30 Days of Courage: a guide to bravery in action
Do you wish you could find the courage to do what you really feel called to do? Are you holding a dream or desire that feels too big or scary to act on? Is fear getting in the way of you saying what you really want and need to say?
I made this for you.
A guest post from Christine Mason Miller
This essay was originally published in Skirt! magazine in 2011, and provided the inspiration for a book Christine is currently writing about her family.
I had been mired in angst as my husband’s son’s wedding drew closer. It would be an intimate gathering—only 50 guests—taking place on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, with a week’s worth of sun, surf and celebration leading up to the ceremony. Houses were rented, flights were booked and a taco joint reserved for the rehearsal dinner. A family wedding in paradise—what could be wrong with that? But that was the problem. It was a family wedding, and who was I? No one important—just the dad’s wife.
My husband and I had been together for eight years and married for four, but I had yet to step into the space waiting for me in this family, a step not taken because I didn’t believe the space actually existed. Even if I dared to ponder it as a possibility, I had no faith it was solid, substantive, able to withstand storms. I saw only one inevitable outcome—an immediate splintering at the first sign of trouble, the oasis revealed as a mirage.
It could have happened when I was 12 years old and my parents parted ways, or maybe it was from my own marital demise two decades later. Perhaps it kicked in after my mom’s second divorce, when all the aunts, uncles, and cousins I had grown close to vanished without a trace. No matter what the exact circumstance, the overriding issue was one of experience. Every family I’d known had fallen apart, so by the time I got together with my second husband, I had decided that a family was not something I was meant to have—a fact I accepted quietly, but with fierce, devoted conviction. During intimate whispers before falling asleep or the rare, emotional moments I let my overwhelming sadness over this loss pour out of me, my husband would try to refute my belief again and again: “But this is your family now.”
Really? I’d think, Because I don’t believe you.
My imaginings of what the week in Hawaii would be like were on constant replay: It was me—the dad’s wife—sitting on the sidelines. Family photos with the son, his bride, the mom, and the dad. Toasts made to the parents, acknowledgements made to in-laws. Meaningful glances between daughter-in-law and dad, mother and son. I saw my space in this gathering as separate and lonesome, a dotted line around me everywhere I went, keeping my role as the outsider firmly intact. I braced myself for all the varying levels of exclusion I believed would be part of my story—the only story—throughout our time in Hawaii.
The week arrived, and everyone got settled. Mornings were lazy, the water was perfect, and I relished my first time on a surfboard in years. Each day the group expanded, and every evening got a bit more raucous. I met aunts and in-laws, close friends and cousins. Every introduction an opportunity to test the waters, to see how I would be treated. Not wanting to miss the most subtle slight, the most imperceptible exclusion, I kept my senses on high alert, looking for proof that I was right—that I wasn’t part of this family, that I really didn’t belong.
After a few days of imagining myself as the keen detective, clad in a trench coat with sharpened pencil and tiny, spiral notebook to record the plethora of clues I was convinced I’d find, I suddenly looked down at my little black book and realized that nary a note had been taken. I had been so busy having fun—and being included in every way I could have possibly been included by everyone— that there was no “data” to collect, no need for documentation. Instead of writing down details of all the ways I imagined the dotted line around me was being reinforced, I wrote this:
No one believes you don’t belong here except for one person: You.
This took a little time to sink in, but once I opened myself up to all the clues that were proof of my belonging, the dotted lines vanished and the fuzzy view of my place in this family slowly emerged into focus. Once I made the choice to see myself not through my wounded, defensive lens but through the eyes of everyone around me, I understood where I belonged: right here, with my family. It was revelatory, confounding, and I felt slightly unsteady. But like the waves I was surfing in Hanalei Bay, once the force took hold of me, there was no way to resist its joyful power; all I had to do was stand up, secure my footing, and ride it in to shore, where everyone was waiting, arms open wide.
On the day of the wedding, I woke up early to the sound of our cheerful neighborhood rooster, cackling in celebration of a brand new day as he had done every day that week. As he continued to cluck softly just below our window, bright bursts of sunlight twinkled in and out of our room with each gentle sway of our curtains. As I lay motionless, with my husband’s rhythmic, dreamy breathing in the background, I experienced flashes of doubt—wondering if all I had seen and felt throughout the week was really real. What if it was another façade? What if I had it all wrong? But just as quickly as those questions drifted across my consciousness, another thought wafted in, flipping my doubts inside out to reveal something beautifully, profoundly simple.
I had absolute freedom. I had the ability to choose whatever I wanted. I could keep a tight grip on my laundry list of familial sorrows; I could continue to carry around my sad sack of stories and spill it to anyone who might listen, so they would understand why I had no family, why I didn’t really belong here. People would know my woes, and I could go to my grave clinging to the hollow satisfaction of having proven my theory to the end. I could make that choice.
Or I could let it go, just like that, and, unburdened at last, step into the circle that had embraced me all week long, in the sun and the surf and the joining of two souls. I could make that choice. Right here. Right now.
Could I let it all go? Was it really that easy?
Christine Mason Miller is an Author and Artist who lives in Santa Barbara, California. A revised, second edition of her 2008 book Ordinary Sparkling Moments: The Art of Finding Yourself will be published by North Light Books this fall. You can follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.