Sitting quietly by myself in a medical waiting room, anticipating my turn for a follow-up test for a serious, chronic medical condition, a little sleep-deprived, the anxiety and worry having obsessively entrenched itself, like a familiar and intrusive relative, in my mind and my heart since the night before. I wonder how to help myself. I close my eyes, inhale slowly and intentionally, feeling the breath fill my lungs, my torso, my gut… and there is it again. I remember. Love is enough. Love is always enough. Not to fix things all better or to make the worry and distress disappear, but enough to cope, to make it through, a calming presence as I am transported through this moment and the next.
How do you learn to love yourself? Although loved, my own childhood background was a bit treacherous and spotty when it came to day-to-day demonstrations of love, compassion and support. Showing others that you cherished them wasn’t something that my family did easily or well. My parents sort of stumbled through vague statements of pride, “Way to go, Tam” and “I bet you’re real proud of yourself for that report card”. Achievement and accomplishment became a ticket to sparsely shared goodies; no one quite knew how to experience simple delight being in each other’s presence or the joy of connecting heart-to-heart.
I learned how to love, how to truly love, as a parent. I became pregnant for the first time at 33, having recently completed a doctoral program, working as a psychologist with adolescents at a local psychiatric hospital and at juvenile court. I gave birth to Jessie and fell headlong, headfirst in love. Became a stay-at-home mom. All that achievement drive put to good use, the knowledge of child development and behavioral strategies a huge confidence boost for parenting. My belief in education as a way through life’s challenges continually rewarded and reinforced; reading all the parenting books, chapter-by-chapter, measuring milestones along the way. And, four years later, falling in love all over again with Grady, a boy-child so different from Jessie, teaching me a whole separate set of lessons in love. Volunteering at their schools, staying involved and available, creating opportunities and experiences, setting limits, monitoring safety, and being present.
I look back now, seeing that time as an immersion in love. I think of forest monks, men given the freedom and privilege of withdrawing to the forest or caves to study, to worship and seek enlightenment. Mine was a different form of seeking and knowing, perhaps women’s unique way. Learning life’s lessons amidst the normal chaos of family life and marriage, sharpening skills and understanding through the daily grind of giving and sharing and loving.
And yet, years later, noticing again and again how hard it is for me to love myself in this same way. Even as I practice “self-care” through yoga, meditation and occasional, luxurious spa-day treats, acknowledging, with the gentle guidance of women mentors older and wiser, that I struggle to love myself in the same way that I have so freely loved others.
There was a moment recently, walking around Lake Johnson, my mind and heart again occupied by worry and fear, when a realization struck. That all those years of parenting my children, giving them what they needed and wanted, was a way to parent my Self, providing what I so wanted and needed. As I parented my children, I filled myself, recreating conditions, suturing old wounds, bathing myself in light and love. This realization was huge for me, worth stopping, sitting on a stone by the waterfall, allowing the blessing to engulf me in relief and gratitude.
So now, I remember. I remember that love is enough, love for others, love for myself. That I can tap into that wellspring of love, shared by the Universe, with a kind word to myself, a gentle tone, a loving touch of my hand on my own heart or cheek. As we all inevitably age, as conditions shift and losses are incurred, love stays strong, constant. And I can touch it at any time.
Jessie 2006 by Elizabeth Galecke Photography
Grady 2006 by Elizabeth Galecke Photography
Grady and Jessie byElizabeth Galecke Photography 2007
From Elizabeth: One of my projects starting at the beginning of 2014 has been working with long-time clients, going through their files of photographs from two decades now, and collaborating on ways to use the images with their voice in words capturing intimate moments and life lessons along the way. My first client, Tammy Finch, is one who has without fail, had her children and sometimes her and her hubby alongside, photographed every single year for the last 19 years. Her oldest daughter, who was 4 when I first photographed her, was married last year:)This project is just unfolding and has so much potential. For now, it will be an ongoing blog series accompanied by the photos that inspired her from that year in their life. But who knows what the creative process will bring, I am looking forward to help facilitate the project and give you a glimpse at a way to use photography and writing to document your life and pass down a lifetime of growth and intimate personal experiences to your families.