The devil, the fighter, and Jimmy with his roses.


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My Uncle Jimmy died on Saturday.

I found out about it on Sunday morning while roaming through a random Target in the middle of Greensboro, North Carolina. I was trying on shoes I didn’t need when the call came through. My mother told me they were taking the ferry to Long Island the next day. One shoe was on. One shoe was off. Looking like Cinderella in a maxi dress with combat boots, I found out he was gone.

That’s the weird thing about losing someone— you expect everyone around you to stop what they’re doing. You expect them to get it. You expect them to put down the shoeboxes and stop surveying the hairspray that give the most volume. You just expect everyone to be still for a few minutes. That’d be nice.

And it would also be nice to walk up to the cashier, the one with the bright red shirt, and say to her, “You get it, right?” It would be nice for her to nod her head and then you’d get to tell her that your favorite memory with Uncle Jimmy happened when you were a sophomore in college. Twenty years old. You were so taken at the time by a boy who read you Walt Whitman poetry as the rest of the world lay sleeping.

It was America’s birthday. You wore a bedazzled dollar store crown made out of tacky red, white & blue parts. You knew it looked stupid but you didn’t really care because your aunt wore one too. And Uncle Jimmy told you that when he saw his wife for the first time, he knew he would marry her. She probably would have begged to differ— she was younger than him by a few years and hardly even knew he existed. He showed up one day with a dozen yellow roses, anxious to hand them off to her. She looked at them for a second, said thank you, threw the roses on a nearby picnic table and ran off to be with her friends. Still, he knew it was her. She would be his girl one day.

That was your favorite story of Uncle Jimmy’s— how he knew it was time to fight for what he wanted. And it was the first story you ever told yourself on repeat when you needed a reminder that some things in life are worth fighting for.

I’ve wanted to write about fighting for things for a while now.

It’s been sitting restlessly on my to-do list just like that, “Write about fighting for things.” But I didn’t really know what to say. Honestly, I still don’t. Every time I go to type something there is this little whisper that hisses inside my head, saying, “Telling me people to go after what they want is selfish. What if they can’t? What if you are filling people with false hope?”

And so I’ve stayed quiet. And I’ve shut up. And I’ve realized, in the days that have drawn in all around me, that not talking about fighting for things is a lot easier than coming outright and telling someone: hey, there is something I’ve always wanted— a job, a different grace, a crazy dream. I want it so bad it keeps me up at night. Is that selfish of me? Is it okay with the world if I still want it, even if I’ve already told myself no?

That’s often the anchor that pulls me down. It isn’t always others. It isn’t always the circumstances. It’s mostly myself. And spoon-feeding myself with the idea that I am not worthy enough, I am not good enough, I am not smart enough. There is someone out there who always gonna be so much more “enough” than me. That person will be the one to get the things I want. 

Even in writing this, I’m afraid of the ways you might be sitting off somewhere thinking to yourself, “but you don’t know the way life has broken my heart.” You’re right. I don’t. And I can’t say that life won’t break your heart a million times more. It probably will. It’s heartbreaking to hear the words “you didn’t get it” and “I’m sorry” and “try again next year.” I get that. 

But then why is there still a whisper that speaks against my mess? Why do I still hear something saying, louder & deeper than my hesitations: You’re still standing here. So it isn’t over yet. What you want is worth fighting for. Please don’t miss out on one of the most worthwhile things of this lifetime: the fight. The struggle. The battle for what is most worth it to you. 

The first time I wrote about Uncle Jimmy and the yellow roses was in 2010.

Around Valentine’s Day over four years ago. It was about true love. It was terribly bad writing. I thought everything in life was simple and you could tie it all up in some pretty white bow. I sat in the parking lot of Target on Saturday morning and reread the words out loud of that post out loud. And I laughed because I was a completely different human. I probably would have never had the courage to say boldly enough back then: you’re worth fighting for. 

But I remember that Uncle Jimmy got a hold of that first piece of writing. And he kept it with him for a long time, a folded up piece of printer paper with my words on it. And he let people read it. And he let strangers and doctors and the cleaning lady know I was out there in the world trying to be a writer. His niece’s daughter— trying to be a writer.

I remember him being really proud of me. And I remember how that feeling— that feeling like someone wanted to claim you because they were just so proud of you— meant everything to me. It kept me fighting to become a writer- a real writer. And he didn’t know it, and I didn’t know it, but two years later I would quit my job for a dream. My safe, secure job. It would happen instantly after months of praying. One day I would be sitting across from a mentor in the industry and I would watch her mouth the words to me, “If you don’t go for this now, while the steam is here, I am afraid you will forget how to go for it at all.”

