I’ve written about grief a lot over the last decade or so. And much of that writing has helped me put in to perspective some of life’s biggest moments and emotions. Ones that could have easily swallowed me whole, and if I’m being honest, almost did.
But with reflection and the right tools, I feel confidently about the direction my life has taken. So, to celebrate my mom’s birthday on January 26th, and all the ones that were stolen because of her murder, here is a list of the pieces that helped me feel less alone while writing, and may help you as well. Especially if you have a hole in your heart where a loved one left it, too. Because I think that’s all life is about: connection, community, and catharsis.
A few years ago I wrote a piece called “Where Does Hatred Come From?” In it I discuss my mother’s murder and what (I think) compelled my brother to do such a thing. But something else has been on my mind, a question I get quite a lot that usually makes my heart race and my tongue trip up:
“How on Earth did you survive?”
Let me begin by saying that if I’m being totally honest, it still feels some days like I haven’t. Survived, that is. The cycle of abuse is a road that is twisted, long, and arduous. I am still traversing it, and live with the bits of shame that victims often do. On other days, however, I have an answer to the question everyone is really asking – how do two people born from the same parents go in such vastly different directions: one a murderer, the other a motivator?
In more general terms, “How Can Love Find a Way?”
The reality is, it’s almost so simple it’s painful. The answer is that love and hate are both born fromattachment.
See, for almost every experience my brother had where he felt alienated and different, I had one where I felt accepted or celebrated. Or maybe even just O.K. with being different.
I came second. By the time I was born, my parents had been separated for a year. They were divorced when I was two, but my dad never lived with me. So, his absence wasn’t an absence to me, it was my norm. Thus, when dad ripped himself from our lives, it was only devastating to one of us.
Then came all our moves. Within my first sixteen years of life I lived in eight homes. I got used to change, and loved switching schools or classes. It gave me the chance to reinvent myself and make new friends. Jesse, however, was a bit of a pariah. Not by choice, of course, but by social design. He was short, chubby, and an easy target. I was short, chubby, and an easy target, but apparently the world thought that was more acceptable in a girl. I got bullied less and made more friends. So, when people didn’t allow either of us in to their lives or picked on us because we looked a little different, it was only really devastating to one of us. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father.
Soon, my brother started attempting suicide. He was institutionalized and given “help.” Here, at these bleak homes for ‘troubled youth,’ he learned to believe he was even more different than he could have imagined. That now, with a triple diagnosis of “mental illness,” he’d never really escape. This was probably the worst time of Jesse’s life. My dad never visited him; Mom and I were the only ones that seemed to care. And so, while I was in middle school, I visited mental institutions and wrote him letters, begging him to stay here with us. He would keep one of those notes in his wallet for years. Through all of this I learned how dark people can feel. But more importantly, I learned how good it felt to give people reprieve from their darkness. These failed suicide attempts were devastating for him, and of course, extremely devastating to me. But I had my studies to throw myself in to and excel at and friendships to seek asylum in. Thus, it was really only life-damaging for one of us. Especially since Jesse had already been rejected by our father and peers.
When my brother left high school after being told he didn’t fit in to the mold they provided, he eventually found exercise and drugs. He grew fit and powerful, more toxic. He had grown sick of being told by society how different he was, and with his newfound strength his previous shame was gone; now his emotions had morphed in to anger. In turn, he became extremely violent towards Mom and me. We were his scapegoats. There were tires slashed, holes punched in the walls, swift kicks to our guts (literal and figurative), obscenities screamed, and so much more. It was Hell.
Mom, left with little other options, called the police on him several times. When he was released, Jesse slept in an old car he bought from Craig’s List, other times at friend’s houses. But he wheedled his way back home each time, as many abusers do. Then Mom would eventually kick him out again. Within this cycle he somehow found his way in to the army twice, despite a juvenile record of domestic violence.
