She lights a candle on a boho rug. Barefoot, we walk onto this page of our lives where our journeys will cross. I load film into my old Nikon camera, she lights her cluster of sage and sets the stones and crystals to begin our discussion about healing, growth and thanks. At this exact moment, the sun shines upon us through the window, and I smile from the heart. Have you ever had a conversation with a stranger and suddenly discover that your journey through life is somehow mirrored in their experiences? Like you were swimming in the ocean of life without knowing that next to you was a synchronized swimmer making the same waves with her movement? This is the feeling I had while speaking with Jeannelle and Priscilla. It reminded me of something my mentor once said, “no matter how hard we try…women grow together.”
I always wanted to create a piece on self-care and love, but my ideas were always gimmicky and impersonal. My circumstances had changed; I changed, and I looked a lot different. For four months, I found myself in the hospital attached to wires pumping chemo into my veins, while I watched the clock enduring hours of pain no human should bear. This memory came back to me as I spoke with Jeannelle, who said something that resonated deeply with me: “Self-care and love are not always bubble baths, pedicures, massages, face masks and candles. They don’t have to be those things. True, these things are great contributors to energy, but at the same time, [self-care and love] are hard and difficult. It’s ugly-crying, and it’s holding yourself accountable for negative behaviors you have that aren’t changing. You have to get to the root of those things and be mindful to grow with better intentions, but it also means loving yourself even when you mess up and fall short. Having compassion and empathy for yourself.” Whew! What a message! As she spoke these words, I got flashbacks of the pain and tears I swallowed in that hospital, but I also remembered how often I would force a smile on my face. All the while, the love I had for myself was shoved out, and there I lie listening to the beep of a machine wondering, “How could I go through this again? How do I face that mirror and still see me? How can I still love me?”
Sitting on a rug, listening to smooth tunes and smelling the tangy scent of sage and herbal candles, my mind drifts back into the present. The shutter on my camera opens and closes as she speaks of her own journey, and I snap photos. Right at this moment, in the simplest of spaces, we are experiencing love by doing the things we love to do. We have moved past self-hate, toxic relationships, bodies that don’t always love us back and scars that have become tattoos of the past. Our stories of growth, love and acceptance mingle in a dance. Jeannelle explains to me that although meditation and journaling are what brought her out of dark spaces, poetry acts as her true stepping stone into and through womanhood. As she flips through her journals, she can see how far she has come, not only as a writer, but as a human. She is a better version of herself, which impacts her relationships, both old and new. Between the pen and paper, there is work, joy, laughter, pain, tears and hours of affirmations. Each stroke of the pen pays homage to her womanhood past, present and future. As I continue to take each shot, I watch as she transforms—her shoulders relax, her smile brightens, her hair falls into place. She is home!
I remember waking up at one point in the hospital, dragging those machines into the small space of a bathroom as my mother slept nearby on a sterile bench. I dragged the body, with which I had become detached, into the mirror to look at what I had become, and suddenly something came over me. I giggled at the young lady laughing back with me in the mirror. She smiled, looking at me with patience and love in her glossy white eyes. “Hey there!” I said. She reminded me of a time seven years prior when I couldn’t walk. I depended on these machines to breathe for me, and relied on my mother to help me stand. “You’ve grown, you’re a fighter, and it shows. I love you for your resilience. Maintain that smile, you look amazing,” I told myself. It’s empowering to realize the things we are supposed to see as flaws, baggage and imperfections are actually the things we can utilize as tools for transformation—our own becoming.
Growth is not just aging or physical change, it’s taking the things we are not comfortable with and honing them into light rather than darkness. Priscila, a hard-of-hearing sculptor, brought this to light for me. We met in her cold studio, full of paintings and sculptures that brought a sense of warmth and closeness to the space. I take out my camera with every intention of grabbing some fire images, but she immediately drew my attention to her current piece, “Letting Go.” I am instantly drawn to the woman as she appears to be floating in a deserted forest. I see myself in the arch of her back, the drape of her arms and the softness of her skin. Priscila tells me how she let herself go into the silence—into her own world. Instead of giving into the fear that many experience after losing their hearing, she, instead, found herself and her art. “When I take off my hearing aids, I’m transformed into my own world. I see and experience things differently, and I saw that this was actually a beautiful thing. I could bring to life a part of the world most people will never get the chance to experience. When I sculpt my figures, I love to highlight their ears, and bring awareness to our world.” The amazing thing about Priscila and her “My Lucky Ears” pieces are that they reflect her own self-acceptance, transformation and growth. The “My Lucky Ears” collection represents 40 years of Priscila’s life experience.
As she paints on the canvas and speaks her piece, I see the love she puts into each stroke, my eyes sway among the streaks of orange, and my heart pumps as I wind the film over and over. Priscila and I align in a way I never could’ve imagined. My journey led me here, as if it wanted me to know that this is just the beginning, and I have years to grow. Here was Priscila, this amazing woman continuing on her path despite what most people would view as a setback. For Priscila, the loss of hearing was the catalyst to move forward. We all have hardship and pain; however, we can decide if we will let them overwhelm us, or if we will use them as fuel to fire us onwards.
Will Smith made a post on Instagram that said, “God placed the best things in life right on the other side of fear.” After the ugly-cry moment, there is clarification. And on the other side of the unknown outcome, there is a blessing waiting to happen. Doubt will come like a storm that strikes out of nowhere, so just remember that love and growth is a never-ending process. Have faith and thank yourself for being the best version of you at this very moment!
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