The other day I found myself driving behind a mobile memorial. It was a Honda Civic with a large motorcycle shaped cling'em to the back windshield that said In Memory of Robbie, who apparently died in 2006. I know a lot of people do this, but I've honestly never really understood it. Why does it make someone feel better to broadcast their pain on the rear windshield of their car? I have searched all the dusty corners of my brain for some sort of rationalization that makes sense as to why someone would feel compelled to do this, and I've always come up with "Well...it's not my car, so what do I care what they do?" But on this day, the memorial cling'em got me to thinking...and less than a mile later I had mind bloggled.
Over the years, I have been given lots of advice. Most of it I never follow, because usually one of two things happens. I'm either A. Way too stubborn to listen to anyone else, or B. people give stupid advice.
Example for Part A: "Don't get married. You deserve better." Need I say more?
Example for Part B: (After I had a miscarriage) "It's for the best. That child wouldn't have been right." Seriously? That's your pathetic attempt at consolation? Could you please not talk to me anymore? Ever.
But during the course of the last 29 years, there have been three pieces of advice that have stuck with me. The first came from the mouth of a woman that I worked with at a furniture store. She was older, overweight, and jolly. She wore her glasses on a chain around her neck, and I adored her. It was just prior to my marriage to Ex, and she pulled me aside to tell me the one thing that she had learned over the course of marriage, divorce, and marriage. She sat with me one afternoon on a viciously overpriced tufted sofa and said, "You will be in the mood to love at different times. That needs to be ok." She went on to clarify that she wasn't talking about sex, rather the mindset of loving someone. It was a simple piece of advice, but it carved out a place in my memory bank, because for the first time I processed the concept that loving wasn't about a feeling but an action. Over the years, this piece of wisdom has made more sense to me as my perspective on love has shifted and evolved. I get what she was trying to tell me now. Love fits differently from day to day. Some days it's a pair of ill fitting jeans, and some days it's a pair of flannel pajama pants. But each day you put it on one leg at a time and wear it the best way you know how.
The second piece of advice was given to me in a moment after my divorce from Ex. I was struggling with figuring out my new identity as a young, single, christian woman. It was difficult for me to mediate the bickering feud between "good christian" and "single horny female." Within the safety of friendships that left no room for judgement (which are few and far between, might I add) I bared all and shared the frustrating fact that I wanted to be a woman who could love God and have sex at the same time! For a while I navigated these muddy waters fairly easily by talking about dating with these "safe friends" and then going to church and worshipping God like a good little girl on Sunday mornings. It worked pretty well for awhile until the leader of the praise and worship team asked all of the team members to sign a "covenant." I knew as soon as he pulled out the c word I was in trouble. It was pretty much like I expected. Don't wear revealing clothing. Don't show up late to practice. Don't speak ill of church members. And then the scarlet A....Single members will not have sexual relations. Oh. Shit. I struggled for a full week about signing this covenant, because I didn't want to sign something knowing I was going against it. But I didn't want to step down either, because I loved singing on the praise team. The little angel and little devil argued loudly in my mind all week long, until finally one night I sat with my sister and my aunt at my grandmother's table and shared this struggle that had hounded me like a hungry dog for days. I expected a long drawn out discussion, something to assuage my fears or give me clarity on the issue. I needed a long intense discussion about the subject. And my aunt looked at me and said, "Just sign it and do whatever you want." Simple as that. And while many would argue that she was encouraging me to compromise my integrity, what I heard her say was "You are in charge of you." Period. It was the first time anyone had given me permission to think for myself and make my own rules. If I wanted to love God and date I could! If I wanted to worship in peace I could! And if I chose not to piss away my god given sexual peak on years of celibacy, it was MY decision and no one else's! And to this day, whenever life challenges me to own a choice that goes against my upbringing or social acceptance in general, I hear her voice in my head saying, "Just sign it and do whatever you want." And then, to the general fear and chagrin of all of those that love me....I go out and think for myself.
This last piece of advice is the oldest. It dates back to my high school days. I was struggling with feeling lonely and out of place, and as usual I poured my feelings out to my mentor who had heard all of my struggles and self doubts. And in the middle of vomiting up my emotional confusion, I realized I was pouring this grief onto a woman who was undergoing treatment for a recurrence of breast cancer. And in that moment it hit me like a ton of bricks that I was the most selfish human being on the planet. I immediately groveled at her feet for forgiveness. "Here you are dealing with cancer, and I'm whining to you because I'm lonely!?!?! I'm so sorry!" And this amazing woman took her hand and tilted my face up to look at hers, and said, "If it's a big deal to you, then it's a big deal." Her selflessness was almost as beautiful as she was, and this one sentence has made its home in my soul. It has since become part of my mission in working in the field of counseling, because no matter how trivial it sounds when it spills from your lips, if it's a big deal to you, then it's a big deal.
While driving down the street the other day, behind the mobile memorial, I was reminded of this piece of wisdom, given to my by my precious friend. Suddenly, the need for people to plaster their pain on the rear windshield of their car made perfect sense to me. Because it's not just a memorial cling'em to them. It's a reminder, every time they see their car, that there was someone in their life that took up part of their space and part of their being, and their absence has left a hole so big that it's necessary in their hearts to make other people, people driving to Wal Mart, or people on their way to the gas station, aware of the fact that yes, someone is missing.
I got it, because of a pine cone. E gave it to me in the parking lot of daycare one day. He "found" it for me. And we took great care to find the perfect home for it in my car. He gave it to me, because in that moment, he thought I was a pine cone kind of special. Much like I always did with the memorial window cling'ems, there are probably a lot of people that wander past my car, see a random pine cone baking on the dash and think "Why on earth would anyone do that?"
And about 15 years after she first said it, and 6 years after she died, I still rely on her wisdom.
If it's a big deal to you, then it's a big deal. Period.
In other words...You Matter.