Mom and I reveled in our freedom from him whenever he was out. Without him home we were able to focus on our personal and professional endeavors. I was sailing through college with a 3.9, was an officer in my sorority, and had a great job working for Arnold Schwarzenegger right out of high school. For every hurdle Jesse had collided with, I was jumping over two at a time. And when he was eventually kicked out of the military a second time for erratic behavior, he came home to find me even more successful. Which made him that much angrier. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father, our peers, the school district, mental health professionals, and now the military.
He brandished his isolation like a sword, swinging it at anyone he saw as a threat, which eventually became everyone. Girlfriends, strangers, it didn’t matter. However, he swung most often at home. Jesse reached out to my dad a few times at this point, but Dad was dealing with his own demons. So, while my brother’s identifying parent was slipping deeper in to a depressive, drunken state far from us, seeing us less than he ever had before, Mom and I grew closer. She and I became best friends. We didn’t speak of our heartache much, because I’m not sure we ever had a grasp on what ‘it’ was, but our bond was deep and inexplicable. We knew we needed each other to survive the toxicity in our lives.Which made Jesse hate us even more.
Thus, two weeks after I finished college, Jesse killed Mom. It had been a long time coming; there were aerosol cans sprayed at lighters, knives thrown in to walls, online dating and email accounts hacked and spoiled. And despite my world being rocked, I survived. Because I had been shown in life that bad things happen. A lot. However, they always stop. And there’s always love on the other side. Or on the underside. Or somewhere; it can always be found somewhere. In the encouraging words of a teacher who didn’t know why I was at school as much as possible, but still let me have my safe place. In the stalwart support system of a sorority. In the home of a best friend whose parents may not have known exactly what was going on, yet still had an open door policy. In believing in someone even when they don’t. In my mom’s encouraging words and resiliency. Where there is hope extended, wherever connections are made, love can be found. That’s the answer to what saved me from a life of hatred and bitterness: hope in the form of attachment & love.
So, remember that next time you see someone who may seem different, struggling, isolated, or even angry. A little love can go a very long way, especially for those who haven’t received much. In some cases it could be the difference between a life of love and a life of hatred.
Thank you to everyone who helped me see the love when it may have been difficult to do so on my own.
If you believe you or someone you know may be the victim of domestic violence, please read the resources on the National Domestic Violence Hotline and consider reporting the abuse to the authorities.
It was undeniable that my mom had a favorite story from my childhood. She called it, ‘THE POOP TRAIL.’
Of course, she had a few other anecdotes dear to her heart, but as I lost Mom when I was twenty-two, the only tale that left a lasting impression on me was the shocker. Now, as a thirty-something year old mother, I’d love to learn about her pregnancies, birth stories, the challenges of being a single mother, and so much more. But I couldn’t have known I would miss out on the chance. So, Mom’s legacy remains to be: THE POOP TRAIL.
It began like any other day in our new condominium, I presume. On this, let’s say, dreary September morning (Mom was never one for minor details, so pardon me while I embellish a bit), the three of us were sprawled out on our couch. My older brother Jesse and I were early risers, and as we had just begun sharing a bedroom for the first time, we were waking even earlier. After satiating us with some snacks and turning on the tube, Mom expected Jesse and I to settle in for a Saturday morning cartoon session, so she could take a hot shower.
I imagine she wasn’t gone long because she was a careful woman, and as a parent I now know these two general rules to be universally true: 1) a child can move at either the speed of light or the speed of a snail, dependent entirely upon if you’re asking them to do something or not. And as Mom was in the shower, and no adult was applying any pressure to me whatsoever, I know I was working quickly. Also, rule number 2: parents never get long in the shower, especially when their kids are little. A single, working mother no less? She would have washed only the ‘essentials.’
So, when Mom came out of the shower, safe to assume no more than two and a half minutes later, I was nowhere to be found. Now, I’ve had those moments – those ‘HOLY SHIT WHERE DID MY KID DISAPPEAR TO CPS IS GOING TO FIND ME WHAT HAVE I DONE’ moments – And for me, those ‘moments’ have never lasted more than one minute and twenty-six seconds in total (true story, the panic setting on my alarm can attest to this). But, I have had technology, my husband, and a guardian angel or two on my side. Mom, on the other hand, was a new divorcee with no help and no clothes on. Still wrapped in her towel, dripping with beads of water, her large, maternal breasts threatening to break free from our new, cheap towels, Mom would have started calling my name mildly.
