Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Frida

"They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams, I painted my own reality." Frida Kahlo


In Frida's short life, she endured more pain and heartache than many of us. However, she allowed her turmoil to fuel her art and she captured a world on canvas in a way she could control instead of it controlling her. Her debilitating injuries, her deep and ongoing grief of children she would never have....it was all there. The hospital visits, being homesick, the infidelity, the isolation.... she never hid it and decided to display it. For some, it might be hard to understand why, and, in such a graphic way, she would show us this private and vulnerable side of her. Why couldn't she stick to flowers, Mexican landscapes, or even just keep doing her infamous self portraits? Simply, because it was the real her and what she could relate to the most about herself. However, those feelings - heartache, loss, grief, etc... she refused to hide them and wanted so desperately to release them. So, art became her therapy. It was her welcoming and non judgmental space. It was what she was good at. It was what she could give and not have to take.
I always find it fascinating when I see the way people cope. How tragedy can have silver linings and how there are moments of hope, progress, gratitude, healing, and even happiness if you refuse to allow yourself to get swallowed up in those difficult times and defined by them.
Recently, I dropped my son off at a birthday party at a trampoline park. It was my intention to meet the parents, verify the pick up time, embarrass him with a kiss, and leave but I still find it very hard for me to do. The risk of him having another head injury always weighs very heavily on me. He knows the risks. He is aware of his surroundings and always makes good choices but he is still a kid and deserves to have carefree moments. My stealthily lurking in the background may help me cope but it certainly doesn't help his ego. So, I sighed and was ready to head for the door when I noticed someone staring at me and trying to make eye contact.
 I recognized her as a mother of a child my son went to school with but I wouldn't say I knew her enough to stop and chat with her. However, I could tell by the way she was following me that an encounter was inevitable and I was right. She quickly approached me as I was trying to leave and she said "hello." I said "hello" back and awkwardly waited a few seconds to see where this was going. Sure enough, it turned into the "I heard about the accident" conversation that I dread, especially from people I don't know well. However, it quickly turned into something that I hadn't expected or even experienced. She looked at me intently like she was trying to dissect me and asked, "How do you do it?" I said, "Do what?" and she responded, "How do you move forward. How do you not let it destroy you?" Hmm, I have never been asked that.
I shared with her my hesitation to leave him and how I still worry. Then, I explained to her how I have refused to let it define us and that is why I was heading for the exit when she saw me. Most importantly, though, I have learned to allow myself to feel the emotions I have needed to feel along the way but I have never given into the negative and, potentially, damaging ones.
 She trusted me with a personal part of her life by admitting to me that she was attacked and badly beaten by a stranger many years ago. Then, it started to make sense to me as to why she sought me out and wanted to talk to me. It wasn't just advice on how to move on as I could still clearly see the struggle she felt. It was to feel a connection to someone who might understand her own grief and disbelief when such unexpected and horrible things happen and life does have to, eventually, go on again afterwards. That long and difficult transition back to normalcy, and, especially, learning how to trust in the world again. We both knew it well.
I admit it is still hard to not feel vulnerable once you have so deeply felt it but you can't stop living or waiting for the next tragedy. Life is full of heartache but it is also full of joy. I have always felt blessed for being an optimist. It is not in my nature to disbelieve in the good all around us. My hope is that I instilled some comfort, understanding, and trust in her that day and she left feeling more at peace than when she first approached me. Although, I admit it is easier for some, you must love yourself enough to channel through the pain and work it out of you. Frida painted. I blog. What do you do?

Image credit: Henry Ford Hospital, 1932 by Frida Kahlo