Friday, April 22, 2016

What single decision changed your life?

For many of my longstanding followers of this little blog, the post below will look familiar. It's a compilation of sorts about love and loss that I put into an essay I submitted to
Real Simple for a contest. The prompt was the title of this post. 
I didn't win, but  TODAY! is the 10 year anniversary of the decision that changed everything, so I decided  to share what I wrote here. 
I am so very grateful to all of you for being with me on this journey. 

The Shoes That Changed Everything

When my husband died after 55 days of marriage, my life perspective shifted. Completely.  
Matt was killed instantly in a car accident. I was at home, finishing up our thank you notes for wedding gifts when the Coroner knocked on our door. Many details of those moments are fuzzy, but others are bright and vivid. For instance, I distinctly remember looking at the Coroner's hands and noticing that she had on a wedding ring. I thought about how she would go home that night and probably hug her husband a little tighter after being with me. My expectation of what life was supposed to be and all of what I hoped for was gone in an instant, and I knew I would never be the same.        
Picking up the pieces after a loss like this is a bit like going into the witness protection program. Everything I had ever known about myself—how I looked, {I gained about 50 pounds...} how I acted, {Uncontrolled tears, panic attacks and the like in public...} how I interacted with the world, {Do I wear my ring? Do I go out to meet new people like other people my age?} was radically changing.
But even those in the witness protection program must take with them fundamental aspects of themselves which can never change. I had to go to the deepest depths of myself and figure out what those aspects were for me while engaging in my new reality. I was trying to figure out things like where does spirituality fit in? Does it? I know it should, but how? It’s different now. Who are my real friends?  My definition of real had been severely altered. What remains at the core of who I am? What makes me happy? Why?  How? Answering these questions forced me to reinvent myself.  
About 3 years into this reinvention process, I made a decision that changed my life forever.
I bought a new pair of shoes--sassy, summer wedges.
I was working in a little retail store near a mall, and on my lunch break I decided to go shopping. As I wandered around the mall, I spotted these magical shoes, and it was the kind of instant attraction that can’t be bottled or sold. I just knew they had to be mine.
Later that day my friend Tina asked me to go listen to a friend’s band with her at a dark, seedy bar in Denver called, of all things, The Bar Bar. If you are picturing a smoky haze, a sticky floor and vinyl bar stools with ripped seats, then you are on the right track. This bar was not “me” in any way, shape or form. I had never been there before, and frankly, why should I be at a place like that?  I really didn't want to go. It was going to be a late night, I had to work the next day and I just wasn't into it.
And then I remembered my shoes. I could wear my fabulous new shoes! I was in.
While sitting at the bar waiting for the music to start and trying to keep my treasured strappy sandals from sticking to the floor, I heard Tina say, “Have you met my friend Kari?” {Okay, so I don't know exactly what she said, but I like to think Tina was my Barney Stinson-esque wingman…} 
I turned and found myself making small talk with a man who eventually became my husband. 
don't remember a lot about our conversations that night, but I do remember the feeling of terror when Brian asked for my phone number.  I was in my mid-thirties, widowed and completely overwhelmed. How was this supposed to work? Should I give it to him? {And, if I do, should it be my real number?}
I didn't know how to reconcile this part of my new reality. I was in a whole new world of expectations and navigating layers of grief I didn't know I had. Losing Matt is an integral part of my story, but I was learning that it wasn't my identity. It didn’t have to define me. I could continue to live. This was terrifying.  There was an internal battle with the fear of moving on and what was happening to me in the moment—as my newly invented self.
 I was meeting new people who didn't even know Matt.  Would that cause me to forget him? Betray him? Lose who I was when I was with him? These types of questions continue to be a part of my grief journey, but that night in the bar vividly showed me that there is no blue print for how life goes.  Matt’s accident taught me this, of course, but when I gave Brian my {real!} phone number and found myself waiting in anticipation of his call, I knew I had entered into a new way of thinking about how life works.
 I grew up with the mindset that I had to live my life certain ways to have certain outcomes. Life’s curve balls were not necessarily accounted for—or if they were, they were justified in a way that seemed inauthentic. Before that night in the bar, I felt like I was living in such a constrained way. I worried about how to please others, and I did or didn't do something because of fear of the unknown. I let this type of thinking guide my judgment in any given situation.
My decision to buy those shoes changed all of this. Those shoes taught me that fate is alive and well. They taught me that it’s okay to believe in something that might not make much sense, it’s okay to trust an unplanned moment, and it’s okay to let myself embrace something that is new to me.  I went with the flow, and it felt great.
 I feel like I owe my shoes and the events of that night an oceanic debt of gratitude for showing me how to trust what life was giving me. I wouldn't be living the happy life I am now if I hadn't gone to the bar that night with Tina in my magical new shoes and if I hadn’t learned to take risks and trust myself to be, well, to be myself.

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