I traveled back in time and found a present from the past.
By Dulce Zamora
I found an old high school journal. It’s a peek into my life as an eighteen year old, navigating the joys and angst of school, friendships, and college applications. The entries brought me back to a time when I felt like a failure. Over and over again, I mentioned how terrible I was at balancing school, a part-time job and extracurricular activities. I also felt like a neglectful family member and friend because I was too busy and had goals that were sometimes different from my loved ones.
Back then, I put on a happy face, ashamed and afraid of disappointing people. However, my speech and drama teacher, Ms. Vlahos, noticed my despair and got me to open up. After I shared my woes, she gave me a big hug, and shared a Polynesian adage, “Standing on a whale, fishing for minnows.”
She said I already had great wealth inside me ( the whale), that I was already an accomplished person, well loved by people around me.
“Just be you,” Ms. Vlahos advised. “Be authentic.”
Standing on a whale, fishing for minnows.– Polynesian Proverb
She was right. When I look back at those years, I remember my friendships with fondness. I also ended up graduating second in my class, and I got into a great university.
As I read this part of my journal, penned some three decades ago, I felt like Ms. Vlahos was in the room with me again, even though she passed away in 2013. Her message of self-love and acceptance pierced through the veneer of my now-busy life as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, writer, community member, and all the roles that I now hold in the world.
These days, I’ve been feeling like I need to do more, stay up more, and be more because I am failing miserably at all of my jobs: I don’t spend enough quality time with my husband because I’m too busy. I don’t provide enough outdoor experiences for my girls. I am not writing my books fast enough. I can’t always be there for family and friends because I live too far away. I’m not working out enough. I’m not doing enough to help people in need and combat climate change. Yada, yada, yada.
Ms. Vlahos’ words and kindness wash over me, once again reminding me to appreciate the bounty in my life. So many times I — we — forget that.
We are enough. Just the way we are.
I get that it’s hard to believe we are enough when our to-do lists never seem to let up. When we surrender to the idea of being enough, though, I find we can be present. We lose niggling thoughts about what we have yet to accomplish. Won’t our present thoughts and actions help determine the future anyway?
If I could talk to my eighteen-year-old self, I’d say: You’re doing okay. Keep going. You got this. Just be yourself. You are enough.
In turn, my teenage self would say to me: You should know. Learn from my example.
This imaginary dialogue is not only meaningful, it also reminds me of the conversations Ms. Vlahos would have with the various characters she made up in class. It was one of her funny schticks, but actually, it was brilliant. We all have different sides to us and they’re constantly vying for our attention.
Everyone is familiar with the angel over one shoulder, and the devil on the other. I like to think we all have our light and dark sides. Our darkness tries to question, shame and overwhelm us. Our light is pure, natural, and unpretentious. Of course there are also shades of gray, because life is complicated like that. But, when we stop clinging to the grip of have-to-be and must-be (ahem, perfection) we just are… enough.
This holiday season, this coming new year, I am giving myself the gift of enough. It’s listening to my authentic voice, doing things that resonate with me, and not overly judging myself for it. And when the doubts come in, I’ll tell myself to keep going.
I wish I could thank Ms. Vlahos for her continued guidance. This woman spoke with her authentic voice. Her light radiates even in death. She also always said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”
To that, I would add, “It’s not too late to have a happy present either.”
© 2019 Windswept Wildflower