It’s okay to not know

I’ve been feeling lost in a state of transition lately, so, for all my fellow brothers and sisters feeling some level of discomfort in your unknowns, I thought I’d put this out into the universe for you. For us.

Cheers to feeling liberated in the depths of our unknowns.

“Sometimes we don’t know what we want, what’s next, or what we think our lives will look like down the road. That’s okay. If the answer is I don’t know, then say it. Say it clearly. And be at peace with not knowing.

Sometimes the reason we don’t know is that what’s coming is going to be very different from anything we’ve experienced before. Even if we knew, we couldn’t relate to it because it’s that new and that different. It’s a surprise.

Sometimes the reason we don’t know is that it would be too difficult, too confusing for us right now. It would take us out of the present moment, cause us to worry and fuss about how we could control it or what we have to do to make it happen. Knowing would make us afraid. Put us on overload. Take us away from now.

Sometimes our souls know, but it’s just not time for our conscious minds to know yet. Sometimes knowing would take us out of the very experience we need to go through to discover the answer we’re looking for. And sometimes the process of learning to trust, the process of going through an experience and coming to trust that we will ultimately discover our own truth, is more important than knowing.”

The process of moving from what we don’t
know to what we are to learn is a process that
can be trusted. It’s how we grow and change.
It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to let ourselves
move into knowing. The lesson is trusting
that we’ll know when it’s time.

 

Found in Melody Beattie’s book titled, Journey to the Heart.
“It’s Okay to Not Know” (171-172)

I’m always going to be here for you

As I sit here in my office at Forest Hill H.S. the day after graduation, I can’t help but take time to digest and reflect upon the momentous occasion that was yesterday. As a Graduation Coach serving with Literacy AmeriCorps PBC, graduation is not so much what we’ve been waiting for, but rather, what we’ve been working for.

On Thursday, May 26th at 12:00 p.m., I was able to witness my cohort of AmeriCorps students walk across the graduation stage and shake hands with Forest Hill’s Principal and Assistant Principal, the Superintendent of Palm Beach County and various district personnel. Dressed in my cap and gown that signified myself as an IUP alumna, I sat in the final chair of row two inside the South Florida Fairground’s Expo Center and watched.

And then something beautiful happened.

Before I dispel the beauty of the events that occurred yesterday afternoon, let me just preface by saying that being a Graduation Coach has been hard. So freakin hard. I entered this school as a “nobody.” Being only 4-5 years older than most of  my learners, I was easily mistaken for a student by Forest Hill faculty members throughout my first few months of service. I took on identities such as “Miss,” “the lady that took over Ms. Parham’s* old office,” “Ms. Cornell’s* look a-like,” and my personal favorite, “the white lady.” As a third party member serving within the School District of PBC, it took me a while to find my identity as a Falcon. But eventually, my role as Miss Bradshaw inside the school became more comfortable, and I not only worked with my selected group of students, but any student that walked into my office. I felt like it was my duty to serve not just my community of learners, but the school as a whole. Eventually, it felt like everyone at “The Hill” knew my name, and as students started to feel safe inside the four walls of my office, I knew I was finally doing the job I was meant to do.

So yesterday, after nine months of worry, tears, heartache, laughter, failures and success, I was given a gift. Because of my position at the end of row two, I was able to watch as every single Forest Hill senior walked passed me and made their way to the stage. As a Graduation Coach, I could not have been given a more perfect opportunity to do what I’ve done all year: love my students. As seniors walked by, I took this final occasion to reach out and squeeze their hands, wink at them, pat them on the arm and leave them with a smile only a proud parent could wear. I was so damn proud of them. My babies had finally made it.

When the ceremony concluded, faculty and students made their way back to the holding room adjacent to the expo center and turned in the graduation gowns that signified our ending together. Once more, I found my students (cohort and non-cohort) and hugged them tight. One student in particular, David (you might remember him from an earlier blog post), said to me as I squeezed him in an embrace “Miss Bradshaw, you’re still gonna be here for me right? I still need your help.”