I know this because when I lost my son for the first time (don’t judge, he’s wily) I first thought, ‘No, he’s not lost.’ Denial is almost always the instant reaction. ‘Adam. Adam? Adam!’ I called out optimistically, as if he would actually come on command. He did not (duh). Mom also had no luck, saw no sign of my tiny feet hiding behind a curtain, heard no telltale giggle from inside a closet. That’s when her fear set in, the same fear I tasted the day I learned my son could open our front door and release himself into the wild.
At this point, Mom surely grabbed Jesse by the shoulders and shook him.
‘Where did your sister go?!’ she would have growled.
But Johnny Quest was probably on, and if my brother was anything like my zombie children, his head would have flopped back and forth, and his eyes would have stayed glued to the TV. Maaaaaybe an inaudible ‘I dunno,’ or a lackadaisical shrug would escape. Otherwise, Mom was on her own.
‘Amy! Aaaaaamy!’ she would have screamed then. A frantic scan of our small space ensued. Maybe she tripped over her towel tail; she couldn’t be too nimble in such a state. And as she spun, gaining a full view of our new den and common area, Mom noticed our condo’s front door wide open. She launched herself towards the open portal and yelled her loudest, fiercest battle cry, “Heeeeeeeelll-“ but before she completed her S.O.S., a warmly punctuating squish between her bare toes cut it short.
She drew her foot up slowly, and on the floor, now entangled with our hideous (but also coincidentally brown 1980’s shag carpet), was a piece of poop. It was misshapen and- well, nevermind, I’ll spare you the details. But, what I will tell you is that, as any mother would know (I understand this now), Mom knew in a heartbeat that poop was *mine*. She grimaced, maybe even gagged, noticing an abandoned diaper a few feet ahead, just outside the threshold of our home. Several other pieces of poop lay before and after it. Mom stopped screaming, wiped her foot on the carpet (I mean, at this point, what did it matter?) and took off down the hallway half naked.
It didn’t take her long to find me. I had left a trail of turds leading two flights and four doors down. Mom followed it to the door of a condo owned by an elderly woman. The woman would later tell Mom that she had opened her door to a soft thumping sound, only to find a diaperless almost-three-year-old rhythmically wiping her butt on the dingy hallway carpet right outside 1A, shit-eating grin plastered to my face.
Our brand new neighbors, thankfully, were relatively understanding (albeit totally grossed out). The building manager was not that forgiving, however. Mom was forced to pay a pretty price for the building’s sanitation. I’m not sure how related the two incidents were, but our stay there was cut very short, and it wasn’t long before we moved out of our condo and into a small home across the Valley.
Now, the reason I bring any of this very self-deprecating, disgusting talk up is to consider the most important lesson I ever drew from my mother: Things can only impact you as much as you allow them to. Because I’m not sure I could turn a story about losing my child and wading through poop into one of my favorites to tell. In fact, it sounds like an absolute nightmare to me. Thus, life has to be less about what you go through, and more about the way you look at your experiences. So, the next time you feel like you’re having a truly shitty day of Momming, think of Mom and me, and just know that you are not alone.
Thirty-seven years ago today my mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Three years ago yesterday, I gave birth to my own son.
Every cell in my body wants to have a sit down with her, to trade birth and/or parenting stories. But, as my brother stole her life eleven years ago, I haven’t been able to. I never will.
Yesterday I baked a cake. It wasn’t beautiful. No one in the family could identify what it looked like: a guitar? A banjo? A magnifying glass? I didn’t mind though; all I kept thinking about was the cake my mom made 30 years before, the one she served my brother’s friends at his 7th birthday, that looked almost the same way. I wanted to talk to her about it, laugh at their coincidentally-matching, misshapen figures. Maybe argue over whose was worse. But I couldn’t, so I wrote about it instead. This was was my way of feeling closer to her: writing and baking
Yesterday, my son’s birthday, I spent the day wondering if I’d hear from my brother. Far too much of the day was wasted wondering if he’ll, in a final show of selfishness, steal his own life. Sometimes I hope he does, sometimes I pray he doesn’t. Either way, I am healing from a life of trauma and abuse. And my abuser, despite being behind bars, still has a strange, distant power over me.
