I feel privileged to share a beautiful essay by someone near and dear to me, my sister Nicole Palmer. I’ve been deep into writing about our childhood as I finish my memoir and I loved her honest perspective. I hope you find it as moving as I did.
ONE OF THE SMART KIDS…
I wanted to finally be one of the smart kids.
You know the ones… who always finishes homework on time (check), sits in the front of the class to absorb all the information possible (check), studies until their eyeballs are ready to pop out of their head (check), and passes major exams with ease…… (crickets)!
What the hell? I did all the things the smart kids do, but I didn’t pass a major exam?? This wasn’t just any ol’ exam. This was the exam that showed I knew all the absorbed information, the exam that says I deserve to receive my master’s degree, the exam that I missed by two-points in order to pass.
Devastation came like a tsunami. I got the email with the grade of 82. Passing score was 84. SERIOUSLY??
I took my time during the exam. I carefully read all the questions and actually thought I had achieved the goal of being one of the smart kids. I thought I was going to finally make everyone proud that I was finally going to be “one of them”.
You see everyone in my family is one of the smart kids. I grew up with a family of people who were all very smart. From my grandmother on down to my great nephew!
The intelligence of my family could probably cure cancer, solve world hunger, but not this family member. I was not an elite member. I was the “chosen” one.
I was one of those babies you see in the newspaper looking for a family and I had the unique pleasure of being adopted by a smart family, but I never felt I belonged.
Yes, of course my family loves me. It’s not about love. It’s about feeling like you belong.
Believing you belong with people who think like you, look like you.
All these memories (and more) came flooding back into my being and filled me with intense and overpowering grief and pain.
Why didn’t I go back and review all the questions before hitting the submit button? Why didn’t I study the areas I knew I struggled with more? Why did I even decide to go to graduate school? Why? Why? Why? Well, I will tell you why…
Not just a little tired. I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.
After 33 months of classes, crazy classmates, quizzes, papers, group work, clients, supervision, video taping, constructive criticism, an unstable boss, switching jobs, new responsibilities, running from meeting to meeting, and balancing a 50 hour a week schedule, and trying to spend time with my husband, son, and dog and taking a 3-hour exam it was time to admit it… I was exhausted!
When I opened the email with the passing score and a giant “82”appeared on my screen. I cried, I wanted to scream, I wanted to throw whatever was near me against the wall, I want to punch something… anything!
I had worked SO hard to pass. I wanted to pass so badly because I was so tired and had visions of high fiving with the smart kids and finally proving to the world, but more importantly to myself, I had finally made it to smart kids’ club!
The dream was crushed in a matter of seconds. I cried, and cried some more, and then cried some more. I slept for two hours that night and then woke up at 3 a.m. and sat out on my balcony.
I cried and grieved those 2-points like I did when my sweet babies died. And then it hit me.
My legion of angels was still around me. Eric was still behind me pushing me forward, Brad was on the other side yelling at me to keep going and don’t feel sorry for myself, my Dad was on the other side with his head up strutting with the resolve of a warrior, little Maya and Kristopher were still holding my hands tight, and my Grandmother was leading the way!
They were all still there, but I had become too busy to feel and sense their presence around me.
I’d become too focused on what I should be doing and not on what I needed to do. I needed to remember the collateral beauty that surrounded me. All of my angels that never left me.
I had missed caring for myself.
I wished all of them were still with me, but they weren’t in physical form anymore. They were gone. They had all moved on to another existence and I was still here two-points short.
I sat and stared at the sky. I remembered all those years ago when I learned that life goes on no matter what you are going through. The memory of little Maya dead inside of me and people and nature continuing to move and grow.
Time never stops. It changes, it evolves, it moves.
Time appeared to me as somewhat of an illusion, and then the sun began to come up, despite my desire to grieve my lost two points and revel in self-despair.
It was a the dawn of a new day and after the tsunami passed, there was calm. It was time to start swimming though my sorrow.
As I began to swim through my sorrow I realized I was a strong. I was a lot stronger than most people. Who the heck swims through a flood of emotions? Why not just drown in sorrow?
The verse, “God does not give us more than we can bear” came rushing back. For a moment I wanted to scream at God… I was tired of being strong. I was tired of always carrying so much. I’m tired, and damn it. sorrow swimming sucks!
Then it occurred to me I was given the task of carrying so much because I was given the blessing of God’s strength. I was created in His image.
As a dear friend always reminds me, “there is a divine right order to the things that happen to us.” I went into my bedroom and I looked at the quote on my wall that has been hanging on bright orange paper next to my bed for 33 months, which says,
“The only way to fail at something is to fail to learn from the experience.”
So, what the heck was the lesson this time? I cried some more. Then the lesson came.
I didn’t fail my exam. I passed with a score higher than I could’ve ever imagined. I overcame a 34-year old fear of exams, I studied and worked harder than I ever had before. For the first time in 46 years, I believed in myself.
I learned I AM one of the smart kids!
I’m not smart because I passed an exam with ease. I’m smart because I’m the one who didn’t pass.
I’m smart because I’m the one who knows the deepest pain of loss.
I’m smart because I’ve been given beauty for my ashes and I use those ashes to connect with clients.
I’m smart because I know the pain of disappointment, the agony of defeat, with an undisputable understanding of the desire to give up.
But… with the willpower to move forward. To get up and use all of it as strength.
To get up and stand in the ring beaten and bloodied, absolutely vulnerable, with the resolve and resilience to NEVER stop fighting, to never give in, to never believe I’m not smart!
My pain and defeat is a plus, not a minus 2!
It provides me a lucent vision of humanity and the ability to change lives, and the knowledge to go to the edge and fall.
Not fall into despair and defeat, but to fall into the erudition of grace.
To fall into the love and support of God, my angels, friends, family, classmates and professors.
Most importantly — that it is not falling, but learning I have the ability to fly with brave new wings to soar to heights unimagined.