Turning corners: A good thing, or not?
This girl in the graduation cap: Charity. Probably the grittiest young woman I know.
L to r: Niece Brittany, me, Charity, and Elisha — I’ve known all three of these beautiful young women at least since their early teen years (photo: Lynn Frohnmeyer)
Earlier this year, I posted Charity’s story right after she had applied to grad schools across the nation. Over lunch, she was second-guessing herself: “I shouldn’t have picked the top programs because the competition is so tough.”
Turns out, five astrophysics grad programs fought over her, which means her challenge was narrowing the field down to one. University of Arizona in Tucson.
Charity also applied for and received a Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.
Oh, and she graduated with departmental honors in Physics this past Monday.
If you’ve followed Charity’s story, you’ll know that the most inconceivable chapter is this: During most of these accomplishments, Charity was managing grief and post-traumatic stress.
Because on a cold January day in 2017 on the north coast of Oregon, Charity watched helplessly, frantically as her husband and three-year-old son were swept out to sea by a sneaker wave.
I can’t begin to comprehend the intelligence it’s taken to achieve these educational honors … but way beyond that, the grit it’s taken for Charity to move forward with life after such shattering and irreversible losses.
And yet, here she is, turning a corner of sorts.
Graduating with honors after a grueling four years of all-night study sessions and research and a prestigious NASA internship.
Moving away from Oregon, where she lived with her husband, Jayson, and son, Woody, with so many rippling memories of hiking, and camping, and snow-shoeing, and dipping in snowmelt creeks, and volunteering at the university’s observatory that sets on a lonely hill in central Oregon; moving away from classmates and research-mates and a mentor, Dr. Fisher, who has been remarkably supportive on so many levels.
Dr. Fisher and Charity (photo: Marlys)
Just so you know, turning corners isn’t about putting closure to or leaving anything behind; it’s about adding new chapters to our stories — in Charity’s case, adding new colleagues and a new mentor and new opportunities and new knowledge to what she’s already attained; adding new friends and new adventures in a desert region featuring saguaro cacti and wildflowers and gorgeous, barren mountains, different from the impossibly-green, tall-treed mountains of Oregon.
It’s about taking Jayson and Woody with her as she steps forward into a new season, continuing to process the grief—for there is still grief and trauma, because it’s not been that long since her entire family vanished in front of her eyes.
But it’s also about new possibilities. Taking risks. Making a change away from the comfortable routine into something unknown and scary.
Which is why we humans tend to not like change. This uprooting. This unsettledness.
But what if turning corners could mean a continuation of growth, of learning and healing? What if stepping outside our comfortableness fosters more courage in us? What if change means meeting new people while keeping the old ones in our hearts, stepping out into fresh adventures while maintaining our sacred memories?
It can. It does. It will.
We’ve all known our share of loss and the subsequent grieving.
Loss of job. Financial reversals. Loss of a way of life. A physical move away from friends, church family, neighborhood, house.
Loss of health or youthfulness or mobility. A retirement that represents loss of satisfying work and social interaction with co-workers.
A broken heart; a broken family; a divorce from someone you thought you’d be married to for the rest of your life.
Loss of a child to drugs, or bulimia, or war; a friend to cancer, or heart disease.
Death of a beloved spouse who was also best friend, road trip companion, hike partner, life’s mate.
Here are a few questions to consider as we grieve the irreplaceableness of what we once had and loved — the people, the way of life:
Can we practice gratitude even when there doesn’t seem like much to be grateful for? Can we count all that still remains instead of counting all that will never be the same?
Can we develop an outward focus? Can we notice others who are hurting, and do something about relieving their pain?
Can God establish new purpose for us after losing the old purpose we didn’t want to lose?
Absolutely (this said resoundingly and from experience).
The forwardness is an opportunity to take on risk, and conquer fear, and collect new people and new experiences to add to the old, and cultivate more grit and audacity in the process.
Because Charity is a Scrabble/Words With Friends nerd, I made a grad gift for her — this desk sign:
Photo: Charity, with map of the universe as backdrop. of course.
Having grit is one of the nicest compliments I could pay Charity.
I’m so proud of my beautiful young friend who is taking that sharp corner; stepping out into the risky, scary, new; taking Jayson and Woody with her, and living forward as she continues to process her grief.
Side note: The National Science Foundation allows for all recipients to apply for an international astrophysics experience, which means in a couple years I’ll be visiting my friend and updating from Amsterdam. Or Zurich. Or Heidelberg. (No pressure, Charity.)
P.S. If you know someone who could use a dose of grit, please share, tweet, or pin!