I felt like G.I. Jane as I ran the half mile stretch from the trailhead to my apartment door.
Strands of hair were blown free from my pony tail by El Nino’s winds, mud was kicked up and caked on my calves, and the entire side of my right leg was tattooed with swirling patches of dried dirt from the one in 50 near misses that turned into actual falls.
I almost didn’t go.
There had been a brief but torrential downpour earlier that day, but my reasoning told me the trail couldn’t possibly be that muddy. Within 10 yards I realized I was wrong, but reassured myself it would get better. A mile later, it was worse and I almost turned back, but I didn’t. I forged ahead in true bull-headed Taurenean fashion.
For someone who likes things just so—the grounded one who others turn to when their worlds are falling apart—not having my feet on firm foundation (whether literally or metaphorically) is about as challenging as it gets.
Yet somewhere along this slip-n-slide course, I realized that under the circumstances the perfect stride was in yielding to the messiness of it all. None of the running techniques amassed over the years worked, so I had to do what the control-freak in me dreads most: Iet go. Ease up on the reins a little. Straight lines became zig zags that often took me off the designated path. I laughed a lot and even let out some roller-coaster-like screams prompted by the too-close-for-comfort almost-falls.
Places that looked like solid ground slipped right out from under me, while other spots that I approached cautiously turned out to be the most secure. A few times I felt the pull toward negativity: “this was a dumb idea,” “you should’ve known better,” “I’m tired of this,” “I just want to zap myself home into a warm shower.” These moments were brief and ended with me reminding myself that no one forced me onto the trail just a few hours after a tropical-style rain storm passed through the desert in all her glory.
The squishy sound from my shoes growing more swamp-like with every step reminded me of the humor in it all. On the home stretch with most of my body covered in mud, it hit me how remarkable it was that out of dozens of close calls, I had only actually fallen one time.
This ratio, I thought, is quite true to life.
As someone in the midst of her first (and hopefully only) divorce, this has special meaning for me.
I see the same G.I. Jane emerging from the smoldering ashes of a marriage gone up in flames, guns still smoking, hair messy, clothes tattered, charcoal smudges on one cheek, heart exposed, but still beating, and deeper than ever I might add.
And of course in my mind’s eye I’m wearing stilettos and look like a cross between Linda Hamilton in The Terminator and one of Charlie’s Angels—my stride is sexy, I’ve got an aura that says “don’t mess with me,” and I’m more clear than ever before about who I am and where I’m going.
Surviving being lied to, cheated on, and thrown out of my home in a day qualifies me for a lifetime membership in the “don’t mess with me” hall of fame as far as I’m concerned.
I’m learning the hard way that what I’ve often been convinced would last forever can crumble right out from under me, such as a marriage—something I thought was for a lifetime and that I would only do once like turning 16, or cracking the façade of the man who I was convinced was conscious, evolved, and ever-faithful.
On the flip side, what I thought was fleeting—like the friends who I assumed would be long gone as my husband and I rode off into the sunset—are still very much here. It turns out I’m bonded to them for life, thanks to the valiant way they’ve supported and graciously given to me through this experience of shock and betrayal without question and without reservation.
And then there are the invisible, yet perhaps the most important things of all.
Things like faith, hope, trust, resilience, forgiveness, and a whole lot of chutzpah. When all the externals I relied on shifted, moved, and even disappeared, these were (and still are) my lifeline, my bedrock. Though I wish I had gone more willingly, it was at the gunpoint of adversity that I was forced to rely on these. Even still, they came through with flying colors and are more solid than ever.
Somewhere along the way, I trust that more wisdom has been etched on my heart—a wisdom that can discern more accurately the solid, trustworthy ground from the cunning quicksand. Regardless, there are bound to be more missteps as it turns out the term “human perfection” is an oxymoron. So I find it best to give up altogether my notion of “human perfection,” and to laugh even while I’m sliding around uncontrollably, trusting with all my heart that there is perhaps a divine order behind what feels like chaos to the conditioned mind.
In the same way that the hot shower washed the dried mud from my body that day, I’ve found bathing regularly in gratitude, forgiveness, and trust are cleansing my character of the residue left by resentment, anger, and fear. I can see that the dried mud washed off in seconds because I wasn’t clinging to it and it surely wasn’t clinging to me. That’s what ultimately enabled the water to trump the dirt and I was left clean and pristine.
Likewise, somewhere early on in this divorce process, I realized the negative stuff couldn’t cling to me and I made a conscious choice that I wasn’t going to hold on to it. As I type this, no one would ever know that a few days ago I was covered in mud, and hopefully a year from now no one will see me as someone burned, scorned, and bitter.
I understand loud and clear that that choice is determined by me, not by my circumstances.
Author: Alison Bristow-Wilburn
Editor: Catherine Monkman