Edges are curious places to me. The edge of a stretch of woods for instance, opening out onto an expanse of open vista. A landscape marked with sharp and sloping peaks. Sometimes snow, sometimes sunlight and elegantly carved valleys where, just above the tree line, one’s sense of smallness is stunningly acute. Or how about the edge of the horizon where curiosity begins, just beyond the space where the sun dips down and melts into deep sherbet hues. Or when it rises in a similar orchestra of color, which is an explicit kind of wonder I think.
But the edge I am thinking of most is the edge of the self. The mapless terrain inside of each of us where we find ourselves launched into fright at the instance of personal loss or trauma. It is the cliff which overlooks who we are and what we are made of, and where we can also make a purposeful decision to thrive. Unsteadily contoured at times, the human ability to overcome, cope, and withstand psychological dilemmas is unequivocally striking. And though the word resilience comes to mind, I personally prefer another term: Story. A continuous birth story.
Five weeks ago, I took a train to Montreal with the intention to write my story down. I was excited to draw inspiration from the confluence of French and North American culture, as well as the richly verdant canopies blanketing the city. Architecturally quirky and artistically sound, I was sure Montreal would be the passageway to my future.
I was going to write about my time overseas; followed by the months traveling the west coast and later, living in New York. I wanted to write about my unfortunate and harrowing experience of repatriating, where I found myself homeless and crushingly despaired. This project was also a way to explore the sudden and strange deaths of my parents, while also attempting to heal a deep wound of childhood trauma. Knitting my fingers together with my losses was going to be essential, as I peered with an unapologetic presence into the space of what’s unknown.
But looking over the edge was something I terribly feared. Diving head on into murky emotional waters would require a lot of steady self-care, ease of heart, compassion, and awareness. I later learned it would also require a lot of rest and a strong sense of community too. Going it alone, as I intended, wouldn’t cut it. And that’s because I didn’t realize the significant role that grieving played in the story of resilience.
I rented a room in a home belonging to a mama and her two little girls. For the first several weeks, thousands of words were pouring out. I completed a couple short essays and felt like I was on track for sure. But then something unexpected happened. As I was writing about my own childhood and family, the loss of my parents and my own complex feelings about relationships and motherhood, a relationship started to grow between this family and me. And I admit, it was confronting and difficult and I even tried to leave. Though I couldn’t. Because my unseen injuries started to sprout wildflowers, and the strange fence barring my abilities to be emotionally intimate started to come down. I was actively learning something else about resilience: that it has a strange underbelly of compromise. What’s more, is that I was learning that I didn’t need to be a ghost ship for much longer.
Just yesterday, the littlest one, a girl of 7, who reminds me most of my younger self, woke up early and sat next to me while I was writing. In a sleepy voice she said “I just wanted to be near you for a moment.”— a single moment that I will hang onto for a very long time, as if it were a little love note from the young girl I once was.
I think it’s worth discussing the impacts — all positive — of coming to stay here with this family. At the end of the day, I did come to Montreal with a steadfast grip on a vision I had for a better life. To overcome the dark shadows that were following me. Though as it turns out, my trip this summer has little to do with Montreal and everything to do with healing; in addition to learning a thing or two about love and the precious gift of family. And I think then that the core of a resilient nature or attitude of being is love. A deep and profound self love, even if at a faint whisper, is something more powerful than any other instinct to survive. Because at the heart of it, love is the genesis of that will. Further, love — in action — is an extrapolation of the initial terms we are born into this world with.
We all have stories. Rich narrative arcs detailing both the troubles and the good stuff making up our lives. This is an extraordinary quality that all people have in common since our most humble beginnings. Whereas throughout the years that we grow and age, it is the stories of love and pain, loss, and survival that are the connecting bloodline. But the place a story has in fixing our abilities to overcome our troubles us is in fact far more meaningful. Textured. A story deepens our purpose, and reveals the reasons we connect with scenes of nature and spirituality, as well as how and why we name our relationships as we do. We must keep telling our stories to live — there is no other choice. Because if I tell you my story, you might be able to connect with a part of yourself that’s gone missing. And in togetherness we’ll remember that we are brave.
Jocelyn M. Ulevicus is a writer, painter, novice photographer and wanderer. Her work wishes to tell stories in a capacity for which to assign a meaningful, accessible, and loving language to themes of loss, trauma, and heartache. Her work can be viewed on her website: ardentheart.me; IG @beautystills; or she can be contacted directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. She currently working on a collection of short essays.
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