I took a walk back into yesterday. I turned my back to the setting sun, and retreated into the shadows. There I saw my memories come alive with vivid colors. I watched as the child I used to be grew into the woman I desperately want to become. I observed all this with such an emotional charge that lit the sky with the fireworks of my youth.
And they weren't photographs flickering in a projector like I thought they would be. They were living images. My memories smiled at me, and acknowledged that I was there.
My earliest memory. Me, young and in pigtails, crying to my sister to lift me up to the first handle of the monkey bars. I wanted to climb. Climb to the top like the bigger kids. I wanted to see the world as they saw it. I imagined the children on the ground, resembling small ants to the others as they played beneath them. I yelled to my older sibling, threatening to tattle to our mother if she did not perform the duties I so instructed. She, being older and wiser in her three years ahead of me, chose to take my hand and lead me home. It was getting chilly and the sun was setting. But, as I watched my young self reluctantly head home, I waved as she smiled goodbye.
My pigtails soon gave way to one long ponytail. Eight year olds rarely like the young girl look that I was prone to. Pine cones and trees replace monkey bars and slides. I watch as I take cover behind makeshift barriers as I partake in an aggressive game of war. Rocks are thrown. Sticks are used as guns as the young soldiers around me take prisoners. I watch myself run to the other side and try to attack their captain. I begin to feel the anger of an eight year old as my own squadron abandon me when I am captured. But, the scene quickly changes as twilight shows a young boy knocking on my apartment door. I look on as he puts his arm around my shoulders and kisses me ever so lightly. The sweetest moment. This is when I first realize the value of such a kiss.
I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my back. Harder times lay ahead of me. I am no longer afraid to remember them. It is these difficult times that shape us just as much as the happier ones. Life is, after all, about balance. How are we to seek out the good if we never experience the bad?
Mom tells me we are moving to another city and I do not want to go. This new place, although home to her, is alien to me. Our destination is void of my grandmother, father, and the native culture that I am used to. I have no friends there. No one, but my mother's family, knows my name. I refuse to go, but I have no choice.
I see my first day in the new school. I try to make friends. I am ridiculed by the others. I am different. Too different. A year goes by and I am no where closer to being liked than I was before. My mother has become foreign to me as well. She works harder....longer. Things are more expensive here, she informs me. I don't like this new city. I want my daddy. I stare intently at my ten year old self as she begins to pack her bags and head north. For, not only is daddy in another city, he is also in another state. But, I smile her smile because I know she is not afraid. She is looking forward to living with the man who shares the same skin color as her.
I see the years pass by. I watch myself turn into a teenager. I see the hurt this new teenager endures at the hands of someone who is supposed to watch over her. But, I still smile. For I can now see the balance that is life. I see the friends I have made in this new state. These friends, who are still with me even as an adult, bring a richness to my world that I never knew existed. I have allies now. People who are willing to cry with me when I need them. I watch myself stand beside the lockers and laugh with all the others. These bonds, formed out of adolescent need, are palpable. I touch the chords of love between us. I smile as I am blamed for spreading measles to the school. And I can not help but shed a tear when four young men lose their life in a car crash. That was the day I learned death reaches for us all. No matter the age of the individual. No one is promised a tomorrow. We only have today.
The memories are more vivid now. Rich with swirling reds and purples, I see myself sitting on the mantle of the fireplace, listening as my dad tells me I am moving once again. This time I will live with my grandmother. I am no longer wanted. I see my fourteen year old chest swell with pride. They WILL NOT see me crushed. I have a spirit and it is not broken. I watch her with awe. When did I become her? I want to reach out and tell her not to hide her emotions. Do not bury her heart. But, I remain quiet. This has to happen. Because in order for her to become me, she has to have her heart broken.
I have to sit down at this point. I have walked down many years and I am tired. The sun, still south of me, continues to warm my back. A slight breeze picks through my hair. The trees, limbs long and lush with green, rattle above me. Ahead, I see clouds form. My heart begins to quicken. I know what is ahead. I can not move further. It is not fear that keeps me seated, but an unwillingness to relive what I have lived over and over again for many years. But, I must. So, as I have done so many times before, I brush myself off, and continue my journey on.
