I still remember the smell of damp ivy from a recent rain as I stood in the backyard, waiting for my Dad to take my picture.
It was 1971 and I was five years old. I was wearing a brightly colored knit vest, a present from my grandma. I tied my shoes myself, but was not totally sure I had them on the right feet. It didn't matter. I was one powerful little girl. The Champion of the World.
My Dad smiled at me, squinting his eyes as he crouched behind the camera. I was safe, cherished and loved. He snapped the picture.
Things blew up after that, rather quickly.
My Dad left home and his marriage, to find himself. That's what people did in the 1970's in Marin County, California.
My world of family dinners and Dr. Seuss bedtime stories in my Dad's lap ended. It was scary, unfamiliar, off-balance.
The way I had known myself: child of happy parents, member of a "normal" family was no longer.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was. I tried to be a perfect student. And when that got to be too much, I inhaled, a lot. In my twenties I fell into a treacherous lover's arms and paid dearly with a broken heart and wounded soul.
I found martial arts, self-employment and writing.
And one day in a box full of old family photographs, I found the picture.
Holding the yellowed edges in my hands, I remembered who I was. I felt who I was. Who I had always been, except when I forgot.
Circumstances can cause you to question who you are.
A boss writes you a stinging performance review.
A reader leaves a bitter comment on your blog post.
A vocal audience member questions your authority in the middle of your presentation.
A publisher sends back your treasured manuscript with a crass note.
A spouse berates your manhood, or womanhood.
And you go from You, The Champion of the World to
You, less than.
You, angry and off-balance.
You, the misfit.
When you fall into this deep pit of treachery and despair, you need something to pull you out. An image, a word, a note. It helps when this object reflects both the love you have for yourself as well as the love someone has for you.
Like a picture of you through your parent's eyes.
Or a note from an impassioned reader who loved the piece that you loved to write.
Or a rock from a beach that was so beautiful you could swear that the sand was kissing your feet.
You, less than, is a lie.
Remember who you are.