I believe that each of us, in our reflective moments, has considered events in our past that changed us forever. When I was in my mid twenties, someone challenged me to write down as many significant life experiences as I could remember. The challenger also directed me to think back as far as I could in my evaluation and recording of my life experiences. At that time, my list included the onsets of family illnesses and a few times when some grown folks did things that left me to manage some emotional scars. That exercise made me cognizant of the overwhelming nature of chaos on the human mind and body. I had gotten so accustomed to living in chaos that chaos felt normal. Living in a chaotic state surprisingly begged me to loiter in the madness. Contentment, even if perceived, made finding the exit more challenging. Escaping the chaos seemed as impossible as moving through a house of mirrors without a misstep. The chaos never felt comfortable in a relaxed, heart-warming sort of way. I did, however, find comfort in learning that the same combination of troubles didn’t last always and that I was not likely to experience the same combination of craziness again.
Now, if I look back over the last twenty to twenty-five years of my life, my list of life altering events would include moves, children, the deaths of Mama, Daddy, and Butch, a full time job, and my empty-nester life in the desert. Once again, the collective force of individual major life changing events felt like chaos. Last spring, I told a friend that my life was “exhausting.” Exhaustion came when the individual challenges missed the memo proclaiming that each challenge must rise up one at a time. There were times over the last twenty-five years that I cussed the instants that the layering of the life changing events occurred. This week I thought about the headshaking moment when my father died three weeks after my second child was born and about three months after my husband lost his job in a city we had just moved to about four months prior so that he could accept the job he lost. Well, I survived and my hair grew back in time for my subsequent chaotic cycles.
The weight of the layered issues convinced me that there was a higher power at work in my life guiding me through the madness. Although I’ve been told by folks that they don’t believe in a higher power, it has been my experience that my level of chaos had me so exhausted at times that I couldn’t see my way out with my natural eyes or by my own strength. I was in a place that Naida Parson called something like having a need that “only God can fix” at a time when “you can’t afford to fail.” Whether or not your beliefs align with mine, I learned a method to get myself and others out of the maddening chaos.
The way out always involved my village. My village always included folks who could help me breath and think. The villagers always sifted out the emotion. The villagers redirected me to the facts and the simple truths. The villagers delivered the the facts and truths then guided me into a calm place where I had enough peace and quiet to think. In that space, I developed a plan to address each challenge. Finally, the villagers remained on call to help me process my checklist and/or get me back on task when I strayed.
In my work, I take pride in my role as villager for young people. I encourage them to use their challenges to catapult them into a better place. I sit with them and engage in dialogue intended to motivate them to keep thinking beyond their challenges. I impress upon them the need to seek out a village and then employ the willing villagers to coach them and cheer them through their life changing moments. I hope my audience will do the same. Chaos doesn’t have to be your normal and you don’t have to work through the mess alone.