The girls and I went to the YMCA today.

It was really a luck of the draw.  We put the names of three places we love in a hat and, once we were in the car, I drew a slip of paper out.  That paper said the YMCA so, off we went.  We have been to the Y more times than I can begin to count this Summer.  Because of its wonderful outdoor pool and slide, the Brentwood Y is one of our favorite places to be. Even though we have a pool and a hot tub in our backyard, there’s a little bit of magic to be found in going somewhere to grow our mermaid tails.  Anyway, after a couple of days of intense rainfall, we were excited about being able to get out in the 90 degree sunshine for awhile.

We all buckled in and then, just for no real reason, I popped open the little compartment in my van that hides away a pair of sunglasses I only use about once every thousand years. Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I have a weird relationship with sunglasses.  As a young teenager, I used to enjoy going to pick out sunglasses.  I thought they were  chic.  I thought they made me look like all the beautifully bronzed girls in yellow polka-dot bikinis I saw at the pool.  In my head, I equated them with coolness.  So I always wanted a pair.  But then, once I got them, I almost never actually wore them.  I’d lose them after a few hours or they would just collect dust in whatever purse I had at the moment.  I always found some excuse.  They didn’t fit right, glasses aggravated my migraines; creativity is not a problem for me:  I could invent a dozen reasons why I couldn’t wear the sunglasses.

Truthfully, I just didn’t like things being dimmed on me.  That’s ridiculous, of course.  That’s the point of sunglasses—to dim the rays of a too-bright sun, to make it easier to see without having to squint.  But I found myself preferring to squint.  So it was just another way that I was weird, different and so not  “chic” like those beautifully bronzed girls in yellow polka dot bikinis at the pool.  I solved the problem by staying away from the sunglasses in the markets and effectively ignoring the way the women I saw made me feel inferior at the pool.  Having children helped this immensely because, when you have children and you go to a pool, you do not have time to be comparing yourself to other women;  you are simply too busy making sure your children have fun but also, don’t drown.  Hence, my weird relationship with sunglasses dissipated and remained buried until about a week ago.

About a week ago, the girls and I were going to the park and, just for the hay of it, I grabbed a pair of sunglasses and stuck them on my head. By the time I got in the van to drive, though, the sunglasses were tossed into the compartment of my van designed to hold them for me and I didn’t retrieve them again that day (though I did take a picture before dismissing them to prove I, too, can be cool.  See proof below).

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 That day at Granny White Park, I took them off soon after this self-portrait and didn’t think about them again.  I honestly don’t even know where these particular sunglasses are at the moment.  Probably, they got left under the blue tunnel slide at Granny White I slid down backwards that one time and then some other, cooler mom found them and added them to her collection.  Or maybe not.  Maybe they fell off my head when I tried to hang upside down from the monkey bars to see why my girls think it’s the coolest thing ever to do (yes, I did do that).   Anyway, the point is, I don’t think they are in my possession any longer.

I wasn’t really worried about it.  A lost pair of sunglasses doesn’t bother me.  Actually, it rather fills me with a  vague sense of relief that I do not have to pretend to enjoy sporting them.  At least, that is, until today.  Today, all the many years of trying to understand my aversion to sunglasses came to a head.

We got in the van and I reached for the pair of sunglasses I’d stashed away in the sunglasses compartment.  I don’t know when I put these pair up there;  I think I’ve had these particular ones since before dinosaurs went extinct (they have, haven’t they?  Gone extinct, I mean?  Sometimes, it’s hard to tell, because Alight will break out in hives if someone dares to suggest they are not real).  Whatever, I  grabbed them and put them on because, I mean, isn’t that what grown-ups do?  Wear sunglasses when there’s not a cloud in the sky and it’s 90 degrees outside?

The whole drive to the YMCA, I played with sunglasses. Sometimes, I left them alone.  But, there was just something not right with them.  I lifted them off my eyes and moved them onto my head.  But then, every few minutes, I’d tug them back down over my eyes.  I did this a couple of times until…. WHAM!  It hit me.  Sunglasses make things dimmer.

