Support Stories continues with Kelly Gill's contribution - a beautiful reminder of the strength found in letting go (and also a reminder of Love, of course!).
You can read previous years' stories by clicking on the image or link above!
Let Go. I'll Catch You.
When I first started thinking about the stories from my life that required my own gathering of inner strength, I thought of several, but nothing seemed to really hit home as the thing I should write about. That’s when confusion and doubt set up shop inside my mind. I spent the next two days struggling for some clarity. Finally, I just told myself to stop and let it go for a while.
Aha! That’s it. Just let go.}
When I was a child, around nine years old, I used to go camping with my dad and stepmother. They had a permanent spot at a campground with a camper there year-round. The camper sat about twenty feet from and fifteen feet above a great little creek/river. Every year around early May we’d go out to the campsite to set things up for the coming camping season. And every year, even though the spring-fed river was cold and the water was still a little high from the tail end of the spring flooding, I would beg to go swimming.
Me: Daddy, I wanna get in the water.
Dad: No, it’s too cold and the water’s still a little too high.
Me: But Daddy, the water’s not THAT cold, and I won’t go out into the strong current. …I can do it.
My father was a great dad. He rarely gave “parental advice”: meaning, he rarely told me what I should or shouldn’t do. Instead, he believed that each person had their own skills and likes. And because of their uniqueness, they had to experience life in their own way, learning what worked and didn’t work for them. So, on that day years ago, he gave me permission to get in the water and learn for myself whether or not the water was too cold and too high for me.
The moment my toes hit the water, the cold rushed through my feet and up my legs. Regardless of the slight shock to my system, I wasn’t deterred, so I waded out a little further with the water coming up to my upper thighs. I shivered for a few minutes before I finally numbed a little to the temperature; then I got bold.
When I waded out just a tad bit further, the water now at waist level, my feet slipped out from under me. Quickly, I regained my footing. However a few minutes later, I wasn’t so quick-footed.
When I waded out just a couple steps more – as a child, I always pushed my luck – the swift, high-water-current grabbed my tiny nine-year-old-frame and off I went downstream.
The current was wild. Quickly, I had moved from a shallow spot in the river to a point where the water would’ve been over my head even when the river level was normal. I flailed my arms, splashing water in my face, trying to gain control of my body and the river. I was scared. I knew this river. I knew every twist and turn. I knew where each log and rock was positioned. And I knew that I was headed straight toward a section of the river that hid, underneath its surface, large boulder-sized rocks that would (I feared) break my little body if I were to hit them with the force with which the current was pushing me.
I screamed for my father, “Daddy, help me!”
As I looked toward the bank, still flailing and fighting the current, I saw my father slowly walking along the fifteen foot high riverbank. I thought, “Why is he walking. Run, Daddy!” I screamed for him again. At his walking pace, I feared he wouldn’t make it to the inlet that was about eighty feet ahead in time to catch me and pull me out.
I panicked. I fought the current. I used my arms and legs to try to control my position, to control my direction. The river was raging. I was fighting. Nothing was working. I was in the boulder-filled section of the river and I had no control over what was happening to me. I was going to hit a rock. I was going to get hurt. I flailed harder, trying to gain control, as the bank seemed to speed by me. The river was winning.
Again, I looked toward the bank, toward my dad. I cried out, “Daddy!” Still, he walked along the bank toward the inlet – he wasn’t panicked.
I’m not sure why. Maybe his lack of panic gave me the strength to release my panic. But for whatever reason, l let go. I let go of my fear. I let go of my need or desire to control the river, to control what was happening to me, and I decided to have faith. I decided to have faith that he would make it to that inlet in time and he would catch me.
The moment I let go, everything slowed. The current stopped raging. The riverbank stopped speeding by. And I noticed that I wasn’t moving as fast downstream as I’d thought. I could see down through the surface of the water. The boulders hidden beneath – the ones I’d been so afraid of – were too far below me to cause me any harm. I felt the gentle bob of the current. And I discovered that I was actually on a rather calm little ride downstream.
Then, I easily turned my body, facing downstream, and I saw my father waist deep in the river. His arms stretched out to catch me. His blue eyes fixed on mine.