The clouds are gathering quickly as I step into the storm. Thunder sounds nearby. Lightening, striking trees hear and there, fills the air with electricity. And I force myself to see what I have already seen in my dreams.
I hear screams before I see myself. Fourteen. Crying. Shouting. Begging. I smell him before I can fully watch as he drags me to his hell. I try to turn my head, but the scene shifts to my new line of sight. It is real life. With the balance, you have to face the bad as you enjoy the good. So, I view this horror as the colors swirl all around. Reds. Violets. Crazy shades of grey and black. They are all there. I remember and I watch closely as she sees me watching her. I want to save my young self from the act that will forever change me and shape me into who I have become. But, I can not. And so I continue on through the storm. Fear never touches my heart. Warmth floods through me as I watch horror after horror unfold. Unlike the dreams that I incur now, I do not feel the pain that she feels. As I begin to wonder why, I realize that I am not alone on this journey.
I never was alone.
The storms cease, but the clouds do not part. I have more hard times ahead still. Heartache gives way to love. Love gives was to heartache. It is a vicious cycle that I continue to invite into my young life. I watch as I accept the crown of princess. I see myself standing tall. I am beautiful on that stage. Friends and family clap all around me. But, I can see what they can't. The girl standing on that stage is broken. The thread that keeps us all held together is unraveling. The light has died in her eyes. I feel for her. For the first time on this journey, I clutch at the pain shooting through my heart. I ache for her. I see the tears flowing on the inside of her. But, I notice something else. She has no fear. Anger propels her. The colors dance around my teenage self. I am saddened, but I have hope for her still. The clouds continue to follow me as I graduate high school and enter into marriage.
A young marriage that I helped destroy because I didn't have the heart to love. The sadness deepens. Yet, again, I am OK. I am not alone. She is not alone. And while I try to tell my twenty year old self that, I am quieted. She is not ready to hear it.
Beautiful images reach out all around me. Filled with wonder and amazement, I can sense the electricity stir through the air as I see my loved ones die. One from brain cancer. Two more from a tornado. Another from Alzheimer. Cancer here and there. Many funerals. Too many. Each death brings peace to me for I do not see it as an end to life, but another chapter in a long journey we are all destined to make. I feel the tears flowing as I watch a very young me curled up beside my cousin. She is beautiful. Full of laughter. And just as suddenly as she comes forward, the view shifts to her laid out in a pink coffin at the head of the church. But, this time my heart does not break. I rejoice. She is where I hope to be one day.
I begin to move forward at a dizzying pace. My companion tells me I am spending too much time here. I do not want to leave the dead. I miss them so. My emotional flip flop causes more clouds to form, so I press on with the strength that is slowing forming within me. It is a fortitude that I have had all along, but was unable to tap into until now.
I see me in the hospital. Twenty-eight years old and terrified. I am with a doctor as he explains that my first born is dying inside of me. I watch myself fight tears that are expected to fall. I tell her to let them, but she stubbornly pushes them back. It is an all too common scene. I realize that I view emotions as a weakness. The expression of them makes me vulnerable. And this emotion, this one, I can not experience ever again. To me, having your heart exposed is the equivalent of a lamb being to led to slaughter.
I look on as I lay in the intensive care unit fighting to keep my unborn child alive. I tell her to hold steady and slow her heart beat so I can show her just how much I love her. But, knowing what might happen, I am astonished as I see myself picture her being born premature and dying in my arms. And then I feel love and strength wash over me as the first time mother begins to pray with such earnest that the clouds on my journey part and the electricity disappears. Months later, I am giving birth. Although it is a painful cesarean, the joy of a healthy baby overshadows all else. There is rejoicing. My beautiful Red Head is born.
Years move by. More friends come and go. Friends I thought would be in my life for good are only meant for a season. I smile as my son is born without incident. Right away he is his own person. Mischievous. Bright. Wonderful in every way.
More deaths of loved ones. More tears. More laughter. My great grandmother. An uncle. A friend. We are all destined to lose someone we hold close to our heart. I know this now and will never question it again.
