I have the awesome privilege of having Aimee Niebuhr of MamaCentric guest post on my blog today! This gal’s writing has blessed me so much in very personal ways. Her posts are so raw that you feel like she is writing from your diary. (At least that’s how I feel) and I couldn’t be more grateful for it because she motivates me to be brave with my truth. Her courageous writing will stir your heart to feel and your spirit to soar. You read her honest words and feel compelled to share love with someone else. She radiates love and truth in the most beautiful ways. Read on and be blessed, dear friends.
I was twenty-one years old. The world before me should have been bright; a horizon of possibility spread out and shimmering like sunlight glinting off of the endless ocean. But life didn’t feel like the beauty of the horizon meeting the vast, blue sea at all. It felt like a torrent of crashing waves, hitting one after the other, intent on knocking me down.
My sister was at the end of her battle with leukemia. It came fast. It hit hard. Within six months, with the arrival of a bitterly cold November, we were preparing to let her go.
Somehow, I managed to work through my college classes during that fall semester, furtively writing papers and preparing for the exams I would take after returning from the weeklong Thanksgiving break. The Thanksgiving I would always remember as the last time I held my baby sister close, the time when I said goodbye.
Classes resumed on a Monday. My peers were full of cranberries and turkey and joy. The whole world seemed to be filled with a goodness that didn’t include my pain or me, at all. I was an outsider.
I stood before my favorite professor – the one who spoke loudly in front of our classroom and taught history in a way which made you want to rise up and be better because of it. “How is she doing?” he asked me. Tears filled my eyes, as I managed to whisper, “Not well.” He hung his head in sorrow, and I knew he understood.
And though I will always remember his gentle grief, the ways he mourned for a girl he did not really know, it is the moment that happened next, which has stayed imprinted upon my soul, all these years later. It was the girl who followed me out of the classroom and tapped my shoulder who made me feel as though I was not alone.
“My brother had leukemia. He died seven years ago.”
I searched her face, trying to remember. Had we ever spoken, this girl who had sat quietly beside me since September? Every Monday and Wednesday for months we had walked into the same little classroom, and I had never even asked her name. How did she know my agony? Was it because I had been wearing it for months, cumbersome like a heavy coat drenched in the soaking rain?
I had never said a word to her, and yet, in that moment, there wasn’t anyone else on the earth that could have known me better than she did.
“What should I do?” I managed to ask.
“You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. One foot, and then the other. One foot, and then the other.”
It was so simple, and yet profound.
My sobs erupted. Every ounce of heartache I had been carrying for months now spilled out into the space between a stranger and myself, into the void between my grief and her memories — our collective sorrow building a bridge neither of us knew we needed.
She opened her arms; I fell into her embrace. My tears dropped wildly onto her shoulder and into her hair. I didn’t even know her name, but she didn’t seem to care. Perhaps seven years ago, she had found her strength in a stranger’s arms, too.
One week later we would take our final exams. I never saw her again. I never even learned her name.
It has been ten years since a girl I had never met held me in a hallway and absorbed my grief. She saw me drowning under the weight of my sadness amidst the sea of goodness, and brought the goodness to me.
I’ve always wished that I could go back and tell her that I am so sorry that she lost her brother. That I am so grateful she chose to turn her pain into a beacon of light to help guide the weary home. That I whispered, “One foot, and then the other,” to myself hundreds of times in the days after my sister’s passing. I held tightly to it in the years I spent adjusting to my new normal without her, falling back upon the familiar comfort of the phrase when the days felt too difficult.
Most of all, I wish I could tell her that I have had my chance to be the stranger with the strength. I have held others the way that she held me and gently reassured, “one foot, and then the other,” as they have wept their own stories into my soul. Finally, I have understood what it means to draw forth from the well of sorrow, and find that there is still goodness to be shared.
Maya Angelou has told us that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
This world will always house wounded people who are desperately trying to tread the waters of their grief. It is up to us to decide if we will answer the calling to be the compassion, the understanding, and the light of the Spirit.
I don’t remember anything else my classmate said to me that day. I can’t even really recall what she looked like through my blurry tears. But I will always remember her; her kindness will live on within my grateful heart, forever.
Aimee is freelance writer and homeschooling mama to three on a journey to get real with motherhood. Whenever she can find a quiet moment, she writes soul-searching reflections at MamaCentric. She holds tightly to the belief that a centered spirit inspires a centered home. (And maintains that hiding out from the kids to sneak some chocolate is good for the soul!) She hopes that her words inspire others to always seek the joy in their lives.