A few seconds later, when he caught me in his arms, his eyes never having left mine as I slowly floated toward him, I wrapped my arms and legs around him. He comfortingly carried me out of the water and back to camp. He never said one word about being right about the water being too cold or too high for me. He just let me learn.
Twenty years later…
Just after Thanksgiving, my father was diagnosed with liver cancer. He didn’t tell the family until after the holidays – he didn’t want to ruin our holiday season.
In February, he went into the hospital to have a portion of his liver removed in hopes that it would give him a little more time. The surgery wasn’t successful.
In some crazy miscommunication-snafu, immediately after his surgery, his surgeon went on vacation and his regular doctor was also unavailable. Both doctors thought the other doctor was going to keep check on my dad. With both of them gone, no one came to speak with my father about his surgery or about his prognosis.
For almost two days, nurses came and went, none of them having an answer for my dad’s one question: how much time do I have left?
Finally, the Head of Oncology happened to stop by my dad’s room while he was taking a new resident on informal rounds. My dad asked the doctor his question: how much time do I have left? The doctor told my dad that he couldn’t tell him anything because he wasn’t familiar with my dad’s case. Internally, I called bullshit.
When the doctor left my dad’s room, I thought for a moment. I knew that my family disliked the fact that I would ask a question that was uncomfortable. I seemed to have a knack for talking about the big pink elephant in the room when everyone else was (un)successfully ignoring it. I also knew they wouldn’t want me rocking the boat. They wouldn’t want me making waves, causing a scene by asking a question. But I also saw the confusion, fear and stress my father was experiencing. He just wanted to know how much longer he had to live. Hell, if I were him, I would’ve wanted to know too.
So I made up my mind. I let go of the people-pleaser inside me. The part that worried what my family thought about me or my need to know. I let go of all the I-Should-Voices inside me. The ones telling me I should behave; I should be quiet; I should just wait it out, because someone will come along; I should let someone older, someone more responsible, handle this.
I let all that go, because in that moment, it was my turn to catch my dad. It was my turn to wade waist deep into a cold river and reach out for him.
When I walked out of my dad’s hospital room, determined to find that doctor and get some kind of answer from him, I found the doctor and his resident starting to leave the room next door. I positioned myself in the doorway, one foot braced against each side of the frame with my arms crossed, trying to look formidable.
Head of Oncology: “Excuse me. We’d like to walk by.”
Me: “Yeah, sorry about this. …My dad’s doctors aren’t available, and he keeps asking how long he has to live. Could you look at his paperwork and talk with him?
H.o.O.: I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with your father’s case, so it’s impossible for me to say.
Me: (a little angry at this point) You’re a doctor, right? ...Well, three months ago my dad’s tumor was the size of a golf ball. Today, it’s the size of my fist. With that growth rate, would you guess he had a year?
H.o.O.: (not even a flitch of expression)
Me: Six months?
The doctors gave each other a knowing look. I had my answer.
I thanked the doctors and walked back to my dad’s room.
Gently, I sat down on the edge of my dad’s bed – my family had all gone down the hall to the lounge. I eased his hand, callused from forty years of carpentry work, into mine; he opened his eyes. I looked into his bright blue eyes, just as I had the day he caught me in the river, and I softly said, “Dad. I talked to the doctor who was just in here. I have an answer to your question.”
For the next few minutes I recounted every word and glance the doctors and I had exchanged. Then I gently said, “So…it’s just a guess…but you have, maybe, six months to live.”
My dad never took his eyes off mine. Neither of us cried. We simply held each other with our eyes in a tight, warm embrace. Then, after a minute or so, he thanked me and closed his eyes to rest, but he held on to my hand. He seemed comforted.
My dad died just a few days shy of six months from the day we had this conversation.
I can’t tell you how you gain your inner strength. I can only tell you how I gain mine. And from all my reflection over the times in my life that I’ve needed to gain my inner strength, one common thread has emerged: letting go. Letting go of my fear. Letting go of the need for control: of others, of myself, or of the situation. The moment that I’ve said it is what it is and let go, riding the current, having faith that someone will catch me, even if that someone has been me, I’ve had strength.}
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After college, I plan to move to sunny southern California where I hope to continue public speaking on the subjects of LGBT and cultural diversity issues while I earn my life coaching certification.
Oh, and I’m training for my first 5K in April.
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