I have a vivid memory of being nine years old and sitting sideways in the front passenger seat with my back toward my Mom as she drove. My forehead was pressed against the car window, staring, but not really seeing anything. The air conditioner was blowing cold on my shoulder but I didn’t care. My father and brother followed behind us in a moving truck. Our family of four was headed back to Florida, to the town where I was I born, leaving behind the small Tennessee town where we had lived for a short three years. A song came on the radio and as I listened I felt my face get hot, my throat seemed tight, and tears fell faster than I could wipe them away, so I just didn’t.
It’s sad, so sad (so sad)
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more and more absurd
It’s sad, so sad (so sad)
Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word
My child’s mind, bewildered, wondered, ‘Why am I so sad? I don’t need to say sorry to anybody.’ It’s the first time I remember feeling such strong emotions, and I had no idea where they came from, why I was experiencing them, or how to deal with them.
I’ve recalled this memory from time to time, but haven’t thought deeply about it since it was so long ago and seemed far away. Now that I’m grown, a quick Google search of the Elton John song lyrics from ‘Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word,’ has helped me re-frame my childhood memory, enabling me to view it in a new way. Maybe you know it? The song begins,
What have I got to do to make you love me
What have I got to do to make you care
What do I do when lightning strikes me
And I wake to find that you’re not there?
What have I got to do to make you want me
What have I got to do to be heard
What do I say when it’s all over?
And sorry seems to be the hardest word
My childhood struggle to put names on my emotions of uncertainty, fear, sadness, and loss about moving make perfect sense now. As a child, I was unable to put into words that I felt worried, alone, unsure who I could talk to about these things, or if I’d be heard.
Another vivid memory is of 26 year old me, rushing through an airport, newly married, crazy in love, with a feeling of having the whole world by the tail. My husband and I had been on a trip across the country with his work and were hurrying to make our flight home. It had been several hours since my last meal, so I dashed into an airport deli to grab a sandwich. I devoured it quickly, even as we lined up to board the plane. I’d no sooner sat down, than I felt a strange sensation in my belly. Realization quickly dawned, and as the flight attendant began the safety explanations, I scrambled for the motion sickness bag and found it just in time.
(Not that you’d want to, but put yourself in my situation for a moment. Can you imagine? It’s bad enough to have to use that bag, but have you ever thought about what goes through your mind in the moments right after you’ve used it? Who heard? Did anyone see? Ugh.) The immediate physical relief I felt quickly gave way to extreme embarrassment. But this was soon alleviated by the kind concern of the flight attendant who discreetly disposed of ‘the bag’ and provided cool washcloths for my neck and forehead. Later, she brought blankets and a pillow. Then after that, water and crackers. Amazing kindness!
Life is confusing, and inspiring, and hard, and scary, and wonderful all at the same time! I’ve found that moving forward in my life in a healthy way, sometimes involves taking a look back, just to make sure that I have an accurate view of my past, and that there’s nothing that will hinder me as I look toward the future. Here are 3 things I’ve learned:
- Sometimes it just takes putting some years of living in between you and the difficult events of your life in order for you to have enough clarity to begin to process those events and your feelings about them. Some experiences happen when you are too young to understand them. When you become aware of them, then you can work on the ‘figuring out’ and the ‘letting go’ parts.
- Sometimes we need to rely on the kindness and help of others when we are trying to move past some things and grow. We might need to allow another person to come alongside us when we are weak. Being able to receive help, is as much a sign of health as being in a position to offer it to others. And finally:
- Do not ever, under any circumstance, purchase a chicken salad sandwich from an airport. I can’t imagine that this would ever be your only option, but if it is, please do yourself a favor and check, and then double-check, the expiration date.