Twenty-six years old, at the height of my career, I walked down the aisle in Queens, New York. My hair and makeup took hours to complete, my dress, hemmed to perfection, but I forgot to fine tune what lies deep beneath the skin. It was Memorial Day weekend, eighteen years ago, today
I didn't show everything about me; in part because I thought that was the way to be successful in my marriage, and in part, because there were pieces of my fabric that took me years to understand myself.
Things like pride, fear of abandonment and being right, stood in the way of honest conversations and forgiveness. The secrets and the dreams we didn’t dare share, were laid in our foundation and nine years later, we crumbled.
The braver path, at some point in the marriage, would have been to show up as vulnerable life partners, to have the tough talks, and seek true understanding, but we never did.
Now that we’ve been divorced longer than we were married, and the both of us have had years to self-improve, May 26 gives meaning far beyond the simplicity of "used to be my anniversary." It's bigger than that. Today inspires reflection on the values I hold closest to my heart, and the journey of my family.
Recently, I had the honor of diving into the research work of Brené Brown in a “Dare to Lead” leadership training course. We were asked to read the pages of suggested life values, or write in your own, and circle your top ten. I did this quickly, I have a pretty good idea of who I am now. But then, we were asked to dig deeper, to come up with our top two values, not the ones we want them to be, but the ones that describe us best.
So not to overthink, they gave us only a minute to pick. I scanned the words I had marked: kindness, family, intimacy and closeness, openness, balance, courage, gratitude, hope, intuition, joy, parenting, making a difference, uniqueness, forgiveness, freedom, self-expression, etc. Probably because I value freedom, I had actually circled more than ten, no surprise. Picking two was hard. I had to think of moments in my mind where I truly felt like me, when I was living in my values the most: the births of each of my children, jumping on the trampoline with my kids, coaching special olympics, providing occupational therapy to a patient who lost hope, swimming under the sun on the first warm day of spring, sitting with my mother while she makes donuts, opting for spinal fusion after years of scoliosis, divorce...Optimism and Joy, those were my two.
We were asked to think of examples of the slippery slope behaviors to watch out for in living our values.
So I thought about these in class, and later that night. As I’m an optimist in life, I think people are generally trying their best, and I tend to think things will work out. But, what I thought after the training was this, my slippery slope has been times in my life where I didn't necessarily have a plan to help things work out, and optimism was not enough; my marriage was an example of that.
Optimism has served me well in knowing I could always show up better in all of my relationships, and the same has been true with my ex-husband. We're are not what we used to be, but I do believe we’re much improved. Years of co-parenting later, optimism paved the way for me to never stop believing that he is doing his best for our sons (even when our parenting tactics are sometimes very different).
Joy is the umbrella value for me of so many other values. Beneath joy is intimacy and closeness, playfulness, and motherhood. My twenty-six year old self knew joy, but wasn’t having the real conversations that would lead to lasting joy in my marriage to handle the times that were hard. At thirty-three, our oldest son was diagnosed with type one diabetes, and nothing felt joyful for a long time. Instead of supporting each other, it was easier to self-blame and to blame. But here's the irony, the conversations we have around our children now, not married and not living together, feels more meaningful and real than they were years ago. One thing is certain, our words no longer carry blame or judgement, and that alone has built trust for honest conversations that can only help our growing sons
Brené says to work your shit out so you're not "working your shit out on other people."She seems to have hit the nail on the head!
So, on the anniversary of our marriage that didn’t last, this day before Memorial Day, I don't remember the death of a marriage. Instead, I feel grateful for the birth of a relationship that created three amazing sons, who have two parents who love them. Our untraditional journey has only led to more genuine mentorship that looks nothing like what we ever thought it would when we walked down the aisle eighteen years ago.
And, these humans we made together, I vowed a long time ago in my heart to help each one show up bravely in life, and to love and be loved.