Not long ago I shared an open letter I wrote to my deceased mother. And as my latest Expressing Motherhood piece mentioned an open letter she wrote me that was read at a graduation-related event, I thought that it would be fitting this year (on her death date) to share it.
When you arrived on December 24th, 21 years ago, I knew you would be destined for greatness!
The doctor said, “It’s a girl, but she’s only 4 lbs and 16 1/2 inches!”
My mother said, “I cook chickens for dinner that are bigger than that!”
I said, “Her entire head fits in the palm of my hand!”
Yes, Amy, you were small, but as people say, “The best things come in small packages!”
We brought you home ten days later, nameless. I searched high and low for a name that would best suit you, to no avail. Until your brother Jesse came to the rescue and said, “I think we should call her Amy.” And so it was, you were named Amy.
Once you had the first name of Amy, how more befitting would it have been, but for me to call you ‘Amy Beth.’ And so it came to be, your name was once and for all, decided by a joint venture of your brother and me.
Now, being that you came early, a month early, that should have been a sign. Unfortunately, I was not in tune with human nature then, as I am now. But had I been, I would have known some things about you early on. As things go, not only did you mature emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually early, but also physically!
I remember driving in the car one day, when you were only 5 years old, and you saying to me, “Mom, will I have my period by the time I’m in college?”
Then your brother turned to you and said, “Amy, don’t worry, you’ll get it way, way, way before then.” And he was right.
Yes, you were early at that too. And yes you did get it before you started college. Way, way, way before you started college!
[Thanks, Mom 😑]
But now, as you are nearing the end of college, I must say, the things you have accomplished have definitely been filled with greatness! And I am very proud to be your mom!
Love forever and always,
…. So, now you know. I got my blatant honesty and penchant for over-sharing from my Mama. And I’ll probably never stop, because it’s how I keep her spirit alive.
“The tie which links mother and child is of such pure and immaculate strength as to be never violated.”
As seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven & Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, With Love
No one is ever ready to say goodbye to a parent, and I was no exception. When my mother suddenly passed away at the age of fifty-five, it was devastating. The only way I knew how to cope was to write. When it came time to write her eulogy, I welcomed the chance to honor her.
After reading the eulogy at her funeral, I folded it neatly and tucked it between the pages of her favorite children’s book, Love You Forever. When it was time to pay final homage to her, I felt satisfied as I placed my only copy of the book in her arms and helped to lower her casket.
Shortly thereafter though, I broke down. I could think of nothing but my mother. I missed her with every cell in my body. But most overwhelmingly, I could no longer grasp the concept of where she had gone. I found it impossible to believe that she was watching over me. If she were, I thought, then she would surely make her presence known. I pleaded with the Heavens to show me she was there, that she was still sending her love, and keeping a watchful eye. No such luck.
Weeks went by. I became depressed and broken, unable to fulfill simple tasks and care for myself. I stayed home. People came in and out, checking on me at all hours of the day. Family and friends tried to coax me out of the house, but all I wanted to do was hide. I wanted to hide from my harsh reality: I would never see or hear from my mother again. Finally, those who cared about me had had enough.
One night, my best friend and her partner came over with a plan to get me out of the house. I debated with them for over an hour, pleading for them to leave me alone. Two hours and a million excuses later, we finally compromised and I allowed them to take me on a quick trip to Target.
As we walked through the aisles my feet dragged. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be anywhere. Nonetheless, we perused the make-up, electronics, and home goods aisles. They were there to offer me an outlet, and I was only there to placate them. After several more minutes of mindless meandering I was done. I told them I had to go back home, that I needed to get out of there.
“Alright, but first we have to stop by the candy section. A little sugar will give you a pick-me-up,” they reasoned.
