When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;—— the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Can you remember a moment in your life when you had life in yourself and it was wholly strange and new? Can you remember the moment when you stopped walking a path of someone else, and started cutting your own?

Write about that moment. And if you haven’t experienced it yet, let the miracle play out in your mind’s eye and write about that moment in your future.

(Author: Bridget Pilloud)


Summer 2007. I was never so lost.

On May 26th of that year, my stepfather died. I never grieved so hard in my entire life. For days, I barely ate and slept. I didn’t know I had tears like that in me.  The pain, the dull ache in my heart…it still hasn’t gone away. I miss him terribly, but his death was an event that set a wholly strange and new life in motion.

Mike was a voice of reason in my life; someone who could help guide me on the right path without ever pushing me. I admired his character. Looking back on things now, I wish I would have told him how much he meant to me. Before he passed away, I can remember Mike telling me a few things that I’ll never forget.  At the time, I shrugged off his wisdom. I was a teenager who knew everything. All teenagers know everything.

After he died, I started to see a grief counselor to help me through things. At the time, things weren’t going so well for me. I was in a relationship that wasn’t working out. I was diving deeper into student loan debt and feeling pressure with each promissory note. My family life was less than desirable. I felt like I was floating through the motions of life without ever really enjoying it. Counseling was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

For about a year, I met with my counselor once or twice a week to sort out my pain, confusion, and desire to better myself. Counseling doesn’t work unless you commit to doing the work. I committed and poured all of myself into it. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to be better.

Week after week, I was given homework assignments where I had to make lists, write letters, journal, and just get out some of the feelings I was experiencing. I still have some of those assignments. I look them over every now and then to remind myself of just how far I’ve come from my bottom. Yes, I’ll never forget my bottom either.

I was standing at the cemetery, walking away from the casket, and my father was standing in the grass waiting for me. My father and I had (up until that point) a tenuous relationship at best. But I knew that when things like this happened, he would be there for me. Mike always told me that daughter leave their fathers at 15 and come back at 25. I’ve never known something truer in my life.

I approached my father, shaking with tears. I felt like a hole was being ripped through my chest. He gave me a hug and for the first time in a very long time, I felt hidden away from the chaos that was tearing me apart. I held on for dear life and prayed that the hug would take some of the pain away. I was surprised when it did. My Dad told me to be strong and to keep going. So I did. I called and made an appointment for the counselor the next day.

College started back up and I buried myself in projects and things to do. Being busy wouldn’t allow for me to experience some of the pain I was still feeling. But every week, I gave myself that hour or two to just feel. Sometimes I would smile throughout my appointments. Other times I would cry and seethe with anger.

For an hour or two, I got to be human and the more I let myself experience that feeling, the more I wanted to feel it all the time.

Those hours were my first experience of feeling life, wholly strange and new. Outside of those hours, I would keep my feelings buried deep. I had to be strong. I had to save face. She never gets upset. She never loses her cool. She’s handling everything so well. In reality, I wasn’t.

At one particular appointment, my counselor made a suggestion. She told me that I should try, as an experiment, to show my true feelings to one person. It didn’t have to be anyone in particular, I would get to choose. She told me that I should try, every once in awhile, to just feel whatever I’m feeling when I’m around that person. Anxious to feel human, I agreed. Never, not even for a second, would I have thought that I would have picked a stranger.

October 2007. I was given the chance to do something that was a big deal for me.

I took a freelance assignment where I would be driving out of Pennsylvania, on my own, for the first time ever. Granted, it was only an hour to the New York border, but I was going to a different state to write something. It thrilled me. I loved the feeling of taking a chance on something, even though I was sweating and white knuckled on the steering wheel the whole ride up.

The day went well. I attended different events, got my quotes, and even started writing my stories in my head between events. I was so tired from not sleeping the night before. I was too excited to sleep. It was my first honest-to-goodness freelance job. How could I not be fearful and excited of something this big?

At the last event of the evening, I was sent to a dinner. It would be easy. Stay for an hour or two, get down the details, conduct a few interviews, and then head back to Pennsylvania. Simple. Then someone introduced me to the photographer. A stranger at the time, but something in my head told me that he was going to be important.

Brent was providing coverage for the same event. He was taking the photos, I was writing the story to go with them. We chatted briefly and went about our work, both too focused in what we were doing to notice the other. At the end of the evening, we stood next to a purple pillar, watching a man give a speech about the event. I was beyond tired and aching from a day on my feet. It felt good, this whole being a freelance writer business, but my God, all I wanted to do was get into my own bed and sleep. Brent made some remark about my drive back (I had told him I was from Pennsylvania), but by that point, I had tuned out what he was saying. I had to get the quotes and get out.

Satisfied with yet another filled up notebook, I decided I had enough to write with. We said our goodbyes and I drove back to PA  in the rain. I had tried calling my boyfriend several times, but he didn’t answer. By the time I got home, I was too overtired and pissed off to think back to any of the things I had done that day. People I met faded into the background as I pulled the covers over my head and slept until 11:00 a.m. the next day.

Over the next few days, I wrote and submitted my stories. I spent time with the boyfriend. I made sure my Mom’s dog, Jesse, was fed. I cleaned the apartment. I still hadn’t decided on the person I wanted to be myself around, but I hadn’t given it much thought since the appointment. Maybe my boyfriend. Maybe my parents. Then, I got a Facebook message.

Brent had found me and had a question about one of the people I had interviewed. He was working on photos from the event and wasn’t sure of what the guy’s name was. I replied back, added him as a friend, and thought nothing of it. A few more days went by and we exchanged AIM names. I looked at it as pure networking. Professional contacts were a good thing.

Over the next few months, Brent and I became good friends. I had someone to talk to when I couldn’t sleep at night. We had some things in common. He was interesting and unlike anyone I had ever met. It was nice having a friend that I could talk to for hours and not get bored with. After awhile, we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. The contact increased. It was like we couldn’t get enough of talking to each other.

I told my counselor about Brent and how easy it was to talk to him. Then I told her I had chosen the person for my experiment in feelings. Brent was a friend, but he wasn’t someone I saw every day. We weren’t incredibly invested into a relationship (in any capacity) with each other and I felt like he was safe. If he got scared away, that was OK. If he decided he wanted to remain friends, that was OK. Choosing Brent as a person I could be myself with sounded like the best option all around. So I did it.

I stepped outside of the person I was before I met Brent and experienced something incredible. I got to be myself, completely, around someone. No expectations. No feelings of insecurity. No trying to fit into the mold someone else cast of me.  It took time and there was a lot of trial and error, but it felt comforting to know that there was at least one person in the universe I could be myself around. My true self. That was a wholly strange and new experience for me; one that led into a deeper relationship and a chance to be myself from that time onward.

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3 Responses

  1. It’s one of life’s beautiful ironies that we met at that moment in your life. It was because you were, and with me always have been, your true self that I fell in love with you :)

  2. That’s a great story. It’s amazing what we find when we find the courage to share our Selves.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    By the way, what part of Pa are you from. I am from the Northeast(Sayre, Pa)

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