For many years I have been a huge fan of inspirational quotes. Each morning they arrive in my email inbox and appear on a couple apps on my phone. It’s an uplifting way to jumpstart my day. Last year I made a commitment to learn more about the authors of those quotes. Frankly it blew my mind to realize that ancient philosophers. historic and modern day poets, Buddhist monks and a contemporary vulnerability researcher all were offering sage words of wisdom that stand the test of time. Even though our lives have evolved and expanded in so many ways, our basic human needs and desires remain unchanged.
I decided to listen to more inspirational podcasts, Ted talks, and interviews in 2019. As I absorbed the stories of adversities that people had overcome and the strength they found to overcome them, I was deeply touched by their courage and willingness to share their experiences. Some of the most beautiful songs, books, poetry, artwork and inspiring quotes have their roots in the toughest struggles of life.
As I learned more about the life experiences of these inspiring men and women, I found myself awestruck by just how long it must have taken to process, reflect and overcome their trials. Often as we listen to these upbeat energetic people smiling and oozing profound insights, we fail to understand that it may have taken years and an ocean of tears to get there.
“Telling our stories is not an end in itself, but an attempt to release ourselves from them, to evolve and grow beyond them. We tell our stories to transform ourselves; to learn about our history and tell our experiences to transcend them; to use our stories to make a difference in our world; to broaden our perspective to see further than normal; to act beyond a story that may have imprisoned or enslaved us; to live more of our spiritual and earthly potential.” — Excerpt from Huffington Post Article “The Importance of Telling Our Stories” by Rachel Freed.
My late husband, Skip, always said “everyone has a story”. He possessed an extraordinary ability to sense other’s soft spots and to make them feel comfortable, respected and supported almost immediately. I have recently re-read some of his letters to me and was reminded that he too had a complex life story full of adversities and successes. His awareness of what others were facing, coupled with his own experiences, made him a very tender, compassionate, endearing man. You just felt safe and understood with Skip. You would never find a more engaged cheerleader for life than Skip — his passion was helping others achieve their potential (even if they couldn’t feel or see it at the time), Skip would often say that the best way to truly understand someone was to “walk in their shoes”. I’ve come to realize that Skip was naturally both an empathic and mindful man.
The reason I went back and re-read letters that Skip wrote to me was that I needed to go back and reflect on how I felt when he passed away. You see, I have two women in my life that I love very much and both lost their spouses suddenly. I was searching for meaningful ways to offer consolation, support and encouragement through what I knew firsthand was going to be an extraordinarily painful, heartfelt journey. I will remember always that they both will have the softest of spots in their hearts because of their profound losses.
Look around you and you will find people that are in some stage of processing struggles that life has thrown at them and sometimes that processing takes an incredibly long time. Even decades. I had my heart opened a little wider with Maya Angelou’s sage insights — “love heals the scars that life has put upon us.”
It was not lost on me that some of the most kind-hearted, compassionate and inspirational human beings are those that have suffered deeply, This is true of the well-known inspirers and it is equally true of our own friends and family members. My brother has always been a shining example of someone who has had much adversity yet rises above it, full of gratitude and joy. Just being around him lifts my spirits.
I also discovered how much my treasured friends had endured in their lives as we shared the deeper parts of our life stories. The most sacred moments in a long-time friendship is when you learn something new. It is truly an honor when a friend trusts you enough to share an experience that has left a scar on her heart. This is when Maya Angelou’s words really hit home — when your empathy and compassion enable you to feel your friend’s hurt and you can offer comfort by leaning in and really listening. You become a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. Sometimes those scars go back decades. What an incredible relief it is to be able to share it with someone who understands your soft spot and makes you feel safe. Through personal experience for myself and some of my closest friends, I can say that old scars can fade and pain can be released with a little tender loving care.
I have been deeply moved by the stories of inspiration from the people in my life and it certainly confirms Skip’s observation that “everybody has a story”. The more we listen to those stories with empathy and compassion, the deeper the roots of trust and friendship grow. Hearing what others have lived through and how they have managed to move forward in their lives is a strong testament to personal courage and the healing power of love. It seems fitting to end this post with an inspirational quote with some words of wisdom from Brene Brown: