How are you? I hope that you were able to take some time away this summer to rest, reflect, and recharge.
My August break abruptly began with a death in my family. It was sudden and heartbreaking, and it stopped everyone and everything in its tracks.
As I flew back to LA after the funeral that was held for my cousin’s 22-year-old-daughter, I thought a lot about the fragility of life. I thought about the suddenness of death, and how it upends us in different ways.
When I got home, I looked at my calendar and, for the first time all year, it was clear. I breathed into the emptiness and didn’t allow it to make me feel empty, invisible, or irrelevant.
Before my August break, people asked me, “Maria, aren’t you worried about losing your momentum on social media, with your Sunday Paper, and with NBC?”
“Yes and no,” I replied. “I’m sure I’ll lose some momentum, but I’m certain that what I’ll gain in return will be more meaningful and more profound.”
When I returned home, I didn’t allow my mind to focus on what needs to be done (which is no easy feat for me). Instead, I reminded myself that my intention during this break was to simply BE. Be present. Be still. Allow my mind to rest and wander.
As I slowed down, I noticed sparks of joy emerge inside of me. I felt the joy of not being rushed. I felt the joy of being disconnected from social media. My anxiety slowly gave way to a new tempo, one that felt peaceful and calm.
I find it ironic that my August break started with a death. I took it as an invitation to delve into what felt dead and lifeless inside of me. You see, we can all walk around seemingly alive but feel dead on the inside. We’re all running around doing things that bring us no joy or meaning. We stay in jobs, relationships, or situations well past when we should, incorrectly believing that life doesn’t have more in store for us.
In quieting down, though, I came to realize that everything is in flux. Death and rebirth are everywhere. They are all the more reason to be less hurried and to pay more attention to what is. After all, all we have is this moment.
As I sat with my thoughts, I found myself furious at God for taking my cousin Courtney’s only child away. It doesn’t get any more brutal than that, as many parents know all too well. I found myself holding onto my own children tighter, only to realize that if I hold on too tightly, I might inhibit their ability to live. So, I’ve checked myself and am focusing instead on just being with them.
On August 11, I traveled to Utah to visit one of my sons. There, I climbed up a mountaintop on the 10th anniversary of my mother’s death. I sat down on top of a huge boulder and took in the majesty of the mountains. Then, all of a sudden, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably.
I sobbed for my cousin. I sobbed for all those who are suffering. I sobbed for my own grief, sadness, and fears. I thought I was done grieving the death of my mother, my father, my uncle, my marriage, and my old identity — all of which unfolded in rapid succession over the last 10 years — but turns out, I wasn’t. I thought I was done grieving my youth, my children moving out, past mistakes, unrequited loves, etc., but turns out, I wasn’t. I wasn’t done with grief, and it wasn’t done with me.
With time, the grief slowed down, and I found myself in total stillness — the kind where you can hear the wind and your own breath. Amidst this stillness atop the mountain came an extraordinary revelation. I opened my eyes, looked around, and realized I was OK. The word “survivor” even came to mind.
My quiet mind allowed me to see myself as a survivor. It allowed me to realize that I was proud of myself for so many things. It allowed me to even realize that I love myself. Sitting there alone, I felt all that I am, instead of all that I am not. I felt it for perhaps the first time ever.
I started crying as I realized that so much of my life has been spent in the hunt, climbing the ladder of so-called success. I’ve spent so much time judging myself and trying to prove myself while looking to others for approval and validation.
I’ve spent so much time trying to fix myself, only to now realize that I’m already whole. On that mountain, I came to realize that I was already lovable. I was already loved unconditionally by God and by myself. I gasped and felt a huge sense of relief wash over me.
I thought back to my cousin’s daughter. I’m sure she would have been stunned to hear all the incredible things that were said at her funeral. It would have stopped her cold to realize how loved she was. I’m sure it would have been a huge relief for her to feel her worth. Yet, it was only in death that she found stillness.
I remember sitting at her wake and thinking about how I want to feel peace in life, not in death. Lo and behold, just a few days later, I found it. It only took me 63 years.
“I love you, Maria,” I said to myself. “I’m proud of you, Maria. It’s OK. You are OK. I’ve got you. Slow down. Breathe. Be still. You are lovable. You are loving. You are brave. You are strong. You are worthy. You are good.”
Turns out, the stillness and simplicity I had been yearning for wasn’t outside. It was within me all along. It’s just that I’d never slowed down long enough to gain access to it. Turns out the words I’d been using to push myself only left me feeling distressed, small, scattered, unaccomplished, broken, and unlovable.
My new narrative is exactly the opposite. Today, it brings me joy to be who I am. I feel good knowing that I am here to be of service. I am here to share my story — the dark and light of it. I am here to use my voice whenever I can to help others.
I know I’m also here to use my voice to raise awareness around women’s health and women’s empowerment and to help move the needle on Alzheimer’s. I am also here to use it to be of service to my friends, my family, my community, my state, and my country as I see fit. (This morning, I also want to pause and use my voice to let the people of Texas know that I'm thinking of them and mourning for them as they cope with their own losses and grief after yet another horrific shooting).
My new narrative, unlike my old one, is loving. It’s kind. It’s supportive. It’s encouraging. It’s non-judgmental. It no longer compares me to giants in my family long gone. It instead recognizes all that I am and all that I have been through. It allows me to look forward with loving-kindness and passionate purpose.
So, while my time away didn’t involve some big fancy trip around the world, it did involve an unexpected trip into my inner world. And today, as I sit in my special place on my back porch, I reflect back to the beginning of my summer and the marriage of my daughter. I think about the transformational power of love and new beginnings. I reflect on life with its joys, its celebrations, and, of course, its unbearable pain.
It reaffirms to me the importance of slowing down so one can take it all in and be there for those you love — in the good times, and in the deeply sorrowful times.
One of the best things I did this month (this year, in fact) was rewrite my narrative and see myself as hopeful, self-reliant, and optimistic about this moment in my life. It makes me remember what a loving friend said to me many years ago.
“Maria, focus on the hero of your story, which is you. Don't spend so much time thinking about how you got into an awful situation. Concentrate instead on how you overcame tragic circumstances and saved yourself, your soul, and those you love.”
“That is the hero's journey,” he continued. “Don’t dwell on how you got into this mess or that mess. Instead, focus on the journey to freedom. If a plane goes down in the Amazon, the compelling story isn't how it happened, but how the survivors got out to safety and back home to those that love them.”
And, so my friends, I hope you can carve out time to be still and rewrite your own narrative. After all, we are the hero of our own lives. We can each craft a narrative for ourselves that is loving, positive, encouraging, motivating, powerful, and true. Tell your story that way, then get about living it. Trust me, it’s worth it.