A few months ago I was asked an important question, though it seemed inconsequential at the time. My answers to that question have shaped my behavior since. That question was:
What did 17-year-old Cherri want/like/feel?
I didn’t have an answer right away, but that 17-year-old’s voice and values have come back to me, through the years, and get louder inside the more I quiet and listen.
For years I entirely ignored 17-year-old Cherri.
I hushed her off as an idealistic fool. I grew up. I became cynical.
After 26 years, 17-year-old Cherri is done being ignored.
She had ideals, that one, but she was no fool. She understood the cynicism was no way to live.
A friend made a video after our first semester of college that was a little bit silly and a little bit serious. It was shot on a cassette tape, so I never saw the results back then, but a few years ago he digitized it and posted it to social media.
This friend, who moved away senior year of high school, was back visiting half of our graduating class in Iowa and recording it for posterity. Mostly, we’re all just hanging out and having a good time in the shots.
He did, however, pause to ask everyone what their major was. Most of us were undecided, which strikes me now as an optimistic view of the future–a view that there would be time yet to explore and decide.
I was undecided, too. But this is what I said to him after I told him I didn’t have a major:
My major is life, kind of, and I think that there is an Indigo Girls song that says, ‘If the world is night / shine my life like a light,’ and that’s what I want to do with my life. That’s an important thing about me.
I gave a cheeky grin at the end. In the still, I am positively adorable.
Most importantly, though I was young and sweet, I was confident in that assertion.
I did not look naive or foolish.
I looked sure. I knew this was true.
That was my intention at 17, 19, 21—and even at 25. When I dropped out of grad school (which is whole different story), a gal in the program asked me what I’d do instead. Only half jokingly, I told her I was moving to California to become an alternative healer.
The light so badly wanted to shine, but I didn’t know how to let it yet. I lost my way.
Lost it to depression, chronic pain, health challenges, marriage, parenting, the forces of evil and darkness in the world at large.
You name it, I used it as a way to avoid my truth.
My avoidance took many shapes, and I grew a distorted vision of my true self.
I began to see myself as naturally cynical and bitter. As naturally difficult and disruptive. As outside the lines, and cranky as all get out.
I thought that because I was irreverent, I couldn’t be holy.
I believed that because I was cranky, I couldn’t be kind.
My cynicism was so pervasive at times, lightness had little place in my world.
That is a bad way to live.
I let the weight of darkness have power over the brightest parts of me.
I hid my light in a bed of depression under blankets of pain.
I ate longing and despair and starved myself of other nourishment.
This is what I know now to be true. This is what reconnected to my 17 year old self has taught me:
Lightness and depression aren’t mutually exclusive.
Light and pain aren’t on opposite sides of a spectrum.
Lightness is my essence, even when it’s not visible through the haze of struggle.
I can’t wait to feel better to change my life.
I can’t wait to be healthier to get in touch with my truest self.
I can’t wait until the sun shines on me everyday to follow the dreams that have just now begun to whisper up to me from 26 years of debris.
There is no future. There is only now.
If the world ends tomorrow, do I want to spend my last day glued to a newsfeed feeling irate about the forces of evil? Feeling angry and helpless in the face of disasters and crimes and terrorism and abhorrent politics?
I am a lightworker.
I am a motherfucking lightworker.
I am made of light.
I am a lighthouse so others have a guide in the night. So others can strike flint to their own truth.
I will live in light.
I will no longer fling myself against the walls of darkness created by others.
During that first semester of college, the one that had just concluded when the video I mentioned above was recorded, my work study job was in the dorm cafeteria.
Two days a week I worked the line in Friley Hall, swiping student ID cards for meals. At the time, Friley Hall was the second largest dormitory in the United States, and we served thousands of students a day.
I loved working the line. I smiled at everyone. I flirted with everyone. I remembered names, pointed out cool t-shirts, and had inside jokes with dozens of people.
My nickname that one fall semester in 1992: Sunshine.
I am still cranky as fuck some days, but I now acknowledge the lightness and the shine as part of my true nature.