As I played my life backwards to find "One Thing I'm Most Grateful For," there were good cliché answers: my three kids, my amazing best friends, or my parents for giving me life.. etc. I have a small rebellion against doing exactly what one would expect, so I dug a bit deeper.
The profound proxies that stepped into my life are my saving grace. I'm referencing those people who filled in the gaps of parental guidance or mentorship where my own family was unable. My mother was absent for a huge chunk of my life, and my father, although financially supportive, stayed in the Middle East until my last year of college. These proxies jumped in with no ulterior motive. They simply wanted to help me get a leg up, feel accepted or sought to expand my seeming limitations.
I was born in the Middle East, but grew up in Texas from age the age of six. Let me set the scene: in the eighties, it was big bangs, neon clothes, feathered blond haired Texans, and "bi-racial" just wasn't cool, nor quite as widely accepted as it is today. I didn't fit in any "box" on the ethnicity form. "Wait! Where do I check for Scand-Arabian?" I went to a Presbyterian Church School from the second to eighth grade, and it was there that my history teacher, "Mrs. W," became the first to step into my life. I was floundering with frizzy hair, a lack of identity and a false-sense of "fitting in."
She once pep-talked me out of a self-doubting scuttlebutt from some other kids who called me a "Mullato." I didn't even know what it meant. Her answer to my bleary-eyed inquiry was: "Lulu, it's an ugly word, not worth learnin'. Do ya know who and what you are? Smart, bright, energetic, funny and strong. Point is, you make your own definitions, never forget that." I haven't. I still use those words today speaking to my own girls.
At the age of 14, I went to boarding school just outside of Boston. Again, I was displaced and now with a Texas twang (of which my father promptly advised a speech therapist to undo). Another woman, this one a French teacher, "Cheryl," took me under her wing. She was maternal and strict, but open and kind. From her, I learned how to reinvent myself. Her love of the arts pushed my creative writing and other outlets beyond my comfort zone. She gave me the permission I needed to be "complex" or "layered" and still be affable.
I moved to Sydney after my freshman year in Boston, to attend the University of Sydney. This time, by choice, I was in a new country and culture and I was 19. The aunt of my then-boyfriend helped me through the transition. She had a brisk, obligatory tone with me at first. She, a complete "rule-follower" and single mom already spread thin, was both curious and confounded by me. I, with a predilection for testing boundaries and zero adult accountability, craved the no-nonsense temperament she embodied. It was she who helped me steady myself amidst the crashing waves of change.
In full disclosure, my life isn't exactly where I planned it would be at 37. I am getting separated, have three children, and find myself an odd person out in the myopic suburban bubble. It should be mentioned men, too, have assisted me beyond measure. The most recent of such, is an out of state, happily married expert and multi-published editor who happened upon my blog.
He has served as a cheerleader, and more importantly, a healthy validator of my writing passion. He, and the frank criticisms he doles out nonchalantly, has been one of the only beacons of promise in my recent life-storm. In line with the others, there is no "get" for him, rather a true interest in lending a hand in some small way. His red-pen edits, references to my word-hackings and grammatical errors are the very thing that allows me to believe his earnest compliments and shocking praise of my work.
All of these people, and while I'm at it, the others who still lay ahead on my journey, are paramount to personal growth, success, and my life as I know it. None of these examples had an outstretched hand and a scorecard in the other.
My gratitude is immeasurable.
Today, and moving forward, the only repayment of their grace is to do as they have for me. I realize now, because gratitude is a gift best paid forward, in whatever simple kindness possible. You never know how far your interest, support, or encouragement will stretch.
I don't presume to know much, but through the challenges and obstacles of life, I have learned that gratitude begets more -- everything. It is a life with a limitless abundance and happiness to build (or rebuild) from the solid roots of gratitude. From gratitude, all things can grow to be graceful.