April 20, 2013
I stare at the paper in front of me: The Whole Person Wheel. I can already sense where this project is headed and want no part of it. I haven’t felt whole, whatever that means, since before this ordeal began and don’t see how a sheet of multipurpose will change that fact. But I have no choice. I will complete this assignment because I was told to; I am excellent at following directions. And I will complete it because I need to; my diligence could help save my daughter’s life.
The circle, a symbol of wholeness, is divided into 6 equal slices. Each slice is labeled with a word that represents a human potential—as if the fundamentals of humanity can be reduced to semiotics. Self-worth, I am told, is the result of all six potentials being fully met. My mission is to color the slices to the degree I’ve reached my full potential in each category.
Imagine the circle as a wheel. Should part of the wheel become damaged, it’s easy to see how the function of the whole would be impaired. I want to raise my hand and lodge a complaint. I don’t need this experiment to understand I’m impaired, to understand my wheel is actually a flat tire. A tire that for years has been punctured and patched and patched some more until it has finally worn out. What I need is a scissor jack and lug wrench, not some broken crayons and a statistical chart.
My jaw tightens. I long to lie and to convince myself that I have potential-ed the hell out of my potentials. Six possibilities at 100 percent is 600 hundred percent of awesomeness! I won’t lie though. I can’t. A history of lying to myself is, I believe, one of the reasons we’re at this treatment center. I take a breath, steel my nerves, and reach in front of me for the purple crayon, my favorite.
To start, I choose the most concrete signifier: Physical. To what percent have I met my physical potential? In my mind’s eye, I envision my head and scan one feature at a time down to my feet. I am more vulnerable now than at any other time in my life, blaming myself for what love alone cannot fix. I cut myself no slack and, with surgical precision, focus on one imperfection after another. To each, I assign a correlating weakness of character. My body has always been my preferred weapon of choice and now my daughter’s is hers. I tally up the figure. Sixty-five percent. It’s the highest I can go, and color in the slice. Contemplate. Color. Contemplate. Color. Repeat.
The mental energy necessary to complete my work exhausts me. I drop my final waxy tool and fall back against my chair. Not for the first time, I feel an intense desire to flee, but there’s nowhere I can go to escape my own self. I take the only kind of break available and close my eyes.
Rainbows are glorious things. Manifestations of nature’s bounty. A phenomenon created by light. They are also optical illusions. I understand that my Whole Person Wheel should be the Roy G. Biv of potential. A full color rendition, created by me, of respect for me. My daughter’s illness is not my fault. I’ve hyper-exaggerated my culpability and know I have. The heart of me beats true. Yet, during the time since her diagnosis, I’ve become a stranger to myself. Maybe this experiment is just the catalyst I need to make repairs, as complicated as they might be.
I open my eyes and confront my white space.
In the white space,
I taste the salt of tears
I hear the wail of cries
I smell the lead of blood
I feel the scorch of hope
I see the scars of shame
I intuit the path of health.
In the white space,
I taste a tentative connection
I hear a higher calling
I smell a bittersweet freedom
I feel a prolonged endurance
I see a way forward
I intuit an unexpected miracle.
When I left the treatment center that day, I was forced to accept what was and was not within my control. I acknowledged I had taken every conceivable action to help my daughter recover except help myself do the same. It took time. The challenge became learning to lead by example, showing her how to love herself by learning how to love myself.
Five years have passed between that day and now. Much has changed. My girl is well, away at college and thriving. I made significant progress inflating my wheel, and have taken several expeditions to test its strength. I’ve learned what it means to live a whole-hearted life. I’ve grown. I’ve embraced. I’ve healed. But I’ve also hit blocks, sharp detritus strewn across my roadway that threaten to deflate my journey.
For 2018, I chose the intention of self-care because I’ve come a long way, but have further to go. This time of transition, as my girl launches into a new mode of self-sufficiency, is an opportunity to re-examine where I was, what worked and what hasn’t worked. As I approach the milestone of turning 50, my next step is to learn about the remaining debris and how taking care of myself can maintain and sustain a clearer path to the future.