Did you know that?

And then that shocking revelation was followed up by this thought:  “Kind of like pain.”   And then that thought was immediately followed by this one:  “Or walls.”  And after that, the thoughts kept coming forth as though a dam had busted, one after the other, in such quick succession, it was hard to keep up with them.  

When you take that first step out of your shaded home into the bright sunlight, what happens to your eyes?  Try it. If it is sunny tomorrow in your part of the world, try stepping out of your home into the bright sunlight and pay attention to what your eyes do.  This was the experiment I did in my car today.  I put the sunglasses on.  The world was pretty but dimmed.  Then I moved the sunglasses to the top of my head.  Automatically, my eyes squinted.  I didn’t do it on purpose, I didn’t expect that they would do that.  I mean, I was in my car and I wasn’t looking directly at the sun.  Nevertheless, my eyes blinked a couple times and then relaxed—but when they relaxed, I noticed that the edges of my eyes were still squinted, just a bit.  I put the sunglasses back over my eyes and, although the world dimmed a little bit, my eyes truly relaxed. They were not squinted anymore.

Hm.

I had to do this experiment half a dozen times, trying to decide which view I liked the most, and why.  Strangely, what I found out was,  I don’t really  care for the dimmed version of life.  This was surprising because, I promise, you’ve never met a more cautious, safe person than yours truly here. I walk on the sidewalk of life and I go out of my way to avoid crossing the street.  I will take the long route rather than risk danger.  I’m not afraid of going out on a limb—but only if I can control the environment in which the tree exists.  I’ll speak in public—but only if I can write and practice the speech ahead of time.  Speaking in front of hundreds doesn’t scare me a tenth of what just the idea of speaking to a therapist does (in fact, I’ve only talked one time to a licensed therapist;  one time as in one, one hour visit).  I’d rather hang my thirty-two year old self upside down from a monkey bar set, thereby risking certain death, than go to a party with grown-ups.  Just the word change freaks me out.  Taya, my fifteen-year-old heroine of “Broken”, said:  “When I grow up, I’m going to pick a house and, I don’t care if I have to eat beanie weenies for the rest of my life, I am never, ever going to move from it.”  I’d rather eat beanie weenies every day for the rest of my life than have anything around me change. Even if it’s good change.  I’d still rather stay the same.  I’m comfortable, my kids are comfortable, so…. life can just, you know, freeze forever and I would be okay with that.

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It would be natural, then, to assume I’d like the dimmed version of life.  The safer version.  The version that filters out all things potentially harmful or distracting.  The sun is too bright, it makes my eyes squint.  Walking around with my eyes squinted will not only give me crow’s feet, it is uncomfortable.  Hence, sunglasses make sense.

Except…

Have you ever noticed how, when you are wearing sunglasses, it’s like they filter not only the sunlight but a little bit of the excitement of just being outside too?  I mean, when you walk out in the Summer heat and it’s bright and vibrant, isn’t it just a little bit exciting?  I think it is. But, when I have sunglasses on, it’s like I’m viewing the excitement through a filter. I can still see it’s there, but I don’t really experience it, at least not as much.

Faithful followers of this blog, and my crew of Facebook friends, all know my soggy story so, suffice to say, I’ve lived behind Fear’s Filter a little too long;  color me weary.  It’s not that I’m ready to go jump off a cliff without a harness because I can suddenly fly (though, if my sister ever agrees to go sky-diving with me, I will so be on the plane!);  it’s more that I want to see things for what they really are.  Flowers don’t look like this:

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 behind sunglasses.  The color disappears, leaving what is really a vibrantly colored flower decorated with only hues of black and gray (or whatever color your sunglasses are tinted with).  The sky isn’t crystal clear or brilliant blue.  Everything is altered, covered.  Wearing the sunglasses today reminded me of trying to walk through a fog;  you can see the other side—but not really.  It felt as though I were pushed back to a “safe” distance from all the action, from life. Shielded, I became an observer rather than an active participant.  At least, that’s what it felt like.