I closed my eyes and inhaled the conclusive validation of my efforts.

 

“Of course sweetheart,” I said. “I’m always going to be here for you.”

 

 

xo.

 

*names have been changed to protect the identity of faculty members

 

Liminality

I find myself sitting on the edge of my bed a lot these days. Doing what, I’m not entirely sure, but the majority of it has to do with sitting and thinking, or maybe just sitting and existing.

And what is it about sitting on the edge of one’s bed that makes it feel like such a universal action? We’ve all seen it: a character on television plops down on the edge of his bed, head in hands, sighing. A pregnant woman holds her belly as she rests on the edge of her bed, thinking.

Being on the edge, I’ve come to notice, is a very noncommittal space. You’re neither taking initiative to stand up or lay down, but rather, are just sitting in a state of limbo in between your decision. And when you think about it, isn’t that kind of symbolic of life in general? Aren’t we always deciding between one thing and another? And when we can’t decide, we just kind of hang there . . . in between  . . . waiting.

I’ve found that the most stressful state to be in is that of indecision. And the more indecisive I am, the more I find myself sitting on the edge of my bed.

But maybe it’s comforting to know that there is a physical place where life can still exist in limbo. When I was a senior in college, I happened upon a word for this state of in-between in my capstone English course: Liminality. I remember jotting the word Liminality down in my journal that day, thinking it entirely all too fitting for a senior in college (especially one with major post-graduate life decisions ahead of her).

Week after week, it would come back to me. I started writing this word at the top of my weekly “to-do” list just so I wouldn’t forget it.

Liminality, Liminality, Liminality.
I needed more.

So I did some research. Liminality, in its simplest form, is a type of transition period. From an anthropological standpoint, the word was used to describe the disorientation that developed during the middle stages of various ethnic rituals. In the article entitled “What is Liminality?” author Charles La Shure further describes this idea:

“The initiate (that is, the person undergoing the ritual) is first stripped of the social status that he or she possessed before the ritual, inducted into the liminal period of transition, and finally given his or her new status and re-assimilated into society.”

If that doesn’t make sense, think of it as the ambiguous stage that occurs in an initiation ceremony. Someone that becomes the president or leader of an organization no longer holds the same responsibilities they once did as a general member. However, they won’t hold their new title until the ceremony is over. Liminality is that uncomfortable, who am I and what do I do now, feeling.

About two years ago, I met a man at a career-writing workshop that (without even knowing it) encouraged the feeling of Liminality. Relishing in that feeling, he said, is when you grow the most. It means you’re doing something right. Although he was presenting on Grad School applications that day, I think the message can be easily applied to most situations of uncertainty.

Right now, as many of you know, my family and I are dealing with my father’s diagnosis of ALS. The day my mom told me that our worst nightmare had finally come true was December 24th, 2015. That awful day, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror for what felt like hours, boring holes into myself. I was looking straight ahead, but I didn’t recognize the person staring back. I was stripped of my identity.

Liminality.

At this point, many of you are probably thinking, but Gabby, you’re still yourself. You’re not the one who was diagnosed with ALS; it’s your dad. And you’re right. I was (and am) still a daughter, still a college graduate, and still a person existing on this earth.

But what was my identity as a daughter/college graduate/person existing on this earth whose father was just diagnosed with a fatal disease?

I didn’t have an answer, so I lost myself.

For weeks after my father’s diagnosis I didn’t know which way was up and which way was down. Everything I thought I knew and understood about the world was suddenly gone.

Am I still Gabby, or has someone replaced her? Who am I and where am I going?

Without realizing it, my beginning state of Liminality was also the beginning state of my rebuilding process. I was the initiate La Shure outlined in his article. Literally, started from the bottom now we . . . you know the rest.

In all seriousness though, rebuilding from my initial state of Liminality hasn’t been easy, and my journey has been nothing short of brutally painful.

