By Alyssa Bormes
I like to know what a mind looks like. For example, one friend told me he thinks in rock lyrics, another friend said her mind is all rows, columns, and checklists. My mind is full of pictures, spaces, landscapes, colors, light and dark – and sounds, smells, and tastes – and even, on occasion, silence and a kind of stillness.
Let me tell you about the calendar in my mind. All the days are lying on a plain, but the calendar circles around, a little like a clock. So December 31st touches January 1st. Then, I stand in the middle of the circle and look out to each date. As the days go on, I turn to the next day. If I want to look back or forward, I usually just turn my head one way or the other to look at it, but sometimes I turn my whole body to really look at a date.
Of course, different dates remind me of me of different things. When I look at November 25th, I think of my parents’ anniversary. My mind has borrowed pictures from their photo album. Gratitude overcomes me – look how young they were – what a great decision they made in getting married. I like to look at that date.
As I turn to look at the calendar, more dates light up, or dance, or just grin at me with that knowing look – sort of saying, “This was a hard one.” On the difficult dates, I run right into the past and give that young girl, or young woman, or even the older me a hug, and then I return to my place in the present.
Some dates evoke a certain reverence. They are dates like December 7th or May 20th – the dates on which my father and mother died, respectively.
In all of this, the different years are sort of beautifully layered; they tuck into the circle in my mind some how.
But there is one date that is a little bit different than any other. It has it’s own memories, sorrows, celebrations; there is an awe when I look at it. It’s August 19th. My heart is present here in 2018, but it is present in 1998 as well.
You see, for much of my life, I desired darkness and death. No matter the arguments, I just wanted to “leave.” But I kept making a decision for a few more minutes. Literally, at times, life was a minute-by-minute effort.
On August 19, 1998 I was the closest to having killed myself. The note was written, and everything was ready, but there was one thing. I had just called my mother to hear her voice one last time. There was no mention of my intentions, but she heard something in my voice and told me she was on her way. On her way still meant five hours of driving, there would be time.
However, something else came to me. I realized that my mother would be the one who would find me, and she didn’t deserve to have the vision of her dead daughter emblazoned in her mind.
And so – on that day – I said to God, “I’ll give you one shot at this.”
He took me up on it. God didn’t need more than the tiny crack in the door to my heart to begin to enter.
There was an odd thing – it was super difficult to let Him in – sometimes I wanted to send Him away again! My life seemed much harder at first; He was in there cleaning up the mess of it all and it hurt! But after each dark corner was revealed in the light, the initial pain was followed by a breathing space. My smile and my laugh had a place to reside again.
Today I celebrate 20 years of being alive – and I mean being super alive. He didn’t waste that one chance. God has given me the gift of truth, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, my faith, and mercy. Oh – and one more thing – He has given me joy!
And then there have been the million other unexpected gifts. They are things as extraordinary as studying in Rome and meeting Pope John Paul II, to things as simple as having a balcony that makes me feel a little like being in a tree fort – a really comfortable tree fort. He allows me to write, teach, travel, stay home, giggle with old or new friends, walk the Camino, visit the Holy Land, make spaghetti and meatballs as well as my mom did, cry, laugh, be with family, be with my students – and I really love that He allows me to be a lector at Mass. There is just something about His words falling from my lips.
But He doesn’t stop there. God is reckless in His love. His generosity cannot be outdone.
Nearly three years ago my mother died. We had just been in Rome for the pilgrimage of her life; no one knew she was sick.
When I didn’t kill myself in 1998, it was because I was afraid my mother would have to carry that image for the rest of her life. Well – God had another plan anyhow. I was with my mother on the pilgrimage, then I was able to be with her in her sickness, and finally with her at her deathbed. I was the one who was able to call the priest to be with her as she died. To be with her in that last month, and especially in her last moments, was a gift I would never have wanted to miss. She was never meant to be with me at my death, I was meant to be with her at hers.
God has never stopped surprising me. Some of the surprises have been crosses, but He has shown me a way to have joy in carrying them. I gave Him one chance – and He has spent 20 years finding new ways to make me say Thank You!
Standing in the calendar of my mind, looking straight at today, August 19, 2018, I whisper to the rest of the calendar dates, “Shhh, come with me, let us first gaze on that woman from 20 years ago. Let us go to her, comfort her, and thank her for that monumental effort that was heard in that weak voice, ‘I’ll give you one shot at this.’ Then let us step back and see the woman she became over those 20 other August 19ths.”
Without being able to help ourselves, the many calendar dates and I begin to dance, and cheer. The twenty-year review is rather extraordinary. And we call to the many other minds of our friends, those who think in rows, columns, checklists, and even rock lyrics, “Come, celebrate with us!” We laugh, we cry, there is hopping around, there are fireworks and songs, and there is a unending refrain to God, “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!”
Then later this evening, the calendar dates will all return to their quiet places on the plain in my mind. The ones with bright lights will shine a bit more. The wounded dates will have healed more, and we will all be grateful to August 19th for its “yes” to life. These 20 years have been quite a ride!
About the author:
Alyssa Bormes is an educator, author, speaker, and retreat leader. She currently teaches at the Chesterton Academy in Edina, Minnesota, writes for the Catholic Spirit, and the W.I.N.E blog, is the host of a weekly show,“Christian Witnesses in the Church,” on Radio Maria US, and is the author of The Catechism of Hockey. You can find her at alyssabormes.com.