You are strong.
You are so strong.
I don’t know how you do it.
These phrases, and variations of them, I have heard quite a few times in the last five years. Each time someone says this to me, I mutter something along the lines of thank you, while my mind is squirming and uncomfortable inside. They are comments that just don’t sit well with me.
Because the truth is, I’m really not that strong.
I look at the people in my life, and there are so many that are truly strong. My children quietly go about facing, and overcoming their fears. People I know fight battles for their children, to make sure they get the best possible health care and education for them. People I know have fought cancer. People I know have helped their loved ones fight cancer and other debilitating diseases. People I know have become widows and widowers. People I know have battled lifetime long diseases. People I know are serving or have served in the military, protecting our freedoms. People I know have walked away from abusive marriages. People I know foster and adopt children, as infants and growing children, to provide a safe and loving home. People I know fight for human rights.
I am in awe of you all. I don’t know how you do it all.
I also look to you all as a source of inspiration to be stronger in my life. I know we all have our battles and fears . . . some public, and some private, that we are facing. There are fears that may loom large in our life, but look trivial to others. We all have fears. It’s part of what makes us human.
There has been a fear inside of me for the last five years. Every once in awhile it rears it’s head, almost as if to mock me. Knocking me down a peg or two, and reminding me, no, you’re really not that strong.
As most know, when Chris collapsed, he was at our child’s soccer practice. It was a soccer field that we had been to countless times. Practices, games, and tournaments had been played on those fields, by all of my children. At the time, we had one child who played year round, on a travel soccer team, one who was looking forward to being old enough to play travel, and one who had moved on to baseball. We spent an inordinate amount of time at that soccer field. I could practically drive there with my eyes closed.
Then November 3 happened. Chris collapsed at the soccer field. After receiving the phone call, I drove to the field, not really seeing where I was going. Rather as if I were on autopilot. I won’t go into detail about what was happening at the time. Those are not details that I will ever feel the need to publically share.
All this to say, November 3, was the last time any of us were at that soccer field. It was the last day one of my children practiced on a team for soccer. It was the last day a child of mine had played the game of soccer as part of a team. On that day, it was as if the game of soccer ceased to exist for our family. So much of what had defined our time together as a family was gone.
And for the last five years, I have not set foot on a soccer field, let alone the soccer field where our lives changed.
There have been times I have thought about going. Facing that fear. But each time, something has mentally held me back. About eight months after Chris died, a friend called to tell me about the possibility of having the soccer field renamed. It would be named in Chris’s honor. I admit to being floored that someone thought it would be a good idea to rename the field, and had even researched how to do it. After I got off the phone with my friend, my mind raced with too many thoughts. Thoughts that would not settle down. The most prominent was, oh God, I would have to go to the soccer field again, and see where he died. Later that night, I would find myself in the hospital, wondering if I was having a heart attack. No, I wasn’t. It was a massive panic attack.
I never went back to the soccer field.
You see, for whatever reason, it has been on my mind all week. Thoughts of that wretched soccer field have been plaguing me. Thoughts of inadequacy, because I haven’t yet faced that fear. It’s a soccer field. It cannot hurt me. But every time I started to think about going, my heart would race. My palms would begin to sweat. My hands would begin to shake. Every image that was seared in my brain on November 3, comes to the forefront of my thoughts.
I couldn’t bring myself to go.
Then this morning, as I was wondering the aisles of Target, contemplating the soccer field, I saw this t-shirt on a mannequin.
I’m not exactly sure why I took a picture of it. Maybe I was trying to talk myself into believing it?
As I left Target to head home, I realized that with one right turn, I would be headed in the direction of the soccer field. I took that turn, and I found myself driving on autopilot towards the soccer field. Every light I hit, was a green light. The closer I got to the field, my heart started to beat faster. I parked the car in almost the same spot I had parked that day five years ago. As I got out of the car, and headed to the well-trodden dirt path, that leads to the real path, I realized my hands were shaking. My ears were ringing. And my chest was tight.
But I kept moving one foot in front of the other, till I found myself at the field.
I made it. A flood of images, and a wealth of emotions passed through me, as the sun shone blindingly bright, and the cold wind buffeted against me on that empty, grassy field.
I'm not sure how long I stayed there.
But I survived.
I beat the fear that has been plaguing me.
When I got back in the car, and started it, the radio came on. The song playing was, and I wish I was making this up, Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson.
I thought to myself, yes.
This didn’t kill me.
Today I put one foot in front of the other, and kept moving forward.
Today I am a bit stronger.