We all have times of winter, times of complete vulnerability. But I believe those hard, broken times are what create the profound battle scars that make us real.
Experiences that are authentic and that elicit compassion help us to connect with others. It’s the winters that give perspective to the springs. Maybe we should take the veil off and stop hiding our winters.
I was 27 when I had my darkest winter. I stood frozen with my 3 1/2 year-old-daughter in one hand and my 19 month-old-son on my hip. I stared blindly into the future, screaming with no sound. I could not breathe.
My young husband had just exhaled his last. Jon was a third-year medical student at the University of Washington. Wasn't he supposed to be immune from cancer and death? Wasn't that part of the deal, along with the student loans?
It seemed like an ironic, evil joke that was devastatingly not funny. And yet, to be honest, it somehow made sense. That 27 year-old-boy was ready. He was an icon of breathing deeply. He loved and served and cared for people immensely. That boy would be flying high, making it home and breathing free.
But while he was birthed into eternity, I felt claustrophobic and alone. I was suddenly a single mom who was homeless, jobless and breathless.
As the community coordinator of family housing for UW, I lost my home and my job when my husband died. I was not a UW student, so I had to move on.
In the bleakness of that winter, despite being absolutely paralyzed, a voiceless voice from deep inside spoke, comforting me. It told my broken heart to keep beating, and it did. This voiceless voice coaxed me to keep going for the sake of my children and to take the next step forward.
It told me I was not alone.
I numbly put one foot in front of the other, which broke open a new world and a new life. I was asked to come to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Tacoma to develop a program for young adults who wanted to wrestle with life’s big questions. I said yes and immediately enrolled my daughter in Mrs. Breikss’ Montessori classroom at St. Pat’s school. Three weeks later Catherine donned the Irish plaid.
Spring was coming.
On my new journey, teaching my class, I came upon another who breathed deeply. His Irish soul was big enough to hold me and my little ones and the winter we had weathered. Jack Connelly and I took another step forward into a new spring together.
I could inhale into the depths of my being once again. Beauty, color and oxygen came back into my world and into the lives of my two little ones, who became the happy, older siblings to seven more Irish breathers. The dance of the seasons continued.
In the midst of the winter we can’t always see the next step, but we trudge on. I learned that ultimately our brokenness becomes a gift. It’s then we realize our utter need, and in winter’s quiet, we can hear the voiceless voice speak.
Last month, my brother-in-law, Mike, passed away unexpectedly. Mike was a legend in Tacoma. He was a long-haired, soulful-eyed, deep breather. He loved life, art, music, animals and most importantly, people.
We never know at what age that last breath will be. It could be 27, 59 or 100, but on that spring day, I believe our final breath will carry us into the most oxygenated, rejuvenated breathing there is. In fact, I believe we will be one with breath, light and love and the eternal spring.
Until then, as we are all walking each other home, the voiceless voice says just breathe.
Spring is coming.
Angela Connelly of Tacoma is president of the Washington Women's Network. She is one of six reader columnists who write weekly for this page. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org