To Cheryl- Who reminds us to be kind

This will be two separate, eerily linked posts… just…. hold on tight guys, this is a ride

The strangest… most lovely… most surprising thing just happened to me. And if I didn’t believe in the universe being connected before, I will never be able to deny it again. 

Today is my last day at Orangetheory Fitness here in Nashville. I have worked here for 3 years, and during that time I have found so many surprising, deep connections with our clients. One, in particular, is the reason for this story. I told Cheryl after her class today that I am working my last shift, and we had a moment together. The idea of never seeing each other again is hard for me. I guess it is hard for her, too. I told her that I am going home partially to focus on writing my book- Cheryl has always been one of the biggest fans of my writing. I told her that, while class was in session, I had finished a new post about mom for AGTS. We embraced, she left, and I went back to work in the studio.

As I was resetting for the next class, I let my mind wander, and it popped into my head that I should dedicate this post to Cheryl, herself! I had never done that, but it seemed so appropriate. You’ll see. I talk about Momliving on in me, and I have thought many times how much she and my mom are alike. Both teachers, both wear their hearts on their sleeves and with immense amounts of love pouring out at all times. While I was composing what I would say to dedicate the post to Cheryl, my coworker said that she had come back in and left a present for me at our front desk. What a sweetheart! As I continued to reset, I told my new colleagues the story of how Cheryl and I had met.

Cheryl started to become our client while her own mom was passing away. She had needed the physical outlet, but it had been difficult to coordinate both our schedules for her first class. In true Cheryl form, she was adorably apologetic about it. I assured her that I, of all people, know how hard it is to leave when your mom’s side while she is dying. From there, our bond began to form. We exchanged books- sometimes ones about moms. I love Cheryl very much, she always makes my day and hugs the bujeezus out of me when she walks through the studio doors. 

After that story, I went to see what Cheryl had given me and… I cannot believe it. This… it’s… the exact same bracelet I gave to my mom a month before she entered hospice, when we found out she had gotten sick again. The exact… same… bracelet. (It’s the silver one with the big pearls.) Months after Mom passed away, I was watching a friend in The Fantasticks in Kansas City and having a very difficult time with it. I hadn’t realized the show centers around a father and daughter mourning the loss of her mother. Right as I got into the car after the show, the bracelet broke. I lost it. I was so upset. It felt like a sign that everything had been lost and I was now falling apart. Broken.  

When I opened the box with this same bracelet inside… I really have no adequate words right now. 

Some people will stick with you forever. For me, my mom and Cheryl are those people. 

AND NOW, THE ORIGINAL PIECE I MEANT TO POST. 

I don’t want to talk specifically about current events right now. Not here. In this moment, I need to make some space for grief. (WELL BOY DID THAT SURE HAPPEN TODAY!)

My friend Fabi and I agree- we are missing our people with breathtaking strength right now. We miss their advice. We miss their conversation. We miss their support. We miss their comforting natures. We miss their strength. 

I would miss my mom no matter what. But it is amplified by the kind of person she was in life. When you grow up with a woman who leads and teaches you by example, those lessons stick with you forever. 

When I was a kid, my parents taught at the same high school together. I won’t get too far into details, but the gist is that the leaders of the school started making decisions that benefitted themselves rather than choosing to put the children and their needs first. Mom believed a school ought to serve its students first, and teachers who worked tirelessly towards that goal ought to be recognized. (Teachers, incidentally, exactly like Cheryl. Damn, they would have been friends.) Because mom was outspoken, she and my dad lost friends. Dear family friends. For years. Mom remained stubbornly adherent to what she knew to be right and ethical. 

That is the woman I looked up to as my role model all my life, and when people tell me they also recognize that in me, it means so much that it warms my heart and breaks it in one motion. 

My mom also had a gift for words. She gave it to me- and she showed me how to use it during that time. So I have decided to use mine. It has been hard, but also an easy choice to make… because I know she would have done the same. Mom’s fierce sense of morality and stubbornness lives on. 

Despite my motivation, this time also opens up the grief again. We are witnessing disease and violence take so many people from us this year. Each death is a reminder, to me (and Fabi and Cheryl), that they leave people behind who ache for their absence. The pain in this country right now exceeds any collective hurt I have ever experienced. In some ways, I am glad Mom isn’t here to feel it. I don’t know if her big, squishy heart could have taken it. I wish those families didn’t have to miss a dear one. Our grief support group is growing exponentially by the day.

So here is my call to action for you- lean in so hard right now. Prioritize asking people how they are holding up. Try to be hyper vigilant to extra pain in people’s voices. For example: I called my landlord yesterday, and he sounded tired and hoarse. Beaten down. I cut him off midsentence about my security deposit to ask if he was alright. He really wasn’t. It is not my business to tell, but he needed me to be brave enough to ask. He needed someone to hear his pain. 

I have always been pretty harsh with him. Businessmen tend to take advantage of my naive and youthful looks, and they treat me disparagingly. I have always been on the offense with him. But in that moment I knew I didn’t need to be his tenant, he needed a friend. I told him to text me any time if he wanted to talk, and I directed him to the support group that helped me. I tried my best to give him the hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it feels distant now. 

We need to do our best to hear each other. RIGHT NOW. Move through your world with awareness- give people as much grace as you are able. Try to remain kind and calm. Even if it is hard with tensions and sadness and anger running high. Let us proceed with care and recognition that we are ALL feeling fragile and raw. 

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