I swallowed my pain and continued. I picked out a piece of candy just to avoid my friends’ concerned stares. At the checkout, we dropped our items on the conveyor belt and waited in line. I looked at the merchandise arrayed at the checkout. At the top of a shelf, on top of the candy, hair ties, and hand sanitizer, sat a book, a copy of Love You Forever! I snatched the copy and skimmed the pages, enjoying the pictures of a mother cradling her child. Tears welled in my eyes.
“Ma’am? Ma’am? How would you like to pay for this?” the cashier asked.
I snapped back to reality, but ignored her question. “Why is this book here?” I demanded to know.
“I’m not sure, ma’am. Maybe someone was planning to buy it but chose not to in the end? They were probably just too lazy to put it back… It happens all the time, unfortunately. Thanks for pointing it out.”
I felt compelled to know more, and am still not sure why I asked my next question.
“Where are the rest of the copies of this book?”
“Wow. You sure love that book. The rest are probably in our book section, but I’ll scan it just to make sure. Sometimes when a book is on promotion it is moved.”
She scanned it. The machine made a few loud, shrill beeps.
“Huh. That’s weird. It’s not scanning. Let me see…”
The few moments I waited felt like eternity. A ball of excitement mixed with anxiety formed in my stomach.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. This book isn’t scanning. In fact, I dont even think it’s from our store. I’m not really sure why it was sitting there… If you’d like to buy it ma’am, I apologize because I guess it’s not really available for purchase. But… I mean… I guess you can… Just take it? It’s not really ours to sell.”
My heart fluttered as I gingerly took back the book. I cradled it in my arms and as I did, I felt a sense of security envelop me. I knew this was a message from my mother. It was a message of love, support, and understanding.
It was her way of saying, “I will love you forever, no matter what.” And I’ve never doubted that since.
“There are things our parents choose to do that stay with us forever. These actions, good or bad, teach us the lessons we carry into adulthood and especially parenthood.
Like the time my older brother found a wallet filled to the brim with cash. I was four and he was seven, but as children of a single mother in the eighties, we already knew the value of a dollar; Mom was never one to shelter us from our reality. I remember my brother handing her the leather square in the narrow aisles of a pharmacy. Mom had just tearfully admitted to the clerk she had only enough money for one antibiotic regimen, but two sick children. After she grew a bit sharp with her tongue, as she sometimes did, she was given back the prescription slip and turned away. Only moments later the Universe delivered her a wallet full of money.
I remember Mom looking around, then stuffing it deep underneath her arm in one swift movement. When we arrived home, she unearthed it from her purse, then began counting out the bills onto our hand-me-down coffee table. When she finished at just over a thousand dollars, she pulled out the Driver’s License within the plastic protectant and picked up the phone beside her. We waited with baited breath, unsure of what her next move would be.
“Operator? Yes. Can I please be connected with a ———– from Studio City?”
Moments later she was chatting with a very worried man who wanted to know the whereabouts of his wallet and missing mortgage payment. She offered him her work address and told him to pick it up the next day, but not before confirming how much dough he expected to be returned to him.
When she had replaced the receiver in its plastic cradle, my brother asked, “Why didn’t you return the wallet to the pharmacy if you weren’t going to take any of the money yourself?” To which she replied, “I don’t know if they would have returned it with everything inside. But, I knew I would. I don’t take what’s not mine, because that would be assuming we need it more.”
And at a very young age of four, I learned what my mom’s credo was: honesty must come before anything, including my own needs.
Speaking of Mom’s honesty, I’ll admit it wasn’t always my favorite. She had little filter, and people were often made uncomfortable by her. For example, she once wrote a letter that would be read to my entire sorority at a graduation-related event, which she knew when set out to write it. Despite this, she described in the note how I matured early, as well as that by the age of five, was already concerned whether I’d “get my period by college or not.” See? You’re uncomfortable. So, yeah, I didn’t always enjoy her openness.
But if Mom’s actions taught me anything it’s that the world needs honesty, even if people have trouble digesting it. There was the time she beat me to picking up the phone, and Corey Feldman was on the other line. At the age of seventeen I began running his website, and over the next four years would help him a great deal with local appearances. But, in this moment, he was my boss, and Mom was my very uncool parent who I obviously still lived with.
