For most of my growing up years I thought I was an ugly duckling. I hated my curly hair which stylists seemed confused by, my mom dressed me funny, and I, quite honestly, preferred my brother’s hand me downs because they hid my skinny torso nicely. I always felt awkward and was excruciatingly shy. Other girls at school seemed pretty to me and to the boys too who showed a complete disinterest in me. I had male friends as the school years went by but still I watched the other girls put on makeup and bat their lashes just so until the boys swarmed around them like bees on a flower on a hot summer day. I was not allowed makeup which I did not really like anyway. The tomboy in me would rather be climbing a tree or riding my bike than putting on a dress and acting all girly. That eventually changed too. I have learned how to flutter my lashes, flash my smile, hold my own conversationally, slip into a little black dress with heels, and even flirt on occasion. The ugly duckling finally transformed into a swan.
At the same time, I never felt really smart at school. I had been placed in the dumb class when I entered school due to a speech impediment. That label got stuck in my psyche for 45 years. When I finally mustered up the courage to return to university at age 40, I loved academics and graduated at the top of my class. I was stunned at the outcome and could hardly believe it. I was sure that the university had made a mistake despite my 4.0+ GPA. How could I be a smarty pants? Doubting voices were relentless.
These are two examples of how the stories we tell ourselves shape us–sometimes incorrectly. We get stuck in a place that is not Truth. We have a choice to make–cling to the lie or create a new, more accurate story. By mid-junior high school being pretty, smart, or athletic did not matter as much to me. I had found books and writing. These saved me as I delved into a world of imagination, intrigue and beauty. I could read for hours on a Sunday afternoon, literally devouring books from the library. I could not get enough of the literary world. I was writing poetry and short stories releasing my angst through strong female protagonists. This is not to say that my feelings of self-worth were high, but perhaps I balanced them better with other interests.
When my friends started dating, something this good Catholic girl was not allowed to do until after graduation, I became skilled at making boys good friends. Several were walking me home from school, despite dating my girlfriends, and may have even had crushes on me but my head was not in that space. I remember once the principal’s nephew and I were standing at my back fence when I realized suddenly that he liked me as more than a friend. In an awkward moment, I knew that I liked him too but neither one of us quite knew what to do about it. We just stayed friends which turned out to be wonderful since there was no way my parents would have let me date him, especially since he was a year older than I was.
I am unsure of when I finally figured out that I had indeed become a swan. The story in my head about the ugly duckling was deeply embedded. I know that tale is not completely gone but I have been adored by some very good men in my life which has helped to see the lie and move towards the truth. The childhood scripts of not being enough in various ways still try to arm wrestle their way into the adventure I am living but they almost always lose. I have worked hard on transforming into Swan Suzanne on every level. Being stuck is not a choice for me. I want to live the best life ever. As the Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius states we are born to love, serve and praise God. I cannot do that if I stay stuck. My love is insincere; I will not move beyond myself and towards others; my praise will crumble and leave an awful taste in my mouth.
Oftentimes people blame events and other people on their horrible state in life. I look at my life which has had some pretty significant trauma in it and have decided time and again that it will not shape me. This illness, this death, this oppression, this sexual harassment incident, this witnessing of violence–whatever it has been–will not have the last word. I have poured positivity and beauty into the cracks in the foundation. I have shone light into the darkness to clear out those creepy spiders that spin their webs. I have accepted that children undergo experiences that will make or break them–mine were not going to totally crush me. I have revisioned my story of drama and trauma into something beautiful for God and for the greater good of others.
Even now, facing death, I have a choice. I could crawl under my covers and never come out. I could lay there counting the days left and speed up the dying process. I could become bitter. I could banish people from my sight. On the other hand, I could be grateful for each day I get. I could welcome people to join me in this crazy adventure and celebrate together for as long as we can. I could decide to step out of my own misery and serve those who need me. I could sing praises to my Creator for all the beauty and joy I still soak up. I could choose to live until I die which is what I have done.
Is it unfair that I am dying? Absolutely by first world standards! Not so in so many other parts of the world that have my heart. I have had a good life despite all the early messages of feeling unworthy, ugly, dumb, uncoordinated, and whatever else could have held me in the quicksand. Instead I have taken each lesson–some heartbreaking, a couple gross, many joyous, and lots spectacular–and moved forward. I have never wanted to be stuck for too long.
We can even hold on to good experiences which hold us back from future blessings. Decades ago, I let go of a man that I loved because he was stuck–and feeling trapped in our relationship. Bravely, I suggested that he needed to go and date lots of women. I secretly hoped that he would come back to me but that did not happen in the form of marriage. He is still a dear friend. One morning several weeks after our breakup, driving west on the highway, I could see a stunning sunrise in my rear view mirror. My eyes became fixated upon it. Suddenly, a heavy downpour occurred just on my car. The sunrise was still visible and breathtaking. I had to peel my eyes away though and look forward. Just as I did that, a gorgeous rainbow appeared ahead of me in a blue sky. I am a visual person. I began to cry, realizing the message I was receiving. It has remained with me for three decades. I remember it when I am going through transitions in my story. God had painted a magnificent scene for me in images rather than words: Yes, the past was beautiful. Yes, the present is dark and painful. If you trust me, look ahead. Joy awaits you.
God desires freedom for us. If we trust the Divine Goodness, we can move forward in using the lessons learned to create a story that is a blessing instead of a curse. Do not stay stuck. Believe that you are a swan in every essence of the word. Use your life as a model of resilience and joy. Let Love win.
What do you need to get unstuck?
Can you trust that joy awaits you?
Swan-Maker, you call us forward out of the darkness and mire to joy and life. Break the bonds that sometimes weigh me down and let me dance unencumbered by the doubting voices who want our precious stories not to have happy endings. You lead us to fullness and beauty. May I be ever grateful for your love and mercy. Amen.