Here’s kinda what happened:

The worst or “stripping of my identity:”

  • I found out my dad had ALS in December.
  • I almost quit my service year with AmeriCorps.
  • I cried (like falling on the bathroom floor sobbing).
  • I went back and forth about whether I should stay in Florida or move home.
  • I closed myself off to my students.
  • I was frustrated.
  • I found God.
  • I lost God.
  • I contemplated suicide.
  • I cried.
  • I broke up with my boyfriend.
  • I cried the most.
  • I felt empty.
  • I regretted every decision I’d made.
  • I joined a new gym and quit 2 weeks later.
  • I lost 10 pounds.
  • I slept. A lot.
  • I started counseling and then quit counseling.
  • I didn’t know if I liked the same music anymore.
  • I didn’t know how to present myself.
  • I saw a psychiatrist.

The not-so-bad or “liminal period of transition:”

  • I started taking anti-anxiety/depression pills.
  • I went to the Florida Keys and relaxed.
  • I cried, but a little less.
  • I started journaling again.
  • I started reading again.
  • I went to the beach.
  • I let myself be vulnerable to people that cared about me.
  • I cried, but I wasn’t alone this time.

The best or “re-assimilation:”

    • I put my energies into positive outlets.
    • I started laughing a little.
    • I went to yoga.
    • I went to yoga.
    • I went to yoga.
    • I was there for my friends.
    • I was there for my students.
    • I opened up to one of my students.
    • I joined an ALS support group.
    • I reconnected with my spirituality.
    • I started cooking again.
    • I got a new job for next year.
    • I cried and I laughed, and this time, I felt OK.
    • I felt hope return.

Look I don’t have all the answers. I’ve been through a lot this past year, but it doesn’t mean I claim to know everything. All I know is that transition periods are hard, and life is hard and Liminality is hard. But if you find yourself in one of these in-between states, and you don’t know where you’re headed, please don’t give up. Giving up is too easy and it is sooo tempting. Trust me, I know. I’ve been in the dark tunnel with no end in sight, but the man at the career workshop was right. It is when we find ourselves in transition (or Liminality) that we grow the most. It’s uncomfortable as hell, but trust that it is overwhelmingly powerful.

So who am I now? Well, it’s only been about five months since my dad’s diagnosis (and a year since he’s started showing symptoms), but I feel stronger everyday. I can’t say I’m the same person I was before this past Christmas Eve because that would be untrue. We can’t expect ourselves to “never change.” Life doesn’t allow it. Evolving is good, and it’s healthy.

Right now, I take it day by day. I listen for intuitive clues to what screams yes and what shouts no for me. I may still be sitting on the edge of my bed during this time of “re-assimilation,” but I know now that I won’t decide to lay down. Laying down would be easy; it would be giving up. No, I know that one day I will stand up from the edge of my bed, and I will walk forward.

 

xo.

 

 

Sources:

La Shure, Charles. “What is Liminality?” Liminality: the space in between. n.p. 18 October

2005.

 More information at: http://www.liminality.org/about/whatisliminality/

So let’s talk about windows. As a world traveller, I’ve always loved the air of mystery that only something as simple as a window can bring. Whether you’re looking out or looking in, a window is a portal into a different world; one we aren’t sure of, but so eagerly desire to know. And whether we realize it or not, looking through a window invites us to view the world in a different way. As I find myself sitting here, reminiscing about the summer I just experienced and getting ready to embark on my senior year of college, I can’t help but think of windows and their natural ability to help us see things differently. In the 1989 film Dead Poet’s Society (directed by Peter Weir in 1989) Robin Williams plays an English teacher who invites his students to always “seize the day.” He stands on his desk at the end of class and says to his students, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” As one chapter of my life is ending and another is beginning, I find myself ready to look at this next adventure in a new light. Change does not always have to be stressful; it can actually be a breath of fresh air. I have made my blog’s cover-photo a picture of windows that I took in Brazil last semester as a reminder to always look at things in differently. Here’s to another year, and a new set of eyes.