When Mom realized the gruff voice on the other end belonged to Corey, she was thrilled. She cooed,”Hey Corey! We actually just finished watching one of your films.” She hit the speaker phone and winked at me playfully.
“Oh, yeah?” he replied. “Which one?”
“Amy? What was it called?” Meanwhile, I have turned a ripe shade of red and was silently begging for the phone. But I whisper my reply nonetheless, “Edge of Honor.” She repeats me, and for a moment things seem O.K. because, hey, she hasn’t embarrassed me. It’s a miracle! Then she concludes, “You looked really drugged out in it.”
My heart fell into my stomach, and I instantly tasted bile. I held my breath as my recently exciting social life flashed before my eyes.
Corey waited a few beats. Finally, he replied, “Well, that’s because I was.” And with that, the floodgate opened. He talked about his difficult childhood and former addictions, and Mom listened. Just before Mom finally disengaged the speaker and handed me the phone, Corey asked her to attend an anniversary screening of The Goonies as his date. Much of the cast would be there, and he was inviting her to sit with them.
And, in all my years as one of Corey’s assistants, this would be the most Corey ever opened up. Thus, driving home Mom’s point that transparency is the most healing policy.
Mom’s emphasis on honesty was the most recurring lesson I ever received from her, and I suppose it is what led me to this point. To being a mother that strives to create children who are fair and thoughtful. And to pursuing a career that is intended to inspire mental health and a more accepting world. But, every parent leaves their children with indelible memories that turn into life lessons.
Maybe my children will be up here in a few decades talking about me, and with any luck, it’ll be positive. Maybe your children will be up here narrating what you did with your time as a parent. What will our actions teach our children? I wonder what sort of world they will create together with these lessons.”
To listen to this via Podcast, click here, but please pardon my opening night jitters.
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
It’s no surprise that when Mom died, I was left in a state of limbo. She and I had been as close as a mother and daughter could be. I called her my best friend, and I meant it in every sense of the term. She and I loved one another unconditionally and learned a great deal from each other. She was my “partner-in-crime.” When she wanted to go to Tommy’s for some chili cheeseburgers at 3:00 in the morning, I eagerly joined her. When she sold her self-published Algebra II exercise book at a local math convention, I jumped at the chance to spend the weekend in Palm Springs with her peddling her creation. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but it was ours, and it was sowed in love.
After she died, I not only lost my best friend, but I was also left with an overwhelming sense of abandonment. One moment, Mom was here, and the next she was gone. Prior to losing her, all I had ever known was my small, tight-knit family and home in Los Angeles. But now, everywhere I turned, it was glaringly obvious that a large portion of that equation was missing and would be forever. The small blessing was that I had stayed home while attending university and got those extra years to connect with Mom. We had done a little traveling around our home state of California for her various business endeavors. I experienced more adult things with her during those years than ever before. We took a girls’ cruise to Mexico, attended my sorority events, worked at the same school together, and gallivanted around Palm Springs several times.
As an Israeli immigrant who arrived in America in the late 1950s, Mom spent the next few years traveling across the country with her family in search of permanent residence. It was this perpetual movement that she had experienced as a child that made Mom avoid traveling very far, and specifically flying. This is why we never made it farther than our cruise down the coast to Ensenada or Gilroy, California, the proud Garlic Capital of the World (coincidentally, also Mom’s favorite food). We took these small trips, bonded over our shared experiences, and made the most of our little adventures. And then, just like that, I was left with her house, her affairs to get in order, bills, a funeral to plan and a cloying feeling of loneliness.
Even so, a few months after her death, things began to settle slightly. With the funeral over and her finances put in order, my immediate responsibilities were dwindling. I noticed that having a to-do list helped divert my attention, even amidst my grief. But what was I supposed to do once I had checked everything off and was left only with my brand-new diploma and a heart so heavy it felt made of lead? I tried to fill my newly empty schedule with familiarity in order to find some semblance of normalcy. I cooked some of Mom’s favorite dishes, but none of them ever tasted the way she made them. I watched our favorite movies, but my solo laughter bounced off the walls of our now much emptier house, and my chuckles often turned into tears. I was stuck in a rut, to say the least.
