I usually spend my days in a home office, in a house that is surrounded by woods and wildlife, talking via phone to individuals who lead pretty ‘average’ middle class American lives. I recently took on a new assignment that includes traveling into the city once a month to meet face to face with women who are transitioning — transitioning from being homeless, recovering from substance abuse and addiction, healing from mental illness or instability, and learning how to care for their families again. This experience is still young, but has already caused me to look at some things through a different lens and has reminded me of the power of perspectives.
Ralph Blum once wrote, “The obstacles of the past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.” I would guess we’ve all heard this sentiment in some form over the years-it’s nothing new to promote the value in looking for opportunities that arise from challenges, or to notice an open window when the front door is closed. During the first day of face to face coaching with the women who are taking part in the program I was reminded of Mr. Blum’s statement more than once.
I was reminded of it when my first appointment of the day walked into the conference room, and I greeted her by pronouncing her name wrong. After correcting me, she seemed disinterested in doing much talking, and I wondered how we would fill the next half hour if all the answers to my questions ended up being “I don’t know.” Eventually she shared that she wants to lose 30lbs, hates jogging, doesn’t eat fried foods, drinks a lot of sugary coffee, and has used diet pills before, albeit unsuccessfully. She wants to tone up, feel better, and be comfortable in her clothes and in her life as it looks now. She sees Mondays as windows of opportunity to use the exercise channel on TV to get a workout in after her son heads off to school and is confident she will follow through. She manages stress by smoking because of the “me time” it provides, and is ok with that for now. Her energy by the end of the meeting was tinted with appreciation that she wasn’t being told what to do. I told her that I shared her confidence, and she went back to her day.
I was reminded of it again when my second appointment arrived, sporting eyelash extensions and plenty of sass, exclaiming “Girl, I need to look GOOD.” I asked her what she wanted to do to work toward looking good, and she shared that losing 10lbs and eating less ’soul food’ would probably help. She is going to stop buying and cooking family sized quantities of food since most of her kids are grown and living on their own. She is going to call a local fitness club this week about a Zumba class because she loves to dance. She is committed to learning to cook differently so she can keep enjoying her soul food, but in a healthy way. Her 2 year old son is her inspiration, and she feels he is a gift from God – a reason to heal herself, get sober and be present for his life, since she wasn’t there for her older children. At the beginning of our conversation, she was talking about looking good, but by the end she was sharing what truly matters to her and showing me pictures of her toddler. She’s using her past, even with its hardships and disappointments, to build a future that she is excited about.
And I was reminded a third time when my last appointment showed up in the early evening, dragging from a long day on the job. She gave me a sheepish grin, and I could tell she almost blew it off- but came anyway. She started by saying she has no idea what she wants to work on– just that she wants to be less tired all the time. Despite her long work days, she’s thankful to be working, and wants to keep it that way. She came up with a plan to head out walking immediately after getting home from work (before relaxing) and sit on a stability ball when watching TV. She doesn’t think it’ll give her more energy, but she is willing to give it a shot anyway, because she used to do it and felt better then. Her face lit up when I handed her some info on reducing unhealthy fats (after she mentioned wanting to cut back) and she read that applesauce is a good replacement for vegetable oil in baking. Someone told her that the other day, but she didn’t think it was true. She left for her son’s football game with her head a little higher. Sometimes a little validation goes a long way.
The agency that is supporting these women has a motto that states, “When the world shouts give up….hope whispers one more time.” I’m curious to see how these women use their hope to embrace gateways that have the potential to lead them past whatever obstacles arise in the present. And I’m curious to see how looking at the world from the perspective of a formerly homeless woman will impact how I operate in my own life. I have a feeling it may help me to judge less and listen more deeply, opening the windows that frame the true story behind what is apparent on the surface.
The light at the end of the tunnel is not an illusion. The tunnel is.