But, was it better than walking through life squinting?  That was the question I was really interested in.

Every time I pushed the sunglasses up onto the top of my head, and off of my eyes, the first thing I noticed was how bright everything was.  Yes, I was squinting.  Yes, my eyes blinked rapidly a time or two before adjusting.  But what stood out even more than that was how colorful and bright the world around me was.  By this time, we’d reached the pool and still struggling with the internal dialogue I was having with myself, I brought the sunglasses along with me rather than leaving them in the van.  When I took them off, the pool water was sparkling.  Even though my mind knew it was even with the sunglasses on, it didn’t look as inviting or sparkling as it did with them off.  I kept going back to words like safe and shielded.  Typically, they are words that give me comfort and peace.  I want to be safe and shielded, and I want my children to be likewise. That’s why I have all my infamous walls.  To keep me safeguarded from pain.  It’s why I don’t let people get close to me;  I haven’t been on a date in years.  Because I want our entire lives to be surrounded with safety.

But I don’t want to be hiding.

Of course, I’d wager most of the beautifully bronzed girls in yellow polka dot bikinis at the pool today were not hiding.  They just wanted their eyes protected from the sun.  My test came when it was time to get in the pool. A handful of adults stood around in the water with their sunglasses on.  But then the thought occurred to me:  if I have the sunglasses on, how am I supposed to do a handstand in the water? 

Maybe that’s not a grown-up question.  But I’m very active when I’m with the kids.  I do handstands, I throw them in the water, I give Dolphin Rides by swimming under the water with them on my back.  If I had sunglasses, though, my attention was going to be divided between playing and keeping track of those things.  Unless I wanted to be like the mom standing in the water who got splashed by a kid jumping in and said, “So much for trying to keep my hair dry today.”  I really heard a mom say that as I stood there taking my sundress off, still wearing my sunglasses. What was the point of getting in the pool if you didn’t want to get your hair wet?

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I took the sunglasses off and tossed them in our pool bag.

I was squinting when I jumped into the pristine, cool water… but I was also living.  I was “jumping in” not only with my feet but with my heart.  I was choosing to dive into the environment I found myself and to experience everything about it;  the blistering heat, the vibrant colors of umbrellas and different patterns on a hundred different swimsuits, the color of blue washing over me every time I dived under to retrieve a stick.  After playing with the girls for awhile, they decided it was time to go down the slide again…and again…and again.  I did it with them the first dozen times.  Then, I asked if it was okay if I swam a few laps while they continued to go down the slide.  I swam fifteen continuous laps across the Olympic sized pool.  I usually go for twenty before stopping but, at fifteen, they blew the whistle that signals everyone must get out of the pool for a fifteen minute rest period.  Midway through lap eleven (yes, I was counting in my head), I started to get tired.  I fight an uphill battle of a myriad of health issues that severely threaten my energy;  indeed, I have passed out and fallen several times.  Hyperthyroidism and severe anemia can leave you physically unable to move and sometimes the anemia kicks in overdrive if I am especially active.  I usually don’t get tired until lap thirteen but today, midway through lap 11, I started to feel it in my arms. I breathed short puffs through my mouth and focused on getting closer and closer to the edge of the pool.  No way was I stopping.  By lap fourteen, I was consciously pushing myself on, coaching myself with little pep talks in between strokes.  I slapped the edge of the pool and headed back across for lap fifteen.  I was midway when then the whistle sounded.

The girls and I sat, ate a picnic lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, handpicked strawberries, rolled in sugar, chips and ice cold water.  We talked about the slides and about how the Barbie dolls thoroughly enjoyed going down them too.  We talked about the friends they each had met while I’d been swimming laps.  I looked down to pick up a strawberry and it was so red and bright.  I realized I did not have the sunglasses on.