That would be enough. It would be enough to mobilize me to march into my supervisor’s office that next Monday and quit my job.

And, just as I was ready to announce my six weeks notice, all the power in the entire building would go out. And I would be standing there, wondering if it was a sign from the universe that I shouldn’t be quitting. Friends, I was so terrified. I mean, I was trembling and shaking and thinking all these ugly thoughts in my head: you can’t do this. You can’t possibly make this work. You want to be a writer? Cool. Funny. Awesome. Good luck.

As everyone around me proceeded to pack up their things and leave work for the day at 2pm– thrilled to know half of the tiny town in Connecticut was having an unexpected power outage– I stayed in the doorway of my boss. I told her I had to say something, even in the dark. I could not leave until I said something.

And when it was over, I got into my car and I cried big, thick, “I am so fearful” tears. I remember Florence & the Machine coming on the radio. Just this one line pumping through the speakers: And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back. So shake it off.

In the 30 seconds it took to say out loud– I am leaving this job at the start of July— I did not become a different person. I didn’t become a fearless person. I was still me. I still cared too much. I still fell for strangers. I still misjudged the amount of mexican food I could handle. I still messed up (a lot) and failed (a lot) in the years to come. That was actually the first day of what would turn into a daily battle, a daily fight to live inside of a dream job I wanted for myself. And it would be tears. And sweat. And doubt. And judgement. And Yes. And No. And fighting in the face of maybe not getting what I wanted after all. And having to be okay with that. 

But my mind was made up. And I did give up the devil that day in the car. I did decide that I was going to build a life out of words, no matter how crazy that seemed to admit out loud. I had an Uncle Jimmy moment. And I think him and I could agree on this: fighting for what you want won’t always make you a new person. And it won’t guarantee some red carpet or some dream coming true. You won’t always get the job. You won’t get the girl. You might not get picked. But maybe you will. And maybe “winning” or “getting it” or “arriving” has never been the point. Maybe we just came down here to learn how to be relentless, little fighters & good keepers of one another. I don’t know much but I know this: so much of life is worth the fight. You are never wrong to want to fight for the things that make you come alive. 

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30 thoughts on “The devil, the fighter, and Jimmy with his roses.

  1. I’ll be sharing this quote ~ “That’s the weird thing about losing someone— you expect everyone around you to stop what they’re doing. You expect them to get it. You expect them to put down the shoeboxes and stop surveying the hairspray that gives the most volume. You just expect everyone to be still for a few minutes. That’d be nice.” ~ and your blog ~ tomorrow at http://www.facebook.com/lifeafterlosscoach (Wish FBk would BOLD and ITALICIZE to better capture a writer’s intent … oh well. ) Best, Lynne

  2. Reblogged this on Where Lily Lives and commented:
    This is lovely. I absolutely enjoyed reading every last word. May we never stop finding things to fight for, because then there’s nothing left. I know someone who has seemingly given up the fight and no amount of words seem to change that, I wish I could climb in her head and move around the little turning wheels but alas, it is not my journey.

  3. Hannah, darling. I am sorry about your Uncle Jimmy… But I have a feeling he read this. And he is proud. You gained courage through that event to write this post and that is amazing. Your words touch so many people and move souls and mend hearts, I bet he’s up there showing this post to people saying “Look, she did it guys. She’s a writer. She fought for it and she won.”
    He’s proud of you and I’m proud of you. You have fought so hard for your dream and you inspire others (woo, thats me) to follow their dreams.

    Thank you Hannah, for showing us all that we can kick that devil off our backs and dance in the land dreams and hope and love.

    keeping you tucked in my pocket,
    Courtney

  4. Oh, Hannah. This is one of the most beautifully written pieces I’ve read and one of my favorites from you. I’m so sorry about Uncle Jimmy. He sounds like he was an incredible encourager and fighter, and the world needs more people like that. // Those words from Florence + the Machine are some of my favorites. I love that song to pieces. It always makes me want to move forward. // And I think I have some things I need to wrestle out and start fighting for. Because it’s never too late to start throwing some punches. xoxo

  5. Such a beautiful post, I always love reading your blog. I persoanlly like the quote ‘The struggle is part of the story’, I think it’s true that we must always keep fighting for our dreams and for anything that we know is important to us, and not let setbacks deter us too much.

  6. Hi Hannah, sorry for your loss, and thank you for sharing jimmies stories. I have not heard them before. I also loved your uncle jimmy and his family because they were really nice people and they were related to your great family! I hope your adjusting well and having some fun in your new place. Keep sharing your words with us. Love to you, Carol

  7. My grandfather died on Friday, and the world didn’t stop for me either.
    I’m so sorry for your loss. My heart is with you today!

