Longings and callings, learnings, insights, and grace: the stories that shaped me
Longings and callings, learnings, insights, and grace: the stories that shaped me
Where Do I Belong?
"You use too big of words."
I felt flattered that the most popular girl in school had come to my house to wish me well on my sick day. But no. She had come to deliver a list of complaints about me gathered by the 8th grade girls.
It was hard always being the new girl, with the whole school sizing me up. Until recently, we moved every couple of years, often in the middle of the school year. But books – words – were my constant friends.
I tried being cool like the popular girls – ironic, mocking, careless. Even as I heard list of my faults that day, I was ready to keep trying. But that awkward sentence – “You use too big of words” – broke my reverie.
The popular girls were suddenly foolish to me, and I was foolish for not seeing that until now. I wasn’t cool. I was earnest. I was not going to give up my most steadfast friends: words and the worlds they opened to me.
I asked her to leave. Suddenly fitting in didn’t seem so important. I knew where I belonged: to myself and to words.
Winter morning in a fluorescent-lit high school classroom. Radiator pipes clang and scent the air with the tang of old iron. Seated behind a massive teacher’s desk, leaning forward on his elbows, is Mr. Schanou. His blue eyes peer at us above readers, and a thick book, its binding relaxed from use, is spread in front of him. He is reading a poem aloud in his smoky tenor.
English had always been fun for me, but Mr. Schanou showed me that it was meaningful, too. “We study literature,” he told us, “to know what it means to be human.” Then he introduced us to the texts – Shakespeare, Dickinson, Eliot – that proved it. I was hooked, and I was good. All the kids in our class were smart, but in this class, I had a penetration and agility that snapped their heads. (Is this how athletes feel?)
But this poem is hard. We are in groups of two to analyze it. I raise my hand.
“I don’t get it,” I whine.
“Look at the imagery.” He says. “What do you see?”
“I don’t know!” I insist.
“You’re not looking.” He says. “Look.”
So, I look: “As virtuous men pass mildly away, and whisper to their souls to go. . . “ Oh. I do know. It’s a deathbed scene, a solemn, sacred moment. I soften toward the poem, and it opens itself to me.
I feel light-headed, like the top of my head is going to come off. In my mind’s eye I see a sun rising: my life’s purpose, my first calling, is dawning. I will study poetry and learn what it means to be human.
I study in France for a semester during college, and upon graduation, become a Naval officer. I am sent to Japan. A stranger three times over, I learn to read the signs in strange lands – foreign countries and the foreign culture of the military.
One day at lunch another Naval officer catches my eye. We smile at each other. The next day we bump into each other at work, and he opens a door for me. “I’m Guy Evans,” he says, and my whole body hums. Of course, you are, I think. I am exhilarated but also puzzled, as if he has reminded me of something I’d forgotten. But what?
Two weeks later, on our first date, I remember: it’s a memory of me at ten years old, sitting in my bedroom and wondering for the first time about the person I would marry. Who was he? How would I recognize him?
Oh. I sit back with the relief of a question answered, and joy spreads through me like honey. It’s you. You’re the one.
My knowledge is a treasure I am bursting to share. The next day he gives me my opening when he mentions marriage. I put myself in his arms, look into his eyes, and state, “I don’t know how, but I know we’re going to marry.”
His face goes soft, and he says, “I don’t know how, but I know I love you.” I search his eyes for signs of where he came from. He presses his fingers into my arms to make sure I’m real. Neither of us can stop smiling.
Six months later we are married.
Learning to Birth
After four years, I resign my commission and take up my career in English with a Master’s degree and a dream teaching job.
Then one day at a school assembly, I notice the parents of the children who are up on stage. They are radiant with love, and I swoon. A window opens up in my heart: a new calling, motherhood.
Three years later, I am in labor with our first child. I have prepared for a natural birth – I’m so curious about this elemental experience. At first the waves of contractions lap at my ankles, but I feel the tide coming in. The undertow pulls, and I brace myself for the next wave. It knocks me off my feet and tumbles me. When it finally passes, I am gasping. I can’t do this!
No, not like that you can’t, my intuition whispers. Breathe and relax instead.
I do as I’m told. When the next contraction begins to pull, I close my eyes and see the wave approaching as a swell – my brother and I played in the ocean as children. With slow, deep breaths, I swim toward the swell. Body loose and limp, I allow it to lift me and set me down again, without pain.
This I can do.
All day I swim and am deposited 12 hours later on the shore of motherhood. Along with my baby daughter, I, too, am new-born: a woman who has discovered her own strength, and who will never, ever forget the power of breath and no resistance.
Learning to Listen
I used to be so good at life, but now – despite the fact that my daughter is somehow thriving – I feel I’m failing. Why does she not eat and sleep the way she’s supposed to? Why do I get so little done? Why do I feel always on the back foot?
My bewilderment resolves into clarity one morning when my daughter is ten months old. I am trying to feed her, but she won’t let me. She is pressing her lips together and turning her head away from the spoon that chases her mouth with increasing agitation. In a moment of grace, I see myself: a grown woman fighting with her beloved baby. I lay down my weapon (the spoon), sit back, and relax. “It’s okay, sweetie,” I say. “I know you’ll eat when you’re hungry. I trust you.” And she looks right into my eyes and gives me (I swear) a knowing smile. Then she picks up the spoon and feeds herself. The. Whole. Bowl. Of cereal.
Oh. She wasn’t misbehaving. She was communicating. Listen. She is not an extension of you. She is her own person. Trust. At last I find my footing: relaxed, breathing, and strong once more.
Weaving the Strands Together
“Well, someone’s got to spread the word.” Guy and I are in a HypnoBirthing refresher class, preparing for the birth of our second child, and this is what our teacher says about why she does birth education. A chord deep within me is struck, and I feel a new calling resonate in my body.
I certify in HypnoBirthing and start teaching it when my children are two and four. I love it. I help clients have great births. Pretty quickly, though, I notice something: no matter their birth experience, a lot of new moms struggle. For years I wondered how to help young parents find their footing faster than I did.
Then one day my O magazine comes in the mail. I race inside with it, giddy to read my favorite column, by Martha Beck, the life coach. I finish it and say, “I just want to be Martha Beck.” I overhear myself and think, I’ll bet she trains life coaches. A quick internet search confirms it. Immediately I feel in my body the peace of an answer at last: This is how I will help.
Poetry, marriage, birth, motherhood, and teaching seemed disparate, but life coaching combined them all and revealed a firmness to my way. Each had led me progressively deeper – from studying love to living it, in all its joyful, messy, and demanding expressions – and alchemized the ordinary into something precious.
Though life coaching I can help you, too, take the raw materials of your life and turn them into treasure.
Each of the stories I’ve shared here highlights the discovery of insight. Insight leads to the next right step. Take enough next-right-steps, and you have evolution. That’s the way.
What I’ve learned about wayfinding is that you’re never as lost as you think you are! But if you think you could benefit from an experienced guide to travel with, contact me.
Allison is a Martha Beck Certified Life Coach with an MA in English literature from George Mason University and undergraduate degrees in English and French from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her work has been featured in elephant journal, Thrive Global, and Pathways magazine. In addition to a private practice, she is an associate of Fruehling Coaching & Facilitation. She lives in Omaha with the people who inspire her work: her husband, daughter, and son.