But I was too busy living to really care. I had not noticed or felt inferior to a single beautifully bronzed woman in a yellow polka dot bikini during the course of the hour we’d been there because I’d been too busy playing and swimming.  It wasn’t until later, when we got back in the van, that the train of thought I’d been riding earlier started up again.

Blindly, I reached out and took the sunglasses from the bag in the passenger’s seat, put them on.  I’ve lived most of my life behind sunglasses of a sort.  Not actual sunglasses, but a similar filter.  I’ve learned to dim everything about me in the name of safety.  I’ve chosen a million times not to do things because someone might not like it.  Although it’s a simplified example, I’ve gone to send people messages wishing them a happy day before, but then chosen not to send it out of fear of intruding into others’ lives uninvited.  I don’t want to talk a counselor because I’m terrified of hearing things I don’t want to hear, or being made to say words I don’t want to say so, instead, I write about it and convince myself I’m perfectly healthy, emotionally and physically. But, really… I deny myself …. lots of things… out of some deeply buried belief that sacrificing, giving up, things that might bring me a little joy helps make me a little bit worthier of friendship… of love… of time. Logically, I know that’s insane.  But it’s there, nonetheless.  And I sometimes still stand straight up in the shower and look down;  if I see the smallest “bulge”, it still occasionally acts as proof of how ugly I am.  Logically, I see the numbers on the doctor’s scale and know that I’m actually, finally, at a consistent and healthy weight.  But the fear is there, nonetheless.  So I still only allow myself to eat one full meal and one snack a day. And you haven’t even heard me talk about physical intimacy yet.  See, I’ve got plenty of sunglass-filters going on.  I need all the color I can find.

People tease me relentlessly about walking around everywhere barefoot.  But I need to feel the softness of the grass; it helps remind me that the world isn’t unrelenting.  People wonder why I don’t “move on” from any number of things, past and present.  But I need to write about it and talk about it;  it’s the way I acknowledge, grieve and heal.  People laugh about all the pictures—10,000 in four years.  But I take pictures because I know time is finite;  I could die tonight and, should that happen, I want the memory of the love that flows so abundantly through our house to be remembered.  My daughters and I go a couple nights a week to the bridge to watch the sun set over the water.  It’s always a magnificent display of color and it always makes us feel peaceful and relaxed.  Without that kind of color in my world, it would be very, very easy for me to get lost in fear,  both literal and figurative nightmares and serious depression.  I fight all the sunglass-type filters I can because I believe in the preciousness of life.  With all my heart and soul, I want to see the beauty of this land, of the people around me and of the opportunities I see every day by stepping foot outside my home.  I know there is danger out there.  The sun is bright and might hurt my eyes for a few moments… but the reward for braving it without a shield exists in the magic of seeing a field of brightly colored flowers, like at Cheekwood or the zoo.  The reward for braving the bright sunlight is watching my daughters’ faces alight with true laughter unexpectedly.  The reward for braving the sunlight is the joy of diving in and getting my hair wet instead of sitting on the sidelines so I can be a “grown-up.”   My eyesight isn’t in danger unless I look directly into the sun;  if I wear sunscreen, I won’t burn.  In other words, yes, I have to be careful because it’s true that danger exists.  But I don’t have to hide;  I don’t have to let fear dictate my every move.  Maybe I’m not one of those beautifully bronzed women in a polka dot bikini at the pool;  I’m pretty pale, actually.  And maybe my confidence level doesn’t match theirs;  mine tends to fluctuate.  But I do see and appreciate everything in my life and I do try really hard to find the sparkle in the ordinary.  Sometimes the greatest joy comes after the roughest storm:  I had to get through my past in one piece before I could discover the wonder of being a mother.  I had to climb my way out of self-destructive behaviors before I could model confidence for my daughters.  Sometimes the bright sun makes me squint but only for a moment; afterwards, my vision is filled with beautiful colors on every side.

And, anyway, haven’t they always said that the eye is the window to the soul?  How, then, can you see the most beautiful part of someone if she’s wearing sunglasses?

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