  8. Uncle Jimmy would publish this beautifully written post in heaven, hb. My world stopped for you at least 😦 sorry for Uncle Jimmy dear.

    And I’m glad those words found a way out of that to-do list. It takes a warrior to word truth out like that. You are forever lovely.

  9. What a beautiful post, thanks for reminding me to go for it! Whatever IT is, however large or small, doesn’t matter if anyone else understands or agrees even – take a chance. I’d rather feel bad if IT doesn’t work out versus the disappointment in myself for not being brave enough to leap. Keep it up, you got this! 🙂

  10. Sweet Hannah! Deeply sorry for your loss. This post was wonderful beyond words–I’m sure he has this post printed on a piece of paper and folded in his pocket in Heaven! And side note, loved the line “I still misjudged the amount of mexican food I could handle.” Don’t we all.

    Sending love and prayers.

  11. This was just what I needed to read Hannah. But I am guessing so many of us readers have this “oh my gawd she is reading my mind, and how?” moments where your blog posts are concerned. But seriously and sincerely, thank you Hannah. I was about to give up on this dream of mine, may be I still will give up. I don’t know, not as yet, because it seems so unlikely to come true, succeed, because it is too late and yada yada yada. But I will remember that there was some hope, maybe it isn’t as bizarre as it seems. I heart your writing so much and always you come up with words, that touch a chord somewhere

  12. Hannah my grandfather died last Monday.

    He wasn’t my “grandfather” he was my Papa. My mom’s dad. The man I called whether I won first or third. The man who taught me to ride a horse, cut a steak, make Easter bunny nests; the man who taught me what unconditional love turns out to be. He taught me that it turned out to be 4 fabulous daughters, the continuous love for his son that didn’t make it past birth. That kind of love is sleeping next to the same women for 50 years. It is 11 grand babies. It is 73 full years of life. It is 300+ people at your funeral. It is lives that can never be untouched. It’s the completion and the hole in the heart. It’s the hugs that turned onto fist bumps. The football games that changed to basketball to baseball to soccer to dance competitions. It’s the idea that he will live on in our lives everyday. To say I loved this man would be an understatement . I am much like you in the way I am a lover of words. Granted mine do not flow and intertwine fingers as yours do, but I like to think they are on their way. With that said words lead my life. But I can think of none that describe my papa’s life, heart, laughter, or faith. I have the pleasure of memories from when he was well and the pain of his journey through cancer. Losing someone sucks, even when you see it coming. It’s like a train; they’re signs and flashing lights, then a big horn, more lights, more noise, then it hits ya and it hurts like hell- even though you saw it coming mile away. That is the only way to describe how this situation feels. Numbing pain. Always there in the forefront of my mind, never leaving me. There is so much I want to say but none of it seems to fit. I want to tell you that he too carried around my words telling people I was going to be a writer before (and I still don’t know) what i am going to do with my life. I want to tell you how he hated soccer with a passion but learned the game so he could be an active part in that part of my cousins’ lives. He was at every game he could (which I will say was most), he sat through 7+ hour dance competitions. He supported us. He taught us. He protected us. Must of all he loved us. Oh and how much he lived his wife. He loves loves LOVES my Nana. Even when he had days left and she was waiting on his very need he was making sure my aunts were taking care of her. He had 4 daughters and one son. I never met my uncle since he died at brith but I know he may never had been rocked to sleep, or complained about his dinner but he was loved and cherished as much as any of those kids. Papa left behind more than a family by word, he left behind a family by heart. He left behind people who will forever care for him and speak of him in the present tense, not the past. Writing this I still don’t know how to deal with it al. I don’t know how I will walk in the house on Christmas morning and feel whole. I don’t know if I will ever accept his passing or even use the words death and papa in the same sentence. He is still completely and totally alive- just not in body. As I imagine your uncle will and does. He will never be far for that story is always near your lips and your heart. His face ingrained in your memory and laughter always in your ear. Stay strong and don’t be afraid to lean on those around you. You’re a strong, beautiful, inspiring lady and so many would love to be your rock during this sucky time. And for me there is no other way to put it. It sucks. No frills for that one my dear. So I am wishing you the best and reminding you’re not alone. I’m right here, going through the same crap. Love, hugs, and many smiles- Molly

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  13. Beautiful writing, you have great memories of your uncle. If only we can all make such a positive impression on others as your uncle made on you, what a great world we would leave behind

  14. “You are never wrong to want to fight for the things that make you come alive”.–> Well said Hannah.
    If this passion was shared with our younger people today, this world might be a different place to live in.

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    i thought i could also create comment due to this brilliant piece of writing.

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