“The greatest glory in living lies not from never falling, but from rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela
On December 5, 2013, heaven gained another angel when Nelson Mandela passed away. Thinking about how this man chose to live his life has offered me some much needed reflection. Here is a man who served over 27 years in prison because he chose to fight for freedom and equality. When he was released, nobody would have blamed him for having a chip on his shoulder the size of South Africa itself; however, Nelson Mandela taught us something different. He taught us the value in lifting yourself up after falling. While I am not on board with forgiving folks for the sake of forgiving, I do believe that holding a chip based on something terrible that has happened will inevitably leave you feeling as if you have never been released from whatever bad situation led you there in the first place.
In many ways, the past few years I have felt like I have been in prison. Whether it was the emotional prison created by Luc, the prison of Family Court, or the emotional prison caused by the loss of my son – I have been in some version of prison since February of 2010. When I first heard the above quote back in 2002, when I as studying abroad in South Africa, I didn’t have enough life experience to really understand what it meant. I still thought it sounded profound, but until recently I didn’t really know what it felt like to “fall.”
For a while after my son died, I felt a large chip forming on my shoulder. I thought I had a right to be angry at the world for allowing this monster to take my son’s life. What I didn’t realize at first was that this anger was causing me to fall deeper into my own prison. By carrying that extreme anger, I was allowing Luc to keep me in the hell that he had created. I couldn’t stay angry at the world and still get justice for my son. I needed to focus my efforts and I needed to “rise” after my fall.
Since my son died, I have noticed how often people say things like, “Oh, he had a bad day. That is why he is in a bad mood and why he did XYZ (insert terrible thing here).” If I lived by this idea, I would be able to wake up every day for the next ten years and bitch slap random strangers in the street. I would be able to do this and then excuse myself by saying, “I have had a bad few years…my son was murdered.” With his actions, Nelson Mandela taught us to move forward with life instead of getting consumed with the pain. He taught us to hold those who hurt us accountable and face what they did to us, but to move forward by rising above and bettering yourself (or your country) in the face of injustice.
I used to be a runner. Running was my stress relief and my form of cheap emotionally therapy. I have run two marathons, two half marathons, several 10k races, a few 5k races, and an olympic triathlon. Before recently, the last serious training run I went on was in July of 2010. In the past week, however, I have realized that in order to rise after my own fall I need to work to get back some of the things that I lost. I will never be able to have my son back, but I can work on rebuilding parts of myself that I do have control over.
Just last week, I decided enough was enough. Despite the extreme anxiety I had built up around getting back to running (partly because my postpartum body was now 30 pounds heavier then it was in 2010), I put Stela in the running stroller and decided it was time to overcome my fears in order to rise above my emotional prison. With every step I took, I felt the pain of the last three years. As I ran (and pushed Stela), I could almost feel some of the chains falling away. The run was slow, I didn’t break any records, and I ended up having to walk a few hills. When it was over, I felt like a hot mess – but the million dollar version of a hot mess. After 30 minutes of pain, I felt as though I was on my way to getting back something I had lost. It was going to be easy because I had fallen pretty far, but the reward at the end would be worth it.
While most of you won’t ever have to face the pain of losing a child in the manner that I did (Thank God), we all have situations in our lives that cause us to fall. Many of you have had the experience (or will someday) of waking up, looking in the mirror, and barely recognizing the person you have become. I still have many days when I am angry. I still intend to hold those who are responsible for my son’s death accountable; however, I will not allow what happened to me to destroy who I am. We all must learn from Mandela and realize that whether or not we rise after we fall is entirely in our hands. So when life hands you a pot of boiling water, and you have fallen, get up and help that person staring back at you in the mirror.
I still have a long way to go on my own personal road to recovery. I recognize that it is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Just the other day someone asked me, “how often do you do things related to Luc.” I was baffled at this question as it implied that I devoted significant time to Luc related activities. My response was, “Despite what you may imagine after watching the news media, my life is no longer centered around all things Luc.” As Luc awaits trial for the murder of my son, I am moving on to pick up the pieces of my life. Luckily, I am not the person who has to fight Luc in court. He is now fighting the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Instead of going into unnecessary detail, I should have simply just told this person, “I am rising after the fall.” Rest in peace Nelson Mandela. I thank you for the lessons you have taught us all, and I am glad that my son has another angel beside him to watch over the world.