Once upon a time…the beginning of a great story and that is exactly what I hope the following thoughts spark: the courage to accept the invitation to journey and discover your own incredible story.
We all wish for a story that is full of adventure, danger, battles with dragons, risk, and maybe even love. The problem is we often want the full story right now, want to turn the pages at our desired pace. Perhaps that is why so many give up on the possible magic that is out there for us to claim. We forget this is a chapter book and we all know some of the most beloved books are never a short read.
The funny thing is, if a year ago I had been given the chance to peek ahead through the next few pages in my life story, I would have surely become lost in the troubles that were ahead - it is easy to do. But more importantly, reading ahead I would miss the experience of the journey. The experience a story creates is the part that draws us in, leaves us different, and ultimately more connected with who we are meant to be.
This last December my story took a turn with a phone call that my mother had fallen and broken her knee which was going to require her to spend time in a rehabilitation facility. As a teacher, I was looking forward to being able to spend a little time over winter break resting and spending some much needed time evaluating where I was headed in life. But instead, I instantly became full time caregiver for my father who was suffering from severe dementia. Not exactly what I had in mind and plans for a little life reflecting were put on hold, or at least I thought.
He began a steady downhill decline, and as my mom recovered, it was clear that there was very little time left with my father. But never knowing where the story may go, I found myself suddenly realizing that I had much in my heart that was not being lived out, and as my dad began to fade, my heart took over and I found myself meeting with a couple old friends and sharing a few dreams that had been stashed in the back of my heart. Not exactly the best time to enter a battle with a new dragon of sorts, but stories are like that. Adventure just takes over sometimes. Worn out, I decided to let my heart take this one and within a few days I found myself resigning part of my teaching position which I had held for 12 years to begin a new project. And as fear rose up to greet me, I just looked it in the face this time. I was done backing down to what that old dragon had been saying. What if I took a risk? Watching my father come to the end of his battles I had journeyed along to a place where courage could gain a foothold. Life is short, and living from my heart was too important to set aside. April and May came to a close and I found myself whispering a few last words to my father before he passed away.
A bold job shift, the passing of my father, and then came the news that due to changes at school, I would have to let go of my classroom. This might not have been as hard to face if it had been the only tectonic shift in my life, but the news came the day before my father’s funeral and I was already feeling a little lost to say the least. But being too comfortable was yet another dragon I needed to face. In case you are thinking this story has enough dragons to battle, you forgot that some dragons also breathe fire.
Tuesday June 26th
the page turned once again as I watched flames engulf the west side of the town I had lived in my entire life. The Waldo Canyon fire began to advance down the front of the hills in Colorado Springs - something that was “never going to happen” and within in an hour, a wild fire engulfed suburbia.
My mom packed up her home of 37 years as we watched the fire burn house after house and the air outside turned to ash. The sky over my home darkened with a deep orange-purple glow. Billowing clouds of smoke eclipsed the blue summer sky and my bare feet on the deck were gray with ash. Burnt shreds of paper flew all over the springs: a small page of a child’s book, the daily paper, a burnt family photo.
The next morning the fire had more than doubled in size growing 10,000 acres overnight and now the orders came for us to also pack our belongings in advance of the fire. The smoke thick, I began to assemble piles of what I most wanted to have if I indeed had to start over. Little did I know that the next page would include a trip to the emergency room in the middle of the night with severe pain. Driving to the hospital, the hills glowing red from the fire, I found myself truly ready for a new chapter in this story. But as I lay in bed for the next three days with a massive kidney infection, boxes packed, and the smell of smoke thick in the air, it hit me: there is never only one page or chapter. It is a journey. And sometimes we have to just decide that we will face the dragons, embrace the danger and risk, and let our hearts lead. The pages will have plenty of destruction - trust me, but what we miss is that there is also a larger story that is unfolding page by page. We get lost in the possible destruction, forgetting that the dragons we face eventually fall, that with risk, adventure becomes success and the hero rises from the ashes.
This summer ended with a three week road trip and some space and time to reflect. I took time to remind myself that what was unfolding was all part of the journey and that as long as I let my heart take the lead the journey would continue to be amazing, even if tomorrow’s page includes another dragon. What those dragons don’t know is that I have learned that crazy-good always follows the battles in life; you just have to trust that your heart is worth fighting for when the story seems the darkest.
Letting my heart guide instead of that old dragon called fear, I know that the next battle, and there will be one, is only a few pages away from more insight into this great story. And all we have to do is accept that we are all worthy of a truly great story that begins…Once upon a time…
- Heidi RIckard is a Team Member of The Authenticity Project and High School History Teacher.