another and being self-sufficient meant I would be a success. Nice clothes, nice car, nice “stuff”—these were things I felt would grant me a successful life.
But genetics and circumstance toiled with me. My body developed cancer twice before I hit forty, nearly killing me. Two of my adult siblings died from a rare kidney disease. I literally bumped into the man who would become my lover, best friend, husband, and father of my two children. Love leveled me into a state of the highest of highs, and, ultimately, the lowest of lows. My heart, unseen by others, was in for a workout. I discovered that loving and loss are always connected. I hate that. I “lost” my lover to mental illness; I “lost” my sister, brother, and mother to physical illness; and I “lost” the youthful appearance of health as my body adjusted to losing a breast. I had a nice car, some nice clothes, and a nice house. But, on the inside, things looked pretty grim.
Burying my forty-year-old husband, I made a vow to myself and to my two amazing children—that I would spend the rest of my life “being real.” Being real means letting my hem show, letting the tears flow, and telling the truth about things. It no longer means anything to me how things look. All that matters to me now is how things are. Being real means telling the truth, no matter how harsh and stark that might be. It means writing down my actual weight, going without makeup for days at a time, letting my arms flap in the breeze. It means telling my dad every single time I see him that I love him. It means saying aloud how much I miss my husband, or my sister, or my brother. And being real means asking for help.
Where did self-sufficiency and smooth skin and nice nails go? I always thought that asking for help meant I was deficient in some way. “If there is anything I can do, please let me know,” many have said to me. But instead of politely declining an invitation to dinner for fear I might start crying in the middle of dessert, I go. If someone wants to know how I am, I tell them. “Today, I thought about my husband eight hundred times and ate two ice cream cones for lunch.” And, then, something happens. The person who asks me how I am says, “Well, me too.” Tears shed during dinner are met with an embrace and a long talk after.
So my philosophy of life now is just three words long: keep things real. And it hasn’t let me down yet.