I Am Planting Flowers

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This past week at work we had our Staff Appreciation Tea. At the tea we honored people for their years of service and there are also three awards handed out for outstanding achievement—one for safety, one for creative solutions and one for people who live out our values in an exemplarily way. Out of 650 full and part-time staff, there were 82 nominations. Four of them were for me.

All of the nominees get a letter to let them know they’ve been nominated. When I received mine I was completely surprised. This is not the sort of thing that usually happens to me. Unless you count the Roll Up The Rim contest at Tim Horton’s, the last time I was in the running for an award of any kind was back in high school.

The day of the tea came, snowy and bright. We gathered in the hospital chapel and the CEO handed out the awards for years of service and perfect attendance. When we got to the final three awards they asked that the nominees for each award come up to the front before the winner was announced. I watched as they presented the safety award first, and then just before they asked the creative solutions nominees to come forward I heard a voice in my head, as clear as day:

Don’t go up. Your letter was probably a mistake. It’ll be so embarrassing when they realize you’re not supposed to be up there.

I felt a cold dread run down my shoulders and settle in my stomach. I had a strong desire to run and hide somewhere. And then I took a breath.

“Oh,” I thought. “Hello, Fear. Who invited you?”

Fear, specifically the fear of being seen, is a very old acquaintance of mine. I have finally learned to recognize her voice and separate it from my own. It’s tricky because she sounds so much like me and she often says what I’m thinking. It has taken such a long time to see her for what she is. She is not the voice of reason or wisdom or truth, she’s just Fear speaking out from all of my sore and wounded places. She talks a big game, because talking is all she’s got.  

Fear doesn’t control my feet or my hands, even if she is very good at curdling my stomach. So, when they called out the nominees and got to my name, I stood up and walked up to the front. Pearl handed me my nomination letters and I kept reminding myself to smile.

A few moments later they announced, “And the winner of the 2018 Creative Solutions award is Claire Colvin.”

Wait, what?

I walked up on stage in a fog, trying desperately not to trip going up the stairs. It wasn’t a mistake. I was supposed to be here. They saw me, in spite of the voices in my head. Being seen was a good thing. Being on stage in front of everyone was not my favourite part, but I did it anyway. I stood there, uncomfortable and a little squirmy, and let myself feel all of it. I didn’t run away.

I’ve read that kids who have experienced trauma sometimes try to sabotage big days like birthdays and Christmas in an attempt to protect themselves from disappointment. I wonder sometimes if that is what my fear is trying to do. When I look back on my life there have been several long stretches when I convinced myself that fear was the safest route to take. I was sure that I couldn’t get hurt if they couldn’t see me. I know better now. Life will hurt you whether you run from it or not. A pain-free life is not the goal. And it’s not possible anyway.

Being able to recognize the voice of fear is a huge step in the right direction, but I know that there is still a lifetime of work to be done. I wish I could KonMarie my brain. Imagine being able to thank all of the thoughts and memories, the good and the bad and then sort them into piles. One pile for the ones we’re keeping and another pile to toss away forever. How freeing that would be! I wouldn’t want to go full Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and wipe it all out, but it would be wonderful to do a little mental uncluttering. I look forward to more days when fear is not the loudest voice inside my head. As they say, practice makes progress.

I keep thinking about something I read back in January. It was a translation of a cartoon by Spanish artist José María Nieto. In it, two characters are talking about the new year and the conversation goes likes this:

“I don’t see any reason to be optimistic. What do you think the new year will bring us?”

“I believe it will bring flowers.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because I am planting flowers.”

That little phrase, “I am planting flowers” has followed me around for six weeks now. It’s such a simple and practical manifestation of hope. And hope has always been a wonderful antidote to fear. There are already flowers blooming, metaphorically at least, in 2019. One of them is the beautiful glass award that sits on my desk and makes me smile every time I see it. Another is an upcoming trip that is finally happening this year after so many years of planning. There are challenges too, but that’s just life.

I didn’t know that fear would show up in the happy moments as well as the hard ones. But now that I do know, I’ll be on the look out for her approach. I’m going to plant extra flowers, just in case.

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Claire Colvin
Claire is learning to call herself a feminist. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. In 2013, her National Novel Writing Month entry was a science fiction story about a broken world where everyone was required to be as similar as possible. Claire wishes she could fold the world like a map so the people she loves weren’t so far away. She lives on a small mountain near Vancouver and writes at clairecolvin.ca.
Claire Colvin
Claire Colvin

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