It was at this low, and on a particularly dreary suburban morning, that I remember realizing I had to make a change. I had been watching some talk show to pass the night hours because sleep had not been coming easily. In this particular moment, I was becoming far too emotionally invested in a woman’s quest to find the paternity of her son when a commercial came on. It was advertising travel within the state of California. I smiled as the camera panned over a familiar backdrop of either Arrowhead or Mammoth, where Mom and I had spent time playing in the snow together. A warm, silly smile spread across my face. But, as quickly as the ad had started, it began to close, and the warmth of my memories rapidly cooled. Then the whiteness of the snow on the screen faded altogether, and a black veil closed around a simple phrase that appeared and read: Go find yourself.
It was in that very moment, in that simple phrase, in those three little words, that I felt a spark. It ignited in me a little glimmer of hope. I found myself repeating the sentence in my head. Go find yourself. In that painful, debilitating time, these words sounded like a message of permission or release. I found myself reflecting, Mom wouldn’t want me to be moping. She wouldn’t want me to keep trying to find her by reliving her life. She would want me to find myself and my own path. So, what does any self-respecting, newly graduated college student do when she feels lost and needs to do some soul searching? She goes to Europe, of course.
Only a few hours later, I had booked a trip to Ireland so I could spend St. Patrick’s Day in the rowdy streets of Dublin. I had stumbled upon an affordable tour for college students offered by a company both Mom and I had formerly worked for. I would be spending two and a half days in Galway and four days in Dublin. This would only be the second flight of my life, and I tried not to be nervous. There was nothing I could or wanted to do about my excitement, though.
A few weeks later, I found myself in the most beautiful place on earth. The rolling, vividly green hills welcomed me warmly from the window of the airplane. The moment I stepped off the massive vehicle, a brisk air hit me. It was cooling and calming and had just the right amount of wind to be exhilarating. I could tell almost instantly that this trip, and any travel I would take here on out, would be defining. I knew I had made the right decision to come.
Over the next several days, we would traipse our way through the countryside, seeing flashes of quaint towns through the windows of our tour bus. We stopped at many, tossing a pint back at quintessential Irish pubs, and shopping for authentic Irish products at the small markets. It was liberating to be wandering around in a new place, and also very eye-opening. I learned a great deal about myself in this foreign environment.
In Ireland, I learned that I had enough gall to do karaoke in a bar full of strangers, even with minimal alcohol in my system. I saw that when I was not being flustered by L.A. traffic, my latent sense of direction could navigate unfamiliar streets quite easily. I witnessed the heights of my own bravery when I got a tattoo the day after St. Patty’s Day in a second-story Dublin tattoo shop. By stepping more than 5,000 miles out of my comfort zone, I discovered an intense passion for travel that I had never acknowledged before. However, it was while I stood on the edge of one of the Cliffs of Moher that I truly saw the big picture. Mother Nature has a way of doing that: putting things in perspective.
Water lapped hungrily at the massive rock formations, and we stood as close to the cliff edge as the high winds would allow. There were tourists all around drinking in the landscape as I was, but I hardly noticed them. I could focus only on the rhythmic waves, powerful winds, gorgeous greenery of the cliffs behind me, and the deep blue of the ocean in front of me. The meditative sounds and stunning scenery captivated me, and then reminded me that there was a much larger system at work than I could ever conceive of.
All we can do is remain open to the adventures that life offers and take leaps of faith in our ability to navigate through them, for it is in those unfamiliar situations that we often learn the most about ourselves.
When I arrived home, it became clear that my adventures had revealed to me a very clear proverbial fork in the road. I had been given two options: 1) stagnate and dwell on the unfairness of life, or 2) use my trials and tribulations as a learning experience. But by propelling myself down the cobblestone streets of Ireland rather than the familiar streets of my neighborhood, I now knew in my heart that my direction, self-image, and life had changed forever.