I watch me in my thirties. Arguing. Angry once again. Nothing is right. I feel so much burden. Too much to carry alone. My companion does not say a word as I tell myself that it is not mine to carry alone. She looks at me and shakes her head. The anger has returned and she does not want to hear it. But, there is something else hidden just below her frustrations. I sense an insecurity that I have not picked up on. I do not like who I have become. I am too different from my friends. Different from the man that loves me. I see confusion cloud his eyes as he repeatedly tells her not to be who she is. I try to warn him, but it is in vain. I watch, with anguish, as the younger me leaves with two children.
I know her journey is going to be so much harder for her.
More years pass. My last memory forms in front of my eyes. The clouds have given way, but a steady rain beats down all around me. I sit on the wet ground. I watch, unable to take my eyes off the scene as it unfolds.
I am sitting in a kitchen as he walks in. He is beautiful and perfect. My saving grace. He is the man that my memory can not find. Yet, as his eyes meet mine, a smile plays on his lips. He knows me. He saved me the night I almost died. We are forever bonded. We belong to each other and it is proven time and time again as I call apon him. I cry to him as I am told things that I do not remember. He takes me in his arms and holds me tight as I spill forth twenty years of rage and horror. He promises to take care of me always. He is the good that must balance the bad. He is what I need. But, just as quickly as I find him, he is taken away from me.
I begin to cry into the soft ground as I watch myself take the call at work. I see me slump over as the caller explains how my beloved friend died so unexpectedly. I look up right at the moment the crying me realizes there will never be another person who will know me the way God knows me. I shake my head and turn to my companion.
"I am so mad at you for that," I inform Him. "That was my person and you took him away. Why give him to me to begin with? Why play with me that way?"
He puts His arms around me and slowly rocks me back and forth. I am His child. The answers He gives me make no more sense that the answers I give to my children when they ask difficult questions. It is not meant for me to understand. I know this, but I do not like it. It is the same way my child does not like an answer I give him.
"Are you ready to stand," He asks me.
I tell Him no. I want to lay in His arms a while longer. He lovingly obliges. Quietly we sit as the scenes of my life disappear. I am drained of life. I am unable to return to my starting point.
"You are here for a season," He explains. "This world is temporary for all of you. Your friend came back into your life just as you needed him. I send people to you. They are pieces of me to comfort you in times of dis pair. You have always known this. You are my testimony to the world. To those that do not seek me. They will listen to you. You will cause them to consider what they have forsaken. This is why I use you the way I do. You are blessed, my child. Blessed and favored for I send to you what you need exactly when you need it. Haven't I always done that?"
I can not argue. I was rescued when a rescue was needed. I was given money when I could not provide my own. A care taker became available when I could no longer care for myself. I have always had the blessings when I needed them. But, to be blessed, you must accept the pain. It is the balance of the world.
I go to stand and He helps me to my feet.
"It is a long walk back," I say.
He smiles. "It is OK. I am here to carry you every step of your journey."
And as God carries me back to today, I rest my head against His chest. I breathe in His scent which is my favorite scent. He smells of peppermint and fresh cut grass. He smells of Autumn and falling leaves. It is comforting me and I begin to close my eyes.
Balance. That is what life is all about. It the ying to the yang. The good to the bad. The day to the night. To be blessed, we have to accept the pain. To become strong, we must be broken down so we can be rebuilt. To learn to love and enjoy life, we must know the anguish and the tears.
I feel His chest shake as He quietly chuckles to Himself. I lift my head to ask what He finds so funny.
"You got to be so arrogant. So independent in your thinking. You honestly believed you didn't need anyone in your life. You forgot the balance. And now that you remember, I wonder how long you will keep it with you. I am hoping it will be always."
As He sets me down on my feet, I see that we are at the beginning. I smile up at God in all His glory.
"There is one more thing you must take from this," He instructs me. "I have given you three tasks to complete. I have given you the tools to which you are to complete them with. Obey my command and complete them. You have free will not to. But, do not make me force your hand. I do not like doing it."
Humbled, I lower my gaze and nod my head. He wraps His arms tightly around me and I beg Him not to let me go. I pray to Him to take me where He is going. He tells me no. It is not my time.
There is a balance. With my dark thoughts, with my morbid fascinations, I am here for that balance. He has placed the shadows precisely where they are supposed to be. There is a purpose that I must fill. I understand and watch as He leaves.
Balance. That is life.