My life has been filled with difficulties that sent me in search of inner peace. I was an observant and sensitive child. I noticed when things were amiss around me even though adults back then did not share their concerns with children. I would witness the whispering and catch snatches of conversations. I was able to put together clues that things were not quite right. I suppose I have always been aware of tension and, even as a little one, I wanted to help to alleviate it.
When I was about four years old I discovered that my favorite uncle had cancer. He was very honest about his condition and the prognosis for his future. He spoke to me about it as though I was much older. Instead of frightening me, his honesty was comforting. I also learned that he had made peace with his situation. His condition became dire when I was five. He came to the Veterans Hospital in Houston along with my aunt who was many months pregnant with their first child. I immediately knew what was happening even though my elders gave me no explanations about their frenzy.
There was much upheaval in our home as my father noticeably grieved for his best friend and my mother cared for my newborn baby brother. With so much chaos on the horizon my family decided to enroll me in school. Without warning I suddenly became a first grader in a world for which nobody had prepared me. It was left to a classmate named Virginia and an exceptional teacher to soothe my anxieties as I secretly worried that my uncle’s time was coming to a close. When later that year he died, I clutched the special times that he and I had shared.
It was my first real experience with death and I suffered it alone because the adults did not realize the depth of my understanding and my feelings. I comforted myself by remembering our times together and by cherishing the gift of honesty that he had given me. Somehow he knew how much I loved him and how hurt I would be if I did not know why he had died. Because of his loving concern for me I was able to quietly handle my grief.
I also knew how shattered my father was. I knew that he was trying to come to grips with his loss, but he never spoke of it to me. Instead he often invited me to accompany him on little excursions around town where we did little more than sit quietly with each other. In the year before Daddy died he took me fishing several times. I physically felt him relax as he baited the hook and dropped his line into the water. I sat beside him being ever so quiet lest even a tiny sound might scare the fish away. I heard my father’s breathing and I felt a special kinship with him in those moments. I sensed that I understood him and that he understood me. Just sitting together was the panacea that began to heal us both.
When my father died the adults once again believed that at eight years old I was far too young to conceive of what had happened. They did not realize how deeply the loss of my father impacted me. I felt as though he and I had shared a secret connection with those rides in the car and the fishing expeditions. I believed in heaven and an afterlife, so I was happy that he would see my uncle again even as I felt an obligation to help my mother and brothers through our family sorrow. My emotions were conflicted in a way that stole my courage, but no my grit.
I went through a time feeling like a shadow of myself. I did not want to bother my mother with any troubles. Instead I found comfort and peace being with my grandmother Minnie. She spoke openly of my father, telling me what he was like as a boy. She smiled and cried at the same time as she spoke of what a good son he had been. She gave me a tattered story book that had once been his. She filled in the gaps of my father’s story that I needed to hear. We connected in a magical way.
I was fifteen when my grandmother died. It was yet another blow to my heart. That is when my grandpa stepped in to become my source of strength and comfort. He was a survivor whose life had been punctuated with even greater loss than mine. His mother died in childbirth. The grandmother who raised him died when he was thirteen. The uncle who became his guardian died when he was twenty one. He had lost his only son and then the love of his life. Somehow he remained strong through it all, but he never tried to cover the depth of his feelings. He became my refuge whenever I needed a place to find inner peace. He delivered that solace every single time, even when I did not openly ask for it.
I am a religious person and I have daily conversations with God, but sometimes I find the need to connect with another human on a very personal and spiritual way. It has been my method for dealing with whatever challenges I have had to face. Somehow God has always placed people in my path with who seem to understand me and love me even when I am not so lovable. Ultimately that person became my husband, a man who was taught by his own mother and father to be infinitely patient and kind.
I have been blessed at various times with friends like Virginia who accept me and my thoughts and beliefs without judgement. They too have provided me with the inner peace that I need to struggle through the difficult times. Sometimes they come and go and other times they become lifelong friends. They must surely know who they are because I have done my best to let them know how much they mean to me. Attempting to name them would be difficult because I might inadvertently forget someone who has a special place in my heart.
My inner peace is the product of understanding, honesty and love from many who have touched my heart at the very moments when I most needed them. Even without exchanging words I felt a calmness arise in my soul just being present with them and long after they are gone I still remember.