I recently returned from a dream vacation in St. Barth's. It was a week-long celebration of one of our dearest friend's 50th birthday in an incredible setting, with an amazing group of people. We spent our time exploring beaches, enjoying lavish lunches, drinking champagne by the pool, and dining in some of the most amazing restaurants I've ever been to. All of this was the backdrop to what was really going on, which was solidifying bonds of friendship that will last the rest of our lives. We, laughed, listened, counseled, rejoiced, and even danced on tables in crazy costumes. It was a celebration of life, and it got me thinking of something that's been on my mind as I've been writing this blog for women my age... rebuilding.
Social media would have everyone believe that my life is one big party of fun and travel, and that's what it's kind of meant to be. A showcase of joyful, fabulous snapshots of life for others to observe. What's posted are beautifully edited pictures that don't make me look too bloated or too wrinkled, and to the observer or follower who doesn't know my story, they would be led to believe that my entire life has been this path of living amazingly. We all know that's a bunch of B.S. The reality is that yes, I am incredibly blessed and have everything to be thankful for, but I've also suffered extreme loss, endured gut-wrenching blows in my life, and what I have now is a result of constant rebuilding, re-imagining, down-in-the-trenches-hard work and a bucket full of faith.
As we caroused through the island of St. Barth's there were reminders of the destruction that hurricane Irma caused. Some of the most famous hotels and landmarks, like Eden Rock and Isle de France were terribly damaged, homes were destroyed, businesses closed, shorelines were completely changed... we even witnessed a hot tub that had been whipped out of it's original location to end up on a remote cliff.. The storm caused massive damage and changed the lives of thousands of people. Still, I couldn't help but notice how hard everyone was working to maintain the St. Barth's spirit, the vibe, the attitude that they were going to make things even more amazing, now that they were in the rebuilding process, and I couldn't stop thinking of the metaphor I was using to compare it to my story.
My life is one big story of rebuilding. When I was 32, I was three weeks from giving birth and my baby died. There are no words to describe the pain and devastation I felt. I was shattered and destroyed. Subsequently my marriage fell apart. I was a broken human, and I wasn't emotionally prepared for that type of pain. At the same time, the man that I would eventually marry was hit by a drunk driver and his 13-year-old niece and her friend were killed instantly. His other niece was thrown onto on-coming traffic and he kept her alive until the paramedics could take over. We were friends at the time, and because of the proximity of tragic events we became each other's confidants, counselors, and eventually fell in love as we were both in desperate need of finding a way to lift each other out of the depths of unrelenting sorrow. Not the easiest way to begin a relationship, but we were both determined to survive.
It took years to navigate through that pain, and looking back I know I must have been in a state of deep depression. Still, I had a career as a teacher, I was living overseas, and I had an amazing tribe of friends and family who huddled around me and shielded me as best they could with love and tenderness. I don't know if I could have made it out of my state of despair without those hands holding my hands along the way, and I'll be forever grateful for their love. I also knew I had to rebuild. I had to reinvent my life, re-establish who I was, and focus on my new reality. It was the most painful period of my life. I cried a lot. I would question why the universe put me in this position. I would beg the universe for help. I was angry. I agonized during that period of time in my life, but I knew I couldn't let my current station be the sum of me, or the end of my story. Rebuilding can be some seriously tough shit, but honestly, there isn't an alternative option.
It took two years to feel strong again, to feel like there was a light at the end of the tunnel, at least for me emotionally. I dove into a creative musical project, I was dedicated to my job, I was finding activities that brought me joy and I was feeling strong again. I was coming out of the storm, better than I had ever imagined. I was in a good place, I knew I deserved happiness, love, freedom to be myself, and to live my life the way I designed it. I was laying my new foundation and reinventing me, and I was bound and determined to create an amazing life. A year later I married that man who helped me through my sorrow, the following year we had our first child and then two years after, our second. The new life that I had dreamed about was finally real. My shoreline was completely changed.
That's not nearly the end of my story. There are actually several crazy chapters after all of this, but my point is simply that life can throw curve balls which can smack us right in the face, leveling us to the ground. We all have back stories and a lot of them aren't pretty. We can experience our own personal Irma's and we have to remember that it is our perspective and our spirit that can be what's at the heart of making it out from under the rubble or what keeps us stuck under the fallen palm tree for years.
Experiencing St. Barth's after the destruction of Hurricane Irma was a reminder of the power of pushing forward. Although there were remnants of the force of Irma's path, the spirit of rebuilding was ever-present and the determination of the island to prevail surrounded us. It was a reminder of the special situation I was in. I was atop a cliff, in a stunning home, with the love of my life, and the most incredible friends, celebrating on a tropical island. It was proof that hope, gratitude, and the knowledge that nothing is permanent is paramount to the rebuilding process.
Here's to never giving up, and to new shorelines.